03 June 2009


On 25 May, I got a new Platoon Sergeant, a Staff Sergeant. Although he was a Staff NCO, he was serving his first tour in Vietnam, having spent the past four years as a recruiter. I received several new Marines, bringing the platoon up to about 30 in strength.

On the morning of the 26th, we set in early in the day after a long night march. As the Platoon Sergeant and I were setting in the lines, there was a burst of rifle fire from our left. Everyone hit the deck. I told the platoon Sergeant to check our right and I moved left. At each of my holes, the troops reported that the fire had come from their left. I continued to crawl to my left, coming up to Charlie 2’s first (right-most) fighting hole. I knew the two Marines in the position from my time as Second Platoon Commander.

“Where did that rifle fire come from,” I asked?

“I fired, Sir,” one Marine replied. “A gook popped up and threw a satchel charge into our lines. I’m sure I hit him.”

Mike Tonkin, my left-most fire team leader was close by and I ordered him to take his team out to look for the wounded enemy soldier. They moved out carefully and found him about 10 meters in front of our lines. Two Marines grabbed him by the arms and pulled him back into our perimeter.

The Gunny and the Skipper crawled up. “What happened,” the Skipper asked. I told him and went on to say, “Did anyone hear an explosion? This guy tossed a satchel charge at us.”

No one had, which meant we probably had a dud satchel charge inside our lines. “What did it look like,” the Gunny asked?

“It was wrapped in banana leaves like them satchel charges we found after they blew up the An Hoa ammo dump, Gunny,” one of the Marines replied. We started a careful search and soon found a packet of leaves about 5 meters behind the hole. It had broken open on impact. All it was was a bundle of leaves.

The wounded Vietnamese was a kid of about 14. He had been hit in the stomach, and the exit wound took off most of one buttock. The corpsmen were working on him to stop the loss of blood. A medevac was called and he was flown off to Danang.

About all we could determine was that he decided to screw with us. He paid dearly for his practical joke.

That afternoon, Charlie 2 was on patrol and spotted one NVA in uniform fleeing from them into a tree line. They took him under fire, and the tree line erupted with heavy small arms fire. The platoon maneuvered forward and spotted several NVA running away in an open paddy. They called in artillery fire. A platoon from Bravo Company was patrolling nearby and linked up with Charlie 2. They found several heavy blood trails and one wounded NVA.

That next morning, I took out an area security patrol. As we entered one abandoned village, we checked the hooches and found a large piece of rusted tin. On the reverse side, drawn in chalk, was a diagram indicating how a machine gunner should lead a helicopter in order to shoot it down. It was the same kind of training aid I might use for a similar period of instruction.

A few feet away, there was a dud 175mm artillery round lying next to the trail. This would have been a deadly booby trap and needed to be destroyed. I did not have an engineer with me, and we had used our C-4 to blow a couple of dud 81 mm rounds earlier on the patrol. I reported our finds to the Skipper, marked the location of the duds on my map, and completed our patrol. When we were about 400 meters from our perimeter, I saw the re-supply chopper hover and release its external cargo net and then land. In only a minute or two, it took off and headed back toward An Hoa.

As we entered the perimeter, I told the Platoon Sergeant to return to our portion of the lines which hAd been manned by Charlie 2 during our patrol. I continued on up the rise towards the CP to report to the Skipper. As I did so, who should I see but Jimmy Phipps, the engineer with whom I had the spider hole adventure in February. Shortly before we left the bridge for the Arizona, he had returned to his parent unit, Company B, 1st Engineer Battalion up near Danang.

“Hey, Lieutenant,” he said with a big grin.

“What the hell are you doing out here, Phipps?”

“Aw, hell, Lieutenant, I’m not cut out to be a garrison Marine. Me and the First Sergeant had a disagreement. He said, ‘Phipps, for two bits I’d send your raggedy ass back out to the bush with the grunts and let you get your [male appendage] shot off.’ I pulled out a 25 cent MPC and said, ‘Go ahead. I don’t mind being with Charlie Company.’ And here I am.”

By now, we were both grinning. I could imagine the First Sergeant’s reaction. “Well, grab your gear and come with me. I’ve got some business for you.”

We got to the CP and I briefed the Skipper. Neal Meier was there, planning the afternoon patrol. He joined our conversation and re-worked his patrol route to take him to the dud round. Phipps began to prepare charges to use on the dud.

At about 1530, my radio operator said, “Hey, Lieutenant, Charlie 1 has some casualties.”

We later learned that they had found a dud 500 pound bomb in addition to the 175 round. Phipps destroyed the bomb, but as he was putting a charge on the 175, he found that it was booby-trapped with a grenade. Shouting a warning to Neal who was observing, he leapt onto the grenade. He was 18.

Neal and another Marine were wounded, but Phipps had saved their lives. He was awarded the Medal of Honor (posthumously). His citation can be found here.

In Scripture, Christ tells us “Greater love has no man than this; that he give his life for his friends.” Phipps meets that standard.

Phipps Hall at Quantico, Phipps Hall at 2d Engineer Battalion at Camp Lejeune, and Phipps Road at Camp Pendleton are all named in his memory. His name can be found at Panel 23 W, Line 2.


Kevin said...

Mac, that was again a moving story of heroism. One of the things I have really enjoyed about this series is the way in which you paint the men you served with. Hollywood loves to villify Vietnam vets. It is good to hear that they were as honorable as our soliders always have been.

When you publish these, I want a signed copy!

Steve said...

my father was in Vietnam and he remembers Jimmy from high school. He remembers him joining as a buddy team with another really good friend Paul Russell was that one of the men that was saved by him??

akaMarvinPlayer said...

I won't go into the fog of war and how that often clouds the events of the past. The fact is that Jimmy Phipps was the best damn combat engineer I had seen then and to now. I stood by Jimmy that day assisting him with the C 4 and det cord. I recall the facts accurately burned into my psyche. A mix of awe and scar. Jimmy had an out. Just to his left was a paddie dike. He stood between the dike and myself the grenade directly between us. I thought he was going to dive over and reach the safety of the 6ft.deep plus paddie to his immediate left. I would have done it myself but I figured it would be 2 sets of ass & elbows scrambling for the same spot. It was closer to him. I didn't want two of us deterring the other from reaching the safety of cover resulting in no one making it. So I turned taking 3 long quick steps and the counting as I ran ( figuring I had about 5 seconds) thought I may get 2 more steps in prior to the grenade detonating). I stayed low. On the third step I glanced back expecting to see Jimmy ass and heels over the dike. What I saw stopped me cold in my tracks. Jimmy was watching me and dropping to his knees holding the edges of his flack jacket out as he covered the grenade with his body and flack jacket. Our eyes met, me frozen in my tracks. Jimmy broke the stare looking away likeley hoping it would set me running again. It did! One step, two. At first I didn't hear the the explosion. the blast came ahead of the sound. It drove over the ground me I don't know how many meters like I had been shot from a canon. I only heard the blast right before I went out. As I regained my senses I could hear the skipper Frank Saterfield ( best Frickin Line Commander Vietnam ever saw) barking out orders securing the perimeter. My name Is Martin Yancosky. I was Charlie 1/4 Air control & known as Sky. If that initial explosive had blown 20 of us would have been lost. PFC Jimmy Phipps was 18 years old. It was his watch as the ( combat engineer) he considered the situation his responsibility. Without hesitation Jimmy stepped up. Not a second thought. His only concern for the safety of his fellow Marines that trusted him. He refused to take the easy way out. He could have, it was right there to his immediate left ( a simple kick and a jump to safety). My injuries were only concussive. A bit of delay speech for the next month or so. I had been in Vietnam three weeks. I never allowed myself again to get emotionally close to any one . I think of Jimmy every day. I try to live my life so it is worth his loss although I know nothing can make up for it. I'm keenly aware of my responsibility and debt to Jimmy. I have had the honor of meeting his family. Better stock you could not find. It's easy to see where JImmy got his sense of responsibility and courage from. His Mom Verna Is an inspiration herself. May 27, 1969 maybe 1600 -1700 hours. We lost Jimmy in the Arizona at Thue Thien (spelling). It is burned in my mind & soul. That day is marked by tragedy and citation but there are countless times not documented that PFC Jimmy Phipps save countless lives even prior to his fatal injuries. Just in those short 3 weeks I cannot remember doing Medivac caused by bobby traps I had to do if Jimmy was our combat engineer. He was that good, the Best of the Best. He is sorely missed. He clearly taught us all a lesson in valor. The spirit of the Corps at its best