29 December 2008


The primary mission of the Marine rifle company and platoon is to locate, close with and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver or to repel his assault by fire and close combat. FMFM 6-4 at 1102.a.

I finally went to sleep at about 0400. At 0600, my radio operator woke me. “It’s the 6, sir.”

The Skipper told me to rejoin the rest of the company as soon as possible. We retrieved our claymores and saddled up. I placed myself behind the first fire team, and we set off in a column to link up with Charlie Company.

Combat formations of a platoon consisted of a column, a wedge, vee, echelon left or right, and line. Each had advantages and disadvantages, mainly limitations on fire, e.g., a column can lay down good fire to the flanks, but is limited in its ability to fire to the front. In standard tactics, a column would look like a staggered column of twos. In Vietnam, because of limitations imposed by terrain and the need to prevent multiple casualties from mines and booby traps, we usually used a single column, with a five to 10 meter interval between individuals. Thus my under-strength platoon formed a column of 200 meters (2 football fields) or more. The company in column could stretch for over a kilometer.

Our usual formation in the bush during monsoons and the rice growing season was a column, following narrow dikes which separated the individual rice paddies and which held the water necessary to allow the rice to grow. Paddies were nasty—deep muck, with several inches to a foot of water, smelling of the human and animal waste used as fertilizer. The dikes were dry, but if we found one that showed no signs of recent human traffic, we stayed away. It was probably booby-trapped.

The company was about 1.4 kilometers to our west, but following paddy dikes doubled the distance. We linked up in about two hours.

The movies always seem to show formations standing shoulder to shoulder and rushing from one place to another. The first is a result of a need to show people on the screen. The second is to get movement. In combat, separation was our friend and speed could kill. The troops were hardened by their daily routine, but they were tired. Thus, unless the mission required otherwise, we moved deliberately but not necessarily rapidly.

We took over a sector of the company perimeter which expanded slightly. Both first and third platoons had patrols out that morning, and I took out a squad-sized patrol that afternoon.

That evening, the Skipper advised us that the next morning, we would move to the outskirts of An Hoa, to a place called “Charlie Base Camp,” from which we would come under the operational control of 5th Marines. Our mission would be road security for the MSR.

That night, we were repeatedly probed in the first and third platoon sectors. At about 0200, as the Skipper checked lines, he told me that a reconnaissance team from 1st Reconnaissance Battalion had our previous night’s position under observation. Just before they called a large artillery fire mission on the target, they spotted between 300 and 400 North Vietnamese soldiers (NVA) on top of the hill. If they had come a night earlier, we would probably have been overrun. Such are the vagaries of war.

At first light, we secured our lines. First platoon had killed at least one NVA. Staff Sergeant Beyer and I went over to take a look. I was leery; how would I react to a dead man? Not badly, it turned out. He was sprawled in a heap, still clutching the grenade he planned to throw at us in his hand. He was an ashen grey and did not look human. Later on, I would not have given it much thought—he’s dead and I’m alive and that’s pretty much how I want things to be.

The word was passed that we would move out at 0900. I went back to the second platoon and informed the squad leaders. We would bring up the rear, so the rest of the company would move out a little before us.

It was at this time that I broke (for the first, but not the last, time) one of Captain Wilson’s rules. “When we are ready to move, we move.”

As he was slipping on his pack, Sergeant McGroary flung his arms as he settled it on his back. I heard him mutter the universal adjective and drop to his knees.
Staff Sergeant Beyer asked, “You OK, Mac?”

“No, dammit. I lost my wedding ring. If I go home without it, my old lady will kill me.” He had lost so much weight that the ring simply flew off his finger. The rest of Mac’s squad was crawling around, looking for the ring.

My radio operator said, “Skipper wants to know if we’re ready to move?”

“Tell him no. We’ll be a couple of minutes.”

The handset was shoved toward me. “Pray tell, Mr. Why am I standing around, waiting for Charlie 2?”

One of Mac’s Marines cried out, “Hey, Mac? Is this it?”

I thought How many wedding rings were lost in this village today? “It’s OK, Six. We found it. Ready to move.” He never even asked what “it” was; the column moved.

We followed the paddies south for about 4 clicks until we came to a village that was on the north side of the MSR. Moving through the ville was spooky, especially when it became apparent that everyone had figured out who the officers were. If a six year old could do it, I was pretty sure that a 25 year old sniper would have no problem at all.

On the south side of the MSR, across the road from the ville, was a camp of about six or eight buildings. It had been a construction camp, erected by a German company that was doing construction in the area in the early 1960s. When the war got hot, they went home. It would be our home for the next two months.

The company headquarters and the 60 mm mortar section of the weapons platoon would set up in the camp, which had a shower, a messhall, and a large, heavily sandbagged building that would serve as the command post and the fire support coordination center. There was also a section of 81 mm mortars in the compound and part of the battalion 106 mm recoilless rifle platoon. The compound was surrounded by a series of sandbagged fighting holes and barbed wire. (Note the dashing Lieutenant of Marines. I was issued that green T shirt on Christmas eve 1968 and wore it until June 15, 1969. Towards the end it was a bit ripe and ragged, but as a bullet repeller, it was perfect. )

To the east and slightly up hill, the MSR ran between two old French compounds. They were surrounded by earthen berms and moats. One platoon would man those two strongpoints, Alpha and Bravo. It would provide the security for the morning road sweep by engineers.

To the west, about a click, was strongpoint Charlie. About 400 meters south of the road was a German Hospital, essentially a missionary medical center. There were nurses, but we never saw them! Finally, about 1500 meters further west was strongpoint Delta, the base water supply point and a 4.2 inch mortar battery. Another platoon would man those two strongpoints. Delta may have had slightly better accommodations—and electricity—but I referred Charlie. The four-deuce battery fired all day and all night!

The third platoon would man a series of six observation posts, stretching some 3 clicks east and north along the MSR to a mid-point between An Hoa and Phu Loc (6). When the road closed for the day (usually 1700), that platoon would return to the base camp, get its mail and a hot meal, and then send out two squad-sized ambushes to prevent the bad guys from mining the road. At first light, it would once again man the OPs.

The platoons would swap at Noon on the fourth day.

Second Platoon drew the ambushes/Ops, to commence that afternoon. The platoon sergeant took the OPS out to get them set in. I stayed in with the Skipper and with Lieutenant Dick Rollins, our artillery Forward Observer (FO) to plan supporting fires for the ambush patrols that night. The idea was to have a series of fires pre-planned for certain readily identifiable terrain features. The battery would then fire on those points, recording the data needed to put a round on target. The target would be assigned an identification number, such as DC 101. If a fire mission was needed near that point, it could be adjusted, starting with DC 101 and then "right ___ meters, add ___meters."

The troops came back at 1700 and I briefed on the two ambushes for the night, one about 1200 meters out and the other about 3000 meters out. I accompanied the far ambush.

Leaving the lines and moving in the night was new, exhilarating, and unnerving. I was finally practicing the craft for which I had trained so long.


Christopher said...

Close With And Destroy

I was the type of Marine who definitely wanted a tattoo, but also the kind who did not want the standard ones that everyone else got. Two of the tattoos I came up with were "close with" tattooed on my right forearm, and "and destroy" on the left forearm. They were arranged in such a way so if you were facing me, and I raised up my arms with my palms facing you, you could read, from left to right, "close with and destroy". Now, when I went to boot camp at the ripe old age of 19, I remember in one of the classes we attended they defined the job description of a Marine Corps fire-team being "...Close with and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver," which I thought at the time was the single coolest thing I'd ever heard in my then short life.

The funny thing is, you appear to be the only jarhead, other than me, who's ever even heard of that saying. Every other jarhead, without exception, sees that tatt and says "huh?" or "I don't remember that one" with a confused look on their faces. hehhee I'm glad to have found another jarhead with this bit of trivia still lodged in the old cranial vault. Now I must forward this article to other jarheads who looked at me strangely, just to show them "see? I'm not the only one who remembers that class". lol

Semper Fi, bro

GregoryP said...

It is still taught to every 03 Marine out there and beaten into our "brain-housing-group" from day 1. My older brother and I always say it too each other and we have both been out over a decade now. haha