In 1954, the French signed a peace treaty with the Viet Minh and withdrew from Vietnam. The United States determined to aid the South Vietnamese with aid and advisors. That all changed on March 8, 1965, when U.S. Marines landed at Danang.
The view south from the crest of Hill 327. In the middle of the photograph is a Vietnamese Army rifle range which fired in the direction of Hill 327. Ricochets were a serious problem. After my corpsman, Ron Marx, took a ricochet round in the ribs, the engineers built a high sandbag wall to protect us.
The view directly west from the crest of Hill 327. Many of Charlie Company's patrols and operations occurred in this area.
Our battalion made the cover of Life Magazine on July 2, 1965. The Marine Lieutenant with the mustache behind the three Marines is my good friend Dick Welsh, who died of cancer in recent years. The three Alpha Company Marines in the foreground are, left to right, Sgt. Daniel F. Hall, PFC Marvin F. Shollenberger and Sgt. James D. Maloney.
A Minox photo of one of my Marines fishing his gear out of a rice paddy as radioman Dennis Czech looks on amused.
It was common for the Viet Cong to dig camouflaged holes with sharp sticks to impale the unwary. We called them "punji pits". This pit was unusual in that it contained a bear trap.
Doc Campion, Charlie Company's chief corpsman, with the bear trap. We lost Doc for a while to malaria, but he was eventually able to return.
Dennis Czech, radioman for the Third Platoon, Charlie Company, First Battalion of the Third Marines. Our call sign was "Burke Charlie Three."
I disliked patrolling in the rice paddy areas. My training and instincts were to move in a triangular formation with one squad up and two back, or with two up and one back. In the rice paddy areas, we either had to walk in column on the dikes or move as a triangle tromping on some poor farmer's rice.
The most severe ass chewing I ever received in Vietnam was not from a more senior officer but from a toothless eighty something year old woman. The H-34s dropped us into her rice paddy, and she read me the riot act. My Marines got a big laugh out of seeing their ass-kicking Lieutenant catching hell from an old woman.
Areas such as this scrubby, bushy area with no rice paddies came to be called "The Bush".
Staff Sergeant Loker and I take a break in the intense heat of mid-day.
Minox photo of Marines advancing through rice paddy in tactical formation. The formation varied depending upon the situation and terrain.
On this patrol. our orders were to stop by a Regional Forces camp to show the flag.
Arrival at the Regional Forces camp.
These Regional Forces guys looked a little seedy.
My Platoon Sergeant, Staff Sergeant Loker, shares candy with two children as we pass through a village.
River crossings were dangerous. I would typically bring my platoon up on line, get them into firing position and send a four man fire team across to scout the other bank. We would then cross by fire teams or by squads so that I never had the entire platoon in a river at one time.
Sergeant Loker plants punji stakes as a joke, and then fills his canteens. Water was plentiful if we were in the flat lowlands, but we had to carry extra water when we went into the hills. We used Halizone tablets to kill the bad stuff, but we had never heard of Agent Orange.
This village had erected defenses against Viet Cong attacks.
On this short break, I placed my command post under one of the few trees in this area.
The Platoon Right Guide, Sergeant Taylor, gets some rest.
Our second Corpsman, Billy Barnes, tries to rest despite a pesky fly.
Sergeant Loker brewing something, probably coffee, in his canteen cup over an improvised stove.
Sergeant Taylor resting as Czech mans the radio.
Occasionally we were joined by war correspondents and photographers. I believe the man on the right is Henri Huet, a famous war photographer who later died with Larry Burrows and others when their helicopter was shot down.
On this patrol, we got drenched in a thunderstorm, so we took refuge in a nearby village. Here, Sergeant Taylor (right), squad leader Sergeant Lutu (standing) and Colley(seated left) sit in a small store. Often, there was no convenient shelter, so we just patrolled in the rain. It was usually too hot for ponchos.
We were all taken by this sweet little girl in the store.
Big sister was also taking shelter from the downpour.
On another occasion, we were caught in a heavy thunderstorm as we passed a cemetery with a large mausoleum. I decided that we would sleep with the dead before going into our nightly ambush position.
Sergeant Loker awakening from a nap.
Corpsman Ron Marx "catching some Z's." I am standing on the right behind him, soaked below the knees. We must have been wearing ponchos.
Finally, it was my turn to nap.
Occasionally, we had a 60 mm mortar section attached to us. Our battalion reintroduced the 60, since the standard 80 mm mortar with baseplate, tripod and ammo were just too heavy for the heat and terrain.
Riding home after a long patrol. Occasionally, we were heli-lifted or met trucks in a safe location, but often it was just a long hike back to Hill 268.
Out in the bush, I describe the patrol for that day to Staff Sergeant Loker, Sergeant Taylor and the three squad leaders. I am center left with Loker behind me and Taylor to the far right.
We saddle up and get ready to move out.
Friendly villagers come out to watch.
Most of this terrain would have been impassable on foot.
Each tank maintained some separation so that we would not all be caught in an ambush.
The tankers wanted to fire their weapons. I suggested that they fire at a hilltop where I had previously seen wisps of smoke--possible cooking fires. I believe the hill was 270. The concussion wave from a tank firing its cannon is awesome and unforgettable.
The target area can be seen at the middle left of this photo near the top of a hill. I heard a couple of weeks later from battalion HQ that we had killed a number of the enemy.
A Marine carrying the extra weight of a 3.5 inch round for our rocket launcher team. Above right are the feet of the H-34 pilot.
Corpsman Billy Barnes on the left and Gunnery Sergeant Cliff Colby on the right. Gunny Colby was the Weapons Platoon Sergeant. Since the machine guns and rocket launchers were attached to the rifle platoons on operations, he hung out with his good buddy, Sergeant Loker. As a 23 year old First Lieutenant, I felt lucky to have these two Korean War veterans advising me.
On this particular operation, the landing zone was marked with smoke. Often, that was not the case.
Here I stand in the hatch of the H-34. I was always the first man out and the last man aboard.
In this series of photographs, Charlie Company is landing to replace Alpha Company on an operation. Note Alpha Company organized into "sticks" near the bottom of the photo. More often than not, we had no idea how many Marines the helicopters could lift until they landed. It depended primarily upon their fuel load, the temperature and the humidity. As they landed, the crew chief would hold up the number of fingers corresponding to how many Marines they could carry. Once loaded, they taxied to gain speed and sometimes used the collective to bounce up and down, all in an effort to get out of their own rotor wash and achieve "effective translation lift" or "ETL".
Since this was obviously a secure landing zone, the landing was fairly mundane. When we landed in an unsecure landing zone, the pilots assumed it was hot and flew a combat assault. From a point which was thousands of feet above the LZ, these highly skilled pilots would enter into a very steep spiral, leveling out short of the LZ but travelling at a high rate of speed. As they neared the LZ they almost stood their birds on their tails to stop. We were out in seconds and they were gone, leaving us in silence.
The Alpha Company officers and NCO's brief the Charlie Company officers and NCO's.
From left to right, Lt. Lemmon is briefed by Lt. Suozzo. Alpha Company Commander Jim Miller stands with his rifle on his shoulder and an unidentified Alpha NCO briefs Gunnery Sergeant Cliff Colby.
Sgt. Loker gives a one-fingered salute to his Lieutenant. We each felt a lot of warmth and respect for one another. I valued his advice, and I don't recall that we ever had a disagreement.
Following a helicopter assault, Company Commander Captain Lee Peterson reads his operation order to Platoon Leaders and others. Seated left to right are Lt. Lemmon (1st Platoon), Capt. Peterson,Wild Bill Campbell (Second Platoon Sergeant), me (3rd Platoon Leader), and Staff Sergeant Johnson (mortar section leader). Lt. McCloy (2nd Platoon Leader) kneels in the foreground.
Marines searching the field for dead and wounded Viet Cong.
These bodies were recovered from the field.
First Platoon assaulted the base camp, but the Viet Cong had escaped. The platoon gathered intelligence material and burned the camp.
An area of the camp burning.
Another Phantom firing rockets.
This appears to be another rocket run. The Phantoms also dropped 500 pound bombs. Lt. Feeley and I were taking cover behind gravestones on Hill 22 when a large chunk of hot shrapnel fell on him. The shrapnel was spent and did not injure him.
Skip recruited our artillery forward observer, Lieutenant Don Miller, and Charlie Company Executive Officer Lieutenant Joe Feeley. Here, Don Miller hammers the ruins with his best kick.
Skip (left) and Joe Feeley (right) look for a weak point.
The thrill of victory.
Boys will be boys. Eventually, we were released to go on our operation.