Forty eight years ago, two men began separate journeys that would take them to two common destinations.
The first of the two destinations was Vietnam.
One was a PFC who was assigned to the “Old Guard” at Arlington National Cemetery.
He traveled to Oakland Army Base and from there to Travis Airbase and then to Tan Son Nhut in Saigon. Then he was assigned as replacement to Tay Ninh where he joined Company C, 2d Battalion, 1st Infantry of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade.
The other man was a second lieutenant, newly graduated from OCS. He boarded a troop ship in Boston Harbor that traveled down through the Panama Canal, up to Long Beach, across the Pacific to Vung Tau, RVN, and finally by plane to Tay Ninh.
He was assigned to Company B, 2d Battalion, 1st Infantry of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade.
Although they both participated in combat operations in the area of Tay Ninh, Dau Tieng and later Chu Lai, they never physically met. The most memorable being an attempted linkup on a dark night in the jungle by the PFC’s unit to an isolated unit.
They passed through the lieutenant’s position so they were within a few feet of each other and that was the closest they came to meeting each other in Vietnam.
The lieutenant left Vietnam in July for a new assignment and the PFC (then a Sp4) left in August to be discharged honorably from the Army.
The lieutenant remained in the Army and eventually retired a major.
They both completed college degrees and eventually arrived at the second common destination of Carson City.
This past summer, they met and were introduced to each other. The former PFC, John McKenna, immediately said to the former lieutenant, “I have wanted to meet you.” And he asked, “Are you the Caleb Mills?” Caleb said he was one of them. John then asked, “Are you the Caleb Mills in the book ‘Ambush’ by S.L.A. Marshall?” Caleb said he was, and John said that he was glad to finally meet him. They then talked briefly about their experiences and that dark night in the jungle.
Before and since, people who have read the book have said to Caleb that they didn’t realize he was a hero.
Caleb’s usual reply is that he was just doing his job as he was trained to do it. He remembers the two men of the 43 that he took to Vietnam who died saving others.
He also thinks that men like John and Ray Frederick, his fishing buddy, were the real heroes.
They were not professional soldiers, but they were men who answered their country’s call to duty and performed their duties under the most trying of circumstances.
Delsye Mills is a Carson City resident.