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I Didn't Just Shoot Myself,   Did I ??

It was early June 1966, Lima Company 3/3 had been sent back to the rear area for some working R&R (Rest & Relaxation), (but for us Grunts it was always working R&R).

Because we were a Front Line, Combat Unit, constantly under threat, and therefore always alert and under constant stress, every 60 days or so we would be pulled out of the field and sent to the rear area for a few days of working R&R.

This working R&R was almost always some form of guard duty in a relaxed environment where no one was shooting at us and the enemy threat was very minimal.

In early June 1966, Lima 3/3's 3rd Platoon was assigned to perimeter security for NSAH a MASH Type Naval Hospital on Hwy 1, near Marble Mountain.  Our duty consisted of manning a handful of perimeter bunkers and Sentry duty at the main gate. 

The duty at the Navy Hospital was cushy; this was a 24 on, 24 off duty assignment. During our off time, we squared away USMC style during the day and spent most of the evening hours at the "E" Club on base.

This was a "Number 1" E Club,  with Air Conditioning, Ice Cubes, Mixed Drinks, very Cold Beer, Slot Machines and cute Round Eyed, Vietnamese waitresses. For most of that month I was second-guessing my Enlistment choice.

This was a very secure base, as you would expect of a rear area Hospital.  It was located on Route 1, on a large hill about 2 Klicks or so, south of DaNang Air Base and about a Klick or two north of Marble Mountain and across the road from the south end of MAG 16. 

The first line of defense was our perimeter of bunkers. Immediately below us, was Thon My Thi Village, a small village which housed the civilian, base laborers. Below the village there were Tanks and a Battery of 155 Artillery.  Below the Tanks and Artillery there was a Grunt Battalion, either 2/9 or 2/7.

Our bunkers were probably built by the SeaBees, they were very elaborate in contrast to what we were use to in the field.  Each bunker was approximately 12 feet long, 6 feet wide and 8 feet deep from the roof to the dirt floor.  There was a "fighting ledge" about 4 feet from the top front edge. The roof was made from corrugated steel with 4 layers of sand bags, and the roof hung out over the fighting ledge so even a direct hit from a rocket attack would be deflected.

click photo to enlarge

Bunker photo courtesy of Doc Rocket III MAF Corpsman Tet 68

This photo was taken in 1968 - It looked a little different in 1966

My boots were made for walking and these bunkers were made for fighting!  I was nearing the end of my tour with less than a month left and I had never felt safer. Our day on duty consisted of 24 hours in one of these bunkers, three men in each bunker taking turns sleeping, and talking about home, cars and girls most of the time.

The main bunker was located at the right, rear portion of the base and  next to the rear gate that lead to the village and Artillery area. When assigned to the main bunker, one of our duties was to check the civilians for base ID's, and generally observe anyone coming and going through this rear point. The civilians came and went twice daily and many of the Tankers and Artillery Jarhead's came up to enjoy the E Club, so this post had some intermittent activity which helped to eliminate any boredom.

Early one evening while on duty at the main bunker we spotted a Tanker PFC who had apparently spent the day at the E Club and was stumbling back to his unit.  When he got to our post, he loaded his M-14 had began mumbling about how he was going to "Kill him a Gook".

Inebriation not withstanding, this was a normal frustration that many of us suffered from early on in our tour.  With the "Can't Shoot - until Shot At" rule in play and the constant ever present threat of danger, we all experienced frustrations. Add a little alcohol, and it can become a very combustible situation.  (If I had only understood this then)!

We talked to him for probably a 1/2 hour trying to mellow him out. It was getting dark and after we got him to unload his rifle we thought he was ok, and didn't want him to get into any trouble, so we let him continue on to his unit.

We were sitting on top of our Bunker watching him as he went through the gate and down the hill towards the Village. Only a few minutes had passed when it started, tracer rounds began flying over our heads in long bursts, and they were coming up the hill, from the vicinity of the village.

There was only one thing going through my mind, I let this guy go, he was shooting up the village, and now I was going to have to go  out there after one of our own!

I jumped off the Bunker, pulled my .45 and chambered a round while still in the air. I hit the ground with a big boom and  inadvertently shot myself in the hand.

I had been wounded on two other occasions and this was only a flesh wound, but man did it hurt!   It appears that the palm of my hand was over the muzzle and my finger was on the trigger. When the round chambered, the pistol fired!   Stupid, very Stupid!

And there's more bad news - this Tanker Kid had wounded two civilians in the village. Fortunately for all of us, not seriously.  The good news, I shot myself in the hand, and was unable to go down into that village, which I surely would have done, and who knows what would have happened next.

I have never felt so dumb in my life, almost 1 year in Nam, Bronze Star, two legitimate Purple Hearts and only 11 days left in country, and I shoot myself.  I was dumb for not busting this Kid and now I was guilty of a "Self Inflicted Wound" a Court Martial offense.....

This was one of those areas where we were not allowed to lock & load unless fired upon. This Kid was drunk and had clearly violated Regulations. I should have busted him.  As a result of my decision that evening, myself and two civilians were wounded and this Kid was facing a Court Martial and I could be facing a Court Martial. 

It was a Court Martial offense to shoot yourself in the foot to get out of combat.  I guess many guys were doing this, but that thought had never entered my mind, Not Ever!     

To make matters worse, 2nd Lt Forest Goodwin definitely wanted to write me up for "Self Inflicted Wound" and recommend a Court Martial. 

Fortunately, then, 1st Lt John Ripley, our acting CO, overrode Goodwin's recommendation for Court Martial, stating - it wasn't very likely that anyone with as little time left as I,  having seen as much action as I had, and pulling easy rear echelon duty at the time, would likely shoot themselves to get out of Nam, considering that my orders home would have to be delayed while I was recuperating from the wound. 

Goodwin wasn't making much sense and between the Doc and Lt Ripley, they convinced him to drop the court martial concept.   

The official report - Well, they had to come up with a good story or send me to Court Martial. So the Navy Doc and Lt Ripley came up with one. The Navy Doctor asked me one question which resolved the whole issue - "What did you do, fall on a broken Coke Bottle when you jumped off the top of that bunker.

So my official record states that  "When the tracers began flying, I dove from the top of the bunker and fell to the bottom, some 8 feet and landed on some broken glass and cut my hand.  "WIA Not Evacuated"

The Marine PFC Tanker who caused all of this mess, received Office Hours and was busted to PVT. The Wounded civilians received a cash bonus and I received another Purple Heart.  Only the Navy Lt. Doc,  Lt Goodwin, Lt. Ripley and Tom Hoffa the other Grunt in the bunker with me knew the truth.  

So I shot myself, this was very hard to live with or even talk about for a long time. I was still in bandages when I came home, I was 31 before I told anyone the real truth about my 3rd Purple Heart. 

Now you all know the truth! I have only really earned two of the three Purple Hearts in my Personnel File.   

I went on to become an MP, spent two years duty at the Norfolk Naval Ship Yard. I qualified Expert with the .45,  a real accomplishment, considering the slop found in most service pistols due to old age and mismatched parts.

I had many more encounters with drunk Jarheads and Sailors - There were no more accidental shootings. 

Only one question, 

What would we have done without  Boot 2nd Lieutenants?  

by; Bob Neener  Lima 3/3/3  65-66