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Candidate Robert L Fisher Jr.,
Class 10-67

    From an eMail received December 4, 2016   


Robert L. Fisher, Army Signal OCS Class 10-67I am Robert L. Fisher, Jr., Signal OCS class 10-67, Fort Gordon, Georgia.

After a year and a half at Princeton University, drinking way too much beer and smoking way too many cigarettes, I realized that I was not going to make it through college. Cutting lots of classes was also part of the equation. I tried enlisting in the Air Force, but my eyesight ruled that out. I did not want to be drafted, so I enlisted in the Army in March of 1966 and selected the Comm Center Specialist MOS, not really knowing what it meant. After basic at Fort Dix, I was sent to Fort Gordon for AIT and managed to pass a top secret/crypto security clearance investigation. I later found out that the FBI actually interviewed my parents' neighbors! Fortunately the FBI did not interview my college roommates ....  I applied to OCS and started after hanging out as a "holdover" at Fort Gordon for many months, picking up an assignment at the post Public Relations Office (probably because I knew how to write and type). During those months of waiting my friends and I got to know downtown Augusta very well, with many rides on the "vomit comet" to and from town. No, we never even tried to visit Augusta National, just the bars and movie theaters. One night five of us went to Eddie Pease's Tattoo parlor for some ink. Fortunately for me, I was last in line and did not get my tat before closing. One of my friends was John Carson, from Stillwell, Oklahoma. I wonder what ever happened to him. OCS changed everything for me. Fortunately I had quit smoking the day I showed up at Fort Dix, and I could handle the PT pretty well. However, learning leadership was challenging, and I worried about being up to the expectations of my fellow candidates and our TAC officers. I enjoyed the confidence course, escape & evasion, and running, not so much low-crawling up a stream at night in the winter. The most memorable pogey bait event was when Lt. Key found a large Hershey bar under one of our pillows and made the unfortunate candidate break it into bullet-sized pieces and lock and load it into his M-14. We graduated in May, 1967. I was twenty years old.

After OCS I was assigned to the Signal Center and School at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey for the Microwave Radio Officer’s Course. Fellow OCS graduates Jerry Ericson, Ed Nesse, Bill Kader, Raby Nance, and I rented a house in nearby Long Branch for the sixteen-week course. To protect the innocent and guilty, I will not describe how my friends and I spent the alcohol-fueled summer outside of the classroom ….

OCS classmate Jeffrey Fisher, from West Catasqua, Pennsyulvania, and I were then assigned to the 426th Signal Battalion at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where things were pretty boring. I was the XO of a company of uninspired guys, most of whom had rotated back to CONUS and were just awaiting discharge. The CO was another OCS classmate, Lt. Ronald Amoss. The highlight of my tour at Fort Bragg was joining the 82nd Airborne Sport Parachute Club, where I learned how to pack my ‘chute and jumped out of a UH-1D helicopter at 3,000 feet with it. Needless to say, I packed it well. I figured I would end up in RVN anyway, so I volunteered to get it over with. After two weeks leave, I landed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base near Saigon shortly before Christmas of 1967. After six days at Camp Alpha with the flu, I checked in at the 21st Signal Group in Nha Trang. One additional problem was that my duffel bag, with all my clothing and other worldly possessions, had gone to Dalat, never to be seen again. I was assigned to Company C, 41st Signal Battalion in Cam Rahn. Needless to say, my first week in Cam Ranh was awkward without any change of clothes.

1st Lieutenant Robert L. FisherAfter getting replacement clothing, toiletries, etc., I settled in as platoon leader and became the company’s supply officer, property book officer, motor officer, and mess officer. In other words, I was the DLJO (Dirty Little Jobs Officer). I was replacing Lt. Roger Wollert, who was rotating back to CONUS after managing to have his jeep stolen a month earlier. I hope he never had to pay for it, although he had been warned that he might be getting a bill. Our CO was Capt. Walter (Dennis) Huber, a nice guy, ROTC from Pennsylvania. Our company’s primary responsibility was operating a 2,400-line dial central telephone office. Not exactly tactical, but quite a few of the guys were at remote sites in support of Army and other military units in II Corps. About a month after my arrival, all hell broke loose when the Tet offensive started at the end of January. We deployed to defend our comm site at the top of a nearby (so-called) mountain, where there was an array of long-distance tropospheric scatter antennae. Fortunately the VC and NVA did not make it to our site. Back to day-to-day stuff: As one of the few officers with a TS/crypto clearance, I ended up transporting crypto machines, etc. to some remote  comm sites in II Corps. I also ended up being paymaster for our guys at these sites and would pack up my briefcase every month with military payment certificates (MPCs), a/k/a Monopoly money, and hitch rides on C-123's, C-130's, Chinooks, and Hueys to make my deliveries to Dalat, Phan Rang, Phan Thiet, and Dong Ba Thin, by whatever was available. Having been warned ahead of time about occasional rogue incidents, I carried my .45 Colt under my fatigue shirt and my M2 carbine openly. (Nope, I could not get an M-16 because the RVN troops had gotten them first.) my M-14 was just too long and heavy to handle in tight quarters in helicopters. At least I got to see and photograph much of II Corps. I picked up a Nikon Nikormat camera at the PX for $130.

As supply officer I was concerned about the lack of security for the M-14 rifles that had been issued to our troops, but which were kept in the supply room. I arranged for my guys to obtain (somehow) building materials, and we poured a concrete slab and built a sturdy arms room attached to the supply building. As a result I got my ass chewed out by the battalion XO for constructing a building without getting the necessary permits. This was in the spring or summer of 1968, when our military higher-ups were thinking more like civilians and less like warriors. The MPs were even ordered to enforce speed limits on roads! The dashboard of very vehicle was required to be stenciled with: “Maximum speed 25 MPH.”  

After six months of being the DLJO in Cam Ranh I requested a transfer within the battalion and ended up at the 362nd Signal Company in Phan Thiet, another coastal comm site under the command of Lt. Brad Cooper. The site was a few miles out of town, where our personnel were staying in a former Vietnamese hotel with a rooftop bar, near a school house reputed to be Ho Chi Minh’s former residence. Unfortunately, the commute to and from town to work was through a large cemetery, and the raised burial sites were frequently used by enemy snipers. We were encouraged to do our commuting during daylight hours. One of our NCO’s had a near-hit from a B-40 rocket fired from the cemetery that exploded just behind his jeep and perforated the rear tires, canvas, windshield, and his body, though not fatally.  

Phan Thiet was one of many coastal towns that produced nuoc mam, the pungent sauce condiment made from fermented fish. Basically, fresh-caught fish are put in a large barrel and left in the sun on the dock, where they rot for a week or so. The liquid that drains out of the barrel is bottled and sold. In Viet Nam, nuoc mam (nuoc cham) is as ubiquitous as ketchup in the US. If you like the taste of kerosene and formaldehyde, you will probably like nuoc mam. Me, not so much.    

After a month or two in Phan Thiet I was reassigned to Co. D, 36th Signal Battalion in Dong Ba Thin, just west across the bay from Cam Rahn, and forty miles south of Nha Trang. Our unit provided comm support for a US Army attack helicopter squadron and part of the 30th Regiment of the 9th Infantry (White Horse) Division of the Korean army.   

The company was under the (nominal) command of Capt. James Hammock. Larry Reynolds was XO until he rotated back to CONUS, and I replaced him. While XO of Co. D, I was appointed trial counsel and defense counsel in several courts martial, despite having no prior experience with legal matters. I was told to read the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and simply follow proper procedures. Fortunately, I picked up the procedures rather quickly and managed to get through several courts martial without incident. It was this experience that eventually led me to apply to law school after graduating from college.   

I was nearing the end of my one-year tour of duty in RVN, when the battalion XO, Major Hutcheson, took me aside and tried to talk me into making the military a career. By extending my tour by six months I would have had a promotion to captain, thirty days leave anywhere in the world and my choice of assignment within the battalion. By that time I knew I had to return to college in the real world, so I declined.  

Shortly before Christmas 1968 I reported to the Replacement Depot near Tan Son Nhut Air Base for processing to CONUS. After a couple of days I was told to report to the clearance center in my khakis for immediate departure for Fort Lewis, Washington. I happily tossed my jungle fatigues into the disposal bin, then put my insignia on my freshly-laundered and ironed khaki shirt and pulled on my pants. The pant legs came halfway up my calves, literally. The Vietnamese laundry had obviously substituted a munchkin’s pants for mine, and at the worst possible time. I asked the administration people what to do, and they said I would have to stick around for another few days until I could get another pair of khaki pants. That was not what I wanted to hear. I retrieved my fatigues and reported to the assembly area, the only soldier not wearing khakis. Fortunately no one batted an eye, and I boarded the plane with my briefcase and Montagnard crossbow, with arrows, which I carried on board a commercial flight from Fort Lewis to Chicago and then to New York’s Kennedy Airport without incident. Obviously this was long before TSA was created.  

After Christmas I reported to Fort Monmouth and ended up teaching the same Microwave Radio Officer course that I had taken in the summer of 1967. My friend and co-instructor was Lt. Aaron Spencer Taylor. I also volunteered to run the Military Auxiliary Radio Station (MARS) facility on post, as I had an Advanced Amateur Radio license. In my off-hours I attended flight school at Asbury Park International Air Terminal (sic) and got my private pilot’s license. At my request, I separated from active duty on July 31, 1969, after three years, four months, and twenty-seven days, and returned to Princeton in early September. I graduated in May, 1972 and went to work for General Services Administration in Washington, D.C. I returned to Connecticut the following year and entered the University of Connecticut School of Law, graduating in 1976. I joined Cramer & Anderson, a general practice law firm in Litchfield, Connecticut, where I still work full time.

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This page originally posted 8 December, 2016.

41st DSignal Battalion Ops ReportEditor's Note: Attached is an unclassified copy of the Department of the Army Operational Report describing the situation and work done by the 41st Signal Battalion during the time Lieutenant Fisher was assigned to it, in 1968. Click the icon at right to read it.

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