My guest writer for the month who embraces Veterans Day is Ret. Col. Dan Vannatter. He has a story to share with you about his time in Vietnam, and how meeting the right people at the right time can make all the difference in the world.
Memories of My Interactions with General Cushman
About a year ago, I attended a memorial service for LTG Cushman (lieutenant general is a three-star general officer) here in the DC area with whom I had worked in Vietnam while assigned in Can Tho. I learned he had passed away from the notice in the Washington Post.
He was an MG (Major General) when serving with him in 1970 and 1971, commanding the Delta Regional Assistance Command (DRAC). My respect for him was great, and I actually attended the memorial prepared to say a few words. Six of his seven children were there, and they spoke one after the other.
They were to be the only speakers.
Sitting there listening to the first one, the youngest female, approximately 55 or so, I was struck by the thought that this daughter must be the best speaker of the group and the remainder would be less interesting and enlightening.
I was so wrong.
Each one was more animated and articulate than the one before, and I was mesmerized. Once they finished, we adjourned to the dining room for lunch and friendly discussions. The daughter who was the organizer and I talked, and I told her a little about my experiences with her father. She asked me to write some of them down to go into the family history book about her father and his incredible career. Attached here is the result of that conversation and my effort to capture some memories for her and her siblings.
This is my story about MG Cushman and my interactions with him.
When I first met BG Cushman (Brigadier General, a one-star general officer) in the Delta in Vietnam, he was the Deputy Commander of the Delta Regional Assistance Command (DRAC). As one of his Special Security/Privacy Communications Officers, I interacted with him near-continuously for 18 months.
Three of our interactions stand out in my mind.
To me, they represent what a superb leader he was, but also the human side of this very inquisitive, intelligent senior leader. The following recounting is as accurate as I am capable of remembering and the timeframes are ‘in the ballpark.’
The Three Interactions:
- Introduction to DRAC, BG Cushman and GEN Abrams’ visit;
- Seven Ohio University Students visit the DELTA; and,
- The RF/PF Adventure.
- Introduction to DRAC, BG Cushman and Gen Abram’s visit
In mid-June 1970 I was re-assigned from MACV HQs (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. MACV was a joint-service command of the United States Department of Defense) to the Special Security Detachment in Can Tho to support the CG and DCG at the DRAC HQ. BG Cushman was the Deputy at that time, and he was very impressive, all-business in demeanor, and I was anxious to make a good first impression. Unfortunately for me, BG Cushman was not at all pleased to have a 2LT (Second Lieutenant) in the DELTA as the XO (executive officer is the second-in-command) of his Special Security Detachment. He had previously had a Major and a Captain and was now saddled with a Captain and a 2LT.
This dissatisfaction manifested itself in being totally ignored by BG Cushman.
He refused to speak to me, look at me or acknowledge my presence, even during my morning Intelligence briefing to him, the CG (Commanding General) and the staff. This continued even after he was promoted to MG ( Major General is a two-star general-officer rank) and took over as the CG of DRAC; so, for a few months.
I seemed not to exist.
I was extra careful the entire time to always be on my best behavior and military in manner and demeanor. Then, in the early Fall, we received notice that GEN Abrams was coming from MACV to the DELTA to visit MG Cushman and DRAC HQ. I received a call from MG Cushman’s office requesting the private use of our Special Security conference room for him to have a private conversation with GEN Abrams.
Obviously, we agreed.
They were to arrive approximately 10:00 the following morning. Our conference room, which was a Top Secret/Special Security Facility, was inspected, prepped and made ready for their visit.
The gate guards were alerted and stood by to open the security gate.
At 10:00 there was a knock on the steel reinforced door to our office; I slid open the ‘peephole’ and visually recognized MG Cushman and unbolted the door and swung it open. There stood both MG Cushman and GEN Abrams. I was about to say ‘welcome’ when Gen Abrams recognized me from MACV, reached out, grabbed my hand and while shaking it, asked me how I was doing? I answered positively, and we chatted briefly for two or three minutes, and I asked him how he was feeling (knowing that he had recently been briefly hospitalized in Japan). And he responded, “very well now!”
The look on MG Cushman’s face was almost one of being startled.
But, he did smile and say something positive to me as they passed into the briefing room.
From that day until my departure from the DELTA in September a year later I was “Cushman’s boy!” He called on me to look over every message he wrote and planned to send to GEN Abrams, even in the middle of the night. Once I was awakened at 03:30 and told to come to MG Cushman’s quarters to review a message he had prepared with his Chief of Staff and his Deputy. I was in gym shorts, no contacts, and had to read the message by holding it right up to my face. His Chief of Staff asked me if I needed to borrow his glasses- they all laughed.
I made several trips to the DRAC HQ to answer MG Cushman’s MACV questions each week and developed an affection and respect for MG Cushman’s thoroughness, professionalism, and dedication to doing the right thing. He once said to me, “Vannatter, if only everyone would do things the right way, the Army way, the first time, we would not have so many problems, and we would get a lot more done!” I have no way of knowing how my tour there would have unfolded if GEN Abrams had not made that visit, but, because he did, I had the most rewarding and interesting relationship with one of the Army’s greatest leaders, MG John Cushman.
- Seven Ohio University Students Visit the DELTA
It was mid-morning in the Spring of 1971. While sitting at my desk preparing for the following morning’s briefing one of my young soldiers came rushing from our communications center (in our secure building we had a comm center, two small offices, and a medium-sized conference room) and showed me an intelligence report.
The report was highly classified (at the time).
It stated: I am in a place with my mortars and waiting on the helicopter with the seven Ohio University students to land and I will destroy them and their helicopter. I knew nothing about seven Ohio University students, so I gathered the report and proceeded to the General’s Mess where MG Cushman would be having lunch.
When I entered the Mess, MG Cushman had a 3-Star guest sitting with him and his staff and remained in the doorway until I was noticed. Once eye contact was made with MG Cushman, he excused himself and joined me outside the Mess. Showing him the intelligence report, I told him I knew nothing about seven Ohio University students. MG Cushman told me he did and related that these were Ohio University agricultural students invited to South Vietnam by the South Vietnamese government to discuss new methodologies for growing multiple rice crops each year and they were going to visit COL Myers that day.
I reminded him that this information on the report was highly classified and we had to be careful how we revealed it to anyone. He smiled at me and said, “I know how to handle this.” He approached the lobby phone, took it and requested to be placed in contact with COL Myers.