MARINE CORPS TANKERS VIETNAM HISTORICAL Foundation's
Vietnam Personal Accounts
The "Garbage Burners" on a
Garbage Working Party
By John F. Wear, III
Charlie Company, 3rd Tanks is ordered to move its company rear from Cam Lo Hill, to a little bombed out shithouse village on
he north side of the Cua Viet River. The area was crawling with NVA.
It had been beautifully sunny up until moving day. Now it was raining to beat the band. The village is Mai Xa Tai. It is Ĺ of the way down the Cua Viet River between the riverís mouth (at Cua Viet) and the boat ramp of the huge combat base at Dong Ha.
This village was destroyed about three months prior when major elements of the 319th NVA Regiment along with the 192nd VC Battalion attempted to maneuver into position to launch an attack on Dong Ha. A reckless and daring daylight movement on the north side of the Cua Viet River was observed by the hapless ARVN stationed at Gia Linh. Shortly after this movement was discovered, the US Marine HQ at Quang Tri dispatched an understrengthed company from the 4th Marines to deal with the enemy around the villages of An Loc, Dai Do and Mai Xa Tai. The ensuing battle lasted four days of incessant and withering ambushes, air strikes and gun battles. When it was all over, the NVA and VC elements were (as the Marines say, "the gooks had their asses kicked and we Marines took namesÖmeaning that the NVA regiment no longer existed due to such heavy causalities.) The abandoned villages no longer existed as well.
As the Charlie Company tanks and duce & Ĺ trucks loaded with gear off load the Mike Boats and pull in to the area, we find an old crumbling cement-block house that had three walls that have been left standing that would become our Flame Tank Section hooch. We jury-rigged a large canvas tarp over the rafters of the missing roof, sweep away the rat shit & debris of war and in a short time, the humble abode was home. Of course we set up a card table complete with an olive drab wool blanket for the top.
No matter where you go in this miserable excuse for a country, there always seems to be a card game going. It happens any time and anywhere when more than two Marines stop for more than a few minutes. I have to say that Steffo, Goodie and Pappy donít let me down. As soon as the dust settles from our cleanup sweeping, they break out the cards and start a poker game.
The daytime heat is oppressive and the night time mosquitoes are like black clouds but our little hooch keeps us cool and bug free most of the time. During the first night we are in this sorry assed shit hole, we got some slack and didnít have to sit on the perimeter for watch duty.
So after we choke down our evening meal .
of cold C rations, we break out the booze that I brought back from R&R. As the nightprogresses, we have a good old time and for some reason or another, our non-drinking gunner, "Flash", gets a snoot full of booze. As the evening progresses, we are all pretty tightand feeling no pain. We begin singing loudly, laughing riotously and making a lot of noise. The "party" gets out of hand fairly early and so does the next unhappy incident of my short Marine career.
Next to our hooch is one full of the other Charlie Co. platoons. Their Platoon Sergeant, a black Staff Sergeant whom I am told happens to be pretty cool most of the time, hears our, out-of-hand, yelling and singing. He sticks his head out of the hooch doorway and yells through the pitch-blackness, "You fuckiní shit birds had better stop making so much fuckiní racket. I want you-all to pipe down immediately!"
"Flash" comes out of his drunken stupor and yells loudly at the unknown person making the demands from the other hooch, "Aw, go fuck yourself." Then he starts to giggle.
The SSgt. yells right back, "Who said that? No Goddamned snuffy tells an E-7 to fuck off! Get your ass over here on the double, Marine!"
Not really realizing the gravity of the situation, I shout back to him, "It was a big mistake, Sergeant. The Marine is drunk and heís sorry that he screwed up. Can we just forget about it?"
There is no more noise coming from the other hooch and it seems that this minor incident is over and forgottenÖor so I thought. We settle down and hit the rack fairly soon after this.
The next morning, the Company First Sgt. (who is a real prick asshole and a nasty drunk) sends LCpl Handler, one of the company office pogues, to find me and to fetch me to the Co. CP.
Handler: "Hey Wear, the Top is pissed and wants you to report to him immediately."
Me: "Whatís up?"
Handler: "I donít know but he got pretty loaded last night and is hung over pretty bad."
Me: "Oh Shit!"
I walk over to the Co CP and report to the Topís hooch right away. The Top says to me, "Cpl. Wear. What gives you the fuckiní authority to allow your fuckiní men to tell one of my Staff NCOís to go fuck him self? Especially when that Staff NCO is dispensing a lawful order?"
I reply, "No one gave me any authority to allow that, Top."
He then says, "Is that so? Iíve heard that you run a loose ship with your men, Cpl. Wear. What are you trying to accomplish? This is not the way MY, by God, Marine Corps is supposed to be run, is it Cpl. Wear?
I say, "No Top, it is not."
"Well, what are you going to do about it, Cpl. Wear?"
I reply, "What would you like me to do about it, Top?"
"Donít answer my question with another question, Cpl. Wear."
He goes on, "Well, do you have an answer for me, Cpl. Wear?"
"Top, I donít have an answer for you other than, my crewman is remorseful that he sassed and cursed at a senior NCO. I can assure you that it will not happen again."
"Who is the crewman, Cpl. Wear?"
"Iíd rather not say, Top."
"Goddamn it, Wear! Stop playing fuckiní games with me. Whoís the fuckiní smart mouthed Marine?"
I swallowed hard and said, "It was Flagler, Top. But he is very sorry that he spouted off. It wonít happen again, I promise."
"You bet your sweet ass it wonít happen again. In fact, I donít think that you and your section of "flamers" deserve to be tankers for a while. I have something else I want you to do for awhile."
I ask, "Whatís that Top?"
Itís all down hill from there. "Flash" volunteers to be a tanker/grunt.
During our reunion (1999) in Washington, DC, thirty years later, I learn that "Flash" was not happy as a tanker. His originalTank Commander, Bobby Hall, had been blown away (KIA) in Hue City way back in February during the fighting of the NVAís Tet Offensive. It turns out that good old "Flash" wanted to get revenge for Cpl. Hallís demise. The only way that this hapless Marine felt that he could exact revenge in the proper manner was to get off of a tank and to "pound the ground" as a grunt so that he could shoot gooks one at a time, face-to-face, up close and personal. Flash is off the tank and on to being a grunt.
Later that week, the shit-for-brains Top assigns a Marine to replace "Flash." This man turns out to be this goof ball, non-tank crewman from 3rd Marine Division Headquarters. However, it really does not matter that a non-tanker is assigned to my tank (or any oneís tank for that matter) because the three of us are delegated to the company area garbage collection working party every morning. At the time, we though that it was pretty fun, aside from having to load stinky garbage on to a duce and Ĺ truck and to dump it in a dump outside the perimeter wire.
While performing our daily duty, I would jump in the truckís cab and drive this 10-wheeled monster all over as if it was my personal vehicle...we considered this activity as being a great diversion to performing PM on our tank and/or sitting out on an outpost watching for gook infiltrators.
A day or two later our shit-for-brains Company Top goes on a re-supply trip to Dong Ha and gets drunk while he is away from the Company area. For some reason that only God will understand, this most senior NCO (who has a serious snoot full of booze) takes out his M-16 rifle and starts to shoot at some little gook kids who are playing around the Dong Ha boat ramp.
The Marine MPís on duty nearby arrest the Top on the spot and he is hauled off somewhere not to be seen again. That was the end of the permanent garbage working party detail for my crew!!!