|Battalion Commander LTC. Isaac Smith|
(now Maj. Gen. Ret.)
By Court Prisk
There were numerous events during my 11 months with the 8/4th that should be recalled. Unfortunately, time (30 years) has diluted the memories and the tendency to remember only in terms of my own perceptions restricts my ability to give credit to many of the outstanding officers and men who made those events worthy of remembering.
In September 1969, the Marines had pulled back. Vandergrift, Cam Lo, Fire Base Sheridan, and all territory beyond the bridge that passed to the west beyond the hills to the south and the Rock Pile was no-man's lands. The US still maintained intelligence posts on Hill 798 overlooking Khe Sanh and on the hill mass overlooking Cam Lo. The only remaining Marine Unit, a 175 gun battery located at Camp Carroll, was opcon to the 8/4th.
Colonel Roscoe Cartwright was the Group Commander (I don't remember the group designation). I had been assigned to the Group for three weeks when the Colonel told me to report to the 8/4th at Dong Ha. The first memory I have of the Battalion is being greeted by Isaac Smith, the Battalion CO, with "Do you like Crown Royal?" This was followed by the XO's, Major Bill Daley, question "Do you play poker?" Although I did not realize it at the time, both questions had an important significance later. On at least two occasions Isaac Smith and I sat in his quarters talking while we enjoyed the Crown Royal. Daley on the other hand taught me how to play poker (as well as teaching several others) by cleaning my clock more times than I care to remember. Whenever I play 7/27 (Daley's favorite game) I remember the small club and the environment of the base camp.
Isaac Smith was an outstanding officer and Battalion CO. What former battalion members may not know is that as a black officer in the military of the 60s, LTC. Smith had a lot to prove. Of all the officers I've known, he was the most STRACK with an incredible knowledge of Artillery and ability to lead. In a situation in which he felt the pressure to succeed more than others, he was also saddled with the fact that Roscoe Cartwright was one of the few black commanders at the Group level. In order to prove he was unbiased, Cartwright was obsessed with ensuring that Isaac's Smith's battalion was better than others and in doing so gave him zero slack, zero compensation. For literally hours, the Crown Royal discussions provided an educational forum for me in the subjects of military matters and the problems of our mini-society within the military.
In my eyes, through the Crown Royal sessions, Isaac Smith generated absolute and genuine loyalty amongst his officers and men, maintained one of the finest artillery battalions in Vietnam, and exceeded even the most ridiculous demands of Cartwright. It is a memory that lasts.
NOTE: LTC. Isaac Smith retired from the Army in 1989 as a Major General. He attended the reunion in the summer of 2000, and is on the reunion committee for 2002.