James L. Jim Brown and his twin brother, William D. Bill Brown, were born in San Saba, Texas in 1946. The Brown family lived in Llano during their early years and they completed elementary school there. In 1957 they moved to south Austin where the two brothers completed grades 7 through 9 at Fulmore Junior High School. During Jims high school years he formed friendships with schoolmates that endure today in Chapter 1919 with Patriots John Eli and John Burkhardt. During the summer breaks he began doing construction work with local companies. Jim and Bill both graduated from Travis High School with the Class of 1964 and both immediately took a full time job in construction.
Jim enrolled at South West Texas State College in San Marcos in the fall semester of 1964 and he graduated there with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree in May 1968. Meanwhile, during those four years his brother Bill had received a draft notice but, enlisted instead for helicopter armament systems training, served three years in that specialty, including a year in Vietnam, and had returned home and found employment with Bell Telephone, beginning what would be a 35 year career with that company.
Having worked construction jobs each summer when he was at South West Texas State, Jim did so again after graduation. After working about six months he received his draft notice. Jim says, It was not unexpected, things being what they were at that stage in Vietnam. But, as I had assured my family, a college grad with good typing skills would almost certainly be assigned as a clerk, there was little chance that I would see combat. James L. Brown was married ten days before going into the Army.
Jim was inducted into the service, entering active duty November 19, 1968 at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. He went through Basic Training at Fort Bliss, Texas, but upon completion of basic he was not chosen to be a clerk.
Private Brown was instead sent to Fort Ord, California for Advanced Individual Training (AIT) in Infantry. He scored high in testing and he had a college degree making him one of only four in his AIT graduating class selected for NCO training. In March 1969 he began the 12-week course at the NCO School in Fort Benning, Georgia and upon graduation was promoted to Sergeant, E-5. Those NCO School graduates like Jim who were putting on sergeants stripes after being in the Army less than 9 months were sometimes disparagingly called Shake and Bake Sergeants. Jim was awarded the military specialty of Operations/Intelligence Sergeant (MOS 11F40) and shipped off to Fort Hood, Texas for his first assignment after completing his training.
Sergeant Brown was assigned to 1st Battalion, 41st Infantry, 2nd Armored Division. Jim says, They really didnt have a job for an 11F40, so the battalion put me in their recon unit where I trained with ground surveillance radar during the summer of 1969. Jim and his wife rented a trailer home in Killeen, but after only a few months at Fort Hood, he received orders for Vietnam.
After taking 30 days leave he deployed overseas from McChord Air Force Base in Washington. Jim says, After a brief layover in Japan, I arrived in Vietnam at 2a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, 1969, thats when the plane landed at Cam Ran Bay. I spent about five days there in the replacement depot, being processed in, getting some inoculations, a dental exam and going through more training. I was then put on a C-130 flight to Chu Lai for assignment to the 23rd Infantry Division (more popularly known as the Americal Division). The final leg of the journey to my new home in Vietnam was a short jeep ride that took me to my unit at LZ Bayonet, about three miles out of Chu Lai.
Sgt Brown was assigned to Recon Platoon, Company E, 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry, 198th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division. During Jims entire time in Vietnam, his Commander of 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry at LZ Bayonet was Norman Schwarzkopf, then a Lt Col, but who went on to great fame as the four-star general in command during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
Jim describes his arrival, The unit was out on a mission, so, for three or four days after I came in, I was assigned to various details while waiting for their return to base camp. When the helicopters came in I got the shock of my life, the men looked to me incredibly dirty and in poor condition. It was not what I had expected to see, but appearances are deceiving. The recon troops were well trained, discipline was good and they worked well together. I was initially offered assignment to one of the line companies, but declined. Recon was a smaller and more cohesive unit, and in my view, just better.
He continues, There were two squads in the Recon Platoon and, although I had been in the Army barely a year, I was appointed to take over one of the squads. The Recon Platoon Leader was a 1st Lieutenant, a West Point graduate, an experienced leader, and he knew Recon. The men had complete confidence in him. He was also very supportive of me. The other squad leader, Sgt Robert Gray, was very helpful to me and he became a great friend. His background was identical to mine, having been sent to NCO School immediately after finishing his individual training, so he knew exactly what I was going through. He took the time to advise and assist me in many ways as I was getting established and I owe him a lot. At LZ Bayonet, the men in the squads were quartered all together. But, the platoon sergeant, myself and Sgt Gray each had our individual space in quarters (the NCO hootch) and as I dont drink, gamble at cards or dice, and am a bit of a loner, that suited me perfectly. My mother taught First Grade and she had her kids sending me letters, so I got more mail than anyone in the platoon. Mail takes on its greatest importance with its absence, at Mail-Call it cannot help being hurtful to men who do not receive any.
Jim Brown spent four months in the Recon Platoon before sustaining wounds that sent him home from Vietnam. Most of that time the platoon was deployed on missions of about ten days duration with brief breaks of a few days each time back at LZ Bayonet before going out again. He considered himself fortunate because, although several had been wounded, none of the men in his squad were killed during his time as squad leader. A soldier with them on a patrol in dragons alley was killed in an ambush on January 10, 1970, but that was a company cook, a short-timer who had requested and been granted permission to go with them on the operation. The platoon had occasional contacts, but engagements with the enemy were few and brief in duration when they did happen. During one patrol Sgt Brown had a narrow escape when, in a chance encounter, a single enemy appeared on the trail a short distance to his front and fired a burst from an AK-47 directly at him, one round from which grazed his head. But, nothing similar had happened to him up until his last day in Recon Platoon. That was March 31, 1970, when starting out on a night patrol.
He says, The platoon had been out for 20 days, the longest mission ever during my time with them. For the last five days we had been operating from a fire base that was set up in an open area between two villages and was very near the South China Sea. We had started out on a night patrol. My squad was in the lead and we had reached the top of a small hill just as it was getting dark and had halted, waiting in place for the trailing squad to come up. At that point the Platoon Leader had called for me and I had gotten up to start back down the hill to meet with him. By this time daylight was entirely gone, the night was very dark and I had taken no more than three steps when I was hit by a blast and enveloped in the biggest, brightest flash of light I have ever experienced before or since. A booby trap had detonated.
What was believed to be a dud artillery round or several mortar rounds rigged together as a booby trap had wounded eleven of the recon troops, and Jim Brown was the worst wounded. His Flak Jacket had a lot of holes in it, but it protected his torso and saved his life; otherwise, he had fragmentation wounds in both arms, both legs, a massive wound in the left hip, and a shell fragment in the back of his head under the helmet. There was no Medic with Recon Platoon, so no morphine and he was in great pain. He had no meaningful medical treatment until arrival of the UH-1 Dustoff helicopter. He had lost a lot of blood and as Jim alternated between regaining consciousness and then passing out again, he became aware that the Medic on board had put an IV into him and was tending his wounds during the flight to the hospital at Chu Lai. One of the other wounded men went out with him on the dustoff, the other nine, with minor wounds, walked out the next day.
Sgt Brown says, At first, my only thought was of relief that Im Alive, and I regained memory gradually. I do remember being in a Quonset hut in the Chu Lai hospital and that they cut off what was left of my uniform and took X-Rays. I had eleven wounds, the dressings were changed twice daily and the pain was really bad when they did. I elected not to have the official notification that I had been wounded sent to my family, but instead had one of my fellow patients in Chu Lai write a letter to my wife to let her know. When she received it, she didnt believe it, thinking it was just cruel harassment from some anti-war activists as was common at the time.
The time at Chu Lai was the beginning of the end of Jims Vietnam experience. He was later told that battalion commander Norman Schwarzkopf had taken Jims badly cut up Flak Jacket and showed it during the briefings he gave at LZ Bayonet.
After three days at Chu Lai, Jim was flown to the hospital at Cam Ran Bay and after two days there was flown to Japan. After a week in the 249th General Hospital at Camp Drake he finally had surgery to clean and close his wounds. His surgeon said what he thought would be encouraging words, I think youll be able to walk, Jim was hoping for something more positive. As it was, he could barely stand upright even with assistance and was still wheelchair bound after ten days in Japan. A Medevac plane then transported him (with brief stops in Alaska and Scott AFB, Illinois) to Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio where he was moved across town to Brooke Army Hospital.
After four days in the hospital at Fort Sam Houston, he was moved to the Medical Holding Company and held there until he was able to walk unassisted. That took another two weeks and then finally he was discharged from hospital care, beginning a 30-day convalescent leave at home. Today he says, My medical care, from beginning to end, was absolutely outstanding.
Upon his return to duty status in June 1970, he still had five months remaining in the Army, and was reassigned to Fort Hood to serve out the remainder of his term. Sgt Brown was again assigned to the 41st Infantry in 2nd Armored Division. He still had shell fragments that had not been removed in surgery and was on medical profile with limited duty. He and his wife rented a trailer home just outside Fort Hood and resumed family life. Their first child was born during Jims final five months in the Army. He was discharged November 18, 1970.
He was employed by Austin Savings and Loan on February 1, 1971, his first job upon re-entry into civilian life. This was the beginning of his 30-year career working in mortgage banking and home loans, leading to his retirement in 2005. He and wife, Julie, have two daughters, two step-daughters and one grandson.
Jim Brown attended when Recon Platoon held its first reunion in 1990 in Florida. They have been meeting every-other year since then. Jim has been a Life Member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart for nearly twenty years, and is one of the original charter members who helped to found Chapter 1919. He also signed up his brother, Bill, as an Associate Member. Bill is an enthusiastic volunteer work for the chapter. This month PATRIOT BULLETIN proudly salutes Patriot James L. Brown.