Captain James Stafne
Thanks to Jim for providing us with this photograph and the
He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel and
is now living in Tennessee.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Captain Stafne was the CO of the 543rd when I arrived in May, 1968. This photo was taken by an Army Times
photographer on a particulary grueling Tay Ninh convoy. At the time of this photo
he was with the 151st TC.
Jim had the dubious honor of firing TC Hill's first shot of the 1968 Tet Offensive. Here's the story as he related it to me:
"I was at the main intersection with some 300 or more trucks all loaded with Class V. When the ammo dump blew up, I tried to get in touch with the MP's who were about 200 meters to my front in an armored car with twin 30's. They wouldn't respond to my radio call and when I heard that the bad guys had stolen a M-41 tank and they were headed our way, I thought it might be a good idea to warn them.
"I had my driver hand me a M-79 and 6 rounds and then headed on a trot to warn the MP's.
For some reason, I couldn't get the breech open to load a round and then I stumbled and accidentally launched a grenade.
"The round landed right in front of my own Company, the 151st. Then, all I heard were the distinct sounds of bolts being drawn back on all of the M-60's that were located in the guard bunkers and I suspected they were all being directed at me. I then turned, ran back to the jeep, got on the radio and proclaimed that the round was not in-bound but out-bound. Hell, I could have yelled it since I was almost directly in front of the 6th Trans Hq.
"My boss, LTC Clinton Jones drove up in a couple of minutes and wanted to know who in the hell was that crazy SOB that fired the M-79. Well, one must not hide the facts, so I proclaimed that I had pulled the trigger! I did tell him that I was completely unaware that it was loaded and promptly showed him 12 rounds in two bandoleers. Number 13 had been loaded the day before when one of the NCO's was in a fire fight, and he forget to unload it and then turned it into the armorer with a loaded round.
"My driver, the next morning, checked it out and never discovered the extra round. Needless to say, I had some serious discussions with some folks following that incident, but it truly was my fault as well since I had not checked it. I normally carried a .45 pistol and a .45 grease gun and my driver carried the M-79.
"When I left Vietnam, my fellow officers inscribed this picture To the Grenadier--the fellow who fired the first round at Long Binh the morning of the Tet Offensive."