PART FIVE

BA had only recently received his promotion to sergeant. He hadn't expected that, as he hadn't been getting along with his superiors for quite some time. But there was a shortage of sergeants, men who could deal with the details, and he had been doing just that since Clements had gotten hit the month before. But friends said the promotion didn't seem to mean anything. BA had other things on his mind.

They had just finished a two week long operation near the Cambodian border, and BA, like most of the guys in his unit, had been counting the days until his tour was up. He had less than a month left, and he'd talked of nothing else but going back to Chicago and going to school with his GI benefits. It was going to be a new start, a second chance. And then he'd gotten a letter from his mother, and the talk of school stopped.

While BA had been clearing Binh Dinh Province of NVA, his mother had been fighting another battle. BA's father had been attacked one night, coming home from the night shift. He'd been beaten badly. Very badly. Adele had wanted to wait to tell her son until she knew his father was going to be all right. But she couldn't wait any longer. BA's father would live, but he would never be all right.

Three drunks, his father at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and once again BA's whole life had changed. He couldn't go to school now. The GI bill might pay for his expenses, but it wouldn't help support his parents. His mother would have to stay home and take care of his father. And no way would BA allow them to just squeak by on disability. They would need his help, the income staying with the Army would provide. If nothing else, they would have his life insurance.

Fate, for once, may have looked favorably on BA Baracus. He boarded the transport for Cam Ranh Bay the day before his unit was to move out on yet another search and destroy mission. And the plane - the "freedom bird" he boarded the next day for the States - held only one other passenger.

The flight home was over twenty hours, including stops in the Philippines and Honolulu. A long time to sit silently. The other passenger wasn't someone BA was drawn to - an older white guy, and a bird colonel to boot. But they were the only two people on a plane loaded with equipment, and Colonel John Smith liked to talk.

Anxious as BA was to get home to Chicago, he stayed long enough for Colonel Smith to walk through the paperwork and Army bureaucrats with him. What it was that colonel saw in him would be a source of puzzlement to BA for a long time. Whatever it was, by the time BA got on his delayed flight for Chicago, and a too short visit with his parents, he had orders in the works that would send him to Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

And the Special Forces Training camp.

Murdock's first few weeks in Vietnam were a learning experience. Like thousands before him, he had a difficult time adjusting to the climate, the people, the noise and confusion. And, of course, being shot at and shelled.

Unfortunately, Murdock's luck in the Army didn't seem to be much different that of John or BA. The 118th was supposed to take part in a combat assault near Suoi Tre, fifty-six miles northwest of Saigon, on March 18th. However, the armored and mechanical battalions which were supposed to clear the landing area were unable to do so, and the operation was postponed a day. When they were still unable to secure the landing zone; the decision was made to go ahead with the mission anyway.

The morning of the 19th, the helicopter crews prepared for the assault. The 118th was joined by the 68th AHC. The drops were made by five helicopters at a time, the first two by the 68th, followed by two more drops by the 118th. They would continue this formation until all the assault troops were landed.

Following nearly a half hour of artillery preparation of the area, the 68th took off, followed two minutes later by the 118th. The first landing was uneventful, and the next formation received word that the LZ was "cold". Unfortunately, the Viet Cong were apparently biding their time. As the 118th landed their second set of five, mines were set off. Within moments, two helicopters were destroyed, and five others were seriously damaged. Several did manage to leave the LZ and limp back to the Pick-up Zone at Ap Tri Dan.

After a slight delay to assess the situation, flights resumed, though seriously short of the helicopters needed. Eight more flights were made, and with each addition of ground troops, the firing from the enemy lessened. Eventually, the LZ and surrounding area was secured.

Unfortunately, Murdock wasn't there to see the final victory. His Huey was hit in the second round. The next day he woke up at the 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon with his left leg heavily bandaged. The day after he was on his way to Japan, where he would spend the next three weeks recuperating before returning to the 118th.

In March of 1967, John was on temporary duty with MACV-SOG. Once again, it was clear that the "higher-ups" had plans for him, although he would state later he had a "pretty good idea" what those plans were and he wasn't sure he liked them. Regardless, in 1967 he was included in a mission into Laos, a part of the "Secret War". It was considered, stated one participant, a "simple job", relatively speaking. Find a bridge on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, submerged beneath three feet of water and thus hidden from aerial view, then radio in the coordinates, and get out. Simple.

Other than the fact it was one of the busiest sections of the Trail.

It was on this mission John first met First Lieutenant Ray Brenner, just out of Fort Bragg. He liked him on first sight. Others would later echo John's opinion - Ray was young, but seemed on top of things, ready for the task at hand. Best of all, he knew how to listen.

Insertion was at dusk, as usual, and went smoothly. The men dispersed immediately, taking up an ambush position some distance from the LZ, and disposing of the relatively small greeting party the NVA sent their way. After spending the night waiting for any newcomers, they moved through the dense jungle toward their objective. The weather was worrisome. The cloud cover, instead of dissipating as expected, was getting heavier.

By the time the team found their objective, it was obvious to everyone that the effort was wasted. There was no way the bombers would be able to find their way over the mountains through the clouds, evade the anti-aircraft artillery, and still come close enough to the target area to do any good.

The captain in charge had a job to do. That didn't mean just finding the bridge and going home. It meant make sure the bridge was blown. Even though both the captain and John knew the colonel was "just a guy from HQ", he was included in the sometimes tense discussion among team members about how to complete their mission. They took cover in the surrounding hills and waited for nightfall.

Underwater demolition, whether in three feet or water or thirty, is never pleasant. Working at night would be a nightmare. It was here that Ray shone. He volunteered to be one of the men placing the explosives, claiming he'd had plenty of practice. It was the first time John ever heard of "noodling" for catfish, and odd as it sounded, Ray was right about his "skills". He was in and out of the water before the other man had barely taken a breath.

The men made their way as far into the jungle as they could before detonation. They were saved by the confusion of the explosion, which gave them what little head start they could make at night. But the reaction when they radioed in was well worth it; almost as much as the three day party they held when finally arriving back at base the next day.

The spring of 1967 was looking great for Templeton. He was well on his way to being a BMOC - he was a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity; his performance on the freshman football team had earned him a starting varsity position the previous fall; his grades were flying high with ease - and best of all, he had Leslie Bektall. He was on top of the world.

And then, as he told Amy long after, Leslie was gone, and so were all his ambitions and hopes. He was wandering the streets of LA one day, and saw the recruitment office for the Army. What his real motivation for enlisting was, he would never say. He called Father O'Malley from the bus depot, just before it left for Basic, to let him know where to find him.

Whatever his reasons, or plans, for the Army, all those years of institutional life couldn't be forgotten. He found himself falling into old habits, good and not so good, all of which brought him to the attention of his superiors. By the time he finished his training, he'd been tapped by the Army for OCS, and Templeton apparently realized that his assignment to the First Air Cavalry would be better served as an officer than as an enlisted man.

He left California for the first time in his life.