28 April 2009


Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania announced today that he is “switching” political parties. He is not the first to do so, but the reason he gives is stunning for its hypocrisy. Now children, “Why did Senator Specter switch?”

A. Because as he walked on the road to Emmaus (Pennsylvania) he had a political epiphany and realized that the he was called to a new party.

B. Because he believes that the 2008 election is a message that requires him to give the American people the prospect of a filibuster-proof Senate.

C. Because those Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners are so tasty.

D. Because his own polling revealed that the Republican voters of the Commonwealth will not nominate him in next year’s primary, and he really likes the perks that come with being a member of the ruling class, the voters be damned!

And of course, the answer is D. His concept of duty is to look out for Number 1. Has been for years, and in 2004, Congressman Pat Toomey, a real Republican came within a frog’s hair of beating Specter in the primary. Since then, Specter has sided with the Dems in too many important instances.

Compounding the hypocrisy, Harry Reed has fallen all over himself to arrange this move. Never mind that many Dems, especially women, still remember the searching cross examination of Anita Hill when she suddenly remembered that she had been “harassed” by Clarence Thomas. Of course the Dems call it a “hatchet job.” But Harry and the gang can forget that to get that 60th vote. What about those senators elected in 1982? They have 27 years seniority, but Arlen automatically jumps them because Harry is letting him keep his seniority. (The fact that there are senators and congressmen who have been serving that long is another sickening story.)

Arlen had better be ready—this will energize his former party like nothing you can imagine.

22 April 2009


The routine at the bridge was simple. First and Second Platoons would patrol east and west along the north side of the river and Third would secure the bridge. In the compound, we had a small mess hall that provided hot meals two times a day—breakfast and supper. The two platoons at the compound ate per a schedule and I would rotate a squad at a time up from the bridge, sending the platoon sergeant and the guide with one squad and then going up for breakfast with the other.

There was a small, walled off area with a couple of picnic tables that was the officers and staff non-commissioned officers mess. On Friday morning, 25 April 1969, I got to chow at about 0800. Everyone else had already eaten, so I had the place to myself. A few minutes later, Chip Hartman walked in with a cup of coffee.

“Hey, Mac, I saw you come in. Here’s your mail.”

Mail was a god send to us, a connection to home, and the Corps did its very best to make sure that it was delivered promptly.

“Thanks, Chip. What’s up?”

“Oh, the new Skipper wants to take a look at the area in the eastern Arizona across the little stream, so he’s tagging along with me this morning.” He spread out his map and began working on his patrol order, pre-planned fires, and so forth.

The mess sergeant stuck his head in and asked some questions about the mess night.

I read my mail as I ate. Maryann had begun planning our wedding and sent me a swatch of cloth so that I would know what the bridesmaid’s dresses would look like. I laughed—does any groom really care so long as the bride is happy?

“Whatcha got,” Chip asked?

I showed him the material and explained its significance. We laughed some more, exploring the mysteries of the feminine psyche with all the wisdom that a couple of 23 year olds from the mid-west could muster. He gave me the run down on all the last minute details for the mess night and then packed up his map and headed for the door. “When’s the wedding,” he asked?

“January 31 in Chicago. You’ll be there, right?”

He gave me a big grin and a wink. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world, shipmate. See you.”

It was not to be. Second Lieutenant Fred Andrew Hartman, Jr, USMCR, was killed in action three hours later.

The patrol he was leading ran into the local security for a North Vietnamese regiment. An NVA soldier in a spider hole popped up and fired. Chip was hit in the eye and instantly killed. His radio operator was shot through the hand and the handset of his radio. A machine-gunner next in the column was carrying the gun on his shoulder. He had begun to lift it when several rounds hit the receiver, protecting his head but pretty much destroying the hand and the gun. The next man in the column was hit in the canteen but not injured.

Fortunately, Frank Satterfield was along and immediately took charge. The platoon destroyed the spider hole and set up a defensive perimeter. Frank, who was a great combat leader and commander, was just then a stranger to First Platoon. Their head had been cut off and they were ripe for panic. Thanks to leaders like Frank and Chip’s platoon sergeant, they kept things together, but with an enemy force of unknown strength to their front, they were in a bind.

Back at the bridge, my radio operator said “Mr. Koch wants you up to the compound on the double.” As we crossed the bridge, I saw a helicopter swoop into the Arizona and then come flying out, streaming fuel or hydraulic fluid as it limped across the river to the LZ at the battalion CP.

There was a mechanical mule with a 106 mm recoilless rifle stationed on the bridge that day. The radio was on the battalion tactical frequency and it had a remote speaker. As I passed it, I heard Captain Wilson talking to Lt Satterfield.

"I understand that you have three whiskey india alpha [“WIA” or wounded in action], echo two charlie, echo two mike, and echo one sierra?”

“Roger.” There were three WIAs, two PFCs (E-2s) and one Private (E-1). The initials were of their last names. I had heard and transmitted that information many times. The Skipper’s voice sounded strange—tired and tightly controlled.

“And one kilo india alpha--oscar one hotel?”

“Roger.” Oscar one? (Second Lieutenant.) Goddammit! I yelled for Levi to get the troops ready and raced to the compound. There were three amtracs in the compound and Second Platoon was gearing up. Mike Koch spun to face me and growled “Where the fuck is your platoon?”

“Dammit, they called for me, not the platoon.” I turned to my radio operator and called Levi, telling him to get our people to the compound on the double and to make sure that the recoilless rifle team stayed at the bridge until battalion sent some people out from Phu Loc (6) to take over.

I looked at Mike. “Chip?” He just turned away.

Within ten minutes we were mounted up atop the amtracs and en route across a dry stream bed into the Arizona to link up with Charlie One. We found them just outside a small village.

Mike Koch was an avenging angel that day. He and Chip were in the same platoon in Hotel Company at TBS, the other company in our class. They were the best of friends, two guys from Chicago who understood each other on a plane that I can understand but cannot explain.

Charlie Company burned the place to the ground, cut down every banana tree, burned or otherwise destroyed any growing crops or stores of crops, killed every animal it saw and tossed the carcasses down the well, blew up every bunker. The villagers themselves were rounded up. There were no civilian casualties—discipline was excellent and the violence was contained if not restrained. Because the Arizona was a free fire zone from which all civilians were to be excluded, they were herded back to Phu Loc (6) where they were turned over to the local South Vietnamese authorities who sent them to the Duc Duc refugee camp outside of An Hoa. I am sure that most of them were back rebuilding their worthless little village within a week or so.

And then we returned to the compound. The war went on, but it was never the same.

That evening, Neal took command of First Platoon. Within a couple of weeks, Mike moved to Bravo Company as Executive Officer. Dick Woods came out to take Second Platoon. I kept the Third Herd, all as Captain Wilson had planned back in March.

War is a fluky thing. A classmate of mine was seriously wounded in a firefight in which every other officer in his company was killed in the first 45 seconds. This officer heard his Mom call his name and turned to see why she was there. The bullet that would have entered his mouth and exited through the back of his head instead “merely” entered one cheek and exited through the other jaw. He was medically retired, but lived. There is simply no rhyme or reason to it.

Still, if I am allowed through the gates of heaven, I pray that I will be entitled to two answered questions, questions that have haunted me every night and morning for forty years. If the Skipper had made the changes he planned to make on 24 April, Neal and Woody would have been brand new platoon commanders. It would have made sense for Frank to have his most experienced platoon commander lead that patrol.

So, first, I want to know why Chip and not me?

When Kim and I lost our quadruplets, one was named Frederick. He was to be Fred Andrew, but we saved the second name. When my youngest son was born, we named him Andrew.

In 2007, the 1st Marine Division Association reunion was held in Philadelphia. Kim and the kids attended many of the functions—the band concert followed by the Charlie Company dinner, the banquet, and other ceremonial functions. For me, the real joy was to be able to introduce Andy to Colonel Griffis, Colonel O’Toole, David Thompson, Frags Felton, Mike Tonkyn, Marty Radovich, and others who were with us in 1969. Each time, I would mention that Andy was named after Chip.

I will never forget Frags’ reaction. He is one of Chip’s Marine, a mountain of a man, decorated hero, a warrior, still lean and hard and ready to do battle. He bent over, solemnly took 8 year old Andy’s small hand in his catcher’s mitt of a hand, and with tears in his eyes, gently said “It’s an honor to meet you. You’re named after a good man.”

Every one of them made the identical comment. “He was a good man.” Later, as we were walking back to the hotel, Kim and Mary were walking in front of us, talking about horses. Andy was quiet. Suddenly he stopped, teddy bear under one arm, 5th Marines ball cap on his head, and looked up at me. “That Mr. Chip must have been a good man. Everybody says so.”

Somehow, we got to the hotel.

By coincidence, Chip was killed on ANZAC Day, the Remembrance or Memorial Day in Australia. Each year on 25 April they remember, in particular, the landing on Gallipoli in 1915 and honor the spirit of the original ANZACs, the Australia-New Zealand Army Corps. By tradition every ANZAC Day service includes the ode taken from For The Fallen by Laurence Binyon. It ends with this stanza:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

When you visit the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, Chip’s name is listed on Panel 26 W at line 45.

So, here is to Fred Andrew “Chip” Hartman, Jr, Second Lieutenant of Marines in Company C, First Battalion, Fifth Marines, First Marine Division: a gallant officer and a Christian gentleman. And a very good man.

Semper Fidelis

20 April 2009


We returned to Liberty Bridge the next morning, Thursday, April 24, 1969. The company exited a tree line about 500 meters east of the main service road between An Hoa and Phu Loc (6) in the vicinity of The Alamo. We could see trucks lined up waiting to pick us up to take us to the compound north of the river where we would assume responsibility for security of Liberty Bridge and the northern approach to Phu Loc (6).

For reasons that have never been entirely clear to me, we moved to the road on line rather than in column. As we swept westward, I heard my radio operator say, “Uh oh!”

I looked back to see that he had kicked loose an M-26 fragmentation grenade rigged as a booby trap. He moved left and I moved right about two steps and we both went prone, shouting “Grenade” and “Take cover.”

We were taught to get prone, with our feet towards the grenade. Because the explosion would send shrapnel into the zone of least resistance, i.e., upward and outward, while prone you offered the lowest profile and your feet would take the substantial portion of the blast. I began to low crawl away from the grenade, thinking Damn! This is gonna hurt!

It was a dud. We both got away from the grenade, and then pointed it out to one of our engineers who placed a C-4 charge next to it and destroyed it in place.

When we got to the compound, Captain Wilson told the officers that he was being relieved as Commanding Officer within 24 hours and would move to the battalion staff. In the meantime, 1st and 2d Platoons would man the compound and I was to take 3d Platoon down to the bridge and relieve a platoon from Bravo Company. As I started to leave, Captain Wilson put his arm around my shoulder and said, “Mac, you may as well put your CP in the middle of the bridge, because life won’t be worth living for the guy who lost it if the VC destroy the damned thing.”

We moved down to the bridge which was about 200 meters from the compound. Since Christmas, the SeaBees (Naval Construction Battalion) had built a new bridge to replace the ferry. It was built on massive wooden piles driven into the river bed and had a brand new asphalt roadway. There was no superstructure, only waist high rails of angle iron. The idea was that during high water in the monsoon season, the bridge could be underwater without being carried away. (It worked—the monsoon season later in the year inundated the bridge, but it was usable as soon as the water receded.)

Tom Pottenger’s platoon was guarding the bridge. It was the first time I had seen him since we joined the battalion at Christmas. He quickly briefed me on the situation. There were squad-sized sand-bagged emplacements at each end of the bridge. He, too, kept his CP on the bridge at night. A fire team secured a field generator about 75 meters east of the north approach to the bridge to provide power for lights that shone into the water at night.

There was also an ammunition bunker near the south approach that stored dynamite and C-4 which was used to make charges to toss in the river at night. The idea was to kill any swimmers who might try to mine the bridge.

At the south end of the bridge, there was a space under the roadway where troops not on duty could crap out in the shade during the day. The day watches were a fire team at each end of the bridge and two two-man teams on the bridge in sand-bagged positions along the up-stream side. Other than securing the bridge, our only other responsibility was to send out a daily squad-sized patrol along the south bank of the river into two villages located about 500 and 1100 meters west of Phu Loc (6).

I relieved Tom and told Levi to get our people into place. My radio operator told me that I was wanted at the compound, so he and I headed back up the road. As I left, Tom’s platoon was forming up to move south to rejoin the rest of Bravo Company.

When we got to the compound, 1st Lieutenant Frank Satterfield was waiting for us. Shortly thereafter, Captain Wilson relinquished command of Charlie Company to Lieutenant Satterfield in a short ceremony that dates from the earliest days of the Republic. With the words “I relieve you, Sir”, Frank was our CO.

The old and new skippers met together for a few minutes and then Mike, Chip, Neil, Dick Rollins and I entered the bunker. Frank announced that Captain Wilson had explained his planned reassignments. He said that although he agreed with the changes and would make them over the next few weeks, until he got his feet on the ground, he was leaving all of us in our current billets. Captain Wilson bade us a quick farewell and headed across the river to take over as Assistant Operations Officer (S-3A) of the battalion.

Frank spent a couple of minutes with me before I headed for the bridge. Essentially, all standing orders were to remain in force for now. He told me to be ready to meet with him the next afternoon, after he returned from a local security patrol into the eastern Arizona Territory.

When I got to the platoon, there was a flurry of activity. Finally, Levi brought a Marine to me with the news that he had “lost” his 40 mm grenade launcher. This is a hard thing to do, and we talked at some great length about his genetic and familial short-comings. I went back up to inform my new Commanding Officer of the loss. He was no happier than was I.

(We contacted Bravo Company to see if Tom Pottenger’s people may have inadvertently picked up an extra blooper. “Negative,” came the reply. Three weeks later, the blooper was mysteriously returned. Later, when I asked Pott about the earlier denial, he grinned and said, “Hell, Mac. You were at the bridge and we were headed for the bush short one blooper until ours was repaired. We just borrowed it.” We laughed then, but on 24 April, it was not a laughing matter in Third Platoon!)

Otherwise, our first night at the bridge was uneventful, and the newly installed asphalt of the bridge deck was a much better mattress than any I had had in some time!

It was the last good night’s sleep I have had in 40 years.

19 April 2009


That afternoon, the Skipper ordered me to take my platoon back towards the river to secure the north side of the cobble-stone road. The rest of the company moved west about 500 meters and set up to the south of the road. I was ordered to move back to the railroad cut at first light to secure a landing zone for the ROK Marine Corps.

The Republic of Korea had sent a large contingent of troops to aid the South Vietnamese. The ROK Marines were the cream of the crop.

We set up our perimeter at about 1700. As we did so, we could see two OV-10’s circling about 1500 meters north of us. Suddenly, they began to dive and fire rockets at targets on the ground. The Skipper called to tell me that they had spotted about 30 NVA in one of the villes and had taken them under fire.

Just before sunset, we spotted two Vietnamese coming toward our lines. One was an old man and the other a middle-aged woman of perhaps 30. They were carrying a long bamboo pole over their shoulders with a parachute silk hammock bent onto the pole with parachute cord. The fire team that moved out to check them out reported that they had a wounded child in the hammock.

We searched them closely and then brought them into the perimeter. The child, a boy of seven or eight, had a large hole punched through his left leg, probably from shrapnel from the rockets fired by the OV-10s. Doc patched it up, but told me that the kid needed a hospital.

I called the Skipper and passed the word. “No choppers available tonight. Keep them and evacuate the kid tomorrow,” he replied.

We were really nervous, suspecting that mama-san and grandpa-san had led the NVA to our position. Grandpa-san really wanted to return to his village It took some persuading to get him to sit still. As courteously as possible, I let him know that if he set one foot out of our perimeter or made one sound, I would shoot him pretty well dead. After that, he was quiet as a mouse.

The baby-san was a real trooper. He never made a sound. The troops kept giving him C-rats and especially the cookies and candy, treating him like a little brother. My Marines were ferocious warriors and gentle giants, all wrapped in dirty camo. God bless ’em!

Mama-san was a pill. About once an hour, she would start to moan and wail. One of us, myself, the platoon sergeant or the guide, would whack her in the head and shut her up. To this day, I am pretty certain that she was trying to guide the NVA to our position.

At first light, we saddled up and headed east about 1,000 meters to secure the LZ. When we got in place, I left mama-san and baby-san with the platoon guide in the platoon command post and sent papa-san on his way back home.

The ROK Marines were landed in US Marine Corps helicopters. I was standing in the middle of the LZ as the first wave landed. Suddenly, I heard a voice calling “Carty, Carty.”

It was 1stLt Park, a TBS classmate. (We had 16 foreign military trainees in our class. Park, an ROK Marine officer, was one of the best.) I do not know who was more surprised to see the two of us together, acting as old friends do—his Marines or mine.

After our mini-reunion, he moved off to set in his company. Accompanied by a ROK machinegun team, I headed for my CP to get mama-san and baby-san. These guys were tough. The Gunner carried an M-1919 .30 cal machine gun, complete with T&E mechanism, gun pintel and platform, and tripod, in one hand and two cans of ammo in the other, while the A-gunner carried two cans in each hand! Hard dudes. When the two ROKS saw the woman and kid, they grinned, dropped their weapons and pulled out their knives, and headed toward mom and kid. Mom began to wail.

I put myself in between them while yelling for Gibby to get one of my gold bars out of my pack. (For obvious reasons, we did not wear rank insignia in the field, but we carried a set of bars in our packs in case we had to go to Da Nang or back to An Hoa.) I showed it to the ROKs who became very apologetic, bowing and saluting. The corporal offered me his knife. Mama-san wailed some more.

It dawned on me that the knife was a gesture of courtesy: they were my prisoners and it was my privilege to cut their throats. I smiled and returned the knife, showing them my Dad’s K-bar. They really yucked it up! Finally, I sent them on their way.

Mom did not shut up until we finally had her and the kid on the chopper headed for Da Nang.

I moved out to rejoin the company which had moved southwest along the ridge. When I linked up at about 1300, we were beat. We moved into position, but got only a few minutes to rest. Then the Skipper informed us that battalion wanted us to move about 8 clicks to the An Hoa-Phu Loc (6) road by dusk.

We were not used to moving with full kit during the day, and this was a hot one—well over 100 degrees F and high humidity. As we moved out, we almost immediately began to have people straggling and suffering heat ailments. It was 1400, the hottest part of the day, we were in double canopy (jungle) so the air was heavy and still, and we were soon short on water.

Finally, in Second Platoon, one Marine collapsed and went into cardiac arrest. It was Jerome Thornton, one of the squad leaders and a fine Marine. The Docs got his heart going and an emergency medevac came roaring in. We evacuated six Marines with serious heat ailments, five of whom rejoined us. Thornton “died” at least three more times on the medevac and was revived each time. He was evacuated home.

Did I mention that our Corpsmen were miracle workers? And they still are. Ask the crew of USS San Francisco.

Up the line, I could hear the Skipper shouting on the radio that there was no reason on God’s green earth to destroy his company with a forced march.

Battalion relented. We went into a perimeter for the night.

18 April 2009


The next night we set up in a ville further west, along the cobble-stone highway, near the grenade factory. We had added some new Marines during our stay at the railroad cut, and my platoon was nearing 35 Marines (including attached weapons), almost enough to form a third squad.

The following morning, the Skipper ordered me to take a squad-sized patrol north across the river and check out the southern edge of Goi Noi Island. I thought You want me to go where with only a squad? I said, “Aye, aye, Sir.”

I alerted my first squad and we prepared to move out. Just then, Doc came up.“Sir, one of the new guys needs to get out of here.” He pointed to a skinny Marine at the end of the squad column. “He hasn’t kept a thing down for five days, he is losing weight, and I’m worried that he is dehydrated.”

What the hell?

Doc continued. “The dumb little shit wants to be a hero. Didn’t tell his squad leader and nearly passed out on watch last night. The other guy on watch with him told me this morning.”

Just what I needed ten minutes before a patrol. I motioned to Doc to follow and ran off to brief the Skipper. When I returned to the patrol, the squad leader brought the man to me.

“OK. You need to go back to An Hoa to get this fixed. Stay with the Company Corpsman and we’ll get you out of here today.”

“No way, Sir. I’m OK. I gotta stay with the squad.” I respected that, but he was weaving as he stood in front of me.

“Look, you’re no good to us sick. I promise that as soon as they clear up what ever bug you have, you’ll be right back with us. Now report to the Company Corpsman up at the CP.”

He hung his head. “Aye, aye, sir.”

We saddled up and moved out. There were thirteen of us. We had good concealment—scrub brush and grass--for the first 200 meters. The river was at low water—almost no water—but there was about 300 meters of sand bar to cross. I sent a fire team across to secure the north bank and then rushed the rest across on line.

The north side was covered in elephant grass, twelve feet tall, thick, with razor sharp blades. We forced our way into it. It was so thick that I had to navigate by compass. There were two men in front of me. The point man would force the grass down and stand on it. Number two would join him and stomp it down. The dust was thick, there was nary a breath of air, and we were quickly drenched in sweat. (Doc estimated that the ambient temperature was near 130 degrees F.) The dust began to cake on us and we looked like we had been greased and rolled in dirty flour. About 20 minutes passed as we moved slowly forward.

Suddenly, the point man broke into a cleared area. It was an old trail created by a tank or amtrac, about 15 feet wide. The grass wall on the far side looked to be as thick as ever.

This kind of clearing is a “danger area,” subjecting the unit that is crossing it to ambush. He signaled “danger area.”

I signaled back for him to check it out, and as I did so, he pointed up. A bird had been flushed on the other side. I extended my left arm to point to the grenadier to show him where I wanted him.

At this point, I weighed about 130 pounds. My Mom had given me a Bulova Acutron watch for graduation and commissioning. It was a heavy, thick watch with a leather strap. Because of the accumulated sweat, the leather had stiffened and forced the watch to stand up just a bit off my wrist. As I looked along my left arm, I felt a tug and the watch exploded. I could see the little pieces, springs, gears, and pieces of glass float through the air in slow motion. Time itself slowed down.

The point man opened up and I realized that we were under fire. I turned to face the front and hit the deck as the M-60 machine gunner flopped down next to me on my right. He was about three feet behind me, so that the muzzle of his machine gun was parallel to and about 18 inches from my right ear. He fired a burst of 5 or 6 rounds. It felt as if someone had jammed a hot needle into my right ear.

“I looked back and said, “Knock that(universal adjective) shit off. Move up a little.”

“Aye, aye, Sir.” He fired another burst. It didn’t hurt as much, but I really couldn’t hear by this time. All firing stopped.

The engagement seemed to have lasted for 20 minutes, but it was closer to 60 seconds. The point fire team rushed across the trail. One stuck his head from the grass and waved us across.

There was a fringe of grass, perhaps two feet thick, and then a beaten down area about ten by 25 meters, with trails leading to the north, west and south. The point fire team members were set in at the corners. One VC body, complete with AK-47, was crumpled face down at the southwest corner. The squad leader pointed to two more bodies, with AKs, at the north end of the patch. “The woman has a brief case, Sir.”

I started to move in that direction. Over my shoulder, I told my radio operator, “Gibby, make sure that gook is dead.” I pointed to the lone figure.

“Aye, aye, Sir.”

I took about three steps and a shot rang out. We all hit the deck. I looked around. Gibby was standing over the dead VC.

“What the (universal adjective) did you just do?”

“Made sure he’s dead, Sir.”

Damn! Doc rushed over. “Where’d you shoot him?”

“Back of the head.”

Doc felt around, shook his head, then turned the VC over. There was not a mark on his head, although he had been hit in the back by several rounds. He was graveyard dead.

I said “Show me what you did, Gibby?”

He pointed his rifle at the man’s head, muzzle about 18 inches away. I noticed that he was trembling hard—as were many of us. He was shaking so hard that he had missed from 18 inches!

Years later, when I was teaching law of war at TBS, I used this anecdote to remind lieutenants that they must be clear in their orders, especially in the heat of combat. Gibson had planned to do exactly what I told him to do. Fortunately for us, there were no "war correspondents" or TV "journalists" with us to take those 4 seconds out of context and quickly spread them around the globe just to make a corporate buck.

We reported in by radio, checked out the bodies, grabbed the brief case and rifles, and prepared to head back to the company. But the day was not yet over.

I heard the squad leader say “Oh, (universal adjective). What the (universal adjective) is that dumb (universal gerund) doing here?”

It was the Marine we had planned to evacuate. He had tagged along and was now hysterical. I was not pleased. We could have lost him and never known what happened. I grabbed him and cold-cocked him. In retrospect, that was not a good idea, because under one of the unwritten rules of patrolling, I now had the privilege of carrying him. (Rule of patrolling: "If you make a prisoner unable to walk, you get to carry him.") He wasn't technically a prisoner, but the intent of the rule was plainly applicable. Fortunately, he didn’t weigh very much. We formed up and returned uneventfully to the company.

I briefed the Skipper on the day’s events. We later learned that we had killed a VC tax collector. Her brief case contained “tax rolls” and identified a lot of the local VC infrastructure.

“OK, Mac, well done. Clean ’em up and get some rest. I’ve got something for you to do tonight.”

“Aye, aye, Sir.”

After thought: The skinny kid was evacuated, diagnosed with a serious allergy to C-rations, and transferred to Okinawa. I suffered some hearing loss and tinitis that plagues me to this day. I can get cheap license plates from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and you tax payers have given me a really nice set of hearing aids, for which I thank you. My kids complain about their deaf father and do not seem to appreciate the source of that deafness. I hope they never do.

17 April 2009


The next morning, we descended from the ridge line and moved about 1200 meters to the village of Phu Nam Tay (2). The change was noticeable. This was a government –controlled area. The houses were still thatch, but they had corrugated steel roofs. Some had electricity from a generator. They kids looked healthier and we were actually welcomed.

As we were digging in, an American voice came up on the company tac net. “Welcome, Marines. Tonight you die!”

The responses were unprintable here (and some were, I think, anatomically impossible), but it rattled us a little. We had all heard of the “Phantom Blooper,” an American who was reportedly cooperating with or even leading a VC contingent. He carried an M-79 grenade launcher (a “blooper,” so named because of the sound it made when fired), hence his nick name. There was some suspicion that he was Private Robert Garwood, a deserter who 10 years later, returned to the US from North Vietnam, and, in a travesty, was convicted of desertion but never punished. But, I digress.

The night was uneventful. The next morning, the Skipper ordered me to move 3d Platoon to establish a platoon patrol base on the slopes of Hill 245 which was about two clicks southwest of the ville. En route, I was to patrol south west along a small stream to check out a couple of villes at the head of the valley.

The paddies were dry and had already been harvested, so I got my first opportunity to run the platoon through extended formations. We need work on that, but it was a start.

The rest of the week was uneventful. The site I selected for our PPB was high enough that we could easily observe the valley. The ground was not rocky, making it easy to dig in. We had now gone about four weeks without haircuts and were looking shaggy. I borrowed the company barber kit and took the opportunity for each man to get his hair cut. After we used the hand clippers on one another, we were surely not ready to go to a party, but we looked more like Marines and less like hippies.

On the following Monday morning, we moved back to the company and then re-crossed “Easter” Ridge and went on to set up a company position above the railroad cut. The highlight of the move for 3d Platoon was that the rest of the company had a serious case of “intestinal discomfort.” The village threw a “going away” party for them on the last night. We had been informed that, “Sorry. Third platoon needs top stay in place. Maybe next time.” so we missed the festivities.

The meal had included rice, eggs, local vegetables and duck. Apparently, the duck was not as well done as it should have been. The rest of the company did not share in our delight as Third Platoon lapsed into fits of quacking every time the column had to make frequent stops for head calls.

We set up in a company perimeter and stayed put for nearly a week. It was during this time that we were not re-supplied for five days and chow ran short. We were hungry, and when the noon radio show from Armed Forces Vietnam Network advertised cook outs at the beach for Army units located in the Saigon area, we were not impressed.

The Skipper took to holding his meetings at Noon during this interlude. At one, Chip said something to the effect that we needed a mess night. A mess night is a formal (black tie) dinner, a stylized as a Chinese ballet, that dates from the English regimental messes in India. Each class at TBS holds one to learn how to conduct such a function. In my twenty-one years on active duty, I attended perhaps 40 mess nights—times of camaraderie and tradition.

The Skipper leapt on the idea and appointed Chip as “Mr. Vice” (the vice president of the mess) with orders to set one up to be held on our return to Liberty Bridge. The guest of honor was to be the Regimental Commander, with officers of the battalion headquarters also invited. Chip took off with gusto, and by the time we returned to the bridge, he had arranged a meal, sent Lt Wood to Danang to get wine, and had scrounged some linen table cloths. The planning and discussions of the events kept us going. The Charlie Company mess Night was scheduled for Sunday, April 27, 1969.

Those meetings were important to us. When with our platoons, we were alone in our responsibility. We were not stiff and formal with our men unless the need arose, but they were not our peers. In some ways, hungry as I was, this was the happiest week of my life.

We patrolled with no contact and rested.One night, my radio operator told me “The six wants you at the CP.”

We were in the dark of the moon, and it took me a few minutes to get there. Finally, lost inside the perimeter, I whispered, “Does anyone know where the CP group is?”

I heard a sigh, followed by the Skipper’s whispered “Goddammit, Mac, over here.”

It turned out that he had wanted to talk to me on the radio. Someone thought they saw a figure moving into our lines and he was going to have me check it out. The scary part is that the Gunny was about five seconds from shooting me, thinking I was the intruder. I returned to my position and had a heart-to-heart with my radio operator.

Two nights later, the Skipper briefed me that Company A would be approaching our lines sometime that night and would then pass through our lines and head on west towards Phu Loc (6). The Skipper would alert me when Alpha was approaching so that I could make sure that we did not have an intramural firefight.

About 0200, the call came. “They think they are about 500 meters to our front. Take out a fireteam and guide them in.”

The six of us slithered over the berm that marked our part of the line and dropped into the dry paddy. We edged forward, concerned lest Alpha take a shot at us. Finally, as I crouched low, I could see, silhouetted standing on a paddy dike about 50 meters to my front, what looked to be the head of a column.

One concern that we had was that Alpha might drive some VC into our lines, so making sure that what I saw was a Marine unit was important. I was fairly certain that no self-respecting VC would sky-light himself that way, but I had to be sure. I told the fire team leader to hold his men ready, and I slowly moved forward about 10 meters.

I whispered “Alpha Company!” The point man snapped his head in my direction, but said nothing. Gotta be Marines, I thought. VC would either be running or shooting or both.

I repeated, “Hey, Alpha Company!” Still no response. I moved closer.

“Alpha Company?” The Marine crouched and peered in my direction. I stood up and walked up to him. He was young and small.

“Are you people from Alpha Company?”


“Well, didn’t you hear me calling ‘Alpha Company’?”

“Yessir.” Huh?

“Why in hell didn’t you answer?”

“I didn’t know you was talkin’ to me, Sir.” I love Marines! How can you not love them?

I called my fire team forward, alerted the Skipper and my Platoon Sergeant that we were coming in, and the passage of lines was effected without incident.

The next night, we heard Mike Koch trying to contact one of his listening posts located on the east side of the perimeter, across the railroad cut. “Charlie 2 lima papa, this is Charlie 2.” No response.

“Charlie 2 lima papa, this is Charlie 2.” It was repeated with no answer several times.
Mike came up on the net. “Charlie 2 lima papa, this is 2 actual. Wake up!” No response.

"Charlie 6, this is Charlie 2. One round out-going.” I quickly alerted my platoon that there would be an outgoing (friendly) round fired.

Bloop. Kerrrunch!

“Charlie, Charlie, this is Charlie 2 lima papa. We are taking fire!” (Actually, Mike had fired about 300 meters beyond the listening post.)

“Lima papa, this is 2 actual. Welcome to the land of the living. Now stay the (universal adjective) awake!” Laughter all along the lines.

The next day, we were ordered to move about a click west. After four weeks in the bush, we were close to heading back to the bridge.

13 April 2009


Harry Kalas, the Hall of Fame long-time voice of the Philadelphia Phillies has been called up to the Big League.

He was one of those men who made it possible for us to "see" a ball game on the radio. I grew up listening to the best play-by-play combo in history when Harry Caray, Joe Garagiola, and Jack Buck called the Cardinals games together. After high school, I was not back in a major league city until I attended law school in Chicago--where Harry Caray almost converted me to the (shuddering as he says it) American League.

But in 1988, I came to Philadelphia, and found Harry Kalas. What a joy those past 21 years have been--lots of famine, along with the unbelievable misfits of 1993 who came so close, and then the wonderful 2008 season, all called with joy and precision by one of the greatest.

He was a man of faith, the son of a Presbyterian pastor, and a true gentleman. For me, his most memorable call is not a Michael Jack Schmidt homer or a towering blast by Ryan Howard. When baseball resumed play after 9/11, the schedule was such that the Phillies' game was the first to be played. In his opening comments before the game, broadcast to the crowd and to the listening audience Nation-wide, Harry reminded us that there is so much more to life than baseball and called upon us to treat one another "as He commanded us to do."

So,if you believe that there is baseball in Heaven --and I do--the voice of the Heavenly Choir Nine tonight will surely be Harry Kalas.

He is home.


Well, I see a few folks on the net, some of whom may just be trying to yank our chain, are complaining about our rescue of Captain Phillips of SS Alabama. They say that we violated the rights of the Somali pirates who had briefly seized his ship.

Some folks who come from other countries are angry that the pirates who hold some 200 hostages may react against non-US hostages. While I understand those concerns, I have nothing but contempt for folks who want to turn thugs and criminals into victims. For centuries, those who have raised the jolly roger have known that the penalty for piracy is a dance at the end of a rope over the yardarm or a bullet in the head.

The complainers forget that, as an American flagged vessel, it was US territory. Piracy has always been a risky business, and the three thugs who made the mistake of invading the United States of America paid the price. Now they are dead, we have our citizen back and that's pretty much how I, for one, hoped it would turn out.

10 April 2009


The next night we harbored in a ville further east. Third Platoon had both squads on the line. (Our routine was for one platoon to send out two ambushes, one to send out one, keeping the other in the perimeter, and the third to have both squads in the line. We were too small to have the normal three squads per platoon.) Moreover, we were not moving that night.

My routine was to be up on radio watch and checking lines until about 0400. I would then go to sleep for a couple of hours, fairly safe in my assumption that the bad guys would not start something so close to daylight—when the airplanes could see them.

At about 1930 on this particular night, I came down with a terrible migraine headache. Doc said, “Let me give you something to help get rid of it.”

“Naw, thanks, Doc, but I need to be up to check lines.”

My Platoon Sergeant chimed in. “Take the damn’d stuff, Sir. We’ll make sure you wake up to go out on the lines.”

“Well….” I paused to throw up. “What is that stuff?”

“Darvon, Sir. It’ll fix you right up. Take two.”

The next thing I remember is morning. My sheepish Platoon Sergeant said, “Hell, Lieutenant, we knew you needed a night off. Everything was copacetic. Course, we were a little worried when they hit us with those mortars and you didn’t wake up, but nothing came of it.” He grinned.

I was shaken to have slept through a mortar attack, but they had rolled me into my hole. And the headache was gone.

On Easter Saturday, which happened to be my sister’s birthday, I had both squads out on the night ambush. The briefed plan was for me to link up both squad sized ambushes at about 0300 and move to a ville located on a deep, fast-moving stream.
At about 0400, Mike Koch would bring out Second Platoon, link up with my right flank squad and take our cordon on around to the stream bank about 200 meters north. At first light, we began to collapse the cordon.

As I moved along the river bank in the gray, foggy dawn, I saw Mike approaching. We stood on the bank of the river, shrouded in fog and unwilling to break the silence. Finally, as if on cue, we each stuck out a hand and, as we shook, said “Happy Easter.”

The search of the ville was uneventful.

As we set in for the day, my radio operator said, “Six wants you and the platoon sergeant at his CP. He says, ‘bring your canteen cups.’”

I found Levi who, having set in our last hole, was talking to the squad leaders. “Rifle inspection in one hour. Get going.”

“C’mon. Skipper wants us. And grab a cup.”

We headed up a trail to the center of the ville, to the hooch the Captain had selected for his CP. Mike and Chip and their platoon sergeants came in from different directions. The Gunny was finishing up organizing the CP group.

“Well, gentlemen, Here we are.” He reached into his pack and pulled out a bottle of Johnny Walker Red Label scotch. “My wife sent me this. I’ve been saving it for a special occasion. This will do.”

He poured a splash into each of our cups. After our cups were “charged,” he toasted the day. “Happy Easter.”

“Happy Easter, sir.”

In my life, I have sipped and enjoyed some mighty fine scotch—single malts that cost per bottle close to my monthly pay as a second lieutenant. None ever tasted better than that Johnny Walker Red, drunk from an aluminum canteen cup, in a dank, smelly hooch on a damp, foggy Easter morning with those men.

Levi and I returned to the platoon sector and began our daily routine. One squad was pulled off the line and began to clean weapons. Levi cleaned his weapon with them. This involved field stripping the rife or machine gun or pistol, cleaning and lightly oiling it, removing ammo from each magazine and inspecting it for dents and corrosion, and cleaning and reassembling the magazines. I would then inspect each man’s weapon.

Doc was standing by to issue the daily vitamin and the Sunday malaria pill to each Marine and to make sure the pills were swallowed. That squad would then move to the lines and the other would come back and go through the same routine.

I followed this practice for the entire time I was a rifle platoon commander. The M-16 has a weird locking system that can be a bitch to clean. I was bound and determined that no Marine of mine would be killed or wounded because his rifle jammed. The troops didn’t like it, because it cut into their time to sleep, but it is the platoon commander’s job to think further than the next 40 winks.

About a year before the Second Gulf War, my next door neighbor’s son, Corporal of Marines Josh Piccoli, a fire team leader in the Seventh Marines, was home on leave. We sat around my kitchen table, drinking coffee. He was considering shipping over (reenlisting) and his Dad, a Vietnam vet, asked me to talk to him. We swapped sea stories, and I mentioned my fixation on cleaning weapons. He nodded and agreed when I mentioned that the troops were less than enthused with my inspections.

When he came home from the capture of Bagdad, with all of his Marines alive, he stopped by to thank me.

“For what,” I asked?

“We cleaned weapons every day. When my troops bitched, I told them that if it was good enough for you Marines in Vietnam, it was good enough for me. And nobody’s rifle jammed—even in the sand and crap we were in!”

* * * * *

At about 1600, the Skipper called us together. We had received orders to make a significant move to the south. We were assigned to enter a government-controlled valley about 2 clicks east and 7 clicks south, across a ridgeline. Our mission was to provide security for the rice harvest.

The NVA in the mountains around the An Hoa and Que Son valleys were short on supply. They frequently came into villages to take rice and other foodstuffs for their units. During the rice harvest, each day, the farmers were to bring the day’s harvest to a central collection point. It would be loaded onto trucks and driven east to the coastal city of Hoi An for storage and safekeeping. We would provide security throughout the day and night.

The plan was to move out at1700 that night, with Second in the lead, followed by CP, First, and then Third as the tail-end Charlie. The Skipper planned to be over the ridge and ready to move into position at first light.

Now, moving a company was not a simple thing to do. In open country, we kept 5 to 10 meter intervals between men. With 120 men in the company, that meant that when my last man began to move, he was going to be 1200 meters (better than two-thirds of a mile) behind the point man.

We moved up onto an abandoned railroad right of way (the An Hoa spur) and headed east, passing through a cut that was about 100 meters long, and then exited onto open ground towards the right of way of the main north-south railway line. Of course, there were no rails and very few steel ties, but it was clear of tangled brush. It was also elevated, perhaps 12 feet above the surrounding paddies.
The plan was to move out about 500 meters beyond the cut and then drop down off the berm to a paddy dike and head south across a small valley to the next ridge line, some five clicks away.

Third Platoon had just started to move when the column halted. My radio operator told me, “Mister Koch says there’s movement in a tree line about 400 meters to his front. Second Platoon is going to recon by fire.” I ordered him to pass that word back along the line so that the troops would know the reason for the firing to our front.

Reconnaissance by fire is simply shooting into an area to see what happens. Almost immediately, I heard an M-60 machine gun crank off a couple of bursts.

The treeline “reconned” back.

Out on the berm, Second Platoon took cover. Dick Rollins slid down the forward edge of the berm with his map already open, ready to call artillery fire onto the treeline. One Marine froze and took a round through his left arm, through his chest, and out his right shoulder. He was dead before he hit the ground, or actually, before he hit Dick. So here is Lieutenant Rollins, calling for a Corpsman, wiping blood off his map, and passing his call for fire back to his battery, all the while under fire.

The tree line quickly erupted—a 155mm battery was shooting for us. Enemy fire stopped. No one else was hit. When the Skipper called for a medevac, he was told that for a “routine” medevac, there would be a wait of a couple of hours.

Medevacs came in three flavors: emergency, priority, and routine. An emergency medevac was just that. The Marine needed to be at the hospital within the “golden hour.” (I later read that for wounded who got to a hospital within that golden hour, 98% survived!)

Priority evacuation was for serious wounds, but those that were survivable with still a little delay. “Routines” were for non-life threatening wounds that nonetheless required hospitalization or to evacuate the dead. Also, wounded Vietnamese, no matter their condition, were always routine unless they were going out on a bird with a priority or emergency evacuation of a Marine.

Hard? Yes, but the number of available medevac aircraft made it necessary to limit the higher priorities to our people. Sin loi. (“Sorry about that.”)

The Skipper correctly decided that we did not need to sit in that exposed position for a couple of hours. Instead, we would wrap the casualty in his poncho and carry him with us until a chopper was available. Second Platoon kept the lead and we moved out.

Carrying a 140 pound body in a poncho in paddy country is clumsy and tiring. The body was slowly passed back through the line as the Marines carrying the poncho tired. By about 2230, the body was at the rear of First Platoon. At the foot of the ridge, we stopped briefly for a breather before making the climb. A commotion broke out somewhere in front of my platoon.

A Marine from First Platoon had panicked when it came his turn to carry the body. To quiet him, Chip grabbed him by the throat and bruised his larynx. We now had a priority medevac.

The Skipper called me up the column.

“OK, Mac. I am going to move on up the ridge with First and Second platoons. The medevac will be here in the next thirty minutes. Get the casualties out and then move up to join us. Challenge is ‘pepper’ and counter-sign is ‘walrus.’” I was impressed. That was the first time we had used a password, something that was a staple of war movies.

As the rest of the company began the climb, I moved Third Platoon into a nearby medium sized dry paddy and set up a perimeter. Watching the last of the company disappear into the darkness made for a very lonely feeling.

About 25 minutes later, the medevac chopper came up on our radio net for a zone brief. As he approached, we could hear him; he sounded different. We arranged the casualties for a quick load and staged them. I put my strobe light into my inverted helmet, making it less visible from the ground while allowing the chopper crew to see our location.

The helicopter was a CH-53,the newest addition to the Marine Corps helicopter inventory. It was the first time I had seen one up close and it was big. The pilot put on a landing light to find the LZ and settled into our midst. We quickly carried the two Marines up the ramp and then ran off as it began to lift off.

Levi and I were standing back-to-back in the middle of the LZ. The helicopter was about a quarter of a mile away when we saw a stream of green tracers float up into the sky, followed by a stream of red tracers from the bird’s door guns. I was yelling “All right, you sunsabitches. On your feet and saddle up so we can beat feet out of here.” Leaving a sleeping Marine behind was a nightmare that I did not want to experience.

Suddenly, one of my Marines, grabbed me and put his hand over my mouth. “Sssshhh, Lieutenant. They’ll know where we are.” I stopped, and then started to laugh.

“Son, if they didn’t see and hear that great big helicopter, I don’t think they’ll hear little ol’ me. Who the hell are you?”

“PFC Wandro, sir.” One of my new joins from the day before.

“Well, get yourself lined up and we’ll get out of here.” That was my first, but not the last, of my dealings with Jimmy Wandro, US Marine and one of America’s heroes.

We moved up the ridge, joining the company and setting in for the night. Although we were supposed to be in the valley below that night, the Skipper held us in place. The last thing we needed was broken legs from falling off a cliff.

We were at an altitude of perhaps 400 feet, situated on a narrow rocky ridge. The wind was actually cold. In the distance, we could see the lights of DaNang. It looked so peaceful.

And it was midnight. Easter Sunday was over.

08 April 2009


On Thursday night, Red, Mary and the children arrived at the Church at 6:30 for the 7:00 o’clock Maundy Thursday Communion Service. The usual suspect wandered in—the choir, some of the elders and deacons, and a few of the older members.

Don and Brenda Traveler and their children walked in and,to Red’s surprise and delight, Mary Lou Sunstadt and Annie Parker quickly moved to greet them. Mary waved, and the Travelers came over to sit with the Painter family. Because the Men’s Choir was singing, Mary had the night “off,” giving her some time with Brenda.

The service and candle lit communion was, as usual, a time of spiritual enrichment.

As they were leaving the church, Mary and Brenda planned for the two families to meet for the Youth Group’s traditional Easter breakfast in the Fellowship Hall and for the families to worship together on Sunday morning.

In the car, Mary said, “They are really interested in Graying. The folks at the Community Church were really friendly, but they want a deeper spiritual nurture, and they are getting that from Rex. You need to tell him that—he needs encouragement.”

Red smiled. This is a time of spiritual rebirth, he thought.

On Sunday morning, the Fellowship Hall was packed, as was the Sanctuary. Red and the children sat with the Travelers, while Mary headed for the choir loft. Several of the regulars, arriving at their usual time, were stunned to see strangers sitting in “their” seats, but many took the opportunity to welcome visitors. Red made note of two new faces and , with Mary Lou Sunstadt, made sure that they introduced the folks to Rex and that they got addresses and phone numbers.

The choir rattled the rafters with The Holy City. The joyous message of the empty tomb and our risen Lord resonated in prayer, song, the written Word read and the Gospel rightly preached.

We may have issues, Red thought, but we also have the good news of Jesus Christ, and nothing can top that! We just have to be the people that God has called us to be. We’ll still have things to do next week and next month and next year to be the Church with skin on. We just need to keep the Main Thing the main thing. He is risen! Hallelujah, Amen!

And with the dear brothers and sisters of Graying Pres, I join in proclaiming to all “He is risen! He is risen indeed!”

06 April 2009


We moved out at about 2300 to cordon a village about a click to the east. It was there that we encountered the remains of a French colonial highway—-cobble-stoned, but grassy. At first light, Third Platoon passed through the cordon to sweep the ville, and after securing it, it became the company’s patrol base for the day. That afternoon, Chip led a patrol on down the road towards the next ville, about 1800 meters away.

When the patrol returned, the Skipper conducted our usual evening meeting. Chip had observed suspicious activity in the ville. The order was fairly straightforward.

At 2300 (11pm) First Platoon, followed by Third Platoon, Command Post Group, and Second Platoon, would move east along the trace of the old French road. About 800 meters short of the ville, the CP Group, including the mortar squad, and Second Platoon would halt to set up in reserve and to support us by fire. First and Third Platoons would continue to the objective, which was surrounded by an easily recognizable dirt trail.

First Platoon would cover the north and east sides, and Third would turn right to take the west and south sides of the cordon. At first light, Second and the headquarters would move forward and search the village.

We were in the dark of the moon, so movement was slow. At about 0030, as we were still along the road, Chip radioed the Skipper. “I don’t know what you expected to find, but we have beaucoup gooks.”

“Charlie One, this is Six. What do you mean ‘beaucoup?’”

“I mean booooo cooooooo!”

As I turned to pass the word to my radio operator, he whispered, “Aw, shit!” He was pointing to a bamboo arch over the road with a five-pointed bamboo star at its apex. We were definitely in indian country.

We increased our rate of march and within two or three minutes had made the right turn to begin the cordon. I was just behind my first fireteam. We were within about 20 meters of linking up with Chip when a group of men ran through the gap, firing AK-47’s (a very distinctive sound to anyone who has ever heard it.) There was also cautious M-16 fire, but we were all concerned with avoiding hitting other Marines.

At the same moment, as we were taking cover, the first explosions began. We would hear a “thump” as something hit the ground, followed by a low order explosion. There were many more thumps than explosions, but enough to keep us low. There were also a number of explosions easily identified as coming from M-26 fragmentation grenades.

The 60mm mortar squad back with the CP group began to fire flares to help us link up, and after about 30 minutes of cautious movement, we were able to do so.

The rest of the night was punctuated with infrequent rifle fire and lots of explosions. I had three men slightly wounded by shrapnel.

At first light, Second Platoon swept through the village, clearing and securing it. We had hit a VC grenade factory. The village “manufactured “ ChiCom grenades for the local VC and NVA units. It was also an “R&R” (“rest and recreation”) area for the NVA, and a clothing repair point.

The ChiCom factory was the biggest find. Chicoms were the VC grenade of choice. Think of the WWII German "potato masher" grenade we’ve all seen in the movies. Make the handle out of bamboo, and make it shorter. In place of the machined or cast grenade body, use an old round fish can, complete with painted or paper wrapper, about the size of a frozen orange juice can. Pack it with home-made explosive using a water buffalo dung base. Add a friction fuse in the grenade armed by pulling a cord that ran down the inside of the handle and ending with a piece of bamboo to be used as the pull tab.

They were crude, but if one went off close to your head, deadly. Otherwise, you got some nasty shrapnel wounds and concussion injury.

We later found hundreds of “duds” that had been thrown at us, and I estimated that there were two-to-three detonations per minute somewhere within the village during the five hours between the start of the firefight and the time that we collapsed the cordon.

As we secured the village and established the perimeter, all residents were herded to the center of the ville. In one location, several Marines were securing an NVA soldier who had been wounded in the leg. He was glaring at us and looking furtively at our equipment. I moved on ahead to find the Skipper.

While I was reporting that we had secured our part of the perimeter, there was a shot. I ran back and found the NVA dead. He had apparently tried to grab a Marine’s rifle and was killed by another Marine. This was, as I have said, a hard core area.

Eventually, we found 18 bodies in various clothing, including 12 in partial or complete NVA uniforms. We captured a number of AK-47 and SKS rifles, hundreds of chicom grenades, several rocket propelled grenades, and other assorted weaponry. We also found a bolt of NVA green cloth and a Singer sewing machine, which we destroyed.
Our first opposed cordon and search had been successful. We suffered seven casualties, none requiring medevac.

We settled in for the day. The villagers were searched and interrogated to no avail. They had no idea where the grenades came from, had never seen the dead strangers—although there was a lot of wailing among some of the families—and they were all loyal to the Saigon government. As usual, the kids were treated well by our troops. Our Marines shared candy from their Cs with the baby-sans, and the Docs began to treat the many rampant skin infections they found. Other than the dead, there were no young men in the village. Old men (60+) old women, young women and kids, including some infants (perhaps the products of NVA R&R), but no young men. Imagine that!

I took out a reconnaissance patrol that afternoon, preparatory to the night’s move. As we left the perimeter, we passed a bomb crater into which the dead NVA bodies had been placed and covered with earth. There was a crude sign stuck on a dead tree limb, written in grease pencil on cardboard from a C-ration carton: “These dudes done in by C/1/5.” The ancient and honorable ritual of counting coup was being observed.

While we were out on patrol, we were resupplied by helicopter. Resupply was a big deal. The requested supplies—ammunition, food, spare parts, batteries, were carried in a cargo net slung from the belly of a CH-46 helicopter.After the net was landed and the tether dropped, the bird would land to off-load passengers and mail, to pick up passengers (especially those lucky souls going on R&R or home for good) and to reclaim the cargo net. As the chopper moved in, I always thought of the song “Wells Fargo Wagon” from The Music Man. The kid wonders what goodies might be on the wagon for him, and we all thought the same.

In the day’s mail, I found a large manila envelope from a second grade class at McKinley School in Granite City, Illinois. My Mom was a School Nurse, and McKinley was one of her schools. Easter was upon us, and the kids had hand-drawn Easter cards for me. They were lovely.

Some reflected the importance of that day—the open tomb and the empty cross. The girls had drawn bunnies, brightly colored eggs, and rainbows. At least two boys had airplanes running airstrikes on Golgotha—probably future Baptist preachers! But one captured me so intently that I kept it and reproduce it here. It is the essence of the Marine!
Gary T is now 47 or so, about my wife’s age. He probably has kids of his own. I wonder if he knows how many times over the past 40 years I have pulled his card out of my scrapbook to ponder it and thank him in my heart for the wisdom that a little boy shared with me.

Semper Fi.

04 April 2009

Interlude: C-RATS AND SPS (The Candy That Tastes Like Soap)

Recently, a high school student to whom I was speaking asked, “What was life like? How did you wash your clothes? What did you eat?”

She was stunned to learn that

+ We wore the same clothes for weeks at a time, washing them only if it rained or we crossed a river. (I wore the same green T-shirt for six months. And we wore no “underwear” for the simple reason that it bunched up, got filthy, and caused rashes and infection.) Socks were changed every day, and each man was required to massage his feet for twenty minutes before putting on dry socks to prevent “warm water immersion foot,” aka, trench foot.

+ Shocking as it might be to the sensibilities of a 21st Century teenager, we did not bathe or shower in the field. We did enforce grooming standards: every man shaved every day and we cut each other’s hair using the hand clippers from the company barber kit. Shaving was particularly important because it made us wash our faces. If you did not wash your face daily, you quickly got “gook sores,” i.e., infected pores that ulcerated deep into the flesh.

+ We ate the same 12 meals (using the term loosely), day-after-day.

The hygiene issues are pretty much as explained, but food is an interesting area of discussion.

In garrison, there were mess halls that prepared pretty standard fare. Supplies came through Force Logistics Command in Da Nang, which had a bakery, and all the amenities of a major food distribution center. In the field, we ate the “Meal, Combat, Individual,” a canned wet ration in use between 1958 and 1980. Although commonly referred to as “C-Rations,” the “C’s” went out of use during or shortly after the Korean War. Because we called the MCI a "C-ration" I will do so here.

The C-Ration was a boxed set of 12 individual meals, packed in rectangular cardboard cartons. Each meal contained four cans: an "M"-unit (meat item), a "B"-unit (bread) composed of the small Crackers & Candy Can and the flat Spread Can, and a "D"-unit can (dessert). There were variations in all three components which were numbered, e.g., M-1 or B-2.

The M-1, M-3, and D-2 cans were small and the M-2, and D-1 cans were large. The ration cans were packed upright, with the flat spread can over the large can on the left side and the small B-unit can over the small can on the right side; on top was the brown foil Accessory Pack and a plastic spoon wrapped in clear plastic. Most of us kept the first spoon we opened—I carried mine for 7 months, licked clean after every meal and put back in my flak jacket pocket.

The Accessory Pack included salt, pepper, sugar, instant coffee, non-dairy creamer (almost always hardened into a cake), 2 Chicklets, a packet of toilet paper, a 4-pack of cigarettes, and a book of 20 moisture-proof matches. The cigarettes were different from meal to meal, including Camel, Chesterfield, Kent, Kool, Lucky Strike, Marlboro, Pall Mall, Salem, and Winston. The only three cigarettes I smoked in my life were Winstons, all smoked on the night of 10-11 June 1969. More about that later.

Each meal provided about 1,200 calories. Each was bulky and weighed about 3 pounds, so we generally opened the meal boxes, discarded any components we did not want, and put the cans into our dry socks and hung them across the pack.

The label of the ration carton was printed across the lid of the box in three rows. The first row always read "MEAL, COMBAT, INDIVIDUAL". The second row indicated the name of the meat unit in bold capital block letters (e.g., "TURKEY LOAF") and the third row indicated the "B"-unit number (B-1 or B-2 Unit) in bold capital block letters. The ration boxes were shipped in a rectangular cardboard packing case. Each packing case contained 12 ration cartons (containing one of each meal) packed in 2 rows of 6 rations. For every 12 meals, there were 4 paper-wrapped P-38 can openers (known as “John Waynes) to open the cans. When you got a John Wayne, you hung it on your dog-tag chain. I still have mine and use it when I go camping. It is basic and effective and, in my humble opinion, cannot be improved upon.
Each packing case weighed 25 to 26 pounds and was bound with bailing wire. The early M-16 A1’s we used had a forked flash suppressor which was perfect for breaking the baling wire. The open forked end was placed over the baling wire and given a sharp twist which would cut the wire.

Etiquette required that the bottom of the case be opened so that the identity of meat unit could not be seen. This prevented people from always getting the “better” meals, “better” being a loose term.

There were 12 "M" units, i.e., 12 basic meals:
1. Beefsteak
2. Boned Chicken or Turkey
3. Ham Slices
4. Turkey Loaf
5. Beans with Meatballs in Tomato Sauce (“beans ‘n’ balls”)
6. Beef Slices with Potatoes in Gravy (“beef ‘n’ rocks”)
7. Beans with Frankfurter Chunks in Tomato Sauce (“beanie weenies”)
8. Chopped Ham & Eggs
9. Beef in Spiced Sauce
10. Tuna Fish
11. Pork Slices
12. Spaghetti in Tomato Sauce

The spaghetti was a replacement for Ham & Lima Beans, (“ham ‘n’ muthas” or “ham and mother f------s), which we were still getting in TBS, but, thankfully, not in Vietnam. It was detested and to add insult to injury, it came with a can of “white bread” the consistency and shape of a hockey puck. You could usually trade meals, but no one in recorded history is known to have given up one of the other meals for ham and muthas. In TBS, I once picked it four times in a row! You just don’t forget that.

There were three different "B" units. (The nomenclature for the Corpsman’s field medical kit was “Unit 1.” Doc corrected me every time I told him to “grab your B-1 unit and take a look at [whatever injury had just occurred].”)

The first had 7 round crackers, called “John Wayne crackers” and 2 chocolate discs, either chocolate creme, or coconut. There was also a small can of peanut butter. Often, the peanut butter had so settled that there was peanut oil covering the particulate. (Years later, during a training exercise in Korea, we had lots of C’s, but no heat tablets. We found that you could set the peanut oil afire and three cans of peanut butter was the equivalent of a single heat tablet.)

The second had 4 crackers, a small can of “cheese spread” in plain, pimento, and caraway flavors, and a cookie. The third had Cookies, a packet of cocoa powder, and a small can of grape or strawberry jam.

The "D" unit was usually the favorite part of the meal. D-1 units were fruit, either apricots, sliced peaches, pears, fruit cocktail, applesauce, or pineapple bits. The D-2 unit was pound cake, pecan nut roll, fruitcake, or date pudding.

The biggest problem with C’s was monotony. Even when we were eating only two meals a day, you got tired of them quickly. If you had to eat them cold, as we usually did, they tended to be greasy. The beef, was chewy—like boot leather!. The problem was that when the MCI was designed in the late 1950’s, it was designed only for "infrequent use." The designers assumed that, as in WWII and Korea, future users would be rotated “off the line” every three to four days into an area where they would have access to a field mess. (I remember reading a monograph about the WWII battle of Saipan. One photo showed a company of Marines lined up in a field mess to receive “their first hot meal in four days.” I laughed out loud—we ate cold C’s for 30 to 60 days at a stretch.)

In my last month in the bush, I was so disgusted with C's that I stopped eating. I went to Vietnam weighing 171 pounds--six months later, I weighed 118. In that last month, I had a can of pineapple bits and a pecan nut roll for breakfast with a cup of coffee. That was it. Every other day or so, my Platoon Guide, Lance Corporal Bob Henson, would act like my Mom and make me eat something--usually a "stew" he had prepared from several different meat cans. He probably kept me alive. He was 19.

Cs were also bulky and heavy, adding about 6 pounds per day’s ration to the individual load. As I mentioned earlier, troops frequently carried their stacked ration cans in empty socks to save bulk and reduce noise—very important to Charlie Company as we moved almost exclusively at night. To save weight, we usually carried the minimum amount on operations. If resupply was delayed, we went hungry. (I specifically remember two occasions, once when we were not resupplied in five days and another, during the monsoon season, when the delay was eight days and we were completely out of chow by the middle of the fourth day.)

As the Vietnam war began, McNamara and his bean counters resisted expanding the variety or adopting lightweight rations out of cost concerns. One simple addition that would have helped was to add a vitamin pill. I asked my Mom to send me several large bottles of vitamins every couple of weeks. I then gave them to Doc, who made sure each Marine in my platoon took a vitamin pill every day. About mid-1969, we began to hear that the Army was getting something called ‘lurps” (Long Range Patrol Ration). It was a de-hydrated meal that came in a pouch. Add hot water and you had a meal such as chili with rice. We scrounged a few, but they never came to us in normal supply while I was in Vietnam.

We mostly ate the C’s cold. We were supplied with a tin-foil coated chemical tablet (trioxane) that was kind of like solid sterno. It burned hot and gave off eye-watering fumes. It was not very efficient, taking a couple of tablets to heat one can, but it was great for clearing bunkers and burning Vietnamese hooches in villages if we found ammo or other ordnance hidden in the thatch. A better heat source for cooking was C-4 plastic explosive. Nearly everyone carried a quarter-pound stick for demolishing bunkers. If you twisted off a pinch of C-4 and touched a match to it, it burned very hot—it could bring a canteen cup to a boil in about 30 to 45 seconds.

The small "B"-unit can could be made into an improvised field stove by making a series of diagonal cuts around the top and bottom edges of the can with your John Wayne opener. You could also make a really neat coffee cup out of a fruit can by winding baling wire from the C-ration carton around the top and bottom of the can and then twisting the wire, inserting a stick into the twist at each end, and finishing it off. A short D unit can could also become a cup by hooking the hinged edge of a grenade safety spoon around the bottom lip of the can and putting baling wire through the pin hole and then twisting it around the top edge of the can.

Warning: Never, ever open a can of apricots in, or even near, an amphibious tractor. It will make the tractor blow up. Don’t ask why—it just will. I have seen many a Marine knocked out cold for simply looking like he was going to open apricots in a tractor. If I’m lyin’, I’m dyin’. Ask any amphibious tractor crewman.

The Sundries Pack

Life in the bush was harsh. Obviously, the little amenities associated with even the 1960’s were not going to be available. Our families used to send us “CARE packages” of Koolaid and tobasco sauce. The tobasco sauce helped almost any meal. The Koolaid was a blessing because our water was less than tasty.

Our usual water sources were creeks and streams, village wells, and flooded bomb craters. To disinfect our drinking water, we were issued small bottles of Halizone tablets. It was recommended that two pills be used for each quart canteen, but our water was so funky that we usually just put the entire eight pills per bottle into the canteen. The water then tasted like a mixture of Clorox and iodine, but it killed the bugs. (One of my classmates later lost most of his intestines as a result of a parasite he picked up from lousy water. The bugs of the orient are just plain mean.)

In the bush, there were no grocery stores, 7-11’s or PX’s. To make up for that, there was an item in the supply system called the “Sundries Pack” or “SP.” Intended to be the "front line post exchange," it provided many of the simple articles that helped make life a little easier. One SP was intended to meet the requirements of 100 men for one day, but we usually saw one SP per platoon (30 men) every two to three weeks.

Jammed into one box that was about 15 inches square were the following: a couple of cartons of cigarettes, a couple of pouches of chewing tobacco, a couple of pouches of pipe tobacco, a pipe, matches, lighter flints, a couple of bars of shaving soap, a Gillette safety razor and several packs of razor blades, several cans of tooth powder, several tooth brushes, 6 bars of soap (usually Lux soap), some Hershey chocolate bars, Peter Paul Mounds and Almond Joy bars, Three Musketeers and Snickers bars, and Wrigley’s and Beechnut chewing gum in various flavors, a couple of pads of writing paper, and a pack of envelopes. It was the Platoon Guide’s responsibility to parse out the contents to the squads. They were always welcome.

Packed together as they were, the flavors tended to merge. When I was in Embarkation School, we were planning to load a cargo ship. One of the Navy officers in the class saw that there were several pallets of “SPs” to be loaded.

“What are SPs,” he asked.

Before anyone could respond, Tom Kerrigan, one of my Basic School classmates piped up, “Ah, SPs. The candy that tastes like soap.”

Every Marine in the class howled. And that still remains the best answer I can think of.

03 April 2009


The gallows humor of the American Marine is wonderful. One “recruiting advertisement” is said to read:

Sign on for ADVENTURE. Join the Marine Corps. Board large ships for RESTFUL ocean cruises. Go to EXOTIC places. Meet NEW and INTERESTING people….and kill them!”

Vietnam in general and the area southwest of Da Nang in particular was certainly full of exotic places and interesting people who frequently did their level best to kill us, and we responded in kind.

We were relieved at the base Camp by a company from 2/5 and headed back out into the Phu Nhuans. It was a time for working out the tactical kinks that resulted from being in a defensive posture for so long. We had a lot of Marines who had joined the Company at the Base Camp. They had never humped the bush, and there were lessons to be learned. On the first re-supply, we sent a lot of unnecessary gear to the rear, and lightened up our loads considerably. We had to, because, in addition to his personal load, each man had to carry a part of the company’s load.

As I noted earlier, my personal load included a 12 gauge shotgun (in place of an M-16), 2 M-26 fragmentation grenades and a smoke grenade, a ruck sack with my M-1911A .45 caliber pistol, 3 loaded magazines, and a box of shotgun shells (00 buckshot), extra socks, shaving gear, cleaning gear for weapons, and writing paper, a poncho and poncho liner packed away, 4 canteens, first aid kit, compass, red-lens flashlight, binoculars, K-Bar fighting knife (my Dad’s from WWII), entrenching tool (folding shovel for digging in—and a great help if you had to mix it up hand-to-hand), helmet, and flak jacket. That came to about about 35 pounds, plus 8 pounds of water. Adding the ever-present green towel , C-rations, a claymore mine with trip flare, and, usually an extra battery for the AN/PRC-25 radio, the load came to about 50 pounds.

Then, each man carried either a couple of 60mm mortar rounds, an extra can of linked ammo for the M-60 machine gun, or a couple of 66mm Light Anti-tank Assault Weapons (LAAW). That upped the load to maybe 60 to 65 pounds.

The machine gunner carried the M-60 (23 pounds), and the mortar men shared the team's load—one carrying the tube, another the base plate, and the third the tripod, plus a couple of rounds per man.

The unnecessary stuff—gas masks, rubber ladies (inflatable mattresses), and stuff sent by families that was OK for a semi-garrison existence, such as cans of koolaid—went to the rear or was buried.

We humped only three or four clicks that first day, but it hurt.

We set in around a small ville and immediately dug in. Some correspondent attached to an Army unit had written an article titled Charlie Owns The Night! by that he meant that the Viet Cong ("Victor Charlie") moved freely at night because Americans were incapable of or afraid to do so. That was about to change.

At the 1700 officers’ call, the Skipper announced that we were headed for Go Noi Island which was some eight or nine clicks to the northeast. He assigned 3d Platoon the night’s ambushes, and announced that after this night, our routine would generally be as follows:

Between 2300 and 0300, the company would move to an objective—almost always a ville—and would cordon (encircle) it. At first light, the ambush platoon would rejoin the company and would sweep the ville, which would then become the Company patrol base for the day. Area security and reconnaissance patrols would go out to find ambush sites for the next night and the next night’s objective.

The night would indeed belong to Charlie--Charlie 1/5. That became our routine for the next five weeks.

The news that we were headed for Go Noi was not welcome. It was a very bad place, full of NVA in deep, well-constructed and well-reinforced bunkers. The 27th Marines had operated there the previous year with good results, but lots of action.

The old railroad from Da Nang to Saigon crossed the middle of the island. All of the rails and the steel ties had been removed by the NVA to use in their bunker complexes. There was a large three span bridge at the south of the island, just above the junction with the An Hoa spur. All three spans had been dropped into the streambed years earlier. The island was covered with elephant grass 10 to 12 feet high, so transit was a nightmare.

The next morning, our mission changed. We were still headed toward Go Noi, but we were tasked with searching an area (the Cu Bans) south of the island and east of Phu Loc (6). An A-6 Intruder had suffered a short-circuit and had dropped 14 unarmed 500 pound bombs into the sandy stretch of land south of the Song Ba Ren (i.e., Ba Ren River).The fear was that the VC/NVA would retrieve the bombs and use them for booby traps. The hunt was on.

People often think of war as nothing but misery, pain, and ugliness. There is plenty of that, but an image that has stayed with me for forty years occurred on the way from our ambush site to link up with the Company. As we passed through a small ville, we passed a bush covered in deep red flowers. In the midst of the subdued earth tones this beacon of color was breath-taking.

The area in which the bombs were thought to have landed was about 4 square kilometers of sandy soil covered with grass. The bombs were equipped with Snake-eye retarded fins—large perforated fins that used for low-level strikes. They were secured by a band until dropped from the plane, at which time they could be set to open, slowing the bomb’s descent and allowing the plane to escape the blast radius of the bomb.

We were to find that the bands had stayed in place. Thus, we were looking for signs of holes about 2 feet in diameter where 500 pounds of steel had hit the sand almost perpendicularly. It was a search for 14 needles in a very large haystack.

We moved into the area and the Skipper figured out the grid for the search pattern. Division sent out engineers and an EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) team to blow up the bombs as we found them. We spent all day criss-crossing designated patches of land, looking for entry holes. When we found one, and, surprisingly, we found about 10, the EOD team would respond.

Third platoon found the first hole. When the engineers and EOD guys got there, we began to realize the magnitude of the effort. As the engineers began to dig down to the bomb, the sandy soil would slide back in. They jury-rigged a sort of cofferdam, but the soil was too unstable. At six feet, using a probe, they determined that there was some metallic object at about 10 feet. After hours of digging, they identified the after end (back end) of the fin retarder. The bomb itself was probably another eight to ten feet deeper. They finally set a shaped cratering charge over the presumed top of the bomb and we cleared the area. When we came back after the shaped charge was detonated, they found no sign that the bomb had detonated and the sand had pretty much filled the crater.

After that, when an entry hole was discovered, the engineers dug to about six feet, set off a cratering charge, and called it a day. We all hoped that it drove the bomb so deep that even the NVA would decide that recovering it was a lost cause.

During the course of the search, Second Platoon found the decomposing body of an NVA soldier. Based on later events, we believe it was one of the sapper unit that had hit Phu Loc (6) earlier in the month.

We continued to search the area for about four days, but we would soon move on east.

On the third day, resupply was late and, because we had been operating semi-independently, we were running short on chow. We came through a ville in which the people had spread corn and sliced potatoes on rice mats in the sun to dry. We tried popping the corn--without oil, mind you--and boiling the potatoes. No joy! Fortunately, resupply came in that afternoon.

Just before we left the base camp, we had joined two new officers—Neal Meier and Dick Wood. Neal had been my bunkmate during our PLC Senior summer at Quantico in 1967.

Captain Wilson called us all together and explained that, he would normally make Mike Koch (who was the senior lieutenant in the company) the Executive Officer and then move Chip (next senior)to Weapons Platoon commander so that Dick and Neal could take over their platoons. But because we had so many new troops, and because Mike and Chip were known quantities, he made Woody the XO and Neal took Weapons Platoon.

A word about “seniority.” Every officer has a date of rank, i.e., the date that his promotion is effective. Mike was an OCS graduate and had a date of rank of 1 April 1968. Chip, Neal, Woody and I were all PLC graduates and, with most of the rest of our respective classes, had dates of rank of 5 June 1968—the date on which the Class of 1968 had graduated from the naval Academy.

Every year, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps in Washington, publishes a “lineal list” (commonly called “The Blue Book” because of its cover in the days of paper manuals) establishing seniority within dates of rank. When officers are promoted, their new commissions establish their lineal position within their date of rank. For example, say that 1,000 first lieutenants are selected by the annual Captain’s Promotion Board to become Captains. Federal law limits the number of captains in the Marine Corps, so not all 1,000 are promoted together. Rather, as captains are promoted to major, that frees up slots for, let us say, 25 lieutenants to advance to captain. All promotions are effective on the first of the month, so those 25 new captains will all have a date of rank of “1 Octanuary 19XX.”

Each will then receive a lineal number within that month. If one officer is number 24, he is senior to the officer with number 25, even though they have the same date of rank. That way, there is no confusion over which of them would succeed to command if they were in the same unit.

For second lieutenants, until they complete TBS, their seniority within date of rank is alphabetical. So, Chip Hartman was senior, followed by Mike McCarty, Neal Meier, and then Dick Wood. Mike, Chip and I were pleased to keep our respective platoons, but Neal and Woody were raring to go. In retrospect, the Skipper’s decision—sound and reasonable as it was—haunts me to this very day, but we’ll get to that later.

On the last afternoon of the bomb hunt, First Platoon spotted what appeared to be an NVA soldier in a tree line about one click to our east. The Skipper called in artillery and an airstrike on the area. While that may sound like over-kill, we were near Go Noi, and it did not pay to half-step. The air strike was snake and nape--the aircraft carried snake-eye bombs and napalm.

Two A-4’s were assigned the mission.

Flying in a race track pattern, 180 degrees apart, they were apparently guiding on an “S” shaped river bed adjacent to the tree line. After about three passes each, one aircraft turned left towards us. Neal and I were both watching through binoculars.

“I guess he is out of bombs,” I said, turning back to watch the other aircraft.

“Oh, shit!” Neal bolted for a fighting hole. I looked up and saw a napalm canister tumbling away from the aircraft in our direction. I landed on Neal in the hole, as we both screamed “Incoming” at the tops of our lungs.

Across the perimeter, we could hear the sounds of Marines calling “Incoming,” as they took cover. I could hear our one-four (the forward air controller) yelling “Abort, abort, abort” into his handset.

We waited. I remember thinking, Damn but this is gonna hurt.

Fortunately, the canister missed us and fell about 100 meters outside our lines, adjacent to a small ville. A few Vietnamese soon came wandering into our lines with minor burns. None required medical evacuation; our Docs fixed the folks right up.

It seems that the pilot became misoriented and picked up the dry streambed along which we were dug in. That happens. Has in the past, will in the future.

About an hour later, we spotted an NVA approaching, hands in the air, rifle grasped in both hands, shouting “Chieu hoi.” He was giving up. We later learned that he was one of three survivors of the unit that had hit Phu Loc (6). He was 29, a Master Sergeant with 15 years in the NVA. His uniform was worn, but clean and pressed. He had a fresh haircut and his weapon was spotless. In short, he was a professional soldier worthy of our respect.

He wolfed down the C-rations we offered him, proving that he was really hungry. Within about 20 minutes, a CH-46 helicopter arrived to take him away for questioning.

The next day, we moved on out.