November 11, 2012 will mark the 30th anniversary of the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund is hosting the Reading of the Names of 58,282 service members inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as part of the special activities planned to commemorate the Wall’s 30th anniversary. The Reading of the Names will take place at the Wall for 65 hours over a four-day period beginning with an opening ceremony on Wednesday, November 7 at 3 pm. Volunteers will read names from 4 pm on the 7th to 12 am on the 8th; they will then read names for 19 hours daily from 5 am until 12 am on November 8th, 9th, and 10th.
All Blackhorse troopers, family, and friends are invited to participate in the annual Veterans Day wreath laying at the Wall on Sunday, November 11. The ceremony will take place at 9:45 am near the Three Soldiers Statue at the Blackhorse Patch Wreath. All should gather near the Three Soldiers Statue where we will say a few words and then informally carry the wreath to the apex of the Wall. Please pass this information to anyone who might be interested in participating.
Every year on or about the date of German Reunification, there is a ceremony at Point Alpha, the former 1st Squadron 11th ACR camp. This ceremony celebrates the long vigil of the 14th and 11th ACRs on the Frontiers of Freedom and the end of the Cold War. This year’s ceremony was held on October 2nd, and the speaker was Col. Sarver of the 5th Signal Command. Below are the highlights of his speech.
Dr. Hamberger, Herr Bausch, State Minister Hahn, State Minister Reinholz, Dr. Vogel, Ladies and Gentlemen. I bring you greetings from BG Crawford, Commanding General, 5th Signal Command, who unfortunately could not be here today. I am delighted to be able to represent him and thank you for your gracious invitation.
How proud I am to be with you today – at this place; at this point in time. As we arrived here today, I took in the beautiful landscape of this part of Germany. I thought about how fortunate I am to be stationed here – to live in this prosperous, peaceful and free nation – in this united Federal Republic of Germany. As we celebrate this unity today, it is important that we remember the painful division that came before it – but, more importantly perhaps…the determination of dedicated people – lovers of freedom – on both sides of that fence out there.
There were the people to the west of that fence who knew what their stalwart support of NATO forces – their friendship to America’s Soldiers – would have meant to them and their families had the tanks of the Warsaw Pact rolled east – over the Fulda Gap towards Frankfurt am Main. Then there were the people to the east of that fence, who during those dark days of the Cold War stood up for freedom – in the conviction that the oppression of the East German Communist Dictatorship should not stand.
Some of those people I have just referred to are certainly among us today. So allow me to say thank you for the example you have left to future generations. Thank you for your courage and commitment to freedom.
I was not here when the wall came down or when Germany unified. I was stationed in New York State in the United States. Yet, even there, the Fulda Gap was never far from our thoughts. We knew that if it ever came down to a confrontation with the Warsaw Pact, we would stand by our partner Germany; and that together we would stand by our other NATO Allies and that they would stand by us – committed to the common defense and the common good.
Germany and the United States share common values in areas such as the belief in democracy, the rule of law, and respect for people of different backgrounds. We stood together here at Point Alpha – and at places like it – all along the former "Inner-German Border" during those dark decades of the Cold War with our Federal Border Police partners and NATO Allies at our sides. And we stand together now in places like Afghanistan, Kosovo and the Horn of Africa.
We work together to protect the right of people to have the chance to live in peace and prosperity. We stand ready to support humanitarian relief efforts for those less fortunate than ourselves. And yet even when Germany and the United States act together in far-away places, we are not the only ones there. Just as in those fateful Cold War days, our NATO Allies stand beside us – and they have been joined by a number of new partners as well. This is because it is right for more fortunate countries to care about others and to invest in those less fortunate – because out of this, we build a better future for us all. Indeed, this might be the true lesson of Point Alpha, as we stand here celebrating 22 years of German unity in peace, prosperity and freedom.
The day after the Point Alpha ceremony, another ceremony took place at OP Romeo in 3rd Squadron’s old border sector. The event marked the unveiling of the newly refurbished monument at the camp after vandals had trashed it. The below remarks are excerpts Scot Aitcheson’s speech at the ceremony. Scot is a former member of 3rd Squadron.
Sehr geehrte Herr Bürgermeister, Herr Koch, ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon, and thank you for allowing me to be with you today. I bring to you greetings from the 14th and 11th Armored Cavalry Regiments and the many who served honorably and dutifully at this very place, Point Romeo. I can honestly say that it is both an honor and a privilege to be asked to speak on their behalf today. I enlisted in the US Army during the final days of the Cold War and my service with the 3rd Squadron 11th Armored Cavalry was at the end of their tour of service in Germany. With the blessing of the regiment, I hope to share some of their thoughts and reflections with you today.
For 45 years, American soldiers assumed the role of defending the West German border from the Eastern frontier. I use the word frontier because from our perspective, everything that lay beyond this point was unknown and in some cases, very frightening. This task was not new to either regiment, as both the 14th & 11th Cavalries had histories of service in the early 1900s along the American-Mexican border.
All soldiers who served during the Cold War were trained and prepared to fight a Soviet threat. To many, this conflict was to be inevitable and for the troopers of the 11th Cavalry, it would begin here. This notion may not have been immediately clear to an incoming soldier but the reality and seriousness of the mission were established early on, during the regimental commander’s briefing to all new "troopers" to the regiment.
His words were brief, stoic, and unforgettable: the task of the 11th Cavalry was to defend the West German border and stop the advancement of Soviet forces when the time came. We faced 5 Soviet divisions of armored and mechanized forces all stationed with in a few kilometers of our barracks. Despite their overwhelming numbers, the superior training, equipment, and quality of soldiering would give the regiment a tactical advantage to accomplish the mission.
Within the squadron the tone could be somewhat more sobering. We were to hold the border for 24 hours, long enough for additional forces to arrive from elsewhere within Germany or the US. The more pessimistic outlook was that we would suffer 85% casualties within the first 24 hours of fighting, that we would defeat the first of many waves of attacks but never make it to established fallback positions, and that we would lose many of our comrades in the early stages of what would be a brutal and exhausting fight. Soldiers’ lives were suddenly measured in seconds and they typically joked with one another about their specific military specialty versus their life expectancy in combat.
Faced with this new reality and of an unclear future, we trained and we trained hard. We fought against a modeled Soviet force and learned to outwit our opponents. We spent hours studying Soviet vehicles and learning how to identify them from little more than a gun barrel or a tank wheel. Young soldiers were taught to think on their feet in the hopes that they would be able to assume leadership positions if their commanders and sergeants were lost in battle. I remember running through the woods behind us and being taught to yell commands to my comrades sending them into action. We trained extensively for chemical and nuclear conditions, another frightening inevitability of a 3rd world war.
Alerts were commonplace and our bags remained packed. Half of our personal equipment was kept on or very near our tanks to reduce the amount of time that would be required when the time came to go. The ammunition supply point was hidden in the forest but set up in such a way that we could move quickly from the "stables" to the ammunition point, load our tank and small arms ammunition, and be in our battle positions in the shortest amount of time.
Border patrols were part of a normal tour with 3-11. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Weekends, holidays, birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries. Each unit spent anywhere from a week to a month at a time at one of the camps patrolling the trace with the enemy literally looking at him across a short distance. Each soldier had 5 rounds in his magazine with tape over the top to prevent accidental firing of his rifle.
The typical age of an enlisted soldier at the time was less than 20. It was one thing for many of us to be away from home for the first times in our lives. It was something different to be in another country with a foreign language. But to be on the border was an experience that gave a soldier a unique understanding and appreciation for the term "service"; to be a part of something greater than one’s self with an intense sense of purpose that extended far beyond small town USA. The world suddenly became smaller and the "enemy" was now much closer than what we might have previously seen on television or read in newspapers. Idealism and naiveté were quickly replaced with a blunt reality that the time might come where we would have to fight.
Even with the shadow of war looming over us, duty in the regiment was good. There was a sense of comradeship and an esprit d’corps that one rarely experienced in any other Army unit. The greatest challenges I remember were the ones that were inevitably outside of our control. A few years ago a friend and comrade asked me if I could describe my worst day in the Army. I tried to think of something specific but couldn’t come up with one. He started to laugh and said: "being on guard duty in Germany during the winter, being cold and with that sideways rain hitting you in the face." In retrospect I think he was right. Thank goodness the US and Soviet forces were more predictable and forgiving than the weather!
And all of a sudden, it was over. One former colleague talked about sitting in the tower here at Romeo and receiving a call that the border would be opened. No one knew what that meant or what was to be expected. Just that it was going to happen. 23 years later, even after the fences are down and the with a new Autobahn to our right, there remains a powerful connection for those of us who had the opportunity to be a small part of history. A common sentiment from many who served here is that it was one of the most uncertain, formidable yet best times of their lives. The experience was profound and permanent.
For me, the experience here was not just simply a part of my military service but truly life changing. For the first time in my life I had a purpose. I was not just a witness to history, I was a part of it and my actions, however small, could have an impact on the world. I was exposed to new people, new ideologies, and perspectives I had never considered. 10 years after the last soldiers left Point Romeo, I found myself working side by side with Russian soldiers as a part of the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia. How the world had changed.
On behalf of myself and the men of the 14th and 11th Calvary, I thank you for keeping the memory of Point Romeo alive. This is a sacred place and the symbol of our history, service, and our legacy. Again, it is an honor to share this day with you and my family and I thank you sincerely for including us in this truly special event.
The American Legion Newport Harbor Post 291 is one of the Blackhorse Association scholarship fund’s greatest contributors (several thousand dollars each year). The 29th District Commander is Steve Spriggs, who is the Blackhorse Association’s leader in this area also. Post 291 recently held their annual golf tournament, and fielded a Blackhorse team.
Blackhorse team members, SPC Tinker, SPC MacMurray, SSG Young, Major General Paul Mock (Ret), SFC Morgan, Terry Hara, Deputy Chief LAPD, Dist 29, CMDR Steve Spriggs, LT COL Peterson, and John Stansbury
After many years and a lot of hard work by veterans of the fight, A Troop, 1st Squadron, 11th ACR was recently awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for action in Vietnam in March of 1970. Recently, Phil Keith, the author of the book "Blackhorse Riders", had the rare opportunity to interview the commander of the force that A Troop faced, North Vietnamese Colonel Nguyen Tuong Lai .
Colonel Nguyen Tuong Lai commanded the 272nd NVA Regiment in 1970, fled Vietnam in 1977 (anticipating incarceration in a ‘re-education camp’) and eventually found asylum in Switzerland. Phil describes the colonel as a psychopath who, by his own admission, tortured American prisoners and who murdered two POWs with a pistol shot to the head. He is intensely bitter after suffering demotion following the war in favor of better-connected North Vietnamese Army rivals. The carefully-staged interview with an intermediary yielded a fascinating and frightful array of facts about our desperate 1970 battle. Below is a condensed version of parts of that interview as told by Phil Keith (courtesy of Ken Jankel).
The broad picture narrated by Colonel Nguyen is that the First Cavalry Division had blundered badly in leaving two remote base camps, Illingworth and Jay, exposed and vulnerable amidst a large concentration of NVA forces. The enemy high command’s goal was to overrun both base camps and use the surviving Americans as "pawns in the Paris Peace Talks." A large NVA force of hard-core, long-serving regulars was assembled to assault the Americans under the command of Col. Nguyen. At his disposal was his own 272nd NVA Regiment and some or all of the 93rd NVA Regiment.
The NVA bunker complex that Charlie Troop penetrated on March 26, 1970 was the headquarters of the 272nd Regiment and it contained the startling total of 700 regulars who were massed for the attack on the 220 Americans at Illingworth. The headquarters complex also was a major supply-and-support base for infiltration of the Saigon region. (700 hard-core opponents is a greater number than ever I had believed present on that exceptional day.)
Charlie Company [2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division] was lured into the NVA complex. The NVA knew exactly where Charlie Company was because they could "smell Americans" (due mainly to our different diet) and our tobacco smoke, as well as hear us. The tactic that day was to "lead them (Charlie Company) down the throat of the bottle and stick in the cork." Charlie Company’s 80 + men were to be annihilated with any survivors taken across the border that night as POWs.
Colonel Nguyen recalls that the NVA hated the armored cavalry in general and our Sheridan tanks in particular. The large bore tank guns and the anti-personnel fleshette rounds were lethal and the Sheridans were more agile in the jungle than the M-48 Patton tanks used elsewhere. Our M-113 ACAVs were called "Green Dragons", but the NVA "lived in fear" of the Sheridans.
During the battle, we killed a stunning 200 of the 700 regulars in the 272nd Regiment. The NVA, he said, had to stand and fight us because they knew we and the tactical air and artillery would destroy them if they fled their bunkers. The NVA decamped across the nearby border during the night rather than pursue us.
But, here is the most gratifying revelation: Colonel Nguyen reports that, after our battle, he could only commit 400 effectives to the attack on Illingworth a few days later. The Colonel blames his devastating losses during the Anonymous Battle for his failure to overrun the Illingworth garrison of 220 men, killing or capturing all of them. Adding those 220 to Charlie Company’s 80 means that Alpha Troop had a pivotal role, together with the contributions of many other units, in saving 300 American lives.
Unwittingly, Alpha Troop rendered one other lifesaving service. After our battle, three of our damaged vehicles were towed or limped into Illingworth for repair. LTC Conrad (the battalion commander to whom Alpha Troop reported) placed them on the perimeter – by chance or by design – just at the weakest point and where Colonel Nguyen planned to attack. Fearing to charge headlong into the cavalry vehicles, Colonel Nguyen shifted his point of attack to a less advantageous site elsewhere on the perimeter. In addition to his losses to us on March 26, he attributes his failure to overrun Illingworth to the menacing presence on line of our Sheridans and ACAVs. The derelict vehicles were, of course, nearly useless (although their crews were not).
The following comes from Ken Jankel, 2nd platoon, B troop, 1st Squadron, 11th ACR, Vietnam 1966-67.
"Together then together again" is a phrase that says so much in only four words. Who would have thought, 46 years ago, in the rice patties of Vietnam, that the guys I was busting jungle with would be sitting at our platoon leader’s home in Orlando Florida. On September 13, 2012, seven of us from B-troop 2nd platoon, six military Officers, and the wives of the Blackhorse were invited by Lt. William (Bill) Chesarek (as we knew him then, now a retired Colonel) and his wife Barbara to visit with them at their home. They were only 32 miles from the Rosen Hotel, which is where we were having the 11th ACVVC reunion.
I noticed when we pulled up in Col. Chesarek’s driveway that his license plate had "11 ACR" on it. Of all the Army units Bill served with he chose the 11th Cav as the one he was proud to display on his Florida license plate. We all know why.
Among the honored guests at Bill’s and Barbara’s home were from left to right in picture:
Todd Starbuck (1LT, C Troop, 66-67); Bill Chesarek (1LT, B Troop, 66-67, retired Colonel); Larry Gunderman (CPT, C Troop, 66-67, retired Major General); Gary Houzenga (B-26, driver); Ken Jankel (B-24, Gunner, 66-67); Nash Loya (B-20, Gunner, 66-67); Bernie Carpenter (1LT, 1st Platoon, B Troop, 66-67); Ward Jones (B-21, Driver, 66-67), Curtis Mays (B-28, Gunner, 66-67); Byron Skinner (Sp4, C Troop, 66-67); John Quinn ( B-22, Driver, 66-67); Jay Stewart (1LT, C Troop 66-67); and Gil Ferrey (CPT, HHT Regt & HHT 1/11th, 66-67)
Stephen Page (SSG, TC, B-24, 66-67), Dale Beal ( B-22 Gunner, 66-67) and Ron Pope (B-20, 66-67) were also part of the platoon and at the main reunion, but to their regret, had other commitments on that Thursday night and could not visit. They were heartsick, but their spirits were with their combat brothers.
Col. Chesarek spent quality time with all his guests and made us feel as though we were still a big part of his life. He holds high regard for all of us and made us feel that he was honored for us to be in his home, when truly the honor was ours.
I can’t say enough about how the men in his platoon feel about this great platoon leader and fine officer; he is one outstanding man. The majority of us know that he was one of the reasons we made it home from Nam to live to share the stories of our lives. The time we spent with the Col. and his wife turned a great reunion into an outstanding event.
Bill Chesarek, who has been to both the BHA and ACVVC reunions in the last year, held a special reunion for about 12 members of his platoon at his home during the ACVVC reunion in Orlando. I will forward you (in a followup email) some information about that mini-reunion and a picture which you might be able to turn into a decent item.
Reminder to all. The 1901 Club – named for the year the 11th Cavalry Regiment was constituted and organized – is our primary fundraising tool for all operations of the Association. Our drawing mail-out-and-return program needs your participation; it is absolutely critical to our continued success. Our fundraising director, Don Wicks, sent out the drawing’s tickets in mid-September. Please send donations and tickets in the enclosed return envelope to Don by March 31, 2013. Purchase all five $20-tickets for a total of $100 and be part of our 1901 Club. Drawings will be made at next year’s reunion in Louisville at our Stable Your Mount gathering on Friday, May 30, 2013. You need not be present to win. Five winners will receive their choice of a 1901 campaign hat, saber, or spurs. Winners not present will be notified immediately after the reunion.
Reminder – Louisville Reunion
11th Armored Cavalry Regiment will hold its annual Blackhorse Family reunion in Louisville, KY, 30 May to 2 June 2013. Hosted by the Blackhorse Association and the Gold Vault Chapter, the reunion is open to all past and present troopers who served with the Regiment, the Regimental Community, and any separate unit that supported the Regiment. COL Paul Laughlin, our 63rd Colonel and new 47th Chief of Armor, will be the keynote speaker at the banquet.