Leadership Forged from Events in Vietnam, Desert Storm and Beyond
Wars, fought on a grand scale with global consequences, are made up of countless smaller battles and events. For the men who fought, bled and died in them they are not small – those little pieces of war – and the personal aftermath and their effect is beyond measure. One such battle pitted a North Vietnamese Army (NVA) battalion of 700+ men against the men of Company I, Third Battalion, Ninth Marines, Third Marine Division. Of the seven officers in the field at the beginning, only three walked out. I was one of them.
I was 24 years old, and this was my first significant combat experience (and surprisingly, what happened – what I was called upon to do, was something I never imagined. What came afterward defined me for the rest of my life). The fighting lasted six hours, and toward the end, we were almost out of ammunition. Those few hours changed forever the lives of the survivors, including me, and the next of kin of the men we lost.
That battle was the crucial event in my life; an ultimate What Now, Lieutenant? moment that taught me so much that came into play in other such moments in my future. True, they would not be as traumatic as what I experienced as a lieutenant, but they were moments that whether I was a lieutenant, major or general, each forced me to call upon my experience, knowledge, training and common sense to respond appropriately. That phrase… that question with all it entails and how one responds when it’s asked of them… seemed to fit best as a title for what you’re reading now. Seeing that question in the eyes of the men on Hill 70 that day is how I learned a most valuable lesson about leadership over the course of a bloody day in Vietnam, now more than 49 years ago.
Everything that happened to me after that day is now seen through that prism.
About the Author
General Richard “Butch” Neal, USMC (Retired)