20 December 2009


As I write this, it is the 41st anniversary of my arrival in Vietnam. On my Face Book page, Reformed Catholic reminded me that I had started this project last year at this time. After I got through my days in the bush with the Marines of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, I took a break. But now, I think it is time to finish up my time “down south in the Republic.”

After I returned to An Hoa from Embarkation School, I was “transferred” from Charlie Company to Headquarters and Service Company (H&S Company). Major Pat O’Toole was acting CO, Colonel Riley having been transferred while I was in Okinawa. The Battalion staff, consisted of Lt. Tom Pottenger (a TBS classmate) as Adjutant and S-1 (Personnel Officer), Major Bob Kerzic as “the Three” (S-3—Operations Officer), and I was now “the Four” (Logistics Officer). There was no officer available to fill the S-2 (Intelligence Officer) billet, so the “Two Chief,” an NCO performed that function.

I had no idea how to be the Four, but fortunately for me, Captain Castagnetti was soon assigned as Regimental S-4. Three-Five’s four was a Captain who had shepherded our little gaggle of lieutenants down to An Hoa the previous December. Those two Captains took me under their wings and I began to learn how to be a staff officer. In particular, Captain (soon to be Major) Castagnetti began to “invite” me to his bunker for a nightly “four” school. The many things I learned, from references to Marine Corps publications to tricks of the trade, stood me in good stead for the rest of my career.

A few days later, we got a new Battalion Commander. Lieutenant Colonel Joseph K. Griffis is one of those men who make a mark on a young man’s life. He was a veteran of WWII (as a very young enlisted Marine) and Korea. Joe Griffis was a hard man who knew the hard business of war. And as young men often do, we failed to realize just how lucky we were to have him as “the Old Man.” Fortunately, we had the privilege of being his boys for another 39 years.

In 1969, he wore a trademark blue bandana at his neck and insisted that every man in the battalion carry a rifle unless he was actually carrying a crew-served weapon. (That would later cause me some grief, but that is a story for another day.) He himself had acquired a M-16 carbine, another trademark.

As a result of his arrival, Maj. O’Toole came back to An Hoa and resumed his position as Executive Officer. The battalion continued to operate in The Arizona.

I did not really like being a staff officer. It was tedious and not very exciting. Then I heard that 1st Reconnaissance Battalion was looking for platoon commanders. That struck me as a perfect solution.

A reconnaissance platoon commander led recon patrols deep into enemy-controlled territory. A team of six to eight Marines with a Corpsman would be inserted into an area for several days to seek out enemy positions, snatch prisoners, and call in artillery on enemy formations. It was lonely and dangerous work, but it sure beat manning a desk. All I had to do was get the transfer.

I can best tell what happened in this way. In 1999, the 1st Marine Division Association held its annual reunion in Philadelphia. I had been a Life member since 1969 but had never attended a reunion. Robin Montgomery called me and asked me to attend so that we could vote for his platoon sergeant who was running for Vice President.

SWMBO came into town for the banquet on Saturday night. That afternoon we were in the Charlie Company hospitality suite when in walked J.K. Griffis. He was greeted warmly by a number of folks. I caught his eye.

“Sir, you probably don’t remember me, but. . .”

“Of course I do, Mac. You were my Four!” After 30 years!!! I started to introduce SWMBO when I was grabbed from behind in a monstrous bear hug.

“Mac, Mac, you sonuvabitch! I was hoping you would be here!” It was Colonel O’Toole.

SWMBO’s eyes were like dinner plates. I began to introduce her to a grinning Colonel Griffis and the XO. Pat O’Toole turned to SWMBO. “I am so pleased to meet you,” he said. “Let me tell you about the crazy sob you married.”

“He had been the Four for a week or so. One Friday morning, he reported to me with an AA form (Administrative Action form) requesting a transfer to Recon Battalion. I tore it up and told him ‘You’re the Four. Now get back to work.’”

“But he wants to argue. ‘Major,’ he says, you can’t do that. The book says you can forward it recommending disapproval, but you have to forward it.’ I said ‘The hell I can’t. You’re the Four. Now get out of here.’ There was no way we were going to lose him.”

“Well, the next Friday morning, there he is again. I tore up his AA form and we had the same conversation. The next week, I had something going on with Regiment, so I told one of the S-1 clerks to go up and tell Mac that I was busy and that he should just go ahead and tear up the AA form himself.”

“And, Mrs. Mac, the crazy sob did just that!”

Unlike most sea stories, that one was spot on. The room erupted in laughter. A couple of guys said “So. It was you. He has told that story for years!” I was home again.

A few days after the “AA form incident,” I went on R&R to Hawaii and by the time I returned, I knew that I was the Four for the duration of my tour. In retrospect, it was right for me.

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

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