Saturday, July 21, 2007

South Vietnam, The American Waterloo: Buffy Works Hard To Keep Copters Flying...But His Heart Is Soft

November 21, 1966

An Khe, South Viet Nam—The First Cavalry Division, which makes its base camp here, has already become a legend in this hard-fought war against Communist aggression. But there's another legend within the division by the name of Major Dale W. Buffington.

The major will answer to the name of "Buffy" to almost everyone, non-com and superior officers alike. It's hard to tell that Buffy is a major, because generally, he has his shirt off and is constantly tinkering around the helicopters, which put the punch in the First Cavalry Division's offensives.

Buffy is 44 years old, and he calls his home Kensington, Pa., but he hasn't been home very often in his 26-year Army career. He joined the army in October, 1940, and became an officer in 1950.

During World War II, Buffy served as a machine gunner with the Third Armored Division as it swept across France, Belgium, and Germany. Buffy won the Silver Star in the battle for St. Lo, and the Purple Heart for shrapnel wounds he suffered at Mortaine. His back, both shoulders, and lungs were injured so badly it took him 6 1/2 years to recover.

Buffy has logged more than 6,000 hours in helicopters and fixed wing aircraft, and he quickly realized the helicopter's potential as a troop and weapons carrier that could put a deadly sting into any offensive move.

He still flies, if he can find the time, after completing his full-time job of finding new parts or pieces to keep the nearly 900 helicopters of the First Cavalry Division in the air.

Buffy, the son of a Baptist minister and an evangelist mother, grew up tinkering with machinery, and he's a machinist by trade. He says he can scrounge or make any piece he needs to keep a helicopter flying.

He has spent more than 10 years in the Orient and Southeast Asia. He knows his way around in military and civilian circles, and most importantly, he has come close to understanding the inner working of the Oriental mind.

His philosophies and thoughts on the Vietnamese are interesting. Of America's effort in this country he said, "This country is still a frontier, a fertile frontier which has never been completely explored. These people have asked for help, and my government has consented to give them help. It isn't for me to argue the cause. I respect my government, and I'll do what is right."

Of the people who oppose the American involvement in Viet Nam, Buffy said, "The people who say we are wrong do not understand, or are unable to tolerate the Oriental mind. It takes a lot of time to understand these people. Kipling once said, 'East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet,' and he was right. The Oriental thinks differently than the Westerner, but that doesn't make him wrong."

"The people who oppose our fight for the Vietnamese," Buffy said, "oppose their own government. And, they are in dire need of a tranquilizer administered on the end of a club."

Of the intelligence of the rank and file of the Vietnamese people, which is often summarized as low, and the consensus that they do not appreciate our efforts here, Buffington said, "It doesn't take much intelligence for a man to know he has lost his freedom. He doesn't need an education to know he is the prisoner and the slave of a regime. All we want for these people is what they want themselves...the right to make a free choice. They have asked us to help them. I believe we should help as much as we can, because a fight here could stop another fight in Pennsylvania, or one where you live.

"I've studied American history," he said, "and I know how the West was won. I'm sure that if the Americans could win such a monumental battle, that they can overcome the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese here."

"Most of the guys we capture wind up being our allies," Buffy said. "They have been fed the bull that we are out to dominate the country and dominate them. Once they learn our true aims they become our ally."

As Buffy spoke, he precariously gave himself a manicure with a knife. What made the manicure so precarious was that Buffy never failed to look me straight in the eye as he spoke and manipulated the knife. His blue-green eyes sparkled as he talked of his years in Japan and Korea and finally, South Viet Nam.

Buffy is a soft-hearted soldier for all his years in the Army. Like most soldiers, he feels sorry for the children involved in this war...especially the orphans. He has done his part for them too.

He was made the honorary father of an orphanage at Vung Tau. Buffy modestly claims that all he did for the orphanage was, "find a few things and a few of the right people for them."

But because of Buffy, nearly 500 Vietnamese orphans in the Vung Tau area have food, clothes, and foster homes.

"I'm happy to know that those kids have been put into homes with families that will raise them like they were their own," Buffy said.

Despite his knowledge, respect, understanding, and demonstrated compassion for the people of the Orient, Buffington's true love is the First Cavalry Division and the helicopters they fly on their assault missions.

Buffy has the reputation as being the man in the division who can get anything they need, anytime they need it. Of his reputation he said calmly, "let's say that my career has provided me with invaluable contacts. If I need something, I don't have to let too many people know I'm hurting before I've got what I need."

The major said he is awaiting his replacement to arrive in Viet Nam so he can retire. When asked directly if he was going to retire, he smiled and said, "Oh, I don't think so. I couldn't stand punching a clock for a living. Besides, who is going to teach all the young guys how to get along and keep the First Cavalry's helicopters flying?"

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