As you may or may not know the in-country Ontos units, about half way through their deployment during the Vietnam War, were included in the command structures of the Tank Battalions. For a number of reasons - none of them very "reasonable" - our Ontos armor brothers have been virtually overlooked by the historians of the Vietnam War Era. Not only that, at the end of the Vietnam War the Ontos were no longer part of the Marine Corps combat readiness force nor were they to be manufactured for future use. As a result, the history of this unique armor/grunt combination has been lost with the advancement of revised military training, equipment modernization, and evolving tactics.
Those who not only served in Vietnam but who also served during this controversial period in our history have not been recognized for their sacrifices, contributions and service during this time. Tankers as well as Ontos crewmen of the era have a story to tell.
Our goal as a Marine Corps Historical Foundation is to collect the histories of all those who want to share their stories, tanker and Ontosmen alike.
Silver Star Recipient:
Cpl Harry Cristensen. USMC (ret.)
|Silver Star Medal|
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Corporal Rene Cerda (MCSN: 2318335), United States Marine Corps, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action while serving with Company B, Third Tank Battalion, THIRD Marine Division (Rein.), FMF, in connection with operations against the enemy in the Republic of Vietnam. On the morning of 19 May 1968, Corporal Cerda was the Loader aboard one of two tanks assigned to assist a friendly unit heavily engaged with a numerically superior North Vietnamese Army force near the Khe Sanh Combat Base. Arriving at the beleaguered unit's position, the armored vehicle immediately came under intense enemy anti-tank rocket and small-arms fire. Realizing the seriousness of the situation, Corporal Cerda ensured that the 90-mm. cannon was loaded and the .30-caliber machine gun was operative. As the tank moved into the hazardous area, he ably assisted the gunner to deliver a heavy volume of suppressive fire upon the hostile emplacements which enabled two badly damaged vehicles to withdraw to positions of relative safety. Continuing to maneuver across the fire-swept terrain, the tank suddenly sustained a direct hit from an enemy anti-tank rocket that seriously wounded Corporal Cerda and two of the crew members. Ignoring his painful injury, he continued to assist the gunner and load the weapons. Despite sustaining two additional wounds as hostile rocket-propelled grenades impacted upon a tank, he steadfastly refused medical aid and manually operated the machine gun that was damaged by the enemy fire. Fearlessly maintaining his dangerous position, he resolutely ignored the intense hostile fire as the armored vehicle was struck by five additional anti-tank rockets that penetrated the engine compartment and forced the crew to abandon their flaming tank. His heroic actions and resolute determination inspired all who observed him and were instrumental in the Marines accounting for over three hundred North Vietnamese soldiers killed. By his courage, aggressive fighting spirit, and unfaltering devotion to duty in the face of extreme personal danger, Corporal Cerda upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and of the United States Naval Service.
Bronze Star w/Valor
Private First Class Rick Madera
|Bronze Star w/Combat "V"|
For heroic achievement in connection with operations against the enemy in the Republic of South Vietnam while serving as an Ontos Commander with Company A, First Antitank Battalion, First Marine Division. On 18 March 1968 during Operation Ford in Thus Thien Province, Private First Class MADERA'S vehicle was assigned to provide fire support for a Marine company assaulting fortified enemy positions. Although receiving intense automatic weapons fire, he directed seventeen rounds of 106mm recoilless rifle fire at the enemy, destroying= a hostile machine gun emplacement and killing three North Vietnamese soldiers. When he was unable to fire his recoilless rifles due to a malfunction, he disregarded the intense enemy fire and commenced delivering machine gun fire on the hostile force. Although subsequently wounded in the arm by enemy machine gun fire, he ignored his injury and continued to fire into the enemy encampment his weapon was destroyed by by hostile fire and he was medically evacuated. As a result of his heroic and determined efforts, the Marines accomplished the mission, killing twenty of the enemy and capturing numerous weapons. Private First Class MADERA'S resolute courage, aggressive fighting spirit and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of extreme danger were in keeping with the highest standards of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.
Private First Class MADERA is authorized to wear the Combat "V".
Donors: Thank you for your support.
Peter Brush* ~ (2011)
Dick Carey, 3rd Tanks* ~ (2010/2011)
John Coffee, 5th / 3rd Tanks ~ (2010)
Kyle Decicco-Carey* ~ (2011)
David 'Doc' Forsyth, 1st Tanks* ~ (2010/2011)
Jim Raasch, 5th Tanks** ~ (2010/2011)
Pappy Reynolds, 3rd Tanks* ~ (2010/2011)
LtCol Ray Stewart, USMC (ret.), 1st Tanks** ~ (2010/2011)
Guy Wolfenberger, 3rd Tanks ~ (2011)
Jim Didear, 1st Tanks ~ (2010)
Gene 'Doc' Hackemack, 1st Tanks ~ (2011)
Glen Hutchins, 3rd Tanks ~ (2010)
Louie Ryle, 3rd Tanks ~ (2010)
Rick "Smitty" Smith, 1st Tanks ~ (2010)
Maj. Frank Box, USMC (ret.), 3rd Anti-Tanks ~ (2010)
Col Bill Davis, USMC (ret.), 3rd Tanks ~ (2010)
Garry Hall, 3rd Tanks ~ (2010)
Richard Traiser, 1st Tanks ~ (2010)
Belmo Belmessieri, 5th / 3rd Tanks ~ (2010)
Mike 'Boris' Bolenbaugh, 3rd Tanks ~ (2011)
MGySgt Mark Damschen, USMC (ret.), 1st Tanks ~ (2010)Garry Hall, 3rd Tanks ~ (2010)
Justin Donnelly, 1st Tanks ~ (2010)
Dave Helfrich, 1st Tanks ~ (2010)
Carl Lemon, 1st Tanks ~ (2010)
Rick Oswood, 3rd Tanks ~ (2011)
Claude Vargo, 3rd Tanks ~ (2010)
Jerry Wahl, 3rd Tanks ~ (2010)
**In-Kind & Monetary
~ Donations received after 29 January will appear in the March issue.
|Your continued support is appreciated. Please send your Donation to:
MCVTHF, 707 S.W. 350th Ct., Federal Way, WA 98023
Belt Buckle Auction
We wish to thank the 9 bidders who participated in our this auction. The winner was Sid Ferguson with a bid of $170. The other participants, in alphabetical order were; Albert Christy, Justin Donnelly, R.B. English, Larry Parshall, Jim Roberts, Al Van De Bogart, Jerry Wahl, and Guy Wolfenberger.
A big thank you goes out to all who made bids and a special thank you to Sid Ferguson for his winning bid.
Next month's auction will showcase a Brand New Carhart Jacket with USMC Vietnam Tankers Association patches. The jacket is being donated by USMC VTA board member 1st Sgt Rick Lewis, USMC (ret.) ~ Thank you 1st Sgt Lewis!
Dennis Richardson (Former Captain)
|Swet's Ontos |
During operation PEGASUS, then Lt Richardson found himself leading a platoon of "pigs" on this operation to clear the road to Khe Sanh. The siege of Khe Sanh had been broken, but the road leading to the base had to be cleared Lt Richardson was placed under the Battalion Commander of 2nd Battalion 3rd Marine Regiment 3rd Marine Division. The road leading from the Marine Base at Camp Carroll to Khe Sanh would take about a week. The Ontos would stay close to the road while the infantry swept the steep hills.
As the road got closer to Khe Sanh, the effects of the massive B52 bombing showed on the terrain. The once heavily forested hills looked like a moonscape as most of the trees were blown down.
In a conversation with the Battalion Commander, Lt Richardson pointed out a lone pine tree that had survived the bombings. The Battalion Commander said the Ontos couldn't hit the side of the hill much less the lone pine tree that sat about 1500 yards away. Lt Richardson bet the commander $1.00 that his crew could mercy kill the pine on its first shot. The LT picked a good crew for the shot and the deed was done as ordered. After the tree fell, the commander quickly departed without leaving a penny in his wake.
Later at a Battalion meeting the chaplain told the gathering that he had noticed a rise in gambling going on within the battalion, even within the highest levels of command. The commander showed concern. The chaplain added that low morale was accompanying the gambling, as some debts were not being paid. The Battalion Commander got the message and stalked out of the meeting to return with a US dollar that was given to the Lt.
The commander asked the chaplain if that would end the morale problem.
Starting with this month's edition of the Breech Block we will feature two "Book Reviews" Vietnam Revisited Via The Matterhorn and Steel & Blood which is about the Vietnamese Army Armor. Each month we will publish reviews of books that deal either with the Vietnam War or, in order to keep our readers current, publications cited on the "Commandant's Reading List" for Professional Military Education (PME).
Be sure to click go to Quick Links to read a review of Claude Vargo's My Horizons. Claude served with Bravo Co, 3rd Tanks during 1968 and 1969 and is a veteran of the Siege of Khe Sanh
Readers are encouraged to submit book reviews for publication in the Breech Block. After the reviews are published here, they will be posted to the mcvthf web site."
STEEL AND BLOOD: South Vietnamese Armor and the War for Southeast Asia. By Ha Mai Viet, former Colonel, ARVN. Published by the Naval Institute Press. 460 pages. Stock #1591149193. $36 MCA Members. $40 Regular Price.
Reviewed by LtCol Ray Stewart for the Marine Corps Leatherneck Magazine.
Colonel Ha Mai Viet provides his meticulously researched, impressively written and well-presented book about South Vietnam tanks in "Steel and Blood." The author details the combat history of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) Armor (AF) from "Ferocious Battles, 1963-68" through "Vietnamization, 1969-74" to the final days of the Republic in 1975-"The Capture of South Vietnam." His is a riveting account of tank battle after tank battle, pitting the ARVNAF's M41 and M48A3 tanks against the NVA enemy's T54, T59, T34 and PT76 tanks.
Somewhat of a surprise to a Marine Corps Vietnam Tanker - and possible Army Armor as well - and for certain to those who declared that Vietnam was not "tank country" are the numbers and types of armored vehicles employed by both sides and the importance the VC/NVA enemy and ARVN alike placed on the use of armored vehicles in general and tanks specifically. Just one example: By 1975, the NVA had an estimated 600 T54s in or on the border of South Vietnam supplied by large, well concealed fuel lines with sophisticated pumping and fueling stations that ran through Laos and Cambodia hundreds of kilometers from Haiphong in the north.
In battle after battle, from the Plain of Reeds through the three-front General Offensive and battles for the Central Highlands to the final assault on Saigon itself, Col Ha Mai Viet provides the reader with the often heart-wrenchingly candid and unwashed details of bloody victories and even more horrific defeats. He does not embellish the value of the ARVNAF in its successful fights nor does he minimize the faults of senior leaderships' failed decisions contributing to catastrophic defeats. The author keeps to the rapid movement of armor and the battles in which tanks participate by extracting related details and placing them in "Notes." There are 80 pages of notes, which add an impressive dimension of understanding of ARVNAF leadership, or lack of it.
In the second half of the book, the "Military History" segment, Col Ha Mai Viet's attention to detail and in-depth research provide the reader the historical background of the ARVN in general terms and, more specifically, trace the establishment, growth and deployment of the armored forces (ARVNAF).
While certainly not the "grabber" that one finds in page after page of Part I, Part II is of significant value in understanding the development, structure, employment, logistics and administration of ARVNAF in terms of equipment. The author provides interesting information on the background and training of the armored personnel and quite candid comments on the ARVNAF leadership.
To follow the battles, I found the paucity of maps - there are just two small-detail maps - made the reading (and enjoyment) of the book somewhat difficult. Also, command structure, order of battle, and table of organization and equipment (TO/E) diagrams would have greatly helped in better understanding of the material.
Col Ha Mai Viet states unequivocally that South Vietnam could have defeated the VC/NVA on the battlefield had the United States made good on its agreement to support the South after the withdrawal of American ground forces.
This thoroughly researched book, a 10-year effort, relies on both personal knowledge and interviews of hundreds of former ARVN as well as VC/NVA soldiers and officers of all ranks and military occupational specialties. To obtain a more balanced view - and with an armored slant-of the war that took more than 58,000 American lives, this book is a highly recommended read.
This book review is re-printed here with the permission of the Leatherneck. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.
VIETNAM REVISITED VIA THE BOOK "MATTERHORN"
While I recommend this book to all of you who have not read it, I feel I must warn you that it is bound to recall some memories possibly best left somewhere in the back recesses of your mind. While it is a work of fiction, the stark realism of what Marine "grunts" had to endure fighting against NVA troops in the DMZ area and certainly throughout the rest of I Corps during the latter years of the Vietnam War is poignantly described. The author may have taken a bit of literary license for dramatic effect in some of his writing, but overall I can accept his story as a factual account of Marines fighting a war we were not allowed to win. As I read this book, I was reminded of Charles Dickens' work, "A Tale of Two Cities". There was a statement in his book setting the stage for his story which said, "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times". If I may paraphrase Mr. Dickens' statement, the "Matterhorn" vividly portrays "the best of the Corps; the worst of the Corps", both in terms of combat efficiency and basic leadership from the top down in Marine Corps operations in Vietnam.
From acts of heroism to acts of cowardice; from acts of laudable humanitarianism to acts of sheer disregard for suffering; from commendable small unit leadership to arrogant, self-serving posturing of senior commanders; from acts attempting to tone down racial tensions to acts of blatant racism (both black and white members), this book touches all the bases. While Vietnam was not the most "popular war" in Marine Corps history, it was not unique in terms of the foregoing comparisons except, in my opinion, for the racism involved in combat units, especially the infantry.
During my tour of duty in Vietnam from early '66 to early '67 with the 3rd Tank Battalion, I did not encounter any racism. In the tank company I commanded, the black Marines were primarily career NCO's, well respected by their officers, peers and the tankers under their supervision. When I left the company and moved to Battalion Headquarters as the Operations Officer, again I saw no overt evidence of racial problems in our headquarters personnel. This begs the question, then, as to why the situation changed so drastically during the latter stages of the Vietnam War. Several factors come to mind to maybe explain this turnaround.
When full-scale U.S. military participation to assist South Vietnamese forces in combating the Viet Cong insurgency was initiated in 1965, Selective Service draft quotas were increased accordingly. Until sometime in 1966, the Marine Corps was still an all volunteer armed service. (I can attest to this as I served as a Recruiting Officer in Cleveland, OH for three years just prior to my assignment to Vietnam.) To support and maintain expanded troop levels, it was mandated that the Marine Corps start accepting draftees from then on to the conclusion of the Vietnam War, regardless of what had been previous standards and motivation, in particular, to serve in the Marine Corps. As a result, many young black draftees were involuntarily detailed to enter the Marine Corps for their two year period of obligated active service. A high percentage of them were assigned infantry MOS's as that was the greatest replacement need due to increasing casualty rates.
The inclusion of black draftees came on the heels of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a measure to end segregation and to ensure blacks were granted other basic rights in this country. "Black Power", a term used often by the black protagonists in the Matterhorn book, was originally coined as a call for blacks to take pride in themselves. The Black Panther Party, along with other groups, corrupted the intended meaning of "Black Power" and spurred more militant actions to represent their willingness to defend themselves and to encourage blacks to become more aware of their rights. The principle black character in the book, China, viewed himself as a Black Panther adherent and assumed a leadership role over the other blacks in his company to foment unrest and to call attention to real or imagined slights directed toward blacks in general and black Marines in particular. To place an exclamation point on China's efforts in this regard, the following is an excerpt of a conversation China had with a fellow black Marine.
"China, I don't want to be talkin' politics. I'm tired and I gotta go fight a war on an empty stomach."; to which China replies:
"That's right. A war against brown people. James Rado say the draft is white people sending black people to fight yellow people to protect the country they stole from red people. No black man should be forced to fight to defend a racist government. That be Article Six of the Black Panther Ten-Point Program."
I mentioned earlier that I had not witnessed acts of racism or examples of militant "Black Power" during my tour in Vietnam. It wasn't until I returned from Vietnam and commanded the Marine Barracks at NAS, Lemoore, CA that I found myself confronting at least the abuse of "Black Power" In 1968, the first group of Marine draftees were approaching the end of their two year commitment. Given the time spent in boot camp and a thirteen month tour in Vietnam, this group had something like six to eight months yet to serve on active duty. Headquarters Marine Corps determined that the best use for many of these Marines was to use them to fill the T/O requirements of Marine Barracks. During that year I received about eight black draftee Marines as replacements. One of them was a "China" Marine quite similar to the character in the book, Matterhorn. This was new territory to me, my officers and NCO's. With the need to maintain good order and discipline, be sensitive to valid complaints versus recognizing just plain "bitching" and fulfilling our mission to provide security for the Air Station, these challenges kept our plates pretty full.
The Marine Corps survived the impact of the cultural change brought about by the Civil Rights Act. Breaking down the barriers to maintain a truly integrated fighting force was not achieved without some severe "growing pains". The Marine Corps is facing another cultural change by virtue of the repeal of the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding openly serving homosexuals. This action may very well result in more "growing pains" to fully implement the new policy. However, I am certain the "best of the Corps" will overcome the "worst of the Corps" once again.
LtCol Everett Tunget
Veterans Affairs ~ Independent Living Program
by Dick Carey
If your service-connected disabilities are keeping you from working the Department of Veterans Affairs Independent Living Program might be a good fit for you.
Because I am unable to return to work due to my service-connected disabilities I was eligible to receive a free laptop computer, a wireless printer, scanner, fax, a couple of programs and training in my home to do my volunteer work with the Historical Foundation. If you are not able to work you might be able to receive the above equipment and use it to email your Vietnam buddies, to do family research or just browse the Internet for things of interest that will improve your quality of life. Their is no cost to to you if you meet the requirements.
To find out if you are eligible for the ILP you can fill out this form on line (VA Form 28-1900) and a VA counselor will contact you for a one on one interview. The process is simple.
Moratorium on Foreclosures on Vets
Freddie Mac recently instructed its mortgage servicers to hold off on starting foreclosure proceedings against servicemembers who are released from active duty. These companies must now wait at least nine months from the time of discharge before taking any kind of foreclosure action. Any veteran or servicemember should contact his or her mortgage servicer for more information. The Department of Veterans Affairs also offers counseling and resources.
To learn more about your state's benefits, visit the Military.com
State Veteran's Benefits Directory
Combat Related Special Compensation
Sent in by Robert Skeens
Simply put Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC) allows certain military retirees to receive both their military retirement pay and VA Disability Compensation. This means that qualified military retirees with 20 or more years of service that have a "combat related" VA-rated disability no longer have their military retirement pay reduced by the amount of their VA disability compensation. The following is a summary of Combat-Related Special Compensation, 2008 CRSC Update:
Combat-Related Special Compensation Eligibility
The Value of the CRSC Benefit
The Application Process
2008 Update: The 2008 National Defense Authorization Act**, signed into law on January 29, 2008, includes changes to Chapter 61* retiree eligibility, a new component for (CRSC). This legislation expands eligibility to medical retirees with less than 20 years of service, effective January 1, 2008. Medically retired veterans must still provide documentation that shows a causal link between a current VA disability and a combat related event.
Combat Related Special Compensation eligibility includes disabilities incurred as a direct result of: Armed Conflict (gunshot wounds, purple heart, etc.)
Training that Simulates War (Exercises, field training, etc.)
Hazardous Duty (flight, diving, parachute duty)
An Instrumentality of War (combat vehicles, weapons, agent orange, etc.)
The following are the current CRSC eligibility requirements:
Retirees must apply to their respective branch of service to be approved for CRSC.
Retirees must be in receipt of VA compensation.
Retirees must be in receipt of military retired pay.
Retirees must have an approved combat-related VA disability rating of 10% or greater.
Retirees from active-duty must have 20 years of active service.
*Chapter 61 Medical Retirees with less than 20 years.
Retired reservists must have 20 years of qualifying service (supported by documentation from the applicable branch of service such as a 20-year letter, retirement orders or a statement of service) in order to be eligible.
Please note that qualified reservists will not receive CRSC until they begin to receive retired pay at age 60.
**CRSC Updates: The 2008 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) was signed into law on January 28, 2008. It expanded the eligibility of CRSC to include anyone recieving military retired pay. This includes: Medical Chapter 61, Temporary Early Retirement Act (TERA) and Temporary Disabled Retirement List (TDRL) retirees. These new eligible components for CRSC went into effect January 1, 2008. Medical and TERA retirees must still provide documentation that shows a causal link between a current VA disability and a combat related event.
The Value of the CRSC Benefit:
DFAS pays CRSC based on the combined disability rating of combat-related disabilities as determined by your branch of service. Additionally, only combat-related disabilities for which you actually receive Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) compensation will be considered.
DFAS recently posted new information regarding changes associated with the National Defense Act of 2008. Visit the DFAS website to learn more.
Use the following formula to obtain your combined VA rating of multiple combat-related disabilities:
(1) Subtract each disability percent from 100% to obtain the remaining efficiencies.
(2) Multiply the remaining efficiencies together.
(3) Subtract the result from 100%.
(4) Round to the nearest 10%, round up for 5% or above.
Example: Using three disabilities of 50%, 40% and 30% ...
(1) [100 - 50 = 50%] / [100 - 40 = 60%] / [100 - 30 = 70%]
(2) 50% x 60% x 70% = 21%
(3) 100% - 21% = 79%
(4) 79% rounds up to an 80% combined disability
The CRSC Application Process:
To receive Combat Related Special Compensation you must submit your application (DD form 2860), through your parent military service branch. Each service branch has the authority to determine your eligibility.
For more information on how to apply contact your parent military service branch or the Foudation has two CRSC member-specialists who will answer your questions:
NAVY AND MARINE CORPS:
Department of Navy Naval Council of Personnel Boards
Combat-Related Special Compensation Branch
720 Kennon Street S.E., Suite 309
Washington Navy Yard, DC 20374-5023
Toll free 1-877-366-2772
Or visit the Navy CRSC Review Board website.
Those living in the Central and Easteran Standard Time zones may contact SgtMaj. JJ Carroll, USMC (ret.) email@example.com
In the Mountain and Pacific Standard Time zones contact CWO-4 Bob Embesi, USMC (ret.), Phone: (406) 821-3075
Marine Corps War Memorial Foundation
The Marine Corps War Memorial Foundation is planning the restoration and preservation of the Corps' beloved Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va. Many steps to restore the Memorial are planned including cleaning, filling cracks and gaps, and leveling ground to prevent the puddles of water. Plans also call for a museum grade cleansing, sealing and annual inspections of the bronze. For more information on the Foundation, visit the Marine Corps Memorial Foundation website.
THE BREECH BLOCK
Vietnam TankersHistorical Foundation
President & Editor
LtCol Raymond A. Stewart USMC (ret.)
Archivist in Residence
BA in History, MLIS
Author in Residence
Dr. Oscar "Ed" Gilbert
Historian in Residence
BA and MA in History
Marketing & Production
Richard 'Dick' Carey
Lloyd 'Pappy' Reynolds
Board of Directors
LtCol Raymond A. Stewart
LtCol Herbert Steigleman
Richard 'Dick' Carey
LtGen Martin R. Steele
Robert 'Mike' Flick
David 'Doc' Forsyth Director
MGySgt Donald R Gagnon
Ontos Web Site
The Marine Shop
Beyond My Horizon
Disclaimer: "Marines" and the Eagle, Globe and Anchor are trademarks of the U.S. Marine Corps, used with permission. Neither the U.S. Marine Corps nor any other component of the Department of Defense has approved, endorsed or authorized this newsletter.
Robert Hugh Gage
1st Marine Division
1st Tank Battalion
03 July 1966
PP/ Staff Sergeant
30 September 1974