AN INTRODUCTION TO “UP-CLOSE & PERSONAL IN-COUNTRY, CHIEU HOI, VIETNAM 1969-1970”
Robert A. Sullivan, Major General, United States Army (ret.)
There were two Vietnam assignments in my life, starting with the Military Advisory Assistance Command (MACV) in 1964 and oversight of the four major training sites, one in each of the Corps areas.
The second tour in 1968 was of a different magnitude and came nearer the time covered in Robert Bogison’s fascinating narrative, assigned to an infantry unit the author will recognize at once: Command of the 2nd Battalion, 39th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division. “Bushwhackers” of the 720th MP Battalion were intimately familiar with the 9th, “The Old Reliables.”
But Robert Bogison was not infantry. Not his MOS at all. Remarkably, he was a Military Policeman who got the roughest kind of infantry-appropriate, ground-pounding assignments imaginable. An anomaly in U. S. Army chronicles and very probably unique in the history of the Military Police Corps.
What’s more, Robert and his band of brothers did the job with consummate military skill, with fortitude, application of loads of common sense, technical savvy, with humor and with no small dash of élan.
Whatever their background, from California surfer to urban street hangers-on, they fought as a team of “heroic hearts,” strong in will and never to yield. They represent America’s best, young men to whom the nation owes a debt of boundless gratitude. The 9th Division that Robert and I share affection for — and to whose energetic support we likely owe our survival — is the same outfit in which Sergeant Smith served as a Military Policeman and told about back at Fort Riley, before Robert’s in-country perils began. About the ambushes and fire fights Smith survived escorting convoys on the highways of the Mekong Delta.
The 9th was the first infantry division Robert spotted in the octofoil shoulder patch worn by “old-timers clad in worn and faded fatigues” cited in the lively account of his arrival in Vietnam, when the well-worn saddle of a senior sergeant -and Robert’s trans-oceanic airline passenger companion -parted with a kindly, “Good luck, kid. Do what they tell you.”
Doing what they “tell you” is the easy part. Doing it right when there’s no one around to tell you anything is the hard bit. For Robert and for most of us, presence of mind for independent action came later, with experience.
And it was the 9th Division Robert and his squad impatiently waited for a “special delivery” from the “artillery guys miles away at a place called Bearcat” only to be told that the 9th had a melee of their own to sort out and there was no artillery to spare. I know Bearcat. We share the experience in more ways than just geography.
The Vietnam War was a defining event for me, as it was in Robert Bogison’s life. In-your-face combat participation is a crucible that changes people forever. Robert was in Long Binh ward, Biên Hoa, Đồng Nai Province. My bunk was not all that far away in the Delta at Firebase Dirk, later designated Firebase Schroeder in honor of Lt Colonel Donald B. Schroeder who was killed in action.
We got the same mosquitoes, bugs the size of Philadelphia, venomous reptiles in unbelievable numbers, sizes, and colors, same wet, same mud and the same people who wanted to kill us. I still have a note written by our chaplain who remembered vividly how we ran into each other one action-packed night in 1969.
It was about 3am and we were experiencing a rather heavy mortar attack which gave evidence of being a prep for a ground attack. We were heading for the perimeter, but in opposite directions. The night was totally without light, except that from exploding mortars, one of which heavily damaged my quarters, and another, but a few minutes later, exploding on top of the sandbags protecting the aid station. 13 of us were in the treatment room when it hit. It was an interesting night.
The enemy at that time, for Robert Bogison and for me, came mostly from the Viet Cong, but it rapidly was joined by well-trained North Vietnamese Army forces moving down the Ho Chi Minh Trail from North Vietnam. We were involved in several major battles with both elements.
Like the “Bushwhackers” in this book, we conducted routine day and night operations. It was a pitiless schedule made worse by geography and climate. I thank God for allowing me to come through the war unscathed. There is no doubt Robert Bogison would not hesitate to join me with an Amen to that!
A word on recognition of extraordinary service rendered. It is a truism throughout the US military that when individuals get an award it is generally one step junior to the one, they actually deserve. But there is little debate that administrative practice in the Vietnam War tilted odds in favor of commissioned officers. As battalion commander, I had a LOACH observation helicopter at my disposal and took to the air frequently to help guide the battalion’s ground movements. Unlike “God’s Own Lunatics” the stalwarts who served as combat air crew and had no choice in selecting their sorties, my observer role qualified for award of the Air Medal. That never sat right with me. In that context, congratulations on your Army Commendation Medal, Robert. In your case the symbolism far outweighs the medal’s ranking on the awards chart.
I am proud to have served in the same Army, same war zone with Robert Bogison and the 720th, confident of having done our duty.
Robert A. Sullivan
Major General (Infantry) United States Army
Norfolk, Virginia, February, 2019
General Sullivan, a native of Sturgis, South Dakota was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant, Infantry, in 1952 through the University of South Dakota’s ROTC program. He retired in 1982 as Chief of Public Affairs, Office of the Secretary of the Army. In civilian life he was a banker.
He passed away 8 days after “UP-CLOSE & PERSONAL” was published, on June 21, 2019.