Always First Battalion Chaplain's Memories

by Ron Benzing

I served my year in Viet Nam with the greatest soldiers - Men of 3/1 Infantry! I served as the Battalion Chaplain for 5 commanders during Nov 68-69.

LTC Lauder was leaving to work at Division HQ as I came to Duc Pho. His replacement, LTC Coverdale, had arrived.

I traveled with LTC Coverdale over Thanksgiving Day, 1968 to visit LZ Liz, Dragon and maybe Debbie. I gave Christmas services during the truce 24-25 Dec 68 and remember trying to sing some carols as we choked up. We flew in the Charlie-Charlie, so I could get around. I remember the night he was wounded on LZ Cork and COL Donaldson, the BDE Commander, commenting later it was a dark time for 3/1st. He was eventually replaced by a LTC (name?) who was relieved by the Division Commander.

Next LTC Pritchard took command. He came from West Point. I remember asking him if I could provide an Easter Sunrise Service at Bronco and then use his C/C to get to units for Easter Services. He agreed. I was shocked to learn of his death. He was in command less than a month. I did a Memorial Service for him and we built the 3/1 Chapel in the memory of fallen soldiers and him.

LTC George Ellis arrived as the new Commander. He was a no-nonsense leader. I respected and liked him from my first meeting. Most of the rest of my time was serving under him. When he changed command on LZ 4-11, LTC Les Stottle took over. He was another great leader. I left before his command was over.

My first experience away from LZ Bronco was with D/3/1 when CPT John Walker invited me to travel with the company on a routine "walk" around the area. We did and spent the night by a large bomb crater. Everything was quiet until we were making our way back to LZ Dragon. The 175's had a mission and began firing over us. I dove to the ground with some "newbees" while some of the other soldiers laughed at the new chaplain.

I made my visits to the other companies. Bravo Company had a new commander, Willie Williams. We met at LZ Liz in the chapel. (That was a hard place to conduct services because of the Artillery guns nearby. Seems like there was always a fire mission when I was trying to preach). I spent the night with him and troops several times. There I met LT Dyer and we became good friends. He allowed me to accompany his platoon on a patrol. (LT Dyer and I met at the 2000 reunion after 30+ years).

I spent an exciting night with A Company and CPT Alligood (sp?). We were up in the mountains looking for an NVA Base Camp which we found. On arrival the lead platoon sergeant recommended not to move forward since it was getting dark and he didn't know who might be in the camp. There was shooting that took place and I dove to the ground. Someone threw me a 45. It turned out to be some snipers left behind. It was a long, dark, and damp night. Next morning the chopper arrived with BN Commander and I headed back to Bronco. Later CPT Tyson took command.

I remember the beginning of LZ 4-11 and my visits there. I conducted services several times in the Horse Shoe area. Kelly and McCoy were killed while I was on RR in Hawaii. I recall a hard day for Charlie Company when they got caught in the Rice Bowl (I think it was around 12 May 69). I was at the Aid Station helping carry in wounded and dead. By that time I knew many of the men. Then there were visits with the 4.2 Mortar Platoon and Recon Platoon on Radar Hill adjacent to LZ Cork.

On the back wall of the 3/1 chapel we designed a memorial board out of plexiglas for our fallen soldiers. I conducted Memorial Services in all kinds of places and settings. I could write more and mention many more names but I salute every one of the men of 3/1.

I am thankul to have had the opportunity to serve my country in this way, preach the Gospel of Christ, and experience Viet Nam with the "Always First" soldiers. I retired from active duty in 1995 as a Chaplain Colonel.


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