Skip to main content

"Whoa, thought it was a nightmare,
Lo, it's all so true,
They told me don't go walkin' slow
Cause devil's on the loose."

John Fogarty, "Run Through the Jungle"

I broke my combat cherry on July 20, 1969 in a firefight near Hill 10, southwest of the city of Danang, Republic of Vietnam. My unit, Mike Company, 3/7 Marines, was responsible for conducting search and destroy missions that would dissuade the enemy from troop buildups that would threaten the city, and compromise the safety and security of the airbase there.

At the time of this action, my unit was being rebuilt after a difficult operation in the previous months that reduced manpower by nearly 40%. I was part of a group of draftees that was assigned to Mike Co. to help bring it back to full strength.

Because I was drafted, I had very little to say about what "job" I would get once boot camp was over. As it turned out, the powers that be thought that I would make a good machine gunner and that I could best serve my country by joining the "WestPac Ground Forces" in Vietnam. This despite my two years of college, ability to type 70-80 words per minute, and take shorthand! During machine gun school, we trainees were constantly reminded that the life expectancy of us poor bastards was about four seconds during a typical firefight. This bit of "motivation" turned out to be more than hyperbole.

On the day in question, guys were going about the typical routine. It was the middle of the afternoon, and several squads were out on patrol. Those who weren't out in "the bush" were either standing watch on the perimeter of the outpost, filling sandbags, or doing other chores such as "burning shitters." (Don't ask).  I was shoveling sand into burlap sacks along with a few other marines, when a sudden flurry of activity near the company headquarters got our attention. We were shortly summoned to meet with our platoon commanders and informed that we would be heading--very quickly--into an area adjacent to our base where enemy soldiers were spotted by a recon team.

Moving fast, and in an almost surreal quiet, we began to gather the personal gear and weaponry that we would need to react in defense of the hill. For me, that meant strapping four boxes of M-60 machine gun ammo around my body, with 100 rounds in each. (Bandoleering looks macho, but compromises the cleanliness of the rounds). I also secured six hand grenades, my sidearm, three canteens of water, my flak jacket and helmet. Somewhat fortunately, we would not have to hump our backpacks as we were nearby good re-supply, and weren't expected to be out for very long.

Once organized, two squads of eight men each left the perimeter and moved at a very quick pace toward the area of suspicion, about two "clicks" west of Hill 10. Despite traveling light, the mid-day sun, high humidity and quick pace began to take its toll. One could never bring enough water on these occasions.

Funny, I don't remember being terrified as we stopped to deploy, but I was scared enough to feel my heart beating through my chest. At the direction of the squad leaders, we spread out and began a sweep through the area. Suddenly, we began to take fire from the right, and, as promised in training, the call for "guns up!" came while everyone else was seeking cover and beginning to return fire. My assistant gunner and I began to scramble to the point of the action, rounds whizzing over our heads. (This is indeed a unique sound, reproduced accurately in the film, Forrest Gump, by the way). We were able to take a prone position near an irrigation trench and began to open up with the gun.

Honestly, we had no visual contact with any enemy, but could see muzzle flashes in the treeline across from our unit's somewhat exposed position. We would fire intermittent bursts; the automatic weapon from the treeline would respond. Just like the old west, we traded volleys. In the meantime, our squad leader (like most of us, a 19 or twenty year-old kid), began to call for artillery support, a strategy that usually ended these episodes in our favor.

While I was firing our weapon, the a-gunner began to link together our ammo so that we wouldn't have to reload. However, one of the links separated, which caused a short delay in our ability to lay down fire. As I lifted the feed cover to allow my buddy to load the gun, there was a sudden loud explosion, seemingly right in my face. I felt a burning sensation on my face and neck, and my ears were ringing to the extent that I was rendered deaf.

As it turns out, the feed cover to the gun was shot off while we were reloading, and one of the tracer rounds (coated with phosphorus) had a "cook off," which accounted for the explosion. Later, when the pieces of the story were clear, unclouded by the so-called "fog of war" and adrenalin-induced hyperactivity, we realized how lucky we were that the few pieces of shrapnel that hit us created wounds no more significant than shaving nicks, and the burns no more serious than one would get after spending too much time in the sun. (We did not, of course, turn down the Purple Hearts we were awarded).

It seemed to me that the firefight went on for the better part of an hour; as it turns out, it lasted for less than ten minutes. Also, at the time of the feed cover being shot off, the first of the 105 mm artillery rounds were inbound, and they successfully encouraged the enemy to withdraw, leaving four dead comrades. Logistical and communication requirements were fulfilled, and we gathered our stuff and returned to our company area on Hill 10. Congratulations were offered all around, as we suffered zero casualties, got credit for the kills, and tried to recover from the adrenalin hit.

Those of us involved were released from duty for the remainder of the day. We repaired to the Enlisted Men's Club, a plywood-sided tent, really, and drank beers. I was amped up, and incredibly happy to have survived the Four Second Rule.

Originally posted to ChazzWell on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 07:51 AM PST.

Also republished by Military Community Members of Daily Kos, DKos Military Veterans, and Community Spotlight.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  I Bet That Was A Good Beer nt (17+ / 0-)

    There’s always free cheddar in a mousetrap, baby

    by bernardpliers on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 08:19:29 AM PST

  •  Good to hear, (19+ / 0-)

    glad that you came home and are able to write about it.  I served close to that area from Hoi An to Hawk Hill and to Ross during your same time there.  I was in the 196th light infantry, thanks for your story man.  Was Hill 10 the same as LZ Baldy?

    •  Baldy (18+ / 0-)

      We were only on Hill 10 for a short while. I have some more stories to post that include our time on Baldy and Ross, later that summer. We worked with you guys in the Que Sons in August! Welcome home, brother.

      •  Why didn't they just send in the (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Taxmancometh, ozsea1, semiot

        artillery support to begin with instead of troops. Since they knew where the enemy was, wouldn't it have been easier to just drop a couple on their heads instead of sending in troops to shoot it out?

        And why did they always send you guys out to find the enemy. I'm sure the enemy had no problem coming to where you all were. Wouldn't it have been better to set up a safe area with an armed perimeter and let them come to you? That way everyone could see them coming and they were on the defensive.

        For Our ♥Marines All Our ♥Troops And ♥Veterans

        Brought To You By That Crazed Sociologist/Media Fanatic rebel ga Be The Change You Want To See In The World! Gandhi

        by rebel ga on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 05:16:15 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Are you familiar with the oxymoron (5+ / 0-)

          "military intelligence"?

          One thing I learned during my tour was the lack thereof.

          Hoorah!

          "What I find curious, is how the elected children of Republican politicians, from George W. Bush to Rand Paul to Ben Quayle and on, always happen to be crueler and dumber than their parents." With thanks to MinistryOfTruth.

          by Taxmancometh on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 05:19:41 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  BTW, guys. Thanks! Welcome home. (5+ / 0-)

            I was never deployed, as my MOS was 2861, communications technician.  I was assigned to working on the "secret" crypto gear that cyphered/de-cyphered all our radio communications.  You probably used it during your tours.

            Glad you made it out of the shit and are sharing your stories.

            Semper Fi!

            "What I find curious, is how the elected children of Republican politicians, from George W. Bush to Rand Paul to Ben Quayle and on, always happen to be crueler and dumber than their parents." With thanks to MinistryOfTruth.

            by Taxmancometh on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 05:24:57 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  Yes, I know. I'll be 62 this March And (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Taxmancometh, doingbusinessas, Lujane

            My crazy boyfriend of 34 years is a Marine, Vietnam Vet. I affectionately call him The Poster Boy For PSTD. A very long story.

            btw, Note To Joe Brennan:
            Are you ok, I had a nightmare two nights ago that you were sick. I know it was just a dream but I still worry. Get word to me that you're ok. Unless you want me to have a nervous breakdown.

            Brought To You By That Crazed Sociologist/Media Fanatic rebel ga Be The Change You Want To See In The World! Gandhi

            by rebel ga on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 05:26:21 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  105mm shells cost money. n/t (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          copymark
        •  Naw. (0+ / 0-)

          For one thing, arty is relatively slow, and rounds may be several minutes in flight.  Even moving at a walk that's enough to get you out of the target zone.  It's a lot easier to cream someone with arty when they're tied down by small-arms fire from a fire team.

          Wouldn't it have been better to set up a safe area with an armed perimeter and let them come to you? That way everyone could see them coming and they were on the defensive.

          Nope.  'Cause then they'd probably withdraw, or attack somewhere else, using the fact that assets were tied down making a 'safe area'.  It's more dangerous for grunts in the short run, but less dangerous for everyone else in the long run if targets are actively engaged and destroyed.  Otherwise you cede the initiative to them, which is something which is practically never a good idea to do in battle.

    •  Baldy was Hill 63 (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      allenjo, semiot, OIL GUY, dharmasyd

      I was there on Hill 63 in '67 before the army arrived later on towards the end of 1967, built an airstrip and renamed it LZ Baldy. I recall the army's 1st Cav unit moving in with all of those helicopters as we were preparing to leave. I think there were other army units as well but I cannot remember them.

      There is a photo of Hill 10 at this link.

      I was never at Hill 10 but I believe it was out in Dai Loc District of Quang Nam Province.

      “Humankind can not bear very much reality.” - T.S. Eliot

      by truong son traveler on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 07:56:30 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Dude, so glad you're alive and well to write this. (15+ / 0-)

    When my high school friends started coming back from the meatgrinder in 66-67, with plates in their heads, with a scream in their eyes, we were just kids, we didn't know the right questions to ask, we didn't know why one of the guys at a party was screaming his head off in a bedroom about Gooks coming for him. When we found out later that he'd been left for 24 hours on top of a conning tower during the fucking Tet offensive, driven insane by bombs dropping all around him, then unceremoniously dumped back onto the NYC pavement, we got pissed.
    We started piling into anyone's car we could fit into and went to DC and protested. It was a joke, the Yearly Protest of the War. My own OHD, who I met in '67, went through the Fort Hamilton mill in Brooklyn 5 times. And given all the drugs we'd both taken, he was a sincere mess. I teased the guys' hair, put makeup on them so they could claim the Gay, watched as they stuck their arms with pins to fake track marks, heard about them actually shooting up shit (wine!) in the bus on the way to Fort Ham.
    OHD flat refused to go. The Quakers advised him on letters to write and the draft finally gave him some strange classification and didn't bother him anymore.
    Sorry you had to go through it. Glad you made it back!

    “I’ve got an obligation to act on behalf of the American people. And I’m not going to stand by while a minority in the Senate puts party ideology ahead of the people that we were elected to serve.” PBO

    by OleHippieChick on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 08:47:36 AM PST

  •  Thanks for sharing your story (21+ / 0-)

    I was born right after Tet; my dad was drafted in '65 and trained as a medic. Luckily he was sent to work in a hospital in Germany rather than into combat. Many of his friends from basic were less lucky. His high school classmates didn't win the lottery either.

    I grew up around Vietnam vets. My dad became a social worker and served as a vet counselor through the 1970s. As a teen I worked with vets, talked with them, and read everything I could about the war that most people simply didn't want to talk about. I remember vividly going to see Platoon with my dad the weekend it opened, and him sucking in his breath right at the beginning-- and telling me that the film was set in the time/place where one of our close family friends  lost his legs.

    I grew up to become a college history professor. I still make a point of teaching the Vietnam War from the perspective of the young draftees that fought there. We read books like The Things They Carried and Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam every year.  In the late 90s I still had students whose fathers fought in SE Asia in my classes and sometimes talked about their experiences, but no longer. Today Vietnam is as distant as the Korean War to most 20-year-olds. One way around that for people like me is to invite vets into the classroom to talk about their experiences. Another is to search out written accounts like this one.

    Thanks again for sharing your story, and thank you for your service. I hope to hold up my end by making sure it's not forgotten.

    "Take it easy-- but take it!" --Woody Guthrie

    by Mr Green Jeans on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 11:40:07 AM PST

  •  I was there a bit later (23+ / 0-)

    and a bit further south: 199th LIB, 1970, down along the Cambodian border near Tay Ninh.  Went into Cambodia with the 60 day field trip in May, and picked up my first PH there.

    I also carried a 60, and didn't give it up when I made squad leader.  Once you get used to it, the M16 seemed more like a toy.

    I have been back many times in the past three decades, including a stint running humanitarian assistance projects up and down the country for two years.  Been to Da Nang many times (a bit different now than when you will remember it), and hoping to go there this year to once again head up some projects for the disabled.

    I am a warrior for peace. And not a gentle man... Steve Mason, 1940-2005

    by Wayward Wind on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 02:36:28 PM PST

  •  Thank You For Posting (12+ / 0-)

    Kids need to understand that this is real. People get wounded or killed. It is not a game.

    Pam Bennett -6.95 -7.50

    by Pam Bennett on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 03:34:11 PM PST

  •  I've got an online buddy who sometimes goes by (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rebel ga, Taxmancometh

    a name extremely similar to your username who had the same job (light machine gun Marines) in about the same area at the same time. Last week he posted from Hue on his blog, traveling with the love of his life. Not you I suppose.

    "Slip now and you'll fall the rest of your life" Derek Hersey 1957-1993

    by ban nock on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 03:39:00 PM PST

  •  Thanks for your service, BTW. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rebel ga, Taxmancometh, vet
  •  Was there before you 66-67. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Taxmancometh, Quicklund, kurt, dharmasyd

    I was in Fox 2/7, at Chu Lai, south of you. By '69 I was home and already in trouble. In fact, I was arrested less than 2 weeks out of Philadelphia Naval Hospital, where I was discharged.That's another story.

    Glad you came home OK. I can't imagine being drafted into the Marine Corps, how did you stand the bullshit?

    Anyways, good to hear you, glad you're OK.

    "One big Union, one big Strike" IWW

    by jack 1966 on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 05:05:20 PM PST

    •  The answer (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      rebel ga, Taxmancometh, dharmasyd

      I guess those of us who got drafted into the Marines benefited from not having any expectations. Boot camp was rough, and I got with the program, but never lost my awareness of how much of a game it all was.

      •  I volunteered. Yes, I'm one stupid mother-f'er, (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        rebel ga, Quicklund, kurt, dharmasyd

        but the Corps was the only one that would give me a delayed enlistment.  My draft # was 38, but my cousin, 5 weeks my junior, was #2.  When he got his notice, I started shopping around.  

        Four years active sure did suck, but between P.I. and electronics school (29 Palms, CA), plus two 1 month leaves, I used up 18 months of my enlistment before I even saw my first duty station.

        Right after reporting to Camp Lejune, it was announced that no more ground troops would be deployed.  We all got pleasently wasted that weekend.

        "What I find curious, is how the elected children of Republican politicians, from George W. Bush to Rand Paul to Ben Quayle and on, always happen to be crueler and dumber than their parents." With thanks to MinistryOfTruth.

        by Taxmancometh on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 05:37:14 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  A couple of guys I knew were drafted to (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        kurt, dharmasyd

        the Marines later @1970, and they were treated rather badly, draftees were 'second class' Marines by then, and in largely 'segregated' (mostly draftees) units, with bottom of the barrel NCO's. And second class support, supply and they drew the dirtiest jobs. The stories they told were pretty depressing, they hated the USMC as a result.

        May you live in interesting times--Chinese curse

        by oldcrow on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 08:29:09 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  One small firefight for Nam (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    doingbusinessas, kurt, dharmasyd

    One giant leap for ChazzWell.

    While you are picking scraps of copper jacket out of your face, Neil Armstrong was stepping on the moon, and I was a 10yr old kid sleeping in a roadside tent in Canada on a family vacation. Which makes us members of a very small club: those people alive in '69 who did not see the moon landing.

    Thanks for surviving to tell the tale. It was a very good read.

  •  Summer of '69 (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ozsea1, Gordon20024, kurt, dharmasyd

    i was aboard the uss arikira, (atf-98)  an ocean going tug that operated out of pearl.  we spent a good deal of the summer of 1969 in and out of da nang harbor, when we weren't doing interference ops for the carriers or on towing or salvage details.  camp tien sha at nsa da nang was the e.m. club of choice,

    we had a complement of 68 and of those, we have lost 7 or 8 due to AO exposure complications.  i'm at 40% for ischemic heart disease from AO.   not everyone was effected but several crew members are.

    things would get hairy for  us when the "sappers" would take a mid-night swim to offer us a welcome.

    i'm glad to hear you all made it home.  

  •  "There ain't no time to wonder why..." (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kurt, dharmasyd

    I turned 5 in '69. Around that time, I remember rolling canned food around on my mom's kitchen floor, and for no particular reason I looked up and asked my mom, "Will I have to go fight in that war?" I'll never forget the pained look she had as she paused and answered, "No, it will be over by the time your old enough." I felt  relieved, yet something about the look she had on her face spoke volumes. I've never forgotten it.
     Glad you made it through Chazzwell!!
     PS There is no lower form of life than a chickenhawk!
     

  •  As a Marine brat (0+ / 0-)

    I say: thank you, semper fi and hoorah!

    “Fair? Fare is what you pay to ride the bus. That’s the only ‘fair’ I know.” ~ Heylia James, from Weeds - 1st season

    by ozsea1 on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 07:33:21 PM PST

  •  Da Nang (5+ / 0-)

    as of a few months ago - August 2011 - for anyone who might be interested.

    “Humankind can not bear very much reality.” - T.S. Eliot

    by truong son traveler on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 08:13:13 PM PST

  •  I arrived in 1965, a really green artillery 2LT, (8+ / 0-)

    We off-loaded from the MSTS Gaffey into landing craft and came ashore near Cape St. Jacque.   Then loaded into Cargo aircraft and flown to Bien Hoa AFB...which was smouldering from a rocket attack.  Battery slept in a quonset hut for several days while equipment was being brought up.

    A few days later the Battery Commander told me to take his jeep and go scout for a good site to emplace.  I grabbed my 1st Sgt and off we went...30 minutes later we came under fire and I learned that I didn't know shit about ground combat.  Fortunately my 1st Sgt was a Marine who had served in the Pacific in WWII and he saved my ass.   I survived to be scared nearly witless several more times.  

    I don't think about that place much anymore.  It was hard to forget and I mostly don't care to go back even in my mind.  My enduring admiration goes to the infantry.  

    The longer I live, the clearer I perceive how unmatchable a compliment one pays when he says of a man "he has the courage to utter his convictions." Mark Twain

    by Persiflage on Sun Jan 22, 2012 at 08:17:32 PM PST

    •  The Gaffney (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Chris Jay, mikeconwell
      We off-loaded from the MSTS Gaffey

      In 1964, my father was transferred to Yokosuka when his ship, USS Rupertus, was homeported there as things began heating up in Vietnam. We were stationed at Yokosuka until 1966.

      Both times, coming and going from Japan, the family (including our dachshund) was transported on MSTS (Military Sea Transportation Service?) ships.

      Essentially, these were troop transports that also served as, well, cruise ships.

      And yes, we were on the Gaffney on one of those trips. I don't recall if it was the trip to or from Japan. We took another ship (I forget the name) on the other trip to/from. As I recall, our trip back to the States on the ship was the last troop ship used by the US, as soldiers/Marines then started being flown on airplanes.

      Obviously, your concerns as a Marine were different than mine as a little boy. But man, what fun those trips were for a 6- and then an 8-year-old kid!

      We had run of the top decks, we had movies every night, we had daily crafts and games and other fun stuff to do.

      At the same time, I do recall looking at the Marines aboard the ship, but having little knowledge of what they were heading out to do.

      "I mean, it -- I mean -- and I tell somebody, I said, just because you have a group of scientists that have stood up and said here is the fact, Galileo got outvoted for a spell." -- Rick Perry, 9/7/11

      by Senor Unoball on Mon Jan 23, 2012 at 10:32:20 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  My boss (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mikeconwell

    His dad was the equivalent to a police chief or head constable in Saigon when the shit hit the fan. He was working with the CIA and a few other American agencies who he thought were genuinely interested in the plight of the Vietnamese people and his own mission to remove some of the corruption from the department and the government in general.

    My boss' family was well off, his dad was college educated, and when the Americans started pulling out, his dad pulled every single last string he could to get the family out of the path of the NVA and most especially the VC who seemed to have a personal grudge against this particular family's patron.

    While the strings he pulled were long, they weren't long enough. The family was split up, my boss and his 4 sisters and mother were sent to a farm in Tennessee run by missionaries who were supposed to help the family learn English and get on their feet, but instead kept them as slaves doing farm labor for six years.

    His father and two older brothers were sent back to Vietnam in an effort to form resistance movements and foment rebellion against the new regime.

    His oldest brother was killed after he was recognized by an ex-girlfriend who was eager to spare her family by showing how she was now a loyal supporter of the PRG. He was beaten, tortured, and finally burned alive while locked in a tiger cage.

    His second oldest brother was wounded several times in his attempts to recruit, train, and lead guerrilla forces against the Communist armies. He disappeared in the mid 70s but managed to turn up in California in the early 90s after stowing away on a Chinese container ship, then spending three days at sea on a raft before being picked up by the Coast Guard.

    His father attempted to reconnect with men from his old unit and tried to build a resistance movement but was informed of the huge price on his head by some of his junior officers and decided to abandon his efforts. They smuggled him out of the country in the bottom of a fruit boat and he spent six years bouncing around Indonesia and the Philippines trying to get back to the States.

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site