John R. D. Van Clief, Jr.
Letter Recalling Sgt. Diaz' Murder and 1971 Platoon Stand Down
For more information, see the 1970 diary entry dated 11/30/70.
document provided by John R. D. Van Clief, Jr.
I trust the following will be helpful to you or at least interesting. Please understand at the outset that my memory is not as good as it used to be. Try as I might Iím currently drawing a blank on a lot of the time I was with the 47th.
I canít be exact on the date I became officially a part of the 47th. I arrived in-country on September 28, 1970 and ended up at the 47th a day or two later. Lt. Thorpe left a week or so after that, so I would be official around that time Ė perhaps within a week and a half into October.
Mr. Steinhebelís comments in other areas are close enough but not entirely accurate I think, which is understandable considering the length of time that has passed. I was actually 21 when I arrived. SFC Diaz was more like 6í-2" but was an imposing man none-the-less, and a very good one. I remember calling him "Sir" a couple of times.
The calls for teams had begun to slow down somewhat as we entered the monsoon. A Captain "in the know" had informed me that relatively inactive handlers could find themselves in line units. For this and other reasons both Sgt. Diaz and myself tried to promote our unit and find missions for our teams. As one might expect this was not well received by some of the handlers, especially the short timers.
Drugs were very much a problem initially and it was quite obvious. We tried to work with some of the individuals but accomplished little. Finally I ordered a shakedown inspection early one morning and we discovered and confiscated many pounds of different kinds of the stuff. That was probably what began the conflict that ultimately ended in Sgt. Diazís death. Sgt. Diaz and I were equally opposed to the drug use. He was fair but a little harder than I was. Iím certain that both these issues, begun under my orders, led to his death. He was a good man, as I said, and a very good First Sergeant.
My hooch was in the same building as Sgt. Diazís. The wall between his and my hooch was about 10 feet from the outside wall where the Claymore mine was placed. An investigation of the blast site after the event revealed my bed, on the opposite side of the inside wall, was directly in line with the line of the blast. I am certain the blast was intended for me as well, and only a mishandling of the mine when it was placed kept me from joining my sergeant in death. SFC Hood was in the same hooch with Sgt. Diaz, sleeping in his bed against the wall closest to the kennel area. He was physically untouched by the blast and went home soon after.
Life in the platoon was not pleasant after that for several months. I am convinced that one of my own men killed Sgt. Diaz and probably several others knew about it, and they all remained in the platoon. After some time one person was taken into custody for several weeks but was eventually released. I donít recall 50 grenades hanging from the rafters in my hooch. Probably I would have remembered that, but then it has been a long time and perhaps Mr. Steinhebel is correct. I do recall a smoke grenade placed in my hooch next to the door, set to go off when I opened it (it didnít). I also remember discovering a frag grenade (pin still in) under my pillow one evening. Worse was the occasional rock tossed onto the metal roof of my hooch during the night. Thereís a good chance I moved my bed to different locations a couple of times, as Mr. Steinhebel observed, although if he and others heard that I guess I didnít accomplish much. I did own a Thompson but I purchased it before Sgt. Diazís death from someone not in our platoon.
Missions for the teams continued during this time. Many of the men were glad to be able to leave the platoon area even with the monsoon upon us. As I recall I had difficulty getting one back. SSGT William Stringer took Sgt. Diazís responsibilities as First Sergeant. SSGT Jon Wilde remained for a while and, among other responsibilities, was in charge of training. Both these men did an excellent job.
In time things begin to settle down. Most of the guys in this platoon were good men. As many of the short timers went home and new handlers replaced them the platoon began to take on a new look. And after about 4 months after Sgt. Diazís death, about when the monsoon began to clear, life returned to as normal as a scout dog platoon can be.
Calls for teams continued, becoming somewhat less frequent as time went on. I remember at least two men being wounded. One manís wounds resulted from a booby-trapped 105 round tripped by one of the men in the unit he was working with. My handler was not on point at that time. His dog would certainly have alerted to the mine. I cannot remember my manís name, regrettably. The last man wounded was PVT Billy Bumgardner whom I knew from the 26th at Ft. Benning. He was medevacced out of the area and then to Japan with shrapnel wounds to his head. I was told early on that the wounds blinded him, but I received a letter he had written from Japan sometime later. I did not see him or hear from him again.
Eventually we received our stand down orders. Most of the stand-down is also lost to me. I remember spending a week or so at our unit preparing our equipment and then loading it all up in our deuce-and-a-halfs and driving to DaNang with everything. Some of the guys stayed behind to care for the dogs and watch the platoon area. When we got back many of the men were transferred to other platoons with their dogs and many went home. Several of the men found good homes for Flexie (thatís what we called her) and Sally-J, but I donít remember where they ended up. Ed Reeves may have been part of that. I do not recall what happened to the rest of the dogs. I would assume my last day with the 47th was the last day it existed in Viet Nam.
I was the last one left in the platoon area, waiting for my orders. I ended up at HHC of the 2nd Brigade there in Phu Bai, as did a few of the men. Rolf was the dog assigned to me at the time. Prior to the stand down I laterally transferred him up to the 42nd. The lieutenant was a friend of mine and he let me keep Rolf with me until my tour was over. Incidentally, I believe Rolfís (at least my Rolf if there were more than one) number was K099 and he was alive when I left him at the 42nd in 9/71.
Iím sorry I canít be more specific about some of the things you want to know and I regret not being able to remember more than I do. As I mentioned in my first e-mail, the first visit to your site several days ago had quite an impact on me and brought back memories that had lain dormant for many years. After a few days as I continued to visit the site I found myself wishing I could remember much more than I am presently capable of, like the name of the first man I mentioned above being wounded for instance. The time after Sgt. Diazís death was difficult, probably explaining why I have a clearer memory of it. The time after that was normal "in country" time and I would like to have those memories back. As I search through your roster it is frustrating finding names of individuals who were there when I was and drawing a blank as to who they were and what happened while we were there together. Perhaps more of it will return in time.
I have numerous pictures, all in slides. The slides are not in the best of shape after all this time, but Iíll see if I can convert some of them to digital and send them along later.
It has been good for me to put this all down on paper, reliving much of it as I have done so. I hope it will be helpful to you in some way.
May God bless you.
John Van Clief"