My most poignant memories of Vietnam are of my assistant platoon commander, Bubba Brewton. John Cooke Brewton. He went through UDTR eight months after I did, but we went through Ranger school together. You get pretty close with your Ranger buddy in the wintertime, and we were in a winter class.
Bubba was a big strong guy and a fast runner. He was from Mobile and graduated from the University of Alabama; Bubba was always interested in how the Crimson Tide was doing in football. He'd been a cheerleader at Alabama. Some people look askance at male cheerleaders, but I think he liked the part about getting to hoist women around by their off-limits areas.
This guy was an outstanding operator and tough as nails. He also had a great sense of humor. You couldn't hurt him. At the same time, he was very stubborn and you couldn't tell him anything, either.
Before we deployed to Vietnam that first time, if he didn't have a date for the weekend he'd put on his uniform and just fly somewhere, anywhere, and he'd meet the stewardesses. Guys in Navy uniforms were quite acceptable in those days, and he was a good-looking man. He would just get women.
When his training class was in swim school in Key West, a bunch of them had gone up to Miami and had fallen in with some young ladies from all over the world who were training to be stewardesses with Pan Am. He knew a lot of stewardesses. We'd be doing the morning run at SEAL Team TWO and a plane would take off from Norfolk airport and Bubba would get this wistful look in his eye and say, "Yeah, there goes Cheryl on the seven forty-one to Atlanta."
In Ranger school they couldn't faze him. In our platoon he was very agressive, quick-thinking, and courageous. He was a hard guy and a very strong leader.
He was lucky, too. Even though he was right next to the booby-trap grenade when it exploded in the PBR, he wasn't even scratched. The first time I got shot, when I was on all fours in that field and the claymores didn't go off, those AK-47 rounds would have hit Brewton if they hadn't hit me first. Ten days later in the LSSC, if I hadn't been sitting just the way I was when the first RPG went off, the frag that ripped my shoulder would have taken Brewton's head off.
We used to joke about it. I'd say, "Hey Bubba, what's going to happen to you when you go back to the States and I'm not there? You're going to have a safe fall on you. You're going to get run over by a truck." He'd just laugh. He was twenty-four and thought he was going to live forever.
His fatal flaw was that he got so used to being the ambusher that he figured he would never make contact except on his terms. So he blew off the possibility that the enemy could catch him by surprise.
When I went out on his patrols, I noticed that after he'd break ambush, it was almost an administrative patrol to the LZ or the boat pickup point. I'd say, "Bubba, don't go admin yet. This is still tactical."
He's say, "Yeah, but we've been here all night and there's nobody around to catch us."
His luck held during our tour in 1968 but ran out a year later when he was on his second tour. His platoon had set an ambush all night in the T-10 area. No contact, and when it got light they moved out toward the extraction point and walked right into a VC base camp. Several guys got shot up pretty badly, though I think they inflicted as much damage as they suffered. Bubba's quick reaction when the VC opened up on them helped save the rest of the platoon. He got the Silver Star and Purple Heart for that action.
He was wounded on Thanksgiving Day, 1969, and died of wounds in Saigon on 11 January 1970. His father and his fiancee, Cheryl, came over to be with him while he was in Third Field Hospital. The Commander of Naval Forces - Vietnam, Vice Admiral Zumwalt, presented Bubba's medals to him in the hospital and took Mr. Brewton and Cheryl under his wing. The doctors said Bubba wouldn't make it to Christmas and then not to the New Year, but he had a strong heart and hung on until the second week in January. He was in the renal ward I talked about earlier, and he was in great pain for a long time. Admiral Zumwalt did everything he could for Mr. Brewton and Cheryl during their vigil. Later that year, when he became Chief of Naval Operations, he saw to it that a new Destroyer Escort was named after Bubba. I was present when Mrs. Zumwalt christened the USS BREWTON, DE-1086, in the summer of 1971. Right after that, I put in my request to transfer from the Naval Reserve to the Regular Navy.
The BREWTON is no longer in active duty, but Bubba's name is on the Wall. Every time I go there I put my hand on it and I think of him and all the other fine young men in the renal ward at Third Field Hospital.