Why Me?

A frequently asked question is "Why?". Not the macro geopolitical stuff that is presented elsewhere; but rather why ME? Why TF 1/61, why B Co, why Flame Platoon, why 3rd Squad, why me? We were there because we were told to be there but for what reason? Why? Was there a down to earth reason for the day to day operations of each of the units? Forget all the platitudes; "Mom's apple pie", "Stop them here or they will be in San Francisco next", "Your friends and neighbors have selected you...". What was our mission, our job?
Good question. And at least for the time frame of 1969 and 1970 (and I suspect the other years too) the below explanation is the best I can do.
First it has to be understood that the big picture reason drove all the work that everybody was told to do. That "Big" reason was, simply put, to allow a relatively new country to develop a democratic form of government that would provide its people with what we consider basic human rights.
To do this meant financial support, organizational support and military support to protect the developing country from its neighbors. Everything and I do mean everything the US and its allies did during the conflict was supposed to be needed to satisfy this purpose. From the 9 to 5 staffers in Saigon to the advisors in the Delta to the Snake Eaters who knows where, everything was directed at the goal of allowing the development of a proper government. And that included the 1st of the 5th and TF 1/61.
More big words but why me? Why was I at A 4? What was the reason for climbing 162 again? What did Phantom Lake have to do with any of this?
To answer this requires a review of the land around AO Orange. Directly to the north was North Vietnam, the principal adversary of the South Viet Nam government. To the east the South China sea. To the southeast the rice patties and farmers that grew most of the food in the area, to the south was Cam Lo and the Cam Lo resettlement village with over 1000 people that had moved away from the DMZ and to the west the bad lands and Laos. North Vietnamese troops just across the DMZ and around the Laotian border needed rice to eat and young men to use as guerrilla fighters. The men could be kidnapped from the villages and the rice could be stolen from the farmers. TF 1/61 was where it was for the simple reason that a small force of mobile combat troops could form a shield that would prevent the NVA from getting into the settlement areas and stealing both men and rice. The shield linked with an Army of the Republic of Viet Nam unit at A 2 in the east and arched around to link up with other units of the 5th BDE near Camp Carroll in the south west. Because there were many more of them than there were of us we could not sit in numerous strong points and wait for them to attack. By constantly moving, Hill 162 today, Phantom lake tomorrow and Rocket Ridge the next day, the NVA had no way to plan a move without the chance of meeting TF 1/61 units with their awesome firepower. And when they did meet it was always the NVA that got the worst of it.
Sure the TF did other things. Guard the Navy Base at Qua Viet with a platoon. During the bad weather season go pick up Tinker Bell and his driver when their airplanes crash, protect the RRG and Arty folks at A 4 and C 2 but the prime reason, the real answer to "Why?", was to provide a part of the protective wall around the populated areas in northern I Corps.
And we did a pretty good job of it too.
How do you know we did a good job? Well there were a couple of ways to tell if we were stopping the NVA in their attempts to get to the built up areas. One sure fire indicator was the price of rice in the open markets. When the priced stayed low then it was safe to say that the farmers were getting it all to market. When the price went up then it was a good guess that something had happened to the supply. And that something most likely was a raid by NVA soldiers. I only saw one price "spike" the whole time we were in AO Orange and that matched a report from the Recon Platoon saying they had found tracks of a large group of NVA crossing our area. Another indicator was the evidence of your eyeballs. If you were lucky enough to have had a chance to visit Dong Ha or Quang Tri City or even Cam Lo you saw people and stores and bright colors and heard laughter and music. Hard to believe that people with little to eat and with kidnappers in their midst would live like that. The ones I saw seemed to know they were safe and, in their eyes, life was good.
But then we went home.