Skip navigation.
Home
Write - Share - Read - Respond

COURAGE, HONOR, FIDELITY (chapters 6 thru 14.Please click on "edit" to read the story.)

Chapter 6
I jumped into the chopper and it quickly took off. I looked around and saw there were other Marines on it already. They were sitting on their flack jackets. I didn’t know what the purpose was so I kept mine on. A major was trying to talk to me above the roar of the engines. I assumed he was the S-2. I could tell he hadn’t been in the field long, he still wore his cloth insignias on his collar. Nobody had told him to take the insignias off. The snipers looked for the officers first.
“GUNNY!!” He yelled at me. “You are to report to Capt. O’Connor. He’s the Company Commander of Hotel Company. We received word he picked up four NVA PWs. We want to know the size of their force and their location. We also want to know the location of their artillery support. Find out what the hell these tunnels are about and get word to us at Regiment ASAP. GOT IT??”
I nodded to let him know that I had heard everything. Suddenly several rounds ripped through the under belly of the chopper. One of the rounds caught the Major’s foot. He grimaced in pain and a dark pool of blood started forming under his boots some of it formed a rivulet and ran towards the back of the chopper. I was startled into action and ripped off my flack jacket off and sat on it immediately. The crew chief dragged the Major onto his sling seat and another Marine wrapped a hasty tourniquet on the Major’s leg just below the knee. It all happened to fast. It was like a movie in fast motion. A Marine looked at me and winked as he grabbed his crotch. I knew now why they were sitting on their flack jackets.
The chopper began its descent and more rounds ripped through the sides of the thin metal. The chopper straightened out and I noticed the Crew Chief was holding his earphones and nodding. He leaned over and yelled in my ear.
“We have to drop you off at a hill top. Another chopper will pick you up in a few minutes and take you to Hotel Company’s CP.”
I nodded and gave him a thumbs up. He nodded back and went towards the rear of the chopper and I followed.
The chopper veered to the left and made a rapid descent. I grabbed my flack jacket and put it on as I reached for my M16. I adjusted my forty-five, checked my ammo clips and magazines. I counted my grenades and tugged at my combat pack straps. The Crew Chief knocked on my helmet as the bowels of the chopper opened and disgorged me like a grasshopper taking a dump.
I ran for cover and jumped into an old bomb crater. I immediately checked my equipment again and jacked a round into the receiver of my M16. I looked around me and found myself on top of a small hill pock marked with craters. The area looked like it had seen some action. The trees were gone and large craters cluttered the small spot of real estate. There was a tree line at the bottom of the hill where the jungle had given way to tall grass. The tall grass continued up the hill and about 200 yards up the hill it gave way to rocks and small brush and short grass.
I set up a hasty defense by facing the easy approach that gave me a commanding view of the area. Behind me was the hardest piece of terrain to climb. The incline was about eighty or ninety degrees with a mean bush halfway up the hill. The rest was rocky and almost barren except for some very short grass growing around the rocky area. I faced a clear area that slopped sown into the edge of the jungle about three hundred or more yards in front of me. The enemy, if they were out there, could come from any direction. I really didn’t have time to think about it when a shot rang out followed by several others to my left front. It’s funny when you think about it; the rounds sound like someone snapping their fingers over your head before you hear the actual retort of the weapon. I guess that’s why they say it’s the one you don’t hear that kills you.
I could see the muzzle flashes but I didn’t want to return fire until I could see some warm bodies. I waited as the rounds spit dirt around me.
Suddenly I saw several NVA soldiers leave their position and start uphill as they fired their AKA’s. The flashes continued from camouflaged positions. I took my time and picked the last NVA first and worked my way to the front. I dropped two of them and the other six spread out and found cover in the grassy rocks. I scrounged down in the crater and waited a few seconds as their rounds kicked up dirt and rocks on top of me. I came up firing after about sixty seconds or so and aimed at the center of the advancing group. I hit one with the first shot and I raked the others with automatic fire. The whole group dropped to the ground and there was no return fire. I figured I had scored on a couple. My success was short lived as eight more broke from the tree line to my right and fired at me to cover four others that were heading towards my left flank. “They were trying to out-flank me,” I thought to myself. I picked off the leader of the four and the others dropped down. I concentrated on the eight who were firing from a kneeling position. I laid down some automatic fire and saw two of them go down. Their automatic fire was too much for me and I scrounged down again. I broke out two hand grenades. I threw one at the first bunch and the other at the ones at the bottom of the hill. The three that had started to out-flank me were no longer laying there so I assumed that they were making their way around to my left. Of the first group, three NVA got up and started working their way up the hill in a serpentine manner. The going was tough since the slope of the hill turned into a ninety-degree angle towards the top. They came up slowly. I dropped the leader with a round to the chest. The range was still a little less than three hundred yards. An easy pick for any Marine!
Funny, the things you think about when your butt’s in a crack. I had read somewhere about a certain tribe of American Indians, when faced with insurmountable odds and death was an inevitable outcome, they would drive a wooden stake into the ground and tie one of their ankles to the stake with a short rawhide string. This signified to their attacking enemies that they were prepared to make a death stand and winner take all. I now knew how they felt. However, I wasn’t quite ready to tie my foot to the ground. At least, yet anyhow. I began firing short bursts of automatic fire no longer bothering to aim, as they got closer. I stopped to reload for the third time. I pulled out my survival knife and plunged it into the red dirt in front of me. I drew my forty-five and placed it next to the knife. I knew it was going to come down to hand-to-hand and I wanted to be ready. I suddenly realized I wasn’t afraid. I found myself looking forward to it. I felt a great exhilaration in my body and my mind was crystal clear. I think I was laughing but there was so much noise around me from the AK-47’s, I couldn’t hear myself.
Out of nowhere a gun ship appeared and began strafing the area. Death from above! The Huey came in low mini-guns chattering, sounding more like your fly zipper coming open. I grabbed my forty-five and knife and returned them to my holster and scabbard. I began laying down automatic fire as fast as I could reload. A Sea Knight (transport chopper) was heading in my direction and I continued firing to cover its landing. I jumped in, still firing at the NVA, as we took off. The Crew Chief pulled me in and we took off as fast as the chopper had landed. The gun ship let go with its mini-guns and fired a couple of rockets into the tree line. We were out of there!
“YOU OKAY??” I heard the Crew Chief yelling at me above the roar of the chopper engines.
I nodded and we both grinned at each other.
“THAT WAS ONE HELL OF A FIRE FIGHT BACK THERE, GUNNY. YOU GOT SOME BALLS. YESSIREE!! SEMPER FI!” he yelled as he shook his head and walked back towards the front of the chopper checking the bird as he went.

CHAPTER 7
There was no LZ in Hotel Company’s area. The canopy was very thick and the only marker was yellow smoke popped through what appeared to be a quarter size hole in the trees. The crew chief dropped a line and I repelled down and into the hands of two Marines. The chopper banked away trailing the line and I heard one of the Marines say,
“This way Gunny.” I followed.
Capt. O’Connor was not too cordial when we met. Apparently he didn’t like anyone but “grunts”. I was, as far as he was concerned, a pogey bait Marine, a specialist who came in did his job and left before the real fighting started. Anyway he briefed me on the situation.
“We captured four NVA soldiers. They’re over there,” he said as he glared at me.
I turned and walked away from him. The way I looked at it, I wasn’t one of his “boys” and I didn’t give a shit. We both had weapons so our argument could escalate quickly without much provocation. I went to work.
I later learned that Captain O’Conner was a mustang. He had been commissioned in the field and he was on his second tour. He was a “grunt” when he was an enlisted man and he would always be a grunt, an infantryman who knows how to fight and lead men. Captain O’Conner was a warrior. During his first tour he was the senior enlisted in his platoon and had taken over the whole company after all the officers had been killed and he was the senior man left. He had earned a silver star and a purple heart and best of all he knew his shit when it came to fighting. I just didn’t like his social skills when it came to me. He really didn’t know who I was or where I had been and done. It didn’t matter one way or another. As the young Marines would say, “It don’t mean nothing.”
The NVA prisoners were not doing very well. They were sick with dysentery and each had been wounded. Our corpsman had tended to them and the MED EVAC would arrive for them very soon. I didn’t have much time.
The bunkers we had found were part of a large staging area for the NVA Tiger Division. From there they would disperse large units to attack our positions. The bunkers also contained a large field hospital complex. The Laotian border was close so they were able to come across the border and stage their units and equipment in these mountains. Viet Cong guides would guide them into the South Vietnam areas and from there they attacked our positions and South Vietnamese forces. Their artillery support was dug into caves on the forward side of the mountain. The present strength of their units were less than fifty percent but they were expecting reinforcements in about ten days via the Ho Chi Min trail. The artillery pieces had been hauled up and down through jungle trails and up the mountains, a piece at a time during the rainy season; assembled in place for a planned large-scale attack throughout South Vietnam. Our presence here had slowed things down a bit. I got some more details on locations, weaponry, and personalities (names of Generals, Colonels and other officers). The PWs were then moved to a makeshift LZ and a MedEvac chopper picked them up. I sent a written report to the Third Marine Division Commander. Much to the dislike of Capt. O’Connor, I was ordered to stay for a couple more days with Hotel Company.
We poked around climbing the hills in search of the enemy. We found nothing. Capt. O’ Connor began doubting my expertise. We came across a small enemy recon unit. Unfortunately they were disposed of before I could talk to them. I searched their uniforms and found crude maps and letters from home. The letters and the maps indicated they were part of the force we were looking for and suddenly, we found them.
As we were climbing one of the hills the point platoon, 1st platoon came under fire. Capt. O’ Connor may have had a rough hand with personality skills but when it came to fighting the enemy he was one of the best. He set up the weapons platoon and began laying down a base of fire upon his command; sent his second platoon in support of his 1st platoon. He told the Platoon Leader, a Lieutenant Johanssen to move to the right flank of the 1st platoon. The third platoon he sent in a flanking movement to our left. I would have chosen the right since it appeared easier to breech but so did the enemy. Expecting the flanking movement from our right the enemy lay in wait. The 2d platoon flanked the assault enemy group and the first platoon moved forward. When the enemy force on the right committed to the assault the Captain ordered the weapons platoon to begin laying down a field of fire. The third platoon pivoted and engaged the assault from the left side. Within minutes, or so it seemed, the enemy was caught in a cross fire and the enemy force was in full retreat as we over ran their positions. When the smoke cleared sixty enemy soldiers were dead and blood trails everywhere, indicating the enemy had carried back a lot of wounded. We suffered three Marines wounded. I couldn’t believe it. All I could say was, “Jesus”. I hadn’t fired a shot!
Capt. O’ Connor looked at me with a grin on his face. “You were right and the Gods of Battle favored us today,” he said as he slapped me on the back and went to work taking care of his men. This was a man who loved his work. It wasn’t over yet but we had carried the day. We continued to encounter small firefights but nothing like that first day. Two days later, I was picked up by a chopper and flown to the 1st Battalion, Third Marines. When Capt. O’ Connor gave me the new orders he handed me a cigar and as he turned around he mumbled something like,
“You did alright.”
I felt damn good when I got on the chopper! I was going to the 1st Battalion. The 1st Battalion had encountered a North Vietnamese Army base camp. We didn’t know who, what or how many, but my job was to find out. I went to the point company, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 3d Marines. My job was to make sure that if we encountered any NVA units we capture at least one to find out who they were and their location. We got our chance sooner than I expected.
The area in the northeast corner of Vietnam is sandy and full of thick brush and small hills. The going is rough because you have to literally cut your way through the brush. It will cut you like a razor blade leaving open cuts that can get infected and fester quickly. It surely contains every bug known to man, anxious to feed on your body. The heat is thick and stifling. The enemy places booby traps indiscriminately and even they don’t really know where the booby traps are once they leave the area.
Charlie Company had begun a sweep of the area with hopes of finding and pushing the enemy back and at the same time capture prisoners to find out what the enemy situation was.
The first contact was automatic fire that seemed to come from nowhere. Marines hit the ground and returned fire to their front. Suddenly, rockets began raining on us. Gun ships in the area began their attack and gave us a respite until we took two of the enemy’s positions. We found two enemy soldiers still alive and I began the interrogations.
The enemy force was battalion strong, roughly 500 enemy soldiers with supporting artillery. We were about two miles from the DMZ. I sent my reports to the Command Post and stayed with the Charlie Company.
The enemy was tenacious, holding their ground and engaging us in hand-to-hand combat as we smashed through the area. I didn’t know it then but we would fight for five days supported by the 9th Marines, the Twenty Sixth Marines and the 3d Tank Battalion.
The fighting got tougher and we barely had time to reload and grab a can of anything to eat. We killed over 230 enemy soldiers in those five days. We fared better but it was of small consequence to the forty-eight Marines who died the and the number of wounded sent to Delta Med. We were in our fifth day and there would be more casualties.
I had stopped for a minute to check my ammo, and my M16. It seemed I was forever conscious of my equipment. I adjusted my field pack and I rested for a second against my arm holding my M16. I had been attached to the third squad for most of the operation. I guess because they were the ones that overran the position that had the NVA soldiers I had interrogated. Any unit was as good as the other. After all we were all Marines.
Suddenly, rockets began coming in followed by mortar fire. I heard the Gun ships making a run and I started to move forward when I heard someone cry out.
“My legs, my legs,” I heard the Marine cry out and I yelled for a Corpsman.
“CORPSMAN, CORPSMAN!”
The call was not immediately answered as I watched the Corpsman trying to stop the blood flow from a Marine whose arm had been ripped off at the elbow by a jagged steel fragment. His bloody stump looked like nothing more than mangled flesh with nerves, bone and arteries exposed. The Corpsman worked quickly and silently. He was oblivious to the fighting around him. Rounds continued to buzz above our heads like snapping bees traveling faster than the speed of sounds. The rockets and artillery rounds continued to rain. “Doc” was somewhere else in the trauma unit of a state side hospital. Sweat poured from his brow and his arms were covered with blood. His flack jacket was opened in the front and his helmet hung precariously on his small head. He searched around him fervently as if looking for something and then checking his large medical bag. I saw a look of despair appear on his face but it left his face almost immediately as he improvised and continued to work. I saw a small bag that lay behind him and I crawled over and retrieved it.
I crawled to his side and said, “Is this what you are looking for?”
“Yes!” he said as he nodded his head. He opened it and took out a small metal case that contained loaded syringes. He injected the wounded Marine with one of them and he turned to me and said, “Watch him”. Before I could reply Doc had moved on to the Marine who was crying out.
The Marine with the missing arm was awake and he groaned a little as he licked his lips.
“Can I have some water?” he asked.
I reached over and removed a canteen from his belt. Suddenly I felt hot air and dirt in my face and a loud roar in my ears. A B-40 rocket had landed right in the middle of us. A large piece of jagged shrapnel was sticking out of the wounded Marine’s face. I knew immediately he was dead. I looked around me and saw Doc had been hit. I tried to get up but my right shoulder gave way and did not seem to work. I felt a hot searing pain in my shoulder and something hot and sticky was oozing down my arm. I knew I was hit but something told me it wasn’t bad.
I crawled towards Doc and I looked around as I moved towards him. Several Marines in the squad had been hit. I couldn’t tell how badly. Over to my right I heard the Lieutenant yelling something. I couldn’t make out what he was saying because of a metallic ring in my ears. My lungs were filled with the acrid smell of burning powder and I had a sour taste in my mouth. The smell of blood over powered my senses. For a minute I thought I was going to barf.
When I reached Doc he said, “Put a tourniquet on my leg. HURRY!” He was yelling at the top of his lungs and I barely understood him. He injected something into his leg and almost immediately I saw life returning to his face. He reached into his large medical bag and pulled out a field dressing and he placed it on the wound and wrapped it around his leg. The bandage held a large piece of metal in his leg.
“Keeps me from bleeding to death. If I pass out don’t let them take this bandage off until I’m back at the Med.” He said to me. He turned over and I could see a large blood stain along his right side but it didn’t seem to be bleeding. Doc dragged himself in the direction of two other wounded Marines. The Marine with wounded legs was dead. He had both legs torn off and apparently had bled to death before Doc could get to him. There was a large pool of blood where the Marine lay. I moved in the direction Doc had gone.
When I found Doc again he was working on a Marine putting a bandage around his head. The Marine appeared to be alright but his eyes looked kind of funny.
“He has a deep scalp wound, and a concussion. I think he’ll be all right,” he said to me. “Get down Gunny.”
I yelled back at him, “WHAT?”
He said, “GET DOWN YOU”RE STANDING UP!”
I guess I was getting punchy. I didn’t realize I was standing. I dropped to one knee and said,
“Don’t worry. The Navy is pounding them right now. I don’t think they’ll stick their heads out for a while just yet.”
The Navy began shelling the area ahead of us and you could hear the shells whistle over our heads. The ground shook all around us. The Navy was shooting from ten to twelve miles away. I was glad we had them out in the China Sea.
“Find the Lieutenant and tell him we need a MedEvac. I have seven wounded Marines and eight dead. Tell him to hurry. I don’t’ know how long I can last and I have some guys here that are critical!” He yelled at me.
I left him as he finished bandaging the Marine’s head wound. I ran in a low crouch in the direction of the Lieutenant’s voice. When I reached him he was concentrating on a map and the radioman was standing by his side. I waited while he made some calculations and gave orders to the radioman. I heard the radio crackle and the radioman began reading a firing order using map coordinates.
Lt. Salvi was a young Marine officer a graduate of Marine Officer Candidate School at Quantico, Virginia. Marines tend to identify with Marine OCS officers better than with Annapolis graduates. He looked up at me and he had that “grunt” look about him. When he spoke he sounded like a man twice his age. Yet his face belied his experience. I was staring at a blonde headed kid who looked like he was eighteen years old. I remember thinking what a waste of brainpower. We send the youngest to die. The day we start sending the Congressmen and Senators to war, that will be the shortest war in the history of the world and it will be the last war we will ever have. You can bet your ass they’ll find many reasons to “bring the boys home.”
“Hello, Gunny,” I heard the Lieutenant asking me. “How are things in the third squad?” he asked me.
I quickly briefed him and he nodded acknowledgement.
“The MedEvac is on its way. Tell Doc to get the wounded back about 30 meters just behind that rice paddy dike to the left of us. When you hear the chopper pop some green smoke. He’ll be looking for you; and Gunny, get the Doc and yourself on the MedEvac, as he stared at my shoulder, “I think we can finish up without you.” He grinned as he winked at me. I felt good.
“YES SIR!” I acknowledged as I returned to where I had left Doc and the 3d squad.
Corpsmen in the Marine Corps are a weird group of people, they are Navy sailors, trained by the Navy. The top ten in each class gets a chance to volunteer and serve with the Marine Corps infantry units. Some didn’t get that choice in Vietnam.
Upon arrival at their new unit they are met with total harassment. They are called every abusive name known to a Marine and then some. But eventually he is accepted as one of our own. I guess it our way of putting him through our “boot camp”. He soon learns that he has made the team when Marines refer to him as “Doc”. Corpsmen are tough enough, ready, willing and able. Corpsmen are a gutsy breed and in the heat of combat they only care about saving lives; Marines’ lives. Corpsmen have earned the respect of all combat Marines. They have bragging rights.
When I got back, Doc was leaning on his pack. He didn’t look very good.
“Did the Lieutenant call for a MedEvac?” He asked me in a low tired voice. I could barely hear him.
I replied, “Yes, and he also told me to tell you that you are to be on it ASAP.”
I tried to make him more comfortable and redressed his leg wound. I released the tourniquet slowly and the blood had stopped but I knew he had already lost a lot of blood. I was worried but I didn’t let him see it.
I noticed he was trying to inject something into his leg.
“What are you doing?” I asked him.
“Got to make sure everyone is alright and get them on the chopper when it gets here,” he gasped as he struggled with the syringe.
“What are taking?” I asked, yelling at the top of my voice.
“It’s morphine, just a pain killer,” he informed me as he gasped repeatedly.
“How much have you taken?” I asked him as I looked for the empty syringes. There were at least two on the ground next to him. I took the syringe from his hand and put it away knowing he was in pain. He started to shake and I could tell he had already taken too much of the painkiller.
“I need some help with Doc,” I yelled. “SOMEBODY GET THEIR ASS OVER HERE NOW!!”
A Marine slid next to me. He was wide eyed and was shaking a little but his demeanor was cool and collected.
I looked into his face and asked him, “Are you okay?”
He said, “Yes sir.”
“Good! Get some help! Start moving the wounded over behind the rice paddy behind you and over to your left. After you move the wounded, move the dead along side of them. Wounded go on the chopper first. Take all their equipment. Do not leave anything behind. Do you understand?”
“Yes sir,” he repeated again as he moved without hesitation.
I turned back to Doc and I thought he had died on me. I checked his breathing and his pulse and could not detect either. I pulled his chin and head back and pinching his nose I gave him two quick breaths and started working on his chest. I went through the same routine three times before I could feel his breath on my face and his pulse returned. It seemed like I had worked on him for hours but I knew it was only minutes. He looked pretty ragged but he was alive. I felt some relief.
The chopper took forever to arrive although it was only ten or fifteen minutes. I heard it before I saw it. He was coming low and fast. I gathered Doc’s gear and I took all of mine off except for my forty-five. I picked him up and started walking with him towards the rice paddy dike. Two rounds cracked over my head but I figured someone would take care of the shooter before I reached the chopper. I heard the distinct reply of an M-14 and I knew our sniper team had scored another kill. I came down the dike and the chopper set down a few feet in front of me. It’s blades stirring up a cloud of dirt, rocks, and debris. I walked straight to it and handed Doc over to one of the crewmembers. I ran back in a low crouch and picked up all my stuff. As I turned towards the rice paddy I saw the chopper take off. I’d have to take the next one. I prayed Doc was okay.

CHAPTER 8-Delata Med
I managed to get the next chopper that came in and we loaded some of the dead. We headed for Delta Med. The chopper came fast and I could see clouds of red dirt being stirred up as it landed on the metal landing pad. Stretcher-bearers rushed towards the chopper and I jumped out and walked towards a large sign that said, “Welcome to Delta Med-Triage”. The stretchers rushed past me and suddenly I felt very tired. My pants and shirt seemed to be sticking to me. I stopped a Corpsman and asked, “Have you seen the Corpsman from Charlie Company 1st Battalion, 3d Marines?”
“Check inside!” he yelled back at me.
I went inside and asked the Triage Doctor, “I’m looking for the Corpsman from Charlie Company, leg wound?”
He looked at me and I saw it in his eyes before he told me, “Sorry, Gunny, he didn’t make it.”
“Must be the wrong one!” I yelled at him. “This one came in just before I did.”
Doctor stopped for a minute and said, “He had a leg wound but another piece of shrapnel tore a hole in the outer wall of his heart. By the time he got here the heart had stopped beating due to the compression of the heart by the excess bleeding. Sorry we couldn’t save him. He was one of us.”
I looked right into his face and said, “No, he was one of US!!”
I turned and walked away and sat on a bench as I took my gear off and a Corpsman began patching me up. I had suffered a shrapnel wound in my right arm and another piece of metal had sliced through the skin of my right cheek. Nothing serious. Trouble was, I couldn’t remember when it had happened. The blood was dry and there had been no significant bleeding for at least a half-day.
I learned later we had suffered over 100 causalities that day. Not just from the Third but also from the 9th Marines, the Army’s 5th Mechanized Regiment and a large number from the 4th Marines. Delta Med was like a horror chamber. Bodies were moaning and screaming. Corpsman cutting off clothing and sometimes body parts. Blood was everywhere an at times everything seemed chaotic to me but everything was deliberate and precise. A system set up to save lives. I stared without emotion as a Corpsman cut through a jungle fatigue and the foot, boot and all fell to the floor. Another corpsman picked it up and through it in a large container already filled with body parts. All around me lay wounded on benches, on the floor and on gurneys and tables as a group of corpsman and four doctors made life and death decisions.
Triage is a French word, which literally means to sort out. Doctors and corpsman sorted out the wounded by medical priority and often times the decision was a close call either way, but with only two operating rooms and limited facilities there was no other way. These Doctors and corpsman could not afford to think about their decisions. They made a choice and the bodies were taken to the operating rooms where the four doctors and several nurses worked on saving lives. These doctors, nurses, and corpsman were on call 24 hours a day, everyday for twelve to thirteen months. In Vietnam there were no days off.
I couldn’t stop thinking about Doc. It didn’t seem fair. Something wasn’t right. I could see his face before I put him on the chopper. I remembered how hard he had worked on the first Marine who ultimately died. I started to cry quietly. I couldn’t remember his name. In fact, I don’t remember ever hearing his name. I looked at the corpsman that was working on my wounds and asked, “That corpsman that died, what was his name?”
“I don’t know, Gunny, but I can find out for you,” he replied.
“Never mind. It’s okay,” I told him.
I loaded around me and watched the Corpsman and Marines unload the wounded and the dead. I saw them carrying a stretcher in as two Corpsman worked on a Marine for a few seconds then they moved away. I felt a sharp pain in my chest when I saw the face of the Marine on the stretcher. It was Lieutenant Salvi.
“Hey, Doc, is he okay?” I heard myself yell.
“Naw, he’s dead. AK-round got him,” one of them replied as they continued to work on another body.
I got very cold and my body started to shake. The Corpsman working on me asked, “Are you okay?”
“Best I ca n do for you,” the Corpsman told me as he gave me a shot.
“Thanks, Doc,” in that same dead voice I couldn’t recognize as I walked out of the Triage and Delta Med.
Once outside I put on my gear over my bandages and started for the road hoping to catch a ride from someone going in the direction of the 3rd Marines Headquarters.
The 3d Marine Division had stepped down after smashing through a series of bunkers containing large ammunition and weapon caches; thousands of uniforms, mortar rounds; and over four hundred enemy soldiers dead.
I spent a few days in the rear. Mostly I slept and cleaned my gear. I worked on my M16 and .45 and sharpened my survival knife. I drew new fatigues and boots. The Marine Corps had begun issuing the camouflage fatigues. I drove out to the local village and purchased a camouflaged Marine Corps soft cover (hat). The local black market was way ahead of our supply units. They had everything a well-dressed combat Marine could want. Strange war.
I was ordered to report to the 3rd Division Headquarters where I was told I was being sent to the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines. The 3rd Battlion was in An Hoa supporting the 1st Marine Division Marines in a sweep just west of An Hoa where the enemy was known to have a staging and supply area. The 3rd Battlion joined the 5th Marine Battalion and elements of the 12 Marines Artillery Battalion and the 3rd Shore Party fanned out and began the assault on the enemy. The enemy was caught by surprise and was soon routed but not before some fierce fighting. The NVA having been caught by surprised left small units to engage the advancing Marine units and the main force trying to retreat into Laos. The enemy left supplies, ammunition, weapons and training sites and 132 dead. The fighting for the 3rd Battalion was not unusual in any way. It involved chasing the enemy in a running fight. We proceeded at a fast pace and engaging the enemy when it stopped to rest and try to form some kind of defense. The jungle canopy was thick and the “bush” was thick and mean. We would almost walk up to the enemy before we could see them and by that time we would be fighting at close quarters. It was physically exhausting. When the end came and we halted the assault most of us realized that we had eaten little and failed to drink enough water. The physical effort had whipped us but mentally we refused to give it up. I was amazed that there were no complaints. Only pride showed at a job well done and once again defeating a well trained and determined enemy. When it was over I was rotated back to the 3rd Marine Division Headquarters at Dong Ha. I rested, read and wrote letters and was able to go into Dong Ha village where I bought some French bread and practiced my Vietnamese with the villagers. They were delighted to hear an American speaking their language. During the visit I was given a sandwich made out of some kind of sweet meat on a French roll. It was truly delicious and I asked the locals what it was and they told me it was “dog”. My stomach was uneasy for a while when I got quick flashes of my red Chow at home. I stuck to rice cakes after that.
It wasn’t always fighting. Sometimes we would go out and search for the enemy and not find anything except signs that the enemy had been there and gone before we arrived. Other times we would spend several days patrolling the areas where we knew the enemy to store weapons and supplies. There were other times when we would encounter a small group of NVA or Viet Cong cadre and we would engage them and destroy them and look for intelligence as to where they came from and where they were going and what their mission had been. If I was lucky we would find one alive or at least able to talk before he died and I was able to collect more information.
During these patrolling and search and destroy missions we would become short tempered. The jungle as always was unforgiving. During the days the air was stifling with humidity and the smells of rotting and decaying plants. Occasionally the smell of dead bodies would reach our nostrils and as always it was a heavy, sickening sweet smell that made us sick. The heat and humidity was exhausting and the dark sunless jungle made you a bit claustrophobic. The inclines were steep and sometimes it took all our strength to stay upright. Going down the terrain filled with rocks, dead trees and rubbish made it hard to keep from sliding down. If we were climbing the inclines took all the strength in your body to keep up. Then there was the many grasses that would cut your clothes and skin alike. I usually kept my arms covered to the elbows and if I experienced any cuts, during the breaks I would put iodine on them to keep them from getting infected and prevent scarring. Some Marines were not so lucky. The cuts would become infected and they would have to be sent back to the rear and have their wounds treated. They left ugly scars and if you caught a kind of jungle rot, it meant you became a casualty. It was during these times I almost wished we were fighting the enemy instead of the jungle.
At night it was worse because the insects would come out to feed on you. They would bite and suck your blood and infect your skin. I always kept insect repellent in my pack and applied it liberally. This would keep most of them away. I was most afraid of snakes but to be truthful I never encountered one. I did get to see wild elephants. They are not like the ones in the zoo. These elephants were not very big but hairy and scarred. Their tusks were short but deadly. They usually stayed away from us and we stayed away from them.
Every Marine’s fear was the Tigers. They roamed in the jungle looking for dead bodies. They always came soon after a battle. I guess the sound of the fighting meant food to them after the firefights. Often times they would sneak up on you at night. I heard several stories of Marines fighting tigers off with their bare hands. The tiger’s favorite bite was the head or the shoulder taking the chest cavity and all. At one time it got so bad that the units in the field actually went out on tiger hunts to destroy the man eaters which had been attacking Marines at night while they manned their posts.
There were other times when after having spent forty five days in the field we were allowed a four day rest and relaxation spree. The beach just west of Cua Viet was the most beautiful beach I have ever seen. It was where the China Sea touched land and it provided some of the best surfing waves in the world. One Battalion would perform guard duty and provide the unit’s defense while the other Battalions would enjoy the beach, beer and if we were lucky, steaks on the grill.
This time was also used to turn in our dirty torn fatigues and equipment and draw new equipment. Once everyone got a chance to relax and enjoy the beach we would return to our headquarters area and the search and destroy missions would begin again. I enjoyed these times but I always missed the jungle and the fighting. Yet it was a time to rest, deal with the dragons in my head and renew my determination to survive my tour and return to my wife waiting at home. It was these times I enjoyed reading her letters best.

CHAPTER 9
A few days later I received word that I was being sent to Cam Lo. Cam Lo was actually a small village situated just south of Camp Carroll. It was the site of some of the fiercest fighting in the earlier part of the year. Camp Carroll was situated on a small hill where it commanded the Cua Viet Valley below. Dai Do had been the aftermath of the battle for Cam Lo. Camp Carroll was a symbol of our presence and the jump off point into Con Thien, the Khe Sanh Valley, the Rock Pile, the DMZ, and points east to the Laotian border. Camp Carroll was also the place the artillery units of the North Vietnamese Army used for target practice, daily. It was not unusual to receive 200 to 500 artillery rounds in one day while Marines hunkered down in bunkers for hours. The artillery barrages continued every day until Marine Forces were able to counter fire with our long-range artillery sometimes called “Long Johns”. Every time the NVA fired a round our counter fire radar units would track it back to its source and pound them with heavy barrages.
I was being sent there because enemy soldiers had been captured. The enemy had made a last push at Khe Sanh attacking elements of the 3d Battalion, 4th Marines. A fierce 5-hour battle had ensued and the Marines held as the enemy fled leaving 218 dead and 11 captured communist soldiers. The three-day period battles culminated with a total of 365 enemy NVA soldiers dead and the rest fleeing the battlefield. Khe Sanh was closed on June 27th. They had withstood 77 days of artillery and rocket bombardment. We were pulling back but not out. Dong Ha Combat base, Quang Tri and forward out-posts like Camp Carroll, the Rock Pile and later Vandergrift Combat Support Base remained to intercept enemy units from North Vietnam.
I stayed at Camp Carroll for a while seeing no action and being sent nowhere. I was getting antsy wanting to get back into action again. They say it’s the addiction to the adrenalin high. You began to miss it after a while. While at Camp Carroll we made several incursions into Con Thien. Con Thien was a burned out bombed out villiage. There were some remnants of concrete buildings and burnt thatched huts. I learned that every now and then the Third Marines ran operations into Con Thien which was used as a way station by the NVA and some units of Viet Cong coming south. Our biggest concerns was not the enemy we might encounter but the many booby traps left behind by the enemy and us. We knew and could recognize ours but the enemy booby traps were harder to spot. All were trip wire activated and consisted of bouncing betty types. When you trigger the booby trap it flies up into the air about waist high and detonates, taking the legs off whoever triggered it and leaving those around him with vicious stomach wounds. When we patrolled the area we made sure to keep a good distance between us and concentrated on the tell tale “click” of metal that signaled a mine or booby trap had been triggered. A times like this we would freeze in place and yell out, “mine!” or “booby trap!” Then came the tedious work of locating the mine or booby trap and trying to defuse the ordinance and try to save the Marine that had triggered it. There were times when we were successful and other times when our efforts proved fruitless. Con Thien was a nasty place.
It was my turn. Actually I volunteered. My hope was to have Gulf Company capture a prisoner and that would allow me to interrogate, find where the mines and booby traps were and thereby save some lives. We moved in by helicopters and quickly set up a blocking force and then have the point platoon began the search and destroy. Con Thien was almost surreal. As we walked thru carefully I could almost feel death hovering over us, waiting to take anyone of us who was careless. I remember thinking of a Marine psalm I had heard when I arrived in-country:
“Though I walk in the shadow of the Valley of Death,
I fear no evil,
For I am the meanest muther fucker in the Valley.”
The search was slow going and no one talked or joked. This was serious work. Suddenly there was an explosion and an almost simultaneous cry for a Corpsman. This same scenario was repeated four more times, resulting in six Marines being Med-Evaced out of the area. I heard later that all had survived their wounds but four would be crippled for life. The two others had wounds in their stomachs and legs. It was my only time going into Con Their. I learned several things while there; skills in walking thru a mined and booby trapped area and that if I were to survived I would have to rely on knowledge and instincts that can’t be taught but acquired.
The Ninth Marines
“The Walking Dead”
I received new orders to report to the Ninth Marines Command Post (rear) at Vandergrift. When the chopper picked me up at Camp Carroll the Crew Chief inquired where I was going. I yelled at him above the roar of the chopper, “NINTH MARINES!!”
He shook his head and mumbled, “The Walking Dead.”
I didn’t know it then but that was the Ninth Marines nickname, earned in WWII. The unit was living up to their name. They accepted the roughest, toughest assignments; stayed out in the field the longest and they out fought any unit in the Marines Corps. If you disagreed with this analysis they would fight you too. You couldn’t join the Ninth Marines. You had to earn the right to be there and be known as a member of the Walking Dead. From Vandergrift, I was sent to the Ninth Marines CP (Forward).
Colonel Barrett was commanding and he was a firm believer of “Search and Destroy.” In fact his tactics settled firmly on “Search” and then “Destroy.” It was not unusual for the Night Marines to be in the bush for thirty to forty five days at a time. The enemy be they Viet Cong or NVA could not pass threw or rest in the 9th Marines’ AO (Area of Operations}.
It was early March and Operation Dewey Canyon had been underway since January. Since the beginning of Operation Dewey Canyon the Ninth Marine Regiment had encountered some resistance and had managed to capture 866 individual weapons and 156 crew-served weapons. Among the crew- served weapons the Marines captured six NVA 122mm field artillery pieces and a five-ton tracked vehicle used to repair weapons. The enemy casualties were light in comparison to the armament captured. At every turn the enemy had fled into Laos. There were pockets of resistance and fierce fighting was encountered by Golf Company, 2d Battalion, and 9th Marine Regiment.
During the month of February the Marines had fought their way up to the Laotian border. The enemy had contested every foot of the way to protect their supply routes. Marines had attacked the North Vietnamese Army artillery positions swiftly and violently. The enemy encountering such ferocity was forced to fall back and leave their equipment behind. The enemy also lost large caches of arms and weapons. They left behind a large underground hospital with vital combat medicines and surgical equipment. The enemy lost 1,111 dead. Several blood trails led towards Laos but we would never know how many wounded the NVA suffered. The Marines suffered light casualties.
The operation had continued and we were poised just east of the Laotian border in the northern Ashau Valley. The Ninth Marines were now operating just south west of Dong Ha. We had seized a few hilltops and encountered very light resistance. Colonel Barrett called the intelligence personnel to a meeting and asked why we were not meeting the enemy as we had expected. Everyone had their own opinions but when he got to me I told him that all indications from the interrogations I had been conducting pointed to the fact that our aggressive patrolling had kept the enemy out of South Vietnam and just inside the Laotian border. Reports were that the North Vietnamese were stockpiling equipment and men and were intent on launching an offensive within six to eight weeks. He just nodded his head and continued on with reports from the G-3 (Operations Officer) and some of his other staff. At about 20:00 hours (8:00 PM for you civilians and for those Marines reading this account Mickey’s little hand is on the eight and his large hand is on the 12) Colonel Barrett called me to the command post. He asked me if I could prepare an INTSUM (Intelligence Summary) based on the interrogation reports I had been submitting and to include any new information on enemy troop movement.
“You know, Colonel, the only way I am going to get any new and up to date information is to go out and get it myself. The PWs I have been getting from the recon patrols are either dead or near death and not much help,” I told him grinning.
He grinned at me and asked, “How many men will you need?”
I said, “Five besides me.”
He looked at me for a minute and a smile crossed his face and he replied,
“Pick‘em out and tell me if you need anything else and see me before you jump off so I can clear the way for you.”
The man was a warrior and he liked my style, yes sir, he did.
I walked out of his tent and into the night. I had a lot of work to do before dawn. I picked five I knew well. We had arrived in Nam within a couple of weeks of each other and I had seen them in combat. I needed someone I could trust also someone I knew could do the job.
The first Marine I picked was a grenadier in Charlie Company, 1st Battalion; they called him Charlie Brown. His real name was Jason Charles Brown, Cpl., USMC. He hailed from Cheyenne, Wyoming. They called him Charlie Brown because he always seemed to survive while others were being killed around him. Stories about his luck were known throughout the 9th Marines. One story told was how he had been at Khe Sanh when artillery shell fell through the roof of his tent and stuck between his legs as he lay on his bunk. The Explosives and demolition crew came in and removed the shell without detonating it only to have it explode outside just minutes later wounding on of the EDT members. Another story told was of an attack by a Viet Cong who fired an automatic weapon point blank at Charlie Brown’s fire team, killing everyone except Charlie Brown. Charlie Brown promptly dispatched him with a burst of his M16. Nobody wanted him around. Marines around Charlie Brown always got killed except Charlie Brown. He was reputed to be able to put an M79 grenade round in your mess kit at 300 yards. I wanted him on my team! He carried an M79 grenade launcher, an M16 and a jungle survival knife.
My next choice was David Scott Bradley, Sgt, USMC. Sgt Bradley was a sharp shooter. He was from Ukiah, California. The typical “All-American” boy next door. He had a ruddy freckled complexion and mischievous smile on his face. He did his job and never complained. He did however count the days before our return to the big PX together. I had met him in the States at Camp Pendleton. We became good friends and kept track of each other. David carried a sniper rifle; a matched M-14 with a scope, a jungle survival knife and a forty-five. He was quiet for the most part but at Camp Pendleton he had sowed me eh could think and made good decisions. I also knew/felt he was not afraid to commit himself. I had seen his type before in El Salvador and Santo Domingo. He would do.
Michael Reid was my third choice. He was a tall lanky Marine from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Cpl Reid, USMC, had trained with the Air Force and Army at Panama’s jungle school. He could slip thru the jungle like a ghost and be standing not more than two feet from you without you knowing he was there. He had been in country seven months and could read tracks with the best of them. He was excellent with a jungle survival knife and he carried a forty-five and an M16. He was a professional Marine like me and was looking forward to someday retiring from the Corps. No family to speak of. His father had been killed in Korea and his mother had remarried and lived apart from him. His girlfriend had broken up with him when he told her he was going to Vietnam. He always had a smile on his face and he was very comfortable in the bush.
Fourth choice was Lance Ryan. His weapon of choice and assignment was the M-60 Machine gun. The M-60 was a heavy weapon to carry but he was five foot eight and he weighed in at 190 lbs., of muscle. He was able to move quickly with the weapon and could lay down a deadly field of fire in seconds. If anyone was born to carry and M-60, LCPL Ryan was that person. He had a girl back home but didn’t talk about her much. He was task oriented and loved to use his weapon.
My last choice was Eddie Martinez. Sergeant Martinez was a forward observer (FO). He was from Texas. He was known to sit in one spot for five-six days until he was able to locate enemy troops and rain fire on them. He was able to give coordinates to artillery units of air support units so accurately they could drop an artillery round or napalm within a 10-foot diameter of the target. He was valuable in two different ways; he could read a map better than anyone I knew so he could get us there and bring us back and if need be he could call in a fire mission in case we got our ass in a crack. He would also carry our only means of communication. He carried an M16 and a forty-five. He possessed excellent skills with a jungle survival knife and he had been trained at the jungle school in Panama. We had a lot in common since we came from the same area and I liked him.
My job would be to pick out the target and make sure that I interrogated the PW and get the information to Colonel Barrett. I carried an M16, a forty-five and a jungle survival knife. We all carried at least eight hand grenades, extra ammo for the M-60; extra ammo for the M79 grenade launcher, our own extra ammunition and food and water for three days. That’s about six C-Ration meals and no less than six canteens of water and a lot of water purification tablets. We were hoping to find water along the way or at least take it from killed or captured NVA. Most people are under the impression that water abounds in the jungle. Totally wrong assumption. You can die of thirst and/or dehydration unless you know what plants store water, but its there if you know.
I briefed them all and told them to wait for me at the LZ while I cleared everything with Colonel Barrett. I briefed the Colonel and he made sure that everyone along our jump off point was aware we would be going out. Our call sign was “Fisherman”.
We were taken out through our lines guided, past our booby traps and ambush sites. We would cross over into no man’s land; the free fire zone. We knew once there we were on our own. Everything depended on our ability to survive in the jungle and knowledge of the enemy.
It was not quite dawn. There was some light beginning to show but it was still dark. We went out about 300 yards, checked our equipment and silenced our equipment with electrical tape. We were ready and we began our patrol down the hill off LZ Razor. I looked at the face of every member of the patrol. Each face mirrored determination and a hardness that only those who have been in combat know and understand. It was as if a button had been clicked and we were in the zone. In the “zone” that makes men killers, survivors, unwavering in their actions. From here on out we were alone yet confident in our knowledge that we were one. There was a cold calm in that feeling.
The going was silent and tough. The jungle towards the Laotian border became gnarled and thick with a triple canopy over 100 feet high. It was ate roughest bush we had encountered so far. It’s what infantrymen call “a mean bush”.
Movement was slow but steady, as we worked around the trees, chopped branches and grass to clear the way. There was a silence in our actions except for the occasional swish of the grass and a cracking sound of old branches falling naturally. One Marine helping the other, blazing a trail and keeping watch for the enemy and unusual sounds that might indicate others’ presence in the area. It was tough going. We had to go up grades of over 60 degrees, almost straight up and down. Cpl Reid was walking point, Ryan and Brown were flank guards and Martinez walked beside me with his radio. David brought up the rear. We traveled silently, each lost in our own thoughts as we walked almost leisurely through the jungle. I knew, however, that nerves were on edge and all our sense were on full alert. I had no fear. I trusted every one of these men with my life and they each knew they could count on me.
As we got lower down the mountainside, the air was warmer and becoming almost stifling. The smell of the jungle rot permeated the air and once in a while a warm breeze would touch our faces. It was late in the afternoon. We had walked about fifteen hundred to two thousand meters. We stopped while Reid looked for an ambush site. I made the assignments and each of us settled down for the long night. We ate cold rations and waited. I had chosen ham and mother fuckers(lima beans) and John Wayne crackers.
The North Vietnamese knew the 9th Marines Headquarters unit was on top of the Landing Zone (LZ) Razor. We were counting on them sending out scouts and snipers at night and patrols to reconnoiter and harass the troops. It wasn’t necessary to talk. We all knew what to do.
It was quiet down here. Sometimes we would hear some of our men at the top of LZ Razor. There were no other sounds. We welcomed the silence. It left us to our own thoughts. The hardest part was the waiting. The NVA scouts would probably not begin moving until after the sun set. As they traveled up the side of the mountain they would do so very slowly. More than likely they had set trails to travel on until they got within five hundred meters from the top. The going would be slower for them. Not because of the jungle but because they moved so slowly in order not to make any noise, not even the rustling of branches or leaves. The last three hundred meters they would crawl on their stomach until they were within a few meters from the first Marine fox holes, having already passed through our scouts and booby traps. It never failed to amaze me how patient, and well trained they were. Their Sappers were the best. The sappers were demolition personnel whose sole objective was to get to the top and destroy any headquarters and artillery positions. They usually wore a skullcap and a loincloth wrapped around their waist and groin area. The standard footwear for them was a Ho Chi Minh sandal or they went barefoot. The sandals were made of tire type rubber; in fact some of the sandals we had found came from old tires and had the tread marks on the soles. The other exceptional trait was that they had guts and would fight hard to survive and defeat their enemy, us. The attack always came after midnight usually very early morning somewhere around 2:00 – 3:00 o’clock in the morning. Tonight we would go one better. We were waiting in place and we were going to capture at least two of them alive.
The night crept by slowly. It seemed to get darker and darker until you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. Then the moon peeped out from behind a cloud and cast a faint light over the jungle. I don’t know if I had been daydreaming or dozing off; maybe it was because it was damn dark but suddenly there was a North Vietnamese soldier standing in front of me. He had an AKA-47 and a rice bag slung over his shoulder. Several grenades hung from his waist along with four magazines of ammo. He was carrying a canteen wrapped in a gunnysack material tied to his belt. He appeared to be listening for something. I sat stock-still and did not breathe or blink an eye. As I was facing him contemplating how I was going to take him down he turned to his left and started to relieve himself. I waited a moment until he had his pants open. It was then I grabbed him in a chokehold. He struggled for what I thought was an hour but it was no more than a minute and a half. I felt his body go slack. I held on to him for a few more seconds and lowered him quietly to the jungle floor.
I heard a struggling for life just a few feet from me to my direct front. They were two human beings struggling for life just a few feet from me. I couldn’t go over and help, I had to secure my prisoner first. I quickly tied his hands behind his back and secured them to his belt. I gagged and blindfolded him and tied his legs together. I listened to his chest and massaged his carotid artery, which had collapsed while I held him in the chokehold. He started breathing and he moved a bit. I took out my knife and my forty-five as I slung my M16 over my shoulder upside down. I proceeded in the direction where I had heard the rustling sounds. I was surprised to see Charlie Brown with his legs wrapped around an NVA soldier and his hand over the soldier’s mouth and nose. The NVA soldier was no longer struggling but he had stabbed Charlie Brown in the leg. I picked up the knife and stuck it in my belt as I motioned Charlie Brown to let him go. I quickly secured the NVA the same way I had done the other NVA soldier and then tended to Cpl Brown’s wound. It was serious but at this point not life threatening. It had gone into the muscle behind the leg but had missed the artery. I wrapped him securely making sure the compress I had put over the wound had stopped the bleeding. Cpl Brown would not be traveling very fast on our way back.
I gave two short whistles and received one from each of the other men. I whistled once and pretty soon they were all standing around Cpl Brown and I. I hand signaled to David Scott to move in the direction I had come from and he motioned for Reid to follow him. They soon returned with the other NVA. We left them blindfolded and gagged but we cut the leg binders off.
We began moving off the trail about 100 meters and uphill in the direction of our units on top of LZ Razor. We stopped and I assigned the guards. I signaled with two fingers and pointed at Martinez and myself. I slept for two hours and was wakened with a gentle nudge. I got up and woke Martinez. We stayed up until first light while the others slept. Cpl Brown had been restless and I had kept a watch over him making sure he wasn’t feverish. I gave him water periodically and I administered one shot of morphine for the pain. He slept well. I made sure his leg was kept straight and elevated.
I woke the others as soon as I could see with the morning light. We ate cold C-rats quietly. We knew we weren’t home yet, by any means and we had a wounded Marine along with the two prisoners. There would be ambushes, booby traps, and the jungle to contend with. If we were lucky the NVA would not miss their two comrades for a while. We could survive this. After I ate I took the gag off the PWs and gave them some water. I wouldn’t feed them yet. They were used to rice and our C’s were too rich and could give them the runs. I wanted them able to travel fast.
I signaled Martinez to give me his radio and assigned him point.
“Find us an old trail and a clear area for an EVAC (chopper for pick up). The sooner the better but take a good look and make sure we are safe,” I told him.
He nodded as he quickly disappeared into the jungle. I signaled Reid and Scott to take the flanks. I kept Ryan and Cpl. Brown with me and put him in charge of guarding the prisoners. I took the gag and the blind folds off the PWs. I told them to be very quiet and not talk to each other or else and I made a motion with my survival knife across my throat to emphasis my point. They both nodded and I gave them some of their own rice and water. When they were finished I gagged them again but kept their blindfolds off. I tied a rope around their necks tying them to each other with a three-foot slack in the rope. I told Charlie Brown to get them moving and he prodded them ahead of us as Ryan took the lead in the same direction Martinez had gone. Scott and Reid had disappeared into the jungle but I knew they could see us. We began moving quietly and slowly.
The jungle engulfed us once more. It was hot and muggy. The jungle canopy did not allow any breeze and very little sunlight. The gnats and bugs were out in force and relentless. You couldn’t see more than four to twelve feet in front of you and the grades were beginning to get steeper. After two hours or so, I was startled to see Martinez standing in front of me with a shit-eating grin.
“God damned you! You scared me! You shit head,” I almost yelled at him.
“Got to stay alert, Gunny, I could’ve cut your throat twice already” he replied still grinning.
“Cut the shit and tell me what you have”, I responded as I rubbed my throat in a reflex motion.
“Off to the right there is an old trail we can use. About three hundred meters up there is a small clearing. It looks good for an LZ and there is a hole in the canopy. We can signal the chopper easily”, he told me still grinning.
I told Ryan and Charlie Brown to follow Martinez and I whistled once. I heard two whistles and I knew the flank was also changing direction. I couldn’t see them but they could see us. Of that I was sure.
I noticed Cpl Brown grimacing in pain but his walk was steady and determined. The trail was easier but it had its share of over growth. The jungle always managed to reclaim its territory. We finally arrived to the edge of the clearing after what seemed hours of climbing. Cpl Brown was breathing roughly and his face was very white. I asked him if he had a fever and he shook his head.
“It’s the pain, Gunny,” he barely whispered.
I nodded and fished around for some morphine in my kit but he shook his head and I said,
“Half?”
He nodded okay! Cpl Brown was not one to give in to pain so I knew he was having a hard time of it. I didn’t want to remove the bandage for fear of renewed bleeding so I just tightened a new bandage around the old one. Cpl Brown just nodded.
I whistled three short whistles and Reid and Scott joined us. I briefed them on the situation and what we had to do. Then I sent Reid, Scott and Martinez out to check around the clearing. Brown, Ryan and I set up a defensive perimeter. I lay the PWs on the ground on their stomach and made sure they were tied securely to each other and I hobbled them individually so they could not run fast if they tried to make a run for it. In this environment, anything is possible.
It wasn’t but maybe twenty minutes, thirty on the outside when we spotted four NVAS coming across the clearing towards us. The clearing was bigger than I had perceived and was out in the open. Anyone coming across was seriously exposed to gunfire.
They had not seen us from the looks of their weapons. The AKA’s were slung over their shoulders and the one carrying a B-40 rocket had it slung across his back.
“When they get around the center, we’ll open fire”, I whispered to Ryan and Brown. The NVA PWs were unaware of what was going on.
Just as they got to the center of the clearing I heard the M-14 fire and the NVA with the B-40 dropped like a sack of potatoes thrown to the ground. The other three NVA began to take their AKAs off their shoulders but two of them didn’t make it as the M16 rounds slammed into them. There was one left and I yelled at him to drop his weapon and put his hands over his head. There was a slight hesitation and he dropped to the ground. I suddenly knew why. Four more NVA solders were coming into the clearing to his rescue. The four dropped to the ground and took cover in the grass. I looked over at Charlie Brown and told him,
“Drop one on top of them, Charlie”
He nodded and said,
“No Problem, Gunny.”
The hollow tube sound of the M79 reached my ears as the shell exploded on top of the NVA soldiers. Ryan opened up with the M-60 and raked the grass left to right.
There was no sound coming from them. I called out to them to surrender but I didn’t get a response. I waited a short while and I decided to go out and recon the spot. If one was still alive, I needed to talk to him. I had to find out if there were any more NVA out there before I called the Chopper.
“I have to go out there and find out what these guys were doing here”, I told Ryan and Brown.
Ryan stood up and started to move as he said, “Let me go, Gunny we need you here”.
I touched his elbow restraining him and said,
“No, you have to stay here and provide the base of fire. Besides, you don’t speak Vietnamese and I do.” I got up and began running in a low crouch before he could answer.
As I approached the center of the circle I could hear some moaning but other than that there was a deadly quiet. I dropped to the ground and crawled towards the moan. I was almost there when a figure jumped up and fired point blank at me with a .45 automatic handgun. All I could think of was that the son-of-a-bitch was shooting at me with an American handgun. The shot rang in my ears and for a moment left me partially deaf as bells rang in my ear. I saw him hit the ground and realized that I hadn’t fired the shot. His head was half blown off. David Scott was looking out for me. I suddenly realized I was shaking, my adrenalin level must have hit the roof. Quickly, I moved to the groan in a low crawl. I found an NVA soldier about 17-18 years old with his legs shot off. The M79 I thought.
“I am an American Marine. I can help you. If you wish to live you have to answer my questions quickly. DO YOU UUNDERSTAND?” I yelled in his ear.
He shook his head up and down.
“Are there anymore with you?”
He shook his head no.
“What unit are you from?”
“We are scouts for the 327th Division,” he replied in a gasping voice.
“What was your mission?”
“We were ordered to scout the headquarters unit on top of Co Ka Leuye mountain. Destroy artillery if possible,” he whispered.
I could tell he was going fast; Too much blood loss, too fast.
“Where is your rally point?” I asked
He didn’t answer and his body went limp as his body exhaled loudly. I knew he was dead. The wounds to his legs were fatal and there was nothing I could do to help. I now knew we were in the backyard of the famed Tiger Division reputed to be commanded by General Ta Qhuan Buu. General Buu had brought the French to their knees at Dien Bien Phu. He was General Giap’s favorite General. He usually did not appear unless there was something big going on.
I checked the other NVA and they were dead. The M79 grenade launcher had lived up to its deadly reputation. No wonder the Viet Cong and the NVA feared it. I scurried back in a low crouch.
Right now I knew we had to get a chopper in or we might not get a chance to do so, if the other members of the dead NVA unit had heard the fire fight.
I gave two whistles and the others soon joined us. I told Martinez to call in and get us a ride out of there. I heard him began his call,
“Niner, Six this is Fisherman. Niner six this is Fisherman. We have a catch, one Fisherman WIA and we need an EVAC,. I repeat we have a catch and one Fisherman WIA. Our location is coordinates Zulu…… I heard his voice drone on giving our location and situation. I turned to the business at hand.
“Charlie Brown, stick with the PWs, anything goes wrong you make sure they get back. Tell Colonel Barrett it’s our old friend Buu. He will know what I mean. If you see anything. pull back here and we will make our stand here. We have to get the PWs back but we aren’t taking any shit. Whatever happens, we have done well and these little fuckers will know it by the time we get through. Look for protection and cover, Stay sharp!” I told them as I looked for cover.
I spotted a large tree that had felled and I motioned to Charlie to move behind the tree along with the PWs and motioned for him to blindfold them. Martinez dropped behind the tree also and said,
“We don’t have a ride yet. All the choppers are trying to get the Army Airborne out of the Ashau. Apparently they ran into some tough resistance and everybody has been ordered to reinforce them and help in getting the casualties out.”
Poor bastards, I thought. It takes guts to jump into a triple canopy jungle to begin with, but you add enemy soldiers like Buu’s men and you are in a world of hurt. There was no doubt in my mind the Airborne could hold their own. We just had to wait.
I nodded and heard the sound of the M-14. Scott was working! I heard it again and this time it was in auto mode. Reid slid in besides me and Ryan was right next to him. Scott slipped in silently on the other side of me.
“There are about 20 NVA out there and they are looking for us or the party we took out. I took the point and a flank man out. The others dropped down into the grass and aren’t moving right now. They are confused trying to find where I was shooting from but they won’t be for long,” reported Scott.
“Okay, when they get here, I want you to engage them first. Take the point man out and anyone who wants to be first. Reid and Martinez will engage them second as they get closer. Last but not least, I want Charlie Brown to drop a M79 round into them at my command. Ryan can open up with the M-60 right afterwards. I don’t want them to know how many we are until the last minute. Keep your knives and side arms ready this could turn ugly. After that it’s everybody’s call. Good luck,” I told them.
We all nodded in agreement as each pulled away to their positions.
It wasn’t long before we saw the point coming up. He moved from side to side in a serpentine manner and appeared checking the dead NVA. He dropped to his knee and peered in our direction. Scott dropped him in a split second. Two other NVA moved at a dead run and dropped to the ground. Jesus, I liked these guys they were gutsy. It was going to be a good fight.
The grass was so tall that you weren’t able to see a man kneeling. Reid and Martinez must have seen something because they opened fire with their M16s. Nothing moved. It’s amazing how quiet it can get after a round is fired. I was short of breath and there was a pounding in my chest. You couldn’t tell it on the outside. I needed to look confident and sure in front of the men. I wanted them to know that we were going to make it out of here. I said my usual prayer, “God, don’t let me screw up!”
The NVA opened up with the AKA’s and dirt and chips of wood flew all around us. The AKA rounds are heavier than the M16’s, so they churn up more stuff as they hit around you. Charlie Brown gave me a questioning look and I shook my head. I had to know how many were still out there. Right now they were working on their courage and if they thought they could over run us they’d begin their assault pretty soon. We waited.
I turned and whispered to Ryan,
”Get Ready!”
He nodded never taking his eyes off our direct front. I could see the grass moving and Charlie Brown gave me that questioning look again. I had everybody holding fire. About five of them jumped up and started running towards our position as they fired. They dropped again and another five to the rear of them jumped up and begin firing as they ran towards our position and dropped to the ground not too far from the first group.
There was still 100 yards or so between us. With Martinez’s field glasses I could see ten more poised and ready at the tree line opposite from where we were. I saw five of them begin to work their way to our right flank and the other five were working around to our left. I turned to Charlie and signaled three with my fingers. Charlie nodded and aimed his M79 grenade launcher. I heard the hollow sound of the first and the second round but didn’t hear the third round as the first two landed on target. I had my hand on Ryan’s shoulder and motioned him to wait. The remaining NVA soldiers began their rush at a dead run firing from the hip as they came towards us. I slapped Ryan on the shoulder and he opened up with his M60 machine gun. The NVA were about 50 yards and they started to buckle and drop to the ground. I motioned for Martinez and Ryan to watch our flanks when I suddenly heard the AKA’s first and then our weapons firing. I motioned Martinez to check on Scott and I went to look for Reid. I found Reid with a nasty shoulder wound on his shoulder and a big grin across his face.
“I got them all, Gunny.” He told me before he passed out.
I picked him up and slung him over my shoulder and across my back and made for our base position. When I got there, I laid him gently on the ground and pulled out a field dressing and wrapped his shoulder. I saw Martinez coming towards us in a low crouch and immediately dropped to a position forming a semi-circle. I gathered we were still in the shit.
I knew we could just lie there waiting for them to attack, but I decided that Lombardi was right; the best defense is a strong offense.
“We have to get the hell out of here or we are not going to be alive when the chopper comes. Scott, take Reid and Martinez with you and head for their right flank. Charlie at my signal drop two M79 rounds in front of us. I want those rounds right on their ass. After you drop the rounds take the PWs and follow Scott. Ryan and I will stay here. We’ll open fire as you leave and we’ll be right behind you. Does every body understand?” I looked at everyone to make sure.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to stay here with you, Gunny?” Martinez asked.
“Thanks, I am sure. Scott is going to need help with Reid and you have to help Charlie with the PWs. Scott pick us out a good spot, buddy. Remember we have to turn around and cover our rear after we finish their flank. They can’t be more than a fire team on our flank. Let’s do it!” I didn’t wait for answer.
Scott carried Reid and Martinez led them towards the flank and I signaled Charlie to fire. I heard the two thumps and I knew Charlie had scored another hit. I signaled Charlie to take off with the PWs and Ryan waited for my signal to open fire. I nodded to Ryan and the M-60 machine gun started to rock and roll. I let him fire about fifty rounds and another burst of twenty rounds. I fired two full magazines to our left and right front just to keep everybody honest and I tapped Ryan’s helmet and we moved in the direction Scott and the others had gone. We moved silently and quickly.
About fifty yards from where we had been I found everyone waiting for the attack from the NVA flanking force. I was expecting a fire team, about five or six enemy soldiers; I had guessed wrong. It was a whole squad, about eighteen NVA soldiers. Well armed and spoiling for a fight. We had the element of surprise and I hoped it was enough to carry the day. We waited until we could see them clearly and we opened fire. They were no more than 25 yards away from us. As I had hoped the element of surprise gave us an edge but almost instantly two NVA reached our positions and were on top of us. It was hand to hand fighting. Martinez was battling the first one to break through our defense. He had the NVA AKA-47 by the barrel in his left hand and his knife had pierced the NVA stomach as they fell to the ground. I shot the second one point blank as he jumped in front of us and the .45 caliber round pushed him back as he fell against a third attacker. I fell on top of the third attacker and shot him in the face as his blood splattered all over me. There were bodies piling up all over. Two NVA jumped up and started at a dead run towards us and Ryan brought them down with his M-60 machine gun. Suddenly I realized I was out in front and out of my position. I turned around and started to run back in a crouch when one of the NVA we thought dead jumped on my back. Scott shot him as the NVA plunged his bayonet into my back. My steel plated flack-jacket saved me as I pushed the dead body off my back. I got back into position as Charlie finished off the attacking force with his M79. I could smell the blood and the burnt gun powder as adrenalin raged through my body. The smoke and the flying debris from the exploding rounds choked me and my eyes stung from the smoke. I looked around at everybody making sure we were all okay. We all had a wide-eyed look as we searched the jungle for more of the enemy. Martinez was dragging several of the dead NVA and piling their bodies in front of us to use as a barricade for added protection and cover. I looked around at every face and we grinned like idiots at each other.
I checked our PWs and found one had taken a round through the head. We still had one left. I untied him from the live one and I pushed his body over the top of the others we were using as a barricade. I motioned to Ryan, Scott and Martinez to take a position to our rear. Reid, Charlie and I remained facing our front. We waited.
We didn’t have long to wait. This time we engaged them a little further out. They were about thirty-forty yards out when Ryan opened up and then Scott and Martinez. Nothing was coming up from our side so I motioned Charlie to give them some support. Charlie dropped three fragmentation rounds and one White Phosphorous (WP – known as Willie Peter) round on top of them. I signaled them to cease-fire and we waited again. We saw some movement and it appeared they were retreating or at least trying to regroup for a second attack.
Suddenly I heard the familiar sound of a gun ship. I heard its rockets firing and the mini guns spitting out deadly fire. I singled Martinez and he was on the radio immediately.
“Gun ship this is Fisherman. I am firing red smoke. I repeat Yankee, Echo Lima, Lima, Oscar William,” Martinez found a hole in the canopy and fired yellow smoke. He had spelled YELLOW. Sometimes the NVA listened to our frequencies and would fire the smoke fired by the friendlies. As soon as he fired the yellow smoke Martinez yelled into the radio,
“Gun Ship, this is Fisherman, I fired RED smoke, I spell YANKEE, ECHO, LIMA, LIMA, ECHO.
The radio crackled again and a raspy voice yelled back, “Roger Fisherman, this is Wyatt Earp. I see your RED Smoke, Yankee Echo, Lima, Lima, Oscar, William. I also see ROMEO, ECHO, DELTA. Hang on while I take care of business.”
We heard two rockets fire and the mini guns opened up again. The radio crackled once more and spit out another high pitched voice, “Fisherman this is Green Dragon. I see your SMOKE. Can you get to the clearing? We will circle and land on your signal.”
“Roger, Green Dragon, we have two walking wounded and one PW. Give us fifteen and we will signal,” Martinez yelled into the receiver.
It was going to be a run for our lives. Scott and Martinez helped Reid, I took the PW in hand and Ryan helped Charlie Brown. We cut a direct path to the clearing. The going was tough because of the dead trees and tall grasses. The jungle was fighting us all the way and the direct route had steep grades as we stumbled down towards the clearing. It took us a good twenty minutes but the gun ship was on site and the Green Dragon never left us.
“Green Dragon this is Fisherman, we are at the Bus Stop and waiting. I am firing BLUE smoke. I spell. GOLF, ROMEO, ECHO, ECHO, NOVEMBER,” Martinez yelled into the radio as he fired the smoke.
“Roger, Fisherman. The Bus is on its way,” the high- pitched voice crackled back.
We moved out of the tree line and out to the clearing. The Gun Ship made two passes above us but there was no enemy fire.
The Green Dragon landed and we got on board. As we took off we received some small arms fire but the gun ship went into its attack mode and Wyatt Erp took care of it as we headed to the top of the mountain and LZ Razor.
The Green Dragon approached LZ Razor and the pilot circled once before landing. The chopper pilots usually took a look-see before landing the birds. The LZs (Landing Zones) are small strips of land perched on top of a mountain with just enough room to land the birds. There isn’t much room to spare but the pilots were always right on the spot. They are a favorite target of enemy mortars and artillery. I looked out the small round window and saw the bald spot on top of the mountain reminding me of a monk’s head with the shaved spot on his head. The terrain around it was dotted with broken trees; some split right in half. There was no foliage on the bare spot. This was the work of the combat engineers known as Path Finders; gutsy Marines that jumped in and cleared the area so the rest of us could take residence. You could see our artillery pieces and Command Post tents. If you looked closely you could see some crude constructions made out of empty wooden artillery crates. It looked like a shantytown. This was where our artillerymen lived. God Bless the lot of them!!
The Green Dragon came down and landed heavy on the bald spot. We rushed to the rear as it disgorged us like a giant grasshopper taking a dump. I tapped the crew chief on the helmet and shook his hands as I waved a “thumbs up”. I hurried off the ramp without looking back. Corpsmen were waiting and immediately took a protesting Charlie Brown and Reid away on stretchers. I made sure they were cooperating and then I headed for the Command Post (CP). Scott, Martinez and Ryan took the PW and sat him off to the side and waited till I came back. The PW was still blindfolded and his hands were tied behind his back. Ryan had placed a cigarette between his lips and lit it. He and Martinez drank a hot cup of coffee while they waited. I knew they wouldn’t stand down until I came back.
When I walked into the CP, Col Barrett was grinning widely as he stood up and walked towards me and shook my hand.
“I want you to know I am very proud of you and your men. You did an outstanding job. Recommendations for medals are in order. We listened to some of the radio transmissions and the chopper pilots reported you and your men have industrial size balls. Now tell me, what have we got?”
“Thank you, Sir. Its big Buu himself, Sir,” I reported as I grinned back at him. “He is ready and poised at the Laotian Border on Tiger Mountain. I need to talk to the PW and I’ll tell you exactly where he is. I think he was waiting for his recon units to return. I’ll tell you this though; he’s been eyeing us. I think he believes we are a prize worth taking. They don’t call us the “Walking Dead” for nothing,” I informed him.
“Well, that son-of-a-bitch is in for a surprise. My men are going to kick the hell out of him. Get me an Intel report as soon as you can. I aim to go in without artillery or air prep fire. We are going in cold and silent. I’ve been waiting to kick his ass for a long time. He may have kicked those Frogs (French) ass but within two days he’ll face the Marines of the 9th Marine Regiment. He is going to remember us for the rest of his life and when he talks about us, he’ll do so with respect and fear in his heart. Now bring me what I need, Gunny.”
“Yes, sir,” I replied as I walked out the tent and headed back towards the LZ where Martinez and Ryan were still guarding the PW. DI don’t kn9ow why but talking to that man always inspired me and made feel like I could walk through a solid wall.
When I walked up I noticed that Martinez was having a heated argument with one of the Marines that had walked over to look at the PW and Martinez had his survival knife in his hand as he looked directly into the Marines face.
“What’s going on?” I asked as I approached them.
“Ryan turned and it was then I noticed his .45 in his hand. He turned his head slowly and said,
“Martinez was teaching this Marine some etiquette on how to treat PWs. This asshole kicked our little guy here and Martinez is getting ready to cut him open.”
“I just want him to understand that if he wants to kick an NVA solder, he’ll have to go get his own,” Martinez told me as he continued to look directly into the other Marine’s face.
“Everybody just settle down,” I told them. Put the knife away Martinez. And who were you planning to shoot, I asked Ryan.
“I don’t know, Gunny, I just got caught up in the moment of things,” Ryan told me, grinning from ear to ear.
The other Marine said, “I didn’t mean anything by it, Gunny.”
“It’s okay, just remember, this guy is here for the same reason we are, somebody sent him here,” I replied.
I realized that Ryan and Martinez were still at the firefight mentally and our nerves were stretched to the limit.
“Martinez, if you are not auditioning for a job at a Japanese restaurant, put the knife away,” I repeated.
“And you,” looking at Ryan, holster your weapon.
“Shit, I wasn’t going to cut him, Gunny,” Martinez said to me as he turned around grinning.”
But I knew better! I winked at him and told him and Ryan to go get something to eat. It was then I noticed Scott leaning against an empty artillery box. I just looked at him.
“I am too tired to fuck with anybody, besides when Martinez pulls his knife, he doesn’t care who he cuts. I figured you’d back in time before he started his carving show,” I heard him mumble from under his helmet.
“Go get something to eat and get some sleep. I think we are going to need all the rest we can get,” I told him.
He got up slowly and walked in the direction Ryan and Martinez had headed. I took the PW by the arm and stood him up as I led him to a foxhole and we both jumped into it. I untied his hands and took his blindfold off. I opened a can of C’s for him and one for me. He got meatballs and spaghetti and I got ham slices with John Wayne crackers. Half way through our meal Ryan came back with a large canteen of hot coffee. I poured some into another canteen and shared it with the PW. I took out two cigarettes and gave him one and lit it for him. I lit mine and took a couple of drags. You would have thought we were back home sitting on the porch enjoying a smoke after a home cooked meal.
I asked him, “What is your name?”
“Nguyen Hoa,” he replied as he continued to eat hungrily.
“How long have you been in South Vietnam?”
“About six months.”
And so it began. I usually started with nice sociable conversation and finally led up to the important stuff; like identification and location of his unit, weapons, location of large units, and finally the location of the Division Headquarters. I always kept it cordial and friendly. Without actually saying it, I convinced them that the war was over for them and that he would be well treated and cared for. By the time we finished our third cigarette, I knew the strength of General Buu’s Division, weapons, major unit locations, and intelligence on his intentions. I plotted trails as I mapped-tracked him back into Laos and noted ambush sites and unit locations. It was easy for me. I found that most people generally wanted to tell me what I wanted to know without much coercion if I worked the approach right. Don’t get me wrong, there had been some tough ones and sometimes I’ve had to push a bit harder. Everything depended on time and lives at stake.
When I finished, I told him I would have to blindfold him again and tie his hands behind his back. He understood. I told him that a helicopter would pick him up and take him back to a rear unit. I told him that he would be well treated. The war was over for him.
I went to the command post an typed a report for Col Barrett with a copy to accompany the PW along with a tag to indicate his name, unit, ID number, location of his capture, circumstances of capture and my name and unit. I put this into a plastic bag and tied it around Hoa’s neck. I patted his shoulder and reassured him again. I left as soon as I saw the chopper come in to pick him up.
I went to the field mess tent and got some hot food and more coffee. After I finished I headed for a water tank. I stripped down, washed the blood out of my hair and washed my body with a soapy hand towel. I shaved with a throwaway razor and felt almost human again. I headed for my old foxhole where the rest of my gear was. I changed into clean fatigues and socks. I cleaned my weapons and reloaded several magazines of M16 ammo and .45 caliber rounds. I repacked all my gear and put my flack jacket and
helmet on and laid down for a long nap. I hadn't looked at my watch in a long time and I noticed that it was two o’clock.
I had just closed my eyes, or so it seemed when somebody woke me. I looked at my watch and it was three-o-clock.
"What?" I asked.
"The Colonel wants to talk to you"
"Doesn't that man ever sleep?" I asked.
"I don't think he does, Gunny," the voice replied.
I tried to get up but my bones weren't cooperating. I lay there a few minutes and then I rolled over and crawled out of my hole and I headed for the CP. God, I felt old. As I stepped through the folded tent opening, I noticed there were several battalion commanders, some company commanders and a few senior enlisted men, also.
"Is the report accurate, Gunny?" the G-3 was asking me.
"Yes Sir" I replied, a bit annoyed that he would question my work.
"I don't think we have to worry about that," the Colonel was saying coming to my defense. Based on this interrogation report I am going to commit "G" Company to a search and destroy mission. I would like you to accompany them, Gunny. In just two hours "G" Company will head down the mountain and cross the Laotian border and destroy any artillery, weapons caches, convoys, and/or supply centers he may encounter. I don't want Captain Williams to go past the ten kilometer mark. Upon his signal of having reached the ten K mark, the 1st, 2d and 3d Battalions will deploy and head towards the Laotian border as "G" Company starts its return. The rest of the Regiment will remain in reserve but we will bring them in by chopper as needed. If General Buu's forces follow, we'll be waiting for them. Captain Williams, get your company ready. Gunny here will be accompanying you and your men. The rest of you get with The G-3, Major Kovacs, and lets get the show on the road."
The G-3 was the operations man. From here on out it would be tactics, supplies, reinforcements, communications, intelligence and coordination. The Colonel had already outlined his strategy.
I walked over to Capt. Williams and shook his hand.
He said, "I understand you and your team were out there yesterday. Any chance we can take the same team with
us?"
"Actually Captain I picked them out of different units, but I'll get word to them and we'll see who can come with us. For sure, two of my men won't be going. One suffered a leg wound and the other has a shoulder wound. I think they are already at Division Med."
"Okay, get your stuff together and we'll meet you at the jump off point in 30 minutes exactly," He ordered.
"Yes, Sir.," I replied.
I walked out of the CP tent and grabbed a runner. I told him to find, Scott, Martinez and Ryan and have them report to me ASAP. I went back to my foxhole and got my gear ready. I went to the ammo supply point and picked up extra grenades and ammunition. I filled all my canteens with water (eight of them) and four C-ration meals. I took only four because no matter how many days we were out there we would have some casualties and I could scrounge extra rations if I needed them. I made sure I had two
extra pairs of socks, one pair of bootlaces and one can of insect repellent. Insect repellent was a life saver in the field. Sprayed around the top of your boots and the bottom part of the fatigue pants it kept leeches from getting to you and at night it kept all the night critters off. I checked my first aid kit and made sure I had two washcloths in my field pack. I rolled my poncho and strapped it to the top of my field pack. I sat down near the CP tent and trimmed my nails very short and then sharpened my survival knife. When I was finished I check my gear again and used some black electrical tape to sound proof some of my gear. The least noise we made the better off we were. I wrote a short letter to my wife and gave it to the mail clerk. I sat on my heels and waited for Martinez, Scott and Ryan to show up.
I must have dozed off because when I looked up there they were ready to go. They had brought their gear and were ready.
"Where are you guys going?” I asked.
"Word's out and we are going with you Gunny," Scott replied.
"You know we are attached to "G" Company. We'll be in the shit first. We will probably be attached to the point platoon and the point squad. They need us to guide them. If you'd rather stay with your parent unit, do not feel obligated," I told them.
"Yeah and you'll write our families and tell them how we punked out on you and that's why you got your ass blown away. Not on your life, we are going with you," Martinez replied.
"Besides, we want some of those medals too. Why would you want to hog them all? That's really not like you. I'm beginning to lose faith in you, Gunny," added Scott with a wide grin on his face.
"Okay you assholes, want to be heroes and get your assess shot off, then let's go," I said with a large grin. "Make sure you have extra ammo and grenades. Plenty of water"
I heard Martinez mumble, ”You’d think he was the one who went to jungle school.” And the others just laughed.
We jumped off with "G" Company at four thirty in the morning.

Chapter 10 – Laos Incursion
The clouds were still on top of the mountain and probably would not dissipate for a couple of hours or so. Anyone watching us would not be able to see the company depart. We had to be very quiet, no smoking, talking until we reached the foot of the mountain where we would take a short brunch break. We would then cross over the border and head for our destination point. The first objective was to find a road Hoa had told me about. It was the road used by NVA convoys to truck in weapons, supplies and men from Laos into South Vietnam's northern sector. Once on the road we would travel up ten kilometers. We were instructed to attack any targets of opportunity. Capt. Williams told us we would stay to the jungle as much as we could and circle around any targets until we hit the ten K mark into Laos. We would set up an ambush and wait until we encountered a convoy of troop reinforcements, weapons, etc.. We would execute our attack and then work our way back. Much like hunting geese. Start at the back and work our way to the front. We were hoping Buu's forces would chase us. The more we destroyed the harder he would bear down on us. Our job was to get back to the border and link up with 1st, 2d and 3d Battalion.
For now, the enemy was the jungle. The "bush" as we called the jungle was tough. Gnarled trees with vines and roots as thick as your arm and your torso impeded our trail. Grassy foliage was everywhere and bugs descended on us like a swarm of locust. They were no match for good old American Insect repellent in a G.I. green can. The problem with the repellent was that if we got down wind of an NVA unit they would be able to smell us. Luckily, the wind was in our faces for now.
As we came down to the foot of the mountain, it began to get much warmer. The canopy was thicker and the air was stifling. The smell of rotting plants combined with
the occasional dead animal smell was nauseating. It was hard to find sure footing in the rocky soil and the steep grades made it easy for Marines to loose footing and slide
down the mountain. We toiled until the sum began to come up and the heat fell upon us like a preheated oven. Every muscle in my body ached and some joints were beginning to hurt. My ankles cried out for relief and my lungs screamed for pure oxygen. I wondered how we were going to face a rested enemy. At times I almost gave up but I kept moving like everybody else trying to look I wasn’t bothered by all this hard work.
Man, I was getting old. I looked at the determined faces of the young men around me and I knew I was in good company. We were at the foot of the mountain and the Captain signaled a break. Each Marine in turn checked their weapons and equipment, field dust-cleaned their M16 rifles while others watched for the enemy or signs of hostile forces. As soon as the first group finished, a matter of a minute and half, the other group made their checks and the rest of us watched. Within three minutes we all watched and ate. Each of us lost in our thoughts. My thoughts were of survival, the way there and the way back. I wondered about Ryan and Scott. They had gone up to the point platoon. The Captain asked that Martinez and I to stay with him for now. I never liked being in the middle or in the back. I'd rather be up front. For now it was okay, I guess. I hoped that when we found the road I might be allowed to join Ryan and Scott. It was still the Captain's call.
After a short ten-minute break we moved out again and the going got a little bit easier since we were at the foot of the mountain. From here on out there was pure jungle and some hills ahead. The hills slowly turned into mountains but we were still a good distance away. We had barely got moving when we stopped again. Everybody tensed and we began to look around sharply. Word came down the point had found the road. It was exactly where Hoa had said it was.
Capt. Williams called me over and said, "You were right, Gunny. The road is hard packed rocky soil and clear. We'll stay on it until the point indicates we have to move into the jungle. "
"Do you mind if I move up to the point platoon? I may be able to point out areas where Hoa told me we might find patrols or ambushes," I asked him.
"Go ahead but stay in touch. We want to be very careful until we hit our ten K mark," he replied.
I moved up quickly and soon joined the point platoon being led by Lt Buck Jones. He was all of 24 years old, of Welsh descent, blonde hair and steel blue eyes.
"Hello, Gunny. I'm glad you are here. I would like you to brief Sergeant Tafaoa. He is the point squad leader. If you can tell us what to look for maybe we can avoid engagement until we get to the ten K mark," he said to me as he pointed out one of the biggest Samoans I had ever seen. Word was the Supply Sergeant had to sew two uniforms together to make them fit Sergeant Tafaoa. I nodded and opened the map I was carrying. I explained to Tafaoa what each tick mark I had made on the map meant. He nodded as he made marks on a small tablet he carried. When we finished, he gave Lieutenant Jones and I a thumbs-up and silently disappeared into the jungle. I couldn’t help but notice that for as big as he was, Sgt. Tafaoa moved silently and quickly. Lt. Jones signaled the platoon to move out and we continued up the road into Laos and our meeting with General Buu's forces.
Traveling on a hard pack road was like heaven. The jungle heat was there because of the thick canopy of the jungle but the walking was a stroll along a county road. There was thick jungle on either side but the sunlight came through and lit the area. The road was no more than eight feet across with a bit of foliage that refused to
give ground in the center. Visibility was about a two hundred feet and the going was easy. It was beautiful and the change from semi darkness in the jungle to soft light was exhilarating.
I knew that about three hundred yards up ahead the point squad might encounter some NVA soldiers. Hoa had told me they were guard posts to make sure the road was
secure. He had told me that each post usually had no more than four man at each post. This would be the first one. After a while I got a bit concerned because I didn't get a signal to move off the road nor had I heard the sounds of a firefight. Word came down from the point squad that three NVA soldiers had been killed. Ryan, Tafaoa and one other Marine had moved up quietly and had killed them before the NVA knew the Marines were there. We had made it through the
first hurdle. We continued on the road.
There were no surprises on the road until we hit the ten K mark. Capt. Williams sent a four second radio signal to Colonel Barrett letting him know we were in position.
We would have to wait thirty minutes before we knew if he had received our signal. It was the longest thirty minutes I have ever waited through. It came right on time loud
and clear. I couldn't believe everything was working out on schedule. We waited in position on the side of the road about 100 feet into the jungle. All night long we took turns sleeping and guarding. I doubt that any of us slept any at all. On occasion we heard the roar of tigers in the forest and some times the wind carried laughter from the enemy camps west of us. We had no idea how far they were.
Noises carry in the wind for long distances at night. I ate a breakfast meal during my last turn on guard duty. I had scrambled eggs and a cinnamon roll out of a can. They were still warm from the heat retained in my field pack.
At first light we were all alerted by the sound of trucks coming down the road. We were ready. Adrenaline was pumping and we were eager to engage the enemy.
As the first truck appeared, I noticed they were carrying men and supplies. They had no idea we were there. Several trucks passed by. The first truck was met by a Marine in the middle of the road. He was holding a LAW (light Anti tank Weapon). A weapon once called a Bazooka. This one was smaller, lighter and carried enough punch to put a tank out of commission. He aimed the LAW at the first truck and fired. As the shell hit the truck the driver attempted to swerve to the right but the LAW exploded and the truck burst into fire. The second truck tried to go around the left side and the Marine fired another LAW point blank and took it out too. The trucks started to pull back when two explosions were heard from the rear and I knew the two rear trucks were taken care of.
We opened fire spreading a blanket of M16 and M-60 rounds on top of the NVA soldiers. Other Marines had been designated to lob grenades and the grenadiers fired shell after shell of deadly fire from the M- 79 grenade launchers. Some of the NVA soldiers were on fire and others were screaming in terror as they lost limbs from grenades and machine gun fire. The smell of burning rubber, paint and fuel from the trucks cannot over power the smell of burning flesh. I fired one magazine after another when I noticed the barrel of my M16 was red hot and smoking, I fired my forty five and lobbed grenades into the human sea of dying and wounded N VA soldiers. The trucks were grotesque twisted pieces of metal. The fires continued and we continued to fire and lob hand grenades, M- 79 rounds and LAWs (light anti-tank weapon) at the trucks. The signal came to cease fire. We stopped firing. It was silent except for the periodic explosions from the
burning vehicles and some of the ammunition exploded by the heat of the fires. A few of the NVA began to form a group and started to fire at us but they were quickly
silenced. Capt. Williams signaled to regroup and we quickly checked for casualties. We had suffered two wounded and no fatalities. The wounded were patched up quickly
and we started for the border with Lt. Jones' platoon at the point. I went with Lt. Jones,
Martinez stayed with Capt. Williams and Ryan and Scott moved out with the point squad. The injured stayed with the 1st Platoon and Capt Williams where they could be cared for by the Corpsman as necessary. Within minutes after the assault we were moving towards the South Vietnamese border. We were moving at a fast clip knowing that reinforcements would be coming to the aid of the convoy and we would become the hunted instead of the hunters. The NVA patrols along the Laotian and South Vietnamese border would be looking for us and ambushes would be waiting for us along the return route. We got off the road immediately but stayed to the south side of the road. We didn't want to split our forces, one on one side of the road and the other on the other side of the road. Also we stood a better chance in the jungle than along the road. So we headed east south east. If we were lucky we would come out just south of our entry point and in line with the 3d Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment. The jungle became dense with tall grasses and the trees began to grow taller and gnarled. Perspiration was pouring off of me by the buckets full. I didn't know if it was because of the heat, the tension or both.
We traveled about thirty five minutes when we came under fire. The attack was against the point squad and subsequently the point platoon. It meant they were
not concerned about the main element. They were trying to cut us off. It was a small force but inflicted two fatalities on the point squad. The rest of the attacking force of twelve was quickly dispensed with by the point platoon. I strapped my pack on the back of one of the dead Marines and threw him on my back. I crossed his arms in
front of me and tied them to my ammo belt. I did it without thinking. I knew we weren't going to leave him behind. I figured when I got tired, someone would take over while I
rested. We continued to traverse the jungle and within ten minutes we encountered another small patrol. We kept going forward as we fought them exchanging fire almost point blank. As we continued to move the NVA fired mortars at us killing two more Marines and injuring three. Our casualties were beginning to mount. The mortars also meant that somewhere out there was a forward observer looking at us. I asked Lt. Jones to call Capt. Williams and have him send Martinez up. If anyone could find the FO (Forward Observer) it would be him. Martinez came up quickly.
"What's up Gunny?"
"This is Lt Jones, "I said and they nodded at each other.
"The mortars were no accident and we think someone is looking at us. We would
like you to find him for us and get rid of him."
"Can do, Gunny. I want to take Scott with me. The best choice is Ryan but the point needs his M-60, so I'll take Scott. We have been together a long time and we think a lot a like," he informed me.
I looked at Lt Jones and he nodded. "Okay, you got it," I said.
"One more thing Gunny, the FO is probably looking at this platoon and the main element. I'm going up front and Scot and I will take off from there. We have to do it in
a way so that he won't know he is being hunted. In about five minutes after I join the point I'd like for you to stop and look at your map for about three minutes and point to the south as if you are considering going in that direction. I believe he is across the road on the other side. If he is on our side of the road when we find him, Scott can ding him from there."
"You got it. Let's rock and roll Lieutenant."
Lt. Jones just looked at Martinez as he headed towards the point and shook his head.
“Yeah, he is good,” I said pointing out the obvious.
He signaled to proceed and we started moving again. When he heard the double click on the radio we started counting down five minutes. I was nervous and excited and I couldn't help worrying about Martinez and Scott. Five minutes went by and Lt Jones called a halt and we both looked at the map with animated arm pointing south. We did this for about three minutes and then we started to move again. Twenty minutes later we received mortar fire again almost dead on target. I don't how we didn't have any casualties. Three Marines were slightly wounded in the arms and back but nothing serious enough to hurt us. We continued to move on. The going got tougher as we began to climb hills. The Marine on my back was wearing me down but I hung on to him. .It started to get late in the afternoon and rigor mortis was setting in on the body I was carrying. The body had emptied his bowls and I tried to ignore the odor and the stiffness of the body. We stopped to rest and suddenly we were under fire once more. I took the body off my back and returned fire. The NVA was no more than 150 feet in front of us. The jungle impeded their attack but we were receiving deadly fire. After three minutes of exchanging fire the NVA charged us. We took most of them out before they got to us but hand-to-hand fighting broke out around me. I hit an NVA with the butt of my rifle as he struggled with Lt. Jones and turned just in time to shoot another coming at me with a bayonet at the end of his rifle. I fired point blank at him and he went down. I pulled out my .45 and held my survival knife in the other hand. I shot another NVA soldier in front of me. A third NVA lunged at me as I parried his right hand which held a bayonet and I shot him in the stomach. I jumped up and ran towards the NVA group firing my .45 automatic and slashing with my knife. I heard blood curling yells behind me and several Marines had joined me in the attack. The NVA started to run away but we shot them before they got more than fifteen feet in front of us. I was breathing hard and felt blood dripping from my hands and face. I turned around and saw Lt. Jones grinning and shaking. The sound of incoming mortars startled us into action. We dropped to the ground and once again waited for the barrage to stop. When it did stop we quickly counted our casualties. There were four more dead and several wounded. All were sent to the main Column and we received five replacements from Captain
Williams. He sent a message saying he couldn't give us any more, he apparently had suffered heavy casualties from the mortar barrage. I prayed Martinez and Scott would find the FO soon. We couldn't afford another mortar barrage.
We continued to move east south-east. We knew the border was close. The going was easier and the platoon was moving faster. Suddenly we heard a rifle shot and silence. I kept moving and smiled. Scott and Martinez had done it. We traveled another hour and next thing I knew Martinez and Scott were walking behind us.
"I found him and Scott dinged him, just like I said," Martinez said to me and moved up towards the point squad along with Scott.
I slapped both of the on the back. I turned to look at Lt. Jones and grinned and shook his head. We stopped for a rest and let Capt. Williams catch up. We had crossed the border without any more fire fights and we rested. I ate a meal of C's, my favorite, pork and beans with John Wayne crackers. A runner came and Lt. Jones and I went back to talk with Capt. Williams. When we approached the headquarters group I saw the effects of the mortar attack. There were at least twenty Marines with wounds and twelve dead. Capt. Williams was one of the wounded but he was in good spirits. I could see a bad gash in his right thigh. The Corpsman was sewing him up as he talked to us. The other platoon leaders were there too.
"Well, I think we are going to make it. I told the Radioman to get a hold of Col. Barrett and find out what they want us to do next and I want you all here so we can
make a decision on how to proceed. We have some casualties and some wounded. I want to get a chopper in and MedEvac them as soon as we can. Just standby and be ready to give a report on ammo and the condition of your men." We waited while the radioman handed the Captain the radio.
"Yes Sir." I heard him say. We watched as he nodded.
After a minute he said,
"What about a MedEvac, Sir?"
"Yes Sir, Roger, out."
He turned to us and began the briefing.
“The Colonel says the Regiment is in place. We are to continue towards the 3d Battalion position. The MedEvac is out until General Buu begins his attack and or crosses the border. The Colonel intends to pursue him if he stays on the border inside Laos. Send me the reports I asked for. Lt. Jones pull your platoon back and join the Headquarters platoon. You'll still run the point but I want you close in. Gunny, take your team and join the point squad and find us the best way back. I want the 2d Platoon around the Headquarters platoon and the third platoon can bring up the rear. Good luck and keep your asses down."
I joined the point squad along with Martinez and Scott.
"Where's Sgt Tafaoa?" I asked.
"He is walking point, Gunny," somebody replied,
"Somebody find him and everybody gather around, " I ordered them.
Tafaoa and several of the squad joined us quickly.
" We have to find an easy route to 3d Battalions position. We have a lot of casualties and the Captain is wounded. Check your ammo and let me know if you need any."
Ryan said he could use more M.60 ammo. Everybody seemed to be okay.
"Sgt Tafaoa, I want Martinez walking point. He will work alone. I want you to take half of the squad along with Cpl. Ryan here. If you get into trouble, you'll need him
to set up a base' of fire. Your grenadier will stay with me along with the rest of the squad, I want everyone fanned in a "V" formation with Martinez as the point. The rest of the squad and I will follow behind within the "V". Is that understood?"
Sgt Tafaoa looked at me and said," I want to go with Martinez, Gunny."
"Negative! I know how you feel but I need you near and in control. Trust Martinez, he's a good man," I looked at him and said, He and Scott took out the FO raining mortars on us."
Tafaoa said, "Roger,"
We moved out. I knew how he felt. These were his men and he wanted to take care of them. He felt he was the only one who could find a safe and fast way for them but my way was the right way and I knew no one better than Martinez to find us a way.
We began moving south-south east again, Martinez leaving signals behind so that we could follow his trail. We began to climb once more and soon came to a point
where Martinez had veered north, Within minutes we heard a fire fight start and Tafaoa and Ryan set up a base of fire. We waited.
I saw Tafaoa jerk suddenly and looked to his left and then I saw Martinez walk out slowly. We all relaxed for a minute. Martinez took off in our original direction and
Tafaoa walked back to talk to me,
"That crazy son-of-a-bitch took out four NVA waiting in ambush up ahead, I asked him how he knew they were there and he told me he could smell them and then disappeared into the jungle again. He's good, but I think he's crazy,"
"I know what you mean," I said to him.
We traveled until it got dark again. We stopped and Lt. Jones went to see Capt. Williams for a briefing. I told Tafaoa to set up our defenses. This would consist of
guard assignments, booby traps and good defensive positions. Tonight I dined on ham slices and John Wayne crackers. I ate a chocolate candy bar for dessert. I dug a one foot hole and lit a piece of C-4. Its amazing how this jell will bum and not explode. You can even eat it and nothing will happen. But put a blasting cap in it and will
definitely blow you away. I heated a canteen of water, put out the C-4 with dirt and saved what was left for another occasion. I poured a package of cocoa in to the
boiling water and some dry cream from C rations. I waited for it to cool for a few minutes as I leaned against a tree trunk with my M16 across my arms and sipped the
cup of cocoa. Rockefeller didn't have it this good.
I settled down to sleep and covered myself with my poncho. The nights in the northern area can get pretty cold. Sometime around midnight a grenade explosion woke me up. Sappers were probing our lines. Sappers are the best of the NVA. They travel light with explosives and dump satchel charges on your ass while you sleep. A few carry automatic weapons to provide protection for the satchel carriers but for the most part they work with knives and explosives. My eyes were as wide as I could get them but the night was like the bottom of an ink well. I felt a warm body crawling next to me and when I could focus my eyes I noticed he was wearing a skull cap. Not regulation issue
in Marine Corps units, so I pumped a .45 round into his head. I heard a sizzling sound and smelled Powder burning. The bastard had pulled the detonation cord on
the satchel. I pulled the satchel into my fox hole and rolled out of it as I yelled, "FIRE IN THE HOLE!!" The explosion threw me into a tree and I thought my back was broken. I heard shooting and grenades going off. A flare went off and I could see hand-to-hand fighting going on. I rolled on my stomach fired to my left. The flare went out and all was quite except for a few groans now and then.
I heard Tafaoa yelling, "If you need a corpsman yell out!" There was no response.
We lay there until first light. Tafaoa was checking the men and he came towards me. "
"You okay, Gunny?"
I nodded and asked him" "Any casualties?"
"None. thank God. You want to keep that dead sapper?" he asked.
I looked to where he was pointing and just two feet from was a sapper with a satchel in his left hand and a knife in his right hand. I must have shot him without
knowing he was there.
"There were six of them and we found two more up ahead killed by the booby traps we set last night. We got them all," he informed me.
We had just got ourselves together when we heard a voice yell out,
"RED ROVER COME OVER!!"
I heard Martinez yell back, "YOU COME OVER, MOTHERFUCKER!"
"WHO ARE YOU GUYS?"
Martinez yelled back, "WE ARE THE MEANEST MOTHERS IN THE VALLEY, GOLF COMPANY."
Slowly the jungle parted and there stood the smallest Marine I had ever seen. He was all of four foot and eleven inches. His helmet was too big for him and his jungle
fatigues fit him like a cheap suit. He came up to me and said,
"I'm Cpl. Steve Dailey, Sir. Are you Capt. Williams?"
"No Corporal, Captain Williams is back there. Just follow the trail back," I replied. "By the way, what unit are you with Corporal?"
"Kilo company, 3dBn, Sir," he replied as he continued towards Capt. Williams’ position.
"Kinda small ain't he?" Tafaoa pointed out to me.
"Yeah," I replied. ’Well, Cpl Dailey there took on a platoon of VC during Taylor Common. I understand that he kept his platoon commander alive and dragged several Marines to safety. He went back with machine gun ammo and grenades and when the VC started to overrun his position, Cpl. Dailey picked up an M-60 and blew the VC off his part of the hill. He got the Silver Star for his efforts above and beyond. He's still a Corporal because he burned the officer's toilets. The toilet in Vietnam in the field were old fashion out houses which did not require a whole in the ground. Instead the out house had cans filled with diesel oil where it collected the feces. When the cans became full you would take out the cans and set fire to them, refill them with diesel oil and place them under the seats of the out house. Cpl Dailey didn't realize you took out the diesel cans before you set them on fire. He had burned the out the cans out houses and all. A mistake that cost him a stripe and a reassignment from the Third Marines to the Ninth Marines. His choice by the way."
"I guess you can't measure a Marine by his height. We sure as hell are breed apart, " I said.
Med EVAC choppers were coming. Big Buu had crossed the border in Division strength. We were airlifted to join the 2d Battalion. Martinez, Scott, Ryan and I were sent to the Regimental Headquarters. I didn't have a chance to say goodbye to Capt. Williams and Lt. Jones. I felt bad about that.
I didn't have time to dwell on that though, the battle against Big Buu was raging and units from the Army's Airborne Division and the Black Cat gun ships from Hue
were joining in on the fray. Col. Barrett was a bit pissed off because he wanted to take on the Big Buu by himself, but intelligence estimated Big Buu had a reinforced division so help was summoned and orders were orders. the 9th Marines still had the biggest part of the fight. We were engaging two of Buu's regiments and he was highly pissed at us. Buu was sending the best of his best at us. We were facing the units that had taken Hue during Tet. These NVA officers were battle tested against the French and had survived the Tet offensive. We were going to have our hands full. These NVA units had marched for over ten kilometers in the early morning so that could not be detected by our forces and were in position to attack Hue City at first light. They were tough and battle tested.

CHAPTER 11- The Fight for the Mountain
General Buu was throwing everything at the 9th Marines. Not only was it a matter of saving face but this incursion threatened his supply lines which were vital to the operations in all of South Vietnam. These lines not only brought in reinforcements but filled his supply caches which the NVA and Viet Cong needed in order to operate in the central and southern areas of South Vietnam. The long term objective of the NVA was to cut South Vietnam in half and thereby taking the Northern sector in order to push into Saigon from the north and west. General Buu's determination was being felt by the striking 9th Marines.
The 2d Battalion was taking the worst of the assault in the beginning but Colonel Barrett ordered the 1st Battalion into a right envelopment hitting Buu's forces
from the right flank. Buu had expected this and had readied a force to come across the DMZ and challenge the 1st Battalion from the north. NVA artillery units would be used
to fire against the 1st Battalion and ground forces would come across under the Artillery fire. The Third Marine Division had already anticipated this strategy and the
3d Marine Regiment forces had been moved within a mile from the Demilitarized Zone. Supported by the 12 Marines Artillery and the Naval Guns from the USS New Jersey
the NVA artillery was silenced and the NVA ground forces were contained by the 3d Marine Regiment. The enemy would suffer 760 dead in its encounter with the 3d Marine Regiment. The 1st Brigade, 5th Infantry Division Mechanized and elements of the 12th Cavalry Unit accounted for 350 enemy dead as they swept the area just south of
Quang Tri. The Big Red One had encountered irregular forces that were trying to link up with Buu's forces and catch elements of the 9th Marines in a crossfire. The fighting became vicious in the ranks of the 2d Battalion and the 1st
Battalion. On the first day hostilities began, the enemy came charging at the Marine forces running towards the Marines firing from the hip. Hand-to-hand combat was the
norm of the day. The enemy would lay a fierce blanket of fire from about 50 yards out pinning the Marines down and then would run through the jungle firing at point blank
range. The Marines stood up to the attack and then pursued the enemy as they tried to regroup. At first the Marines thought they had them on the run until the enemy
popped up from spider holes, shaped bunkers well camouflaged firing at the advancing Marines from behind. In war you only make a mistake once. The Marine units called in air strikes on the retreating enemy and searched out the bunkers and spider holes. The enemy was also showing a new tactic. The NVA had previously bored holes in trees about waist high and while using the cover of the tree they would
fire their weapons killing and wounding anything in front of the tree. Marines used grenades, LAWs and M79's to ferret out those who attempted to fire from these
positions. Air strikes were conducted by Huey (U-1 E) helicopter gun ships from the Provisional Marine Aircraft Group 39 (Prov MAG-39), along with fixed wing Bronco (OV-10A). The Huey was the smallest helicopter in our arsenal but it was armed with rocket pods, two externally mounted machine guns and two crew-fired machine guns. The Bronco was armed with four mini-guns and light explosive rockets. I used to look at the Broncos and think of a praying mantis. Supplies, medical evacuations and reinforcements was the task of the Sea Knights (CH-46). The Huey's flew escort missions for the Sea Knight. The Sea Knights were the work force of the MAG and the most important from the Marine Grunt's point of view. It is a taxi, delivery vehicle, and ambulance. Its most important function is the life saving missions as it races against time to save the life of a Grunt. This day the Sea Knights would see a lot of action.
Marines of the 2d Battalion had lost 153 men by the second day and reinforcements were being flown. The reinforcements were coming from the 26th Marine Regiment and the 4th Marine Regiment. By the 3rd day the NVA had fallen
back behind the border and were regrouping for a counter attack. Still the Marine units had only advanced 1500 meters in two days of heavy fighting. Colonel Barrett
was not going to wait for them. With a reinforced 2d Battalion the Colonel launched an attack against the retreating forces.
I walked into the CP (Command Post) tent and was met by a volley of activity. The "Pinkies", Marine administrative personnel, were ordering everything from air strikes to C-rations and intelligence personnel were submitting and receiving reports. The G-3 was trying to coordinate main units with supporting units and the Colonel was orchestrating the activity while prowling around like an angered bulldog. He saw me and stopped for a minute.
He grinned and said, "We are kicking their ass back across the border."
I nodded and said, " Begging your pardon, Sir, I want to rejoin Golf Company. I'll take the next available chopper going that way, Sir."
The Colonel looked at me for a few seconds and I noticed a tiredness in his face I had not seen before. He was not only thinking about the victory but the lives it was costing and the total price was still moving up.
He said, "I thought you had enough, Gunny."
I tried to speak and put his hand up to stop me and said, "Go ahead, and be careful."
I didn't know what to say. I had never heard him say anything like that before.
"Thank you, Sir. I'm taking Sgt Scott with me, Sir," I replied.
He waved his hand at me and was already involved with what the G-3 was saying.
I rushed out of the tent and almost knocked Scott down.
"When the fuck are we going? Martinez and Ryan are already up there and you and I are sucking our thumbs up here with the pot waloppers and pinkies?" he asked me.
"Don't talk like that about your fellow Marines. You remember Cpl Dailey? He was a pot walloper," I admonished him jokingly as I kept walking towards the LZ.
"Where are you going Gunny? Didn't you hear what I said?"
"There is a supply chopper on the LZ and I am getting on it. What about you? What are you going to do?" I asked him.
"Shit, I'm going with you," he yelled excitedly.
We got to the chopper and I asked the crew chief if he had room for us.
"We are landing on a hot LZ. Come aboard if you are stupid enough," replied.
"We are stupid enough," Scott yelled at him.
He shook his head and said, " I knew it. I bet both of your family trees have no branches."
We were off in minutes. We normally sat on our flak jackets but today we left them on. It was going to be a fast trip up and down. Within minutes a Huey joined us.
And I felt better. The feeling didn't last long. We landed in a small LZ cleared out of some trees and the small arms fire started. The Huey went into its attack pattern and it
gave the Sea Knight enough time to unload and drop us off. We helped with the unloading so the Sea Knight would spend very little time on the ground. We ran for cover guided by one of the Marines in charge of the LZ.
I yelled at him above the noise of the chopper and the attacking Huey," GOLF COMPANY?”
The Marine pointed to the left and Scott and I went in that direction leaving the Marine yelling into a radio.
As we traveled up the trail we saw a lot of wounded waiting to be evacuated and there were several bodies in body bags. There were too many for me to count. Scott and I didn't look at each other or stare at the wounded or the dead. We kept walking at a brisk pace determined to find Golf Company.
We arrived at the Battalion CP and reported to the Battalion Commander.
"We just came from Colonel Barrett and we are here to join Golf Company, Sir"
The Lt Col asked, "What's your interests with Golf Company?"
"We were in Laos with Capt. Williams, Sir and we'd like to rejoin him."
"Captain Williams is no longer the Company Commander. He has been MedEvac to the hospital ship. I don't think he is going to be back any time soon. In fact I
believe he will be headed home. The leg wound was more serious than it looked. I have placed Captain John P. Vela in charge of Golf. He's the best I've got. He was at Dai
Do and Khe Sanh. He extended his tour to be here. He can use your help"
"Thank you, Sir." I replied.
The Battalion Commander called a Marine and told him to escort us to Golf Company.
Golf Company was about 1000 meters from the CP When we got there we saw some familiar faces including Tafaoa and Lt. Jones. Lt. Jones greeted us,
"Well I'll be go to hell. If it isn't the refugees from Laos."
We shook hands still grinning and he introduced us to Captain Vela.
"Captain Vela, Sir."
"Glad To see you, Gunny. Lt. Jones has been telling me about you and your little team: If everything he tells me is true, we can sure you use your help."
“ I don’t know what kind of war stories he has been telling you but we were here to help anyway we can,” I replied.
Captain Vela was a mustang. He had come up through the ranks and as Sergeant had been selected for the Officer Candidate School in Quantico. He had graduated from UCLA and had joined the Marine Corps as an enlisted
man. The Corps decided they could use his talents best as an officer and the rest was history. He had been sent to Vietnam in the early part of 1968 and had extended for six more months. A wise choice as far as his
career was concerned but as a Marine Company Commander he was in the low percentages of those who lived to reap the rewards. Because he had chosen to stay in the infantry, he would some day soon be a colonel. His life expectancy in the field was about 33%.
"The Colonel wants us to press the attack so that elements of the NVA forces are sent to reinforce the battalion facing us. If the enemy reacts in such a manner then the rest of the 2d Battalion will reinforce our company and we will take on the NVA one on one as the 1st and 3rd Battalion push from the left and right flanks," Captain Vela explained to us.
"How can we help, Sir?" I asked him.
"I need intelligence to find out what exactly we are
facing and where we will encounter these forces. One of your men, Corporal Martinez, is scouting the area ahead and we should be hearing from him soon. I hope to capture an NVA soldier and perhaps you can interrogate him and get the
information we need. I have instructed all my platoon leaders to try and get me a live PW. So far we haven't been able to get one. The fighting has been pretty tough and we have been in running fights most of the time. No time to take any prisoners," he stated calmly.
I couldn't get over how calm he was. I could see by his appearance that G Company had had a rough go. Yet he sat in a foxhole talking about the situation like a mechanic telling me what was wrong with my car. I was later to find out that under fire he remained just as calm and his men trusted him. Where he led they followed. They treasured him as a Company Commander so much that he had a fire team with him all the
time with orders from the company gunnery sergeant to stay with him and protect him with their lives while did his job.
I met the company gunny and had a talk him about Captain Vela and what he required of me.. First he told me that the place to be would be with Lt. Jones. He also told me that Captain Vela was the bravest man he had ever served with in combat. The Company Gunny had come with him when
Capt. Vela had been transferred to the Ninth Marines from the Third Marines.
I moved to the front with Lt. Jones and Scott came with me. As soon as we returned to the platoon, we moved out in search of the enemy. The enemy was not hard to find. They were waiting for us at the top of a small
hill. The enemy artillery was not firing but the mortars were still around providing them support. We were engaging an NVA company.
As we began up the hill, automatic fire opened up. We continued to move up using whatever cover was available. The enemy opened fire when we were about two hundred yards out and we moved quickly and closed the distance to about one hundred yards. Lt. Jones called up mortar fire from our 81mm mortars and we moved up as soon as our barrage started. As we came closer our mortars stopped firing and theirs began pounding us. We continued to move up shooting as we went. We began to encounter enemy soldiers that allowed us to get past their positions and then they would
jump out of their spider holes and shoot at us from behind. That slowed us down a bit as we threw grenades into anything that looked like a hole or camouflaged position, but we kept moving the line up the hill.
As we neared the top we fixed bayonets and prepared to fight hand to hand. We were not disappointed. As I moved up I looked for an opportunity to take a live prisoner but I heard, the ringing of metal as both Marines and NV A
engaged in bayonet fighting and weapons firing as I moved through the trees and grass waiting for the enemy.
Suddenly an NVA soldier popped out in front of me and lunged with his AKA with a bayonet attached to it. I parried him to the right and slashed down with my M16 bayonet. I sliced his left shoulder to the
bone. He dropped his rifle and went for a P-38 in his belt and I closed in with him. I butt stroked him across the face. He dropped to the ground and fell on
his back. As a matter of training I started to spear him through the stomach. I hesitated and leaned over him on one knee and realized he was still alive. I put my bayonet on his throat and yelled at him,
"What is your name?"
He shook his head and I pressed the end of the bayonet against his throat. He shook his head and cleared his throat.
"My name is Thang I am a warrant officer," I heard him say.
"What is the designation of your unit?"
"I'm in the 327th Division, 116th Transportation Regiment."
"How many men in your unit?"
He said, "There are 325' men," he said coughing
"Why are you assigned to the 327 Division?"
"General Buu told us we would be fighting as a part of the Division."
"How many battalions are in this area?"
"There are four in this area."
"Do you have any artillery in support?"
"No, yes, I, I don't know," he said and I heard a raspy sound come from his throat "Please help me?" were his last words.
I knew he was dead. I moved his head to the other side and noticed that the slash from my bayonet had cut his carotid artery. I didn't have to worry about it.
I saw a soldier crawl out of a spider hole not
more than 10 feet from me and started to fire at the Marines in front of me. I ran right at him and stabbed him in the back. As I removed the bayonet from his back another soldier crawled out and I shot him before he came out of the hole. I continued up the hill. I was oblivious to the automatic fire coming at me. I just wanted to get to the top. I was enraged. I wanted all of them to come out of their fucking spider holes and from the tree. I wanted to end it all. I was tired of the jungle, tired of the NV A, tired of Ho Chi Minh and tired of all the bull shit. Today I was going to take care of business.
I suddenly came upon some Marines in a foxhole. One of them yelled at me,
"GET DOWN GUNNY!!"
I fell into the foxhole and looked forward. There was nobody in front of us.
"What is it?" I asked.
"We are at the top, Gunny. We have to wait for the rest of the platoon," the young Marine told me. He was breathing heavy and his body shook a little.
"ARE YOU ALRIGHT? I yelled at him.
"I am, but Goldman over there has a bleeding arm, bayonet, I think," he replied.
I couldn't believe I was at the top. I was still feeling the effects of the fight. I wanted it to continue. I looked over at Goldman and he had his head on his good arm. I crawled over to him and poured some water his wound and I spread some kind of Powder in my first aid kit. I figured
it couldn't hurt. I wrapped a bandage around the wound and I checked to make sure he wasn't bleeding from an artery. Everything appeared okay.
"How are you doing, Goldman?" I asked him.
"What?" he asked groggily.
"You okay?" I asked again.
"Yeah Gunny I feel fine, thanks," he responded and I saw some clearness in his eyes.
"Okay, we need to move up a bit higher and make sure they aren't regrouping for a counter-attack. I'm going to crawl towards the very top take a look. You guys keep your eyes open and cover me," I heard myself telling them.
I didn't wait for an answer and started at a low crawl the very knoll of the hill about twenty five feet up and I stayed as close to the ground as I could. There were a lot of craters from the artillery and what appeared empty man-made holes. When I got to the top I could see the other side of the hill. It was dotted with short brush
and knee high grass. I didn't see anyone. At the bottom of the hill the jungle spread out into small trees and some tall grass. The area was kind of rocky and I could see bomb craters, made by the artillery or air support. I turned around and waved the other Marines up to join me. There were four of them. I instructed them to set up a hasty defense. One of the Marines had an M79 grenade launcher. I placed him to the left of me and the other three were scattered in different holes to my right. We lay there for a few minutes and listened to the other Marines coming up. They were mopping up the NVA in the spider holes and whatever was left. Occasionally we heard some explosions and someone in a death struggle as they fought hand to hand. One of the Marines with me started to go back down the hill. I yelled at him to hold his position.
"I want to get down there and help, Gunny,” he told me.
I said, "Negative! They can handle what they got. We have to stay here and make sure we can hold off a counter attack until the rest of the platoon joins us.
We stayed. It seemed like an eternity but I know it was only minutes, when Lt. Jones came up and jumped in the hole with me. Other Marines were joining on us.
"How is it going, Gunny?" Lt. Jones asked me.
"Okay, I guess we're still here," I grinned back at him.
I could see a fire in his eyes, I guess at this point we were all engrossed in our job of survival and killing. Adrenaline ragging in our bodies. The smell of Powder never left our senses and the adrenalin kept us high.
"You think they'll counter attack?" he asked me almost as a statement.
I said, " Yeah, I think so."
"OKAY, EVERYONE DIG IN. WE'LL BE GETTING MORTAR OR ARTILLERY FIRE SOON. WORK IN PAIRS. ONE DIGS WHILE THE OTHER WATCHES." He yelled at his men.
By this time the whole platoon was up except for those that had died or wounded. Six dead and four badly wounded. You could see the dead lined up behind us and Doc was' working on the wounded. Lt. Jones walked back and signaled for three men to follow him. He went down hill to where the Doc
was and I saw him saying something to the Doc. The other Marines started moving the wounded into some empty bunkers left by the NV A and then the dead were moved into a separate bunker. He came back and jumped into my
hole again. Neither of us said anything. We just looked ahead. The crater we were in was deep so we didn't have too much digging to do. We settled in. There would be no counter-attack that day. We waited and night fell.
The platoon lay booby traps and scouts were sent out. Lt. Jones sent word back to Captain Vela of our position and our casualties. Captain told us to hold the hill and sent us six reinforcements and much needed ammo for the M-60
machine gun, four LAWS, and extra grenades for the M- 79.
He sent his apologies and said that was all he could spare. The rest of the company had flared out on both left and right sides of the hill. The going had been tough for them also. I learned that the NV A had been waiting to
launch a flanking movement and cut us off but had encountered Captain Vela's 1st and 3rd Platoon. The fighting had been fast and fierce. As I heard it later, the fighting was all hand to hand. Captain Vela had been in the thick of it. His fourth platoon came under attack from our right flank. The mortar men and the radio men found themselves beating the enemy with their bare hands and resorted to using entrenching tools to fight off
the enemy. One of the Marines that guarded Captain Vela was killed and Captain Vela killed five NVA. One he strangled to death. He had suffered a stab wound in his right arm and he continued to lead the men up the hill.
As night set in, the 1st Platoon and the 3rd Platoon joined us at the top of the hill and set in on our right and left flanks. We waited.
After checking and cleaning my equipment, reloading and making sure I had enough ammo I sat down to dinner. I grabbed one of my wash cloths and poured a little water out of my canteen on it and cleaned my face, hands and neck. Then I proceeded to dine on Spaghetti and meatballs,
fruit cocktail for my salad and a candy bar for desert. I drank some cold cocoa and took a short nap.
Lt. Jones kicked my boot and I jumped up fully awake.
"Relax, Gunny, its only me,' he said to me. "I just had a meeting with Captain Vela. Colonel Barrett is counting on Martinez to find the artillery so we can move, out in the morning. Orders are we stay here and wait for the counter-attack. So go back to sleep, I'll wake you in a couple of hours."
"Begging your pardon, Sir, I was asleep."
"I know but you always look so dammed clean and happy I couldn't resist kicking you awake. How the hell do you do it?"
"When I die, I want people to say two things about me; One, he was the cleanest mother I ever met in or out of combat; Second, He was dam good looking." I went back to sleep as Lt. Jones ate and watched
The night burst into light and fire. The counter attack began with B-40 rockets raining in on us! I woke with a start and was blinded by the flashes of light. Lt. Jones was looking over the edge of the foxhole, weapon
ready and once in a while he shifted his gaze to the left and right checking on his platoon. Sergeant Tafaoa joined us in the fox hole.
"There are several NVA coming up the hill but its slow going for them. Our booby traps slowed them down and our ambush made them pay a hard price for the real estate. Everyone is back on line and waiting," he told Lt. Jones.
"Tell everyone to keep their ass down and wait until the B-40's subside. Tell them not to fire until they can actually see the NVA. Call Captain Vela and have him light up the sky for us," he instructed Sgt. Tafaoa.
Sgt. Tafaoa nodded and left in the direction of the right flank. I rolled out towards the right flank and found the first fox hole. I gave them the instructions Lt. Jones had given and I rolled back to my position. The word would be passed on to everyone in the same manner.
The B-40's subsided and the NVA tripped a flare below us down hill. We could see them coming up. The Line opened fire and the NV A fired back. The attacking line didn't have a chance. The NVA fell to the ground dead or took cover. They were waiting for the flare to go out. Lt. Jones
yelled out,
"CEASE FIRE, CEASE FIRE!!!" and he waited sixty seconds and
signaled a Firing command by firing his weapon in the direction of the enemy. The line opened fire almost instantaneously.
Captain Vela's 81 mm mortars put up a flare and the line stopped shooting. We watched and waited. The NVA made a rush for the top of the hill and all hell broke loose. The NV A dropped several mortars on us and Captain Vela answered with our 81mm mortars. We were firing continuously. I could see the green tracers from the NVA weapons like a sheet of green coming towards us. Our tracers were red and covered them like a red blanket. The rounds kicked up dirt in front of our fox hole and
when the next flare went up the NV A were within grenade range. Lt. Jones and I lobbed several grenades and went back to our M16's. The next flare went up and the NV A were within ten yards from us. They just kept coming. Lt. Jones jumped up and rushed towards the NVA line and all of a sudden I was following him and the whole 2d platoon was rushing towards the attacking NVA. We shot at them at point blank range. The second line of attack started to turn and run back towards the bottom of the hill. We
continued in pursuit. Some NV A soldiers stopped to fight and we engaged them hand to hand but there was no stopping us. All three platoons had left their positions and we were chasing them in a running fight. It was crazy. I was shooting with my M16 one minute and reloading in
another. I slung my M16 over my shoulder and drew my forty-five as I ran. I was shooting and yelling An NVA
soldier turned and stood his ground and I knocked him down and shot him as he fell. Another hit me with his rifle but in the chest and I found myself on the ground. He tried to stab me and I rolled to my right and as his bayonet missed me. I lunged with my left hand and stabbed him in the
side with my survival knife. He toppled over and I fell on top of him and stabbed him two more times. I got up and was running again. I got to the bottom of the hill and there was no one else in front of me. I jumped into a hole and I found myself staring at a dead NV A. I rolled him out of the hole in front of me and waited as I caught my breath. A flare went up and I could see the whole platoon scattered at the bottom of the hill waiting. There was no more shooting where we were but we could hear the battle raging around us as the company fought the enemy. We radioed Captain Vela and he ordered the platoon to swing to our right flank and come to the support of the 1st Platoon. We moved our platoon in that direction and encountered several platoons of NVA trying to reinforce their forces against the 1st platoon. Not expecting our
flanking movement we caught them by surprise and inflicted heavy casualties on them. The NVA began to retreat and we linked up with the 1st Platoon and began advancing towards the enemy forcing their retreat.
At the bottom of the hill we set up our defenses and waited for orders or another counter attack. It was still dark but light had began to creep through the crack of dawn. I was tired. I felt like I had run a triathlon. I looked at my watch and was surprised that the battle had lasted two hours. There was still some sporadic firing, mostly M-l6 and grenades exploding. Slowly it began to die down as the sun began to rise. The smoke from gun Powder floated gently through the air. The smell of blood and gun powder has a smell all its own. It stirs you senses and gives you a feeling of powder as the adrenaline maintains its high levels in your body.
The fighting continued around us as we sat leisurely on top of the hill like tourists watching a parade. We were tired and once again grateful that we had survived. I broke out my pipe and smoked as others joined us and the
company regrouped around the top of the hill. By mid morning the NVA had been routed and some of the reinforcing units were moping up pockets of NVA resistance. I ate some cold "Cs" and drank half a canteen of water. I finished eating and I field cleaned my M16 reloaded some of the
magazines. checked my grenades and made sure everything was in working order in case we had to move quickly. I wet a wash cloth with the rest of the water in my canteen and cleaned up. I took off my socks and replaced them with fresh ones. I brushed off my fatigue jacket and my flack jacket. I got out of the bomb crater I was in and walked over to a Marine that had bean killed during our push to the top. 1 think they' called him "Jerry" a young freckled faced kid from Oregon, I believe. He didn't look a day over eighteen. I took off the grenades hanging on his flack jacket and several loaded magazines. I noticed he had a shrapnel hole in his chest, probably went through his heart. I made him comfortable and shoved his rifle into the ground barrel first and placed his helmet on top. Someone would come along and take care of him. He was going home.
Word came down we were stepping down and an ARVN (Army of the Republic of South Vietnam) Regiment would take our place. We were picked up by several choppers and taken to
Dona Ha for about four days of rest and relaxation. I was glad to hear that. I felt like I could sleep all four days.
At Dong Ha I took a hot shower got new clothes, had my M16 checked by an armourer to make sure it was in good working order. I went to my tent read some mail from my wife and wrote her a couple of letters. I missed her terribly but I couldn't delve in to that. I had to keep my mind on the business at hand. Survival depended on keeping focused. I was going home alive and kicking.
I went to the wash area and shaved and then
walked over to a tent where they sold beer and other items and an old Vietnamese man was cutting hair. I got a haircut and bought a six-pack.
I drank two beers and slept for ten hours. I was awakened by a Corporal who said they wanted me at the Third Division Headquarters.
“Good morning, Gunny, Colonel Scoggins greeted me. Sorry to get you up but we need you to get up to the DMZ. The Third Marines are having a tough time up and they have captured a couple of prisoners. I'd like you to go up there and talk to them. I want to know if the NVA is massing
at the DMZ and where their artillery is. We haven't heard their guns lately. We are a little concerned. There's been some heavy fighting and we have suffered high losses. We don't have a clear cut idea what its all about. Get your gear and get over to the flight line; there's a chopper waiting for you."
"Yes sir." I replied.
"One more thing Gunny, the Third Division is stepping down. When you get back you can come with us headed to Okinawa or you can transfer to Danang with the 1st Division. It will be your choice. Right now I want to make sure we can pull back safe1y with out a threat of a large scale attack.
Be careful and I'll see you aboard ship if you decide to come with us, otherwise, good luck." the Colonel nodded and turned to a map on the wall.
"Yes Sir." I acknowledged.
Without turning around the Colonel said.
"Thanks. Gunny."
I went straight to my tent picked up my equipment and some C rations. I picked up some grenades and more ammo and headed to the flight line. A black chopper was waiting there.
Chapter 12 – Back to the DMZ
"Are you the Gunny from G-2?" the crew chief asked.
"Yes. I was sent by Colonel Scoggins." I yelled back.
He nodded and motioned to get aboard. As I climbed aboard I had a bad feeling. I had been aboard black choppers before and it always meant that the danger scale was high and the pucker had increased to 1-0 from a scale of one to ten. Maybe this time it would be different. I was wrong.
The terrain around the DMZ is hilly: lots of brush and sandy areas. The hills are almost barren and there are a lot of dry dykes that once held rice patties between them. There is some foliage down towards the river that turns to the usual large trees and grassy areas as stall as a man. To the west from where we were, the terrain got steeper and mountains loomed above us. As we came in I saw yellow smoke and the chopper headed for the LZ carved out for it. I saw several rows of bodies and blackened areas where some equipment was still burning. There was another pile of bodies where the NVA dead had been stacked up. It didn't look good. I stepped up to the hatch and jumped out before the chopper hit the ground. I waved at the crew chief and headed for the radio man by the LZ.
"Gunny, the Captain is over there,” he yelled at me over the roar of the chopper as he pointed to his left.
I just nodded.
The CP was a makeshift foxhole on the side of a small knoll. The Captain looked at me and grinned.
"Been staying out of rat holes Gunny?"
I grinned back at hi m and asked,
"What the hell are you doing here. I thought you'd rotated by now?" I extended my hand and we shook hands.
"There you go thinking again but it’s a long story Gunny." he replied. “Went home and the wife had left me, took the kids and all the furniture. I sold the house and gave her the money. And here I am. All in a matter or four months. You wouldn’t believe the shit going on back home. Nobody cares about us over here. Protesting draft dodgers all over the place so I came back to those who love.”
He broke out a cigar and gave me one as we both lit up.
“How about you, Gunny? Heard you were in some shit with Golf, 2-9 and Captain Vela. Not that it surprises me none,” he said
"Yeah, just like back in the tunnel these fuckers can't kill me. By the way, that ex wife of you must be a smart woman leaving you and all. Guys like you and me can’t live right without being in the shit,” I told him as I slapped his shoulder and I looked him straight in the face. He knew how I felt and I wanted him to know that what ever his feelings we were back together depending on each like always. Men seldom talk about their sorrow and although we don’t usually admit it. Our life makes it difficult to raise a family and keep it together. We are by profession warriors and there isn’t much time for anything else.
“By the way, I told him, everything is pretty much the same and Captain Vela is alright.”
"Yeah. He is a tough son-of-bitch,” he agreed with me as he went on.
“Let me tell you what we have here and you can go to work. I got four NVA soldiers over by the 3rd Platoon. Last night we got hit hard. 1st and 3rd Battalions took the brunt of it. We lost 93 Marines dead and I can't tell you how many wounded cause I honestly don't know, but I heard it was a whole sea bag full. I guess you have your requirements from Colonel Scoggins but I want to know what this little bastards have planned for us. We won't be getting any reinforcements and we have been told to hold at all costs."
"You got it, I assured him, and by the way this cigar tastes like shit." I grinned at him as I headed towards the 3rd Platoon area. I noticed a Lance Corporal tagging along.
"Who are you?" I asked him as we walked towards the 3rd Platoon.
"I'm Larson. Captain says I have to stay with you and make sure you're alright." he told me.
"Okay. Just watch my back and don't get in the way," I told him.
The prisoners had been separated, blindfolded and their hands tied behind their backs. They were NVA dressed in olive green uniforms, tennis shoes, and pith helmets. They looked well fed and very young.
“Has anyone talked to them?” I asked.
Larson answered, “No Sir! Captain Williams specifically said we were to wait for you.”
I nodded realizing that Capt. Williams knew how I worked and that’s why the prisoners had been prepared before my arriving.
I looked them over and chose the youngest one and took him to one side behind a knoll away from the others view and hearing. I untied his hands, removed the blind fold and offered him some water.
“Do you smoke?” I asked him as I offered him a cigarette. He nodded his head and too the Pal Mall cigarette I offered him. His eyes registered surprise to hear me speaking Vietnamese in the Hanoi dialogue. I lit his cigarette and waited while he took a long drag. Then I began.
“What is your name?”
“Nguyen Bao Minh,” he replied.
“How long have you been in the Army?”
“One year and three months,” he replied.
“How long have you been in South Vietnam?” I asked.
“We arrived at the Ben Hai river about three weeks ago and we have been waiting for orders to continue into South Vietnam. Last night we were probing the defenses when I got captured,” he explained.
And so it went, from names, to units, to positions, weapons, contingency plans etc.. It was and tedious. Questions were re asked and asked again. I was lucky because these prisoners had not been completely trained in misinformation or counter interrogation techniques. Their superiors must have been confident that the way was paved all the way to Saigon. At any cost we were impeding their progress and as long as Captain Williams was in charge we would prevent them from across the Ben Hai river. Of that I was sure.
After I finished I briefed Captain Williams and I wrote an intelligence report and sent if forward along with the prisoners. Within the half hour a black chopper showed up and we were relived of the prisoners and the intelligence report went forward to Division Headquarters.
“Well, I guess it’s the same old shit. We are facing a Battalion of NVA with one company and it is Hotel Company full of tough sons-of-bitches so we shouldn’t have any problems,” I said laughingly to Captain Williams. He just grinned as usual.
“Lets get down to business and see how we are going to handle this other than just sitting here and waiting for them to come across and wax our ass,” he told me in response.
We were facing the 324-2b Division. My sources the PWs reported that only one battalion of the division had remained at the DMZ and the other units were on the Ho Chi Min Trail poised to enter South Vietnam when ordered. The expected the orders to come very soon. The mission of their Battalion was to harass the 3rd Marine forces across from them at the DMZ. They didn’t know how many units we were or what weapons were in our support, hence the patrols. There had been several unsuccessful attacks but our strength had so far been undetermined by the enemy. I gave Captain Williams the position of the NVA Battalion and the support weapons. There were at least four 75mm recoilless rifles and a large supple of B-40 rockets. Their forces numbered around 500 well armed and equipped NVA soldiers minus the ones we had already killed. By our count we had at lest 60 bodies and a lot of blood trails. We had roughly l30 Marines plus a unit of 88mm mortars on loan from Division and we were expecting a platoon of tanks, which consist of three tanks, to reinforce our position. The tanks were in route and would arrive today late afternoon.
Captain Williams ordered more booby traps set including flares and clamor mines. He order a group of scouts to reconnoiter the enemy lines and a sniper team to interdict any targets of opportunity. Extra ammunition and grenades were passed out and we all dug in for the night.
It was a bright night so we didn’t expect any attacks except for their patrols probing and testing our lines. Captain Williams ordered me to dig a foxhole close to him so he could call on me any time. This meant I wouldn’t occupy a post on the line.
I had just settled down to eat a can of spaghetti and meatballs when two guys jumped into my foxhole. I reacted quickly and had my survival knife at the throat of one of them and he had a bayonet at my throat.
“Dammed, you are getting good Gunny,” I heard a familiar voice.
“You mother fuckers just ruined my dinner!” I said as I stared at Scott and Martinez.
We all started laughing and I looked at them and Martinez said,
“We heard at Division you came up here and decided to join you. Ryan and Charlie Brown couldn’t make it they are still at the Med and shipping out to the Hospital ship.”
“I am sure glad to see you!” I replied and almost cried. I let out a deep breath and started looking for my dinner which was all over the ground. I didn’t want them to see my face. They felt the same way and looked away like they were looking for the enemy out front.
After an awkward moment we got settled in and Martinez gave me my favorite C ration, ham and eggs and ham slices. I could have kissed him. Scott rustled up some coffee and we settled down to a desert of cinnamon rolls and peanut butter and jelly on John Wayne cookies. The coffee tasted good and warmed our insides.
I briefed both of them and we settled down for the night and we divided sleep and watch hours.
It was a sleepless night. The North Vietnamese Army Regulars probed our lines all night and we all waited anxiously for the main attack that never came. The line had suffered several casualties. Three Marines had been wounded; two from sniper fire and one from shrapnel from an exploding grenade. Early dawn seemed to take forever but as usual, the sun began to peek out over the hills and we felt reassured from its warmth and light.
I had a breakfast of ham and eggs and a cinnamon roll. I warmed a cup of coffee over a sterno can and contemplated our good fortune. We had survived another night. Scott and Martinez ate their breakfast and we talked about the guys who had been wounded on the line. Nothing serious but a purple heart, nonetheless and a free trip home.
Just then a runner came up and told me that Captain Williams wanted to see me. I grabbed my gear and headed for the makeshift Command Post. When I got there I noticed two other Lieutenants at the Command Post. Captain Williams introduced me and I learned they were Lt. Hughes and Lt. Pappas. Both were graduates from The Marine Officers Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia and had been in country all of three weeks. Lt. Hughes’s father had been in the Navy and he hailed from Kentucky. Lt. Pappas was from Baltimore, Maryland and he was the first of his family to enter the service. His family owned an architect firm in Baltimore but he opted for the military. I looked at them and wondered if they really knew what we were up against. They were soon to find out.
I briefed them on what I had gotten from the PWs the day before and Captain Williams brought us up to date on what had occurred last night. Other than the wounded Marines there was nothing new. Our scouts had found numerous blood trails away from detonated claymore mines but nothing to indicate how many NVA soldiers had probed the lines night before.
Captain Williams outlined the tactics and issued instructions for more ammunition, grenades and extra LAWs and M79 Grenade Launchers and mortar rounds. The first Platoon would be the base platoon reinforced by the 81mm mortar squad and two M-60 Machine Guns. Two tanks had arrived at night and would reinforce our lines as needed. The tanks were commanded by Lt. Harrison, a graduate of the Naval Academy. He spoke Thai and Laotian and had been a language scholar at the Academy. Lt. Harrison had been in country 12 months and was scheduled to go back with the Third Marine Division. Our biggest weapons were the air support from the Air Force in Danang and Gunship Helicopters still on station at Quang Tri Combat Base. It didn’t look too bad and we might all be going home in one piece if the NVA lost the stomach for a fight. In my mind I knew there wasn’t a chance of that happening. The 324-2B Division had suffered a loss of face when we whipped them before and they were looking to redeem themselves. We had already been chosen as their target for this occasion.
Captain Williams had called Division and a parade of re-supply Choppers, came in unloading our supplies and letters from home. I was one of the lucky ones. My mail had caught with me and my wonderful wife had sent me a “care package”. It contained salami, cheeses, canned Mexican food and a fruitcake loaded with rum. I passed the goodies around to Martinez and Scott and sent some of the rum cake with my compliments to Captain Williams. He sent me back a cigar. After a cup of coffee I lit my cigar and settled down to read my wife’s letters and enjoy the perfume smell on the envelopes. I was homesick for a minute and wished I was home but I soon settled back into the business at hand promised my self to write to her tomorrow.
Scot said, “Can I smell the envelopes, Gunny?”
I grinned and said, “Of course as long as you promise me you will go see her if I don’t make it back.”
Martinez said, “Gunny can I go visit your sister in law when Scott goes to see your wife?”
I grinned and said, “Sure provided I can have your knifes if you don’t make it back.”
They both said, “Done Deal!”
We each settled back engrossed in our own thoughts as we learned from the scuttlebutt (rumors) that the Marine Corps was sending out some steaks for dinner. Sure enough, the steaks and two cooks arrived late in the afternoon, served our steaks and then quickly loaded up their gear and returned to Division. Best steaks I have tasted.
“Don’t you wonder why they are feeding us steaks, Gunny?” Scott queried.
“Actually, no Scott. I figured if the Marine Corps wants to spend their money foolishly, who am I to stop them,” I replied.
“What do you mean by that, Gunny?” Martinez wanted to know.
“Well hell, Martinez, I fight for C rations, they don’t have to feed me steak,” I told him.
“You and Scott have a warped sense of humor, you know that?” He grumbled as we all three snickered.
The night began as usual with the night probes and went on all night but right around first light we were hit by a wave of NVA charging up to our positions. We weren’t caught by surprise just kind of startled.
All hell broke loose and next thing we know we were in a hot firefight. Rocket Propelled Grenades exploding everywhere and our M-60s chattering right back as we all concentrated our fire at the oncoming enemy. It looked like it was going to be close. I pulled my bayonet from my belt as did Martinez and Scott. We had been there before and we readied ourselves. There was a wave of enemy soldiers coming at our positions and we fired at point blank range. The enemy fell in front of us one after the other and they just kept coming. Our M79 grenade launchers broke the center of the attack and our tanks fired at the retreating enemy and the positions where RPGs(rocket propelled grenades) and machineguns were located. It seemed like the attack had only lasted a couple of minutes but in actuality it had lasted forty-five minutes.
The sun came out uninterrupted as usual and we could see the stacks of enemy dead in front of us. I heard shouts of “corpsman” and the platoon sergeants yelling out commands as everyone waited.
Silence was everywhere, and jour adrenalin was fueled by the smell of burning powder and a sickly smell of blood and humans dying; theirs and ours. I suddenly noticed that I was soaked with perspiration and my hands were shaking. I looked over at Martinez and he had a shit eating grin on his face. I guess I did too. Scott was his usual self. Not a sign of stress on his face but I noticed a pale look around his eyes as I heard him exhale loudly.
“That’s a hellu'va way to wake up in the morning,” said and grinned at me and Martinez.
We all three laughed for a minute and then we were back again looking for any sign of a regrouping enemy.
The enemy had suffered a total of sixty-five dead and we had not found any wounded. I had never seen them attack at this time of the day. Usually, they came at us early evening or after midnight but never a pre-dawn attack. I was out of my foxhole in a flash. I must have startled Martinez and Scott because they swung their weapons around like they were expecting the enemy to come from my direction.
I rushed to the CP and asked Captain Williams to have the bodies checked and see if any one was left alive. I explained to him after he told his runners to spread the word, that it was unusual for them to come at us at this time of the day and I wanted to find out what they were planning. He agreed and we waited. We lucked out!!
The second platoon brought an NVA soldier who had been grazed on the head by a round and he had been left for dead. I began my interrogation there and then. I began by having the corpsman treat his wounds and gave him a cigarette and some coffee. He seemed at ease and we began to talk. He had been in the army three months and had been conscripted by the North Vietnamese Army. He was a rice farmer by trade and wanted to go home most of all. I told him that he would be sent to another camp where he would be considered repatriation and that seemed to make him happy. As I questioned him I found out that the Commander told them we were the last of the enemy in Vietnam and that the South Vietnamese people were waiting with open arms and their liberation. The attack this morning was to prove to the American Marines that they were brave and courageous soldiers and that towards the evening, before night fall an all out attack would be launched to dislodges from our positions and push us back into the sea. The reason they would launch the attack then was because this would limit our use of the Gun Ships and air strikes. The NVA had moved in three artillery pieces and would began shelling just before the attack. I back tracked the coordinates and plotted the positions. Captain Williams called in the coordinates to our Artillery at Dong Ha with orders not to fire until they received his orders. The radar would track the rounds and began fire when ordered by Captain Williams. It was going to be a long wait. Our day was spent in preparation and reinforcing our foxholes with sand bags. We sent out our regular patrols and as they came back they set booby traps, claymores and flares. We once again settled into the routine of preparation and fortification.
It was a risky business but the Captain had his orders and we fought according to his strategy and tactics. Once it was ordered all we did was follow. Everyone here was battle tested. The lieutenants had been test last night and had showed their metal. Today you could see the battle strain in their faces, known as the 1000 yard stare. They showed confidence and their actions earned them respect from the Marines they would command tonight and thrust them into battle. They would learn about death and heroism. They would see actions performed above and beyond the human limits of men. If I had learned anything in Vietnam it would be the courage, honor and fidelity of Marines in battle. I felt a lump in my throat when I thought about it. Once a Marine you would always be a Marine in or out of the service.
The sun watched over us as we settled into our late day routines of washing shaving, reading letters and eating hot meals heated over a sterno can. I drank a hot canteen of coffee mixed with chocolate powder and two packs of sugar. I leaned back in my foxhole savoring the last of the cigar I had received from Captain Williams. I loved it here. It was quiet, serene and yet you knew in the back of your mind that a battle could erupt any minute.
The sun began to set and everyone on the line began to get that anxious feeling, the body preparing for the rush of adrenalin at the first shot or explosion. It came early. A claymore detonated down below and the enemy came at us at a full charge. It was almost surreal as you watched them dressed in green uniforms wearing tennis shoes and pith helmets. The kind explorers used to wear in the tropics, but there was no mistaken their intention; they came to kill or be killed. Their rifles firing and their bayonets glistened in the golden glow of the sun. We dug in and began to fire back at them. Their first line of assault was mowed down as bodies fell to the ground, dead or dying from the heavy onslaught of our weapons. They kept coming, gaining a few more yards each time. The barrel on my M-16 rifle was getting hot. I fired my .45 handgun and quickly loaded a new magazine in the M-16. It was only seconds but enough to give the barrel a respite. I continued fighting noticing that Martinez and Scott had joined me and were firing their weapons. The three of us threw grenades as the line got closer and more of the went down as we grabbed our rifles once again. This time we fixed our bayonets almost simultaneously. It was instinct, reflex or merely the brain acting in self-defense. We three had been there before and knew what was coming. The lines closed and we fired point blank as we they fell in front of us. Some began to get through and we found ourselves in death struggles. Neither one being able to help the other as we each wrestled with our enemy. My foe had me by the throat and I was choking as I grasped his rifle with my left hand to avoid the bayonet from tearing into my side. I chopped his left arm at the elbow and heard the crack of bone and cartilage and his grasped on my throat weakened enough for me to slap his arm away and drew my survival knife and slashed his stomach and cutting up his sternum. He dropped at my feet and another NVA soldier swung his rifle in a butt stroke but only managed to glance off my helmet. I was of balance as and he had me on the ground choking me with his rifle and I felt him sag against me. I saw Martinez’s smiling face as he turned to engage another NVA soldier who was in our foxhole. Martinez had killed five NVA soldier with his knife and hands and yet managed to save my life. Scott was taking no chances, he killed eight soldiers with his .45 automatic and reloaded another clip into his .45. I heard shrill whistles and the enemy was retreating. Martinez looked at me and asked,
“Are you alright, Gunny?”
I nodded and said, ”Thanks!”
“Don’t mention it. He had you pretty good with his rifle and figured you wouldn’t mind if I helped you,” he replied grinning.
I looked at Scott and asked, “you alright?”
He said, ”Yep”, as he continued to look straight ahead and reloaded several magazines of M-16 ammunition. I have never seen a man look so cool under fire.
Without turning his head he said, “Martinez, next time you get in my way I’m going to shoot you instead of the little guys.”
I gave Martinez a questioning look and Martinez said, “He is pissed because I took out a guy that was coming at him from the left here.”
“It is not just taking him, it’s the way you took him you mother fucker. I thought you were trying to stab me, you bastard!” Scott yelled at him.
Martinez having seen the NVA coming at Scott had body blocked him as he stabbed him in the throat. Scott had been startled because he had not seen the NVA coming from his left. He had fired a shot and hit the NVA in the heart but narrowly missing Martinez.
Martinez looked at me and said, ”Just nerves, just nerves.”
“SHUT UP ASSHOLE, just shut the fuck up!!” Scott yelled at him again without looking up. When he did he had a slight grin on his face. Everything was well and we continued getting ready for the second attack. My head still hurt from the butt stroke but I figured it would wear out before they attacked.
The NVA units began firing mortars at us and their artillery opened up. Within seconds their guns were silenced by our return fire. Unfortunately it the mortars and artillery fire took out seven Marines. Two were dead and five were severely wounded. Our MedEvac choppers were on their way. We had not yet called in our gun ships or air-strikes. Captain Williams was holding back hoping the NVA would commit their reserves.
The smell of powder and blood was sickening but intoxicating. Adrenalin levels were soaring and it excited us. We could see it in each other’s faces. Our eyes were wide open, like dark pools with pupils like pin points of light. We no longer got sick to our stomach from the excess adrenalin as we did when we first tasted battle. In fact we now lived for this high.
Without even being aware of it, Martinez, Scott and I had stacked the NVA bodies in front of our foxhole as a barricade and added protection. We performed the task without feeling one or the other. We respected their bravery and their effort but at the same time our well to survive was stronger than any other feeling we may have had at the moment. We waited for the second attack. It was not long in coming.
We heard the shrill whistles which was their signal to attack. As we waited for the enemy to get closer we felt the snap of the rounds as they passed overhead or to our side. A rifle shot is travels faster or as fast as the speed of sound. The first sound you hear is like the snap of your fingers followed by the retort of the explosion of the shell as it leaves the barrel. You never hear the one that has your name on it.
Their mortars opened up on us and several fell in front of our fox hole showering us with dirt, rocks and small branches of from the shrubs around us. We waited for the command to fire. The mortar rounds fell with more frequency and closer to us and behind us. Our 81mm mortar platoon opened up and silenced the NVA mortars for the time being.
“Fire!” “Fire!”, came the command and we opened up with our M-16 rifles. I noticed Scott and Martinez picking their targets without wasting ammunition and I followed suit. In the heat of battle you tend to use automatic fire which expands more rounds and there fore you fun out of ammunition in a hurry. We continued picking targets until the wave of enemy soldiers had gained ground and our too close. We began firing in an automatic mode shooting them at point blank.
I don’t what if anything triggered our actions at the precise moment. The three of us came out of our fox hole and engaged the enemy with our bayonet fixed rifles. We screamed at the enemy as we charged. All you could hear the was our screams of anger and the clacking of steel and the cries of the wounded or dying enemy. The line of attackers broke in front of us and pursued them like madman down the hill shooting and stabbing and screaming with anger. Four of the enemy turned determined to make a fight of it. I was felled by a butt stroke to my chest and found myself on the ground fighting for my life as the enemy soldier tried to stab me with his bayonet. I parried the stabbing stroke and stuck stabbed him in the leg. He fell to his side and I was upon him with my survival knife just under his rib cage and felt the bone give as I pulled up on the knife. His body went slack and I rolled off of him and picked up my rifle. It took me a few seconds before I realized the shooting had stopped and the enemy had retreated. Martinez was lying down in a prone position still picking his target and Scott was in a kneeling position but not firing his weapon.
“You okay?”, I yelled at him.
“He looked over grinned and nodded his head.
“Martinez, we have to get back!” I yelled and we all three made our way back to our fox hole quickly. We had only traveled one hundred feet from our fox hole. I thought it was a mile.
WE jumped back into our foxholes and faced the enemy but there were none in front of us at the moment.
“What the fuck are you guys doing?” Lt. Pappas was yelling at us. “Are you fucking crazy!!!”
Martinez looked up at him and said, “Yes Sir.”
Lt. Pappas just stared open mouthed. We all started laughing hysterically and Pappas eased up and shook his head.
“Stay in your holes, my platoon almost greased your ass.”
We continued to laugh and work at reloading our magazines and cleaning our bayonets and rifles.
I noticed Martinez was bleeding from his right arm. I grabbed his arm and he pulled back.
“God dam it. That son of a bitch got me in the arm,” he said.
I looked at it and found it was a slashing wound and had not gone deep into his arm. He didn’t even know he was wounded. I spread some disinfectant powder and wrapped it with a compressed bandage.
“You know the guy was a knife fighter like me. He had some pretty good moves but he never met someone like me,” Martinez told us.
“You asshole, you love this shit don’t you,” Scott declared.
“Of course, don’t you?” Martinez asked him.
“No, I just try to survive. I want to go home soon.” Scott told him.
“What about you Gunny?” Martinez asked me.
I couldn’t believe we were having this conversation in the middle of a firefight.
“I don’t rightly know. I can’t say I feel bad about it. It’s just one of those situations. I’m here for the same reason they are, Truth Justice and the American Way. They are here because some one told them to get down here and kick our ass.
“Pretty much the way I feel,” Martinez affirmed.
Scott looked him, grinned and said, “You asshole.”
I guess we were all here for the same reason. No one spoke after that and we waited once again.
The enemy came at us again and this time it was much heavier than before. While we had been repelling the frontal assaults the enemy had run a double envelopment on us. We were now facing assaults from the front and both right and left flanks. The second and third platoon were bearing the brunt of the attacks on our flanks and the first platoon held its own against the frontal attack.
Captain Williams had called in air support and our gun ships joined the fray. They fired their rockets and staffed the enemy lines with their mini-guns. The made a last pass and dropped white phosphorus shells on them I pitied the poor bastards but it was us or them. We were almost surrounded and the enemy was a tough foe. The 324_B Division NVA unit was trying to redeem their previous loss to us. We were determined to hold our ground.
Our Tank unit began firing into the enemy lines and the enemy fired Rocket Propelled Grenades(RPG) at them. Aimed correctly the RPG could disable a tank not to mention setting it on fire. The lead tank was leading the tank attack when it was hit with two RPGs. Lt Harrison opened the turret of the tank and was helping his men out when an RPG round hit the side of his tank. Lt Harrison collapsed over the opening and one of his men pulled him off the tank. Lt Harrison had died instantly. A small piece of shrapnel had hit him just under his arm as he held up the hatch to the tank. The shrapnel piece was no bigger than a dime but it had gone through his body and ripped his heart. It was a terrible loss.
I had met Lt Harrison a few months back and had argued the pros an cons of equal opportunity in America. He was an ardent believer that if one worked hard and was the best in our fields nothing could prevent that person from success. I of course had argued that because all of us were dependent on our superiors to recognize our achievements and willingness to reward us, not all of us would have equal opportunity for success. It had been a long night arguing about prejudices and their effect on equal opportunity. We had become fast friends. We talked about our wives and our plans to return to them. Lt Harrison had missed his rotation date by four days.
The enemy broke off the attack and we prepared once again for the attacks to follow. We had so far lost forty percent of our forces and the MedEvacs kept coming for our dead and wounded. There would be no replacements. The Third Division was moving out and we would be the last to leave in four days. The Third Army Air Cavalry was poised and itching to join us in our fight. The Marines had decided we would finish it ourselves.
The death of Lt Harrison weighed heavy on my mind. I had a feeling of foreboding. For the first time in my life I was not sure I was going to survive.
We repelled the enemy three more times that night. Point blank fire, and hand to hand combat. Our losses mounted and the enemy lost twenty to one that night. In the early light of the morning, Fighter Bombers from Da Nang struck at the enemy and broke their back. There would be no fighting today.
During the day we buried the enemy in mass graves, marking them for the NVA so they could recover their dead. We reinforced our positions and waited. In two days this would be an insignificant page in history except to those of us that had been there and to those who lost their loved ones during this battle in the Northern I Corps, South Vietnam.

Chapter 13-Back to Danang
Martinez and Scott rotated with the rest of the Third Marine Division units. Captain Williams and I reported to the 1st Marine Headquarters in Danang. Captain Williams was assigned to the 26th Marines Expeditionary Force. They were very lucky to get him. We said our farewells at the Danang military airport before we went our different ways. Capt Williams looked ten years older. I suppose I did too but did not know it. We each smoked a cigar and drank a cold beer. I don’t remember what we talked about except we hoped to see each other again soon. I forgot to ask him where he got his cigars. I wanted to avoid that place at all costs. He smoked the most rotten cigars I have ever had. I was going to miss those cigars and his company.
I went to the First Marine Division, First Marine Regiment. I found myself in a different type of Vietnam. Where I had come to know mountains and triple canopy jungles, I was now thrust into rice paddies, tall flat grasses and little guys in black pajamas. It was different here. I found myself in the midst of a bustling Danang City with people everywhere. When we left our area we actually went to large villages full of civilians and motorized scooters. There were vendors hawking their wares every step of the way selling anything from food to military gear, souvenirs, radios, tape recorders, cameras and footwear. It was crazy.
Within five to ten miles out of the area we were searching for the enemy and engaged in firefights and the next minute we were back in hard wood barracks getting ready to eat at the Non Commissioned Officer’s Club. We could have anything from hamburgers to steaks and any type of seafood one could imagine. There was a USO club close by and China Beach full of nurses and civilian workers. It was almost like being home. There was a big Air Force Post Exchange (PX). A PX in the military is like a large once stop store with anything from snacks to large refrigerators, freezers to camping gear. The PX has clothes, bedding, silverware, dishes, candy, etc. Just like a large department store in the US. I noticed a large number of service men buying house wares, food, toys, women and children clothes. I asked my friend Mitch why the servicemen were buying all these items when we were fighting a war and there was no need for those items. Mitch told me it was for their, Vietnamese and American girl friends. Many of them had new families in country and others had girl friends who were assigned to the Red Cross, Civilian Employees, and the like. The ones buying expensive jewelry were buying it for the nurses, civilian and military. I shook my head in wonderment end realized how weird this war was. I bought some snacks and we left.
Mitch and I had met when during a tour of assignment at Quantico, Virginia. He was a French linguist while I was a Spanish linguist at the time. We had become fast friends and had kept in touch most of the time. I found him at Danang where he was assigned to the 1st Marine Division. He was assigned to the 1st Marine Regiment. Mitch had seen combat at Khe Sanh during the siege and later in the Que Song Valley . He had participated in operations in and around Danang, at Marble Mountain, Chu Lai and other no name places. I trusted him and respect his experience as a combat Marine. It was from him that I learned more about the area and the type of enemy I would have to deal with. For the next few days I would spend time with him drinking a few beers and eating steaks cooked on the grill. I felt good and was looking forward to the end of my tour. I began thinking about my wife more and these days. The letters were good but I yearned to hold her in my arms and tell her how much I loved her.
While driving around in Mitch’s jeep, we happened to be at the Danang airfield when a Huey Helicopter came in. The chopper was in flames and spewing black smoke. Neither, Mitch or I, were on the tarmac and could only watch in anxious expectation as the scene unfolded in front of us.
When we got to the edge of the tarmac a line of MP’s was holding everyone back. We stood there helpless, unable to do anything. I saw other Marines running towards the downed helicopter helping wounded Marines off of it and running with them towards the bunkers that shielded them from any explosion should it occur. There they were met by medical personnel and taking over the care of the wounded.
I noticed a Marine pulling the hatches to the helicopter cockpit open. I recognized him immediately. He was Gunnery Sergeant Bill Darby Williams. His father had been in WWII with Darby’s Rangers and his father had named him after then Colonel Darby, the leader and founder of the famous Ranger battalion. Darby pulled the pilot’s hatch open and pulled him out as he threw him over his shoulder and ran towards the line of bunkers. As he dropped the pilot into the hands of the medical personnel someone yelled,
“The co-pilot is still there!!!”
Some else yelled , “Its going to blow!”
Darby was un-deterred. With purpose and speed he didn’t hesitate as he ran towards the now covered with flames chopper as it spewed black smoke into the air and the eyes of the rescuers. Darby was alone and standing there as the flames and smoke whipped around him and he pulled at the hatch three times before it gave. He reached inside and pulled the co-pilot out and ran at neck break speed towards the bunkers. The helicopter blew up as Darby and his human load reached the bunkers, throwing him thru the opening. The smoke cleared and the medical personnel reached down and relieved Darby of his precious cargo. Darby rose slowly and dusted himself with a big shit eating grin on his face. Everyone started cheering and Darby kept on grinning, his face covered with smoke and his hair partially burned. I walked over to him and I said,
“Remember me?”
Darby nodded, still unable to speak. I reached over and hugged him as others slapped his back. Everyone started talking at once and each one recounting the their version of what had just happened.
Bill Darby and I had met at language school in Virginia. We had become close friend as most Marines tend to do when they meet someone they like. He had told me about his father and his family and I told him about mine. His wife was pregnant at the time and he was worried he would be shipped out before the baby came. The Marine Corps had given him an extension on his orders and he was there to greet his daughter into the world. He had arrived in Vietnam after I did and we had lost touch of one another. I was glad to see he was okay and waiting like me to return to the land of the big PXs (Post Exchange). He was awarded a Silver Star for his heroism that day. I asked him why he went back for the co-pilot knowing the chopper was about to explode.
He said, “I couldn’t leave him behind.”
We both knew what he meant and no other explanation was needed. If I had seen one act of heroism during this war, I had seen a thousand. Brave men helping each other and doing what they believed was right. I felt very proud at that moment.

My rest and rehabilitation came to an end the next day when I was called in to report to the Commanding Officer of the First Marine Regiment. When the Marines were first assigned to the war in Vietnam we were an Expeditionary Force and later in May of 1965 we were designated as the III Marine Amphibious Force (3rd MAF). Our area of operations (AO) was Danang, Phu Bai , and Chu Lai.
My rest and rehabilitation came to an end the next day when I was called in to report to the Commanding Officer of the First Marine Regiment. When the Marines were first assigned to the war in Vietnam we were an Expeditionary Force and later in May of 1965 we were designated as the III Marine Amphibious Force (3rd MAF). Our area of operations (AO) was Danang, Phu Bai , Chu Lai, parts south and west from Danang. These areas had been the sites of hard fighting by the First Marine Division units, like the 1st Marine Regiment, the 26th Marines, the 5th Marines and the 7th Marines. From the time the Marine Units entered the war in 1964 it had fought units from the Viet Gong and later the NVA. Off Duty Marines had been killed in terrorist attacks and had dealt with the Tet offensives which unknown to most people really occurred every year. In one of the first actions seen by the Marines at Danang came in August of 1965 when the Marine Units a Danang engaged the 1st Viet Cong Division during operation Starlight near the base at Chu Lai. Fifty five hundred U. S. Marines engaged the tenacious Viet Cong Guerillas and repelled attach after attack.
In October 1965, Viet Cong guerillas assaulted Marines unit 10 miles from Danang. The Marines repelled wave after wave of Viet Cong. A map of the Marine positions was found a map on a thirteen-year old boy who had been selling cold drinks to the Marines the day before the attack. Guerillas had attacked the Marine airbase at the base of Marble Mountain destroying numerous aircraft. The guerilla units had rowed up the Danang River and dug in close to the runway and firing mortars to cover a wave of guerillas who threw explosives into the parked aircraft. And so it had been for the Marines at Danang. It was no different today. What they called routine was routine to them but not to me. I knew there was nothing routine about fighting in Vietnam.
The Marines of the 1sr Marine Division maintained an observation post on top of Marble Mountain. It commanded a view of Danang and the surrounding area including the Que Song Valley. It been the site of fierce battles against Viet Cong guerillas. The actions of the Marines stretched from Tam Ky to Chulai and Hue and points west into the Laotian border. The Viet Cong guerillas attacked the air base at Marble Mountain and Danang. In the early days of the war in 1965 the 1st Marine Division Marines had repelled human waves of Viet Cong guerillas determined to push them out of Danang, Marble Mountain and Que Song Valley. Not only were the Marines still here but the area of operations had extended all the way to the DMZ. Marines are Marines and there was no difference in their determination, courage, honor and fidelity. We had sworn to defend the United States of America from all enemies, foreign or domestic. I knew that we would fight together and side by side and I would not be left behind.
I hated the terrain here. It was bare fields, areas covered with tall grasses and intermingled with wet rice paddies and sparse tree lines that concealed the enemy well. Most of all these little guys were not North Vietnamese Regulars like I had been used to. They were trained as soldiers and used weapons, explosives, ambushes and assaults etc.. These were guerilla fighters. They used everything and any thing to fight with. The booby traps consisted of tiger pits where a man could fall into a four – five foot pit only to be impaled by large punji sticks covered with human feces. If the wounds didn’t kill you the infection surely would. Punji traps were all over the place where a soldier could step into a soft spot only to have his foot puncture through the boot and all with sharp bamboo sticks also covered with human feces and garlic. The garlic and the feces created a bad infection and almost unbearable pain. If that wasn’t enough the area was covered with anti personnel mines which would kill you if you stepped on them. I f they were attached to a spring loaded board would launch a small grenade into the air about waist high upon detonation would tear you in half or at the very least blow your privates away. It was not a happy place. Being a newly wed, one year before leaving for the “Nam,” I did not relish the idea of having my balls blown off.
There was also the balls of mud rigged to drop on top of you. These were tripped when you tripped a thin wire, rope, string that released a big ball of mud which contained pointed punji stakes that would drive thru your head and your body exploding at the same time driving the sharp stakes through the bodies of the Marines around you. The Viet Cong used anything and everything we discarded from beer cans to empty shells. When none of this was available they came up with their own devices that would kill or maim those who hunted him. They used anything and everything to produce casualties. I was not looking forward to engaging this type of enemy.
I received orders to go out with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines. It was a Search and Destroy operation. Check out the area around the Using Mountains, make sure there are no Viet Cong units, or staging areas. Routine as the Marines told me. The Company Commander, Captain Gonzales was an old salt. This was his second tour and both tours had been in this area. I trusted him the minute I met him.
“Hello, Gunny, what can we do for you?” he asked me as we shook hands.
“Well, Sir, first off if we find any enemy out here, you think your men can keep one of them alive so I can talk to him and find out what they are up to.?” I asked him.
“That’s a tall order, Gunny, we tend to shoot first and ask questions later when someone is shooting at us. I’ll pass on the word and maybe we will get lucky,” he replied.
“Where do you want me, Sir?” I asked him.
“Well you can stay with me or find yourself a spot with any of the platoons, take your choice,” he told me.
Not wanting to sound like a newbie, I told him I would go up to the point platoon and stay with them until we made contact. That way I would be close at hand to interrogate anyone we captured, wounded etc..
I went up ahead and talked to Lt. Wesley. I introduced myself and asked his permission to join his platoon and told him what my orders were. He assigned to the 1st Platoon with him and we got ready to move out.
I noticed everyone was giving me the eye as I prepared my weapons, ammunition, and checked my equipment. As an extra touch I sharpened my K-Bar and made sure my bayonet fit without any hang ups. I then checked my food and water ration and “silenced” my gear with masking tape. When I looked up I saw a few grinning faces. They knew I’d been there before and I gained a little respect just then.
Helicopters picked us up and we headed out towards the Que Song mountain range. I could see from my position on in the helicopter, numerous Vietnamese at work in the rice fields, others traveling on the road carrying stuff to market and yet others just traveling like they were on holiday. Here we were on our way to fight and kill or be killed and below us the world continued as usual. I just shook my head in wonderment.
It wasn’t long before we were dropped off in the middle of a grass field and we all headed out to our different positions. Lt. Wesley was a veteran and I noticed he knew what was expected of him. His men seemed to read him well and took their positions without him having to utter a word. Every one in place we moved out as the other platoons and their squads fell in behind us. I noticed we were being supported by an 81.mm squad giving me an added comfort. In a pinch, they would be invaluable.
It was hot and humid. Bugs of all kinds fed on us and buzzed around as we began to sweat. We made our way through the tall grass and crossed over several paddies and dykes. Some of the fields were worked by Vietnamese farmers who didn’t bother to look up. They continued to work at their task of gathering their crop. We in turn eyed them cautiously but stayed cleared of them.
This was new terrain to me so I walked carefully making sure I searched for the enemy around me. Noting unusual happened and we settled down to eat for a minute while we checked our gear and rested. I had just finished eating and checking my gear when we heard the unmistakable sound of the Russian AK-47. Everyone reacted at once and we assumed a defensive position. Within seconds we heard the reply of M-16 rifles and then the explosions from the M-79 rounds. Lt. Wesley dispatched a squad to the front to support the point squad and he held the third squad in reserve. The radio began to crackle as we waited. Our point squad had run into an ambush and with the support of the support squad had managed to dispel six Viet Cong guerillas. I asked Lt. Wesley to give me permission to go forward and he nodded assigning a “shotgun” to me. The shot gun was a Marine to watch over me and lead me to the front. When I arrived I saw everyone still in defensive positions and noticed one Marine had been wounded. The corpsman “Doc” was patching him up. Everyone else was watching the front, left and right flank. I looked for the Squad Leader, Cpl Miller. He brief me quickly; A Vietcong fire team had fired at them wounding the point and the rest of the point fire team responded killing all six of the attackers. I moved forward with my “shotgun” and we found one of the bodies. I looked around and found the rest but only one was conscious. I tried talking to him but he wasn’t coherent. Best I gathered they were on their way to a village nearby to camp for the night before moving on towards Danang. I passed this information on to Cpl Miller who relayed it to Captain Wesley. Captain Wesley order the company to move towards the village. I stayed with the point squad and sent my “shotgun” back to Captain Wesley. No sense in endangering any more of us unnecessarily. We proceeded quickly towards the village . When we arrived we quickly surrounded the village and the pint squad began searching the huts for any sign of more Viet Cong. I talked to the villagers and found out that Viet Cong had been coming thru the village every night for the last week. They would stay there, usually away from the villagers and then continued in the morning towards Danang city. I reported it to Captain Wesley and we alerted the local Army of the Republic of Vietnam in charge in the area and we called in the choppers to ferry us back to the Marine Base at Danang. I had gotten my first taste of operations in the Danang area and felt good about it. I began to feel at home once again.
I had to learn a few extra ways to keep myself healthy here. We were always in rice paddies more often than not and that meant keeping my feet dry. If you failed to take care of your feet you ran the risk of catching jungle rot. A form of skin disease that is caused by the wet standing water we often crossed. Also in some areas where the water had been standing since the monsoons there leeches that clung to your legs and sucked the blood out of you without you knowing it was happening. I usually check my body every opportunity I got and if I had collected any “unwanted hitchhikers” I would remove them or have some help me remove them with a burning cigarette. If you tried to pull them off or cut them off the head would remain buried and would cause severe skin infection and sometimes cause a blood infection as well. The other thing I worried about was amoeba found in the stagnant water. It was said that this amoeba would enter your body through your penis or your rectum and eat your body from the inside out. I never met anyone who had actually acquired this condition but my imagination ran amok. So I took care of my body as well as I could and was constantly on the lookout for anything, living or dead that my inherit my body. I could only imagine what “Charlie” had to worry about in the field.
Charlie, the Viet Cong, which really means Vietnamese Communist, were a tenacious lot. Their beliefs carried them through the many deprivations this war afforded them. Although most people thought that they were better adapted to the jungle fighting, it was at best an unproven theory. They suffered the same hardships we did. It was easier for us because of our medical care available to us and the modern equipment and medicine. So to them it must have been harder to endure the ravages of the jungle, the rice paddies and the war.
They followed the political tenets of Ho Chi Minh who in turn was dedicated to the concepts developed by Mao Tse Tung. They believed a stronger, larger, better equipped army could be brought down and defeated using guerilla tactics which included terrorism. Destabilize the local governments, capture weapons from your enemy, and breakdown the support of the government by the populace and victory could be achieved. The Vietnamese people had defeated the Chinese, the Japanese, and the French. They believed that Vietnam was rightfully theirs and they earned the right to rule themselves and seek their destiny. The United States, its allies which included France, disagreed and fearing the communist take over of far east we divided the country into two parts; the North which could rule itself any way they wanted and the South which would be termed democratic. The South Vietnamese Communist disagreed and with Ho Chi Minh behind them challenged the world. They used guerilla tactics, destabilization of the local government by attacking police, militia and eventually the South Vietnamese Army. The terror tactic was applied in the mid sixties to late sixties. In the seventies, terrorism produced major results for the Viet Gong. In the mean time they fought us in the field with booby traps, ambushes, hit and run tactics. Sometimes using the civilian populace as shields and cover. The weapons used were captured from the French and Ho Chi Minh provided weapons from Russia and China. The best weapon they had going was their strong belief in self- rule and a history of 100 years of fighting for their freedom. For us it was a thirteen month tour, for them it was a lifetime commitment to their cause. I respected them and understood them. Their use of booby traps, and terror were only a means to an end; to me war was something I had been waiting for all my life having been born during WW II. I was a professional Marine and this was my craft, my profession.

Chapter 14 – The Last Days
The next few days were rather quiet, going out on routine patrols with the 1st Division units. I could have stayed at the Division Interrogation Center but I felt out of place and restless. So I volunteered for anything that would put me out in the field. Perhaps, that is why I had been chosen for one more operation on the eve of my return to the land of the big PXs.
After gathering up my usual equipment, food, knives, handgun, M16 and ammunition, I headed for the LZ and waited for the choppers to come in and pick us up. I didn’t know who was going with me or who I was going with. I hoped it was a veteran who knew his stuff. I would hate to end up like many other Marines, killed in action on their last five days in country.
I was standing around feeling sorry for my decision when I heard a familiar voice.
“Holy Shit, can you believe this Martinez, a ghost cometh in the night,”
The familiar voice of Captain Williams startled me at first and then I broke out in a grin, reaching out with my hand to shake his.
“What are you doing here, for Christ sakes?” he asked as he shook my hand.
“I heard you were in town and couldn’t resist joining you,” I lied and grinned at him.
“Since when did you start hanging around with knife wielding Mexicans?” I asked as I reached for Martinez’s hand.
“Hey be more respectful when you talk about my Company Gunny.” He advised me.
“Hey, Gunny how are you doing?” Martinez greeted me.
“ What’s this “Gunny” shit,” I asked him.
“Hell, Gunny, I got back to Okinawa and they told me I had been promoted to Staff Sergeant three months after I was in country and that now I was being promoted to Gunnery Sergeant if I volunteered to come back and join the 26th Marines. How could I refuse with all that back pay and all,” he explained.
“Congratulations, you deserve it no matter what the Commandant says,” I congratulated him. I was feeling better already.
I quickly briefed Captain Williams and he just nodded. He and Martinez went about the business of getting the Company ready and briefing the Platoon Commanders. I could see the change in Martinez. He was more mature, and concerned but I detected that look I knew so well. This was purely a business with him and he watch his men carefully as he assured some, admonished others kidding, and correcting others. He showed real concern for his men and effused trust and respect. They didn’t know it but they had inherited the best Company Commander and Company Gunnery Sergeant in the Corps. If anyone could bring them back safely it was these two. I shook my head to clear it and concentrated on the task at hand.
We loaded up. I was in the same chopper as the female PW. She had been brought up by the MPs and turned over to me. I stared at her face and could tell she was scared. She was making decisions that would affect us all. I reached out and touched her swollen stomach and shook my finger at her. She looked down at herself and I saw her body tremble slightly. It was a trade; The safety of her child for the truth and the betrayal of her comrades or bear the consequences. I felt her but couldn’t reach her. I was responsible for too many lives and my own to worry about her and her child. It was a bitch. It was war and that’s it all it was. The loud hum of the choppers cleared my mind and once again I concentrated on the task at hand. Find the enemy and get back in time to catch my flight out of the Nam.
In a few minutes we were over the same village I had been in before at the foot of the Que Song Mountains. We passed by it and continued closer in to the edge of the foothills. We came in hard and moved out fast as the choppers took off immediately. Captain Williams and Gunny Martinez assembled the Headquarters platoon. The 1st, 2d and 3rd platoons were already deploying and on the move. The 1st Platoon had the point and the Second and Third Platoons took the flanks. The Headquarters Platoon along with a squad of 81mm mortars and two M60 Machine gunners was the base platoon. I felt good and anxious for the fight ahead. I moved up and caught up with the 1st Platoon and joined Lt. Mills. Lt. Mills was commissioned out of Quantico and had joined the 26th Marines at the same time as Captain Williams. He told me of his admiration for Captain Williams and had apparently learned a lot from him. I assured him that Captain Williams was the best I had met.
He asked me ,“How long have you been here, Gunny?”
“Seems like for ever, Lieutenant, I am suppose to go home today,” I told him.
He seemed surprised but he accepted it and we moved on. Occasionally I heard him on the radio talking to Capt. Williams and nodding as we moved along. We came to a point where we joined up with the point squad and I brought up the PW. There were a series of paths and we had to choose.
I asked her, “Which path?”
She pointed to a path that led to the left and I made her lead as the point Fire Team joined us. From here on out it was going to get hairy. If we ran into trouble we were basically on our own until the other two Fire Teams could come to our aid. We would be joined by the rest of the 1st Platoon but I knew that in a firefight things happen in milliseconds. There was no less than 150 yards between us and the support teams. We moved out at a fast pace.
We had traveled about three hundred yards when we came under fire. Several AK47s opened up to our direct right front and three grenades came flying at us from the direct front. I fell to the ground pulling the PW with me and held her down as I fired back with my .45. I holstered my .45 and brought my M16 to bear at the direction where the grenades had come from. The rest of the team engaged the assault group. Within minutes we were joined by a fire team from the point squad. The fight was over in a matter of minutes. When the smoke cleared we had killed five Viet Cong Guerillas and there were several blood trails leading away from their position.
“YOU KNEW ABOUT THIS DIDN’T YOU!!” I yelled at the PW as she stared at me wide eyed and frightened. She knew she had made a wrong choice that could cost her life. I grabbed her by the hair and dragged her to a dead Viet Cong who had had the top of his head blown off. I pushed her face into the exposed blood and brains of the dead head. I pulled her up and told her,
“You see this! This is exactly what I am going to do to you if you lie to me again. I pointed the .45 to her head as I cocked the hammer and asked, “Where is the next ambush?”
She began talking very fast and I had to yell at her to slow down. She gave me the position of the next ambush site and the location of a platoon of a Viet Cong which was waiting for us. I gave the information to Lt Mills and he asked me if I trusted her.
“I’d bet my life on it, Sir,” I replied knowing that at this moment I was doing exactly that.
He radioed the information back to Captain Williams and we were told to standby. Within a few minutes Captain Williams came up with the Headquarters Platoon and he called in his Platoon Commanders. He outlined, tactics and strategy. Martinez checked weapons, ammunition, and his men. We proceeded towards the location of the platoon size force. Two squads, one from the second platoon and one from the third platoon were to engage the enemy at the ambush site. We began moving at a fast pace. Almost immediately we heard the firing of the M-16s, and grenades along with the unmistakable sound of the grenadier firing the M79 grenade launcher. There were a few shots fired by the AK 47’s and then silence fell around us. I couldn’t help but notice the determination on the young Marine faces. We were all so anxious to meet our destiny come what may.
Captain Williams issued orders over the radio and the company engaged the enemy in a single envelopment by the 1st and 3rd Platoons. The Headquarters Platoon was the reserve platoon and the Second Platoon became a blocking force to the enemy’s left flank. The 1st and 3rd Platoons would attack the enemy’s right flank. The 2d Platoon was to engage the enemy if the First and Third Platoon got into trouble or the enemy tried to flee to our right. The Headquarters Platoon would engage the enemy with the 81mm mortars if they began to flee towards their rear. The enemy’s rear was blocked by the foothills and would be in the open, vulnerable to attack helicopters or our artillery should we decide to call in a fire mission. The strategy and tactics were sound and the men were more than willing. By training and design each and everyone of us was a warrior, come hell or high water. We would be in the shit in a matter of minutes.
The firefight began as predicted. The Third and First Platoon engaged the Viet Cong Platoon and the fighting was in full swing, neither side showing signs of retreat. There were wounded and dead on both sides but the Viet Cong were taking the worst of it. The Viet Cong began to fall back and attempted to escape to our right flank where they were met by the Second Platoon. In their panic to escape they ran right thru our lines and the Second Platoon Marines were forced to engage in hand to hand fighting and literally chasing down the enemy. It began to get bloody for us as the Viet Cong guerillas fought with ferocious tenacity. Captain Williams closed the gap committing the Headquarters platoon and engaged the Viet Cong attempting to flee through our lines.
I had hobbled the PW and tied her hands behind her back. I left her on the ground behind a large tree trunk and joined Captain Williams and Gunnery Sergeant Martinez. It wasn’t a difficult fight as I recall, pretty one sided to tell the truth. We chased the enemy as it tried to organize a hasty defense but we continued to press them. They confused and disorganized. I don’t think they expected us to be this well informed and prepared. They would run and stop and try to make a fight of it but we had gained the momentum and we were not slowing down. We hit a group of them who had decided to make a death stand and we obliged them. We fired at them as we closed in on them and forced them to come out and fight. Hand to hand fights erupted briefly but the Viet Cong were quickly dispersed. We were on the offensive and we wouldn’t be denied.
Martinez and I blocked three Viet Cong coming our way and in the direction of Captain Williams. I took on the lead guerilla and Martinez engaged the other two. I dispatched my foe with a direct shot to the chest with my .45. As I turned to help Martinez, one Viet Cong was on the ground grabbing his mid section and Martinez was wrestling with the other on the ground. Martinez rolled him over and was on top of him when I heard the muffled explosion of a grenade. Martinez had covered Captain Williams and I with his body. He had absorbed the full blast of the grenade. I rushed over and turned Gunnery Sergeant Martinez’s body over and I knew immediately he was dead. His body had absorbed the full force of the detonation blowing his body in half . His eyes were opened and I saw them flutter and then stare without life. I couldn’t think. I was yelling for the Corpsman as I held him to me but my efforts were futile. Doc came by took a look, shook his head and went on to attend to others that could use his help. I continued holding Martinez in my arms not being able to accept that he was dead. It didn’t make any sense to me. I was confused and disoriented. The battle continued without me and Captain Williams and his company continued pressing the attack until we had killed but a few Viet Cong had escaped in the direction of the village we passed on the way here. There they were met by the local militia which dispersed of them quickly.
After what seemed hours I felt a hand on my shoulder and I heard Captain Williams saying,
“Come on Gunny, lets get him on the chopper.”
I nodded and let Martinez’s body go as two other Marines picked him up, placed him in a body bag and I saw his face being covered as they zipped the body bag shut. The sound of that zipper closing was the most frightening sound I have ever heard or ever will hear I believe. I knew he was dead but I couldn’t believe it. We had been through a lot; Martinez, Scott, Riley, Reid, Ryan, Charlie Brown and all the rest. How had it come to this. I walked around doing things that were habitual in my environment, checking my weapons, cleaning myself up and trying to deal with the adrenalin. My body shook and I couldn’t tell if it was the adrenalin or facing my own mortality through Martinez. I felt helpless and impotent. I could nothing for Martinez and I realized he was dead.
Captain Williams joined me and just looked at me. He handed me one of his cigars and stared at what had been the battlefield. I took deep drags on the cigar and we both stood there in silence.
“He was the best goddamed gunnery sergeant I ever had,” he said.
“ Yeah, he was that. I am proud to have served with him,” I replied.
It sounded so hollow but we really didn’t know what to say. Men who have been in combat never know the words that console another man. Its as if the knowing those words makes us vulnerable and weak. I accepted that and continued smoking my cigar. I think I was crying but to this day I can’t really say. I know I stared at what had been the battle field for a long time knowing that tomorrow the Viet Cong would occupy this small piece of real estate that had claimed the life so many Marines before this day and on this day.
Captain Williams turned to me and said, “There is a chopper waiting for you. The Colonel sent it for you, says you are to get your ass on it and leave his AO like now.”
I nodded picked up my gear and headed for the LZ. I turned around and Captain Williams waved at me and gave me “thumbs up” and that was the end of it.
I returned it and hopped on the chopper. Within minutes we were back at the command post and I was briefing the Colonel. I thank him for getting me back on time and said my good byes. I went to the hard back barracks and took a shower. I changed my fatigues, dropped off my 782 gear, pack, pistol belt, weapons, ammunition and flak jacket. When I came out of the supply tent the Colonels jeep was waiting and we headed to the same place I had arrived at, Dog Patch and Danang Military Airport. I went through customs and in a few minutes boarded Tiger Airlines on my way to Okinawa. It was that fast. My mental state was still in the field and my sense were still on alert.
The trip was uneventful, full of American Service men glad to be going home. The hostesses were dispensing liquor, beer and food. I asked for a coke and a sandwich, finishing neither one. Several hours later, a hostess woke me and told me to put my seat belt on and that we were coming into Okinawa.
I don’t remember much about this trip except the long ride in a military bus to a camp where we were given new uniforms, shots, dental exams, physical exams and asked a million questions about where we had been and if we had any medical complaints. The next three days I slept for the most part and remember calling my wife and letting her know that I was on my way home. God I missed her and needed her right now.
On the fourth day, I boarded an American Airlines jet on the way to San Francisco. The atmosphere was different, no yelling and laughing and the hostesses were not as friendly, quiet for the most part but not as accommodating. I didn’t care either way. I was still trying to get over Martinez’s death and trying to deal with it. I also felt rather nude without my flak jacket and weapons.
At the airbase we were cautioned about bringing weapons into the country and a brief lecture on socialization and the civilians at home. No fighting, obey the laws and try to stay out of trouble. I had no idea what they were talking about. We were soldiers coming back from war, what could be so wrong. I didn’t know it then but there were to be no parades for Johnny coming home today.
I went through customs, and picked up my bags which had been inspected with a fine tooth comb. I went out to get on the bus to Treasure Island, San Francisco. I began thinking about my wife. As I left I heard someone yell at me,
“Hey Gunny, you forgot a bag!”
I didn’t respond. I already had all I could carry and wanted.
“Who was that? A young Airman asked the Master Sergeant yelling at me.
“That my young friend is Gunnery Sergeant LaGrulla? Let me tell you about the first time I heard of him at Dai do…..”
Little did I know that in two years I would be back leaving a son, a set of twins (boy and girl) and my beautiful wife behind again. It was my chosen profession, my craft, my life. We were a Marine family.