Why Didn't I Die
by
Fred Kirkpatrick

A Memoir about PTSD

Sometime in 2007, I was at a bar with a bunch of 30 year olds. One of them, a navy commander, was on leave from his "grueling" naval assignment in San Diego, California. I mentioned that I was a Vietnam Veteran and started talking about a battle in Vietnam that happened before he was born. He replied, "That's boring. No one is interested in Vietnam".

Forty years prior to that 2007 meeting, January 1967, I was a young 19 year old, who had just arrived in South Vietnam as a combat infantryman. My unit was the elite 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry, of the First Infantry Division. During my one-year tour, from January 1967 to January 1968, the First Infantry participated in ten combat operations. I was involved in all ten of those operations. So many operations that I was awarded the Air Medal, a rare decoration for an infantryman. (The Air Medal was awarded to anyone who, while serving in or with the Armed Forces of the United States, flew in twenty-five hours of combat assaults, during which exposure to enemy fire is probable and expected).

The First Infantry also participated in two major battles in 1967. One was one of the greatest military victory of the Vietnam war. The other, one of the ten bloodiest battles of the Vietnam war, was a humiliating defeat for the First Infantry Division.

Battles are not new to mankind, Civilization has been at war since the dawn of man. In that time, many military disasters have occurred. Overconfidence, carelessness, mental breakdowns, devastating errors and ill-advised decisions, can lead to catastrophes on the battlefield. Here are three examples of what can happen:

1) On October 25, 1854, Lord Cardigan, overall commander of the British forces, led the Suicidal charge of the Light Brigade, over open terrain, by British forces at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War. Due to miscommunications in the chain of command, the Light Brigade on horses was sent on a frontal assault against a Russian artillery battery that was well-prepared with an excellent field of fire on the valley. The Light Brigade came under withering direct fire and were badly mauled, but were able to retreat immediately. 247 of the 637 men in the charge were killed or wounded. The incident is sometimes referred to as the "Valley of Death", and became the subject of the very famous poem, "The Charge of the Light Brigade", by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. In the poem, Tennyson emphasizes the valour of the calvary carrying out orders, regardless of the obvious outcome.

2) Perhaps no battle in history has been studied, dissected, analyzed, theorized over, and widely guessed about then the Battle of the Little Bighorn. On June 25, 1876, General George Armstrong Custer, suffered a severe defeat at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, commonly referred to as Custer's Last Stand. Five of the 7th Calvary's twelve companies were annihilated, one Crow Scout, who left early did survive, as well as a lone horse. There were 210 U.S. casualties, including General George Custer. It was a major battlefield blunder. Custer with his 200+ men, mounted a frontal attack on 2,000 Lakota and Northern Cheyenne warriors. At that time, it was the worst American military disaster ever.

3) The U.S. military in Vietnam, won nearly all its battles. However, American forces did make some mistakes and were involved in several costly battles. Not as well known as the other two battles, the Battle of Ong Thanh happened on October 17, 1967, in South Vietnam. It was a slaughter that equaled the Suicide charge of the Light Brigade and Custer's Last Stand.



Webster: Fred Kirkpatrick