(A yellowed, faded example of this picture, in photograph form, just turned up in my "stuff." I don't know just where it came from as I took slides, not photographs. I've run it through Photo Deluxe to collor correct it and sharpen it).

The Purple Heart Seat

September 1969 probably. Note the new, clean uniform and polished boots. I arrived in Vietnam the end of July 1969 and was assigned temporarily to an advisory team with 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry, 5th ARVN Division, while waiting for my predecessor to finish his tour as Senior Advisor to 1st Squadron 1st ARVN Armored Cavalry. Sometime in September I went to the Cav unit, hence the patch on the left pocket. 1st Lieutenant's bars grace the uniform because my July promotion to Captain hadn't caught up to me. As I had been promoted on my arrival date in Vietnam, the Army had some trouble catching up with me.

The vehicle is an ACAV, a modified M113 Armored Personnel Carrier, an early model, which burned gasoline. U. S. units got later diesel versions. The U. S. Army was late in converting to diesel (used by the Germans in WWII). Gasoline burns much easier than diesel. We called these Zippos as a result.

The Squadron Commander, a Vietnamese Captain, sat in the front armored seat, an ex-helicopter seat. The Senior Advisor sat in the back seat. You didn't want to sit inside. The vehicle, designed to be air droppable (!) was inadequately armored. My interpreter was one of 11 men sleeping in one when a 12.7 mm round went inside and bounced around, killing them all. The enemy anti-tank rounds, the B-40 and B-41 rockets, had no trouble penetrating the armor from any direction.

The purpose of the armored seats was, along with the antenna farm, to make it obvious to the NVA ambushing us that this was the command vehicle so they would know which vehicle to attack first. This vehicle and its predecessors and replacements had a much higher likelihood of being blown up. My predecessor was blown off his vehicle and wounded. My replacement, a National Guard captain, died in that rear seat. The NVA raked the top of the vehicle with AK fire while hitting the front slope with a B40 rocket. The Squadron Commander was seriously wounded in the incident, and the advisor sergeant, his name lost to me now, (but I'll find it--watch this space) earned a Distinguished Service Cross, taking over command with one functioning leg after being knocked off his tank when the turret rotated without warning.

After writing the original version of this story I realized that everyone who worked in that seat got a Purple Heart (though not necessarily while in the seat). My predecessor had gotten one, and his predecessor, my assistant, my replacement, and me. I'm not sure how long this had gone on or how long it continued.

Who is this guy?

Curt's Newsletter