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Lots of comparisons lately between death rates of Covid -19 and the Vietnam war. Local and national news reports, forum discussions etc. No doubt about it, it's horrific. The first time I heard the comparison it was jarring. It felt like what a dog must feel when it hits the end of his chain. A Jolt. Not just because of the numbers, that's bad enough for sure but something else. An unexpected surprise due to the word association. VIETNAM!  Seconds later a flood of memories . . .

Most Vietnam Vets that I know, tend not to talk much about the Vietnam war, If they talk about it at all. And even then, it's usually to each other and they tend to compartmentalize the experience. They don't tell a lot of war stories as such. Instead they talk about the good times, the funny incidents, and the crazy things that can happen to people in a war zone. Accidents, carelessness and negligence caused a lot of casualties in Vietnam; "friendly fire" incidents were common. The reasons were many and varied: Inattention, fatigue, inexperience and/or poor training, over reaction/fear/panic etc.

Faulty, malfunctioning equipment was sometimes a contributing factor in the causality count. One example: Early issue, design flawed M-16 rifles that were prone to jamming, which got Americans killed due to ejection and loading issues. Another example of a faulty weapon situation, (one that hit close to home), and almost resulted in a disastrous outcome, was partially caused by a broken U.S. Army hand-me-down M-79 Grenade Launcher (Blooper). 

The M-79 grenade launcher is a single-shot, shoulder-fired, breech loaded grenade launcher that fires a 40 MM grenade out to about 375 meters. The M-79 was designed to be a light weight weapon carried by an infantry squad to bridge the effectiveness between a hand grenade and a mortar. It makes a loud "bloop" sound when fired.

In general, (from personal experience), the Marines in Vietnam were routinely issued old, worn out, combat gear, including weapons. The U.S. Army, on the other hand always seemed to be supplied with first rate everything, especially weapons. The reason was simple. They had more money. The Army had a much larger budget because they are a much larger organization than the Marine Corps. When the Army got new weapons, they handed down the old weapons to the Marines. Many of which were not fully serviceable. And the Marines, for the most part, were glad to get them. Because it was way better than nothing . . . Even the A.R.V.N.’s, (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) soldiers were issued more current/modern weapons than the Marines were. Why? Other than the Marine tradition of making do with little to nothing, I have no idea. But it did happen. So, the tendency became to just get used to it, and laugh about it. After all, “It don’t mean nothing”

Comic relief is very important in a war zone. Many times, in stressful situations, people in the military tend to laugh about things that may not seem at all funny to the average person but that was a normal reaction, (for the time and place) . Naturally, among Marines you get a lot of dark humor but that's what helps people under stress get through tough situations. We laughed at the craziest things sometimes which could have gone either way. I still remember this one as being weirdly humorous, in spite of the potentially deadly consequences that existed. But I also still thank God it turned out the way it did. 


My squad of Marines was attached to a convoy of U.S. Army 175 MM and 8 inch SP's (self-propelled howitzers), coming out of Da Nang South bound on Route 1.  The "Big Guns"  were headed for LZ Baldy which normally would be a day trip, but the road was heavily mined and roadside IED's were a common hazard, so the Engineers were taking their time sweeping and digging and blowing stuff up. We had flankers out ahead of the Engineers for security against enemy snipers, but it was still a slow go.

Near sundown, the Army convoy pulled off the road and circled the wagons on a small hill with all the guns pointed outward in a defensive perimeter. The Marines set up about 50 meters outside the ring of guns in two man positions. The Marine Command Post consisted of myself and our new Lt. who decided he wanted to carry the M-79 grenade launcher that day. I told the Lt. I was concerned about the M-79 (Blooper), which had a broken safety and had to be carried with the breech open, then snapped closed when ready to fire, otherwise it had a tendency to go off by itself sometimes. We had the PRC-25 radio placed against a tree and the Lt. leaned the Blooper upright against the tree trunk next to the radio. The Lt. was lying down on one side of the radio and I was lying down facing him on the other side, propped up on our elbows monitoring the nervous chit-chat of the Army guys setting in who were not used to being outside of a secure compound. The Lt. turned toward me, bumping the radio slightly with his elbow, which, in turn, jostled the M-79 that he had neglected to break open when he leaned it against the tree. The Blooper fell flat and went off, with the round landing smack in the middle of the Army Command Post. Somebody yelled Incoming! - and instantly, all hell broke loose with the 175 MM and 8" guns going off in all directions right over our heads.

The Lt. and I were rolling around doubled up in laughter for a few seconds, then he said, "I better do something or this may go on all night" He pulled out his map, grabbed the radio mike and called in a fire mission on the enemy mortar position which was a large white rock off in the distance high up on Charlie Ridge The guns quickly zeroed in on the enemy rock and obliterated the target, at which time the Lt. announced the success of the mission and called for a cease fire. We were still laughing and shaking our heads about it the next day, but we were immensely thankful that no one had been injured as a result of the incident. The M-79 was returned to it's normal user and the Lt. arranged for us to get one with a functioning safety. 

Over the years, I have often wondered how many medals and citations were awarded to the Army gun crews for, "The Battle of White Rock Ridge" And as a result of this unfortunate faux pas I would like to personally apologize to the U.S. Army administration and awards personnel for all the extra work involved and just say, 


M-79 1.PNG


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BMc, I won't tell you about the time in Nam when crap like that happened, I still don't have very good times remembering stuff over there. My job was a Medic, and most of my time was not too funny. Grubstake

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43 minutes ago, grubstake said:

BMc, I won't tell you about the time in Nam when crap like that happened, I still don't have very good times remembering stuff over there. My job was a Medic, and most of my time was not too funny. Grubstake

I hear you Grubs. There were tons of screw ups and bad outcomes for sure. By all the services. Not to mention the carnage on the battlefield. That's why I don't dwell on that type of stuff either. In the Marines, we didn't always have a Medic (Corpsman), so, out in the bush, the job usually defaulted to the Squad leader or who ever was closest to the wounded Marine.

Fortunately, the Dust Off, (Air Medivac) for us, was an average of about 20 minutes response time. Then, there was often a further 5 minute delay for an auto-rotate decent by the Marine CH-26 Copters per Marine Corp policy.

When we could get them, I loved those young Army Warrant Officer pilots who would come in low and fast and set down, even in a hot LZ, and be on their way, while the Marine Helicopter was still doing their auto-rotate descent overhead.  It wasn't a matter of anyone being afraid to get shot at, it was simply that the Marines had a very limited number of Helicopters compared to the Army and they couldn't afford to lose any. 

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The only thing, I can think about thats funny to me, is I use to tell people: Please don't tell my Mom, I'm in the Army and Volinteered for Vietnam!. She thinks I'm a piano player in A whore house in Navada! Grubstake


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My mother has been gone now for around 8 years, I have a sister that is 15 years younger than me, She just told me the other day, that when I was in Nam 67-68-69 she would watch the news everynight on the old black and white TV. and she if she could see me on the news. I never new that as long as my mother was alive. Kind of broke my heart when my little sister told me. Only was with a news crew once, and sitting in the front row on Christmas, when BOB Hope and Raquel Welch we over there. We had Patients and got to move them up front, at Cam Ran Bay,  Grubstake



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