Monday, February 4, 2013

Vietnam Marine Protips

I had the opportunity to sit next to a US Marine Veteran today on my plane flight. He is also an engineer for ground GSE (ground support equipment) for United Airlines.

David Jones* served 4 years 1964-1968. He was deployed in the Marines (the infantry of the Navy), 1st battalion, 5th marines. His training consisted of: 11 weeks Bootcamp, 30 days leave, 7-9 weeks of infantry training. He fought on the front lines of the Mekong Delta - south of Saigon - which all happened before the Tet Offensive. The Tet Offensive was essentially a brutal, all-unified attack using all jungle fighting techniques, where North Vietnam, without warning, attacked South Vietnam. North Vietnamese actually do know terrain fighting, much better than US at the time.  The North Vietnamese knew techniques of shooting down helicopters (via surface to air missle).  They also knew the location of landmines.

Bootcamp is required for qualification to use weaponry. (An M-14 rifle 7.62m NATO round. Interchange the ammunition). M-1 rifle 30-caliber, used in WWII, and Korea. Upgraded it to M-14. Automatic rifle. M-1 could fire 6 rounds as soon as you can do it. M-14 can empty 20 rounds in a magazine as fast as you can pull the trigger, one round at a time.

Each squadron has 4 guys. 1 in 4 has a 'selector switch.' to toggle between semiautomatic & automatic. Why? Instead of mowing down your enemy with a fully automatic rifle, a semiautomatic lets you conserve ammunition (you don't have infinite ammo, and if you run out, you are screwed).

Compared to modern-day warfare, there was almost zero interaction at the time (unlike Iraq and Afghanistan) with locals. No civilian interaction.

Prior to the advent of MRE (meal ready-to-eat) C-rations were eaten. C-rations amounted to sporked spam and any other canned food you could cram into a can. After a long day of fighting, wading through swamps, etc. "that shit tastes like steak," according to Dave.

Apparently, back in the day, you could get ANYTHING (black tar heroin, cocaine, meth, pot, amphetamines, anything you wanted) from Subic bay, Phillipines.  Subic bay is the base, the town is Olongapo.

The North Vietnamese had some clever tricks up their sleeves, for weapons.  A 'panji' stake is where you dig hole in ground leave a stick tip dipped in buffalo dung (so you get infected), then you'd step on it, infected - there goes your foot.  A 'Mayalan gate' - gate of spikes, you step somewhere, you get impaled.

Q: Which bases were you stationed at?
A: Da Mang, Nang, Chulai, Kasanah.

Q: Where did you learn how to fight?
A: Jungle fighting techniques were learned in kahanoe hawaii and Subick bay, Phillipines.

Q: What about landmines?
A: Dave has seen someone from his platoon step on a landmine.  They didn't survive.  Dave himself was once driving a truck, when it  ran into another landmine. The Back end of truck got blown away.
There are two types of landmines, each having a different delay trigger.
A 'Claymore' - could see the top of a claymore - would fire in every direction.
'Bouncing Bettys' - fly up 6 feet in front of you, then explode.

There are also guys who would find and disarm landmines.

Q: Who are the bravest people in combat?
A: Corpman - army's version of a medic. They have to do medical assistant on the front lines.  All they had was a .45 caliber pistol and a medical kit. How would they stretcher people out? A: any way they could.

Q: What were living conditions like in the jungle?
A: A 'Shelter half' is half a tent. Each guy's got a half, share a traditional tent with two guys.

Q: How did combat in Vietnam compare with the Korean War?
A: Similar to korean war. but not the same. WWI WWII had fronts. korea had fronts, but there was envelopment. Scattered pockets of enemies. 50 over here, 1000 a large number of miles away.  Jungle combat is different.  Nowadays we fight wars in the urban locations (towns, cities).

Q: Do the marines have air vehicles?
A: Yes.  Marine corp has an airwing - flying helicopter, f4 phantom fighter jets ('F4 phantoms').

Q: What are some professional tips?
A: key to surviving in the jungle: be calm. Accept that you're there. Don't get too excited.

Q: Where did the term 'charlie' or 'gook' come from?
A: The term 'charlie' was any of them: north vietnamese regular, vietcong, vietcong is a south vietnamese that sided with the north.  To marine corps: gook to anyone with non-rounded eyes.  'Luke the gook' is from a Paul Newman movie 'Cool Hand Luke' - the name for a vietcong. VC. lukie.

Q: What was your greatest fear?
A: Never would allow yourself to be captured (unlike McCain) - the biggest fear is getting captured.

* Name anonymized

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