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.


Reformed Catholic said...

I hate to say it ... but you have the Vietnam era AF down to a tee. Anderson especially, although many of the crews there were TDY from the States and didn't have their families there.

And a few B-52 crews didn't make it back.

That said, the AF always did make life easier for the airmen. The joke is that when the AF went in to create a bare bones airstrip, the runway went in first, then the O-Club. Course, the NCO club was built first, but we didn't let the officers know that ;)

That has somewhat changed with the recent unpleasantness. AF crews have been seconded to provide convoy 'security' in Iraq and Afghanistan. One Sgt I know was actually awarded the Army Combat Rifleman's award, but currently cannot wear it due to the AF uniform reg and some REMF officers & NCOs who won't change it.

Mac said...

A total of 31 B-52s were lost in the war, 17 in combat. All but two of the combat losses occurred during Operation Linebacker II, aka, the “12 Days of Christmas” (1972). Eight were lost on the night of 20 December alone. Years later, I had dinner with a radar bombardier who flew in Linebacker II. He described looking through a small porthole in his space and seeing multiple SAMs in the air. He said they looked like flaming telephone poles. Within a couple of weeks, the North Vietnamese government sued for peace, proving the old adage "Grab 'em by the balls and their hearts and minds will follow."

Mac said...

I'd be tempted to tell the Sergeant to wear his CIB and dare anyone to complain. We had a military judge (LtCol, USMC) who had been an enlisted sailor in submarines. Afte rhe saw all the jump wings and other stuff Marines were wearing, he started wearing his silver dolphins. He said he worked harder to qualify for the dolphins than anything he had ever done in the Corps.