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.