“War is Hell:” A platoon leader reflects on the divisive war in South Vietnam

Veterans Voices

(WDVM) — A young soldier with the 173rd Airborne Infantry Brigade in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam summed up the war with three words: “WAR IS HELL.”

Private First Class Larry Wayne Chaffin was on sentry duty at an airfield when AP combat photographer Horst Faas snapped this iconic picture of the young soldier’s acerbic assessment of a war that would divide the U.S.

He wrote them on his helmet band in June 1965, four years before Army Lieutenant Ed Enamait arrived in country with the First Cavalry Division.

Enamait talked about the divisive war as he stood on the porch of his home on a limestone cliff overlooking the peaceful Potomac River in Falling Waters, West Virginia. That’s where he worked as a fish biologist after his Army career ended.

Enamait was a platoon leader in the first squadron of the First Cav, often referred to as “America’s Team,” from 1969 to 1970. “It was an armored troop that had three platoons and I had second platoon,” said Enamait who added, “We were a unit that always got into all the firefights.” One in particular firefight is burned into his brain.

Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Ed Enamait has found peace along the Potomac where he worked as a fish biologist after coming home from Vietna.
Armored Personnel Carrier, or APC as they’re called, was destroyed by a land mine planted by the Viet Cong.

Enamait still grieves over five of his young soldiers who died when their Armored Personnel Carrier ran over a Viet Cong mine. He wishes he had gotten to know them. “But I was instructed by superiors not to get too close to my men.”

“I don’t know if that was good or bad, but it is what it is, or what it was,” said Enamait who also lost his brother-in-law in the Vietnam war. His brother-in-law was Captain Joseph Holland, a company commander in the 101st Airborne Division, who was killed along with most of his men when they jumped on top of the Viet Cong during the Tet Offensive in Saigon.

Young soldiers pose for a picture atop their armored personnel carrier.

Ten years ago, Enamait built a monument along the long driveway to his house. A granite stone has the names of the fallen on it.

One of the things he likes to do, after retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel, is take his dog for a walk down the driveway and pay his respects to the brave soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice more than 50 years ago. He especially remembers the five soldiers who were killed when the APC ran over a land mine.

“Five young men not given a chance to live their lives as fathers…. pretty disheartening,” said the combat veteran who came home with two Bronze Stars for valor on the battlefield; awards that don’t mean much to him today.


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