The Fatal Wounding of Bret Crandall

Revised November, 2005

Ranger Tom’s True Tales from the Vietnam War

Co D, 2/327th Inf, 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, Vietnam
Coastal Plains, Vietnam, February, 1969

Copyright 1993, 2005

OUTLINE:
The Fatal Wounding of Bret Crandall
Table of Contents:
Part 1
December, 1968,…in the beginning:
I meet LTC Charles Dyke, “Ramrod” of the “No Slack”:
Joining Company D, wiped out by a “friendly fire” air strike 3 months prior:
Youth warps my wisdom and logic and I volunteer:
Captain Walkley, the new commander of Company D:
Volunteers for Sniper’s School are selected:
Crandall is the first sniper and the first to make a kill:
I’m a “cherry”:
“Sir, you’re not a cherry anymore!”:
SFC Fry lead reenforcements and an ammo resupply:
Part 2
Another mission into the “free fire zone”:
Moving in the dark of the night:
An explosion and screams in the night, Crandall is wounded:
Roles had switched…we were now the hunted:
Kentucky National Guardsmen fire their artillery:
The long wait for the medivac helicopter:
The medivac lands for Crandall:
The quiet, the dark, and our strength returns:
Crandall leaves Vietnam and dies in the states:
Part 3
1986 and Bob Crandall is not listed in the Vietnam Memorial Wall Registry:
1990, I make contact with Captain Walkley:
I search for clues about Crandall:
“In Touch” is contacted and I visit “The Wall” in 1992:
Finding the names on “The Wall”, including Bret Flectcher Crandall:
The high cost of war:
Follow up: January, 2000, and November 2005

Snipers Dale Hansen (left) and Bret Crandall
Photo taken Jan. 1969, on Hill 88

Part 1
December, 1968,…in the beginning:

Bret Flectcher Crandall was a young man who shared a key role in my tour in Vietnam. For years I had the erroneous memory of his first name being Bob and refer to him in this story as both Bob or Bret. Crandall and I were comrades in arms, and my memories of him are very special to me. This true story begins when our paths ran parallel, beginning in 1968 then strangely, our paths crossed again on Veteran’s Day, 1992, at the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington DC. This was when I finally found him listed on the Wall.

Early December, 1968, is probably a good place to start this story. As per my written orders, I reported into the 101st Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Headquarters at Camp Eagle, located a few miles west of the northern Vietnam city of Hue (pronounced “way”). The 1st Brigade commander assigned me to the 2/327th Infantry Battalion whose commander was Lieutenant Colonel Charles Dyke who, being 32 years old, was one of the youngest battalion commanders in the Army.

I meet LTC Charles Dyke, “Ramrod” of the “No Slack”:

LTC Charles Dyke, nicknamed “Ramrod” (by his choice), was a dynamic leader and one of the sharpest individuals I’ve ever had the privilege to work for. Our battalion nickname/motto was “No Slack”. This “No Slack” was stenciled, painted, and probably tattooed on just about everything…from the toilets to the bulletin boards to the flag pole to the weapons etc. etc. etc. The “No Slack” had about 500 men which included 4 infantry companies (Company A, B, C, and D). Each of these companies had about 80 to 100 men in the field at any one time.

Joining Company D, wiped out by a “friendly fire” air strike 3 months earlier:

“Ramrod” assigned me to Company D, telling me that he was building them up because they had had their wind knocked out pretty bad by a “friendly fire” incident 3 1/2 months before. This tragedy occurred when “pilot error” resulted in an Air Force F-100 Super Sabre fighter jet accidentally firing its explosive rockets short of its enemy target and into the position of Company D, who then learned that “there is no such thing as ‘friendly fire'”. Another eye witness of this tragedy recalls that instead of rockets and pilot error, mechanical failure caused a 500 lb. bomb to hang up (called a “hanger”) thus delaying its release and resulting in it falling into Delta’s position. Whatever caused the incident, Company D had infamously earned the 101st Airborne Division’s highest priority for replacements, and the make up of my platoon reflected this (80 percent of my men came to my platoon within a week of each other during August of ’68).

Ramrod then explained that a new company commander, soon to arrive, would restore the company into a crack outfit. Captain Lester “Red” Walkley was his name, and this was going to be his third tour in Vietnam. Walkley’s previous tours had been with the Green Berets (Special Forces).

Youth warps my wisdom and logic and I volunteer:

In those days, I was 21 years old and a somewhat cocky person (in a very respectful manner). I was hoping that “Ramrod” was joking about all of the preceding, to include this Captain Red Walkley. I soon learned that “Ramrod” did not ever joke – about anything – and this Captain Red Walkley was for real, and he also had very little sense of humor! I realized that this was no joking matter, and within hours I would be a rifle platoon leader. This began to sink into my thick skull, and my cockiness was replaced by adrenaline and fear for the future. I was able to laugh at myself, as I had no one to blame but myself. Youth does some strange things to wisdom and logic. About a year earlier, I had voluntarily left the Nebraska National Guard for all of this…this was the beginning of my tour of duty in the Vietnam War.

Captain Walkley, the new commander of Company D:

The descriptive word of “gung ho” did not do Captain Walkley justice. He was determined to get Company D into shape. Walkley had a theory that he operated from … get his three platoon leaders into shape and the platoons will follow. Since I had the first platoon, he started with me. During my first few weeks with this man, I remember such phrases aimed at me, that carried the messages of “make a decision lieutenant or I’ll get someone who can”…. “if you can’t get it done, I’ll get someone who can”…”you and your people are not getting enough done”…”you can’t side with your men in a battle zone”…”follow your orders”…”play the game by the rules”..and of course, “No Slack”. His management style was effectively direct and strict. Walkley used his rank, experience and demeanor as his base of authority. We got along good when I finally learned what he expected and how to accomplish the impossible.

Walkley commanded Company D for 5 months and formed Company D into one of the most effective, motivated, and proud infantry units within the brigade of 3,000 airborne soldiers. For a time, due to Ramrod’s and Walkley’s thoroughness and attention to detail, the “No Slack” had high morale and a general feeling of being invincible. This was especially true from March thru May, 1969 when we left the coastal plains and operated in the jungle mountains. During the rainy monsoon season, which in this part of Vietnam seemed to run from October thru February, our theater of operation was the coastal plains between the cities of Hue and Da Nang.

Volunteers for Sniper’s School are selected:

Wherever we went, we were shot at by enemy snipers. Our colonels and generals decided to take this age old enemy tactic and improve upon it. The word was put out that if a soldier was already an expert rifle marksman, then he could volunteer to become a sniper and receive sniper training. Five men from Delta company volunteered: Bret Crandall, Dale Hansen, Ken Jolly, Jimmy “Shike” Barnett, and Robert Clark. There may have been more.

Attending the first few sniper schoosl were Specialist 4th Class Bret Crandall and Specialist 4th Class Dale Hansen, both were exemplary soldiers. Crandall had been drafted, but he accepted his job and did his best at all times. Dale Hansen was also well motivated. Both men had joined Company D two days after the August “Friendly Fire” tragedy.

The first sniper school was attended by Crandall, conducted somewhere south by the Marines over Christmas, 1968. The second Sniper School was done by the 101st at Camp Eagle and attended by Dale Hansen. The third school qualified Ken Jolly. Somewhere along the training process, two more men were qualified, Shike Barnett and Robert Clark.

Sniper training qualified the men on a competition quality M-14 rifle complete with a long range scope sighting system. Snipers were confident that they could be accurate with their rifles at ranges exceeding 1000 Meters (about 10 football fields in length). Sometimes the target of opportunity was even more distant.

Crandall is the first sniper and the first to make a kill:

Crandall was the first to become a sniper, and he was the first to make a kill. On January 21, 1969, Crandall killed an enemy soldier with a 1200 meter shot that involved both skill and luck. Crandall made this kill without any scope as it had gotten wet and he had taken off the scope so he could dry and clean it. According to sniper Dale Hansen, who was with Crandall at the time, and watched the kill through his own scope, Crandall’s first shot hit about 5 feet from the enemy so Crandall adjusted slightly and dropped the enemy with the second shot.

I led a squad sized patrol to bring in the dead enemy, and his AK47 automatic assault rifle, so that the No Slack intelligence team could possibly identify him and where he came from. It was a strange wound on the dead enemy. One entry hole in his behind, no exit hole and there had been no bleeding. We were unable to get a helicopter to pick up the corpse so we carried the body through the brush and paddies for more than 5000 meters back to Hill 88… talk about dead weight … we had a hard time as it was exhausting due to the terrain, so I rotated the body carrier duty so that everybody took their turn, including me. One man refused to help with the carrying as he said it was against his religion. A Court Martial trial agreed with him several weeks later.

I’m a “cherry”:

In Vietnam, until you had received your baptism to fire, your men considered you a “Cherry”…a person who has not been tested in combat. The average infantryman is leery about “Cherries”, especially young lieutenants who could get a lot of people killed if they couldn’t perform well under fire. A Cherry lieutenant, no matter what his background, was never fully accepted by his men until he had proven himself in battle. Early during Company D’s rebuilding, I was considered by my men as “just another cherry lieutenant”. I was hoping that I would survive loosing my cherry and that I wouldn’t fall short during the incident and loose my honor or, worse yet, get my men or civilians wounded or killed. I also knew that this event could happen at any time and that it was overdue.

“Sir, you’re not a cherry anymore!”:

On January 23, 1969, I was on an operation with one of my squads and two of the snipers (Crandall and Hansen), a machine gunner, a medic, a squad leader, several riflemen. My bosses had thought it a good idea to have a Navy FO (“forward observer” who helps direct artillery fire) with us as the battleship, USS New Jersey was off coast and eager to fire their giant guns if we needed the help.

For this mission, our method of penetration was, under the cover of darkness and by foot. We had infiltrated into the enemy’s area of operation and set ourselves up in the high ground no later than first light. Near dusk, we saw an enemy patrol probably 500 meters out, single file, and headed into one of many areas we had preset artillery targets and also within range of our organic weapons.

Every man was on alert and ready for the order to engage as the enemy patrol neared the distant kill zone. The screw up that happened next is a basic break down of communication between the Army and the Navy’s SOPs (“standard operating procedures”). Also, this was the first time I had worked with a Navy FO, much less this particular man who was included at the last minutes prior to departure for this operation.

In the 101st, the artillery SOP at that time, was that a smoke round would preceed any high explosive rounds. This “first round smoke round” policy greatly lessened the chances of a friendly fire incident. If the fire mission request did not want the smoke round, then a specific verbal order needed to be given, which was, “at my command”. When this was given, the artillerymen would wait for the command to fire and the first rounds would be killing rounds.

The enemy were moving into the kill zone. I told the Navy FO to get the artillery ready to fire into the kill zone (which we had already redesignated the target), the target was “enemy in the open” and I needed proxcimity fuses so that we could get aerial bursts, and lastly I specifically ordered “at my command”. This he did but the Navy did not recognize the “at my command” so he did not relay that part of the fire mission request. Just as the enemy were beginning to enter the kill zone, we heard the distant a single 155mm howitzer fire from Hill 88. The first round was on target but, to our horror, it was a harmless aerial burst smoke round. This immediately got the enemy to start running around like ants. Most were running back to where they came from. Some were dropping into the scrub growth for cover before leaving the area. What could have been a classic text book long range ambush was falling apart.

I yelled for the men to engage but nobody did. I think they were as shocked at seeing the enemy flee as I was. I yelled again but this time I opened fire with my M-16, which was loaded with all tracer bullets (used as marking more than killing). At that range, the M-16 pink burning tracer bullets looked like a meteor shower. My M-16 was not accurate but it convinced the snipers and the machine gunner to engage. Seeing that there was a mistake in the artillery request, I yelled to the Navy FO to have the artillery “fire for effect” and six 155s fired from Hill 88. The first set of six rounds were on target but the enemy was fleeing so I shifted the bracket pattern so as to follow the escape route. I told the FO to add 50, right 100. The Kentuckian National Guardsman were outstanding artilleryman as the rounds came quick and landed right where I wanted them to. I told the FO to “repeat” and they did.

Finally, everybody was firing at something. When we no longer had live targets in the six foot tall brush of the kill zone, we worked the area with the artillery. Also, two cobra helicopter gunships came into the ambush area so I lifted the artillery and directed the gunships until they had expended all their deadly ordance.

While all this was going on, I could hear someone yelling “Sir, Sir…Lieutenant Carpenter!”. I shifted my attention to the voice trying to be heard over the sounds of combat. It was sniper Bret Crandall, and he was yelling to me while he fired his weapon. He must have thought it was a turkey shoot, as when he saw that he had my attention, he smiled and then yelled, “Sir, you’re not a cherry anymore!”. Although the situation was not optimum, the recognition of this event was, to say the least, very timely.

After I had ceased to be a “cherry”, I bonded with my platoon in such a way that goes beyond explanation. I had joined an unofficial and silent worldwide brotherhood of warriors who could be friend or foe. A brotherhood as old as war itself, built around a comradeship of mutual respect with a bond that centered around life, death, and honor. I had become a part of my own “Band of Brothers”.

SFC Fry leads reenforcements and resupply:

I wrote more about this mission and engagement in my story “Vietnam Platoon Sergeant Robert Fry, His life in Vietnam and His Death in America”. I wrote about how SFC Fry led reenforcements more than 4000 meters, on foot, and at a dangerous and fast pace, from Hill 88, also crossing a river to get into our area in order to reinforce us and to replenish our dangerously low ammo supply.

When SFC Fry and the men of Delta’s first platoon arrived, they swept the battlefield in the dark but under the light of aerial flares. This sweep found only 3 dead enemy and four weapons. We were shocked that any enemy had escaped. This wasn’t the end of this engagement nor about the long night that followed. The next day we observed two enemy that was doing their own sweep of the battlefield. They were looking for their dead and the weapons. The snipers had them in their sights and they awaited my order to fire. I let the enemy go, thinking they were an advance party for the main element. They disappeared back into the brush and never came out.

A few days after the above engagement, we dragged our butts back to Hill 88. The mission had been successful in that we had confronted and eliminated some enemy soldiers without any of ourselves getting killed or wounded, but …. Captain Walkley pulled me aside (for what he had to say he didn’t want to degrade me in front of my men) and, like a wise father trying to counsel his immature son, Walkley told me that the 101st supply people had figured up what I had spent for the three dead enemy and four captured weapons. More than $250,000 had been spent by the engagement and, that the commanding general of the division was upset that I had had two more enemy in the sniper’s sights and then I had let them go only to live and fight another day. The $250,000 spent on that engagement would have been close to a million dollars in today’s money.

My commander’s (Captain Walkley) commander’s (LTC Dyke) commanders were not happy with the way things turned out. Captain Walkley had come up through the ranks and he had been an enlisted man with the Special Forces for two earlier Vietnam tours. He said that he would respect my decisions as I was the one in the field and I was the one engaged in combat and I called the shots (literally) as I saw them. Walkley then told me that I had let the artillery get in the way of the infantry and that I should not have worked up the battlefield with so much artillery but rather I should have come off the high ground and swept the area. This cost of time and obviously money, let the enemy slip away. He said I did good and that I will do better. Not once since that time did he ever chew my ass again. He would get tough with me many more times but he treated me with respect … probably because, through it all and without getting anybody killed (at least at this point in time), I had joined a brother of warriors of which he too belonged.

I would like to note that about eleven months later (Dec 69), the elite No Slack recon platoon, known as the “Hawks”, did a patrol into this battlefield area. They found a mass grave of eight or nine enemy. These enemy KIA were attributed to our ambush of January 23. This meant we had gotten nine of the eleven, one of which was a female thought to be a medic or nurse. Dale Hansen feels there were twelve or more in this enemy patrol. He could easily be right as it all happened so quick. This info came from Lt. Bill Drypolcher who had been a platoon leader in Delta company and later he was the Hawk platoon leader.

Part 2

Another mission into the “free fire zone”:

All January, February, and most of March, 1969, Captain Walkley had us infiltrating into a the “free fire zone”, which meant anybody we came across could be assumed to be enemy. We would move into this enemy stronghold by foot patrol, (under the cover of darkness and often cold driving rain) set up undetected ambush positions during the night, then move to a different spot before the first light of dawn. The daytime position often provided a panoramic view of where the foot hills met the sea and the coastal plains. This allowed our snipers, our machine guns, and our artillery the command of a huge area. Our bold and offensive tactics still had the enemy confused and disrupted. They begin to up the ante and make us pay dearly by drastically increasing their booby traps. Snipers Crandall and Hansen had each been wounded (in separate incidents) by booby traps as had many other men from Delta company.

Moving in the dark of the night:

Most people don’t realize that many of our missions were conducted in the darkness of the night. There was a common belief that the night belonged to Charlie and Mr. Charles (the enemy Viet Cong and the North Vietnam army, respectively). It was our job to meet and beat the enemy at his own game, so we did our best to control the night. Often we moved, ambushed, and fought at night. There were many nights that it was so dark, due to the rain and cloud cover, a soldier could not see his hand in front of his face much less anything else. When you can’t use your vision, you learn to supplement with with your ears, nose, feelings and intuition. We were trained to move and operate in almost undetectable silence – communicating with sign language. We learned to use the darkness to our advantage.

An explosion and screams in the night, Crandall is wounded:

The next part of this story of Bret Crandall takes place during one of these night operations in February, 1969. Under the cover of darkness and rain, we had been humping (walking, patrolling) for hours through leech infested rice paddies, swamps, scruffy brush, and we had waded across one neck deep river. There were 12 men on this dark, cold and wet mission… one of my rifle squads (about 8 men) , sniper Crandall, a radio operator, a medic, and myself.

We had reached a point where we were to set up the dark time ambush position. There had been no unusual problems during this night move, so I was optimistic that our penetration into the enemy’s backyard had been undetected. Since this was primarily a sniper oriented mission, this made Crandall one of the most valuable men on the team. For this reason, I put Crandall in what is traditionally the most secure position, that of rear security.

While I was placing the men in the night ambush positions, I told Crandall and two others to set up a rear security position and I would join them in a few minutes to confirm and coordinate their position with the rest of the ambush site. What should have been the most secure position turned out to be the most dangerous. Suddenly this darkness was pierced by an unexpected and loud explosion just a few yards away. Instinctively and instantaneously I flinched, ducked, then dropped to the ground for cover. Once I was beyond this survival reaction, I clutched my M-16 rifle at the ready, clicked off the safety, and in a low crouch, ran toward the haunting screams of a wounded man. Two men were slowly getting to their feet, each still in a daze from the sudden explosion but no obvious wounds. Crandall was lying on the ground in sort of a fetal position with his hands to his head. My first guess was that he had hit a trip wire and had set off a booby trap. Prior to the explosion he had perhaps realized what he’d done and tried to jump for cover into a small ditch next to a stream. He almost made it to the safety of the ditch, as he had no apparent wounds to his lower body. His wounds were localized to his hands, arms and head. The booby trapped fragmentation grenade had gone off near his head…it was amazing that he was still alive. I knew he couldn’t hear the unnerving noise he was making. Probably all he could hear was the ringing explosion close to, or inside his head.

I yelled for the medic, and by then several other men had also moved up and were forming a wide defensive circle around Crandall. I did not know for sure what had caused the explosion. It could have been another isolated booby trap, or the grenade could have been tossed… marking the beginning of an attack or ambush on us. I was full of adrenaline as was everyone else; and Crandall was wounded, confused and in great pain. I felt so helpless regarding Crandall’s wounds and pain. Finally, and at my suggestion, the medic gave him a dose of morphine and he quickly grew silent.

I knelt beside Crandall, touched his leg and told him the war was over for him, he was going to be all right, and that soon he would start the journey back to the “World” (the United States) and home.

Roles had switched…we were now the hunted:

Things were no longer going smoothly and as planned. We had lost our edge and we were now detected. We were but a small force in the remote area belonging to the enemy and we had lost any advantage of surprise. If we needed reenforcing, it would be difficult and slow due to the darkness and the remoteness of our position. Roles had been switched, and we were no longer the hunter but we had become the hunted.

Kentucky National Guardsmen fire their artillery:

I radioed our situation to our company commander (Captain Walkley) and asked him to get us a medivac helicopter and to get the artillery on alert as we could be needing their support at anytime. The “red leg” (the artillery) was soon on line and ready to fire their big guns from a fire base located several miles away (the firebase, “Hill 88”, had been named for its elevation of 88 meters above sea level).. These artillery men were Battery C, 138th Artillery Battalion, who were activated Kentucky National Guardsmen and had six 155 mm self propelled howitzers. Months later, in July, 1969 this same Kentucky Guard unit, while at Firebase Tomahawk, had their position overrun by the enemy which resulted in many casualties…enough casualties that the Kentucky town of Bardstown, earned the dubious distinction of becoming the “town with the highest, per capita, rate of casualties in the entire Vietnam War”.

I had the artillery start firing with some aerial flares as I wanted to see if there was any enemy out there. Every few minutes a new parachute flare would be put aloft. The artillery Guardsmen also started to fire high explosive rounds into preplanned and predetermined targets near our position.

The long wait for the medivac helicopter:

As we waited for the medivac helicopter (similar to today’s life flight) , we strengthened our defensive circle by confirming interlocking fires with each position, then we set out a few anti personnel mines (claymore mines were portable and light yet they were designed to stop a human wave attack). We waited for the medivac helicopter… and we waited and we waited. I radioed Captain Walkley to confirm that the helicopter had been dispatched and that they understood the urgency of the wounded man’s condition and just why was it so slow to arrive.

At last, more than an hour after the original radio request, we could hear the lonely, heavy thromp, thromp, thromp of the Huey medivac helicopter. As the medivac approached, I established radio contact with the pilot. I also radioed the artillery and first had them shift their fire, then cease firing the flares and high explosive rounds while the copter moved in.

The medivac lands for Crandall:

For lack of other options, I brought the copter almost directly into our position. I stepped into an adjacent small clearing and held my hand-sized flashing strobe light up in the air above my steel helmet. The strobe light surged a burst of bright psychedelic light that disappeared into eternity. This signal device then whined as it recharged itself and fired off another burst of light again and again and again. I felt like I was making myself an ideal target for any enemy in the area, but I knew that no enemy would shoot me if they had a chance at an incoming helicopter…a much more valuable target. Two of my men hurriedly loaded Bret Crandall into the medivac which immediately took off into the dark, rainy sky.

The quiet, the dark, and our strength returns:

With our wounded man taken care of and the quiet of the night slowly returning, I felt not so vulnerable to the enemy. As the sound of the helicopter faded away, I could feel our strength returning and it seemed we were gradually again gaining control of our situation.

Our exact position was now known to the enemy. I needed to reposition the squad to where we could take advantage of the terrain and the night and the weather. We needed to move out of this area and get some dark and distance between us and this compromising incident. We were still a small force in the middle of enemy territory, and we no longer had any advantage of stealth and nondectection. We dissolved our defensive position and reformed into a quiet offensive snake that moved slowly and carefully out of the area and into the dark rain. After moving more than a thousand meters, and for the second time that night, we set up an offensive ambush position.

Crandall leaves Vietnam and dies in the states:

That night was the last time I ever saw Bret Crandall. The next day, we heard that Crandall had not been flown to the MASH type unit at Camp Eagle (near Hue) but he had been flown directly to the ship “Repose”– an off-shore Naval hospital ship. A few days after that, we heard that Crandall had been flown to the medical facilities in Japan. Then a few weeks later, we got word that he was in the states in a military hospital closer to his home. I thought the hospital was in Phoenix, Arizona.

Some time later, weeks or more, the word filtered back to us that Crandall had died in the hospital from “encephalitis” (inflammation of the brain), listed officially as a complication of his wounds. My men and I took this news pretty hard as, up till that time, he was our first KIA (“Killed in Action”) and he had been our friend and comrade. He was a member of the brotherhood.

Part 3

1986 and Bob Crandall is not listed in the Vietnam Memorial Wall Registry:

It was 17 years later, in 1986, at the 2nd Nebraska Vietnam Veterans Reunion (held that year at Grand Island, NE) that I first had an opportunity to read through a list of names, a registry for the Vietnam Memorial Wall, of those Americans killed in Vietnam. Methodically, I thumbed through the registry book, looking for more than twenty friends whom I thought should have been on the Wall. There were a few men whose names I don’t remember so I obviously did not find them listed but… I was unable to find the name of Bob Crandall. The only Crandall I could find was a Bret Fletcher Crandall
whose home of record was given as Salt Lake City, Utah. I begin to think that Crandall might have been left off the Wall because he had died in the states from encephalitis and not as a direct result of his Vietnam wounds. I thought that someday I would get this corrected as I felt it my duty as his former platoon leader, to see that his name got on the Wall.

1990, I make contact with Captain Walkley:

In 1990 a former platoon leader that I had served with, Bill Drypolcher from San Francisco, called me to say that he had located our former company commander, Captain Red Walkley. I called Walkley, now a Colonel, on Memorial Day, 1990 and I found the timing of the phone call ironic as it was the next to last day before his retirement from 34 years in the Army. One of the many things we talked about was Crandall. After Walkley had ended his Vietnam tour in the summer of 1969, he visited the parents of Crandall and gave them an enemy rifle that their son had captured but, due to his wounding, he had been unable to take the war souvenir with him. Walkley confirmed that Crandall had died from encephalitis while at the Letterman Army Hospital, near Phoenix, Arizona. Walkley did not have Crandall service number but he did remember the correct name and spelling. Walkley felt that the Phoenix area would have been Bob Crandall home of record. Walkley did not remember the names of the Crandall family.

I search for clues about Crandall:

On and off, over the next two years, I conducted my own investigation to determine if the Crandall on the Wall was, or wasn’t the Bob Crandall I knew. I called all the Crandall listed in the phone books of Phoenix and Salt Lake City. Often these people would refer me to a relative living somewhere else in the country and I would call them. I called probably thirty people the summer of 91, asking for any information concerning a Crandall who had been killed or had served in Vietnam. I was disappointed when this avenue produced no answers or further leads.

“In Touch” is contacted and I visit “The Wall” in 1992:

Finally, in the spring of 1992, I read in the VFW magazine (Veterans of Foreign Wars) about “In Touch”. This Washington DC based not-for-profit organization helps people looking for people of the Vietnam era. “In Touch” has been greatly aided by EDS, a data processing company originally founded by Ross Perot. Ross Perot is a friend of many veterans, especially the Vietnam veteran. I wrote a letter of inquiry to “In Touch” in August, 1992.

One year ago, Veterans Day 1992, a local veteran friend, Ralph Watts, and I drove to the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington DC. The Wall was having its 10 year anniversary dedication. This was the first visit for both of us and in a humorous yet dramatic way, we were calling this trip a pilgrimage…a quest…an odyssey. In actuality, both of us were very serious in this visitation hoping that it might close a few doors to our past that had been left abruptly open. We traveled and moved with purpose and conviction, and we conquered the road — stopping occasionally for food, fuel, and sleep. For me this trip was a long time in the making.

Two weeks before we departed for this trip, I received a short handwritten letter from the “In Touch” director that listed a few facts about the Crandall on the Wall. “In Touch” did not know that within days I would be leaving soon for Washington, so the timing of this note was sort of divinely uncanny, especially when you consider this particular door had been left open since 1969. The young man, Bret Fletcher Crandall had been in the 101st Airborne Division, he had been a Mormon and his home of record was Salt Lake City. His cause of death was listed as a grenade explosion. The date his Vietnam tour began was in August, 1968. All these things pointed to the conclusion that the Bob Crandall I knew was, and is, the Bret Fletcher Crandall listed on the Wall. I felt both relieved and good knowing this. I knew that Bob Crandall was one of the many replacements who joined Company D in August, 1968 after its “friendly fire” incident which I mentioned in the first part of this story.

Finding the names on “The Wall”, including Bret Flectcher Crandall:

Those hours at the Vietnam Memorial Wall seemed mystical. Ralph and I arrived at the Wall about midnight, the day before Veterans Day. Even at this hour, there was a quiet flow of people coming and going. There was also a full moon and the moonlight played on the polished black granite surface that had thousands of names etched into it. Volunteers were standing near the entrances where they were handing out small fluorescent candle lights which added an eerie, yet reverent touch to the setting. I spent the next few hours beginning to looking up the names I knew should be there. The first name I looked up was my good friend Jack Crump (I had the privilege of escorting Jack Crump’s body home from Vietnam, to his widow, infant son and waiting funeral in early June, 1969). Next I found Bret Fletcher Crandall. It has always been hard for me to express myself, but I was allowed to do this at the Wall. Once or twice, I quietly cried and often I prayed. The faces of my 20 friends will remain in my mind, and their names can be found on the Wall.

The high cost of war:

It would have been nice if the long Vietnam War would have never happened…but it did. The world would be a better place without war, but the nature of man continually drifts his society into this wasteful method of settling conflicts. We ask much of our citizens when we expect them to participate in the military and occasionally in an armed conflict. We, as citizens, must not take lightly this option of solving problems by war… even in this “new world order”. We must realize that the price paid is great, especially when measured in lives, resources, and emotions. Remember our veterans and their families, especially on Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Consider joining me in giving our veterans a friendly and appreciative smile, a thumbs up, and a silent “thank you”.

Follow up: January, 2000

This story about Bret Crandall and the sniper missions of the No Slack Battalion has made its way to some of the men of Company D who knew Bret and shared many memorable experiences with him and myself. Dale Hansen of Texas, one of the original snipers, has helped me rewrite portions of this story. He provided the photo of himself and Bret Crandall. Dale also helped me with some of the names that I had lost over the years. Also of help has been Tom Taylor of California, Bill Drypolcher of California, David Wayne of New Hampshire, John Gray of Maine, and Tom Nerney of Georgia. All these men served in Delta company and knew Bret Crandall. At the time of the original 1993 writing of this story, I had no contact with any of these men except Drypolcher. Thanks to the internet and traditional word of mouth, we have once again crossed paths and made or renewed that bond that I talked about early in this story … a brotherhood of warriors. I thank them for their help and encouragement.

Added November 2005:

More names have come in over the years and for the sake of somebody seeking someone, via the internet searches, I am adding more names to my list of men who were directly, or indirectly involved in this story and/or with my Vietnam tour. Theses names are: Captain Robble, Jim Scales, Rick Swing, Danny Gary, Yankee Jim Simchera, Wayne Gaskins, Raymond Mercer, Daniel L. Stroeing, Phil Schaffer, Eli Haggins, Clarance “Bud” Mara; Tony Moronao, Mike “Hammer” Calahan, Harry Hala, Joe Adams, Gerald “Jerry” Hebert I will try to update these names and spellings as I learn more. Please feel free to contact me for more information. No Slack. Veterans Day, Nov 05.

Tom Carpenter
[email protected]
Carrollton, Missouri