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Lasting Visions: With the 7th Marines in Vietnam
Price: From $4.99 to $46.95
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With the 7th Marines In Vietnam 1970
by Frederick Fenwick
Merriam Press Military Monograph 113
Second Edition (February 2012)
568 6×9-inch pages
Paperback (ISBN 978-1470016692) — #MM113-P — $21.95
Hardcover (ISBN 978-0-557-50841-9) — #MM113-H — $46.95
PDF file sent on a DVD disk by mail — #MM113-PDF — $4.99 — Why no download of the PDF file?Downloadable ePub eBook version — $4.99 — available here
Booksellers: Paperback available direct from Merriam Press; paperback and hardcover also available through distributors.
This is the coming of age story of a farm boy who grew up in the heartland of Kentucky, where farming was the only source of income for a family of nine children. After high school graduation in 1969, the author was about to experience drastic life-changing events. He would enlist in the United States Marine Corps. On September 23, 1969, he came face to face with the ruthless and relentless drill instructors at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina. The domineering drill instructors took away the youth in the author and instilled the discipline, training, and motivation necessary to survive in combat. Fred provides a detailed account of what Marine Corps boot camp was like in 1969.
On March 6, 1970, his first assignment in Vietnam began at Landing Zone Baldy. He was assigned to Mike Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines. He soon discovered that Mike Company was also nicknamed “Medevac Mike.” His 3rd Platoon squad was referred to as “Mike 3 Charlie.” This story tells of the bravery, camaraderie, and esprit de corps of this Marine infantry squad. Fred’s true accounts take the reader into the jungles, rice paddies, villages, and mountains of Vietnam. This is about real life encounters with the elusive enemy. It is about casualties of the Vietnam War resulting from mines, booby traps, mortar and rocket attacks, and hostile enemy small arms fire. He reveals stories of ambushes, patrols, firefights, and the instinct to survive. His fear of dying was when he expressed his love for his parents in a poem. In one of the highlights he tells the story of “friendly on friendly” fire as seen through the eyes of one Marine; a catastrophe that resulted in four Marines killed and 28 wounded.
His account of Mike 3 Charlie will intrigue the reader and stimulate imagination and interest with every action-packed chapter. Fred’s somber and sometimes humorous storytelling will draw a tear or spark laughter in stories of courage and self-sacrifice of the American fighting man. Lasting Visions takes you to ground zero of the Vietnam War and also to the other side of the Orient.
• Location Quick Reference Guide
• Map Sketch
• Chapter 1: Life on Cherry Hill Farm
• Chapter 2: Destined for Glory
• Chapter 3: Medevac Mike
• Chapter 4: China Beach R&R-Rest and Re-laxation
• Chapter 5: A Taste of Survival
• Chapter 6: Letter from Vietnam (A Poem of Love and Fear)
• Chapter 7: Foxholes, Fields of Fire, and Fire-fights
• Chapter 8: Back to the Bush
• Chapter 9: The Reality of War
• Chapter 10: The Other Side of the Orient
• Chapter 11: Coming Home
• The Author
Excerpt from the Book:
0700, Friday, 6 March 1970. The plane began to descend from high altitude as the flight approached Da Nang from Okinawa. I peered out a window and was able to see some mountains, rivers, and rice paddies. We landed on the tarmac at Da Nang. The plane full of servicemen was fairly quiet and calm. As the plane taxied to the gate I looked out to get a glimpse of my new surroundings but could see only the terminal. The plane came to a rolling stop and the passengers began to claim their personal belongings from the overheads. As we moved forward and out of the front hatch of the aircraft, I immediately felt the change in the temperature as compared to Okinawa. The air was hot and humid with no breeze at all. I felt my forehead become clammy as I descended the steps.
The Marines offloading the aircraft were directed into a small holding area. It was a shed supported by wood 4X4s, with tin roof, no sides, and wooden benches on a dirt floor. Off in a distance I could see Marines laying a helo pad for helicopters, which was adjacent to the runway. After about an hour a truck pulled up. We boarded the vehicle with our seabags. We arrived at a wooden barracks and were told that it would be temporary until our units were assigned. We were to spend the next couple of days having formations, cleaning the barracks, burning feces from the outhouses, raking gravel, emptying trash cans, filling sandbags, and other miscellaneous garrison duties.
I was introduced to the art of burning feces which was known to the Marines as burning shitters. Wooden outhouses were pre-positioned throughout the base camp at Da Nang. Back home on the farm we had an outhouse, but it was only a one-holer. These would seat three to four men. There was a door with a latch at the rear of the structure and half-cut fifty-five gallon drums were placed inside on top of a plywood floor. When the drums were full, a detail was formed to dispose of the waste. Basically, the drums were pulled out from the back, moved away from the outhouse, the drums filled with diesel fuel, and the contents set on fire. Normally we would use a stick with a rag on the end, soak it with fuel, and light the drums in this manner. After all the feces burned, the drums were then placed back into the outhouse to await its next customers. When the platoon sergeant called for a “shit detail” at morning formation, we all knew what he meant.
During this layover in Da Nang I managed to get a piece of paper and an envelope so I could write home while I had the chance. I would not need a stamp as the mail was free if sent from a war zone. We could simply write the word “free” in the upper right hand corner of the envelope in place of a stamp. I thought that was a good deal. It would be my first short letter home from South Vietnam.
March 7, 1970
Dear Mom, Dad and Larry,
I got in Da Nang yesterday morning about seven o’clock. I’m going to the 7th Marines, which is about twenty miles from here I guess, but I don’t know my address. I will write again when I find out where I am.
I saw Donald in Okinawa. I will write you about it when I get my address. We had a pretty good time. I may get myself a camera later on if I can. Don’t worry about me being over here in Vietnam because I’m not. And if I don’t worry, neither should you all. You all have too much to worry about now. Just remember I’ll think of you all wherever I go or whatever I do.
The next morning we ate morning chow and were divided into various work details that consisted of outside police. After we were finished it was our own time to pack our gear in preparation to join our assigned units. That afternoon the platoon sergeant had us all fall out of the barracks and into formation. With a clipboard in his hands he began to address the Marines in ranks.
“The following Marines will fall into a separate formation to my left when I call off your name,” he said. “You Marines will be going to Marble Mountain. The second group will step to the rear of the formation, you will be going to the DMZ. The third group will fall in to my right and will be transported to LZ Baldy.” Some Marines were left in the original formation because they had not yet been assigned units. He then spoke to each group separately.
When he got to my group he said, “Okay listen up! You Marines are to be taken to the helo pad for further transportation up to LZ Baldy. That is the base camp for the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines. Have all your gear ready to go within the hour. Are there any questions?” No one responded. Then he told us, “All right then, get in there and do a quick cleanup of the barracks and prepare to move out. Let’s get it done people!”
We spent less time on the cleaning of the squad bay than we normally would and stuffed our seabags with gear that we had taken out for personal use. In about thirty minutes we grabbed our seabags, slung them over our shoulders, and proceeded from the barracks to the trucks. The awaiting deuce and a half drivers revved their engines as we heaved our belongings up and onto the bed of the truck. We scampered aboard and took our seats facing across from one another. Some were quiet with their heads down, others were merely staring off into space in a daze. Still others were chatting about anything and everything. Guess it was easier putting on a brave front than being brave. These Marines were from all walks of life heading toward a combat zone of unknown fate. Some were from farms like me, some from the big cities.
We all came from different backgrounds, different beliefs, and had different goals in life. It was while I was in boot camp that I realized that we all joined the Corps for different reasons. Like it or not we were to become a part of the Vietnam War. We now realized that the entry level combat training was over and that we were in Vietnam to serve our country. From here on out it would be on the job training in real world combat operations. Trickles of sweat began to slowly roll down my chest from the heat of the morning sun. I recalled what my first senior drill instructor had once said, “The more you sweat in peacetime, the less you bleed in war.”
We arrived at the helo pad and staged our gear in one pile while waiting the arrival of a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter. Before long some helicopters were circling above our heads and then began to descend. We picked up our seabags as the gusts from the propellers stirred up a huge cloud of dust. Through the commotion one gunnery sergeant who was coordinating the airlift yelled, “Okay, this is your bird people, Saddle up!”
The Marines that were going to LZ Baldy boarded the chopper and it lifted into the air. I had been lucky to get a window seat and peered out at the surroundings. I could now see the entire base camp at Da Nang. I watched the buildings and the movement of the Marines below as we cruised out further away and over the surrounding hillsides and rice paddies. Soon the buildings were out of sight and the pilot leveled the aircraft on a straight course.
As we flew along I peered out the window to see what sort of terrain we were flying over. I could see the Vietnamese farmers working in the rice paddies, villages with thatched roofs, dirt roads with Vietnamese traveling on them, mountains, and dense jungles. The thing that intrigued me the most were the clumps of banana trees near the edge of the rice paddies. I thought they were pretty to watch swaying in the breeze. I noticed a convoy of military vehicles on a dirt road that seemed to be heading in the same direction as the chopper.
It seemed as if half an hour had passed when the pilot began to circle another base camp. This one was a lot smaller than the base camp I had seen from the air when I left Da Nang. I could see Marines moving about below. Some had shirts on while others did not. Some were not wearing any headgear while others were wearing either the standard utility cap or helmets. Some were carrying weapons while others were not. I was somewhat surprised to see very little uniformity throughout the base camp. Sandbag bunkers were visible around the perimeter of the base camp. The chopper began to descend.
A corporal awaited us as we disembarked the chopper. He wanted to know what company we were going to. I told him I was going to Mike Company. He looked at my orders and said, “That’s correct, Mike Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines. It is just up at the top of this hill. Follow me and I will take you all to your respective companies.”
We followed the corporal down a dusty road and it began to incline up a small hill. At the top of the hill was the base camp. There were M274A2 (Mules) and M151A1 (Jeeps) running all over the place and kicking up a lot of dust. The Mule was also known as the Mechanical Mule. It was a 1/2 ton, 4X4 lightweight carrier with a flat bed that could be used for many infantry tasks including the transport of personnel, patients on stretchers, or cargo. They could even be used as a platform for a recoilless rifle. I was intrigued at the ingenuity of this particular vehicle and wished that I had something like it back on the farm.
This base camp of LZ Baldy looked busy, very busy. As we walked through the base camp I noticed through the door openings that the structures had plywood sides, tin roofs with sandbags evenly spaced, and the floors that were supported by wooden poles about three feet high. Suddenly we stopped and the corporal said, “This is Mike Company.”
There was a red sign next to the entrance with yellow and white lettering that read, A COMPANY CALLED MIKE. The story that was told to the new joins was that at an earlier time during the Vietnam War, Mike Company had engaged with the enemy and completely ran out of ammunition. The Marines of Mike Company had to resort to hand to hand combat. We were told that a training film was made based on the valor of those brave men. Consequently the title of the film became known as “A COMPANY CALLED MIKE.”
The corporal told us to wait outside while he talked to the company first sergeant. I overheard the first sergeant tell him that there was no room in the company area and that the newly arrived Marines would have to be billeted at the Noncommissioned Officers (NCO) Club. I heard the first sergeant tell the corporal, “Get them settled in and have them report back here first thing in the morning to start checking in.”
We then proceeded to the hooch that had been designated as the NCO Club. In Vietnam, Marines referred to all living quarters as hooches. It could be a structure with a tin roof over your head as the ones in the base camp, a fighting hole, a bunker, or one made by the individual Marine with a poncho or poncho liner. Whatever the configuration, it was still a hooch to all the Marines.
We stepped inside the hooch and I could see that cots had already been spaced about a foot apart down both sides of the building. It was dark inside although the sun was shining. The cots were canvas with aluminum frames and about two feet wide. I placed my seabag on a cot that I thought to be vacant. To my surprise a Marine in a different cot and who had obviously been in Vietnam for awhile said, “Move your shit, that’s my rack!”
I sensed his irritation so I reluctantly moved my gear to the next available cot. He laid back down, obviously on another Marine’s cot, placed his utility cover over his eyes and folded his arms over his chest. I heard him mumble, “Fuckin newbies, fresh out of the world and think they own the goddamn place.”
I decided to ignore his rudeness and began to gaze at my new living quarters. Some of the other Marines that I had flew in with me moved to the rear of the hooch and I heard one say, “Hey look you guys, we’ve got a bar right here by our racks.” I walked back to join them and as I went through the door, I could see that a plywood bar had been set up in the back room with wooden benches and tables. The “slop chute” had a musky aroma of spilled beer and cigarette smoke that lingered in the air.
“Yeah,” I said, “this is going to be all right. Here we are waiting to go out to the field in a few days and we have a club right here in the barracks. Not far to stumble back to our cots, huh?” The others agreed.
The Marine who had earlier told me to move my seabag from his cot spoke up. “Field?” he questioned. “You must think you’re still in Infantry Training back in the world. In the Nam, we call it the Bush.”
Without responding to the Marine I began to unpack my seabag feeling a little irritated by his attitude. Although we had the club and all the beer you could drink at our fingertips, I did not realize at the time the trouble it would pose for the new joins. The first night we began sitting around talking about our uncertainties, not knowing what we would be getting into and discussing what sort of combat action we would encounter. The club opened for business in the back room so we decided that we should partake in a few beers.
The old salts in the bar were crazy as hell. They were drinking Black Label Beer like there was no tomorrow and stacking the cans on the tables high as they would go. Eventually all the stacked cans would come tumbling off the tables and onto the floor. There were roars of laughter and excitement over the routine, which seemed to be a ritual. There was more drinking and more stacking of cans throughout the night. They did not seem to give us new joins much eye contact. It was as if they were intentionally ignoring us.
After having a few beers myself and laughing along with the others, I decided to call it a night. The beer had gone to my head and all I wanted to do was to lie down in my cot and go to sleep. I stumbled in the darkness and managed to find the cot in which I had claimed. I had no pillow or blanket so I took off my utility jacket and folded it up for an impromptu pillow. I would not need a blanket because it was so hot and humid in the hooch. Even at night it was hot. I tried to mentally shut out the sounds of talking and the noise that was coming from the bar. I just needed a good night’s sleep. Suddenly the bar door came crashing open and about seven rowdies made their presence known in our squad bay. They began kicking our cots, turning over our gear that laid on the floor, and yelling profanities.
“You bunch of fuckin newbies, you are in the Nam now and you’re all gonna get killed.” They laughed and joked among themselves as they continued their boisterous behavior of terrorizing all the new Marines. For awhile they would disappear back into the bar for more drinks but it would not be long before they were back in the squad bay again. “Newbies, newbies, you’re all a bunch of fuckin newbies and you’re gonna get zapped by the gooners. Charlie is out there waiting for you, you’re all gonna die.”
Although I was mad from within I did not say a word. I knew if I said anything to the old timers that there would surely be a fight right there in the squad bay. I just was not in the mood. Besides, the other new Marines seemed to ignore them also. I guess we were somewhat intimidated by their behavior and the fact that they had been in country longer than most. It turned out to be a very long night without much sleep.
The next morning a Marine from the company office came into the squad bay and woke us up. We were instructed to get dressed and go to the mess hall for chow. After we finished getting dressed and making head calls in a nearby outhouse, we fell into formation and the Marine had us route step to the mess hall. It was within close proximity of our squad bay and the company office.
As I entered the hatch to the mess hall, I could smell the aroma of eggs and potatoes. I stepped into the line and saw a Marine cooking eggs in a puddle of grease. Small metal containers were spaced on the counter containing bread, bacon, and creamed beef (Shit on the Shingle). I told the Marine cooking the eggs that I would have a hard egg. After only a few seconds he placed the greasy egg on my paper plate. Then I moved down the line and put some bread and bacon on my plate. There was a Marine serving the creamed beef. I said to the Marine cook, “I’ll have some of that S.O.S.” He scooped up some creamed beef with a long handled spoon and covered my egg, bacon, and bread with the creamed beef. I found a vacant spot at a chest high bench and with a plastic knife and fork began to devour my first gourmet meal of the day. I did not mind eating while standing up. I heard a Marine say, “It may not look too appetizing, but it beats the hell out of C-Rations.”
After breakfast we were instructed to take our seabags to battalion supply. We were to tag them with our names and unit and turn them in for safekeeping. A corporal at the battalion supply told us that our seabags would be stored there until we left the country, no matter how long it might be. I figured that my uniforms would all be molded and mildewed by the time I got ready to claim them at the end of my tour. When every seabag had been turned in, we went through a door to the outside and were issued our 782 gear. The Marine Corps terminology was duoce gear. This consisted of canteens, pack, cartridge belt, poncho, helmet, flak jacket, poncho-liner, and a host of other combat equipment.
At a distance and up on a hillside within plain view we could see some fixed wing aircraft flying low and dropping bombs. Tracer rounds were visible bouncing off the ground and into the air. We heard the firing of various weapons from all directions.
“I wonder who is up there,” I commented.
The Marine corporal issuing my 782 gear said, “That’s Mike Company. They don’t call them Medevac Mike for nothing.”
“What do you mean by Medevac Mike?” I asked.
“You’ll soon find out,” he replied. “I see from your custody receipt card that you are going to Mike Company. They sort of adopted that nick-name because they are always getting hit by Charlie.”
“How often do they have to medevac Marines?” I asked the corporal.
He laughed aloud. “You’ll find out. They are always in the shit!”
Before I had signed for all my gear, I looked up on the hill and two choppers were circling where all the firing was taking place.
“See, I told you,” the corporal said to me. They must have some KIA or WIA in the company now. Stick around and you’ll see the body bags being brought in.”
With that I kept quiet. I picked up my duoce gear and headed back to the hooch. I knew that my time was coming and that I would soon be in a similar situation. I began to see some choppers landing on the same landing zone that I had arrived on. I could see the causalities being off loaded from the choppers. They were rushed to the Battalion Aid Station where the corpsmen and doctors would try to piece them back together. Before the choppers lifted off, I could see some black body bags being off loaded. I knew the body bags contained dead Marines. I turned away and proceeded inside my hooch.
The day ended far too soon for me. I did not particularly care for going through another night of being harassed by the Vietnam vets in the NCO Club. It seemed strange to me that they would act that way towards the new Marines, after all, we had been taught during training about Marine Corps camaraderie and taking care of our own. I just hoped that the Marines in Mike Company would treat us better than the ones back at the base camp. I decided to write a letter home again before all the daylight in the squad bay disappeared.
8 Mar 1970
Dear Mom, Dad and Larry,
I got my address today so thought I’d drop you a few lines while I have time. The only thing that will change later on is that I will put a platoon number on it. Right now we’re staying in the club so you can imagine what goes on. They gave us drinks on the house last night and one this afternoon. It’s been several people come in today and drink up. They even cleaned out the bar. What time we weren’t outside I just laid in my rack. It’s one of the fold-up types. We’re supposed to go to our company tomorrow and I’ll sure be glad when we do. It will be “Mike Company.”
Well I can hardly think around here for the radios, but will try to tell you what happened in Okinawa. First of all, when we got there they separated my cousin and me. He will stay in Okinawa unless he gets foolish and tries to come here. I phoned Donald later on that night and a sergeant told me he was on liberty, but that he would tell him I called. The next night I called again and he told me that Donald was on his way to find me. So I stood by the entrance and in about ten minutes he drove in. I don’t think he actually recognized me. I guess it was because all the guys on the base were wearing jungle utilities. Anyway he got me a special liberty pass and I went to his house. It’s just a three-room house, but is real cozy. It’s the typical Japanese house.
We arrived in Da Nang at seven o’clock Friday morning and the next day I got on a chopper and flew about twenty miles. I don’t know for sure, but I believe its southwest of Da Nang. I’m in the 7th Marines and on a place called Mount Baldy. I doubt if it’s on the large Vietnam map you have, but at least you know I’m not too far from Da Nang. I think things are kindly quiet now, at least it has been since I got here.
It’s about 75 to 80 degrees here now and kind of dusty. I don’t guess it’s rained for several days. Other than that, it’s not too bad yet, but I’ll be glad when I get to my company.
Well I’ll close now and hit the rack. I didn’t get much sleep last night. So write real soon and take care I will always think of everyone.
Bye for now,
During the initial few days at LZ Baldy our time was occupied on work details and getting checked in to our company. The clerks at the company office screened our Service Record Books to ensure they were correct and that our record of emergency data was updated. This was important in case we were either wounded, captured, killed in action, or in case our parents or next of kin had to be notified. At night, we were assigned Hole Watch, which was security around the perimeter of the base camp, and weapons passed from one relief to the other. We had not yet drawn our own individual weapons. Hole watch was conducted in bunkers or just dug out holes fortified with sandbags. This type of security was vital in case of sudden attacks by the Viet Cong or the North Vietnamese Army
My first night on hole watch started when a sergeant took about twelve of the new Marines to our fighting holes. We were assigned one sector while other groups would cover the remaining sectors on all sides of the base camp. We were placed four men to a fighting hole. He gave us some claymore mines, instructed us in their use, some grenades, trip flares, and ammunition for the weapons. We had also carried out a M60 machine gun and had it mounted on a tripod. I asked the sergeant if we should fire the M16 rifles before we stood watch to make sure the sights were properly adjusted. He said, “Nah, you don’t need no battle sight zero on these weapons, all you have to do is point and aim. With all the ordnance I have given you, plus the machine gun, you should be able to suppress any gooks that try to come through the wire.”
We commenced to set out the claymore mines in front of our defensive positions, inserted an ammunition belt in the machine gun, placed trip flares in likely avenues of approach, and then found a spot on the hard ground to settle in for the night. The M18A1 Claymore Mines were olive green in color, was command detonated, and was loaded with about 700 steel balls backed by a composition explosive. A blasting cap ignited the 3.5 pound mine which sent the steel balls in a fan-shaped arc out to 100 meters. Two bipod prongs could be extended from the base which was used to implant the device into the ground. The outboard side was placed toward the enemy and an electrical wire was connected from the body of the claymore to the hand-held firing device which ran back to the fighting hole. It was our first line of defense in case of a night time enemy attack.
The corporal explained to us that we had to be careful with the claymores because Charlie would sneak up to them at night and face them back toward our position. Then they would back up and either fire on our position or make a commotion in order for the Marines to fire the claymore. If the Marines had their heads sticking over top of the sandbags they could catch a face full of the steel balls. He warned to check them carefully in the morning since Charlie would also booby trap the claymores during the night. He then headed off with the other Marines to post them around the perimeter.
The early hours of the night seemed to pass rapidly because we were all talking and preparing a watch roster for the night. At around 2200 the others decided to crash, a terminology used by Marines meaning sleep. I had the first watch and it was not long until I could hear a Marine snoring away. I thought to myself, how was I to defend this position, with the Marines loudly sawing logs in their sleep? As things began to quiet down, I started to listen for every sound around me and watched the distant treeline with great alertness. I kept my eyes peeled for even the slightest movement not knowing what to look for during my first night on hole watch.
As I gazed at the treeline that was approximately two hundred meters to my front, I began to fantasize about the enemy’s possible presence in the trees. I moved my eyes in a rhythmic motion back and forth across the treeline, across the open rice paddy, and along the adjacent holes. I strained my eyes to determine if I could see the Marines in the fighting positions on both sides of me. It was very quiet except for the mosquitoes swarming around my ears. While fanning my ears to keep these pests away, I broke my concentration momentarily. I looked around me to see the other Marines fast asleep on the ground.
I began to daydream about my mother and father and peered at the moonlight sky. There was not a cloud in the sky. I attempted to locate the North Star and the Big Dipper. For a moment, I thought I might one day have to rely on my navigational abilities in case I ever got lost. To my surprise, I counted three falling stars before I realized that my alertness was not on the treeline. A sudden fear came over me as I focused my attention once again on the trees. I felt for my rifle ever so slowly to avoid any unnecessary sound and meticulously placed it in my lap. I looked to locate the selector switch on the weapon for reassurance and confirmed that the M60 machine gun was still mounted and ready to go.
My four hours of watch seemed to drag by but I had to make radio checks every fifteen minutes which was a relief to know there were other Marines on my side of the wire. I woke the next Marine for his watch and I settled down on my poncho to get a few hours of sleep. The dew was now thick and my poncho was wet from where I had unrolled it for my bed. I curled up inside of it, attempted to relocate some of the bigger stones that invaded my bed on the ground, and covered my head to keep the mosquitoes away from my face. I must have managed to doze off for a few minutes when I heard the Marine on watch say, “Hey you guys, there’s somebody out there. Wake up!” We scampered to our feet and tumbled into our fighting hole.
“Listen,” he said. “Hear that?” As we listened intently, we heard a low menacing voice come from the treeline.
“Hey, Manine… .Manine, tonight you die.”
We began talking about firing into the area that the voice was coming from, but remembered that we should call in to let the Corporal of the Guard know what was going on. We used the radio to contact him and we were told to just hold our fire and not to fire unless fired upon or saw distinct movement. The Corporal of the Guard communicated to us that it was one of Charlie’s tricks to probe the lines and see where our positions were or to draw fire so he could pinpoint our automatic weapons. We waited cautiously and the voice appeared again only this time in a different location in the treeline.
“Hey Manine…Manine! Tonight you die. Tonight you die, Manine,” the eerie voice said.
Then we could hear him laugh as if to taunt us. We finally decided to continue our watch as scheduled since we were not to fire on this intruder and give our position away. The voice continued for a few hours and then disappeared. The night passed without incident and we were relieved at around 0800. I felt tired and sleepy, however I knew we had another full day ahead of us.
After morning chow we were told to form a working party and fill sandbags to beef up the fortification of the perimeter fighting holes. We boarded a truck and were driven to the same fighting hole where I was the night before. We started our tedious task of filling the sandbags with dirt, rocks, and sand. It was now mid morning and the sun was beating down. The air was hot and muggy. We took off our utility jackets and worked with just our green T-shirts on. The task of the day was soon accomplished and we headed for the NCO club for a few drinks to quench our thirst.
The next day all the new Marines signed for our own individual M16A1 service rifle at the armory. I looked it over carefully to determine if it was functioning properly. As I inspected my weapon from the butt stock to the end of the barrel, I began to think of the creed we had learned in boot camp. “This is my rifle, there are many like it, but this one is mine.”
It was not long until a 6x6 truck pulled up next to the armory and a short and slightly overweight staff sergeant stepped out from the passenger side. He told us that all the “newbies” were to receive an Orientation and Indoctrination Course and part of the training was to get our battle sights on our M16s. Battle sight zero is a term used by the Marine Corps in which adjustments are made on the front and rear sights of the rifle in order to hit a target at three hundred meters. All the Marines simply called it BZO.
He told us to load on the truck and that we were going to be transported out to the firing range. We traveled on some very dusty roads and then came to an abrupt stop in the middle of nowhere. The staff sergeant got out of the passenger side of the vehicle and told us to form a working party in order to break open the metal ammunition cans from the small wooden crates. We each received thirty rounds of ammunition, enough for ten rounds in three magazine clips. We were then told to form a single line facing down range away from the truck. We were on top of a hill that gradually sloped down and into a ravine. We all formed a single line facing away from the truck.
“Lock and Load!” the staff sergeant commanded.
All the Marines began seating a magazine of ammo into their M16s.
“Take your weapons off safe and commence firing!
We all sort of paused and looked at each other a bit confused.
“Where are the targets?” I boldly asked.
“Ain’t got no targets,” the staff sergeant replied. “Just pick you out a bush or a rock to fire at. This will be the last chance you Marines get to obtain your battle sight zero on your weapons before you go into combat. So make sure you put the right dope on your rifle. Now, commence firing!”
The Marines down the line commenced firing their weapons at rocks or into bushes. I could see some rounds ricochet off the rocks about twenty-five feet away.
“I’ll give you a few minutes to get your sights adjusted!” the staff sergeant yelled out over the loud firing of the M16 service rifles.
I figured I had better start firing if I was going to get my sights adjusted in time. I would have preferred silhouette targets and wondered why the staff sergeant had not brought any from the base camp. Maybe it was because in Vietnam there was not a need for paper targets when you had “Charlie” to shoot at. For me, this was an important event to get the right adjustments on my sights before joining Mike Company in combat. Evidently, the staff sergeant did not think it was critical enough to be overly concerned.
I picked out a bush up close and started to fire into it. I could not tell exactly where I was hitting. I loaded the second magazine. This time I aimed for a rock in the distance. I still was unsure where I was hitting to make any accurate adjustments. I loaded the third magazine and picked out a small rock that was closer to me. I made two adjustments before I heard the staff sergeant’s voice.
“Cease fire! Cease Fire!” he commanded. “If you ain’t got your battle sight zero by now, you are just shit outta luck. Make sure you remember your BZO and keep it on your weapons. Now file by me with your weapons on safe and the bolt to the rear so I can check your chamber. Once I have determined your weapon is safe, get back on the truck.”
I had been used to cleaning up expended brass on the training ranges, but not here in the Nam. We picked up the wooden boxes and metal ammo cans and we were soon headed back toward the base camp. As I rode in the back of the truck, I remained quiet while the other Marines were busy talking. I was very concerned about facing the enemy and not knowing if I had the correct sight adjustments on my weapon. I felt cheated so I silently cursed the staff sergeant for being so careless with our lives.
Instead of going straight back to the base camp, the driver pulled up beside a rice paddy. The staff sergeant got out of the vehicle and said, “Okay, out of the truck Marines. It’s time for a bath, Vietnam style.”
There was clear running water and a pool of water just below a paddy dike. We all stripped down to our skivvies and waded into the water. We managed to wash the sweat off our bodies and rinsed our sweat-stained T-shirts. There was no telling what creatures lurked in the water, but we did not care. At least it was cooling, wet, and clear. I managed to put my anger aside. It was not long until we were splashing and carrying on in the water as if we were boys back home playing in a river. After our swim we headed back to LZ Baldy in order to clean our weapons, go to chow, have a few classes, and settle in for the night back at the hooch. I decided to write a letter after everything was done before it got dark.
11 March 1970
Dear Mom, Dad and Larry,
I just got back from chow and from taking a swim and feel pretty good, so thought I’d drop you a few lines. This may seem a little soon but this is my last sheet so I’ll use it up. I’ll have to go to the PX tomorrow and get some more paper and envelopes. I wish I could write to some of my kinfolk and neighbors but right now, we’re busy with classes during the day. That’s right, we have a week of classes before we go out to the bush. When we get in we have to write a letter within two hours or it will get dark and where we’re staying now does not have any lights. We’re supposed to move into our company sometime this week. I was sure glad to get out of the NCO Club though because it was always a mess to clean up.
I mentioned earlier that I went for a swim. Well if you want a shower around here, you have to pour some water into a small tank and take it to a four feet square enclosure. So instead of going to the trouble, most of us go to a hole of water that flows from a rice paddy. It’s clear water running in at all times and is about chest high. I washed my under clothes in it also. The temperature seems to rise a little every day but I don’t imagine it’s got over 85 degrees yet. It gets pretty cool at night here. I even laid my field jacket out to cover me at night.
Well I got hold of a map today and found out where I am. I am south of Da Nang on Mount Baldy. The name you all might find on the map is Nui Huong Que. That is the section I’m in, although when we go into the bush, we will cover a larger radius.
I’m running out of things to tell you all so will let you get back to what you were doing. Whatever you do, take it easy.
During the next few days our time was occupied by cleaning our weapons, having accountability formations, undergoing personnel and equipment inspections, and in general preparing to go to the bush. By now I was familiar with the terrain on LZ Baldy. I could find my way to the mess hall, supply, armory, PX, and check cashing facility with no problem. I also knew the boundaries of the perimeter from the concertina wires and the position of most of the fighting holes.
As I spent my first few days at LZ Baldy, I began to feel more comfortable with my new surroundings. The Marines that arrived with me, although we would end up in various companies, worked and played together. There were times at the club that some of the old salts would share some of the horror stories of combat and they began to accept us more freely. I still felt the need however, to get settled in to my new company.
I observed an infantry company, from within the 3rd Battalion, return from the bush and noticed how tired and dirty the Marines looked. Some seemed to be in a daze while others were joyful to be back in the rear. I tried to avoid going to the club when they first came in, for I felt that I might receive the “newbie tease” again. In the meantime, we continued to have hole watch every night.
The personnel in the rear only stood hole watch if all the companies were in the bush or there were no newbies to do it for them. It seemed to be a skate job to be in the rear and never have to go into the rice paddies, jungles, or mountains, like the grunts. The term grunt was a slang nickname given to the infantry units that represented Marines on the front lines. I tried to write letters home to reassure my mother and father that I was okay.
13 Mar 1970
Dear Mom, Dad and all,
I don’t have anything to do so will drop you a few words. I’ve been pretty busy today filling sandbags to place around bunkers. It was pretty hard work because we had to stack them a few yards away and it was pretty hot. I even got sunburned today. Last night we had perimeter watch so I had to sleep out. It was all right except for the mosquitoes. They brought around coffee at about 10:00 p.m. and sandwiches at about 1:00 a.m. I had an AN/PRC 77 Radio Set that I could talk to different Marines in their holes. The PRC-77 is portable radio with a VHF and FM combat-net radio receiver that is used to provide short-range, two-way voice communication. It also provides secure voice transmissions. It was sort of fun. This is my night off so I will try to write a few letters.
Nothing is new around here, it’s just the same thing going on. I will be going out to my company in a few days which will give me more exciting things to do. To make sure your mail gets to me a little quicker just put 3rd Platoon on the address like I have it on the envelope.
What are Dad and Larry doing these days? I imagine they can find plenty to get into especially now that spring is around the corner. I can imagine it now. Larry, the time over here is just a little bit different from back in the world. Right now its seven o’clock Friday evening here, while in Kentucky it is about eight o’clock in the morning. Therefore, I’m about eleven hours ahead of him. Ha!
Well I’ll let you all go now, I’ve found out there are no lights in these barracks. Oh well, I’ll get around to writing. Tell everyone I still think of them although I can’t seem to get a letter to them.
The time came for me to join my company in the bush. They were only about three miles southwest of LZ Baldy near the Suoi Cho Dun River. Upon command, we loaded onto 6x6 trucks with our packs, helmets, M16s and miscellaneous combat gear. Once all the Marines were in the back of the trucks the drivers revved their engines and jerked the trucks forward. We began our trek to locate Mike Company. As we rode along the dusty road the terrain seemed to be mostly flat. After riding for about thirty minutes the drivers pulled up into the company’s defensive perimeter and came to a stop. I had finally made it to Mike Company.
All the new Marines were told to off load. After I got off the truck with my gear I looked around and could not believe my eyes. There were a few Marines walking around in their skivvies who had just returned from swimming in the river. There was a jeep and trailer with beer and sodas stacked to the top and on ice. On top of that, the Marines of Mike Company were barbecuing steaks, hot dogs, and hamburgers. Some Marines were basking in the sun. The atmosphere was similar to a beach party and one could tell that these men were having a great time. For a moment, I wondered if I was in the wrong place.
A corporal approached the truck and asked, “Who are the Marines being assigned to 3rd Platoon?”
“I am,” I responded, “and there are one or two others going to 3rd platoon.”
“Come with me and I’ll introduce you to your squads,” he said.
The corporal escorted us to the platoon area and the two other Marines were introduced to their squad leaders. A couple of Marines within the squads shook our hands and said, “Welcome to Vietnam, welcome to Mike Company.” Others did not say much and just laid back on the ground with what seemed like resentment. By now I was used to being looked down upon simply because I was new to a unit. It was as if the new Marines were intruders. The corporal gestured for me to follow him again and we came upon the 3rd squad. He then told the squad leader that I had been assigned to his squad.
“Go ahead and grab you a beer, go swimming, get you a steak, and just relax today,” the squad leader said. “Early tomorrow morning we are heading out on an operation.” Then he turned and walked away.
“I found a flat spot on the ground amidst the other squad members. After moving a few small rocks aside I pulled my poncho out of my pack and spread it out on the ground. I would bed down here for the night. Then I folded my poncho liner several times and placed it at the head of the poncho. My poncho liner would initially serve as my improvised pillow and I could later cover myself during the hours of darkness.
I made my way to the jeep trailer containing the beer and soda. I reached into the melting ice and pulled out a Black Label Beer. Then I returned to my pack and sat down on it. As I slowly sipped my beer I peered around at my new surroundings. I was amazed that the company was in such a relaxed state. I managed to get a barbeque hamburger and hot dog and made a couple of trips to the jeep trailer to quince my thirst. Most of the Marines sat around on their packs and continued to eat and drink. As I was getting ready to call it a night, some Marines built a bonfire, right in the middle of the command post. They carried on outlandish conversations as though they were on some kind of camping expedition. I just hoped that there was no enemy close by.
I dozed in and out of sleep on the hard ground. To my surprise, reveille was sounded early the next morning at about 0430. It was still dark when the squad leader came by to arouse us from our sleep. He sent a couple of Marines to fetch a few cases of C-Rations and when they returned they were passed out to us in equal shares. I figured that since it was early morning I would dine on a small can of ham and eggs and crackers. As time passed the sun began to rise in the east. The warmth of the sun felt good compared to the dampness of the night.
The squad leader started coming by and dropping off ordnance and supplies to various members of the squad. He dropped off claymore mines to selected individuals, supplied us with hand grenades, ammunition, and told us to refill our canteens. He dropped off quite a bit of ordnance for me to carry, plus a plastic water jug, M60 machine gun ammo, and mortar rounds. I could not believe the amount of equipment that laid in front of me.
Finally, I said, “Hey, what do you think I am a pack mule? I can’t carry all this stuff.”
“Well, you’re gonna carry it, cause everyone else has had their fair share. Now it’s your turn in the barrel. You will carry every piece of gear you see in front of you,” the squad leader commanded.
I silently cursed at the squad leader under my breath as I knelt down and started cramming the gear into my small pack. I sensed a shadow of a man approaching me and looked up to see who it was. I thought it might be the squad leader with more equipment to carry.
“Hey, my name is PFC Hawkeye. I’m in your fireteam. Don’t worry about carrying all this stuff, I’ll help you. The squad leader is a real asshole sometimes. He is always giving us more gear than we can carry.”
“My name is Fenwick,” I said. “Where are you from Hawkeye?”
“Oregon,” he replied.
“I’ve never been to Oregon,” I said, “but I’ve always heard it’s a pretty State.”
“Yeah, it is a pretty State, and its home to me.”
“Well, I’m from Kentucky,” I said.
“Kentucky, huh? I’ve never been to Kentucky either, but I’ve heard a lot about the bluegrass there,” Hawkeye said.
We both chuckled at our clumsiness in starting a conversation for the first time.
The next thing I heard was “Saddle up!” The voice I heard was stern and authoritative.
“Who was that?” I questioned Hawkeye.
“Oh, that’s the company gunny. When he says saddle up, that means get all your gear on and get ready to move out. He has been a drill instructor, and is an all right guy, but you don’t want to rub him the wrong way,” Hawkeye replied.”
“Where are we moving to, do you know?” I asked.
“I don’t know, but wherever it is, it’s bound to be hot. They normally fatten us up on beer and steaks before a big operation.”
“I guess I’m in it for the glory,” I said with a smile.
Hawkeye winked and said, “Join the crowd.”
I stood up, slung my pack over my shoulders, adjusted the fit, and picked up my rifle. I saw Hawkeye place his bayonet on his weapon and I decided to follow suit.
The squad leader walked over and stood beside me. “Fenwick, you are walking point today,” he said. “It’s our squad’s turn to take the lead when we move out.”
“Point? Do you mean up in front of the column?” I asked innocently.
“Yeah, I mean up front, fuckin point man, goddamit!” he cursed. “You are going to move along and check for mines and booby traps. Jesus H. Christ, I have to teach these fuckin newbie’s everything.”
I was feeling a bit agitated and could not figure out why the squad leader was making me walk point. This was my first full day in the company.
I hesitated for a moment and then asked the squad leader, “Don’t you think that I’m a little bit new in country to be walking point?”
At this point he pointed his finger at me and retaliated. “Hey, everyone else in my squad has walked point, and since you are a newbie, you’re going to walk point. You don’t need any experience, just get out there and walk. Just watch where you’re stepping,” he said with a smile.
Our platoon guide, a sergeant, overheard the commotion. He walked over to us and told the squad leader, “You can’t do that, he is new in the squad. Put him as tail end Charlie and put someone with more experience up front.”
The squad leader’s face turned a shade of red. He turned facing the sergeant. “Fenwick is in my squad, and I say he’s walking point,” the squad leader retorted!
“No he’s not!” the sergeant snapped back. “You put him as tail end Charlie on his first day out, and that’s an Order!”
Tail end Charlie was a term used to identify the very last man in a squad or platoon formation. The squad leader began to argue with the platoon guide but the sergeant was not giving in. “Look, if you make Fenwick walk point on his very first day, I’ll make sure you are the first one designated as a tunnel rat when we find a spider trap,” the platoon guide said.
A tunnel rat was someone who crawled into tunnels, bunkers, caves, or holes to search for VC. There could be poisonous snakes, pungi stakes, mines, or booby traps in these hidden places.
The squad leader glared at me while answering the platoon guide. “Aaah, fuck it, fuck it, walk goddamn tail end Charlie then, Chickenshit!”
By this time we were joined by the platoon sergeant, a short stocky staff sergeant. “What the hell is all the arguing about over here?” he asked.
The platoon guide informed him what the commotion was all about. After hearing the platoon guide’s explanation the staff sergeant confirmed that I would walk tail end Charlie and not be put up front leading the entire company. Needless to say, the squad leader was very angry. He cursed to himself as we moved out slowly over a trail and across a rice paddy. As we moved along in a single column spaced approximately ten meters apart, Hawkeye stopped and gave a gesture for me to move up to where he was.
“Hey Fenwick,” Hawkeye said. “Notice that I have my rifle facing outboard to the left and that the Marine ahead of me has his weapon facing to his right?”
I looked ahead at the Marine up front and replied, “Yeah!”
“Well, there is a reason for that,” Hawkeye said. “You see, if we think we are getting ourselves in a world of shit, we stagger the weapons. This allows us to return fire in all directions rapidly in case we are hit from the flanks or are caught in an ambush. So no matter if you are right handed or left handed, you can still put rounds down range at Charlie. You can worry about sight alignment, sight picture, and trigger control after you clean the crap out of your skivvies.”
“I understand,” I responded.
Hawkeye began to move past me back up to his original position in column.
“Hey Hawkeye,” I said. “Thanks a lot.”
“Any time,” he replied.
In a half hour or so we entered a wooded area and began traveling up along the banks of a river. Our platoon was then halted and the 1st and 2nd platoons by-passed us as they took the lead. We walked slowly beside the river and all of a sudden I heard, WHAM! WHOOM! Rat-tat-tat! There was a tremendous firefight going on somewhere up in the front of the company. As I steadied my rifle I began to look all over to see where I could return fire. All I could see up front were some of the Marines in the squad taking cover. Bullets commenced cutting through the trees above my head and leaves began to trickle down to earth. I took up a position behind a huge boulder still trying to find a field of fire. I could only sense that the platoons in the front were being hit from across the river.
The platoon sergeant suddenly approached my position from the rear. He was a Samoan and his skin was really dark from being exposed to the hot Vietnam sun. There was one other Marine behind me now that had just joined the company the day before. The platoon sergeant calmly barked orders. “Get down behind these big rocks! Take cover! Keep your heads down!”
It just so happened that there were these big boulders along the river where I had stopped. The platoon sergeant told me to stay low and assured me that I could not return fire with the Marines just in front of me. Besides, the main firefight was so far up ahead in the column that we could not see what was going on. As I leaned up against this big rock wishing I could be of some assistance, the enemy rounds coming from across the river continued to zing overhead cutting leaves and branches off the trees. Then we started receiving mortar rounds. The Marines in the platoon ahead of me were returning fire with M16s, M60 machine guns, and M79 grenade launchers.
The platoon sergeant asked me, “You know what kind of rounds those are cutting off those leaves?”
“No,” I responded nervously.
“That’s the sound of AK47s. The gooks must have hit the leading platoon. Sounds like there is a bunch of those slant-eyed commie bastards over there. Just stay down low, it will be over soon. 1st platoon is giving them hell. “Get some, 1st!” He then looked at me and asked, “You have just joined the company, haven’t you?”
“Yes Sir,” I replied, “just yesterday.”
“Well, welcome to Vietnam. Don’t worry, just keep your head down behind this boulder. Can’t ask for better cover. Ain’t no bullet gonna penetrate this thang. “Where are you from back in the world?”
“Kentucky,” I responded.
“What is your name?”
“PFC Fenwick, Sir.”
“Well, Fenwick,” he said. “From now on I’m gonna call you Kentucky. You’re scared ain’t cha Kentucky?”
“No Sir.” was my reply.
He then looked me in the eyes and repeated, “Kentucky, yor scared ain’t cha?”
Again I said, “No Sir.”
“Goddamit, Kentucky! he yelled out. “You’re scared, ain’t cha?”
“Yes, Sir!” I bellowed out.
“I’m scared too,” he calmly said. “You don’t have to deny it. It’s only natural. I’m scared, you’re scared, and so are the other Marines out here. Every time we get into a firefight, I feel like shittin my drawers. Just take it easy, it’ll all be over before long.”
I nodded in agreement but could not imagine that a man that was as calm as he could have the least bit of fear. He settled me down and made me feel like I belonged to a unit that needed me as much as I needed them. I still could not see the action that was going on up ahead of me. While I crouched down below the rock, I could hear the squad radio blaring with transmissions. The operator was only a few feet away from me. He was just listening to the receiver so I assumed it was the platoon radio operator who was doing all the talking.
I heard the squad radio operator say, “The company commander is calling in an air strike. The word is to keep your heads down low.”
As we waited for the jets to arrive on the scene, there was now only sporadic firing and then no firing at all.
The squad radio operator yelled out, “We’ve got some wounded Marines up front, there will be some choppers coming in after the air strike for a medevac! Sounds like about four of our guys got their tickets back to the rear. Just wounded though, I believe.”
After about twenty minutes, I heard some Phantom Jets screaming across the sky. The platoon radio operator yelled out, “Keep your heads down, they are going to be dropping some five hundred pound bombs on the target!”
I hugged the rock as two jets made their first sweep down low over the treetops. The bombs hit on the other side of the river and they shook the ground with terrific force. I could hear the sound of metal whizzing through the air. The jets circled in the air and made two more strikes, then they disappeared out of sight and sound. A few minutes later I could hear the sound of choppers approaching. I could see two CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters and four UH-1 Huey Gunships. The gunships veered off and began spraying the area across the river with automatic fire. The CH-46s came in low and landed up ahead of me out of sight. I could hear the engines slow the acceleration of the rotors and some Marines yelling to get the wounded aboard.
Both choppers lifted into the air. As they passed over my head I could see one of the door gunners swinging his M60 machine gun and putting rounds on the enemy position. The Hueys joined them and they were on their way back to the base camp taking the wounded with them. I learned later that four Marines had been wounded, but none seriously.
The word was given to dig in and that we would remain in our positions the rest of the afternoon and through the night. We were instructed by the squad leader to dig fighting holes, post security, and set out a listening post. Watches were set up for the night. The squad leader ensured that I had the 2400 to 0200 watch because of the previous confrontation we had that day.
I began to dig my foxhole and noticed that Hawkeye was digging a spot about six feet long, two feet wide, and looked about twelve inches deep.
“Hawkeye, what are you digging that for?” I asked.
“It’s my sleeping hole,” he replied. “What you need to do is dig a hole the length and width of your body and deep enough so that your chest and head is below the ground surface. That way if Charlie sneaks in at night while we’re sleeping and lobs some chi-coms on us, or we get hit by mortar or rocket fire, the shrapnel will go over your body instead of through it. Gives you a better chance of survival.”
A chi-com was the VC crude version of a hand grenade that contained nails, glass or anything else that would inflict casualties. The term chi-com was slang that stood for anything Chinese Communist. I began digging frantically in order to dig my sleeping hole for the night. When I had finished I noticed that I had blisters on both hands from digging. My palms began to sting. I placed my poncho in the hole and laid down to check and see if my body was below the ground. Just right, I thought.
By now it was getting to become dusk and the squad leader told us to set our watches for the night. Two other Marines went out for the listening post. I figured since I had the midnight watch that I would try to get some sleep. As I laid in my sleeping hole I opened a can of ham and eggs that I had in my pack and began to chow down. The word was given not to use heat tabs for heating our C-Rations or any other sources of light like flashlights or cigarette lighters that may give our positions away.
I ate the can of ham and eggs cold along with a few crackers. We had been supplied with six days of rations the day before and it seemed my pack was full with the rations alone. I looked at the mortar rounds, the trip wire devices, pop up flares, and the other assortment of ordnance that I had received and wondered how I had managed to fit it all in or on my haversack. I figured that if I ate a little chow I would not have to carry as much weight. The fact remained however, that we did not know when we would get resupplied again. Little did I realize that there was almost never enough time in the Nam to adequately heat my chow. As I ate, thoughts crossed my mind that I could have been one of the Marines medevaced earlier, if I had been walking point. I was restless through the night but finally managed to doze off.
At around 2345 a Marine woke me and told me it was my turn for watch. Still half asleep I asked what exactly I had to do for watch. He explained to me that every fifteen minutes the platoon radio operator would call for a SITREP (Situation Report). When he called me on the radio, all I had to do was to key the handset twice. That would let him know that everything was all secure at our squad’s location.
“How do I know if he’s calling me?” I asked.
The Marine explained to me that since our unit was Mike Company each platoon and squad had their own call sign. The company Command Post was Mike. Mike 1 was the 1st platoon, Mike 2 was the 2nd platoon, and Mike 3 was the 3rd platoon.
He told me, “Since we are in the 3rd platoon and the 3rd squad, our call sign is Mike 3 Charlie meaning the 3rd squad. Now do you understand?”
“Yeah, I think so,” I replied.
As he walked away to his sleeping hole he gave me one other piece of advice. “Just remember your call sign is Mike 3 Charlie. When they call you on the PRC-77 just key your handset twice and above all stay alert.” He pointed to a Marine who was laying in his sleeping hole and told me that he would be the one to relieve me from watch. Then he crawled to his own sleeping hole to try and get some sleep. I did not know his name but I thought he showed a lot of patience with me.
I moved to the fighting hole I had dug while carrying the radio and my rifle. I sat down with my feet dangling inside the hole. I positioned the radio next to me and laid my rifle on the ground ensuring the barrel or chamber would not be vulnerable to dirt. I put the handset up to my ear but could only hear a low hissing sound. I stared in the direction across the river not being able to see anything in the darkness.
Then over the handset came a low voice from the 3rd platoon radio operator.
“Mike 3 Alpha, Mike 3 Alpha, SITREP, Over.” Then I heard two hissing sounds as the 1st squad security watch keyed his handset twice.
The platoon radio operator then said, “Mike 3 Bravo, Mike 3 Bravo, SITREP, Over.”
Again, the handset was keyed twice by the 2nd squad security watch.
“Mike 3 Charlie, Mike 3 Charlie, SITREP, Over.”
It was now my turn. I knew that Mike 3 Charlie was my 3rd squad, but I hesitated for a couple of seconds longer than I should have. I feared that I might key the handset at the wrong time. I did not want to mess up my first night on watch with the squad.
The voice was now more pronounced and commanded in a more firm manner, “Mike 3 Charlie, Mike 3 Charlie, if you can hear me, key your handset twice!”
I keyed the handset twice hearing the pisst, pisst sound on the hand receiver.
The radio operator then said, “Roger, understand all is secure at your pos. Stay awake out there!”
POS was an abbreviated version for our position or location. I then heard him call for Mike, the company radio operator. “All is secured at this time, Over.” I heard the familiar pisst, pisst sound on the receiver and I knew that the company radio operator had acknowledged the platoon’s report. I felt around for my grenades and then waited intently for the next SITREP.
I began to think about the squad’s call sign. Not only did the squad have a call sign but each Marine in the squad had a call sign. The first acronym was the phonetic alphabet for our enlisted rate, then our enlisted rank, then the phonetic alphabet word for our last name. My call sign was Echo Two Foxtrot which meant enlisted, rank of an E-2 (private first class), and Fenwick for the last name. Little did I realize that the call sign “Mike 3 Charlie” would have such a significance and lasting impact on me for the rest of my life. For the time being, I would get to know my squad members inside and out. We were to be brothers-in-arms for the time we were together in Vietnam.
As the night passed I did a few more SITREPs in a more confident manner and began to feel more at ease. Just then I heard a noise coming from about thirty meters to my front. There was an embankment leading down to the river’s edge and we were about fifty meters from the water. I froze my bodily movements and tried to pinpoint where the noise was coming from. I heard a branch snap and then another one. Someone must be out there, I thought. I knew there were no friendlies to my immediate front so I decided to call to the platoon commander to get permission to throw a grenade. I took the handset off the radio, squeezed it, and started to speak in a very low voice.
“Mike 3, Mike 3, this is Mike 3 Charlie, Over.”
A voice came over the net, “Mike 3 Charlie, this is Mike 3, Over.”
“Roger,” I said. “Be advised I have movement to my direct front. Request Outgoing, Over.”
“Wait one,” came the reply.
I waited while the platoon radio operator checked with the platoon commander to see if he would grant permission. In about a minute a different voice came back on the radio.
“Mike 3 Charlie, This is the Mike 3 Actual. What exactly do you have in front of you, Over?”
I knew that the Mike 3 Actual was our platoon commander, a first lieutenant. I replied, “Be advised I have some sort of movement approximately thirty meters to my direct front. Request to throw a grenade.”
“You have no friendlies or a listening post to your front, do you?” he asked.
“That’s a negative, Over,” I replied.
“Very well, you have permission to throw a grenade.”
I then transmitted, “Mike 3, this is Mike 3 Charlie, Roger Out.”
I felt for a grenade in the darkness, placed it against my chest, pulled the pin with my left hand, and drew back my right arm to throw. I threw it with as much force as I could, taking care to aim it right down the center of my clear field of fire. I was cautious not to throw it to the extreme left or right and take the chance of hitting a tree limb. I lunged down in my fighting hole as the grenade went off. KA-WOOM! All the Marines around me jumped from their sleeping holes and dove into their fighting holes.
“Who threw that fuckin grenade?” A Marine yelled in the darkness. “What’s out there?”
I spoke up and said, “I threw the grenade. I heard movement and got permission from the platoon commander for Outgoing.”
The squad leader came over to me in the darkness cursing and yelling. He asked, “What do you have out there, Fenwick?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I heard rustling and some branches snap so I called the platoon commander to get permission to throw a grenade.”
“Jesus Christ, Man,” he quipped. “When you get ready to throw a grenade you had better holler, OUTGOING, and then throw the frag. Fuck, you scared the shit out of us, you fuckin newbie!”
We waited silently for a few seconds and I could hear no further sounds. I was hoping that something would be out there because I had caused all the commotion. Finally the squad leader told the other Marines to go back to sleep and warned that I had best get my shit together. My pride was hurt somewhat. I was only trying to do my duty, but got yelled at instead. I wondered how long it would take me to be as calm as Hawkeye and a veteran at this sort of thing. I hoped that it would not take too long for me to learn this new way of living.
Morning came and the squad leader woke us. He told us to chow down if we wanted to and that we would be providing a blocking force for the company. I ate quickly and placed any gear that I had taken out the night before back inside my pack. The word came down that we were to move out, and once again, our platoon moved out in a column formation. Only this time we were not with the other two platoons. A blocking force was when one unit got on one flank while a separate unit swept through an area from another direction. As the “gooners” ran out in retreat from the lead combat element, the blocking force would have open season on the fleeing VC or NVA.
My platoon waded across the river and set up in defensive positions as we waited for 1st and 2nd platoons to sweep through the area pushing the enemy toward our flank. From looking at a map, the squad leader had revealed to us that there was a village close to where the Marines had been hit. The 1st and 2nd platoons were to move through the ville looking for signs of Charlie. The squad radio operator kept us informed of what was going on as the other platoons were moving. Suddenly we heard a firefight coming from the village and the squad leader told us to be on the lookout for running VC. Next thing I knew, I saw a group of Vietnamese carrying weapons and running from the ville in our direction. We patiently watched them until they got within range.
“OPEN FIRE!” the squad leader yelled.
Almost immediately four of the fleeing VC fell to the ground. The others turned and began running away from us. As we fired, the squad leader was shouting and directing our fields of fire. I heard him yell out, “Get some 3rd! Get some!” By now the village was in flames. The other two platoons were setting fire to all the hooches. We began to move forward in order to get a body count.
I heard the platoon operator say, “No casualties in the ville. Mike Company has waxed their asses but good.”
We moved forward checking the bodies and collecting their weapons. I came upon a dead VC. He was the first human being I had seen whose life had been taken since my arrival in Vietnam. I peered down at his body next to my feet. He had on what looked like black pajamas and his AK47 rifle was laying about three feet away. He had on a cartridge belt with some magazines, one canteen, and his left leg had been shot almost in half. His upper body was rippled with bullet holes and part of his head was blown off. I stared at the dismembered figure. It suddenly dawned on me that this must be the reality of war. I began to picture me laying there instead of the dead VC. I helped the others collect weapons and stacked them in one pile. The bodies were stacked up and we went off and left them. The villagers would claim their fathers or brothers later and cart them away for burial.
As we began to reconsolidate with the other platoons, I noticed what I thought was a VC, talking to the platoon commander. To my disbelief, this Vietnamese had a M16 rifle slung across his shoulder. For the life of me, I could not figure out what was going on. Then Hawkeye explained to me that he was what they called a Kit Carson Scout. These Vietnamese scouts were assigned to various American units that assisted in locating Charlie. They were originally VC who had surrendered to the Americans. They in turn would hunt down their own people, a traitor, so to speak. They also helped to interrogate and act as translators for those VC or NVA whom we captured. Depending upon the source of information, some of the prisoners were sent back to the rear for more thorough interrogation. These Kit Carson Scouts stayed with the units, and for the most part seemed reliable even though they were viewed as traitors.
As days passed I became closer to my buddies in the squad. We were there for one reason in my mind, to look out for each other, at least that is what I thought. One night I was laying in my sleeping hole and my fireteam leader, Travieso, was on watch.
I could hear him mumbling to himself, “Damn, I can’t get this pin back in. Son of a bitch. This stupid damn thing.”
“What are you doing Travieso?” I asked.
“Oooh, I pulled the pin on this grenade and now I can’t get it back in.”
“What did you do that for?” I asked. Were you going to throw it out? Did you hear some movement?”
“No, I didn’t hear nothin. I pulled the pin out just to see if I could put it back in.”
He continued to wrestle with the grenade while attempting to get the pin back in the grenade. “Damn this thing, just won’t go back in. I don’t know why.” Travieso was biting the pin with his teeth trying to straighten it.
“You mean to tell me you pulled the pin just to see if you could get it back in?” I asked.
“Yeah, I got bored with nothing to do, no excitement going on,” he mumbled.
“What do you think you are doing?” I asked. “Don’t you know you could blow the entire fireteam to pieces?”
“Calm down, calm down,” Travieso said. “Can you see if you can get it back in for me?”
“Maybe we should just call the Actual to see if we can throw it out of the perimeter as outgoing. We will just tell him that we heard some movement.”
“Nah, we can’t do that,” Travieso replied. I can get it back in eventually. C’mon you try it.”
He handed me the grenade with his thumb pressed against the spoon. “Now hold this spoon real tight so it will not release. If you don’t, it will go off.”
I wrapped my right palm around the grenade ensuring that I had a tight grip on the spoon. I was actually squeezing it so hard that my hand was shaking. My palms were getting sweaty and I could feel beads of perspiration running down my forehead.
“Let me try to straighten this pin with my teeth first,” Travieso said. He tried to straighten the prongs with his teeth and then handed me the pin. With the grenade in my right palm and the pin in my left hand I tried to insert the pin back into the grenade. I did not seem to get much success either because of the darkness and the fact that the prongs on the pin had been bent back slightly. I could barely just see the hole from the moonlight.
“Travieso, I can’t seem to get this pin back in either,” I said. “My hands are all sweaty now and I am holding it so tight that I might drop it. If I do it will kill us both. Why don’t we just throw it out of the perimeter?”
“Let me have it back and I’ll try it again,” Travieso suggested.
He wrapped his palm over my hand and slowly slid his fingers down to the spoon and body of the grenade. “Now you can let go,” he said. Then he held the grenade against his chest.
“Let me see if I can insert the pin while you hold the grenade,” I told Travieso. I manipulated the pin trying to insert it back into the hole. It was not working. Travieso then took the pin from my hands and with unbelievable ease slid the pin right back into the hole. He bent the prongs back to hold the pin in place and then held the grenade in the palm of his hand for me to see that the task had been accomplished. He began to laugh and snicker at the concerned look on my face.
“What the hell!” I exclaimed. “You put the pin back in with no problem.”
Travieso laughed. “I just wanted to see how scared you would get.”
“You Shit-For-Brains,” I retorted. “Don’t you ever do that shit again!” I started punching him on his back and arms. He eased away from my reach while laughing uncontrollably.
“Cool it man, Cool it! You’re gonna get the platoon commander down here in a minute and you’re gonna be in a lot of trouble. Knock it off!”
“I’m gonna be in a lot of trouble?” I asked. I reached out and pulled his shirt up towards me so I was now looking straight into his eyes. “If you ever pull this shit on me again, I will beat your ass no matter if you’re the fireteam leader or not.”
He continued to quietly snicker and laugh. I let him go and he took his position back on watch. I laid back down in my sleeping hole shaking my head with disbelief. It was difficult enough to get a good night’s sleep in Vietnam and now I had a fireteam leader who wanted to play games. I realized that my heart was pounding loudly and with a tremendous rate of speed. I tried to calm down so I could try again to get some sleep.
Just as I was about to fall asleep, Travieso came over and shook me. “Okay Fenwick, it’s your watch. Wagenbaugh is your relief. And oh, by the way, thanks for making my watch go by a lot faster. Once in awhile you need a little excitement in your life.” I called Travieso a few dirty names as I assumed security watch in my fighting hole.
The next day we cleaned our weapons and wrote letters. Around 1700 the platoon commander called up the squad leaders for a brief. The squad leader returned from the squad leader’s meeting and informed us that our squad was going out for an ambush that night. The squad radio was checked and the batteries replaced with new ones. Everyone also checked to make sure we had sufficient ammo. We were then briefed by the squad leader. He gave us a Five-Paragraph Order. As Marine Corps infantrymen, we used the acronym SMEAC; Situation, Mission, Execution, Administration and Logistics, and Command and Signal. We were to set in our ambush approximately four hundred meters from the perimeter along a well used trail to see if there was any VC moving around during the night. As the sun sank behind the western sky our squad walked slowly along the trail and set up our ambush in a graveyard.
The Vietnamese buried their dead by collapsing the corpse and placing it into a hole about three feet deep. They stacked a mound of dirt on top that was about three feet off the surface of the ground. These mounds made excellent defensive positions on an ambush because we could get in behind them and use them for some protection. We then set the watch. The way it turned out was that the ones who had been in country the longest would take the first watch. That way they would be able to get more sleep than the newer Marines that were given the later shifts.
As it happened everyone was talking in low voices and not anyone settling down yet for some sleep. We were talking about home and how long it would be before we went back to the rear for showers and beer. One of the Marines in the squad was a real character.
Stark suggested, “Let’s start our own firefight. That way they will pull us back inside the perimeter. I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t want to stay out here all night on this fuckin ambush.”
It appeared to me that Stark was very arrogant and cocky. He persisted with his idea of firing our weapons at absolutely nothing so we could rejoin the company back inside the perimeter. His plan was to tell the platoon commander that we saw some VC crossing the trail and start firing at will. He continued talking about how we could pull it off and get away with it. While we were firing our M16s, throwing grenades, shooting the M79 grenade launcher, firing off illumination, and the machine gun, he would tell us when to stop firing for a moment. Then he would fire his .45 caliber pistol in the air. He reckoned that his .45 pistol would sound like an enemy AK47. That way it would put more realism into the phony firefight.
Most of the Marines protested this sort of behavior, but the squad leader decided that he would cast the vote for everyone and agreed with Stark. He thought it was a good idea to get pulled off the ambush. Stark called back to the company perimeter on the radio and got the 3rd platoon Actual. Stark told the platoon commander that we had five VC in the open and without hesitation said that we were commencing fire at this time. The squad leader started to fire at virtually nothing and then some others joined in. During the firing Stark was coaching them on.
Then he yelled out “Okay, you guys, slow down your rate of fire, I’m going to fire my .45 and they will think that it is an AK47.”
He fired off a few rounds into the air and then our small arms fire would pick up again. No one knew if the command post thought it was an actual firefight or not. This phony firefight went on for a couple of minutes and then Stark called back to the platoon commander and said that the VC had run off and that we could not see them any longer. He asked the platoon commander permission for our ambush to come back into the perimeter since our ambush position had been compromised.
“That’s a negative,” came the response. “Stay out there in case they come back. Your ambush is on a trail that leads right into the CP and we don’t want Charlie in our perimeter.”
The Marines who had not condoned the phony firefight from the very beginning began to grumble. We all thought it was a hairbrained idea that could get us in a lot of trouble. The squad began to bed down for the night. I heard one Marine mumble, “Now see what you’ve done, you gave away our position. Now Charlie knows exactly where we are.”
“Aaah, shut the fuck up,” said Stark.
I stood my watch and got off at around 0300. As soon as I wrapped up in my poncho liner for a little shut-eye, the Marine on watch yelled, “Gooks! Gooks! Wake up everyone!”
I started to reach for my rifle and then remembered the trick that Stark had tried to play earlier that night. I hesitated momentarily, thinking he was up to his old trick, when suddenly a round landed next to me throwing dirt on my poncho. Then there were the sounds of machine gun fire, someone was firing the M79 grenade launcher, and some of the Marines were firing frantically into the darkness. Someone fired off an illumination flare and I saw about five Vietnamese with rifles running down the trail away from us. I commenced firing my rifle but was too late. They had disappeared out of sight. The Actual called over the radio and asked if we had any casualties. Stark told him that we did not have any squad casualties and that we did not hit any of the fleeing VC. He began to plead with the Actual to allow us to return to the perimeter. He yelled into the radio handset, “This place is crawling with gooks!”
Permission to reenter the company perimeter was not granted by the platoon commander. We stayed on full alert until the sun came up. At daybreak we moved back within our front lines and went to our original positions that connected the other two squads in the platoon. About as soon as we sat down to eat some C-Rations we got the word that the company was moving to another location. I had planned on getting a little sleep, and some time to write letters during the day, but that was not to be. I felt a sudden urge to choke Stark but I got on with the business at hand.
That day the company moved about five klicks (5000 meters) and set up on a small knoll. Squads began patrolling around the company perimeter but they had returned finding nothing. Our squad was then designated to go out on patrol on our side of the perimeter and given certain checkpoints. By now the sun was straight over our heads at around noon time and it was very hot, humid, and muggy. I wore a helmet, flak jacket, cartridge belt with canteens and grenades attached, and a bandoleer of M16 ammunition strapped around my shoulders. Under my flak jacket I wore a green short-sleeve T-shirt.
As we proceeded down the hill in single file from our CP we moved along a trail. The elephant grass was tall and leaning over onto the trail. I twisted and turned trying to avoid the cutting edges of the elephant grass but it was senseless. The elephant grass was cutting my arms with every step I took. I saw blood trickling down my sweating arms. I got a sudden furry of rage and anger to where I didn’t care anymore. I would just let the sharp blades of the elephant grass cut me to pieces. I began to bolt forward for a few feet keeping my arms down at my sides and letting the grass cut across my arms. It was more of an act of defiance. I said aloud, “Go ahead, cut me, who cares. I can take the pain.”
It was not too long into our patrol that we came to a sudden stop. Word was passed back through the squad from one Marine to another that a booby trap had been spotted on the trail by the point man, Travieso. After a few minutes we started to move again. The Marine in front of me stopped moving forward and then gave a motion for me to come up beside him. When I reached the Marine he pointed to the booby trap that Travieso had spotted on the trail. I looked down and saw a thin green wire stretched across the trail.
One end the wire was tied to a bush and on the other end was connected to the spoon of our own M26 hand grenade. The killing radius of the grenade was 16 feet however, the casualty-producing radius was 50 feet. The grenade was placed upside down in a rusty C-Ration can that some Marine had discarded. I was told to be careful and step over it because the pin was out of the grenade. The least amount of pressure on the wire would enable the grenade to fall out of the can thus detonating the device. I slowly placed my left foot over the wire followed by my right foot. The other Marine then moved slowly away and I stayed there to show the Marine behind me the booby trap. After going through the procedure again, I moved on up slowly to catch up with the patrol.
It was not long until we were stopped again. The word was again passed back that another booby trap had been discovered. We remained in position while Travieso inspected the device and continued with his forward progress. This time when I got to the booby trap it was the same type of trip wire but was connected to a chi-com grenade, which was the VC version of a grenade.
That was the first time I had seen a VC grenade. It had a wooden handle connected to a round salmon can. The spoon was intact but I noticed that the pin was missing. Old Charlie is really trying to inflict some casualties, I thought. Hawkeye began explaining to me that sometimes they would just wait along a trail and would hand detonate a booby trap or land mine from a distance and disappear out of sight either in tunnels or spider traps.
We began to move around it and then I heard Travieso say, “Fuck this shit, here’s another fuckin booby trap. This area has the bastards all over it. We had best hold up here for awhile until I can check this trail out and see if there is an alternate route.” The next thing I heard Travieso say was, “I can’t believe this shit! The gooks even have them planted off the trail in the grass, in the bushes, all over this goddamn place!”
The squad leader spoke up and said, “All right, listen up, don’t anybody move off this fuckin trail. There are booby traps all over the place. We’ll stop here, call in to let the Actual know what we have out here, and see how many of these fuckers are in our way.”
I could hear the squad leader on the radio telling the platoon commander that we were going to try to blow some in place. I wondered how we were to manage that since we did not have any combat engineers attached to us. We were all instructed to lie down and take cover and be careful about tripping any booby traps. Travieso was pulled back from his search and about four Marines started throwing rocks at one booby trap in the trail up ahead. They would throw a rock and then get down covering their heads with their helmets. Someone managed to make a direct hit on one and it detonated. WHOOM! Dirt and rocks flew in the air and I could see a blue smoke where it had exploded. Just to think that one of us could have stepped on the thing was enough to make me cringe.
Now there were about four Marines throwing rocks at the booby traps. Of course, Stark had to be a part of it. All of a sudden he came up with a mastermind of an idea. He decided that he would try to get some shrapnel from one of the booby traps so he could be medevaced out of the bush. Stark got back about twenty feet from the booby trap with some rocks in his hands. He told us all, “Watch this shit. I’m gonna get me a Purple Heart. A stateside wound. One that I will be medevaced out of the bush and never be back to this fuckin Nam ever again.”
He threw a rock at the device and then faced away, bent over, and tucked his head down on his chest. The rock hit close by the device but it did not explode. He grabbed another rock and threw it. Again he faced away and bent down at the waist. Still there was no explosion.
One Marine said, “Stark you are crazier than hell!”
“I don’t care what you say!” Stark snapped. “I’m gonna get me a stateside wound and get out of the bush. I can’t stand it no more. I’m getting tired of looking for Luke the Gook. All I need is just a couple of little wounds in my ass and I have my ticket out of this shit.”
He started to throw another rock and Hawkeye said, “Yeah, but what if it blows your balls off?”
We all started laughing.
“Oh shit, I never thought of that,” Stark replied.
He backed up about another five feet away from the device. Then he threw the next rock. As soon as he released the rock he bent over at the waist and placed his helmet over his gonads. The booby trap still did not go off. We reckoned that it had been out in the weather for so long that the damned thing must have rusted.
“Dammit!” Stark snapped angrily. “Just my luck. I can’t even get wounded even when I try. I gotta get out of this fuckin Nam, that’s for sure!”
We were still only about two hundred meters from the perimeter and had counted seventeen booby traps. The squad leader called back and spoke with the Actual. He told him how many booby traps we had seen on that trail and were not even at Checkpoint One yet. The word from the platoon commander was to turn the patrol around and start back into the perimeter. He told us to be damned careful not to trip any on our way back. Travieso took the lead again and we walked back into the CP talking about what an idiot Stark was. I could not believe that the squad leader would allow him to do such a thing. I hoped that I would never get that insane during my time in the bush.
That night as our squad was moving to a night time ambush site we spotted six NVA/VC. Five of the enemy had packs and were about 75 meters away from us. We took them under fire with small arms and received return fire from the enemy. Then they disappeared into the darkness. The squad leader called back to the platoon commander to report the incident and it wasn’t long until the company 60mm mortars were dropping rounds onto the area where we had seen the enemy. Then a 105 illumination mission was called for. We swept through the area under the light of the illumination drifting down from the sky under small parachutes. It gave off enough light to see where we were going but not enough to detect any mines or booby traps. We did not find any uniforms or weapons so we regrouped to set up in our ambush position. It was quiet for the remainder of the night.
The next day we moved to yet another location. We moved out in a column, one man behind the other, about fifteen meters apart. We walked through rice paddies and we could see the hill where we were to set up our company defensive position for the night. I glanced at the Marine in front of me and all of a sudden there was a loud explosion. KAH-WHOOOM! He had stepped on a booby trap. I saw a puff of bluish black smoke rise slowly into the air where he had been standing. His body went hurling into the air and fell back to the ground. The Marine was screaming and yelling, “God, help me. Please save me. Get me a corpsman!”
I yelled as loud as I could, “Corpsman up! Corpsman up!”
His legs were in really bad shape. I tried to calm him down and keep his mind off his wounds, but I felt that he would most likely lose a leg, maybe both. A Navy corpsman retraced his steps running back toward us and attended to him immediately. He applied a tourniquet to his legs and gave him a shot of morphine. I held on to the Marine and yelled to Stark to give us a hand.
Stark said, “Ugh ugh, not me! I ain’t doing that shit no more, I can’t stand it no more, I gotta get the fuck out of here.”
He continued walking forward so another Marine came back to offer assistance. The squad radio operator radioed the platoon commander. The platoon knew someone had hit a booby trap and had stopped moving forward. A medevac chopper was called in. It seemed like a long time before the bird arrived, but it must have been only about twenty minutes. They medevaced the Marine out and that was the last time I ever saw him. He was well liked within our squad and was a good Marine.
We moved up to the top of a hill. We could tell that another Marine unit had been here before because there were old fighting holes on top of the hill that were partially filled in with dirt. Our perimeter was set up with our platoon on one side of the hill and connecting to the other two platoons in a 360 degree defensive position. We began to clear fields of fire. A couple of the Marines decided that instead of digging different fighting holes that they would just dig the dirt out of the existing holes. All of a sudden we heard an explosion. WHOOOM! A booby trap detonated in an adjacent foxhole where two Marines were digging about thirty meters away. Both Marines collapsed wounded from the detonation.
Our squad leader ran over and yelled to us, “Don’t dig in the existing foxholes, they may be all booby trapped! Make sure you dig your own holes and watch where you’re steppin!”
Although there was a large fighting hole that had been pre-dug right at my position, I started digging another one adjacent to it. The soil was dry and hard as rocks. Our entrenching tools, that we carried on our packs and used for digging, had picks on one side and a spade on the other. They all had wooden handles. With the pick I dug out a fighting hole as deep as I could. I did not know if the pre-dug fighting hole next to me was booby trapped or not but I was not about to take any chances. We heard that seven other Marines had been wounded by the initial blast and that a medevac chopper had been called. Word traveled throughout the company that another booby-trapped foxhole had been found.
After about twenty minutes the choppers arrived at our position and the nine medevacs were taken back to the rear. One of Charlie’s booby traps had done its job of inflicting casualties on the unsuspecting Marines. It was later determined that a homemade mine made of C-4 and shell fragments in a can rigged with a trip wire had done the damage. The trip wire used for detonation was about three inches off the ground and connected to a clump of grass a short distance away from the explosive that was buried about three inches below the surface of the ground. It has resulted in three emergency and six priority medevacs.
I noticed that Stark was not digging a fighting hole. He was just starring off into space. He was mumbling to himself, “I can’t stand it no more, gotta get out of here, I’m too short for this shit. I’ve been in country longer than any of these boots and here I am still fuckin around with this shit. I want to get out of here and go home.” A couple of the Marines tried to talk to him but saw it was no use. We figured he would snap out of it in time.
The night passed without any further incident. Bright and early the next morning we were told that we were going to move northwest about five klicks. This was equivalent to about five thousand meters. As we started moving out the word was passed to make sure everyone watched out for booby traps. In front of my fireteam was a machine gun team that was attached to the squad. Just watching them move along with the machine gun and the accessories, reminded me of ITR and the training that I had with the M60 machine guns. I was trained to be a machine gunner, but since my arrival in Vietnam, I had been assigned as a rifleman.
I wished that I could be in the machine gun team so that it would enable me to use my expertise in the specialty in which I was trained. I watched the team move along and we proceeded down an embankment. The walk was slow and everyone seemed to be on edge. I overheard the radio operator say that they were crossing a creek up front. I looked up and saw one of our machine gunners carrying a M60 on his shoulder. He took a turn, dropped down into an embankment, and disappeared from sight. The elephant grass seemed to be about five feet high in this area and was hard to walk through because of its thickness. All of a sudden, I heard an explosion.
Everyone dropped to the ground thinking that we were being hit. There was screaming and yelling coming from down in the embankment. Someone yelled, “CORPSMAN UP!”
Then word came back through the squad that the machine gunner had tripped a booby trap. Hawkeye and I walked forward cautiously looking at the ground for more booby traps. When we got to the machine gunner, he was being attended to by the corpsman and we noticed that he had one leg really mangled up and his left arm blood soaked. I saw that his weapon had nicks from the explosion. I thought to myself that he had his ticket back to the States. He was not going home the most pleasant way, but nonetheless, he was going home alive. I was beginning to understand how Mike Company earned the nickname of “Medevac Mike.”
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