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By Pat Lisi

 

          Every Marine ‘grunt’ has stories of the strange and unusual, of luck and fate, of crazy things that happened in fleeting moments of time.  I know I have a ton of them, but here is one that I’ll never forget.

          My outfit was Echo Company, 2nd Battalion 5th Marine Regiment (2/5).  We were out patrolling in a very large area of bad guy country known to us as the ArizonaTerritory.  The Arizona was so-named due to the wild west-like atmosphere where everyone was considered a target, including the Marines who roamed the rice paddies and hedgerows of this dangerous real estate.

          I was in the second platoon, and at the time I was the platoon guide which has little to do with this story, except it meant I was not assigned to any particular squad.  I had the freedom to ‘attach’ myself to any squad unless ordered somewhere else by the platoon sergeant or the platoon commander, who in this case was a highly respected 1st Lieutenant by the name of William Kirkpatrick.  Or, as we called him, with his permission of course, “Lieutenant Kirk”.

          It was mid morning and second platoon was traversing a huge field of rice and dikes.  We were hot and miserable, and every Marine was loaded down with heavy gear.  We had become accustomed to humping extra ammo for the weapons platoon members, including 1 60mm mortar round and a 50mm machine gun belt, each.  Put four to six canteens of water on your hips, plus 20 magazines of 5.56mm, M-16 ammunition in every conceivable pocket, and you have the basics for 100-pound pile of gear. 

          We had our butts chewed the day before in fierce fighting that left 1 of our Echo Company Marines dead, a couple more choppered out to the aid station in An Hoa, and a few less seriously ‘walking wounded’ who stuck it out with us in the Arizona.  We had left many Viet Cong wives and families heartbroken, though, and for this none of were sorry.  In theArizonaTerritory we fired at the enemy whenever we got even a glimpse, but yesterday they had a well laid ambush and we blundered right into it.  As a result of the hell that followed, we learned some valuable lessons about “Charlie” and his guerrilla tactics.  Suffice to say that yesterday was long and hard, and now we were hoofing it to another area of theArizona to find more targets.

          I was experienced enough by then to know that walking on a paddy dike is not the best idea if you are hell-bent on avoiding booby traps.  The enemy was an absolute expert at taking a foot off a Marine with a wired grenade.  And, that was just the beginning of their knowledge of booby traps and what they can do to the human body.  No, I spent many hours wading in water to avoid those damned dikes, and today that’s exactly where I chose to walk.

          With me was a FNG, a PFC from New York (you figure out what FNG stands for).  I remember him asking me why we had to walk alongside the dikes in the mud that most of the rest of the platoon chose to walk upon.  I told him we would live longer if we suffered more than the others.  In the line he and I were between the first and second squads, with the platoon CP including Lt. Kirk and Sergeant Olson taking the middle of the column and then the third squad bringing up the rear.

          Soon, we came to a place where the rice paddies created an edge that separated this batch of paddies from the next.  Basically, there was a ditch between huge fields that had a single passage across by way of a narrow land bridge with a culvert underneath to pass water.  The ditch was maybe ten feet lower than the paddies above and just a few feet wide.  The water in the ditch was a couple feet deep. As you can guess, I chose to take the new kid from New York down into the ditch to wade across the stream, rather than cross the land bridge, to avoid booby traps. 

          Of course, I wasn’t the only trained (meaning previously ‘educated’ by a booby trap myself) Marine on patrol that day; several of us took the slower and wetter route to get across to the other side.  So, the first men into the ditch in front of the FNG and I were several other grunts, all one by one and then up the other side.  When the FNG and I were in the ditch taking our turn, we were the only two Marines who were not exposed on higher ground.

          The explosion tore across topside with incredible strength.  For a split second I almost thought it was something other than a grenade, but I was wrong.  Perhaps it was the fact that me and the kid from New York were basically underneath the explosion and the flying shrapnel that accompanied this trap.  Remember, the Vietnamese were expert booby trap planters.  What they did this time was to out smart the Marines.  Instead of laying a trap across the land bridge that many of the company took to get across the ditch, they planted the booby trapped grenade just on the upper lip of the ditch in hopes that some of us would take that slow, wetter route and trip the grenade.  And, that’s exactly what happened.

          The Marines who climbed out of the ditch just ahead of me and the new guy from New York tripped a wire that freed the M33 grenade from its loose hold in the mud.  The ensuing detonation sent 2 more Marines back to An Hoa by helicopter: The one who was just getting out of the ditch ahead of us, and the one who was on top of the ditch behind us waiting his turn to come down.  Truly a miracle that New York and I were not injured in any way.  It was very sad for the Marines who were badly injured, of course.  But, it was one of those things that happen in combat.  Luck versus fate.  A flip of the coin.

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