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.


Reformed Catholic said...

Keep 'em coming, Mac. You're going to have one heck of a memoir to publish here soon !!

PS: I'd put a copyright notice up ;)

Mac said...

Thanks. Good idea

Strode said...

I agree Mac. The copyright notice at the top is o.k., but I would add one at the top or bottom of each post also.

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

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