Saturday, October 21, 2006

Hometeacher, hero, life saver ...

Some time after the Tet offensive, in Da Nang, a "home teacher" whom I'll call "Bob" (a "home teacher" is an LDS lay member who visits with other members, Bob was a military guy just trying to cheer up other guys in the service) was in "the swamp" with the air force guys there. All day there had been so-called pressure on the perimeter. South Vietnamese soldiers had responsibility for guarding the perimter at that point, with the U.S. Marines responsible for responding to any serious threat.

The Air Force's MMS was there, with a light colonel in charge. That light colonel and all of the officers and master sergeants had been "redeployed" (i.e. they had evacuated), but everyone else had been left behind. The marines were not taking any action or moving in to reinforce the perimeter guards, and the colonel's last order had been for all the general enlisted guys to stay put, or else.

As things got bad, Bob could have left, but he felt responsible and he was a shooter, so he moved into one of the two machine gun nests and started laying down suppressing fire. It wasn't long before Bob realized he was the only person firing back at North Vietnamese who were getting much closer . The perimeter guards had all faded away, the U.S. Marine Corps was not responding to calls, claiming they would not move until and unless they had orders or were under attack themselves, and the Air Force guys, bless their hearts, lacked combat skills or training.

At this point, the perimeter was overrun. The breech was serious where the MMS (missile maintenance squadron) was concerned, though easily contained to that area, almost as if it was intentional (easily contained breaches are good for medal counts in the counter-attack as it makes everyone look like a hero who drives the enemy out). If Bob got out now, the rest of the guys would probably be in the casualty count. If he stayed, he expected that most of them would be able to get out before he was, err, neutralized, but he couldn't expect the marines to help or to relieve him. He stayed put and kept up a steady rate of fire.

As I said, Bob was a shooter. He was also lucky. Nearby ROK marines from the Tiger Battalion noticed the problem and unilaterally, without orders and without allowing communications to stop them, counter-attacked before Bob went into the neutralized column. He had burns on his hands and face; even with more than one assault rifle to work with, his rate of fire had been high enough that the weapons were burning hot. He had first and second degree burns, though he was lucky enough to heal without scarring. The Korean colonel, Lee, was awarded a silver star and sent home because of his complaints over Bob's court martial (which was later cleared off of Bob's records).

BTW, Robert Oaks served in the area as the same time as "Bob" who home taught my dad, there in the swamp. I don't know if his term of service in Vietnam overlapped with this particular event.

As somewhat of an epilog, right after that happened, the first shirt checked out two grenades. The guy in charge of the inventory that shift gave him thermite grenades (those will burn a hole in something, but they don't blow up) and sure enough, the light colonel ended up with two holes very near him -- some property damage, but nothing fatal.

1 comment:

annegb said...

Wonderful story, Stephen. I enjoyed reading about your brother, as well.

Have you read that story of two elders meeting in a rice paddy and taking the sacrament over a helmet? I think crackers were their bread and they had some water on them.