“The Lord was our point man.”
As an infantryman with the 9th Infantry Division from August 1968 until June 1969 in the Vietnam War, I was a part of over 200 combat missions during my tour of duty.
Each of these missions contained different levels of danger. Some were short and relatively safe. Some were more aggressive and deadly, which lasted for several days. For our combat soldiers, it was ‘just another day at the office’. But it certainly wasn’t a ‘nine to five’ desk job. Many of our combat missions lasted several days and nights on the battlefields, under conditions that still haunt the minds of too many. These combat missions offered up many risks and afforded us few rewards. I truly believe the Lord was our point man.
On the longer missions, we were brought supplies by helicopters. The supplies were routinely the same. They would bring us more ammunition for our weapons, c-rations for our meals, and dry socks for our feet. Occasionally we would get a special treat like watermelon. The smiles were sincere. After being stripped of all of the basic comforts that most Americans take for granted, we felt special in receiving the watermelon treat. What an awesome band of brothers!
This picture was taken in 1968 at our base camp in Rach Kien, Vietnam.
I advanced from fire team leader to squad leader, to platoon Sergeant, and on numerous combat missions, was a platoon leader. Opportunities for advancement often came suddenly with combat casualties, end of tour rotations, and other duty assignments. At full platoon strength, we had 32 soldiers. We operated with 21 to 22 men for the majority of my tour. My platoon was the 1st platoon of Alpha Company, 5th / 60th, 9th Infantry Division. The platoon leader position was supposed to be held by an officer. They would come and go for various reasons. Pictured here, is our operational briefing, the night before a mission. Lt. Pinkston was our platoon leader at that time and was discussing the details of the upcoming mission. If the mission was to be near the Parrot’s Beak area or the Plain Of Reeds, we knew that it would be difficult and extremely dangerous.
Pictured here are (L-R) SGT. Mike Murrell, 1LT. John Pinkston, SSG. Barney Tharp, SSG. Ed Reiser, and SSG. David Lockwood. I had ‘The Lord Is My Point man’ on my steel helmet cover.
March 8, 1969 symbolized the worst of times for our unit. We touched down on a LZ (Landing Zone), that afternoon and noticed that the target area was mostly open rice paddy fields. Adjusting to the terrain, our company commander opted to not move out in formation, as was our normal drill. Instead, we
extended out ‘on line’ to cover a wider area. Th is formation covers more territory but turns every man into a ‘point man’ with more vulnerability to danger. As we moved cautiously across the rice paddy fields, we were on high alert for enemy presence. Suddenly there was a large explosion. We all froze and dropped to the ground. Th at single explosion was followed by the most frightful battle cry ever uttered, “Medic, Medic!”.
Our medic Spec 5 David “Doc” Tiff any and our Company Commander made their way to the point of concern. We saw Spec 4 Dan Ebbole standing nearby with his facial expression telling the whole, horrifying story.
There was no amount of training to prepare us for those tough moments. Our beloved Spec 4 Danny L. Hanson had been killed. It appeared that he stepped into a broken plane in the rice paddy dike, which detonated. Th is was not an anti-personnel mine but an anti-tank mine. The tremendous force of the
explosion had ripped Danny’s body into irretrievable parts. As we gathered his remains onto a poncho liner, there was little to identify Danny. We were able to see his infamous ‘Red Devil’ tattoo on part of his left arm. Our job was to respectfully remove Danny’s remains from the battlefield and put them onto a Dust Off helicopter. We had to regroup and focus. We had to continue our mission. That is what soldiers do. The Vietnam War was a life altering experience for me. No longer did I take the basic essentials in life for granted. Vietnam gave me a crash course in Humility 101. I humbly thanked God for the chance to live another day and to successfully survive another battle. It’s amazing how wartime experiences can make one appreciate the most basic things in life, like life itself.
After returning home my personal ordeal with the Vietnam War was over physically, but not mentally. When I returned to ‘The World’ I had left the rice paddies and jungles behind, but the rice paddies and jungles had not left me behind. The nightmares of war were frequent, furious and vivid in my mind. My ‘back to normal’ life was not so normal. I knew it never would be again. I met and married a very kind and caring lady who has been my rock in the healing process. I have a beautiful farm with lots of hills and hollows and seem to be located near the gates of Heaven. This peaceful setting has provided excellent therapy in learning to cope with, and control my wartime nightmares and memories. We were scorned by society, but hailed a Hero at home.
Let the healing begin.
~Barney Tharp, United States Army, Vietnam Veteran
Barney’s full story appears in the book VietnamandBeyond.com
Veteran stories are interviewed and collected by JennyLasala.com