We were on a routine patrol, on a search and destroy mission. We were approaching a village where several VC lived. We knew this because most every time we went into the village, we encountered a lot of resistance. On this particular day, an event happened that is beyond belief!
Let me back up a little to explain what led up to this. The Marine Corps offered a recruiting program called the buddy system. When a marine signed up for the corps, he had an option to join with a buddy. They were sworn into the corps together and the rest of their tour they stayed together. I’m talking about boot camp, schools, state side or over sea duty was done together. We had two of these guys with our unit. They went to grade school, high school, played ball together. Needless to say they were very close buddies!
Now, back to the story: As we were approaching the village, one of the two buddies was shot in the head; he died instantly! When I got to the dead marine his buddy was going ballistic! He was yelling, screaming, cussing; he was very much out of control, as you can guess. Instantly, he started running toward the village shooting his M-16 rifle along the way. The rest of the marines followed suit and did the same thing. I heard a lot of ammunition being fired. While this was going on, I prepared the causality for a medevac to the Battalion Aid Station in Da Nang.
http://libertyyes.homestead.com/tp.gif When the chopper landed we loaded the body and then we headed for the village. When I got to the village I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was death everywhere - not only Vietnamese, but water buffalo, pigs, chickens and whatever! It was a small village so luckily there weren’t that many deaths. I vividly remember an old man standing a few feet from me when a marine shot him in the chest with his M-16. He fell on the ground and for some unknown reason he stood up. The marine shot him again. This time he stayed on the ground; but he just laid there looking up at the marine, not saying a word, starring. The marine then said, “What does it take to kill you old man?” Those words have echoed in my mind over and over! He then shot him a third time and he finally died. I turned the man over and he had a hole in his back that a fist could fit in. The sad part of all this carnage is that I felt no remorse for these people. The marine buddy being killed was the straw that finalized the outcome of this situation. So many times we go into or out of a village where VC shoot at us. Whether they are Viet Cong or Viet Cong sympathizers made no difference; they were all VC!
I personally got caught up in the melee and set fire to many of the grass huts. A while later bullets started exploding because of the heat; the bullets were hidden in the grass walls of the village. It sounded like the Fourth of July, but we were not celebrating! When we left that village there was nothing left. It ceased to exist. One thing I learned early on my tour was that the marines were trained to kill and they were good at it! They were trained to kill and they did what was expected of them.
I’ll never forget what happened next. As we were filing out, no one was saying a word; the silence was eerie. The only noise I remember was the suction sound of our combat boots stepping out of the mud as we walked. That noise seemed to magnify. I don’t believe a word was spoken all the way back to our CP. Each of the soldiers was deep in thought about what had just happened or in partial shock. I don’t remember a marine speaking of that operation for the rest of my tour.
Of the entire trauma I witnessed in Vietnam, this was one about which I have reoccurring nightmares. The old man being shot and the other carnage of that day changed me forever. Being shot at a distance was one thing, but up-close made it personal.
For this operation to be played out as it did, was not planned. It was just something that happened. War is war and you act out accordingly. It did get out of control as the marines acted independently. The adrenaline spike definitely did contribute to the carnage.
This is the second time I have posted this story. I pulled it because I was worried about what our liberal government could make of this atrocity; even though it happened almost fifty years ago. So consequently I am going to leave much of the trauma out and leave it to your imagination. Was this a getting even day or were Satan and his co-workers controlling the events! After all, we were playing on his playground. After a week debate, I resubmitted this article.
I remember a year after I returned home from Vietnam, the story about Army Second Lieutenant Calley and the Mylai massacre. That story reminded me of this operation, but to a far less degree. Many have said that the military used Lt. Calley as a scapegoat. War does strange things to our combat warriors. A few weeks ago I posted a story, “Battlefield Emotions”. This would definitely contribute to my story of the carnage that was done.
Another cause for concern is the symptoms from the adrenal gland. In this, it affects the nervous system first. We do things at this stage that one would never do under normal circumstances. I heard it said, “The rush of battle is a potent and often lethal addiction, for war is a drug.” Another quote, “The closer you get to death, the bigger the adrenaline hit. It’s like opium.” Many of those in the military who have experienced combat can relate to the feeling of adrenaline produced fear and understand the feeling of an almost euphoric state as the body goes into survival mode. The high level of intensity created by traumatic events may then become a “need” that almost has to be fed.
I can now understand how, back in the Vietnam era, we saw many of our fellow warriors volunteer for multiple tours of duty in the combat zone. They became “adrenaline junkies”. Incidentally, the marine who killed the old man in the village was on his second tour.
They became addicted to the action. While adrenaline may be the one element that instills survival, it can also destroy the lives of those warriors when they have to return to the mundane world of civilian life. Many of our warriors went home to an ungrateful nation and were not accepted. It was a different world that we left. This is when our PTSD symptoms took over. Many grunts replaced their adrenaline deficiencies with drugs, alcohol, fast cars, dangerous jobs and the list goes on.
“In a guerrilla war, the line between legitimate and illegitimate killing is blurred. The policies of free-fire zones, in which a soldier is permitted to shoot at any human target, armed or unarmed, further confuse the fighting man’s moral senses.”
Semper Frater (Always Brothers)
HMCM Ronald C. Mosbaugh