Mike & H&S Companies
Third Battalion, Fifth Marines
Memories of Joe Mirgeaux
by J.D. Murray
Joe Mirgeaux was in my platoon in Officers Candidate School in 1965. In addition to probably 10 other enlisted candidates in our class, both Joe and I had prior service in the Marine Corps. I believe Joe was a Sgt. and I was a Corporal.
Joe and I graduated and moved on to The Basic School where we competed for top honors--neither winning anything but enjoying ourselves. The honor just to be a second lieutenant of Marines was a special award for each of us.
Through both OCS and The Basic School, Joe was the epitome of a Marine--Thoroughly faithful, well versed in Marine Corps history and tradition, and as GUNG HO a Marine as I had met in my short time in the Corps. Physically tough and wiry, he finished high in academics and physical fitness. He was enormously proud to rise through the ranks and determined to be an outstanding officer of Marines.
Joe was the only officer in our class to buy a boat clock to wear for special ceremonies, and, of course, for the Marine Corps Ball that year. The rare photo of Joe with a friend at the 1966 Marine Corps Ball is the only photo I have of him.
There was no question which MOS we would choose--we left our Basic School Platoon Commander three chooses--Infantry, Infantry, and Infantry. And we got our choice! Both were being assigned to the First Marine Division and eventually to the same Battalion, 3rd Bn, 5th Marines.
Joe and I were both gamblers. In fact, at one of the Basic Schools informal poker games, we both lost one month's salary on Acey Ducey! Still hear Joe's high-pitched chuckle and his easy going way.
After graduation from the Basic School, we traveled across the United States stopping off at Joe's home in Cape Gearaud, Mo. To visit his family before heading to a Vegas stopover before reporting into our next command.
We had heard that Vegas catered to Marines in uniform and both Joe and proudly showed up in one of the casinos in our best uniform. And yes, we had free rooms, free drinks, and free food for the weekend we stayed there.
Only thing I remember is Joe up some $2500 at blackjack and I left him to get sleep since I lost all my money. At 4pm Joe shows up in the room with his pockets turned inside out, with a high cackled giggle, and ready for bed. In the little timeframe of life I knew Joe, he seemed to be fun loving and joking with everyone but highly driven to succeed at whatever he attempted.
Once we reached Camp Pendleton in early December, 1965, and then assigned to the 3rd Bn 5th Marines forming at Camp Margerita, we soon lost touch. I was assigned at the Platoon Commander of 2d Platoon, M Co 3/5 and Joe was assigned to the S-4 of the Battalion and sent to Embarkation School.
Embarkation School is a grueling, high intensity, school necessary to train both officer and enlisted Marines the techniques to load units aboard ship to enable the commander to tactically offload the unit successfully according to the mission of the unit. Much easier said than done. The lives of the Marines aboard the amphibious ships are at stake if the embarkation is not done properly. After Joe Mirgeaux finished schooling, the lives of the Battalion fell into his hands. LtCol. Bronars, the Battalion Commanding Officer, designated Joe as the Battalion Embarkation Officer. Obviously, Joe's talents highly impressed the boss! As anyone who every met Joe will tell you, he had a sharp mind and he was driven no matter what task assigned.
In order to outline some of the enormous responsibilities of Lt. Joe Mirgeaux, the Embarkation Officer of the Battalion Landing Team, I have borrowed significant paragraphs from LtCol. Alex Lee's book 'Utter's Battalion'. This will give you a better appreciation of Joe's dedication to the Marines of 3rd Bn 5th Marines during the spring and summer of 1966.
Embarkation of 3/5 bound for Okinawa was Joe's initial test using the training of embarkation school and in anticipation of future combat loading for the ultimate test--Vietnam. Combat loading of an assault shipping begins by identification of the vehicles or pieces of equipment that will be wanted on the beach absolutely last. Those items will follow ashore behind every other vehicle or piece of equipment assigned to the battalion.
Thus, they become the first to be positioned on the schematics and the first to be loaded in the ship's hold or on the vehicle platforms below deck. Once that final item is assigned a spot, the embarkation planning begins to become reality. If the whole task is done right, the key vehicle or piece of equipment that is wanted first on the beach can be found, ready to go, on the highest equipment deck of the assault ship. It should be sitting there ready to go ashore on time with the unit that need it.
The embarkation process is a highly complex procedure similar to solving a three dimensional puzzle. The ship space cannot be changed and the proper use of that space is critical. In many cases, vehicles and equipment must be lifted into spaces with only inches to spare. Combat loading a ship, and in the case of Joe's problem, the three amphibious ships for the lift of the battalion, is not an easy task for a peacetime deployment. For a full deployment for war, Joe and his team worked with very heavy loads on the vehicles, with all manner of extra items lashed on the outside of vehicles, and with some attached units that arrive bringing an extra trailer or two. Buried under a gigantic load of nearly impossible problems, the embarkation team relished the task.
All of this complexity fell on Joe's shoulder who worked almost without rest to get the Battalion loaded from Cal. To its initial port of debarkation in Okinawa.
While the infantry companies were training in the jungles of the Northern Training area of Okinawa, Joe and his fellow embarkation officers prepared the ships for combat loading for training operations in the Philippines before becoming the Special Landing Force, Vietnam.
As the bridge partner for LtCol Bronars, I heard the greatest respect for the talents and motivation of Joe as the primary embarkation officer of the Battalion. It was obvious at that time that Joe would get his platoon as soon as an opening occurred and someone in the Battalion could safely carry the critical mantle of embarkation officer.
Joe embarked the Battalion for combat training in the Philippines as a precursor for our final test-Vietnam.
In May, 1966, Joe had us combat loaded for Vietnam and we assumed the role as The Special Landing Force, Vietnam with the responsibility to land ashore anywhere in Vietnam where the Commander of US Forces, Vietnam needed critical support.
That request came on 18 June, 1966 with Operation Deckhouse I in support of an Army Airborne Brigade near Song Cau, Phu Yen Province, Vietnam and shortly thereafter to again support the Army in Operation Nathan Hale. The debarkation and subsequent embarkation following these two operation worked like clockwork and the Commanding Officer of the Battalion was quite proud of the work done by Joe's team.
Returning back to the Philippines after Nathan Hale, Joe Mirgeaux worked tirelessly to reload the amphibious ships in our two weeks stay there before returning to Vietnam.
I do not remember seeing Joe during this time. I was concerned with my platoon and Joe was exhausting himself for the upcoming operation.
We set sail for Vietnam during the early parts of July 1966 and landed near the DMZ of Vietnam on Operation Deckhouse II, an area nicknamed "Street Without Joy" by Bernard Fall. This area is the Gio linh District, Quang Tri Province, just north of the City of Dong Ho. But the Battalion found itself only spending a short couple of days in this area. Early on the morning of the 18th Ju;y,1966, our Battalion landed deep in the northern mountains of S. Vietnam Two days later, when Lt. Steve Lindblom was medically evacuated due to deafness caused by an bomb explosion, LtCol. Bronars finally sent in Joe Mirgeaux to replace Steve as the 3rd Platoon Commander, M Co. 3/5.
During that day the company maneuvered up several large hills looking for a suspected NVA regimental headquarters and towards the later part of the afternoon traveled down a steep gully and surprising a large NVA unit outside their bunkers on both sides of a narrow stream bed. My platoon had the right side, and the Company Commander, Capt. Dell Pettengill, sent Joe and his platoon on the left side to clear the bunkers and the high ground above the bunkers. Joe led his platoon up a trail and as he reached a turn in the trail, a machinegun opened up on Joe and knocked him down. His troops followed up and after fierce fighting took the hill from the NVA.
Later that evening, an emergency helicopter- landing zone was blown out of the jungle and Joe and other seriously wounded were evacuated.
Of all the lieutenants in the Battalion, it seemed to me that Joe had the most promise as a Marine Officer. He was a dedicated, feisty, and thoroughly professional Marine.
The heroes are not the ones who receive the decorations but those like Joe that gave their lives to save his fellow Marines.