The following is a series of e-mail between Corpsman John Whitten and Cpl. Ed Palm. They were communicating for the first time since they had both served in Tiger Papa 3 in 1967. For background, Corpsman Whitten was in Papa 3 on May 15, 1967, when Papa 3 was over-run. Cpl. Palm was part of the group of Marines sent to re-constitute the unit after that incident. Much of this e-mail describes the events of that night. Ironically, as the Tiger Papa 2 radioman less than 13 miles away, I monitored the radio traffic regarding this attack. We had come under an equally heavy attack on May 12, 1967, so we were on 100% alert the night this happened. In one instance, at John's request, we have deleted the name of one Marine. As you see (deleted), it always refers to the same person.
I have read the first installment of your memoirs. I am shocked & appalled by what you have written! (Not!!) Why? I guess Bob Dylan said it best in the song "It's Alright,Ma". "If my thought dreams could be seen, they'd probably put my head in a guillotine!" Depending on time & circumstance... I could/would have written much the same as you did about our role in Nam'.
I feel that your perspective of our unit was very much the same one I held while I was there. Your portrayal of the gunney & captain and their visits to the unit was EXACTLY as I remember. Gunney was a BIG Hawaiian and to the best of my knowledge he went on only one night patrol. The Captain (we referred to him as "The Boy Wonder" cuz he was a very young Captain with his immediate sight set on becomming Major) never went on a single patrol. (day or night). I am NOT implying that they were supposed to go on patrols or shirked their duty in any fashion. Just that they didn't. The only reason I mention this is that I had to go out on EVERY night (ambush) patrol and about one third of the day patrols.
You mention the marine who survived the May 15, 1967 attack and was a little wild as well as bitter. Although I would not stake my life on it I feel this was a man named (deleted). He went a little crazy that night. I do not believe he has ever excorcised his personal demons from that night! Years and years later Duane (the marine who lost both legs that night0 met with him, and he accused Duane & Tom of "abandoning him" that night. He never jumped on any barbed-wire with a K-bar in his teeth. When we got hit... he ran to the bunker beside the entrance to the compound... weaponless! I had run to the same bunker. I had a sawed-off M-2 carbine with banana clips taped opposite each other. In the bunker he was in a panic. I was scared to death. Also.. although I had my M-2 and ammo belt including frag grenades in a pouch... I had left my "Unit-One" in the hooch that was partially blown up and on fire. He wrestled my Carbine away from me and started firing wildly out the bunker. He claimed to see NVA all around us. I tried to get him to go with me back to the hooch to get my unit one but he refused.
A Pfc whose name I don't recall (even though I recommended him for a Silver Star) went with me and gave me cover so I could retrieve my Unit One. This Pfc. also helped to drag Duane & Tom to safety. It was utter chaos. I knew I was going to die and remember wondering what my folks where going to think when they got the telegram of my death ... and how was I going to die... a bullet or explosion... and what was it going to feel like.
The point I am making here is that although (deleted) "did his duty" he damn sure wasn't RAMBO!!! It was not our "fighting" skills that allowed survival that night... but rather "fate and circumstance".
I don't know how the Captain convinced upper command to do what he did in giving us the cover suppression fire, gunship, or med-evacs... but he did... Thank You VERY much Lord!!!
Dear Ed & Tim,
About memory and our CAC units. I have yet to see someone write and explain why CAC
became CAP. Ready for my version...???
Ed... your language class at CAC appeared to be about as extensive as the one I received. Pidgeon Vietnamese at best. Regardless... in our hamlet when I first helped set up Papa 1 and we were trying to introduce ourselves to the people, they always laughed at us when we pronounced CAC. I recall that the word CAC, or the phonetic pronounciation of CAC, meant PENIS in Vietnamese.
Soooo... the great lumbering military machine FINALLY decided we should quit being the butt of the Vietnamese laughter... and thereby renamed the program CAP which did not hold the same ha ha appeal as the word CAC.
My version will probably turn out to be bull-shit... but it IS what I remember. Ed... you were right on target about the PF homo overture thing. Created problems and misunderstandings with numerous marines. They had a tendency to reach over and grab and pinch your penis if they liked you. Disconcerting at best... extremely offensive at worst! Created more than a few misunderstandings during our tenure. Reminds me of a story about Frank Boreman (a VERY crazy and VERY VERY Hard-Charging Marine-- this guy WAS John Wayne material) from Papa 1 ...
Dear Ed, Yes... (deleted) was quite fond of exaggeration. (VERY prone.) Notice... I didn't call him a chicken-shit, but he certainly wasn't at the top of my "hit-parade". He was actually supposed to have gone to one of the back bunkers (where Tom & Duane went) but went to the front one which was much more fortified. I was not pleased to have my weapon wrestled away from me by him... and much less pleased at his failure to give me cover to retrieve my Unit One. Oh well...
Boreman WAS sent to Papa 3 as reinforcement after the May 15th. attack. If it helps... he always had his head shaved bare. He was quick to anger but under no circumstance would he ever leave or not protect his buddies. He lived for the bush... and I would be suprised if he made it back to the states. I never thought he could successfully be intergrated back into society.
I remember an incident while still at Papa 1. We had a village dog that kept setting off the trip-flares around the compound at night. The Sarge wanted something done about it. Boreman said he would take care of it. Later that night the dog once again set off some trip flares. Boreman fired a shot at it with his M-14 (we didn't receive M-16's until I was in Papa 3). I heard this horrible howling from the wounded animal. A pop-up flare was used and we could see the dog on the ground in the wire. He was pawing at the dirt with his forelegs and trying to drag himself away. BLAM!!! Another shot from Boreman... and the dog STILL howled. I went over to Boreman and said something to the effect of ... "Shit, Frank, what the hell's wrong with your fucking aim? Two shots and you can't even kill the poor dog!!" He then looked at me somewhat glassy eyed and replied... "Doc... Who said I didn't hit the fucker where I wanted to? I hit where I aimed!" I became very wary of Frank after that incident.
Also one other incident involving Frank at Papa 1. He thought the Village Chief had taken (stolen) some of his clothing. He knocked the chief down to the ground then picked him up by his ankles and bounced his head on the ground numerous times. We immediately got to Frank and stopped him, but by this time the PF's had ALREADY locked and loaded on us. It made for a VERY uncomfortable few minutes while we attempted to defuse the situation. Calm was finally restored, but the PF's at Papa 1 were NEVER our "Best Buddies".
Ed... Papa 1 was never overrun while I was there. However, they had a patrol ambushed the day after I was sent to Papa 3. It was a daylight patrol and one marine was killed, one marine was wounded along with the corpsman. I heard the marine who was killed had been shot like 15-20 times! He did most the cooking for the unit and was in love with a mama-san from the Vill. He was probably the gentlest and most caring soul in the unit. I think his name was "Williams" or something like that. (We called him "Cookie" cuz he liked to do the cooking)
It well may have been Capt.McClain. Had I been able to remember I probably would have tried to follow up on the Silver/Bronze star issues for the three of us that were recommended. I actually SAW the Bronze Star Award for Duane while at Cam Lo as I went on my final R&R. Why he never received the medal I will never know. His award would have meant four people had been recommended that night.
John aka "Doc" Whitten