James Black (J.D.) was one of the "Dog Team" handlers that was assigned to 1st Cav on a number of occasions. James worked with 1/8th, the 5/7th, the 1/12th, 2/12th all within the 1st Cav Division. He has asked that anyone that was involved with the firefights of Nov. 8 with Delta Co. and Jan. 6. with Bravo Company 1/8th to please contact him. I have included his contact information in our Company Roster web page.
Keep in mind that the dog teams that worked with us normally walked point. (worst spot to be in!) Because of the ability of the dogs to "sniff out" the enemy we often knew someone was out in front of us long before they knew we were there. This saved many lives of American soldiers. The dogs and there handlers often went unappreciated because only the guys up front would have had any idea of seeing the dog alert. For the most part we only saw them when they arrived or left. They never had much of a chance to get to know any of us as they were only out with us a few days and then left and another "team" would come in a few days later.
Jim (J.D.) has forwarded a photo of him and Tiger.
That's J.D. Black (I went by "J.D." in those days) and dog Tiger 77m6. Every dog had a unique ear tattoo because so many dogs had common dog names like King and Tiger.
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J.D. Black and Tiger.
(click on image to enlarge)
My very first mission was with Bravo 1/8th off Betty. September 3, 1970. I'll never forget that one. I was a "Cherry."
I was as green as my new uniform.
We CA'd off Betty in the rain. We flew for a long while and circled while the Pink Teams and Arty prepped the LZ. The LZ was a grassy open area with tree stumps sticking up. It looked really wet. We were in the first stick, so the birds came in hot. I was right next to the door gunner and was scanning the tree line trying to figure out where I was going to run when the bird sat down.
But I was taken completely taken by surprise when the door gunner opened up with his 60. It seemed to be right next to my ear! It not only scared the crap out of me, but it was deafening . The Huey pilots could not set down. Turns out the "ground" was actually about a foot under water and the tree stumps were sticking up pretty high. So all you "old" guys knew what to do. You started jumping out into the water and slogging through the muck for the trees.
Being a dog man, I was carrying enough supplies for me and my dog for eight days. My ruck was about 60-70 lbs. I threw my dog out then I jumped and did a parachute landing fall and rolled in the water, getting completely soaked. The rotor wash was spraying me pretty good too. I looked down and my M-16's muzzle was jammed with mud and grass! I had somehow stuck my rifle barrel up to the hilt in mud. It was useless. So I got the ruck, my dog, and my rifle and found my helmet which had fallen off my head and I dashed for the tree line thinking that any second I was going to get shot. I was soaking wet.
I laugh about it now. What a greenhorn!
When I got to the trees the company commander took one look at me and just shook his head in disgust. I cleared my rifle barrel and adjusted my pack and the CO put me out on point. I was still in a state of shock. I forgot every damned thing I had trained for. I was just going through the motions, my eyes as big as pie plates. We humped in the rain for a few hours and I started to regain my composure.
None of you guys were eager to offer me any introduction to "Bush 101" either. I felt like I was the source of amusement. Months later I realized they were not being unhelpful, they just had their own job to do and expected the same out of me. Life is tough out in the bush. They had learned to deal with it in their own way. When we finally set up the NP I was told to stay in the CP area near the RTO and do not go out to the perimeter. What perimeter? I took a look around and a whole company of infantry had disappeared into their "night lo" positions.
It was still raining like hell. It had not stopped. You guys started doing your evening routine, cooking C-rats and coffee packets. I couldn't get my heat tab to light because my hands were shaking so much from the cold and wet. So I ate a can of cold C's and fed my dog his ration of Gainsburgers. I blew up my rubber lady and put it on the ground, threw my poncho over me and pulled my dog under it too and conked out. I woke in the middle of the night in a hard rain and my air mattress had deflated completely. Now I was just laying in a puddle of cold water with my shivering dog.
The next morning it was still raining and I was about as miserable and freaked out as a person could be. Nothing in any training I got in Basic, in AIT, in Scout Dog School at Ft. Benning was anything remotely like what I was experiencing at that moment. I took a look around at you grunts and I felt totally inadequate and unprepared for what I was expected to do. I wanted to ask questions, but nobody seemed like they wanted to talk to me or even be friendly. I remember now, clearly thinking to myself, "What the fuck have I gotten myself into?"
The CO said get out on point. I strained hard to remember everything I had been taught in dog school and I started walking up a wet and muddy trail. A well-used trail in a bamboo forest as thick as the hair on a dog's back. We were told in "school" stay off trails. Well, there was no way to get off this trail. I walked point for about 500 meters, a half a click, when I rounded a corner and there in front of me was a couple of bamboo sleeping platforms with thatched roofs. There were also spider holes with reinforced bamboo firing positions. Here I was, staring right into them. If there would have been any NVA there, I would be a sitting duck. But the place was abandoned. It was still raining.
We set up there for the night. I spent another night on the bare ground with the bugs. My air mattress was punctured all over. Another long, miserable and sleepless night. At one point a centipede about the size of my hand scrambled right over my face. My dog was snapping and chewing at things that were biting him all night. I felt more sorry for him than I did for myself. In the morning I noticed that my dog had grown some strange appendages around his anus and in between his toes. I pulled at one of them and it fell off and squirted blood. Leeches! Fucking leeches! They were all over him and they were all over me!
Finally, one of you guys took pity. He took his little bottle of jungle juice and squirted at each of the leeches and they fell off my dog and writhed on the ground. I stripped down and got more leeches off me. It was disgusting. But I had made at least one friend and he told me we were all green once and that I'd learn.
When I set out on point that day, at least I now knew what a bunker complex looked like. I also knew that when you see bamboo that has been cut with a machete, you're getting close to something and it's probably not a good sign. We humped another half click that day. It was still raining like hell.
On Sunday, the 6th of September, I felt like I had already been in the bush for a week. I was starting to stink. The grunts didn't smell like roses either, but after so long out there, they took on the smell of the jungle too. It was log day. That meant that I was going out on the next bird. Probably another dog man was coming in to replace me. The morning of log day it was socked in tight. It was raining and there was a ground fog to boot. No log pad. We had to take a kick-out. I would not be going in. I would be out there for another four days. I loaded up on water and C-rats and we moved out again. It was still raining.
On Monday, the 7th of September I was still walking point. I was carrying a little blue laminated card with a standing direct order from the CG of the 1st Cavalry Division that was to be shown to any company commander. It said that unless there was no other choice, a scout dog team was not to be put on point after four days because the dog's senses become used to the jungle environment and they begin to not pay attention. This could cause the dog and handler to become casualties. This blue card was issued because company commanders just assumed that because a dog team was out with them, they got to use them as long as they were out. There had been a significant number of dog and handler casualties because of this policy and the Cav wanted it stopped. But I was too intimidated by the CO to even pull out the card. Besides, I thought it would make me look like a pussy.
So I continued to walk point. On that day, my dog started alerting. They were faint alerts at first. His ears would cock and he would raise his nose. But it wasn't distinct. But more and more, on that trail, there was sign of recent movement. Then I saw the fresh bicycle tracks in the mud. Tiger's ears were locked on to some sound far down the trail a human ear could not detect. He held his head high and worked his wet nose into a scent cone that only he could smell. This was a full blown alert and there was no mistaking it. At that point I sent the word back down the line to the CO that we were about to walk into something. A dog man is not equipped to handle a dog and fire his weapon accurately at the same time. I had been told by my own "old guys" back at my dog platoon at Phuoc Vinh, warned actually, that some company commanders in the field would tell you to keep moving until you made contact. I sent word back along the line that my dog had given a clear alert. As a dog handler I was under orders not to participate in an assault. The CO was not pleased. But he told a squad leader to drop packs and do a recon up the trail. They came back in a few moments and said it looked like a trail junction. The CO decided to set up an ambush position and wait. It was still raining.
Now not only did I spend another bad night on the ground with the aforementioned critters, the cold and the wet, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I was being regarded as a coward because I was following my orders not to continue on past my dog's alert. Never had I been so miserable and worthless-feeling in my whole life to that point. Nothing happened that night. No couriers humping bike-loads of rice and mortar rounds down the trail with their escort of NVA. Obviously they had been there and they had just recently moved out. That's why my dog alerted so strongly.
The next morning the rain lifted and I fully expected another day of humping the boonies. But we moved out to the edge of a clearing and took log. It felt like a reprieve for me. I had absorbed too much in too short a period of time. Staying in a state of sleep deprivation lying on cold wet ground for seven straight nights and straining hard to concentrate on scanning the jungle trail in front of me, looking for men who were doing their best to try to kill me, kind of tends to wear a person out.
The Hueys dropped in and a squad came out and hauled off all the supplies. The door gunner gave the OK and my dog and I climbed aboard. As we lifted out of there I looked down and saw you guys, barely visible in the tree line, hauling boxes and loading up for another patrol. I wondered how in the hell could you guys live out there in that shit for a whole year's tour of duty. My respect for you all was and is beyond measure.
The Huey was cruising at altitude now. My previously bright green fatigues were covered with mud. My skin was covered in insect bites and I could feel my blistered feet had pruned up inside my soaking wet socks. When we got back to Betty the first thing I did was take care of my dog. I fed him some pork slices from C-rats and got him some clean water. I checked him for leeches. He was cold and wet like me. And like me, he seemed to be in a stupor. We were both so tired and so quiet that we didn't want to move. I remember sitting on a sandbag-covered bunker and lighting a dry cigarette with a dry match and remarking to myself what a luxury that was. Now all I had to do was wait for that mail bird to show up and I was back haul to Phuoc Vinh with my first mission behind me.
I had been to the bush. I had a long way to go, but at least I wasn't a cherry any more.
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