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.


Rev Kim said...

Another great installment!

Mac said...

A hard one is coming. Please pray that I get it just right.

Reformed Catholic said...


some of the stuff you're relating you can't make up. The interchange with Charlie 2 Lima Papa was priceless.