26 December 2008


The northbound convoy left An Hoa at about 1500. There were some supplies that were going to be dropped off at the Alamo, and a couple of Marines from Charlie Company were also along for the ride.

About an hour later, we reached the intersection of the trail that led from the MSR (Main Supply Route) up to the Alamo. There was a working party, waiting. The four of us headed on up the trail, each carrying a case of C-rations that had been part of the re-supply load on the convoy. The fact that we were officers really meant nothing—if we were going to eat the chow, or drink the water, or use the radio batteries, we could help carry it as long as we were headed that way.

In today’s society in which 90% or more of the populace has never served in uniform, there is a serious misconception about the relationship between the officer and the enlisted man. Many of our civilian brothers and sisters assume that officers treat enlisted men with disdain, or that the troops are there to serve the officers. Not so.

General John A. Lejeune, issued Marine Corps Order No. 29 in 1920, (incorporated into the Marine Corps Manual (1921)) which states, “Young Marines respond quickly and readily to the exhibition of qualities of leadership on the part of their officers. … The relation between officers and enlisted men should in no sense be that of superior and inferior nor that of master and servant, but rather that of teacher and scholar. In fact, it should partake of the nature of the relation between father and son. …”

I had 20 sons to meet.

We dropped our load at the point designated by the Gunny who nodded approvingly as he saw us carrying our share. We reported to the Skipper who briefed us that we would be staying in place for the night. He had his radio operator advise the platoon sergeants to report to the CP.

About that time, a young Lance Corporal came over a little rise and said, “Excuse me, Skipper. That ville you wanted to blow away before sunset? The airplanes are here to do it.”

The Skipper said, “Thanks, Auggie. Come on gentlemen, you ought to see this.”

The Lance Corporal was our 1-4 (“Stationbreak one-four, Charlie”) or air liaison.
He and his radio operator made contact with a flight of A-1 Skyraiders, a WWII vintage propeller driven aircraft capable of carrying sixteen 500 pound bombs. Referred to as “the Spad”, it was great for close air support. We spent the next twenty minutes watching the air strike on a village in which one of the company’s ambush patrols had spotted a number of armed men.

When we returned to the CP, our platoon sergeants were waiting for us. By now, the sun was very low in the sky.

Staff Sergeant Gary Beyer led me to the Second Platoon section of the lines, and briefly took me to each hole to introduce me to our Marines. We then returned to the platoon CP, a fighting hole I would share with Staff Sergeant Beyer and our radio operator.

By now it was dark. We pulled out our poncho liners and prepared for the night. Staff Sergeant Beyer began to give me a run down on the platoon’s situation. We had 21 enlisted Marines and a corpsman. The squad leaders were Sergeant Mac McGroary and Corporal Jerome Thornton. Beyer attested that they were good NCO’s—he had been their Drill Instructor at Parris Island. Surprisingly, both were draftees. (During the Vietnam War—as with Korea and WWII, there were some months in which the Corps had to take draftees. While it was not a completely desirable situation – the Marine Corps was an “all volunteer” force long before 1973—the few draftees I had were good Marines, a compliment to the training they received at Parris Island and San Diego.

About 2130, there was a sudden explosion from our lines. In a flash, Beyer was gone, heading up to check the situation. Two Marines had been wounded when someone threw a grenade at our lines.

The Skipper called me on the radio and asked if I could adjust a 60mm mortar fire mission in response. I replied that I could.

In a few seconds, I heard the mortar fire, and watched for the explosion. And there it was, out in front of our lines. And I had no clue as to where it was supposed to be.

“Charlie 2, this is 6. Adjust?”

“Roger, right…..” My mind was racing. I had had no real opportunity to orient myself and sure did not want to direct the fires into our lines.

“Well, dammit, how far right?”

“Right one village!”

The Gunny came sliding into my hole. “OK, Lieutenant, let’s just calm down, OK?”

He took the handset and quickly adjusted the fires to where he wanted them. As he left, he patted me on the shoulder. “It’s OK, sir. In a day or so, you’ll be able to do it in your sleep.”

And who’s the father and who’s the son, here?, I thought.

Staff Sergeant Beyer returned a few minutes later. Both men were injured, but not seriously. They would be medevac-ed at first light.

The rest of the night was quiet.

My prayers that night were of thanksgiving that my Marines were OK and for men such as the Gunny and Staff Sergeant Beyer.


Reformed Catholic said...

Your comment about who's the son and who's the father was well taken.

In the Air Force, we had officers come in through two streams, AFROTC and the Air Force Academy (zoomies).

There was a big difference in the way each type treated their enlisted men.

The ROTC types were told that they were God's gift to the AF. Most of their instructors were officers, what little contact they had with enlisted were when they were issued something at supply, etc.

The zoomies had more contact with enlisted at the Academy, and on their summer internship. Their leadership training was superb.

When they arrived at their first duty stations, the zoomies would ask questions of the NCOs to learn the ropes. The most ROTC guys didn't bother, and usually bypassed the NCOs the first few days; and the NCOs usually let them fall flat on their faces.

The zoomies and the ROTC guys with some smarts, bonded with their NCOs, the rest guys learned the hard way.

Two stories, one apocryphal, one I witnessed show what I mean.

A pilot out of ROTC treated his A/C Crew Chief like a serf. Never a good word about how hard the guy worked keeping the plane maintained, and fit to fly. One day, after a flight, the pilot dressed down the SSgt in front of a bunch of lower ranked enlisted over a very, very minor problem that could easily be fixed.

The next day as the pilot was readying to taxi to the runway, the Crew Chief stationed himself, as normal, in front of the plane, checking the movement of the plane's surfaces. As he was doing so, he was obviously tossing a bolt up in the air and catching it, doing this repeatedly.

The pilot got the message, in the future he treated the Crew Chief as he should, as one of the team.

The other story, occurred at my first duty station. I was a lowly 2 striper (A1C at the time). We had just been assigned a new butterbar 2nd LT.

He had only been there a few days, and had not yet learned what the chain of command was. We were grouped in to special weapons maintenance teams, and we each had jobs to do. However, the LT kept pulling guys off to do stuff he wanted done, bypassing their team chiefs.

Unfortunately, that 'stuff' was not on the maintenance schedule for the day, and pulling a man out of a team, left the team with an odd number, thus slowing up the maintenance work which was very time sensitive.

Our NCOIC returned from a week long TDY to a maintenance schedule that was two days behind. When informed of what caused the delay, he asked the LT to come to his office. The rooms were not soundproofed, more like partitions with doors.

I happened to be in the hall when I heard the following from the NCOIC to the LT. "Sir, when you want something done, I'll tell you."

Due to the LT's interference, we had to work 14 days straight to get the weapons maintenance done on time.

I think the difference is due to the fact that Marine LTs (and I do believe Zoomies) are taught that their lives and the lives of their men depend on the trust each has in each other. I think the Marine office training, using NCOs as trainers tends to reinforce the trust of the future LTs in the NCO and enlisted corps.

Mac said...

Now that is my kind of Sergeant! When Moleson received his wings, the LtGen who was the honored guest rose to speak.

He acknowledged the proud wives, children, parents and sweethearts, but then said,"Please excuse me as I turn my back on you. I need to speak to them," indicating the graduating students.

Hisa speech was great. He reminded them thatalthough they now wore those wings on their left chest, the ones that caused them to lean a little to port, there were 9 others for each of them who had wanted to be there and who would have been equally qualified. And he went to great lengths to remind them that pilots and their ground crew are a team. I was gratified (and, as a Marine, a little surprised) the the Airdales can actually practice leadership when the need arises. 8>)

Throughout his ROTC training, Moleson was often the butt of jokes because he would default to what he had witnessed from birth living on Marine Corps bases. It stood him in great stead, and he still speaks with reverence about his goos NCOs.

Reformed Catholic said...

Sounds like a smart kid ;)