Thursday, July 19, 2018

#MESSDUTY--3rd Battalion, 28th Marines--"PUSHIN' TOO HARD" 1967


(LZ 410)--Reduction in rank, and forfeiture of pay, like mess duty, followed me around from duty station to duty station. My tenure at K Company in Pensacola came to an abrupt end one night when, drunk,  I got into a fight with a sailor who promised he would deliver by,

     "How do you want it, New York or Philly style?"
I replied,
"Here's Reno style," 

and I punched him in the face and broke his nose. But that wasn't what pissed off the CO RL O'Brien. I went back to the barracks and proceeded to punch holes into the bulkheads in a fit of rage over  all that had been coming down ever since I'd been assigned to the training unit. In the blowback, it was, on 14 February, 1967, execution of yet another incident prior to that one, that the sentence of reduction-forfeiture was imposed.  On 10 March, 1967, under "Administrative Remarks" in my Service Record Book (SRB), RL O'Brien made an entry that I had been disenrolled from the CommTech "R" course. In the "Record of Service" section, the page shows 3 April '67 as the first entry for H&S Co., 3rd Bn, 28th Marines. I had been transferred, finally, to an infantry unit, at Camp Pendleton no less.
     Maybe O'Brien thought he was ridding himself of a pain in the neck, quite possibly true. The real truth was that the 5th MarDiv had been recently reactivated and was in need of every able bodied Marine it could muster, in spite of the negative entries in the SRB.  Whether anybody over in that faraway Shangrila of Company K realized it, there was a shooting war in its second full year in Southeast Asia. In the Company K barracks, we used to sit around and mull over the possible duty stations we might get; Marine Barracks, Washington, DC, stand in front of Chopper One and salute CINC when he boarded. What about Cyprus, or Italy or some other far off exotic place where promotions happened every other month and you could be a Gunny, like Gunny Wood in a couple of years? The only place you were going from the 28th Marines, a line infantry regiment, was to Vietnam.
     My first major assignments at H&S, Camp San Mateo weren't radio training, teaching others the rapid speed I had on Morse code I learned in Florida, but chopping back all the ice plant off the sidewalks in front of the quonset huts, firewatch and guard duty all night.  Following that, although there is no entry in the Record, sometime between my arrival in April and my going AWOL to the Summer of Love in Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco in late July, I was again assigned to mess duty. It was after a field training exercise where, in the Sick Call Treatment Record, the entry shows my being treated for falling on a cactus on 29 April '67. The attack of the wild cactus happened when we, acting as aggressors,  ambushed a convoy of tanks somewhere on a Camp Pendleton ridgetop road, and somebody tossed a smoke grenade into the lead tank. It was not well received and the rest of the tanks chased us down the side of the mountain and tried to run us over, I survived by diving into the cactus patch.

The Camp San Mateo (62 Area) former 3rd Bn, 28th Marines messhall from Google earth today. It is now a fitness center. Look close and you might see the ghost of Pvt Mertz handling the GI cans on the back landing.

     At San Mateo 3rd battalion messhall, the chief was Sgt. Dabney, a real slave driver but he laid off me and I was assigned the officers' mess along with CD Rossi, also from radio platoon. The star of the show, hands down, was the "bird" Pvt. Mertz who worked the GI cans out on the back landing. No matter what they threw at Mertz, it would roll off. After I'd gotten out of the brig in October for the AWOL junket to SF, we had just returned from another field exercise and were dead in formation one morning with MSgt "Top" Casella giving us the lowdown,

"What's the matter with you people, am I pushing you too hard?"
In the ranks, Mertz begin to sing the Seeds hit released in October, 1966,
"You're pushin' too hard, you're pushin too hard...."

Mess duty at Pendleton was no picnic, but it was by no means the brutal experience that I had endured at Corry Station under CU Farley. Ironic that the very day that the suspension order at Corry, February 14, was executed, there awaited an even bigger day the following February. It would be on Valentine's Day, 1968 we would depart from El Toro in C-141s with the 27th Regimental Landing Team to Danang.
   Here's where we hear all the talk about that training I had been getting for two years as a Marine paying off,  converted from a "ditty-taker" (code) at Pensacola, to a bona-fide field radio operator at the 28th. None of that will matter as the business of going out on patrols and ambushes would be left to the grunts. There's a hundred books out today on all of them bragging about getting sprayed with automatic weapons fire and barely getting into the trench before the artillery round hit next to them. I'll leave all that glory stuff to the heroes, I had more important things to do in-country.

FOOTNOTE: The sailor at Corry Station outside the Navarine Club reported to his CO that he started the fight so I was not held accountable. Memory is a funny thing. I wrote the report three hours ago and just now remembered that detail. (07/19/18/2040PDT)

TO BE CONTINUED-- Next stop, Duong Son (2)--

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