“…and then I cried”
I was a green Marine out of boot camp for only a short period of time when I got my orders stamped “C.A.G.” and was herded out to South Viet Nam. I had no idea where I was going or why for that matter. In no time at all, I would know because I was about to live the nightmare known by others as “the Nam.”
After a short orientation in Da Nang and a two-week crash course on how to speak Vietnamese (big help), I was trucked to what would become my home for the next year. For the many that don’t know, C.A.G. stands for Combined Action Group. There were many sub-companies within the Group and springing from them were numerous CAPs or Combined Action Platoons. Sort of looks like an octupus with the main body being the CAG. Each CAP had roughly a 10,000 square meter area to patrol and guard. Short of being impossible with 12 Marines and one Corpsman.
Stepping from the PC truck, I must have brought a smile to everybody’s face, including the locals. My cammies were nice and green and I was freshly shaven and eager to go find out why I was there. I’m sure the guys from CAP 2-7-2 (my new home) saw me as another watch-stander and somebody else to help carry the enormous amount of gear that had to be toted every time the unit moved which, by the way, was constant.
The guys that greeted me were definitely not the spit-and-polish type of Marines I was used to seeing during my short career. These guys wore grubby boots that were badly worn and hadn’t seen polish for months. They were in need of a shave and if some Sergeant Major had seen them in that state, I’m sure the whole lot of them would have been lined up against a wall and shot. Within a few days I looked like everybody else. Being a Marine is one thing, but saving your ass is another.
Guys came and left from our small unit on a regular basis. Some were carried out and others were lucky enough (like myself) to catch a freedom bird and flip off the whole damn country until it was out of sight.
Our unit relied on constant mobility to survive. With so few people, we couldn’t remain in one place or we would have perished rapidly. Every night we moved to a different location and we also moved several times during the daylight hours. Any well-placed ambush could mean our end.
You learn very quickly to rely on each other, when each other is all you’ve got. All of us were in dire need of a good solid eight hours sleep, but that was never the case in the Nam. If you were fortunate enough to catch four hours at a whack, it was like you had slept in. When you did sleep, it was always with your brain on alert for an attack. Either it was so stinking hot that sleep only happened through exhaustion, or the monsoons were upon you and you could never seem to get warm enough or dry enough.
Of course, the ever-present alert was there for enemy attack and that meant even less sleep. Every night, we all took turns standing watch while the others tried to sleep. It turned out to be one year of no sleep, no good food, no movies, no ice cream, no homemade pie, no Christmas morning, no cartoons, no nice soft bed, no girlfriends or wives, no peace of mind and most of all, no home.
We were attacked and/or booby-trapped more often than I care to think about. The attacks were scary but the booby-traps scared the living hell out of me. You can shoot at an enemy but not a booby-trap.
I tried to learn all I could from our USN Corpsman Rick “Doc” Doggett. I would stay on watch with him some nights and ask him medical questions so I could learn. I would also pick his brain for knowledge and at the same time let us escape briefly from our surroundings. He actually became my best friend during my tour and the knowledge he bestowed upon me proved invalueable. His know-how proved to be a life saver during the scariest night of my life.
I don’t remember what month it occurred (Sept. 10, 1970), but one night Doc went into the rear for some much-deserved R&R at our CACO Headquarters. All he was looking for was a good night’s rest and a shower and maybe a couple of beers and a movie. His medical bag was passed on to me and I assumed his duties as Corpsman. I had never really worked on a person but was pretty confident with the knowledge Doc had given me. What were the chances anyway that something would happen on this particular day? As you have already guessed, chances were ripe.
We were preparing to move our unit out just before dark and had split into two seperate mobile teams. Suddenly, there was a terrible “KABLOOM” and gear and debris went flying and mass confusion broke out. Nobody is certain as to what happened that day, but I still believe that one of the guys that carried LAAW rockets on his pack had one go off from the heat of the day or it was possibly booby-trapped. I still believe it was heat, humidity and maybe the rocket was old. He died instantly as did one other and there were wounded to attend to.
I got ahold of R.D. “Erp” Erpelding and attended to him because he appeared the most serious of those still alive. We still didn’t know what actually had happened so it was total chaos. The only thing I was thinking of was that we had to administer aid to the wounded and get them the hell out of the area. People were asking me what to do and though I really didn’t know, I knew enough to tell them what had to be done. Everybody pulled together and we set up a perimeter and got Dust-Off choppers in to evacuate them out. I credit “Doc” Doggett’s knowledge with saving lives that night.
Many more horrible incidents happened while I was there but that’s the one I still dream about. There were good times too, but they were as scarce as hen’s teeth.
Our small unit was a very tight-knit group. We would laugh together as well as fight together and of course we all bled together (whether emotionally or physically). Like I stated once before, you learned very quickly to rely on each other.
All of that began 30 years ago this month (December, 1999). Some of it seems as distant as 30 years and some of it is as clear in my head as if it happened this morning. When I left the Nam, I never kept contact with any of the guys in my unit. For the past 30 years, I could vaguely see faces in my mind of all of them. I could never really see them but they floated in my memory all the time. Hell, I didn’t even have any pictures of them to remind me. It’s weird how you would gladly give up your life for guys you knew for so short a time and never kept in touch with. I probably can’t count on two fingers the number of days that went by since I left there that I haven’t thought about each and every one of them. They all affected my life in one way or another.
About two weeks ago, I got a call from my Uncle in Ohio who read a letter that he had received. It concerned me and was from Roch Thornton. He was trying to get in contact with me if I was the Ed McIntyre who had been in CAP 2-7-2. There was a phone number so of course I called it. Roch and I talked about old times for quite a long time and he filled me in on what had happened to most of the guys in our unit. I also learned from Roch that our old unit has a website so I copied down all of the pertinent information, wished Roch well, promised to stay in touch and headed for the computer.
I got on line and punched up the website and held my breath. As the CAP 2-7-2 logo unfolded, a picture started to download. It was me and most of the guys from CAP 2-7-2 in all of our glory, way back when I was a 19-year-old kid with Clark Kent glasses. The images I had kept so near in my heart and always in my head were finally in front of me to view as long as I wanted to…..and then I cried.
Edward “Mac” McIntyre
M/Sgt USMC (Ret)
Posted Dec. 7, 1999