SERGEANTS

This was originally published in The Belle Banner, Belle Missouri June 14h 2017. If you would like to see the current articles as they are published, you may subscribe to The Belle Banner by calling 573-859-3328, or email tcnpub3@gmail.com, or mail to The Belle Banner, PO Box 711, Belle, MO 65013. Subscription rates are; Maries, Osage, and Gasconade County = $23.55 per year, elsewhere in Missouri = $26.77, outside Missouri = $27.00, and foreign countries = $40.00.
I’ve written about Generals. This is about sergeants. Sergeants are Non-commissioned officers (NCO’s), they are the backbone of the Army. Officers manage the Army, Sergeants run it. Sergeants are the reason I stayed in the Army. I was a career soldier long before I got to know the generals.
I remember my sergeants from basic training, but nothing of note, I don’t remember those from AIT (Advanced Individual Training), and the only one I remember from jump school is a short oriental Staff Sergeant who I kicked in the chin, when I dropped down to do pushups. I was afraid to say anything as he walked around, put his face down next to mine, and said “You kicked me soldier!”. I then screamed “I’m sorry sergeant” as loud as I could, and he left me alone.
I arrived at my first company on March 1st, 1962, Company A, 1st Airborne Battle Group, 325th Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. I was met by my Platoon Sergeant, Staff Sergeant Bryant, who took me and a couple other newbies up to the platoon bay to meet the platoon. All but Sergeants slept in one large room, the platoon bay, although we did have portable partitions for sleeping areas. Staff Sergeant Walker was the Weapons Squad Leader and he needed a machine gunner. SSG Bryant told SSG Walker to see if he could train me up on the machinegun. I spoke up and said that I learned all about the machinegun in AIT. They all grinned and said “OK then”. I guess I bought that one, that A6 .30 caliber machinegun weighed 31 pounds alone, and if you had to carry any ammo, or the spare barrel or the tripod, it was 50 pounds. I carried that gun all over Fort Bragg and the Carolinas, but it seemed worth it when my company won Division Machinegun Competition, with the “new” M60 in the spring of 1963. SSG Bryant and SSG Walker were both black men. I think most people my age understand why I mention that. If you grew up in Belle, Missouri in the 1950’s, you experienced prejudices, it was the culture then. There were no black people here. The only time we saw black people was when going to Jeff City or St Louis. I don’t think any normal person can spend a lot of time in the infantry and come out with any racial prejudices. Even in 1962 the Army was color blind. There was a saying then, “There is no black or white in the Army, we are all green, and we all bleed red.” SSG Bryant was a very intelligent and articulate man. He was only there a few months, after I arrived, he applied for and went to Special Forces. If you google William Maud Bryant, you will see a picture of him along with his posthumous Medal of Honor Citation. He was not only an excellent Non-Commissioned Officer, he was one courageous leader and fighter, before he went down. It was too late in the day to draw a bunk and linen from supply, so that first night I slept on my air mattress in SSG Walker’s room. SSG Tom Walker was 27 years old at that time. The other Machine gunner, in our squad, was also black, but SSG Walker never showed any preference to either of us, he treated us both like younger brothers. He taught us how to set fields of fire, interlock fields of fire, how to do range cards, and everything else that concerned the machinegun. He taught us how to prepare for inspections and pass inspections. He taught us soldiering. SSG Tom Walker went to Vietnam, when we all did, he was in a Recon Platoon, in the 327th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division. He was killed in action July 26th, 1966.
The NCO who replaced SSG Bryant as Platoon Sergeant was SSG Raymond P Dial. Personality wise, he was the polar opposite of SSG Bryant. He had lied about his age and enlisted in the Army right at the end of World War II, where he was in the Combat Engineers. He had been up and down the ranks, he got drunk every night, had fog horn voice, and was tough as nails. If you were a good soldier, he was you’re best friend, but for the goof offs he was their nemesis. He led from the front and kicked but in the rear. I believe he could give any class, in relation to combat units, at the drop of a hat. We were in the field, with some dead time, when I saw our Company Commander walk up to him and ask him how long it would take him to prepare a class on DLIC (detachment left in contact) during a company withdrawal. He said, “How about right now, Sir. Let’s get the company together.” When we had Reserves or ROTC Cadets to train, in the summer, our platoon always got the job, because SSG Dial didn’t need any preparation time. Drinking was his downfall, he was just over 42 when he died.
The First Sergeant, of A Company at that time, was 1SG Marvin Register. At the morning formations we thought he talked more like a college professor than an army sergeant. He was 33 years old, single, and drove a new 1962 red Oldsmobile convertible. He had grown up in North Carolina, not far from Fort Bragg. He mentored and advised the good soldiers. After duty hours, he would occasionally load his convertible with sergeants and privates alike and go riding. I was invited along a couple times. We stopped to visit black families who he had grown up around and with whom he was still very close. First Sergeant Register, also went to Special Forces, went to Vietnam and survived, and retired as a Sergeant Major.
The next father figure influence on me was our Battle Group Sergeant Major, Aaron Gelber. He was a giant of a man, 6’6”, with hands large enough to palm a basketball. At that time, tall beer cans weren’t aluminum, they were tin, and I saw him absentmindedly crush them end to end, with one hand. He had a heart as big as his body, he took me under his wing, and by his actions taught me what it meant to be a sergeant. Cornelius Ryan came to Fort Bragg, and interviewed Aaron Gelber, along with several others, when he was writing “A Bridge too Far” (one of my favorite war movies). Aaron Gelber had been a mortar man, during Operation Market Garden, which is accurately portrayed in the movie.
I was promoted to Sergeant in July 1964, a month short of my three year enlistment. Throughout my Army career I was privileged to have worked for some really great NCO’s, and very fortunate to have had some really great ones work for me.
I have written about Command Sergeant Major John Pearce, twice the CSM of the 82nd Airborne Division. He loved the troops, and when the troops were doing their job like they should, CSM Pearce was their guardian angel. I saw him take young soldiers under his wing and run interference for them, when they needed it. I also saw him chew out Sergeants Major like they were privates, when they came up short to CSM Pearce’s standards.
I also had the privilege of working for CSM George Dunaway. When I worked for him, he was the Command Sergeant Major of the 5th Special Forces Group at Nha Trang, South Vietnam. He exercised more authority and power than any enlisted man I ever met. CSM Dunaway had three jeeps, with Chinese Nung (paid mercenaries) drivers at the Group Headquarters. Anyone could borrow one of the Sergeant Major’s jeeps. Just use it and bring it back. One morning a Captain arrived from the states, to work on the staff at Group Headquarters, he borrowed one the Sergeant Major’s jeeps. He turned it into the motor pool late that night. The next day, the Captain departed bag and baggage for a detachment in the woods. I saw CSM Dunaway look a Major in the eye and question him if that’s really the way it happened. The Major answered, “Yes Sergeant Major”. Life at isolated A Detachments would sometimes get a little “wild west”, but there was a very efficient and secret notification system in the operations section, of the 5th Special Forces Group, to keep everyone informed when the Colonel and the CSM were traveling. There was a saying; ”No hair on lip, no gun on hip”. CSM Dunaway went from there to be the Division Sergeant Major of the 101st Airborne Division, and then became the Sergeant Major of the Army.
These great Sergeants who, by their actions, influenced me to stay in the Army, were honest, hard-working, intelligent men. Some had their faults, but they all had one thing in common, they were serious about their job, about the Army, and about training and protecting those for whom they were responsible. As I advanced in rank and moved around in the Army, I found some people in non-airborne support units who were just riding the system, doing as little as they could get by with, until they could retire. If you’re going to enlist – Go Airborne!

2 thoughts on “SERGEANTS

  1. Hmm it seems like your blog ate my first comment (itwas super long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I wrote and say, I’m thoroughly enjoyingyour blog. I too am an aspiring blog writer but I’m still new to everything.Do you have any helpful hints for rookie blog writers?I’d certainly appreciate it.

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