Hastings At 34, Part 2. (July 19 - 20, 1966)
Now he had him! Had him dead to rights! After all of these years, the piece of shit crouching and quivering in horror at the end of the barrel of his M-16, was doing just what he expected. Just as he had imagined so many times over and over again. Pissing his pants. The yellow puddle spread slowly across the dusty sagging floor of the run-down old motel. A distorted and crooked smile started to unfurl at the corner of his mouth, as the finger on the trigger, began to twitch uncontrollably. The other man’s eyes became as wide as saucers, and then tears began to pour forth as he squeezed them shut for the last time.
"Well Dak! Guess you never thought you’d see me again, huh? You slimy pile of grunt shit!" As the words slowly left his clenched teeth, the flashback began to play across his brain…as it had so many times before.
The electronic impulse of a VCR, plugged into the deepest dark recesses - hit ‘Play’. In slow motion, he was running across a rice paddy somewhere in Vietnam. Mortars were coming down around him like rain. Mud and green slime splattered in every direction, as explosions twisted him one way, then another, as he zigzagged towards the waiting Huey. Then, suddenly he was hit! Just as his hands touched the skids of the hovering chopper, he was hit yet another time. As he looked up into the shadows of safety, he noticed the door gunner slumped silently over his weapon. Dead!
And, Dak was just sitting there…smiling wickedly, down at him. His mind was spinning. Reeling from exertion, and from the pain of multiple wounds…yet another bullet slammed into his body. A hand reached down for him, as the chopper started to lift away, and with one last giant effort he let go of the skids to grasp it.
"EAT DIRT, MAC!! MAYBE YOU’LL THINK TWICE BEFORE YOU TAKE THE LAST OF THE B2’s..!!" were the last words he heard from Dak through the noise of the whopping rotor blades. The hand had turned into a fist, and then there was darkness, as the slow pulsing rotor blades faded into silence.
He shook his head, as if to ward off sleep, and it brought him back to the scene before him. For six years after that scene, he’d clung to life in a prison camp. The only thing that kept him alive, was the thought of someday exacting revenge on Dak. Then, there were the long years of tracking him down…all the sleepless nights, scummy hotel rooms, and greasy burgers. Almost getting the worthless maggot in his sights at time or two – only to be denied his just cause, for one reason or another. Sure, maybe he was just another no-count Vietnam Vet – but he had a purpose.
And now, there he was twitching on the floor before him, cowering like a rat. Like some quivering glob of Jello. His pale, sallow skin was like puke in a Tijuana alleyway. He paused for a moment, taking it all in. Savoring every second. This was going to be even easier than he thought, as he slowly reached into the faded pockets of his worn trousers. The feel of the cold steel against his finger tips, brought a shallow sense of pleasure flickering across his brain like the flames of a burning hooch.
"Here you go, Dak!", he seethed as he slowly brought the cylindrical object into view. "I’ve been saving this for you . . . For a long, long time. NOW EAT IT!"
(Click! I turned off the TV with the remote…and sat in the darkness. Thinking.)
Why can’t I have flashbacks that play out like a movie script? Why are mine just snippets of scenes, like the flash of a meteor through a dark night? Like a piece of a photograph. Rarely a complete picture. Never a moving film. Nothing in color. Is there something wrong with me…? With my brain…?
For years I’d think I wasn’t quite normal. A smell, or a sound, or even the feel of something – would trigger a snippet. ZAP! It would flash by. That quick. And then be gone, leaving me hollow – sometimes shaking. Many times I’d stare at something, like I could almost see it. But I couldn’t – it was always too far away. Sometimes, someone would catch me. (Like a wife. I had three.)
"Hey! What’s wrong with you!?" I’d ponder that for a moment. Try to make sense of it. Then, just as quickly, try to cover it up and go on. I got pretty good at that. But, I couldn’t make it go away. Sooner or later…there it would be again. ZAP!
Even worse when something hits me in my sleep. Nightmares. Sit straight up, in a cold sweat. Many times, scaring the hell out of the woman next to me. But, I couldn’t put anything together. Sometimes, the remnants of the dream would take over my life for days. I’d get moody, and snappy–not knowing why. And I’d drink. Drinking would always make me feel better. And I found out soon after coming back from the Nam, that if I drank hard enough - I wouldn’t have the nightmares. Or if I did, I’d seldom remember them. Good enough for me.
So, I’d escape. One way or another. I was generally pretty responsible. Had a good job, and kids. The sort of things that most of the time I could use to smother things. But sooner or later . . . ZAP! Another piece of the past would pop up and whack me as if I’d been slapped on the face. What’s wrong with me? I must be losing my mind!
If it got really bad, I’d just run away. That’s right. Just up and disappear. Go to the mountains (sometimes the sea), and get lost. Take a fishing pole with me, and some C-rats, and go so far back into the mountains that I wouldn’t see anyone for days. I even got me an M-37 Weapons Carrier w/winch, so I could really get into nowhere land. It helped…(mostly?). The trouble was, I could never seem to explain to my wife (any of them) adequately enough… Why?
I had a lot of troubled times after leaving the war. After thinking I’d left it behind me, I became pretty convinced that something was wrong with me. After all, I’d had a bullet rattle my brains on Hill 362 during Operation Hastings. But I was afraid to do anything about it. I wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. Shoot, our fathers didn’t have any problems after WW II, or at least they never gave the impression that they did. Just changed their swords back into plowshares, and got on with their lives.
I served my Corps honorably. So what if the Country never gave a damn? I never had anything to be ashamed of . . . so I was sure, eventually, things would just go away. Yup! (Wrong.)
Well to make a long-story short, I did eventually get help with my ‘dilemma’. Been working at it ever since. It takes time, and it takes…dealing with it. The war. But, to be honest with you, and although I’ve had a great many things come back to me, some things are just (still) foggy. Take for instance, the 19th and 20th of July, 1966. A lot happened over these two days…and on throughout the whole operation. I’ve tried over the years to systematically separate things out. Trying to remember day-by-day. I have a hard time of it. I think it was because back then, there was so much happening. I was just getting inundated with so much all of the time. It was just constant, through those days. But, I’ll give you what I’ve got...
After the chaos at the landing zone (LZ Crow), things moved pretty rapidly. I think the Company pretty much spent the rest of the day (18th) trying to link up. The platoons were scattered, as you can imagine. I’d like to think that we’d caught the enemy off guard. But I’m not so sure anymore. I’ve read some accounts of 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines (I think) who had already been skirmishing with the enemy. Was that why we had been called up?
A couple of Medals-Of-Honor were won (earned the hard way) in the same general area, during actions only a couple of days before. (...even hours maybe?)
Note: Included with Part 2., are the citations for the two Medals Of Honor awarded Captain Robert J. Modrzejewski, Commanding Officer of Company K, 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, and SSgt. John J. McGinty III of the same company. Reading these will give you some idea of the tenacious enemy, we hadn’t yet fully begun to appreciate.
In the meantime, we lost several of our best men during furious, albeit brief, skirmishes. I don’t remember anyone ever telling me who we had come up against during those first few days. Had they, I’m sure I’d have reacted this way, "NVA? Who are they?" After all we had trained specifically to deal with the shadowy but ill-equipped Viet Cong (VC). Even back in ITR (Infantry Training Regiment), we had been taught of their conniving little tricks. Why…they were just slimy little mole people, who could pop out of a spider hole and try to shoot you in the back. They couldn’t even shoot straight…their weapons were so ancient they were lucky to hit the broad side of a barn.
Hell, I believed it! Particularly after the last two operations we’d been on. Our dead and wounded were just fluke accidents. (Right?) I even joked that we had started the war (which up till then, had just consisted of a few minor battles). On the very first night we came in to save the country and win the war, someone thought they heard a human wave attack coming across the rice paddy. Lock and load, baby – we unleashed the fury of a Marine Corps rifle company. Devastating! I mean, it was one awesome display of pyrotechnically interlocking fields of fire. One helluva earth-shaking destructive force!
The next morning, there was this dead water buffalo laying with all four feet sticking straight up in the air. And, one mad Ho Chi Min looking farmer, jumping up and down on a rice paddy dike - screaming that we’d cost him his livelihood. Our Captain quickly ordered us to pay for our sins, by anteing up three dollars MPC (Military Pay Currency) apiece.
I’ve always maintained ever since, that the word quickly got out and the whole country had a crash course in capitalism. I never said they were dumb.
In recent years I’ve heard folks remark that communism would fail in Vietnam, and it will relearn capitalism again. Hell yeah, they will - we taught them pretty good as far back as 1966.
So, instead of reeducating ourselves- we assumed (the first couple of days) that we’d just uncovered a highly organized bunch of VC.
I’m pretty sure that I spent the first night of the operation (July 18th) on ambush duty. I kind of remember that instead of being able to kick back a little the next day (July 19th), we were moving pretty fast up these creek beds. (Normally we would have had a break if we’d just spent the whole night on ambush duty.) I was being traded off with a couple of the other points in the company. We went from a more open river bed area (of the day before) up into narrow streambeds and rugged gorges.
We were hitting pockets of resistance along the way. Because it was getting narrower and more difficult to climb up and down these big boulders scattered everywhere in a canyon like area – we began trading off platoons for the head of our company sized column. (It was too difficult for any flanking maneuver.) Making progress was tiring work – especially without getting any sleep the night before.
I remember that we started to uncover caches of enemy supplies along the way. Lots of them. The one thing I remember most, was the huge amount of .51 cal. machinegun belts we found. They were boxed up in spot-welded galvanized boxes. No kidding! It took us most of a drizzly morning to move the boxes, fire-bucket style, to the rear. (Wherever that was?) Slipping and sliding in the red clay mud. Every time a box was passed to me, my mind would flash to metal shop class in high school, just the year before. Shit – we had made boxes like that…bending the galvanized sheets in a huge press, and then spot welding them together.
Something else that that brought back old memories almost surrealistically, was winding our way up through the canyon areas, and along fast-moving streams. It reminded me of the trout fishing excursions I’d taken into the mountains as a kid. Again, not that long before. Instead of following the trails and the easy way up these canyons, we had to leap frog around. The reason for this is because the gooks would place an automatic weapons guy along the trail to slow us down. It worked, too. A couple of our guys got hit, before we started changing tactics. It got to be real tiring climbing around on those boulders with all of our gear on. Banged up knees were the rule of the day. A couple of times, before we moved too far into the canyons, we had air support drop in. Usually they’d be these neat prop planes like a P-51, that would come down, drop their ordnance, and then barrel roll out of the canyon. I felt like we were in WW II or something.
As I finished this last piece, I decided to take a ride down to the stables where we keep our horses. The pieces and snippets were starting to come at me, and I needed a break – if you know what I mean. Anyway, I find peace around nature. It’s been that way for most of my life. Growing up as a kid, I had a lot of elbow-room. The solitude of the mountains in Northern California, and the wide-open prairies of Montana were a kid’s best friend. Hunting, fishing, exploring – you name it. I was lucky then, and probably never really appreciated it until the war. I was lucky, because I had both worlds, the mountains and the plains, and knew how to find adventure. And, I was comfortable with solitude. As I am now. It helps me think. And, it soothes my soul, when I think about things relating to the war.
I’m pretty certain (now) that I spent the night of the 19th with one of the new guys. He wasn’t really new, because I’d seen him before, and I think he was from one of the other platoons. His name was Cpl. John C. Holoka, and they stuck him in our platoon as a squad leader, because we were short a few guys. (I don’t remember who he replaced because things were changing practically every day.)
John was one of those guys you just liked right off. His smile, maybe, and/or his easy style and demeanor. We dug our hole and started the normal 50% alert for the night – one guy on, for each guy off. I remember being apprehensive that night, with the way things had been going since we started the operation. I made it known to him that I wasn’t sure who we were up against, but that to me they appeared to be better supplied and better equipped then us. And, I could tell even at that time – we were outnumbered. He tossed it aside, and said we’d be alright because we had lots of air support, and even naval and field artillery to back us up. He made me feel a little easier, and I think he realized I was concerned enough to stay awake a little longer to keep me company. I was just dead tired too, and I think he may have been worried that I’d fall asleep. (Something that I would never have done under any circumstance.) I’d glance over at him from time-to-time as he talked to me. I could tell he was writing someone, by cupping a match for a second - then trying to write real fast before it went out. I think he might have been writing his girl friend, because he mentioned when he got home, he was going to spend a lot more time with her. And, he said he was going to go back to school, and further his education. That got me to thinking. I supposed I wasn’t the only one there that night thinking about doing things a little differently, if given another chance. I found out that he didn’t even have to be on the operation. He had volunteered to go because of the men… He hadn’t wanted them to think that he’d bug out on them until they made it back from the operation.
On July 20th, we pretty much repeated what we’d done the day before. We came across Mike Company again. At this time, we were rotating our platoons. One would let the other move ahead whenever they got too tired. So, it may have been true with the other companies (India & Kilo) as well. I saw my buddies, and was disturbed to hear a couple of guys I’d been through Boot Camp with, had been killed on the first day. (Could they have been on those choppers that I’d seen going down? I didn’t think those choppers were ours.)
We kept hitting enemy base camps. We kept getting sporadic fire trying to hold us down. But, we’d work around them, and get them in the end. We found more and more of their stuff. Uniforms drying on bamboo racks and fires with kettles of rice and fish over fires that were still burning. I found myself thinking, "Who were these guys?"
MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENTS, July 14 – 18, 1966 (Hastings)
McGINTY, JOHN J. III
Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant (then S/Sgt.), U.S. Marine Corps, Company K, 3d Battalion, 4th Marines, 3d Marine Division, Fleet Marine Force. place and date: Republic of Vietnam, 18 July 1966. Entered service at: Laurel Bay, S.C. Born: 2 1 January 1940, Boston, Mass. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. 2d Lt. McGinty's platoon, which was providing rear security to protect the withdrawal of the battalion from a position which had been under attack for 3 days, came under heavy small arms, automatic weapons and mortar fire from an estimated enemy regiment. With each successive human wave which assaulted his 32-man platoon during the 4-hour battle, 2d Lt. McGinty rallied his men to beat off the enemy. In 1 bitter assault, 2 of the squads became separated from the remainder of the platoon. With complete disregard for his safety, 2d Lt. McGinty charged through intense automatic weapons and mortar fire to their position. Finding 20 men wounded and the medical corpsman killed, he quickly reloaded ammunition magazines and weapons for the wounded men and directed their fire upon the enemy. Although he was painfully wounded as he moved to care for the disabled men, he continued to shout encouragement to his troops and to direct their fire so effectively that the attacking hordes were beaten off. When the enemy tried to out-flank his position, he killed 5 of them at point-blank range with his pistol. When they again seemed on the verge of overrunning the small force, he skillfully adjusted artillery and air strikes within 50 yards of his position. This destructive firepower routed the enemy, who left an estimated 500 bodies on the battlefield. 2d Lt. McGinty's personal heroism, indomitable leadership, selfless devotion to duty, and bold fighting spirit inspired his men to resist the repeated attacks by a fanatical enemy, reflected great credit upon himself, and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the U.S. Naval Service
MODRZEJEWSKI, ROBERT J.
Rank and organization: Major (then Capt.), U.S. Marine Corps, Company K, 3d Battalion, 4th Marines, 3d Marine Division, FMF. place and date: Republic of Vietnam, 15 to 18 July 1966. Entered service at: Milwaukee, Wis. Born: 3 July 1934, Milwaukee, Wis. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. On 15 July, during Operation HASTINGS, Company K was landed in an enemy-infested jungle area to establish a blocking position at a major enemy trail network. Shortly after landing, the company encountered a reinforced enemy platoon in a well-organized, defensive position. Maj. Modrzejewski led his men in the successful seizure of the enemy redoubt, which contained large quantities of ammunition and supplies. That evening, a numerically superior enemy force counterattacked in an effort to retake the vital supply area, thus setting the pattern of activity for the next 2 1/2 days. In the first series of attacks, the enemy assaulted repeatedly in overwhelming numbers but each time was repulsed by the gallant marines. The second night, the enemy struck in battalion strength, and Maj. Modrzejewski was wounded in this intensive action which was fought at close quarters. Although exposed to enemy fire, and despite his painful wounds, he crawled 200 meters to provide critically needed ammunition to an exposed element of his command and was constantly present wherever the fighting was heaviest, despite numerous casualties, a dwindling supply of ammunition and the knowledge that they were surrounded, he skillfully directed artillery fire to within a few meter* of his position and courageously inspired the efforts of his company in repelling the aggressive enemy attack. On 18 July, Company K was attacked by a regimental-size enemy force. Although his unit was vastly outnumbered and weakened by the previous fighting, Maj. Modrzejewski reorganized his men and calmly moved among them to encourage and direct their efforts to heroic limits as they fought to overcome the vicious enemy onslaught. Again he called in air and artillery strikes at close range with devastating effect on the enemy, which together with the bold and determined fighting of the men of Company K, repulsed the fanatical attack of the larger North Vietnamese force. His unparalleled personal heroism and indomitable leadership inspired his men to a significant victory over the enemy force and reflected great credit upon himself, the Marine Corps, and the U.S. Naval Service.
Click on: Next: Hastings At 34, Part 3. (July 20, and 21, 1966)
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