Santiago Herrera Escobar, SP4, US ARMY, SCOUT/PATROL Dog Handler and American Hero.
Fell on 19 May 1972 in the south of Bien Hoa Province, RVN in service to his country.
“We’ll walk through it together, Shorty. No sweat huh? This is what we were made for, man. I did it. You can do it. Let’s go before it gets any worse.”
It was almost too noisy from the downpour to even hear Santi, let alone see what I was doing, but we both whispered because we knew the cadre were spread out in the woods to catch noisy teams and fail them for this stage. That meant a do-over and the more times you had to do it over the harder they made the next run to pass. The next thing you knew it was dawn and you’d been at it for over 8 hours…and you still hadn’t caught the sapper.
“I guess.” I sulked, “Still, they could have picked a better night, you know? One with a moon or something? This shit is worse than dark. I can’t even see her ears man. How am I gonna call her alerts if I can’t even see her?”
At this point I was just bitching. You might think Georgia would be a nice place in the summer. That depends on how moist you like to keep your clothes when wearing them and your sheets when sleeping on them. I thought the humidity was bad in Boston. WHOA! My skin also attained this rich clay colored tint from the grime that was ground into your every exposed pore day in and day out. My partner’s drool always added to the sweet elixir of bodily fluids and nature’s detritus I collected while crawling through the underbrush.
This exercise was a critical stage in our training. Basically this was man-hunting. The scenario: Your Partner alerts on personnel…usually a scent alert. You then prosecute the alert to the successful termination or capture of the threat. For the initial runs through this type of exercise the cadre set the trails up intentionally working with Mother Nature. Good weather, stiff breeze blowing more or less in the team face, fairly simple terrain to cover. Once you got through that, they got serious. Truth is, in real life scenarios, the enemy isn’t stupid and isn’t going to put himself in a position that would make it easy for us to find him.
We are now well past the easy training. And I am on my third pass. Lady and I have died all three times. Santi and his Partner Rebel, made it through in one.
“Hahaha. Shorty, you’re a trip man. What you want to paint orange stripes on Lady’s ears? Come on, man. Tighten up on the leash a bit. When she finds something you’ll feel it, right? No slack…feel her doing her job and then do yours. Come on now. I’m cold, I’m wet and I need to crap in the worst way. Let’s get this shit over with. Roget that?”
Santi is playing Shotgun/RTO (Radio Telephone Operator) for me. When I give him the go he signals, “Team two to tower, we are Oscar Mike, over”.
“Team two, Tower, copy. Acknowledge you are on your third, I repeat, third run, over.”
“Shut up, Shorty”
“Team two, Tower. Roger that. Third time’s a charm. Out.”
Then Santi repeated “Fuckers. Let’s show these dick’s what you’re made of man. Come on.”
I made it through on the next pass using Santi’s simple suggestion to maintain a better “connection” with my partner no matter the environment. A lesson learned that served me well over the next several months because all I did was work at night. This wasn’t the only time Santi’s guidance brought me through.
We finished Scout Dog Handler School together in December 1972. We all made our way to Vietnam separately or perhaps in very small groups of two. Don Lassiter and I made the trip together from Fort Dix, NJ. Others came from the west coast at different times and dates.
About half of our graduating class made it to Bien Hoa and the other half went north to Da Nang. Santi was in the latter group but we’d heard they were all doing well through the grapevine.
On April 19th during a rocket attack on Bien Hoa (no rockets landed near me), I got tangled up with Prince when we were trying to get to cover and ended up with a third concussion in two weeks and a second AC separation of my left shoulder in the same time frame. Though I didn’t find out about it for a few days when I woke on a Plane headed to Guam, the Army decided I’d had enough, at least for a while, and sent me back to the world.
In the meantime, my very best friend ever, Santiago Herrera Escobar was slowly making his way south towards us at Bien Hoa and in fact just a few days after I left Vietnam, Santi and the rest of our graduating Scout Dog School class, made their way to our unit, the 34th Patrol Dog Platoon, 3rd Bde, 1st Cav.
I wish I’d made it long enough to see my brothers again because I’ve never seen any of them since, as happens a lot with solders. Can there ever be anything more unfair than what happens to soldiers when their “trade” is no longer needed? You spend the prime of your life living, bleeding and slowly dying in spirit with men you never met before but would readily give your life for in an instant without hesitation. Then you are ripped apart suddenly and you never see them again.
I had great aspirations of meeting them all again one day. I especially looked forward to meeting Santi and Don, Jeff and Joe my hootch-mates, and oh hell all of them…Ron, Jimbo, Jack, Charles Duel, James and Henry too. But just a few months after I got home I got a MARS call from Jimbo telling me that Santi had passed away in-country. The call got cut off and I couldn’t get it back.
Santi got pneumonia on duty and he got so sick that he died from complications. I can’t help but think those complications were heavily seeped in Agent Orange poisoning. More than one of our guys came back from that duty with sores all over their bodies and breathing difficulties because of inhaling that poison for a whole shift several times a month. The storage complex for that defoliant was, unfortunately, one of our Patrol posts. Don and I lucked out and got the AMMO Dump instead of the defoliant yard. Santi, my brother aspirated in Vietnam on 19 MAY 1972.
God rest your soul my brother. I’ll see you on the other side. Give Prince a hug and tell him I’ll meet him over the bridge. I will always love you and remember you brother.