A Good Soldier!

Copyright 2002: Ray Sarlin. All rights reserved. (copy permission at bottom)

Webmaster's Introduction
How can a contact that merits only a few lines in the official record be so meaningful years later? After years of searching, I finally received the Staff Officer's Journal for a little-known action that occurred the evening of 17 January 1970, when Sergeant John Murl McDaid was killed. I have never before acknowledged the nature of John's death to anyone, but I have often thought on it. His struggle to stay alive and strive to do his job despite a mortal wound is an amazing testimory to his strength of will and character. John was the first man to die "on my shift" as Charlie 6, and his example has inspired me to strive to work at my absolute peak in everything that I have ever done since. I fail from time to time because I'm only human, but I pray that I will never stop trying to give my all. Thank you, John, for your personal example... and for your sacrifice.

You might think that memories would dim after more than 30 years, but some memories won't go away. One was the night of January 19, 1970 when I sent John Murl McDaid to lead his squad on a patrol in the bush in Binh Thuan Province, Vietnam. I was John's company commander, and had held the position for just over a week, but had already determined that Sergeant McDaid was someone to rely upon, a good squad leader. Squad leaders hold perhaps the most important position in the Infantry, because they lead by example, by day-to-day and second-to-second life and death decision-making, by personal influence, by pushing and pulling... and they are responsible for everything that their people do or fail to do. There are higher ranks and broader responsibilities, but no one is closer to the action. No one.

I was more than a click (1,000 meters) away when the contact started. It started sharp and heavy like all contacts tended to do in Nam, with a burst of fire and then a grenade blast followed by a heavy volume of automatic weapons fire and more explosions. The event unfurled like this, we would place ambushes out each night in a variety of ways, being careful to never set a pattern. Although we didn't know it at the time, that contact was to be the first of nearly two weeks of heavy contacts as North Vietnamese regulars tried to chase us out of the area because we were hurting them so badly. An ambush patrol would set up a temporary location, and then relocate after dark to another in case they had been seen.

John was leading his small patrol of some eight to a second site, travelling carefully in single file down a trail through tall elephant grass that reduced visibility and masked movement. John became aware of other movement behind his group, and signalled for them to cut 90 degrees off the trail to the left and set up a hasty ambush. They silently moved into the thick grass and hunkered down as the first NVA troops moved by along the trail that they had been on. John quickly saw by the way the NVA were arranged that the unit was at least a platoon (some 30-40 men) and maybe more, so he signalled his squad to hold their fire. But the situation was tense, with help a long ways off and heavily outnumbered, but then things took a turn for the worse.

Another line of NVA troops appeared on the other side of the tiny ambush patrol, a second column travelling along a parallel path. Now the patrol was surrounded, but still unseen. And then one of the new soldiers panicked and fired his M16. The two columns of NVA broke into a run, tossing grenades towards the source of the firing as they ran to the edge of the clearing and whirled to continue the fight. John was severely wounded in the head in the first blast, but his will to live was strong. He had been keeping me informed by radio as events unfolded, and when he was hit his RTO began shouting incoherently into the radio; when we got him calmed down, he reported that John was down, but still alive.

Judging the enemy force to be at least a company (100-150 troops), our mechanized infantry reaction force set out to close the gap within minutes, and found our pinned down patrol under heavy fire but giving plenty back. The heavy firepower of our Armored Personnel Carriers changed the tone of battle, but the enemy had 51 caliber machine guns and rockets to fire back. It was a fight to the bitter death, and then the U.S. Air Force came on station, diverting airstrikes and, more importantly, Spooky to our aid. As our reaction force reached the patrol, John was holding on but past pain. We had already called for dustoff, the medivac chopper, and it came up on our radios asking for directions as it looked down on a battlefield alight with crossing red and green tracers.

One of our Platoon Sergeants, a Ranger, had reached John with his medic, and told me that we had to get him out immediately. I talked to the dustoff, who asked for a position and then some of the bravest, or most foolhardy, selfless acts I ever witnessed occurred as John was rescued. The sergeant gathered John in his arms and waving a flashlight to guide the chopper, ran into the middle of the exploding battlefield, enemy rounds flying all around, as the chopper flew in over the NVA tracers and John was loaded aboard with barely a pause and then flown off straight over the head of the enemy unit. John continued to fight for his life in the chopper, but he was simply too badly wounded. By some miracle, the sergeant wasn't hit, but died only days later in another incident. May God bless them both.

Copyright 2002 Ray Sarlin,

Permission is hereby granted to copy this story to print or
on web pages at no charge provided the line below is included:
By Ray Sarlin, webmaster of the 1st Bn (Mech) 50th Infantry website http://www.ichiban1.org/
( web sites should make the url a link or may also just link to this page )