My guest today, Col (Ret) Keith Nightingale, served in infantry, Ranger and Special Operations forces during his 29-year career in the Army. He served two tours in Vietnam, first, as an adviser to the 52nd Ranger Battalion during Tet and then as a rifle company commander in the 101st Airborne during 1970-71. His career spanned assignments with the 75th Ranger Battalion, the Iran Rescue Task Force, and an assault force commander in Grenada. This is the first of two posts that he has donated to this website.
Religions build churches, synagogues, mosques, and sanctuaries. Grunts form a perimeter, a sanctuary for both the body and the spirit. The perimeter is the place where a person gets in touch with himself, relaxes if he can. It is the one and only refuge from the work at hand and recovery is a must. It is wherever the Infantry is. It both constantly changes and is totally immutable. It is a contradiction—a blessing and a curse.
The perimeter is a small cluster of buildings with dirt packed walls, earth floors, and cracked tile roofs. It is a small triangle of men laid out behind their rucks—in both hot sand and deep rotten jungle. It is a collection of steel boxes, Texas barriers, Hester bags, and plywood walls. It is two troops in the wasteland, scared to their core and back to back prepared for whatever fate brings—together.
We stand alone—together
The perimeter may be as large as Bastogne, as isolated as Restropo, as symbolic as Khe Sanh or two Grunts temporarily lost and alone. It was the hundred plus positions held during Tet 1968 by small isolated elements cut off from their primary support. The perimeter says: Here we are. Here we stand. If you want it, you have to take it. We may be few, but we are together, and here we fight. We stand alone—together.
A perimeter is the one sanctuary that temporarily relieves the Grunt of some small portion of the anxiety carried during the operational day. Here, the conversation may be in a normal tone. Hyper-vigilance is relaxed. The niceties of available food and drink are consumed almost like home—but not. Letters and email are written and read. Uniforms and skin simultaneously cool. Shoulders rest and recover their shape. Leaders become more obvious as the led recover into their societal pecking order free of the requirements of command. The perimeter is as close to “normal” as circumstances permit.
Weapons point outward. Dangers are assessed from a distance. The other tools of combat are placed in their desired positions. The instruments of the night are readied in the dwindling last light.
Soon a green caste illuminates all the world that can be seen within the various prisms. A furtive glance skyward reveals stars in an abundance not previously noted. Rest is an option. For some.
Within the temporary sanctuary, some are required to ensure security. They extend their presence outside the small haven but remain part of the whole, albeit at a distance. In their mind, they know if bad things happen, they will return to their assembly, and that knowledge provides some emotional relief.
They are not alone
In dark circumstances, the perimeter is a hasty bastion of defense. Weapons align in deadly design and minds focus on the external threats. Internally, the members are together for whatever fate may bring. Association provides additional strength—both physical and emotional.
The dead, dying, and incapacitated are gathered toward the innermost womb to be ministered to and supported by the surrogates for mothers and fathers that an Infantry family provides.
Under better circumstances, the perimeter is the locus for external support and assistance. Home is momentarily provided in the way of letters, email, and other connections reminding the membership that someone outside the perimeter also cares.
Internal to the perimeter
The several levels of leadership more clearly assume their positions within the hierarchy. They are responsible for the health, safety, and future of the members surrounding them. This will not change until each member is freed from the physical perimeter in a different land. A land not here.
Each Grunt occupies the physical space and erects a personal emotional perimeter. This is the last refuge if the former begins to succumb. The emotional strength of the group and the internal bonding of allegiance provides a final quality to the perimeter in its darkest moments.
As new requirements and movements dictate. The Grunts travel in a moving individual and collective perimeter among each other much as a shoal of fish. A perimeter that constantly changes but always remains the same. It preserves both the person and the force and is the strength and refuge of the unit. I and many others are alive because a perimeter was in place. We cannot forget. Wars may change, but the perimeter is constant. Do not forget what makes a perimeter.
A perimeter of five or 500, a NDP shoulder-to-shoulder, is perhaps the most concise and most refined piece of real estate to a soldier in the entire universe. The core of the soldier’s humanity is the perimeter until it is abandoned or no longer necessary. Every comrade therein is his brother and his family……none closer and more needed.
Well done! Thank you, sir, for your service and sacrifice! Welcome Home!
This story was reprinted from Cherries a website about the Vietnam experience.
That site is run by a Vietnam Vet who is a fantastic writer, I have read his books and they put you in the moment and are very hard to put down go to Cherries writer and check them out.
This story is reprinted with permission and edited by Commander web for this website
More about The creator of CherriesWriter.com John Podlaski ( pdoggbiker )
John is a published author of two books which chronicles his experiences as an infantry soldier in Vietnam during 1970 / 1971:
“Cherries: A Vietnam War Novel” went live in April 2010.
“When Can I Stop Running? – A Vietnam War Story” published in June 2016.
Naples Museum Of Military History
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