So, we marched off to war clutching to some unrealistic belief in invincibility. There may have been some savant among us who understood the odds, but the rest of us were left to simply cling to unreasoned fatalism.
And, we were confident. Those last training exercises gave us confidence. An infantry assault coordinated with armor, artillery, and air support is a terrible sight to behold, especially at night.
We crept along trails and ravines to the line of departure. There we spread out in a single rank facing an enemy dug into rifle pits and foxholes. The artillery came first, blasting the enemy positions with high explosive (HE) and white phosphorous (Willy-Peter) rounds while we checked our equipment and established contact with units to our right and left. Then, at a prearranged time, the artillery began to fall directly in front of us and “walk” towards the enemy positions while we followed, tanks rumbling in gaps in our line.
We opened up fire with a tracer between every four rounds to help us better aim. Our sights were virtually useless in the dark. All those explosions. All those tracers. It was beautiful, terribly beautiful to behold. How could anyone stand in our way let alone fight us? Of course, what the Army couldn't simulate was the enemy standing and fighting back. Still, it was impressive and it built our confidence. Maybe, just maybe, we would survive a tour of duty in Vietnam.
What we didn't realize then was that this was how the Army fought in World War II. We wouldn't learn how to fight in Vietnam until we reached Vietnam. We didn't know that we would be fighting mostly from ambush or while being ambushed.
I didn't have any problems envisioning Fidel's tactics as I wrote Rebels on the Mountain. The lessons I learned in Vietnam taught me well how the Fidelistas would have fought – how they would have had to have fought. Just three hundred of them facing a well-armed, well-equipped modern army of 40,000 couldn't have succeeded had they simply lined up and gone head-to-head with the dictator's forces. The fact that they won told me how they had to have fought.
There are no reliable documents of this fight. Both sides claimed victory in every engagement. The dictator's government claimed victories even when there were no engagements. They also proclaimed Fidel's death many times and you can easily see how false those claims were.
Unfortunately, for Batista, the dictator who Castro deposed, he didn't have commanders capable of initiative and creativity. He lost. Fortunately for the United States, we had commanders in Vietnam who learned to adapt. They created new tactics. They simply weren't able to propagate them to the training centers in the United States before we graduated. We had to wait until we reached Vietnam to learn them.
Fortunately for those assigned to the 9th Infantry Division, they were sent to the Reliable Academy so they wouldn't have to learn everything in the crucible of war. They were given a couple extra weeks to learn those lessons from infantrymen who had survived the battles that they would soon face. I have often wondered if other American units in Vietnam adopted this strategy and set up their own in country training camps.
Read Jack's novel, Rebels on the Mountain, the tale of Nick Andrews, an Army spy, who has Fidel Castro in his sights but no orders to pull the trigger. The mafia as well as the American business community in Cuba will pay a fortune for Castro's assassination, but Nick has his career to consider, his friends to protect, and a romance to sort out in the chaos of a revolution.