by Roger J. Morris
In the years following my service in Viet Nam with both the 1/327th (Abn) Infantry and the 173d Airborne Brigade, I have heard supposedly firsthand accounts, read numerous articles, and seen countless movies of NCOs and officers assigning inexperienced, and often “problem” soldiers to serve as point man. It has been a point of contention with me wherever I encounter this misrepresentation of fact. Point Men and their Slack Men were among the most able and experienced in any organization. It could not have been any other way.
The point was responsible for the lives of all those following behind them. They brought skills and courage to this task that were invariably learned through hard and dangerous experience. They had to be experts at “woodcraft.” They could “read” a trail and tell who, what, when and how frequently it had been used. They could sniff the wind and detect enemy presence or their recent passing. They had a “sixth” sense that alerted them to danger. They often came face to face with the enemy and had to kill or be killed in close combat.They knew they were in the most vulnerable position possible and depended on their Slack Man to cover them and keep them alive while they led those behind them forward. In turn, they had the complete faith and respect of the entire organization. It was faith and respect justly earned.
As a Squad Leader, Platoon Sergeant and Acting Platoon Leader, I don’t remember one time having to detail someone to point or slack. Point Men appointed themselves and chose their own Slack Man. They took pride in their skills and courage. Upon the signal to move out, the same ones moved to the head of the column time and again to assume their rightful place. They were often the first wounded or killed. They knew this beyond a shadow of doubt and performed the job in spite of it. Point and slack were not jobs that were trusted to just anyone. The men who performed these duties were in a class of their own.
I have listed some of these brave men below:
John Ahern (point – killed in action)
Jay McMurphy (slack – killed in action)
Raymondo Armijo (point)
Willie Green (slack – seriously wounded and returned to the field)
Roy Aguero (point)
Pete Cippolla (slack)
Gary Lamb (point – wounded and returned to the field)
Larry Riley (point – serious head wound, lived)
“Hillbilly” Jones (point – seriously wounded)
“Stonewall” Jackson (point & slack – killed in action)
There were others, and only time and my poor memory keep me from recalling their names. If I have forgotten their names, I have not forgotten their faces or the dangers they faced to keep their fellow soldiers alive.