🎊 🃏 Promotion Parties 🎉 🎇
I may be the only veteran of my era to have had real promotion parties for attaining the ranks of both 1st Lieutenant and Captain!
22 November 2017 - Quite a significant anniversary in my life. 50 years ago today, I had a rare event on any military post of the day - a promotion party marking my bar turning from butter to silver! In those days, graduating from OCS or being commissioned as an ROTC graduate carried a two-year commitment, with promotion to 1st Lieutenant occurring on the one-year anniversary of your commissioning. The first 11 months were typically served stateside (in my case, as a Basic Training Company Executive Officer at Camp Swampy (AKA Fort Polk, LA)), then after a month-long delay-in-route leave, you shipped out to Vietnam, with your promotion occurring during the trip or soon after arriving in the Jolly Green - not exactly the formula for a big gala. In my case, Nancy was pregnant with Rebecca (who was delivered two days after my party), so I had a two-month deferment on my little trip.
On the day of my promotion, I was up on North Fort Polk going through the Infiltration Course, a three-day session that was required for POR qualification. My CO, CPT Sherwood (Woody) Emory, arranged for a helicopter crew who were getting in some required flight hours to pick me up and take me to the Officers' Club on South Fort for my promotion party.
And a fine party it was!
Oh, my! Did I ever tie one on! Afterward, Woody took me out and poured me into the passenger seat of his TR-4, and we left for his house in Leesville, where his wife would pour coffee down me until time for my pickup back at the chopper pad. There was a little hitch, though, when an MP pulled us over as Woody peeled out of the O' Club access road onto the main artery to Leesville. After a little discussion, Woody agreed with the MP's suggestion that he let "your sober buddy drive the rest of the way". As we started our seat switch, the MP drove off, and Woody said, "Just get us off-post (about a half-mile), and we can switch back!" As I had never driven his car before, he showed me the shift pattern, and we were off, with my only killing it a couple of times before I got the clutch right.
And that has been the total extent of my wheel time in a European sports car.
A lot of water went under the bridge before my next promotion party, a year later, but I'll limit this narrative to those events that enabled that party.
I got to Vietnam with only ten months left on my two-year commitment. So, I spent six months as a Forward Observer in direct support of a grunt infantry company, (Whatever happened to that two-month normal rotation? Well, the Tet Offensive, along with some changes in the supply chain of us cannon-fodder types.) two months as AXO and two months as XO of another 105mm artillery battery. While I was an FO, CPT John Pipia, the CO of the company I was supporting talked me into going "Indefinite", which was an officer's way of reupping. His argument was that the Army needed some good guys to balance out the "ring knockers", AKA West Pointers. That carried a year's commitment and meant that I would be staying in Vietnam for a full year. Then the Field Artillery and the Air Defense Artillery split, with me coming down on the Air Defense side, presumably because I had been in Air Defense as an enlisted man.
Well, it was unexpected, but kind of understandable, when the Battalion Commander called me up on "Secure" one night about the time I became XO and informed me that I was getting a two-month drop and would be going home in late November. I would be reporting to the ADA School at Fort Bliss. He said it looked like I must be going to the same Career Course (ADA Officers' Advanced Course) as CPT (Jim) Sharkey, who was Battery Commander of a sister battery. Wow! Instantly "short", and I hadn't even been on R&R yet! So, after I met Nancy and Rebecca in Hawaii in October, we parted thinking I'd be home in just over a month!
After I got back from R&R, I really had a short-timer's attitude! That month really drug by - stuck out on a hill seven kilometers from the Cambodian border, firing contact missions just about every day and harassment and interdiction fires (H&I's) every night. But it finally got over, and I caught a resupply slick back to Battalion. And I tied another one on! This was three days before my DEROS, but the Old Man walked through the BOQ tent that night and, after congratulating me on making it through that mess, mentioned that he had not received my Port Call yet. He suggested I catch the supply convoy back to 4th Division HQ at Pleiku the next day and see what I could find out.
So it was that I was in a Jeep waiting to fall into the convoy the next day, when the Battalion Sergeant Major came out huffing and puffing at a dead run to tell me that he had just received a TELEX from MAC-V saying that I had been extended in-country for two more months. I looked at him and said, "That's really funny, Top, but please don't f__k with me right now. I have a really, really bad head today." And he said, "No, Sir. I'm serious, they finally noticed that you have only been in country for ten months." I was stunned!
I went back and talked to the Old Man, and he said, "I'm really sorry about this mix-up. But on the bright side, I'll be able to promote you to Captain, and we can have a great Promotion party!"
And a fine party it was!