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Saigon Kids Stories: Sturzenacker

by Kevin Wells (ACS)

Some names herein have been changed to protect the innocent as well as the guilty.

Fort BenningBack in the View Nam War era, the US Army had counterintelligence agents assigned to each major post and many smaller ones. The military occupational specialty was changed in the mid-1970s and all those remaining folks ended up in brigade and division headquarters wearing uniforms like the rest of the troops.

Back in those halcyon days, I was one of the agents. We wore civilian clothes and did all the investigations later done by the Defense Investigative Service (now the Defense Security Service). It was a good life, and actually quite interesting. One of the duties was investigating dissidents in the US Army, of which there may have been 20,000 (there was a draft and there were plenty of people just back from View Nam). Of these 20,000, perhaps 2,000 were a threat of consequence and of those maybe 200 were truly dangerous because they had access to sensitive information.

But it was not all serious! Crank letters were one way that disaffected troops could irritate General officers, of which Fort Benning had a few.

The Commanding General, Brigadier General Orwin C. Talbot received one of these in post mail that jerked his chain, addressed as it was to BG Oral C. Foulbutt.

The perpetrator used one of those internal mail envelopes on which you write the unit destination, fasten it closed with the little string thingy, and toss it in the internal mail basket. It did not take Dick Tracy to figure out the unit where the crank letter originated, the 13th Public Information Detachment.

Some months before, I got to know the Commanding Officer of the Public Information Detachment. We had lunches and the occasional dinner with wives in tow. He called me for a consultation the matter.

It seems that good old CPT S. had received a crank call two days before, from none other than BG Talbot. The result was that he (CPT S.) promised the good General he would get to the bottom of the situation and straiten out that nest of long hair hippies before he (CPT S.) ended up in a World Of Hurt. (“World Of Hurt” had a special meaning to us back in those days.)

First, CPT S. had compared the paper to all the supplies and found that only one person had the “good stuff”, bond paper. Next, he re-typed the letter on that person’s typewriter and every other typewriter available at the Public Information Detachment (all 12 of them, and it took a while because CPT S. did not have good typing skills), marked each page for identification, and had taken all sheets to one of the testing labs where they had the right type of microscope. Microscopic examination showed that only one typewriter had the combination of defects in the “F” and the “m” that matched the crank letter.

All this took CPT S. the better part of two days, (one afternoon of which was devoted to fanning his face after the call from Talbot).

He handed me the letter, all nicely preserved in a clear plastic folder, and told me he thought he had the perpetrator. I read the letter and said “Sturzenacker did it,”
Sellers looked at me for about a 10 count and the steam started coming off his scalp. So much for the scientific investigation of malfeasance. Nailed it in 10 seconds, am I good or what?

When confronted with the evidence, Sturzenacker said was sorry to have spelled the General’s name wrong and wouldn’t it be better for the 13th Public Information Detachment, Fort Benning, 3d Army, and even the nation if he was simply allowed to serve out his remaining one day, 17 hours, 15 minutes?

So CPT. S. drove him to the building to process out and then drive him to the airport for good measure.

Do we live in a great country or what?

7 comments to Saigon Kids Stories: Sturzenacker

  • Bill Thrasher

    I served with Ken Sturzenacker at the 13th PID. I actually never heard of that one but I can assure you, Ken was fully capable.

    • Kevin L. Wells

      Bill,

      OK, you caught me. I lied about changing the names to protect the innocent as well as the guilty.

      It was the 13th PID and because the statute of limitations has run its course, it was CPT Sellers. Ken Sturzenacker did it willfully, wantonly and with the full knowledge that he would escape without a scratch other than, of course, being counseled long and loud.

      Captain Sellers was “Vol Indef” and would probably not be going to the Infantry Officer Advanced Course (IOAC) so he was a short timer also. In late 1970, and early 1971, a good part of the post were short-timers! There were IOAC courses that were cut by 75% because of Reduction In Force notices, the original “pink slip”.

      After the 13th PID caper, he was hidden in plain sight right under the CG’s nose at Infantry Hall working on the computer platform feeding the line printer. If you have ever tried to feed a line printer you would now that it was hard labor because one of those old high-speed IBM printers can go through a box of paper in about two minutes.

      I often wondered what happened to those two!

      KLW

    • Kevin L. Wells

      Bill,

      Sorry, I forgot to tell you how I knew he did it.

      At the time, Sturzenacker was the on-air person and the document he wrote looked like an on-air script, with the ….. for pauses. In addition, he had a fairly distinct writing style.

      Why Sellers did not see it right away I will never know. Anyway, nailing it in one look apparently came to the attention of the Ft. Benning G-2, Col. Peiper (or it may have been Pieper, I forget which) who called me in for a congratulatory cup of coffee.

      The Colonel apparently told Talbot the “back story” and Talbot thought it was a scream.

      The good General’s Enlisted Aid, a SSG, eventually dinged the General when he (the SSG) glued a very expensive pair of patent leather shoes to the closet floor the morning he ended his enlistment. Anyway, the SSG was intercepted at the airport and given the choice of reimbursing the general the $150 for replacement shoes or a trip back to the Ft Benning stockade. He chose the $150 route.

      Those were interesting times.

      Maybe I will write about the time my CO handcuffed himself to his own chair.

      KLW

  • Kenneth R. Yeager

    I truly love old Army stories. When I arrived at basic training Fort Benning and we started to learn all about the Chain of Command, the name of the post CG hit my ears….What, General xxxxx (cannot recall it now).I said. I know him, I used to date his daughter in Saigon. A hush settled over the room. Nothing ever came of it and over the course of basic, I continued to eat mud. Despite being the son of an 26 year career soldier, I really did not like the Army at all. I do wish I would have stayed in contact with some of my old Army buddies though….Anyone serve with the 12 Combat Aviation Brigade, Long Binh (1968-69)?

  • Bill Thrasher

    I knew and served with Ken Sturzenacker at the fightin’ 13th. He was a very good journalist and used to come with me to answer my phones when I had an on-air radio show on WCLS Columbus. All of the guys in that unit were a hoot, Ken being one of them.

    • Bill Thrasher

      I must also say that Cpt Sellers was our CO, and an outstanding boss. He never let his rank get in the way and somehow managed to keep all of our massive, broadcast and journalism egos soothed

  • Kevin L. Wells

    Bill,

    Yup, Sellers was one of the good guys and keeping people smoothed out who could control a microphone just HAS to be an art!

    KLW

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