La Reunion is a large (c.
970 square miles) island in the Indian Ocean a
few hundred miles east of Madagascar. An overseas department of France, and
thus legally a part of Europe, the island has a
Hawaii-like climate, an eclectic ethnic mix, and relatively high standard of
During the Cold War American P-3 Orion maritime patrol
aircraft operating out of Diego Garcia, some 1,300 miles to the northeast often
made routine stops at La Reunion to refuel and get in a day or two of
R&R. This was a treat for the naval
aviators, since British-owned Diego Garcia is a tiny (c. 12 square miles of
land area), forlorn atoll in the middle of the Indian Ocean, crammed full of
military and naval installations and little in the way of recreation or
During one of these routine visits, in the mid-1980s, the
crew of a P-3 were out on the town in Saint-Denis,
the island's well-populated (c. 150,000), cosmopolitan capital. By chance, a ship from the Soviet Indian
Ocean Squadron happened to be in port at St. Denis, and the Americans had been
warned to avoid any potentially unpleasant encounters with Soviet sailors.
So when they reached one of their usual haunts, the Americans
decided to send one of their number to check on whether any Soviet sailors were
in the place before entering. As it
happened, the scout did spot some Soviet officers when he peeked into the joint. Backing out quietly, he informed his
"shipmates" that they'd better pass this one by.
Then one of the men had an idea, saying, "Let's buy
them a drink" or words to that effect.
The other guys thought this was a good suggestion, and they all kicked
in a few bucks. Then, one of them who
spoke French quietly slipped into the bar, gave the money to the bartender, an
old acquaintance, whispered in his ear, and quietly slipped out again.
When the Russians ordered another round, the bartender
informed them that it had been paid for by the U.S. Navy.
Experience is a Very Quick Teacher
During World War II the U.S. Army conducted an extraordinary
series of surveys of soldier views and opinions on a large number of questions,
from the quality of their training and equipment to race relations to
experience under fire.
One such survey, done among troops in France and Belgium in 1944,
dealt with the mistakes new replacements made in combat. For this survey, the troops were divided into
two groups, men who had themselves only recently been replacements, and thus
had seen relatively little combat, and those who had been under fire
Surprisingly, the results were quite similar, which had not
|Old Hands ||Recent Replacements|
|Bunching up || 48% || 59%|
|Too much noise || 35% || 37%|
|Firing wild || 27% || 25%|
|Inadequate use of cover|| 26% || 24%|
|Freezing in combat|| 15% || 14%|
|Note: Totals exceed 100 due to multiple answers|
Clearly, although the recent replacements had seen only a little combat, it was enough to make their responses very similar to that of the veterans, demonstrating how critical a learning experience even a little combat could be.