I finished the letter home. It wasn’t my best work because I kept nodding off. Nodding off but not sleeping. I nodded through the letter, forgetting about what I was going to tell my wife, instead going into detail about how much Casey reminded me of Kramer, the major at the Basic School who’d hated me. And I him. Upon graduation, that mutual hatred had cost me becoming a Regular Marine, as opposed to the Reserve Marine I was. Certain benefits accrued to regular Marines that did not to reserves. I realized in writing that I still didn’t know what those benefits were. Kramer was Regular so I did not want to be whatever the hell he was. I turned down the regular commission I was entitled to because of winning the Military Skills Award in my class. Casey, like Kramer, didn’t like me from the get go, on sight, and we both knew it. He liked Billings, and probably even Keating, but not me. It came out of him in waves of negative energy washing over me whenever I was in his presence. I knew he saw me as an ‘unconventional officer’ creature. A non-Marine. A Marine who did not obey the rules, and that was no Marine to him at all. And yet, at the Basic School, I’d been deeply disliked for being so strict a Marine. So strict and so reviled for having a ‘stick up my ass’ that my fellow class members had stolen my overcoat. I knew it was not another officer in the class.
It was them. All of them. The expensive piece of gear, required to graduate, along with the Mameluke Sword, was a prized possession. They’d trashed my coat to let me know that I was out in the cold alone, as far as they were concerned. And it had hurt, as they intended it would. I wondered what any of them would think about the wet, muddy, miserable and leech-scarred mess of a lieutenant I’d become in only eleven days. They’d laugh no doubt and, the phrase “I told you so,” would pop out all over. And they’d be right. Except for the ones like me that went into the shit. They’d say nothing. They’d be creatures of the jungle night like me. Silent. Deadly silent.
I considered the move we were about to make. A Night Moon move with no moon. No moon was good for concealment, but it was lousy for seeing where the hell we were going and sticking together but not so close together that we died together. And I was not giving the orders, or even in any line of command, as I’d been so clearly apprised of by Casey. I wanted to talk to him about calling me Junior in front of the men, but given up on the idea while writing to my confidant at home. My wife had real wisdom. She’d tell me to just get over the small stuff and get my ass back home alive. Good sense. Better sense than I had, so I decided to follow her sense.
The Gunny appeared out of the near dark, his pack loaded and ready to go. He dumped the pack at my feet and hunkered down to brew a cup at the end of our waning day. I didn’t like the mild flare of the Composition B lighting up, but he’d dug a little hole in the foliage floor to hide the actual flame.
“He has no plan,” the Gunny whispered, as we were close to where Fusner, Zippo, Stevens, and Nguyen were getting ready for the move. “He’s got SMEAC (Situation, Mission, Execution, Administration/Logistics, Command/Signal) and BAMCIS (Begin planning, Arrange for reconnaissance, Make reconnaissance, Complete the plan, Issue the order, and Supervise) and more, but no plan.”
“Those are acronyms from the Basic School, so nothing will be left out,” I said, and then saw the Gunny’s expression. He’d heard all that before and, of course, knew what each letter stood for.
“There’s no ‘R’ in any of it, and it’s the ‘R’ we need the most,” the Gunny said, looking relieved that I hadn’t tried to tell him what all the letters stood for.
I stared at him over the small flame and waited, but he didn’t go on. I got out my own holder, filled it with water from my canteen, and made myself a cup, with his fixings. The Gunny always had the stuff and I never did, no matter how often I scoured the C-Ration boxes and hunted for the powdered cream and sugar packets.
“Rest,” the Gunny said, finally. “We haven’t had any rest for three days. We’re all running on empty, except for you. God knows what you’re running on.”
I sipped and thought, finally thinking about what to do for the move. I’d blurted out the night move plan from my usual repository of nowhere at all. I just wanted to keep from doing the same things that were getting everyone killed all the time. I prayed for another single day where no Marine in the company died of any cause. I’d only had one day like that.
“I’ve got artillery for the ridge above us,” I said, making my plan as I went along. “I’ll sprinkle some along the ridge as we move, like those candy bits they sprinkle over ice cream cones. We’ll send a squad across the river, Marines that can swim, and have them work along the hillside of that swale running down that side of the valley. We’ll give them a Prick 25 for commo, and hopefully, they’ll warn us if we’re going to be hit from the flank over there. I want Jurgens to lead that patrol and I want Rittenhouse to get out there too, so he has a good idea of what materials might be needed to supply such forces in the future.”
“Okay,” the Gunny replied. “We only have one company clerk though, and finding another one might be a bit tricky. Plus, Captain Casey will be just a little resistant to sending either of those guys out there at all, since he is the company commander.”
“I don’t expect him to agree,” I replied, not missing the little shot about Casey being the commander. “I don’t expect them to go. What I do expect is that they’ll know that I wanted them to go.”
The Gunny finished his coffee, lit a cigarette, grabbed his pack, and then headed back to see the captain. I got my own stuff together, opening and finishing off a can that said “M-2: Meat Chunks with Beans in Tomato sauce” on the outside but tasted like cardboard and ketchup on the inside. I wolfed it down, each bite reminding me that I was running on empty too, like the rest of the company.
The Gunny was back after only a few minutes. He eased down beside me, his pack probably heavier than it looked. The light was almost gone, so I couldn’t really read his facial expression until I heard him laugh.
“I thought Rittenhouse was going to have an epileptic fit when I told Casey about his going on the patrol,” the Gunny said. “He couldn’t even talk. Jurgens, meanwhile, is, of course, ordered to stay with the command post to provide security. Sugar Daddy has to supply a squad from the weapons platoon for the patrol.”
“Oh great,” I whispered. I still had little confidence in the black Marines, as the problem of them all gathered in a single platoon had not changed. “Why is Fourth Platoon called the weapons platoon, anyway?” I asked. “I thought weapons was supposed to have 81mm mortars like Kilo Company. And what about a 106 recoilless rifle? That’s supposed to be Op/Con to a weapons platoon, as well.”
“The 106 is a joke,” the Gunny replied, derisively. “It weighs in at four hundred and fifty pounds. Who’s going to lug those pieces up and down these mountains? First Platoon has the 60mm mortars because Sugar Daddy didn’t want them, and the 81 ammo is too heavy.”
“So, what good is a fourth platoon then?” I said, not really comprehending the organization of the company, or how it had come to be. “We’re not supposed to have a fourth platoon. Three platoons to a company. That’s it. Never heard of this kind of crap.”
The Gunny got to his feet, using the bamboo stand to pull himself up. I knew he wasn’t going to answer my question so I strapped on my pack, with Fusner moving in to help me adjust it to my body. Zippo, Stevens, and Nguyen gathered close to hear any word about the move.
“Single file,” the Gunny said. “We’re going all the way along the edge of the river in single file, like the French did back in history.”
Nobody made a sound for half a minute. I was in too much shock to say anything.
“The French?” Zippo finally asked. “What French?”
“Can’t do it,” I stated, flatly, overriding Zippo’s comment.
“Thought you might say that,” the Gunny replied.
“We take the Starlight forward to just behind the point and move in clusters,” I went on. “Fire teams, pressed close in to the face of the cliff so our backs are covered. The Starlight gives clearance and then our successive fire teams move one after another and we hopscotch all the way there, staying away from the exposed bank near the river. Sugar Daddy’s squad stays in view on the other side. If they get hit, then they can cross under a base of counter fire we provide from this side. It’s slow but sure. I don’t expect booby traps because they know we almost never move at night. I’ve got H.E. up top to call along the way. The overhang up there is fairly extreme, so we shouldn’t have falling rocks or debris, as long as we stay in close to the wall.”
“Where do you come up with this shit?” the Gunny asked, when I was done. “I can’t go back and countermand Casey’s orders, or there’s going to be even more trouble.”
“Don’t” I replied, dryly. “It’s night. There’s no moon. He won’t be able to see shit and when the rounds start impacting up on ridge he’ll be too scared shitless to care. Nobody has to know anything except their job tonight. Unless, of course, you want to take the point and lead the company along the river in single file.”
“Very funny,” the Gunny replied, without acting like my comment had been very funny at all. “Jurgens will tell him if I don’t.”
“Nope,” I stated as if I really knew. “He wants to live. He’s a toady and an asshole but he wants to survive like the rest of us. If we follow what Casey says then everyone’s going to get dead or wounded before we get halfway there, including Jurgens, and he knows that. Later on will be a different story.”
“There’s going to be trouble,” the Gunny replied, his voice almost a whisper.
“Like we’re not in trouble?” I said. “Stevens, you take Zippo and get up to Sugar Daddy’s platoon and let him know what we’re doing. Use his radio to stay in contact here. Fusner can give you a frequency so we’re not overheard on the combat net. Make sure you tell him about the arty coming in. I can’t fire down across the river because Cunningham can’t depress enough, so we’re dependent on the machine guns to cover the river and our flank patrol on the other side. Have him pull all the tracers out of the links if we have time, and then pass the order not to use M-16s if it can be helped. If Charlie’s out there, and I’m dead sure he is, then all we’re giving away is that we’re moving, and not exactly where we are on this side. Tracers would reveal that.”
“That’s it?” the Gunny said.
I saw him shake his head in the dim light. I knew the plan sounded too complicated, although it wasn’t really. We were going to mosey on up the canyon to the target area and wait for the dawn to move in. The sticky part would be making sure that no artillery rounds somehow ended up down among us. The slightest short round would blow the hell out of the rock face and send shards of rock and debris raining down unless I called it in just perfectly and just in front of where we were moving. It was a night with no moon though. It was going to be pitch black.
There was only one place I could be, to effectively use the Starlight scope and see the top of the ridge ahead of us to adjust fire, as well as make sure we weren’t running into an ambush. That was at the point of the company’s advance, with the other FNGs. That was where I didn’t want to be, humping a load in the dead of night, frightened of booby traps, having to call extremely accurate artillery, and doing all that while I was inside a racially charged platoon that had little use for keeping me alive.
“I’m going back to tell him we’re moving out,” the Gunny said, cupping his hands to light a cigarette, even though it was dark enough that having any light at all wasn’t a good idea.
In watching the Gunny take a few seconds to inhale and exhale smoke, I realized he was very good at hiding the cigarette’s dim flare. I didn’t know how long he’d been out in the field with the company but I knew, by almost every move he made, that he had a load of combat experience. I had a whole eleven days.
“I’ll stick to your plan because it makes sense,” the Gunny finally said. “I’m sure he, Jurgens and Rittenhouse will be tickled to play tail-end Charley. I won’t say a word about what’s really going on unless this whole mess turns to shit. If that happens you’re on your own.”
I nodded. I’d been on my own since I joined the company, except for the Gunny’s handouts here and there. I had no expectations of a good fitness report following my service in the conflict. It wasn’t that kind of war. We didn’t get to take Utah or Omaha Beach, and then move on to lesser objectives. We just stayed and did what we were going to do tonight. Fight for the chance to fight further into the night, and then into the following day. And then we’d repeat.
I left without further comment, presuming the Gunny would remain with the command post group. Being last in the company wasn’t the safest position because the NVA were known to pick off security squads in rear action attacks, but it was a hell of a lot safer than the point.
I worked my way through the platoons toward the front of the company. The Fourth Platoon was strung out along the river along more territory than I’d thought. Sugar Daddy was impossible to miss because he was sitting with his legs stretched across the narrowly beaten elephant grass that passed for the only path through it. I settled beside him, stripping off my pack for a few brief moments of relief.
“I’ve got three fire teams, where the men can swim,” he said, only his eyes and teeth visible in the near blackness. “People think blacks can’t swim but the truth is that they never get a chance to learn because of where they come out from. But right up the way ahead it don’t matter anyway. They can walk across, their packs and weapons pushing them down enough so they don’t get caught in the current.”
“When are they going across?” I asked him, uneasy in his presence and with the conversation.
I knew nothing about the black culture except what I’d learned in parts of a couple of courses at a small Catholic college, which was next to nothing. Regardless of race, the man I was hunkered down with at the side of the makeshift trail had attempted to have me killed at least once.
“They’re already across,” Sugar Daddy replied, “with one slight problem.”
I waited, but the big man, barely visible, but at least not wearing his awful sunglasses, didn’t continue.
“Alright,” I said, unable to keep the impatience and frustration from my tone, “what is it?”
“They dropped the radio in the river, so we won’t have communications,” he finally admitted.
I didn’t know what to say. We’d just lost one-sixth of the company’s entire communications capability, and there was no resupply likely for some time. No choppers, even the Army hot shot dudes, were likely to fly down into the bottom of the pit of hell the A Shau was known by everyone to be. I wanted to say “shit, shit, shit..” but would not in front of Sugar Daddy, who should have been inconsequential but wasn’t. All I kind of knew for sure was that he didn’t want to lose the Marines on that patrol any more than I did.
“Carry on,” I said, unable to think of anything more. How in hell were we supposed to know if there was trouble across the river? Wait to hear the gunshots, and then not know what those gunshots were about? Hope to see our men in the Starlight Scope?
And then, of course, it started to rain. The company was on the move, and it was raining. Not that misting stuff we’d had before, but the torrential crap only the tropics can deliver. The stuff that hurts your head when it hits and makes it near impossible to do much of anything but plod on into it, or hide out until it passes. There would be no waiting to let it pass for us. I moved to where my scout team had formed up to be the point element. We moved through the jungle for almost an hour, making very little headway through the rain pounding through the top of the single canopy jungle. I ordered Zippo to stop and see what might be seen of our patrol across the river.
“Not good,” Zippo said.
I moved closer to try to understand what he was saying, only my helmet protecting me form the punishing big drops, but making it hard for me to hear.
“No Starlight, not in this. Doesn’t work in heavy rain. All we’ll get is just a bright green haze.”
I noted that the normally dependable hulk of a Marine hadn’t even bothered to pull the device from his shoulder slung case.
We had a nearly useless patrol across the river, providing nearly non-existent flank security. And now we were blind, as well. I had to get the artillery up and cover the ridge. The last thing we needed was fire plunging down from above while we moved through heavy rain without security and inside a jungle mess that was painfully cutting, difficult to get through, and pocketed with venomous animals and poisonous plants. There was no sense calling for adjusting rounds either since I’d be unable to see or hear them from their impact over the edge of the ridge. I called the mission in and asked for a battery of one. I gave four more grid locations from memory that stretched along our course of travel. If the rounds came in with any accuracy then any ambushing force up top would be dying or running for its life.
The first sign of trouble was when Firebase Cunningham added something at the end of my call for fire. “We can’t run any meteorological data in this weather so we’re approximating wind and density.” I had no answer to make. Cunningham was all the supporting fires we had, except for the nearly useless small mortars First Platoon carried.
The 105 rounds came in, and from the first explosion, I knew the barrage I’d plotted was a disaster. The rounds weren’t impacting on top of the ridge. I held Fusner’s radio handset in hand, calling the battery to check fire. Then I buried myself in the jungle floor. I knew what had happened. The bad weather and high density caused by the torrent of rain had caused the shells to fall short and impact the wall of the cliff face itself.
A murmuring sound came winnowing its way through the rain. It followed the last of the exploded artillery rounds that had impacted far up on the side of the abyss. It was the sound of falling chunks of cliff wall rock and assorted pieces of plant debris. They rained down for what seemed to be minutes, stones hitting my back, and a minced foliage mat descending to form a blanket over my entire body. Finally, everything stopped. I lay unmoving. The brutal punishing rain of material was followed by the whispering silence of real rain, until the earth vibrated.
My helmet and pack had saved me from real damage but I was in some pain anyway. The pain diminished as the vibrating sound grew. The deep vibrating pounding thrum grew into something aggressive and dangerous. It was the sound of something terrible coming my way. I stayed down, as buried in the bracken of the jungle floor as I could get. I realized that the sound I was hearing was the beating of many drums. Only when they reached a higher and deeper crescendo had I recognize them for what they were. I knew I should feel less apprehension in the knowing; less trepidation and considerably less fear, but I didn’t. There was something about the drums. They kept beating from somewhere not far across the valley, the beating rising and falling like the awful heartbeat of some giant from hell, waiting out there, as if impervious to machine guns and artillery. Who had bass drums of that depth and character? Who could beat them continuously on into a stygian night of fearful wakefulness and quivering unrest? Who had drums that could be made to function in heavy rain? I knew who it was. The enemy. The weather, the black night and the misdirected artillery should have been frightening enough, but then there was the implacable ever-present enemy, easily putting the other fears to shame when it came calling, as it was now.
“Company halt,” I croaked out to anyone close enough to hear me.
The Gunny appeared from somewhere, helping to pry me from the mess I was under.
“Get everyone pressed back into and under the cliff wall,” I ordered. “We’re not going any further tonight. Somehow we have to recover the patrol. Where’s Casey?”
“Seems that he got hit with a particularly large rock broken loose in your artillery strike,” the Gunny answered.
I was unable to see the man’s expression in the dark, although I would have bet that the faint edge of white I did catch was a suppressed smile.
The night had proved to be a disaster. I had no idea of how many casualties we’d suffered, most of whom would be either dead or wounded because of my own misdirected efforts. Night moon, and there had been no moon. The name of the plan should have been a clue, but I’d missed it.
I purchased the first 10 days off Amazon and I’m enjoying the rest of the novel here online! Just one nitpicking thing: Snakes are venomous, not poisonous. Though the distinction was likely lost on those who were bitten.
I was in the 101st in the late 70’s. After leaving Army basic, my AIT was at Ft. Huachuca in AZ. Since the Marines sent all intel MOS there too, my first roommate was a Marine and my first company commander was a Marine (captain). Nothing but respect!
Thank you for your support and suggestions,
Have corrected the sentence and thanks for sharp eye.
That Picture by the way is of my old Unit the 173rd Airborne Brigade crossing a River and taken from the Great Book on Viet Nam,,,,”Requiem,,,by the Photographers Who Died in Vietnam and Indochina” it is one of my favorite books on Viet Nam and I have a few along with other favorites like “SOG” by Major Plaster and “Street Without Joy” and “Hell in a Very Small Place” by Bernard Fall….
Thanks for identifying that photo. I do not select the photos for the story
That is done by a friend of mine. Many times I have no idea of where the photo was
taken or when. Thanks and thanks for writing it on here.
Wow, great story, only used a Starlight Scope a couple of times in Nam and our Soldiers were intermixed of Whites, Blacks, Hispanics and we all got along….we never walked down trails or stream beds and shooting an Azimuth and Counting Steps and Clicks and never walked in a straight line to get anywhere,,,I would not have sent a squad on the other side of the river to provide flank as if they got hit and tried to get back across the river to the company they would probably have been killed,,,but that is just me armchair quarterbacking and enjoying your story…our missions generally lasted two to three weeks, longest somewhere between 30 to 45 days shortest two to three days, and we never bathed in the field but you never cared about or really noticed how bad you smelled until you got in a rear area behind the wire around guys who showered and shaved and used deodorant and cologne every day….
A whole lot of different wars over there. Learned in training not to walk on paths or stream beds of course.
Real life changed everything, especially when there was no other way but a path or a stream bed. You just get
ready to take a few booby trap hits. Cold hard and calloused as it was. We tried to bathe every chance we go
in my outfit because we just didn’t get rotated while I was there.
Thanks for the support and liking the story…
Wow, no Rotation out of the Field to pull perimeter duty for a week or two at some Firebase while some other Line Company went out to the Field,,,,that must have been brutal,,,,hats off to the USMC !!!
The Division was just as brutal on our battalion as the battalion was on our companies.
Since our commander at battalion was totally buried in the sauce and his sycophant staff
would do nothing, they just left us out there. How could that happen in my Marine Corps?
How could they be that uncaring and downright nasty back in division? I don’t know. I jut
write it the way it was trying to make sure i don’t surface anger I can’t dissipate without
I was on the u.s.s. Hamner in the spring of ’72’ . We gave gunfire support to the marines and army. Last summer at a pow-wow I met a marine, he was wearing his combat hat and ribbons. I nodded to him and he asked when I was there. when I mentioned the qua viet river he pointed to himself and said it was him and his buddies we had saved. Made the hair stand up, after all these years to run into one of them .It is a small world sometimes
Wow, those strange occurrances can take place at any time in life.
Funny how when they do it’s so awkward. Thanks for revealing this here
and enjoying the reading.
A real shame that you never knew General Walt. When his men were in trouble–back in 66–he found a way to get out there with them.
It was a small focused war in a small focused valley inside a steaming cauldron of country and war.
I knew almost nobody. The only general I met there and later was Dwyer.
Jim, the only problem I had calling in the movement fire was in being told that certain locations I wanted them plotted for were not available because of known patrol routes/locations, usually Recon associated… Our FDC’s (arty/81’s) had our guys located (usually) on the maps and could let us know what we could, and couldn’t count on…Using the armies batteries was always a huge crap shoot because they had no idea where our teams were and it was all on our shoulders to take the gamble…we never knew where they were after leaving the initial briefings and some times those briefings were several weeks behind us…scary times Brother…Semper Fi
I have heard a lot about check fire areas although I never encountered many. Later in the second part of the second book
and in the third book they will play a bigger role. Early on we didn’t have any units around us and the enemy/civilian
registered places were just becoming popular as excluded from being able to fire on or in. Of course, sometimes everyone
just lied…or ignored that crap when Marines were dying. Battery’s had heart, as least those that fired for us…
Once I got out of the Gonoi Island complex I was in the boonies, pretty much. I was only denied
fire twice in my tour but then I used all manner of devices to try to keep from being denied.
The Army battery at Cunningham was as good as the one back in An Hoa and the 155 batteries behind that.
I would later have a more problematic go of it as you will see when the story progresses.
You are right about the politics of the situation invading and also other people not under fire
deciding about whether you needed it or not, or could have it or not. Different wars fought inside the
Jim, I’m still trying to understand a comment you made in a earlier segment. it was something to the effect of someone who had done a tour in the Nam as a grunt never wanted to go back unless they had been around the bend…what does that statement mean to you? keep up the great writing…waiting on book one to be published
Sensitive topic, this one. People are different and the wars were different for all of us.
I did not want to die or take that kind of chance in dying again, and it took more than
a year just to get through the hospitals. I cannot fathom why anyone who had that kind of tour
would re-up but there are apparently many. So I should say, if guys went back then they went back
and I don’t have a clue why. It was that kind of war. It don’t mean nuthin!
Just letting you know James, this army grunt is still reading. I was here at the start and will be till you finish. I have been spreading the word about your writing and the book to come. To all I think might like it. Don
Thanks Don, I feel your presence…you and the others of this rare ilk. You are
the real deal and there are not many. Thank you for being with me as we go on.
I may have been your opposite during basic training. About week 7 we were doing PT and Drill to use up some time. SSGT. Harthausen put us “at ease, smoke em if you got em” and I was the only one to bellow out a thank you. I sat under the tree and smoked while the rest continued drilling until I finished my smoke. It all made it to my CO so I could pay for it all the way down the roster. Lesson learned, do your job and be invisible.
About the combat experience so far, if you ordered egg in your beer it would be nearly hatched.
As usual Walt, you give us some real wisdom. When you can be invisible, you might add.
Sometimes you just have be out there taking the hits or you are not going to make it.
Thanks for the thought, the story and the support you give me.
There are a number of corollaries to Murphy’s Law, one being: Murphy was an optimist! Like your writing. Keep up the excellent work!
Like there was a choice, John! There was only one way through and finding
it wasn’t going to work by accepting death. So the fight raged on with all of
us fighting the same enemy while we tried like hell not to fight one another.
Thanks for the perceptive comment.
James, I graduated in ’75, so I missed the war, and just missed the end of the draft. I read about those of you that did go and you have my upmost respect. As one who had religion, then found religion again, we all need to believe in something. Maybe you are here to tell a believable story to help others deal with Thier demons as well as to get yours off your back.
Keep up the great writing, looking forward to the next segment.
Also, check the spelling of September in the segment’s title.
Got the spelling just now. God, it is so easy to miss tht shit.
Where is my brain? But I am keeping on going in spite of the
little stuff…which can be pesky as hell though. Thanks for the comment
and your discourse on religion. I’m not so sure about religion as I am about faith.
DA- density altitude affects how all things that go up and come down.
Shit- the word usually uttered by a pilot when their world and airplane are coming apart around them and it was their fault. Invariably on the VTR tape recovered from the smoking hole.
You are in some dense Shit Lt.
Be Fluid. It is the best adaptation for survival. Because, sometimes shit happens and being predictable will get you killed.
God, was I out of it at times now that it’s all coming back in such detail.
Out of a hat stuff. Where I found some of the plans and the ins and outs of getting
from one place to another or through tough circumstance….I have no clue today.
I can barely get to my coffee shop and back without taking a wrong turn!
Thanks for the comment and the support Roger!
In answer to the comment about no contact no arty. I would have sold the call as H an I with good intel for one battery fire. If you have a solid rep with arty for bodies you get anything you call.
As I’ve said before we liked the night, rain sucked any time.
Why did you stop, boxed in between a river and very commanding high ground in a known location. A whole squad across the river with no comm. This is becoming FUBAR! Remember what you learned in OCS and PLC, in combat your either moving, loading or firing, stay still and your dead.
Sorry, just reread my comments and the third comment about stopping was totally uncalled for. Preaching and lecturing between you and I have no place. I wasn’t there what I said has no place. Again sorry. But if I do have a commment; Good stuff, not fast enough!!!!!!
Hell Butch, have at it. I much enjoy the dialogue and my old skin is pretty thick!
This is tough memory work and with all memory work comes error.
Thanks for caring enough to write about it here and thanks for the unnecessary apology
I’ve been around the horn a few times..
Fucked up, I was. I’m not absolutely sure why I did that
or why everyone obeyed the order. Good observation.
Thanks for thinking about it and saying something here.
unless I called it in just in perfectly and just in front of where we were moving. It was a night with no moon though. It was going to be pitch black.
I think the 2nd IN should be removed.
That night move sounded risky but being in an already marked spot would of been even worse IMO. Talk about between a rock and hard spot. Then that Murphy clown had to make his appearance as well. Hope the shit storm you have headed your way gets diverted. I am on pins and needles awaiting every new episode.
Thanks for the sharp eye, Pete.
We will have a few more eyes on this before going to print.
Appreciate the input from so many.
This is great work and I’m enjoying every installment. I’ve recommended this to all my friends who have an interest in the military or the history of Vietnam. My brother was a FO in the Army at about the same time. By some miracle he was sent to Korea instead of Vietnam. We were glad to see him return. All the best to you sir.
Glad your brother made it. And thanks for liking the work here so much.
It gives me hope and confidence that I’m on the right track.
I spent some time in Nam,1970. Thank the Lord I was in a rear support position. I’m not sure I would have been able to endure what you and others in combat did. I have always had a feeling of guilt since being in a realtively safe position while others were putting their lives on the line. Is that nuts? Your writings are rivetting. Thank you!
Thanks for being here JRB. Drop the guilt if you can.
We all get called at some things for different things.
You are here and writing and caring. That’s enough for all of us.
Welcome to the brotherhood…
Hay Buddy someone had to do what you did. Without the support combat could not or would not be of any success. Believe me most of us would have been more than happy to take a position of support with no regrets.Don
Thank you Don. Tough one, that subject.
The mission. What in hell was the mission at any
one time out there? It’s like watching the news today.
What in hell is really going on because the shit news they
give us can’t be true at all!!! And there you are.
Thanks for the comment and the thoughts…
Your writing/storytelling style is remenestant of Louis L’Amour, in capturing our emotions as participants of events so long ago; but living it today.
Now that’s a cool comment! I love Louis and his works. I will write better tonight!
Thanks for the support.
Of course you move when VC mortars have you bracketed. Your wife was right, getting home alive was the bottom line. Career? What career? A career at O-3 where you get to do it all over again? Even though you where a boot LT, you had as much knowledge as a E1 those first 10 days. Without Gunny caring whether you lived or died was huge, his combat instincts of survival saved your life: He trusted you somehow from the beginning, maybe because as you say you weren’t a prototypical boot LT. The thing seperating losing a marine rifle company and not was your ability to read a map, a terrific memory for numbers, and the ability to communicate to the FDC, and well and a good deal of luck. Losing men on 10 of 11 days is staggering, the Cpt clueless about leading Marines, it’s kinda funny that he demeans you yet your the deafacto Company Commander because he follows your suggestions . Fact is when it was shitty not only did Gunny give you credit he followed your orders, hence the Cpt did too. . He probably hadn’t done that forever. Great job LT, I’m glad this is a roll out or I’d be up reading cover to cover.
Thanks Dale, your detailed analysis has iron and merit in its words.
You have captured nearly every nuance of the storyline and makes great
reading all on its own. Thank you for that and for supporting me as this
Never got to that Valley. Glad I didn’t. II Corps was bad enough.
Glad you avoided that monster in the closet. And thanks for coming on
here to let us know you are still around and kicking.
Lessons in patience do not go unheeded. Neither do mistakes. And I begin to wonder if it maybe worked out for the better. Grim indeed. Thanks again, James. Another night on the edge! S/F.
Thank you Ron for always being here. You would have been great there too.
Semper fi, my friend
I remembered ordered to take my squad on a moonless night to basically nowhere in highly occupied Charlie area. It was suicidual to begin with, you couldn’t even see the end of your M16. The trail was lined with thick bamboo and hedges on the sides. You could literally walk up on Charlie before you’d even know he was there. If that happen, I knew we’d be cut to pieces. My point man was married and couldn’t put him in that loosing position. Told the squad to stay spread out to the point that we lost each other but trusted to keep going forward. I took point since I was in charge not wanting to lose anyone. By the time we came through our assigned course, I was dripping from perspiration brought on by fear. Fear of the black monster from under the bed of my younger years. There he was again, but this time he was real. Waiting for me in the blackness quietly. My heart beat loudly in my ears making this difficult to accomplish. I was so wired up when I pulled my squad into a pagoda for selter that it took me hours to calm down. Give me a moonlit night and I’ll go. Even now I love moonlit nights to see and go outside. Aco 1/327 101st 68-69
Is that not fucking true? I love the moonlit nights too!
I’ll bet so many of us do. Neat story and with the patina of absolute truth.
you can’t makes some of this shit up. The point was so scary for those who knew.
And so deadly to those who knew or did not know.
Thanks for that. And for the support.
We all have those “Oh crap” moments that we wish we could forget or take back. We are taught that good planning guarantees success, but the reality of the situation is that there was no good plan available, and variables always cause changes and they are not always in your best interest. You did the best you could with what you had to work with. What stands out to me was you willingness to do what you thought was best regardless of the personal repercussions. To me the sign of a “real leader”, not just the person in charge. Not a marine, but served with a lot of marines as my brigade, 1st Brigade, 5th Infantry Divison, was under the operational control of the 3rd Marine Division. So “Semper fi”, Joe
Thanks Joe. It was hard at becoming a Marine Officer out there
but it was hard to figure out what the role really was.
What was needed and what could keep me alive long enough to learn it?
Thanks for the kind words and support by writing here.
Brother John, Next up should be….House of the Rising Sun…… after all, Plan “Night Moon” just turned into “Bad Moon Rising” Never change a name after it has been called……. Bad Luck to do so, Night Moves it should have been, so now you are awaiting the morning light………….
“The House Of The Rising Sun”
There is a house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun
And it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy
And God, I know I’m one
My mother was a tailor
She sewed my new blue jeans
My father was a gamblin’ man
Down in New Orleans
Now the only thing a gambler needs
Is a suitcase and trunk
And the only time he’s satisfied
Is when he’s on a drunk
Oh mother, tell your children
Not to do what I have done
Spend your lives in sin and misery
In the House of the Rising Sun
Well, I got one foot on the platform
The other foot on the train
I’m goin’ back to New Orleans
To wear that ball and chain
Well, there is a house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun
And it’s been the ruin of many a poor boy
And God, I know I’m one
Yes, You are the son of a gambler, and You are good at it, But in the game remember, occasionally Murphy shows up and all he leaves you with is a busted flush….. Yes, Don’t Mean Nothing! DON’T MEAN NOTHING MAN! YET, from personal experience, It means everything, Welcome home Brother, Welcome Home, Bob
Held that busted flush a time or two, as I am writing here my friend.
Thanks for those lyrics. Yes, that song is and was special and it’ll come along
later on. Doesn’t everything? You are true blue and I thank you for being here
and ‘getting it.’
Casey, ten feet tall and bulletproof, in his mind, but unable to come up with any plan of his own because of not only inexperience, but ignorance. Unwilling to listen to experience. Only able to ridicule any plan not put forward by himself, while not even realizing that his non plans put more Marines in jeapordy than anything you were doing to keep men alive. Has it even dawned on him yet that the only reason he was still breathing was because of you? Incompetence is the true bane of any leader, and this guy is the epitome of that incompetence.
You can’t fix stupid but it can sure as hell kill you. My expression.
Casey wasn’t stupid. He was fooled into thinking he was more leader than he was
and therefore could not learn the way he needed to. You can’t just always admit
you are great because things turn to shit and you learn a whole lot more by admitting
you fucked up and getting better than by just skimming over it.
Thanks for the comment, the care and writing here.
Not the result I expected but everything you did made sense to me mostly because you shared your thoughts with us. The men trusted you and you knew how to improvise. I can see a relationship building between you and Sugar Daddy. If I were in your command, I would also trust you. You were accused of being too strict. From what I see there it’s discipline and that always counts for a lot. I love reading your experience mostly because I’m home safe and sound. You are one of the best writers I have experienced. I’m glad you made it home.
I was forming relationships with everyone but not trust relationships. They were coming to
think I was good for their survival but then a screw up would come along (Murphy) and I’d be
back in the shitter. And then they’d pull their own independent crap and I would be as unforgiving
and harsh as they. There was a war inside the unit that was going on as vicious and hard to play
as he war with the NVA.
Max, I was a Navy Seabee with MCB 8, across the road from MAG 16 at China Beach when sappers blew up all those Hueys, in 1965. Was that your time frame?
Eargerly waiting the next episodes, almost a ” Lord of the flies ” recreation. Amazing the rapid degrading from human to animal in what now seems such a short time. At that age a day seems like such a long time
The degradation is almost immediate and the recovery back from it taking a lifetime.
The door into reality. It really is all Lord of the Flies but we have come to make
believe it is not. Back here all of the knives, arty and rifle fire is disguised and
made to look like something else. There is a fundamental truth in combat and it’s an ugly,
killing and bitter truth.
Jim if I’d called for arty in that situation they would not have fired unless we were in contact. I hope that nobody was killed. That was always my biggest fear. Casey is an idiot but with Gunny not having your back you have put yourself on an island. At least Gunny was upfront about it this time. Lots of moving parts this evening, Semper Fi James can’t wait for next chapter!
I never had any battery say no to supporting fires. They knew who was in the shit and who wasn’t and they
didn’t share with me how they knew. I called and they responded. I never used “danger close” and only
“contact” if asked to which I always said yes, whether we were or not. I had to have the fire for whatever
reason I had to have the fire and I did not have time or mood to be educating the battery. I called the fire
that night to prevent plunging fire down upon us which I felt it would be too late to call for fire if I waited.
Arty can take vital seconds or minutes to get on target, especially if you have to or can adjust fire. I wanted to
make sure to clear the ridge above us. I knew the danger of firing short but once the rounds impacted over the top
of the ridge in the heavy rain and moonless night I would not ever be able to hear them to adjust, much less see them.
Bad judgment call as it turned out.
Thanks for the analysis.
It would’ve been the monsoon rains, the lack of preplanned defensive targets Jim. This was 71. They were way more discreet I guess. Always ready and willing for contact missions thankfully.
I was so happy not to have the FDC’s breathing down my neck. They new I was
playing games out there with positioning but they also knew i was in the deepest of
shit and they cared about that.
Thanks for the comment and the support.
How could you know up front that it was bad judgement to line your way with Arty? How could you predict what the rain and humidity could do? I don’t see how training at Ft Sill could prepare one for double/ triple canopy jungle and the mountainous terrain. Sorry if this is so basic , but I find some of the science be that which it may fascinating. I understand basic ballistics to a point, but certainly not artillery or mortars. Sounds like a science from your story.
Ballistics is intensely interesting. How things move through the air. How we create
extensions of ourselves to reach out through the air and effect other living or non-living things
Artillery is just a bunch of big spears moving faster and higher and exploding when they land.
But the science of it is intensely complicated and fun to study and bring together.
Thanks for having an interest and reading the story.
Did they use creeping barrages in the latter wars or was that just a WWI thing,?
WWI. Creeping went away when they changed to bracketing…and also the Fire Direction Center was invented (By the French).
Thanks for brining that up though.
You were, unfortunately, one of the first to know the results of your actions. There was no escape of getting around the knowing. As the Medic, I had a way to not know. I never checked to see and tuned out the Company Reports of casualties and their conditions. I flat did NOT want to know. I didn’t want to know if I did it right or if I did it wrong. I did the best I could and went on, and that’s pretty much what you’re doing. J. pretty much took you to task on your decisions. I for one, applaud your efforts….well, maybe except for the artillery so early. Hey, but I’m a Medic, what do I know??
You know and knew plenty. You had to care to be a corpsman or medic.
Or a company commander. And in caring you maximized your own survival even though
that was not apparent. The guys tended to take care of those who cared but could not
be immediately killed. Not getting to know bothered the hell out of me until I got out
of the hospital in San Fran and went to the home of that couple who’d lost their son
under me. Getting thrown down the front stairs as I tried to tell them the truth
was a wake up call about knowing. All I could do was what I did and there’s no after action
stuff that is anyone’s province other than Gods.
Thanks for the bright comment and your support.
And I called artillery all the time out of suspicion or to prevent
movement or ambush…even when it proved later not to be there.
I lied. All the time. But it sure paid off sometimes.
Not others. Don’t forget just how scared shitless I was although most who haven’t been out there don’t understand.
James, wondering about a comment you made in an earlier segment, no one who had been there ever wanted to go back unless they had gone around the bend. can you share what that means to you?
Very touchy subject here, because I did not mean to put down anyone who served more than one tour.
I was referring to my own situation wherein we were all nuts
but not nuts enough to want to die and coming back would be to die.
Many guys talk about coming back to the Nam to be connected to the close
friends they left behind. I don’t see how they could have done that
because that’s not the way the Marine Corps works at all. You get where and to who they send you.
Period. None of that I know anything about though.
Remember that there were not a whole lot of units like my own and many of the guys who go into
such shit never come out or they are too fucked up to tell anyone about it.
Whatcha gonna do PL when Murphy shows up and shit goes to hell…….Whatcha gonna do PL?
I have to say is that your plan was tactically sound considering the circumstances. Just unfortunate you’re stuck in the world of Alice in Wonderland.
I’m confident that Fuck is the word that came to mind when the rounds impacted.
Speaking of the officers attitudes reminds me of how Ringknockers treated OCS/ROTC officers….
What a shit show….
But at least the company has a Commander > Lt Strauss
Useless to try to imagine what’s coming down the pike now. It things were already exponentially surreal.
There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.
I, of course, absolutely love that Serling quote. How could he have known? What a brilliant mind.
It was like he was talking about me, the unit and the whole situation. In words of brilliance while
the reality was nearlt dumbed down to animal grunting and awful anthropoid behavior.
Thanks for the bright words and yes, Murphy was right there at my side…
Semper fi, brother