I lied to my platoon to prevent a mutiny from bursting to a head some 40 years ago.
Today, I granted myself forgiveness. I cleansed a wound that never seemed to heal until now.
I served as a First Lieutenant In Vietnam and was releived of my command of an infantry platoon just two hours before getting orders to appear at a helicopter base port. Taken by surprise, I met the battalion commander who asked me to help avoid a military “disaster” from developing any further. My platoon of some 25 soldiers, grunts, as we liked being called, had refused to board the ships that would fly them into the “field” to patrol and engage the enemy. Most of the men sat on the heliport, reclining on their backpacks, disobeying all orders to climb aboard.
A day earlier, several members of the second squad were medivaced to a hospital after being ambushed by the Viet Cong. I had assigned a sergeant with some 10 years experience to lead the squad. Unfortunately, he was “new in-country” and may not have had time to become acclimatized to the situation. In other words, he didn’t know what he was suppose to do in a war zone yet.
Our superior officer blamed me, the man in charge, and for the second time in my young military career, I found myself removed of my command. I was devastated the first time, and view that period as the lowest moment of my life. I felt lower than dirt and less useful than the ground below. At least dirt could be used to grow things and offer a structure to build on, I believed then.
This time, however, my being sacked hurt far less. I knew I had done everything to insure the well being of my platoon, and instill in each member an esprit de corps that carried over into their individual lives. They learned to live for each other, to work as a unit, to place the needs of the platoon over their own.
It came as no shock when I heard they refused to go to the field! It was a mutiny, pure and simple. They protested what they believed was an outrageous act committed against them: the removal of their leader, Lieutenant Michael J Contos, yours truly.
(See Part 2 My Mutiny Quash)