22 December 2008


At 0200, on 22 December, the other end of the air base came under mortar fire. As Churchill is reputed to have said, “There is no thrill like being shot at. . . .and missed!” As I was to quickly learn, the thrill wears away pretty quickly and it becomes a matter of dull repetition.

By 0800, we had had breakfast and were back at the reception center. Our shipmates who were assigned to 3d Marine Division (then located at Phu Bai, near Hue City) headed back to the flight line to catch a northbound C-130. I said my good-byes to Pat (next to whom I had sat all the way from St. Louis, 10,000 miles and a universe away), Tom Peachy, Mike McCormack and Jay Sims. Mike McCormick, Pat, And Peaches were all from 3d Platoon, Oscar Company. Jay was from November Company, but he and I had been in 3d Platoon, Echo Company at OCS in the summer of 1967.

It was the last time I saw Mike and Jay. They were both killed in action within the next three months.

Those assigned to the 26th Marines, the Special Landing Force, headed for. . .somewhere. The rest of us waited for trucks to take us to Hill 327, the site of the 1st Marine Division command post. We had a wait.

This was our introduction to the vagaries of war. There is a lot of boredom involved, intermingled with the occasional few minutes of sheer terror. For most of us, our lives since 1st Grade had been regimented. Calendars and daily training schedules broke down or lives into hourly segments. 9:00-10 am: Arithmetic, 10:00 -1100 am: Trigonometry, 12:00-1:00: Modern World Civilization, 1:00-2:00: Operation and Functioning of the M-60 Machine Gun. To now have a couple of free hours in the middle of the day was unsettling.

Finally, at about 1000, a truck arrived. About 20 of us boarded, and after the driver assured the rest that he would return, off we went. Leaving the air base and passing through “Dogpatch,” was a thrill. Now we were in Vietnam. The trip to Hill 327 (about 20 minutes) was uneventful. The streets were crowded with American and South Vietnamese military vehicles, over-crowded civilian vehicles, and many young Vietnamese women riding bicycles and motor-bikes.They looked exotic in their ao dais, a traditional (very!) tight-fitting brightly colored silk dress worn over black pantaloons. The skirt is usually split to the waist.

As we pulled into the Division CP compound, we saw a 1st Lt lounging against a post supporting the roof over the porch of the G-1 (personnel) shop. As the truck pulled closer, he turned, stuck his head in the door and yelled, “Colonel, sir, Christmas came early. There’s a truck with at least 20 lieutenants coming in.”

Then he saw Ted Lewis. They had been classmates at the Academy. Ted said, “So, you didn’t know we were coming? You’re happy to see us?”

“Oh, man, are we? We’ve got platoons being commanded by corporals.”

“Well, then, you’re really gonna love the next two trucks!” By Noon, we had been logged into the Division, had orders endorsed sending us to various regiments, and were dispersing.

About 20 of us were assigned to the 5th Marines. We were directed to head down to a landing zone near 5th Marines (Rear) where we should “catch the next chopper to An Hoa.”

And we waited. By nightfall, it was apparent that we were not going to An Hoa that night. The Officer-in-Charge of 5th Marines (rear) put us in a hooch to sleep, and scrounged some C-rations for Dinner. (In this way, we were also introduced to a world in which breakfast and dinner were the only two meals.

Still in Da Nang, we settled in for the night. At about 2245, we took a couple of mortar rounds. They were pretty far off; the shrapnel stuck to the wooden sides of the building, but did not penetrate.

Within 10 minutes, we were back in our racks and asleep. 393 to go.


robert austell said...

Mac, thanks for posting these. I'm enjoying reading every one!

I must have missed who Chesty Puller is... I'll go back and look... or if you haven't said, hopefully you'll share the origins of that!

robert austell said...

n/m - I found him!

Mac said...

Robert: I suspect you found all the quotes. Add another.

In Korea, a Korean Marine Corps unit was attached to the 1st Marines. Thwey came under attack from a much larger Chinese unit.

Puller contacted the Korean commander for a situation report ("sitrep").

"How many Chinese are there?" he asked.

"Oh, many, many."

"How many?"

"Oh, many, many."

"Put your Marine liaison on the line." An American Gunnery Sergeant answered.

"How many Chinese are attacking you?" asked the exasperated Puller.

"A whole goddam piss-pot full, sir," replied the Gunny.

"Finally," said Puller, "someone who can count!"