Command at Dawn

Command at Dawn

Mel Carney

(Book Review by Dave Taylor)

Mel Carney was a platoon leader with Bravo Company, 1st/6th Infantry of the 198th Light Infantry Brigade in 1968. They had numerous operations in the Que Son Valley. The thick jungle, heavy fighting with the NVA, extracting the dead and wounded, Shark Gunships, it’s all there. The title of his book comes from an incident when his inept company commander chose a poor position at night and the company command group was practically wiped out from an NVA mortar attack. The start of sunlight at dawn saw Carney being placed in command of the company.

The places familiar to many Americal grunts, LZ Baldy, LZ Center, and heavy fighting on Hill 352, are all there for the reader to relive. Using pseudonyms in the book (Carney is Lt. Scott Ledbetter, and his commander is CPT Reeds), one exchange between the two is instructive:

“Scott was amazed and whispered, “Why are you moving about in the night?”

Reeds said, “We are going to pull out of this night lager and attack that mountain across the valley”

“When are you planning on attacking the mountain?” Scott asked.

Reeds leaned towards Scott and said, “before dawn.” Scott shook his head in disbelief as one stupidity was stacking up on top of the other. All the stupid was coming from one man.

Scott whispered, “Why didn’t we talk about this during our meeting this afternoon?” Reeds cut him off and said “Get your men ready to move out, Lieutenant!”

Nestled in the book are Carney’s reflections about his post High School adventures, hitchhiking across America to get where he needed to be, and his visits across California when getting weekends off from AIT. He had a front row seat at the beginnings of the “hippie” movement. It’s a great portrait of America the way it used to be in the early 1960’s.

Carney was commissioned through OCS before heading to Vietnam. As an OCS graduate myself, and a Tactical Officer in the OCS program, and currently Vice-President of Operations for the US Army OCS Alumni Association, I enjoyed reading about his OCS experience. It brought back many memories. This is a book about “the way we were” in the 1960’s. The combat descriptions can be handled. I recommend getting the book.