Lo­cal lives through Viet­nam War, authors book

The Covington News - - Sports -

On Sept. 24, 1970, Bobby Gay­ton stopped drink­ing and gave his life to Christ. He’s been preach­ing ever since, and our coun­try should be grate­ful he wasn’t re­quired to give his life in Viet­nam.

A Cartersville na­tive, Gay­ton served as preacher of Cony­ers Church of Christ for sev­eral years un­til fam­ily health is­sues called him back to a preach­ing po­si­tion in Cartersville. Few par­ish­ioners knew he had seen and lived through some of the most fe­ro­cious bat­tles of the Viet­nam War.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Cass High School in Cartersville in 1966, Gay­ton met and even­tu­ally wed ‘a pretty girl named Linda’ af­ter his tour in Viet­nam. The cou­ple has made a life to­gether for 44 years.

April ’67 — Gay­ton at­tends Army ba­sic train­ing at Fort Ben­ning be­fore ad­vanced in­fantry train­ing at Fort Pope, La. On In­de­pen­dence Day, ’67, Gay­ton’s first cousin Tommy Huf­steller, was killed in Viet­nam. Gay­ton said, “When I was home on leave, Tommy’s mom ad­vised me to go to Canada. She was fear­ful I wouldn’t be re­turn­ing from Nam. I told her I had a job to do.”

In Sept. ’67, Gay­ton ar­rived at Cam Ranh Bay, then flew via C-130 to Camp Al­pha in Saigon. He said, “From Camp Al­pha, I ended up at Chu Chi on High­way 1 for a week of ‘in-coun­try’ in­doc­tri­na­tion be­fore my as­sign­ment to Al­pha Com­pany, 3rd Bat­tal­ion, 3rd Bri­gade of the 22nd In­fantry of the 25th In­fantry Division at Dau Tieng near the Miche­lin Rub­ber Plan­ta­tion in Tay Ninh Prov­ince.” Gay­ton re­mained in Al­pha Co. for his one year tour of duty, 279 of those days away from camp, and 88 days in the field dur­ing the Tet Offensive of ’68. By Dec. ’67, Al­pha Co. had 66 men still in fight­ing con­di­tion out of 160 but even­tu­ally was re­sup­plied and re­in­forced for Tet.

Be­fore Gay­ton’s first pa­trol, he was briefed by his knowl­edge­able squad leader Sgt. Lowen Jones. “He was red-headed and freck­led-faced, just like me,” Gay­ton said. “He told me if I wanted to stay alive to ‘lis­ten and learn,’ and I did.” On Feb. 7, ’68, Sgt. Jones would lay down his own life so that Gay­ton could live.

New Year’s Eve ’67 — Near a North Viet­namese base camp, ra­dio op­er­a­tor Gay­ton calls his LP (Lis­ten­ing Post) men back into Fire Sup­port Base Burt. “They were on the way back in when a NVA sol­dier stood up be­tween us. Guys were scream­ing, ‘Shoot him, shoot him!’ but we couldn’t be­cause we’d hit each other. Luck­ily, the NVA sol­dier wanted to sur­ren­der.” Un­der in­ter­ro­ga­tion, the en­emy sol­dier told the Amer­i­cans they’d soon be un­der a mas­sive at­tack. He wasn’t ly­ing. On Jan. 1, ’68 at 7 p.m., the bat­tle of Sui Cut be­gan.

The bat­tle of Sui Cut was de­picted in the block­buster movie Pla­toon di­rected by Oliver Stone. Stone was a mem­ber of Bravo Co. dur­ing the bat­tle. Gay­ton said, “We re­ceived a mas­sive mor­tar at­tack fol­lowed by a ground at­tack by two reg­i­ments of NVA, that’s about three or 4,000 men up against four or 500 of us.” The brunt of the at­tack hit Al­pha and Char­lie Co. — Char­lie Co suf­fered a 50 per­cent ca­su­alty rate. En­emy sol­diers were inside the perime­ter, fight­ing was hand to hand; Gay­ton is hit in his leg by shrap­nel but fights on. Of Gay­ton’s three-man LP, one was tem­po­rar­ily blinded, one couldn’t hear, and one would lose his leg, but all three sur­vived.

Amer­i­can 105mm and 155mm ar­tillery is low­ered to point blank range to stop the NVA from over­run­ning the en­tire camp. “Bee­hive” rounds are used (rounds with darts inside) to help stem the tide. Over­head, “Puff the Magic Dragon” gun­ships pour in a deadly stream of fire and B-52 bombers use their mas­sive pay­loads on the en­emy. Na­palm lights up the night. Come morn­ing, Al­pha and Char­lie Co. are air-lifted to Ka­tum but re­turn the next day for pa­trol ac­tiv­ity around FSB Burt.

Gay­ton said, “I saw swollen bod­ies and the smell was un­real. If you saw that burial scene in Pla­toon where we bull­dozed hun­dreds of NVA bod­ies into a huge hole, well, it’s true. I was there. The mem­ory of Sui Cut, the fight­ing, los­ing many friends, and bull­doz­ing hun­dreds of hu­man be­ings into a hole have re­mained with me all my life.”

Dur­ing Jan. ’68, Gay­ton and Al­pha Co. dodge mor­tars at Ka­tum, re­turn to FSB Burt to be mortared again, suf­fer ca­su­al­ties, re­turn to Dau Tieng and con­duct pa­trols in the Miche­lin Rub­ber Plan­ta­tion, more wounded, more killed, and leave Dau Tieng on the Jan. 26. They would not re­turn to their home base un­til March 30.

Dur­ing the hell called the Tet Offensive, Al­pha Co. pro­tected Chu Chi be­fore be­ing sent to se­cure the Hoc Mon Bridge near the vil­lage of Ap Cho. “We got hit al­most im­me­di­ately,” Gay­ton said. “The NVA and Viet Cong were on one side of High­way 1 and we were on the other side.” Come night­fall, Al­pha Co. was or­dered on a night march, rare in Viet­nam, to once again re­lieve en­emy pres­sure on Chu Chi. “We fought our way in, then fought across a big field, and kept on fight­ing, then had to go back to Ap Cho. Our boys were be­ing killed, yet we couldn’t get per­mis­sion to level that vil­lage.”

At Ap Cho, Sgt. Lowen Jones, with Gay­ton on the ra­dio, ma­neu­vered into po­si­tion near en­emy bunkers to di­rect ar­tillery fire. “Sgt. Jones was on the ground ahead of me over­look­ing en­emy bunkers,” Gay­ton said. “He sud­denly jumped up and screamed, ‘GET DOWN!’ so I did, just as an RPG flew by and ex­ploded be­hind me, send­ing shrap­nel into my face.” Sgt. Jones was mor­tally wounded. “I met his daugh­ter at a re­union years later, a daugh­ter he’d never seen, her son looked just like Sgt. Jones. I cried.”

There were more bat­tles af­ter Tet. Gay­ton saw seven troop­ers from Al­pha Co. drown in the Saigon River; he set up am­bushes of en­emy sam­pans; lost more friends; he par­tic­i­pated in the Bat­tle of Tay Ninh; lost more friends at Nui Ba Den — the Black Vir­gin Moun­tain — lost track of time, lost too many friends. His feats are wor­thy of a book, and he’s writ­ten one — My Thorn in the Flesh: A Viet­nam Vet­eran Speaks about Post Trau­matic Stress Dis­or­der and the Bi­ble.

Of all the re­place­ments, the wounded and dead, only one man from Al­pha Co. did not re­ceive a sin­gle scratch dur­ing the year Gay­ton was ‘in-coun­try’ — their most pro­fi­cient ma­chine gun­ner, a Na­tive Amer­i­can In­dian from North Dakota named Wilkie.

Di­ag­nosed with PTSD (Post Trau­matic Stress Dis­or­der) by the VA, Preacher Bobby Gay­ton is fight­ing his sec­ond bout with an­other wound from Viet­nam — prostate can­cer trig­gered by the her­bi­cide Agent Orange.

“It will not de­feat me,” Gay­ton said. “Be­cause PTSD re­ally means, Pleas­ing the Sav­ior Daily.”

Amen.

Pete Mecca — Viet­nam vet­eran, colum­nist, and free­lance writer. Contact Pete at avet­er­ansstory@ gmail. com Visit his web­site at avet­er­ansstory.us.

(From left) Bobby Gay­ton and Na­tive Amer­i­can Wilkie, the only man not wounded or killed in the Al­pha Com­pany.

Gay­ton af­ter ba­sic train­ing.

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