Veterans’ Tales by Vassar Bushmills
Seems you can’t turn your head without finding our friend SGM Fred Barnes in the middle of history. Last year we introduced Fred as an E-3 trooper whose unit was brought into to witness (as guinea pigs) the first and only firing of the Army’s famous atomic cannon in the Nevada desert in 1953.
(Fast forward six years, and Spec 5 Barnes found himself at the front of the history known in America as the “Vietnam War”, only four years before most Americans ever heard of it, 1961-thru 1963.
(I’ll let SGM Barnes tell the story from here on in, for what he helped develop in Saigon would re-shape the way OER’s, Officers Efficiency Reports, would be handled for the duration of the War.
* * * * *
In September, 1959 my tour in Germany ended and I was reassigned to the Office of Personnel, at HQ Ft Sill, Oklahoma. At the time my MOS was Clerk-Typist.
My new boss was a DAC (civilian) named Frances Richardson. She was in charge of Officer Evaluation Reports (OER’s), and had developed a great system of management which I decided to become expert in, spending the next 20 years in that special area.
In 1960 my son Stuart was born, and in summer of ’61 I saw an 8 x 5 form on a co-worker’s desk, a request for a special assignment to a MAAG Mission. (Military Assistance Advisory Group), the most prominent one, the new MAAG Mission in Vietnam.
JFK was just elected president, and the new Administration wanted to be able to provide assistance in developing the new Army of South Vietnam (RVN), which meant attaching US military advisers to train RVN units in the field fighting a communist insurgency (Viet Cong) in the rice paddies around the country, with the assistance of the communist regime just to the north, known as Peoples Republic of North Vietnam.
When the French left Vietnam after an idiotic defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the country had to be split in two, much like Korea, half the country has non-communist, but hardly free as Americans know the meaning of that word. The Kennedy Administration saw the potential for a dominoes effect if the Communists should succeed in winning South Vietnam. Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand could soon follow.
(I’m writing this as if you may never have heard of any of these things, only if you were born before 1950, and were a male, your whole life was defined by this tiny little war for over ten years. But in 1961 when then Spec 5 Fred Barnett took his wife and son to Saigon…yes, it was a 2-year accompanied tour in those days…virtually no one in America had ever heard of this place. And that was when Fred Barnes once again walked into history.)
I was ordered to report in September, 1961, and was ordered to wear civvies, The Army gave me $300 to buy clothes. In 1960, the year before I go there, the rise of the communist insurgency prompted the rise of US advisors from 327 to 625. In 1961 that number had multiplied to over 3400. By the end of 1962 that number had leaped to 11,000[…]