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.


Reformed Catholic said...

Hehehe ... this sounds familiar. When we closed down a small detachment in Greece, a few equipment adjustments were made in much the same way.

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