08 October 2010

LIES, DAMNED LIES, AND STATISTICS

The apocryphal statement that there are three types of falsehood—lies, damned lies, and statistics—may once again be proved in today's Department of Labor report on employment figures for September. DOL says that employment “edged down” with a loss of 95,000 non-farm jobs, but the percentage remained unchanged at 9.6%. The White House desperately wants some positive number to use in the run up to the November elections, and any molding of the numbers that can help get the desired result will be warmly received.

Since last Spring, the numbers have been inflated by the addition of hundreds of thousands of temporary census workers. As many of those as possible were kept on the rolls for as long as possible. For the first time I can remember, I had visits from multiple census workers, each asking me to confirm the exact information I had mailed in April. I’m glad these folks had “jobs,” but I wish they had been producing something more than favorable numbers for the Democratic Party to use in their press releases. The last of those jobs ended in September.

But there are still ways to cook the books. In New York, folks who were “employed” for two days—as poll workers in the primary elections—are now being counted as employed in September.

“How,” you ask?

In September, the New York City Board of Elections refused to hire any poll workers—previously deemed to be independent contractors—until they filled out IRS forms that would then make them reportable as “employed.” Tens of thousands of poll workers were then in place to be counted by DOL which collects its numbers during the week in which the election was conducted.

But, as the Gallup organization reported, “. . . monitoring of job market conditions suggests that there was a sharp increase in the unemployment rate during the last couple of weeks of September.” Read the full report here. Gallup reports that the true unemployment figure for September is probably closer to 10.1%, rather than the 9.6% reported by the DOL today.

The October numbers will not be reported until after the November 2 mid-term elections. I expect that Robert Gibbs will trumpet this report as just another sign that the President’s “plan” is working. Lies, damned lies, and statistics, indeed.

20 September 2010

14 September 2010

FLAG BURNERS BEWARE!

Since at least the mid-1960’s, the liberal left has taken for granted that certain acts, e.g., burning an American flag, during a protest are “protected speech” under the First Amendment to the Constitution.

In the past few weeks, however, the loony left has gone berserk over the possibility that a pastor in Florida might burn a Koran. To do something so disrespectful of a another culture runs contrary to their views of diversity and apparently cannot have First Amendment ramifications. The President, the Secretaries of Defense and State, and General David Petraeus, Commander, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A), either spoke to or otherwise directed comments to this lone citizen, asserting in language that is eerily reminiscent of the Espionage Act of 1917, that he was endangering US troops. The pastor was even allowed to have coffee with a bunch of FBI agents who dropped in at the behest of the Attorney General.

Ever since now-Vice President Biden took to task Judge Robert Bork for his scholarly writing, asserting that his comments in such writings disqualified him for confirmation as an Associate Justice of the Supreme, candidates for the Court have asserted a “principle” that candidates and serving Justices ought not comment on cases that might come before the Court. They routinely do so in order to avoid being “borked” by the Senate.

In a recent interview with ABC's George Stephanopolous, Associate Justice Stephen Breyer, appears to have departed from that principle.  Breyer, a Clinton appointee to the Supreme Court, said that it is likely that the First Amendment to the Constitution does not protect persons from being arrested and tried for burning the Koran. In so doing, he misquotes one of the landmark decisions of the Supreme Court, Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919).

Schenck was the Secretary of the Socialist Party during World War I. A “war protester”, he had printed and then distributed or mailed 15,000 leaflets to men eligible for the draft. The leaflets advocated opposition to the draft. They suggested that the draft was identical to slavery, outlawed by the 13th Amendment, and contained statements such as: "Do not submit to intimidation", "Assert your rights", "If you do not assert and support your rights, you are helping to deny or disparage rights which it is the solemn duty of all citizens and residents of the United States to retain." 249 U. S. at 51.

Schenck was tried under the Espionage Act of 1917 which prohibited any attempt to interfere with military operations, to support America's enemies during wartime, to promote insubordination in the military, or to interfere with military recruitment. He was convicted and sentenced to six months in prison.

On appeal, Schenck asserted, inter alia, that his actions were protected by the free speech clause of the First Amendment. Writing for a unanimous Court, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., a Civil War veteran, wrote that “when a nation is at war many things that might be said in time of peace are such a hindrance to its effort that their utterance will not be endured so long as men fight, and that no Court could regard them as protected by any constitutional right." 249 US at 52.

Because Schenck was later watered down in a series of cases, including Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969)(government cannot punish inflammatory speech unless it is directed to inciting and likely to incite imminent lawless action), it is primarily remembered for the quote that Breyer botched.

Justice Holmes wrote that "the most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic." 249 US at 52 (emphasis added). The resulting test announced by the Court was stated thusly: “The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent. It is a question of proximity and degree.” Id. (emphasis added).

So Breyer—and this is surprising for a man of his judicial experience and intellect—left out an important word. If the theater is, in fact, burning, it is quite permissible to shout “fire.”

In the interview, Breyer suggested that any “speech”, which now apparently includes burning some books or flags or ROTC buildings, can be suppressed if it would upset people in other parts of the world. (Stephanopolous posed his question on the ability of modern media to instantaneously spread around the globe the happenings in a kooky little congregation in Florida.)

So, protesters beware. It looks as if Breyer, for one, would return to Schenck and might allow prosecutions under the Espionage Act of 1917 for acts that would impede military operations or give support to America’s enemies during wartime (something that the President who appointed him had fun doing while your reporter was getting shot at on a daily basis).  At least one man in the current government recognizes that Iraq and Afghanistan are wars!

Justice Breyer, can you spell "recusal"?

11 September 2010

LEST WE FORGET

Today marks the ninth anniversary of the attack on America by radical Islam. Not all Muslims, mind you, but the attack was conceived, planned, executed and celebrated by huge numbers of Muslims around the world.

Now I don’t hold with burning books, whether they be Christian Bibles burned by Hamas (an Islamic theocracy)or by the American government. Likewise, I don’t agree with burning works of philosophy such as the Koran, Mao's Little Red Book, or Mein Kampf. They may be of great interest to historians, students of comparative theology, and political scientists, and should be preserved for study. Just because I don’t think a book has any application to my life does not require me to seek its destruction. The destruction of the written word is dangerous, because it is the first tumble down a slippery slope.

So the morons in Kansas and Florida who have decided that a book burning is really good way to spend a Saturday, should be ignored, not raised to international stature. But the useful idiots who loudly attempt to separate Islam from the attack should be equally ignored.

There is an entire stream of Islam, not just a few isolated, theologically ignorant dopes, that intends to do us in and impose their theocracy upon us. Anyone who thinks differently is living in Fantasy Land.

07 September 2010

IS SOLA SCRIPTURA DEAD?

Jody Harrington is a Presbyterian Church (USA) Ruling Elder and former Moderator the PC(USA)’s New Covenant Presbytery, located in south Texas. She is the author of a nationally known blog, Quotidian Grace. For any who have never read Jody’s thoughtful and entertaining blog—where she covers everything from dogs and Texas recipes to deep theological discussion and trenchant book reviews—I suggest that you give her a read. You’ll be hooked within a few sentences. (She is also running for the “Mom of Congress.” They need one! See her platform on her blog page.)

A few weeks ago, she wrote a blog entry entitled Sola Kerfuffle, where she reported that

The newly-installed Vice Moderator of the PCUSA, Landon Whitsett, was recently quoted in an interview saying:

Sola Scriptura is dead most places and dying rapidly in others. So where do we lodge the authority of our faith? That's the real battle we see fought in the church.
For those of you who are not Reformation scholars, the "Five Solas" are five Latin phrases that summarize the theological distinctions between the Protestant Reformers and the Roman Catholic Church of the Reformation era.

They are:
Sola Scriptura (by scripture alone)
Sola fide (by faith alone)
Sola gratia (by grace alone)
Solus Christus (through Christ alone)
Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone)


One of Jody's readers, Jessi commented on Sola Kerfuffle with a really good, succinct explanation of the five solas. She said

They are explaining different aspects of salvation.

Who/what is the authority on knowing God and having salvation: Scripture alone. (We can't add/subtract from it.)

How do we come to have salvation: Faith alone. (Faith, and not works.)

How does one acquire faith: Grace alone. (For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. Eph 2:8)

What/who is the object of our faith: Christ alone!

Why: For God's glory alone, [which] means that God's own glory is why he chose to create us and then save us!! It is nothing in us, but his love for us. It is not me being kind, so God grants me faith through grace. No, grace is unmerited!!! I did nothing. I wasn't nice, I was mean. I was God's enemy!! But it brings him glory to make beauty out of rubble. I was worthless. I did not earn his love. "He loved us while we were yet sinners!"

Since we have lost a lot of the history with the solas, and other truths discovered during the reformation, I thought I should explain the God's glory part. Not that it'd be wrong for God to be interested in glorifying himself--he is God--but that is not exactly what Glory alone means. It means that we bring glory to God when we come to him--but not because we are these glorious creatures. Rather it's because it shows what God does with sinful man!!

In Sola Kerfuffle, QG (as she is affectionately known in the blogosphere) commented, probably correctly, that many (most?) Ruling Elders in the PC(USA) today might not know about the Five Solas. She recommended that they be included in elder training, a wonderful idea in my opinion. And in the Sunday School curriculum, too.

This morning, she followed up with a new blog, Sola Kerfuffle: The Podcast with the Moderators!

She reports that she was contacted by GA Moderator Cynthia Bolbach, who asked her to participate with Rev. Whitsett and Moderator Bolbach in a podcast discussion about the authority of Scripture. The podcast can be found here.

I listened to the discussion with fascination. If I understood Rev. Whitsett correctly, I am glad that God led us out of the PC(USA) and to our new home in the EPC. If I understood him correctly, his position is central to the troubles that continue to afflict the PC(USA), a denomination that many of us feel has lost its bearings.

I’ll start with one picky little comment about the format. I noticed that the podcast did not open with prayer. In the EPC, frequent prayer is an integral part of every meeting. In the GA, the Committee reports are invariably shorter than the prayers that mark the start of each such report. As a result, I have seen that opening with prayer in even the smallest, most informal endeavors adds to the discussions that follow.

Rev. Whitsett spoke first. He “likes”, even “reveres” the Bible, but cannot say what is its “level of authority.” He is “tired of hearing people use Scripture as a trump card.” I think I heard him say that the Bible is not the Word of God—only Jesus can claim that title.

True, he conceded that the only way to find out about Jesus is to go to Scripture, but Scripture “is not a foundational truth.” He implied that Scripture needs to be interpreted in a context, PC(USA)-speak for “we are oh so much smarter than those 1st Century fishermen and peasants.” Because he is unsure of what level of authority the Bible has, he suggests that we should also consider “history and traditions” to make Scripture “fit into the community.”

That’s a problem: The Reformation came about because the Roman Catholic Church had allowed man-made stuff to become co-equal to, or even trump, Scripture, hence the Reformation adoption of Sola Scriptura.

Moreover, that is exactly why many of us had to leave the PC(USA): we were told that when reading the Bible, we should “listen for the Word of God” (maybe it is there, maybe not) rather than “listen to the Word of God.” We were condemned for being too conservative rather than bending the Word to the world. We were told that sin is an out-moded concept and just because some sins are now acceptable in our “community,” i.e., adultery, homosexual practice, and perjury, we were bigots for insisting that sin is sin.

QG stood her ground. She was “troubled” by Rev. Whitsett’s opening remarks. She rightly said that we must struggle with Scripture to understand it. She agreed that simple proof-texting is not enough, but said that we must do the really hard work of delving into and prayerfully immersing ourselves in Scripture in order to understand God’s will for us.

I suggest that we often avoid that struggle because we know that the result of our study may, and probably will, lead us to do things that God wants, but we don’t.

A Time For Every Purpose Under Heaven, the report of the NWAC Strategy Team to the New Wineskins Association of Churches,identified two faithful options for members of the PC(USA)struggling with the drift of the PC(USA)'s national leadership. When Rev. Dr. Rick Wolling and I wrote the introductory chapter of that report, we summarized the findings in this way:

•Those who were called by God to leave the PC(USA) could faithfully do so.

•Those who were called by God “stay where they are and be a prophetic witness” and “to strive to reform, renew and repair the old homestead so that it can once again be a vibrant and welcoming lodging for those who are lost and hungry for the Word” could also do so faithfully.

We said one other thing: “That being said, we implore all to whom this report shall come: there must be a new thing, wherever it may occur. To simply stand fast. . .” is not a faithful option. See A Time For Every Purpose Under Heaven at pp 15-16.

QG is clearly a prophetic witness. I envision her, toolbelt strapped in place, hammering and sawing and painting at the old home place.

We who left the PC(USA) felt that no one in the presbyteries and the GA were listening to us. In taking on the role of a spokesperson for the many in the PC(USA) who feel that they are never heard, QG has once again witnessed to the power of the servant-leader.

Bravo Zulu, QG.

05 September 2010

LET THE GAMES BEGIN

Labor Day has traditionally marked the beginning America’s oldest full-contact sport season. Election Day 2010 is now 56 days and a wake up away. And what a season it looks to be, reminiscent of the Roman Coliseum in its heyday. There will be sacrificial rites, comedic plays, and enough blood and gore to satisfy the hardest cynic.

First, the Democratic Party, having nearly bankrupted the Country, finally sees the wolves (or as many call them, the electorate) nipping at their heels. Hoping to save the hides of their leadership, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee intends to toss many of its own from the chariot. Members of the caucus who polls and “other data” show are about to be trounced because of their support for Pelosi and Reid will be abandoned. As reported here, they refer to their actions as “triage.” That’s what happens when Representatives in Congress forget just who it is that they are representing.

In one entertaining ad run by Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.), she compares Congress to her toddler. They are messy eaters who need potty training, have no concept of money, and “don’t listen.” Then she runs away from her party, reminding South Dakotans that she voted against Obamacare and the bailouts. We’ll see if that works, because the Chair of the DNC says any Democrat who denies President Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid is “foolish.”

As reported here, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine has a message for Democrats trying to run from President Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid.

"If you run away from who you are and you're a Democrat, it's foolish," Kaine said on "Fox News Sunday." "It's foolish because you've got a lot to be proud of." All that is missing is a cock crowing in the distance.

Now Party discipline is a necessary vice, but the chief disciplinarian needs to watch his own metaphors. A Gallup Poll released last week puts the Democratic Party 10 points down in a “generic ballot.” The so-called "Summer of Recovery" has been a bust, with a net loss of over a quarter of a million jobs. But Kaine doesn’t see it that way. "Here's what I say: We are climbing out of attic (sic), we are climbing out ... and the Democrats have built the ladder."

The last time I checked, climbing out of an attic was a downward trip. Maybe Tim needs to be triaged.

03 September 2010

AN HISTORIC MONTH

This will be an historic month for our church—Forks of the Brandywine Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Glen Moore, Pennsylvania. On September 17, we celebrate the 275th anniversary of the founding of the congregation. Our fourth building, erected in 1875, is located on the same land—purchased from William Penn’s sons--as the very first log sanctuary. There are 13 veterans of the Revolutionary War resting in the church yard.

In its 275 years, the Forks has been through the Old Side-New Side era (as evidenced by our two cemeteries). It has sent its sons to 10 wars starting with the French and Indian War and culminating in the current wars in the Middle East. Dwight L. Moody and J. Gresham Machen have preached from our pulpit. We have seen the two great awakenings, as well as tragic deviations from the Reformed traditions, including the debacle of the 1924 General Assembly of the PCUSA and the steady worldly drift of the PC(USA). In 2007, we were one of the 4 original members of the New Wineskins Presbytery of the EPC.

We will also receive our new pastor, Rev. Wil Snyder, who will begin his pastorate as the 17th pastor of our congregation.

At the end of the month, we will be received into the EPC’s Presbytery of the East, finishing a journey that began 10 years ago.

Throughout the past two and three-quarters centuries, our people have maintained a vibrant and energetic faith in God and have gratefully declared the Lordship of His son, Jesus Christ, and the infallibility and inerrancy of His word set forth in the Holy Bible. We look forward with joy, excitement and confidence to the next 25 years.

24 August 2010

“NOW YOU HAVE TAXATION WITH REPRESENTATION. DO YOU LIKE IT ANY BETTER?”

One episode of the TV series Maude centered around a British woman who was studying for her US citizenship exam. Maude was helping her study.

“Why did the colonists revolt against England,” Maude asked?

“I have never understood that,” her friend replied.

“We didn’t like taxation without representation.”

“Well, “ her friend observed, “now you have taxation with representation. Do you like it any better?”

Those of us who were taught American history, before the politically correct bunch decided to rewrite the curriculum, learned about the many taxes that Parliament attempted to impose on our ancestors. The Sugar Act, Stamp Act, the Townshend Acts, and so many others, culminating with the Tea Act, led the people to rise up and demand their independence. So repugnant to the Founding Fathers were taxes that the Constitution as originally written (pre-16th Amendment) provided that “No capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken.” Art I, sec 9, cl 4 In other words, a flat or head tax on the citizenry was the only permissible tax on the people.

And history may be repeating itself.

Government at every level is out of control. Ignoring the economic facts, the federal government has spent trillions it doesn’t have on a health care plan that will never work. After the Democrats spent months assuring the American people that a massive expansion of government would result in huge savings, we now learn that they lied.

In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Governor Rendell is seeking additional taxes and significant increases from the largest and most expensive state legislature in the Nation. School Boards are kowtowing to the unions and increasing budgets, salaries and taxes on a population that has seen income—and often jobs—dwindle.

Now, the City of Philadelphia is planning to tax bloggers!

According to the Mayor, the City just learned that some bloggers who allow advertising to appear on their blogs have reported the resulting income to the IRS. Deeming such blogs to be “businesses,” the City plans to require bloggers to obtain a business privilege license.

At some point in time, the people are going to wake up. I wonder if November 2 may be reveille?

30 July 2010

COMING HOME

On the evening of May 10, 2010, if I had been asked, “Are you planning to hurt yourself?”, I would have answered “No.” A few hours later, I awoke from “the dream” to the thought that “I cannot do this anymore!”

I got up—as I had in nearly every other night for the past 41 years to walk through the house, “checking lines.” This time, I dressed haphazardly, put a shotgun in my truck, went back in the house to get my helmet, and drove to a field, where I was surrounded by repeated intermittent visions of North Vietnamese Army soldiers and the ghosts of my Marines. For two and a half hours, I sat there with a loaded shotgun, muzzle against my chest, thumb on the trigger, safety off. Had you asked me, “What in God’s Name are you doing?”, I would have answered, “I don’t think God knows where I am.”

Of course, I was wrong—He had His arms firmly around me.

By 7:00 am the next morning, I was in the VA Hospital in Coatesville, Pennsylvania. After spending seven days on the psychiatric ward, I was accepted in the combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) unit at Coatesville. The program, which was started in 1981, a year after PTSD was first recognized by the American Psychiatric Association as an anxiety disorder, is recognized as one of the finest PTSD programs in the Nation.

Combat-related PTSD is a tricky bastard: It is marked by flashbacks (in which the traumatic event(s) are re-experienced as if they were occurring in the present, rather than as memories), nightmares, and a negative emotional and/or physical response to reminders of the traumatic event(s), such as, in my case, fireworks, sounds of helicopters or sounds replicating mortars being fired, and certain landscapes. As a result, I followed the norm and began to avoid behaviors, places, or people that might lead to distressing memories. For me, that included seeking to avoid conflict, uncertainty, and decision-making. This led me to self-isolate and refrain, in an ever-smaller personal world, from activities in my profession, community, church, and family. There was many a day that, after SWMBO and the kids left for school, I sat in a dark closet. I became emotionally numb and began to see the future as just an ever smaller and ever darker place.

In addition to experiencing difficulty staying asleep, my concentration and mental focus went to Hell. There were many days in which I lost hours of my time.

At the same time, I became hyper-vigilant. I dove for cover at the sound of a balloon popping right behind me--to the amused consternation of my fellow passengers on a commuter train. I heard mortars in the distance and dreamt of the in-coming short round that almost got us in the Arizona.

And my anger became unmanageable. Imagine, if you can, the look on a little boy’s face when he is braced up for not immediately putting his dishes in the sink. “Dammit! People die when orders are not followed.” Really?, he must have thought.

Thankfully, I did not succumb to self-medication with drugs and alcohol, a major recourse sought by many combat-related PTSD sufferers.

Finally, the guilt I felt for surviving when my Marines did not had become overwhelming.

After an intense 11 week hospitalization, I am home. The therapists and staff at VA, Coatesville, are the best. The work they do with vets from Vietnam, Beirut, Desert Storm. Bosnia, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan is something to see.

As we worked through my memory of “that night”, I told my therapist “I want the pain to go away, but I don’t want to lose the gallantry of my Marines ‘that night.’”

“Mac,” she replied, “there is not a therapist on earth that could do that, or who would want to.”

Last week, just before I came home, I told Wandro’s story in one of our groups. For the first time in 41 years, I did not cry during the re-telling—that came later and as a relief. I was sad, but it was something that happened in the past, not in the here and now.

There is a slogan that is almost a mantra in the PTSD unit: “It takes the courage of a warrior to seek help.” For the past 11 weeks, I have lived, laughed, cried, studied, and bonded with some courageous warriors. Each one is battling his or her own demons, while becoming re-assured that he is not the Lone Ranger.

They are as special to me as are the Marines of Charlie Company and I will never forget them.

I still have a long, long way to go (on the walk to my truck, I heard a whirrrrrring sound and ducked reflexively), but I’ve made a start.

10 April 2010

HOME IS THE SAILOR, HOME FROM THE SEA. . .

The plane landed in St. Louis at about 0600. I quickly collected my gear and grabbed a cab. The driver quoted a fare across the river and we were off. He was a 1/5 vet of Korea, who kept up a running commentary about his experiences in “a real war.” When we arrived, I threw my sea bag over my shoulder and walked up the drive to the front door. It was about 0645. On a whim, I knocked and stood there. Mom opened the door having apparently just gotten out of bed. She did not have her glasses on.

“Merry Christmas, lady.”

“Oh, just a minute let me get my glasses.” She turned to go back into the house.

Well, this isn’t what I expected. “Uh, Mom?”

She spun, screamed “Michael?” and then started yelling “Mary. Mary. Michael’s home.” Turning to me, she said “Oh, my. I thought you were the mailman.” (For our younger readers who are about to face Saturdays without home delivery—as if the generation of twitter and texting and e-mail will even notice—there was a time when, during the Christmas holidays, mail was regularly delivered twice a day.)

I was still standing on the porch. My Sister came running into the room and ushered me into the house . We had a quick breakfast as Mom and Sis readied to go to school. After they left, I showered and shaved and hit the rack, with the two cats nestled together on my chest. I slept the clock around.

The next day, I borrowed a car and drove up to ISU to see Maryann. I had talked to her and knew that she was in class until 2:00 pm. We planned to meet at the University Union.

I parked and walked across the campus. I was in uniform, and began to get a lot of looks—curious, then cautious, then disdainful. Suddenly, a scruffy looking co-ed stepped into my path. She grabbed me by the lapels, and screamed “How many innocent people did you kill, you mother f-----g pig ? You should rot in Hell!” The only reaction from the students was smirks and laughter.

I took her wrists and pulled them away. She laughed in my face.

When I finally met Maryann, and after a warm reception, she said, “Oh, I should have warned you not to wear your Marine costume. It’s best not to let anyone know what you do for a living.”

Costume? The Service is “what I do for a living?”

I drove her to Chicago the next afternoon for a reunion with her family. She did some last minute shopping for the wedding and I tried to ease back into life in the World. But I felt out of place. No one asked about my year in Vietnam or even alluded to the fact that less than a week before, I had been at An Hoa. I drove her back to the University on Sunday and then on to Granite City.

The next morning, I went downtown to shop for a car. I knew what I wanted and within 15 minutes had ordered a brand spanking new 1970 Chevrolet Nova, to be picked up the next morning. It cost me $1,978. 62, including tax, title and tags. Those were the days, my friends.

I next headed to the credit union to arrange for an auto loan. My folks had been members for years and I had gotten a loan two years before when I bought my VW Beetle. The President of the credit union, who was also our insurance agent, worked through the paperwork.

“Now, your Mother will need to co-sign this loan.”

“Really? She didn’t co-sign the last time.”

“Yes, but now you’re in the Army. We need a guarantee on the loan.” I bristled.

His son (and the VP of both the credit union and the insurance agency) looked up. “He’s a Marine, Dad. They don’t like being mistaken for the Army.”

“Oh,” Harry muttered. “Well, in any case, we need a co-signor when one of them wants a loan.”

One of them? “Really? Even though the last time I was just a college student and now I am a career officer?”

“You’re not a ‘career officer’ until you have 15 years in the service.”

His son, who had just gotten out of the Army, looked up again. “I know that is what the credit union has decided, Dad, but I don’t want to be here the day you tell some Major that he is not a career soldier.”

I had had enough. “Look, forget it. Just get the insurance papers put together. I’m picking up the car tomorrow.” He agreed.

I quickly drove out to the Granite City Army Engineer Depot and headed for the disbursing office. Luckily, I had brought my pay records with me, assuming I would need them at the credit union. I had already gotten cash back at An Hoa for my leave, including the honeymoon, but now I needed to buy a car.

A civilian disbursing clerk saw me coming. I handed her my ID card and pay record and said “I need to get some of the cash I have on the books.”

“No problem, Sir. How much?”

“$1,978. 62.” She looked up with a quizzical smile. “I’m buying a car,” I explained.

Ten minutes later, she was back. I signed for the cash and she handed me my pay jacket. “Do you have anything to carry your money in?” Damn. She saw my face and smiled again. “Here, I have my lunch bag. Will that do?” I walked out with the cash in a mayonnaise-stained brown paper bag.

I was really unsettled by this time. That night, I decided to take care of one other little piece of business. I drove to the local American Legion Post. It was Monday night and I suspected that the weekly ham and beans dinner would soon be underway. One of the Legionnaires at the front desk looked up. “What can I do for you?”

“I’m just home from Vietnam. Thought I’d join up,” I replied.

He looked at another guy at the desk, turned back to me, and snorted. “Another one of them, eh. Look, Sonny, why don’t you come back when you’ve won a goddam war?” They both laughed.

I spun on my heel and marched out. “How many innocent people did you kill?” Marine “costume?” One of them? Come back when you’ve won one? It dawned on me that no one—no one—had said “Welcome Home.”

Am I welcome? I had the strangest longing to be back with 1/5, in a place that I understood.




That was 40 years ago. Since then we, as a Nation, have had our ups and downs.

We've gone through the terrible years of the early 70s when we almost tore the Country apart and planted the seeds of political polarization that are still bearing fruit today. We have seen bad presidents—Nixon and the worst of all, Jimmy Carter(who delayed the raid to bring our hostages home until he could be assured that no Iranians would be hurt!), and a great president, Ronald Reagan. We have elected a draft dodger, who protested on foreign soil while my Marines were taking the battle to the enemy, and the first black American who is still writing his record on the slate of history.

We have fought and won one war using tactics based on the lessons of Vietnam. In General Powell's words when he spoke to the Naval Institute, we learned that when we go to war, we need to "gang up." But we are also in danger of forgetting that lesson of the need for overwhelming force as a new generation tries to ignore a war that is being fought by its best.

The Veteran’s Administration of the 1970s, with its hell hole hospitals and inadequate budgets, has been replaced by a VA that is a refuge to those of us who are still dealing with Vietnam, the gift that keeps on giving.

It was not until the 1980s that the American Legion really began to reach out to Vietnam vets—and then, mainly, as a matter of survival. The Vietnam War Memorial, a black hole in the ground designed by a college kid from an Ivy League college that did not want the ROTC on its campus, has now become the most visited site in Washington, DC. With the flag and statues that Jim Webb and others demanded and received, it is now a place of honor. I go there every time I am in the Capital, to talk with the names on Panels 35 W to 22 W.

We go to reunions, we Marines of Charlie 1/5, where we are fast becoming the old men of the 1st Marine Division. In 2007, I introduced Mike Tonkyn to the Division Commander as a Navy Cross recipient. The General shook Mike’s hand and said, “It is a real honor to meet you, Sir.”

Later, Mike said to me, “You know, Mac, never in this Lance Corporal’s wildest imagination did the Division Commander call me, ‘Sir.’”

“Ah, that’s all right,” I responded. “ He’s younger than you.” We both almost fell to the ground laughing.

The first time I was welcomed home as a Vietnam vet was in the parking lot of the Spectrum before a Philadelphia Wings game in December 1988, 19 years later! The local Vietnam Veterans of America unit was handing out little paper American flags and asking for donations as a fundraiser for their scholarship fund. The vet saw my Marine Corps decal on my car and asked “When did you serve.” I told him. He shook my hand and said, “Welcome Home, brother.”

I broke down and started crying. He just held me, and kept saying, “It’s OK, buddy. You’re home now. It’s OK. Welcome home. Welcome home.”

But in the dark hours of the night, I am still there. As I walk my dog in a foggy park, the tree line across the field is not in Pennsylvania--it is in the Arizona Territory. I wake up, checking lines or listening for mortars in the distance. Many nights--most nights--are in part or in whole just another re-telling of "that night."

And always they are with me. "At the going down of the sun and in the morning, I remember them:" Lucas and Zimmerman, Tews and Phipps and Unfried, and always, Chip and Jimmy Wandro.

I think often of Robert Louis Stevenson's Requiem. "Here he is where he longs to be. Home is the sailor, home from the sea, and the hunter home from the hill."

I'm still not really home, but I long to be. It has been a long voyage. Maybe we'll dock tonight.

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

09 April 2010

A CALIFORNIA GODDESS AWAITS

The next day, Thursday, 11 December, we reported to the Transient Facility at Danang Air base to begin processing for our trip home. After the fun that we had had at the DOOM Club, I hit the rack early. This was one flight that I did not want to miss.

On Friday morning, we mustered. About 150 of us then moved to a C-130 for the trip to Kadena Air Force Base on Okinawa. Take off was routine, and about 10 minutes later, the crew chief announced that we had just left Vietnamese air space. There was a cheer, but it was almost anticlimactic. The aircraft was a standard C-130, with canvas bench seats along each side of the aircraft and a back-to-back arrangement of canvas bench seats down the centerline of the aircraft. I dozed for most of the trip.

We landed at Kadena in early afternoon and were trucked to Camp Hague to be processed. Our orders were collected and stamped and busses ran us over to 3d Force Service Regiment to collect the baggage we had stored the year before. We were billeted in Quonset hut barracks for the night.

A few of our TBS classmates who were still on Okinawa formed up with us and led us to a genuine Kobi beef restaurant for dinner. Afterwards, we decided to visit a steam bath. The guys who had been on Oki knew just where to take us.

It was a little hole in the wall place. We paid our tab and were ushered into a locker room and handed towels. After stripping down, we were led into a room holding perhaps a dozen old-fashioned steam cabinets. After being locked in, the steam was turned on and we sat for 15 or 20 minutes. When the cabinets were opened, we were streaked with dirt that had been steamed out of our pores. We were then led into a Japanese style bath and soaked for another 20 minutes or so.

Next came the massage tables—in private rooms. The masseuse initially gave me a rub down and ended with the traditional walk on my back. Then she asked if I was interested in the “special.” When it dawned on me just what the “special” entailed, I declined. I was getting married in two weeks, for crying out loud!

On Saturday, I went to the barbershop to get a haircut, to the MCX to get the proper ribbons, pressed out the uniform I would wear to California, polished leather and brass, and just relaxed. We were wearing the Winter Service “A” uniform: green blouse and trousers with khaki shirt and field scarf. We were also wearing the fourragère earned by the Fifth Marines in France in WWI. It was our only opportunity to wear it, and it was a big deal.

We ate off base that night, but ended up in the Officers Club for a late night. The next morning, I got up early to go to Mass and then packed away my utilities and waited for the time to return to Kadena. Finally, we were on the bus and heading home.

At Kadena, we checked in and at about 2200 on Sunday night. We mustered and then walked out to the plane that would take us home, taking off at 2300. I sat with Tom Pottenger and Mike and Jerry were across the aisle from us. The flight was uneventful. Because we were headed east, we had the advantage of the jet stream and the earth’s rotation working for us. We flew non-stop from Kadena to Travis Air Force Base outside of San Francisco. There the plane refueled and flew on down to Marine Corps Air Station, El Toro, where we landed at about 1800 on Sunday. Thanks to the International Date Line, we landed about five hours before we left Okinawa!

Tom walked out onto the aircraft steps in front of me. Suddenly, he stopped.

“I don’t understand,” he said. “Where are the bands? Where are the flags?”

“Not that kind of war, Tommy,” I replied. “Let’s go home.”

We picked up our bags and headed into the terminal at El Toro. A Lance Corporal was waiting for us. He collected our orders, officers, then Staff NCOs, then NCOs, then non-rated men. A few minutes later, my orders were returned and I was directed to pass through customs. A PFC was the Customs inspector.

“You got anything to declare, Lieutenant,” he asked?

“I do declare I am glad to be home in one piece!”

“Yessir. See you next time.”

I headed through a glass door into a lobby which was dominated by a ticket office. Mike, Tom, and Jerry were already inside. I found a ticket agent and bought a ticket from LA to Saint Louis. I had two choices: there was a TWA flight to St. Louis that left at 2230 and another to Cincinnati via St. Louis that left at 2245. I knew that Tom would be on the Cincinnati flight, but I wasn’t going to “waste” 15 minutes waiting for him.

It was now 1845. As I came out of the ticket office, Tom, Mike, and Jerry were headed out the door to the taxi stand. Pot waved for me to doubletime. “Jerry has a flight out of LA in an hour. Last one until tomorrow morning. We gotta move.”

Jerry and Mike were at the curb. The taxi driver was a grizzled old gal.

“Can you get us to the Northwest Air Lines terminal at LA by 7:45,” Jerry asked?

“Fifty bucks a head,” she replied. We paid up.

“Well, get in. Get in. What are we waiting for? Time’s a-wasting,” she shouted. We dumped our bags in the trunk, jumped in the cab, and took off. I don’t think we ever flew more than 5 feet above the roadway, but it was scary. For the second time in three days, I feared that I was going to die in an accident before I got home. We got to LAX at 7:42 pm.

Jerry grabbed his bags, shook our hands and ran for his 8:10 flight. (He made it.) Tom, Mike and I took our bags and stood there in the street looking at one another.

“I’m on United to Chicago, over there,” Mike said. Tom and I were headed for the TWA terminal, so once again we shook hands. “I’ll see you at the wedding, Mac.” And he was gone.

Tom and I grabbed our gear and headed to the TWA building. As we entered, we were greeted by a golden California goddess, dressed in a bright red TWA uniform. She had long legs that stretched from the floor all the way to….., well, let’s just say she was exquisite.

“Good evening, gentlemen. What can I do for you this evening?” Her smile was dazzling.

“Oh, my dear, so many things,” Pot replied. "But I just don’t have the time.” The goddess blushed!

“Please pardon the lieutenant,” I interjected. “Is there a bar in the airport?”

She gave us directions and I led Pot towards the TWA check in counter where we dropped our bags. Then we found the bar. It being Sunday, we took our anti-malaria horse pills as we would have to do for six weeks. They went down a lot easier with cold draft beer.

We headed for our respective gates at about 9:30. Tom’s was right next to mine. I boarded at about 10:00 pm, and had just settled in when the Captain spoke over the PA system. “We’ve had a little problem with the plane and we are going to have to shift you to another aircraft that is also headed for St. Louis. The good news is that it is parked at the very next gate.”

We disembarked and moved to the next gate. When I boarded the airplane, I was looking for Pot. (These were the days before boarding passes and assigned seating.) I spotted him in a window seat, already asleep. His seat mate was a little old lady. The aisle seat across from her was empty and I dropped my awol bag on it.

“Excuse me, Ma’am, but I have been sitting next to the Lieutenant all the way from Vietnam. Is there any chance we could swap seats?”

“Of course, Dear.” She moved into the new seat.

I sat down and smacked Pot on top of the head. “Sorry, Leatherneck, but you’re still stuck with me.”

The aircraft took a long roll down the runway and we were headed home.


© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

08 April 2010

“I LIKE MARINES,” THE AIRDALE SAID.

And finally the orders came. Our flight date was Friday, 12 December 1969. On that date, I was to “proceed and report to Commanding General, 2d Marine Division, FMF, Camp Lejeune, NC for duty.” On Wednesday morning, 10 December, Pottenger came running into the S-4 bunker. “Hey, Mac, Ayers has the Regimental Commander’s Huey (UH-1 helicopter) that can take us to Danang, but we have to go right now.”

I grabbed my sea bag and headed for the LZ. Mike and Jerry were already there, appearing like wraiths in the mist and fog. We boarded the chopper and were on our way. I was sitting in the middle of the bench seat on the after bulkhead, looking forward between the Aircraft Commander and the co-pilot. Suddenly, a CH-53 materialized in front of us.

“[Universal modifier] me.” The words came through our headsets loud and clear. We banked hard left and climbed, as the 53 banked to our right and dove. The rest of the short trip was completed in absolute silence.

We were dropped at the LZ at 11th Motors/5th Marines (rear) where we turned in our weapons, helmets and flak jackets. To be walking around outside with no weapon or protective gear was eerie. We contacted the Lieutenant who was the Division Special Services Officer, a 1/5 alumni, who offered us a place to bunk that night. (The Special Services Office was also at 11th Motors. We could not report in to the Transient Center until the day before our flight.)

Mark was a good guy who had been injured while serving with Tom in Bravo Company. Any time one of us was a pay officer, we usually stopped by to see him. Among the items he had in stock were cartons of paperback books. He would let us take our pick and then take a couple of cartons back to the battalion.

We decided to walk up to the Division Command Post at Hill 327 and hitch a ride over to Danang Air Force Base. Mark declined our offer to join us. The famous DOOM Club (Danang Officers Open Mess) was said to have a really great menu, and we intended to sample it at least once.

As we walked up the road in our scruffy utilities, a couple of officers crossed the road in front of us. They were wearing green gym shorts and white tee shirts, both bearing the Division patch, and gym shoes. They were carrying racketball rackets.“Boys,” Mike muttered. “I have a feeling that some of us were invited to a different war than others of us.”

We caught a ride to the air base, arriving at about 1700. As we entered the DOOM Club, we saw numerous men leaving air-conditioned trailers dressed in polo shirts and khaki slacks heading for the mess. Our dress caught more than a few eyes.

At the entrance to the dining room, the Vietnamese maitre de informed us that our attire did not conform to Air Force standards for the main dining room. We could see tables set with linen, china and silver. A five piece orchestra was playing and a Filipina singer was belting out a tune. We were about as welcome as a goat at a wedding.

“But you can get something to eat in the informal bar, if you wish,” he offered.

We headed for the bar and started drinking. I think we ate something, but we were pretty hacked about our treatment by our airdale brethren.

A friend later told me that he was treated the same way on Guam. He had been wounded and evacuated to Naval Hospital, Guam. When he was well enough to do so, he and a couple of other Marine officers were given liberty. They headed for Andersen Air Force Base and its officers club.

Andersen was a Strategic Air Command base during the Vietnam War. Operation Arc Light, in which B-52s dropped bombs on North and South Vietnam, was an Andersen operation. The crews would tuck their kids in bed, kiss their wives, go to the office, fly to Vietnam and blow the stuffing out of someone or something, and be back home for breakfast with the family.

The Andersen club had a tradition in which the crews that had flown in combat that day were paraded into the bar. At the command, “Make way for the combat crews,” all persons at the bar were expected to move away.

The three Marines walked into the club and up to the bar and ordered their drinks. Suddenly, the command was given. “Make way for the combat crews.” The Air Force personnel at the bar quickly moved away. Our three hearties turned, leaned against the bar, drinks in hand, and watched a column of twos enter the bar and march towards them. The airdales were clad in blue flight suits with silk scarves knotted around their necks. None of the Marines moved.

A Major shouted again, “Make Way For The Combat Crews!” The column of twos was getting nearer. The Marines stood fast. The bar was deathly silent.

His face a scarlet red, the Major (who was the Club Officer) raced up and put his face just inches from my friend’s. MAKE WAY FOR THE COMBAT CREWS!!”

My friend, who had been wounded about 40 miles from anywhere out on the Lao border while leading a patrol from First Force Reconnaissance Company looked the Major in the eye. “[Universal modifier] the combat crews. What are you gonna do if I don’t? Shave my head and send me to Vietnam?”

The pilot leading the column, a colonel, heard that and doubled over, laughing.

“Never mind, Major. They are M.A.R.I.N.E.S. We’ll be glad to drink with them.”

Back at the DOOM Club, we were still drinking at about 2300. There were a few Air Force types in the bar who started ragging on us. A lieutenant colonel, dressed in a flight suit, shushed them. He came over to us.

“You’re Marines. I like Marines. Let me buy you a drink.” Agreeing that we had something in common (“We like Marines, too.”) we invited him to sit down. Our drinks arrived and we toasted the Corps.

“What do you do around here, Colonel,” Tom asked?

“I command one of the Spooky gunship squadrons.” We then allowed as how we liked Spook and bought the Colonel a drink. By midnight, Pot was asleep at the table, Mike and Jerry were leaning back in their chairs quite relaxed, and the Colonel and I were still enjoying our drinks. The bartender came over to announce that the bar was closing.

“Where are you boys billeted,” our host asked?

“Over at 11th Motors, Sir.”

“Great. You get your buddies outside. I’ll get a truck and take you back there.” He left.

I got my three shipmates to the front door just as a grey Air Force pick up truck pulled up. The Colonel jumped out and helped me pour the guys into the bed of the truck.

“You navigate,” the Colonel commanded. I got in the truck and off we went. As we passed through the main gate, a thought popped into my head.

“Colonel, you command a Spooky squadron, right.”

“Yup.”

“Well, how come this truck says ‘15th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron’ on the door?”

“Hell, son. I said I’d get a truck. I didn’t say from where.” I wondered if he and Sergeant Henderson were related. Then I spent the rest of the trip worrying that on my next to last night in country I would be nabbed for grand theft auto!

The trip was interesting. I sort of knew where we were going, but after midnight, the ARVN set up checkpoints on the road. That didn‘t faze the Colonel. He blew right through them. We finally got to 11th Motors and headed for the rack. I convinced the Colonel that he should spend the night with us.

About 0400, we were awakened by small arms fire and rounds flying through our hooch. We bailed out and spent the rest of the night, unarmed, hiding under the hooch. Apparently, a couple of ARVN patrols got into an intramural firefight out in the paddy, so we were relatively safe.

Thus ended my last firefight. No runs, no hits, no errors, four men left on base, waiting to go home.

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

07 April 2010

THE END IS IN SIGHT

Mike, Tom, Jerry Ayers and I finally got our orders to depart Vietnam “on or about 12 December 1969.” As near as we could determine, we were the last to leave country of the 142 lieutenants who arrived on 20 December 1968. Then, about 1 December, my relief came aboard. Tom Pottenger and Mike Koch also had reliefs who were anxious to get to work in their new assignments. That worked for us.

The next night, I sent Sayne and another Marine down to the LZ to guard the pre-staged supplies for the battalion. We had been getting reports that the supplies were being “rat-f_____d” by the LZ personnel, i.e., someone was opening cases of C-rats and removing the more desirable meals and taking other goodies, such as SPs.

We were hit at about 2100. I grabbed my rifle and headed for the LZ to make sure my Marines were OK. They were, but I was dinged in the helmet and flak jacket by some shrapnel.

When I got back, my relief, a Captain, dressed me down but good. He reminded me that I had only a week and a half to go and that he would have to write the letter if I did something stupid and got myself killed. I was ordered to stand down.

One of the advantages of being assigned as a pay officer was the opportunity to go to Danang to pay hospitalized troops. Among the “sights” in Danang was the Freedom Hill Post Exchange, which rivaled many PX’s then extant in the US. Having a captive audience (no malls in Danang, boys and girls), many merchants opened “stores” in Vietnam.

The Big Three auto makers had kiosks outside the Exchange where a Marine could purchase a car to be picked up at home on his return. They hired “round eyes” to man the sales booths—young American women who, back home, might not have gotten a casual glance from a hormoned up teenager, but who, in Vietnam, were goddesses. I suspect that the sales in a week paid for one of the girls for a couple of months.

Every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine was issued a “ration card” which had to be presented at the time of purchase. Rationing was designed to slow down resales to the black market. Among other things, officers and Staff NCOs were allowed a ration of six quarts of alcohol per month. Of course, those in the bush were not buying or using alcohol, but the folks back at An Hoa did occasionally consume adult beverages.

Before heading to Danang, pay officers would collect ration cards and take orders. The prices were incredible, even in those days. As I recall, a quart of Chivas Regal went for three bucks. It was not uncommon for a pay officer to return from Danang with 18 to 24 bottles of hooch.

So, after my tail chewing by the Captain, I began to join Mike and Tom in a nightly “celebration.”

Our routine was to eat supper at the mess hall and then retire down to the Charlie Company sea bag tent for the evening. The sea bag tent was the storage point for the sea bags that the troops had brought in country—holding their stateside utilities, leather boots, summer service C uniform (for R & R) and other sundry clothing and equipment they did not want or could not use in the field. There were probably 200 sea bags stacked in the tent.

We would begin drinking shortly after 1800 and would continue until sleep overtook us. We would either sleep on top of the stacked sea bags, or we would stumble back to our respective bunkers. One "morning after," Mike showed up with cuts all over his arms. He had gotten a little off course on his walk back to his hooch and had fallen into some concertina barbed wire. Tom and I were sympathetic and supportive. Yes we were!

One night, I got back to the S-4 bunker in time to catch the end of the night’s cockroach races. The cockroaches in that part of the world grow to over an inch in length. The interior wooden walls of our bunker were streaked with spray painted trails resulting from our efforts to corral champion roaches. Someone would spot a roach crawling across the wall. He would grab a can of spray paint from the paint locker and begin to paint the bug. Roaches do not like to be painted, and they would scurry across the walls, leaving a winding path that Bil Keane would have been proud of.

We also had a large circle painted on the deck. Different colored roaches would be dropped at the center and the race would begin. The first to leave the circle was the winner and got to race again. The losers were squashed. As I write this, it sounds gross and not particularly exciting, but in country, it was the acme of sport. I had a yellow roach that won 10 straight races. I was sorry to step on him when he finally lost, but rules are rules.

One night just three or four days before we left, I returned to the S-4 bunker from our cocktail hour. It was about 2200 and it was raining. My boots were muddy and I was a bit unsteady. Suddenly, a large, pregnant rat scurried across the deck.

Someone called “Rat,” and I whipped out my K-Bar combat knife and dove for the beast. I missed, but managed to cut deep into my left wrist. Someone put a battle dressing on the wound and I was driven down to Battalion Aid Station 1/5. The duty Corpsman had been with Charlie Company and had given me my shots earlier that day. He looked at the cut and announced that it would take a couple of stitches to close it up. “I can give you something to numb it, Lieutenant, but it will be four sticks to deaden it and four sticks to sew it. What do you want?”

“Aw, hell, Doc, I’m already a little numb. Just sew the damn’d thing up.” Big mistake on my part.

The first stitch went in just fine. So did the first half of the second, but on the way out, the needle hit a nerve. My penance, I presume.

The rat was not seen again—probably off telling all the other rats about the idiot with the knife.


© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

06 April 2010

THE LOONY LEFT STRIKES AGAIN

The liberal media is up in arms over the release of some gun camera film taken in 2007 showing the death of two Reuters News Agency correspondents who were traveling with a group of armed Iraqi insurgents. According to a CNN report accompanying the videotape -- which was originally posted on a web site called WikiLeaks, “a site that publishes anonymously submitted documents, video and other sensitive materials,”-- “the video. . . clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers."

In fact, the attack was clearly provoked. The two Reuters employees assumed the risk of attaching themselves to an armed unit of an opposing force. As Ernie Pyle understood, they paid their dime and took their chances, with no guarantees.

A unit of the 16th Infantry had been in contact with an armed group of insurgents at a location about 100 meters from where the “unprovoked slaying” occurred. Small arms fire was received from the insurgents during the engagement and continued after the helicopters attacked. The two Reuters employees were traveling in the midst of the insurgents who were firing at American forces. The insurgents were armed with AKM rifles and a rocket propelled grenade launcher and warhead. One of the Reuters men carried a camera with a telephoto lens. Just before the helicopters were cleared to fire, he was seen peering around the corner of a building toward an American vehicle parked 100 meters away. Only part of the lens protruded around the building edge, and from the air, it would have looked like the RPG launcher actually being carried by another insurgent.

Two gunships were supporting the ground forces, were being controlled from the ground, and were following up on a nearby firefight between insurgents and an Army unit. After initially taking this group of armed insurgents under fire,the helicopters saw a van drive up and three military age individuals were seen jumping out and loading one wounded man into the van. From what I saw, it appeared that at least one weapon was also tossed in the van. The helicopters were then cleared to fire on the van.

After US troops reached the scene, they found a number of dead insurgents, several weapons, and two wounded children in the van. The children were evacuated to an Iraqi hospital where they apparently later died. One wounded insurgent was captured and treated by US forces.

Neither of the Reuters employees was wearing anything to identify them as correspondents, not that it would have mattered, and neither had alerted US forces that they would be accompanying insurgents. I say “not that it would have mattered” because by being present in the midst of a group that was engaging US forces, they assumed the risk that they might be taken under fire and either killed or wounded.

The incident was promptly investigated by the Army in accordance with army regulations. The Investigating Officer determined that the helicopter crew (sic) had "neither reason nor probability to assume that neutral media personnel were embedded with enemy forces."

The loony left is beside themselves because of what they erroneously perceive as a violation of the law of war. Journalists and children were killed, they say, and that is wrong. And the helicopter crew, having just engaged an armed enemy, made the kind of adrenaline-tinged comments that warriors have always made after counting coup.

Sad, yes. Wrong, no. As one of the helicopter crew, probably on an adrenaline high, is heard to say, people ought not bring their kids to a battle.

The presence of non-combatants in the midst of a group of combatants, especially a group of combatants engaging or about to engage US forces, does not render them safe. In fact, if they were using non-combatants as a shield, it is the insurgents who have violated the law of war.

The children were present, but not visible, in an unmarked vehicle that was apparently attempting to evacuate a wounded insurgent and weapons. That made the vehicle a legitimate target.

This is just another case of a bunch of people who do not understand the deadly seriousness of war crying “foul” when there was no foul. A press, protected by the First Amendment—which is, in turn, protected by our forces who are fighting an enemy who has no respect for freedom of the press or any other freedom—can hide behind the First as they spread malicious lies and mischaracterizations.

And the American people will let them get away with it!

03 April 2010

SOUVENIRS

During all of our wars, at least through WWII in Europe, one problem facing commanders has been looting. Grant’s staff picked Mr. Mc Lean’s parlor clean after Lee’s surrender. Many officers and men in the American armies in Europe sent home German silver, art, and other artifacts that they had taken from private homes as well as German offices.

Looting while hostilities are still underway, is a serious problem. In addition to giving the enemy additional cause to fight to the end, troops who abandon the fight to loot seriously impede the war effort. Thus, under military law, a commander can establish or issue a “safeguard” with respect to enemy or neutral property. The Manual for Courts-Martial defines a safeguard thusly: “ A safeguard is a detachment, guard, or detail posted by a commander for the protection of persons, places, or property of the enemy, or of a neutral affected by the relationship of belligerent forces in their prosecution of war or during circumstances amounting to a state of belligerency. The term also includes a written order left by a commander with an enemy subject or posted upon enemy property for the protection of that person or property.” So serious is this matter that when Congress adopted Article 102, UCMJ “forcing a safeguard,” it was adopted as a capital offense.

“Article 102. Any person subject to this chapter who forces a safeguard shall suffer death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct.”

Article 103 makes criminal any failure to “secure all public property taken from the enemy for the service of the United States, and [to] give notice and turn over to the proper authority without delay all captured or abandoned property in their possession, custody, or control. This article has a different motive—protection of Uncle Sam’s pocketbook. By definition, captured enemy property becomes the property of the United States. And it leads to a major leadership balancing act.

Looting was not a problem in the largely rural wars in Korea and Vietnam, but retention by troops of “war souvenirs” is an ancient tradition. The Marine who has taken a weapon or other article of military equipment from an enemy he has killed or captured ought not be punished for failing to turn it over to some REMF bean counter. (Under international law, certain items cannot be taken from captured troops: money, personal photos, and their personal clothing and protective gear, i.e., cold weather clothing and helmets so long as they are still subject to hostile fire. Diaries and papers that are of intelligence value may be taken.)

Accordingly, in all of our modern wars, procedures have been established to help troops account for, but retain, bona fide war souvenirs.

My first exposure to the issue of war souvenirs came shortly after I got to Vietnam. While searching a ville, I found a SKS rifle. The SKS is a Russian-designed semiautomatic rifle that fires the 7.62x39 caliber round, the same round fired by the AK-47 and the RPK light machinegun, both of which were in wide use by both the VC and the NVA.

Unlike the AK-47, the SKS was semiautomatic and thus could be lawfully possessed without a Federal firearms license, making it a very popular souvenir. It was, I was to learn, also rare, because the AK-47 was the primary weapon of the NVA and the VC.

One of my troops, a Tet survivor who was only a couple of weeks away from going home, admired my find. In a fit of generosity, I handed it to him and said, “Here, you take this one. I’ll keep the next one.”

I never captured another, and finally got my SKS from our Clerk of Session who was selling one his two rifles. (As we exchanged rifle and check in the church parking lot after services, the Pastor walked out, took one look, shook his head, and walked back into the church.)

I only saw one NVA pistol, a Russian Makarov PM, with red-star hand grips.It went to the Marine who found its previous owner, either the CO or the Political Officer of 2/90 NVA) dead in a bunker when we recovered the downed medevac bird in the Arizona.

Other popular souvenirs were cap badges (a red enamel star), belts (made of leather or the hide of the endangered “nauga”) with belt plate, canteens, and Soviet compasses which were better than ours. The Soviet compass had a small wheel in the base that was marked for various map scales (1:50,000, 1:25,000, 1:12,500). Running the wheel along a route gave you a pretty accurate measure of distance.

Another popular item, especially for Marines with small feet, were Ho Chi Minh sandals. These were rubber sandals made from old truck tires. The tread was the outer face of the sole. It was easier to get Marines to air their feet—as a preventative for warm water immersion foot—if they had sandals.

I still have the NVA belt and hammock I took from a NVA soldier who would never again need either. He was also carrying a set of US wire cutters, still in the original canvas belt pouch, which he had probably taken from a dead ARVN (South Vietnamese) soldier. I still use those.

Other than weapons, we rarely bothered to send the small stuff back for accounting. There was a major problem with pilferage—REMFs would take weapons or other equipment as their own souvenirs. I had personal knowledge of one such instance.

A couple of weeks after I became the S-4, a Marine reported to me as the S-4 clerk. He was actually an honest-to-goodness school-trained 0431 Logistics Clerk.

He joined the rest of the rear echelon as a candidate for the regimental reaction force. Each night, the various units at An Hoa would provide Marines to serve in a reaction force of platoon strength. In essence, the reaction force was the regimental reserve. Many nights, the duty was no more onerous than having to sleep in fighting gear in a bunker in the CP area. But if one of the combat base sectors was penetrated or, heaven forbid, overrun, the reaction force was the outfit that got to do something about it.

Sane was tagged for the reaction force his very first night at An Hoa. It was the night of the final game of the 1969 World Series of which I have already written. One of the Sergeants from S-1 was also on the reaction force that night, and I asked him to keep an eye on my new Marine. Then I headed for Alpha Sector.

When Sane got to Regiment, he was assigned to a squad for the night. The Squad Leader, an experienced Sergeant, told him “You stick with me. kid.”

When Echo Sector was attacked later that night (interrupting the ball game, I might add), Sane's squad was sent down to the line to help push the enemy back. The attack was by a force of NVA sappers (engineers/demolition men), apparently intent upon destroying the guns and ammo supply of Battery E, 11th Marines.

As Sane and his Sergeant moved down to the wire, a chicom grenade exploded between Sane and the Sergeant. Both were knocked from their feet, and the Sergeant suffered some shrapnel wounds to the head.

As Sane regained his feet, a flare popped overhead. There, standing in the wire, wire cutters at the ready, was an NVA soldier.

“Sergeant,” Sane yelled. “There’s a gook in the wire. What should I do?”

“Kill him.” He did.

The Sergeant then regained his feet and the two of them cleared the wire, taking a couple of satchel charges and the NVA’s weapon. Sane took a really nice bone-handled knife from the dead NVA’s belt.

The next morning, as the troops were being formed to be dismissed and sent back to their commands, a Lieutenant spotted the knife. He took it and walked into the Regimental Commander’s Office where he gave it to the CO, “as a souvenir.”

Fortunately, the Gunny who had been the platoon commander saw what happened. He immediately informed the Sergeant Major.

The Sergeant Major walked right in to the CO’s office, as it was his privilege to do.

“Look, Sergeant Major. Lieutenant ____ gave me this NVA knife. It’s a beauty, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Sir, it surely is. Except it ain’t the Lieutenant’s to give. There’s a young PFC out there who killed the gook that was carrying it. May I return it to him?”

They said you could hear the ass-chewing the Colonel gave that Lieutenant all the way to Hawaii. I don’t remember seeing his sorry ass around the CP after that.

But I know of an even better instance of souvenir retribution.

In early 1969, about the time President Nixon announced his policy of “vietnamization,” a rumor began to spread, and it was apparently also rampant on the other side. The gist of the rumor was that on a particular date, a cease fire would be announced and whichever side’s flag, either Republic of Vietnam or National Liberation Front, flew over a particular ville or hamlet that morning could claim it as theirs.

Tom Peachey told me that shortly thereafter, his company overran a VC flag factory. There were literally hundreds of finished VC flags, and hundreds more that were in various states of completion. After giving each Marine in the Company two completed flags and two unfinished flags, the rest were sent back to Regiment. Now, these were obviously very desirable souvenirs. When Regiment learned that the troops (who had captured them) had been given “first dibs,” Tom was hauled on the carpet. The Regimental S-2 informed him in no uncertain terms that henceforth, any captured “enemy items” would be sent to S-2.

A few days later, one of his patrols captured a small bobcat. It was obviously a belligerent. Recalling the explicit instructions of the S-2, Peaches had the wriggling, spitting, clawing beastie put into a wooden grenade crate and returned to the S-2.

That afternoon, word went out that company commanders could exercise discretion in returning captured materiel to the rear.

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

02 April 2010

SPOT, THE INVISIBLE DOG

Beginning in the late 1990’s, in the afterglow of the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the landings in Normandy, the American people re-awakened to the valor of the American fighting man. The motion picture, Saving Private Ryan, with its savagely accurate, bloody 20 minute opening depiction of the landings on Omaha Beach, was a turning point. World War II veterans who had remained silent for decades were finally encouraged to speak about their experiences in what Studs Terkel christened The Good War.

For some time before that, author Steven Ambrose had been collecting oral histories from WWII vets of Company D, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Regiment (Ox and Bucks) and E/506/101 Airborne, which he then converted into Pegasus Bridge and Band of Brothers .

[Some interesting trivia: On 6 June 1944, Captain Richard Todd, 7th (Light Infantry) Parachute Battalion, dropped in after glider-borne Company D/Ox and Bucks, had landed and captured Pegasus Bridge. In 1962, he appeared in the movie The Longest Day as Major John Howard, Officer Commanding, Company D. Talk about art imitating life.]

After the success of Saving Private Ryan, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg collaborated to bring Band of Brothers ("BOB") to television with a ten-hour adaptation that aired beginning on September 9, 2001. Unlike “popular” movies about the Vietnam War, including Platoon and Full Metal Jacket, which portrayed the fighting men as either cartoon characters or as stoned murderers and misfits, BOB and Ryan depicted honorable men who did their duty with class. In particular, the dialog in both WWII films caught the native wit and wisdom of the American soldier at war.

After the success of Ryan and BOB, two additional war films were made and distributed that capture the essence of the American warrior: We Were Soldiers (2002), about 1/7/1 Cav in the Battle of the Ia Drang in 1965 and Flags of Our Fathers (2006) about the Battle of Iwo Jima, focusing on the men who were involved in the iconic flag raising on Mount Suribachi. Once again, the writers captured the feel of how soldiers and Marines in combat think and talk to one another.

Finally, in 2010, Spielberg and Hanks produced The Pacific for HBO. This time the focus is the ground war in the Pacific in WWII. Spielberg frankly admits that the impetus for The Pacific was the post-BOB requests from vets of “that other little fracas” on the other side of the globe from France and Germany. And again, the writers have done a good job.

Marines in combat are still young men, young American men, with the wit and repartee that makes them Americans. The dialog in all of the positive films I mention above captures the men I know and served with.

In the second or third episode of BOB (I have loaned out my copy and cannot check), Lieutenant Winters mentions to a fellow platoon commander that “General Taylor is pleased with Easy Company’s performance yesterday.”

His exhausted comrade, leaning against a door frame, mutters sleepily, “That’s why I came to France—to please General Taylor.”

More recently, in The Pacific, on Guadalcanal, after experiencing intense combat and suffering significant casualties, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines has finally gotten mail. Robert Leckie reads a letter from home to his shipmates, including a post script from his father: “Your Mother wants to know if we should send you your dress blue uniform.”

Leckies says, “I guess she thinks we are having a lot of fancy dress balls out here.”

Another Marine says, “If we do, ‘Lucky,’ will you ask me?”

“Nah, you’re too ugly. I’ll ask Hoosier.”

Without missing a beat, Hoosier, who is cleaning his rifle, in a droll drawl says “Take a number.” He never stops working on his weapon.

And that led me to think of some of my Marines.

John Gibson, my radio operator, was a poet and a philosopher—at 18. A radio operator and his officer are inseparable, never further apart than two arms lengths, so that the radio handset can be passed from one to another. They share a fighting hole, chow, and time.

Once, we were discussing our favorite cold beverages, how many we would down when we got “back to the World,” and the relative value of ice.

“You know, Lieutenant, this war is gonna turn out a whole generation of Americans who will go to a backyard barbeque and if somebody drops a ice cube, he’ll pick it up, pop it in his mouth, and never even look to see if anybody’s watching.”

When I was teaching the Law of War at TBS in 1983-85, one teaching point was that the lieutenant must be on the lookout for Marines who are in danger of going over the edge emotionally. I called it “terminal weirdness.”

All Marines in combat are weird. But when someone is terminally weird—cutting ears off bodies or extracting gold teeth from corpses—you need to get him out of their before he does something so seriously wrong that he can end up in the brig.”

To differentiate between weird and terminally weird, I told them about Gibson and Spot.

As I mentioned earlier, the Skipper had a standing order that we were not to adopt dogs as pets, or even play with them. It was an appropriate order; any Marine bitten by a local dog would be evacuated for an obligatory 14 day series of anti-rabies shots.

When we were in the Arizona, and morale was low, Gibby turned to me one afternoon and said, “You know what would perk the guys up, Sir?”

"Please, Gibby, inform me.”

“A dog, Lieutenant. We need a dog.”

“Well, that’s not a bad idea, except that the Skipper has said ‘No.’”

“Oh, I got a way to fix that, Sir. We’ll get an invisible dog that only Charlie 3 can see.”

For the next couple of hours, he walked around the perimeter, taking “Spot” for a walk. Most of the troops from Third Platoon played along. Then a runner came from the CP. “Skipper wants you, Sir.”
I reported to the Company Commander. He was stirring a can of C-rats over a home-made C-4 stove.

“What the hell is with your radio operator?”

“Sir?”

“The Gunny is ready to kill him. He was talking to my radio operator and all of a sudden he yells ‘Gunny, look out!’ The Gunny almost broke his neck taking cover. Gibson says, ‘You almost stepped on Spot, Gunny.’ I don’t think the Gunny caught him yet, but you better keep him out of sight for a day or two. Fix this!”

I walked back to my hole. Gibson was in the hole, laying low so to speak.

“We got to get rid of Spot.”

“Why, Sir? The guys like him.”

What now, Lieutenant? “Ah, the Skipper is worried that because no one else can see him, he might get hurt.” That ought to do it.

“Oh, I can fix that.” He jumped up and headed for the bomb crater that we were using as a trash pit. A few minutes later, he returned holding what appeared to be a leash. He had scrounged some parachute cord and then stiffened it with baling wire from a couple of C-ration cases. There was a loop for a collar and another as a handle.

“Now that I got him under control, he’ll be safe!”

At TBS, I would end the story by saying, “Gibson was weird, but not terminally weird. See the difference?”

It was a popular parable, but the class that took it most to heart was the last group I taught, Warrant Officer Basic Course 1-85. Warrant Officers are enlisted men who have been selected by a board convened by the Commandant. They tend to have some technical specialty and are appointed to fill the need for officers in that specialty without using up a slot for a commissioned officer. (Warrant Officers in the grade of W-1 are “appointed" officers; Chief Warrant Officers 2 through 5 are commissioned.)

When they were about to graduate, they presented me with a photograph taken during one of my last classes with them. As I was about to finish, the classroom became exceptionally tense. Suddenly there was movement to my left rear. I spun, to see a Warrant Officer, wearing “bug-eyed” glasses and carrying a very reasonable facsimile of Spot’s leash. The rest of the class was on its feet, cheering.

I still have and treasure that photo.

2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

31 March 2010

“I’M CLEAN, I’M CLEAN.”

The S-4 shop was located in a prefabricated bunker at the top of the battalion street, where it joined the regimental street. Prefab bunkers were designed to be erected quickly. They were above ground, a real benefit in the rainy seasons. The standard prefab bunker was made of 12 x12 posts and beams, sheathed in 2 x 12 boards on the walls and roof. The floor was plywood. The bunker was 12 feet by 20 feet. Ours was a double wide (24 x 20), which we shared with the S-3 shop. It was then protected by a wall of sandbags that was 6 feet thick on the sides. At the roof level, there were three layers of sand bags, a layer of steel runway matting, another 3 layers of sandbags, another layer of matting and a final 3 layers of sand bags. I was told that there were some 25,000 sandbags on and around this one bunker.

We felt that we were fairly secure from mortars and rockets.

One afternoon, a couple of Marines from Bravo Company walked in. “Sir, our CO told us to bring this to you.”

He proffered a steel tube that looked strangely familiar. “What is that?”

“It’s a blooper barrel, Sir.”

Oh, yeah. The M-79 40mm grenade launcher was one of the weapons carried by a rifle squad. It was nick-named “the blooper” because of the sound it made when fired. “What am I supposed to do with it?”

“He says it needs to be cleared, Lieutenant.”

I looked down the muzzle, expecting to see light. Nope! There was a high explosive round stuck half way down the barrel. “Clear the bunker, dammit! Call EOD.” I very gently put the barrel on the deck and beat a hasty retreat. All I could think of was the terrible effect an explosion would have had confined inside our little fortress.

The EOD techs arrived and nonchalantly took the tube away. (Because the round would not arm until it had spun a significant number of times, it was probably safe, but I was short.)

Marines. Ya gotta love ‘em.


As vietnamization continued, it was becoming clear that the leadership of the Marine Corps was looking to the day when we would all be out of country.

General Leonard F. Chapman, USMC, had assumed the Commandancy in 1968. Among the many things this great leader of Marines did in his tenure was to prepare the Corps for the end of the war. Having served in WWII and Korea, he was familiar with the pains of a post-war reduction in personnel and funding. As a result of plans and policies he put into place, the Marine Corps did not suffer the Army’s angst in the mid-70s when it forced officers to resign or retire as part of a reduction in force.

Even in 1969, it was apparent that we were returning to a peace-time mentality—at least in the area of logistics. The embarkation conference in Danang in August was but one harbinger of new times. We began to see requirements that we account for the equipment that had been sent to the battalion.

Now, I do not mean to suggest that there was any malfeasance involved. It is just that in wartime, supply accounting can get a little loose. When a man is killed or wounded, his shattered helmet or torn flak jacket may be discarded and never returned to supply for proper accounting. Things get blown up or are lost in the confusion of battle, or just wear out. Very understandable.

Of course, rifles were another matter. A Marine’s rifle either went on the med-evac bird with him, for collection at the receiving medical facility, or it stayed with the unit and was returned to the armory. Even so, rifles were sometimes informally exchanged in the field, and the paperwork might not catch up. When I checked out of the battalion, I turned in the pistol that I had been issued in December 1968.

“Uh, Lieutenant, there’s a problem with your pistol,” the Armorer said.

“Really? What’s wrong?”

“Well, Sir. It’s got the same serial number as the one you checked out. That just don’t happen much, ya know?”

At any rate, word filtered down from Division G-4 that we should begin looking at our supply accounts and getting them into some semblance of order and accuracy. You can imagine how that might go over in a rifle company in the field. Here you are, a Company Commander, in contact with the enemy, trying to accomplish your mission and keep your troops alive, and some REMF wants a list of the serial numbers of all of your weapons. More than once I was told to “be fruitful and multiply.” Or words to that effect.

Two particular incidents stand out.

During the eight days in the rain, the company providing the palace guard was attempting to move. As part of a field test of equipment, the battalion had been assigned a small tracked vehicle that was being considered as a replacement for the mule. Approaching a stream that was now a surging river, the company commander halted.

“Musk ox, this is Charlie 6, over.”

“Musk ox Charlie 6, Musk ox.”

“Musk ox, I need to speak to the 3, over.”

“Charlie 6, this is Musk ox 3, over.”

“Three, this is Charlie 6. We are at the west bank of the stream. The vehicle commander does not think he can cross the stream. He says the banks are too steep.”

“Charlie 6, this is Musk ox 3. Nonsense. He can make it. Now cross that stream.”

There was a pause of about two minutes. “Musk ox 3, this is Charlie 6. At this point, the stream is 18 feet deep. I can tell that because the vehicle’s antenna is 20 feet tall, and I can see about two feet of it above water.”

“Charlie 6, this is Musk ox 3. Damn!” No one was hurt, but the vehicle was gone.

But that is not the end of the story. A couple of weeks later, the officer assigned to do the JAG Manual investigation into the loss—a routine affair that every lieutenant has performed at one time or another—came to see me.

“I know why the vehicle sank,” he proudly announced.

“Hell, we all know that. The banks were too steep and when it hit the water, it just kept going.”

“Nah, Mac, there’s more. It was overloaded.”

“Oh, yeah? By how much?”

“Well, as near as I can tell, by about 70,000 pounds!”

Thirty-five tons? Not bad for a vehicle with a capacity of three-quarters of a ton. It seems that every piece of gear assigned to Charlie Company and the Command Post group that could not be accounted for “must have gone down on that vehicle.” And who could argue?

A couple of days later, at about 1645, I was preparing to go over to the mess hall for supper. It had been dry and windy for a couple of days, and the regimental street was already dusty. Suddenly, in the distance, I heard a familiar ker-ruuump of a mortar round detonating. One of the batteries must be adjusting its pre-planned fires.

Ker-ruuuump. KER-rummmp. KER-RUUUUMP. WHAMMM. BLANG. I was huddled on the deck in the bunker as five more 120mm mortar rounds walked across An Hoa. The fifth round sounded as if it exploded right outside the bunker and the last was behind us.

I ran to the back entrance of the bunker that led to our police shed and paint locker. There was a towering plume of smoke just beyond the police shed. Two Marines were standing on the sandbagged roof of the police shed, taking pictures. I could hear smalls arm ammunition cooking off and an occasional round passing overhead.

“Get down , you damn fools, before you get shot.” They did. “Now, get some buckets from the police shed and follow me.”

We moved cautiously over to 3/5’s area. The battalion armory, located in a strong-back tent, had taken a direct hit and was now a raging inferno. The battalion Supply Chief, who I knew, was shouting for people to stand clear.

“They are all OK. They went to early chow. I was covering the armory. There’s no one inside.” He was discouraging anyone from taking unnecessary risks by trying to rescue the armorers. We had lucked out.

Just then, 3/5’s Supply Officer came running up. He was a mustang First Lieutenant (an officer commissioned from the enlisted ranks). He took one look and then turned and ran into his office. A minute or two later, he came back out carrying a drawer from a filing cabinet.

A couple of his clerks followed, similarly laden.

He ran over and tossed the complete drawer into the blazing armory. Turning, he took another drawer from a Marine’s arms and sent him back for more. Into the fire went drawer after drawer of records, followed by the empty file cabinets.

All the while, I could hear him gleefully shouting “I’m clean! I’m clean!”

Happily, no one was killed or wounded by the mortar attack. Three-five’s armory was the only structure hit and was, of course, a total loss, but the fire did not spread. After the “tragic” loss of all of 3/5’s supply records which, as the JAG Manual investigation revealed, “were stored in the armory for security,” 3/5 did a wall-to-wall inventory and reconstructed its records to reflect only the supplies and equipment that were then on hand.

Clean as a whistle. “Ill blows the wind that profits nobody.” Henry VI, Pt. 3, act II, sc 5.

The Bard must have been a logistician.

30 March 2010

A SINNER SAVED BY GRACE

One of the functions that came under the purview of the S-4 was supply and armory. By Table of Organization, we were supposed to have a Supply Officer (MOS 3002), but we did not. Eventually, Mike Koch took over as Supply Officer until our rotation, but for most of my tour as S-4, the Supply Chief was acting Supply Officer and I signed any returns that required the signature of an officer.

The next senior NCO in the supply section was Sergeant Henderson. He had 19 years in the Corps and had just been promoted to Sergeant when he joined us. Sergeant Henderson was a very good sergeant, having been promoted to that rank six or seven times in his career! He was a sinner saved by Grace. . . or Susie, or Sally, or, in a Staff Sergeant Winston classic phrasing, “Scuzzy Maryann.”

The high point of the day was the arrival of the morning supply convoy from Danang. (When we heard the trucks of the convoy pull up, I always thought of “The Wells Fargo Wagon Is A-comin’” from The Music Man. Maybe they’ll have something for me!)

A word about supply. In addition to being the site of the Division Headquarters, Danang also hosted Headquarters, III Marine Amphibious Force (the senior Marine Corps Command in Vietnam , consisting of 1st Marine Division, 3d Marine Division, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, and Force Logistics Command), Danang Air Force Base (a huge Air Force complex), Marine Corps Air Station Marble Mountain, Naval Support Activity, and a number of Army logistics units.

Force Logistics Command (FLC) was based at Camp Brooks located on the South China Sea at Red Beach just outside of Danang proper. It was a massive base, providing any logistics requirement of the III MAF and, for a time, major Army units operating in I Corps. A list of its subordinate units gives a broad example of its capabilities: 1st and 3d Military Police Battalions, 7th Motor Transport Battalion, 5th Communications Battalion, 1st and 3d Service Battalions, 1st and 3d Shore Party Battalions, 1st Supply Battalion, 1st Medical Battalion, 1st Hospital Company, 1st Force Service Regiment (Maintenance Battalion, Supply Battalion), and H&S Battalion.

Maintenance Battalion, 1st FSR had several maintenance companies, including Motor Transport Maintenance, Ordnance Maintenance, Engineer Maintenance, Communications/Electronic Maintenance, and Supply Maintenance companies. Supply Battalion also had several companies organized by commodity: 7th Separate Bulk Fuel Company, Ration Company, Ammunition Company, and the Force Bakery.

If you needed something or needed something fixed—from a typewriter or a torn canvas tent to a complex piece of electronics—FLC could provide it or fix it.

The first time I visited Red Beach, I was stunned. There were miles and miles of warehouses, repair shops, strong-back barracks, and open supply storage lots. The centerpiece of FLC was the “RUC” line.

A “RUC” is a five digit “reporting unit code” assigned to each company, battalion, and Division in the Corps. For instance (as I recall) 15130 was Charlie Company. “1” (1stMarDiv) “5” (5th Marines) “1” (1/5) “3” (Company C) and “0” as a place holder. Battalion was 15100. Supply Section of H&S Company would use that place holder (15101) while Comm Platoon might be 15102. The RUC was used for personnel reporting and also for supply accounting.

At Red Beach, the RUC line was made up of several long rows of open platforms covered by a roof. Each row might be 300 meters long (3 football fields), for there were lots of supplies going to lots of units. Supplies and equipment which arrived had been marked with the requesting unit’s RUC when they were shipped from the US. Upon arrival, they were moved to the RUC line. At regular intervals, a sign was hung with each unit’s RUC painted on it, and newly received supplies were placed under the appropriate sign. When convoys were formed to move supplies, anything that had come in for a unit at the convoy destination was moved from the RUC line to the truck.

One morning,Sergeant Henderson came into my office. “I’m heading up to Danang, Lieutenant.”

“Danang? What are you doing up there?”

“Doncha remember, Sir? This afternoon is my court-martial.” I did remember. On a recent supply run to Danang he had made what was euphemistically called a “skivvy run” to an off-limits house of ill-repute. He had been picked up by the MPs and charges were filed and referred to a Summary Court-Martial.

A summary court was a one-officer court which tried offenses that were deemed minor, but which might warrant confinement or a greater reduction in rank than could be imposed by a company commander or battalion commander at non-judicial punishment under Article 15, UCMJ. In this case, the Sergeant was facing the possibility of reduction to Corporal, 30 days confinement at hard labor, and forfeiture of two-thirds of one month’s pay.

I wished him good luck.

Late that afternoon, he called. “Hi, Lieutenant, it’s me, Corporal Henderson.” He reported that his only punishment was reduction to Corporal. “It’s too late to get back tonight. Tomorrow,I'm going over to FLC to check out the RUC line and then I’ll come down on the convoy.”

About 1400 the next day, the convoy arrived. Trucks turned out of the line to their unit destinations, and one pulled up right outside the S-4 bunker. In came our newest corporal.

“Hey, Sir. C’mon out. We got some good stuff today.”

As I walked out through the six-foot thick layer of sandbags that surrounded our bunker, I could hear the sounds of boxes, crates and bags being off-loaded. One man in the working party was opening several wooden crates. Corporal Henderson walked over to one and pulled off the lid.

“Happy Birthday, Lieutenant!” It was a brand new 60 mm mortar, complete. We had been begging for several and now here one was. He pointed to three other boxes—three more 60 mm mortars, one for each rifle company. Godallmightydamn!

Then I noticed the crate lid. The RUC stenciled on the wood was 17200, 2/7’s RUC. I checked—nowhere did I find a 1/5 RUC. I called this minor discrepancy to the Corporal’s attention.

“Well, hell, Lieutenant.” He was exasperated. “ I said I was gonna check out the RUC line. I never said I was gonna limit myself to ours!”

The Old Man signed his meritorious promotion to Sergeant that afternoon. Grace is a good ol’ gal she is.

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.