Today is the 237th birthday of the United States Marine Corps which had its beginning at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s Tun Tavern, a meeting place of some importance in 18th Century American history. Benjamin Franklin recruited militia there in the 1750s to fight Native American uprisings. Future presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson held meetings at the tavern, as did the Continental Congress.
On past birthdays, I have celebrated in local pubs, at formal dinners and elegant luncheons, but I spent the 192nd birthday on Hill 881, west of the Khe Sanh Combat Base. Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines garrisoned the hill from mid-October of 1967 until the day after Christmas of that year.
On November 10, 1967, I am sure there was some kind of celebration up on the hill to take note of this important date to all Marines, but I do not recall what it was. Some of the Bravo Marines and Corpsmen who are still alive might be able to remember such a celebration.
On November 10th, 1967, Third Platoon, Bravo Company went out on a patrol at 06:50 hours and returned about 11:00 hours. Second Platoon sent out an LP and an ambush that night. I am sure First and Third Platoons did likewise.
Most of what I recall about mid-November of 1967 was rain and mist and cold. Official records kept by the 26th Marines say that the rainfall for the month of November was about four inches, but in my memory it rained all the time up there on Hill 881, and we patrolled in the drip and the sop and the mud. We worked in the mud and we slept in dripping hooches and sometimes out on the ground with leeches crawling into our noses. We went on ambushes and listening posts and long patrols through creeks and rivers and marshes over the ridges to the west, towards the Laotian border. We stood watch in wet mist that hung so close you couldn’t see ten feet. Oftentimes all night, all personnel manned the trenches as red alerts kept us up watching for the NVA to come hurling through the foggy dark onto our concertina wire barriers and into our positions.
It was wet, it was boring, it was ham and lima beans, beans and franks, chicken noodle soup, day in, night out. If there was a cake cutting on November 10, which is traditional on the Marine Corps Birthday, I don’t remember it on our hill, in our outfit.
I remember wet and work and little sleep and undermanned squads sick near to death of the routine. The only things to spice life up were the occasional sniper rounds snapping past your head as you filled sandbags or dug your trenches deeper, or the recon outfits that landed on the hill and departed the hill’s gates for more dangerous territory.
And what really interests me now, in 2012, is how tough we thought all that was…the mud, the rain, the damp, the leeches, the long patrols, the all-night red alerts in a blinding fog. And it was tough. But we didn’t know what tough was, compared to what would happen to us beginning on January 21, 1968. But that is a different subject, for a different time.
One of the men who served with me in Third Squad, Second Platoon, Bravo Company on November 10, 1967, was Dan Horton, a tough Detroit kid who we all wrangled and fought with, but whom we all loved. And could he sing. He used to sing tune after tune on those cold wet nights and we thought we had BJ Thomas right there in our leaky-roofed hooch. Dan used to yell all the time because he wasn’t getting treated fairly, and sometimes he’d go to fists with other Marines over it, but when the real fighting started the following January, he was there, covering your back and your flanks, his weapon locked and loaded. And he was there, too, fighting the leeches and the rain and the cold mists of 881.
Dan was one of the fifteen Marines and Corpsmen of Bravo Company featured in the film, BRAVO! COMMON MEN, UNCOMMON VALOR.
Unfortunately, for those of us who loved and revered him, for those of us who still survive from that 1967 Marine Corps Birthday, Dan left us to go to another universe, another Tun Tavern. And fittingly, if he needed to leave, he left us on the Corps’ 235th Birthday, November 10, 2010. Sempr Fi, Marines. Semper Fi, Dan Horton.