MARINE CORPS TANKERS VIETNAM HISTORICAL Foundation's
Vietnam Personal Accounts
H & S Co., 3rd Tanks, 1967-68
Submitted by Richard Carey
Cpl. Richard Carey, 1968, The Rockpile
Having arrived during the month of July, 1967, the weather was extremely hot. I had been assigned to the Third Tank Battalion reactionary rifle platoon that was part of H&S Co., Gia Le (Phu Bai) Combat Base. Myself and several others were housed in the maintenance area inside a very large metal building. The building could hold up to eight M48’s at one time.
The task at hand was to get use to the tropical climate of Vietnam. The Seabees were busy erecting the “Hardbacks” for our tents. In the mean- time cots had been placed in one end of the Maintenance building where all us f.n.g.’s could have a place to call home. The metal building had an number of shrapnel holes in the roof and sides; apparently as a result of incoming from enemy mortars, rockets and/or artillery, a visual reminder that there was a war in progress.
Just a few days earlier I had flown into Da Nang from Kadena Air Base on Okinawa. The arrival was scheduled so we would land in Vietnam during the night. I believe the time was around 10:00 or 11:00 p.m.
As the pilot of the commercial U.S. owned airline made the announcement that we were about to land in Da Nang, I peered out the right side window of the Boeing 707 to see if I could see any lights. I was fairly new to air travel and I remember the first time I flew into San Diego International Airport.
It was around 11:00 p.m. as we arrived in San Diego for our eight weeks of basic Marine recruit training It took over 20 minutes to fly over southern Los Angles and San Diego. The lights of those two cities and the urban area in between was an awesome sight.
As I gazed out the window over Vietnam all I could see was an illumination light from what would become a familiar 80mm mortar illumination round. As the light went dim I could see red tracer rounds firing from left to right. Having no real knowledge of combat I was not sure if they were Marine or Viet Cong tracers. Then for the first time I saw the green tracers of the AKA and SKA Russian assault rifles headed in the direction in which the red tracers had first appeared. By now, the plane had moved out of view of the fire fight that was raging below.
Sitting on my cot in the sweltering heat and stifling humidity it was mid afternoon. Around 3:00 p.m. a call came for us to grab our M14’s and 782 gear and “form up” at the Communication Bunker. By the time I got there, a Corporal was informing the other six Marines that had gathered, that a Viet Cong tax collector had been reported and spotted in the nearby village.
A daytime guard in one of the many above ground bunkers that surrounded the base was on the radio with the Comm Bunker. The bunker guard had visual contact with the Viet Cong. The V.C. tax collector was in the open and was walking across an area void of any trees or vegetation for at least 500 meters in any direction. After a moment, the Corporal said that we were going to “get” the tax collector. The scruffy looking E4 said, “stay close and listen up,” as we headed for the perimeter wire at a fast jog. When we got to the wire we could see the V.C. walking at a rapid pace but not so rapid as to call attention to himself.
He was wearing the typical black clothing of the Vietnamese and had one of those upside down cone shaped woven hats hanging by a string on his neck that was bouncing off his back as he walked. He had very black shinny hair that was semi long and he appeared to be well nourished. He had a full face, not one of those skinny looking long faces that were so common among the Vietnamese males.
As our small squad cleared the perimeter’s wire he looked in our direction and recognized us, immediately he began a dead run for the tree line which was about 300 meters or less from his position. As he ran the Corporal began a dead run as well. We followed.
Within a couple of minutes we had gained on the V.C. He realized that he was not going to get to the tree line before we were close enough to cause his capture. He fled to a ditch.
From his position in the ditch he began firing his M1 carbine in our direction. Instinctively, we fanned out and got low. Somebody in the group begin returning fire.
At first, our bullets were off the mark. Then, within a few seconds the dirt in front of the ditch where the tax collector was hiding begin to spit up, leaving dust spinning in the slight breeze. After a short time the Corporal yelled; “cease fire, cease fire.”
At this point, he said that he was going to work his way around the V.C. by moving to the right flank. He wanted us to keep firing at the ditch until he was in position. Once into position he would give us a clinched fist as a signal when he wanted us to stop shooting.
As the Corporal moved into position, the rest of us fired at the ditch and one squad member kept an eye on the Corporal. When the E4 got into position, just 25 to 30 feet from the side of the ditch where the V.C. hunkered down, he raised his clenched fist and the Marine watching him yelled, “cease fire.”
At that exact moment the Corporal jumped to his feet and ran to the ditch and without hesitation, while looking down on the V.C., fired his .45 caliber pistol three times into the tax collector’s side and chest.
No sooner had it started, it was over. While the scruffy looking Corporal stood there staring down at his victim, we all stood up and moved toward the ditch.
Another Marine and I began walking back to the perimeter while the others were retrieving the dying V.C. They brought him back and laid him on a poncho outside next to the Communication Bunker where he finally died.
When I got back to the maintenance area the word was already out that a Vietnam Cong had been killed. I remember as I started to sit down on my cot someone yelled to me and said, “Hey Carey, ain’t you gonna take a look at the dead gook?”
I never had the stomach to look at the dead in Vietnam. I would do what I could to avoid that - sometimes it was unavoidable.
To this day I can still see the Corporal’s face and the dark circles that enclosed his dark brown eyes. This was the first time I ever noticed what appeared to be “the 1,000 yard stare.”
I cannot remember his name. Nor can I remember any of the faces or the names of the other Marines that were with me that day.
Less than a week had passed since I had arrived in Vietnam. I knew then, that it would be a long tour of duty.