13 May 2008


Today is my birthday, so I am taking a break before I post the last part of Permissive Powers 101. It ends tomorrow--or maybe tonight.

I am drawn back to some memorable birthdays.

13 May 1963. On my 17th birthday, we celebrated on Saturday when my Dad and I went to old Busch Stadium (nee, Sportsman's Park) for a Cardinals game. It was my last ball game with my Dad, who died a month later. I think of that game every time I watch Field of Dreams.

13 May 1969. My most memorable birthday cake, at Liberty Bridge (on the north side of the Song Thu Bon across from 1/5’s CP and about 8 clicks northeast of the 5th Marines combat base at An Hoa).

When we came in after our 45 day rice security patrol on April 23, 3d Platoon was assigned to secure the Bridge while the rest of the Company went into the compound about 300 meters up the road. I put one squad at each end and set up my CP at the center of the span. (The Skipper had told me “If the Bridge goes, you may as well go with it!”) After 6 weeks in the bush, nice smooth, warm asphalt was almost as good as a bed.

Each morning, I sent the Platoon Sergeant with one squad up to the compound for breakfast, and when they returned I went up with the other squad. When I got to the Officers/SNCO “Mess,” a 10’ x 12’ area walled off with plywood containing two wooden picnic tables, only the Company Gunnery Sergeant was still there.

I was reading my mail, including a birthday card from my Mom. “Is it your birthday, Lieutenant?” Gunny Taylor asked. I told him it was. He got up and left me to my breakfast.

A couple of minutes later, he returned with a C-Ration pecan nut roll into which he had stuck a piece of time fuse which was sputtering merrily. “Happy Birthday, Sir.”

13 May 1975. I was Commanding Officer, Company F, 2d Battalion, 9th Marines in Okinawa. Saigon had fallen on April 30, and we were in the first days of "peace" since 1965. On the 12th, the entire battalion was in the field for training. I started the company on platoon tactics.

In the early afternoon of the 13th, we heard the Battalion XO call the CO on the radio, asking him to come back to Camp Schwab to talk about something he couldn’t mention in the clear. (We did not regularly take the AN/KY-38 encryption sets to the field for training.) The Gunny (Gunnery Sergeant Dave Ankrom) and I were intrigued because 2/9 was the air alert battalion.

At about 1700, the First Sergeant came out with the mail and the admin stuff that needed my signature. He also brought a birthday cake. As he got out of the jeep, I asked him if he knew what was going on.

“Them ***** gooks captured one of our damn'd ships, Sir.” Thus we learned that the Khmer Rouge (Pol Pot’s bunch) had seized an American merchant ship, SS Mayaguez, in the Gulf of Siam.

At about 1930, we were recalled to Camp Schwab and by 2300 we had returned and were packing up. At 0300,May 14, we embarked on trucks for Kadena AFB and flew into U Tapao, arriving at about 1300.

At 1900, the Battalion Commander,LtCol Randy Austin, briefed a raid on the island of Koh Tang to recover the crew and the ship which was anchored just off shore. The best available intelligence was that 20 to 40 guerrillas were holding the crew on the island, but that there might be several hundred fishermen using it as a base. The Old Man's guidance to the Company Commanders was "Use common sense. Do not go in there and shoot up a bunch of itinerant fisherman. I want no My Lai's in my battalion."

The first wave left U Tapao at about 0400 on May 15 for the 2 hour flight to the objective. At first light, Golf Company landed on Koh Tang, taking heavy fire from some 250 to 400 Khmer Rouge. Seven U.S. Air Force helicopters were shot down or damaged in the first wave. (So much for itinerant fishermen!)

The remainder of Golf Company and a platoon of Echo Company were landed in a second wave at about Noon, but by then we were down to one operational bird. Fox , Hotel and most of Echo companies never got to the island because of the lack of helicopters. (There were several abandoned South Vietnamese LCM-8s at the base. John Gutter, CO, Hotel Company, and I suggested using those landing craft to get our companies out to the island for a surface assault, but the distance--200 miles--and the quick release of the crew put an end to that.)

By mid-morning, the ship had been secured by a boarding party from 1st Battalion, 4th Marines. The crew was actually on the mainland and was released unharmed by the Cambodian government about three hours after the initial landing. The Khmer Rouge made a hard stand on the island, using small arms, heavy machine guns, mortars and recoilless rifles. The fighting continuing through the afternoon and into the night. Golf Company was finally extracted under heavy fire late on May 15.

The raid was the last combat operation of the Vietnam War. 2/9 lost 14 Marines and two Corpsmen killed in action, and the Air Force lost two aircrew. Their names are the last appearing on The Wall


Bill Crawford said...

Thanks buddy. For yor service and for the stories.

Hey dad wanna play (tears roll down) catch?

Love that movie.

Mac said...

I have heard it described as "the movie at which it's OK for men to cry."

Presbyman said...

Mac, bless you for your devoted service to our country and to the cause of freedom in Indochina. I knew some refugees from Vietnam when I was in college ... they weren't happy when we pulled out.