Monday, March 25, 2013

Chris Georgehead * Mortar Battery 1/13 * Vietnam 1966-1967

(A guest blogger today...)

May, 1966, I reported to First Battalion, Thirteenth Marines, at Camp Pendleton, California. I was a First Lieutenant artillery officer. There I was assigned to the Battalion’s 4.2 inch, 107 mm, Mortar Battery as their Executive Officer. We trained all summer as a unit for deployment to Vietnam that September.

We sailed across the Pacific with Infantry Battalion 3/26, and moved into our first position at Cam Lo, a village a few miles south of the DMZ. We were trained as helicopter assault troops, but while I was with the Battery we were employed in static positions.

At Cam Lo, like subsequent positions, we were usually deployed with a rifle company. They provided us security, while we gave them fire support as they patrolled and engaged the NVA.

We also kept the enemy at bay with harassing and interdicting fire, and any targets of opportunity that became available. They fired back at us with rockets and artillery. We had the advantage of firepower, including air support. They had the advantage of knowing exactly where we were. Later on we moved to the Balong Valley located west of Cam Lo.
1966, XO of Mortar Battery, 1st BN. 13th Marines.

May of 1967 we deployed to Khe Sanh. I was now the Battery Commander. My First Sergeant referred to me as “The Boy Captain.” I was 24 years old. It was the best job I ever had. At Khe Sanh I took three mortars and their fire direction operators to Hill 881 South, and my XO took three tubes to Hill 861. We had a rifle company for security on each hill. With the mortars split we could mutually support each hill with indirect fire.

Prior to deploying to the hills, we set up our Battery near the Khe Sanh airstrip. From a distance of 200 yards we saw General Westmorland fly in, deplane for a few moments and talk to our Base Commander, Col. Padley, CO of the 26th Marines. He then re-boarded and flew away.

Later that afternoon, at the daily meeting of unit commanders, Colonel Padley filled us in on what the General said. He stated that Westmorland asked one question, “Do you have an air raid siren?” The Colonel said he wasn’t aware that we had one. Westmorland said, as he turned to re-board his plane, “Well, you better get one.” The Colonel was as dumb-founded as the rest of us with that comment.

All good things come to an end, and in mid-June I received orders for reassignment to Third Division Headquarters, G-2 Section, as the Division Targeting Officer. I went by helicopter from Hill 881 to the Khe Sanh Base, then by air to Division Headquarters at Phu Bai.

Three Months as Targeting Officer at 3rd Division Headquarters 1967

Phu Bai was a different world from Cam Lo, the Balong Valley, and Khe Sanh. The base had streets, wooden huts, electricity, and running water. Mess halls served hot chow. There was an Officers Club, laundry, PX, and an evening outdoor movie.

In the field we sometimes existed for weeks on C-Rations, no showers, no change of clothing, and we had to crap in a hole or an empty 55 gallon drum, which we periodically burned out with diesel fuel. Our worst fear was a sniper would get you sitting on the 55 gallon drum. For that reason, we tried to hold it until nighttime.

The Targeting Section was staffed by three Marines; myself, the Intelligence Chief who was an E-3 but should have been an E-6, and a PFC clerk. Our office was a hut approximately 10 x 20 feet. On one wall was a topographical map of Northern I Corps, about 5 feet high and 7 feet wide. It had a plastic overlay which we could mark with a grease pencil, all current and potential targets within the Division’s area of operations. Target markings were constantly changing as new targets were added and others dropped.

Targets and their locations came from communications with infantry battalions, artillery spotters, Marine Air, ARVN Intelligence, POW interrogation, electronic surveillance, and CIA “spooks.” In coordination with the G-3 Section ( Operations ), we could propose an attack on targets with tactical air, H&I artillery, naval bombardment, Army 175 mm at Calu, or the big one which was our B-52 “Arc Light” bombers.

Arc Lights were flown out of Guam, consisting of multiple aircraft. There was usually at least one strike a day, flown against selected targets in South Vietnam. MACV Headquarters made the final target selection. Our understanding was that General Westmorland liked to do that personally.

At that time, because of NVA infiltration across the DMZ, MACV placed high priority on Northern I Corps. We supposedly got 50% of all Arc Light strikes. My job was to provide Division G-2 with the targets, and supporting intelligence. From there it rode up the chain of command to MACV.

Sometimes we would have maybe three targets that appeared to be equal. My orders were to recommend just one. In those cases we would use the unofficial selection method. That consisted of standing back about 10 feet, and throwing a dart at the wall map. The target closest to where the dart landed was it. We would write up the target intelligence, much embellished, and hand-carry it to G-2.

I often wondered if General Westmorland or the B-52 pilots had any idea how some of their targets were selected for destruction by America’s three target selection experts.

“Lance Corporal, it’s your turn to throw the dart!”

In October my tour was finished, and I returned to the States. My obligation to the USMC was completed at the same time. I went home to my wife and daughter and became a civilian again.

Reflecting on my Vietnam Service 1966-1967

1. I am extremely proud of my service, but even more so of the men with whom I served.

2. Like most Marines, I was no hero but did my job to the best of my ability.

3. The NVA were outstanding. Our civilian leadership was stupid and arrogant to underestimate them.

4. We had too many people in the rear. REMFs and not enough combat battalions. Rear areas were like stateside duty.

5. Lieutenant General Krulak, “the Brute,” got it right. More Marine platoons, merged with local ARVN units to protect the rural areas and villages, particularly at night. That should have been our first priority.

6. We made the mistake of trying to fight the Vietnam War like the Korean War. Our tactics, heavy equipment, and organization were well suited for Korea and WW2. Unfortunately for us, the NVA was quick, agile, and not static.

7. At the end of my tour of duty, I opted to return to civilian life. I felt that I had served my obligation as a “citizen soldier.” I did not suffer PTSD. I was now focused on earning a living and raising my family, along with my good wife now of 48 years.

8. I have deep feelings for the veterans and their sacrifices. For each of the past six years I have sponsored an Honor Flight of World War II Veterans, from Louisville, KY to Washington, DC.

9. Whatever business success I had in life, I owe the majority of credit to my training and experience in the USMC.

10. I was president of a printing company for 22 years. At my retirement, we had 280 employees, with annual sales of almost $40,000,000. But the greatest responsibility and prestige that I ever had was as a young Marine Battery Commander of 100 men, in combat. Nothing else ever came close.

Tony Poe * United States Marines & Central Intelligence Agency

This is the story of a man who fought for Uncle Sam in WW2, Korea, and again during the Vietnam War. The Pentagon was top heavy with leftover brass during Vietnam, and Congress was top heavy with the same gutless “leadership” we see today. They underestimated their Hanoi opponents, assuming the same military and political postures as they did with Korea. Korea was a loser so Tony improvised some “unusual” tactics for Indo China. I admire Tony Poe because he wasn’t afraid to risk his life for his convictions and for his country. How many politicians do we have today who would risk anything for America?
Anthony Poshepny, “Tony Poe,” was a kick-ass individual, and an American patriot.  He was born in Long Beach, California, September 18, 1924. At the age of eighteen he dropped out of high school and joined the Marine Corps.

He served with the Para-Marines in the Southwest Pacific until his unit was broken up, and he was assigned to the 5th Marine Division. Tony and his buddies landed on Iwo Jima in February, 1945 where he was the leader of a machine gun section. The Japs were underground in concrete bunkers. Iwo Jima was hell on wheels. Fifteen days later he was shot through the calf. He recovered in time to serve in Japan as part of MacArthur’s occupational force.

After the war he entered St. Mary’s College in San Francisco. Later on he transferred to San Jose State where he graduated in 1950 with a degree in History and English. He planned on joining the FBI, but was recruited by the CIA. The CIA sent him to Korea where he worked with the North Korean Chondogyo. These were animist-Christians who believe that all things possess souls, animals, trees, insects, and humans. They worked behind the lines where they fought the North Koreans and the Chinese.

Tony was sent to Thailand in 1952 as a paramilitary case officer. He worked with Walt Kuzmak who ran the CIA’s cover company, Sea Supply. In 1958 he became involved in an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the communist-leaning Sukarno government of Indonesia. Almost captured, he escaped with Pat Landry. They walked 93 miles through the Sumatra jungle, finally being rescued by an American submarine.

From Indonesia, Tony joined a project to train and insert Khamba tribesmen into Tibet. The idea was to save Tibet from the Chinese. The effort failed, but the Dalai Lama did manage to escape the clutches of the Chinese Communists.

In 1961 Tony was part of a CIA effort to train Hmong tribesmen in Laos to fight against the Pathet Lao, and the North Vietnamese Army. He and Vinton Lawrence were the only case officers in Laos in 1962, monitoring the Geneva peace accords between the Soviets, the United States, and Red China. The truce fell apart, and the fighting escalated in 1964. The secret CIA war was underway.

Tony got shot in the stomach at Hong Non in 1965. That same year the US Marines landed at Da Nang. President Johnson launched his micro-managed “police action” based on two naval reports, one factual and one wrong, of a confrontation in the Gulf of Tonkin between the destroyer USS Maddox and three North Vietnamese motor torpedo boats. Naval gunfire was exchanged.

In 1966 Ted Shackley was placed in charge of the secret war in Laos. He and his team became involved in the opium trades supporting General Vang Pao, leader of the anti-communist forces in Laos. Tony fell out with Vang Pao, accusing him of using his position with the CIA to enrich himself.

Late in the ‘60s Tony began to weird out. For him, Washington had lost their cojones and the will to win. LBJ never intended to win, he was afraid of Red China. Truman made the same mistake with Korea. But Tony and America’s Allies were never informed. Tony drank heavily, becoming increasingly alienated from everyone except his Hmong tribesmen. He had become the embodiment of Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now.

Now on the sauce big time, he ran a much-feared assassination operation in Laos. He became good friends with Air America, another CIA front. Tony paid the Hmong tribesmen for ears they brought in, sliced off the heads of dead communists. On two separate occasions he dropped decapitated heads into compounds from aircraft flown by CIA pilots. 

In 1970 Tony was transferred to Thailand to train guerrilla soldiers to fight the Vietcong. Following the fall of Saigon in 1975 he retired from the CIA but chose to live in Thailand, returning to California in 1992.

Twice Tony won the CIA Intelligence Star, the agencies highest award from Allen Dulles in 1959, and William Colby in 1975. As a Marine he was awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart. He was married with two daughters at the time of his death from liver failure in 2003.

A Fist Full of Dynamite reminds me of Tony Poe.