PTSD program at the VA Bay Pines Hospital, Tree Ceremony

Steve E. Merrill

I am presently in the PTSD program at the VA Bay Pines Hospital. There is what is called a Tree Ceremony. With the planting of the tree is buried a capsule. Within it is placed whatever the members of the cohort wish. This is my second time through. The first time was February, March and April 2005. In that capsule I place the names of the Tigers I saw die.

This was before I read the articles or the book “Tiger Force” by Sallah and Wiess. This time I will place the following letter in the capsule.

Dear Mr. Sallah and Mr. Weiss:

I have read your articles and book. You centered on Sam Ybarra and his friend Ken Green. You wrote how Jimmy Messier was killed in his first Firefight. It wasn’t his first. It may have been the first ambushes with the Tigers, but not his first. He and I were in Basic, AIT and jump school together. We entered B Company together and soon afterwards went to the Tigers. Also, his medi-vac flew him away within 30 minutes of the fight.

Then again your version would sell better. I was also there when Kenny Green was killed. Suffice it to say I don’t remember it the way you reported it. Also, Eddie Beck was killed in the same ambush. Couldn’t you find any dirt on him? Is that why you didn’t bother to write about that part of the ambush? We slept with their bodies that night and flew them out the next morning. Barry Runyon died while I was on R&R.

Messier, Green, Beck, Runyon were warriors. I considered them my friends. They kept me alive. I also considered Sam Ybarra my friend, a warrior extraordinary. We often talked. He even came to visit me at Fort Bragg shortly before he left the service. You obviously don’t care how many are still alive because of those men. I know I am alive because the Tigers were the most courageous men I ever knew. I wish I could have been half the man any one of them was.

You forgot to mention the poor innocent farmers you pitied were supporting the NVA. The valley was littered with pamphlets informing those in the valley it would become a free fire zone. You forgot to mention it was the Tiger Force that evacuated everyone that wanted out. We spent days gathering those villagers and sending them to refugee camps. You forgot to mention that the villagers who remained provided support to the very enemy that were killing the American soldiers you maligned. I see why you sided with the farmers. How would your book sell without your injustices? Injustices viewed from a civilized world applied to an uncivilized one; a world at peace judging a world at war. A comparison you are not qualified to make.

Name one person who will enshrine your book. Name one that will touch it leaving cherished items at its feet. Name one that will visit your book daily. Name one that will do these things forever. Not for your book. But for the names on the wall, millions will. There is no honored place for your book. No National Monument. Your legacy will collect dust on an obscure shelf in some obscure library.

65,000 names are on a wall, gone now a generation. A wall of granite, made from stones of the earth that will last Millennia. Who will remember you in 40 years? I hope you enjoy the profits gained at the expense of gallant men. Your spoils will disappear. But the names on the wall and the stones that hold them will remain forever. Your words will become meaningless with time. But the names on the wall will be honored forever.

Steve Merrill
Tiger Force
July-Nov 1967