by Ski Ingram

I came home from Viet Nam in September of 1971 with the 173rd Airborne Brigade (separate).  About six months later the 173rd was disbanded and became the 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division.  I was now a Sergeant in B Company, 1/503rd Infantry, 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division. Shortly after that I was sent to the very first Non-Commissioned Officer’s Educational System (NCOES) class. This class was designed for new sergeants to learn how to be better sergeants.  It was essentially the 90-day Officer Candidate class that turned new recruits into Army officers.  They were then known as 90-day wonders for their entire career.

About two weeks before I graduated from NCOES school our Company received over 100 privates who had attended Basic Training and completed Paratrooper school.  All the sergeants in the unit, mostly Viet Nam combat veterans, were trained to become Drill Sergeants.  They were assigned ten of the new men to be in their squad. They were to lead them and teach them to be infantry paratroopers.  After completing NCOES I returned to my unit.  All of the squads had been assigned to other NCO’s.  Since I had been at school and didn’t get my own squad, I was assigned to be Sgt. Luket’s assistant squad leader. I wasn’t happy, I wanted my own squad of men to teach and lead.

In a few months our unit was going to the United States Military Academy at West Point to teach cadets.  We’d be gone for three months.  All of the classes were assigned, but because I was in NCOES school all the classes were assigned to everyone else before I returned.  I wasn’t happy about that either.

Sgt. Luket was a school-trained Ranger with no combat experience. I was a trained Green Beret who had served in a Ranger company in combat. Luket always seemed to be trying to prove to me and the other men in his squad that he was a good soldier. One night we were teaching the recruits night marching techniques.  Our squad was to march from point A to point B, about three miles, while making as little noise as possible.  

After we had been moving through the forest of Fort Campbell for a while, Sgt. Luket told me to take charge of the squad as he was going to set up an ambush or two in order to teach the men that they should be careful to move slowly and quietly. Luket showed me that he had a couple of booby trap simulators and a few artillery simulators in his pocket. He was going to use them to scare the men and teach them a lesson about moving at night.

When the string is pulled on a booby trap simulator it goes off immediately and makes a very loud noise. It has the force of a ¼ pound stick of TNT.  When the spring is pulled on an artillery simulator it makes the sound of a very high-pitched whistle and then blows up with a loud bang. I advised Luket to be careful and not get the two mixed up in the dark.  When you pull the string on the artillery simulator you have a few seconds in which to throw it before it explodes. The booby trap simulator will blow up immediately quite possibly taking your hand with it. Luket assured me that he was very experienced at this type of thing and would be okay.

Luket went off into the dark of night while I stayed with the squad.  We had been moving for about 15 minutes when we heard the sound of an artillery simulator.  We all took appropriate action by running out of the kill zone and setting up a defense in case we were attacked. I was very impressed as Luket had trained the men well.

After continuing on our journey, we heard a very loud bang and then loud moaning. I immediately realized what had happened. Luket confused a booby trap simulator with an artillery simulator and blew up his hand.  We located Luket in the dark and I looked at his right hand.  It looked as if it had been through a meat grinder. After getting Luket a helicopter a medivac to the hospital the squad finished their exercise.  I was impressed they did a very good job on their patrol and even got some experience calling in a medivac helicopter in the dark. 

A few days later I was told that Sgt. Luket would not be returning to the company and I would be taking over his squad as their new leader.  I was very happy. I was also told that I was now assigned to teach Sgt. Luket’s classes at West Point.  Now I was ecstatic. I would be teaching Night Patrol techniques and Bayonet training to West Point Cadets. How lucky can a guy get?  Not Luket, that’s for sure.