Mike & H&S Companies
Third Battalion, Fifth Marines
Grady Rainbow's Memoirs, (Continued), Page 5
Indoc school? Well it seems I had
missed out on some training that may have been helpful, like test firing my
weapon. This would prove to be
almost tragic in the very near future. I
spent the next few days standing bunker watch, going on patrol or working
parties building and rebuilding bunkers. The
construction of these mini forts was an on going process.
The sun, rain and general weather rotted the sandbags almost as fast as
we could fill them. I imagine
Caesar’s Legions did the same, build, march and fight.
Then build some more, always fortify, and always improve your defense.
The heat was unbearable and the humidity seemed to sap the very life out
of you. Sleep became a rare jewel
to be prized, we probably got four hours a night.
Work all day and stand watch at night; it took its toll quickly.
company held a formation on the dusty street one day, I was given an extra rifle
with bayonet and a helmet. On
command some of us stepped forward as names were called and planted the rifle in
the ground by the bayonet, then place the helmet on top of the butt.
It was an effort to honor the recent dead from Taylor Common.
It was greeted with very mixed feelings from the Marines in the company. There were many quiet comments about the leaving the bodies
in the jungle.
The snuffys in the company were pissed.
They felt betrayed, anything Lt. Mahlum heard he put a stop to.
The Lieutenant was very well liked by the entire platoon, I soon found
out why. He was understanding and
went out of the way to take care of the troops, he wasn’t there to try to
“buck” for rank. But he was our
officer and enforced discipline as needed.
We were then told to saddle up and prepare to mount out the following
morning for a company size sweep of the area.
We were going to the bush and out of the camp with the constant working
parties and watches. We were headed
out to “Get Some” as the Battalion motto said.
night was filled with getting gear ready, picking through chow cans and checking
gear. LCpl Dewey went over my gear
carefully and discarded any unnecessary items.
Then I got extra ammo. A
belt of 100 rounds for the M-60 machine gun, a 60mm mortar round and four
grenades, M-26 type. With my own
gear it felt like it weighed a ton. I
suspected that as the cherry I was getting crapped on, I was wrong. Everybody
carried this load, plus C-4 and claymores.
Looking around I saw everyone loading up on ammo, explosives and rounds
for the mortar; we carried all our support on our backs.
When I first got in country I was issued one set of
jungle utilities, one shirt and one trousers, whatever size the Supply Sergeant
happened to throw to me. I wore
them till they rotted off, (about 30 days later).
Later, when I was reassigned to Division Headquarters, I was issued four
sets of jungle utilities that actually fit properly. I never understood why personnel in the rear could get new
equipment and not the grunts in the field.
In my later career I became a Logistics Chief in a Battalion.
I remembered these times well, God save the Supply Sergeant that held out
on equipment issue to line Marines, his ass was mine!!
field gear was WWII issue, M-1947 field packs and web gear.
The first thing any grunt hoped to do was make contact, waste an NVA,
then capture his pack, theirs were
better than ours were. The Army had
more up to date gear and we stole anything that wasn't nailed down when they
were around. Here we were the
finest fighting organization in the world, and we had to wage war on a
shoestring, treated like disposable property.
Most grunts took a perverse pride in the conditions we lived in; we were
"Hard Corps" and damned proud of it.
To this day every Marine grunt I talk to that was there has an arrogant
attitude toward any other service; they were all candy-asses as far as we were
concerned. That's not right I know, but still that's how we felt.
had more strange viruses, bugs and infections than I think the rest of the world
combined. The slightest cut or nick
and overnight it was infected. You
would get a large ulcerated sore that oozed pus and refused to heal for weeks,
we called these "Gook-sores". The
only cure was antibiotic creams and keeping the area clean, and being clean was
impossible. I remember taking a
shower only twice in over four months, when we tried to clean-up in a river or
pond we got clean, and we got leeches all over us.
Malaria and dysentery were common, you could be evacuated for malaria if
your fever got above 102 degrees, if not you stayed and fought.
I weighed about 175 pounds when I reported to An Hoa, when I was med
evac'd to the hospital I weighed in at 117 pounds, stress, heat, poor diet and
illness accounted for the loss. I
can't really put into words the complete description of what it was like, I
guess you had to be there.
Unlike our forefathers in other wars, we didn't go into the lines for a
campaign then withdraw to resupply and refit for the next battle.
We arrived "on the lines", were either under attack, on
operation, or standing patrols and watch for attack from the first day, till you
left country with a completed tour. With
casualties, illness and deaths the strength of our units was always severely
down. A full Marine Platoon in a
rifle company was made up of four squads of 14 men each, (three fireteams of 4,
radioman and squad leader) and the platoon HQ, 1 lieutenant, 1 SSgt, radioman,
Right Guide, and two runners. The
most we ever fielded was two squads of 9 men per platoon.
We were supposed to have attached machine gun teams of four men each, in
each squad. Our teams were two men,
Gunner and A-Gunner, no more.
A tour of duty for a Marine was 13 months, not 12 like the other
services. The reason the extra
month was tacked on was to allow for troop movement by ship.
As the war continued we started shipping replacements by air just like
everyone else, but the Corps kept the 13-month tour.
They finally changed this policy in late 1970 or 1971.
We just felt it was another screw job by the Corps.
The average age of a Marine Infantryman in Vietnam was 19, average
educational level 10th grade. Our
platoon was less than 10% black; the rest were white or Hispanic.
There was no race problem in the field, I never saw anyone even mention
it, except in the rear areas. We
were all "green". The
crap Hollywood puts out about blacks bearing the brunt of the war, from what I
saw, was just that, CRAP. Every
race, color, ethnic background was there. We
fought side by side as equals, we bleed and died as equals, the only segment of
America I didn't see in the lines was the very rich. Every Marine I served with
was a brother, even if we couldn't stand each other; we stood by each other.
No man ever let the others down; we would rather have died than had to
face that shame. We called it being
anyway we were mounting up for the patrol that lay ahead of us.
Mike Company left An Hoa in a staggered column north on the dusty road
toward Liberty Bridge. We humped in the heat it seemed for hours, then we turned off
the road and started the slow progress across rice paddies.
I just fell into line and followed the man in front of me and watched the
countryside for any sign of VC, (like I would have known at that time).
a short while we set in a perimeter and began to dig in to emplacements.
As the cherry I got the pleasure of drawing another listening post away
from the company. This one ran like
it should, with at least 50% watch and night discipline enforced.
We had no contact that night either, but in whispers in the dawn I began
to be told how to survive.
First lesson, if anything looks out of place don’t touch it.
If you smell fish smells; drop and take cover, (Charlie ate a fish sauce
nuc mam and you could smell it on
I had noticed many of the Marines wore enemy belts, leather or web with
brass buckles and an enameled red star. Some
carried NVA packs or pistols with them. I
was given rule number two; “don’t take any souvenirs unless you personally
kill the gook yourself”. Most
were booby-trapped and it was bad taste to wear gear you didn’t earn by making
the kill yourself. I saw pouges in
the rear that bought gear off grunts to take home and prove what a hero they
were, to us that would be like buying medals in the PX and claiming they were
yours. The only exception was if
your fellow Marines presented you with something, like an NVA buckle, which was
the morning we rejoined the company and started to hump out of there again.
About two hours into the march we broke for a rest when I heard a massive
explosion. Everyone hit the deck,
then someone yelled booby-trap. 1st
Squad was called up to provide security as we went into a 360-degree perimeter.
One of the other Marines in the company had hit a wired 155mm howitzer
round, he was gone. The Platoon
Sergeant motioned for me to come over and told me to climb a small tree in the
blast area, the Marines Flak Jacket was hanging in the limbs.
I climbed the tree carefully and reached for the jacket, it was hung up
pretty well. So, I seated myself in the crotch of the tree and really
tugged, the jacket came free and so did its contents.
Into my lap tumbled the largest portion of the torso of the dead Marine,
he had been ripped apart by the blast. I
dropped the jacket and puked my guts up from my perch in the tree, but I held
onto the body. Two other Marines
took the torso from me and lowered it to a poncho with the rest of the remains.
No one laughed at my throwing up, no one laughed at all.
We cleared the area and
called for a Med Evac to fly out the body and some other wounded.
Then we saddled up and started to move again.
Later that day as we were humping toward our objective we moved in a
staggered column formation. Each man alternated the direction in which his
weapon was pointed so that half covered the right and half the left sides of the
column. I remember we were on a
rice paddy dike moving toward a treeline where the forward part of the company
was already setting in for a chow break. As
we got the word to switch weapons (change from right to left or vice versa) I
brought my M-16 down and across in front of me.
Suddenly there was the sound of automatic fire and I felt my feet shoot
out from under me. I thought at
first I had been hit then I noticed everyone getting up and looking my way. The paddy dike had collapsed in front of me and dumped me in
the rice paddy.
SSgt Wagner ran over and began cussing me up and down accusing me of
walking with my weapon off safe. Contrary
to Hollywood antics an experienced rifleman doesn't take his weapon off safe
until ready to actually shoot. I
knew I had always been extra careful with weapons and knew the weapon was in
fact safe, but I had to admit my M-16 had emptied a full magazine of 16 rounds
(we didn't load all 20 due to a flaw in the weapon, I'll write down later).
I showed the weapon to SSgt Wagner and screamed right back at him, I
think he was startled that a PFC would dare bark back.
He took the M-16 and loaded a fresh magazine and yelled for "Fire in
the hole", ensured it was on safe and pulled the trigger.
I remember watching the other men and the looks of amusement on their
faces as they expected the weapon to not fire, and expected me to really get
ripped. They were wrong, the fault lay in the weapon.
The selector on the weapon was faulty and in the safe position it again
unloaded the entire magazine into the ground.
I shouldn’t have missed that part of Indoc training to test fire your
weapon. SSgt. Wagner never
acknowledged he had been wrong, but did order that the only other weapon
available, the M-14, be given to me. The
M-14 had belonged to the Marine whose body I had pulled from the tree that day.
If we hadn’t had that piece of bad luck there would not have been any
weapon to give me. The Skipper
wanted each platoon to have at least one M-14 at all times for long range
It was only through sheer luck the M-16 was pointed directly at the
ground when it went off or someone could have been wasted in a stupid accident.
I had gone through infantry training using M-14's, I had little or no
training on the M-16 till I got in country about two weeks before.
I learned two good lessons from this also. One, never, NEVER, handle a weapon unless you are familiar
with it and you are positive it functions exactly as it is supposed to.
Two, a good leader will always acknowledge his mistakes, there is no shame in
admitting to a subordinate you were wrong. But
had other things on his mind I’m sure. I always suspected he was the main
reason I never seemed to get ahead in Mike Company, but I'll never be sure.
Of course the fact I was such a wise ass may have been the reason.
on through a village we found and LCpl Dewey, tapped my shoulder; “Pay
attention to what this looks like, we are coming through here tonight on ambush
patrol”. Sounded like good advice
to me, little did I know I would be walking Point, one of the most dangerous
jobs in the company. We passed
through the village, the villagers just stared at us, no one asked for chow, and
no one smiled just hard eyes watching. A
few hundred meters past the village we set up a perimeter and started to dig in
for the night.
It was April 1st, 1969. I
was on my first long patrol with Mike Company in the Phu Lac's out side An Hoa.
We had moved through a village earlier in the day and as I have said the
villagers were not friendly, smiling or at all pleased to see us in the area.
The entire Battalion was on a sweep of the area and searching for any
sign of enemy activity. I thought I was doing real well, now.
I had been in country for about 16 days total, I didn't know anything at
all really. Our squad drew a night
ambush patrol, we staged our packs in the Company CP and dropped our flak gear
and helmets. The night was sultry
and hot, but we pulled down or sleeves and buttoned up our jackets fully. This was to prevent the moonlight from shining off our skin
and giving us away, we also darkened our faces with dirt.
The squad leader informed me that it was my turn to walk point, one of
the others complained about the fact I was "cherry" and shouldn't be
on point. The squad leader, LCpl
Dewey, stated it was time I learned, either I got it right or I got dead.
I had to pull my own weight in the squad.
I was briefed on the route we would take and Dewey made sure I knew where
I was expected to go. Most times on
a night move we weren't very far apart and we kept visual contact with the man
in front of us, tonight was to be different.
was a full moon, (what grunts everywhere called a sniper's moon), so I started
out about forty meters in front of the squad as an advance point.
I noticed as we walked back through the village there were no lights,
fires or any signs of life. I felt
my stomach tighten, this felt very strange, like the whole Vietnamese world had
disappeared. I gave the hand
signals to look around, everyone got the idea, it meant trouble. When the villagers disappear and everything is deserted it
generally means they expect trouble that night. They probably were deep in their bunkers under the hootches.
We moved on quietly spreading out even more.
We walked along close to a treeline so our movement wasn't so readily
visible to any watching VC. About
200 meters from the village the treeline turned sharply left and I had to cross
an area of open rice paddies to the next cover.
In front of me lay a graveyard, mounds and monuments to the local dead
dotting the landscape. I started out moving low and slow, the squad halted
behind a paddy dike waiting their turn. We
planned to cross the open one at a time. I
don't know why, but things felt wrong. The
hair on my arms and the back of my neck literally stood straight up. Everything seemed intensified, smells, sounds even the air
seemed thicker. I got down on one
knee on a grave mound about 20 meters from the treeline.
I couldn't put a finger on it but something told me not to go any
further. I motioned for the squad
leader to "come up" to my position.
Dewey came up quickly and asked what was wrong.
I whispered that I wasn't sure but things didn't "feel" right.
Dewey looked me in the eyes for a long time, then he noticed the hair on
my arm standing up. He turned and
said I was the point, if it wasn't right to me then we weren't doing it, and
moved back to the squad to let them know our change of plans. I kept scanning the area around me looking for anything out
of place. I felt naked squatting there in the dark, sweat poured off me and I
felt every nerve in my body screaming; “Get out of there”.
I heard an unmistakable sound, the "click" and "ping" of
grenade spoons flying off. I looked
up and saw two grenades sailing right toward me.
I yelled "Ambush" and flattened myself on the ground.
The explosions bucked me into the air and over on my back.
I was disoriented badly and in the open.
I had my rifle in my hands, but I couldn’t see or hear anything. Just
my ears ringing. I smelled the
black earth and tried to discover which way was up, I knew not to stand for fear
of more incoming. I just couldn’t
seem to get my bearings. LCpl
Smith, a friendly black Marine,(Smitty), came charging up and picked me up over
his shoulder. The squad was already
pulling back for better cover, Smitty ran over 50 meters carrying me to safety.
I undoubtedly owe him my life, if he hadn't came out and got me the VC
would have probably picked me to pieces. Once
we got back behind the paddy dike, Dewey decided to scrub the ambush and go back
to the company CP. He waited a few
minutes until I could get my bearings and my night vision back. There was no
further fire from the treeline and we moved out quietly and headed back, with me
on point again.
When we got back Dewey debriefed to the company commander. There were
several other units in the area and we weren't sure we hadn't run up on another
American unit instead of VC. The
Skipper checked the map and radioed back for pos reps on all other units, there
weren't any "friendlies" in that area.
The Captain was almost convinced we had screwed up and was questioning
Dewey real hard, almost accusing us of blowing it on purpose.
was huddled in a fighting hole waiting for further word when my arms and head
started itching and burning. The
platoon corpsman saw me scratching and digging at my arms and came over to check
me out. I told him I thought I had gotten "into something"
when I hit the dirt, maybe some kind of poison ivy or something.
The stinging was getting really bad.
Doc pulled a poncho over us in the hole so he could use a flashlight and
when he turned it on I saw I was covered in blood.
I had several pieces of wire-like metal sticking in my arms and a piece
in the side of my head. Doc pulled
the pieces out he could get at and cleaned the wounds up with an antiseptic.
An M-26 hand grenade used coiled and serrated wire for shrapnel, which is
what I had stuck all in me. I had
been so shocked and disoriented I never realized I had been hit.
This was my first Purple Heart, seems the Sergeant Major was right; Med
Evac Mike was where to get one.
We hadn't returned fire because we weren't sure we hadn't run into
another American unit. The fact we
knew it was M-26's that were used made us think we had made a mistake.
We knew it wasn't Chi-coms, (Chinese Communist Grenades), because we
heard the spoons fly. The next
morning we made a sweep patrol back through the area, I was walking point again
so we could trace the exact route we had taken.
I think the Captain still thought we had screwed up and wanted to be
sure. We moved very carefully back over the trail from the night
before, the village was now deserted. The
wasn’t a villager in sight anywhere, someone said they all must have been VC
When I passed the spot where I had been hit I started to feel leery once
again. Moving into the treeline
carefully I found three booby-traps rigged to explode.
One of them I remember was an 81mm mortar round with a pressure release
trigger hooked up. It was placed in
the only open break in the treeline, anyone walking there would surely have
tripped it. I called Dewey up to
verify each device and we blew the booby-traps up in place with C-4.
When we had confirmed the VC had been there we reported to the Skipper,
(Captain Burns), and circled back to the company area.
The enemy had moved between our position and the other units of the 5th
that were in the field. The idea was to get us to hit booby-traps, begin firing and
catch each other in a crossfire. This
was one of their favorite tricks. Our
refusing to fire and pulling back ruined this plan.
When we got back to the company position, Dewey made his decision.
I was to walk point every time the squad led the march.
We were all pretty superstitious, weather or not it was justified my
squad leader had decided I was a "lucky pointman".
He thought I had the "feeling", meaning some kind of sixth
sense. I don't know if there was
anything to it or not, but I got the "feeling" many times again.
Each time I found booby-traps, mines or an ambush ahead.
I have always taken pride in the fact I never had a single Marine wounded or
killed when I walked point. And I
never got us lost. I think all the
times we played around Lake Texoma, in the brush and woods, when I was a kid
taught me to orientate myself naturally. Also
later I learned that men with faulty color vision noticed subtle differences in
foliage and camouflage, maybe sub consciously that is what was happening.
That sixth sense business. I
have thought about it many times since Vietnam and think I may have an
explanation. We stumble through life forgetting we are really just intelligent
animals. We have all the same
senses any wild animal has, we have just forgotten to use them right.
I think the reaction was the result of smelling, hearing or tasting
something so subtle we don't consciously recognize it.
Our survival system kicks in and warns us of danger with the
"feeling", the hair raising and the heightened senses.
I've had the same thing happen in later years during training exercises,
but only when I was really concentrating on it being real. I maybe wrong, but it didn't happen to everybody.
Only those of us that seemed to pick-up on it, generally guys from the
background of hunters and outdoor types.
been right, learn fast or die quick. Half
the time he told me I would never finish my tour, at the rate I was going I
didn’t stand a chance. He
wasn’t being cruel, just factual as he saw it, point wasn’t a place for long
finished that sweep patrol with no other incidents that I recall and marched
back to An Hoa. Our last stop was a
position called “Red Hill”, a small rising mound north of the basecamp.
There we occupied a perimeter that seemed permanent, several holes that
were used over and over again. The
Platoon Commander was careful, each hole was checked and inspected carefully for
traps and we alternated holes as much as possible. The Skipper's radioman, Terry
Householter, came over and helped me set in.
He explained they always stopped here to clear weapons and tighten up
before moving back into An Hoa. I
said it didn’t make much sense, didn’t the VC watch and try to hit us each
time, he laughed and said of course, but it was SOP.
Stupid I know, but I wasn’t running things either.
started to get dark and I stepped outside the lines to take a leak. I watched the countryside and like a dummy let my mind wander
too much. I was standing with
everything out when I heard a thud, like a rock hitting the ground. I looked around in the dusk, then heard it again.
As I looked down, between my feet I saw the fin assembly of a mortar
round sticking up and another about three feet in front of me.
Before I could react someone in the CP screamed “Incoming”, shells
had started to hit there too. I
dove for the hole and my helmet, thank God all the rounds were duds, not a one
exploded. The firing stopped, I
guess because Charlie figured he had bad ammo, and we dug in for the night. Dewey laughed and said they must have been using me for an
aiming stake. I was amazed at my
luck, just one of the two rounds would have blown me into small pieces.
As it was the night went quietly with 50% watches and no ambush patrols.
back in An Hoa the next day. The
march back was hot, dusty and tiring. We
hoped to get back in time for some hot chow, we didn’t make it. As we stacked our gear and headed for the messhall, we were
five minutes late. The messhall
closed and the only place we could find any food was the trash dump. I feasted on C-Rations that had been thrown away by other
grunts. Nice treatment for our
Marines of Mike Company.
later we had been taking part of an Operation called Muskogee Meadows, a sister
Op to the 7th Marines Operation Oklahoma Hills. Although we hadn’t really kicked any ass, the 7th
Marines had been very involved in the area. We continued to patrol in and out of
An Hoa in support of this operation for a few more weeks.
We were not part of Oklahoma Hills, but we sure caught the fallout from
that operation on Muskogee Meadows.
sometime during this month, April of ’69 that the Da Nang Ammunition Dump was
destroyed. I was manning a bunker,
as usual, one night when the very air pulsed against me hard.
Looking to the North I saw what appeared to be arc lights blazing in the
sky, pulse after pulse of light rising up into the blackness.
Then the sounds arrived, heavy booms crashing in our ears.
At first we thought the Air Force was running an “Arc Light”
operation, B-52 strikes; then we got the “word”, they were hitting Da Nang.
We were about 26 miles South of Da Nang and could feel the impact of the
explosions shock waves. I don’t
know if terror is the right word to use, but it seemed to fit.
If that much firepower was hitting Da Nang, what would hit us next?
We manned the lines 100%, all hands and all on watch.
the entire night, watching the fields around the basecamp, waiting for the enemy
to rush the wire. An Hoa was a
point the NVA wanted badly and if they had that much to throw at Da Nang surely
we would feel the brunt of it next. The night passed with no attacks or probes
into our perimeter, daylight came and with it the order to stand down.
We were informed the ammo dump had accidentally caught fire and the
ammunition had cooked off, destroying a large portion of the Da Nang area.
There had been no enemy involvement in the accident.
ammunition dump had contained everything from rifle ammo to 2000-pound bombs for
aircraft, tons of explosives going off for hours.
The area must have looked like hell itself during that night; for once I
was glad I wasn’t a pouge in the rear. That
night the bush seemed safe compared to duty at headquarters at Division.
Company left the rear again for more of Muskogee Meadows and the bush.
As usual it was a relief to escape the mundane working parties and bunker
watch. Although we had been blessed
with a touch of humor during our stay, concerning the lesson taught a young
The M-79 grenade launcher was a very excellent weapon; it was like a
squad leaders’ artillery. Each
40mm round exploded with the force of a hand grenade and had a kill radius of 10
meters, very effective in the right hands.
One of our local V.C. apparently got his hands on one of these
pocket-artillery pieces and a supply of ammo; we called him the "Phantom
Blooper". The slang term
"blooper" comes from the sound of the weapon firing, it didn't bang;
it went BLOOP! Then you could
expect the sound of an explosion shortly there after.
Anyway for about 6 weeks this little fellow made living at night a hell
around An Hoa. Just after dark, if
any light flickered in our camp you would hear "bloop" and a round was
on the way. No matter how many
sweeps we held around the area we could never find any trace of him, or where he
hid out. I remember being on lines
one night and we had a brand-new 2nd Lieutenant as Officer of the Day. Around 8 or 9 O'clock here came the OD, out to check lines.
I guess he wasn't very well briefed because he turned on a flashlight to
light his path and the fun began. "Bloop"
"Ka-Boom" "Bloop" "Ka-Boom"
The Lt. started running down the airstrip and Mr. Charles was lobbing
rounds right at his light. Someone
finally ran out and tackled the Lt. and broke the flashlight, the firing
stopped. No one got hurt that
night, thank God, but it could have been tragic....if it wasn't so damn funny.
I guess the "Phantom Blooper" finally ran out of ammo, or someone wasted him during a firefight, because suddenly as he appeared he disappeared and never came back. Just a footnote in a war, nothing important.
Copyright 2001 by Grady Rainbow