A lieutenant had been sent up from basecamp with a BC scope to assist with bringing counter battery fire on enemy recoilless rifle positions which had been a problem along with mortar fire almost every day since we arrived on the hill on 14 January 1968 causing a number of WIA and damage to equipment and bunkers most notably the FDC bunker and immediate area.
The BC scope was place in an OP on top of the FDC bunker and the idea was to provide quick return fire by getting direction and distance to the target and directing fire by the flash of the recoilless rifle. It was a good idea except for the fact that the lieutenant always seemed to go missing when needed most.
Robert E Alexander, the Section Chief of the FDC, was a Specialist Four and my mentor. He did not look at his duties as just the FDC but the entire battery and often helped on the guns, assisted the medic and manned the BC scope all when under fire. I learned a lot under his tutorage.
On this day, 16 Feb 68, the battery began taking incoming fire and at the first call of “incoming”, Alex, as he was known by, immediately bounded for the OP and the BC scope. He never made in the OP but about half way in the OP took a direct hit from a mortar round. The blast blew him completely off the top of the FDC bunker and he received fatal wounds to the chest and head. It took him almost 10 minutes to die all the while gasping for breath. The wounds were internal and untreatable.
I learned afterwards that he was put in for the Silver Star and we were all reassured that he did indeed receive that award.
Years later in the mid ‘80s I found out he did not get the Silver Star but only a posthumous promotion to Sergeant E-5. I was angry as I assumed the position of Section Chief after him and eventually received the rank of E-5 myself. I was more than angry but also frustrated and disillusioned in the system. I made a promise to myself that I would do all I could do to see this injustice corrected. Later on when I was diagnosed with PTSD I was told among other things that I had a “hyper-sensitivity to injustice”, they were right.
I wrote letters to my Congressmen that got nowhere but I kept up the effort. Eventually, at the 2011 Reunion I met my old Battery Commander from that period. Then a Captain, now a retired Lt. Col. Living in Oklahoma, J Bruce Eutsler offered to help keep my promise.
He wrote up another commendation for the Silver Star and we both sent them off to our Congressmen in both states. We were in for a disappointment again as due to the way the medal is awarded it had to be signed off on by the Battalion Commander at the time and he was deceased.
We regrouped and Bruce Eustler resubmitted the paper work to his Congressman for a Bronze Star with a ‘V' device for Valor and a Good Conduct Medal. This time it went through and was awarded in December of 2013.
It was not the Silver Star that he earned but I felt that the oversight was resolved and the promise kept. I can now put that part of the war behind me thanks to the selfless efforts of my old Captain, J Bruce Eutsler.