10 April 2010


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

“Merry Christmas, lady.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No problem, Sir. How much?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

09 April 2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yessir. See you next time.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

08 April 2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Over at 11th Motors, Sir.”

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

07 April 2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

06 April 2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

03 April 2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Kill him.” He did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

02 April 2010


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Please, Gibby, inform me.”

“A dog, Lieutenant. We need a dog.”

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

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

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

“What the hell is with your radio operator?”


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

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

“We got to get rid of Spot.”

“Why, Sir? The guys like him.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

I still have and treasure that photo.

2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.