by Ski Ingram

I served in Viet Nam with the November Company, 75th Infantry (Airborne Rangers) attached to the 173rd Airborne Brigade (separate). When the 173rd returned to the United States, November Company was disbanded and all its personnel, me included, were moved into Head Quarters Company of the 4th Battalion of the 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade.  We flew from Phu Cat Airforce base to Fort Campbell, Kentucky. 

When I returned to Fort Campbell after a 30-day leave, I was assigned to Bravo Company 1st of the 503rd Infantry, 173rd Brigade, Airborne.  I was then trained to be a Drill Sergeant.  A few months later our company received 120 men who had just graduated from paratrooper school at Fort Benning Georgia. I was given ten men who became my squad.  It was my job to teach them everything they needed to know about being an Airborne Infantry soldier.  Once they were trained, they were then going to be my permanent squad, so it behooved me to do my best to train them properly.

With our new men we also got new officers.  Most of them were new second lieutenants and didn’t know very much about leading men, especially Airborne Infantrymen who were also combat veterans.  One of these officers who became our Executive Officer was a first lieutenant, James Mallory.  He didn’t have combat experience, but he was a good, tough officer. He expected us all to be the best soldier we could be.  He expected even more from us Sergeants.  Lt. James Mallory was a graduate of the Military Academy at West Point and one of the best officers I have ever worked with.  I learned very early to never let him catch me goofing off or not pulling my weight in whatever I was doing. 

One of the sergeant’s duties was to be the CQ (Charge of Quarters) officer at night when the duty day was done and everyone else was off duty and went home to their families.  The CQ served as the company officer in charge from about 5:00 pm to 5:00 am when the duty day began the next morning.  The CQ oversaw everyone and everything in the barracks until the Company Commander returned to work the next day. 

The CQ would sit at a table in the hallway at the only unlocked door to the barracks.  We had a private who served as our “runner.” It was his job to assist the CQ with whatever we needed.  We not only kept track of who was in the building, never letting anyone who was not assigned to Bravo Company inside, but we had to ensure that the troops were woken up before 5:00 am as well as making sure the first-floor hallway was clean and polished.

One morning when I was the CQ, Lt Mallory entered the building around 4:30 am.  My runner and I had spent hours that night cleaning and polishing the floor.  I don’t know how we missed it, but Lt Mallory found it.  There was a cigarette butt under the CQ table behind one of its legs.  Lt. Mallory pointed it out and then berated me for failing to do my job properly.  I didn’t like it and was sure that he hated me by singling me out for some little mistake that anyone could make.

All of us were in really good shape.  We were Airborne Infantry for crying out loud.  I could do pushups and pull ups until you got tired of watching. I could run for ever without ever getting tired.  I didn’t know the meaning of quit, until Lt. Mallory began to take us on our morning runs.  Every morning we would start the day with a morning run.  We’d be out in the Company Street by 0530. We’d do some warmup exercises and then begin to run. We would do the Airborne Shuffle for no less than 5 miles, most mornings 8 to 10 miles.  Then we could all go to breakfast.

Lt. Mallory belonged to a running club.  The members kept track of the miles they ran, and Lt. Mallory wanted to be the first person in the club to run 1000 miles.  He could run really fast; the airborne shuffle was too slow for him.  He began to run us at a very fast pace and dared us to fall out of formation and quit.  A few of the newer men did quit, but Lt. Mallory would have none of it.  It became the sergeant’s job to run extra miles after the duty day with those soldiers who couldn’t make the morning runs.  I made a vow to never fall out of a run and I never did.  That didn’t satisfy Lt. Mallory, however.  After each run Lt. Mallory would berate us because we couldn’t run as fast as he could.  He would call us degrading names such as weaklings, candy asses, or worst of all “a Leg.”  (“leg” is a soldier who does not have the nerve to jump out of a perfectly good airplane while in flight. There is nothing worse in the Airborne than a “leg”).  I didn’t like Lt. Mallory and I was sure he hated me.

Lt. Mallory wasn’t all bad.  He would back his men in whatever they did. One day the company was returning to the barracks after a particularly hard 10 days in the field playing war games. We were all beat.  It was a cold October day with light rain falling. In fact, it had rained 9 days of the 10 we were in the field.  The only day it didn’t rain was the day we parachuted onto the drop zone Los Banos.

It was October 18th, 1973.  The 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, of which Bravo Company was a part, was the only brigade on jump status, meaning we were getting paid an extra $55.00 a month to jump out of airplanes.  The other three brigades didn’t jump out of airplanes, they were “Legs.” 

The Brigade commander, I don’t remember his name, wanted to have a Brigade mass tactical jump, meaning every member of the 3rd Brigade, about 3000 men, were to jump out of an airplane that day.  This was going to be a big deal.  We never had such a large number of men jump in one day.  To top it off, after the jump, we were to be on a 10-day field problem.  The day of the jump it was very cold and very windy.  The winds on the ground were 18 knots, it’s dangerous to jump with knots on the ground more than 6 knots.  There was talk of the jump being cancelled, but the jump was reported in newspapers and on the local news program with camera crews, so we jumped.

I remember we all had a difficult time trying to hook up in the airplane as there was a lot of turbulence from the wind.  As soon as I got out of the C-130 I knew I was in trouble.  The wind blew me around causing my shroud lines to twist.  After untwisting my shroud lines, I realized I was falling much too fast.  Instead of falling straight down I was also being blown across the drop zone.  Before I knew it, I was being blown into the only tree on the drop zone.  I put my arms up to protect my face and hit the tree. 

The tree stopped my forward progression, and I dropped through the tree stopping about 3 inches from the ground.  That was a good thing as I didn’t have time to release my equipment bag or prepare to do a PLF (parachute landing fall).  It took some time to release the harness on my parachute, but once I did, I fell to the ground.   I was sitting under that tree grateful that I hadn’t broken a leg when Sergeant Ken Wood fell through the same tree landing right next to me, but he was about three feet off the ground. After I helped Ken release his parachute harness, we both sat on the ground under the tree that had just saved our lives and thanked the Lord for protecting us.

A few hours later it started to rain.  The whole nine days it was cold, wet and miserable. When the training exercise was over, we were to meet up with a fleet of 21/2 ton trucks who were to give us a ride back to the barracks. After waiting for over an hour for the trucks to show up Lt. Mallory decided we could walk the 7 or 8 miles back to the barracks.  We were all very tired and not happy.  We had gotten very little sleep in ten days, we were all cold and wet and had lots of heavy equipment to carry, so we were walking very slowly. 

We had very little water in our canteens which was gone in no time at all.  We were all very thirsty.  A truck drove by very slowly pulling a water buffalo full of water.  The truck would not stop so in order to fill our canteens we had to walk alongside the water buffalo in order to get any water, which was extremely difficult.

We had been walking for hours when another 2 ½ ton truck drove up.  Lt. Mallory jumped up on its running board next to the private driving the truck and told him to stop and give us a ride to our barracks.  The driver said that he couldn’t do that for whatever reason. Lt. Mallory told him that he would tell his company commander that he had been speeding if he didn’t give us all a ride.  The driver stopped and we all got on the truck for the ride home.  We were all very grateful.

On three-day week-ends Lt Mallory would get the men together before the start of the weekend and admonish us all not to drink and drive.  He would say “don’t drink and drive, if you must drive, pull over to the side of the road and stop before you take that drink.” It was funny at the time.

One day we were in the field doing some live fire exercises.  It had been raining and the mud was about four inches thick.  No one wanted to get down in the mud and “play army.”  Lt. Mallory kept yelling at everyone to get down in the mud and “do it right.”  A private refused to get down in the mud and mentioned that Lt. Mallory was clean and dry because he didn’t have to get down in the mud. With that, Lt. Mallory immediately dropped face first into the mud.  He got up with mud all over his front. He wiped the mud from his eyes and told us all to get down in the mud.  We did. He then began to call us all wussies and no better than the “Legs” in the other Brigades.   We hated Lt. Mallory.

Years later I was serving in West Germany on the Hohenfels Training Area with the 7th Training Command.  Johnny Vaught who served with me in Viet Nam and in Bravo Company was also serving with me in Hohenfels.  We were both E-6 Staff Sergeants.  Our headquarters was located at Grafenwoehr another training area about 20 miles from the Hohenfels training area.  We arrived at Grafenwoehr early in the morning and were there looking for the headquarters building when a car drove by.  We flagged it down hoping that the driver could direct us to where we needed to go.  The driver stopped, rolled down his window to ask what we wanted.  We looked in the car and to our amazement it was Lieutenant, now Captain, Mallory.

He seemed pleased to see us, which was strange because we always thought he hated us since we were sure we never measured up to his standards. He directed us to where we wanted to go and then told us that he was a company commander in the building next to where we were standing. He made us promise to stop by and see him before we went back to Hohenfels.   With some apprehension, we said we would.

After completing our business, we decided, after much discussion, to stop in and see why Captain Mallory wanted to talk to us.  We walked into his company building and told his orderly who we were and why we were there. The orderly jumped to his feet as if we were generals and knocked on Captain Mallory’s door to tell him we were there.  Captain Mallory got up from his desk to greet us and ushered us into his office.  In his office were four or five of his lieutenants. He asked us to sit down and then started to berate those officers just like he used to do to us.  I recognized some of the phrases he was using to yell at those poor officers.  At one point he stopped what he was saying and pointed to Johnny and me saying that we were two of the best NCO’s in the US Army.  That we had served together at Fort Campbell, Kentucky and if they, the lieutenants, could be just half the officers that we were NCO’s they would be the best officers in the Army. I was amazed, and at the same time feeling sorry for those poor Lieutenants.

Captain Mallory dismissed his lieutenants and then began to ask us questions wanting to know all about what we were doing now.  We told him all the good things, which seemed to please him.  We reminisced about some of the things we had experienced at Fort Campbell and then it was time for him to get to work and for us to get back to Hohenfels. Johnny and I left wondering what had just happened.  We talked about it all the way back to Hohenfels. We began to realize, Lt. Mallory didn’t hate us, he loved and respected us.  It was just his leadership style.  It was a style we didn’t understand, and we didn’t like, but in the end, he made us all better NCO’s. 

While at Fort Campbell I was promoted to Sergeant and a short time later to Staff Sergeant.  I was recognized as having the best Infantry Squad at Fort Campbell.  I was receiving “Proficiency Pay” after finishing in the top 20% of all sergeants in the Army who had taken the Proficiency test.  I learned how to be a leader of men.  I learned how to train men. After less than eight years in the army, I was on the E-7 (Sergeant First Class) list and would have been promoted in a few months if I had not gotten out of the Army in August 1977. I learned that I was capable of much greater things and how to work for whatever I wanted. Later, in Officer Candidate School, I was awarded the Leadership award as well being named the Distinguished Honor Graduate of the Class. I know that Lt. Mallory must get much of the credit for my success in the Army and as a police officer. Thank you, LT, I’ll never forget you and what you taught me. 

As remembered by Ski Ingram, February 2019