I was tracked down by the niece of our former Comrade-in-Arms, and my teammate, Dean Borneman. Dean was killed in Vietnam in January 1970. She was doing a family heritage project and asked me what I could tell her about Dean. She told me that he died when she was too young to remember him. Her only memory was a collection of objects like the folded flag, etc. As a child she was told not to touch anything and never ask or talk about her uncle. I guess the loss was too hard to deal with and it was best not to bring up the hurt of such a great loss.
Of course, I was willing to give her some insight into just who her uncle was and about his participation in the Vietnam War. I didn’t know if I could speak to her about Dean without too much crying so I suggested that she give a week or so and I would send her what information I could remember as being significant or interesting. So, for a few days, with frequent breaks for crying, I wrote the attached “remembrances.”
Remembrances of Dean Borneman in Vietnam
Dean Borneman was a good friend and a good soldier. We served together as volunteers with Company K 75th Infantry Ranger Regiment in Vietnam. Company K was a Ranger Company attached to the 4th Infantry Division which was assigned to an area of Vietnam called “The Central Highlands.”
The Central Highlands was an area in the II (Roman Numeral for 2) Corp region of South Vietnam. II Corp stretched across South Vietnam near its center and spanned from the South China Sea in the east to the borders of Cambodia and Laos to the west. There was a range of mountains near the coastline and moving west was a large high central plain followed by high and rugged mountains. The mountains were so impassable that native peoples on opposite sides of this mountain barrier were of distinctly different races and spoke different languages. These were the mountains where Dean and I worked.
In those days there was a military draft. All males became eligible to be drafted into the military service after their 18th birthday. I was going to Trade School/Junior College at 18 and had a student deferment. My father died that same year of colon cancer, he was 42 years old, and I left school and started working. I got a “head of household” deferment and was safe from the draft. But the Draft Board continually checked on me: Was I still working? Was I still living at my mother’s address? What were our financial positions? I didn’t feel secure about my continued draft status so I decided to enlist and get my military obligation over with before I got any older when it may disrupt my life in a more inconvenient way.
I enlisted into the Army after getting a letter describing the new 2 year enlistment option (normal enlistments were all 3 or 4 years). I had to enlist in one of the “combat arms” and I choose infantry. So, seven days after my 21st birthday, I became a soldier.
The Army was easy for me. I was a bit older than most of the others and a lot more mature. I did well receiving my Private E-2 stripe while still in basic training in Fort Gordon, GA. During infantry training at Fort Ord, California I earned the rank of Private First Class with less than 4 months in the Army. After graduation I was sent to Non-commissioned Officer Candidate training in Fort Benning, GA.
By the time I got to Vietnam I had been in the Army for more than one year, attained the rank of Sergeant E-5 and all that time I was in training. After volunteering for duty as a Ranger (all Rangers are volunteers) I was sent to Pre-Recondo training to qualify for the Rangers. I graduated as one of the top 4 candidates and we went to Na Trang, Vietnam to study under the 5th Special Forces Group at the MACV Recondo School. Three of us graduated among the top ten graduates for that training cycle. We were awarded the Recondo Badge which we could then proudly wear on our right front shirt pocket.
Finally, I was back in Camp Enari, Pleiku Vietnam the division base camp and where K/75 headquarters were located, I would finally begin patrolling as a Ranger and was assigned to Ranger Team R28. The Team Leader was Sergeant Jim England. This is when I met Dean.
I didn’t know that day how lucky I was to be assigned to Jim’s Team. He had lots of experience and a serious patriotic attitude. Dean was Jim’s close friend and respected teammate. Although I had lots of training, I had no real combat experience. Dean was a PFC, younger than me, out ranked by me but he was someone with combat experience. He gave me some initiation hazing but it didn’t go very far. Maybe it was because I was older (22 years old), my stripes, my recondo badge, or the fact that I was not smiling.
We became close friends very quickly.
We had very different backgrounds. He being a hard working farm boy from Iowa, and me growing up on Long Island in the shadows of the skyscrapers of Manhattan. I had 14 years of formal education whereas Dean was educated post high school thru his life experiences.
Company K was assigned to perform various missions for the Division Commander. Most common was that of “area reconnaissance.” We also had missions such as: point reconnaissance, ambush, body snatch and others. Recon missions could only be completed by a small force who could enter the bush undetected, make observations and get extracted without the enemy being aware that we were there. Company K patrolled with Ranger Teams of four men. I pulled all my missions with Dean as a teammate. The higher commands rotated new guys or problem guys through Jim’s team to give them good experience and get evaluated by Jim. When Jim saw my capability, I became a permanent member of the team as ATL (Assistant Team Leader). Then for the next three months we became the core of R28 with a 4th man rotating thru the team.
I can’t remember all the soldiers who joined us over the months, but I can remember a few. There was Coon or Coons (Richie?), Charles Morton from Texas, and Bill Bartholemew, a Staff Sargent, E-6 who the Captain wanted to become experienced quickly so he could take on his own team. Bill was a great addition to the team. He was intelligent, educated, big and strong. The three of us got along so well. Jim socialized with the other NCOs and officers but we three were a team in the field and in base camp. Sadly, Bill died the same day as Dean.
Did you know that Dean liked to read western novels? He sure did and he went thru them quickly too. One day the three of us were in our barracks and a soldier from another unit came in. He called out “Does anyone here read western novels?” Sure enough, Dean stepped up. The two of them compared their collections and both were able to find a few books that the other had not read and an exchange transpired.
There were not a lot of choices when it came to field rations. A carton of C-rations had 12 unique meals. I remember that Dean would not eat the can of fruit cake that was included in one of the offerings. I’m not sure if he drank coffee but he always made hot chocolate and added the coffee creamer and sugar to it. There was also a small can of peanut butter and a can of crackers with one of the meals. Dean liked that too. He would heat and stir the peanut butter up until it flowed easily and then put it on his crackers. I’d say he was a picky eater because we were also given “LRRP Rations” at times. There were no cans but freeze-dried pouches that you had to re-hydrate with boiling water. A case of LRRP Rations contained 24 meals 3 each of 8 choices. Dean would not eat the “Pork with Escalloped Potatoes.” People jokingly called them “Pork with Scabs.”
Jim got to take an R&R (rest and recuperation) at some point and when he did, Bill was given the responsibility to be the Team leader of R28. On Jim’s team, Jim wanted to walk point and I walked in the number two position because I carried the radio and I had to stay close to him. When Jim got tired, he would call on Dean to walk point. Then I walked in the third position but still had to stay close to Jim. When Bill was Team Leader, Dean always walked point every step of every mission. He was probably the best scout in the company. Bill carried the main radio and walked behind Dean and I walked in the 4th position called “drag.” Our 4th man was Bruce (Whitting?) from Rochester, NY.
I am generally the type of person who doesn’t talk much about his personal life. Other people will tell you their life story if you sit next to them on a bus. Dean was kind of private like me. He did talk about his family and older brother, life on the farm and the moisture content of corn when it is offered for sale. I can tell you he loved his family and his life in Iowa. And he planned to return to that life once he left the Army. Nearly everyone wrote letters home and Dean did too. I’m sure he mentioned Jim England but I wonder if he ever spoke of me and what he may have shared.
We went and lived through some dangerous situations as Rangers. Dean had a good temperament, was always brave and I respected him for his coolness when times got sketchy. We sprung a successful ambush on a small enemy force. We observed scores of enemy soldiers pass by us as we sat in an observation post sometimes mere feet off a jungle trail. One night we were harassed by a tiger who kept circling our “night location” as we tried to sleep. Believe me I was not scared by any of this, I was terrified! But we dealt with the danger as real men and brave soldiers.
I do not know if you are interested in the details of the circumstances of Dean’s death. But I can tell you that he died when engaged with the enemy on the field of battle. He was struck by a single bullet from a high powered rife fired at very a close range. The bullet struck him in the center of his chest, he did not speak or suffer, but died instantly.
May God bless him, you, and all of us who survive.
Charles Weidner March 3, 2019.
A Story about James Doss in Vietnam
I don’t remember when I first met Jim Doss. We were both in the same LRRP Class in the 4th Infantry Division’s Base Camp near Pleiku, South Vietnam. It was in September of 1969 and the mornings were cool there in the Highlands. That was a good thing because our pre-dawn workouts and long runs with a full pack and rifle were physically very strenuous.
Days were filled with physical challenges which built confidence and weeded out the weak or those who lacked determination. Classes provided training in map reading, LRRP tactics, indirect fire support, radio communications, marksmanship, weapons, explosives etc. Those who could not learn well or devote time to study were flunked out. Others were removed from training for discipline problems, not showing leadership abilities, failing to work well in a team setting or psychological quirks that may compromise the mission of a four man LRRP Team on which every member must make their full contribution.
From our class, four graduates were selected for additional training at the MACV Recondo School in Na Trang. Doss and I were among those four. Our LRRP training laid a good groundwork for the Recondo School which was even more physically taxing and academically intense. I read that the MACV Recondo School was the only school in the U.S. Army that included an actual combat mission. I guess that no one told them that our 4th Division LRRP Class included a combat mission as well. But our LRRP Training prepared us for the challenges of Recondo School and three of the four of us graduated and received the Recondo Badge which we could then proudly wear on our right shirt pocket. Doss and I were among the three graduates.
Jim Doss was a big man. Tall and strong, intelligent, with a quiet nature, he was a natural leader. Soldiers wanted to be on his team and serve with him. And after a few missions he quickly moved from Assistant Team Leader to Team leader. He had a loyal group of new rangers with him. The three team members were inseparable. Whenever I would see one, the other two would be nearby. Clowning and joking when in basecamp was the norm for them. Doss hung out with the group but avoided them whenever hi-jinx was involved (which was nearly all the time). One night we came under indirect fire attack at our base camp. We were directed to get out of our bunks and report to the main communications bunker for safety. After some time waiting and being bored, one of Doss’ team members stood up and went to the center of the bunker and lifted one leg up. Of course, the other two did the same. All three were determined to be the last soldier to remain standing on one leg. At least it was entertaining for the rest of us.
I knew that Doss was married and had a son. He told me how much he missed them. Although I was 22 years old, I was not mature enough to understand just how significant that was. It was not until eight years later when I became a father myself that I could appreciate the sacrifice that he and the other married guys and fathers were making. I am sad that I didn’t know enough about life to thank these brave men who, despite their great responsibilities chose to volunteer for duty as Rangers with Company K of the 75th Ranger Regiment.
Because patrolling as a LRRP Team member was such dangerous duty, all the men of K/75 were volunteers. One day Doss’s Team suffered an unbearable loss. Three of the four members lost their lives. Doss was the only survivor. I was saddened by the loss of those three brave soldiers – my comrades-in-arms. But I was saddened and worried about this loss upon my good friend, (Luther) James Doss. He continued to patrol and I worried that he was determined not to leave Vietnam alive.
The General Mission of the Infantry is to close with and defeat the enemy. Anyone who participates in close and deadly combat as an infantryman will experience the extraordinary violence of war. They will be forever changed. As I continued to patrol for K/75, I had my opportunity to survive as the soldier at my side did not. Time and again I felt how “lucky” I was that the bullets missed my body. I did not sense that Doss felt lucky.
Years later during a conversation with a counselor, he drew out of me an overwhelming feeling of guilt I bore about my experiences in Vietnam. I did not feel guilty about the noble actions I took as a soldier. But walled off in a darkened corner of my sub-conscious mind, I suddenly realized the enormous feeling of guilt I was suffering with because I lived when others did not. Some years after that, I heard the phrase “Survivors’ Guilt.” These two words put such an appropriate title to the feelings I carried with me from Vietnam.
Whether Jim Doss was simply a dedicated Ranger with a desire to participate in achieving the goals of the Armed Forces of the United States or a sensitive soldier suffering the pain of survivors’ guilt I will never know. But Sargent Doss left Vietnam as a distinguished hero and if there is a Ranger heaven, he is back leading his team, caring for their safety in the field and being amused by their antics during downtime in base camp.
Charles Weidner March 3, 2019.