American Valor Quarterly Issue 3 - Summer 2008 - Page 20

U.S. Army Abrams retained his personal modesty through it all. “He was no Johnson change from a captain to a colonel,” said Marvin Mattingly, his reconnaissance sergeant throughout the war. Abrams himself gave General Abrams was in turn linked with another officer of the credit to his soldiers. “I have traveled in gallant company,” he impressive probity and moral strength, Harold K. Johnson. During wrote to his wife Julie as the campaign drew to a close. the crucial three years of the build-up of American ground forces in Vietnam (1965-1967), Abrams was Vice Chief of Staff for In later years Abrams had many occasions to speak to younger Chief of Staff Johnson. They developed a relationship of soldiers about what he thought was important about their extraordinary professional and personal closeness. profession. One especially moving example occurred during the period when American forces were withdrawing from Vietnam. General Johnson had been serving as the Army’s Deputy Chief Over time General Abrams was literally sending his army home of Staff for Military Operations for less than a year when one of before himself. As each major unit prepared to depart, Abrams those periodic games of musical chairs took place in the upper visited to thank them and bid them farewell. echelons of leadership. General Maxwell Taylor left his post as Chairman of the Joint To an outfit in which he had once served he Chiefs of Staff to become U.S. Ambassador said that, “in a changing world, changing to the Republic of Vietnam, and Army times and changing attitudes, the 1st Infantry Chief of Staff General Earle Wheeler Division, more than any other division in moved up to become the new Chairman. our Army, represents a constancy of those essential virtues of mankind — humility, While decisions on successor leadership were courage, devotion and sacrifice. The world pending, the Army’s Chief of Chaplains, is changed a lot,” he continued, “but this Major General Charles Brown, made a division continues to serve, as it had in the Saturday afternoon visit to the home of beginning. I choose to feel that this is part Secretary of the Army Stephen Ailes. Brown of the cement, and the rock, and the steel was an amateur clockmaker, and had that holds our great country together.” And volunteered to see if he could repair one of then, his voice husky with emotion, he closed Ailes’s clocks. That job successfully by quoting back to them the division’s own accomplished, the two men were sitting on great motto: “No Mission Too Difficult, No the back stoop drinking a beer. Ailes asked Sacrifice Too Great — Duty First.” Chaplain Brown what he thought about General Creighton W. Abrams General Johnson. “Well, I’ll tell you, Stephen,” Abrams served in Vietnam for five years, the last four as Brown responded, “he’s the strongest moral force in the Army commander of all U.S. forces there. On his last night, speaking to today.” Not long afterward Harold K. Johnson was announced officers assembled in the command mess, he told his colleagues: as the next Army Chief of Staff. “The longer I serve, the more I am convinced that the single most important attribute of the professional officer is integrity.” He had come to that high post by a very difficult and challenging road. As a young officer he was assigned to the Philippine Scouts, Then he came home to become Army Chief of Staff. During commanding a battalion of the 57th Infantry, as he put it, “only those last years General Abrams would often speak about what long enough to lose it” when American forces were ordered to it had meant to him to be a soldier. At one of his last public surrender to the Japanese early in World War II. Johnson survived appearances — he died after not quite two years in office as the Bataan Death March and the ghastly ordeal of two Japanese Chief of Staff — General and Mrs. Abrams were attending an “hell ships.” Altogether he was a prisoner of war for 41 agonizingly Armor Ball in Washington. After dinner he was asked to say a long months. few words. Dancing had already begun, so he just stood at a microphone alongside the dance floor as people gathered around The Japanese treated their prisoners brutally and unpredictably. him. He spoke very quietly, but with obvious emotion, about Dealing with them was thus risky at best. Under these service, and about the privilege of service. He had no script or circumstances Colonel Johnson held a succession of positions of notes, and spoke for only a few minutes. trust, beginning with that of commissary officer for the prisoners, who in the vital matter of food chose the man they trusted the Afterward, on the way back to Fort Myer, General Abrams was most. Food, after all, represented the difference between life and slumped in the back seat of the sedan, tired and subdued. “How death, and there was never enough. do you think my talk went?” he asked Julie. “Well,” she replied, “all I can tell you is what I heard in the ladies’ room. Two young Johnson set about doing what he could to remedy that. The women were talking, and one said to the other, ‘I’ve been trying prisoners who worked were allowed to retain a small portion of to get my husband to get out of the Army. But after listening to their meager wages, and to spend that on supplemental food that, I’m glad he wants to stay in.’” AMERICAN VALOR QUARTERLY - Summer 2008 - 20