The End of the Cartwright Era
6 May 1977 Ė 25 July 1977
This brief period contained many episodes of suspense, adventure, tragedy, more bitterness, and sorrow. The unit reached both its high tide and low ebb. The spotlight without question shines on the ARTEP operated in conjunction with the 3/5 between 31 May and 6 June 1977. During this time, the unit underwent a tremendously difficult schedule of commitments keynoted by long running hours, multiple lockages, and near impossible time tables. This combined with the maintenance difficulties in keeping 14 vessels operational, creates mixed atmosphere of excitement, impending doom, hope, and confidence. One major problem was working with the 3/5 which seemed to continually change its plans, times, and procedures. During the night before the dawn assault on Pina there were no less than three major changes in the operation. Between the troop loading point at the French Canal Bridge and the on-station site off San Lorenzo still yet, another change was dictated. Unbelievably just ten minutes before the scheduled assault still another change was made. At that point three distinct circles were formed and poised ready for the beach assault. Each of these circles represented each wave in the assault meaning in short, that there were three distinct waves going into the beach. This latest change forced a number of wave shifts creating much confusion in the attempted organization. The 3/5 still insisted on a 0600-assault time, which resulted in one of the absolute worst beach assaults ever recorded. The order came down for flank speed to the beach which didnít take into account that some of the vessels are swifter that others. The 07 and 00 being the two fastest in the newly reformed first wave hit the beach way ahead of the others which were in the incorrect sequence anyway. The whole thing was a nightmarish joke but the infantry brass thought it was the greatest thing since c-rations. The frustration of the assault can perhaps can be best demonstrated in the actions of SP5 Henry Wondolowski, Coxswain of the 00. While some 3/5 major was ranting about the incorrect sequence and behaving in an overall uncontrolled manner, Wondo hit the beach at full speed ahead nearly standing the vessel on its ramp and aiding the grunts in executing an unusually swift unloading of the vessel. That particular major was reported last observed wandering around the beach holding his head and mumbling something about getting even with some waterborne Pollock.
During the ARTEP, JOTC support both seaside and lakeside continued with multiple lockages and relockages forced because of the stretched out schedule. The height of suspense was in a race against time by the 43. 00 and 06 in getting from Mosquito Island back to Gatun in order not to miss lockage in order to not miss a night beach extraction from Pina on the evening of 5 June. They won the race, but only by the closest marginÖPanama Canal is still fuming about that one. Unfortunately, in another operation, the 96 blew an engine while hauling a bulldozer and was lost for the duration of the exercise (it wasnít operational until 26 July). The extractions that night went like craftsmen precision and bulk lockages were conducted through Gatun at 0300 on the morning of 6 June. By 0900 the last remnants of 3/5 departed the vessels at Mandingo Point and the fatigued soldiers and beat-up vessels raced back to Dock 45 for a brief respite before continuing the scheduled commitments the very next day.
The whole ARTEP consisted of many different tests of skill and endurance. There was a two-wave assault on the Ski Docks personally witnessed by MG Richardson. Luckily it was executed without flaw and with smartness which left the CG very impressed. There were multiple drills of various sorts conducted including man overboard, fire, steering loss, and NBC. On the morning of 5 June there was even an air assault on the vessels operating in the Chagres River by jets out of Howard AFB.
While the vessel platoons, an operations detachment. A maintenance detachment, and CPT Cartwright dominated the actual site activities, beautiful rear support was smoothly accomplished by 1LT Morra, 1SG Ekern, 1LT Hardy, SGT Justice and SFC Fowlkesí mess hall. Also on site was the Battalion Staff who headquartered themselves on the 88.
Again, the ARTEP was the unitís high tide so to speak. Even the grunts were stunned by the unitís performance. It seemed that everyone was surprised except the unit itself. The accumulative reward was on 15 June with the presentation by MG Richardson to CPT Cartwright of the highest 193rd unit award, the Cutting Edge.
That ARTEP ended the brigade regime of MG Richardson as a new commander; BG Anson assumed command on 16 June. Immediately, new shifts of emphasis were vigorously and suddenly initiated. Maintenance, personnel accountability (those damned 252ís), and training received the highest priorities. The old way which the unit had just become accustomed to were completely discarded. A new assault wave of generals, colonels, majors, captains, and senior enlisted inspectors descended upon the unit in frontal attacks of unprecedented vigor. They left behind a trail of confusion and bitterness with their unrelenting "hits". A new Battalion Commander, LTC Luther (FA), replaced LTC Dill (INF) on 20 June. Again a completely new ball game was initiated which caused still more headaches.
As previously demonstrated, the sea will often capitalize on mistakes however minor and tragedy will sometimes result. Such an occurrence saddened the unit where three people died of stupidity on 20 of June. During a break from JOTC a few Rangers from Fort Lewis decided, against orders, to scale the cliffs of San Lorenzo. They encountered problems, which resulted in one of their party being slightly injured. After word got of their plight, three volunteers hastily attempted to assist by walking the reef in the surrounding area to get them. They never made it. The heavy surf battered them to pieces on the reefs. The next day an LCM led by SGT Lee Loveless recovered their unpleasant remains.
Another reoccurring problem, which had often plagued the unit, climaxed on the night of 17 June. Fuel for vessels at Mindi Landing was desperately needed for commitments the following day. Atlantic TMP, which controlled the tanker, was unable to let it go for our usage. Immediately plans and alternatives were discussed and discarded in an attempt to solve the problem. Finally, two avenues were begun. CPT Cartwright and SFC Null glued themselves to telephones attempting to track down the Chief of Transportation on the Pacific side (LTC Neil) in order to request a tanker from that side. Meanwhile, SFC McAllister led the operation at Dock 45 of filling 55 gallon drums with fuel and taking to Mindi Landing on the back of a 2Ĺ ton truck. He soon discarded that idea but continued in the same vein utilizing two J-boat tanks, which he happened to have in his possession. However the first option bore fruit when LTC Neil was finally tracked down and responded with a rescue tanker from his Pacific stable. SP4 Mike LeClair raced to the other side and retrieve the tanker and by dawn had the vessels refueled. This unit will do anything to accomplish a mission.
The actual transportation of troops and supplies to the various worksites proved a haphazard affair at best. With the unitís obsolete and limited organic vehicles proved inadequate to our needs. The only reliable constant transportation was provided by extensive and costly POV usage. In addition the platoons actually marched to Dock 45 and Mindi Landing on occasion. The whole affair was disgusting and led to still more bitterness toward those who were supposed to support us. In TMP's defense they were themselves over-committed. Also the drivers which the unit did provide sometimes proved incompetent, destructive, and unreliable. The unit was caught in a bind.
The Atlantic seaside jungle berth for the vessels at Mindi Landing was improved when the units own SP4 Denise Leindecker bulldozed the site. It greatly enhanced the availability of the location through many more improvements were necessary. Hopefully, the future will bring gravel. Electricity, fresh water, and land communications. However, the priority for such improvements was forced way down on the list.
Believe it or not, the unitís time was not all work and no play. Such activities as visits to the Colombian Embassy in Colon proved very refreshing to a substantial percentage of the unitís personnel.
The unit also participated in sports. The unit softball and football teams coached by 1LT Hagewood had very exciting seasons. The softball team finished with a 9-6 record highlighted with a bench clearing, field-encompassing brawl with the 3/7 SF. The football teamís record wasnít terribly distinguishing but the team had a lot of fun. The unit was also instrumental in providing personnel for both the battalion swim and golf teams. The battalion golf team incidentally won the battalionís first trophy when they outclassed the rest of the contestants in the brigade golf tournament in early July.
This unit seems to enjoy some kind of haunting hex. No sooner than things had started to go well (Considering) then a new disaster strikes. The next one proved to be the most fatal encountered in the unit's 9 months in the Canal Zone. The week of 11-15 July featured the IG Inspection. Although there were some very weak areas including commo and NBC, and some marginal areas including supply, the orderly room, and the motor pool, things werenít that bad especially considering what the unit had been through and accomplished during its previous time. The inspectors themselves indicated all along that a passing grade was a cinch. But when that verdict of unsatisfactory was announced early on the morning of 15 July, a new and strange sense of doom struck the unit leadership. Dejectedly, they removed themselves from that unholy conference room to make their way back to the commanderís office for consultation and reflection. A whole new beginning had to be commenced. The whole previous 9 months of work seemed for naught. The bottom of the barrel had once again been discovered. Once again the only way to go was up.
With that IG judgement, negative backlash from the higher ups focused upon the recoiling unit. LTC Luther was noticeably unimpressed with the unit and everyone knew it. Against this horrible background the unit began to painfully dig itself out. A new wave of assaulting and insulting and revolting inspectors and observers poured forth in and around the unit and its activities. A whole new timetable of goals and deadlines was established. However that impending sense of doom still persisted. By 20 July, 1SG Ekern was suddenly "poofed" and replaced by SFC McAllister. But the chopping block was not finished. As the unit returned from a long day of weapons firing at Empire Range on 22 July, the new hit that CPT Cartwright had been relieved. The Cartwright Era after 414 unbelievable days was over.
Reflecting back on those days, one has to be stumped and bewildered by the events both good and bad which swiftly stockpiled themselves on top of each other. The whole thing was an experience which can be understood by only those who actually encountered the events. It cannot be completely reflected on paper. CPT Cartwright wasnít by any means perfect as he made some regrettable mistakes. But he loved the unit and fought for it and with equally vigorous abandon. His battles with superiors and subordinates alike are of legendary proportions. Perhaps a quote from Nathaniel Greene can best sum up his regime; "We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again".
John T Crenshaw Jr.
9 August 1977