Benny G. Melton
U. S. Army
Dates of Service: 01/19/1964 - 01/19/1968
Artillery Officer, 101st Airborne Division
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Ben was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma as one of two children (his sister was Billie) to Seaborn Melton and Jewel Irene Ennis Melton. As a young man, Seaborn farmed and worked in the oil fields during the Depression, then at Camp Gruber in refrigeration. He was transferred to Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma when Ben was six years old. He would retire from civil service. As a youngster, Ben earned extra money with his neighbor, Ronnie Heartline, later an All-American fullback at the University of Oklahoma. The two cut grass to earn money. With his profits Ben bought a Cushman Eagle motor scooter. He graduated in 1958 from Lawton High School, hoping to join the Merchant Marines, but instead enrolled at Oklahoma State University for one year, playing football. Unable to earn an athletic scholarship, he transferred to Cameron Junior College in Lawton, starring on the football team that won the Junior Rose Bowl in Bakersfield, California. He then went on scholarship to Colorado College in Colorado Springs. Because he had taken ROTC, a requirement at Oklahoma State and Cameron, he signed up for advanced ROTC at Colorado College, not knowing it was voluntary. Ben graduated in 1963 with a degree in business administration, with a concentration in banking and finance, and was commissioned in the U.S. Army. He returned to Lawton where he worked for City National Bank for nine months before he was sent to Fort Sill to artillery gunnery school, but continued to live at home. "I hated army life," he recalls. In spring of 1964 he was sent to Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. , then trained at a computer school while waiting for his security clearance. He was also working at Arlington Hall Station in Alexandria, Virginia, a former girls' school where he was assigned to the China section. The work bored Ben. An infantry colonel soon to retire, however, helped him complete a Request for Personnel Action. He learned he had a choice to go to Special Forces or an airborne unit. Ben chose airborne and entered jump school at Fort Benning in Georgia. After completing the three-week school he entered ranger school, a nine-week course with "lots of running," he recalls. "All I remember about ranger school is I was tired and I was sleepy. I could go to sleep in seconds," he says. He was sent to Fort Campbell, Kentucky and assigned to the 377th Artillery, a "little john" or rocket-fired missile battery, that was nuclear capable. When that unit was de-activated, he was sent to the 319th Artillery, a 105-mm battery, where he first was executive officer. Soon the unit was attached to the 2nd Battalion, 11th Artillery, a 155-mm towed unit. He admits he was lost as executive officer; the Pentagon was stripping more senior officers away from stateside units and sending them to Vietnam. Fortunately a "bird colonel", Edward Vogel, battalion commander, became his mentor, and would appoint Ben from battalion executive officer to battery commander of A Battery, 2nd Battalion, 11th Artillery, and saw that he was promoted to captain. Soon, troops begin arriving, nearly 1,300 in all, Ben recalls. They kept about 600, placed their guns on trains to Oakland, California, and sent them on to sail to Vietnam. In December of 1965 Ben, by then a young captain, flew to Vietnam, arrived at Tan Son Nhat Air Base and eventually arrived at the location of his A battery (six guns) at a firebase at Phu Loi, where he remained "four or five months." That would begin his artillery experience as an executive officer, battery commander, and fire support coordinator. He recalls, "We were general support so we were for hire." Soon, one battery in the battalion went near Cu Chi northwest of Saigon, where the 25th Infantry Division operated. His battery served in Operation Attleboro in the northwest corner of Vietnam, with the guns airlifted by Sikorsky helicopters. He also served in Operation Junction City, and once set up on one of the Michelin plantations, a place with a manor house that appeared as if it were out of Gone With the Wind, he recalls. His battery fired support in the Iron Triangle, an area "absolutely full of VC". In Operation Junction City he explored tunnel systems the enemy had built, including an operating room, built in the side of a hill "thirty miles from downtown Saigon," he recalls. The infantry "captured all sorts of weapons--tons and tons." Later his unit supported the 173rd Airborne Brigade during, he believes, the Tet Offensive of 1966. In the normal course of the rotating of officers through various jobs, Ben became battalion S2, then an aerial observer. Once, he crashed on landing in a single engine L19 airplane, piloted by what he called the oldest warrant officer in the army. Often he acted as forward observer for companies in the 25th and 1st Infantry Divisions. Later, in a fire base with about 500 men, he was in command when the enemy attacked at night. They beat back the force, suffering only two wounded. In the last "eight or nine months" of his tour Ben began working as a liaison with the 101st Airborne Division coordinating four forward observation men, or FOs. Often, that mean he was on the ground with a lieutenant, his E5 assistant, and a Sp4 radio operator. Often, these lieutenants were killed or wounded, when the enemy spotted the radio operator's antennae, and knew an officer was nearby. At Tam Ky on September 27, 1967 Viet Cong attacked one rainy night. Mortar shrapnel tore through Ben's tent. Deafened and bleeding from several wounds. He was medevaced to what he believes was a M*A*S*H unit. "They did the triage thing. I was not going to die. I was bleeding pretty good, but by that time it had stopped. A lot of my wounds were superficial. I had a pretty good-sized hole in my back and couldn't hear but that ain't going to kill you," he recalls. Like him, other men were bleeding out of their ears and some from their nose. Doctors in another hospital removed more shrapnel from him. He spent 26 days in a hospital at Yokohama, then was sent to Brook Army Hospital in Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. After an operation to restore an eardrum, he was discharged from the army on 19 January 1968. He began work at Rust Engineering Company in Birmingham, Alabama. On a trip to Oklahoma from Florida, he paused one night in Bossier City and decided to stay, opening Transmissions Incorporated on North Market on 1 December 1968. He ran the business 30 years. In 1990, Ben married Sue Scaife. They have one child and two grandchildren.