Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Marine Air Support Squadron 3
MASS 3 insignia
|Type||Aviation command and control|
|Role||Provide the DASC|
|Part of||Marine Air Control Group 38 |
3rd Marine Aircraft Wing
|Garrison/HQ||Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton|
|Motto||Ulla Tempore, Ullo Situ |
"Any time, Any place"
|Battles/wars||Vietnam War |
* Battle of Khe Sahn
Operation Desert Storm
Operation Iraqi Freedom
* 2003 invasion of Iraq
|LtCol R.K. Hilberer|
Marine Air Support Squadron 3 (MASS-3), is a United States Marine Corps aviation command and control unit that provides the Direct Air Support Center (DASC) for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force. They are based out of the 32 Area on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California and fall under the command of Marine Air Control Group 38 and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.
Marine Tactical Air Control Group 2 was formed on August 3, 1950 as part of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. Later that month they were redesignated as Marine Tactical Air Control Squadron 3 (MTACS-3) under Marine Air Control Group 2. On March 28, 1951 they moved under the control of Marine Air Control Group 3 (MACG-3).
The original Marine Air Support Squadron was comprised of a Direct Air Support Center (DASC), and three Air Support Radar Teams (ASRTs). They utilized the AN/TSQ-122 Direct Air Support Central. The AN/TSQ-122 was a large control system housed in a rigid fiberglass modular structure. To provide an echelon capability, the MASS squadron also operated and maintained the AN/UYQ-3 air/mobile DASC. The AN/UYQ-3 could operate in a modified KC-130 aircraft, as well as on the back of a 2 1/2 ton truck. Together, the Marine Air Support Squadron was capable of supporting the full range of MAGTFs, up to and including a MarineAmphibious Force (MAF).
They received their current designation of Marine Air Support Squadron 3 on February 15, 1954. In October 1962, MASS-3 deployed to the Caribbean during the Cuban Missile Crisis but in December of that year were relocated to Marine Corps Air Station El Toro.
- See "History" under Direct Air Support Center.
MASS-3 operated in Vietnam from November 1966 until June 1971. On January 16 and 17, 1968, Air Support Radar Team B (ASRT-B) from MASS-3 displaced from Chu Lai to Khe Sanh to handle ground controlled radar bombing missions. On January 20 the DASC was brought into Khe Sahn as well.
During their time in Vietnam, MASS-3 Air Support Radar Teams controlled more than 38,010 AN/TPQ-10 missions, directing more than 121,000 tons of ordnance on 56,753 targets. They operated from Chu Lai and Da Nang during this time.
The 1980s and 1990s
In May of 1980, MASS-3 again relocated, this time to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. In August of 1990, the unit was deployed to Saudi Arabia and later participated in Operation Desert Storm returning home in March 1991.
Operation Iraqi Freedom
MASS 3 began sending units to Kuwait in October of 2002 as part of the troop build-up for what could become Operation Iraqi Freedom. MASS-3 provided air support for the 1st Marine Division from the Kuwaiti border to Tikrit and had units remain in country until the division redeployed in October of 2003. MASS-3 returned to Iraq in January of 2004 and provided air support for the Division again until January of 2004. They again deployed to Iraq in early 2006 for the third time. The unit is due to return for another year long tour in Iraq beginning in early 2008.
A unit citation or commendation is an award bestowed upon an organization for the action cited. Members of the unit who participated in said actions are allowed to wear on their uniforms the awarded unit citation. MASS-3 has been presented with the following awards:
|Presidential Unit Citation with one Bronze Star|
|Navy Unit Commendation with one Bronze Star|
|Meritorious Unit Commendation with three Bronze Stars|
|National Defense Service Medal with two Bronze Star|
|Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal|
|Southwest Asia Service Medal with two Bronze Stars|
|Vietnam Service Medal with two Silver Stars and one Bronze Star|
|Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm Streamer|
|Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation Civil Action Medal|
|Iraq Campaign Medal|
|Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal|
|Global War on Terrorism Service Medal|
- List of United States Marine Corps aviation support squadrons
- Organization of the United States Marine Corps
The first hootch I lived in in the Marine Air Wing was filled with old guys, former enlisted men who had become Lieutenants and Captains late in their careers. These "old"guys were in their late 30's and early 40's, married with kids, and were more careful than the younger men. Each time we heard the rocket alarm or the explosion of a rocket we would run for the bunker at the end of our hootch, and wait out the attack with our helmets and flack jackets on over our underwear. At every other place I was at, the younger men and officers ignored the rocket warnings unless the explosions were close.
I then moved to MASS-3 on Hill 327. I asked the First Sergeant how to get to Hill 327. He took me outside the building, and pointed up to the same Hill I saw when I arrived in Vietnam.
The first night I arrived in Vietnam was Christmas Eve, 1969. It was gently raining. Hill 327 loomed inland over the airport, looking beautiful swathed in bright perimeter lights like a halo in the mist. There was a great deal of firing and flares from the hill, and some of the new guys thought we were under attack. We ran into a large building, and one Marine shouted, "They're really getting hit up there. Take cover!" I subsequently found out that there had been no attack, but simply a "lighting it up" impromptu firex to celebrate Christmas. Of course, no one would openly admit that. You could fire at noises or sounds, so the troops were firing on Christmas eve at numerous noises and sounds.
Hill 327 was also known as Freedom Hill. It was called Freedom Hill because it was the last thing you saw from the airstrip as you left Vietnam. At the base of the hill was located the Freedom Hill PX, a large military store. The Hill was considered the rear by infantry troops, but a dangerous place by the REMF's (Rear Echelon MF's). We on Hill 327 were "in the rear with the gear".
The name Hill 327 referred to the height of the hill, 327 meters, or about 1,000 feet. It took a considerable time to drive up the hill, with numerous switchbacks on the narrow gravel road.
Working with MASS-3 was a great job. I visited our four remote facilities frequently, flying all over northern Vietnam on Hueys, CH-46 and CH-53 helicopters, took convoys up north, got shot at occasionally by rifle fire and rockets, and fired grenades and rifles at noises, but never once fought a real live firefight. Hill 327 was encircled by concertina wire, cleared approaches (cleared with bulldozers and defoliants, including Agent Orange), and bright perimeter lights. The Hill had been attacked before I got there, but never while I served there.
We provided communications for air support. If a unit needed helicopters, bombing raids, medevacs, etc, they came through us. Our units guided the aircraft to their missions by radio and radar.
We provided the personnel and equipment for the Danang DASC (Direct Air Support Center). The DASC was located with the Marine Division Command Post about two miles away from our Hill in a large bunker as part of the 1st Marine Division headquarters, and coordinated all air in our area of operations. The DASC operated with about ten radios, all on loud speakers. When you walked into the DASC you would become completely confused by all the noise. After listening for a while, however, you learned how to listen to the important circuits, and mentally tune out the others. The DASC was a difficult place to operate, and our people did it very well. They had to ensure that the infantry received their needed medevacs, air strikes, resupply runs, emergency extractions, and reconnaissance flights. They had to ensure that our aircraft were not hit by Naval Gunfire or artillery.
They also made sure that we did not bomb civilian populations. This is one of the great lies put forward by people who knew nothing of the war. Our people were trying to protect the people of South Vietnam, not kill them. We were trying to "win their hearts and minds." Our pilots, controllers, and most of our Marines made great efforts not to bomb or shoot at our own forces or civilian population .
Now I am not saying it did not happen. We made mistakes, and our own forces were killed by these tragic mistakes. But they were mistakes. Friendly fire was always a concern.
I recently met a Marine who had served in Vietnam as a Naval Gunfire spotter. He was and is a nice guy, and we developed a close relationship. He asked me if I knew a certain artillery officer, and did I know how to get in contact with him. I did know the officer, and promised him I would try to locate him.
The next time I saw the Marine spotter I apologized for not being able to locate the officer. He then told me that he actually wanted to kill the officer. The officer had approved a fire mission that had killed some of his friends. The spotter also thought that the officer had not been properly sorry for the friendly fire kill. The officer's response had been that the Marines should not have been where they were, and it was not his fault that they were killed.
I told the spotter that there are a many ways that a tragic accident could happen. A mistake could be made in reading a map in the dark. A radio operator could transpose a number. A plotter could mislocate the artillery fire location or the force location.
But none of this was by intent. Tragic mistakes did happen.
Each junior officer in Mass-3 was also officer of the day on Hill 327 every 20 days or so. This meant that you stayed up overnight and served as the commander of the perimeter guard. The perimeter was very large, encompassing more than a mile, and secured by about 30 men who manned two man bunkers. One man slept while the other kept watch. Most of the men were part of our security platoon, but several of the bunkers were part of other units, including Radio Battalion, and some other communication units. The grade differential between the low and high parts of the hill must have been about 400 feet.
The officer of the day was the man to coordinate the response to any attack, and make the decisions on how to respond to noises, shots, etc. You were also supposed to check each post four times each night.
Occasionally walking the perimeter would get me in trouble. I was always careful to be above the earth covered bunker when I called out to the sentry, to make sure he did shoot me if he startled awake. I called softly to the one sentry, who did not respond. Again he ignored my next call. When I spoke loudly he finally woke up, and then was belligerent, insubordinate and threatening. I chewed him out from the top of the bunker, but he was still surly. I contemplated going into the bunker to reason with him, but decided that was a bad idea. So I just had the Sergeant of the Guard deal with him.
I have always preferred having the officers and Staff NCO's deal with minor infractions verbally or physically, without ruining the man with court marital. This guy was a jerk, but the tender ministrations of a tough Marine Sergeant were more likely to get him performing well than a formal office hours. There was a story about one of our Sergeants "disciplining" one of our troops who fell asleep in a watch tower by throwing him out of the tower. He woke up on the way down, and hurt his arm, but I am sure the lesson was effective for both him and the rest of the platoon. The Korean Marines were tougher - their officers would shoot a man who fell asleep. I had several Basic School Korean Marines, and they were very tough guys, two with Black Belts in Karate. Lt Hwang Young Nam was my roomate in the Basic School, and I saw him several times in Vietnam. Lt Kim and Lt Song were both killed in Vietnam.
Other nights the Sergeant of the Guard and I would be called by a nervous sentry who "heard movement". We would quietly ease up to the bunker, and spend some time listening for sounds. It was of course impossible to know for sure if what the sentry heard was a probe or the prelude for an attack. We would normally shoot 3 to 6 grenades in front of the bunker, and then listen for screams or shouts. Never heard any response.
Most of the perimeter of Danang was the responsibility of the 1st Marine Division. Our Hill 327, however, belonged to the 1st Marine Air Wing, which was a coequal unit with the Marine Infantry Division. Units on the Marine Division perimeter had to normally ask the Division Command for permission to fire. We just fired when we thought appropriate. Which was every time we heard something. Which we thought would tend to discourage attacks. Which probably did discourage attacks.
The gaps between the bunkers were far too long. It was easy to see how the NVA could infiltrate through our wire between positions. They had attacked the Hill before, when a HAWK Battery had been on the Hill. One of our patrols found parts of missiles that had been blown up and careened off the hill.
Part of the effort of the Officer of the day was to make sure the troops stayed alert so that the gaps between the bunkers would not become larger. One time we lost power, and hill became quiet and dark. I was worried that this could be the prelude to an attack. We got the lights on in about one hour. I knew our sentries were not very alert when I asked them how long the lights had been out, and they responded that the lights had not gone out.
One Marine called me, and asked for permission to shoot a wildcat near the perimeter wire. I told him I could not give him permission to shoot the cat, but he could shoot if he saw movement and thought it was the enemy. A few minutes later shots rang out, but he missed the cat.
I went on a few short patrols. They were uneventful, just checking out the security of the Hill.
WATCHING FIRE FIGHTS
Our Hill had two clubs, one for junior enlisted and one for Sergeants and above. We would drink $.25 beers, and watch a John Wayne war flick outside the club overlooking the Valley. Real firefights would spring up on either side of the screen, so you could watch the movie or the real fire fight. Tracer rounds would race across the rice paddies. Puff the Magic Dragon, a large slow airplane with impressive fire power would come on to the scene, and pulverize the bad guys. Sometimes bombing strikes and artillery would add to the mix.
Occasionally some poor NVA would be caught out in the open below our Hill. Helicopter gun ships and fixed wing aircraft would swoop in and fire on these luckless individuals.
We maintained the radios for the DASC and ASRT. The radios were on top of Hill 327, remoted two miles away to the DASC in the 1st MarDiv CP. The cable had been shot to hell by the Seabees, who were in the valley between us and 1st MarDiv. All eleven radio circuits were filled with cross talk. When you walked into the DASC, with all the radios on speaker, it was impossible to understand, but after a while you could get the feel of the place, and listen to the radios you needed to hear.
We spent a lot of time trying to make comm better. I remember spending several days hooking up new radios with SSgt Smith and SSgt Straub. I confidently called down to the DASC, told them about their excellent radios, and asked them to give the TACC a radio check. The TACC came back and said, "Danang Dasc, I cannot read you but I know it is you from the garble and noise." I was a bit deflated after that.
The Seabees dropped a 600 volt electric line across our remote cable. It sent high voltage up to 327 and down to the DASC. Fortunately it did not kill anyone, but it scared the hell out of the controllers as their equipment arced and sparked and burned. We worked all night restoring and rewiring the DASC.
One Captain called me from the DASC, and told me that he could talk to the A-4's and A-6's and air force ok, but could not communicate with the Marine F-4 Phantoms. I explained to him that it must be a problem with the F-4 radios, if he could talk to all the other aircraft. He told me to fix my radios.
I spent about 20 minutes, and then called him back to tell him that I had installed a special "Phantom Antenna". He called me later to tell me the new antenna was working well.
I got a boxing ring from the Wing, and put it up on the Hill. We had some fine boxing matches, flaying away with our huge gloves. VC Jones and I went a few rounds, and a number of other Marines tried it.
I also boxed Cpl Kiker at a MASS-3 party on China Beach. He knocked me down twice, and I only knocked him down once, but Major Hicok told me he thought I won.
We had a fine party on China Beach. After everyone got good an drunk they threw all the officers in the GI can where the beer had been kept. Good fun.
Jack Atwater was the security platoon commander. Jack is now with the Army Ordinance Museum in the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. He once walked up to me, with one half dozen of his men standing by. He held up a grenade in his hand, and pulled the pin. "What are you doing, Jack" I said. "Quit screwing around." Jack just gave me a laugh, and let the spoon fly. Now Jack, his troops, and I would all die in a few seconds if the grenade was live. I assumed the grenade was empty or a dud, and that Jack and his troops were not committing suicide just to scare me, so I stood there looking cool.
"BAM" the grenade went off. Startled and scared, I pulled back and shielded my face for a moment. "I'm dead", I thought, and then listened to Jack and his troops laughing. The grenade was an illumination grenade. Jack burned his hand to make me look stupid in front of his troops. I was not amused then, although it is a funny story now. And Jack and his troops thought it was funny then.
Jack Atwater was to take a convoy to our to our northern Air Support Radar Teams (ASRTs). We normally supplied the ASRT's by helicopter three times a week, but the monsoon had made it hard to get enough aircraft. So we would resupply by truck convoy. I had never driven north to Hue, Birmingham Fire Support Base, or Quang Tri, so I decided to go along.
Just before we were to leave Jack gave me the maps and said, "I can't go. You have to take the convoy". So I did, but no one in the small convoy had ever been to these bases. We had two 2.5 ton trucks and a radio jeep. Jack gave me some frequencies, and said "if you get in trouble just call these for help". Of course the frequencies did not work, and we were on our own once we drove north out of the Danang Bay area and up over Hai Van Pass into Indian country.
One truck had a fifty cal machine gun mounted on the roof of the truck. The rest of the security of our little band was provided by our M-16 Rifles. I was armed with my AR-15 Rifle, a cute and small version of the M-16 with a folding stock and plastic barrel guard. Marines did not normally have this weapon - I had inherited from my predecessor, who had recovered it from a shot down Army Helicopter. We had a total of 8 Marines in our little party.
We were all a bit nervous. None of us had driven to Hai Van pass or beyond. The slow climb to Hai Van pass with the slow trucks was impressive, providing a dramatic look back to Danang, and forward to a large beach. We would follow Route 1, known as the "Street without Joy" until the turn off for Birmingham. We wandered through small villages on dirt roads, and did not see an American or South Vietnamese force for many miles.
As we got close to Birmingham Fire Support Base we saw a small Army Light Observation Helicopter (LOACH) flying around slowly. They would fly around hoping that an NVA would fire at them. When the unwitting NVA fired on the small helicopter, a flight of 4 helicopter gun ships flying behind a ridge came up. We saw the gun ships pop up and fire at the ground near the small helicopter, so apparently the plan worked.
Birmingham Fire Support Base was a muddy red hill honeycombed with bunkers and artillery emplacements. It was a Army 101st Airborne unit. Our ten man Marine ASRT team provided air support for the area. The ASRT was very popular, since it could provide pinpoint bombing mission in virtually all weather. The ASRT worked by acquiring radar and radio contact with a bombing aircraft. The aircraft had normally been prepared to provide direct air support to an infantry unit on call. If nothing was happening, rather than landing with the bombs, the DASC would hand the aircraft to the ASRT, who would guide the aircraft to a point in space where the pilot would drop his bombs to plus or minus 50 meters of a preplanned target.
The ASRT worked by emitting a directed radar beam, and followed the reflection of that beam from the aircraft. The ASRT would guide the airplane to a point in space where he would release his bombs. The ASRT team took into account the coordinates of the target to be attacked, wind speed, size and type of bombs, barometric pressure, etc.
The ASRT and plane would participate in a 10 second countdown. At the end of the countdown the ASRT controller would say "Mark Mark". The pilot was to drop his bombs exactly between the two words. " 10, 9, 8 ... 3, 2, 1 Mark Mark. I listened to a number of these missions, and at one point considered trying to learn how to do this myself, but never had the time.
The ASRT guided numerous bombing missions. They were very accurate. We had, of course, no knowledge of whether we ever hit anything. The targets were provided by recon, aerial photographs, aerial observation, intelligence, etc. I think it likely that many NVA and VC were killed as a result of these missions, but will never know for sure. I am confident that all these locations were carefully reviewed by Division Intelligence and the DASC, and I am certain that no one ever purposely targeted friendly forces, including South Vietnamese Civilians. And I am also sure that most of the bombs probably hit empty jungle.
After we left Birmingham I took our unit cross country to get to Hue and Quang Tri. We were too late to make it before night if I took the long road back to Route 1. We had some nervous times wandering around little dirt tracks, but made it to Hue and then to Quang Tri before dark.
Hue was a and is a beautiful city. It was taken over by the NVA and Viet Cong, who proceeded to murder teachers, government workers, etc. No one is sure how many were killed, but the number was large. The Vietnamese Army would not let us cross the bridge with our trucks. It took us some time to find out that the crossing was to be made on an old railroad bridge.
We stayed overnight at Quang Tri. On the return trip we took an additional small truck, which broke down north of the Hai Van pass. I split our little convoy for security, and then drove over the Hai Van pass and called by radio for a tow truck. The tow truck pulled the small truck with all the mens equipment, while the Marines followed in another truck. The "Cowboys", Vietnamese teenagers, road up to the small truck on small motorcycles, and the passenger of each cycle jumped on the small truck, and started shoveling off the Marines personal gear. Other teenagers grabbed the duffle bags, and disappeared. The driver of the tow truck did not see the cowboys.
Our Marines were armed, and watching their personal possessions being stolen, but did not shoot because of their concern for killing innocent civilians. And one Marine lost $600 in cash and all the Christmas presents he had bought for his family.
Another trick of the juvenile delinquents was to snatch a wrist watch off of the arm of a GI. I was in the back of a jeep, and my watch was taken at a bush intersection of "Dogpatch", a neighborhood in Vietnam. I jumped out of the jeep, and chased the young Vietnamese. A Vietnamese military cop pulled his 45 pistol, shouted, and pursued us both. He was yelling, and I was not sure whether he was angry at the kid, me, or both.
The young Vietnamese ran into a house, with me right behind him. About 8 Vietnamese were squatting around their meal. He jumped over the meal, with me right behind him. I caught him by the scruff of the neck, recovered my watch, turned, bowed, smiled, told them in English I was sorry, and handed the kid to the cop, then got out of there fast. Don't know what happened to the kid.
One of our Marines would not leave Vietnam. He was a drug user, and did not want to leave his supply. He had gone UA twice before, the second time running from his guards as they took him to the airplane to leave.
When they caught him the third time Major Florio arranged to have him put into the Mag-16 jail, which was a Conex Box. I had never met the Marine - he had been UA since before I joined the unit. I would visit him in the Conex Box jail. "Mother of God, Mother of Jesus, you have got to get me out of here Lieutentant! I swear to God I will be good!" he would say. It was pretty hot and miserable in the Conex box. So I would go ask Major Florio to release him, and he would reply "F– him". The Major finally told me he would release him - and it would my ass if he did not get on the airplane. So I got him out of jail, and put him on the airplane home.
Drugs were a problem. Cpl Schleen was a serious drug user who would not quit. They would lock him up and get him clean, but as soon as he got out he went back to drugs. His hands were shaking and his eyes were red. He told me the "Dr. said he would not live past 30 if he kept using." I tried hard to get him to quit, but he never would. Hope he cleaned up his act after Vietnam, and is alive an prospering.
I went once to the First Mar Div Officers Club, where they provided a class on knowing about drugs. They then lit marijuana cigarettes, and passed them around encouraging the officers to learn the smell, and take a drag. The older officers looked like it was reefer madness that would kill them. The younger officers took a long hit.
CLUBS & MESS HALL
The clubs were great places. SSgt Smith managed the E-5 and above club. Beer and liquor were cheap, and the movies out on the patio were great.
I went into the enlisted club once as the Officer of the Day. A fight broke out, and guys were swinging away with chairs. Cpl Leon broke a bottle and created an Australian boxing glove. I had my .45 and was tempted to fire a couple of shots through the roof to calm things down, but instead just waded in and broke it up.
We also had a good brawl that resulted in some Marine getting whacked with a hammer. I got the investigation - the command was afraid that it was racial. But it turned out it was just good clean Marine fun.
I also got to escort our Black Marines to the Miss Black America show. A good time.
The floor shows in the club were memorable. Usually Asian bands trying and failing to sound good. The Australian shows were better. I remember one good looking Australian girl who was missing several teeth.
The Mess Hall served the best chow I ever had in my 32 years in the Marine Corps. A belated thanks to the cooks who made it happen. You were great.
TURNING IN THE MONEY
One of my fun duties was to take in and pay out all the old MPC with new MPC. The purpose was to screw anyone who was involved with the black market - anyone who was off base could not get back on to base to get their money exchanged. We got the word in the middle of the night. The base was locked down, and every Marine had to turn in his MPC. Paper nickels, dimes, quarters, and $, covered with junk and waded up, were counted out, and I gave each man a receipt. As I recall it was about $20,000, and I kept it in an ammo box. Then I had to take the money to Wing, count it to Wing, get new money, and return and pay each man. No mistakes, as I recall.
I had paid everyone except Riley, who was in the brig. I did not know him, as he had been in the brig before I joined the unit. I went over to the brig to collect his money. I was shocked to see it was a Marine I served with in 5th LAAMBn in Yuma. I had told him then he needed to clean up his act and quit drugs. He did not listen then - hope he has cleaned up his act. He was a smart capable guy, just not willing to go along with the Marine program.
EXCERPT FROM ACTUAL REPORT THAT I SENT HOME IN A LETTER
"Personnel on operation observed 2 enemy moving into a cave. Enemy wearing dark shorts and shirts. 2 rifles of unknown type. Engaged enemy with 8-60mm, 30-81mm, 15-105's and fixed wing strike of 12-1,000 lb. bombs with excellent coverage of target."
The ordinance described in this report is very impressive, loud, and lethal, and probably considered as overkill by the two enemy soldiers.
A typhoon ripped apart our Hill in October 1970. Most of the buildings were destroyed, and much of our equipment. We hid out in bunkers and metal vans during the typhoon. Most of the valley below was flooded. The NVA who had been able to hide in below ground tunnels had to come out to high ground, and they were attacked by Korean Marines on the high ground.
WATCHING FOR ROCKETS
One group of Marines spent all night each night in towers, looking for rockets. They tried to spot the rocket when it was launched, to provide warning for the people in Danang. Sometimes they succeeded, but often the first warning of a rocket is when they exploded. One of the Lieutenants that I trained with in OCS was killed in a tower by a lightning strike.
TRANSFERRING TO THE INFANTRY DIVISION
After completing my first tour with MASS-3, I extended my tour for 6 months, requesting and getting a 30 day leave with a ticket around the world and a new assignment to the First Marine Division (Infantry). I visited Okinawa, the US, Rome, Greece, Israel, India, Thailand, and then returned to Vietnam. The rest of my non Mass-3 story is below.
I graduated from high school in January 1966. I was tired of school, and wanted to have adventure and to serve mankind. This was just a few years after President Kennedy told us to "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." Those were powerful words then, and they still resonate today. I was an Eagle Scout, and the dictums to "do a good turn daily" and "help other people at all times" were burned into my brain. They were good principles to live my then and now.
I am a little schizophrenic. I served one year in 1966-67 as a volunteer in the Prince of Peace Corps, a Lutheran Church social work program similar to the Peace Corps or Vista. I worked in the inner city of Norfolk, Virginia, helping the community in a variety of ways. I worked with street gangs, started a Scout Troop, and ran a teen center.
I saw more combat in the ghetto there than I did in Vietnam. Our teen center periodically attracted guys with guns, golf clubs, ice picks, brass knuckles, razors, and knives, and who threatened us with those weapons. Most of the time we talked them out of using those weapons. We did some good, and I was proud of my service, but was glad to move on to the US Military where the guys on my side also had guns.
The antiwar movement was in its infancy. The shrill anti war protests made after 1968 were quieter in 1966. As the casualty rates mounted and the threat of service and death increased the opposition to the war increased.
I was 18 when I enlisted on November 6, 1966. I could not buy a car, or a drink, or sign a contract other than sign up for the military. I certainly thought communism was a terrible system, that it needed to be opposed by the world democracies, and that the military kept us from being taking over by the Japanese, Nazis, and/or Communists.
I had my doubts about Vietnam, however. It was a little known country, far from the US and close to Communist China. The war was already unpopular. The anti war movement felt that we were intervening in a place we did not belong. I was pretty sure the benefit we would receive from keeping southeast Asia outside of communist control would not be worth the sacrifice.
But I also felt that the US Government leadership knew a lot more than I did about when and where to oppose communist expansion. I also felt then, as now, that every kid cannot be making independent decisions about what war is just, which war is not, and which one they will serve in. A country requires its teenagers and young men to protect it. This has always been so, from the time we were primitive and tribal, and it remains so today. Widespread refusal by our young people to serve will eventually mean our domination by other countries.
I also thought the domino theory made sense. Russia had gone communist in 1917, the eastern European countries after WWII. Red China became communist, followed by North Vietnam and North Korea. Indonesia, Cuba, and numerous other countries were or threatened to go communist.
I was not virulently anti communist, but their rhetoric was certainly frightening. Krushev vowed to bury us. We had grown up with bomb air raid drills where we would move into the hall ways, bend over, put our heads between our legs, and wait for the bombs or the all clear signal. The Cuba Missile crisis almost became World War III. When President Kennedy died I was 16. I remember walking home from High School that evening, wondering if the bombers and missiles would hit us that night.
I also wanted a challenge. A teenager should be trying to prove himself in the world, and a war is a fine vehicle for that. I wanted travel and adventure.
My father served in the Army National Guard in WW II in Africa and Italy, and both Grandfathers served in the Army in WW I. My Uncle had served in the Navy, and a Great Uncle had died in the Pacific. The Navy was attractive for the travel, but with the shooting war heating up in Vietnam it seemed a little chicken to serve on a safe big ship.
The Marine Corps offered the perfect compromise. I would be a seagoing soldier. I walked into the recruiters office in Norfolk, and asked him that if I joined would I get to:
1. Fight in Vietnam?
2. Sail on a Ship?
3. Get to become an Officer?
I volunteer for four years of active duty, without any guarantees or even discussion of options. I did not even consider or ask about 6 month, two year, or three year programs, but signed up as what we later called "a four year fish" which describes someone foolish enough to "bight" on the recruiters hook, and sign up for four years of servitude. I knew one six month Marine Reservist who was my size and could pick me up and press me over his head. If the Marines could do that for him in six months, think what they could do for me in four years?
On the way out of the recruiters office, I noticed a brochure discussing guaranteed aviation. I asked the recruiter if I could do that? He said yes, but then asked me in a quiet discouraging manner if I was color blind? I said yes, a little. Well, he said in a quiet discouraging manner, "you would probably just fold parachutes". "The heck with that", I said, "make me a grunt."
I set up my enlistment on a 120 day delay plan so I could finish my one year service with the Prince of Peace Corps. I saw my father the following week, and told him what I had done. "Oh No", he cried. "How long?" "Four years", I said. "Oh no", he said. Then he said, "well, it will probably be all right."
Both of my parents had very much wanted me to go to college. My mother had actually offered Hawaii. But the government paid you to go to Vietnam. And my parents had raised me on stories of the depression, and how they worked their way through college. The military offered me a way to pay my way through college without tasking my parents, who had three younger children to raise.
I received my draft notice one month after I enlisted. I was not sure what to do. The Marine Sergeant told me to ignore the Army. Marines have telling me to ignore the Army ever since.
All my life I have told people that I beat the draft by joining the Marines for four years. A fair number don't get the joke, and look at me as if I am a lunatic, which is actually a fair approximation.
All the things promised to me by my recruiter came true, more or less. I went to boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina. I served in the FMF (Fleet Marine Corps), then went to Officers Candidate School when I was old enough. I spent only three days at sea on a Navy troop ship near Chesapeake Bay, which was a disappointment. I served two tours in the Republic of Vietnam as a Lieutenant. After 4.4 years of active service, I was discharged. I spent another 28 years in the Marine Corps Reserve, finally retiring as a Colonel. And I was thankful and frankly always a little surprised at every promotion after Lance Corporal.
I assumed when I enlisted that all Marines are combat infantrymen. All Marines are riflemen, but the Marine Corps is a modern military force. It has all kinds of specializations. By joining for four years I probably increased my chances of specialized training.
BOOT CAMP STORIES
Most people have heard about Marine Corps bootcamp, which is no picnic. You arrive at Parris Island at night. The drill instructors set out to terrorize you, and for the most part succeed. They are screaming and yelling at you, keeping you awake through most of the first night, and shaving your head.
I was an excellent boy scout, and made Eagle Scout, but I was a marginal Marine. Every Marine is a rifleman, and the Corps is justly proud of its record of training expert marksman. The only trouble for me is that I was a lousy shot.
We spent two weeks on the rifle range at Parris Island, the first week snapping in (practicing shooting your rifle, laying in position for hours), and the second week shooting. Every day I failed to qualify with the requisite score of 190. Every day our drill instructors would knock around all of us failures. We would line up and report to the drill instructors, who would punch us in the solar plexus. They would then fill the showers with bleach and ammonia, and have us exercise in the ammonia, rolling around and vowing to shoot better the next day.
I presume the intent of the drill instructors was to motivate us to try harder. This worked for our platoon for strength events, where we were the top platoon. For skill events such as shooting, however, the extra pressure was counter productive. Our platoon shot much worse than our two sister platoons, where the drill instructors did not exert so much pressure.
On qualification day I was doing my best, and I knew I would be close to qualification. I was terrible shooting standing up and kneeling, but better sitting down and in the prone position. I did not keep track of my score - the drill instructor advised that keeping score would just make us more nervous.
We shot from the 200 , 300, and 500 yard line. I was doing very well at the final round at the 500, shooting bulls eye after bulls eye. I knew I had a chance to qualify.
Then the shooter next to me told the drill instructor that his target had gone down without his firing. I HAD SHOT A BULL'S-EYE ON THE WRONG TARGET. My panic increased.
The drill instructor resolved the problem by having the other rifleman shoot on my target. The shooter was an expert marksman, but he shot a 4 on my target in exchange for the 5 that I had shot on his target.
My final score was 189, one point short of qualification. If I had shot my own bull's-eye I would have qualified. This meant no shooting badge. It meant that I had to crawl back three miles from the rifle range to the barracks with "UNQ" (Unqualified) written in chalk on my back. My drill instructors knocked me around once again, telling me that I did not even care. We UNQs had to walk guard every night for the rest of boot camp, and on forced marches we had to run around the entire column shouting "I am an UNQ". We were also considered pariahs. As the Drill Instructor stated, "who would want to be in a foxhole with an UNQ?" Becoming an UNQ also killed any chance of me getting promoted to PFC out of boot camp.
I did manage to complete boot camp in 8 weeks, and left the island. I have never returned.
PERMANENT MESS MAN
I served a total of 100 days of Mess duty, more than any other Marine I ever met. Mess duty was typically 16 to 18 hours a day, and as many as 30 straight days without a day off, cleaning the galleys, scrubbing pots, etc.
MILITARY OCCUPATIONAL SPECIALTY (MOS)
The Marine Corps decides what job you will do based on the needs of the service and your aptitudes. The Marine Corps in its infinite wisdom made me an Anti Air Warfare Electronics Operator, a.k.a. a Scope Dope. I was trained in a seven week long school in tracking airplanes with radars. I was number one in my class at printing backwards with wax pencils on large plexiglass plotting boards so that officers in front of the boards can follow the air war. I still have that skill, which of course is very helpful in civilian life.
The Marine Corps put me in a LAAMBn (Light Anti Aircraft Missile Battalion) that shot HAWK (Homing All the Way Killer) Missiles. Our mission was to shoot down enemy airplanes. The North Vietnamese had few planes to spare for sorties to South Vietnam, and by the time I joined the unit the other HAWK units had withdrawn from Vietnam. So I defended Yuma, Arizona from low flying communist aircraft. We shot old missiles at targets towed by very nervous and unhappy pilots. We were proficient at missing our targets and blowing large holes in the desert. Some missiles exploded on the launching pad, some disappeared in the sky, some flew 500 feet and exploded, and a few hit the target.
The high point of the tour was when we shot a missile very close to a low flying smuggler. I was on the scope. We had been in the desert for four long days, and the next missile that we fired would be the last, and we could return to the base. As the drone target approached our position, I noticed another aircraft on the scope. "Sir, the range is cold", I said, informing the Major of the other aircraft that had blundered into our range. He watched the scope for a while, agreed with my assessment, and ordered that the drone be turned around to send it back close to the Mexican border, and that it again approach our position.
As the drone approached again, I again noticed another target. It was moving independently from the drone, and so was not just an echo of the target. It was moving north from the Mexican border, and was probably a smuggler, since the target would appear on and off the screen. I told the Major the range was cold.
The Major watched the screen for several seconds, and saw the drone target and the other aircraft. He then said, "fuck it, shoot". We shot. Large explosion followed, and both targets disappeared from the radar screen.
My assessment at the time was that we had probably scared the smuggler with the large, nearby explosion, and he had exited the area inches off the deck. It was also possible that we had blown him up. A third possibility is that I was wrong about the aircraft, and that it was an echo of the target, but I don't think so.
I quickly became bored with shooting missiles in Yuma, Arizona. I volunteered to go to Vietnam and to go to OCS.
While playing basketball for the Battalion basketball team I made two errors that hurt my chances for assignment. I broke the Captains jaw with an elbow. And the 1st Lieutenant who was handling my requests asked me to write the number 15 on his jersey just before the game. As an air controller, you become a dyslexic. You print backwards on plotting boards, and forward for other things. I managed the 1 ok on his uniform, but proceeded to write a backwards 5 on his chest. He was not impressed, and I did not get my assignment until after he left the unit for Vietnam.
My First Sergeant saw me hitch hiking, gave me office hours, a thorough Marine Ass Chewing, 30 days of mess duty, and threw out my applications. After several more months the First Sergeant retired. The Major called me into his office and asked me if I still wanted to go to Vietnam. I said yes. "Too bad", he said, "you are going to OCS", so on my twentieth birthday I found myself back in boot camp for a second time. My second Marine Corps boot camp was no more fun than the first.
OCS (Officers Candidate School)
I went to OCS in November 1968. My first humorous experience (now it is funny, not then) in OCS was that I knew that I wanted to simply hide in the background, and get through this second boot camp as simply as possible. So I arrived early at OCS. Another nasty First Sergeant put me on 24 hour duty, which meant I would arrive 12 hours late for OCS. I complained to the First Sergeant, who enjoyed my problem. When I arrived 12 hours late to OCS I was tired and haggard from being on duty all night. Three Captains and a First Sergeant harassed me, spilling all my gear on the deck, searching all my gear, then ripping my stripes off my green uniform. One of the Captains asked me if I was scared sh__less. I replied no, that this was what I expected.
I spent the first week in OCS with a full head of hair, since I had missed the bald haircut, and was thus easily recognizable to all the Drill Instructors. Each one had to have a heart to heart discussion with me about my long hair and prima donna ways. The other candidates did not know what to make of me. Was I some kind of spy, or junior Drill Instructor? The Drill instructors knew my name, and knew that I was former enlisted, so I marched the candidates all over the base. I was very glad when the first week was over, and I could get a bald OCS haircut, and blend back into obscurity.
OS was pretty tough. We trained over the winter, and we were always wet and freezing. A number of people gave up and dropped out, or were dropped by OCS.
After OCS the Marine Corps commissions its new second Lieutenants. It then gives them another 4 to 5 months of Basic School, teaching them the basics of running a rifle platoon. The schools are much longer during peace time, but during war time the need for warm bodies increases, so all the schools are shortened. You learn your trade and what you missed you pick up in on the job training in the combat zone.
As an officer, the Marine Corps actually considers your request about your job (MOS, Military Occupational Specialty). There was substantial pressure to choose infantry. Our Platoon Commanders were recently returned from Vietnam Lieutenants. They told us it was policy in the First & Third Marine Divisions that all Lieutenants would serve their first 6 months in the infantry, and then move to their chosen MOS for their final six months.
I had lost some enthusiasm for being a grunt by 1969. We were mired in a war that was very unpopular. People avoided young servicemen. Instead of being honored for our service, we were considered baby killers. Most of us avoided wearing our uniforms if possible. A short haircut in California in 1967 was way out of fashion. People would yell at you from their cars, calling you idiots and baby killers. And the war was being fought stupidly, and the communists were much more dedicated to their cause than our South Vietnam allies.
So I chose communications electronics for my MOS request. I thought I would serve my six months in the infantry, and then if I made it I would go into the field where I had served, that I liked, and that I was good at.
But I failed to take into account that I was now part of President Nixon's plan to end then war. By the time I got to Vietnam on Christmas Eve 1969, the Third Marine Division had withdrawn, the pace of the American War was slowing, and there was no huge demand for infantry Lieutenants. Infantry Lieutenants were only spending 6 months in the fields. My enlisted Marine Air Wing experience got me sent again to the Air Wing.
So I served my first year in Vietnam in the 1st Marine Air Wing. I held a depressing job in the Wing communication center supervising a watch and proof reading messages. We worked 12 hours a day 7 days a week with no days off. The highlight of that job was a message from an F-4 Squadron, that reported engaging a NVA elephant with bombs and rockets.
We received rocket attacks on most nights, but they were seldom close.
TRANSFERRING TO THE INFANTRY DIVISION
After completing my first tour with the Marine Air Wing, I extended my tour for 6 months, requesting and getting a 30 day leave with a ticket around the world and a new assignment to the First Marine Division (Infantry). I visited Okinawa, the US, Rome, Greece, Israel, India, Thailand, and then returned to Vietnam.
I reported into 1st Marine Division, confident that I would get a more "Gung Ho" assignment with the grunts. The Division had indicated that I would be assigned to one of the Infantry Battalions in the Que Son Mountains. I reported to Division with a brand new in country 2nd Lieutenant. The aged Colonel (younger than I am now) received the two Lieutenants, noting that he had two jobs, one as the commo for 1st Marine Recon Battalion, and one with the base communications center.
The other Lieutenant was just in from the States. The 1st Mar Div Force Recon job is the one that I wanted and asked for - finally a little taste of ground combat. But the Colonel said, "no, you are far too experienced for that job, we need you with the Comm Company." I argued a little, but Lieutenants don't argue very long with Colonels, and reported to Division Headquarters.
So I finished out my next six months, uneventful other than the frequent rocket attacks and occasional sniper rounds. I served as Operation Officer and Executive Officer of the Division Comm Company, then switched to 7th Com Battalion after the Infantry and Wing left country. Our unit was, I believe, the last Marine unit out of Vietnam at the end of June 1971.
Our unit had to pack and turn in all of our equipment, and load it on ship. They wanted us to turn in all of our weapons 24 hours before we left country, which I considered a bad idea. I kept my little AR-15 rifle until I was ready to board the airplane, then gave it to an Army truck driver.
I left Vietnam with a feeling of guilt for having "skated" while others were wounded and died. So many of my friends were hurt or wounded while I was in the rear with gear. As it turns out, however, I was diagnosed with cancer in 2002, which the VA considers to have been caused by Agent Orange. So I did not skate as throughly as I once thought.
I joined the Reserves after active duty, and ended up spending a total of 32 years in the Marine Corps, regular and reserve. I commanded a Marine Squadron, and was promoted all the way to Colonel. I volunteered for active duty for Desert Storm and Iraq, although was not selected. I retired from active Reserve Duty in 1999, but of course part of the deal is that Retired Marines can be recalled, and I am of course ready to serve if needed.
My wife Beth and I returned to Vietnam in 1999. It was interesting to see the country. We saw almost no men old enough to be veterans of the war. I believe that most of them died in the war, or never got out of the reeducation camps, or went back north, or escaped with the boat people. We met a Priest who had been put into the reeducation camps for 14 years prior to his release. The road to Hill 327 was washed out, and I was way to lazy (and nervous about all the Vietnamese military) to try to hike up the hill. I did try to drive on to the old 1st MarDiv base. A sentry was lounging at the gate. When we got up to the gate he jumped to attention at port arms with his AK-47. He was wearing cammies, wore an earing, and looked about 13. He would not let us on the base.
We stayed in an ultra luxury hotel on China Beach, right next to the old in country R-R facility, where MASS-3 once had a great picnic. Beautiful place, with a great view of Monkey Mountain and the South China Sea.
Some of the younger people speak good English. But they do not dare talk about the war. When asked about the war, they ask "which war". When they realize it is the "American War" you are talking about their English comprehension becomes poor. The Vietnamese had checkpoints every few miles where all the Vietnamese had to show an ID card. The Country has a very large military presence, and is very poor. We saw one little girl selling individual sticks of gum on the Hai Van Pass.
The country is still beautiful, and the people are pleasant.
I went to school after Vietnam, and got an Master in Environmental Science. I spent most of my career as a city planner / manager, and am currently the Economic Development Director of Peoria, IL.
I am married with two children. Life is good, and beats the alternative.