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Hand Grenade Incident

The Watering Hole at the Song Yen River Bridge, HWY 1, Just outside DaNang - July 1965



At this time, 2nd Battalion 9th Marines had its HQ west of Danang on Route 541 directly South of Hill 327 and not far from what was then the largest Garbage dump in Vietnam.

Golf Company had just returned from a 3 night rubber boat trip on river patrol duty and was pulling some rear R&R for a couple of days. Each of our 3 rifle platoons were to have a day or two of rest and squaring away in our Company area, after pulling 24 hours of guard duty on the SONG YEN River Bridge, on highway 1, just south of DaNang.

The SONG YEN river was where we got all of our drinking water. 

On the North side and just below the Bridge, the engineers had built a large water filtration facility that was operating 24 hours a day, filtering and treating river water for the troops.

There were two bunkers, one on each side of the bridge, each manned by 3 South Vietnamese ARVN troops.

Each bunker had a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on top and a relatively large living space below. 

Marines at this post were temporary, and had no accommodations other than the red dirt that we were very much use to.

The Bridge was narrow and about 100 meters across, built much like a railroad bridge, steel "I" beams, with a wooden plank passageway. There were strings of 60 watt light bulbs on both sides of the bridge that light it up like a Christmas tree at night.

My platoon, 3rd Platoon, pulled the 1st day/night duty at the Bridge. The platoon was split into two groups, one group on each side of the bridge. Our duty consisted of checking the ID cards of all Vietnamese who crossed during daylight hours and to bar anyone from crossing after dark.

I was a 3.5 rocket gunner, and my 3 man gun team was placed on the south side, closest to the ARVN bunker.

We spent the entire day checking ID's and playing MP. The three Vietnamese ARVN soldiers stationed in the Bunker were all NCO's, They were not the kids we were use to meeting, they had the look of battle experience.

They were friendly and expressed genuine pleasure with our presence and did their best to make us feel welcome. Around 16:30 after the flow of civilians had pretty much ceased, one of the ARVN' s invited me down into their bunker for drink.

Seems that they had been living there for some time, they had U.S. issue cots, blankets, ponchos, web gear, helmets and about the only thing that wasn't U.S. issue was their smiles and the bottle of Rum that they waved at me to get my attention.

So I went down into the bunker, sat on one of the cots and began to smile back at the three ARVN' s

One of them passed me the Rum and another passed me a Coke chaser, the first Coke I had had since landing 1 month earlier.

We were having a real good time and the Rum was having a slow but positive effect, soon we were all laughing, about what, I'm still not sure. 

One of the ARVN' s passed me his M3A1, WWII Sub Machinegun "The Grease Gun"                                                                               


I had never actually held one before, and it reminded me of the Mattel Burp Gun that I had gotten for XMAS when I was 10 years old.

While I was examining the  Grease Gun, one of the ARVN' s motioned towards my .45 auto, so I took it off the lanyard and passed it to him. All three were very interested in my .45 because the only side arms they had were old U.S. Colt .38 revolvers.

We drank and laughed for some time, and shortly before dark I left the bunker and went back to my Gun Team, laid down on the ground, put my head on my pack and went to sleep.

At 24:00 my A-Gunner woke me up for my watch. When I awoke I still had a pretty good buzz going from the Rum and I was also missing my .45.

I immediately realized that the ARVN' s had stolen my .45 - I became enraged, I pulled a M-29 Hand Grenade from my web belt, pulled the pin and stormed down into the bunker yelling "where the FUCK's my .45  -  you Fucking Gooks". 

All three ARVN' s were asleep but they quickly sprang from their cots when I busted into their dreams with my live grenade. 

My A-Gunner, who followed me into the bunker, grabbed my hand with the grenade, and he and one of the ARVN' s dragged me back out of the bunker.

My A Gunner was applying all of his wisdom in his attempt to talk me into retreat, and soon I came around. Only one little problem! Where was the PIN?

I guess I was really pissed, I had pulled the pin from the Grenade prior to entering the bunker. (a pinned grenade is about as useless as a rock)

So now, me with an armed Grenade in one hand, and my A-Gunner are crawling around on the ground trying to find that damn PIN. 

It was a moonless night and the lights from the Bridge cast long dull beams of light, interlaced with long shadows. We just didn't have enough light to see the Pin.

After what was probably 15 minutes or so, I concluded that my only option was to throw the Grenade across the road into an empty field covered with elephant grass.

My A-Gunner did his best to talk me out of this but, my only other option was to hold that live grenade till daylight, some 6 hours away, Not an Option.  

I had only been a team leader for 2 weeks and this was my first command decision, "Fire in the Hole" I threw that grenade as hard and far as I could, across the road into the elephant grass and it exploded without a casualty, or so it seemed.

Almost as soon as the grenade exploded, the string of lights on the bridge flickered a few times and went out. Now, the only light that was present, was below the bridge where the water processing system was and it had flood lights everywhere.

My A-Gunner went to his pack to turn in and I was now officially on watch when my platoon SGT suddenly appeared from the darkness. I challenged him, he responded and began to ask questions regarding the explosion.

I'm basically an honest person so I decided to start with the truth, 

"It's a long story, the Gooks stole my pistol so I threw a FUCK'ing Grenade" 

He immediately responded with, "You're Drunk, come with me, you're under arrest" so I responded with, 

"OK so I didn't throw the Fucking Grenade.

My Plt SGT didn't by into my bull, so I spent the night under his guard.

In the morning, he drove me and my team back to our Company HQ for office hours with the Old Man.

Capt Osborne was good leader, I had trained under his command for six months, since Camp Pendleton & C/1/5 1st Marines.

Capt Osborne immediately held office hours when we returned and he indicated that he had no choice but to refer me to our Battalion CO for possible General Court Martial. 

I guess I didn't realize the full extent of my actions the night before. 

Besides getting drunk and loosing government property (my .45), I was also responsible for blowing up the power lines running from a remote generator to the bridge lights, and for this, I was facing possible charges of "Treasonous Acts in a Combat Zone".

I was placed under house arrest, under armed guard awaiting action by our Battalion CO, LtCol George R. Scharnberg

I was scared to death, Court Martial?  Treason?  what had I gotten myself into?

That evening the entire Company with the exception of those on Bridge duty received the first Beer & Soda ration. Two beers and two sodas each. I received no ration.

The next morning at 0900 I was marched up the hill to Battalion HQ under armed guard and waited 6 hours at parade rest outside the CO's tent before being dismissed by the battalion SGT MAJ at 1500 and marched back down the hill under armed guard, one on each side.

For two more days, these guards went every where I went. The only good news, I didn't have to stand watch at night, so I copped some badly needed Z's.

The next day was identical to the first, six hours in front of battalion HQ and dismissed. That evening there was another ration of two beers and two sodas, this time one of the squad leaders, CPL Jerry Lee Roberts came over to me and handed me a soda. We talked for a while about my dilemma and then he went back to his beer.

Jerry was an 0351 Rocket Gunner who had just taken over a full rifle squad. He was a Marine's Marine, always thinking of his men first and not all that quick to take out the book.

He hated authority without intelligence, and loved to drink. He also hated Lifers, but I'm sure he would have become one, if he had survived the war. He was just an all around Damn Good Marine.

That night there was a lot of beer consumption, seems that Jerry and a few of others had been trading sodas for beer, 1 soda for 2 beers, and after 3 days they had accumulated quite a stash which they had placed in a blister bag to cool.

They were having a real good party when Jerry began thinking about my unfortunate situation, and he had just enough alcohol in him to be dangerous.

What transpired next was classic Jerry Lee Roberts. He was going to rescue me from the big military machine. He busts into the LT's tent and demands that the LT. intervene on behalf of one of his men who was being ram-rodded by the Brass.

Well this wasn't even my LT, but Jerry was on a roll and didn't really care, but the LT sent him packing with a threat of "some of the same medicine that I was presently experiencing if he didn't cool down"

About an hour later, I awoke to a major ruckus, there was shouting and yelling and about 10 marines in a big circle all pleading with poor Jerry.

Jerry was drunk and so angry with how I was being treated, and having no success with the LT, he decided to take matters into his own hands.

Jerry had a loaded 3.5 rocket launcher and was threatening to blow up the Battalion HQ if somebody didn't fix my problem. I'd say he was in range too.

Next morning, same drill but this time I have lots of company marching up the hill to Battalion HQ, Jerry, Myself and two others. A PFC who just got drunk and was verbally abusive to the LT, and a LCPL who got drunk and helped Jerry load the Rocket launcher.

Now we're all (4) standing at parade rest in front of the CO's tent for the better part of the day and I am nervous as hell. This feels like it's going to be the day.

Jerry looks over at me and he can clearly tell that I'm scared shitless, and says, "relax, I'm going to get the worst of this, you'll be ok"

I replied, "You're not here looking at Treason and a court martial, you only got drunk" and Jerry comes back with the one piece of logic that made so much sense.

He says, " Don't worry, what's the worst they can do to you?  They can't send you to Vietnam".

I thought about it for a moment then I immediately began to feel some stress relief, Jerry was right! Short of a firing squad, how bad could it really be!

The Colonel saved me for last, the other three went in before me and came out PVT's. I began to get nervous again, I was a PFC, loosing one stripe didn't seem adequate considering my crime.

The SGT MAJ called me in, asked me to give him the straight skinny, which I did, and then he indicated that I was young, only 18 and didn't have much experience with alcohol, especially in such a hot climate, and told me to be straight with the Colonel and I would be OK.

The Colonel informed me that I would have already been promoted to LCPL if I hadn't FUCKED Up and he busted me to PVT.

I had to pay $34.85 restitution for the lost .45,  (1) magazine and (7) rounds of ammo. They were kind enough to allow me make it up in (6) payments. after all, a PVT only made $72.50 a month plus $55.00 combat pay.

I was also ordered to two weeks "extra hard duty" which I believe I still owe the Corps, we went back into the field the next day and I never did have to dig the Colonel a new Shitter. 

That's it, I was a kid who fucked up and they were teaching me a lesson. 

Jerry Lee Roberts also taught me one other important lesson that day, and it has has stayed with me all my life. " When the shit is hitting the fan and life is taking its proverbial turn for worst, I think of Jerry Lee Roberts and Vietnam,  I made it there, I can make it anywhere!".

After all, how bad can it really get ?- They can't send me to Vietnam".

As for Jerry Lee Roberts, He would gain back his CPL stripes a few days later, But unfortunately, we lost Jerry and 5 others on August 2nd, during our Assault on Cam Ne.


By; Bob Neener                                                                                                          Golf 2/9 - Lima 3/3                                                                                                      3rd Marine Division                                                                                               Vietnam 1965 -1966