Mike & H&S Companies 

Third Battalion, Fifth Marines

Veterans of the Vietnam War
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Grady Rainbow's Memoirs,  (Continued), Page 6


We were in the bush again and patrolling the area around An Hoa to the Phu Loc’s and Liberty Bridge.  Much of everything was the same, except I now had a new squad leader, Terry Householter.  Terry figured he had carried the radio enough and returned to lead 2nd squad.  He became my best friend, not just in Nam but the best friend I ever had.


Terry was from Concordia Kansas and had been a track star both in High School and College.  Jim Ryan, the famous miler, had briefly coached him.  Strangely we had a lot in common.  I also had ran track in school, though not in his league, and we had music in common.  One of Oklahoma City’s local radio stations had a very powerful signal, KOMA.  It seems Terry could actually hear it clear when in Kansas; for the both of us it was our favorite radio station.


Terry was probably one of the best-liked Marines in the company, quiet and reserved he invoked the best in all of us.  His tour was coming to a close and he was prepared to hang in there to the last.  Along with Terry there were many fine Marines in the Platoon, some of which I will now introduce you to.


There was Frago, know as “Flower Child” who had been a hippie at Haight Ashbury in San Francisco before being drafted.  He was always joking and had a great sense of humor.  He also was the best man with a rocket launcher I had ever seen.  Then there was Corporal Westfall of weapons platoon; a good-looking kid, quiet and sturdy.  Corporals Main and Weitzel of weapons were also the kind you could depend on; both knew their jobs and did them very well.  “Waterbull” was a giant of a man, he got his nickname by carrying at least 6 to 8 canteens at all times.  He was determined not to run out of water.


Maxwell was a tall well-built black Marine in weapons as a machine gunner. He always carried the gun with a belt of close to 100 rounds loaded and ready, and he damn sure knew how to shoot it. Corporal Boren was a dark-haired tanned Marine, with a no nonsense attitude about him.  He had a small bald patch on the back of his head, not natural though.  A 12.7mm round had pierced his helmet and ricocheted out the rear, blowing the back of the helmet out.  All he got was a chunk of scalp skinned off and a hell of a headache.  Lucky man.  If you pissed Boren off or he caught you screwing up he had no problem with decking you quick.


Michael “Dutch” Lennehan was a crazy Dutchman from Pennsylvania, little town called Sugar Notch.  Dutch could tell more tall tales and funny stories than anyone I ever knew.  Paul O’Connell was from Boston and carried that regions accent well.  Paul always wore a boonie-hat curled up at both front and back like an “Old Corps” Marine would wear a campaign cover.  Paul was the squad leader for 1st Squad.  Cocky and self-assured he seemed to relish combat.  Paul had been recommended for a Bronze Star Medal for capturing three VC single-handed, just before I arrived in Mike Company.


Staff Sergeant Wagner was the Platoon Sergeant.  He was reserved and rarely let his guard down around us.  He did occasionally play poker with us, but wasn’t a “buddy” to anyone I could see.  We didn’t get along well at all, I suppose most of it was my fault, I was pretty damned cocky.  Lieutenant Thomas Mahlum was the Platoon Commander, “Mike 1 Actual”.  He was young and a bit rash, but he knew how to lead this group of wild kids.  He made it a point to always look out for us, even to the point of always flying back to Da Nang when we were in the rear and bringing us back booze.  We weren’t allowed to have any ourselves, regardless of age.  Booze was for SNCO’s and Officers only in the Corps.


This was the majority of 1st Platoon during my first few months.  There were others; Smith, Smitty, Murphey and Washburn.  Funny as it may seem we rarely knew anyone outside our own squad, most of our action was as small units.


We patrolled the TAOR for the battalion and conducted constant sweeps trying to make contact, trying to “Get Some”, for days on end.  We moved around freely during the day, but night, night was Charlies.  We were on patrol in the foothills of the Que Son Mountains south of Da Nang.  My squad had the duty of a listening post at night outside the company perimeter.  We split up the watches and I drew the second watch, about 8 to midnight.  We were set up inside a bomb crater and who ever had the watch had to respond to radio checks every 30 minutes.  We did this by "keying" the handset button twice (for 2nd squad), this kept talking and noise down to a minimum.  We were all awake during the first watch, as we hadn't really gotten settled in enough to sleep.  That day we had humped about 5 or 6 klicks up to the mountains and the heat was, as usual, oppressive.  We were all tired, hot and mentally exhausted.  The constant moving in the rugged terrain made most men feel like being wounded and evacuated would be a relief.



The night in the mountains was always pitch black.  The term "listening post (LP)" was an exact description; you literally couldn't see two feet in front of you.  The coming of dark really didn't relieve the heat that much, and the mosquitoes appeared in force.  I took the 2nd watch as I have said and everything was quiet.  I hadn't been in country very long and the watch seemed to pass quickly, each radio check went smoothly.  As my watch ended I didn't feel tired, looking at the others sleeping I thought I would stand another watch and let someone else sleep a bit more.


I thought I could make that call, I was getting a little salty. I had no right to deviate from established procedure.  The night worn on and all seemed well, until an explosion about 50 meters from our position suddenly shook me.  I grabbed the handset to the radio and quickly called the platoon CP to report incoming rounds and their location, what a professional Marine.  They other guys in the squad were grabbing their weapons and scrambling for cover and a place to fire from, there was suddenly no more incoming.


          I failed to notice the fact that I could see quite clearly for about 50 or more meters until the Platoon Commander demanded to have my squad leader get on the radio.  Terry took the radio over and after a very brief conversation gave me a look like I was something the VC had brought in.  The only thing I heard was that I was to report to the Platoon Sergeant ASAP, and get the squad in now.  My foggy brain finally realized that it was dawn, I had not only stood my watch and some others, but I had fallen asleep during watch.  The explosions had been the Platoon Sergeant shooting M-79 rounds near our position trying to get our attention.  My actions had endangered the entire squad, I thought I was capable of cutting everyone some slack, and handling the load.  Instead I could have gotten the entire unit ambushed and killed, I was ashamed and scared.  What would the "old timers", the "Salts", think of me now, I had really blown it.  Back at the CP the squad leader stood by and listened to my explanation of what happened being given to Lieutenant Mahlum, our Platoon Commander.


  I got my ass royally chewed out and spent the next three patrols breaking brush, and the next week digging the platoon latrines, I'm real lucky I didn't get Court Martialed.  The Lieutenant seemed to understand what I thought I was doing, but made it very clear I wasn't paid to think.  It only took a couple of days for the rest of the squad to get over being mad, and now knowing the entire story they made a joke of it.  Comments like "Hey Rainbow!! feel like doing me a favor!" or “want to stand my watch tonight dumb ass” became commonplace.  I deserved every bit of the ridicule, I had really screwed up.


     I'll never forget the fact the lieutenant took the time to listen to me and understand my motives that caused the screw-up.  Nor will I'll ever forget the squad forgave me my ignorance.  Lesson learned, and learned well.  In the years to come I always tried to listen to the "other side" of any problem and to deal out punishment with a little compassion when I could.  But, I'll never escape the guilt that I could have been the cause of many good men dying; there's no excuse for that


We were about to really get close to hitting the shit.  The VC in the area had decided to give An Hoa to Ho Che Minh for his birthday present.  Radio Hanoi announced it loudly and proceeded to let us know we would be rolled over by massive strikes.  There was just one small mistake; the majority of the Regiment was in the field on Muskogee Meadows, not in An Hoa.  The second mistake was we had planned our own operation to hit Charlie back hard.  We stood ready to interdict the enemy on ground of our choosing.  It was May 2nd 1969.


The VC hit An Hoa that night, we sat in the bush, dug in and waiting.  As I said the majority of the Regiment was in the field around the area, encircling the basecamp. The firefight for the base was fierce.  We could hear massive small arms fire and the returning crash of artillery ripping through the night.  Radio reports kept flowing in, An Hoa was holding, the enemy had breached the wire in several places, but were driven back.  Everyone held their breath and waited for dawn to break.  With the day would come our time, time to “Get Some”.


Then the decision was made to do something we had never done before, a company night move.  Total night discipline was to be enforced.  We blackened our faces with carbon from burned radio batteries and burnt wood ash.  Our sleeves were rolled down and collars buttoned on jungle jackets.  Helmets were removed and strapped on our packs, we wore soft covers only.  The reason for this was sound seemed amplified in the night and the helmet restricted our hearing somewhat.  Weapons were checked and rechecked, all gear was tied down tight, nothing to rattle or make noise. 


We then began our move; for once the company was quiet we knew this wasn’t the time to screw around.  The battle was still raging in An Hoa; Charlie really wanted that base.  “E” Battery 2/11 had been firing in support all night, they even dropped their howitzers to point blank elevation and fired into the wire.  One bunker was overrun and had to become a target for the artillery battery.  The Regiment waited wanting to close the trap.


Dawn finally came and all firing stopped.  I was on a side of a village; with me was a new cherry.  The kid had been sent to language school to learn Vietnamese but ended up a grunt instead.  Seems they taught him the wrong dialect for the northern I Corps area, so he humped a rifle.  The company began a sweep toward the ville, spread out on line, circling the entire encampment.  I was watching three figures in the distance; one appeared to be carrying a rifle and was talking to the other two.  There was a light foggy mist in the air and all was quiet.


The new kid suddenly pointed and whispered if I saw the “fireflies” in the air near my legs.  I glanced down and saw green tracers zip past my legs.  I sidestepped quickly to the left, dropped to my knees and fired the M-14 at the three figures, two dropped, one ran.  Then the company began to open fire and sweep forward, into the village.  We all moved quickly and entered the village with no casualties.  The village had become deserted; the two men I saw go down were gone.  I don’t know if I hit them and they were dragged away, or if they just hit the ground and dee dee’d. Either way they were gone.


We began to search the village for any signs of Charlie.  He had been here we were sure, but appeared to be gone for good now.  Tempers were hot, we wanted to make contact, and it was pay back time.  The company spread out and began a slow search of the area, hut by hut, bunker by bunker; nothing. I was probing a haystack with my bayonet when suddenly an M-60 opened up.  Full auto, no timed three to four round bursts; just frantic steady fire.  Everyone hit the dirt and scrambled for cover.  I leaped a low brush fence and landed in stinking mud.  Looking up I was face to face with a water buffalo, not a good place to be.  In a flash I was back up and out of that pen like I had wings.  There was no further fire and no return fire from AK’s, it was now quiet.


Someone started laughing and the tension broke for a moment.  Corporal Maxwell the M-60 gunner had kicked a flimsy door to a hut down.  There wasn’t any VC inside just a large, pissed King Cobra.  Maxwell freaked out and opened fire, tearing the hut and the snake to shreds in the process.  He had dumped a belt of almost 100 rounds into that hut.  Maxwell didn’t care for snakes.


1st Platoon sweep out of the village and started to cover a small creek on the outside of the area.  We knew the VC were in the area, but where had they gone?  I was on the low side of the creek with Terry and across from us the other side of the creek had a steep drop off toward the water.  The surface of the drop off was probably three or four feet over my head.  The water was filthy and clogged with weeds and reeds.  Then from the village came a loud shout, a lone VC was running directly for us with Maxwell chasing him firing his .45 pistol.  You could see the rounds impact the enemy soldier and watch his body jerk with each hit.  Somehow he kept his feet and continued to run.  Maxwell yelled he was empty and hit the deck.  I swung the M-14 up, flipped the selector to full auto and dumped damned near a full magazine into his chest. Terry and several others had also opened up on the VC, his body was ripped to pieces by the impacting rounds. The range wasn’t more than twenty feet, he jerked around like a rag doll and fell into the water. 


We watched his body bob and float in the current.  Then Paul O’Connell the 1st squad leader shouted; “The reeds! They’re in the damn reeds!”  He immediately opened fire into the stand of tall reeds, someone else screamed “Fire in the Hole” and tossed a grenade into the water.  The explosion blew a column of dirty water all over us.  But Paul’s’ insight and the firing worked.  Suddenly figures rose from the water, hands in the air.  Shouts of “Chu Hoi!, Chu Hoi!” rang out.  We had found Charlie and his ass was ours.


We marched the prisoner’s back to the company CP and turned them over to the Skipper. More patrols went out searching for the escaping enemy.  We had finally made contact and were inflicting damage on the enemy, we had got some alright.  I got lucky and drew “palace guard” at the company CP.  Dutch Lennehan drew a patrol and was pissed at the prospect of another walk in the sun. I was teasing Dutch because he had drawn a patrol and couldn't stop for a breather, I got to stay and start digging in.  About an hour later the patrol returned with three prisoners, 1 commander, 1 Major and 1 young soldier.  The commander turned out to be, (we found out later), the Commanding Officer of the entire VC assault unit in the area.  They had been captured single-handed by Dutch Lenehan.


     The patrol was bubbling over with the story of Dutch and his prisoners.  It seems Dutch had been bitching during the entire patrol, he was tired and wanted to get back and set-in.  The point man found the entrance to a tunnel and the patrol surrounded it trying to decide how to handle the problem.  While they discussed exploring it, or just blowing it up, Dutch lost his patience.  Pushing the others aside Dutch declared he was going to just get it done so they could get the hell back.  Dutch charged into the tunnel bent over double, almost on his knees.


  Looking up suddenly; he was faced with an SKS rifle in his face.  Dutch, did have a temper.  He grabbed the rifle by the barrel, jerked out of the soldier’s hands and began beating him about the head and shoulders with it.  Then he saw two more behind the first.  Dutch started cussing all three and using his bare hands started grabbing them and shoving them toward the tunnel mouth.  Once out side, Dutch decked all three and started screaming that they were prisoners and not to move.  He did all this so fast the other members of the squad didn't even have a chance to move to help him.  After searching the three and tying them up, Dutch was reported to have said, "Now can we go the hell back and sit down for a while!"


     LCpl. Michael Lenehan was recommended on the spot by the Company Commander for award of the Bronze Star Medal with "V" for valor.  He certainly deserved it.  By the way, the Commander that was captured, he was close to six feet tall, weighed about 160 lbs., and his head was shaved except for a top-notch.  We all suspected he sure as hell wasn't Vietnamese, we all thought he was a Chinese Advisor.  G-2 (Division Intellig ence) denied this rumor.


I sat in the CP and listened to the outgoing radio reports from the Skipper as we waited for S-2 to send out a party to pick up the prisoners we were holding.  I heard something I found rather shocking; the Captain said headquarters expected to see some medals come out of this operation.  I listened as he recommended Dutch for the Bronze Star, then was thunderstruck as he also recommended himself for the Silver Star Medal.  What the hell had he done to rate that?  I never expected to hear someone actually recommend himself for an award for valor.



Let me explain a little bit about awards and decorations.  I have made several references to various medals in this and realize I may be making the wrong impression.  Many good Marines were recommended for awards they didn’t receive during the Vietnam War, and other wars.  This was due in large part to the U.S. Army’s attitude toward awards; they seem to give them away.  It wasn’t unusual for a soldier in the Army to receive a Bronze Star Medal, in fact many of them got them for just finishing their tour of duty in Nam.  The Marine Corps attitude toward awards was very strict, the idea of decorating a Marine for "doing his job" didn't exist then.  I have served with Marines for many years and personal decorations were rare indeed.  In over sixteen years I can think of only about 10 career Marines I knew that had either a Bronze Star, and only about six or seven with the Silver Star.  That is enlisted Marines, officers received many more decorations than enlisted.  Maybe their status made them so much braver, yes; that is sarcasm. 



I stood in formation at Camp Pendleton once in 1971 and watched a Gunnery Sergeant and a Captain receive awards for heroism in Nam.  The strange thing was their citations read exactly the same, "Captain so-and-so with the aid of another Marine, did..." "Gunnery Sergeant so-and-so with the aid of another Marine, did...”.  Turns out they had served together in Nam and each had been the "other Marine" mentioned, same act of bravery.  The Captain got the Silver Star Medal, the Gunny got the Bronze Star Medal.  Someone explain that, exact same act, different awards, their citations even read word for word the same.


Any way to explain about awards, here is what they are and what they are awarded for:


Medal of Honor - Sometimes called the "Congressional" Medal of Honor, (that name is actually improper).  This is the highest decoration any member of the military can receive.  It is awarded for heroism "above and beyond the call of duty, at great personal risk".  Less than 58 Marines received this award during Vietnam, more than half of these were posthumous awards.  As of 1999 there are only 157 living Medal of Honor winners alive from all our wars.


Navy Cross - The Distinguished Service Cross for Navy and Marine personnel.  Generally an individual awarded this medal was recommended for the Medal of

Honor.  It too is awarded for heroism only.


Silver Star Medal - The third highest medal for heroism, it also may only be awarded for bravery.


Bronze Star Medal - May be awarded for Meritorious Service in support of combat operations or for valor under fire.  In Vietnam the Navy and Marine Corps attached the "Combat V" on all medals, Bronze Star and below, to show it was for actions in wartime.  The Army only attached it if it was for valor (one of the few good ideas they had).  As of the 1980's this is now policy for all branches of the military service.  It had been embarrassing to see two Marine with the Bronze Star with combat “V”, one for heroism under fire and the other for being a good supply officer.  The real problem was unless you knew or asked, you couldn’t tell the difference.


Purple Heart - Awarded for "wounds received in action".  The oldest medal in the United States.  This award was founded by George Washington and at that time was the Nations Medal of Honor.  In 1932 it was revived for use and was awarded to individuals who were combat wounded.


These medals and the Distinguished Flying Cross are the only medals that are ONLY awarded for combat operations; they cannot be awarded during peacetime.  The Purple Heart may also be awarded for wounds received during a Terrorist attack, which in my mind is war anyway.


Subsequent awards of personal decorations are show by attachments to the medal ribbon.  In the Navy and Marine Corps they use a Gold Star for each additional award.  A Silver Star shows award of five Gold Stars.  So a Marine with a Purple Heart with a Silver Star attached has six Purple Hearts.  One for the ribbon itself and five shown by the star.  The Army and Air Force use Oak Leaf Clusters instead of stars for the same thing.


Other medals exist for professional achievement and commendation; they are not solely combat awards.  At one time, in the Marine Corps, these were very rare.  Now the Corps seems to have followed the Army in the practice of "giving" them away, there are ribbons and medals for damn near everything.  Most of these medals were adopted during times of peace, I guess so those serving could have something on their uniforms too.  I saw an Air Force Master Sergeant once with 13 decorations on his chest and he had never left the United States, NEVER saw a shot fired in anger.  So when you see someone with a bunch of ribbons and medals, look close, they don’t mean he is any kind of hero.


Besides we who have served know the truth, the greatest heroes are they ones awarded the "Wooden Cross", the one marking their grave.  They gave their life to preserve this country.  The Purple Heart Medal awarded to them really means "For Military Merit".  (That by the way is what is engraved on the back of the Purple Heart).

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Copyright 2001 by Grady Rainbow