Friday, May 30, 2008
Memorial Day - Lt. Mark Enari
Camp Connell, Ca -- Memorial Day reminds me of Mark Enari, a big, kinda goofy looking guy I met in 1963.
We were both in the Army stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Mark was a new second lieutenant, a graduate of the Officer Candidate School, having served one tour overseas as an enlisted man in Germany.
He really liked the Army. Germany was fun for him. The way he described it, as the company clerk (he could type well) he had unlimited access to weekend passes and was able to make extra money lending cash to his buddies. So he had plenty of spending money, and lots of weekend pass opportunities to see Europe.
He excelled in the Army and was promoted and sent to Officer Candidate School as a reward.
He loved the physical action, worked very hard, and delighted in his first commissioned officer assignment: he was a tactical officer at the same school he graduated from. That meant he was the instructor, mentor, and bad-ass for the young officer candidates who followed him. Think meaner than a Marine drill sergeant.
He laughingly told us about finding a flaw in a spit-polished floor, and making the sloppy candidate stay up half the night re-polishing the floor with a toothbrush and wax.
We ate a lot of fried chicken together at the Infantryman's Bar, worked very long days and weeks, and many nights, drank a lot of beers, and chased the few women available on a post with 35,000 men.
I was a second lieutenant, an ROTC product, initially assigned to the headquarters staff at the Infantry School. We lived next door to each other in the BOQ.
Because the base was crowded, we got permission to move off base into civilian housing, a house of our own, which became something of a party site. Lt. Rich Granger, another OCS Tac Officer, was the third roommate. In a way we had little in common. In the Army, though, we had lots in common. We all worked hard, and partied hard.
Once, under the influence of a few beers, Mark demonstrated some new hand-to-hand combat move, and accidentally kicked the entry door of our house out into the front yard. He was highly entertaining, happy to grab you in a headlock and throw you over his shoulder.
He was Airborne, Ranger, and a regular Army kind of guy.
He was also an unquestioning patriot. I always wondered if it had anything to do with his birth in Estonia, a country plagued by Germany during WW 2, and taken over by Communist later. His parents fled to the U.S. and he was proud of his new country. He grew up in Southern California.
He was volunteered to go to Vietnam in 1965 but was turned down as "too junior" to be an advisor.
The last time I saw Mark was in May, 1965, when I completed my stateside tour with the 1st Battalion, 29th Infantry, and drove south to Florida to take a job with the Miami Herald. Mark and Rich encouraged me -- over beers -- to take the Florida job, though my memory of the farewell party is a little cloudy. They held the solid theory that the state had beaches, and beaches had young women in bathing suits. They were right. I married one in the summer of 1966.
The Army finally accepted Mark's persistent volunteering, and he was 24 when he died in Vietnam in December, 1966. He was one of the first members of his division to be killed in combat. He was a hero.
At the time I was newly wed newspaper reporter, working as a reporter covering the manned space program. We never met each other's wives.
The details of his Vietnam experience are below. His name is on memorials in Washington, D.C., and Sacramento, California, and out in space on a memorial plaque launched by NASA.
His name also was placed on Camp Enari, a spot many members of the Fourth Infantry Division remember with mixed feelings.
(The last time I saw Rich he was a captain, just back from a second combat tour in Vietnam, and wondering if the Army was really what he wanted to do. I am hopeful he survived.)
I think of Mark, who didn't, and the others like him, every Memorial Day.
1LT Mark Enari
First Lieutenant Mark Enari served as a platoon leader in Company A, 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry, 4th Infantry Division.
The 4th Infantry Division had arrived in western II Corps in 1966. It was their mission to seek out North Vietnamese divisions that had infiltrated across the Cambodian border.
Enari routinely led his platoon on "search and destroy" missions, a term given to operations that would seek out heavily entrenched enemy units and assault their fortified positions.
On December 2, 1966, Enari led his platoon in an assault on one of these positions concealed in an area of dense trees. As the platoon advanced, heavy automatic weapons fire erupted from bunkers hidden at the base of the tree line. As the battle raged, Enari was continually subjected to intense enemy fire while commanding the operation.
In the heat of the fire fight, five soldiers were wounded and pinned down in an open area by machine gun fire. Realizing that his men would die without cover and medical attention, Mark Enari stormed the machine gun nest with a furious barrage of fire.
During his single-handed assault, the lieutenant was struck by both sniper and machine gun rounds but continued his attack in defense of the wounded.
The young officer pushed forward until succumbing to his wounds; he finally slumped to the ground. As a result of his action, the five men were saved. Lieutenant Enari was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for valor.
Camp Enari was officially named in his honor on General Orders of the 4th Infantry Division on 14 May 1967.
Mark Niggol Enari was born on 8 April 1942. His home of record was Pasadena, California.
His name is inscribed on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the east wall, Panel 13E, Line 4.
Camp Enari, Pleiku, Pleiku Province 1969