Home Page


WWII Era ('40s)
Korean Era ('50s)
Vietnam Era ('60s)
General Officers


OCS Association
OCS Notices
OCS Newsletter
Army News
Class Coordinators
Reunion Info
Other Links


Chief Locator
Web Submissions


Veterans' Salutes
Freedom Park
Brief Histories
Scrap Book
Chat Rooms
Charity Efforts



The Combat Officer's Green Tabs

This article originally posted in our November 2011 Home Page

Remember These?

Army Green Tabs


Lang Bien Mountain Signal Site - 1968

The history behind the green cloth tab of the Combat Leader began in the European Theater of Operations in June 1944, when it was authorized for wear by commanders at all levels from Squad to Army. Within a few days that authorization was extended to include other officers and NCO's whose role in combat required them to exercise the function of command even though they might not technically be assigned as a combat commander (for example, a Second Lieutenant Signal Corps Officer whose primary duty was signals based but had been given the additional duty of  commanding a mortar emplacement during enemy attacks).

When the CLI (Combat Leaders Identification) was adopted Army-wide in 1948 (IDA Circular 202, dated 7 July 1948), it was authorized for Infantry, Armored, Airborne and Cavalry Divisions, Artillery, Constabulary organizations and certain Signal, Engineer and Chemical Battalions. Authority was expanded by DA Circular 315, dated 8 October 1945, to Corps level and to personnel of units whose primary mission was to direct combat training of Infantry, Armor and Artillery.

In a discussion of the CLI in 1950, the Army Uniform Board pointed out that it was advisable to remove symbols of rank while in close proximity to the enemy and to substitute the green tabs instead. It was thought that its design was inconspicuous yet distinctive enough to serve the purpose of letting everyone on our side know who was in charge without waving a red flag over an Officer's head for the enemy to see.

With that decision green tabs were effectively adopted as substitutes for symbols of rank in front line locations, to identify combat leaders of each organization. Yet in spite of the recommendation to remove symbols of rank, contrary to this advice, in Vietnam most junior Officers were so proud of having earned their tabs that they wore them all the time with their normal bars pinned on top of them. As far as many of us were concerned, the hell with Charlie. Being able to stand out in the crowd back in Camranh as a combat leader was more important than worrying about a stray bullet or two. Besides, we were all bullet proof back then anyway, remember?

I remember the day I got mine. It was the morning after an attack on our signal site base on top of Lang Bien Mountain, in the Central Highlands. The site had everything from microwave to tropo and VHF on it, with three of us Signal Corps Second Lieutenants assigned from different units in the 1st Signal Brigade to manage the various communication equipment housed up there. Up at 7,850 feet above sea level we felt pretty safe, but as the previous nights probing attack showed Charlie still liked to let us know he was around.

Lang Bien 81 mm mortar practiceTo make sure us Signal boys didn't hurt ourselves with all of the guns and ammo and stuff that was laying around the Army had kindly decided to assign an Infantry Captain as commander of the overall site, along with his combat seasoned company. To be accurate about it he and his unit had been assigned to our Signal Site to handle perimeter defense as a sort of in-country R&R in thanks for the fact that they had just come off of 7 months of continuous duty in the boonies, along the Cambodian border. It seems that most of the men in the unit were due for rotation back to the States and it was felt that rather than leave them out there doing literally daily battle in what was little more than one long never ending search and destroy mission it might be better to give them a break and have them pull guard duty for a bunch of Signal guys on top of Lang Bien Mountain until they rotated out.

To be honest, it gave me comfort to have a seasoned Infantry Captain handling combat operations for our site. Notwithstanding this, when real action came knocking at our door, usually at about 0330 hours, it was all men to the ramparts. Everyone pitched in from the most seasoned Infantry grunt to the most green Signal Corps private. Everyone had a place and everyone went to it and I'm proud to say that every single man on that Signal Site did their job and then some.

Mortar rounds landing during trainingAs for us junior Signal Officers, the Captain assigned us a few additional "combat" related duties to perform, in addition to whatever it was that our own units had asked us to do when they sent us up there to Lang Bien Mountain in the first place. One of the more interesting ones was periodically taking some of the Captain's Infantry  boys out for short search and clear missions along the edge of our mountain top hangout. More like long walks in the park than combat patrols, we were to cover various sectors of the signal site on a random basis and look for signs of Charlie. The work was usually mundane, but at times Charlie would get our attention by turning some of the Claymores around so that they faced back at us rather than out towards the jungle... and on rare occasions wait in ambush for us and stage a short fire fight just to let us know he was still out there.

During actual attacks on the site one of the duties the Captain assigned to me was to direct one of the three mortar emplacements and command the Infantry guys who crewed the mortar, as well as the troops along the perimeter in my sector. Located at the only flat spot on the hill from which Charlie had a chance to breach our perimeter, making sure that I watched what was happening in my sector, moved my troops around (... actually they were the Captain's troops... who all seemed to know where to go and when to get where they were needed quicker than I could figure out that they Lang Bien Mountain - looking north westwere even needed), and keep the Captain (back in the combat bunker) informed by radio of what was going on kept me on my toes.  

When I was first assigned these duties I remember being apprehensive. Up to that time I had not seen real combat and wondered how I would make out if we came under attack and our perimeter was breached. Knowing that I was assigned to command ground activities for the weakest position on our site made me nervous. Not knowing if I would be able to handle myself in my first test of combat worried the hell out of me.

About 6 weeks after I was assigned these additional duties it finally happened. Charlie hit us.

At about 0300 everyone on the site was awakened as the guards in the sector I was responsible for started firing Claymores, one after another. In what could not have been more than 10 - 15 seconds they must have fired at least a dozen Claymores. Up until then I don't think I had ever heard one... but I can tell you today, the sound of a dozen Claymores at 3 AM is something you never forget. That and the staccato of AK-47s answering back.Click to hear AK-47

East perimeter weak spot - Lang Bien MountainWithin a few seconds the site alarm was set and the siren pierced the night as everyone fell out of bed and headed to their station. By the time I made it from my bunk to the mortar pit, a distance of about 30 yards, my guys were already there... and were firing interdicting fire over the prearranged pattern we had agreed on weeks earlier.

Actually, there I go again... making it sound like I was in command of the situation. The truth is that they explained to me on the first day that I took command of them that they would be more comfortable if I approved a fire pattern they could initiate on their own if I failed to get to the mortar pit as fast as they did. They were kind enough to say that with my other task as a Signal Officer of overseeing the microwave links back to Nha Trang, to make sure they stayed up even during an attack, it was possible that they would be out there in the mortar pit on their own without my sainted leadership. Having a pre-approved field of fire, pattern, and sequence of rounds from HE to Willy Peter and flares to fire would give them comfort.

Sure enough, just as they predicted, on that night even though I went straight from my bunk to the pit they got there first and were already firing their pattern along the East side of the Signal Site by the time I had a radio link established with the Captain in his command center.

Troposphering scatter dishes, Lang Bien MountainAll in all it was a typical probing attack by Charlie. A short, sharp firefight that ended almost as quickly as it began. An hour or two of fun and it was all over.

The next morning the Captain called me into his office even before I had a chance to inspect my own troops for the day. He asked me for an after action report and when I finished he said to me, "...if you can break from your Signal duties for the day I would like you to take your jeep and two of my men and head down into Dalat to deliver this to the airport for the flight to Danang. Can you do that?"

Always happy to get a chance to leave the site and head down into the town I said I would be happy to. He then said something to the effect of "... oh, and by the way, you did well last night. Your first time, right?" I said yes, and he continued, "... your voice broke a little at the beginning, I could hear it over the radio, but by the end you were fine. You did well. Here, you earned these," and he tossed a pair of new green tabs across his desk at me.

"Put them on when you go down into Dalat today, and hold your head up as you walk around town Lieutenant. But listen, don't let them go to your head... if you get into another dust up today, remember, you probably have less combat experience than anyone else in this damn country, so don't start thinking that just because you've got these on your shoulder you're John Wayne."

I heard him well and I listened to him too. But I knew he was wrong: I was John Wayne. To be known as a junior Officer who earned his tabs by fire was something to feel good about, even if the only people paying attention to what sat on my shoulder was the enemy. 

- - - - -


Bibliography and credits:

Reference for publication data on green tabs from: The Army Study Guide.

This page originally posted 18 January 2012 

Top of Page


Original Site Design and Construction By John Hart, Class 07-66. Ongoing site design and maintenance courtesy Class 09-67.
Content and design Copyright 1998 - 2012, by