Mike & H&S Companies 

Third Battalion, Fifth Marines

Veterans of the Vietnam War
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A tribute to Mike McFerrin

by Bernie Rhoades

Fellow Marines,

I only know one of you on this list, but over the last year or so I've had the
privilege of reading some of the Vietnam exploits of Mike Company 3/5, circa
1968-69. For me, the well written accounts of your personal and unit experiences
bring back memories of my own. And so, on the 225th birthday of the United States
Marine Corps, I want to share a new Vietnam story with you, a true story of one of
your own.

Sergeant Mike, as we respectfully referred to him as, had already served his 12
months in the "bush" before I met him in Danang in August 1969. He had extended
his tour in Nam, had been home to Monterrey, California, and returned to duty as
a platoon sergeant in the Armed Forces Police in Danang. The AFP's, all Marines
initially, had "police" responsibility in the city of Danang, and jurisdiction
over all branches of the US services as well as all non-Vietnamese civilians
(Merchant Marines, Sea Land employees, etc.). It was not typical rear-echelon MP
duty. As a matter of practicality following Tet of '68, the 24x7 city-wide AFP
patrols were, I believe, an early warning system for any kind of obvious enemy
infiltration. It was often times dangerous duty, especially if you underestimated
the situation. However, after a few weeks of AFP duty, Sgt. Mike decided it was
no place for him and he started to look for an opportunity to get back where he
belonged, doing that which he did best, fighting the enemy.

After spending some time at Battalion HQ (3rd MP Battalion, 3rd Marine Division),
Sgt. Mike learned of an all volunteer group that was being planned by the
Battalion H&S Company. The group would be called a Hamlet Advisory Team (HAT),
and consist of eight Marines and a Navy Corpsman. The HAT Team's mission was to
operate/live in an out-lying village and "partner" with the Chief of the village
in setting up what I would refer to as a village civil defense. The Team would
provide 24x7 security for the Chief and his family, weapons (WWII carbines,
M-1's, Thompsons), training, food, farm machinery, American livestock, etc. The
Chief would provide manpower (village men, old and young), identify known or
suspected communists, and support the HAT Team. Years later I discovered that
this operation and concept was part of the Vietnamization Program started by the
Nixon? administration. Anyway, along came Sgt. Mike who not only volunteered for
duty with the new HAT Team, but because of his combat experience, was picked to
lead the Team!

One of the cardinal rules of the Marine Corp, of course, is to never, ever
volunteer for anything. I've always thought that this particular rule was
somewhat ironic given the fact that we all (for the most part) volunteered for
the Marines. So, there I was volunteering for duty with the HAT Team led by Sgt.
Mike. The village we operated and lived in is called Thach Nam, and is about 20
miles west? of Danang and 15 miles? from what was the Battalion HQ. Thach Nam was classified as a "contested" village, which meant that some percentage of the
villagers were communists/communist sympathizers, and the others were strongly
influenced by them. With its numerous trails and jungle canopy, Thach Nam was
regularly traveled through by viet-cong and NVA units coming down from the
mountains (20miles away?) heading toward Danang. It was a dangerous place, and
the Chief of the village had a lot of balls to side with us and to officially
allow us to be there. Our presence increased his personal power immensely, but at
extreme risk to him and his family. In retrospect, he was a brave individual.

I was 21 years old, an 0331 and as green as the jungle we lived and worked in.
Sergeant Mike was 19 years old, and of the nine of us, only he and Corporal
George Gables had any previous combat experience.For the six months we were in
Thach Nam, the "order of the day" was to pay strict attention to every word/order
given by Sgt. Mike. There was no time to repeat any of the necessary on-the-job
training provided by him. Our ability to learn quickly and apply those lessons,
meant the difference between life and death. During the day, Sgt. Mike taught us
how to call in a medivac, set up a defensive perimeter, traverse at night,
memorize and use "shackle" code, how to direct fire from a Huey gunship, set
claymores, take command when necessary, set-up ambushes, avoid enemy ambushes,
etc., etc. He taught us what we needed to know to stay alive, and he taught us
how to kill the enemy. At night, every night, we set up a defensive perimeter at
a location determined by Sgt. Mike. Four Marines usually filled in corner
positions of the perimeter, with South Vietnamese (PF's) in between. We called
our civilian troops Popular Forces (PF's), and they were old men and young boys
(at least one we suspected was an ARVN draft dodger - the Chief's son). In the
middle of the perimeter was the Chief and his family, Doc our Corpsman and Sgt.
Mike (usually manning the radio). This standard perimeter configuration, although
there were numerous deviations, left only two or three Marines to conduct
offensive actions. Thach Nam had a night time curfew for all its residents. If a
villager was outside at night (on the trails) he/she was considered the enemy and
subject to being killed. All of the villagers knew this, and it made our job that
much easier.

Thach Nam was a large village with many trails, but at times, there were so many
enemy moving around at night that we would literally run into them. That's
another story. Offensive tactics were conducted outside of the perimeter every
night. Sgt. Mike's stated philosophy was that we needed to be a consistent,
elusive and real threat to the enemy. In his words, "we need to put the fucking
fear of god into these gooks!" And at 19 years old, he was not only determined to
do just that, he was well prepared and more than capable. About two months into
our mission, the Chief told Sgt. Mike that a large bounty had been placed on his
head by the viet-cong. That news only served to piss Sgt. Mike off. Again,
another story. Offensive tactics included setting up ambushes at predetermined
trails, two-man hunter-killer patrols, one-man listening posts, and night time
patrols. These offensive tactics were often conducted one to two "clicks" from
our perimeter, and were always all-night outings. There was no such thing as
re-entering the perimeter at night. While many of these tactics are somewhat
standard operating procedure, they were all initially conducted by and led by
Sgt. Mike. They would all be done his way and only his way. There were plenty of
opportunities for one-on-one training. Having gone on many of those offensive
forays with Sgt. Mike, and remembering a few resulting fire-fights in particular,
I can tell you that he was always in control of the situation. Even when it meant
high-tailing it the hell out of it, he was in control. In the confusion of any
level of combat, we all always felt confident in Sgt. Mike being there and
providing his guidance. He inspired confidence in all of us individually and as
an effective team. I firmly know that this had everything to do with our ultimate
survival at Thach Nam.

In the six months that our HAT Team operated in Thach Nam village I believe we
accomplished Sgt. Mike's mission. We did put the fear of god into those gooks and
a few of them in their graves. Even better news, we suffered no casualties. We
all came home from Thach Nam. This fact I directly attribute to Sgt. Mike
McFerrin. He directly and indirectly saved all of our lives with his experience,
skills and determination. Years later he told me that the scariest part of the
whole ordeal for him was being totally responsible for eight other Marines.

Happy 225th Sgt. Mike! And thank you for getting us all home alive from Thach

"Wiskey" out