30 June 2009


The General Assembly convened with worship on Thursday morning. For those of us whose previous GA experience had been largely tied to the PC(USA), with its recent big business shareholders meeting style, complete with computers for each commissioner, the difference was a stark reminder of why we moved to the EPC.

After a wonderful opening worship at which the Word was rightly proclaimed, the Assembly got down to business with such moderation and care for each other that by mid-morning, we were already into the afternoon docket. Having come from the PC(USA), where parliamentary procedure is a full contact sport played merely for the sake of the game, the trust displayed by EPC commissioners in one another and in the permanent committees to do what is right and the easy flow of the meeting was a joy. One friend commented that with real prayer at the opening and closing of each report, she thinks that more time was spent in prayer than on “business.”

What could have been the most contentious issue facing the Assembly was resolved with compassion and care for all concerned.

In the EPC, Teaching Elders (pastors) are ordained and received by presbyteries. It is a matter of record that various Teaching Elders, Ruling Elders, congregations and presbyteries have different understandings of Scripture on the matter of ordination of women as Teaching Elders. And it must also be understood that neither the geographic presbyteries of the EPC nor the New Wineskins Presbytery have a monolithic understanding of the issue. It is a special concern for NWEPC, however, because we have as members several courageous, evangelical women Teaching Elders who have left the political protection of the PC(USA) to lead their flocks in respose to a new call from God.

Unlike some presbyteries in the PC(USA)—and arguably, the PC(USA) as a whole—neither the NWEPC nor the geographic presbyteries of the EPC ever want a mandated structure in which any person can be ordained as a Teaching Elder based on anything other than demonstration of an historically orthodox understanding of theology, Christology, eschatology, Scriptural interpretation, and the other matters germane to ordination. For many of us, it was the automatic pass that many unqualified candidates for ordination received from our former presbyteries because of personal world views or simply gender that was a sign of that denomination's decline. (I once heard a Princeton professor argue against a proposed Donegal Presbytery policy on ordination by saying “I oppose this overture because we frequently have unqualified candidates come before us for ordination that I like. If we are to be held to strict standards, I would have to vote against them, and I don’t want to have to do that.”)

At the same time, there is at least one presbytery in the EPC that, as a matter of written or unwritten policy, will not allow a woman candidate for care or ordination to even get to the floor of presbytery based solely on gender. As a result, that geographic presbytery asked the General Assembly to approve a proposal whereby it would re-establish itself into two “sub-presbyteries” (my phrasing, not theirs) within the one. One would allow women candidates for ordination to appear on the floor and the other would not. In all other respects, as I understand it, they would function as a single presbytery.

Faced with this request, the Permanent Judicial Commission ruled that, as a matter of EPC polity, this request could not be resolved by an act of the Assembly. Noting with specificity that it was not addressing the substantive issue of ordination, it determined that the overture had to be sent forward as a proposed amendment of the EPC’s constitution, subject to the rules on amendment.

The debate on approving or disapproving the PJC decision was quiet, courteous, respectful and Spirit-filled, without recrimination or pejorative comment. The PJC’s decision was affirmed.

But that was not the end. The PJC then asked the Assembly to approve a recommendation to the Permanent Committee on Overtures and Resolutions

That the General Assembly approve the creation of an interim committee to explore ways to provide a pathway to unity while protecting freedom of conscience among those pastors and congregations with conflicting positions on women Teaching Elders in the presbyteries of the EPC. This committee will be appointed by the Moderator, will include two representatives from each presbytery and include all positions held within the EPC on women Teaching Elders. The committee will report to the 30th General Assembly in 2010.

With only three dissenting voices that I could hear, the recommendation was approved. On Friday, the Overtures and Resolutions sent the proposal to the Assembly where it was approved without debate or dissent. Our presbytery, the New Wineskins Transitional Presbytery, will have two representatives on that interim committee.

One dear friend and respected pastor from our presbytery who was present at the General Assembly wrote to our presbytery today

While denominations all over the country have split on this issue—the EPC has simply said, “Look—there is excellent biblical scholarship on both sides here. ‘We see in a glass darkly…’ And therefore until we see Christ face to face—there is probably not going to be total agreement on this issue. Yet are we able to agree to disagree for the sake of the greater and glorious calling we ARE united around—the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ? Absolutely! Therefore, we will do what the world says is impossible. Through Christ—we will stay united and love and accept on another and roll up our sleeves and get to work—keeping the main thing the main thing.”

She has reminded us that we must always remember that “It is all about Jesus!”

Of course, to use Robert Frost’s lovely lyrical phrase, we still “have promises to keep and miles to go before [we] sleep,” but what could have been a contentious and destructive issue has been treated with Christian love for and trust in one another.

The remainder of the General Assembly was filled with more energizing worship, prayer, and fellowship, fortifying us for the coming year.

Two short years ago, after nine months of prayer, Bible study, prayer, hard and intense discussion, prayer and more prayer, the New Wineskins Association of Churches and the EPC reached agreement that led to the creation of our presbytery and began the process of Becoming One. Because presbyterians are, in my opinion, genetically incapable of doing anything quickly—we talk an issue to death and then take it to the churchyard and say a few more words over the grave—the fact that we have come so far in two years convinces me that this is a God-driven thing. He alone could have gotten us this far this fast. And He will take us all the way to His conclusion.

To God be the glory, great things He has done (and continues to do).

29 June 2009


One of the major concerns expressed by some presbyters was this: “By ‘becoming one,’ are we losing our vision of a new way of being the Church in favor of a traditional Presbyterian polity? Are we losing the networks that are part of our vision?”

As a result, in addition to BECOMING ONE, we considered a portion of the report of the EPC’s Committee On Administration. In looking forward, the COA described the EPC’s vision thusly:

God has called the Evangelical Presbyterian Church to wholeheartedly re-embrace the
Great Commission and become a denomination of Missional, Evangelical, Reformed and
Presbyterian churches.

As we read the report, we found that the COAs short term goals (for the next year) include committing the EPC to play a key role in the evangelization of the U.S. and the world for Jesus Christ; leading the EPC towards becoming a truly first class equipping, training, leadership development denomination by providing leadership in discerning, nurturing and promoting missional objectives at the national and Presbytery level in order to help, encourage and enable local churches to pursue this goal. In New Wineskins terminology, they look very much like a National Network.

Another goal is to provide assistance to the presbyteries as they offer encouragement, training
and other helps that the local congregations may be effective in such areas as evangelism, discipleship, leadership development, strategic planning, financial stewardship, officer training, missional orientation and other facets of effective Christian life and ministry. In other words, they want to help the presbyteries to become support networks.

At both the GA and the presbytery level, they seek to establish only those boards, agencies, committees, commissions, staff positions, institutions, and office structure necessary to meet the goals of the church. They also look to lead the EPC from a culture of “top-down” to a culture of “bottom-up” decision making in order to provide support for activities such as church planting which are initiated by the presbyteries and local congregations rather than the General Assembly. Additionally, they seek to move the mandate of the COA from its traditional management/control role to a serving and encouraging leadership role. All of these goals mirror the “polity” vision of the New Wineskins constitution.

They desire to “push down” activities historically directed out of the national office to
Presbyteries and provide or recommend appropriate means of equipping and encouraging presbyteries in their mission and to encourage Presbyteries to network effectively among themselves. Such networking at the local, presbytery and GA level are the heart of the New Wineskins view of polity.

At the same time, those of us who have been the leaders of the NWEPC for the past 18 months have come to recognize that the intentionally broad language of the New Wineskins constitution is sometimes insufficient to meet the needs of the presbytery in carrying out the responsibilities assigned to us. There is much in the already lean polity of the EPC that is good. For instance, our Ministry Committee has often looked to the Book of Government and the by-laws of various presbyteries for best practices.

One of the COA’s goals is a different way of stating the need for viable and vibrant ministry networks: It looks to

draw the General Assembly closer to the larger churches so that it encourages and expresses appreciation for their participation in helping Presbyteries,smaller churches, countless individual missionaries and church plants, and others and to promote vitality in smaller churches by promoting peer learning and providing or recommending the most appropriate means of equipping and encouraging leaders in small ministry contexts.

It also “encourages the establishment of networks such as the Urban Ministry Network and Small Church Leaders Network (Z. 4.10).”

Ultimately, as does the New Wineskins, the EPC believes these goals represent a commitment to transform the EPC structurally into a robust form of presbyterianism that will play a key role in the evangelism of the United States and the world for Jesus Christ.

The report goes on to say

Another way to describe our vision for the EPC is to describe what we hope to find as one examines our denomination five years from now. In 2014, anyone observing the EPC would find:

1. A General Assembly that oversees the work of the church by supporting the
Presbyteries as they support the local churches.

2. Presbyteries that offer helps to local churches in such areas as evangelism,
discipleship, training and other facets of Christian ministry.

3. The re-formation of the Great Commission in the form of the missional church
widely accepted and firmly established in priorities.

4. A re-formation of the church - in our practice, not our doctrine.

5. The entire church is now committed to North America and the whole world as
a mission field.

6. A church which cares about and is engaged in its community.

7. An exhibition of unity of spirit, purpose and direction.

8. A church whose meetings focus on ministry and evangelism, not just polity.

9. A church which is outwardly focused (not parochial) and inwardly strong
(work together).

10. A church which contends for the faith and holds on to the truth.

11. A church which collaborates in ministry and mission.

12. A church which accepts a culture of “fluidity” and which avoids the old “boxes”.

13. A church which promotes church revitalization so that churches and church
plants are helped when the situation requires.

14. A church which is financially solvent buoyed in part by a strong stewardship
program at all levels.

15. A church whose larger churches take a major role in the leadership of the
denomination at all levels.

16. Elected leaders who lead, not just administer; leaders who are proactive and
quick to respond to targets of opportunity.

17. A series of highly active and very effective support networks across the

18. Churches, pastors, and candidates under care who rate very highly the
processes that were used to admit them to a relationship within the EPC.

19. A church which has grown in numbers, not because it has sought growth as a
goal, but because it is working valiantly to evangelize and bring the Word of
God whenever there are un-churched and non-believers. (Emphasis added)

The COA’s vision, which, as can be seen, is substantially the same as the vision of the New Wineskins, is summed up by the COA as follows:

We believe that the vision we have for the future of this denomination rests heavily on our commitment to make sure these goals are realized. It will take nothing less than
our willingness at the national and Presbytery level to use our organization, our money
and our complete focus on serving the local church in order to help, encourage, and
enable them to pursue this vision.

At the end of our study in the New Wineskins presbytery meeting, I came away assured that our vision is safe within the EPC as we become one. As a ruling elder, I am particularly drawn to an EPC which looks to ruling elders who are called to ministry, rather than a denomination that marginalized and diminished the role of most ruling elders in favor of a clergy-dominated top-down denomination.

I remain confident that our amazing God has set us on the road to becoming His new thing.

28 June 2009


I spent last week in Brighton, Michigan at the 29th General Assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. It was a joyous, Spirit and spirit-filled week.

The week began with the Fifth Stated Meeting of the New Wineskins Transitional Presbytery on Tuesday afternoon. After a rousing worship service led by Rev. Carol Rettew of Bay Presbyterian Church in Bay Village, Ohio, the presbytery began a series of break-out sessions to study a plan for “BECOMING ONE,” the next step in the relationship between New Wineskins and the EPC.

Becoming one missional, evangelical, Reformed, presbyterian body that is being used by our Lord to further His Kingdom in the world has been the vision that gave birth to concept of the NWEPC Presbytery within the EPC. It is designed to provide for those churches and pastors who are now members of the NWEPC Presbytery (NWEPC), and those who will in the future become members, to enter into full membership in the EPC.

Existing and entering NWEPC churches and pastors will begin to be received into the geographic EPC presbyteries according to the provisions of the EPC Book of Government beginning today. Our goal is to complete the process by the 32nd General Assembly (June 2012). Congregations and pastors so received will have the option of becoming joint members of both the NWEPC and the appropriate geographic presbytery. For joint membership churches and pastors, the geographic presbytery will be responsible for their ecclesiastical/governance matters, and the primary focus of the NWEPC will be the development of missional practices.

During the presbytery meeting, panels made up of both EPC and NWEPC TEs and REs answered questions and discussed the processes by which NWEPC TEs and REs will be examined and moved, with their congregations into full membership in the EPC.

We were once again blessed by the open and loving reception from the EPC. The Moderator of the 29th General Assembly, RE Allen Roes, the Stated Clerk and Executive Pastor of the EPC, Rev. Dr. Jeff Jeremiah, the Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of the West, and other ordained leaders of the EPC made special efforts to be part of our meeting. The result was that questions were answered and concerns allayed.

And we once again explored the breadth of the EPC’s belief that evangelism is the first business of the Church. Our meeting ended with over 30 minutes of testimony from church after church about the local and worldwide mission and ministry that is being provided to folks who are hungering and thirsting for the good news of Jesus Christ.

And that was just the beginning.

27 June 2009


I will write a more detailed entry about a wonderful, Spirit-filled Assembly tomorrow. I left Brighton at 11:30 am today and got home at 8:45 (587 miles). But one action taken this morning kept me thinking all the way home.

As one of the final actions taken today, the GA approved a recommendation from the Standing Committee on Fraternal Relations directing the Stated Clerk/Executive Pastor to seek a face-to-face meeting with his PC(USA) counterpart. The genesis of the action is the action taken at last year’s GA by Clif Kirkpatrick and his henchmen to create an “investigating” committee to look into "allegations" that the EPC has been recruiting PC(USA) congregations.

Of course, this has not happened, and it is contrary to EPC practice and procedure. The folks who want to add a 67th book to the Canon (the PC(USA) Book of Order) just refuse to acknowledge that faithful congregations have originated the move, probably because to do so would require them to acknowledge the bases for such moves.

I have been aware for a couple of months that this committee has been seeking to speak to a number of pastors/congregations in my presbytery (New Wineskins). That in and of itself is really interesting because the PC(USA) has generally refused to acknowledge that we are a presbytery. In most of the cases in our presbytery of which I am aware, the requests have been declined, which is not surprising given the persecution those congregations have faced for simply following God’s call on them to leave the PC(USA) and for doing so as a matter of the permissive powers of the congregation guaranteed (at least for now) by the Book of Order of the PC(USA). Because we are looking forward and not back, we have little interest in having anything more to do with a PC(USA), particularly a politically-driven witch hunt.

But at the GA, I met several folks whose congregations went directly from the PC(USA) to a geographic EPC presbytery. Their congregations did meet with representatives of the “investigating” committee, although the committee members were surprised that ruling elders and members attended. (They had "invited" only the pastors.)

Their experience was telling. After the pastors, elders and members related how their congregations initiated the move, and initiated the contact with the EPC, the committee representatives interjected with declarative “questions” such as “Well, you knew that what you were doing was wrong, correct?” or “You never proved that the PC(USA) was apostate, so leaving was a violation of ordination vows, right?”

When the EPC members asked their inquisitors “Wait, we thought you wanted to know that we were not recruited. It sounds as if you have already made up your mind that we were recruited, although we were not, and are just looking for sound bites to support your position. Is that correct?”

Stunningly, the PC(USA)’s response was “That is correct.”

Last year, when it was learned that Clif, as one of his last acts as Stated Clerk, had engineered this inquisition which was to then be sent to him in his new position as the boss of the WARC, many of us suspected that the fix was in. To be vindicated in that suspicion is sad.

21 June 2009


Our God is an amazing God.

After a real bout of that good old depression (the sit hunkered down in your hole just waiting for the bad guys to overrun your position type of ptsd), followed by a chest cold that just won't go away, I'm actually on the mend--thanks to some great folks at the Coatesville VA Hospital, my pastor, and a lot of friends whose prayers really worked.

I'll be at the EPC General Assembly this week and will report in.

10 June 2009


From Laundryman Charlie 3 romeo oscar: Check out my message on 6 June.

10 June 2009. Today, my heart and mind will spend the day back at An Bang (1).

10 June 1969. Dusk in the Arizona. We settled in for the night. When I checked lines at about 2200, we were still on 2 up, 1 down. The FNGs were nervous, as was to be expected, but my experienced Marines were steady.

Charlie 3 Bravo (Tonkyn) was to my left and 3 Alpha was about 10 meters to my front and slightly right. Our 60mm mortar section was about 20 meters to my left. The Skipper’s CP was behind me and to my right. Further down to my right, Charlie 1 was also settled in. Neal had a three man listening post about 75 meters in front of his lines.

Shortly after midnight, we were mortared, with no real effect. About 15 minutes later, there was an explosion to my right front. I heard Neal call the Skipper on the radio to report that he had lost contact with his LP. He asked permission to take a fire team forward to check them out. Frank denied that request. “Look, I may have just lost some Marines. I don’t need to lose you until we are sure what is going on. Both you and Charlie 3 check your lines and get back to me.”

I called Tonkyn who reported that he had checked his lines and all was secure. I could not raise 3 Alpha. I got out of my hole and moved up to the squad CP. There were 3 Marines in the position—the squad leader, PFC Wandro, and another Marine. All were asleep. The radio handset was in Wandro’s lap. I grabbed him, waking all three. “What the hell—sleeping on watch?”

He shook himself awake. “No sir. But…but.”

The rocket squad leader came sliding over from his hole about 3 meters to the left. “Can it,” I said. “You (pointing to the squad leader), check your lines to the right and get back to me. You (to the rocket squad leader), check things out to the left. And stay awake, dammit.”

The two squad leaders took off. The rocket squad leader walked perhaps 15 meters along the inside edge of the trench. I could see him bend over, as if to talk to someone. Suddenly, a stream of green tracers erupted from the trench. “Rockets” flew back and fell to the ground. Damn, I thought, he’s dead.

A minute later, we heard a scuffling sound to our left. “Don’t [universal modifier] shoot. It’s me.” The rocket squad leader flopped into the hole, breathing heavily. “Goddammit, Sir. There’s a bunch of [universal modifier] gooks in that trench.” No kidding. “I saw them crouching down, looking outboard. I thought they were the FNGs. I said ‘Are you dudes from Charlie 3?’ and they shot at me.”

“How many?”

“I don’t know, Sir. A whole damn pisspot full. . . . . Uh, at least 10.”

“OK, hold fast here. You’re in charge until the squad leader gets back.” I called the Skipper to report this disturbing news.

“Keep everybody in their holes. Anybody walking around is a sure target.”

“Uh, roger.” I passed that word to the three Marines and then, being the only Marine around who was above ground, I crawled back to my position. When I got there, Levi told me that as far as he could tell, we were being probed all along our front. He was huddled down, smoking a cigarette, which he held low in the hole, cupped in his hand. “Give me one of those,” I asked.

“You don’t smoke,” he replied.

“Well, this may be my last chance to try.” It was my first and last cigarette.

Meanwhile, over in Charlie 1, Neal had his hands full. I have heard him tell the story many times, but you really need to hear him tell it in his Georgia drawl.

As soon as the Skipper told Neal to hold fast, one of his Marines, Sam “Frags” Felton took off for the LP. Frags Felton is a gentle giant. He is a black Marine from Ohio, about 6’5”, wasp-waisted, a mountain of a man. When he got to the LP, all three Marines were wounded. He grabbed two and carried them back into our lines. Neal begins:

“So, here’s this big black man with two white boys, one under each arm. He lays them down and says ‘Here’s two of them, Sir. I’ve got to get the other one.’” Frags dashed outside the lines again. He picked up the last man, destroyed the radio, and headed back. Two NVA popped up in front of him. One shot him, but he killed both NVA with his rifle, and then limped back into our lines. He remained at his post until evacuated the next morning. You can read his Navy Cross citation here (scroll down).

It seemed as if the NVA were particularly heavy to our left front. There were repeated blasts as grenades were thrown to our front. The Colonel came up on our company tac net for a situation report. The rocket squad leader was still handling first squad.

I learned the next morning that the 3 Alpha was between holes, checking lines, when a chicom went off at his feet, knocking him out, but doing little other harm. He did, however, lose his rifle. When he regained consciousness, an NVA was hiding behind his “body,” using it as a rifle rest. Finally, when the gook had to change magazines, the squad leader grabbed him and strangled him!

The Old Man finally reported that we had a Spooky coming. “Can anyone adjust,” he asked?

“Three Bravo (Tonkyn) has the best line of sight,” I replied. “Three Bravo, can you adjust?”


OM: “OK, 3 Bravo, the man does not want to shoot any closer to our lines than 100 meters. Do you understand?”

3B: “Roger.”

OM: “Stand by.” The Spook opened up with one gun. There was a hum and then a ripping sound, like canvas being torn, as the rounds came to earth.

3B: “Uh, bring him in 50 meters.”

OM: “Son, remember that he doesn’t want to shoot any closer to us than 100 meters.”

3B: “Roger. In 50.” The Spook fired again. It sounded louder to me. Two RPGs exploded between me and the mortar pit. There was rifle and grenade fire all along the east side of the position.

3B: “Laundryman 6, this is Charlie 3 Bravo. Have him come in another 50.”

Long pause. OM: “Uh, son, remember that he wants to stay at least 100 meters out.”

3B: “Roger.” Much more insistent. “ In another 50.” They fired again. It sounded to me as if they were hitting right outside my hole.

3B: “OK, come in 25 and fire for effect.”

OM: “OK, but keep him at least 100 meters out.”

3B: “Roger. In 25 and fire for effect.” All three guns fired. I cannot describe the sound, but I’ll know it when I have forgotten everything else. Spook made three circuits and then had to leave for fuel.

About 40 minutes later, we were probed again. The Skipper passed the word to “Fix bayonets.” Those are eerie words to hear, echoing in the night, as Marine after Marine passes the word. And then you hear them clicking into place.

A minute later, a red flare went up and I could hear the Skipper shouting “Fire the FPL. Fire the FPL.”

Every weapon in our lines opened up. The FPL, i.e., the “final protective line,” is a defensive measure when the enemy is in the assault. Often referred to as the “mad minute,” every weapon is fired along a pre-designated line, planned so that rifles, automatic rifles, machine guns, 40mm grenades, and mortars create a criss-crossing and interlocking band of steel to your front. At TBS, it was demonstrated with every weapon firing nothing but tracers, and it is awesome.

After about 90 seconds, the word was passed to “Cease fire.” The silence was deafening.
The threat from outside our lines was about over, with only an occasional RPG or mortar winging our way. The NVA in the trench were still a problem. Tonkyn’s busy night was not yet over.

As the sky lightened in the east, he began a single-handed attack on the trench, crawling forward with hand grenades and tossing them into the trench. The NVA threw chicoms and fired their AK 47s. Tonkyn would crawl back to get more grenades and then head back to the trench. He made at least three separate trips, over 20 meters of flat open ground, totally exposed.

Finally, a Sergeant from 2d Platoon, apparently feeling left out, dashed forward towards the trench. He was hit in the throat and fell forward so that he was half in and half out of the trench. Tonkyn crawled forward, grabbed the Sergeant by his belt, and pulled him out of the trench. He grabbed the Sergeant’s rifle in his other hand and then pulled him back to where a corpsman could start working on him.

Taking two more grenades, Tonkyn crawled back to the trench, tossed in both grenades, and them, his rifle in one hand and the Sergeant’s in the other, he jumped into the trench and walked up it, firing both weapons like Wyatt Earp on a Dodge City Saturday night. The NVA jumped up and it looked like one of those Road Runner cartoons where Wile E. Coyote has realized he has stepped over the cliff and is trying to walk on air. Tonkyn killed seven of the NVA, although other Marines joined in. We found another three further up the trench.

And it was over.

As I tried to account for everyone, we realized that Wandro was missing. Finally, Bob Henson came up to me. “We think we found him, Sir” Think? “He was hit in the head, but he is the only one missing.” His body was in the trench, near the three dead NVA. He had apparently tried to clear the trench from his end, killing three before another NVA killed him.

On Wandro's Vietnam Wall page, Rod Pontious, one of our 60mm mortarmen who was about 20 meters to my right, wrote about Wandro:

I was a member of Charlie Company and [Jim and I]arrived at the 5th Marines about the same time. Jim went to a rifle plt. and I went to the 60mm Mortar section. Both of us were assigned "mess duty" at Liberty Bridge, the small side a month or so before he was killed. I remember the night he was killed. We were in the "Arizonia Territory" and were attacked by the 90th NVA Regiment that night.The NVA had broken into our lines and were in a trench about 20-25 yards in front of my mortar section between us and the perimeter fox holes. I was in a one man fox hole with Allen to the right of the mortar pit. The NVA would continually pop up and let out a burst of AK fire or throw their chi com grenades at us. I remember getting hit by dirt from their rounds hitting in front of me and grenades going off just in front of me and one bounced off my flack jacket and went off somewhere behind me. That night was a flashing memory with illumination, enemy tracer rounds of greenish yellow, fiery trails of RPGs, grenades and Spookys hosing red tracer trails and confusion. We couldn't fire back at the NVA because of fear of hitting our own men behind the enemy and my mortar section had given all of our frags to the lines when the attack first happened. This was when Jim crawled out to try to contact our lines near us and locate the enemy position. We got the NVA in the trench when dawn started to break and they couldn't use the darkness as cover to escape, One even tried to choi hoi. We found Jim's body that morning. I have a photo of him taken at An Hoa less than two months before his death. He was a good back alley player and I think of him all the time. Semper Fi.

Private First Class James Wayne Wandro, USMC, had just turned 19. “With pride”, the President awarded him the Silver Star Medal (posthumously). His name is on Panel 22 W, Line 29. I go there every time I am in DC.

Charlie 1 had captured one wounded NVA. I heard one of the Marines bragging about it, right after we found Wandro. The next thing I knew, the Gunny had me in a bear hug and Levi, Henson, and Gibby were yelling at me. I had my pistol in hand and was on the way to kill the NVA. The Gunny grabbed took my pistol and told Levi and Henson to stay with me until I calmed down.

I had four Marines wounded, including three of the new guys. One had been shot through the left bicep. When I went to see him at the Battalion Aid Station, which our Surgeon, Lieutenant Alexander, MC, USNR, had set up in a bomb crater toward the west side of the hill, the Marine was running a small stick through the wound. “Wow. Look, Sir, it goes all the way through.” One of the corpsmen told him to “knock that shit off,” gave him a shot, and he calmed down.

About 20 minutes later, the Skipper and the Old Man walked over. “The Colonel wants to talk to Tonkyn,” Frank said. I led them over.

Tonkyn was sitting on the edge of his fighting hole, staring out into the paddy. He was eating a can of pineapple bits. The Old Man waved us off and walked on over.

“Morning, Tonkyn.” Mike looked up and started to rise. “Keep your seat, son. You’ve had a busy night.” He sat down.

Tonkyn started to take another bite of pineapple, then hesitated. “Oh, sorry, Sir.” He offered the Old Man the can.

“Ah, I’ve already eaten, but thanks,” he said gently. “You just go ahead and finish your breakfast.” They continued to sit there silently, looking out at the paddy.

Finally, the Old Man spoke. “Tonkyn, I have just one question for you. When you finally had Spooky fire for effect, how close were you shooting?”

Mike paused. “Uh, you see that beaten up ground about 25 meters from that hole in front of me?” He gestured with his plastic spoon, never taking his eyes off the paddy. “ That’s where he was shooting.”

The Old Man nodded. “I thought as much.” He paused. “ Son, do you know why that pilot didn’t want to shoot any closer than 100 meters?”

“Oh, yessir. Any closer and he so much as hiccups, we’re dead.”

“Right. So, why did you bring him in so close?”

Very softly, and still without looking away from the paddy, Tonkyn answered “Well, Sir, them fuckin’ gooks wasn’t a hundred meters out.” Sorry. You have to hear the exact words to appreciate the moment.

The Old man slapped Mike on the back and said, “Well done.” Then he turned to Frank and me. “I’d like to see a recommendation for the Navy Cross this morning.” You can find the citation
here (scroll down).

Later that morning, I took a patrol out to our east. Behind a small rise about a click to our east, we found row upon row of packs where the NVA formation had dropped them before they went into the attack. We believe that our two platoons, numbering about 60 Marines, were hit by 600 NVA from the 7th Battalion, 90th NVA Regiment. No one had come back for the packs, so Tonkyn’s shooting must have been pretty good. Charlie Company suffered two KIA and 8 WIA; no one else in the battalion was hit.

For that one fight, two Charlie Company Marines—Frags Felton and Mike Tonkyn--were awarded the Navy Cross (for entirely separate acts of heroism), three were awarded Silver Stars (including Wandro), and three, Bronze Stars, as well as 17 Purple Hearts.

In 2005, Frank Satterfield arranged for a group of us to have dinner together in Kansas City during the 1st Marine Division Association annual reunion. I had attended only one before that, and only Rob Montgomery was there from our time. Most of the guys were from the Hue City operation during Tet 1968.

In Kansas City, it was our first time together since 1969. It was as if we had last seen each other the day before. When I got home, SWMBO asked me how it went. I said, “Well, it was nice to be with a bunch of guys who could talk about ‘that night.’”

“What do you mean?”

"Well, nobody had to ask ‘What night are you talking about?’”

It was Frags Felton who christened the night of June 10-11, 1969 as “that night,” and so shall it be until none of us who were there are still alive. During dinner, he said, “You know, Frank, about 0230 that night, when you passed the word to fix bayonets, I started to get a little worried.”

“I gave no such order,” our noble leader avered.

Six heads swiveled and replied in unison “The [universal modifier] you say.” (A lady in the restaurant complained, but the manager, himself a Vietnam vet who had personally taken care of our party, simply told her that we were praying a special Marine prayer! He understood.)

But I think about that night every day. Our Marines acted with calm fortitude, presence of mind, and nobility, worthy successors to the Marines who fought with O’Bannon at Derne, at Chapultepec castle, with Daly at Belleau Wood, with the Division at Guadalcanal and the “frozen Chosin” reservoir, and our 1/5 brothers at Hue City.

In each generation, God allows only a few men the privilege of leading Marines in combat. I cannot tell you how thankful I am to have had the privilege of serving in their presence.

And, always, I think of Wandro. He is the other reason I have not had a good night’s sleep in 40 years. Later that morning, the other Marine (who he is is unimportant-he is a good Marine and nothing that he did could have changed that night) came to me.

“Uh, Lieutenant. Wandro wasn’t sleeping, Sir. He had woke me up to take over the radio watch. I guess I drifted off and dropped the handset into his lap. It wasn’t his damn fault, Sir.” He had tears in his eyes.

I told him that it was OK. “But don’t ever let it happen again.”

“No, Sir. You have my word on that.”

But I never got to say “I’m sorry, Wandro. I was wrong.” And I need to know that Wandro knows how sorry I am.

Semper Fidelis.

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

09 June 2009


From Laundryman Charlie 3 romeo oscar: Check out my message on 6 June.

I had gotten six new Marines the afternoon before. One squad got four and the other, two.

At about 0700, the Skipper came over. “How are you doing?” I think he was worried about me. I know now that in this time frame, my Mom was really concerned about the tone of my letters, especially after losing Phipps and Unfried. She once described them as "suicidal;" I think "resigned" is probably a closer description.

“I’m OK. What’s up?”

He pulled out his map. "The helicopter that was shot down yesterday is located here.” He pointed to a spot about 1500 meters to the southwest. “Bravo buried the .50 cals from the bird, and the 12.7 they captured, before they came in last night. Saddle up your platoon and go out and secure the bird. Bravo is sending us a Marine who can find the three machineguns. The air wing is sending out a team to recover the bird. Send the .50s back with them, but bring that 12.7 in. The Old Man wants to see it.”

A few minutes later, a Lance Corporal from Bravo showed up and we headed out. It took about 35 minutes to reach the downed helicopter. We immediately dug up the three machine guns and carried the .50s onto the bird. There were IV lines dangling from the overhead and bloody battle dressings littered the deck. An M-16 was in amongst the litter. Levi picked up the rifle. It was smeared with blood and there was a shell casing caught between the bolt and the forward edge of the ejection port. The man’s rifle had jammed.

Levi walked off the bird and cleared the weapon. When he inspected it, it was cruddy. He took the rifle around to our troops. “The next time you ladies (he actually used a very crude feminine descriptor) complain about cleaning your weapons every day, remember this. Damn. It’s nothing less than suicide!" He practically made the FNGs kiss the weapon, it was so far in their faces. "Goddamn plastic piece of [crud].”

A few years later, Leatherneck Magazine ran an article based on a letter that then-Representative James Symington of Missouri had written to his Dad, Senator Stuart Symington, when he was in boot camp. In describing the hard NCOs who were his DIs, he wrote a line that was the title of the article. "War," he wrote, "is the business of Sergeants." He was absolutely right. There are things that Sergeants can, and are expected to do, that officers cannot. Sergeant Levi was an excellent Sergeant.

Levi's final comment was telling. There was still a serious reservation on the part of many Marines about the M-16. This dated from McNamara's decision to force it on the DOD without a chromed barrel and receiver. Too many Marines knew Marines who had been in the fights for Hills 881 North and 881 South in 1967, when rifles jammed right and left and many Marine KIAs were found with their rifle disassembled and cleaning rods inserted into the barrels to clear jams. If properly cleaned and maintained, it was an adequate rifle, but the concern that it was a plastic toy--"Matty Mattel"--was always just under the surface.

We checked out the area for any enemy WIAs, but there were none. It was littered with NVA bodies and weapons, and we set about policing up the gear. Suddenly, one Marine called to me. "You gotta see this.”

In a deep fighting hole dug at the base of a tall tree we could see a body. He was wearing a holster. Someone was about to get the most sought-after war prize of all—a pistol. “Who found him,” I asked?

A Marine stepped forward. “All right, if the weapon is still there, it’s yours. Get him out of there.”

Marines are nothing if not born resourceful. The body was jammed into the bottom of the hole and no one wanted to have to get in there with the dead guy. I walked away. Finally, someone tossed a piece of line over a tree branch and looped a noose around the corpse’s neck. Then they hoisted him out. Luckily, I was able to stop the three photographers from taking pictures. It probably would not have looked good, although rigor mortis had set in and he was swinging at weird angles.

“Pull him aside and check for papers.” One man found a folded piece of paper in the guy’s pocket. When later translated, we realized that we had found either the Commanding Officer or the Political Officer of the 2d Battalion, 90th NVA Regiment. (The document was an appointing order addressed to the CO and cc’d to the Political Officer.) He had a Makarov pistol in really great shape and I had a very happy Marine.

We found about thirty NVA dead around the area. Levi organized a working party (mainly the FNGs) and buried them in a bomb crater. Then we settled in to wait for the recovery bird.

Within about 10 minutes after we arrived, a couple of civilians materialized and indicated that they needed “bac si” (doctor) at a hooch about 40 meters away. I sent a fire team to check it out again, and Doc went over to see what was what.

He came back about 20 minutes later. “There’s an old lady over there, Sir. She’s got a sucking chest wound and she’s in real bad shape. I patched her up, but we need to medevac her.”

I called the Skipper, but in a few minutes he called back to tell me that 2/5 had had a big dust up the night before and that we probably wouldn’t get a medevac for a routine casualty until late that afternoon. I told Doc.

Doc went over to check on her again and came back after another half an hour. “Sir, she won’t last until the afternoon. She’s in a lot of pain and is essentially choking to death on her own blood.”

“Dammit, Doc, I know. But we aren’t gonna get a medevac anytime soon.”

“Yessir, I know. Do you want me to do something for her?”

“Sure, Doc, make her as comfortable as possible.”

“Uh, no sir. I mean do you want me to do something for her?”

Aw, Christ on a crutch! And then I said something that I never thought I could say. “Give me a couple of minutes to think about it, Doc, OK?”

“Yessir.” All the CP group moved away from me, leaving me alone to make a decision. Ten minutes later, I called Doc over.

“Look, I know she’s hurting, but dammit, Doc, nobody made me God out here! You make her as comfortable as possible, but don’t do anything else, you understand? Nothing else!”

“Aye, aye, Sir.” He went back to be with her. She died about 2 hours later.

I spent the rest of the time until the helicopter recovery team arrived, thinking. How could it have taken me ten minutes to say “No”? The fact that I even considered any other response scared me. It was time for me to get out of here.

I often wonder if, in the grand scheme of things, I made the right decision. I think I did, but I wonder what that little old lady would have thought?

The recovery team arrived in the early afternoon. A group of mechanics, led by a Master Sergeant, quickly removed the six rotor blades and stowed them in the chopper. The .50s were also tied down and a sling was rigged.

As the crew was working, the Master Sergeant called me over. “Look at this, Lieutenant.”

There were only three bullet holes in the helicopter—one in the fairing around the forward rotor shaft, one in the fairing around the after shaft, and one evenly spaced between the other two. “There’s a governor on each shaft, Sir," he explained. "Lose one, and you can still fly. These bastards hit both, with only three rounds. Son of a bitch!”

Have I mentioned that war is fluky?

The recovery bird, a CH-53, landed to pick up the crew. One of my Marines held the donkey dick and hooked it up to the bird, jumping as the connection was made. (There is a tremendous build up in static electricity in a flying helicopter. If he had stood his ground, the discharge would have knocked him flying.)

We then saddled up and headed home.

In our absence, the perimeter had been expanded and the lines adjusted. Bravo had moved in between Alpha and Charlie Companies, along the west side of the hill. Bravo tied in with Charlie 1 on the south. Alpha had Bravo on its left and Charlie 3 on the right. Neal and I had the eastern side of the hill on a fairly straight front. Charlie 2 became battalion reserve. I got my people dug in, sighted weapons and prepared for the night.

There was an old trench that ran from the rice paddy to the north straight up into our position, between my lines and the concrete bunker. It ended just south of the point where my two squads linked up.

That concerned me, because the lines had been marked during our absence, and that trench ran right between my platoon and Alpha Company's right flank platoon. There is a maxim in tactics that you never split responsibility for an avenue of approach, i.e., an easy way into a position. For the sake of clarity, someone unit must know that it has sole responsibility for that avenue.

I moved along my lines,telling off my Marines into their prospective positions, marking positions for machine guns (which would be emplaced after dark so the enemy did not see their locations). I started with our connection with Charlie 1 on my right and moved to the link up with Alpha Company. Mike Tonkyn’s squad, Charlie 3 Bravo, had that portion of our lines. His nearest and left-most position was about 20 meters from the trench. I told him to have his Marines hold off digging in and then took him with me in search of the Alpha Company platoon commander.

It was the guy who had lost his people in the paddy on Sunday (two days or two years ago, depending). He was sitting under a tree, reading Stars and Stripes.

“I’m Lieutenant McCarty. My platoon is on your right flank. Let’s walk, eh?”

“Well, what do you want?” He didn’t move. Arrogant little .......

“We need to check lines so we can make sure we have everything covered.”

“I’m waiting for my Captain to do that. Come back later,” he said dismissively. (I wish I had.)

“Look, Sport, we’ve had a long couple of days. Before my guys dig in, I want to make sure I won’t have to shift lines and make them do it all over again. Now get off your ass and let’s go.” Tonkyn was doing his best to disappear while the officers hashed things out.

The lieutenant grumbled and got up. We walked over to the trench. There was a fighting hole right next to it with an M-16 in the hole. “Is this one of yours,” I asked?

“Yeah, it’s mine.”

Well, Lance Corporal Tonkyn’s first position is that one over there.” I pointed to three Marines about 20 meters away. There was a clear area between the trench and the Alpha company position. “Do you want me to move them closer?”

“Nah. I think we’re OK. You can run along now.” Snotty little brat.

The next day, I learned that about 20 minutes later, near dark, Captain Torrey checked lines and was assured by that lieutenant that he was covering the trench. The Captain asked “And where is your position?”

“This is my hole,” the lieutenant replied, pointing to the hole right next to the trench. I suspect that he had chosen that position because the ground was relatively soft and made for easy digging.

“No. No. You cannot be on the far right flank of your lines. You need to be centered so you can control the fires of your entire platoon. Move your position and rearrange your lines.”

The idiot did move his position, but decided that he did not want to inconvenience his troops (who, we later learned, hated the SOB), so he just left the hole vacant and the trench unprotected. Within days, he was relieved of his platoon, sent back to Regiment to be the Civil Affairs Officer (a sort of liaison with the local Vietnamese military and political establishment) and then to Danang to be a Special Services Officer running part of the Freedom Hill PX. But that’s in the future.

All around me, I could hear my troops digging in. I went over to help Gibby get our hole ready for the night for the night.

08 June 2009


From Laundryman Charlie 3 romeo oscar: Check out my message on 6 June. And the Lieutenant is just protecting me. I counted at least 150 people before I gave up!

When we got to a small hill just north of Alpha and the CP group, I had the platoon establish a defensive perimeter. The Skipper, his radio operator, my radio operator and I, headed south with one fire team for security. We passed through Alpha’s lines at about 0715 and headed for the CP.

Colonel Riley, his S-3 (Operations Officer) and other members of his staff were under a tree, along with Captain Torrey, Alpha 6. Jerry Ayers, one of my classmates, was standing about 10 meters away. I nodded to him and moved with the Skipper to join Laundryman 6.

Lieutenant Colonel William Riley had assumed command of the battalion while we were at the bridge. I had met him, but only briefly, along with the other officers of the Company. He looked up and grinned, exuding confidence. “Great! Frank’s here. Let’s get started. Everything OK?”

Frank nodded. “Five wounded, but nothing too serious, Sir.”

The Three pulled out a map. “OK—we think there was at least a battalion of NVA on this hill yesterday afternoon. We think they slipped off to the east during the night, but we have no contact with them right now. We have been taking sporadic small arms fire from the hill this morning, so somebody is still there. Bravo is about three clicks over thataway (southwest) and will patrol to our south. Charlie will move down here from the north and east to see if the bad guys may have tried to go around north, but do it smartly. We need you to assume CP security . Alpha will resume its attack on the objective at 0900.”

The Old Man took over. “Frank, Alpha has several casualties out in that damned paddy. Their platoon is going out to recover them. Attach one of you platoons to Alpha Company for their attack.”

I grabbed our radio handset. “Charlie 3, this three actual. Saddle up and get over here most ricky tick.” I looked up. Frank was scowling. “Well, you’re gonna give Alpha your most experienced platoon, right?”

He grinned and shook his head. “Sure, but how about you let me make the decision first, OK?”

The Old Man chuckled and slapped us both on the shoulder. “All right, gents, let’s get this done.” I felt as if my Dad was there--the Old Man's calm confidence was just like Dad's.

I moved away with Captain Torrey, Jerry and another lieutenant I did not know. At this point in time, of the surviving members of our class that had joined the battalion in December, Jerry and I were the only two still in the bush as rifle platoon commanders. In the distance, I saw another lieutenant forming up a platoon and moving toward the eastern edge of the position. The platoon did not look right to me. They had lost five KIAs the day before, but there was an air about them—something unhealthy. Jerry cast a glance their way, frowned, and shook his head.

Captain Torrey took us to a concealed position from which we could observe our objective. It was about 800 meters away across a wet paddy.

“OK . That is Objective A. Situation: Objective A is believed to be held by anywhere between a company and a platoon. It has been hit with artillery all night. Charlie Company is to our north and bravo to our south. One platoon will be about 150 meters to our left recovering their casualties.

Mission: We will attack and seize objective A. Execution: We are going in with two up and one back. Jerry, your platoon will be on the left. Mac, you take the right. I will follow with the CP group and the other platoon. Logistics: Make sure you have plenty of ammo and grenades. Mac, there is a dump over by that tree. Make sure you have fresh batteries for the radios. Mac, Company Tac is 71.05.

It is now 0802. Be in position to commence the attack at 0900. Questions?” There were none. I headed over to my platoon.

I had heard them coming in about 10 minutes before. As usual, the grapevine worked well. Levi had already gotten the word that we were going in. I paused to watch this seeming normality. I had not said a word to my small unit leaders since the radio message telling them to hiyacko on down to join me.

Levi had them finishing up with cleaning weapons (they had started automatically when we stopped on the intermediate objective) and Bob Henson had already found the supply dump. He had a working party carrying boxes of grenades and other ammo as well as fresh batteries over to the platoon. I heard him yell “Hey, Doc. Do you need any resupply?" The Leading Petty Officer of the battalion medical platoon, a Petty Officer First Class, was already talking to Doc. “I’m cool, Henson,” Doc replied.

Doc was 19. Henson was 19. Sergeant Levi was almost 21, an old man. There was no urgency or apparent concern, just men who knew what they had to do, going about doing it. The squad leaders (one 18, one 19) were inspecting weapons. Gibby (18) was with the other radio operators, making sure they knew the correct frequency. I realized that I was truly blessed.

I called Levi, Henson, Doc, and the squad leaders over. One squad leader, Mike Tonkyn, had just taken over his squad—his squad leader was one of the casualties from the short round on Saturday. He had become a fire team leader 8 days before, taking over Unfried’s fire team. He was as cool as a cucumber, as if he had been a squad leader all his young life. (He looked 12—and still does!!! Sorry Mike, but that’s the truth.)

I issued the order, asked for questions, and getting none, told them I would inspect weapons in 10 minutes and we would then move out to get into position. At 0855, I moved to Jerry Ayers’s right, ensuring that we were linked up. We shook hands, exchanged “see you on the hill”s, and went to work.

At exactly 0900, we moved out. Jerry and I had agreed that, based on yesterday’s experience, we would move across in squad rushes, then fire team rushes, then individual rushes. A squad rush is coordinated by the platoon commander. He orders one squad to move while the other (we still had only two squads per platoon) covers. A fire team rush is coordinated by the squad leaders, moving one fire team at a time. Individual rushes are controlled by the fire team leader.

We started receiving fire almost immediately, although it was light and sounded high. Both platoons crossed an 800 meter wide paddy about two meters at a time. You are chillingly exposed in a paddy, especially a wet paddy, as this one was. The mud and water are knee deep and it is hard to move, so you are essentially launching yourself forward in a shallow dive each time you move.

We reached the far side two days later—OK, it was about 15 minutes, but it seemed longer—and started to move up onto the hill. Captain Torrey came behind us and moved his other platoon into the center as we wheeled north. Jerry was still on the left and I had shifted east but was still on the right. The south side of the objective was covered in scrub and continued to slope upwards.

I sent a scout forward to see what was in front of us. In the movies, everything always moves quickly and everyone is running around fully erect. It just doesn’t happen that way. We moved slowly, crawling, taking our time.

The scout reported that about 100 meters to our front (north) the ground leveled off and opened up. In the middle of a large open area, there was some sort of a low concrete structure which stood about waist high. For at least 50 meters all around, the ground was open and flat as a board.

I moved up for a look and then reported this to Captain Torrey. Jerry had done the same thing on his side. There was just no good way to get to that bunker (as we now thought of it).

The Skipper told all three platoons to inch forward. The middle platoon began to receive fire. Putting binoculars on the concrete structure, I could see what appeared to be ventilation slits about 6 inches above the ground. The slits were about two inches high by six inches wide. The NVA were using them as firing slits and were getting great grazing fire. Every casualty was initially hit in the ankles. We pulled back a bit. It was now about 1045.

Captain Torrey called for the platoon commanders. He had set up his CP in a little dip in the ground. His corpsmen were working on the casualties and the Gunny was making a canteen cup of coffee, which the Skipper passed around. Jerry came sliding in from the left just as I got there. The other lieutenant was already there.

The Skipper had moved up and had seen what we faced. Normally, a position like that is reduced by the “blind ‘em, blast’em and burn ‘em” method. Someone would toss a WP grenade in front of the aperture, followed by a satchel charge and then a flame thrower. There were problems, however.

I doubt that a NFL quarterback could toss a WP grenade 50 yards, and there was no way anyone was going to get closer and remain unhit. We had satchel charges available, but the flame section was back at An Hoa and no one could remember when we had last used our flame throwers.

The Skipper decided that Jerry and I would provide suppressive fire and the middle platoon would try to hit the southern firing slits with anti-tank rockets. The 66mm LAAW (light anti-tank assault weapon) had replaced the 3.5 inch rocket launcher (a super bazooka that replaced the original bazooka, the WWII 2.36 inch rocket launcher). The LAAW was light, disposable, and fairly easy to fire. However, it did not have a white phosphorus round which we could really have used.

We returned to our platoons, briefed our small unit leaders, and when all three platoons reported “ready,” we started. The machine guns and rifles fired at the slits, but return fire was heavy. Only two of six LAAWS hit anywhere on the structure. The middle platoon took more casualties, again marked by ankle wounds.

The Skipper called for us again. It was nearly Noon.

The coffee was still fresh—fresh being a relative term when discussing C-rations. It was surreal. We were taking coffee breaks from the war to plan our next try! What I wouldn’t give for one more cup of coffee with Jerry, Captain Torrey, the Gunny and that other lieutenant, in that little dip, with the occasional round cracking over our heads, and the adrenaline high.

“Any suggestions,” the Skipper asked.

Jerry piped up “Well, I could hook left around the old Chevy and Mac could go long towards the telephone pole.” We all grinned, remembering other gentler days of improvisation. We continued to brainstorm.

About 1330, the S-3 called to brief us on a new idea. We headed for our platoons. In about 10 minutes, a CH-46 appeared carrying a 500 gallon fuel bladder as an external lift. We put more rockets and 40mm grenade fire on the bunker to keep the inhabitants busy.

The bladder was tethered to the chopper by two hoists (known in the trade as “donkey dicks”) which kept it twice as far from the bird. The crew chief, looking through the hell hole in the bottom of the chopper guided his pilot until they could set the bladder onto the top of the structure. He then released the cargo and beat fee outta there.

The middle platoon, which had taken all the casualties, was given the honor of firing machinegun tracers at the bladder. On the second burst, it exploded in a huge roiling gout of flame and smoke.

Jerry’s platoon assaulted from the west, but it was all over. There were nine dead NVA in the structure. They did not appear to be burned; Doc surmised that they suffocated or died of ruptured lungs. A couple of grenades made sure. It was now 1430.

We checked out the rest of the hill and reported it secure. By 1545, Charlie Company and the CP group were on the hill, I had chopped back to Charlie Company, and we began organizing our defensive perimeter. Charlie 3 had the east center of the hill, with Neal on my right and Woody on my left. Alpha took the west side of the hill, tying in with Charlie 1 on the south and Charlie 2 on the north.

We had not been resupplied since Friday morning, so as soon as the hill was secure, resupply birds appeared.

At about 1615, we heard heavy fire to our southwest. Bravo Company, moving to join the battalion, had run into a large body of NVA. The firefight started when the point man spotted six NVA setting up a 12.7mm anti-aircraft machine gun. Captain Castagnetti assigned six riflemen to aim in in the crew and ordered “Fire.” Five dropped and the sixth only had a second to look around before he, too, was history. And the fight was on.

A few minutes later, we saw two CH-46’s enter a race track pattern over Bravo’s position. This was a classic medevac formation, and Frank confirmed it when he said “Bravo’s got two emergencies.”

The lead (Dash 1) headed in and the chase bird (Dash 2) continued to circle. Suddenly, Dash 2 layed over on its side and swooped down. I heard Frank mutter “Oh, shit, Dash 1 was just shot down.” Within a minute Dash 2 pulled out of the zone and headed for Danang, hedge hopping over our position before it climbed to altitude.

The firefight continued for another hour or more. Occasional rounds came zipping over our heads.

Two resupply birds dropped their external loads and then, one at a time, landed to off load passengers. We were receiving replacements. The last man was walking down the ramp when he suddenly crumpled. A stray round from the firefight had hit him right between the eyes. He was medevacked on the same bird. War is a fluky business!

As darkness settled, we manned a very strong position. It was a quiet night. We were all beat. Charlie 3 had gotten some sleep on Sunday morning, but many of us had not slept since Friday night. At about midnight, Bravo Company came into the lines and just dropped in place. I checked lines one more time and stretched out.

The next morning, one of my Marines came up and sheepishly asked, “Did anyone enter our lines from over their (pointing east) last night?”

“Not that I know of. Why?”

“Because about 0200, a column of people walked right across the top of the hill in single file.” Damn!

“Why didn’t you challenge them,” I asked.

“Uh, well, Sir, I thought maybe I was the only man on this whole damn hill that was awake, and I didn’t think I could handle them all by myself.” (To this day, that has remained my rule of thumb definition of “prudence.”)

“Yeah, I see. Well, let’s just let that be our little secret, OK?” Fluky, flukier, flukiest!

He grinned. “Aye, aye, Sir. Works for me.”

Marines. How can you not love them?

07 June 2009


Sunday morning dawned sunny and clear for a change. We watched the Company pass our position and then set up an ambush, but no one came. After an hour, we moved out and rejoined the Company in a little ville about 800 meters east of the mountains. Charlie 3 had the southeast side of the perimeter.

We cleaned and inspected weapons and then I put half the platoon down for four hours sleep, or what would pass for sleep in the heat of the day. At about 1300, we shifted. I really couldn’t sleep, and just moved from hole to hole talking to the troops. The Gunny had his transistor radio on and I caught a few innings of the St Louis Cardinals game. (The broadcast team, as I may have mentioned earlier, was the greatest of the generation—Harry Caray, Joe Garagiola, and Jack Buck. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore, although Harry Kalas and Larry Anderson were pretty close.)

The battalion was on the move. The increasing contact with larger units over the past couple of days convinced the Colonel Riley that the NVA was getting ready to fight. Bravo was 5 clicks to our southwest and Alpha, with the CP group moving east from a place called An Bang (3) toward a little hill called An Bang (1) which was about 2 clicks to our southeast. At about 1500, they reached An Bang (2) which was about 800 meters west of the objective. A platoon from Alpha started across an 800 meter wide rice paddy to recon the objective.

An Bang (1) was a complex of small rises, perhaps 25 feet above the surrounding terrain. The complex was about 1,000 meters from east to west and about 500 meters from north to south. The map indicated that it was pretty much surrounded by trenches, so it may have been an old French compound at some time in the past. The ground was covered with scrub that rose to 15 or 20 feet, although the center had a long, flat open area that would make a great LZ. The northern, western, and southern sides were pretty steep—relatively speaking—but the east side had a gentle slope out into more paddies.

Charlie Company had not been there before, but I think that one of the other companies and the CP group had been. The Old Man had decided that it was time to pull the battalion together and this was good ground for a battalion-sized unit. Obviously….

As Alpha’s platoon got to within about 10 meters of the western side, they were taken under heavy fire and pinned down in the paddy. At least three Marines were KIA almost immediately. I will write later about the platoon commander and platoon sergeant, but let it suffice to say that the platoon commander did not live up to the high standards of our Corps that day.

We could hear the firefight when it started, and the battalion tactical net (the radio net that linked the battalion commander to his company commanders, just as the company tac linked Frank to Neal, Dick and me) came alive. They immediately began to pound the hill with Alpha’s 60mm mortars and the battalion’s 81mm mortars. Rob Montgomery, one of my classmates, was now the 81mm mortar platoon commander. It was his former platoon that was pinned down in the paddy.

He moved forward to be able to adjust his mortars onto the NVA position as the firefight raged.

Suddenly, I heard him on the net. “I can see them, I can see them. Oh, hell, let’s go!” He dashed out into the paddy to try to extricate “his” platoon. He stood in the paddy, directing fire at a several enemy positions which were destroyed.

Less than a minute later, someone came up on the net. “The Lieutenant is down.” He was hit by at least one machine gun bullet and began to bleed out. Nonetheless, he closed with a second machine gun position which he single-handedly destroyed along with its crew.

At that point, he collapsed. Somehow, the Corpsman kept him alive. Thankfully, his Navy Cross citation (scroll down)notes that the President takes “pleasure” in making the award. If you read enough citations, you quickly figure out that if the President “takes pride” in making the award, it is a posthumous award.

Rob left the Marine Corps after his three year obligation and had a distinguished career in the FBI. He was Special-Agent-in-Charge of the Portland, Oregon office when the Nancy Kerrigan-Tanya Harding mess occurred. In the aftermath of the Ruby Ridge stand-off, Rob was appointed the Special-Agent-in-Charge of the Crisis Management/Hostage Rescue Team headquartered at the FBI Academy (less than 3 miles as the crow flies from TBS) and then as the first Special-Agent-in-Charge of the Critical Incident Response Group, which consolidated all FBI functions relating to crisis situations.

Frank, Neal, Woody and I were getting antsy. It was obvious that this was a major contact. I said, “Geez, if we are going to go, I hope we go now. I sure don’t look forward to moving down there at night with everyone as jumpy as they are bound to be.” Frank told us to get to our platoons and make sure they were alert—no problem there; they could hear what was going on and the close air support aircraft were orbiting over our position. But the call did not come.

Finally, just at dusk, my radio operator said, “Skipper wants you.” We headed up the trail.

At the CP, Frank was packing up. Neal was there and Woody got there seconds after me. “OK, let’s saddle up. We’re moving down to link up with Alpha and the CP group. Mac, you take point. Charlie 1 next with the CP group, then Charlie 2. Be careful. We don’t need any intramural firefights.”

We headed back down the trail. I was pissed! Why move us in the dark? As I left the scrub and looked at one of my positions, an oily grey-black cloud appeared in the empty rice paddy just outside of our lines, followed by a cair-rump! Aw, who the [universal adjective] is throwing a grenade right now, I thought?

There were quickly four more explosions across the hill and I realized, as a launched myself into my hole, that we were being mortared. And it started.

We were repeatedly probed all night. There was grenade fire, mortar fire—ours and theirs—and small arms fire. Several claymores were fired. The small arms fire was most disturbing. Ordinarily, you did not fire a rifle or machine gun because it helped the enemy spot the location of the weapon. At one point, Frank radioed to the Company “The next time I hear rifle fire, there had better be a body to go with it!”

Almost immediately, there were three shots from one of my positions to my right front. OK, we need to calm down here. I told Gibby that I was going to check lines, gave him my rifle, and grabbed my .45. As I moved, I was constantly whispering, “Hold your fire; it’s me.” I got to the hole from which the rifle fire had originated.

“What the [universal adjective] are you shooting at?”

“Uh, him, Sir.” There was a dead NVA, two rounds in his chest and one in the head, lying next to the hole. Although SNL was still years away, it was a Roseanne Roseannadanna moment. Never mind. I patted the Marines on the shoulder, told them well done, and crawled back to my hole. I radioed the Skipper to report that there was, indeed, a dead body.

We continued to receive mortar and rocket propelled grenade fire all night. We had a Spooky gunship
up and firing for us. The Spook was an old DC-3 aircraft that had three 7.62mm (roughly, .303 cal) gatling guns mounted in the fuselage. As it orbited and fired, the fire concentrated so that in one minute, it could put one bullet in every square inch of a football field. In the time-lapse photo (taken by one of my Marines and used as his Christmas 1969 Christmas card with the sentiment "Peace on earth and good will to men!") you should remember that between every tracer round, there are four ball rounds. A truly awesome weapon.

Finally, at about 0400, the NVA broke contact. At first light, we checked the area and found another nine dead NVA just outside our lines. The troops had already gotten the good war prizes—belts, cap badges, knives-but I was looking for maps and other intelligence material.

We found two NVA in front of a hole, lying on their backs. Both were missing their legs from the knees down—it was clear that the Marines in the hole had popped a claymore when they were right in front of it. About 5 meters behind them was another body, lying face down.

Dick Rollins and I rolled him over and I ripped his shirt open to look for a map. He had a little Carolina blue ribbon tied through one button hole. His chest was covered with little gray bumps. “Hey, Doc,” I called to my Corpsman. “What do you make of this?” He approached. “Whattaya think, Doc? Could it be smallpox?” Doc jumped back. Dick joined him.

Finally, I was able to persuade Doc to come closer. “Is it on his back, too?” We rolled him back over and pulled up his shirt. His back was covered with entry wounds.

As near as I can tell, he either was walking backward—rear security?—or, more likely, turned to run as the flare in front of the claymore was triggered and the claymore detonated. The claymore pellets penetrated his body, but could not break through the last layer of skin. We referred to him thereafter as “the chicken gook.”

Charlie Company had seven casualties, all wounded, no emergencies, but three were priority and a total of five were evacuated. As soon as we got the wounded out, the Skipper called me and told me to mount up Charlie 3 as security for a patrol to escort him down to battalion.

Thus began another day in paradise.

06 June 2009


Note from Laundryman Charlie 3 romeo oscar: Mac,our platoon commander, was Laundryman Charlie 3 actual. I'm LMC3 romeo oscar. He's been having a tough time lately, but he wanted the June stories, leading up to what we all call "that night," to go out on schedule. Fortunately, he had them written down. I'll keep posting them until I run out. Please keep him in your prayers. LMC3 Romeo Oscar, out.

PS, I told him that piece of shrapnel was as big as his damned leg!

The NVA still did not want to come out and play. We moved every night and began to once again concentrate on the area just east of the mountains that we had covered in the first couple of days in the Arizona.

There were some memorable days. One afternoon, the Company was moving during the day—a rarity for Charlie Company. We came to a wide part of a stream that cut through high banks on both sides. The Skipper called a halt and ordered Second and Third Platoons to set up security on the opposite banks. Charlie 1 and the CP group entered the stream and washed clothes and bodies for the first time in three weeks. After they were done, they came out of the stream, most wearing only boots, flak jackets and helmets, and relieved Charlie 2. After another 20 minutes, Charlie 2 relieved Charlie 3.

I think it is hard for most folks to understand the huge effect that something as little as this unexpected “treat” could have on morale. We had lost good people and we were emotionally dragging. Spirits zoomed! After our clothes were dried (the beauty of the rip-stop material used for our utility trousers dried quickly), we dressed and resumed our march. Within an hour, we were sweaty and dirty again, but spirits remained high.

We were now working the west central part of the Arizona, just under the mountains. Bravo Company was to our southeast under the command of Captain Gino Castagnetti. Company A, commanded by Captain Phil Torrey, was to our east, acting as palace guard for the battalion command post group. We had all shifted westward, trying to coax the NVA out of the mountains.

We had been “rice paddy” Marines for as long as I was in Vietnam. Unlike the Marines of the 3d MarDiv to our north and the Army to our south, we had very little experience in the mountains. However, we began patrolling into the easternmost edge of the mountains that stretched west into Laos, encountering high, steep terrain and triple canopy jungle for the first time. Navigation was extremely difficult in such terrain and it was a new learning experience. (“Triple canopy” refers to jungle that has three distinct layers of growth. The first might be 40 feet above the ground, the second layer about 70, and the third over 100 feet. It was a dark, dank environment.)

On June 1, Charlie 1 took a patrol into the mountains. Coming out of the canopy they spotted 5 NVA on a trail about 400 meters to their front. The NVA had a radio and were soon seen to be heading in Charlie 1’s general direction. The platoon established a hasty ambush and waited for nearly an hour, but the NVA had apparently taken a different trail and did not enter the ambush.

The next day, we attacked a ville to our northeast. As we did so, we received 100 to 150 rounds of small arms fire. It was a distinct possibility that we were taking stray rounds from a firefight between a patrol from Alpha Company and some NVA that were trying to cut between us. The ville was dotted with bunkers and spider holes (a foxhole with a camouflaged moveable cover) which we destroyed. We rounded up another 100 or so civilians and sent them back to Duc Duc refugee camp for interrogation.

That evening, two B-40 rocket propelled grenades exploded outside our lines. We went to 100% alert (our norm was two up and one down throughout the night)and fired illumination rounds from our 60 mm mortars, but saw nothing.

The next morning, we moved further north and attacked a ville at first light. Eight NVA ran out of the ville and we took them under fire, seeing at least two drop. We found one body with a weapon and many blood trails. We moved back to our west.

That night, Bravo Company was dug in about 3 clicks to our southwest. They were attacked by a large force that penetrated their lines. The NVA captured one of Bravo’s machine guns before being driven off.

On the 5th, Charlie 1 patrolled into the mountains again. As they rounded a bend in a trail, they had a “point-to-point” contact, one of the most common types of meeting engagements in our strange little war. Both sides opened fire—no one was hit on either side as far as we could tell. However, the NVA were probably an observation post because Charlie 1 recovered a 5 galloon can filled with a rice and meat mixture, 4 sets of black pajamas, I pair of Ho Chi Minh sandals (made out of old tires), a wallet containing identification, a couple of cans of fish and four cans of C-rations.

Just before sunset that evening, Charlie 1 spotted 22 NVA south of their observation post, near Bravo Company’s area of responsibility. Bravo sent out a platoon-sized patrol to check their area and Third Platoon was sent to cover our area. There was an aerial observer up in an OV-10. The aircraft fired several rockets into the fleeing NVA. We checked the area until dark but found nothing.

Just after midnight, an individual walked through Charlie 1’s position and was captured. At first light, the POW was brought into our lines and evacuated. The Skipper received permission to return to the same area that night.

We started to move in the early afternoon with Charlie 1 on the point, then Charlie 2, and Charlie 3 was rear security. We were moving further into the mountains than we had in the past, and the change in terrain was stark. AS he spotted the objective, Neal radioed that it was “damn’d steep.”

“How steep,” the Skipper responded?

Referring to a landmark at OCS, Neal replied “It makes the Hill Trail look like an ice rink!”

We were in a deep draw between two ridge lines that towered at least 250 meters above us. We were advised that there was a 6-man recon team from 1st Recon Battalion's permanent OP on Hill 200, which was about 6 clicks north of us, operating in the area. The team, “Mink Coat,” reported that they could hear NVA moving to their front. Suddenly, we were taken under heavy rifle and automatic weapons fire.

At the same time, the Skipper dropped off the net. His radio handset had come loose from the radio, but we needed coordination. Neal and I talked briefly and told Charlie 2 to secure the CP group as we attacked up the hill. We fired several rockets up the hill and returned fire until Mink Coat advised that they were taking some of our rounds.

Things quieted down. Frank came back up on the net and told Neal and me to proceed to the top of the hill and secure it, which we did. About 20 minutes later, Charlie 2 and the CP group finished the climb. We quickly set in our perimeter for the night, and Mink Coat harbored with us until about 2200. They then headed deeper into the mountains, looking for the NVA.

The night was quiet, but rainy. Sunrise revealed fog and dripping jungle. Before noon, we heard and then saw the NVA launching 122 mm rockets toward An Hoa. Nicknamed “Stalin’s organ” by the Germans in WWII, they made a very distinctive moaning sound as they were launched. We called artillery fire and called in airstrikes on the area. The artillery, located in An Hoa, was firing at close to its maximum range. As we had been for several days, we were on the “gun-target” line, which meant that the rounds passed over our position en route to the target. Hearing them go whooshing over us was eerie.

At about Noon, the Skipper ordered me to conduct a patrol to our south and east and to then set up a night ambush on the trail to our east. When the Company left the mountains the next morning, we were to remain behind for an hour to ambush any NVA that might be following.

At the same time, about four clicks to our south, a platoon-sized patrol from Bravo Company was also working in the mountains. The point man suddenly alerted, reporting that some 25 NVA were walking down the middle of a stream along which the patrol was located. They set up a hasty ambush and waited.

Now, Mr. Charles had a well-deserved reputation as a soldier, but we sometimes had a tendency to inflate him into a superman. In this case all 25 NVA were walking along, smoking and joking, rifles slung over their shoulders, no security out. The ambush opened fire, killing all 25 in the opening volley. Twenty-four bodies were recovered—the 25th floated away down the river. Rifles, machineguns (including the M-60 that Bravo had lost earlier in the week), B-40 and RPG-7 rocket launchers and a radio were recovered.

Back on our hill, Charlie 3 formed up and moved across the top of the hill, past the 60mm mortar position, and headed down a long southwest finger to begin our patrol. The jungle was so thick that we were practically “asshole to belly button.” We had been out about 15 minutes when the Company spotted another 27 NVA moving east into a small village. The group broke up into groups of 3 to five and entered the hooches. The Skipper called and adjusted artillery fire into the ville.

Maybe an hour later, lightning hit one of our 60 mm mortar tubes, injuring one crewman. As a CH-46 landed to evacuate him, NVA on the next ridge opened fire. I was listening to the radio and heard Frank ask Dick Wood if he could adjust fire onto the ridge. In the background, I could hear Dick Rollins sending his call for fire to the 2/11 fire direction center.

I was now well down into a draw to the east of our position and, quite frankly, lost. I heard Frank talking to Dick Wood, who was going to adjust the artillery. Frank told him “I’m going to ask for a battery 6 immediate fire for effect.” That means that he would ask the battery to fire six rounds of high explosive rounds per gun (36 rounds) without firing the usual one-gun white phosphorous round to adjust the fire.

We had just broken into a small clear area and had begun to spread out. The point fire team was separated by about 7 meters, so that the point man was 20 yards to my front. I called for a quick halt and called Frank. “Charlie 6 actual, this is Charlie 3 actual. Could you ask them to fire one willie peter (WP) round?” I was really hoping that I could see it impact and figure out my position.

“That’s a negative. It’s nowhere near you.”

“Roger, but I would really appreciate it.”

“All right, dammit, but it won’t do you any good.”

We later learned that the battery firing for us had been firing without a stop for 18 hours. Apparently one of the Marines made a 100 mill error on the elevation of the gun. A mill is one 6400th of a circle. It moves the strike of the round 1 meter for each 100 meters of distance, in this case, 1,000 yards short.

We heard the round whooshing towards us and, experienced as we were, realized that it was not going to go over us. The round hit right behind the point man’s heels. Time slowed down.

The point man went cart-wheeling through the air, his clothing on fire. The other two Marines were down with white phosphorous burns. My radio operator told me that he saw a piece of the shell casing as long as my forearm fly between us (we were about 3 feet apart).

Several people were calling “Corpsman, Corpsman,” and Doc was grabbing people to start putting mud over the white phosphorous fragments to cut off the air supply. (You may recall from high school chemistry that WP burns in the air.) The point man was down, having landed on his head, knocking him out.

I was screaming into the handset “CharlieCharlieCharlieCharlieThreeCharlieThree. Checkfirecheckfirecheckfire.”

Gibby tapped me on the shoulder, holding the connection that attached the handset to the radio. “It’s gotta be hooked up to work, Sir.”

I could hear Levi back along the column, making the same call. No more rounds came our way.

Doc advised me that two of the three were OK, but would require medical attention to remove the WP. The point man was still out cold, with second degree burns. I called for a medevac.

We were deep under triple canopy. The Skipper told me that if we needed a jungle penetrator (a heavy steel weight that could punch through the vegetation), it would take 90 minutes to rig it and get it to us. Having heard the explosion, he told me that we were about 800 meters to his east. I talked to Doc and then told him we could carry the point man to the ridge in 45 minutes. He agreed that that was the way to go.

We struggled up the hill, passing the poncho from team to team, and actually got there in 35 minutes, blowing and steaming. The bird arrived five minutes later and took all three men to the Naval Support Activity Hospital. Two returned to the platoon the next day. The point man, who already had two purple hearts, was pulled to the rear and finished his tour of duty with the regimental security platoon.

We formed up and headed back out to our ambush site. The rest of the night was quiet.

I often wonder about that day. Why did I ask for the WP round? Why did Frank—who was not known for giving in—agree. Six HE rounds would have probably killed the entire platoon . War is a fluky business!

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

05 June 2009


The war didn’t stop for casualties. Charlie 2 moved through a ville, finding an 82 mm round hidden in a bunker under a hooch. They set the hooch on fire, resulting in a detonation of several hundred rounds of rifle or machine gun ammunition. The inhabitants of the ville were rounded up and interrogated, but, of course, they denied any knowledge of the source of the ammo.

We moved on out to a new objective which would be our night position. As we approached the objective, the tree line looked suspicious. We called a Huey gunship (UH-1 helicopter) to work over the tree line, which erupted in small arms fire. An aerial observer called in artillery, followed by an airstrike using 500 pound bombs and napalm. We checked out the area, but found nothing. As you can imagine, the bombs and nape had really torn up the area.
We proceeded to our night position, and as soon as we set in, we were resupplied.

Our First Sergeant, First Sergeant Robert Lee, was a real troop leader. A black man, he had been a pioneer in the newly integrated Marine Corps of the late 1940s. He was famous to the troops for his maxim that “I don’t have white Marines and I don’t have black Marines. I have green Marines.” (When now-Senator Jim Webb wrote his classic novel Field of Fire—which many consider the best novel of the war—he based it on 1/5. The onl character whose name was not changed was First Sergeant Lee.)

In 1/5, the First Sergeant and the XO manned the alternate command post in the rear, and the Company Gunnery Sergeant was the Skipper’s senior enlisted advisor in the bush. This was necessary to ensure that there was genuine senior leadership in the rear, although technically, the First Sergeant being senior, he should have been with the Skipper.

At any rate, First Sergeant Lee would send out little surprises whenever he could—a bag of onions, a couple of bottles of hot sauce, or some similar item to add zest to the blandness of C-rations. I remember eating a quartered onion like an apple! On this afternoon, he had sent out four one-gallon cans of dill pickles, one for each platoon and one for the CP group.

Before I would allow Bob Henson to open the can, I went over and asked the Skipper, “Are you sure we are staying here until tomorrow night? I don’t want to waste the pickles if we are moving tonight.”

“We’re here for the night,” he assured me. I went back and we opened the pickles. The lid was half-way open when my radio operator said, “Skipper wants you, Sir.”

I walked back to the CP. Frank had a sheepish look on his face. “Did you open the pickles?”

“Oh, please tell me that…..”

“Break out your map.” Damn! “I just got a frag order.” (A fragmentary operation order is one that includes only the mission and execution portions of the standard five-paragraph operation order .) “How good are you at night land navigation?” Double damn!

“I can find may way around pretty well.”

“OK, we need to be at 846494 by 0500 tomorrow.” I looked at my map. What the order called for was a 5000 meter (3 mile) night movement across ground that we had not yet covered.

“Do I have time to conduct a route reconnaissance?”

“Nope. You’re gonna get to do this the old fashioned way.” Wonderful!

“Aye, aye, Sir.” I returned to my platoon CP and grabbed a hand full of dill pickles. Then I broke out my map and compass and began to figure the route to the objective.

Night navigation over long distances is tricky. The usual method is to calculate a magnetic azimuth from your present position to the objective and to then set that azimuth on your compass, having first taken into account the difference between grid (map) north and magnetic north. You then follow the compass, staying on course and counting paces for distance.

The problem in combat is that you must maintain point and flank security and light discipline is absolutely essential. I made sure that the red lens was in my flashlight, because I was going to spend a lot of time under a poncho that night.

We moved out at midnight. Of course, Charlie 3 was the point platoon. On this night, I had one Marine in front of me, followed by me, my radio operator and the rest of the platoon. The
necessity of staying on course meant that we would move slowly. The slightest deviation at the start of the march could throw us far off course 16,000 feet later. I would send the point man out as far as I could see him (about 40 meters), shift him left or right to get him in line with the objective, and then move up to him. We repeated this all night.

The ground was rolling and we had to cross a couple of dry stream beds. Climbing out of those made staying on course particularly difficult.

The Skipper asked for sit reps every hour, then every half hour. Finally, at 0445, he called for a halt. I could hear him stomping up to my position as I looked around trying to figure out where I was. I was huddled under my poncho looking at my map when he got to me.

“All right, Mac, we have 15 minutes to be there. Now, just where the [universal adjective] are we?”

I looked around frantically. “Uh, Skipper. You see that little rise about 50 meters to our right? That’s it.”

He looked. “You are shitting me" He looked. "Well, I’ll be goddamned if it isn’t. Well done, Mac.”

Fifteen years later, I was reviewing my fitness reports when I came into the zone for promotion to lieutenant colonel. In the fitness report for March to June 1969, the abttalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Bill Reilly (who I idolize to this day), wrote “Lieutenant McCarty has developed into a fine rifle platoon commander. His land navigation skills are superb. During this reporting period, he led his company on a five kilometer night march using over broken terrain only a map and compass. In a remarkable feat, he arrived less than 50 meters from the assigned objective.” I have to admit that I am pretty proud of that report!

We were getting a little frustrated, because we had not been able to locate the NVA units that we knew were operating in the area. That afternoon, Charlie 1 sent a patrol out to our west.

We had recently been issued the first generation of starlight scopes. Compared to the scopes our troops are using now, which are attached to their helmets, this was a monster. It was about three feet long and weighed about 15 pounds. Charlie 1 had it that night and spotted 5 NVA standing together about 150 meters south of their lines. They opened up with rifle, machine gun and grenade launcher fire and then moved into the area under 60 mm flares, but found no one.

The next day, May 30, was some sort of Vietnamese holiday and there was a “cease fire” until 1800. At about 1100, we moved into a village, Charlie 1 in the lead, flushing an NVA. We could not open fire because of the “circumstances of the day.” However, when he reached a nearby tree line, he opened fire and we returned fire, but he apparently got away.

That afternoon, Charlie 2 apprehended a woman VC, carrying documents. She was sent in for interrogation.

The next day, Charlie 2 found two dud 500 pound bombs and a dud 155 mm artillery round. The engineers destroyed them without any problem. As May ended, we had spent a week engaging in a long hot walk in the sun (and rain). We had taken casualties and had probably inflicted some, but we had not made the contact that would allow us some payback.

That was about to change.