Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Vietnam August 23, 1966: First Year Over and 2nd Wound — Going Home

The Enemy Called Us “Ghosts” – So, We Copied It
(2nd Battalion, 1st Marines)

I wanted to share this story as I concluded my first year in Vietnam — it is as fresh today as it was then.   

The last group of Marines that I served with in 2nd BN, 1st Marines who were killed in action, are recorded from the period of late August 1996 through September 6, 1966, which is also the date I left VN after my second wound (on August 23, 1966) and a full year in ground combat. 

Those fine men are forever remembered and listed on Panel 9E, Rows 74 and 107, and Panel 10E, Rows 23, 29, and 32 on the VN Memorial Wall in Washington, DC.

Killed that day was Staff Sergeant Ken Glaze from Hutchinson, KS who had recently joined Golf Company and he was taking my place as Platoon Commander and he had only been in the unit a few days. I and a few others were preparing to leave VN early that next month (September 1966) as our year in combat was coming to a close. That second wound got me out a few days early and the very day Ken Glaze was killed.

As I said, Ken had been assigned to Golf Company only a few days before I was scheduled to rotate home, and I'm not even sure how long he had been in VN on his tour, or whether he even had been reassigned to us from another unit, because quite frankly I didn't have a chance to know him very well before he was killed. I do know it was his second tour, however. He and the two others in our company killed that day were killed by a series of landmines (at least two for sure, maybe three) on that fateful day. The other two were: PFC Phil Grego from Council Bluffs, IA and PFC Cliff Walter from Erie, PA.  We were very lucky more weren't killed that day because this is what happened.  

All of them, except Sgt. Glaze had been on one of our early morning patrols around our company area. They were only a few hundred yards out in front of the CP (Command Post) and was sweeping through an old cemetery area. They were in fact so close some guys shouted at them to hurry up and come in and get some hot chow. Then kapow, kaboom...!!!   Two very loud and nearby explosions.

It was a very huge explosion right where they were had grouped. Sgt. Glaze was the first to grab a couple of Marines in nearby area and started to dash out to the site. I followed him with two of our Corpsmen.  Mine explosions, or in fact, any kind of explosion, are real nasty. As Marines, we were always trained that with one explosion, or booby trap, be careful, you can be 100% sure of finding or expecting to have one or two more. That day was no exception to that savvy Engineer Golden Rule.   

I had no sooner arrived on the scene when I saw Ken bending over those on ground around him helping patch their wounds. It appeared that no one was dead, but I could see we had at least three seriously wounded.  I don't know exactly what happened next, but one of the wounded stood and started to move out and away from the others. 

I yelled at him, “Don't move, don't move, get down!” I had no sooner gotten those words out when, another huge blast hit us. Heat, metal, flames, and shrapnel cut into all of us.  He had triggered a second mine. The air was black with smoke and powder and screams. It smelled awful.  Pieces of metal tore into me as well as pieces of the Marine who had stepped on the mine. It had been a dreaded “Bouncing Betty – a kind of mine that when stepped on would actually bounce up in the air some 3-4 feet and explode thereby cutting down any standing nearby – very deadly mine.

Apparently the VC or NVA had seen our guys burying them, then steal them, and replant them against us. They would also modify them to make them “command denoted” and they would lay in the brush and then explode them remotely in an ambush.  Those mines were very effective. Our dead and wounded now covered a wider radius. Sadly that day we forgot the Engineer golden – one mine means another is nearby – we paid a heavy price. 

A few minutes after I arrived and the Docs started patching up the wounded, and a few seconds before the second mine went off, our Company Gunnery Sergeant (Wilson) arrived with a few other Marines who came out to assist and watch. 

I had just yelled at Wilson and told him and the others to get back and stay back and that we had the situation under control.  I shouted for them to stay back because some of them were getting too close.  
Wilson overruled me and acted like an ass. I suppose because he was a Gunny Sgt. and I was only a newly promoted Staff Sergeant. It didn't matter. Maybe he just wanted to throw around his rank. Then kaboom … a second mine, and then just as suddenly, someone got up to move again, and a third mine went off!  

Ken Glaze and one of the two who had triggered the mine were killed instantly. One of the previously wounded (I think it may have been Grego) was killed as he lay there getting patched up from his first wound. I was hit and so were several others including one of the Docs. I had been hit in the forehead, right shoulder and left thigh. I was lucky. None of my wounds as it turned out were life-threatening, although the forehead bled a lot and hurt the most and looked the worst. 

I had been lucky because I had been crouching down helping a wounded Marine when the mine blew so I made a much smaller target than those were standing like Ken Glaze and the others.  They got mowed down — death came quickly for them, and I'm sure they didn't feel anything in that instant. Thank God, they didn't suffer. One minute they were standing there and the next they were torn to shreds. We probed around for more mines and not finding any, we started to clean up the area and move the dead and wounded back to the perimeter as 'choppers started to arrive to pick up the dead and wounded.  

I was face to face with Gunny Wilson later back at the CP explaining to Captain Charles Krulak, our company commander, what had happened. But, Wilson kept trying to clean up the story to fit his own agenda; whatever that was I wasn't sure at the time. 

Once or twice, I came close to grabbing him by the throat and beating the shit out of him over what had happened because I was angry that he would pull rank on me, even when I was right when I told them all to stand back. He was wrong and it cost us dearly. He kept trying to show that he was in control and that the others had somehow fucked up. Wilson was dead wrong; it was he who fucked up but he wouldn't admit it.

He was not obligated to explain to Krulak and others what had happened, and he kept leaving out the part where I told him and the others to stay back. Although I was only a Staff Sergeant and Wilson a Gunnery Sergeant (one rank higher), I held a higher position than he did. I was in fact a platoon commander (an officer's position since we were short officers).   

That was my second wound, and I had only a week left in country, so Captain Krulak ordered me to the rear BAS (Battalion Aid Station) to get patched up, stay there, and get ready to go home. He told me, “You stay there and get ready to go home next week, your tour is over.” 

I think he did it for Wilson's sake more than for mine. I could have gotten patched up and stayed in the field another week or so, and thus I guess it didn't matter. It was clear Krulak didn't want me near Wilson. I flew out of VN and returned home on September 6, 1966.  My first tour of duty was over after nearly 13 months of nearly daily combat operations. 

I would be back in November 1968 for seconds.

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