March 8, 2011 marked the passing of Col. U.S. Army (Ret.) Joseph Bland Love who had a remarkable career in the army and who crossed my path in Vietnam. (When I talked to him on the telephone about a year ago, he asked me to call him “Joe,” but I just can’t do it; to me he will always be “Col. Love.”) I worked for him for most of a year, in 1967-68, first as a rifle platoon leader and executive officer in one of his companies, A Co. 2nd Battalion 5th Cavalry 1st Air Cavalry Division (airmobile), and then as communications officer for the battalion. He was the battalion commanding officer.
I won’t recount all his amazing achievements in the life of this warrior who served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. For his full obituary, see http://www.currentobituary.com/Memory.aspx?Memory_ObitdID=91990.
But let me tell you my little story about him. When I knew him in 1967-68, he was fascinated by the fact that Robert E. Lee had once commanded his unit, the 5th Cavalry. Lee led the unit before the Civil War in Texas where they were fighting Indians and Mexican bandits. When I left the field and rotated back to the battalion firebase to become Battalion Communications Officer, Col. Love learned that I was a songwriter. (I will be singing many of these songs and doing readings from my novels at the Memorial Day Writers’ Project tent on Memorial Day near the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.—see Appearances and Readings or http://www.memorialdaywritersproject.com/docs/action%20rept-%20mem%20day%2010.pdf)
I sang some of my songs for Col. Love (songs I later recorded on my Skytroopers CD in 2008), and he asked me to write a song for the 5th Cavalry. He was inspired by the song “Garryowen” (http://www.1cda.org/Garryowen.htm) of the 7th Cavalry (it became the official song of the 1st Cavalry Division in 1981) and wanted a song for our unit. He made me Battalion Songwriter, a position that perhaps no other battalion in the Army has ever had. He also asked me to research Robert E. Lee’s history with the battalion, and made me Battalion Historian, another singular (and perhaps unofficial) position. Thereupon I called on my wife, a senior at Auburn University, whom I had married just before leaving for Vietnam, to see what information she could find. She sent me bundles of information and books, which I studied and used to write a song, “We Are Saddled Up And Ready, Col. Robbie” (see Lyrics). It has nice galloping gait and describes Lee’s history with the 5th Cavalry. Col. Love liked it but thought it was too complicated. “Write me a song the men can sing,” he said. My next effort was “Saddle Up, Black Knights.” [Recently, I have sung both songs to warm responses at 5th Cavalry and 1st Cavalry reunions where I have been listed on the programs as the “Entertainment.” I made a formal presentation of a CD of the songs to the 5th Cavalry Commanding Officer at Ft. Hood who was soon to rotate with the unit to Iraq. Unfortunately, these two songs are not on the Skytroopers CD.]
Returning to Vietnam, 1968, Col. Love also thought my second effort was “too complicated.” We both became frustrated. After that, I tried a couple of other times to write an acceptable song but could not meet his requirements. Simplicity is not my forte, I guess. Then the war took over. Our battalion and the entire 1st Cavalry Division mobilized and moved north, just below the DMZ, to relieve the Marines at their embattled base at Khe Sahn. There was no more time for songwriting. So a Skytrooper moves on… “Without A Song.”