The green paratroopers, only two weeks in Vietnam, would run down the dirty road toward chow, and a sergeant would bark things like: "Hey, you animals, let me hear you growl…” And they would go "Rowwwr.”
Arise For Orders
But this morning the men and boys of Alpha Company came out of their tents early, slowly formed into platoons, and waited for orders from their company commander, Capt. Dave Reiss of Alexandria, Va.
This was the morning they were going to war, their first combat mission - and for some of them, the last.
I moved among them, talking to one, then another. There were hard swallows, tight smiles, and very little of the famous airborne wisecracking. Some admitted they bad not slept the night before.
Capt. Reiss had told me that though Alpha Company was part of the 2nd Brigade of the "Screaming Eagles" of the 101st Airborne, about 60 per cent of his men weren't hardcore paratroopers. Many had been mustered up hastily from truck driver or company-clerk jobs after the brigade had received orders back at Ft. Campbell, Ky.
"But they've turned into a good outfit fast," Capt Reiss said. "Still, you never know until you've been shot at.“
Worries About Pigeons
One who didn't seem particularly nervous about it was the baby-faced Georgia lieutenant who commanded the weapons platoon. He smiled and said he was really more worried about the carrier pigeons he was training. He didn't like leaving them alone.
Another who didn't appear in mortal terror was his big, laughing Negro platoon sergeant from Kentucky, described by his commanders as not just a good soldier, but a “great” soldier. He and Capt. Reiss were members of the small nucleus of combat veterans in the company who volunteered to return for a second tour in Vietnam.
One who didn't mind admitting he was nervous was 2nd Lt. John Rodelli of Chicago. Lt Rodelli, small, swarthy, intense, said he know how he was going to react or how his platoon was going to react. Only six months before, Lt. Rodelli had been taking ROTC and majoring in business management at college.
Another nervous one was 18-year-old Pfc. Larry Mize of Baltimore, an impish-faced medic with a missing front tooth.
"I've got a false one," he sort of stammered, pulling the tooth from his pocket, "but I don't wear it when I'm walking. It gives me a headache."
Pfc. Mize said he became a medic because he figured it might do him some good when he “got out. And maybe while I'm in…”