29 May 2007

The Kneeling Marine

Memorial Day
May 28th, 2007

Memorial Day is a Holy Day which is often observed as merely another holiday. The word “holiday” is a contraction of the older term “Holy Day” and the people we have become in these times tend to forget the original meaning altogether and we just look for a fun way to celebrate! Our holidays are typically filled with fun and games – we tend to eat too much and to drink too much and treat the entire holiday week-end as a festive occasion.

Memorial Day, however, was not intended to be celebrated in the spirit of a festive occasion! Today is a Sacred Time set aside for calling to remembrance the names and faces of those who gave what Lincoln referred to as “The last full measure of devotion” for our benefit. This is not the time for saving a bundle of cash on a new used car or for a ‘shop ‘til you drop’ marathon at the major department stores. Today is a time to come together with Reverence and Humility and give thanks to God for the Spirit of Sacrifice and Heroism that has inspired hundreds of thousands of Americans to give their lives for the things we hold dear!

The great 19th century Philosopher, John Stuart Mill wrote:
“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.”
John Stuart Mill

He was right! War drives a hard bargain – even when you win you have to lose! We never come to the end of the conflict with what we had in the beginning! Individually we lose friends and Brothers – we lose our youth and vigor – we lose the best years of our lives – we lose opportunities that will never come again! Collectively, as a Nation and as a People, we lose many of our best young people – the promise of our future! These are, invariably, the young men and women with the courage and strength of character to put their lives on the line for the hope of a better world.

Having committed ourselves to war there are two facts that always apply: Someone must die – someone must remember... and there is no easy way out!

I don’t usually quote from my own work but this time I would like to read you a very short piece – it is called “A shot in the dark” and it gives some idea of the horrible and brutal way death so often comes in combat..

“His body trembles against me,
Iron fingers clutch my shirt...
(Waking suddenly in a sweat,
I feel them twisting there!)
The back of his head missing...
A hole in his chest...
Gray lips whisper,
“Tell Mama... tell Mama...!
Tell Mama what?
....The gray lips never said.”

Someone dies – someone remembers -- and that memory will never fade. There are many here who will have had experiences similar to this one; they will remember how hard he died and how they continued to lie to him about how “everything is gonna be all right” even in spite of the pain and the fear in his eyes that said he knew he was dying. They did what they could and then they continued the fight. They went on to fight the next day and the next and prayed that they might forget – but, that didn’t happen! This is a burden they will carry for all of their lives. You cannot choose what happens to you in war – you may die or you may live to carry the burden of remembering the death all around you. As I said before – neither way is easy.

This little poem was a description of a nightmare flash back but it only tells part of the story. Lets look at the same death from another perspective. “Tell Mama...” he said, and we never know what to tell her. We may never see her anyway but someone will tell her in words she will never be able to forget – words that will seem, to her, the most cruel and heartless thing possible to say – someone will tell her, beginning with ‘We regret to inform...” and her life, her world, will be changed forever. She was not in the fight but her sacrifice is as great as that of either of the young men in the flashback poem. The pain of her sacrifice must not be forgotten on Memorial Day.

These words and other sounds will burn themselves into her heart to play like a broken record – the guns, the bugle and, when it is almost over, the words “On behalf of a grateful nation...” as the flag is slipped into her hands.

For a combat veteran flashbacks which seem to drag him right back to the worst days of his life may be triggered by certain smells or sounds or other seemingly harmless things – for her it will be the words “We regret to inform... On behalf of a grateful nation...”

Researching Memorial Day to get ready for today I ran across some pictures taken at the funeral of a young Marine buried at Arlington. One picture I thought perfectly caught the spirit with which we should all approach this Sacred Day. It had just the right mix of Pride and Humility, Strength and Grace; it was a picture of the young marine’s Father seated with the family and, kneeling in front of him a Marine Gunnery Sergeant presenting the folded flag “on behalf of a grateful nation...” If we can capture that spirit – we will have come close to a proper observance of Memorial Day.

In closing – I know there are a lot of recipients of the Purple Heart here today and though I don’t know the individual details I do know in a general way, how you earned that medal so I want to say “On behalf of a grateful nation – thank you for your service and thank you for the blood you shed!” Welcome Home!
Copyright May, 2007 -- Doug Todd & Monument Press -- All Rights Reserved

24 May 2007

The Bivouac of the Dead

By Theodore O'Hara, 1847

The muffled drum's sad roll has beat

The soldier's last tattoo'

No more on life's parade shall meet

That brave and fallen few;

On Fame's eternal camping ground

Their silent tents are spread;

But Glory guards with solemn round

The bivouac of the dead.

© 1997-2002 David Merchant Updated 17 May 2001

Problems With the M-16

Another aspect of the battle on Sept. 21, 1967 was the fact that we were fighting with a defective weapon. The M-16, at this time in 1967, would often jam after firing only a few rounds. We were told by our officers we were not keeping our rifles clean. Keeping the M-16 clean in Vietnam was difficult at best. This was due to the environment and the weather. But this was not the problem. There were real problems with the M-16, and many Marines were killed because of the weapons malfunctions. I personally went through three M-16s during the September 21st fight, serving with Golf Company until I was wounded. It was like fighting with one arm tied behind our backs. We were outnumbered, using a weapon that jammed, but we still fought like Marines have always fought. And we gave as good as we got.

Semper Fi,
Bob Bliss Golf-2/4 1967

As Bob Bliss has written above, there were problems with the M16 jamming and the troops were blamed for not keeping their rifles clean. We now know that the real problem was the type of powder used. During testing, Dupont IMR powder was specified. When mass production of the M16 was started, the powder to be used in the ammunition was changed to standard ball powder. The problems resulting from this change were:

The new powder caused much more fouling which quickly jammed the action unless it was cleaned well and often. But Colt had promoted the M16 as low maintenance, so to save money, no cleaning supplies were procured for the troops and no training was provided for the troops. The new powder also increased the rate of fire which decreased accuracy and contributed to jamming and wore out parts more quickly.

After all the problems with the M16 in 1967, the powder was changed, cleaning kits were developed and issued to the troops, and special training programs were developed and conducted.

In short, it was impossible for the troops to keep the M16 clean enough to function properly. So the government saved some money in 1967, but who knows the cost in lives lost.

Semper Fi,
Bill Sellers

We received the m-16 in early April and promptly had problems with it. Charlie lost 16 men to the malfunctions around April 17, while Sgt Huff said the gun saved their butts in Bravo in the spring Khe Sahn hill fights. They were able to carry more ammo. Delta guys tell me of shooting a round and then having to extract the casing with a cleaning rod while on the Street Without Joy. The aluminum chamber caused problems as it would pit and when the shell fired it would fill the pit holes and the extractor could not get the shell out. Currie Clement one of the Bn Armorers said some of the rifles would get broken trying to get the bolt out. He also had to keep quiet while an inspection team claimed that the Marines were not keeping the rifles clean. There was a Bn who received the rifles on ship, and the brass did not know what to do when they malfunctioned when they shot them off the fantail. I got mine second hand from an Arty FO who was turning his in for an M-14. He told me it was a good one and had killed somebody with it already. It would take 100 rounds or so on full auto and then only shoot single shot until I cleaned it up.

Bill Weidenbacher
Alpha 1/9 66-67 H&S 1/26 67
June 1, 2007 12:19 AM
If you really want to read about the M16 piece of crap, go to this link. Former Marine Culver does a great job exposing what went on: http://www.jouster.com/articles30m1/index.html
SFC.B. Clement H&S Co. 1/9 66-67
June 5, 2007 10:42 PM

07 May 2007

A Tribute To Our Corpsmen

I salute you, our fallen brothers, who died as bravely as any Marine. I don't know any Marine who wouldn't claim you as one of our own.

I'm the One Called Doc

By: Harry D. Penny, J. HMC(AC) USN

I shall not walk in your footsteps,
but I will walk by your side.
I shall not walk in your image,
I've earned my own title of pride.
We've answered the call together,
on sea and foreign land.
When the cry for help was given,
I've been there right at hand.

Whether I am on the ocean
or in the jungle wearing green,
Giving aid to my fellow man,
Be it Sailors or Marines.
So the next time you see a corpsman,
And you think of calling him "squid",
Think of the job he's doing
As those before him did.
And if you ever have to go out there
And your life is on the block,
Look at the one right next to you...
I'm the one called "Doc".

HM3 Conal J. Byrne H&S 2/4 Silver Star
HM3 Arthur D. Esqueda H&S 2/4
HM3 Joseph A. Coomes H&S 2/4

02 May 2007

A Synopsis of Sept. 21, 1967

This is for those who know very little or nothing about the events of September 21, 1967. If what you do know is from websites or books, then much of what you have read is in error.

First, most reports list 16 KIA with 15 left behind. I now have the names of 34 KIA and the KIA list from Echo company is incomplete. So we don't know at this time the total of KIA, but 16 is definitely wrong. There were 118 reported wounded in action, but I don't know if this number is correct.

Many reports give the impression that we were ambushed, and the attack on us was so fierce that we had to withdraw immediately, leaving 15 behind. The fact is we were on a battalion sweep of an area when Fox company walked into an ambush. Echo was ordered to go to their aid. Echo also engaged an NVA battalion which was in a fortified position, and Golf company was ordered to perform a flanking movement in support of Echo while Hotel company was held in reserve in a defensive position to our rear. So the real situation was companies E, F & G attacked the NVA in a fortified position, and fought them all day long.

Most reports say we advanced to within 30 meters of the enemy and were stopped. This is true to a point, but several charges were made into the fortified position and at least one charge by parts of Golf company was successful. We were not forced to withdraw but were called back so artillery could be called in on the NVA. The NVA had the advantage because they outnumbered us, were dug in, and we were in the open. They also had the area zeroed in with artillery, rockets, and mortars. They hit us with everything they had but we still fought them to a draw and chose to withdraw as darkness approached.

The location of the battle has been reported in error as being west of Khe Sanh near the border with Laos. In fact we were approximately 1800 meters east of Con Thien.

With all the mis-information about the battle, including being classified for 25 years, the need for the truth to be told becomes apparent.