| I remember LtCol Babe as a tough and exacting Commanding Officer who demanded excellence even though as a young 19 year old lance corporal I didn't see him but for a few times while I was in country. Regardless, we all knew that accomplishing the mission was paramount to him and that he also cared for us as if we were his own children. Don't get me wrong, he didn't coddle us or treat us with kid gloves, but we knew and trusted that he was always looking out for our welfare.
It was sometime soon after he assumed command of the battalion that I remember standing a rifle and personnel inspection in front of him and his top sergeant. Since the battalion's arrival in country sometime in June 1966, our supply chain was poor to non-existence for some reason and after we lived through the monsoon season, most of us looked like a bunch of rag tag vagabonds. I had only one utility uniform left from my original issue that I brought from the states and my only pair of boots were in really bad shape with heels missing and soles wearing paper-thin ... they were literally rotting away as we worked long and arduous hours in the heat and humidity.
As it is when most new commanding officers come on board there are rumors that move through the lower ranks as to how tough he is or will be. So when LtCol Babe scheduled a rifle and personnel inspection shortly after he took command we all groaned with disgust. The question we pondered was why in the hell would we have an inspection in a combat zone? It just didn't make sense to us lowly lance corporals that just wanted to do our jobs and to get back to the "world" in one piece.
Nevertheless, here we were standing an inspection and as my new commanding officer and his trailing top sergeant came in front of me they looked me up and down with expressions of incredulity. I remember thinking I must look pretty bad to them.
Almost immediately the colonel asked me why I had not prepared for the inspection. I told him I did prepare and did the best I could do. He then asked me why I didn't have a serviceable uniform on. My response was, "this is the only uniform I have, sir." He then looked down at my boots and then toward his top sergeant who was feverishly scribbling notes in his notebook. "Get this Marine a serviceable uniform and a new pair of boots." He then moved on to the next Marine in line and continued the same routine throughout our platoon.
As with most inspections, we were always happy when they were over. After the colonel was gone we returned to our daily routines with little hope that anything was really going to change or get better. Besides, most of us were unconcerned with what happened during a stupid inspection. The way most of us figured it, what are they gonna do, send us to Vietnam?
Then one morning a few weeks later I was preparing my gear to go on the road to a job site when my platoon sergeant stuck his head in my hooch and told me to get my ass over to battalion headquarters to see the top sergeant. I asked why but got no explanation, just more yelling by the sergeant to get moving. So I grabbed my rifle and war gear and walked slowly toward the battalion HQ wondering what the hell I did to get myself into trouble now.
I entered the headquarters hooch and told the corporal standing there my name and that I was here to see the top sergeant. Without further explanation the top suddenly came into the room and to my surprise he threw a brand new pair of jungle boots at me. I must have looked really dumbfounded because he yelled at me to try the damn things on to make sure they fit.
Well, they did, perfectly. I couldn't believe it ... new boots, and they felt great.
I will always remember those new boots, and my new commanding officer, LtCol Babe.