hen and Now: Lessons Unlearned
By Craig Roberts
It appears to be a rule in "military history and lessons learned" that
we don't remember the lessons.
Below is an article by Vince Morris of the New York Post, who is
probably too young to remember a little "conflict" called Vietnam. But I
won't forget it, or the lessons we learned, since I was a young US
Marine infantryman who did my share of rice paddy wading in I Corps in
One of the lessons American fighting men learn in the first few days of
war is that our rules don't count. We learn about the enemy, his
methods, madness and motivations. We also learn that they do not, ever,
think or act like Americans. It seems we never learn that we are
different, and they don't play by our rules.
Americans are a kind and compassionate people. We try to "liberate" and
not "conquer" when we go to war. Liberating Iraq and fighting terrorism
now is identical to defending South Vietnam and fighting Vietcong
terrorism in the '60s. I landed with H Company, 2nd Battalion, 9th
Marine Regiment at DaNang in July of 1965. Within three days of our
landing we were entrenched around a village called Duong Son and began
receiving fire from guerrillas of the Doc Lap battalion of Vietcong
(based in a tunnel complex under the village of Cam Ne, one kilometer
across the paddies to the west).
We established an outpost of one platoon on a small island in the
paddies between us and Cam NE, and sent two wiremen to string commo wire
to the "little ville" (which was one building used as a schoolhouse).
They left just before dark and never arrived at the "schoolhouse." They
never came back either.
The next morning we sent out patrols and found them at the edge of Cam
NE, hung up by their heals in a tree, tortured and killed as a signal to
us of what would happen in the future. There were other atrocities that
had been done to the bodies that I won't describe.
But it backfired. It had just the opposite effect on us that it may have
had on other nationalities. It did not scare us. It did not terrify us.
It did not make us want to quit and go home. Instead, it galvanized
us--and changed the rules.
Americans begin by being kind and understanding and compassionate. But
don't anger us. Don't try to shock us. Don't hurt any of our people.
Because if you do, you will bring down more fire and brimstone than you
ever reckoned existed.
Seeing the two bodies caused us (the entire Regiment) to change our
attitude about the enemy and the Vietnamese in general. This would last
for the rest of the war. THEY are the ones who caused more grief and
death and destruction on their personnel than would have happened if the
two young Marines had not been captured, tortured and executed. For the
next 11 months I never took a prisoner on purpose. I killed every VC and
NVA I could get in my sights (and later my scope as a sniper). I hated
them and when I took up the trigger slack on every target, I thought of
those two wireman who went home in body bags after only three days in
Now we have young soldiers and Marines faced with the latest version of
the "wiremen incident of Duong Son." American National Guard reservists
from Texas, serving in a support role, made a wrong turn in Iraq and
evidently drove up to Iraqis wearing civilian clothes. No one knows what
happened next, but whatever happened it is evident that our guys were
not prepared for combat. If they had been, there would have been Iraqi
bodies on the road instead of American. Our guys expected Iraqi
"civilians" would be glad to see them, and they probably assumed these
"civilians" would be helpful if they stopped to ask directions. The
Iraqis were either soldiers in civvies, or militia. So, it appears no
defensive shots were fired. But the Al Jazeera TV footage shows dead GIs
with head wounds that appear to be from very close range. This was an
execution of POWs by war criminals. This is the Iraqi War version of the
Wiremen Incident. And now our guys are relearning the lessons we learned
in Vietnam: There Is No Compassionate War.
In my opinion, there are two missions for the man in the field: Win the
war quickly, and go home alive.
To do this, a warrior has to be careful, cautious and ruthless. We must
know we cannot fight a "careful war" in which we try not to hurt anyone.
The mission of the military is not that of policeman. The mission is to
go places, destroy real estate, break things, and kill people. We have
to relearn this in every war. But it is a lesson we quickly learn,
albeit often a bit late, and with far too much of our own blood.
When one sees the liberal socialist media whining about civilian
casualties, just put these images in your mind: Pan Am 103 at Lockerbie,
the Marine Barracks bombing in Beirut, the attack on the USS Cole, the
9-11 WTC and Pentagon attacks, and the crash in Pennsylvania. Also
remember that we have over 100 Iraqi terrorist cells, not to mention al
Qaeda in this country just watching and waiting for a chance to "avenge
Here's to our troops: God Bless, God Speed, and now that you know the
"rules," Good Hunting!
LTC, USAR, INF, (Ret)
L/Cpl, USMC, Vietnam, '65-66
Now, read on, my comments are in brackets...
****Marines Out To Avenge Blood Of 'Executed' GI's****
The Marines at this chopper base near the Iraqi border are seething with
rage and talking revenge over the treatment of American POWs - paraded
on TV and some possibly executed.
"OK, they want to play that way. We can play that way," vowed one
enraged pilot. Marine after Marine had the same message - many of them
warning that there would be "no second chances for those Iraqis now."
Virtually every conversation here touched on the POW's treatment and
possible executions yesterday. It was discussed on chow lines, in the
bomb shelters, outside the latrines.
(This is the latest version of The Wiremen Incident that changed the
rules of engagement in the field for the average grunt)
Robert "Doc" Davenport, a Marine medic trained to both save people and
kill them, was among those struggling to digest the appalling news. "It
makes it harder to do my job," he said, explaining he'll now think twice
about dressing the wounds of injured Iraqis. "If we run across one of
them and he needs my help, it will be harder for me to do it," he added.
(Our Doc Lindstrom felt the same way. As a Navy Corpsman, he wanted to
help people and save lives, but after the wireman incident he added four
grenades to his aid bag).
Many Marines on this desert base - affectionately known as "Snakepit" -
said they believe they were sent to Iraq not to hurt people, but to free
them from Saddam Hussein's ruthless grip. "We want to help these people
and look what they're doing to us," said more than one shocked Marine.
(Exactly what we thought and said at Duong Son in '65)
"What we should do is go in there and kill every last soul," growled
Sgt. Mike Brady. "If they realize that we are going to kill them like
that, they'll be like 'OK, OK, we surrender,' " said the 28-year-old
Texas native. Brady, who mans the twin 50-caliber machine-guns aboard a
Sea Stallion chopper, said he'll be much more wary now when he's flying
over Iraqi positions. He'll no longer give enemy soldiers the benefit of
the doubt when they start waving white flags. "I'm going to be a lot
quicker to pull that trigger if I think they're up to something," he
(Our Sgt. Shireman said almost the same thing, but his version was "no
prisoners, any questions?")
During an air raid yesterday - when everyone rushed into the bomb
shelters with their gas masks and chemical and biological gear - one
Marine's muffled swearing was heard above the din. Repeating the
sneering nickname used for Saddam Hussein, he kept saying, " 'So damn'
insane, 'so damn' insane. I'm going to come up there myself and kill
(Ho Ho, Ho Chi Minh, We're gonna hit you on the chin. Then we'll fire
shot and shell and send you sorry ass to hell!)
Of course, not everyone on the base is calling for blood - yet. Cpl.
Joseph Michinki said he's not convinced the executions actually took
place. "They can fake all kinds of things with video," noted Michinki,
21, of Georgia. "But if that really was Americans being killed, I'd be
pretty pissed," he added.
(This young Marine will learn, eventually. We all do)
Article by Vince Morris, NYPost.com (italic comments by Craig Roberts,
Consolidated Press Int'l)
March 25, 2003
(Reporting from a Marine helicopter base in the Kuwaiti desert)
****Kill'em And Let God Sort'em Out****
The (3rd Infantry) division commander, Maj. Gen. Buford Bloat, is candid
about the threat. "The Bah Party is very well organized and very active
with a lot of forces in Najaf and Samawah," he said in an interview
Monday night. "And they are capable of responding fluidly to us."It has
always been the hope of the American war planners to avoid Iraq's
cities, so as to minimize both American and Iraqi casualties. But there
are doubts. "I think these guys are going to keep coming out and
harassing us," Bloat said. "I think eventually we're going to have to go
in there and kill them. I think we will have to kill them unless we can
get rid of the top guy in Baghdad."
---Michael Kelly, Syndicated Columnist
March 26, 2003
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R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GySgt USMC (Ret.)
Gunny G's Old Salt Marines Tavern
R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GySgt USMC (Ret.)
Gunny G's Old Salt Marines Tavern
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Marine Corps Birthday Ball Speech Given by Craig Roberts, Marine Vietnam vet and author, to the US Marine Reserve Anti-Tank Battalion, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Nov 9, 2002.
I want to thank you for inviting me to be your speaker on this 227th Birthday of our Beloved Corps. It is quite an honor, and one that I never even considered happening to me when I was a young hard- charging Marine in Vietnam in the mid nineteen sixties. I only wish my father, who was a World War II FMF Marine, Pvt. William F. Roberts, Jr., USMC, serial number 555502, and who passed on last year, could be present to hear his son talk about his Marine Corps.
I know that many of you are wondering why a lance corporal is your speaker. It may because Im a combat vet, or because Im known as a writer of military tales, or because I can tell some great war stories. But it might also be because the rank of lance corporal is the best rank to hold in the Marine Corps. At least it was when I was in. A lance was too high a grade to do dirty details, but not high enough to take any responsibility. We supervised working parties of PFCs and Privates, but if anything went wrong, we blamed the Corporal who should have been there supervising, but was down at the slop chute or the gedonk instead, and left us in charge. Yes, lance corporal was a great rank, and a lofty one as well. At least in those days when it was not uncommon for a PFC to re-up after four years to make Lance. And the rank lasted a long time too....at one time I was senior lance corporal of the Marine Corps. I had more time in grade with a clean record than any other lance in the Corps. I was kind of like Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps...but for lance corporals.
Also, there is one misnomer I would like to clear up. There is no such thing as an "ex-Marine." There are only Marines. Some are on active duty, some on reserve duty, and some, such as I, which we can specify as not-presently-serving Marines. The formula is simple: Once a MarineAlways a Marine.
People ask me why I later joined the National Guard and eventually transferred to the Army Reserve instead of joining the Marine Corps Reserve. In 1972 the Vietnam war was still going on, and the USMC reserve unit here was a truck company. I was FMF infantry, and "Motor T" was not something an FMF grunt is interested in. At the time I thought the Guard infantry battalion here could use my experience to train their troops. I could tell you horror stories concerning that decision that would plague me for years, but I wont. The bottom line is that after 26 years, and various duty assignmentssome good and some badI managed to retire as a lieutenant colonel in 1999, Infantry branch. During this time with the Army I told my colleagues that if I did a good job, worked hard, and kept out of trouble, Id eventually get my old rank back as a lance corporal. When I did retire, a Marine gunny Ive known for years, began referring to me as a "lance colonel." So, in a way, I did come full circle. I am now the only "lance colonel" existing in any branch of the service.
I sometimes am asked what it was like in the Old Corps. Well, I wasnt in the old corps. When I was in, between 1964-68, the old Korean War salts who served with us called us "boots" and "the new corps." At this point I must clarify what a "boot" is. According to our NCOs in days past, a boot is someone who enters the gate at MCRD ten minutes or more after you do. From then on, he is boot to you and youll never let him forget it.
As time passed, the "New Corps" criteria changed with each generation, and my generation now is considered by the WWII and Korean Marines as "the semi-old Corps" or the "not-quite-so-old" Corps.
But a few years back the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, standing next to the Commandant at Parris Island during a training inspection said "Sir, Theres the old corps, the new corps, and whatever in the hell this is." I cant comment on that, just reporting it. But now those lads at Parris Island then are now probably considered Old Corps by todays young Marines.
Im also sometimes asked what boot camp was like in the sixties, before Vietnam. It was rough. It was the hardest training I ever went through. It was the same as it was in the Korean War era, except the M-1s had been replaced by M-14s. In fact, my platoon commander, Staff Sergeant Joe Vierra, carried a .50 caliber receiver out of the Chosin Reservoir on his shoulder. He worked for a gent named Colonel Lewis B. Puller. Vierra was the most sadistic, meanest, most cruel bulldog-faced cigar-chomping gorilla who ever wore a campaign cover. But if theres anyone I owe the successes of my life, and my survival in Vietnam to, its him.
If you remember the TV series "Gomer Pyle" you know what our utilities looked like. They were faded forest green cotton sateen utilities that we scrubbed with scrub brushes on the wash racks by hand until they looked turquoisewhat we considered salty. Then they were starched like boards until the crease in the trousers could cut raw meat. Our boots were rough-out brown boots that we dyed black and spit shined, and our covers were starched and ironed until they could be used as a deadly weapon.
All this changed in Vietnam. Our boots rotted, our utilities fell apart, and our 782 gear was next to useless for the amount of gear we had to carry. Imagine a place where it is 125 degrees with 98% humidity day in and day out. It was like working in a blast furnace. Then monsoon season came and it rained hard 24 hours a day until the entire TAOR was nothing but a sauna bath of mud, and lakes of chest deep stinking rice paddies. We finally were issued jungle utilities, jungle boots, and pack boards with willie peter bags to carry our gear. The WWII canvas 782 gear, or what was left of it, was turned in or discarded. Our M-14s rusted no matter how well we tried to keep them, and M-16s wouldnt be issued until the year after I was medevaced out of country. Our meals consisted of green cans of C-rations, normally cold, two, and if we were lucky (or unlucky), three times a day, for weeks on end, and our rifle cleaning gear was simply the butt-well gear, an old skivi shirt torn into bore patches, and a bottle of motor oil drained from a six-by. So began Vietnam for the Corps.
We learned a lot of things in Vietnam. Never return from a patrol on the same trail used in going out; tie and tape down anything that rattles; always use hand and arm signals instead of talking; always carry extra dry socks and plenty of ammo and grenades, make sure your canteens are always filled, and a thousand other things. But we also learned of danger areas when some of our Marines said certain things. For instance:
A PFC when he says "I learned this in boot camp."
A Sergeant saying, "Trust me sir..."
A 2nd Lieutenant saying "based on my experience..."
A 1st Lieutenant saying "I was just thinking..."
A Captain saying "I think I know a short cut..."
A Major saying "Chow and ammo should be on the way..."
A Colonel saying "One more mission this week wont hurt us..."
A General saying "last night I had a dream..."
And a gunny saying, "Watch this..."
Since my walking tour of Southeast Asia, Ive written about Vietnam, the Corps, and other wars and services. But Im often asked why I havent written about other "elite" services such as the Green Berets and the SEALs. After all, arent they Americas super warriors?
My response is that the Green Beanies, if used according to their mission and charter are school teachers, and capable of doing a great job of working with indigenous populations. But they are not a fighting force like our Corps. But on the other hand, in Vietnam we proved to be excellent school teachers as well... evidenced by our Combined Action Platoon Marines who worked, taught, fought, organized, and lived in the villes with the locals. We didnt need any Green Berets, we did it ourselves.
And SEALs? They are simply Marine wannabees who were afraid to go to Marine Corps boot camp, so they joined the Navy. What do they do that Marines havent done for years? Especially our Force Recon warriors? Can anyone name one mission the SEALs do that the Marines cant? I cant think of a single one.
Now, I do have great respect for the Navy. They provide us with three things: transportation to the battlefields, ships to launch our aircraft, and most importantly, our Docs.
A critical part of the Marine Corps family is our FMF Corpsmen. Unlike SEALs, they arent afraid of Marine Corps training. So who is the real Naval Hero here? Think about this: when you see your Doc in the field, and the bullets fly and all of us are on the deck taking up firing positions, Doc is the only guy up and running around to take care of us. Unlike some of the old jokes about Army medics, our Corpsmen do make house calls.
Since I have served in the Marines, spent time on Naval Bases and on ships, served in the Army and was attached to the Air Force, I can give you a first-hand observation of comparing the branches. I agree with Col. David Hackworth when he wrote this:
The Air Force is like a French Poodle: always looks pretty, sometimes a bit pampered and always travels first class. But the Poodle was bred as a hunting dog and in a fight it is very dangerous.
The Army is like a St. Bernard. Its big and heavy and sloppy and a bit clumsy. But its powerful and has lots of stamina and is built for the long haul.
The Navy is like a Golden Retriever. Theyre good natured and great around the house. Their hair is a bit long and they often go wandering off for long periods of time. They love water and kids love them.
The Marines come in two breeds, Rottweilers and Dobermans. Some are big and mean and some are skinny and mean. All are mean. Theyre aggressive on the attack and tenacious on the defense. Theyve got really short hair and they always go for the throat.
My thanks to Colonel Hackworth for those observations. Now here are a few of my own:
From my perspective, a major difference can be seen in how the services build their bases and installations. I now give this insight to our younger Marines so you can see how the system works.
When setting up a new base, the Air Force first decides where to build the clubs and swimming pools and PX, then if any money is left over, where to build the runway and hangars. They know they can still go back to Congress and say, "gee, we ran out of money and we still need a runway," and they know theyll get it.
The Army first brings in the engineers to build the golf course, then barracks that would put a mid-eastern sultan to shame, a fantastic officers club, a recreation center, and a huge PX, all hosted by civilian contractors. They then request more money to build ranges and training areas. And they get it.
The Navy builds a port by erecting a pier or two, while the chiefs develop a liberty call plan and arrange for transportation for the sailors to the bar district. When all is said and done, they have a great facility and all the comforts of home. And they usually have a few bucks left over, hidden in accounts in the budget of the submarine base, which is all secretbut accessible.
The Marines do it different. We find a mud-flats stretch of beach, slog inland until we find a steep hill, build a swamp on one side and a desert on the other, a rifle range at the bottom, and call it a base. If theres any money left over, which there normally isnt, we might think of building barracks.
Tactically and politically, there is also something that needs to be said about the Marine Corps. The Marines are the worlds greatest pacifists. According to the dictionary, a pacifist is someone who wants to end war, establish peace, and resolve political unrest. This is exactly what the Marines do best. If you want to pacify a world hot spot, send in the Marines. Twenty-four to forty-eight hours later the place is pacified.
Our motto, First to Fight, is more than that. It is a way of life. Since November 10th, 1775 when a group of fighting men gathered for the first time in a little tavern in Philadelphia to form the Continental Marines, to the fighting tops of the Bonhomme Richard, to the Barbary Coast, and from the Halls of Montezuma to Belleau Wood, Nicaragua and China, and on to Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Okinawa, then the frozen Chosin and the bloody hills of Korea, and then to the steaming jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam, and beyond to the Mayaguez mission, Beirut, Grenada, the Gulf War, Somalia, Bosnia, and now Afghanistan, and a thousand other battlefields, our Marines have truly been the "First to Fight" and have distinguished themselves with honor, bravery, sacrifice, and love of God, Country and Corps.
The Marine Corps is more than a service. It is more than a team. It is a family. I want to tell you a little bit about MY Marine Corps Family.
When I was working on my book, "Combat MedicVietnam," I had the honor of interviewing and telling the story of many medics and corpsmen. But one gentleman stuck in my mind for years, Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Douglas Wean, a silver star recipient who served with Kilo Battery, 4th Battalion, 12th Marines at Dong Ha, Vietnam in 1968. He told me of an incident that we can all relate to.
One of the Marines in his unit had been wounded during a resupply run, bringing 155 howitzer rounds up the road to the firebase at Camp Carrol on the DMZ. The word came that the resupply truck had hit a mine. Doc Wean ran down the trail to where the smoking six-by rested, twisted and riddled with holes. Doc Wean worked on the wounded until he came to a personal friend, Jimmy. Jimmy was in bad shape, and Doug knew that the best he could do would be to cheer him up by telling him he was going home.
"Doc, ya cant medevac me," said Jimmy. "Ya gotta fix me up so I can stay."
"Youve done all you can do here, Jimmy. Its time to go home.
"But you dont understand, Doc. My battery needs me. I gotta drive the roads to bring up the rounds. If I dont deliver, they cant fire the missions. They all depend on me. I gotta take care of MY guys."
There was that word again. My. My guys. My Marines. At first I hadnt really understood. What was it that brought men so close together that they would do anythingincluding diefor their fellows? Now I was beginning to understand. It wasnt any one thing. It was a combination of several factors that all meld together to form a bond stronger than steel. The war, the terror, the dying and every other unspeakable horror men face in combat is countered by a combination of comradeship, trust dedication, an ingrained instinct for survival, and in the Marine Corps, history and tradition. These guys werent only responsible to each other, but to ALL the Marines who had come before. It was a family where one generation followed another and each passed a code of honor to the next. It wasnt really patriotism or loyalty to a higher authority, it was a sense of responsibility to fellow Marinespast and present. Everybody felt like they were an important part of a family, or a team. They were made to feel that way. A feeling of need built dedication, and the dedication built pride, and a special spirit known as esprit dCorps. Nowhere at home, or anywhere else in life, did a man feel as needed by his friends as he did here. It was all beginning to make sense. And I was beginning to feel a part of it. They made me feel just as needed and as important too. I was part of the team. I was THEIR Doc. And they were MY family. My Marine Corps family.
The Marine Corps Family. It kind of boils down to that. A team. A tradition. Brothers and sisters in arms, ready to go into harms way at a moments notice.
And our ancestors all had something in common with those who serve today, and we with them. A common link, and a common bond, forged by uncommon men and women. When we look back to such places as the misty, muddy forest of Belleau Wood in World War II, where the Fifth and Sixth Regiments of Marines earned the nickname of Teufel Hund, or Devil Dog, by the Germans who respected them for their bulldog tenacity and fighting spirit, we find they wore a small badge of recognition that set them apart from all other services: the Eagle, Globe and Anchor.
The China Marines, who patrolled the Yangtse River and the Leathernecks who patrolled the jungles of the Philippines and Nicaragua in the 1920s, also wore the Eagle, Globe and the Anchor.
During World War II, our Marines went ashore at places like Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, Okinawa and dozens of other islands and atolls, and shed blood in the sand and coral, their utilities stenciled with the Eagle, Globe and Anchor.
On the rugged hills of Korea, and at the famous Chosin Reservoir, our Marines fought against odds that were often greater than ten-to-one, and we won every battle and fought the greatest marching battle since Napoleon left Moscow when we came out of the Chosin to the coast bearing all of our equipment and our wounded and even our dead. And in the process, destroyed 13 communist Chinese divisions. On the left pocket of the field jacket of every man was printed the Eagle, the Globe and the Anchor.
In Vietnam, we conducted thousands of combat patrols, hundreds of sweeps, dozens of major operations, and fought in steaming jungles, muddy rice paddies, and even house to house in cities. We endured, we fought, and we won every engagement. And we, Americas young men who volunteered for Americas most unpopular war, also proudly wore the Eagle, the Globe and the Anchor.
In Beirut, 242 Marines died in a horrible terrorist atrocity that is yet to be avenged. But it will be. And for all of those brothers that died and those that did come home, they had one thing in common: They all wore the Eagle, Globe and Anchor.
In Grenada, Somalia, Bosnia, and Afghanistan, our brethren also all wore with pride and honor the Eagle, the Globe and the Anchor. Through all of these campaigns, and through all of these generations, we have all shown that our beloved Corps, and our beloved emblem have literally, as our hymn says, served "in every clime and place."
Its a small emblem, but it says it all. We serve on in the air, on the land, and on the sea. We go anywhere, accomplish any mission, and are indeed, as the popular saying goes today, Americas 911 service.
And theres one more family member that ranks alongside every Marine here and in the past. The Marine Corps Wife. God Bless her, she puts up with us, suffers when we suffer, supports us through good and hard times, and above all, understands us. No other wife in the world can claim the honor of being a Marine Corps wife. These women are special, and in their own way, also wear the Eagle, the Globe and the Anchor.
So heres to OUR Marine Corps family. Heres to MY Marines, past, present and future, and ....
As we used to scream in unison in boot camp in 1964: God Bless the United States Marine Corps, and Chesty Puller, wherever you are!
Happy Birthday, Marines, and Semper Fi!
The Music may be slow to load.
R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GySgt USMC (Ret.)
Gunny G's Old Salt Marines Tavern
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