THE REASON TO GO TO UNIT REUNIONS
by Jerry Williamson

  A few years ago I went to the annual 4-day reunion of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (Vietnam and Cambodia) in Las Vegas.  Although there were several hundred guys and their guests, I was having a good time, but was a little disappointed because by the middle of the third day, I hadnít run into anyone I had actually had on my tank crew from 1968-69.

While walking down a hallway in the hotel, someone called my name and I looked up to see four guys coming toward me, one of whom I didnít recognize as guys from the past couple of days.  One of them gave me a funny look and pointed to the guy I didnít recognize and told me the man had a question for me.

With a somber look he asked me, ďWhere did you and Murdock go that day when you left me in the tank?Ē  Since I didnít have a clue what he was talking about, he explained that during a particularly nasty firefight, Murdock and I had left him alone in the tankís driverís compartment for a while and then came back at the end of the shooting.

I started to laugh as it all hit me.  This was Ron Atwell, and when I quit laughing, I explained to one seriously angry man what had happened almost thirty years ago.

Our job was lead either armored personnel carriers or straight-leg infantry in to investigate suspected enemy base camps with our 51-ton M-48 tanks. We did this by ďbusting jungleĒ, which is basically crashing through trees and brush and excruciatingly slow speed to our objective.  Our approach noise gave the enemy sufficient time to either run, hide, or set up an ambush.  On this particular day, our three-man crew consisted of Ron, who had been recently assigned as my loader, Mac Murdock as driver, and I was the tank commander.  As we approached the suspected enemy base camp in heavy foliage, the tank on my left took a glancing blow from a Rocket Propelled Grenade, which exploded without noticeable damage to the tank. 

As we engaged the enemy, I saw the tank commander on my left flank roll out of his hatch and disappear.  The tempo of fire increased as Ron kept the guns loaded and Murdock watched though his front periscopes and relayed information into his helmet radio about targets for me to shoot.  Outside the tank was an ugly shit storm of enemy fire from the front and infantry fire from the rear.  Iím not sure which group scored more hits on the tank.

Finally, we ran out of ammo for the 90mm canon and were very low on machinegun rounds with no way to re-supply.  Enemy fire was still heavy and things werenít looking good for the home team.  Over the intercom, I told Murdock that I was going to run to the left-flank tank to make use of  that tankís untapped ammo supply.  He argued that he should go with me to load the guns if the loader there was out of commission.  Since Ron was new, and Murdock and I could read each otherís minds by that time, I decided to put Ron in the driver's seat and take Murdock with me.  Through the horrendous noise I told Ron to get into the driverís seat and if he saw any unfriendlies approaching, ďback up and donít stop until you get to San FranciscoĒ.  It never occurred to me that, as loader, he didnít have a commo helmet, and hadnít heard my conversation with Murdock.

We ran through the storm and fought with that tank until the firefight was over and then returned to our own tank and Ron.  The situation was never discussed even as Doc French pulled a piece of metal out of my leg.  We just went about our usual business.

(Over the next few months, Ron turned out to be so good, that now I wonder why I didnít send him and Murdock and stay put myself.)

 To this day, I canít imagine the thoughts going through Ronís mind as he sat very alone in the confines of the driverís compartment with the impact of rounds ricocheting off the tankís hull and turret. 

 When I explained it to him after all these years, we laughed like crazy people until tears ran.  The next year we hooked up with Murdock and John (Red) Reel and laughed even harder.

 We lost a good man on 3 June 2002, when Ron died of pancreatic cancer.  Ron won the Soldierís Medal for saving another soldier from certain death in a non-combat situation, the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism as a helicopter door gunner, and the Purple Heart, twice.     

 I thank God I went to that reunion.