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Archive for November, 2012

Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Vietnam War

November 10, 2012

On Tun Tavern, November 10th and Dan Horton

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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.

Guest Blogs,Khe Sanh,Marines,Other Musings,Vietnam War

November 5, 2012

Happy Birthday

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BRAVO! Marine Michael E. O’Hara muses on tradition, the Marine Corps Birthday and one of the men of Bravo Company with whom he served.

Soon it will be 10 November, the birthday of the United States Marine Corps. Marines take this event very seriously holding “Birthday Balls” all over the world at Naval Bases, MCB’s, on board ships and our foreign embassies (provided they are there in the first place). Retired Marines hold small ceremonies as well in their local VFW halls and Marine Corps League facilities. The oldest and youngest Marines are honored and a cake cutting ceremony is usually held. If feasible the cake is cut with the traditional Mameluke Sword, which was presented to Lt. Presley O’Bannon in 1805 by Hamet Bey the rightful ruler of Tripoli when we were trying to subdue the Barbary Pirates during Thomas Jefferson’s administration. (He eventually paid the pirates ransom and sent Hamet packing. Some things never change.) Even in the Mayor’s office in Indianapolis there will be a cake cutting ceremony. Mayor Ballard is himself a retired Marine Officer.

It is a very special day for me as well. Being so close to Veterans Day, it always invokes past memories of “My Marines.” Those brave and courageous young men who I was so privileged to have known. I want to tell you all about just one. He isn’t technically a Marine. He is a USN Hospitalman, what we call “Corpsmen.” Marines revere their Navy Corpsmen. They train with Marines, they go into battle with Marines, armed only with their medical gear to treat the wounded and the dying. Many times over the history of our Corps they performed valiantly, many times giving their own lives trying to save Marines. They are a rare breed in and of themselves. I want to tell you about just one, Richard Blanchfield, USN.

I never really knew Dick. He was a new replacement for our third platoon, I believe, which had been decimated in late February. It was now March 30, 1968. We were in a pitched battle with the NVA. Many folks were getting banged up pretty bad. We were still in the advance when I came upon Doc. I found him at the bottom of a 500-lb bomb crater. He had been tending to two other Marines who were, by this time, deceased. He had taken a near direct hit from an 82mm Chi-Com mortar. When I got down to him his arm was nearly torn from his torso. He had already stuck two morphine needles into his leg and didn’t know or care about much. All I could do was tie two battle dressings together and compress his arm against his torso and try desperately to stop his bleeding.

But we were still in the advance stages and it was time to move on. Others would have to tend to him later, although I thought sure he would not survive his wounds. But he did. We made contact via the telephone in 1993 and that has been the only contact I have had with him since. Except. Every year since 1993 I have received a birthday card from Dick celebrating the birth of the Corps. He is as proud of being called a Marine as I am of being called his friend. These are the bonds that tie men together on the fields of war. They can never be broken, not even by death itself.

Semper Fidelis, Dick Blanchfield, and a Happy Birthday to you as well.