In 1965 I was a PFC and rookie combat correspondent with the First Cavalry Division in Vietnam. In November, two of our battalions engaged with regular North Vietnamese regiments in the Ia Drang Valley, in what would become a famous battle. With my colleagues in the Public Information Office, I flew to Camp Holloway at Pleiku, 30 miles from the battle but the nearest US base with an airstrip.
By the middle of the second day casualties were evacuated to Holloway and I had an opportunity to interview several of the less seriously, wounded troops before they were hospitalized.
From these interviews, I wrote a 1,000-word story, and brought it to my boss, Major Siler, for approval. He deleted four words in the last paragraph and told me to phone our tent office at An Khe, about 30 miles east, and read it to whoever answered the phone. Siler said to tell the man who took the story to send it to Stars & Stripes in Tokyo without changing a word.
The voice on the other end of my phone was new to me, a sergeant D’Angelo. I read him the story and to my surprise, he typed as fast as I spoke. When he finished I passed on the major’s order to send it without changes, the D’Angelo lectured me on the importance of proofreading, fact-checking, grammar, sentence structure and so forth.
It was three days before I got back to An Khe and my bunk in the section tent. I was filthy and exhausted. I took off my dirty uniform and underwear and slept for ten hours. Then I hitched a ride to the shower point, got a cold shower, and hitched a ride back.
Then for the first time, I began flipping through the previous few days Stars &Stripes, looking for my by-line. When I didn’t find it, I was disappointed. I was a new writer and I assumed that the story wasn’t good enough for the Stripes’ editor.
The next day, reading those papers again, I found five stories by-lined by D’Angelo. It didn’t seem possible, because he had spent the whole battle 60 miles away at our basecamp. Reading the third D’Angelo piece I recognized my own work. He had transposed two clauses in the lead sentence, but otherwise, the story was exactly what I wrote.
I respectfully asked him to explain why his name on was on my story. I got a long-winded lecture about teamwork, that it didn’t matter whose name was on a story as long as it got published and that in any case, he had rewritten the story to fix my grammatical mistakes, spelling errors, and poor organization. I replied that the story published in Stripes was exactly what I wrote, except for those transposed clauses in the first sentence.
He repeated his whole spiel about teamwork, and how it did not matter whose name was on the story.
“If it doesn’t matter, then why your name instead of mine?” I said.
He repeated the entire teamwork spiel yet again.
Later that day I ran into Captain Coleman, the major’s deputy, who told me that Major Siler was away on Army business.
I knew Coleman fairly well and saw him as a tough but fair officer with years of civilian news reporting and editing experience. So I told him about my encounter with Sergeant D’Angelo. He said that he would look into it.
Standing in line for evening chow, D’Angelo and another new member of the section, a Staff Sergeant Jameson, came up on either side of me and took me out of line. They marched me about a half mile to a small patch of jungle inside the base camp, where Jameson held me while D’Angelo pounded by midsection, arms, and legs until he was covered with sweat. I was cautioned that PFCs do not go over their sergeant’s head to talk to an officer. After a few more punches, I was threatened with re-assignment to an infantry company if I didn’t shape up. Jameson told me that I needed “extra training. I was to report to him at 8:00 pm.
I was bruised and sore, but they had avoided hitting my face. When I found Jameson that evening he took me outside, handed me an entrenching tool—a small folding shovel--and told me to dig a standard foxhole, six feet long, two feet wide, and four feet deep.
That took until midnight. When he came back he seemed surprised that I had done as told.
He ordered me to get some sleep and report to him at 0500.
When I did, he had me fill in the foxhole. He warned me again about speaking to officers.
I was angry and frustrated. The next day followed without incident.
After breakfast on the day after that, Major Siler re-appeared. He told me to report to Division Headquarters and the Command Sergeant Major.
There I was promoted one grade to Specialist Four and told that henceforth I was the acting press chief, in charge of all the reporters in the section.
“What about SGT D’Angelo?” I asked.
“He requested re-assignment in his other military occupational specialty, maintaining databases of helicopter replacement parts.”
Staff Sergeant Jameson had also requested re-assignment to an infantry battalion.
It developed that D’Angelo had stolen the stories of every other reporter in the section. Siler had flown down to Saigon where he found high-quality international circuits, which he used to call Stripes in Tokyo and also the European edition, published in West Germany. Apparently, D’Angelo had been stealing stories for several years.
Fast forward to 1970. I arrived in Kaiserslautern Germany for duty as the Communication-Electronics staff officer for the 93rd Air Defense Group, a large collection of surface-to-air missile units whose weapons were pointed at East Germany and Czechoslovakia. I was assigned the additional duty of Public Information Officer.
In that capacity, I was invited to meet with the lieutenant colonel who served as regional public affairs officer, the better to coordinate public affairs goals and the means of achieving them.
Entering the PAO outer office, out of the corner of my eye I saw a familiar figure wearing the stripes of a sergeant first class. I was greeted by the PAO sergeant major, who took me in to see his boss.
As I strode across the office I heard D’Angelo telling someone, “See that young captain? He’s a hell of a writer. I taught him everything he knows about news reporting.”
Inside the lieutenant colonel’s office, we shook hands and had a collegial chat of about ten minutes. I asked a few questions, and he answered them. Then I turned to the sergeant major. “Have any of your enlisted men made any complaints about SFC D’Angelo?
The sergeant major was startled. “A few, but D’Angelo told me what really happened.”
Leaving myself out of it, I described what had happened in Vietnam, down to Siler’s discovery that this was a habitual behavior.
“Is that Chuck Siler?” asked the lieutenant colonel.
“He’s an old friend,” replied the PAO. “Do you know where he’s stationed these days?”
I told him, we shook hands and I departed for my office, an hour’s ride distant.
When I was back behind my desk attacking a pile of paperwork, my right-hand man, Master Sergeant Bill Solomon, came into my office and perched on the edge of my desk. I didn’t mind—he was almost a friend, Despite the difference in our ranks, he knew more about my job than I knew about his.
“You used to know a Sergeant First Class D’Angelo?” he said, eyes twinkling.
“Tell me,” I replied.
“Got a call from a sergeant-major we know. D’Angelo is up for a court-martial.”
“How interesting,” I replied.
The Sicilians have it right. Revenge is a dish best served cold.
© 2018 Marvin J. Wolf
FROM Marvin J. Wolf
On this page are true stories, magazine articles, excerpts from books and unpublished works, short fiction, and photographs, each offering a glimpse of my life, work and times. I'll be posting weekly. Your comments welcome. © Marvin J. Wolf. All rights reserved.