Mike & H&S Companies 

Third Battalion, Fifth Marines

Veterans of the Vietnam War
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Grady Rainbow's Memoirs,  (Continued), Page 3

Home wasn’t home anymore.  All the guys I knew in school seemed so damned immature and like kids.  The Dress Blues I planned to wear I had to buy (the recruiter forgot to tell us they weren’t issued except for special duty).  But, I had bought a set and wore them proudly; my one chevron sewn on with my firewatch ribbon and shooting badge.  I spent the first of normal leaves, seeing relatives, chasing women and trying to party as much as possible.  But it wasn’t home anymore.  Home had become a barracks, a base and a place with “my own kind”, other Marines.  That was home to me now, Oklahoma was a place to visit. The sense of family I had lost during my folks divorce had been replaced with membership in the brotherhood.


I felt great, taped ribs and all.  I had left weighing about 129 pounds at 6-foot tall and real beanpole.  I now weighed almost 180, hard, fit and tan.  I felt the best I ever had in my life, ready to meet the world on my terms.  I attended the wedding of one of my best friends in boot camp and training, Harold Rieniets, who lived in Wichita Kansas.  We got to party like Marines while there.  You could drink beer in Kansas at age 18, unlike Oklahoma where you had to be 21, so we drank and raised hell together for the last time. Harold went on to Sea School in San Diego and did a tour of duty in Nam later on.  He finished his enlistment and left the Corps for civilian life in 1972.


Leave ended and I reported to Staging Battalion at Camp Pendleton for deployment training, what a shock.  I don’t know what I expected, but that wasn’t it.


Staging Battalion was a pre-deployment indoctrination course for marines going to Vietnam.  The vast majority of the Company I was assigned to was made up of non-infantry types.  Clerks, Motor Transport, Cooks, Radio Operators and the like.  Good Marines, but not fully trained as grunts.  In fact in my Company there were only five of us that were grunts.  A Gunnery Sergeant, a Sergeant, one Corporal and two PFC’s me being one of them.  I ended up a squad leader as all the training was infantry tactics and I had the training.  The Gunny was a big, Black Marine who made sure the others in the Company listened to the MOS trained grunts.  He also went on liberty with the rest of us mud-Marines, damn fine man and a good teacher.  The only name I remember was the Sergeant’s.  His last name was Johns, his first name was Wayne.  So in typical military fashion he always had to write his last name first then his first name.  That’s it Sergeant Johns Wayne, he caught hell over that name, but he was big enough to handle it.


Staging Battalion was more fieldwork on patrolling, jungle movement, ambushes and weapons familiarization.  Then there was medical checks (more shots), dental, administrative records maintenance and finally orders to a Division.  My first REAL assignment as a Marine.  The highlight of Staging Battalion was the Vietnamese village, with all the booby traps we were to be aware of.  The only thing was these were all punji pits, tiger traps and sharpened stakes, I found out later that Charlie preferred explosives, lots and lots of explosives.  They didn’t quite cover that very well, like how to disarm a booby-trapped 105-mm howitzer shell.


I was assigned to the First Marine Division, (Reinforced), Fleet Marine Force, WESPAC.  Vietnam and the 1st Division, the Guadalcanal Division of World War II and Korean War fame. It was like a dream come true, I had prayed for assignment to the 1st Division, in my mind it was the best in the Corps. My new home.




We flew out from California to Vietnam via Okinawa, “The Rock”.  We arrived during the night and I got my first surprise, it was cold, damned cold.  I had some idea that the rock was a tropical place, it wasn’t and isn’t.  Some one scrambled around getting us field jackets so we didn’t freeze, then we got the “Word”.

No liberty while on Okinawa for anyone below rank of Staff Sergeant.  This was expected, we had spent the last four days at Camp Pendleton on “Lock On”, restricted to the barracks.  The Corps wasn’t taking any chances we would go UA and miss our transfer to Nam.  They actually had Military Police stationed around each barracks that was on Lock On, move too far from the barracks even in daylight and someone grabbed you up.  The Lock On was strict, but the Rock was humorous; as we were briefed in formation that we couldn’t have liberty we were told where to find the “hole in the fence” and cautioned to not get caught.


Once we were dismissed the flood of Marines out the fence must have looked like Exodus itself.  Being a real squared away Marine I didn’t go, of course.  But I can say that BC Street was interesting in the least.  Of course I went through the fence, what were they going to do?  Shave my head and send me to Vietnam?


Okinawa was more of the same, records updated, more shots (including the infamous “G-G”, that one really hurt) and storing away our uniforms.  We were to take one Tropical and one Khaki uniform, two sets of utilities and boots, underwear; the rest stayed in storage.  Our utility uniform was the starched, standard green worn by every service and was unfit for real field duty.  This had been a money saving device during the Johnson Administration; all services wore the same work fatigues and boots.  It saved no money, we wore and trained in a uniform that was unfit for field wear in all climates, go figure.  Anyway we had briefing after briefing on what to expect in Nam.  We were given more classes on the Geneva Convention and the Rules of War, war crimes were stressed.  I couldn’t imagine any Marine being a war criminal.  Conduct as a POW was covered, with the warning, the enemy didn’t usually keep enlisted prisoners alive.  We were told it was far better to go down fighting.


  Checks were made for sole-surviving sons and personnel with anyone in their family already in country.  The military was reluctant to allow more than one family member at a time to die for his country.  This had been a throw back to World War II and the multiple deaths of the Sullivan brothers; we were even briefed on that.  Anyway I didn’t fit any of that category so I was ready to go.  A couple of our guys were pulled for duty in Okinawa due to family members in Nam already.  No real break they would be shipped over as soon as the other member came out.  One Corporal had been telling everyone he only had three weeks left on his enlistment.  As it was his second enlistment he was classified as "Career” and they expected him to reenlist again, so on he went to Vietnam for a second tour.  Over all Okinawa was boring and we waited to leave.



 Our flight from Okinawa was on Braniff Airlines; I couldn’t believe it, a commercial airplane to go to war in?  The damn thing was bright yellow and white, (Braniff painted all their planes different colors), what a target it would make landing in Da Nang.  Yet, it was our transportation to the war.  The officers sat in the front and we enlisted scum sat in the rear.  There were even stewardesses, nice ladies wearing little vests covered in military patches and insignia.  Gifts from other passengers of previous flights.  I remember their friendly smiles and their sad, sad eyes.  As glib and happy as they tried to be you could see that look, as if they were attending a wake or funeral. For many of us maybe they were. Maybe they were.


The flight was quiet and too long, too much time to think.  One guy had a guitar and started to play while we sang along, that must have sounded real good.  No booze on the flight and typical airline sandwiches for chow.  I only remember one particular song he played, singing in his rich voice, strumming the guitar; “Eve of Destruction”.  Funny, flying into war with fellow warriors, ready to fight.  Listening to a protest song about war itself.  On to Vietnam.



We landed at 15th Aerial Port in Da Nang, Republic of Vietnam on March 6th, 1969.  We were bused to the replacement terminal and given coffee and donuts by the Red Cross dollies, then split up into groups and directed to hardback tents to bed down. The Corporal I mentioned before that was a shorttimer; well they looked at his record book, saw he had only 21 days left in the Corps asked him to reenlist.  He said no, and they sent him back to the airstrip with orders home and his discharge, the government at work with your tax dollars.


  We then straggled over and exchanged our money, (any we had), in to Military Payments Certificates MPC.  Funny money used by occupying troops instead of US Currency.  It looked like monopoly money, small, various colors and all paper.  Dollars, twenty-five cent pieces, dimes, nickels all paper and stupid looking.  Then back to our transit quarters to bed down, everyone was warned to stay inside the compound, “Charlie” could be in the ville.  That night the air was bright with flares and the boom of artillery fire.  We could hear small arms popping off in the near night.  The entire country stank of rice paddies, crap and cordite.  I sat huddled in the dark, no weapon, no orders, nothing feeling scared and wondering what happens next.  We were rushed out once in the middle of the night to cram into bunkers lining the barbed wire perimeter as rockets slammed into the area.  Luckily no one was hurt by the fire.  So passed my first day in a combat zone.


The next day we were issued our orders to each unit, I felt my heart swell, “Jackpot”!  I had not only been assigned to 1st Division, but I was now assigned to the Fifth Marine Regiment.  The most highly decorated Regiment in the Corps, Fifth Marines.  I really felt like a warrior now.  We boarded trucks and were taken to 11th Motors compound for flights to our units.





     The Fifth Marine Regiment (5th Marines) is one of the most highly decorated regiments in the world.  Among its' many honors are 17 Presidential Unit Citations, service in every major campaign and war since Vera Cruz in Mexico, and the Croix de Guerre with Palms, gold and silver stars from the French Government.  Members of this regiment wear a fouraguere, (a twisted rope in the colors of the Croix de Guerre), while serving with the unit.  Marines who have served with the "Fifth" are always proud of that service, and tend to think they have been among the best in the Corps.


     This is not a slam to any other unit in the Corps, or any unit of military anywhere.  It just serves as an example of the Esprit de Corps that molds a fine fighting unit.  A pride in the history and honors of the regiment; that was bought with the blood and sacrifice of those who went before.  I was proud to serve in the Fifth, and was allowed the honor to serve there twice again during later years in my career.  Once with "G" 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, then with Headquarters 5th Marines.


     By the way the Presidential Unit Citations mentioned are the highest unit citation issued to any U.S. Military unit, the equivalent of an individual winning the Navy Cross.




  At 11th motors I was assigned a cot in a hardback tent fed some hot chow and was told I could go to the EM club for a few beers.  No flights until the next day.  In the club I felt it for the first time, I was a “Cherry”, the FNG and newby.


 Still dressed in stateside utilities the new arrivals were shunned by everyone else, no one would talk to us or even look our way. The biggest visual difference was we had no weapons, everyone else was armed with something, so we were ignored. It was as if we didn’t exist.


  The grunts in the club were easy to pick out.  They were the ones with dirty utilities, flak jackets, scuffed jungle boots and armed to the teeth.  Knives, pistols and rifles were kept close at hand.  Even a drunken grunt clutched his rifle going out to dump some beer in the night.  Their eyes were sunken and hard, seeming to stare miles away at something they couldn’t quite see, something they knew was there.  None of them wore any rank insignia and all of them seemed older than any of us.  They were a class to be admired and feared at the same time, they were the cutting edge of the Corps, combat Marines.  I wanted so badly to fit in, for the first time I wondered if I could ever be part of that brotherhood.  I couldn’t understand why they looked so old; not a one of them looked like we did they didn’t look like a kid.  I noticed the grunts stayed apart from everyone, not just us.


  The Marines from the Motor Transport Battalion gave them all the space they needed; everyone seemed to fear crossing them in any way.  None of the grunts wore utility shirts; just green skive shirts under their flak jackets.  Their ID tags (Dog Tags) were tied tight around their necks with a bootlace, at least one was.  The other tag was tied into the laces of their boot, like each body part had to be marked.  That in fact was the case.  So many Marines had been killed by explosive booby traps and mines that body identification was difficult.  Separating the tags ensured some part could be identified, maybe.


  I found out much later that the Marines from the infantry units were not in Da Nang for any kind of liberty or R & R.  Most were there on body ID detail; they had been to Naval Support Activity, NSA.  Their purpose there was to positively identify the remains of their fellow Marines killed in action laying at Graves Registration.  Not long from then I too would have to perform this task too many times myself.  Most people don’t think of what an ID tag is for.  Made of metal and fastened to the body its sole purpose is to identify remains, like wearing your own headstone.  Sometimes it is used to cross match blood type or identify religious preference for last rites or gasmask size.  But primarily it is to identify what is left of your body for burial.  Not the most joyous piece of equipment.


The country I now was in was light-years from the spit and polish parade deck of MCRD.  The rolling hills of Camp Pendleton seemed like a park compared to the Nam.  Everywhere the land was barren, dusty and hot.  The compounds were miniature forts constructed of sandbag bunkers, concertina wire, watchtowers, and tin roofed hardback tents.  Heads were typical outhouses that stank and urinals were piss tubes driven into lime pits.  Everywhere you looked walked hard young Marines armed and tan.  It sure didn’t look like any war movie I had ever seen.  This was another dose of reality; war is never pretty or clean.  And the idea of liberty; well forget it, there was none.  Besides the women I had seen all looked fifty or sixty years old and had black teeth.  They all chewed what I thought was tobacco and spit anywhere they wanted to.  I found out later it was betel nut, an Asian plant that has a mile narcotic effect they were chewing. The “old” women were probably in their thirties at most, the country was hard on everything.


I slept that night on a hard musty cot covered with some netting to keep bugs and rats off me.  It wasn’t my best nights sleep; again I was lulled to sleep by the booming of artillery and sporadic gunfire in the distance.  This was the “safe” rear area of Vietnam.



The next morning we were herded down to a steel mat helo pad, (called Mo-Mat), and signed into sticks of 12 Marines each for airlift to various units.  I sat in the sun, reading the paperback book I had waiting.  Then is when I was finally spoken to by one of the veterans.  He wanted to know if I was about through with my book or had any more.  I looked around and noticed almost everyone was lost in some type of reading material.  I had about three or four other books in my seabag I had finished, I gave him one.  A couple of other guys looked my way; I tossed them the others.  All just nodded and kind of said thanks.  I was again forgotten.


  After awhile a CH 46 Helicopter landed, I was nudged up and boarded.  The bird rose into the air and I was assaulted by the noise, hell you couldn’t talk to anyone onboard without shouting.  I thought my ears would go deaf from the pounding sound of the blades cutting through the air and the whine of the engines.  I noticed the bird had no plexi-glass in the windows.  One of the old timers must have noticed the look on my face and turned my way.  I asked if it was so we could shoot out the windows.  He laughed and said “No numnuts, it’s so we don’t get sharp shit flying through the air from incoming rounds.”  The Marine next to him laughed also and said; “Bull it’s so we can climb our asses outta here if this damn bird crashes.”  I never really got an answer because they started arguing with each other about who was right.


  I just turned and stared out the window at the ground below.  The first thing I saw was hundreds of small round ponds all over the countryside.  Filled with dirty brown water they covered the landscape as far as I could see.  I thought it was strange they even had some that over lapped each other, then I realized what I was seeing.  They weren’t ponds they were bomb and shell craters; the whole land was chewed up with them.  I was glad to be in the chopper flying at some altitude as it was cooler here than on the ground.  We began to drop down and I saw a large village, a landing strip and a huge tent city sprawled before me.  All this in a barren dusty red plain, surrounded by stinking rice paddies.  An Hoa, home of the Fifth Marines, my home now.


     An Hoa, combat base held by the 5th Marine Regiment.  An Hoa, (pronounced Ann Waa), had a small airstrip that would support C-130's, OV-10's and Helicopters.  A Battalion of 11th Marines (Artillery) reinforced us there with 175mm guns.  An Hoa was about 26 Klicks south of Da Nang in Quang Nam province of I Corps.  Highway 1 (I think) led straight north to Da Nang through My Son 1, (Also called the forward CP), and Liberty Bridge.  When I was there 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines guarded Liberty Bridge, and 1st and 3rd Battalions were at An Hoa and My Son 1.


     The countryside around the base was mostly rice paddies with small areas of treeline and some rolling hills.  The most memorable thing I remember was the dust.  Oklahoma is noted for red dust, it can't begin to touch An Hoa.  The dust was also red in color and was as fine as flour, so deep when you walked your boots would sink into it as deep as an inch.  When it rained it turned to soup, everything was covered in the dust, you, your gear, the food, even the water had a fine coating at all times.  You seemed to breath it, eat it and wear it, you stayed filthy.



We landed and I was ushered through ankle deep dust down a small road to Regimental S-1 for assignment.  We, there was about eight of us new guys, stood in the sun baking waiting for the clerk inside to give us our orders.  My first taste of the esteem that rear echelon pouges held grunts in.  We weren’t even offered a drink of water, just sun and waiting.  I got lucky, an officer came out and called my name, I was told to report to 3rd Battalion.  As I shouldered my seabag and took the orders some wiseass said; “You poor bastard, 3/5’s in the shit again.”  The officer told him to shut up and sent me on my way.


  I trudged down the road toward the sign for 3/5 headquarters to repeat the process.  There they took my orders, gave me a drink of water from a lister bag and left me to sit in the shade for a change.  The Battalion emblem was painted on a sign outside the sandbagged bunker of the headquarters building; a shield divided into four quadrants of blue and gold.  The upper left was blue with a yellow “3” the lower right was also blue with a yellow ”5”.  The other two were yellow with one having three fleur de lis in red and the words “Belleau Wood”.  The other contained red bamboo shoots and the words “Vietnam”.  Above it all was a yellow banner with the words “GET SOME” topped by another banner that read “3rd Battalion, 5th Marines”.


Here the routine was broken, after endless clerks and faceless junior officers sending me places, out stepped the Battalion Sergeant Major.  In his hand was a list on a clipboard containing our names I suppose.  He looked at the few of us and gave us a quick welcome aboard to the battalion, explained we would receive some additional indoctrination training then go to the “Bush”.  He then paused a minute and said the real welcome aboard; “You will all get Purple Hearts in this unit, your only worry is if you live through getting it.  So put it out of your mind and learn from the Marines in your units”.  I felt a shiver; this man had just told me to expect to get wounded, like it was an everyday occurrence in this outfit.  He was right as it turned out.  I was assigned to Company “M”, 3rd Battalion 5th Marines, “Mike Company”. Med-Evac Mike to the grunts assigned there.



     The combat base was bare and ugly.  Just a sandbag compound, ringed with bunkers and miles of barbed wire.  The cloth of the sandbags was always rotting from the humidity or being ripped up by shellfire.  We, the fine young men sent to fight a war, spent every waking moment we weren't fighting, filling sandbags and rebuilding the rotting base.  I didn't mind the work, I knew it was necessary, but I hated the manner in which we got the job.  If we were in the rear we manned the bunker every night and got no more than four to five hours sleep, then we spent each day in labor gangs or on patrol.


 Patrols were welcome; the chance of contact with the enemy was a relief from the coolie labor.  Our biggest complaint, (and I guess the complaint of soldiers since Caesar's Legions), was that the pouges in the rear, clerks, cooks etc. didn't share in the work, just the grunts.  We built the base that kept them safe, we manned the defenses in the perimeter, and we faced the enemy in the field, but they lived like human beings and we lived like animals.  We had a tent assigned to our squad, we kept our extra gear there, and we didn't get to sleep there unless we were on sickcall.  Every night we shared the bunkers with rain, maggots, rats, mud, incoming fire, and our close friend; Death.  If we got relieved in time from watch or working parties we got hot chow, usually we got cold sandwiches or left-over C-Rations.

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Copyright 2001 by Grady Rainbow