01 June 2009


On May 20, all of the officers of the company boarded a CH-46 helicopter for an aerial reconnaissance of the western Arizona. Captain Wilson accompanied us in his capacity as S-3A (Assistant Operations Officer). He and I sat together. As we swooped over one treeline, I heard a strange sound. Captain Wilson’s head snapped around to look aft in the helicopter.

“Was that small arms fire,” I asked. He nodded. When we got back to Phu Loc (6), there were five bullet holes in the side of the bird, although no one was hit and nothing of import was damaged. It just reinforced my view that helicopters are nothing more than big green targets.

May 23 dawned hot and humid. As the company crossed the bridge, we joined the column and headed for the CP. There, we boarded trucks and were moved down the MSR and through An Hoa to a ford across the Son Thu Bon about two clicks west of the combat base.
Even at the ford, the river was running pretty swiftly, and, as can be seen in the photo of Charlie Company, we had to form a human chain to safely cross the river.

We moved to a low hill about two clicks north of the river where we dug in. It was a time for getting our bush habits back. That night, I sent out an ambush patrol to our west. At about 0400 on May 24, a chicom grenade was thrown into the Company’s position, wounding one of the attachments from H&S Company. The wound was minor and did not require evacuation. Troops in the area tossed out several M-26 frag grenades.
At first light, Charlie 1 sent out a patrol which found a dead NVA and a separate pair of legs!

We continued to maintain our position as a patrol base. That night, Third Platoon had both ambush patrols. We moved out of the lines after dark and moved, as a platoon to the site of the first ambush. There, one squad dropped off with the Platoon Sergeant. The other squad then moved on to the other ambush site.

At about 9:00 pm, the company’s lines were probed in Second Platoon’s sector, which we had just turned over to them. For two hours, there was a grenade throwing contest between the NVA and Charlie 2. The NVA threw in 15 to 20 chicoms and Charlie 2 responded with M-26’s. They also detonated several claymore mines and the Skipper called artillery fire on the suspected enemy position. Five Marines were wounded, none seriously.

The next morning, May 25, Charlie 3 was on patrol northeast of the company. In a dry paddy, we found five carrying tubes for 82 mm mortar rounds, complete with Cyrillic (Russian) lettering. They were laid out in the form of an arrow pointing towards our previous night’s position.

That evening, we were once again probed when the NVA threw a chicom into Charlie 1’s lines, slightly wounding one Marine. Once again, we responded with grenades, claymores, and 60mm mortar fire. It was becoming very clear to us that the enemy was present in our area, but not yet ready to take us on.

By now we were in a pretty steady routine. We would receive orders from battalion at any time between 5:00 pm and 8:00 pm, assigning an objective for the night. After the third day, we moved almost every night, ensuring that NVA reconnaissance could not scout our positions for purposes of planning an attack. The Skipper would brief the platoon commanders and then we would issue our orders to the squad leaders. We would move out at any time between 11:00 PM and 2:00 am, depending on the length of the march. We would usually attack at dawn by sweeping into the objective. If enemy troops were spotted, we would take them under fire and call in supporting arms (mortars, artillery, or air) as appropriate.

We would secure the objective and dig in for the day, operating as a patrol base. In Third Platoon, my daily practice was to clean and inspect all weapons and ammunition. I had one Marine whose weapon was a “rust magnet.” He could clean it perfectly and within 5 minutes it would be rusty again.

Every third day, a platoon would get to send one man back to An Hoa with the empty mail bags. It was a way to reward a Marine with a chance to shower, get a hot meal, and sleep the night through. The troops were always tired, so this was a real treat. I continued to average three hours of sleep per day and to shed weight.

One morning, I sent the Marine with the rust magnet back to An Hoa with the mail bags. The next morning, he came back out with the resupply bird. A little later, I began to inspect his squad’s rifles. His weapon was spotless. I couldn’t believe it.

“What did you do to this weapon,” I asked?

“Oh, I was going to explain that, Sir. You see, when I was back in the rear yesterday, the First Sergeant told me to go to chow as soon as the mess hall opened. I got in line with a bunch of the pogues [a pogue was a clerk or other rear echelon Marine—also known as REMF’s] from Headquarters Company. Did you know they don’t let you carry your weapon into the mess hall, Sir?” He obviously was surprised, and I couldn’t wait to hear the rest of his story.

“Well, any way, Sir, they make you stack your weapon against the sandbags. When I came out, I saw how clean those REMFs’ weapons were, and I figured ‘Hey, I’m in the bush and they’re back here in An Hoa. Which one of us needs a clean rifle more?’ So I swapped.”

It made perfect sense to me! How can you not love these Marines?

It was about this time that I had to make one of the hardest decisions of my career. A Master Sergeant at Force Logistics Command in Danang had noticed that some of the bombs that were coming in were packed in Styrofoam containers. He suggested that instead of just getting rid of these containers, they could be packed with dry ice and used to ship Dixie cup ice cream to the troops in the field. A unit could expect one ice cream shipment every six months, so it was a really big deal.

One afternoon, we were informed that our ice cream day would be the next afternoon. On I-Day, the Skipper ordered me to take out a squad sized reconnaissance patrol and to return at Noon, so as to be there when the ice cream arrived. We moved out at about 8:00 am and by 10:30, we were at our furthest checkpoint from the company position. A helicopter with a cargo sling came swooping over us and landed at the company position.

A few minutes later, the Platoon Sergeant called me on the radio. “The goddamn ice cream is here. What should I do. It is already melting.”

The Squad leader had heard the message and was staring bullets at me. I knew that it would be two hours before we could get back. In the 115 degree weather, I had no choice.

“Give it to Three Alpha (First Squad) and I’ll find some way to make it up to Three Bravo.” The disappointment was palpable. Thank goodness I was out with them and not back with the ice cream. It took four cases of Cokes, bought with some of the cash I had come in country with in December, to mollify them.

The next morning, we were ordered to sweep through a ville to our west. An observation post had spotted NVA entering the ville at dusk the night before. Charlie 2 and the CP group, including mortars, would occupy a hill about 700 meters to the east of the ville. Charlie 1 and Charlie 3 would attack south to north, with both platoons on line. As senior platoon commander, I would control the speed of advance.

We commenced the attack by firing three 60 mm high explosive rounds about 100 meters to our front. I then ordered the advance and shifted the mortar fire 25 meters every time they fired, thus “leaning into” our supporting fires. We destroyed all bunkers, some spider holes, and a tunnel. In one hooch, we found 2 pair of khaki trousers, a pair of khaki shorts, I set of black trousers and a shirt, 2 NVA belts, an NVA canteen, and a can of rice.

Charlie 1 stayed in the ville to secure it and I turned right to sweep back to the company. The area was dotted with tree lines and individual hooches. At one point, the Skipper asked me for a report, so my radio operator and I stopped while I gave my report. The platoon continued to advance and was soon out of sight.

As soon as I had completed my report, Gibby and I began to double time to catch the platoon. We came through a tree line and into a clearing that was perhaps 40 meters wide. There was a hooch to our left. Suddenly, a figure in black darted out of the hooch and ran across our front.

I hesitated because my platoon was somewhere just in front of me. I did not want to fire wildly and perhaps hit one of my own Marines. I took aim and was about to fire when the man stopped and picked up a “paddy hat,” a conical straw hat. He looked to be about 70. He grinned at me.

The adrenaline was surging. I walked over and butt-stroked him in the side of the head, all the while cursing a blue streak. The gist of my remarks was that this stupid old SOB had almost been shot over a stupid hat. I was furious and scared silly to realize that I was so close to killing him when all he wanted was that hat. He was moaning and whimpering. Doc came running back—the platoon was only 30 meters away on the other side of the next tree line—and patched him up.

I suppose that until the day he died, he tried to figure out why that crazy American had hit him, never knowing that he came within a hair’s breadth of dying that very morning. I’ve never forgotten him.

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