the years I have been asked what it was like being a Marine. A breath
later would produce a comment suggesting that I didnít seem the type.
The Marine Corps for me was a crucible that appeared when I needed it
most. Except for times of war when the draft helped filled the ranks,
Marines are volunteers. I was a volunteer. At the time of this story
young men across America put their signatures to their first contract
as their fathers had. A contract with America. On blind faith they
placed their lives in the hands of the Corps. Faith that the Corps
would build and guide them. Would make them men. I recall that in the
midst of the sleepless chaos of my boot camp arrival I enjoyed a great
sense of belonging. I now look back in dismay, even at age fifty eight
that in February 1963, I stepped through a small window away from my
childhood and boyhood life in the deep South and out into the soft
breeze of history, a soft breeze that would soon roar the firestorm of
war and death, politics and revolution on many levels. Long developing
events abroad were in the final stages of critical mass. Marines then
coming out of Parris Island were receiving their orders for FMF PAC.
Fleet Marine Force Pacific. A nice clue to our future which completely
blew by us all, at least us Privates.
"It was a dangerous time to present an ultimatum to Hanoi, where
moderate voices were having a difficult time surmounting clamor
raised by such hawks as Vo Nguyen Giap, Nguyen Chi Than, and the
Premier himself. Viet Cong gains made it seem only a matter of
time until the Saigon Government collapsed."
Robert Asprey, War In The Shadows
1964- Hanoi, North Vietnam: An obtrusive Caucasian walked among
Vietnamese, Chinese and DRVN Party officials, some ducking into a
hotel cafť for a noon bowl of pho. Canadian Envoy and delegate to the
International Control Commission, Blain Sandhurst walked though the
hotel lobby across a worn red oriental carpet and stopped at a news
kiosk. Surprisingly no heads turned. Perhaps it was because a few tall
white skinned Russians could also be seen in town strolling through
the teaming bicycles and cyclos teaming about the city.
purchased a copy of the Vietnam Advances, a Party magazine,
folded it tucked it under his arm and walked back out and down Ban
Nuoc Soi past a man welding bicycle frames in a darkened shop. The
blackened frame work and debris spilled out onto the crenellated
walkway as the blue electric flashes strobe-lit the silhouettes of
many workers inside. Sandhurst carefully stepped over the debris his
black leather dress shoes contrasting sharply with the feverish
through a quiet blur of teaming bicyclists on the way to a million
destinations. Party destinations, Sandhurst thought to himself. Then
he stopped glanced upward to the portico of building number ten. It
was here that he was to meet at precisely nine oíclock in the morning,
in side-door secrecy with DRVN Premier Pham Van Dong and his staff,
all members of the Communist Party Central Committee. There was the
increasingly glaring presence of the Party in news print, colorless
clothing as well as the large propaganda bill boards scattered about
his three days in the city Sandhurst had observed a turbulent
population full of conflicting images. There was the presence of old
classic French Colonial days with the hotels and conspicuous
consumption food,fine and the beauty. There was also the anonymity the
colony offered its administrators.
the countryside reeducation had reached the villages and suburbs. He
had spoken discretely with a street vendor on his first morning in the
is brisk." Sandhurst had said trying to goad the vendor into some
commentary. He noticed how the morning light caught the manís unique
facial features. Tight brown skin, an air of self assuredness.
Prominent cheek bones. Black well combed hair, a gray beret and dark
moist intense eyes. Small in frame compared to Russians or tall North
is always brisk here." the man replied tersely. "Who are you?"
Sanhurst interpreted the question as who was he to open up a
conversation with a stranger on the street in Hanoi.
excuse me, Sandy here, Canadian magazine writer. Just sampling life
Hanoi for our readers. Hanoiís a lovely city."
for you maybe."
you mean?" Sandhurst asked in French.
vendor looked around cautiously. "Bowl of noodles?"
Please. That sounds splendid."
opened a pot steaming over a water table heated by charcoal beneath.
He carefully ladled a bowl of steaming noodles for Sandhurst. "My wife
works with me here sometimes." Still looking around. "Today she works
on the roads north of here."
does she do? The same thing as here?"
she digs ditches. Next week it will be my turn. Everyone works in the
fields and on the roads. It is the new system."
son and two daughters. They are in re-education camps. They denounce
me for this thing. Making a profit. Tell your readers not to be
deceived by the fading beauty of the city. I have seen better days
brother." He looked around again. "I canít talk with your any longer.
Eat your noodles theyíre getting cold."
monsieur, good luck to you and your family." The man shrugged and
closed up his stall. The mechanisms of the Party were well underway.
the bell of Ten Ban Nuoc Soi the bespectacled Sandhurst, wearing a
dark gray Brooks Brotherís suit and carrying a thin leather folio was
escorted quickly into a large austere conference room where twenty
senior officials greeted him with silence. Party officials dressed in
stark black tunic and trouser, uniforms of the North Vietnamese
Communist Party, coldly received him. The formality was exceeded only
by the stone faces of these men; one woman of obvious equal rank was
among them. It was a formality that strangely complimented the early
autumnal breeze from the Hong Song. Coldness heíd expected. Sandhurst
counted them and made special mental note of the meetingís attendees,
faces which he had carefully memorized. He noted General Giap
was not present.
that day sirens had whaled and the masses of women and children
preceded quickly and orderly to deep concrete slit trenches and
cylindrical underground shelters a daily occurrence since early April
in this city.
Hai Van Lau, Sandhurstís liaison stood alone and briefly addressed his
fellow communist in crisp tonal North Vietnamese dialect. He was
dressed in dark olive military attire with plates of red campaign
ribbons and a single Communist star on his cap A trained diplomat and
negotiator, Sandhurstís eyes affixed upon a lovely vase in the corner
of the conference room, a faint warm smile upon his face. Then Colonel
Hai turned to Sandhurst and gestured to please take his seat which he
did along with the Colonel.
Central Committee extends a welcome to the Canadian Envoy Sandhurst.
We trust your travels to our beautiful and venerable city were
uneventful. "said the Colonel warmly. Colonel Hai had noticed
Sandhurstís trained eye inventorying the table. "General Giap regrets
he can not attend since he is in the field. The General sends his
personal regards to Envoy Sandhurst."smiled the Colonel.
comfortable Colonel Hai. It appears from the air that the rains have
already begun in the highlands. It is good to see my friends and
distinguished Party members once again."
was performing precisely what he had devoted a third of his life to in
study and infinite patience. A diplomat moves about in much the way
all men move but differs in some secret core within himself, a core
containing a gift which one either does or does not posses. It is a
domain in which the considerations of all finite complexities of
political issues are weighted and sifted; ponderous agony that would
be enough to drive some mad. But the intellectual middle-ground
challenged and intrigued him. Even in explosive political environments
rife with violent reactionary conduct Sandhurstís posture was the
polar opposite manifested by delicate questions and gestures, steel
diplomacy and cool negotiation.
of the professional diplomat measured by time zones through which he
travels to seek the most infinitesimal clue to the true issues between
governments however diametric their ideologies. More often to fail
would mean lost import revenues or another meeting next year. To fail
this day and in the series of meetings that followed would mean a far
greater cost in lives of American and Vietnamese as well as their
alliances who would carry the banners of their nations in full pitched
Sandhurst was the vaudevillian interlocutor who comically swivels his
head between two polemic circus acts delivering to one the word of the
other. In his attachť case laid a document containing a list of
particulars from President Lyndon Baines Johnson.
a long moment of silence to which no one responded. Each man bore the
Party struggle on his face and offered no kind solace to the envoy who
skillfully avoided the rejection by focusing on yet another fixture in
the room, a beautiful vase of red Cannas Lilly resting upon a polished
corner table. It was a struggle, Sandhurst thought to himself that
reached back before Japanese occupation of Indochina. Examining the
vase from a distance he noticed a great tropical bird with colorful
plumage of gold. Flecks of red, blue and green decorated the gentle
curvature. Suddenly a door opened in the rear of the long room and
Sandhurst saw it was Pham Van Dong who had entered. A man small in
stature, the Premier exuded a power most common in Vietnamese elders,
a towering inner strength. Sandhurst sensed it instantly but squelched
any acknowledgment of the receipt of the silent message.
and awaited Premier Phamís greeting and the meeting concerning Envoy
Sandhurstís communication with the United States Department of State
were preliminary ramblings about recognition of officials from the
Canadian Embassy and their expected status should hostilities
escalate. Then the Premier sharply lit into Mr. Sandhurst.
you have come to us with some clear explanations about the most recent
acts of aggression by the U.S. Government against the people of
Vietnam." Pham stated icily.
"Distinguished Premier let me convey in the most unambiguous language
that the U.S. patience with the situation in South Vietnam is running
out. If the existing conflict should escalate further the greatest
devastation would of course result for the DRV itself. Further,
Premier Pham the U.S. commitment to South Vietnam has implications
extending far beyond South East Asia." Sanhurst fired back staring
directly at Pham making eye contact at comfortable intervals.
laughed aloud. "I indeed appreciate that fact Mr. Sandhurst!" Pham
stifled a second laugh. "I do appreciate the problem. A U.S. defeat in
SVN would in all probability start a chain reaction extending much
further. The stakes are just as high for the NLF and its supporters.
We are determined to continue the struggle regardless of sacrifices.
Pham sat back comfortably in his black lacquered ladder back chair.
regard to the war in the South being fueled by your NLF?" Sandhurst
win!" Pham said raising his voice. "The DRV will not enter the war. We
shall not provoke the U.S. But if the war is pushed to the North,"
Pham switched emotionally to French to convey his exact meaning. "Nous
sommes un pays socialiste, un des pays socialistes, vous savez, et le
people se dressera!" Pham audibly exhaled through his nostrils
returning Sandhurstís ferocity.
took a long drink of water and allowed a moment of silence. "I am told
that there are two factions emerging in Hanoi, Mr. Premier."
the hawk and dove story." he replied laughing again. Sandhurst thought
he caught a glint of a gold tooth but could not be sure. "Do not
mistake patience for pacifism Mr. Sandhurst. Our hawks have insisted
on a more active participation in the affairs of SVN. I wouldnít base
strategic plans upon perceived divisiveness, if I were you. The issue
before us is the Tonkin Gulf attack." Pham replied changing the focus.
from the statement in yesterdays Le Monde, you are clearly seeking to
cast the U.S. as a paper tiger. Those were dangerous accusations! I
assure you your remarks reach the upper limits of provocation."
was no provocation Mr. Sandhurst!" replied the angry Pham. "The matter
is quite simple. The U.S. has found it necessary in this incident to
carry the war to the North in order to find a way out of the impasse
in the South. At least now a clear image has emerged! Mr. Sandhurst,
up to now we have tried to avoid serious trouble; but it becomes more
difficult now because the war has been carried to our territory. If
the war comes to North Vietnam it will come to the whole of South East
Asia!" Pham pushed his chair back from the table. "I see no
constructive reasons to pursue further discussion at this time. For
now the door will remain open. Good day Mr. Sandhurst."
stood quickly turned and exited the room, leaving his staff fumbling
to rise in unison at his departure. At the moment the door closed, the
staff members turned to watch the envoy collect his documents from the
table, slowly insert them into his attachť case, lock it and pivot
coolly to leave from the opposite end of the room. Colonel Hai
escorted him through a tiny foyer and to the side exit of the
previous weeks there had been a similar flurry of diplomatic dialogue
with Premier Pham. A negotiating technique, Sandhurst did not dwell on
particular passages in the rhetorical storm. He was more instinctive.
The dialogue was always a matter of record and could be studied
exofficio for context and meaning. Instead he probed for the feeling
of the whole individual within the maelstrom. What was the true
message? The truth? Settling into a waiting black Peugeot limousine in
route to his waiting ICC flight to Siagon he recalled exactly what
Pham had said earlier in late April during their first meeting.
United States must show good will, but it is not easy for the USA to
do so. Meanwhile the war intensifies. USA aid may increase in all
areas, not only for the SVN Army but in terms of USA Army personnel as
well. I suffer to see the war go on, develop, intensify. Yet our
people are determined to struggle. It is impossible, quite impossible,
excuse me for saying this, for you westerners to understand the
force of the peoples will to resist and continue. The struggle of the
people exceeds the imagination. It has astounded us too!"
meetings continued over the next few months until the war in SVN
escalated to a new level following the Viet Cong attacks on the
American Special Forces units advising the ethnics and ARVN units
around the mountain base at Pleiku. Only a month before the following
message dispatched from Saigon.
Amembasy SIAGON 4083 TO SECSTATE
Rcvíd Jan 7, 1965-2:06 AM:
"Canadian ICC commissioner (Sandhurst) told EMoff
results of his latest week-long visit to Hanoi, from which he
returned yesterday. (Sandhurst) said that he is persuaded from
his conversation with diplomats and DRV officials that DRV is
not now interested in any negotiationsÖ"
March 1965: Grayhound Bus
Station, San Angelo, Texas. Two young men, a Sailor and a Marine
discussed how they might reach California in two days. Unaccustomed
travelers the vast geography, timetables, military orders and the
endless waiting for buses made them uneasy. Buses that might get them
out of the predicament caused by a nationwide air traffic controllers
strike were filling quickly with stranded air travelers. They held a
tight grip on their orders and discussed their next move.
"I gotta report to my ship
day after tomorrow."said the worried sailor.
"Look, "said the Marine.
"Why donít we head into Dallas and catch a Trailways."
"You sure we canít get a
commercial flight out of here?"
"Thatís the word. Strikes
shut Ďem all down."
"I have an aunt in Dallas.
Maybe we can go see her and re-group." The sailor was clearly worried.
The two were not boys but
they were not men either; they were young men: They departed for
Dallas on a Trailways bus. In an hour they rolled into Big "D".
The sailorís aunt beamed at
the sight of her nephew. The Marine checked the brim of his cover for
finger prints he might have mistakenly left on the spit polish heíd
carefully applied at his Georgia home before hugging his parents good
"Why Johnny, look at you."
the aunt continued. "You have just grown so. I just canít believe it.
Howís your mama?" The Sailor blushed with embarrassment.
The conversation between
the two continued over cookies at the auntís dinning room table. The
Marine introduced himself standing at attention in his tan worsted
" Well I do declare." said
the Aunt. " Look at you two. Here, sit your self down." she gestured
toward the Marine. The Sailor dressed in immaculate dress white sat in
his auntís cushioned arm chair absorbing his relatives loving
adoration. It was a momentary respite from their overland transit to
"We are still so stunned
from the events of the last year boys. I tell you sometimes I cry. It
was so horrible. This town just frooooze to a standstill."
"Is it near here?" asked
"Itís not far. Weíll go by
there on the way to the bus station. Too bad about the strike. You
boys got quite a ride ahead of you." she said fanning her self.
Finally they all stood,
John hugged his aunt. The Marine fidgeted with his cover. Then they
disappeared into the garage.
The aunt drove the boys
into the downtown area of Dallas in her 57 stick shift Chevrolet.
"There it is. The whole area here is Dealey Plaza. Right on around
andÖ"she turned left onto Elm," it happened about right here. Thatís
the book depository right over there. Theyíre saying some shots came
from over there. She pointed toward a grassy area as the street curved
to the left. It just gives me chills to do this." she said driving
The three stood on the
loading platform. A loud speaker announced the westbound express to
Los Angeles. "God bless you Johnny."said the aunt her words muffled by
a last urgent hug before their brief visit ended. "You write me now
yah hea?" She turned to the Marine. "Vance you boys look after each
other, yah hea?"
"Yes mam."replied Poplar.
"It was sure nice of you to drive us over here. Thank you for the
The station was a mob
scene. Civilian and military passengers bumped from cancelled flights
crisscrossed the old clay floor tiles of the station. The rest rooms
smelled of overflow and the bus station grill was doing land office
business. Vance and the Sailor stood at the grill drinking coffee.
"Well, by this time next
week youíll be at sea I recon." Vance said making conversation.
"Yea. We got a shake down
cruis, then weíll head out to WestPac. I got three years to go."
"Jezus! I got two. Donítí
guess Iíll ship over either."
EXPRESS SCENICRUSER SERVICE TO ELPASO, TUCSON, YUMA AND LOS ANGLES,
BOARDING AT PLATFORM SEVEN. ALL PASSENGERS ABOARD PLEASE."
The two stacked their sea
bags next to their bus and kept strong grips on their canvas AWOL bags
containing their orders. Through the throngs the voice of Richie
Vallie rang from the juke box. "Walk like a man; Walk like a man;
Walk like a man, My sonÖ" In an hour the passengers squinted at
the sun setting on the bad lands of West Texas. Through the long
rolling night the transit was interrupted only by a flat tire which
was repaired at a dilapidated Shell station in the middle of the
desert, and a boarding by the police who pulled someone off the bus
for exposing himself to a female passenger in the back of the bus.
The bus rolled on and on
into the night across Arizona until Southern California glowed in the
pink of dawn, rolling still finally into Los Angelesís 5th
Street bowery and bus station. Pigeons, papersacks and an occasional
drunk welcomed them to LA.
"Well good luck John." The
two shook hands. "What ship you going to?"
"The Iwo Jima."replied the
Connecting to a local for
Oceanside and a third Pendleton Base bus, which was a rundown olive
drab school bus Poplar decended back into the only life he knew. In a
few short hours, he once again gazed at the dry baron hills of Camp
Pendleton. Camp Las Pulgus lay slap in the middle of the sprawling
Reserve. In architecture, plant species, dried up river beds, treeless
golden hills, government vehicles and even the painted yellow stones
that marked the dusty walkways through countless Quonset huts, it
differed little from San Mateo, Poplarís first duty station before
rotating out with his unit to the Far East as the Asian assignments
were commonly known. With only hours to spare, Poplar walked up to the
duty NCOís desk and presented his orders.
"Poplar, Vance C. L/Cpl
reporting as ordered." said Poplar loosely.
"Lets see. Poplar,
PoplarÖHere you are." said the Corporal looking at the roster and
sipping a mug of coffee. "81s Platoon. Last barracks next to the
"You need help with your
luggage?" deadpanned the Corporal.
Poplar heaved his sea bag
to his shoulder and left the Quonset hut laughing. With two years left
in the Corps he now knew enough to realize that 81s was in the
Headquarters and Service Company. Eight Onesí referred to the diameter
in millimeters of the mortar barrel. He supposed the 81mm Mortar to be
heavy, though at this moment he did not know how heavy. Except for the
3.5 Rocket Launcher, perhaps the M-60 grenade launcher it was the only
artillery in the U.S. Marine Corps arsenal that did not have wheels.
"ÖAt the State
Department the idea of mounting independent U.S. air operations
against North Vietnam had been under consideration even before
the Gulf of Tonkin incident. Although several operations were
outlined in working papers drawn up by (Secretary of State)
Bundyís policy planning group, until the last week in November
1964, no firm decision had been made."
In The Jaws Of
Poplar walked into the
barracks which by now on the last day of leave was filling rapidly
with returning Marines. Private Butcher had come by bus from New York
State. Levett drove his used convertible from Connecticut. Weaver and
Rizzo caught a military air transport hop from McGuire. Private Hilton
flew standby on Eastern Air Lines. Corporal Langford came by Greyhound
bus from Kansas City. And Platt, the gunner took the westbound Santa
Fe Chief out of St. Louis. Every region and ethnicity was represented.
Even Samoan and Native Hawaiians and one or two Canadians were among
them. Native American Indians, from reservations in Arizona and New
Mexico too were there. And of course the great American Southeast was
"I donít get it." said
Poplar. "Iím 0311 rifleman." Why was I assigned to 81 Mortars?"
"You musta been a shit bird
on the Rock." came a voice from the row of bunks. Hoots of laughter.
"Oh Three Hundred is a big
pole the Corps sticks up your ass before you realize you done made a
big mistake?" chortled a tall black Marine lance corporal to no one in
"Blood Ellis is oh three
hundred and he ainít qualified in two years. Aint that right E.L?"
"Shit you say." Snapped
Ellis. "Iím a marksman! Hereís the gatdamn badge."
"You stole it." said a
private lying on a top bunk reading Stag magazine."
Langford flipped a page of
his note book in the confusion. Poplar youíre the A-Gunner on gun
four. Thatís my gun. Platt hereís your gunner." Langford looked back
at his note book. "Weaver! Hilton! Rizzo!" Get over here. May as well
unpack your shit over here."
The other squad leaders
were yelling the names of their gun crews and as the dew formed on the
ice plants and cactus growing copiously out side the barracks. The
fluorescent lights came on for long night of squaring away. Reveille
would go at 05:00 hours. Barracks clean up at 06:00, Morning Chow at
06:30 hours and morning formation at 08:00.
In William Manchesterís old
Corps of the Forties and the Army that was the focus of James Jonesís
From Hear To Eternity, reveille and other times of the military
day were sounded with a bugle. In Poplarís Corps, the duty firewatch
walked through the barracks at 05:00 A.M. and flipped on the lights.
That bugle would re-surface again.
"Anyone loan me five for
"Otto, a gunner from gun
one produced a quick five." Take that business any day."
"Eagle Shits in two weeks."
Paid vacation, travel, meals, shit, Marine Corps best deal in town."
said Langford to a sputtering of laughs.
Corporal Langford was now
two years into his second enlistment. Six years in the Corps. A hard
chiseled freckled face and a quick wit, he took his new command, Gun
Four with ease. He would look out for his crew and as time allowed
have a little fun in town. Except for periods of extreme discipline to
lock the units into a high state of training; readiness for unforeseen
duties around the globe, the garrison Corps was oh eight hundred to
seventeen hundred hours and except for duty Marines, it was liberty
call at seventeen hundred hours, 5 PM. If, during the long hard days
of training you happened to have been married, the unofficial quip was
that Corps had not issued you a wife so any complaints from that
quarter would not be entertained. And the single Corporal D.L.
Langford was what was widely known in Corps parlance as a liberty
"Without an effective
central government with which to mesh the U.S. effort, the
latter is a spinning wheel, unable to transmit impulsion."
November 27 (1964) Position Paper to Secretary of State from
In The Jaws Of
Those twilight days at
Pulgas for Vance Poplarís Corps were, as he would always remember,
when he transformed from a boy to a man. It happened to most of them
along the way, that vague demarcation between the two being crossed
and suddenly a Marine could stand up for himself. He could speak
clearly to an officer or senior NCO representing himself the tone of
his voice saying, " I am squared away. I have done my duty. What is it
you want from me? When do you want it?" Some Marines emerged from boot
camp with this maturity. For others it took a while. Some never
crossed over into emotional certitude.
The coming of this so
called metamorphosis did not settle by accident upon Vance Poplar,
rather it was delivered by way of a nasty legal matter that slammed
into him full speed out of the oblique. It taught him a lasting
The custom of the old guys,
as the Marines among them with time-in had referred to
themselves, teaching the new guys, the boots, had continued in
rhythmic regularity through the entire history of the Marine Corps.
Vance was now an old guy by this definition, an appellation he dearly
cherished, but he did not know the mortar. The Marines with time in
and mastery of the mortar would teach it to him. Other lessons also
loomed close. In one of the many classes about the weapon he caught a
hint of the roving Sergeant Gutierrezís ominous threat that had begun
to encircle him.
One morning after formation
the mortars were assembled along the walkway in front of the barracks.
The teams hunkered around the weapons listening to their gunners
discuss the particulars.
"Now you donít shoot an 81
millimeter mortar at anything." instructed Lance Corporal Platt to his
new gun crew. He had worked busily to set up the red and white striped
poles out in front of the gun position. "We havenít located those
poles correctly but I just wanted to demonstrate to you that the
target might be way the hell on the other side of Pulgus. Say the NCO
club." he laughed. "When a set of numbers comes over the telephone
Weaver here calls them out to me.
"Rizzo here listens for the
charge and strips the correct number of fulminate propellant bags from
the fins of the round. The A-Gunner, Poplar here, will listen for fire
direction numbers and move the bipod into place. I make the fine
adjustments on the eye piece and then traverse the adjustments with
this instrument wheel so the bubble is level and the aiming stakes are
right in my cross hairs. At night the stakes have two red tactical
lights which I can see in the eye piece. Night or day if the
adjustment is right the round hits the target. If itís not right you
will be in deep shit.
"The mortar is a trajectory
weapon so, theoretically, there is point in the near to far range
where the round will begin to fall short.
Private Weaver. "Use words Rizzo here can understand."
"Fuck you!" snapped
Private Rizzo to the laughter of the team.
"Knock it off" said
Platt turning from his beloved recital. "Any way that is the
maximum effective range. The round unpacks from the canister here.
Fire Direction Control computes the numbers. Just make sure the
goddamn aiming stakes are placed right, that you Poplar, and the
round has the correct number of charges."
"You got that Poplar?" came
a voice from behind the team.
"Poplar spun around. "Yes.
Iíve got it sergeant." He replied with a puzzled look on his face. The
sergeant walked away.
"What the fuckís with him?"
"I donít know. Thatís
Gutierrez. He just came into 81s from MP duty somewhere. I think
Portsmouth Prison." Platt said fiddling with the eyepiece.
"Fucker." said Poplar.
"Some of those MPs are
sadistic mutha fuckers."mumbled Weaver.
"Alright knock it off."
continued Platt. "OK lets talk about assembly and cleaning. Take the
gun down and hump it around the parade ground for an hour or so. Then
weíll set it up by the numbers. You guys are going to get really good
Each of them took a part of
the gun. Weaver swore no part weighed less than thirty five pounds.
The base plate, the most awkward part would bang up against the
clavicle bone, the hip bone and triceps as a Marine shifted his load.
The bipod would dig into his muscles and shoulder and neck muscles.
The tube the easiest to carry perched like a sewer pipe upon the
shoulder and the precious sight box and aiming stakes rattled in a
heavy surveyor box with a suitcase handle, always carried by the
carried 60 pounds. A Marine in an amphibious assault was a beast
of burden. He shouldered, on average, 84.3 pounds, which made
him the most heavily laden foot soldier in the history of
warfare. Some men carried much more: 20 pound BARs, 45 pound 81
millimeter mortar base plates, 47 pound mortar bipods, 36 pound
light machine guns, 41 pound heavy machine guns, and heavy
machine gun bipods, a man thus encumbered was expected to swing
down the ropes like Tarzan."
Gunner and A-Gunner carried
a .45 Automatic Service Pistol. Gun team leader, Langford as well as
the ammo humpers, Weaver, Butcher, Hilton and Rizzo carried the M-14
semiautomatic 7.62 mm gas operated high powered rifle with peep site
and wooden stock. Live rounds were issued only for firing exercises or
range qualification. Or combat, but to them combat was then a remote
possibility. To the old guys it was an impossibility.
"Close it up Weaver. Letís
go Butcher. Sounds like youíre breathing hard Poplar. Letís go close
it up." said Platt goading his crew onward around the dusty parade
field. Just you wait to the first force march with this gear. You
ainít lived until you humped this mutha over those hills. Here take
the base plate from Hilton, Weaver."
"Gee thanks" joked Weaver.
Private Hilton a short muscular African American grasped the rope
handle of the base plate with one arm.
The puffing joking Marines
returned to the starting point in front of the barracks. As the guns
were reassembled the men of Gun Four wiped the sweat from their faces.
"Okay thatís about it. We will do this a lot. You will be able to
ready a gun in your sleep, in the dark. There will be several range
firings in a few weeks. Know your jobs. Be ready. Thatís all. Chow
call." Platt snapped shut his sight box.
"Hey Poplar come here."
yelled Murray from an adjacent gun.
"We are thinking of getting
an apartment in Oceanside."
"Levette, Otto, Ryan. Mack
will come in I think. McCormick said he would."
"Well I can kick in
something. Lance Corporal pay ainít much."
"No shit. Tabinsky is
kicking in most of it. From his dad I guess."
"Vance had been promoted
along with many of the new salts, many of whom had been his boot camp
buddies. The pay was a little better and the Gunney even stopped him
on the parade field one afternoon and gave him a once over.
"Whatís your name Marine?"
"Lance Corporal Poplar,
Assistant Gunner, Gun Four, 81 Mortars. Gunny."
Checking out his starched
uniform, newly starched ironed and blocked cover, spit shined field
boots and sparkling belt buckle the Gunnery Sergeant looked him in the
eye and said simply. "I like the way you operate Marine."
The term shit cooley was a
term Poplar had first heard in boot camp. His Drill Instructor
Corporal Baines had used the phrase frequently but Poplar guessed that
it was derogatory because Baines always used it on a recruit, himself
included, who was in error. The term had its origin in the Boxer
Rebellion in China where U.S. Marines were inserted to extract
Americans trapped there as well as assist in putting down the
Marines making port of call
in Shanghai and along the rivers were ordered to pay for whoring and
laundry services only with chits. At the end of the week, before their
ship pulled out, the chit cooley would be sent from the brothel to
collect hard currency from the ships bursar.
The term apparently evolved
over time to become shit cooley. Both terms equally derogatory.
It is likely the immaculate DI Corporal Baines, an African American,
had seized the phrase for himself to use in the training of hopelessly
raw recruits never knowing or caring about its etiological source. For
Lance Corporal Vance Christian Poplar with two years in the Corps and
two yet to serve, shit cooley was way behind him.
The weeks that followed
transformed into back breaking ten and fifteen mile field marches over
the sun baked hills of Las Pulgus. The ever inquisitive Private Weaver
wiped the sweat off his neck during a short hump to the Six-By trucks
awaiting them at Golden Meadows.
"I think its getting more
chicken shit."he said. "Iíll bet you a pitcher of beer we have a
junk-on-the-bunk when we get back to the barracks."
"You hear Krenner fucking
with his squad yesterday?" mumbled Poplar leaning into the bunch of
Marines now huddled in the bed of the huge truck.
"I sure as hell did. Smity
came this close to cold cocking the mutha fucker, ought a get a
Blanket party: An Marine
razes and harasses the members of his unit. The level of intensity of
the activity combined with the psychological makeup of his charge is
an unknown. A blanket party can also be directed to a problem Marine.
The subject of the blanket party is ambushed by one or more attackers,
who pummel him violently, vigilante style usually with the victim
covered in a blanket to insure masking the identities of the
Severe penalties for
insubordination, disrespect for superiors, disobedience of a direct
order, dereliction of duty, conspiracy, stealing, negligence, striking
a superior, are among the many powerful legal forces exerted by the
Uniform Code of Military Justice. Young Marines gain a quick awareness
and respect of the U.C.M.J. as it is commonly referred. Order,
impeccable execution of direct orders, respect for superiors, devotion
to duty, loyalty to fellow Marines, and more specifically to the fire
team, platoon, company, regiment and division and to the Corps mark
the distinct fiber of the Marine Corps. A blanket party is
diametrically opposite to the Marine Corps and all it stands for. It
is also a distant relative to conspiracy and mutiny, which if
convicted the accused can look forward to a few years of incarceration
in the likes of Levenworth or Portsmouth. Murder is also covered under
It was the late Spring of
the year. Training of the Regiment was on schedule. The Line
Companies, their attachments from Headquarters and Service Company
were now all TI. A few final marches and field exercises remained
before the units would be deemed ready for combat.
The Marines of 81s Platoon
were in high spirits during the final march from San Onofre to Los
Pulgas. Weaver and Poplar had become acutely aware of the activities
in their adjoining squad. Langford too noticed but wisely ordered the
two to squelch any editorials regarding Corporal Kennerís handling of
As the final forced march
wound down from Smokey and Ball Buster, mountains they
had come to know intimately, till the distant sparkling lights of
Pulgus were in sight. The Marineís fantasies of cold beer showers and
waiting girl friends began to lighten their loads. The dust caked
their sweat soaked utilities. Their helmets cocked back on their heads
as they bobbed down the long winding grades to the road leading to the
"Pussahhhhh" roared a
Marine in the column.
through the column. They all knew it would be only an hour until sweet
Liberty Call would sound.
Eight Oneís troop column
among the other companies of the Regiment by now began spread out.
Their loads were twice that of the fast moving line companies. The
NCOs were yelling and pressing their squads to close it up. The
Battalion commander had sped up the columns and left the heavily
loaded Eighty Ones Platoon struggling for all they were worth to keep
"FUCK HIM: GOD DAMN IT!
FUCK THAT SON OF A BITCH."came the muttering from under sweat soaked
helmets. "YOU GAT DAMN MUTHA FUCKA!" A painful hour of fast forced
march continued until the platoon straggled onto the parade ground in
front of the waiting regiment some one sparked a mutinous chant.
"HIM HIM, FUCK HIM!"sang
the entire Eight Ones Platoon in a chorus.
"KNOCK IT OFF EIGHTYONES!
KNOCK! IT! OFF! "snapped the Lieutenant. The Platoon Commander Sanders
swiftly marched in full combat gear up and down the columns to reign
in his mutinous charge. The Gunnery Sergeant stepped out of the moving
column and pivoted into a backward walk, sparking a cadence call that
finally ended in. "PLATOOOOON HALT" They coughed, panted and
desperately sucked in the dusty air.
At the command "Dismissed."
Helmets flew off and were thrown to the ground. Sweat soaked packs
slipped off of their aching shoulders as did the heavy mortar tubes,
base plates and bipods. The march had pushed the Marines of 81s to the
And so with the exhausted
animals collapsed about the squad bay, Corporal Krenner rose from the
scatter of gear and aching bodies and belched one of his commands a
command that belonged to another place.
"FORTH SQUAD ON-THA-ROAD
ONE HALF HOUR FOR WEAPONS INSPECITON."
"FucÖ" the gunner slapped
his hand over the mouth of the private who had nearly signaled his own
As everyone watched from
the windows, the bedraggled, blistered squad stood in isometric
quivers on the parade ground. Corporal Krenner stood waiting for them
to settle, his Neanderthal profile, exaggerated mandible and
exophthalmoses glare underlining his bull headed desire to discipline
and lead. The inspection completed he made his proclamation.
"No liberty call for Gun
Three. Next time you are sucking hind tit, holding up this troop
column, you will remember this. Square away your gear. Have a nice
weekend Squad Three. Dismissed."
In less than two hours the
slab concrete barracks and desert like grounds of Camp Los Pulgas were
empty. The exodus of Marines fleeing to liberty call can be likened to
thirsty stampeding cattle running for water hole. But the Marines of
Gun Three lay in their bunks reading, writing letters or just staring
at the fluorescent light fixtures overhead. The fire watches, that
infinite detail that leaves no Marine garrison unwatched, reported to
their stations. As the darkness fell, only the faint soft sound of
Martha and Vandallas playing on a E.L. Blood Ellisís battery powered
turntable drifted through the barracks. Then it was lights out.
The firewatch continued on
his post walking up and down the rows of angle iron bunks. Private
Rossi of the second watch, midnight to Two AM, walked in trance like
cadence wishing for the end of his watch so his aching body might once
again slip between the white sheets of his rack and recapture his
precious sack time. Then it happened.
the sickening crashes and sounds of fists and flesh came from the far
end of the squad bay. At first the fire watch only cocked his head and
"Huggg Ohhhll Gawd.." then
a choking sound. A thump. The shifting of the steel freamed rack. Then
a window crashed."
Rossi moved into the
darkness cautiously. "What the fuck is going on down there!" he
barked. No answer. Everyone was either drunk in town, drunk at the EM
Club, drunk asleep or in hasty egress.
Private Rossi walked toward
the sounds and drawing closer he saw in the dim light from the lamp
outside the window the crumpled up body of Corporal Krenner doubled
over in a pool of blood, his body half covered by a blood soaked green
woolen blanked with the letters USMC .
Shit."exclaimed Rossi who turned and ran out the squad bay for the
duty NCO. "Better get the OD Corporal, thereís some bad shit down in
The brilliance of Monday
morning formation seemed atonement to all souls for sins of the
darkness. Fresh uniforms and cheery accounts of liberty call exploits
restored the Marines to a unity punctuated only the slam of their boot
heels and a resulting puff of dust when they would be called to
Platts gun had barracks
clean up detail. Poplar leaned on the handle of the mop he used to do
a final swabbing of the deck. "You know what? Next weekend Iím going
up to Dohenny and sleep on the beach." said Poplar. Maybe Iíll meet a
surfer girl. You ever do that Rizzo?"
"Sleep on the beach? You
mean just lay down in the sand and go to sleep?" Rizzoís distinct New
York accent contrasted with Poplarís Southern accent. Rizzo seemed to
be trying to visualize Poplar laying in the sand all night and
searching for the sense in it.
"Nah. Iím from a place in
New York, where, we got a beach and I never slept on the fuckiní
beach.Why do ya wana sleep on na beach? I donít get it. You fuckin
crazy or somethiní Poplar?"
"Where you from Rizzo."
"Far Rockaway. You ever
hear of it? Itís out near Sheepís Head Bay. The Rockaways?"
"Yea I heard of it."
Butcher tightened the sling on his M-14 readying for morning formation
"We better get out there."
groaned Platt looking his gun crew over. The Gunner is responsible for
the conduct and readiness of his men. "Whereís your Forty Five
"Poplar was in a panic. He
looked back at his bunk then clanged is wall locker. Then he stared
back at Platt. "Alright which one of you turds took my pistol?"
No one answered. Poplar
waited for a moment then realized that either someone was playing a
friendly prank or his weapon had been stolen."
"Lance Corporal Platt. I am
reporting a stolen weapon." Barked Poplar sharply.
Now they were out in the
sun light. They quickly discussed the chronology of the morning since
reveille. Then Gunnery Sergeant Kelly walked up.
"Poplar I understand you
have lost your weapon."
"No Gunny, I have not lost
my weapon. It has been taken from my possession." At that the Gunny
produced Poplarís .45 caliber pistol. Sergeant Gutierrez then stepped
out from behind the towering Gunnery Sergeant flashing an expression
Poplar could only interpret as pleasurable.
God damit,Iíve been snake
bit Poplar thought.
Lance Corporal Poplar you
are to stand by for office hours on a charge of negligence. Sergeant
Gutierrez will escort you to the Company Office at Ten Hundred hours.
"Aye Aye Gunny." Poplar
looked at his gunner Platt who seemed to be saying in a glance "Keep
Your Mouth Shut." Then Poplar returned to the barracks and awaited
adjudication while his platoon underwent weapons inspection.
Office Hours: The lowest
level of disciplinary judicial action that can be applied against the
accused. Though it is a legal function it is a non judicial action
presided over by Marine Officers and at times senior NCOs to
discipline a Marine who is perceived to be out of line or in need of
correction related to his duties.
appearance or general misalignment to the units mission are common
charges that result in Office Hours.
"Unda stand you got yo ass
in a bind Poplar. "came a voice from the head. It was Blood Ellis.
"Arenít you supposed to be
"Just come from sick bay.
Gota a bad case of the shits."
"Yea, Gutierrez is running
me up. Somehow he got my weapon."
"You know when Platt sent
you to the company office this morning to get batteries for them
"Where was your weapon?"
"Shit. I was cleaning it
and put it down on my bunk. I wasnít gone for more that ten minutes."
"Atís when the snake bit ya."
Blood Ellis "Whenís your office hours?"
Poplar looked at his watch.
"Half an hour."
Ellis laughed. "Damn. So
you standiní in front the Captain. You are given a chance to speak.
What are you gonaí say."
"That I am guilty of
negligence I guess."
"Donít use the word
negligence. Damn Poplar! Thatís what theyíre running you up for. You
got a good record?"
"Hereís what you say. Say,
umm sir my attention was momentarily diverted from my gear while I was
readying for inspection. I was ordered to the company office to get
batteries for my gun and my weapon was taken from my locker or bunk or
where ever the hell it was. Do not use the word negligence and defend
your good record."
"Poplar! Stand by for
office hours!" barked the Gunnery Sergeant as he entered the barracks.
Ellis retreated back into the head. The Gunny no doubt sought to
maximize the disciplinary effect of the Uniform Code of Military
Justice that was present and in full working order right in their very
Poplar walked with the
Platoon Sergeant to the company office. ĎI might as well be going
to my own hangingí he thought. He had put on his last pair of
starchys. His cover was blocked and his boots were spit shined for the
inspection he had missed because of this nasty weapon matter. The
company clerk knocked on the captainís door. "You will walk in
smartly, stand at attention before the captain. After your have been
sentenced do an about face and leave the office." He instructed.
"Good morning sir." Said
the Gunnery sergeant removing his cover. Poplar stood at attention as
he had been instructed. Sergeant Gutierrez will be here shortly. A
moment passed and the Sergeant appeared in immaculate dungaree attire.
"What is the charge?" asked the
"Sir, prior to morning
formation for inspection this morning, Lance Corporal Poplar did leave
his weapon unattended during squad bay clean up. I have observed a
lackadaisical attitude in the Lance Corporalís attention to his gear.
I secured the weapon for the purpose of this disciplinary action."
The captain carefully
flipped through the few pages in the Marineís file jacket. A moment
passed. No one spoke. The three Marines before the captain remained at
attention. Poplarís eyes were fixed to a point through the window out
beyond the road. The distant hills of Los Pulgas, the closing vise of
military justice, the close proximity of supreme authority, all caused
him to stop breathing for a moment. But then he felt the serge of
confidence, what Blood Ellis had told him. "Donít use the word
Ďnegligenceí damn, thatís what theyíre running up for." Ellis also
seemed to be telling him to stand on his own two feet, to defend
"Lance Corporal Poplar,
loosing your weapon is a serious charge in the United States Marine
Corps. I rank it very close to desertion." Poplar felt an icy chill go
down his spine. " Each Marine has a duty to care for and secure his
weapon at all times. A company of negligent Marines in West Pac would
be disastrous. How say you to this charge?"
"Excuse me sir?"
"WHAT IS YOU ANSWER TO THIS
CHARGE MARINE?! Do you have any explanation?" snapped the captain
sharply and evenly. His voice was crisp and sharp as a Gillette blue
blade. Poplar thought the captain a Flash Gordon look a like, his
head, coverless in his office, was almost completely brown and shaven.
His tropical military blouse bore knife edge creases and upon his
collar two blindingly silver captainís bars seemed to illuminate the
Poplarís legs were locked
into attention so that his knees began to ache. A bead of sweat
trickled down the center of his back.
"Sir. My weapon was taken
from me. I did not loose it. My attention to this gear was only
temporarily diverted when my gunner Lance Corporal Platt ordered me to
get aiming stake batteries from the company office. Sergeant Gutierrez
here took my weapon and returned it only after I reported the weapon
missing as required by regulations. I plead guilty only to this
temporary diversion caused by my duty to my gun crew."
"I see. Who is the sea
lawyer to whom you have sought council?"
"You will take
responsibility for your actions Marine! Did you or did you not fail to
secure your weapon? Answer yes or no?"
"Yes sir, I failed to
properly secure my weapon."
"Very well. Then to the
charge of negligence I find you guilty. This is a first offence. Your
record is clean therefore you are hereby confined to the base for
three weeks and work duty after hours to be dispensed by the duty NCO
to whom you will report at Seventeen Hundred Hours weekdays and Zero
Eight Hundred on the week ends. Dismissed."
* * *
Murray and Mack finally
signed the lease on the small cinder block aqua marine apartment in
Oceanside. For the short few months they would reside in the States it
would be home away from home for these wiry, fun loving Marines. A
cluster of shiny Triumph Bonneville 500 motorcycles soon corralled at
the front curb of the cul-de-sac and Sandy their landlord came and
went in his surf board toting plumbing truck, scavenging parts for his
"You guys just want a place
to get laid. Donít shit me." laughed the long haired Sandy. Look all I
ask is you donít wreck the place. Shit youíre a month late. You
shoudía seen the chick that just moved out next door. She wore a white
bikini around the fuckiní house all the time. I shit you not, it
looked like she was wearing a bra and panties all- the- time. Maybe
she was come to think of it. Went back to Kansas somewhere. Damn she
was nice. Had a kid, but damn she was nice."
April 1965: Assistant
Secretary of Defense- Washington to Ambassador Taylor-Saigon:
"Highest authority believes the situation in South Vietnam has
been deteriorating and that, in addition to action against the
North something new must be added in the south to achieve
Ambassador Taylor to
Secretary Rusk: "ÖI badly need a clarification of our purposes
and objectivesÖBefore I can present our case to GVN (Government
of Vietnam). I have to know what that case is and why. It is not
going to be easy to get ready concurrence for the large-scale
introduction of foreign troops unless the need is clear and
Bui Diem- SVN Ambassador-
In The Jaws Of History
Two years before, as Vance
and his father seated at their kitchen table back in
Lydalya Georgia only a hour
before Vance was to leave to begin his enlistment in the Marine Corps,
his father must have noticed a hit of fear as the boy dropped his
determined posture long enough to ask his Dad a question.
"Dad, whatís it like? In the
beginning, I mean?"
"Well Vance Iíll tell you.
They do everything in a big way. Youíll have to take care of your
equipment. They will issue you lots of equipment. And you will meet all
kinds of people. They have clubs too for enlisted men. And I hope you
will never forget the kind of home your mother and me provided for your
and your sister." he said pausing to look away to hid the tears in his
Vanceís father Tom had lost
his own father after the great crash of Twenty Nine. At the age of ten
heíd seen his mother alone and penniless. His brother Joe jumped a
freight in Illinois to look for work in California. And as many young
men had done in those hard scrabble years, Tom had joined the Army for
regular meals and a warm bed. He got a lot more for soon after, he was
on the Queen Mary east bound from Jersey City and Verrinzano Straits
across the cold Atlantic swept up in a great war
Vanceís father Tom made no
secret to his children that his one wish was that they could have a home
to which they could always return.
"And you will discover a
great and enormous world out there Vance. You will do okay olí buddy."
he concluded ruffling the dark brown hair on the boyís head. "You will
come through it okay."
As Vance paused at his push
broom in the front of the NCO club at Camp Los Pulgas on the last day of
his restriction he peered out over the Quonset huts and trucks in motor
pool at the long afternoon shadows settling over the camp. His fatherís
prophesy had been realized. There was the base E.M. Club, the myriad of
characters that could fill a book and plenty of equipment. He had
journeyed to the Far East and bivouacked at the base of snowy Mt. Fuji,
Japan and at every duty station he had a wall locker full of equipment
which if not cared for, could unleash some very unpleasant disciplinary
strongest drugs had not worked. Now the patient must be operated
on." "Overwhelmingly," said Bundy, "the Ambassadorís case for
bombing rested on its effect on moral and political performance in
quoting (a) Secretary of State William Bundy manuscript.
Jaws Of History, David Chanoff
This was at last the Real
Corps Poplar had asked Drill Instructor Baines about two years
before at Parris Island. The young private listened to the final words
of his Drill Instructor before he boarded the buses that would transport
them to Infantry Training Regiment at Camp Geiger.
"What will you be doing,
Poplar? Replied Baines in a near incredulous whisper as he turned to
address the privateís question. "You will be working your fucking ass
off." Then the immaculate Corporal Baines turned and walked from his
life leaving his infinite brand emblazoned upon him and all other
Marines who passed his way.
Column Of Twos
Dry weeds and dirt of
Straw gold with dusty
Beneath their boots.
Of stacking swivels on
And M Fourteens at
"sling arms" as
The March began for
Early morning sun did
warm the chill
From mountains by the
sea. Thin dual
Columns of Marines
wound Ďround and upward
passing gas like beasts
Traversing hills bare
without a tree.
Privates White Cloud,
Reyes and Gindowsky
Suckiní air of dust and
Same with Smith, OC,
and Blood Ellis shifting
Loads to synch their
straps on field packs.
Top Kaminsky felt the
load upon his feet..
They saw the gleeful
stride of hopeful Mr. Smith
At snakeís head
aíwinding upward through the dust.
He showed his bars and
dreamed of stars
And led Marines with
From classrooms at
The sergeants puke at
Their bodies loosing
Theyíd seen Chosin but
that was Fin
And all they knew was
truth. One was
Task and one was Flask,
another was abuse
"Close it up or Iíll
kick your ass!"
They heard the yell,
and march on was the only truce.
New guys took the load
Privates every one.
Malinowsky, no rifleman
yet had fell
Old guys marked the
days theyíd count
Till exit from the
Corps. New and old
Together, were feeling
Five miles, seven,
eight miles more
Till look Ďneath
And saw the wide
Pacific stretch before the
Sergeants sung, "Hold
up! Donít guzzle those
Canteens! Will make you
sick, we know the trick
Just rest here by the
Theyíd rest a spell
then Serge would yell
"Saddle up, Gawd Damn,
And groan they did, but
made the bid
For march back home by
dusk. They stopped
One time and took some
On killing ambush fire,
then heard some tales
Of mountain folk from
Private Bobby Viar.
"Fall in!" said
Sergeants Star and Myers
Headed out amidst the
shouts of lifers loaded down
Dreamed of girls and
frothy beer that evening in the town
Twas all down hill they
marched back down
To cots and showers
hot. The day was long and
They were strong and
years were still around.
The rosy western sun
had set and
Low dull rumbles from
their boots aípounding
Weary troops did stir
damp dark late evening air
The serge croaked tunes
of timeless cadence
On the grounds of
garrison. Tíwas the lot of a lonely Corps
As well as Company "D".
So it was and still is
The Semper Fi tradition
Shinning shoes and
column of twos
And counting their
Till that black call to
Load them all for
The Marines of Third
Battalion, Seventh Regiment, Third Marine Division did get that call
around April of 1965. In long quiet columns of green buses loaded with
Marines in full field pack, helmet and sea bag, they convoyed past the
towns and bars, the streets cluttered with pigeons, paper sacks and real
estate offices, places they frequented on liberty call, past surfers
bobbing in quiet contemplation upon their boards and finally to Naval
Base Long Beach where they embarked upon the U.S.S Valley Forge loaded
down with equipment of war, westbound for a long Pacific crossing. In a
few short months they would, on August 18, 1965 participate in the first
amphibious battle since the end of the Korean War, Operation Starlite.
The content of the dialog
between DRVN Communist Party officials and Envoy Sandhurst was modeled
from details of these meetings documented in the Pentagon Papers. Some
names of the Marines in this story have been scrambled, changed or
simply created from a composite of my recollections. Any chance
similarity is a coincidence. The blanket party did occur much as I
describe, though participants are from my own imagination. The victim
made a miraculous recoveyr, did not testify on his attackers and resumed
command of his squad. Camp Pendleton, Las Pulgas and many of its
garrison camps are still there but I hear that much if it will dissolve
into the civilian real estate sector. Other names throughout the
manuscript and in Column of Twos, have tumbled from the memory of
my four year hitch in the Corps and are a call to reunion, scattered
though we are. To the Marines who now stand their posts steadfastly in
emerging conflicts and in Embassies world wide, all who have gone before
you think of you and bid you a good safe watch though you be ever ready.
Your country sleeps more soundly as you carry on the great fighting
tradition of the United States Marine Corps.
Pentagon Papers, Neil
Sheehan, New York Times Press, 1971
War In The Shadows: The
Guerrilla In History, Robert B. Asprey, Doubleday, Garden City, NY.
In The Jaws Of History, David
Chanoff, Ambassador Bui Diem, Houghton Miffin, Boston, 1987
Goodbye, Darkness:A Memoir Of
The Pacific War, William Manchester, Little, Brown 1980, Boston