Mike & H&S Companies
Third Battalion, Fifth Marines
Grady Rainbow's Memoirs, (Continued), Page 6
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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
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
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”.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
way to explain about awards, here is what they are and what they are awarded
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
It too is awarded for heroism only.
Star Medal - The third highest medal for heroism, it also may only be awarded
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.
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
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.
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.
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
Copyright 2001 by Grady Rainbow