WINCHESTER, Va. (WDVM) — Private First Class Nelson Ritter joined the Army after graduation from James Wood High School in Winchester, Virginia. He served as an “Eleven Bravo,” a combat infantryman with the “Second of the Fifth.”
“I went in the Army in 1966 and got out in 68,” said Ritter.
Second Battalion, Fifth Regiment of the famed First Air Cavalry Division [Airmobile] fought in the Central Highlands during the Tet Offensive when the Viet Cong and their allies, the North Vietnamese Army, tried to overthrow the U.S.-backed government of South Vietnam.
“When I first got there, I ended up being ‘Point Man’ for a rifle squad. That’s what they did with newbies at that time,” said Ritter.
The ‘Point Man’ was always out front; usually the first one to make contact with the enemy.
Ritter says survival depended on a combination of skill in sensing danger and seeing the enemy before they saw you.
“It was kind of scary because you knew you had other people behind you who were depending on you to spot things, know where you’re going and stuff like that,” said Ritter, who looked for anything that was strange, out of sight or any movement. “Booby traps, like camouflaged pits of punji stakes and tripwires that were tied to hand grenades in underbrush along a heavily-traveled trail.”
The enemy would often let the point man pass through a “Kill Box,” so they could engage the rest of the squad.
“You didn’t want anybody getting too far out in front,” said Ritter, who recalled coming under sporadic sniper fire when his squad crossed a rice paddy.
“My squad was in the back of the platoon formation, the last ones across. When we got across, the sniper had hid and we missed him, but when a young soldier named Anderson turned his back on where the sniper was lurking and got shot in the back of the head,” said Ritter.
He said the death of that young man shook up him and the squad, “cause you never know where the shot is coming from and once a sniper pins you down, he’s gotcha.”