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Photograph courtesy of
Scott Smith

James Guy Blackshear
March 17, 1968
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James Guy Blackshear was a fine soldier from Starke, Florida. He regularly received mail from his mom and dad who I believe lived in Lakeland, Florida at the time. He never smoked dope and talked often of water skiing and swimming in lakes close to home.

James was the first one who met me when I climbed off the chopper at Alpha Company, 1st/503rd. We were loggered on a hill in Dak To and the company had just lost a lot of GI's on Hills 882 and 889. He walked me ot the CP without saying a word and the CO said I was in Wicker's fire-team of second platoon, so follow him. As we walked to the fire-team bunker Jimmie looked me dead in the eye and said,"If you want to live, forget everything you've been taught and watch me. What you learned up to now in Basic and AIT is bullshit, so forget it. When I eat--you eat. When I sleep--you sleep. When I move--you move. When I fire my M-16--you get the picture?

Jimmy was an incredible teacher and didn't criticize when I screwed up, which was often at first. Just stupid FNG mistakes we all probably made. We were a team for about two months and I learned as much as possible before he ever let me take point. Said he didn't trust me to aviod walking into an ambush or booby trap, but I felt in some ways he was being protective; I'll never know for sure.

All I know is on March 17, 1968 he was still on point leading his own fire-team past my position, at the head of the trail leading to the NVA position. I remember saying something like "good luck" to him, but the rest of the conversation has faded with time. After that morning fire-fight, I asked the last guy in, "Where's Jimmy?" He said he was dead, laying in the middle of the enemy encampment and no one could get to him. I said, "Are you sure he is dead?" He replied, "I was close to him when he got hit and nobody could live with a hole that big in his neck!"

Scott H. Smith
"A" Co., 1st Bn., 503rd Parachute Infantry
173d Airborne Brigade (Sep.)

James Blackshear was my fire team leader. Naturally, since I was from North Carolina he thought I was a hillbilly so he gave me the nickname of "Luke." Anyway, being a hillbilly must have been someone that he held in high regard because he put me in contact with a cute girl from Florida who became my pen pal.

I know how Jimmy died and to this day this still bothers me. I was the last person to see him alive. These are the facts, as I remember them about Jimmy's death. Around midnight on March 16, 1968 PFC. Charbanaugh, SP/4 Scott Murry, SP/4 Taylor, S/SGT. Deavers, 1st Lt. Doane, and one or two other guys from "A" company went on a night reconnaissance patrol to retrieve information from enemy positions. One of the guys was packing a large bowie knife.

When the patrol located an enemy bunker, the guy with the knife places his hand inside, searching, feeling for what was there. Suddenly, his fingers located something soft and moist. It was the face of a sleeping NVA (North Vietnamese Army Soldier) and he was about to kill him with his knife when the enemy from other bunkers opened fire with AK-47's but dropped the knife instead. A serious firefight develops as the rest of the enemy wake up and everybody knew it was time to leave. As they left, they toss grenades instead of firing their M-16's, intelligently denying the enemy muzzle flashes to fire upon.

The next morning, March 17, 1968, the guys who went on that patrol told us about the bowie they left behind. Then our fire team got the call to lead point that morning and Jimmy was on point. We approached the NVA bunker positions with extreme caution. When we spotted a bunker in the middle of the ridge Jimmy told us to get down and look for other bunkers. Jimmy moved toward the bunker. There was no noise anywhere. When he crawled up on the entrance of the bunker, he turned around and showed me the bowie knife that was dropped the night before. A few seconds later I was looking up the ridge line and thought I saw enemy movement. From where I was lying there was a "new guy" on my left rear--on my right rear was an M-60 gunner with an ammo bearer. Directly to my rear was another "new guy" named Michael Otto. Jimmy was probably twenty feet ahead of me.

When I saw what I thought was movement (enemy movement) I called for Jimmy to get back with me. He then leaped up and dashed towards me. He landed to my right with his knees about my head level. He turned and looked at me and asked what I had seen. I told him. Before he could turn and look back up the ridge one shot rang out. This shot came from my direct right. He took a slug somewhere near his head. He died still looking me in the eyes. I reached over to pull on his legs to see if I could move him. I couldn't do it. My next option was call the "new guy" on my left to help me pull Jimmy Back. That call got a couple of bursts from an AK-47 directed at me. They knew exactly where I was. I fired a burst from my M-16 across Jimmy's legs. The "new guy" would not come and the AK-47 fire was really too close for comfort. I saw Jimmy's legs jerking when the rounds hit his legs instead of me. Some came so close I saw the dirt getting hit within a few inches of my face.

The next thing I remember was the M-60 gunner returning fire. Another burst of AK-47 fire came real close, so I rolled back down the ridge about 15 feet. Within a few moments our platoon leader (Lt ) was calling for us to pull back. When we finally got back to our perimeter we realized that Jimmy was still at the point of contact. The next day we tried to go up another ridge to get to him but we ran into stiff resistance from the NVA.

That afternoon we successfully assaulted the ridge and got to Jimmy. We retrieved his body and went back to our perimeter. We found out later from the night patrol that our fire-team was in the middle of the bunker complex. I hope that by telling this story that Jimmy will receive the credit and recognition that is due him; he was a brave young man.

Seth Croom
"A" Co., 1st Bn., 503rd Parachute Infantry
173d Airborne Brigade (Sep.)

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