Got both your letters today. I wish you would rush that gun, I’ll be in the field about ten days from now. It would make me feel a lot better to have it.
Hoi An was mortared last night but I don’t think anyone was killed. We’re expecting an attack here tonight (the CAP School compound at My Khe) but I’m not counting on it. We’ve had two patrols fired at in the last week. I was on Bravo Patrol when Alpha Patrol was fired at about 300m away. Nobody was hurt.
I have a patrol tonight. Bravo patrol again. Four hours less sleep unfortunately. I passed our first language test with a score of 80%, not bad.
Remember Marcia Mandrell, the blonde girl who stayed at the Elk Mtn. Lodge when we were there? She’s been writing to me regularly. Fast work, huh? Really she’s nice; writes long letters.
My best buddy since Staging Bn. is Mike Turner from Hamilton, Montana. He’s invited me to go elk hunting with him when we get out of the Green Machine. He’s always rapping to me about the beauties of Montana so I think I’ll go.
I’m the one who talked him into flying his wife to San Diego our last weekend in the States. I guess he had a good time because he wore a dumb grin all the way back to Camp Pendleton on the bus. That’s the weekend Terry & Paul Gleim told me they were planning to elope. I bought them a poster to decorate their apt.
It gets hotter every day here so I guess it’ll be pretty hellish around summertime.
I went to Mass this morning where the priest wore jungle boots. I’ve been trying to send some jungle boots and a pair of utilities home to wear hunting when I get discharged but it’s nearly impossible to get to a post office, or anything else for that matter.
I wish I could call home but I haven’t seen a phone since I got in-country. John must really be skating.
(John Dietrich was a family friend and Army helicopter pilot who was in Vietnam the same time I was there, mostly in III Corps and IV Corps.)
It turns out that Army Medevac choppers are much preferred to Marine Medevacs. The Marine Corps naturally places more value on an expensive toy like a chopper than on any human life. Consequently a Marine Medevac pilot may not land to pick up a casualty until the landing zone (LZ) is sufficiently secured from enemy fire to preclude any chance of his being struck by anything nasty like a bullet.
Often a Medevac may arrive above the LZ as little as ten minutes after the s–t hits the fan. More often than not, though, he will wait ten minutes to an hour before he lands. Not only do people occasionally die, but choppers have been known to come home with holes in them made by American weapons.
Army pilots are younger (hence less cautious) and not restricted to landing in peaceful spots. They lose more choppers and pilots but they gain some respect and admiration. This information is strictly CONFIDENTIAL. Do not think that the Green Machine will change this situation or even admit that the situation exists. Just because you write to your Congressman. If queried officially I will deny ever having made the above statement for reasons of my own. End message. I just thought I’d give you some local color.
(My mother had a habit of writing or calling her Congressman if I told her about something she considered wrong or unfair. At least once her Congressman forwarded her complaint all the way down the chain of command to 2nd CAG. I was called before the XO for a stern warning to be careful what I wrote in my letters home.)
P.S. Rush that PISTOL
Don’t forget the ammo!
I’m finally at my CAP. I got here yesterday and I’ve already been on a patrol and an ambush. The ambush didn’t go so well because on our way out to the ambush site our M-79 man fired a grenade accidentally. One of the Vietnamese with us had shrapnel wounds and had to be medevaced this morning. It seems that I have a habit of being close to exploding grenades.
The Courier (My hometown newspaper) has not started to arrive yet. You’d better tell them my new address so I’ll be sure to get the paper. The new address will be on the back of the envelope.
P.F.C. C.R. Thornton 2579640
2nd CAG, CAP 2-7-2
FPO, San Francisco, Calif. 96602
A C.A.P. Platoon actually doesn’t do anything different. We just lay ambushes at night and hide out in the daytime. We stay in a different place each day so the V.C. can’t hit us so easily. All the water is bad so I expect I’ll have dysentery shortly. The food is haphazard. Sometimes we have C-rations, sometimes dehydrated stuff. Sometimes we eat V.N. food. For breakfast this morning I had raw corn on the cob.
My letters are bound to be shorter and come less often now. I’m sure you can understand why. Mail service is also very erratic so don’t worry if you don’t hear from me for a week or two at a time.
Actually, mail service was good in the CAPs. We got mail every day, seven days a week, along with our supplies and water. It may be I thought I would write fewer letters, and didn’t want my folks to worry.
Tell Nan I’ll try to answer her letter sometime this month.
Your package arrived safely and intact. The cookies were enjoyed by all, even the Vietnamese. The other item was an even bigger hit. I was offered everything but discharge papers in trade.
It will probably be impossible to get the pistol out of Viet Nam. I’ll try, but I doubt if I can do it. I don’t mind subjecting you to the loss of your pistol since I think that is preferable to subjecting you to the loss of me.
(My grandfather kept a tiny .25-caliber semi-automatic pistol in his nightstand for years. When he died in 1967 or so, his pistol wound up with my mother and, since I had an interest in guns, I fired it several times before joining the Marines in July 1969. This is the pistol she mailed me, hidden in a box of cookies.)
I had my first big contact with the NVA and V.C. last night. We caught 60 NVA in the open last night and called in artillery on them. We didn’t get any return fire.
Later we saw 15 V.C. nearby and clobbered them with M-79 grenades and machine gun fire. Still no return fire.
Later yet we were fired on by a machine gun which missed everybody. We returned fire with a 60mm mortar.
(This sounds weird. I don’t remember CAP 2 ever having a mortar, though it may have been firing from the “ARVN compound” at the Thanh Quit Bridge. It also sounds weird that we ran into two large groups of enemy soldiers that didn’t fight back. I’m not sure what was going on here.)
We didn’t find any bodies this morning but we saw a villager hauling five coffins down a road that leads to a V.C. infested area so we think we scored.
I have information from a reliable source that the CAP program will be turned over to the Army by May. If that happens I’ll probably be stationed on Okinawa or Korea. My source (indirectly and unofficially), is a U.S. Senator.
(The leader of CAP 2 at this time was a Sgt. Burd or Byrd, who claimed some kind of distant relationship with U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia. Sgt. Burd was a major bullshit artist and probably the source of this misinformation.)
I’ve been slightly sick the last couple of days but I feel a lot better now. I alternated my activities last night between being our machine gunner’s assistant and puking on the ground.
I got myself all washed up from a well this morning. It’s really nice to feel clean.
I’m going to get some sleep now.
Don’t worry about me.
I just got your “lecture” and I don’t know if I can justify breaking the law by mailing the gun and ammo. Consequently I’ll concentrate on your other points.
Point #3 “Need.” The situation in my area is very serious. We know that there are at least 72 V.C. in the area. This does not account for V.C. sympathizers. We do not know how many N.V.A. are around because the number varies from day to day.
In other words the V.C. cadre alone outnumbers my CAP 2 to 1.
The major danger is in the fact that we are so close to the people. At any hour of the day there are about 10 to 15 Vietnamese within grenade range and 200 or 300 within easy rifle shot.
(There was little justification for my fears. When I first arrived at CAP 2, I was leery of the Vietnamese civilians, expecting many of them to be bloodthirsty VC. I learned that nearly all were neutral, some were passive supporters of one side or the other, and a relative few were active VC.)
Right now I’m sitting on a 2nd floor balcony of a house we are staying in today. My rifle is inside the house about 15 feet from where I’m sitting. The pistol is in the pocket (unbuttoned) of my camouflage jacket which is lying across my lap. If I spit over the edge I might hit one of three Vietnamese standing at the well below me.
I suppose I could keep my rifle within reach most of the time (which I do anyway) but not all of the time. Compared to the pistol the rifle (7.8 lbs, 38″ long) is too clumsy to carry.
(I later changed my mind on this subject and kept my M-16 in my hand or within arm’s reach 24 hours a day.)
The Marine Corps does not issue any more pistols than it has to. They are dangerous, inaccurate at long ranges, and much desired by “collectors.” Black market .45s are worth up to $200. My CAP leader Sgt. Burd sleeps, eats, and washes with a loaded .45 on his hip or under his pillow.
Safety – Point #4. I carry the pistol with a full clip in, but no round in the chamber. When shooting starts I chamber a round and put the pistol in the right waist pocket of my camouflage jacket. The risk seems small to me because every weapon in my CAP always has a round in the chamber and the safety on. The only exceptions are our two M-60 machine guns. I carry two grenades in the pocket of my flak jacket and I’ll carry 4 more when I can get ahold of them.
I have the unique position of being able to call in 60mm, and 81mm and 4.2 mortars, 105mm, 106mm, 155mm, 175mm, and 8″ artillery any time I feel the need. (Uh, not really. I was gilding the lily here. True, CAPs theoretically had access to that kind of firepower, but we rarely used it and had to have a damned good reason when we did.) That is what distinguishes a CAP Marine from a regular grunt. I can also call in air strikes, gun-ships, and Naval gunfire.
I have more firepower on call than any battalion in Viet Nam. (BRAGGART!)
Point #5 Inspections — We have no inspections.
If we did, my superiors are in no position to bust me for an unauthorized weapon. My captain carries a 12 ga. shotgun loaded with 00 buck shot. The geneva convention (we are signatories) forbids the use of buck shot. Shotguns are unauthorized in the U.S. Armed forces. My CAP leader carries an unauthorized .45 cal. The captain’s driver carries a 9mm Swedish K submachine gun, also unauthorized. (Sea lawyer!)
Point #6 Getting it home — I originally intended to try and bring the gun home. Now I’m not so sure. It’s dangerous and not good for anything but close range people shooting. I think I’ll leave it here unless somebody (Mom) raises a really serious objection.
I don’t think a pistol is worth having unless you think you’ll have the necessity of using it on a man.
Gun’s don’t really scare me. Other people’s guns do. I KNOWthat there is a round in the chamber of my rifle and that it is on safe. I’m not sure about other people’s weapons so they do scare me.
No action for three nights now. The Sgt. is getting a little impatient. We let five gooks (Viet Cong) get away two nights ago because we didn’t want to give away our position.
Our relations with our Regional Force Platoon are going to hell on a sled. Every time we get some chow they steal it. One of our guys had $125 stolen. We got a crate of eggs from the mess hall at headquarters and the R.F.’s steal them and sell them in the market place.
I get along fine with the RF’s because I don’t have anything to steal.
An RF named Chin is teaching me some magic tricks with string and coins. They’re very simple but they have to be done just right. I’ve learned three already.
The RF’s gave me some of their rice as a gift today. I don’t know what I’ll do with it but I’ll think of something. I guess I’d make a good public relations man or something.
There’s really not much to report. I’m feeling pretty well, doing my job and trying to get along.
The old timers are a little reluctant to associate with me because they’ve had five new guys killed or wounded last month.
There’s a little boy we call Dum-Dum that hangs around our CAP. His mother was killed by the V.C. He’s about two feet high. Kind of a mascot.
There’s really very little that happens around here. This letter is getting hard to write.
Orchids grow wild around here. It blew my mind when a little kid walked up to me with a really gaudy one the other day. It’s outer petals were deep red, while the inner ones were canary yellow with red polka-dots. It probably would have cost a fortune in the “World.”
Our corpsman treated an old lady in our ville who was hit by a truck on highway one the other day. We called an Army chopper to take her to a hospital in Da Nang.
Your pistol is the cat’s meow with the RF’s, they think it’s really cool.
I’ve been sleeping on the ground every night with no ill effects so far. I get a bath at a well every couple of days.
I gashed my knee crossing a wall the other night and bled like a stuck pig. It was just a little cut but it soaked the whole leg of my trousers and my sock with blood. Doc Doggett fixed me up.
I haven’t gotten any mail in a couple of days but expect I’ll get some tomorrow.
Like I said nothing is happening. A year is getting to seem longer and longer.
Will write again soon if anything happens.
Yep, the pistol got here. I didn’t even see any bread in the package but the Viet kids were eating the cookies so fast the bread probably went too.
Dad is mostly right about the pistol. It’s dangerous and not good for anything but extremely close range. I keep it under my pillow (flak jacket) when we sleep out in the bush. Sometimes when we are carrying supplies I have to sling my rifle on my back in an un-handly position. Then I carry the pistol in my waist pocket.
We’ve had some of our Regional Force Viets killed by the V.C. in broad daylight in our village but our day haven sites have never been attacked. (That changed) Our village is pretty safe in the daytime but at night it’s strictly Indian country.
My officers would probably blow a fuse if they knew I had your pistol. On the other hand I never see any officers anyway and most of them have unauthorized weapons too: shotguns, Swedish “K” submachine guns, .357 magnums, etc.
Sgt. Burd, my CAP leader, could care less. I’ll keep it until I’m issued a .45, which is unlikely, or until I leave the country. When I come home I think I’ll give it to our Vietnamese interpreter “Yankee” who would give his eye teeth for it.
No, I wasn’t there at Nickerson’s retirement which was a few days after I came out to the bush. He gave a really decent speech at graduation, though. I shook hands with him.
I think I’ve told you already that I have a good chance of leaving ‘Nam in July.
I’m sure John called on the MARS relay system. There is a MARS station in Da Nang but it only operates a few hours a day and it’s 20 lonely kilometers from here to Da Nang. I might make it some day but don’t plan on it. I smell so raunchy now from being dirty so long, that they probably wouldn’t even let me in the radio station.
Yes, I’m living in a ville now. The name of it is Dinh Banh. (Actually, Dien Ban was our district and our village was Thanh Quit) The main ville is right on Highway One with scattered hamlets three or four kilometers back from the road. Our area has a river on the south boundary, Highway One on the east, swamps on the west and more rice paddies, tobacco fields and villages on the north. It’s about 2 km by 4 km in a rectangle.
The back half of our area is so V.C. infested we never go back there. We estimate at least a company of V.C. back there. Beaucoup booby-traps too.
There are thirteen Marines and eighteen RF’s in my CAP. We have two machine guns, three radios, and 4 grenade launchers. Sgt. Burd commands the Marines and Lt. Phang commands the RF’s.
A typical day: at 8:00 P.M. we saddle up and move to a pre-planned ambush site. We set up our ambush. At 11:00 P.M. everyone but one Marine and one RF goes to sleep. The two on watch (1 hr 10 min watches) keep an eye out for movement. If they spot any they wake everyone up. If the people moving around come within range and we don’t care if we give away our position we open up. Sometimes we just watch where they go. We spot V.C. sympathizers and leaders that way.
At 6:00 AM we saddle up and move to our day haven site, which is just someone’s house that we take over for the day. We sleep, eat, clean weapons, sometimes wash at a well. Mostly we loaf. Once a day we go to the road to pick up mail, water, and supplies.
That’s about it, generally, we do other stuff sometimes but that’s our basic routine.
We usually eat C-rations, or long rations (dehydrated food). C-Rations can be eaten cold. For long rations you just add hot water which we boil in mama-san’s kitchen on a wood fire. We get black market cokes from the village but they cost 60 piastres (about 50 cents).
Our water is brought in with our supplies when we can get pure water. If you drink well water you get guaranteed shits for 3 days.
I don’t carry my camera. It’s too much weight to carry.
Righ now I need a haircut, bath, and a shave.
If you can locate a spray can of WD-40 (WD-40) lubricant and rust preventer, send it. It’s like gold around here, also send water purification tablets (not halazone, it’s dangerous). It’s supposed to cause some kind of cancer; liver or skin or something.
P.S. My new address is on the envelope.
(In my mother’s handwriting)
Sign these and return these — did you ever receive a W-2 from the U.S. Marine Corps? We will go ahead & file this & explain the situation.
(In my handwriting)
If they gave me a W-2 I’ve never seen it. They might have put it in my record bok but I haven’t seen that for beaucoup time now. I made approx $729.00 from the USMC in 1969. Since I didn’t get much of it there must still be a lot on the books, khong bich.
P.S. I’m up for promotion to Lance corporal
We found an old 8 inch Naval shell in a rice paddy today and blew it up with C-4. We also blew up one B-40 rocket, 2 grenades, 3 M-79 rounds and a 60mm mortar round. People are always turning in ordnance for us to blow up. I’ll have to admit I was nervous when we were messing with that 8″ shell. It looked huge to me.
The Courier isn’t getting here. I’ve gotten two copies. The last one I got was dated March 12. I got that on March 24. Maybe you’d better give my new address to the Courier.
The Seabees give me funny looks when I stroll down the road they’re building, with four pounds of C-4, 2 feet of safety fuse, and blasting caps, sticking out of my pockets. They must think I’m a mad bomber or something.
(At some point shortly after arriving, I volunteered to become the “demolition” man for CAP 2. That meant I carried our C-4, time fuse and blasting caps. I also got to make charges and blow things up. It was actually kind of fun, and broke the monotony.
Our company has had six medevacs in the last two days. One killed, five wounded.
The mail must be really screwed up. Nobody in our CAP got anything today. The Courier has only gotten here twice. The best one was dated March 12.
We had contact again last night but no casualties. We called in 80mm mortars on some V.C.
Happy Easter, there’s not an egg in sight here.
We just blew up a dud grenade.
Angel (Washington) left yesterday for his R&R in Hong Kong. (Paul) Jungel rotated back to the States three days ago. We’ve got two new guys who seem to like being obnoxious. I hope they snap out of that fast.
I got to write Joel a birthday card and there’s nothing going on here so I’ll quit.
I’m glad you asked those questions. I have a hard time trying to explain things when I don’t know what you want to know.
1. There are 13 Marines and 18 Regional Forces Vietnamese in my CAP now. One Marine is on R&R. They are going to give us about six more Marines since we’re so badly outnumbered.
2. There are no officers in my CAP. My CAP leader is Sgt. Burd. The rest are all Lance Corporals or P.F.C.’s. There is one officer in 7th Co., a captain. I see him once a month when he comes around to have us sign the pay roster.
3. I live out in the bush seven days a week and will probably do so for the rest of my year.
4. I got split up from my buddies when I left CAP school. I haven’t made any close friends here but I get along all right.
5. I’ve gotten the paper four times now, the latest was dated March 30.
6. I’ll be eligible for in-country R&R after 90 days in country. I’ll be eligible for out-of-country R&R after 150 days in country (I think).
7. I carry the pistol in my right waist pocket of my jungle jacket.
8. I got the balance of the ammo today. You sure did take some extravagent (sp?) precautions on it.
9. I’m now located at a village named Dinh Banh, about 20 km south of Da Nang on Highway One.
(Again, Dien Ban was our district and our village was Thanh Quit)
The fastest any letter has gotten to me in the last three weeks was five days. Most take 7 to 10 days.
I got two more Courier’s today. Read all about the FCA rally and how Jamie Dobbs had a poem of hers read on TV.
They don’t have any flowering trees. At least none that are flowering now. They do have a lot of flowers in out-of-the-way places. There are banana trees with real bananas here. The bananas are only about 3 or four inches long. There’s a kind of tree with fruit that looks like green footballs of various sizes. I don’t know what it is.
We had contact again last night. Called 105mm’s in on some V.C. trying to slide through our AO.
We got sniper fire later on, but nothing else.
The little boy I told you about is Dum-Dum. His mother is dead and his old man is a drunk. He’s practically an orphan. The Marines buy clothes for him and give him C-rations. Some of the villagers also feed him and let him sleep in their houses.
He’ll probably never live to see ten (he’s about six now) he keeps bringing in dud grenades to trade for chow. We blow up the duds and his old man sells the chow on the black market.
Our interpreter, Monkey, is just about in the same boat. He’s eleven, an orphan, and not yet recovered from shrapnel wounds he got when the V.C. attacked CAP 2 a month ago. He stays with us all the time, night and day because the V.C. will kill him if he doesn’t. He’s not big enough to carry a rifle or .45. He couldn’t pull the trigger. He’s very puny for eleven years. Our other interpreter is nineteen, his name is Yankee. We pay him $60 per month out of our own pockets.
The blankety-blank RF’s sell the food and cigarettes we give them and have to bum or steal stuff from us to eat. They won’t steal anything that isn’t left lying around.
My diet is lousy. We live on C-rations. I eat mostly fruit, some crackers, beans, and meat.
We haven’t had any water in two days. We’ve been drinking juice drained from the cans of fruit in C-rations. We hope to get some water today.
We don’t have a damned thing to do in the daytime but sleep and write letters so I’ll keep writing until I get bored. From the amount of letters I write people must think I don’t do anything else. If they do, they couldn’t be more completely wrong. Nighttime is a bitch. This little war is fought almost completely after dark.
I’m bored, will quit.