MARINE CORPS TANKERS VIETNAM HISTORICAL Foundation's
Vietnam Personal Accounts
by David "Doc" Forsyth
First Marine Division
FMF - RVN
1968 - 1969
"Watch me!" I said, after pausing to take a long slug from what I remember to be an unforgettable bottle of . . . oh what was it, I forget, Scotch I think. Anyway, I was explaining to the sergeant sitting across from me, crossed legged on a sand bag, that if we were to get hit at that very moment I could easily out perform him because he was certainly stoned from smoking pot while I was drinking booze, the only ‘socially acceptable’ avenue to intoxication. We felt relatively safe back in the company area, which allowed for our indulgences and deep intellectual discussion, which pressed on into the early morning hours of that certain February 23rd 1969.
Arguing the pros and cons of who could or would perform better under fire whilst under the influence of either reefer or booze was a high topic of discussion back in the day and not even the threat of full-on combat in "The Nam" could dissuade young Turks from the debate. It seems that we were wildly divided on the issue of booze verses drugs. Wasn’t it a fact that if you were doing weed, you were a Hippie? Certainly there could be no such animal in the Marine Corps! No sir! Long haired Hippie types were scrubbed out, washed out, booted and excluded from our ranks back at Paris Island. But it appears that even the Corps is capable of being fooled now and again because here sat a Marine sergeant puffing away on a fatty rolled from a stash he’d scored in some village a few days before. Now, just why the sergeant felt it was permissible to smoke the evil wacky weed in ole Doc’s bunker was a little beyond me but nevertheless there he was and there we were, each of us, deep in thought and discussion, partaking of our own particular poison.
Our conversation dragged on and on, as those hazy ‘altered minded’ and other worldly discussions of the sixty’s often did, until I was called by mother nature to attend to other needs. Around the corner from my bunker was the CO and XO’s shower, which was about eight or ten feet high and constructed of two by fours which were casually nailed together in a somewhat random manner, on top of which was rigged a wing-tank from what must have been a perfectly good jet aircraft. Now, tankers being who they are, probably found themselves a wide eyed, impressionable Cee-Bee who was, for whatever reason, in possession of said wing-tank, then negotiated for it with the offer of some completely irrelevant and totally useless but awfully cool looking piece of inert ordinance, most likely claiming it had been captured from the VC on a clandestine midnight raid. The Cee-Bee’s, God bless them, probably never stopped to think that there is nothing that even remotely smacks of "clandestine" when it comes to a sixty two ton tank. Silent midnight raids were completely out of the picture when it came to tanks. But to the Marine tankers credit and the gullibility of the Cee - Bee’s, the exchange was made.
Now, for reasons unclear to me even today, I felt I needed to climb the shower-tower and catch a breath of the night air as I relieved myself, that way I could also watch the fireworks in the distance being provided by our Vietnamese foes and a contingency of American fighters. Overhead, "Puff the Magic Dragon," a fixed winged C-130 aircraft loaded with armament, circled above the battle spitting out lead at a rate never witnessed before in combat. What a sight! It was awesome and mesmerizing! Red and green tracers were everywhere, cris-crossing in the black, cloudy, moonless night. "Puff’s" mini-gun barrels became so hot that the red line of tracers connecting Puff to the ground, bent and warped as if being pushed and shoved by the warm night breeze.
As I recall, I was about mid-pee when the first rocket exploded behind me. I was thrown from the tower, face first into the South East Asian red clay/sand. Now, I don’t know why but the first thing I did after hitting the deck was to check my watch; 0230. Then the mortars landed followed by B-40 rockets and . . . well, who kept count. Besides rockets and mortars, small arms fire suddenly erupted everywhere. The defecation was definitely hitting the ventilation and I needed to get my Scotch soaked ass off the deck and into gear, high gear!
I sprinted back to the bunker, the sergeant was already gone. I grabbed my .45, M-16, M-79 grenade launcher, flack jacket, helmet, gas mask and, oh yeah, my medical gear, then headed out to the battle. But it wasn’t until that very moment that I realized I hadn’t been assigned to a designated battle station, a fox hole, a sandbag a rock or anything for that matter! Where should I go? To whom should I report? You’re a Corpsman,’ says I, You’re the "Doc," you need to be where they need you!
The first sand-bagged foxhole I jumped into I found Marines firing into the black night at an enemy that no one could possibly see. "You guys alright?" After receiving a thumbs up, I headed out again, this time closer to the fight which was to my left, or ‘port’ for those of you still so inclined. As I moved along the berm I stopped to check on every Marine. At one bunker I found a Marine who had been shot in the face. Normally that would be rather bad luck but in this instance a more fortunate wound would have been hard to find. The round had passed through the fleshy part of his cheek creating no more than what would ultimately become a small scar worthy of great tale telling. I applied a 4X4 compress, taped it into place and reassured him that he was going to be okay then hurried out to search for other Marines in need.
Adjacent to our position was an Artillery battery which was clearly the focus of the attack and obviously where I needed to be. It was also the point at which the "Sappers" had come through the wire and where the battle was raging. No sooner had I arrived when I heard it; "Corpsman, Corpsman!" I turned to my left and raced toward the screams but ran into someone knocking him to the ground. Instinctively I turned to help him up only to find myself face to face with a VC sapper. He was decked out in what could only be described as a loin cloth, no shoes or anything else except for a couple of satchel charges and Chi Com grenades. My brain raced as I instinctively reached for my 45. Suddenly I became aware of a frightening sensation, I was moving in slow motion! As a matter of fact, everything seemed to be moving in slow motion and in complete silence . . . no sound whatsoever. My pistol now out of it’s holster, I thought, "shit! I’m going to have to kill this guy!" This dilemma is one that everyone in combat must come to terms with at some point and in my case I had to come to terms with quickly. As I squeezed the trigger I watched round after round slam into his body, ripping him to pieces and killing him instantly. But the rounds were not from the .45 I held. A Marine running toward the “wire” had dispatched the sapper with a full auto burst from his M16. He never slowed down, never missed a beat.
Dead is dead, I thought to myself, no matter who pulls the trigger. Sound returned to my ears and the feeling of slow motion evaporated as I holstered my weapon and resumed my sprint to the wounded Marine. I had only taken a few steps when, right in front of me stood two more sappers with an RPG. I was directly in their sights, they fired. The round hit the ground directly front of me. I caught some shrapnel in both legs but was ultimately saved by their unfortunate bad aim and that beautiful South Vietnamese red clay/sand which absorbed most of the concussion and shrapnel.
But here I was again only seconds later confronted with the same stifling dilemma, I had kill these guys. I reached for my sidearm once more as they struggled to reloaded the RPG. "Shoot the trigger man," my mind screamed, "Shoot the trigger man!" At that very moment, a Marine ran between me and the sappers and unloaded two full magazines from his M-16, literally ripping them to pieces. Thinking back on it now, I can’t imagine how he managed to switch out magazines so damned fast! Remember how we used to tape three mags together, two up one down, for just this purpose? Well, I’m here to testify that it works and works very well. I never saw the Marine’s face but what sticks in my mind was that he had corporal chevrons drawn on his flack jacket. I owe him my life. Thanks corporal.
Finally I made it to the badly wounded Marine. He had lost all of his right buttocks and a good portion of his upper Hamstring. I quickly splinted the leg after patching it with battle dressings, started an IV, then commandeered a stretcher and a few Marines to help carry him to a Medevac chopper that had already been called in.
For the remainder of the night I continued to move about the area searching out those in need, patching holes in Marines and reassuring them as best I could. There were several wounded that night but to our credit, no losses. The NVA, however, were not so fortunate. They sustained seventeen dead and God only knows how many wounded, as there were blood trails everywhere, which colored the ground with their snake-like imprints in the sand as they lead away from our position.
Dawn broke and the ‘all clear’ was sounded. Everyone started moving back to what was left of our cantonment. Most of the area had been destroyed and was still either actively burning or smoldering. I struggled for some perspective on what had just occurred. My first firefight, “What a cluster-fuck!" There was no doubt, this had not been a bad dream. It was real. This was war, this is what it looked like. This is what it felt like to know that there were a whole bunch of people out there, people who I had never met and did not know that wanted me dead. What had previously been something I could only imagine, was now a fact of my life, a reality from which I would never escape . . . and it was just the beginning.
It was at that moment that I saw the sergeant with whom I’d been sharing those deep intellectual theories only hours before. We stared at each other for a second, glad to see that we’d each survived the fight. Volumes of feelings passed between us in that moment without a word ever being spoken. ‘How stupid!’ I thought. ‘How utterly stupid we were!’ We’d made it through the night, so did all the Marines under my care. But this time we were lucky. This time God forgave us. We were fools yet God had provided us a valuable lesson that was not to be wasted on me. I took it to heart. I would not test His patience again nor would I forget His
gift . . . ever.
There were many lessons to be learned in ‘The Nam’ if I stayed awake long enough to listen. Lessons about tolerance and intolerance, fairness and inequality, kindness and brutality. We learned from each other and we learned from a very clever and capable enemy. The lessons were seared into our hearts, minds and souls and some of our bodies and they have made us, for better or worse, into who we are today. We each carry with us day after day the horrors of combat as well as the blessed comradery known only to those who’ve been willing to lay down their lives for each other. We are the survivors and we have been forged into a different likeness, a likeness that prior to Vietnam, none of us could ever have imagined. We are now a brotherhood, welded together with the blood of the fallen. No more room for long winded high brow discussion. Stark reality won out. The debate is over.
Submitted with great respect.