Mike Company               

Third Battalion, Fifth Marines

RVN, 1966 -1971
Home Up


Grady Rainbow's Memoirs,  (Continued), Page 2

September 5th, 1968 I boarded my first airplane and flew into what I thought was glory.  From Oklahoma City to Dallas Texas, change planes and on to San Diego.  Marine Corps Recruit Depot, the factory for Marines.  Soon I too would wear Dress Blues and fight the �Cong� in Vietnam.  Just some quick training, tough I knew, but I was ready.  Guess what?  Bullshit!  Dress Blues weren�t issued, training wasn�t �quick� and tough didn�t come close to the brutality of combat training in the 60�s.  The Corps wasn�t training us to fill jobs, we were training to close with and kill the enemy.  We got off the plane and reported to the military reception desk at the airport.  There a Navy Petty Officer told us to go outside and wait by the big green truck.  We (all 14 of us from Oklahoma and Kansas) did as we were told and joined the crowd of recruits outside.  There was a large, green cattle truck parked right in front of the airport entrance.  On it�s side were yellow letters �USMC�, our ride to the barracks and some sleep.  It was about eleven o�clock at night by then.


Everybody knows fantasy and reality differ, I never knew just how much.  Not till that night.  The doors on the side of the truck pulled open and I swear demons from hell poured forth.  Razor sharp creases in their trousers, ribbon bedecked tropical shirts and stiff brimmed green campaign hats covered these maniacs.  Screaming, pushing and in some cases kicking the shit out of us we were herded on the truck.  Orders flew in the air, �Drop that shit!�, �Sit down!�, �Shut up!� �NOBODY SPEAK, EYES FRONT!�. I now was beginning to see the real truth.  I didn�t have to worry about Vietnam; these bastards were going to kill me right here.  I was going to die and never be heard from again.


 In a way I was right, they were here to kill a part of me.  Starting that night the child in me died, but something else was born, something else was growing inside me to remain forever.  No one seems to know what makes Marines special unto themselves.  A breed of strange men that may cuss the Corps, curse the life they led and tell the world how screwed up the whole organization is.  They can say it, they can curse it, but God help anyone else who does the same.  They are born again in Recruit Training, they now have the calling.  They and I can never explain it, but it happens, time and time again.  Something gets in the blood and changes the heart and soul of each one, forever.  We became like warrior priests, modern day Knights Templar, devoted to our order and ourselves.  All the rest became an outsider.


Until the day a Marine dies, he is a Marine.  You can be an infantryman, aviator, tanker, cook, clerk or computer wizard.  It makes no difference; you are first, foremost and always a Marine.  A member of the brotherhood.  Some guys wear it in tattoos on their arms; some wear the uniform of Marine Corps veterans groups, some just a tiepin on their lapel.  All wear it in their eyes.  Ask any former Marine where he served and watch the eyes.  First he stands a little taller, his face turns directly to you, the eyes bore straight ahead and his says �Marines�, like a challenge.  The eyes will stare hard as if daring you to make any wrong comment or challenge to the brotherhood.  I have served with men from all branches of the military.


 I have several comrades in veterans groups that served in heroic fashion in the other branches of the service.  But, none ever answer the question quite that way.  They may say something like �I was a SEAL,� or �I was in the Army� but the eyes are never the same.  And when you answer back �Marines� they immediately shown respect, no questions asked.  The title Marine says it all; you are one of the elite fighting men in the world.  Such is the mystic of the Corps.  And strange as it seems, it works.  The combat record of the Corps bears it out.


Even when another former Marine speaks of how he hated his time in the Corps.  How screwed up it was.  How he couldn�t stand the lifers and pricks that messed him up.  The challenge remains, he can say it; you can�t.  He has earned the right, you haven�t.


But back to sunny Boot camp in 1968.  We were picked up the next morning and started our training.  Everything was geared toward the war.  Every lesson taught was taught about the war.  No questions remained; we were there to fight in Vietnam.  We weren�t there to get benefits, go to school or party we were there to learn to �Close with and destroy the enemy and his will to fight�.  Our chosen profession.  We did every thing �by the numbers�; we marched every where and prayed to �Chesty� Puller before Taps each night.  Recruit training was about 9 weeks long at MCRD, with two weeks at the rifle range on Camp Pendleton.


  The training in 1968 was hard, brutal and efficient. History, Physical training, map reading, weapons, drill, customs and courtesy and a million other subjects were crammed into our heads.  We were a herd of bitches at first.  Then we became girls, ladies and then a mob.  Our Drill Instructors were harsh and through, physical abuse was second nature to their style of training.  Yet looking back there were funny things also, we actually had some time to laugh.  But, overall hung the specter of Vietnam, the bush, and the war.  We knew many of us would never see home again.  I was a squad leader for the first seven weeks, then we screwed up close order drill one day and I was fired.  My first real lesson of how you could pay for the acts of others, one guy in the very rear of the squad got out of step and boom; no more squad leader.


 We went through classification testing again and were �interviewed� as to our interest in MOS (military occupational specialty).  A Corporal who examined my test scores and started to tell me about computers and aviation as a job field saw me.  When I said I wanted to go into the Infantry, he thought I was crazy.  A Master Sergeant standing near by said; �If he wants to be a grunt then put it down�.  End of subject.  After we completed all the training, passed each test and stood in the base theater on November 14th, 1968 we graduated.  We were for the first time called Marines.


The afternoon of graduation we formed a school circle in the squad bay.  Our senior Drill Instructor read out the orders listing of Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) assigned to each man.  When he got to �0300� infantry, someone sucked in his breath loud.  The DI stopped, paused a moment and said only one thing �The infantry IS the Corps�.  Then the names, I was proud my name was in that list.  I was to be a grunt, a rifleman, and a warrior 1st class.  That was the coming of age for Platoon 2077, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, 2nd RTR 1968.  The following morning, in a dismal rain we boarded buses and made the 50 mile trip north to Camp Pendleton, California to learn the skills of our trade at the Infantry Training Regiment, 2nd ITR.


I was assigned to Alpha Company, 2nd ITR for training as a basic 0300, infantryman.  There we had a different life style.  Although we still were trainees, we had liberty on the weekends, noon Saturday till 1800 Sunday.  We lived in World War II Quonset Huts in ITR as we had the first seven weeks of Boot Camp.  Small tin buildings made to hold a squad, 14 Marines.  I was once again a squad leader and made Private First Class in ITR.  The molding of the brotherhood had started.  We went together in small groups, always in uniform, always sharp.  Of course civilian clothing was forbidden for us to wear as trainees.


For the first time we got liberty. So we drifted off base in small groups, as I have said, something like units.  We didn�t walk down sidewalks; we marched in step with each other like mini formations.  We also saw something we had not been prepared for, not at all.  Signs in restaurants and bars �NO DOGS OR MARINES�.  We felt above it all, the rest of the world was screwed up, we were where we should be.  We were the class of Warriors set to protect these misguided, ignorant peasants. And we would, despite their disdain.  I had no idea just how far that �hate the war� attitude would go, or how long it would last.  I think most of us were shocked at the attitude of the locals in California, we were treated as if we were some type of parasite.  Some of the people did act very nice toward us, generally the ones with relatives in the service.  But on the whole the locals either wanted to rip us off or flat didn�t want us around.


Training at ITR was hard and complex.  We fired almost every weapon that could be handled by a Marine in the field, some new and some old.  3.5 rocket launchers, LAAWS, flame throwers, Browning .30 caliber machine guns, .50 caliber machine guns.  I marched for miles a day until it became second place to keep moving.  Classes covered land navigation, mines and booby traps, scouting and patrolling and first aid.  Our instructors were all combat veterans, all infantrymen who had seen the �Nam�.  ITR lasted six weeks until mid December.  We got the word, no Christmas leave for us.  A group of draftees were being trained behind us and we had to clear training so they could be completed.  Yes, we had some draftees in the Corps, very few, but we had some.  We graduated ITR and reported to Camp Horno for Basic Infantry School (BITS) to be further trained in our individual specialty.  The choices were few.  Machine Gunner (0331), Flames and Rockets (0351), Mortars (0341) and Rifleman (0311).  There had been another (0353) Ontos Crewman, but it was phased out the week before ITR ended.  THE Ontos was a small tracked vehicle armed with six 106 recoilless rifles, a tank killer.  I was told I had originally been selected to be trained as a 0353, but it was an obsolete weapons system now.  I became an 0311, an infantry rifleman, the pure Grunt.


BITS was four more weeks of intense training.  Much of the same except we now lived in a tent city during training, real Spartan quarters, if I had only known how much a luxury those tents were.  But the attitude changed.  As we progressed in training we got treated worse.  BITS was run like Recruit Training again, liberty restricted, yelling, the name calling all over again.  I never understood why the reversal, but that was the system.  I guess it was to keep us prepared for the worse.  This portion of training was completed with a 36 hour "war".  Actual operations against another graduating class.  At least we thought it was �actual� operations, we played everything by the book, just as training taught us.  I didn�t know then what a difference real combat was to be in comparison.  For the first time we were rejoined with the Marines in the other MOS�s to coordinate their crew served weapons.  As usual it rained the entire time and was wet, muddy and miserable. Perfect training for what lay ahead, I just didn�t know it.  I had managed to separate five ribs in training, during a fall down a steep hill.  The Corpsman taped me up, gave me painkillers and sent me back to duty.  Again a taste of the real world ahead of me in Vietnam.


I was now a basic trained Marine Corps Rifleman, ready for orders.  I got them.  SEA SCHOOL!  Actually it was elite duty for a Marine and only the tops in a class were so assigned. But it wasn�t what I wanted; I hadn�t enlisted to serve in dress blues aboard a ship. So without telling any of my friends, I asked to see the troop leader, I wanted to go to Nam not Sea Duty.  Staff Sergeant Havice told me I was nuts.  To change my orders I had to see the Battalion Sergeant Major, or no go.  I asked permission to see the Sergeant Major concerning my assignment, my troop leader knew I was nuts.  But in proper fashion he took me to Battalion Headquarters.


  I didn�t know what to expect, I had never even seen a real Sergeant Major before, except at a distance.  The troop leader, Staff Sergeant Havice, had me report to the Sgt. Major and I just blurted out a babbling story of how I didn�t want to go to Sea Duty, I wanted to go to Vietnam.  I must have sounded like some kind of mental case.  I remember the Sgt. Major just quietly listened, never said a word while I explained what I wanted.  He then picked up the phone, dialed the Admin office and spoke to the S-1 Officer.  He was quiet and calm the entire time, he explained he had a PFC trainee who wanted to refuse orders to Sea School and get on a replacement draft to Vietnam.  He took my serial number, (2456121), name and rank and gave them over the phone.  He then said something I wasn�t sure what he meant, he said �Sir, I concur.�  Then after several moments of silence, hung the telephone up.  I was sure I was in some kind of trouble now.  The next words changed my life forever.


 The Sergeant Major looked at the troop leader and said: �PFC Rainbow is to be returned to his Company area.  His orders are amended; he goes on thirty days leave then he will report to Staging Battalion for assignment to WESPAC.  Lad you�re going to Nam. Now get his ass out of here, and don�t even think of bringing any more, the rest go to Sea School as assigned."  He then looked at me, shook his head then shook my hand and said "Good Luck Marine".


SSgt Havice took me back to the Company area.  On the way he said he was sure the Sgt. Major was going to rip me a new asshole.  But then he stopped once and put his hand on my shoulder and said, �Watch what you wish for, this time you got it.�  We got back to the area, I finished packing up and, as usual in the rain, we stood our last training formation, boarded buses for the airport and started our leave.  I had just turned eighteen years old, while in training; I was now legally old enough to go to war.


I went home. Home to Oklahoma anyway, 30 days leave.

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Copyright 2001 by Grady Rainbow