War Stories

The First Time

by Dick Arnold
June 1 1967

The First Time

Though most Grunts would be shot at many times during their Vietnam tours; I wager nearly all can recall the very first time. Like your first hot car or your first sexual encounter—it tends to stick in your mind. Like Winston Churchill said of his time as a young solider defending the British Empire,

"There is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at without result." Could not agree more Winston........

I came In-Country around May 14, 1967. Spent a few days at Cam Ranh; then a week at the mostly b.s. orientation course at Pleiku. Then I was sent to my permanent unit, 1/35th Infantry, located at LZ Montezuma (later Bronco) hard by Duc Pho along Highway One. My Company, Alpha, was at LZ OD about a kilometer due west from Duc Pho.

So it must have been around June 1 1967 when I went on my first patrol. My 2nd Platoon humped off OD to Highway One and then south along the road. What we were supposed to accomplish is still not clear to me.... just "showing the flag" as they say I guess. I know one thing—it was hot as all get-out.

A guy named Wesley Sperling, who had arrived In-Country a couple of weeks before me, was carrying the radio for one of the squad leaders. Wesley was a solid guy from the prairies of Nebraska and he and I would be good friends until he was transferred to Echo Company later that summer.

The squad leader was an alcoholic and had a bottle of 45 whiskey from which he was imbibing at a frequent rate. As the patrol progressed and he became drunker, he was having great fun pushing unwary Vietnamese off their bicycles as they passed. This went on for awhile until Plt SSG Johnson tells the jerk to knock it off.

We go down Highway One a few klicks, then turn around and head for home. As mentioned before, it is hot as blazes, we are all dragging butt, and Wesley really is as he is humping the added weight of the radio. So halfway back he asks the squad leader for some salt tablets. The squad leader turns and hands them to Wesley and just then a burst of shots ring out. The bottle of salt tablets is literally shot out of Wesley's hand!

We all deploy to the sides of the highway, some tanks amble down from Duc Pho for support, but no more shots are fired and no bad Guys are to be seen anywhere. We continue on back to OD without further incident.

Upon refection, it simply can not be a coincident at whom those rounds were fired. I figure one of those Vietnamese who were pushed off their bikes went home and dug-out their old French rifle and tried to even the score with the drunk, classic Ugly American of a squad leader. And poor Wesley almost suffered the consequences. Can not be figured any other way. As often is the case in war, there is more to the story. Wesley died at Mile High April 5, 1968 under heroic circumstances. RIP Wesley.

Dick Arnold

A, 1/35th