31 March 2010


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


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.

29 March 2010

SCENES ON THE REGIMENTAL STREET: Mud, Mirth, and A Vision Of Grace

By now, the Autumn rains had really set in and An Hoa was a sea of mud. For those of us who used the Vietnamese laundry on base, we noticed that our “clean” clothing came back with the unique odor that came from being dried over a water buffalo dung fire.

Knee-high rubber boots, just like my Dad and Granddad had worn in the feed lot on the farm, were the footwear of choice. The mud was often so deep that it nearly topped the boots.

The shower point continued to operate, opening from 1900 to 2000 each night. To keep our clothing clean and dry, it was not uncommon to see Marines walking to the shower point clad only in rubber boots, flak jacket, and helmet, carrying a towel in one hand and a rifle in the other.

And it was cold. Now, that means that the temperatures had plummeted into the low 70s, but that was a 20 to 30 degree drop. One Marine in the Comm Platoon wrote home to tell his Mom that he was cold. She immediately sent him a ski jacket. He wore it everywhere.

The problem was that it was an electric, almost fluorescent, blue. Now, An Hoa and its environs was done in shades of green, reddish brown and grey. That electric blue jacket was visible for miles! You could always tell where that Marine was because there was a big empty circle around him. If he wanted to be a target, no one wanted to be close.

* * * * *

The Regimental Sergeant Major hated the “bush cover,” an item that tended to replace the standard utility cover. The utility cover had been Marine Corps issue since at least WWII. It was cut very similarly to a railroad engineer’s cap. The bush cover, on the other hand, was a floppy hat that had a 360° degree brim. It could be turned up on the sides like a cowboy hat, pushed up in front like a cavalryman’s hat, worn with the front brim down and the rear brim up, like a fedora, or with the brim pulled down all around. And the Sergeant Major hated it.

There was a regimental policy that forbade wearing the bush cover in An Hoa, and when the Sergeant Major found someone wearing one, he had his revenge. Outside the CP bunker, he had erected a scarlet and gold board labeled “Sergeant Major’s Funny Hat Board.” The miscreant would be marched to the board, handed a hammer and nail, and ordered to nail his bush cover to the board.

The policy was not popular, and troops quickly learned to duck out of the Sergeant Major’s sight.

One evening, I was walking back from chow with another lieutenant. From our left and about 20 meters in front of us, a Marine turned onto the regimental street from the road to the LZ. He was obviously just in from the bush. He was muddy, wore a large ruck sack, carried his helmet in his free hand, and wore his bush cover in the “cavalryman” style. He was clearly tired, walking with his head down, green towel wrapped around his neck.

Suddenly, from our right and about 10 meters behind the Marine, the Sergeant Major entered the street. He made a beeline for the Marines. Getting right up behind the man, the Sergeant Major snatched the bush cover from the Marine’s head.

“Who the hell do you think you are, Marine.”

The Marine turned. On the pocket of his flak jacket, he wore the silver leaf of a lieutenant colonel. (We did not wear collar insignia of rank in the bush—it made for an inviting target. In “garrison areas” the practice was to wear one piece of insignia on the flak jacket pocket.)

“Uh, Sergeant Major. I think I’m Lieutenant Colonel ________. Seventh Marines. May I have my cover back, please?”

The Sergeant Major turned as scarlet as his funny hat board. Muttering apologies, he returned the cover, and directed the Colonel to the Regimental S-3 shop, as requested.

Then, turning and seeing the two of us, grinning, he said, “Not one word, Lieutenants, not one [universal modifier] word.”

We didn’t have to say anything. The troops who had witnessed this little morality play had had the sense to duck for cover. The story was all over the base in minutes.

* * * * *

The life we lived was primitive and much like that lived by our ancestors in a frontier town. One day was much like the next. Anything new or out of the ordinary was interesting.

One afternoon, I was walking across the regimental street to the S-4 shop when a mechanical mule sputtered by. Also on the street was a war dog handler and his dog, a German Shepherd. The dog was on a lead, but when the mule drove by, he almost pulled his handler off his feet. Barking, snarling, dancing around, the dog was lunging for the mule.

“Stop that goddam mule,” the handler shouted. The driver stopped.

The handler reached down and loosed his dog. Fido raced to the idling mule, snarling and slobbering. He latched onto the rail of the vehicle and began to shake it.

The handler waited a minute or two and then ambled over. Folding the canvas lead into a short bunch, he smacked the dog between the ears. The dog quieted and sat.

“All right stupid,” the handler said. “You caught it. Now what are you gonna do with it?”

The dog just looked at him. “OK, man. Thanks, you can go.” The mule driver put it back into gear and chugged off. The dog just sat there.

Over the ensuing 40 years, there have been times when I have been tempted. Then, through God's unfathomable grace, I have felt the "stupid smack" that Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs and we fathers of a certain age know so well and His voice saying "OK, Stupid. If you caught it, what would you do with it?”

I sometimes think that that is just another way of saying “Lead us not into temptation.”

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

27 March 2010


And with the stroke of a pen, I became a short-timer. I do not believe that anyone who has not served in a war with set “tours of duty,” such as Vietnam and the current unpleasantness in Iraq and Afghanistan, can understand the fixation that one develops on the calendar. When I first went to the bush in December 1968, I listed the months on my helmet cover.

Thereafter, on the last day of the month, when the midnight time check was called, I would have a personal ceremony of checking off that month.

Troops carried short-timer calendars for their last 100 days, usually in the shapely shape of a well endowed young lady. There were numbered segments within the outline, one to be colored in each day. I will leave to your imagination the placement of the last three spots.

Counting the days was also a routine, although no one really started until the last 30 days. There were rules. You did not count the day you were in and the final day was “a wake up.” Therefore, on 17 November, I could say “I’ve got 30 and a wake up.” When you got into single digits, you were “so short, you could sit on the edge of a dime and dangle your legs.”

At the same time, the final 30 days was one of the two most dangerous times in country. The first 30 days, you were so green that you were a danger to yourself and others. The last 30 days, there was the danger of getting a “short-timer mentality.” In other words, there was a tendency to loosen up, to think Hey, I’ve got this knocked.

For that reason, at least in 1/5, we tried to send Marines back to the rear when they hit 30 days. They would stand lines and work in working parties. There was still the danger of rockets and mortars, but it was not as dangerous as the bush. Most of the time.

We had a Marine who extended his tour of duty for six months. This is not as strange as it sounds. If an enlisted Marine returned to the States with less than 6 months remaining on his enlistment, the Marine Corps had begun to offer early discharges, thus avoiding the cost of moving a Marine to a new duty station and then moving him again on discharge.

A lot of Marines who would have gotten to CONUS with 11 months left on their enlistment would extend so that on return, they could be discharged. To sweeten the pot, the Corps offered a Marine who extended a “free” 30 day leave (not charged against his leave balance) anywhere in the world, a choice of a new Military Occupational Specialty, and promotion.

One of our Corporals who had joined the battalion in Hue City during Tet 1968 extended. He was an 0311 (rifleman)and had completed his 13 month tour without a scratch, a real accomplishment for a veteran of Tet. He took his 30 days in the States and then returned to the battalion as a Sergeant with an 01 MOS (clerical). He was assigned to Headquarters & Service Company.

Shortly after his return, while serving as Sergeant of the Guard in our defense sector, he was wounded by shrapnel from an 82mm mortar. He was in the hospital for three days. About a week later, he was once again wounded by shrapnel, but this time his wounds did not require hospitalization. He was awarded a Purple Heart for each wound.

Another policy in effect was for wounds received in action. If a Marine received two Purple Hearts that required hospitalization in excess of 48 hours, he was immediately shipped out of country. Likewise, three Purple Hearts, whether requiring hospitalization or not, were a ticket out.

Finally, at 1145 on 15 May 1969, nine NVA 122 mm rockets landed in the battalion street. Miraculously, there was no one in the street at the time, but the area was peppered with shrapnel. (When I came in from the bush in June, in the BOQ tent, someone had circled every shrapnel hole and dated it. There were 57 holes labeled “15 May.” There were two tents between the street and the BOQ!)

As soon as the first rocket hit, everyone in the various company offices along the street headed for the sandbagged bunkers built at each end of the tents. All through An Hoa, Marines took cover. . . except for a bunch of crazy young motor transport Marines who fired up their mechanical mules and raced towards the impact area, looking for casualties.

The M274 4x4 "Mechanical Mule" was a half-ton utility vehicle used by the Army and Marine Corps all through the Vietnam War. It had a flat rectangular bed, surrounded by a raised rail. It was powered by 4 cylinder, 4 cycle engine started with a pull cord (like a lawn mower motor) and had a top speed of about 20 mph. It weighed about 900 pounds, and could carry 1000 pounds, hence the name.

On 15 May, as the Marines of H&S Company climbed out of their bunker, they found the Sergeant slumped over his typewriter. There was a shrapnel entry wound in the back of his head that exited through the right temple. Initially, they thought he was dead, but one Marine who rushed to him realized that he was still breathing. Another Marine took off his sweaty T-shirt, and they wrapped the Sergeant’s head.

About that time, a mule pulled up, and a couple of the clerks carried the Sergeant out to the Mule. Off they went, bouncing down the street, headed for the LZ. A couple of Corpsmen were triaging wounded in the Zone, and they immediately put the Sergeant on a Huey and off he went to NSA Hospital in Danang.

Eight weeks later, the Sergeant walked out of Naval Hospital, Philadelphia, a little unsteady on his feet, and exhibiting the signs of a serious head injury. But he knew his family and could speak, and function.

He should have been dead from the impact. When that didn’t kill him, the wound should have become infected from the T-shirt. Some men, God just isn’t ready for them when the world would assume He is!

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

26 March 2010


The mood of the Republic is stark.

This mood change began with a 15 month long debate over a health care bill that will do nothing to improve the quality or reduce the cost of health care in America. Next, the plan proposed by the Democratic Party is opposed by an overwhelming majority of the citizenry. To gain passage, the legislative leadership of the Democratic Party had to employ secrecy in its writing, liberal use of pork and political coercion to get enough votes for passage, and feats of parliamentary legerdemain to permit its proponents to deny that they had supported it.

Mainly,however,the plan adopted promises a radical shift in the constitutional understanding of the Nation. And the people are angry.

The anger and polarization have given me pause. The fear and resentment of the national government is the worst it has been in 150 years. And it has been directed against members of both parties.

Why now and why this issue?

Think about it. One hundred fifty years ago, the Nation divided over an issue of constitutional interpretation. I have heard it said that the Civil War was fought over the conjugation of a verb.

“What verb,” you ask? “To be!”

You see, until 1860, the proper conjugation was “The United States are….” By 1865, the proper conjugation was “The United States is….” The shift of power from the States to Washington was a radical departure from the original constitutional intent. The idea that a federal government could dictate to the states was unsettling to many and frightening to most of those.

The Constitution crafted by the Framers in Philadelphia was one of limited federal powers, with all other power vested in the States or the people. But by 1860, the Nation had divided principally along geographic lines over the issue of slavery. One group demanded a federal resolution, the Constitution be damned.

The subsequent debate was a bloody one.

Much as we have recently seen, positions hardened, and States, towns, and even families were split over the issue of whether the Northern States could summarily force the Southern States to abolish slavery. Even prior to December 1860, neighbors were often pitted against neighbors over a single question: “Should the citizens of one block of States be able to force the citizens of another group of States to conform to the will of ‘the Northern majority’?” The debate was heated. In Congress, debates became physical. The most famous occurred when Congressman Preston Brooks (D.S.C.) rushed onto the floor of the Senate and beat Senator Charles Sumner (R. Mass.) senseless.

In “bleeding Kansas,” the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 left up to the electorate the decision of whether Kansas should enter the Union as a free or a slave State. In 1856, a pro-slavery group entered the town of Lawrence, burned the Free-State Hotel and destroyed the equipment of two abolitionist newspapers.

Three days later, a group of abolitionists led by John Brown responded by killing five pro-slavery settlers north of Pottawatomie Creek. Thereafter, one of Brown’s nicknames was “Pottawatomie” Brown.

Brown escaped from Kansas and led his infamous raid on the United States Arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia in 1859. His aim was to arm slaves and to promote a general insurrection by freed slaves against the governments of the southern States. His raid failed and he was hanged, but to many in the North, he was a hero.

The ultimate result was the Civil War, which decided the issue by force of arms.

In the ensuing 150 years, the federal government has assumed many powers that to the Framers would have been unimaginable. The idea that there would be a federal Department of Education would have been laughable; local control over education preceded the Constitution as evidenced by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. That the Congress in Washington and the Executive branch could regulate intimate issues of personal liberty through a “Department of Human Services” would have been unthinkable; those were the very services that were provided by local churches and other charities—groups in the best position to determine who was truly needy as opposed to simply lazy.

But the recent sea change in our constitutional understanding is so stark that it has again polarized the citizenry. Not even the shift to “big government” starting in FDR’s New Deal was as traumatic as the blatant power grab by the Democratic Party in the health care bill.

The New Deal legislation introduced the modern welfare state to America, but at least it promised provision of semi-uniform services in return for the taxes that the people, through their Congress, permitted. “Social Security” was thought to be a “bought and paid for” benefit, even though a similar private plan would have been prosecuted as a Ponzi scheme. The power assumed by the Courts to redraw school district lines was understood to be temporary to address an ill that the majority Americans were at least willing to recognize.

But when Nancy Pelosi and her cabal assert that the only reason that people detest the bill is that they are incapable of understanding what is best for them, the people tremble. This new Act is proof of the old adage, that you can put lipstick and a dress on a pig…..but it is still a pig. Its declaration of power to force citizens to purchase a product they do not want and may not need "for their own good", and the other provisions which are merely a Marxian redistribution of wealth dressed up in kumbaya language, are alien to the understood right of all Americans to be left alone. Particularly the right to be left alone by their government.

So the National mood is understandable.

Now, I do not suggest that a second civil war is imminent. The Country is divided politically and philosophically, not geographically. Still, when those who expected all sorts of free medical care learn that all that has happened is that the Federal government has put the health care insurance industry out of business, when development of technology and drugs remains as costly as ever, requiring ever-increasing taxes, who can tell?

I do find alarming the renewed focus of government on limiting or even repealing the Second Amendment. Perhaps they know more than we do.

25 March 2010


From the initial landings by the 9th Marines in March 1965, the tour of duty for Marines in Vietnam was 13 months. Every Marine knew his “RTD” or “rotation tour date.” Starting with the date that he left CONUS (Continental United States), the RTD was 13 months later. Thus, when I left California on 18 December 1968, I knew that the latest date on which I would return to the States was 13 months later or 18 January 1970.

For those of us who had come in country in mid-December, 1968, that meant that we would “celebrate” two Christmases in Vietnam. Tom Pottenger, Mike Koch, and I were already trying to figure out how we could get to Danang for Christmas, 1969.

The Army and Air Force had a prescribed tour of 12 months. The history of this difference started with the way in which the pre-war 3d Marine Division (minus) was manned up. After Korea and before deploying to Vietnam, the 3d MarDiv was based in Okinawa. It had only two regiments, the 3d Marines and the 9th Marines. (Its third infantry regiment, the 4th Marines, was based in Hawaii as the ground combat element of the 1st Marine Brigade. When the Division deployed to Vietnam, the Brigade moved in country and was once again melded into its parent Division.)

Because of the limited training space in Okinawa, the pre war practice was for a battalion to form in the 1st Marine Division in Camp Pendleton, California. A cadre of experienced officers and NCOs would receive a draft of younger Marines, form them into a battalion, and undertake a rigorous 6 month period of training. Let us use 1/5 as an example.

On 1 January, 1/5 would begin receiving its troops. By 15 January, the battalion would be fully manned and organized. Company Commanders would begin a period of training dedicated to individual tactics and would then progress to fire team tactics, squad tactics, platoon tactics, and company tactics. The troops would spend most of their time in the field and on live firing ranges. Weapons platoons would work on gun drill and on live firing on the 1000 inch range and on full distance ranges.

Finally, there would be a time for training as a battalion. The troops would go to the rifle and pistol ranges to requalify, there would be a series of physical fitness tests, and each Marine would undergo swim qualification. The "lock on" training would end with a formal inspection by the Commanding General and a final graded field exercise.

During this time, the training schedule was full. Married men would report for formation at 0530 on a Monday. The battalion would move to the field, returning to garrison late on Friday. Saturday morning was dedicated to inspections and administration. Liberty call would be sounded after the Noon formation on Saturday, to expire on board at 0530 on Monday, when everything would start again.

Following our hypothetical schedule, on 15 May, 1/5 would board ship for a two week cruise to Okinawa. The battalion would remain in Okinawa for 12 months and then take a return cruise to California, arriving circa 15 June of the next year, 13 months after deployment. (On the way outbound, in mid-Pacific, it would pass the eastbound battalion it was replacing, let us say 2/9. As that happened, the westbound 1/5 would be re-designated as 2/9 and for the east bound unit, vice versa, preserving regimental integrity.)

Although replacements for the 1st and 3d Marine Divisions in Vietnam were flown in, no change in tour length was adopted. I do believe that, at its core, the Corps is presbyterian. The default position for the Corps was to “do it the way we have always done it.” (There was a slogan popular amongst the troops and junior officers: The Marine Corps—200 years of tradition unhindered by progress! ) Thus the 13 month tour was the norm.

With the advent of Vietnamization, a minor ground swell developed as parents and families of Marines began to contact their representatives in Congress. “Why is my neighbor’s doggie son home in 12 months, but my Marine has to stay for 13 months?”

Right after the 1969 Birthday, a rumor began to circulate that the Marine Corps was cutting the tour to 12 months. However, no official word was received.

One day, I received a letter from my brother. “We are so excited that you will be home before Christmas. With the wedding rescheduled to December 27, I am trying to change your reservations in New Orleans.” Huh? I had said nothing to anyone about any possible change.

The next morning, I went over to the MARS station to make a call to the States. In the medieval times before cell and satellite communications, e-mail and Facebook, MARS— the Military Affiliate Radio Service—was a collection of State-side ham radio operators. In Vietnam, volunteers from communications sections would man a shortwave radio. A user would place a phone call which was transmitted to the States. There, a MARS volunteer would make a collect long-distance call to the destination and patch the call through.

Although we were used to voice radio and communication security procedure, it was confusing to our families, but it was the only way to speak with them directly.

I waited all day. Finally, at about 1600 (3 am in Illinois) they put me through.

Maryann (MA): “Michael, is that you? Where are you?

Radio Operator (RO): After a long pause “Ma’am, when you are done speaking, you must say ‘Over.’”

MA: “Oh. Over.”

“I’m in Vietnam. When are we getting married, over?”

MA: “But where are you? Oh, it is so good to hear your voice.”

RO: After another long pause “Ma’am, when you are done speaking, you gotta say ‘Over.’”

MA: “Oh. Over.”

Damn it, I’ve only got 5 minutes! “Listen to me. When are we getting married, over?”

MA: “I can’t believe it’s really you. Where are you. Are you OK? [pause] Uh, over.”

RO: “Ma’am, he can’t say where he is, over.”

“When are we getting married? Have you rescheduled the wedding? Why? Over.”

MA: “On December 27th. Didn’t you get my letter?” Well, obviously not!

RO: “Ma’am, you really gotta say ‘Over.’”

MA: “Oh. Over.”

“No, I didn’t. Look, we are out of time. I’ll write. I love you, over.” The connection was broken.

When I got back to the S-4 shop, Maryann's letter was waiting. Enclosed was a newspaper article announcing that the Marine Corps had cut the tour to 12 months. I raced down to tell Pottenger that we were officially short-timers. From there, we went over to the Supply office to tell Mike who was now the Supply Officer.

We were going home. Christmas had come early.

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

24 March 2010


In early November, the Battalion once again returned to the Arizona. The reinforcements we had received really helped, and there was no need this time for the provisional rifle company.

We also received word that as Vietnamization got moving, areas of responsibility for those units left would be changing. In December, 1/5 was to move its forward CP to Hill 65, located north of the Song Vu Gia.

But first, there was the Birthday.

The Marine Corps Birthday is the Day, and it matters not where you are, you mark it. Along with every other S-4 in the Marine Corps, I arranged for the companies to get a hot meal (steak, baked potatoes, vegetables) and a Birthday Cake. After I was sure that they had been sent out, I caught a chopper to Hill 65. Delta Battery was there and Dick Rollins was Battery XO. I got a look at the place and then Dick and I had our Birthday dinner. After dark, he found a couple of bottles of wine and we sat on a bunker on the east side of the hill, looking down into a rice paddy where an ARVN unit was engaged in a firefight that lasted for about an hour.

I was also monitoring the battalion tactical net. At about 2100, Jim Webb called the Old Man on the radio. Delta was the palace guard at the time. “Hey, Sir,” Webb said. “Look up.”

Almost immediately, a ring of 12 60mm flares popped around their position. “Happy Birthday, Sir. We just lit the candles on the cake.”

I returned to An Hoa the next day. A couple of days passed. At about 0200, one morning, I was called across the road to the Regimental S-4 shop.

“OK, Lad,” said a grim-faced Major Castagnetti. “I knew this was going to bite you in the ass. We just got word from Division that they need to send excess rifles to the South Vietnamese. This comes from the White House. We need those rifles back, and we need them within the next 24 hours.”

Damn! (Pronounced "die-yum!")

I went straight to the battalion comm shack and called the Old Man. He was not pleased, but after talking to the Regimental Commander, he cooled off—a little. By then, I had the armorer on the job and the Supply Section was busy confirming just how many of our rifles were “excess.”

In the next 24 hours, we exchanged a number of rifles for .45 pistols, and Regiment was mollified, but it was exciting. Major Castagnetti, bless his heart, never actually said the words “I told you so,” but I got the message loud and clear.

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

23 March 2010


And the rains came. The fall rainy season kicked in and the Seabees learned that their low water bridge at Liberty Bridge worked. It was under water, but it easily withstood the flow and force of the water.

At the end of September, the XO called me to his office. “One Company can’t spare an officer to be its pay officer this month, so I’m sending you.”

Actually, they had a regular complement of officers, but they had a new CO who was unsure of himself and needed the “security blanket” of having all his officers in the bush. Well, great. Let’s give the bastards one more shot at the kid! “Aye, aye, Sir.”

I’m sure the platoon commanders were disappointed, too. Being pay officer once every three or four months was a little respite because invariably, between the 20th of the month when the payroll was distributed and the 30th (payday), somebody was going to be medevac-ed to Danang.

The pay process worked like this in the ancient times before direct deposit: On the 20th, an 80 column payroll was published in disbursing. The payroll was an alphabetical listing of the Company, with rank, service number, and the amount of money that the Government owed the Marine. In the Company office, they would draw three columns on the roll: “cash,” “check,” and “ride.” It would be sent to the field for review by each Marine.

The individual Marine would then annotate his desires. Most would let most or all of their pay “ride” on the payroll, i.e., they would not draw anything. The next most frequent entry was for “check” in some amount that the Marine would send home. A lot of Marines were the principal source of income to their families. In my first two months in country, I drew checks to pay off my college loans; thereafter, I let the money ride. Finally, some would ask for small amounts of cash.

The payroll was sent back to Disbursing to prepare for payday.

On the 30th, the Pay Officer would select one of his Marines to be his body guard. For a platoon commander in the bush, he would go to An Hoa on the 29th, giving his “body guard” a night in the rear where he could get a shower and a couple of hot meals. After picking up the payroll, checks, blank envelopes, and counting and signing for the cash, it was off to the LZ.

In the field, Marines were paid and signed for their cash. Those who had asked for checks endorsed them and were given envelopes so they could send the check home. The Pay Officer would carry the envelopes back and mail them from the Company office. (Congress had granted us a franking privilege, so there was no need to worry about stamps.)

After all Marines were paid in the field, the Pay officer and bodyguard would fly to Danang to pay troops who had been hospitalized between the 20th and the 30th. I would always go to 1st Medical Battalion and 1st Hospital Company first. They were close to the Division CP and the LZ at 11th Motor Transport Battalion which was also the site of 5th Marines (Rear). We would then hitch a ride to the Naval Support Activity Hospital, down near Marble Mountain, arriving late enough in the day to pay and then be “stranded” when the roads closed for the night. NSA had beds with sheets, hot showers, and mess facilities similar to back in the World.

This time, however, I was starting from An Hoa. And it rained. Then, at about 1600,
Pottenger called. “A hole in the weather just opened up. Get to the LZ.”

At the same time, my 4 Chief popped in. “I’m headed to the LZ with a working party. A hole in the weather just opened up and we’ve gotta resupply the battalion in the next hour or two.”

I got to the Z just in time to catch the resupply bird headed to the Company. There were four or five troops reporting to or returning to the Company and me, along with a helicopter full of supplies. We took off and then hovered while the Shore Party people hooked an external net to the chopper. Then we were off.

We landed 15 minutes later. I reported to the Company Commander, a 1st Lieutenant, and the Gunny promptly started rotating the platoons up to be paid. It was sunny and everyone was enjoying a respite from the rain. The CO, who was playing his role to the hilt, insisted that I, as a REMF, walk out to an observation post located about 200 meters from the lines to pay those troops "for the experience." I did, but when I returned, I pulled the SOB aside and reminded him that I had been in country for ten and one-half months to his three weeks and that I was senior to him. (He had been sent to Camp Lejeune from TBS for “seasoning,” but once in country, he was senior enough to get a company.) This last remark was particularly stinging; the maxim that "Seniority between lieutenants is like virtue among whores" usually led to a live and let live attitude.

After that, I went down to 3d Platoon and spent the night with them because I knew the platoon commander from embark school. It started to rain again about midnight.

Rain in an Asian monsoon is unlike anything we have in the States. When I was in the Philippines a couple of years later, the rain started on July 6 and stopped on August 24. And I mean it—it did not ever stop raining in that 50 day period. The volume changed, but the precipitation was constant.

In our little part of Vietnam, it rained. Streams rose, the hill on which we were located became an island, fighting holes were swimming pools.

The next morning, I checked with the CO to see if there was any chance that we would get a bird that day. While I was there, the CO ordered one of his platoon commanders to send out an OP to the same location as the day before.

I pulled him aside. “You sure you want to do that? Don’t get into a pattern.”

“Look. Lieutenant,” he replied. “I had a platoon for eight months at Camp Lejeune. I think I can run this company without your help.”

Fine with me, Jack. I returned to the Third Herd. It rained all day. The Old Man decided that everyone should stay in place. Moving in the rain is miserable. Just sitting in it is miserable, squared and cubed.

The next morning, the CO sent the OP to the same spot. I objected and was told to get the [universal modifier] out of the CP. Ten minutes later, the troops moving into the OP tripped a booby trap, killing one Marine and wounding another. Although all administrative flights were grounded, medevacs still flew.

The Gunny came down and blew off steam, and the platoon commander needed some consoling. And it rained.

On the fourth day, we began to run out of chow, and by the sixth day, we were completely out.
Whenever I am out in rain or snow these days and I hear people complain about “how miserable it will probably be,”, I smile. The Marine Corps spent 20 years teaching me how to be wet and miserable, and even now when the time comes, I can be wet, cold, tired, hungry and just [universal modifier] miserable without even thinking about it. The eight day stint in October 1969 was the laboratory session for the course entitled “Being Wet And Miserable 101.”

Finally, on the 8th day, the decision was made for us to walk out.

As we were preparing to move, the platoon commander's radio operator found an old bottle of ketchup buried in the bottom of his haversack. It was half full and looked pretty groady.

He poured it into a canteen cup and topped the cup off with rain water. Someone twisted off a pinch of C-4 plastic explosive, touched a match to it, and held the cup over the low blue flame. In 30 seconds the mixture was boiling. The platoon CP group then each enjoyed a swallow of the lousiest best tomato soup I have ever eaten.

It took us four hours to wade about 5 clicks , through waist-to neck deep water until we hit the MSR. I got leeches for the only time in country. Finally, we reached the road.

Joy of Joys, there were trucks waiting and within an hour of getting to the road, we were back in An Hoa.

I had been on the radio with my 4 Chief and we had dry clothing, including socks, waiting for all four companies.

I still had two chores. I reported to the XO that the Company Commander was a stupid SOB who had killed one of his Marines because of his own ego. The XO nodded. (I later learned that the Gunny had talked to the First Sergeant who talked to the Sergeant Major. I understand that the adjectives used by the Sergeant Major made mine sound like a Mother Goose rhyme.)

I then returned the payroll to Disbursing. Then I looked up the Company’s First Sergeant.

“Uh, First Sergeant, when I paid PFC [the KIA], he endorsed his check to his Mom and gave it to me to mail. He’s probably already home, maybe even buried. What do I do with the check?”

“Lieutenant, I’d send it on home. Put a note in it to explain to the Mom.”

So, a few days later, a grieving Mother got one last check in the mail. I wrote how he had told me how glad he was to be able to help his Mom and his six brothers and sisters. “He told me how much he loves you and his family. I cannot begin to tell you how sorry I am for your loss. Just know that he told me how proud he was to be your Son. And we are proud that he was, and always will be, one of our Marines.”

Every word I wrote was true. I pray that it helped.

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

21 March 2010


For the past several months, Representative Bart Stupak(D. Mich) was a beacon of principle in an otherwise fairly sordid and cowardly Democratic caucus in the House of Representatives.

The liberal wing of the party—the one that thought the Obama victory was a mandate to enact every liberal dream—decided that this was an opportunity to get rid of the Hyde amendment that since the 1970s has prohibited federal payment for abortion. They tried to sneak such language through the House, but Stupak and others insisted on amending the House bill to ensure that there was no way that tax money would ever pay for elective abortions.

Why he trusts any of the leadership is a mystery because they tried to defeat his amendment by preventing him from offering it. Only when the Czarina and her buddy, Stenny, were caught trying to bypass Stupak did they allow it to be considered. Surprise—it carried.

Enter Harry Reid and the liberal Dems in the Senate. They ensured that no Stupak language would be added to the Senate bill. “Don’t worry, Bart,” the Czarinsa PROMISED. “The House Senate conference will try again.”

But Massachussets intervened. Martha Croakley…er. Coakley the heir presumptive to Ted Kennedy went down in flames to Todd Brown. Faced with the certainty of a filibuster of a conference report in the Senate, the House had but one option—pass the Senate bill as written.

Stupak objected. Now comes the real arm twisting. Harry Reid PROMISES that the so-called “fix-it” bill will pass, but, surprise, Stupak’s language is not allowed in the fix it. Besides which, Harry also PROMISES that the Senate will pass the fix it. Not to worry, Bart.

But Harry also knows that if the Parliamentarian rules that the reconciliation proces does not apply to the fix it, that legislation is dead. And so does Bart.

Now the Pres comes in. “Don’t worry, Bart. Even if the Senate language is the law of the land, I will simply issue an Executive Order amending the law. I PROMISE.”

Ultimately, a man of principle will learn a couple of good lessons before he is defeated next November. First, you are not a man of principle unless you stick to your guns, even when your party gets mad about it. Second, a man of principle has no business in the Democratic caucus in the House. Not with the leadership there extant.

Here endeth the lesson…

20 March 2010


My 200th Blog. Who'da thunk it?

The hype surrounding the vote on the so-called “Health Care Reform” bill is approaching that usually associated with the Super Bowl. Tomorrow promises more smoke, mirrors and glitz than a half-time extravaganza.

Based on the glowing CBO figures received based on Harry and Nancy’s “assumptions (which CBO is required to accept) the bill will cost a minimum of $940 billion over the next 10 years (although only the taxes, penalties and fees kick in immediately—the $940 billion will be spent in 6 years starting in 2014). We are assured by the Dems that it will “save” $138 billion in deficit reductions. In other words, they plan for the federal government to spend less money we don’t have than they would otherwise spend. Huh?

It’s like the old joke about the guy who buys something on sale although his bank balance is zero because he can use the “savings.”

But it gets better. Although CBO usually doesn’t project out beyond 10 years (for obvious reasons to be mentioned below), Nancy and Harry needed some big numbers to counter that nearly $1 trillion (1 followed by 12 zeros)cost, so CBO promises that in the decade starting in 2020 and ending in 2029, we’ll “save” another $1.2 trillion.

And if you believe that, contact me. I have some prime Nevada ocean front property that Harry is selling me that I can pass on to you.

The CBO does not project out that far because to do so accurately is nearly impossible.

Think about it. If the CBO is that good, why, back in 1988 did the CBO not warn us about the last two years?


The Dems have retreated from Demon Pass ("Deem and pass"), the procedure thay had planned to use so that they could lie to their constituents saying "Oh, I didn't vote for the Senate Bill. I voted for a rule."

I suppose someone said to them, "Look, if we are so ashamed of what we are doing that we don't want to admit it, we should either better listen to the voters or just stand up and vote for the damned thing and take our whuppin' in November like adults."

We ought to sell tickets to the Fall campaigns--we coulkd retire the debt.

19 March 2010


October was a busy month. One afternoon, Tom Pottenger walked into the S-4 bunker and said, “C’mon. You’re gonna want to see this.”

We walked out into the battalion street to see a large group of Marines milling around outside the H&S Company CP.

“What the…,” I muttered?

Pot grinned. “We’re being reinforced.”

As the 3d Marine Division was being pulled out of Vietnam in the “Vietnamization” process, Headquarters, Marine Corps had decided that only those Marines with more than 9 months in country would go to Okinawa. The rest would be sent south to build up the strength of the 1st Marine Division.

Second Battalion, Third Marines was sent to the 5th Marines, and each battalion received one company. As I recall, 1/5 received G/2/3.

This made sense. Bonding in combat is in my estimation one of the closest relationships ever to be developed, stronger than all but that of mother and child. Consider that a baby is helpless in a huge, dangerous world and must rely on one person above all for survival. In combat, one is again in a dangerous world and must rely on shipmates for survival. Just as removing from his mother a baby who has forged the bond is traumatic, so, too, is breaking the bonds forged in combat.

Read any of Steven Ambrose's books and one theme is that the vets in a unit were leery of bonding with new arrivals. They had already suffered the loss of buddies with whom the bond had been forged and many could not bear the thought of re-bonding and losing again. So the Marine Corps policy was sound; it ensured that these troops would know at least a few people in their new units.

At the same time, the leaders in 1/5 were facing a task of re-orienting the thinking of these new joins. Their identity was with the Third Marines. Fortunately, they were joining the most illustrious battalion in the most illustrious regiment in the pre-eminent Division in the Corps. They were "movin' up," even if it took us a while to convince them of that fact. (Many of them are members of the First Marine Division Association and attend our reunions. It is their right and privilege to do so. What is interesting is that few of them are also members of the Third Marine Division Association. They consider themselves--and they are--Marines of 1/5 and the 5th Marines, a fighting organization that accepts as its peers only Caesar's Legion in Gaul and Jackson's Brigade in the Valley.)

But again, I digress. When we got close, Tom called the group to attention. “I’m Lieutenant Pottenger, the S-1. I want all the officers to come with me. Whoever has the SRBs (service record books) of the troops, bring those, too. This is Lieutenant McCarty, the S-4. He’ll explain the drill for tonight.”

There was a small sandbagged bunker next to the H&S Company CP tent, a shelter in case of rocket or mortar attacks. I jumped up on it, and explained that we would get them to chow right away (it was about 1600) and then would billet them in GP tents for the night. I then asked, “Are there any questions?”

Every hand shot up. Damn!?!

“OK, Sergeant?”

“Yessir. We been humping the mountains up north against the NVA. We heard that down here in VC country, you run into booby traps. The NVA don’t use booby traps. Are there a lot of booby traps down here?”

Now there was an interesting question, in so many ways. The Third Marine Division had convinced itself that their war was the bad one--and it was a bad one, in the mountains with triple canopy against the NVA. But the idea that we were merely toying with a few guerillas rankled. Recall that we destroyed the 90th NVA Regiment in June.

“Well, Sergeant, the short answer is ‘yes.’ I don't know what line they have been feeding you in the Third Mar Div, but there are NVA here, too, and even they plant booby traps. My best advice is this: even if you have been in country five or six months, even if you are an NCO, this is something new. Listen to the Marines who have been here, even if they are junior to you or have been in country for a shorter time. If everyone in the column walks to the left of a tree, you walk to the left. Recently, 2/5 had a lieutenant that decided to walk to the right and now they’re short one lieutenant.”

“Another thing,” I continued. “If you enter a ville and look down a path and see a nice new flak jacket, or a helmet or a cartridge belt just laying there, leave it alone. Call for an engineer. A while back, 3/5 had a lieutenant who decided that he should save the taxpayers money and retrieve a flak jacket that was just sitting next to a well. He’s dead, the flak jacket was destroyed, and the taxpayers paid for his funeral. Use your heads, listen to the people who have been here, and you’ll be fine. OK?”

He nodded.

“OK, who’s next?” No one moved. It dawned on me that they had really been beat over the head with the threat of booby traps. A good thing, too, because the NVA and VC were masters of the trade.

By the next morning, they had been parsed out to the companies and they fit in just fine.

In 2005, we finally got a group of 1/5 Marines from the 1969 time period together at the reunion.

The guys from Tet '68 in Hue City had been the strong core of the members from the Vietnam era 'til then. They made us feel welcome, but that bonding thing was still strong. At the 1999 reunion banquet, I was sitting with them because no one from my time was present. At dinner, they were passing around a copy of the Life magazine photo of an amtrac bringing casualties out of Hue City. One Marine is cradling another in his arms, the wounded man smeared with blood and a battle dressing tied across his chest. Even in the photo, his skin was greying.

I remember that issue and that photo. It came out right after Mom had gotten the response to her letter to the President. I devoured the issue, seeing myself in every photo. Mom refused to look at it again.

At the reunion, they were pointing out Marines they knew. The man sitting next to me was identified as the one holding the casualty.

"Did he make it," I asked?

He paused, teared up, and then shook his head. "Nah. He died at the BAS (battalion aid station)." He paused. "Aw, Fuck!" This time, that one word was uttered as a prayer, and I believe that our loving and compassionate God, the Father of the Great Lion of Judah, received it as just that--nothing more or less.

He stood up and walked away. One of their Corpsmen, a question on his face, looked at me across the table. I nodded, and Doc took off to console his brother. I felt like a base intruder into a family still in mourning, a stranger, a distant cousin who was merely showing up for the wake.

Soon, we reached out to guys from "our year" and we now attend in in strength. It is easier when you are with family.

At dinner during one of "our" first reunions, we were trying to place each other. Suddenly, one guy looked at me.

“Hey, you’re that tall skinny lieutenant who talked to us about booby traps.”

After all those years, it was still all about those damned booby traps!

Semper Fi.

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

18 March 2010

MPC (Military Payment Certificates)

With my return to An Hoa after our little visit to the Arizona, I figured that my service in the field was probably done for my tour. Not so fast there, bucko!

A couple of days after the battalion headed for the area southeast of Phu Loc (6), I was called to the XO’s office. Along with several officers, I was informed that starting the next morning, the US Forces in Vietnam would be recovering all currently issued Military Payment Certificates (“MPC”), the scrip we used for money, and issuing a new version. We were the exchange officers.

Starting shortly after the United States entered the war in 1965, a huge black market had developed, with the intent of getting access to US currency. Neither North nor South Vietnam had a recognized hard currency for foreign trade and dollars were in real demand. To shortstop the black market and to control access to US currency, as soon as a soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine arrived in Vietnam, he would exchange any US currency in his possession for scrip. When I arrived in An Hoa in December 1968, I had about $60 US. By June 1969, I still had about $20 of the scrip I received in December.

Issued in denominations of $.05, $.10, $.25, $1.00, $5.00, and $10.00, the bills were about half the size of regular US bills and were printed in any color except green. The version in use when I arrived had scenes from US history and were printed in blue, brown, red, and purple, depending on the denomination.

There was an apocryphal story that when it was first announced that scrip would replace greenbacks back in 1965, one enterprising soldier stationed in Saigon raided his unit’s rec room, removed all the bills from the Monopoly game, and went on a shopping spree. I hope it is true!

The next morning, all entrances to the base were closed. Authorized contractors, such as the mama-sans who ran the laundry and the papa-sans in the barber shop had been told to leave their cash with the disbursing officer when they left the night before. There were dozens of Vietnamese standing outside the gate trying to get the sentries to convert their illegally obtained MPCs. With officers observing each gate, they were pretty much out of luck.

I reported to the Disbursing bunker to obtain a payroll for Alpha Company, a stack of mimeographed receipts, a package of carbon paper, and a waterproof ammunition box to store the cash. I then headed down to the LZ and caught the first bird to Alpha Company.

Upon my arrival, the company reported to me by squads. For each man, I took his MPC, we counted it together, and I gave him my personal receipt for the agreed upon amount, keeping my carbon for the record. By 1300, I was done, but I had to wait until the next morning to get back to An Hoa. As soon as I got there, I returned to Disbursing where I counted and turned in the old MPC and my receipts, obtaining a receipt from the Disbursing Officer.

The next morning, I reported back to disbursing. There I counted out the new MPC (same size, color and denominations, but all of the pictures were from the manned space program), took custody of the cash and the carbons of my receipts, delivering the DO’s receipt to him, and headed back out. In the bush, I then “bought back” my receipts from the troops. The Disbursing clerks had spent all night paying out cash for each individual receipt, and we were cautioned not to “make change” for anyone.

Everything went well, except that two Marines had been medevac-ed during the night. I spent another night in the bush and had the opportunity to experience a couple of artillery short rounds that landed less than 100 meters outside the lines. As Father O'Brien said, "Friendly fire ain't!"

When I got back to An Hoa the next morning, the battalion appointed one officer to take the cash for wounded Marines from all 5 companies and go to Danang to pay them. I passed on that opportunity.

And yes, I followed the same procedure for myself. Of course, following the practice of pay officers back in those days of cash pay days, I had paid myself last in case there was a shortage. How it happened, I don’t know, but I made a profit.

I was a nickel ahead when all was done.

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

17 March 2010


An epidemic of cowardice is sweeping through the halls of Congress. Led by the most duplicitous Speaker since Thomas Brackett “Czar” Reed, eulogized by Henry Cabot Lodge as "a good hater,” the House of Representatives is about to display cowardice of the worst kind. They will place fear of the Czarina above love of the Constitution.

Reed was the Speaker of the House in the 54th and 55th Congresses. His famous dictum that "The best system is to have one party govern and the other party watch," is probably inscribed on a card on Czarina Pelosi’s desk.

Pelosi and her cabal of anti-constitutionalists clearly pose the greatest threat to our system since the Radical Republicans of the 40th Congress. She wants her preferred version the so-called “health care reform bill” (which has nothing at all to do with health care and everything to do with centralized government control over the lives of citizens). Her caucus knows that any such bill is probably a deadly threat to their continued control of the House. Many representatives, especially those in swing districts, know that the people do not trust the proposed legislation and distrust the Congress even more.

They are afraid of voting for the deeply flawed bill, but afraid even more of Pelosi, herself a very good hater.

The problem facing that caucus is that the bill that the House passed is doomed because the Constitution, in Article I, Section 5, clause 2 provides that “ Each House may determine the rules of its proceedings, punish its members for disorderly behavior, and, with the concurrence of two thirds, expel a member. ” The rules adopted by Senate still allow a member, once recognized by the President to have the the floor, to speak until he or she surrenders the floor. This enables the filibuster, a parliamentary tool by which a minority of one may delay the business of the Senate for so long as he can keep the floor. It has been best portrayed by Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.

Still, the Senate has somewhat limited that right by adopting a rule on “cloture” which allows a limitation on debate. A cloture motion requires a vote of three-fifths of the members to invoke cloture.

Moreover, Article I, Section 5, clause 3 provides that “Each House shall keep a journal of its proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, . . .; and the yeas and nays of the members of either House on any question shall, at the desire of one fifth of those present, be entered on the journal.”

It was the “filibuster-proof” Senate that allowed Harry Reid to pass the Senate version of health care reform in the first place, a version that is anathema to all Republican Senators and many Democratic representatives. He had to do so because the House bill was anathema to a sufficient number of Senators that it could never pass the Senate. Even so, to get his 60 votes for cloture, Reid had to entice a number of Senators with sweetheart deals for their States, deals now entered into Senate Lore as the "Cornhusker Kickback," the "Louisiana Purchase," and others which were as costly but not susceptible to monikers.

The plan was for the House-Senate Committee to then take the two bills, work out a compromise and present the compromise to both houses for approval. Then came the election of Scott Brown, and that plan was dead. Reid could no longer prevent a filibuster.

Pelosi and Reid were in a real pickle.

There were two bills, each of which had passed one house. The only workable solution was for the House to adopt verbatim the version already approved by the Senate, avoiding the necessity of further action by the Senate and the inevitability of a filibuster.

But Pelosi hates the Senate bill, as do a significant number of her caucus. Even more, she hates and fears the Constitutional requirement that the affirmative assent of both houses is necessary before a bill is sent to the President. That pesky constitutional right of only 20% of the House could require her caucus to stand up and have recorded their vote on a bill that a majority of Americans do not trust and do not want. The votes would be recorded for posterity--and for use by their opponents for re-election--and that threatened the passage of the legislation.

Her caucus, a caucus of cowards, wants a bill that the Country does not want, but they do not want anyone to know that they voted for the bill. They want to be able to say “No, I did not vote for the Senate bill. I just voted to fix a 'flawed' bill that had already been enacted. I was against it before I was for it.”

They know that there is a strong likelihood that they will lose control of the House of Representatives if the bill passes and their constituents are presented with a recorded vote in favor. If they must actually conduct, in the words of the President, “an up or down vote," enough representatives faced with the loss of their seat if their vote is known might just vote “nay.”

“But,” says the Czarina, “let’s not let the Constitution get in the way.”

Side-stepping the Constitution, she has decided that the House need not vote on the Senate bill. Instead they will vote on a bill to re-write the Senate bill and in so-doing, “deem” the Senate bill to have passed both Houses of Congress. “Fie on the Constitutional right of the minority to demand the yeas and nays on a piece of legislation. Let them eat cake.”

Which brings me to Senator Ross. At the time of the gravest threat to the Constitution, graver even than that posed by the secession of the Southern States and the subsequent civil war, the Congress sought to convert our republican form of government with its separation of powers into a Parliamentary system. In 1867, President Andrew Johnson, who was seeking a Lincoln-esque reconstruction of the Union threatened to remove from office Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton (a really scary dude).

After Lincoln's death, Stanton ignored the President, kept control of the War Department, assumed de facto control of the State Department, and used the Secret Service to spy on the President, members of Congress and other enemies, setting the precedent for J. Edgar Hoover and Richard Nixon. Unlike the President, Stanton wanted retribution against the South that would have made what France and Britain did to Germany after WWI look like a Sunday School picnic. And probably with the same results.

The majority in Congress who also favored punishing the South forever passed a law, over Johnson’s veto, making the long-observed right of the President to remove members of his cabinet contingent upon Senate approval. Johnson fired Stanton and the House promptly impeached him. The Senate tried the case and voted 35-19 to convict, one vote shy of the two-thirds necessary to convict.

While five Republican senators broke with their party leadership to oppose conviction, it is Senator Edmund Gibson Ross of Kansas, a hero of the Civil War, who is usually acknowledged to have cast the decisive vote (and thus saving the Constitution). No less worthy than John F. Kennedy, in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Profiles in Courage, gives the credit to Ross. In recounting the vote, Ross later wrote “I looked into my open grave,” and he was right. He did the right thing, even though it called down upon his head the wrath of the vindictive and dictatorial leaders of his party and ended his political career.

Now the Czarina and her cabal seek to subvert the Constitution by purporting to enact legislation by fiat. Of course, the President could veto any such bill as he is required by his oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution,” but he needs something upon which to claim political “victory.” And while it is likely that the Supreme Court will declare any “deemed” legislation to be a Constitutional nullity, that will take time.

So, for the sake of the American people and constitutional government, I pray that there are enough Edmund Gibson Ross-es among the members of the Democratic Party in Congress, representatives who will place their sworn duty to the Constitution above their fear of the Czarina.

16 March 2010


All Marines, except some members of the United States Marine Band (“The President’s Own”), go through recruit training or OCS. One of the changes that Jim Webb argued for when he was Secretary of the Navy was for midshipmen from the Naval Academy to attend a six-week session of OCS, just as their NROTC brethren did. Boot Camp and OCS are a common ground that enlisted Marines and their officers share with their peers.

I have long felt that all Marines should complete recruit training, even those who are already destined for OCS. Many of the Mustangs with whom I have served were better troop leaders for once having been enlisted Marines. But I can settle for an OCS requirement.

Central to such training is marksmanship. “Every Marine a rifleman” is gospel within the Corps. The ability to routinely place killing aimed rifle fire on target out to 500 or more yards has been our raison d’ etre since 1775. The Germans at Belleau Wood were so surprised to learn that entire regiments of Marines could consistently kill them out to 800 to 1,000 yards that they named us teuffelhunden (“devil dogs”).

Thus, while the 0311 (rifleman) is the primary practitioner of the art of musketry, the cook in the mess hall, the clerk in battalion headquarters, and the mechanic on the flight line will also be on the rifle range each year honing and reinforcing the skills necessary to “put one between an enemy’s running lights (eyes)” at distance—just in case. And their officers will be right there with them, firing the same course of fire. That’s what makes us all Marines.

When I returned to An Hoa, I called the Company First Sergeants to the S-4 bunker and explained that the CO had directed me to form a provisional rifle company to take to the Arizona in a few days. Based on their advice, I decided that 60 Marines would be able to do the job. We routinely had about 50 to 80 “casuals,” Marines recuperating from slight wounds, Marines awaiting disciplinary action, and some short-timers, who helped us meet the requirement that we man the regimental lines. We figured that if we used 30 of those Marines, and stripped another 30 out of the company and battalion headquarters, we could man up the provisional company while still meeting the battalion’s responsibilities.

The First Sergeant of Headquarters & Service Company suggested that we could reduce the number of cooks and messmen we provided to the mess hall because we would be reducing the number of Marines from 1/5 eating there. Three cooks, a Sergeant and two PFC’s became my mortar “squad.” We formed two 28 man platoons commanded by Sergeants, and a Staff Sergeant from Motor Transport volunteered to be my “gunny.”

In fact, the entire “company” was made up of volunteers.

The folks in the rear—truck drivers, mechanics, clerks, supply men, and cooks—rankled when their peers in the rifle companies referred to them as “REMF’s” (rear echelon m----f-----). Presented with an opportunity to prove their mettle as Marines, they jumped at the chance. The three cooks never did return to the mess hall—it turns out that they were natural born mortar men, and at their request, they moved to the 81mm mortar platoon when we disbanded the “company.”

The Battalion moved to the Arizona a few days later. The first night that we were in the bush, I was talking to the Colonel when we began to receive in-coming mortar fire. I threw myself to the deck, angry that my buttons were so thick that they kept me elevated. I looked over at the Old Man. He was hunkered down just as low as was I, but he was grinning.

“Now you know why I let you con me into this crazy plan of yours, Mac. I wanted you to be eligible for the Combat Action Ribbon.” The CAR had been instituted by the Secretary of the Navy in February 1969 (retroactive to 1961) to recognize Marines and sailors who “have rendered satisfactory performance under enemy fire while actively participating in a ground or surface engagement.”

I muttered that I had been eligible since December 26, thank you very much, but he just winked.

The attack ended, but the cries of “Corpsman, Corpsman” started. A communicator from the battalion CP group had been hit in the groin. When I got there, two corpsmen were already working on him. The Operations Chief, a Master Sergeant, was with him, calming him with the assurance that “I can see that you still got yer pecker and at least one of your balls, son. Don’t worry about it. I lost one at Chosin Reservoir and we’ve have had seven kids since then.”

The Marine was on a medevac chopper within minutes, headed for Da Nang.

Life in the bush had a numbing and reassuring repetition. I sent out patrols during the day, a single ambush at night, and resumed my practice of weapons inspections every day. The 24 days raced past. Every two or three days, I would fly into An Hoa to do “S-4 stuff” as the XO called it, but never missed a night in the field.

Three events stand out in my memory.

One night, I let the mortar squad try a new (for them) method of adjusting fire. The put up a flare and then re-laid the mortar for high explosive rounds on the now visible target. The first HE round was a direct hit. They were whooped and hollered like the teenagers they were, I was impressed, and the 81 mm mortar platoon commander began his negotiations to sign them up.

Then there was the day that we received, unsolicited, an Army psychological operations team. They arrived on the afternoon resupply bird, complete with loudspeakers, a phonograph, a small generator, and assorted microphones and cables.

The Colonel talked to them and then called me over. “Take charge of these psychos. Just keep them out of my hair.”

I took the Staff Sergeant and his Sergeant the location in which they could set up. As they were doing so, I suggested that they needed a fighting hole because we had been taking occasional mortar fire.

“Well,” the Sergeant asked, “where is it?” Huh?

My gunny shook his head and said, “Well, damn, Sergeant, you’re standing right in it. You just ain’t dug the dirt outen it yet.” There then followed a short discussion regarding the different philosophies of the Army and the Marine Corps. Needless to say, the doggies were soon digging away.

After they were dug in, I briefed them on their sectors of fire.

“Sectors of fire,” the Staff Sergeant asked?

“Yeah, you’re in the line and you have specified sectors of fire.”

“Oh, no sir. We’re specialists. The host unit is responsible for our security. We don’t stand lines.”

“Really?” I called the gunny over and explained our apparent responsibilities as good hosts. He chuckled and called to the Marines in the holes on either side of our guests’ quarters. The Marines came over.

“OK, Marines. This here is Staff Sergeant ______ and Sergeant _______. They don’t want to stand lines tonight. If they get out of their holes after stand to, kill them.” The Marines nodded. The gunny turned to the doggies. “Are we clear now? Everybody happy? Good. C’mon, Lieutenant, let’s let these folks get acquainted.”

The Army team returned to from whence they came the very next morning.

And then there was the Army Warrant Officer.

We had noticed that our ambush patrols were having less and less contact. We suspected that locals were observing as the ambushes left our lines and were then warning the NVA of their locations. To counter this, we began to send the ambushes out with afternoon security patrols. The ambush squad would intermingle with the security patrol. At one of the security patrol’s stops, the ambush would go to ground and stay behind when the security patrol moved on. After dark, the ambush would move into position and our results began to improve.

One afternoon, a patrol from Alpha Company was approaching a treeline when it erupted with small arms and automatic weapons fire, pinning the patrol down in a rice paddy. The point man was hit in the chest.

Two CH 46’s were soon on station to conduct a medevac. As dash one (the lead chopper) tried to land, he came under heavy fire and could not land. He tried two more times and were shot out of the zone both times. On the last attempt, the bird was hit, one of the crew was seriously wounded, and the chopper began to leak hydraulic fluid.

He called “no joy,” and headed back to An Hoa, with dash two in trail to provide security.

I was with the battalion CP group, listening to the radio reports on the Battalion Tactical and Alpha’s Company Tactical frequencies. Alpha was sending a reinforcing platoon, but the patrol was nearly 1500 meters from the Company.

Suddenly, a new voice came up on Alpha’s company tac. “Alpha 3, Alpha 3, this is Snafflering Juliet 56. Can we be of assistance.”

“This is Alpha Six. Who the [universal modifier] are you?”

Alpha Six, I am a huey gunship coming out of Antenna Valley and orbiting just west of An Hoa. Can I help?”

Alpha 6 quickly directed the chopper to Alpha 3’s location, and the platoon commander directed the chopper’s fires onto the treeline. We could see him make low pass after low pass, occasionally hovering face to face with an NVA gunner, working out their differences with 2.75 inch rockets and machine gun fire.

The NVA fire had pretty much stopped when Snafflering Juliet finally called out that he was nearly out of ammo and could make only one more pass. “Anything else I can do to help,” he asked?

He was asked to land and evacuate the casualty, which he did. A Corpsman went with the casualty to Da Nang.

The Colonel contacted Alpha 3. “Did you identify that guy?”

“Yessir. Got his side number, his bureau number, and his call sign.”

The Old Man turned to me and said “Let’s write him up for a Silver Star. Division Air can figure out who he is.”

I sat down and wrote up a description of the action and a proposed citation, ending with the traditional words “His actions were in keeping with the finest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.” That is high praise that we do not ordinarily shower on outsiders.

About six weeks later, I was back in An Hoa. The Colonel came into the S-4 bunker and sat down next to my desk.

“I just talked to an Army Major with some aviation unit over at Hoi An. He called to thank me for the medal that he had just presented to one of his 20 year old Warrant Officers. Said he was glad to be able to do it, because this kid came back with over 50 bullet holes in his bird and reported that he had been shot up while flying 30 miles outside his assigned patrol area in response to a call over a radio net he was not authorized to monitor. They were about to court-martial him, but he got our Silver Star instead. He said the kicker was that the citation still had the reference to the standards of the Marine Corps. Thought you’d like to know.”

So, while a very few doggies didn’t quite measure up, most did. Army helicopter pilots tended to be kids who had been running their ‘56 Chevies up and down main street only a year or two earlier. We gave them their very own helicopters, complete with with rockets and machine guns, and they did the rest. God bless ‘em.

The battalion left the Arizona in late September and headed out to an area southeast of Phu Loc (6). I went back to being the S-4, and most of my “company” went back to performing their primary duties, but confident that in everyone’s eyes, they were no longer REMFs.

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

15 March 2010


On the morning of 5 September, a runner came up from the S-1 bunker. “The Adjutant’s compliments, Sir, and he says ‘Haul ass for the LZ and get up to Phu Loc (6) right now. The CO wants to see you.’” The Battalion Headquarters was at the Bridge, and I knew we were about to return to the Arizona, so I assumed the Old Man wanted to talk logistics.

I grabbed my helmet, rifle and flak jacket and ran down to the LZ, located about a quarter of a mile away at the end of the runway. Fortunately, there was a CH-46 just heading to Danang that could stop at the Bridge. Ten minutes later, I was in the LZ at Phu Loc (6). As my bird flew away, another 46 landed and Jim Webb ran down the tail ramp. I waited for him.

“What’s going on,” I asked?

“We’re getting promoted.”

Oh. I realized that Academy guys were a little more conscious of those things. In another 5 minutes we were in the Command Post bunker. Colonel Griffis, read the AlMar (a message from Headquarters, Marine Corps addressed to “all Marine units”) announcing the promotion of the newest batch of First Lieutenants of Marines. He reminded us that, while our original oaths of office remained in effect, it was customary to renew them on promotion. We renewed our oaths.

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter. So help me God.

If that oath sounds familiar, it is because it is the oath administered to every officer of the United States from the Vice President, Senator, Representative in Congress down to the newest Second Lieutenant.

We signed our acceptances of the President’s new commission and became the newest First Lieutenants in the Corps, at least for a couple of minutes. Webb and I got the special rush treatment because we were the only regular lieutenants in the Battalion. The law in effect at that time said that Reserve officers could be commissioned and their date of rank (and entitlement to pay and allowances in their new grade) could refer back to the date of their commission. Regular officers, however, did not receive their new pay and allowances until that actually signed the acceptance of their commission. The other second lieutenants in the battalion who had been commissioned in June 1968 were promoted quickly, but if it happened on 6 or 7 or 8 September, they lost nothing from the short delay.

The CO then reminded us that we had just lost one benefit. “Ten minutes ago you could have made a minor mistake and we would say ‘Well, he’s just a dumb second lieutenant.’ But now, I can say ‘What the heck is the matter with you? You’re a First Lieutenant for heaven’s sake.’ Congratulations. Now get back to work!”

The other assembled officers and Staff NCOs offered their congratulations.

The CO then called the Company Commanders, the Sergeant Major, and the principal staff officers into his “office.” He informed us that the battalion would soon be returning to the Arizona. The mission was to aggressively patrol and interdict NVA and VC patrols coming down out of the mountains in search of rice.

Looking at the map, he said “At our current strength, I’m not sure how we can get the coverage we need with four companies.” He and the S-3 (Operations Officer) began to discuss deployment of the battalion and the task was indeed daunting.

I was sitting next to the Sergeant Major. I looked at him and said “It’s too bad we can’t strip all of us REMFs out of An Hoa and put them in the field. At least we could be the ‘palace guard’ (security for the command group) and free up another maneuver company.”

To my surprise, the Sergeant Major said “Excuse me, Colonel, but I think the lieutenant may have just earned that new pay.” Turning to me he said “Say that again, Lieutenant.” I repeated my thought.

The XO said “You’re talking about clerks and cooks and bakers and mechanics?”

”Dammit, sir, they’re Marines,” the Sergeant Major growled.

The Old Man paused. “It’s worth a thought. OK, Mac, it’s your idea. Put it together and see what it looks like.”

Thus was born 1/5’s provisional rifle company, commanded by yours truly. I headed back to An Hoa to “put it together and see what it looks like.”

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

14 March 2010


Beginning in June 1969, the United States began to withdraw troops from Vietnam as part of President Nixon’s “vietnamization” process. Eerily reminiscent of President Obama’s plan for Iraq and Afghanistan, the idea was to turn the war over to the South Vietnamese. Thereafter, the US would provide logistic support for the South. It might have worked, too, except that as soon as our combat units were out, the Democratic controlled Congress welshed on the logistic support part of the deal, cutting off all aid and abandoning the South Vietnamese to fight a North Vietnamese army that was fully supported by the Soviet Union.

The Ninth Marines were pulled back to Okinawa in July, and by September the entire 3d Marine Division was gone. The Fourth Marines went to Oki and the Third Marines to Hawaii, where, along with a battalion of the 11th Marines, it became the ground combat element of the 1st Marine Brigade.

As soon as I returned to An Hoa, along with all other embarkation officers in the 1st Marine Division, I was called to Division headquarters for an embarkation conference. The gist of the two day conference was that since the Division’s arrival in Vietnam in 1965, no thought had been given to the process of leaving. Mount-out boxes for all our gear were either non-existent or in bad repair after 4 hard years. Our embark plans were out of date. We needed to get our respective units ready so that we could move on short notice.

As I was preparing to return to An Hoa, I was in the visiting officers quarters (a strong-back tent), packing up. Suddenly, Lieutenant Chuck (“Liberty”) Vallance walked in. We are Basic School classmates, and I had seen him the night before in the mess. He looked shaken.

“Hey, Mac. Tom Pottenger is still your S-1, right?”

“Sure is.”

“Well, when you get back, tell him Mike Quinn is dead.” Lieutenant Quinn had been one of Pot’s classmates in OCS and one of his roommates at TBS. Liberty had been called over to Graves Registration to identify the body.

On that somber note, I returned to An Hoa and immediately broke the news to Tom. He was stunned. Roy Phillips, KIA with Bravo Company right after we arrived, had been his other roommate. I went back to the S-4 bunker to settle in.

A few minutes later, a wild-eyed Pottenger was in my face, calling me every name in the book. He wound down with “That’s just not funny, Mac. I just talked to the G-1 casualty officer and Quinn’s not dead.” At that moment, a runner from S-1 came in.

“S’cuse me, Mr. Pottenger, Sir. G-1 Casualty just called back. They said to tell you that they just got word that that Lieutenant named Quinn you was askin’ about was reported KIA today. When you called, they hadn’t got the word yet. They said to tell you they’re sorry.” We grieved again.

It was late for our class to be losing people. In the early months of our tour, I dreaded seeing the back pages of each month’s Marine Corps Gazette. The official magazine of the Marine Corps Association, it was still a true gazette in 1969. In the back pages each month, rank by rank, were reported promotions, retirements, transfers, awards, and command assignments. And deaths. Until at least June, I saw the names of classmates every month. But by now, we were mostly out the bush and less exposed to danger.

To the best of my knowledge, Mike Quinn was the last member of our class to be killed in ground combat in Vietnam. At the time of his death, he was serving as Executive Officer, Company H, 2d Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division. He was 23. His name appears on the Wall on Panel 18W, Line 8.

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.