The Traveling Wall
I remember two years ago on the Fourth of July when the Traveling Wall came to our town. I called my wife to meet me in front of the auto parts store so we might go see it at the local park. My wife is Colombian and her knowledge of American history is a bit sketchy. When we arrived at the site and looked down the long 'V' shaped row of panels, my wife asked me,
"How many soldiers are here?"
"58,272," I said.
"All these soldiers are from all the American wars?"
"No, just one. Vietnam."
"Just ONE? Just Vietnam? All these? Why?"
Ah, yes, there it was. That age-old question about Vietnam. 'Why?' I gave her the only answer I knew: "I don't know." Not even the birds twittered or sang in this small corner of the park. I would like to have imagined their silence was out of respect for all these young soldiers on The Wall. I think they didn't sing because it was just too hot. It was only nine o'clock in the morning and the thermometer had already climbed to over 80 degrees. I hobbled with my cane over to sit on one of the metal benches provided which was partially shaded by the large cottonwoods behind it. A good way for a 71-year old man coming to see some old friends, a shady bench. With my arthritis, I just cannot stand that long.
However, these Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Nurses and Airmen were not old; they were never old and never will be. I was like them once, long ago. We were very young then, children actually. Youths of 17, 18 and 19 years old still battling acne and thinking about girls. We were children who had no clue as to the horrors of the breech they were being thrust into.
The silence here in the park was complete, an almost deafening silence. Not a breath of wind stirred the leaves of mid-summer. Only by moving my foot slightly in the gravel beneath the bench told me the world's sound had not been turned off. Visitors began arriving making little noise and saying even less. The fact that this place was consecrated ground, the Wall representing the resting place of a many thousands of teen-age American soldiers held that power over the visitors, even after almost a half a century.
I have read much about the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C.; the designer, the builder, and of the thousands of mementos visitors leave daily for a buddy, a son, a husband, a father, an uncle or just some random act of kindness by a complete stranger.
So many, many names.
It was like standing before a crowd at the Vatican or Times Square on New Year's Eve. Here on these panels are written 58,272 names of our Vietnam War dead. The sheer number of all these names is a grim reminder of the stupidity of government decisions. I think it was President Herbert Hoover who once said, "It is the old men who start wars, but the young must die in them". Someone else once said, "Why is it that the worst of men must fight but the best of men must die?" I often wonder why subsequent politicians are heedless of these words?
If you buy a house for $58,272, you got yourself a real bargain. However if one were to lay 58,272 people down on a highway, head to toe, they would form a continuous line nearly 70 miles long. Seventy miles is not far at all in an air-conditioned Buick at 75 miles an hour down the Interstate. But try walking seventy miles; just remember that every two paces you would take would represent one of these names. Sobering.
I was surprised that I suddenly thought of Jane Fonda. What surprises me even more is how, after her blatant betrayal of these soldiers, she would have the gall to appear in movies or even in public anymore. She was nominated some time ago as "Woman of The Year" by some group, I don't know which one. I was nauseated. What is wrong with a society that throws beer bottles at returning veterans, but would venerate a collaborator? As an old man, this frightens me.
Every single name inscribed on these panels had a life every bit as significant and full as my own, perhaps even more so in some cases. Each name, maybe three-quarters of an inch tall, represents a human being with a mother, a father, a son or a daughter, a sweetheart, a wife or husband they left behind.
I thought of some of my Marine Corps buddies that may or may not be eternalized on these panels. I've never found any. That was so long ago. Somewhere in my shoebox full of old photos, I have a picture of four of them together when we were at Camp Pendleton. I look at this yellowing snapshot from time to time and the young faces peering back at me from 50 years ago look vaguely familiar. I recall bits and pieces of personalities of each one, but the remainder of the rest of the information about them has long since slipped away. I thought about looking for their names among all the 58,272 war dead here in front of me, but I was saddened that I could not remember their names. In my Boot Camp book, each photo is listed as "Williams, S.A." and no way to verify if it is truly them. I thought, why? I was here to visit a monument, a graveyard, a tomb and I did not feel the need to exhume a body to identify it. They were noted as being here. We were children with rifles and machine guns and mortars and artillery. So were the Vietnamese. Children killing children.
So God-awful many names.
No, not names, lives. All lined up neatly according to the date they were killed, row upon row upon row of them, like an entire generation of youth awaiting the Final Inspection. Ah, but they will all pass The Inspection. Why wouldn't they? Most of them had been far too young to have committed any serious sins.
I remember the 1960's. They kept sending more and more troops into the meat grinder of Vietnam, into a war that was unwinnable. A war that was directed from desks in Washington by old men who had no clue what they were doing and often forbade our soldiers to do the jobs for which they were trained. God forbid, some officer might make some decision that might offend some politician and embarrass him in front of his constituents.
These old politicians would look at a map on an office wall in Washington, rub their chins thoughtfully and say, "We (they would say 'we' as though they were themselves soldiers in Vietnam) need to take this valley or that hill or this city." The politicians were looking at a piece of colored paper on a wall under clinical conditions. President Lyndon Johnson even had a 3-D table model of Khe Sanh at the White House.
But it was the chicken farmer from Alabama, the kid frying hamburgers at MacDonald's in Denver or the kid pumping gas in Chicago who were made to go into that area to discover it was not flat and smooth and colorful like the maps in Washington. It was thick jungle or swamp or stinking rice paddies or steep mountains, all full of leeches and snakes and mud and brain-sucking heat and booby traps and Vietnamese children with weapons.
How ironic that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had three sons, John, Elliot and James and all three served with distinction in World War II. I remember reading once that not one Senator's or politician's son or daughter went to Vietnam, save one. I understand that a Senator's son had some cushy duty in Da Nang. I have long since forgotten which politician's son that was but that alone should have told us something. I could be wrong about this, but not by much, I'm sure. I guess it no longer matters, does it?
On the outdoor stage across the park, I could hear some thumping and banging as the chairs and podiums were being set up for the afternoon's festivities. I didn't find the intrusion annoying; it served as a reminder that life still went on.
I was blinded by tears. When I thought no one was looking at me, I swiped them away with my hand. But an elderly woman nearby seeing me sitting on the bench, noted my tears. "Do you have someone special here?" She asked softly.
"Yes," I said, "fifty-eight thousand two hundred seventy two of them."
"Oh," she said, "I see," and she walked away, not really understanding.
My wife came and sat down on the metal bench beside me. "You want to go get a cup of coffee somewhere?" she asked. "Yeah," I said, swiping the last of the tears from my eyes, "I could use one. Let's go."
I struggled to my feet and we walked slowly away from The Wall. The birds began twittering in the cottonwoods again. A dozen children squealed and screamed from across the park, throwing several Frisbees. There were a few dogs running alongside them barking. The sweet sounds of life as it continued as before.
I have never seen the real Vietnam Wall in Washington. But this traveling wall was sobering for me.
Very sobering indeed.
P-38 Elton John?
Mike Kunkle asked why the P-38 can opener was called a John Wayne. Some time during the 70's and 80's started hearing the can opener referred to as a John Wayne, but one day my buddy MSgt George Curtis asked if I wanted to go out with him on a hill to call in CAS (Close Air Support) at Camp Pendleton . He had a large group of reserve Marines to train and while on the Observation Post one of the reserves yelled to his buddy to throw him his "Elton John" so he could open his can of rations. Everyone within earshot knew what he meant as they rolled on the ground in laughter.
Semper Fi, Gary Harlan, Sergeant of Marines.
Not to put too fine a point on it or pull semantics on you but I didn't say I was short, I said "I'm getting short". Wasn't that a precursor to all the short sayings that started about the 30 day mark?
I'm so short, I don't have time to talk to you.
I'm too short to stand in the chow line.
I'm so short, I can sleep in a match box and use a rifle bore patch for a blanket.
I'm so short, I can sit on the edge of a dime and dangle my feet.
Etc, etc, etc.
I was not a combat Marine and it's not bragging but a simple statement of fact when I say we had it pretty good on Monkey Mountain. We were pretty safe, didn't have any mosquitos, had our own cooks and got three hots a day. We had a shower available to us every day and never had to sleep on the ground. I do not apologize for any of that, it was entirely circumstantial. In many ways it was no different than being permanently in the field. We were not exactly "in the rear with the gear" but we did have beer. We pulled our own security, were on a three day rotation with guard duty every third night and seldom got off the mountain. We were out in Indian country but there were no Indians. Maybe y'all ran 'em all off before we got there.
Much respect to all those who were "in the sh-t" and especially those who had to do it more than once.
I'm glad I didn't die over there. I'm sorry for those who did.
Fidelis Ad Mortem
Sea Going Marines
While attending Sea School at MCRD San Diego in January 1970, a number of us students were assigned to participate in what was called a "Patriotic Flag Pageant". This involved a number of us dressing in the Marine uniforms as they changed over time as well as the American Flag changed. A senior NCO would stand at a podium and describe to an audience the changes of our Flag as our country grew, and then one of us would march on to the stage in the uniform of that time period. These "pageants" were presented to community groups in the San Diego area.
I know that our class was not the only group to have done this. I remember participating before a group of Boy Scouts and their families.
Any other Sea Going Marines remember this?
Recon Versus SEALs
I note with interest the letter from Mike Kunkel asking about the relative worth of Marine Recon and Navy SEALs. I'll throw in my two cents worth and let you decide.
By way of background, I am a Force Recon Marine and spent quite a few years in Force Recon or related billets. In the process, I also served with Special Forces and the SEALs, both U.S. and foreign. I'll say up front that each organization is without peer within the confines of its specific mission. They're all elite, well-trained, motivated, professionally competent, and ready to defend their honor against all comers at the drop of a hat. These guys are really good at what they do - as long as they are used properly.
However, if you want to know why the Navy has the SEALs and not the Marine Corps, you can thank our very far-sighted leadership from long ago. My understanding (from almost fifty years ago) is that the SEAL mission was originally offered to the Marines. The Navy already had UDT, with a very specific and limited mission to recon and clear beachheads for landing craft, with some flexibility for special ops beyond the high water mark. The Marine Corps turned down the mission. At that time, the Marine Corps had only recently survived Harry Truman's attempt to disband it and the wounds were still raw. The Marine Corps noted that it was already an elite fighting force, was already capable of fulfilling the mission, and did not want an elite force within what was already an elite force. So, the Navy got the SEALs. This is also the reason why our Corps keeps a low profile on the equally elite capabilities of both Bn. Recon and Force Recon. If you start duplicating what someone else is doing, you raise the question of why have the redundancy. Our leadership way back then very wisely opted to concentrate on enhancing our reputation as the premier elite fighting force for all missions.
Here's another history lesson. You have to go back to the early years of the Vietnam war. Some of you will remember that there was a time when Army Special Forces was seen as the magic bullet to win all wars. There were those who professed that with the SF we would no longer need massed infantry, artillery and tanks. We could just sit back, drink a beer or two, and let SF will all the wars. The Army jumped right on that - remember John Wayne in 'the Green Berets' or the 'ballad of the Green Berets'? Every Army officer and staff NCO fought for SF training and an SF tour - and the badge that goes with them. That was the path to fame and fortune. Then a whole lot of 'suits' in Washington who had no clue what they were doing started to expand the SF mission, to task SF with unrealistic expectations, and to expand the SF organization and dilute its elite character. It was a recipe for disaster, preemptive failure. Special Forces was (and is) pretty good but it was overextended and couldn't satisfy these excessive demands. Plus, you can't send out an SF A Team to lock horns with the NVA 324B Division and its tanks. In no time at all, Special Forces lost its aura. That SF tab on a uniform - or in a record book - became the kiss of death. You couldn't get line officers or NCOs to go anywhere near SF. SF barely survived the experience.
Fast forward to the present and to the SEALs - do you see any similarities? You betcha. In the popular mythology, the SEALs are viewed as the elite of the elite, capable of death-defying missions, able to leap tall buildings at a single bound, etc. The SEALs are in fact pretty good, but they're organized, trained, and operate in small units for specific, point missions. Which, of course, is exactly what Recon and SF do, each in its own way. They're not designed to take on the heavy hitters on the other side. They can take out Usama Bin Laden, but not a mechanized infantry regiment. The problem is that we're having a repeat of the overexpectations that did so much damage to Special Forces half a century ago. And there's a whole new generation of clueless whiz kids in Washington - who never served a day in uniform - who will come up with all kinds of hare-brained ideas that will get a lot of SEALs and others killed. Of course, when everything goes south, the whiz kids will disavow any knowledge or responsibility for the disaster. They're even trying to expand the SEALs and to introduce women into the organization, without any thought to what it will do to the combat effectiveness of the organization. The greatest danger the SEALs will ever face is not the Taliban or ISIL or Speznaz. It's right here in Washington.
The SEALs do have one organizational problem though. They're part of the Navy. That's not meant to be unkind. The Navy is basically built around ships and planes, the black shoe and the brown shoe Navy, our premier seafaring service. Everything else is peripheral. So the SEALs come along and they're a small unit, special operations force, which operates for the most part on the ground, insertion techniques notwithstanding. But then again, isn't that what Recon and SF do? The difference is that what Recon and SF do is just an extension or variation of what line outfits in the Marine Corps and Army do routinely, only on a larger scale. SEALs don't fit into any neat little niche in the Navy and they're still a very small community. It's a very limited career field. Whereas a Recon Marine or SF soldier can slip fairly seamlessly back into a main line unit, what does a SEAL do? He can't just hop over and take command of a destriyer or carrier battle group. He's a SEAL. That's pretty good already, but the opportunities are limited. I would offer a word of caution to the SEAL community. Don't believe all the hype, try to keep a lower profile, and don't try to become something you're not. The 324B Division still has its tanks.
Finally, for myself, I am absolutely convinced that the Marine Corps Force and Bn. Recon are the best of the best, hands down, no contest. But, that said, I have the greatest admiration and respect for Special Forces and the SEALs.
As Hard As The Duke
This is to Mike Kunkel on why the P-38 is called a John Wayne.
I was in from '75 to '95 and knew it as a John Wayne long before I heard it called a P-38. I'm going to make an educated guess as to why it was named after one of the greatest non-Marines that ever lived. When you got your 'C'-rat, the first thing you opened was the can of crackers so you could use the can as a makeshift stove. We always called the crackers "John Wayne Crackers" because they were as hard as the Duke himself. I'm guessing that the name just carried over from there.
SSgt USMC (Ret)
"Dignity does not consist in the possesion of honors; rather in the deserving of them."
Scorpion In Your Tent
A man was conducting an All Service member briefing one day, and he posed the question: "What would you do if you found a scorpion in your tent?"
A Sailor said, "I'd step on it."
A Soldier said, "I'd hit it with my boot."
A Marine said, "I'd catch it, break the stinger off, and eat it."
An Airman said, "I'd call room service and find out why there's a damn tent in my room."
USMC Vietnam Tanker
Cold Weather Operation
Here are a few pictures from the Med float we did in the 1984. We (Lima 3/8) did a joint operation with the Norwegian Home Guard before we landed back in Beirut to relieve 2/8. It was a cold-weather operation so to prepare us for the operation we went up to Camp Ripley Minnesota. And let me tell you it was cold as a witch's... well, I'll leave that to the imagination of the readers. Anyway, most of us b-tched and complained (as usual) thinking that there was no way the cold of Minnesota could ever prepare us for the cold of Norway. Well, as usual again we were stupid aszes for thinking that someone above our dumb aszes did not know a thing or two about proper training and had been through one or two rodeos before. Norway's cold and snow was NOTHING compared to Camp Ripley and Minnesota! We were well prepared to say the least.
The ten-man tents we stayed in took a little teamwork to get them set up properly, but the oil-fired Yukon stoves and the body heat kept us warm at night. The weapons were kept outside to avoid taking them from the cold to the heat and back again and allow for condensation to form rust on the metal parts. Then too it provided for more room to move around the tents without having to move around weapons, particularly the M60 machine gun, tripod and spare barrel bag and all the rounds. The three worst spots in the tent were the two spots next to the hatch flaps and then the spot directly across from the hatch flap if someone got out during the night to make a head call or switch up the fire-watch. Of course the many farts in there were horrendous even though we were in our sleeping bags, but that was to be expected. The spot next to the stove could be good or bad depending on how hot that stove got. For me the worst part was sweating while we were humping during the day and then having to strip down to the buff in the cold to change into dry clothes.
Due to the extreme cold, Junior would hide during a standing head-call and finding him could be problematic through all those layers, and many a good Jarhead p-ssed on the white, winter camo layers, but hey, you do what you gotta do. Also, I did not think the Mickey Mouse boots were warm at all. Towing all of our gear in the sleds was neat at times, but required that we all work together to keep that sled moving straight and not veering off the path. If someone was slacking, you could easily tell and the others had to compensate. Gung Ho, Gung Ho! Humping with those snow-shoes was a royal b-tch and was in and of itself a h-ll of a workout, but as I recall we did not have to use them too often. Attached are a few pictures and one is of a view of one of the fiords. Being a history buff, I stood there in amazement knowing that the German battleship Bismarck and the Heavy Cruiser Prinz Eugen could have pulled up in those very fiords to hide. Semper Fi!
Lima 3/8 Weapons Plt
A Letter From Boot Camp
My buddy is currently at Parris Island going through boot camp and this is a letter we received from him.
USMC Pride On Truck
Want to also show my Marine Corps pride. Mud flaps, also floor mats and license plate.
I Never Had To Qualify Again
Thanks to 1stSgt Brewer for setting everyone straight on the rifle qualification course. What he wrote jives with what I remember from Boot Camp, late summer 1964 at Edson Range.
Edson Range was brand new then. I somehow managed to shoot Expert with the M-14, somewhere around 240. I never had to qualify again, I think it was just bad luck that I changed duty stations at the right times so I was never in a unit when they went to the range for qualification. Air wing you know.
1stSgt Brewer's letter refers to all the ranges in meters, which is what we had at Edson, but I was wondering if Camp Matthews ranges were in yards? The sights on an M-1 are marked in yards, not meters, so did they re-do the active ranges when they switched to the M-14, make recruits set the sights to the correct meters for the actual distance (500yds = 457m), or just say "close enough"?
For Sgt Gollihur, the way I remember it, in 1964, we didn't fam-fire anything in Boot Camp. But right after Boot Camp we spent a month at San Onofre where we fam-fired the 1911A1, M1 Garand, M-60, BAR, Flame Thrower, and 3.5 Inch rocket launcher (son of Bazooka).
Noted another tale of 1st phase constipation... real common with those in their first, maybe second week, of boot camp... two of the Doctor DI (totally voluntary, y' understand... but then you wouldn't want to get kept at sickbay and set back, now... would you, recruit?) fixes were consumption of a cap-full (the bottle cap, dummy... not your cover!) of Wisk (at the time the standard bucket issue laundry soap), or a cup of coffee... well, half a cup... the bottom half was sugar, the top half coffee... might even have come from the coffee mess in the Drill Instructor's lounge (Quonset hut with a pool table... and a coffee pot).
The liquid Wisk had replaced the bar of Fels Naptha soap somewhere along the line... and although you can still find the stuff, their formula had to change, and it doesn't have the same smell... 'tis said that smell is the strongest of memory triggers... and I will forever think of that footlocker when smelling anything like Fels-Naptha...
The Lt.Commander Doc, a psychiatrist, we worked with at Motivation Platoon told us that the incidence of constipation in recruits in their early days of training was 100%... and usually something that accompanied depression (depressed? gee? ya think?)...
We learned today with great sadness of the death of my Marine Brother LCpl John Payne, of Folson, LA. John received a new lung through the Madison, VA hospital in December of 2013, five days before I received mine. We both had Pulmonary Fibrosis.
We met John and Donna early in October of 2013 when we were both put at the top of the transplant list. We saw each other two or three times a week in Physical Therapy. Since they were stuck in the hotel, we made it our mission to get them out shopping, to eat and for drives in the country. While I would of course do this for a brother Marine, as would John, we quickly became a part of each other's families.
John was drafted in to the Corps and of course was sent right to the infantry in Vietnam. He saw a lot of combat, and as one of four survivors was badly wounded in the head when his platoon was overrun. He had the scars and Purple Heart to show for it. He was a laid back guy, not boastful, and you had to drag this information out of him. Donna told us he only received his Purple Heart--in the mail--about seven years ago. (I'd have been beating on someone's door!)
John remained a patriotic Marine all his life. Once he said to me, "Bob, there's a lot wrong with this country. But if you don't like it here, if it's not working for you, why wouldn't you go live somewhere else."
Here are photos of their family from that trip:
Visiting John and Donna Payne
Both Bonnie and I will greatly miss John, and our hearts and prayers go out to his family.
Golf 2/7 Vietnam Veterans Association is having a reunion from August 2-7, 2016 in Appleton, Wisconsin. Additional information on the internet site, Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines VVA. On scene point man, Keith Grosskopt, 1-715-881-1833.
President G 2/7 Vietnam Veterans Assoc.
My e-mail: RngrJms[at]yahoo[dot]com
Still have my John Wayne (P38) on my dog tags, rec'd it in 1965.
RVN '66 BLT 1/5
I was at Edison range Nov. '65. We were allowed to fire one magazine for familiarization. Maybe a full mag, I can not remember. That was it. Maybe 5 minutes between the time we stepped to the line and off again.
It was called a "John Wayne tool". Even if you were caught without an entrenching tool, a Marine can fight his way out of any kind of h-ll. Destroy Battalions, Cut fire wood,skin game, plow a field, render your true love nekid. Never leave home without it.
LCpl JM Stone
The Fighting MAG-32
"Why I got more time in the chow line then you got in the Corps!"
"The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it."
--John Stuart Mill, On Liberty 
"The Constitution is not an instrument for government to restrain the people; it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government--lest it come to dominate our lives and our interests."
"What country ever existed a century and a half without a rebellion? …The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure."
--Thomas Jefferson, Letter To William Stephens Smith [November 13, 1787]
"On evenings like this most of us will remember the tragedy of losing comrades Beautiful Marines ... And we remember them, everyone, who gave their lives so our experiment called America, could live."
--Gen. James Mattis
"This food isn't fit for human consumption, but it is fit for United States Marines!"
"The United States Marine Corps is a drug and I am a recovering addict."
"If the bullets don't get you, life will."