Chapter 11 In Case of Riot – Break Glass

I filled him in on some of the more difficult parts of the project such as the electrical incompatibility and generator problems. Then there was the difficulty getting test equipment. But he seemed less interested in that than the lack of participation in the Vietnamization program. After an hour or so the thanked me and sent me back to my classroom. A couple of months later I was presented with not only the Army Commendation Medal but the Commanding General’s Certificate of Appreciation. There was a nice ceremony with me and one other ARCOM recipient and a bunch men getting lesser awards. Officers and signal school people attended. My section chief was all smiles. My company commander couldn’t have cared less. “Don’t let it go to your head,” he said at the obligatory handshake after I received the medal.

“So you told him about me. I think you told the truth. The truth was that I could not have stayed in Saigon much longer regardless of…… regardless of……… the American support.”

I was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHQ). Despite being assigned to a particular training section we all were assigned to a company for housekeeping purposes, that is a room in the barracks, meals, pay, mail, etc. This company comprised, finance clerks, personnel clerks, signal school instructors, quartermasters, medical and dental technicians and other soldiers who made the army function.

HHC, was commanded by a Capitan K. He was an OCS infantry officer who had returned from a tour in Viet Nam about six months before I got there. In his view anyone who was not a combat infantryman was a pansy. Thus, anyone is his command was by definition a pansy and not worthy of his stripes. He was also one of the officers who commanded the riot-control squad who guarded the post from local insurrection. He was not well liked.

The Ft. Monmouth brass, like most officers, were fighting the last war and, fearing a repeat of the ’67 Newark riots of the summer before, had instituted a riot control program in the winter of ’68 to defend the post. Newark was about 30 miles to our north on either U.S. 1 or New Jersey route 35.

The Newark riot had begun on the evening of July 12 as part of the “Long Hot Summer” of 1967. White, middle-class flower children in San Francisco may have celebrated “the summer of love” with psychedelic music to the Jefferson Airplane and a free “Be In” in Golden Gate Park Hosted by The Grateful Dead. But the black citizens of Newark, New Jersey were outraged when white cops beat and arrested a black cab driver for a minor traffic infraction. The tinder box that was Newark ignited in rage with a crowd attacking the precinct house and the cops opening fire. The result was days of burning and looting. When the looting stopped the killing began. The governor called out state troopers and the National Guard. Finally, by July 17th the show was over with smoke drifting from burning buildings. Five days later the scene was repeated in Detroit with even worse results as the 82nd and 101st Airborne units descended to keep the peace. There was no peace.

In August ’68 the Democratic National Convention was held in Chicago to a televised scene of rioting anti-war protesters and Chicago’s police swinging billy clubs with abandon. Newsman Dan Rather was roughed up on camera as Walter Cronkite narrated in horror.

Before the Nov. election in ’68, a group of Yippies had unleashed a pig In New York’s Washington Square Park. On the post the MPs at the gate were distracted by leafleters. The brass feared that the Yippies might do the same on our post. Determined not to let this happen to him, our commandant doubled the size of the squad, which became more the size of a company. As soon as I finished training in March ’68 and became permanent party, I was assigned to the riot control squad. We drilled every other Saturday March through October. No three-day passes for us. So, we couldn’t go carousing or join protests in New York City. Life is a bitch sometimes.

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