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


Reformed Catholic said...

I was going to ask on your previous post about the remark "the last good sleep for 40 years", then I read this post.

To absent friends ....

Rev Kim said...

Yet another powerful installment, and a poignant tribute to your friend.

castaway said...

Mac, I'm the "Take Five" guy ... left a comment on the "torture" piece ... glad you've been reading my stuff ... I've been reading yours just now.

Blessings ...