Redden's Close Call
Phil Blake, Commanding Officer
Company A, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 12th Cavalry
When I joined the battalion in July Ď66 and became the S-1, its official name was 1st Battalion (Airborne), 12th Cavalry. The airborne designation was caused by the conversion of the brigade (1st Bde) the previous year from the 11th Air Assault Division to the 1st Cavalry Division. As part of the11th, it was an airborne brigade, and its parachute status had continued.
However, at a certain time in the fall of Ď66 a decision was made that, although the airborne designation would continue, as well as jump pay for those assigned, replacements would not necessarily be jump qualified. So it came to be that many non-paratroopers began to report to the 1st Bn (Abn), 12th Cav.
Initially, the paratroopers in the battalion referred to them using the derisive epithet "legs". It wasnít long before that name was dropped in favor of the more respectful term "NAP," meaning non-airborne personnel. Pvt. Redden, and perhaps others like him, undoubtedly caused the change. Pvt. Redden was large, strong, and appeared to be someone who wouldnít abide insults. Actually, he was a good-natured kid, but he became a formidable soldier in A Company, well-liked and admired.
I donít remember whether he joined the company before or after I assumed command, but he soon came to my attention. One reason that I noticed Redden was that he and his buddy, another trooper exactly the same size and build, used to have wrestling matches at the end of the day after we had gone into our defensive position. Those two young behemoths would almost make the ground shake when they threw each other around. I canít recall his friendís name, and Iíll never know how the two of them had the energy to wrestle after a grueling day of humping eighty pound rucksacks through the forests and rice paddies, often up and down steep hills.
Late one afternoon after the company was set up for the night, someone called my attention to Pvt. (or maybe by that time PFC) Redden. He was in trouble. I donít know whether or not he had already wrestled, but in any event something had caused him to yawn widely. In so doing, his jaw had locked with his mouth wide open. When I reached him he was on his back on the ground and the medic was sitting on his chest, looking like a jockey astride a thoroughbred, trying unsuccessfully to manipulate Reddenís jaw into a closed position.
Although probably not painful, the problem was potentially serious. Redden couldnít function with his mouth open, and there was a danger of flies, mosquitoes, and other insects going down his throat. So after watching the medic struggle for a few minutes, I had my RTO call for a Medevac chopper, thinking that perhaps a physician in the rear area could solve the problem. Redden certainly couldnít have stayed in the field.
No sooner had the call been transmitted, than, somehow, Reddenís jaw popped back into the closed position. The crisis was over, and he was good to go many more rounds with his wrestling partner. In time, Redden developed into such an outstanding rifleman that he frequently served as his platoonís point man, and he was probably the best one in the company. I seem to recall that he was promoted to sergeant before his tour was over, which was quite an achievement.
Iíd like to think that Redden has had no more problems with his jaw, and that he has led a happy, productive life since Vietnam. It was a privilege to have been his company commander.