Marine Corps in Vietnam

U.S. Marines in Vietnam: 1954-1975

The Advisory and Combat Assistance Era 1954-1964

For the United States Marine Corps, involvement in the nation’s longest war began on 2 August 1954 with the arrival of Lieutenant Colonel Victor J. Croizat as a liaison officer with the newly established United States Military Assistance and Advisory Group to the Republic of Vietnam. For the next eight years, Marine activities in Vietnam consisted mainly of advisory and staff responsibilities. This began to change in mid-April 1962 when Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 362 (HMM-362), commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Archie Clapp, deployed to South Vietnam to provide combat service support for the fledgling South Vietnamese army. In the spring of 1964, Marine Detachment, Advisory Team One, commanded by Major Alfred M. Gray Jr., arrived to collect signals intelligence, thereby becoming the first Marine ground unit to arrive in the country.

Following the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August 1964, the Marine Corps commitment to Southeast Asia expanded further. The end of 1964 brought an end to the advisory and assistance phase of the Vietnam War. A crucial turning point had been reached and 1965 brought about a major escalation in Marine combat activities in Vietnam.

The Buildup 1965

On 22 February 1965, General William C. Westmoreland, USA, Commander, US Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, requested two Marine battalions to protect the key airbase at Da Nang from increasing threat by the Viet Cong to U.S. installations. In response, on 8 March 1965, the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) landed at Da Nang. By the end of March, nearly 5,000 Marines were at Da Nang, including two infantry battalions, two helicopter squadrons and supply and logistics units. In April the U.S. Government agreed to deploy still more Marines to Vietnam and to permit those at Da Nang to engage in counterinsurgency operations. In June, Major General Lewis W. Walt arrived to take command of the newly formed III Marine Amphibious Force (MAF), comprising both the 3d Marine Division and the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW). By mid-summer, the Marines had moved outside their cantonment at Da Nang and expanded their Area of Responsibility (AOR) to include the Viet Cong infested villages to the south. Marines landed at Chu Lai, allowing the 1st Wing to expand to new facilities there and at Marble Mountain, home of Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 36, while MAG-16 remained at the airbase at Da Nang.

In August, Marines engaged in their first major offensives against the Viet Cong, Operation Starlite, which included the 7th Marines, the vanguard of the 1st Marine Division. The action destroyed one Viet Cong battalion and badly mauled a second. By the end of the year, Gen Walt commanded 42,000 Marines. Despite operational successes, pacification in the densely populated areas in the Marine’s AOR remained a difficult process. With no end to the war in sight, the prediction of a Vietnamese soothsayer would come true: 1966 would be a year of a lot of fighting and killing.

An Expanding War 1966

In 1966, the size of U.S. Marine forces in the Republic of Vietnam continued to increase as the remaining units of the 1st Marine Division, commanded by Major General Lewis J. “Jeff” Fields, arrived from Okinawa to assist in pacifying the southern areas of I Corps. Even with its influx of Marines, a manpower shortage plagued III MAF, compounding an already difficult mission. Senior Marine commanders expressed strong disagreement with the conduct of the war by the leadership of the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. The Marines pushed for a small-scale unit pacification program along the populated coastal areas, while the Army leadership in Saigon advocated large unit search and destroy operations against North Vietnamese units. These disagreements further hindered the ability of III MAF to conduct effective combat operations.

Despite these problems, the Marines continued to carry the fight to the enemy with several operations, most notably Operations Utah and Texas in southern I Corps and Operation Prairie in the north of I Corps. The Marines continued to refine a novel organizational concept, Combined Action Platoons, which merged a local Vietnamese militia platoon with a Marine infantry squad. The month of March saw the first arrival of CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters as a replacement for the aging Sikorsky UH-34, when HMM-46 landed at Marble Mountain, deploying from the USS Valley Forge. Meanwhile, Marine fixed-wing aircraft continued to strike targets as far north as Hanoi and Haiphong.

The year had brought a major buildup of U.S. Marine forces in Vietnam. Nearly 70,000 Marines were now in country; almost double the number from the previous year. The hopes of the Marine commanders that increased troop strength would defeat the enemy proved unrealistic. The coming year would find the two divisions of III MAF fighting increasingly different wars. The 3d Marine Division was fighting a more conventional campaign against the North Vietnamese Army near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in the north of I Corps while the 1st Marine Division engaged in more counter-guerrilla operations in Southern I Corps.

Fighting the Vietnamese 1967

While Marines continued conducting pacification and counter-guerrilla operations, most of the heavy fighting in 1967 raged in the north of I Corps along the DMZ. The 3d Marine Division engaged in heavy conventional fighting around the former Special Forces camp at Khe Sanh in the northwestern I Corps, to “Leatherneck Square” in the eastern DMZ. Simultaneously, Marines began construction of the “McNamara Line” a series of strong points, sensors and obstacles designed to deter and detect Communist incursions across the DMZ. Never completed, the McNamara Line drained III MAF of scarce men and materiel. To counter it, the North Vietnamese conducted numerous attacks to destroy it in its infancy, all supported by heavy artillery fire. This resulted in several major engagements during the second half of 1967, most notably at Con Thien. All the while Marine air played a pivotal role in providing fire support, CH-46 and UH-34 helicopters remained the workhorses for logistics support, augmented that year by the first squadron of CH-53 Sea Stallions.

By year’s end, III MAF had blunted the North Vietnamese push across the DMZ. In all, U.S. Marines conducted 11 major operations of battalion size or larger and more than 356,000 smaller unit patrols and killed nearly 18,000 enemy. But the cost had been high, with 3,000 Marines killed including the 3d Marine Division commander, Major General Bruno A. Hochmuth. Despite augmentation by the Army’s Americal Division, III MAF remained stretched in both men and material. But the Marines believed they had made significant strides toward pacification during 1967. However, as 1968 approached, there were ominous indications of an even larger enemy invasion.

The Defining Year 1968

The year 1968 proved to be the decisive year for the Marines in Vietnam. Instead of the traditional cease-fire for the Tet Lunar New Year, the Communists launched a massive offensive against 105 cities and towns throughout South Vietnam. In the north, enemy forces attacked all the major population centers, including Da Nang and the old Imperial city of Hue. U.S. Marines and South Vietnamese forces repulsed all the attacks except at Hue. It would take 26 days of dogged house-to-house fighting to expel the North Vietnamese regulars from the city, as Marines, more accustomed to fighting in the steamy jungle, learned the difficult and bloody lessons of urban warfare.

While Tet raged, another drama was being played out at Khe Sanh. For 77 days the 26th Marines, commanded by Colonel David E. Lownds, held the embattled base against intense pressure by the North Vietnamese, who hurled as many as 1,000 shells a day into the Marine position. President Lyndon B. Johnson became so concerned over the siege that he had an exact model of the Khe Sanh base built to monitor the situation on the ground. But Marine tenacity and American air power inflicted grievous losses upon the enemy. On 6 April, the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division broke the siege.

1968 marked a turning point for the war in Vietnam. While the enemy had been defeated on the battlefield, American public opinion turned against the war. Television images of the fighting in Hue and Khe Sanh, and even at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, eroded public support for the war. After three years of fighting, the enemy still appeared far from beaten. For many Americans, thoughts turned from escalation to winding down war in Vietnam.

High Mobility and Stand Down 1969

From the outset, the new President, Richard M. Nixon, committed his administration to reducing the level of U.S. forces in Vietnam. For the Marine Corps this meant a gradual reduction of forces in Vietnam. Incrementally, the Marine Corps began redeploying units, and by the end of the year, the entire 3d Marine Division had returned to Okinawa.

As planning to reduce force level in Vietnam continued, Marines continued to engage the enemy throughout I Corps. Colonel Robert H. Barrow’s 9th Marines began Operation Dewey Canyon, perhaps the most successful high-mobility regimental-sized action of the war. Over a two-month period, the Marines operated in the A Shau/Da Krong valleys. By 18 March, the enemy base area had been cleared out, killing more than 1,600 enemy. The Marine air-ground team proved its worth in greatly reducing enemy 122 mm rocket fire into Da Nang. Marine infantry, transported by helicopters, cleared out enemy positions in the rugged “Happy Valley” and “Charlie Ridges” areas, all supported by effective Marine fixed-wing aircraft.

Vietnamization and Redeployment 1970-1972

Throughout 1970, U.S. Marine forces continued to withdraw from Vietnam. The new policy emanating from Washington was “Vietnamization”. With U.S. airpower and advisors, the ground war was increasingly turned over to the South Vietnamese. While the invasion of Cambodia was the major military undertaking of 1970, only a limited number of Marine aviation assets were involved. Marines still conducted aggressive campaigns against the enemy, most notably Colonel Edmund G. Derning’s 7th Marines participation in Operation Pickens Forest and Colonel Paul X. Kelley’s 1st Marines actions near Da Nang. But by the end of 1970, more Marines were leaving than arriving as replacements. On 14 April 1971, III MAF redeployed to Okinawa, and two months later the last ground troops, the 13,000 men of the 3d MAB, flew out from Da Nang.

Although Marine combat units were no longer in Vietnam, Marine advisors remained to assist the South Vietnamese. During the North Vietnamese 1972 Easter Offensive, Marine advisors played a pivotal role in repelling the Communist attacks. Captain John W. Ripley, Captain Ray L. Smith and Captain Lawrence H. Livingston each won the Navy Cross for their heroic contributions in stopping the enemy advances.

The Bitter End 1973-1975

Following the failure of the Communists’ Easter Offensive and an intensive bombing campaign of North Vietnam, a peace treaty was finally signed in Paris on 27 January 1973. The U.S. agreed to withdraw all its forces from South Vietnam. The North, in turn, returned all the U.S. Prisoners of War, including 26 Marines. Unfortunately, peace was short lived in Vietnam, and in 1974 fighting resumed in both Cambodia and South Vietnam. By the spring of 1975, the situation became desperate for the U.S. backed governments in both Phnom Penh and Saigon. On 12 April, the 31st MAU, commanded by Colonel John F. Roche, executed a non-combatant evacuation, Operation Eagle Pull, the abandonment of the U.S. embassy in Phnom Penh prior to the city’s capitulation to Communist Khmer Rouge forces. Three weeks later, Marines were called upon to evacuate another embassy, this time in Saigon. Marines of the 9th MAB successfully executed Operation Frequent Wind, which safely removed hundreds of Americans and Vietnamese civilians prior to the fall of South Vietnam.

No sooner had the Marines evacuated the embassies than they were ordered by President Gerald R. Ford to rescue the crew of the USS Mayaguez, which had been taken by the Khmer Rouge. On 15 May, a Marine Task Force under the command of Colonel John M. Johnson recovered the Mayaguez and her crew, but not without high losses.

America’s longest war was costly to the U.S. Marine Corps. From 1965 to 1975, nearly 500,000 Marines served in Southeast Asia. Of these, nearly 13,000 were killed and 52,000 wounded; nearly a third of all American causalities sustained during the war.

Posted in Vietnam War Stories

Marine Corps War Memorial

The Marine Corps War Memorial stands as a symbol of a grateful nation’s esteem for the honored dead of the United States Marine Corps. Although the statue depicts one of the most famous incidents of World War II, the Memorial is dedicated to all Marines who have given their lives in the defense of the United States since 1775. Shortly after Associated Press news photographer Joe Rosenthal’s inspiring action picture of the Marines raising the second flag on Mount Suribachi was released, Sculptor Felix W. de Weldon, then on duty with the Navy, constructed a scale model and then a life-size model inspired by the scene.

The three survivors of the flag raising, Rene A. Gagnon, Ira Hayes, and John Bradley posed for Mr. de Weldon, who modeled their faces in clay. All available pictures and physical statistics of the three Marines who gave their lives were assembled and used in the modeling of their faces. The figures were originally molded in the nude so that the strain of muscles would be prominently shown after clothing was modeled on the struggling figures.

Steel framework, roughly duplicating the bone structure of the human body, was assembled to support the huge figures under construction. Once the statue was completed in plaster it was carefully disassembled into 108 pieces and trucked to the Bedi-Rassy Art Foundry, Brooklyn, New York for casting in bronze. The casting process, which required the work of experienced artisans, took nearly three years.

After the parts had been cast, cleaned, finished, and chased, they were reassembled into approximately a dozen pieces and brought back to Washington by a three-truck convoy. Erection of the Memorial on the edge of Arlington Cemetery near the Virginia’s approaches to Memorial Bridge was begun in September of 1954. It was officially dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on November 10, 1954.

Memorial Statistics

The figures on the statue are 32 feet high; they are erecting a bronze flagpole 60 feet in length. The figures are placed on a rock slope rising approximately 6 feet from a 10 foot base. Overall height of the statue is 78 feet. A cloth flag flies from the pole.

The M1 rifle carried by one of the figures is approximately 16 feet long, the carbines about 12 feet long. The canteen, if filled, would hold 32 quarts of water.

The figures of the statue are standing on rough Swedish granite. The concrete face of the statue is covered with blocks of polished Swedish black granite. Burnished into the granite, in gold lettering, are the names and dates of principal Marine Corps engagements since the Corps was founded in 1775. Also inscribed on the base is the tribute of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz to the fighting men on Iwo Jima: “Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue.” Opposite this, on the base is the inscription: “In honor and in memory of men of the United States Marine Corps who have given their lives to their country since November 10, 1775.”

The Site

The Memorial site is a seven and one-half acre tract of land bordering the northern end of Arlington National Cemetery, and overlooking Washington, D.C., near the western end of Memorial Bridge. The entire cost of the statue and developing the Memorial site was $850,000, donated by U.S. Marines, former Marines, Marine Corps Reservists, friends of the Marine Corps, and members of the Naval Service. No public funds were used for the monument.

For more than four decades, the Marine Corps War Memorial has stood overlooking our nation’s capital, joining other Memorials to honor those who have made this nation great.

The Flags

The flags raised that day on Mount Suribachi are currently preserved and displayed at the Marine Corps Historical Center in the Washington Navy Yard, Washington, DC.

The image on the right displays the second flag that was raised that day.

Marine Corps War Memorial Battle Honors
First Band: Revolutionary War – Korea (1775-1950)

Revolutionary War 1775-1783
French Naval War 1798-1801
Tripoli 1801-1805
War of 1812 1812-1815
Florida Indian Wars 1835-1842
Mexico 1846-1848
War Between the States 1861-1865
Spanish War 1898
Philippine Insurrection 1898-1902
Boxer Rebellion 1900
Nicaragua 1912
Vera Cruz 1914
Haiti 1915-1934
Santo Domingo 1916-1924
World War I 1917-1918
Belleau Wood
St. Mihiel
Blanc Mont
Nicaragua 1926-1933
World War II
1941 Pearl Harbor
Wake Island
Bataan & Corregidor
1942 Midway
1943 New Georgia
New Britain
1944 Marshall Islands
Marianas Islands
1945 Iwo Jima
Korea 1950

Second Band: Lebanon – Somalia (1958-1994)

Lebanon 1958
Vietnam 1962-1975
Dominican Republic 1965
Lebanon 1981-1984
Grenada 1983
Persian Gulf 1987-1991
Panama 1988-1990
Somalia 1992-1994

Posted in Vietnam War Stories

Marine Corps Quotes

“That two battalions of Marines be raised consisting of one colonel, two lieutenant colonels, two majors and officers as usual in other regiments, that they consist of an equal number of privates with other battalions; that particular care be taken that no person be appointed to office or enlisted into said battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve to advantage by sea.”

(Resolution of the Continental Congress, 10 November 1775.)

“The Continental ship Providence, now lying at Boston, is bound on a short cruise, immediately; a few good men are wanted to make up her complement.”

(Marine Captain William Jones, Providence Gazette, 20 March 1779.)

“A ship without Marines is like a garment without buttons.”

(Admiral David D. Porter, USN, 1863.)

“The Marines have landed and have the situation well in hand.”

(Attributed to many sources and popularized by the correspondent Richard Harding Davis during the late nineteenth-century.)

“To our Marines fell the most difficult and dangerous portion of the defense by reason of our proximity to the great city wall and the main city gate. . .The Marines acquitted themselves nobly.”

(Mr. Edwin N. Conger, U.S. Minister, in commending the Marines for the defense of the legations at Peking, China, in 1900.)

“Your Marines having been under my command for nearly six months, I feel that I can give you a discriminating report as to their excellent standing with their brothers of the army and their general good conduct.”

(General John J. Pershing, USA, in a letter to Major General Commandant George Barnett, USMC, 10 November 1917.)

“Retreat Hell! We’ve just got here!”

(Attributed to several World War I Marine Corps officers, Belleau Wood, June 1918.)

“Once a Marine, always a Marine!”

(MSgt Paul Woyshner, a 40-year Marine, is credited with originating this expression during a taproom argument with a discharged Marine.)

“Come on, you sons of bitches-do you want to live forever?”

(Attributed to Gunnery Sergeant Daniel Daly, USMC, Belleau Wood, June 1918.)

“I have only two out of my company and 20 out of some other company. We need support, but it is almost suicide to try to get it here as we are swept by machine gun fire and a constant barrage is on us. I have no one on my left and only a few on my right. I will hold.”

(First Lieutenant Clifton B. Cates, USMC, 96th Co., Soissons, 19 July 1918.)

“They (Women Marines) don’t have a nickname, and they don’t need one. They get their basic training in a Marine atmosphere, at a Marine Post. They inherit the traditions of the Marines. They are Marines.”

(Lieutenant General Thomas Holcomb, USMC 1943.)

“Goddam it, you’ll never get the Purple Heart hiding in a foxhole! Follow me!”

(Captain Henry P. “Jim” Crowe, USMC, Guadalcanal, 13 January 1943.)

“Casualties many; Percentage of dead not known; Combat efficiency; we are winning.”

(Colonel David M. Shoup, USMC, Tarawa, 21 November 1943.)

“The raising of that flag on Suribachi means a Marine Corps for the next 500 years.”

(James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 February 1945.)

“Among the men who fought on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue.”

(Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, USN, 16 March 1945.)

“The bended knee is not a tradition of our Corps.”

(General Alexander A. Vandergrift, USMC, to the Senate Naval Affairs Committee, 5 May 1946.)

“I have just returned from visiting the Marines at the front, and there is not a finer fighting organization in the world.”

(General Douglas MacArthur, USA, outskirts of Seoul, 21 September 1950.)

“Retreat Hell! We’re just attacking in another direction.”

(Attributed to Major General Oliver P. Smith, USMC, Korea, December 1950.)

“You don’t hurt ’em if you don’t hit ’em.”

(Lieutenant General Lewis B. Puller, USMC, Marine, 1962.)

“Being ready is not what matters. What matters is winning after you get there.”

(Lieutenant General Victor H. Krulak, USMC, April 1965.)

“The Marine Corps is proud of the fact that it is a force of combined arms, and it jealously guards the integrity of its air-ground team.”

(General Keith B. McCutcheon, USMC, Naval Review, 1971.)

“I still need Marines who can shoot and salute. But I need Marines who can fix jet engines and man sophisticated radar sets, as well.”

(General Robert E. Cushman, Jr., USMC, 17 May 1974.)

“I can’t say enough about the two Marine divisions. If I use words like brilliant, it would really be an under-description of the absolutely superb job they did in breaching the so-called impenetrable barrier. . .Absolutely superb operation, a textbook, and I think it’ll be studied for many, many years to come as the way to do it.”

(General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, USA, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 27 February 1991.)

Posted in Vietnam War Stories

Parade Precedence

The rationale behind the present parade precedence structure appears to be based more on custom than on any documented set of criteria. The majority of texts, manuals, and guides on the subject of military and naval customs and traditions appear to cite service seniority as the determining factor in deciding the precedence of the armed forces in parades.

The Marine Officer’s Guide, section 1823, states “To avoid conflicts at parades or ceremonies, the places of honor are allocated in order of Service seniority” Likewise, in Military Customs and Traditions, it is stated that “Precedence among military units vary much as among people – is normally determined by age.”

In theory, this criteria for establishing the parade precedence of the various armed forces would seem to be very straightforward and easily comprehensible. However, in practice this is not the case. There exists among the various branches of the services a divergence of opinion on the issue of dates which mark the beginnings of their respective branches.

Service seniority can be interpreted in a number of ways. For example, one could trace the origins of the various branches in their respective dates when the Continental Congress passed initiating resolutions. Using this criteria we could find the Army being established in June 1775, the Navy in October 1775, and the Marines on 10 November 1775.

However, seniority of the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps is obscured by the divergent elements of the intentions of the Continental Congress as compared to the realization of those intentions. Although the intention of the Congress to established an Army is apparent in several resolutions of June 1775, the realization of those intentions was not effected until 1 January 1776 when General Washington states in his orderly book, “This day giving commencement to the new Army which in every point of view is entirely Continental.”

Likewise, the Navy which the Congress created by resolution in October 1775 was not to be realized until several months later. The process of procuring and outfitting ships as well as enlisting and commissioning personnel was a time-consuming one. The commander in chief of the Navy and other officers were not commissioned until 22 December 1775.

The Marine Corps, on the other hand, even though established by resolution on 10 November 1775, was actually a force in readiness before the Army or the Navy. Samuel Nicholas was commissioned a Captain of Marines on 28 November 1775, a month before the first officer of the Continental Navy was commissioned. Indeed, the Marine Corps’ claim to being the oldest integral force in being results primarily from fortunate circumstances. The Corps was much smaller and more closely knit than either of the other services, and its origin was not complicated by the existence of provincial and local forces already in the field. Thus, the Continental Marine force was all regular Marine from the beginning during the period when the Army was an amorphous mass of mixed Continentals and militia, and the Navy lacked ships. The Marine Corps appears, therefore, to be the first truly “federal” armed services branch.

The question of seniority of the armed services is further confused by the fact that nearly all of the original Colonies placed militia, ships, and troops serving as Marines in action at the opening of hostilities, before the establishment of the Continental Congress. It could be argued that these forces, having been taken under Continental pay and control, constituted the beginning of the American Army, Navy, and Marines.

Thus, it seems that no definitive case can be made for establishing the relative seniority of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps. In fact, the only facts that correspond with the present parade order of Army, Marine Corps, and Navy respectively, are the dates when their first officers were commissioned, in June, November, and December of 1775. It appears that the present order of parade precedence has evolved over the years, perhaps initially based on early opinions of the actual dates of origin of the services. In any case, the present order of parade precedence has become one of our foremost military customs and as the foregoing has indicated, there appears to be little evidence to support any change in that order. The present order of parade precedence is indicated in DoD Directive 1005.8 as Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force. Therefore, by analogy, the order of display of colors should be in the same order.

Posted in Vietnam War Stories

Marine Corps Hymn History

Following the war with the Barbary Pirates in 1805, when Lieutenant Presely N. O’Bannon and his small force of Marines participated in the capture of Derne and hoisted the American flag for the first time over a fortress of the Old World, the Colors of the Corps was inscribed with the words: “To the Shores of Tripoli.” After the Marines participated in the capture and occupation of Mexico City and the Castle of Chapultepec, otherwise known as the “Halls of Montezuma,” the words on the Colors were changed to read: “From the Shores of Tripoli to the Halls of Montezuma.” Following the close of the Mexican War came the first verse of the Marines’ Hymn, written, according to tradition, by a Marine on duty in Mexico. For the sake of euphony, the unknown author transposed the phrases in the motto on the Colors so that the first two lines of the Hymn would read: “From the Halls of Montezuma, to the Shores of Tripoli.”

A serious attempt to trace the tune of the Marines’ Hymn to its source is revealed in correspondence between Colonel A.S. McLemore, USMC, and Walter F. Smith, second leader of the Marine Band. Colonel McLemore wrote: “Major Richard Wallach, USMC, says that in 1878, when he was in Paris, France, the aria to which the Marines’ Hymn is now sung was a very popular one.” The name of the opera and a part of the chorus was secured from Major Wallach and forwarded to Mr. Smith, who replied: “Major Wallach is to be congratulated upon a wonderfully accurate musical memory, for the aria of the Marine Hymn is certainly to be found in the opera, ‘Genevieve de Brabant’. . .The melody is not in the exact form of the Marine Hymn, but is undoubtedly the aria from which it was taken. I am informed, however, by one of the members of the band, who has a Spanish wife, that the aria was one familiar to her childhood and it may, therefore, be a Spanish folk song.”

In a letter to Major Harold F. Wirgman, USMC, John Philip Sousa says: “The melody of the ‘Halls of Montezuma’ is taken from Offenbach’s comic opera, ‘Genevieve de Brabant’ and is sung by two gendarmes.” Most people believe that the aria of the Marines’ Hymn was, in fact, taken from “Genevieve de Brabant,” an opera-bouffe (a farcical form of opera, generally termed musical comedy) composed by Jacques Offenbach, and presented at the Theatre de Bouffes Parisians, Paris, on 19 November 1859.

Offenbach was born in Cologne, Germany, 21 June 1819 and died 5 October 1880. He studied music from an early age and in 1838 entered the Paris Conservatoire as a student. In 1834, he was admitted as a violoncellist to the “Opera Comique” and soon attained much popularity with Parisian audiences. He became conductor of the Theatre Francais in 1847 and subsequently leased the Theatre Comte, which he reopened as the Bouffes-Parisians. Most of his operas are classified as comic (light and fanciful) and include numerous popular productions, many of which still hold a high place in European and American countries.

Every campaign the Marines have taken part in gives birth to an unofficial verse. For example, the following from Iceland:

“Again in nineteen forty-one
We sailed a north’ard course
And found beneath the midnight sun,
The Viking and the Norse.
The Iceland girls were slim and fair,
And fair the Iceland scenes,
And the Army found in landing there,
The United States Marines.”

Copyright ownership of the Marines’ Hymn was vested in the United States Marine Corps per certificate of registration dated 19 August 1891, but it is now in the public domain. In 1929, the Commandant of the Marine Corps authorized the following verses of the Marines’ Hymn as the official version:

“From the Halls of Montezuma
to the Shores of Tripoli,
We fight our country’s battles
On the land as on the sea.
First to fight for right and freedom,
And to keep our honor clean,
We are proud to claim the title
of United States Marine.

“Our flag’s unfurl’d to every breeze
From dawn to setting sun;
We have fought in every clime and place
Where we could take a gun.
In the snow of far-off northern lands
And in sunny tropic scenes,
You will find us always on the job
The United States Marines.

“Here’s health to you and to our Corps
Which we are proud to serve;
In many a strife we’ve fought for life
And never lost our nerve.
If the Army and the Navy
Ever look on Heaven’s scenes,
They will find the streets are guarded
By United States Marines.”

On 21 November 1942, the Commandant of the Marine Corps approved a change in the words of the fourth line, first verse, to read, “In the air, on land, and sea.” Ex-Gunnery Sergeant H.L. Tallman, veteran observer in Marine Corps Aviation who participated in many combat missions with Marine Corps Aviation over the Western Front in World War I, first proposed the change at a meeting of the First Marine Aviation Force Veterans Association in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Many interesting stories have been associated with the Marines’ Hymn. One of the best was published in the Stars and Stripes, the official newspaper of the American Expeditionary Force, under date of 16 August 1918.

“A wounded officer from among the gallant French lancers had just been carried into a Yankee field hospital to have his dressing changed. He was full of compliments and curiosity about the dashing contingent that fought at his regiment’s left.

“A lot of them are mounted troops by this time, he explained, for when our men would be shot from their horses, these youngsters would give one running jump and gallop ahead as cavalry. I believe they are soldiers from Montezuma. At least, when they advanced this morning, they were all singing “From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli.”

The Marines’ Hymn has been sung and played wherever U.S. Marines have landed, and today is recognized as one of the foremost military service songs.

Posted in Vietnam War Stories

Battle Color of the Marine Corps

Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C., holds the official Battle Colors of the Marine Corps. A duplicate is maintained in the office of the Commandant of the Marine Corps in the Pentagon. The Battle Colors bear the same fifty streamers authorized for the Marine Corps as a whole. These streamers represent U.S. and foreign unit awards as well as those periods of service, expeditions, and campaigns in which the Marine Corps has participated from the American Revolution to today.

During the Marine Corps’ first 150 years, Marines in the field carried a variety of flags. It was not until 18 April 1925 that Marine Corps Order Number 4 designated gold and scarlet as the official colors of the U.S. Marine Corps. These colors, however, were not reflected in the official Marine Corps flag until 18 January 1939 when a new design incorporating the new colors was approved. This design was essentially that of today’s Marine Corps standard, and was the result of a two-year study concerning the design of a standard Marine Corps flag, and the units to which such a flag should be issued.

The fifty colored streamers which adorn the Battle Colors represent the history and accomplishments of the Marine Corps. The newest streamer to be added to the Battle Colors is the Kosovo Campaign Streamer, awarded for service in various Kosovo operations beginning in 1999.

Posted in Vietnam War Stories

Marine Corps Birthday History

Formal commemoration of the birthday of the Marine Corps began on 10 November 1921. That particular date was chosen because on that day the Second Continental Congress resolved in 1775 to raise two battalions of Continental Marines.

Until 1921 the birthday of the Corps had been celebrated on another date. An unidentified newspaper clipping from 1918 refers to the celebration of the 120th birthday of the Marine Corps on 11 July “as usual with no fuss.” It is doubtful that there was any real celebration at all. Further inspection of documents and publications prior to 1921 shows no evidence of ceremonies, pageants, or parties. The July date was commemorated between 1798 and 1921 as the birthday of the Corps. During the Revolution, Marines had fought on land and sea, but at the close of the Revolution the Marine Corps and the Navy were all but disbanded. On 11 July 1798, President John Adams approved a bill that recreated the Corps, thereby providing the rationale for this day being commemorated as the birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps.

On 21 October 1921, Major Edwin McClellan, Officer-in-Charge, Historical Section, Headquarters Marine Corps, sent a memorandum to Major General Commandant John A. Lejeune, suggesting that the original birthday on 10 November 1775 be declared a Marine Corps holiday to be celebrated throughout the Corps. McClellan further suggested that a dinner be held in Washington to commemorate the event. Guests would include prominent men from the Marine Corps, Army, and Navy, and descendants of the Revolution.

Accordingly, on 1 November 1921, General Lejeune issued Marine Corps Order No. 47, Series 1921. The order summarized the history, mission, and tradition of the Corps, and directed that it be read to every command on 10 November each subsequent year in honor of the birthday of the Marine Corps. This order has been duly carried out.

Some commands expanded the celebration during the next few years. In 1923 at Fort Mifflin, Pennsylvania, the celebration of the Marine Corps’ 148th birthday took the form of a dance in the barracks that evening. Marines at the Navy Yard, Norfolk, Virginia, staged a sham battle on the parade ground in commemoration of the birthday. The battle lasted about twenty minutes, and was witnessed by Portsmouth and Norfolk citizens. At Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the birthday was celebrated on the 12th, since a special liberty to Santiago had been arranged on the 10th. The morning activities included field and water sports, and a shooting match. In the afternoon the Marines won a baseball game, 9-8, over a Cuban team. In the evening, members of the command put on a variety show followed by four boxing bouts.

The first so-called “Birthday Ball,” such as suggested by Major McClellan, was probably held in 1925 in Philadelphia. No records have been located of one prior to 1925. Guests included the Secretaries of War and Navy, Major General Commandant Lejeune, famous statesmen, soldiers, and sailors. The principle event was the unveiling of a tablet on the site of Tun Tavern. The tablet was a gift from the Thomas Roberts Reath Post, American Legion, whose membership was composed exclusively of Marines. The celebration was held in conjunction with the annual convention of the Marine Corps League. A parade included Marines, Regular Army, and Navy detachments, National Guard, and other military organizations. The evening banquet was held at the Benjamin Franklin Hotel and a ball followed at the Bellevue-Stratford.

It is not possible to determine precisely when the first cake ceremony was held, but the first on record was held at Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C., in 1937. Major General Commandant Thomas Holcomb presided at an open house for Marine Corps officers. Ceremonies included the cutting of a huge cake designed after the famous Tun Tavern in Philadelphia.

From 1937, observances of the Marine Corps Birthday appeared to develop spontaneously throughout the Corps as if they had a life of their own. The celebrations were publicized through every media. Newsreels, motion pictures, and displays were prepared to summarize the history of the Corps. In 1943, standard blank Marine Corps scrap books were forwarded to all districts to be filled with 168th anniversary clippings, scripts, pictures, programs, and other memorabilia, and returned to Headquarters. Unfortunately none of these scrapbooks remain in official files.

In 1951, a formal Birthday Ball Pageant was held at Headquarters Marine Corps. Similar to the pageant today, the script described the Marines’ period uniforms and the cake ceremony. Although this is the first substantive record of a pageant, Leatherneck of 10 November 1925 pictures Marines at a pageant in Salt Lake City, Utah, which had taken place “several years ago.”

On 28 October 1952, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr., directed that the celebration of the Marine Corps Birthday be formalized throughout the Corps, and provided an outline for the cake ceremony, as well as other formal observances. This outline was included in the Marine Corps Drill Manual, approved 26 January 1956.

Traditionally, the first piece of Birthday cake is presented to the oldest Marine present and the second piece to the youngest Marine present. When and where this tradition began remains unknown. Some records indicate this practice, and others vary it depending on the dignitaries present at the ball. First pieces of cake have been presented to newlyweds, the Secretary of the Navy, governors, and others, but generally speaking, the first pieces of cake go to the oldest and youngest Marines at the ball.

At present, celebrations of the Marine Corps Birthday on 10 November differ at posts and stations throughout the Corps. All commemorations include the reading of Marine Corps Order No. 47, and the Commandant’s message to those assembled. Most commands sponsor a Birthday Ball of some sort, complete with pageant and cake ceremony as prescribed in the Marine Corps Manual.

Like the Corps itself, the Birthday Ball developed from simple origins to become the polished, professional function that all Marines commemorate on 10 November around the world.

Posted in Vietnam War Stories

The Marine Corps Motto

“Semper Fidelis” (“Always Faithful”) is the motto of the Corps. That Marines have lived up to this motto is proved by the fact that there has never been a mutiny, or even the thought of one, among U.S. Marines.

Semper Fidelis was adopted about 1883 as the motto of the Corps. Before that, there had been three mottoes, all traditional rather than official. The first, antedating the War of 1812, was “Fortitudine” (“With Fortitude”). The second, “By Sea and by Land,” was obviously a translation of the Royal Marine’s “Per Mare, Per Terram.” Until 1848, the third motto was “To the Shores of Tripoli,” in commemoration of O’Bannon’s capture of Derna in 1805. In 1848, after the return to Washington of the Marine battalion that took part in the capture of Mexico City, this motto was revised to: “From the Halls of the Montezumas to the Shores of Tripoli” a line now familiar to all Americans. This revision of the Corps motto in Mexico has encouraged speculation that the first stanza of “The Marines’ Hymn” was composed by members of the Marine battalion who stormed Chapultepec Castle.

It may be added that the Marine Corps shares its motto with England’s Devonshire Regiment, the 11th Foot, one of the senior infantry regiments of the British Army, whose sobriquet is “the Bloody Eleventh” and whose motto is also Semper Fidelis.

Posted in Vietnam War Stories

Military Rules of Engagement

Navy SEAL Rules:

  1. Look very cool in sunglasses.
  2. Kill every living thing within view.
  3. Adjust Speedos.
  4. Check hair in mirror.

US Army Ranger Rules:

  1. Walk in 50 miles wearing 75-pound rucksack while starving.
  2. Locate individuals requiring killing.
  3. Request permission via radio from a “Higher Authority” to perform killing.
  4. Curse bitterly when mission is aborted.
  5. Walk out 50 miles wearing a 75-pound rucksack while starving.

US Army Rules:

  1. Select a new beret to wear.
  2. Sew patch’s on right shoulder.
  3. Change the color of beret you decide to wear.

US Air Force Rules:

  1. Have a cocktail.
  2. Adjust temperature on air-conditioner.
  3. See what’s on HBO.
  4. Ask “what is a gunfight?”
  5. Request more funding from Congress with a “killer” PowerPoint presentation.
  6. Wine & dine ‘key’ Congressmen, invite DOD & defense industry executives.
  7. Receive funding, set up new command and assemble assets.
  8. Declare the assets “strategic” and never deploy them operationally.
  9. Hurry to make tee-time.

US Navy Rules:

  1. Go to Sea.
  2. Drink Coffee.
  3. Watch porn.
  4. Deploy the Marines.

US Marine Corps Rules:

  1. Be courteous to everyone, friendly to no one.
  2. Decide to be aggressive enough, quickly enough.
  3. Have a plan.
  4. Have a back-up plan, because the first one probably won’t work.
  5. Be polite. Be professional. But, have a plan to kill everyone you meet.
  6. Do not attend a gunfight with a handgun whose caliber does not start with a “4.”
  7. Anything worth shooting is worth shooting twice. Ammo is cheap. Life is expensive.
  8. Move away from your attacker. Distance is your friend.(Lateral & diagonal preferred.)
  9. Use cover or concealment as much as possible.
  10. Flank your adversary when possible. Protect yours.
  11. Always cheat; always win. The only unfair fight is the one you lose.
  12. In ten years nobody will remember the details of caliber, stance, or tactics. They will only remember who lived.
  13. If you are not shooting, you should be communicating your intention to shoot.

Author/Tom Gainer

Posted in Vietnam War Stories

No No Not The Briar Patch

We pulled quite a few “County Fairs” Some with the entire Company and some with a reinforced platoon. Since most of these operations were conducted within range of our mortars and artillery. Targets were pre planned and the bigger guns stayed back within their perimeters. I made every one of them either as the Exec’s radio operator or attached to the platoon leader to operate on the Company net.

We would leave our lines about dusk, spend the night moving to our objective usually a village. By morning, we would have the village surrounded. A team would go through the village and round up all the locals into the village center. Other teams would fan out looking for caches of weapons, tunnels or specific contraband. Often, the Navy Corpsmen would set up an impromptu clinic and try to treat as many patients as they could as well as they were able, especially the children. On one occasion, the ARVN (Vietnamese Army) showed up with a big PA system for some Psychological Operation to convince the locals to turn in the bad guys. As for the locals, once they were gathered in the village center, we would sort through them and round up the usual suspects for the Intel guys.

This particular night, we had passed through our perimeter’s kill zone, an area cleared of obstacles and vegetation, a veritable no man’s land working our way north. There was either no moon or one horrendous cloud cover. The only way to move forward was to hold on to the flak jacket or pistol belt of the Marine in front of you. Ask any combat veteran, life on the edge, especially at night, sharpens your senses of hearing, smelling and even that sixth sense that could tell you something just wasn’t right.

The whole column came to a halt. Word was whispered back. “Creek bed.” India Company had experience with creek beds and they weren’t very good. It was the last damn thing anyone of us wanted to encounter, cross or get caught up in.

There were several procedures in place for crossing such an obstacle. We could gather enmasse and rush to the other side. We could go over in groups, or we could cross one at a time and marry up on the other side. Since we were in a column, the only real way to do this was the last option.

In order to do this, you had to check who was in front of you and who was behind you. If the guy ahead of you didn’t recognize who the hell you were by your voice or a password or some other signal when you got across to the other side, your ass could be grass. The same for the guy behind you.

I checked with the Marine in front of me. He was a grunt from the 3rd Platoon. When I reached back and touched the shoulder of the guy behind me, I asked, “Who’s this?”

The answer came back, “Doc.”

“Doc? Who’s behind you?”


“Aw, shit! You gotta be kiddin’ me!” I thought, what the hell was a Corpsman doing being “Tail-end Charlie”?

I had to think fast. Here was a guy who was armed only with a .45 caliber pistol, not trained as an Infantryman and he was supposed to be covering my ass. I had an M-14 with a selector switch, I could fire full automatic. I had to change spots with him.

When it was my turn to cross the creek bed, I whispered to the Corpsman to go ahead and that I’d take over covering the rear. He left, and I waited a while. I was listening for some sort of signal to make my crossing. Several minutes passed without hearing a sound.

Looking back, sending the Doc across by himself was my biggest, dumbest mistake. Though Corpsmen assigned to Marine units do receive infantry training, it’s usually on how we generally operate, how to stay out of the way, and how to survive. Detailed patrolling techniques aren’t usually included. Don’t get me wrong. You want the Doc there. He is the Number One guy you want to keep alive. That’s why I should have crossed with him. We would have had a better chance of marrying up with the patrol.

That thought crossed my mind as I made my decision to move out. I stayed low, moved slow. Then, I reached a hedgerow on the other side. That creek bed could not have been more than ten to fifteen yards across. I nestled into the far side of the bush and whispered as softly as I could, “Doc”.

There was no reply, only silence. Again, I whispered, “Doc”. I knew I was in trouble because catching up to the Company and rejoining the patrol was just as dangerous as being out there on my lonesome. If they stopped, the squad leaders would have probably put out rear security with some fire teams in some sort of ambush to prevent any enemy from sneaking up behind them. I didn’t want to run into that.

The only thing left for me to do was to move in the direction that I thought the Company was headed. I knew we had been heading east because that was the direction which the gate in our perimeter faced. I figured they would be heading north. The only thing to the south was the encampment of the 12th Marines Field Artillery. So, I turned left, found a trail and inched my way along it. It was so damned dark I had to move in a crouch and feel my way along. As it was, I was moving at a pretty good pace.

After a few hours of this, maybe three or four, I stopped and took stock of my situation. I was separated from my Company; I was lost; I was in enemy territory; I couldn’t see a damned thing; I couldn’t break radio silence, and the Company probably didn’t know that I was missing. I decided to find a place to hole up until daylight. It had to be a place where no one would want to look for me. I thought about Brer Rabbit telling Brer Fox “Oh! Please! Not the briar patch! Don’t throw me in the briar patch!” Funny, but when you’re in a world of shit, childhood stories come back to you.

I found a batch of under growth which seemed to be rife with some vines. I nestled into it, pulling as much vegetation over me to hide myself really good. God! I wanted to go to sleep. I was so damned tired. But, I forced myself to stay awake. My hearing perked up. I had already turned off the radio for two reasons: one, nobody would be on the net until daylight and, two, I didn’t want some random transmission to come across which might possibly be heard by somebody who might not like me.

It was a while, maybe an hour or so after I had snuggled into my hiding place when I first heard the noises. It sounded like a bunch of people carrying pots and pans with all of them clinking and clanking together. Then, I heard them speak. If they were a patrol, they were pretty lousy at it. There were loud shouts in Vietnamese, almost cursing, I suppose. Apparently, some of the locals had been pressed into service as “mules” by the Viet Cong.

Well, I sure picked one hell of a spot to try to hide out. Their patrol, about fifteen to twenty people passed right over my head. I mean, within inches of my helmet. I had to think if I had shaved the day before because I was afraid one of them might get a scent of after shave.

I had two M 26 fragmentation grenades, two smoke grenades (one of which was always red) and one white phosphorous illumination grenade. After this bunch passed me by, I thought about throwing the WP and following it up with the M 26’s and my M 16. The only problem was that the WP grenade took a couple of seconds to pop open and ignite. If I allowed that, these clowns could find cover, and I’d be in deeper than I was. And, I didn’t know if any more of them were coming along to join the party.

After about twenty to thirty minutes, I felt confident enough to go find a better spot to hide in. I worked my way to some high ground, a little knoll where I found myself bumping into tombstones. I was in a cemetery. I knew the Vietnamese considered these places sacred, so I felt pretty safe. I found a good hiding spot between a tree and a grave marker and settled in until daylight.

At first light, I fired up my radio, an AN/PRC 25. It was pre-set to the Company frequency and I tried to raise Sergeant Zaidinski. The radio had two antennas, one called a “brush” antenna and the other called a “whip”. The brush antenna looked like a swamp reed and didn’t attract much attention. Using the whip was like raising Old Glory. The trade off was that the whip extended the range of the radio about four times. I used the brush.

I didn’t get a response, so I knew that the Company was more than just a few clicks away. I clicked on to the Battalion net and put out a “Mayday. Mayday. Mayday.”

Still, no response. The damn radio was useless. I even went to the crisis “freak”, 48 Kilos and put out another “Mayday”. Nothing happened. I took the antenna off. The way I figured it was that if a gook saw me with a box on my back, he might think it was something other than a radio.

I took inventory of my situation. Off to my left was a village at the base of some hills. To my right, about a mile away, I could make out Highway 1 and the South China Sea. o my front and rear were rice paddies, each one broken apart about every fifty yards with a paddy dike.

It was like being home. If Lake Michigan is on your left, you gotta be heading south. Well, the ocean was my lake, and Highway 1 was my Lake Shore Drive.

I thought about going over to Highway 1 and just walking on back to the Artillery Road. But, I didn’t know how far north I was. There were little hooches interspersed all along the road and if I did walk down it, maybe some VC would pop out and shoot me in the back as I passed by. So, the road was ruled out.

Then, I thought about working my way up into the jungle behind the village. That was easy to say no to. Either their guys or ours might be hiding up there, and navigating through it would have taken a long time. Also, I knew we always left behind mechanical ambushes that could be tripped at any time.

So, I decided to work my way south through the rice paddies. I could use the dikes for cover and look back to check if I had any company. I would keep in the center, between Highway 1 and the road below the hills which also ran north and south and which connected all the villages. The way I figured it, this way would give me some reaction time from any direction. Also, I switched the radio back on and tried a few “Maydays” on several frequencies without a response. I kept doing that about every half hour.

The more I moved, the more tired I got. It had been one hell of a night. Moving fifty yards at a time, then stopping behind a paddy dike to survey my rear end was starting to wear on me. After about four hours, the little road south of a village looked really inviting.

That road was pretty well elevated, and it was, in a lot of places, graded higher than the paddy dikes as it blended into hillsides. Where the road was in open areas, it stood well above the rice paddies, maybe five to ten feet. The shoulders of the roads were covered with stones which provided for excellent drainage. The damn stones made climbing up the slope really hard, like climbing up a hill covered in marbles. After one try, I gave up and then found a place where the road was even with a trail, and I moved on to it.

I moved south for a while keeping sight of Highway 1. Occasionally, I could see the ocean, or maybe it was a bay. But, I knew I was headed in the right direction. I stopped quite often and found cover, waited a few minutes and checked behind me to see if I had anyone following me.

Time passed, and I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Damn, I don’t remember ever being so tired. My head was down, and all I was doing was shuffling my feet.

Ho Chi Minh sandals! Jesus Christ! That’s what I saw. A pair of Ho Chi Minh sandals a few yards in front of me. I dropped to one knee, aimed my M14 and started to pull the trigger. When I looked at my target, it was a little, old, frail Vietnamese man in black pajamas. I mean, I almost wasted the guy.

He smiled at me and pointed to a village off to my right. Hell, I didn’t even notice it; I was walking like a complete drone, an idiot, not checking things out for maybe the last half hour. I tried communicating, but the two of us were not going very far with that effort. I made a motion with my hand for the old man to turn around. I gave him a little push in the back and waved with the back of my hand as if to say, “Go. Go.” He led me around the village, and when we got well south of it, I pointed to the village and said, “Go.” I think he understood, “Go.”

I watched the old guy go back to the “ville” just to make sure he didn’t meet with anyone to tell them about me. I headed south again.

A person gets weird thoughts when one is out in a world of shit like this. I don’t exactly remember what the hell I was thinking about. Always thought about home, broads, cold beer. But, at that moment, all I was thinking about was to keep on moving, checking around me and looking for cover if I needed it.

The road had narrowed to the point that it would have been barely passable by a “Mighty Mite”, a small Jeep. But, then I looked up and saw something beautiful, a big pile of dirt called “Red Hill”. I was almost home. I still wasn’t going to go through those woods. I kept my distance from them, moving east, then south again.

Those woods were like a little finger that came down from the hills toward the east. They were pretty rough to traverse through, and our guys would often set up ambushes in them to protect our perimeter. Heck! I’m talking as if those trees were alive. And, they were. Alive with ambushes and booby-traps. I had to work my way around them.

I kept a good a hundred fifty, maybe two hundred yards off the tree line. I worked my way into an open area where I could finally see the bunkers along Artillery Road. I went straight for them. I knew there were a couple of more obstacles left, like the Claymores the guys were supposed to take back in each morning. One thing I didn’t need was for some idiot to grab his “clicker” and light me up with a bunch of BB’s.

My rifle was slung over my shoulder as I crossed the open area. I kept my hands out where they could be seen. Finally, I got about twenty feet away from the bunker in the middle of the road when the Marine on top of it asked, “You Czarnowski?”

“Yeah.” I replied.

“Five more minutes and you’re MIA.” I looked at my watch. It was five minutes until noon.

Wait a minute. The Marine Corps had to wait until noon to make me an MIA? What the hell, I was missing in action the whole goddam night! Wasn’t anybody looking for me? And, what would have happened if I got there ten minutes later? The Corps send out a message to my folks? Would an Officer and NCO show up at my house? “Jesus,” I thought, that would throw my Mom into the extreme Rosary mode, from four to maybe ten a day. And the Old Man had a bad heart. He didn’t need any bad news.

I made my way past my bunker to the gate in the barbed wire fence. I got to the CP and found my bunk, actually just a folding cot, stowed my rifle and my gear, took off my boots and went to sleep. Nobody said a word to me, and no one woke me up for any kind of duty. I slept in until the next afternoon, even after the Company came back. I was not debriefed or interrogated about anything that happened. So, I didn’t say anything. Maybe India Company had invented “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” thirty years before its time, but in a different area. I do know one thing, everyone looked at me as if I was some kind of nut, someone who was a little whacko. Maybe I was a little jumpy, or I had a real goofy look on my face or one hell of a bad attitude.

About a week later, Stan Zaidinski told me that there was going to be a Company formation, and that I was getting some kind of an award. Hell, that was rare. The Company never formed up. We hadn’t had a formation since we were regrouping while on the beach in Chu Lai.

There were a bunch of us called out in front of the rest of the Company. Some Battalion brass was there to pin on medals and hand out certificates. Then, the Company Commander got to me. The First Sergeant stepped forward to read my award.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. More or less, it said that my job didn’t normally require combat. Hell! Did they miss me being thrown over the side of a Mike boat on Deckhouse I, being chased down the road by a machine gun on Nathan Hale, or what we all went through on Operation Hastings? What about all the County Fairs and bunker watch? What the hell was going on?

I don’t remember hearing Top read the rest of the citation. I read it later when I got back to the CP. I had been awarded “The Marine Corps Plastic Stomach Window” (a “plastic stomach window” is what a real asshole was issued to ensure he could see where the hell he was going because he had his head stuck up so far his ass) for finding my way back after that patrol, the “Vietnamese Cross of Laundry” for the largest laundry bag in the Company, and the “Boy Scout Little Help Award” for assisting a fellow Marine by carrying him to and from a mess hall after he had broken his leg. Three awards in one day. That would have made me the most decorated Marine in the Battalion. There was a mention of my Polish ancestry to explain why I was so dumb. Well, whoever wrote it didn’t know that I’m half Irish.

A lot of guys came up to me and told me to pitch a bitch. What I had done had just been demeaned in an effort to make a joke in a lame effort to raise morale. It didn’t take long to find out whose big idea this was. It wasn’t anyone from India.

I thought about it for a while. Hell, I was a Short Timer and all I wanted was to go home. I didn’t want to stir up any shit. Was I bitter about the way I was treated? No. Just disappointed. I don’t hold grudges.

Thirty years later, I ran into the guy whose bright idea was to promote this farce. I told him I still had my “Plastic Stomach Window” and that it had served me well over the years. As he smiled back, we shook hands.

Maybe you could say it’s all in the family.

Author/Jerry Czarnowski

Posted in Vietnam War Stories