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Pat,

     It’s Thursday the 12th.  I don’t know if I will finish passing on to you all I remember about that night that you refer to in your “Smoking Lamp Is Lit” article on your website.  This was a day and night that adds to the pride and love I have for Tom Romaine.  It is also my worst feeling of guilt that I have carried around with me all these years.  There is nothing that I am going to say to you that I would not share with anybody who was there.  This is one of those events that have played over and over in my mind since that night.  I believe that I have all the details correct.  Then again, this is one of those bad times we all faced.  One of those times that I want to know if others remember all that happened in the same basic way.  It happened to me in the most direct way, and I expect everybody else to remember things in the way they played a part in or when they first heard the firing and explosions. So here goes…..

     I don’t remember the exact date this all happened.  We had been in the bush for some time.  The contact that we were making at the time had not been very heavy.  Because of this I remember we were as relaxed as a Combat Marine can afford to get.  We “humped” most of that day.  This was a Company movement.  I remember we stopped to set up for the night earlier than normal.  The Lt. let me know that my squad was to go out on an “OP” that night.  Not an ambush.  The Op was made up of the guys in my squad in three separate positions. It ended up being two guys to my right.  Romaine, one new guy, myself and the radio in the center.  The two guys that were killed on my left. 

     Next is what happened.  Then I will tell you why I believe they happened as they did.  Also why I feel that if I had done things differently, there is a chance the outcome may have been different.

     It was my turn to sleep.  I woke up to the sounds of explosions right in front of my position.  The next thing was looking up and seeing Romaine trading M-79 rounds with some NVA with the same weapon.  One round landed in our “Pos” and wounded the other guy in the leg.  The normal next step whenever we were involved in contact of this kind was to return fire, and get your people out of there, back to the lines as soon as the firefight allowed.  I checked the guy with the leg wound, called The Platoon and let them know we would be coming in.

     After the friendly fire that we had gone through in Nov. of 68′, I was as much concerned with walking into that as I ever was with dealing with the NVA.

     With all the firing and noise, I assumed the other two positions were engaged as well.  When we got the OK to return to the lines.  I think I remember yelling out loud, so the other guys should have heard that we were “Coming Back In”.  The three positions were a little spread out.  It was what the cover we had available allowed.  I grabbed the wounded guy, the radio, and all the rest of our “Fighting Gear”.  The three of us headed back across the open ground that separated us from the rest of The Company.  All this time, Romaine never quit firing.  First with the M-79, followed by his M-16 as we headed back in.  About half way back there were two explosions. One right after the other.  There was no question about them being B-40 rockets.  They both hit right on the spot where I had set those guys into earlier that late afternoon.  The position that I picked was not a bad one.  I remember it having a large downed log.  It gave the most cover in that area.  The placement of these two Marines is something I have never questioned.  I will get to what I do question later.  The guys that were in the position to my right made it back OK.  The Marine that was hit was OK and under a Corpsmen care.  I knew the guys on my left were either hit really bad or dead.  Those rockets hit in almost the same spot in the pitch dark.  The NVA had to know where to exactly place those rounds.  Later I will tell you the possible reasons why I believe they knew.  Both of which I feel was due to things I had a hand in.  This is where the quilt comes in.

    Back to the order of how I recall them.  That was back when Company policy was for the squad leaders to carry an M-79.  That was my weapon that night.  The LT was putting guys together to go out to help or find these guys.  My squad as a whole was not part of that.  I remember saying I would go first.  The reasons were, I knew exactly where this position was, and these were my guys.  I traded my M-79 for an M-16 and started to lead some guys back out.  By this time there were flares popping and I think support fire.  I remember “Puff” visited that night.  I don’t recall if it was before or after we found the bodies.

     I remember walking into that position.  It was very clear that both Marines were dead.  The one guy, who I will call “Bull”, was up, behind the log, which would have been the fighting position.  This Marine is the one that had his head blown off.  The second guy was behind Bull a few yards.  I don’t know if he was blown back there, or was just not in the fight.  He could not have got hit while in his sleeping position, without any warning.  The firefight had been going on too long for a guy to get hit in his sleep.  I’ll get into why I feel this way later.

     I remember feeling more discussed and pissed than I do being shocked.  

     Here is where things differ in my mind.  I know I lead the group of Marines out that found these guys.  I don’t recall removing their bodies at this time.  It was only a handful of guys and I don’t remember taking body bags and enough guys to police the area and carry these two guys back.  Maybe that group of Marines was led by Sgt Olson.  Maybe I am wrong about the order of events.  In my mind the next time I looked at these guys was shortly before they were loaded on the chopper and removed.  I even remember that chopper as being one of the older ones….like in Korea. 

   Now I want to tell you about the guys that were killed.  You may remember them.  The one guy, Bull. I have nothing but good things to say.  The other guy “Rocky” I have a much worse opinion about.  If he was your friend or the friend of any other Marine that reads this…..My feelings are my own.  If you are sure he was not the man I am about to rip a new asshole.  A friend or battle buddy to you.  Then you knew the side of this guy I never had a chance to witness.  I would be hard pressed to see any good in this guy.  Maybe my experiences with him were unfounded.  I don’t think so.  If I hurt anybody’s feelings….that is not what my reasons for feeling about him the way I did.  A small chain of events led me to him and I butting heads and developing the only relationship I ever had in Nam, where I can say from my heart, he was the worst Marine I ever knew.

     Richard Spyvie (spelling) was my very first squad leader.  He was short in time and really didn’t do much….but the basics to break in new guys.  But I thought he was fair, kind of cool, and a good Marine.  Fear was not in his way of doing business.  Then I got moved to a squad leader by Al Wells from Baltimore.  Great guy, good squad leader.  He taught me a lot.  After the friendly fire bombing in Nov., we got thinned out pretty good.  Wells made me a team leader.  That bombing killed a couple of guys in Al’s squad.  I remained his team leader up and until we became the blocking force along that “Mud” river at the beginning of Mead River.  Rocky was gone and recovering from an earlier wound.  I didn’t even know the guy until he returned to 2nd Platoon.  Al Wells already had two Purple Hearts and still had something like 7 months to go.  He got picked to back to the rear in DaNang and finish his time there in the Special Services.  Not the ass kickers.  The guys that passed out the volleyballs and boned all the Nurses around China Beach. GOOD FOR HIM.  He earned that.  Before Wells left he told SSgt Brown that he thought that even though I was still pretty new, I should get 2nd squad.  I remember saying to Brown that I did not have the experience and was still a PFC.  He said “Have you been shot at a bunch?”  Still uncertain I said “I think so”.  His last words “Good enough….you’re it” Not long after that I was made LCpl.  I think to try and make the rank a little closer to the job.  Sometime after that Rocky returned to the squad.  He was a big fuck up……but he was a Cpl and would not buy into the fact a new LCpl was going to be telling him what to do.  He freaked out and told me to watch my back during the next firefight.  I had never heard that before….except in bullshit sessions in a tent.  That I frankly thought was all talk…..up until then.  I was so new that I did not know the punishment to me if I just grabbed an e-tool and beat the fuck out of him, I didn’t know if this “Dick” was serious or not.  The guy wasn’t wrapped too tight to begin with.  I had heard rumors that he was a flake.  Not to be trusted and processed very little courage.  Wells was gone, so I went to Spyvie.  I told him my problem.  He walked to Rocky’s hole, looked down and asked if he had said that, about watching my back.  He popped off and said “It’s true and he should watch his back, meaning me” Spyvie jumped down in the hole.  Right on top of Rocky.  He smacked this guy really hard and gave him a warning that was really clear and impossible to misunderstand.  After that happened……I thought…..I could have done that.  I just was not sure of the shit that could come down from the LT about me fucking this guy up.  I had never been faced with that before.

     So Rocky was in my squad.  I had to make him a fire team leader….if for no other reason but his rank.  Safe to say, hate is a strong word, but I hated his guy.  I still had to watch him all the time.  Never let him get any place where he could cause me harm.  He had a transistor radio, much like the one’s many guys carried.  Remember how the cells from our pack radios were used after they lost the power to run the squad radio?  We would take the bad ones…..split the cells and use them to listen to tunes while in the bush.

     I am sure……just like you….as the squad leader I trained myself to wake up every hour just long enough to check the guys on watch.  I caught Rocky sleeping twice….with this radio playing next to him on the dirt ledge we piled in front of our hole.  The first time, I kicked the radio, got in his face with a .45 and told him never let it happen again.  The second time, I reached down and grabbed his M-16 he had propped up in the hole.  I walked back a few yards and removed the firing pin, put it back and never said a word.  For the next few days, we did our patrols, our night watch and normal duties.  I made it a point to tell my guys “When we are sitting around, keep that M-16 clean”.  I thought maybe then I would hear something about the missing firing pin.  If not from him…..somebody!  That told me that he never even cleaned his weapon.  So one day I confronted him.  I warned him of all the bad things that Marines do to guys they have caught sleeping on watch…..not once, but twice.  Then I have him another pretty language filled rant about him never cleaning his weapon.  He was quick to give me my share of Fuck You’s.  He also claimed that he had never fallen asleep on watch, and kept his weapon clean.  I then proceeded to reach into my (torn and battered) flak jacket pocket, showed him the firing pin and as nasty as I recall said” Then how did I get this”.  I showed him the firing pin.  He checked his M-16 and saw it was missing.  Well Pat…..It was on……from that day until he became KIA.  I had to always watch this guy.  He pulled crap of every kind.  Borrowed water from new guys, when he still had his own.  In fact new guys seemed to be his thing.  Trade fucked up C-Rations with them.  The new guys didn’t know the difference or maybe because he was a Cpl., they felt they had to.

      I think you are beginning to see how I inner acted with this guy.  On a little side note.  Not all of us there thought every other guy was the greatest.  At times, we all got on each other’s bad side over something.  As much as I loved Romaine and all we did together, I remember a time when food had not shown up for a few days.  We were all hungry.  But, I had saved a can of peaches.  It was buried in the bottom of that big ass pack I carried.  I was saving it in case things got really bad with resupply.  Romaine and I were in the same hole.  One day I came walking back to the hole and he is sitting back, eating a can of peaches.  He looked at me, with that crooked grin on his face, and never said a thing.  I checked my pack and low and behold…..no more peaches.  Pat, at first, I was hot!! Then even in those days when…the rule was….you don’t fuck with a guy’s food, water, or ammo without his OK. It came across to me all the things we had done for each other.  Just how much having him in the same hole gave me peace.  That crooked smile I always laughed at him about.  If he would have asked, I would have given him half. He didn’t.  At that point I knew he had to be really hungry to do that.  Didn’t make it right.  But he was Tom Romaine.  He was a good Marine.  He had proved himself in battle, over and over.  He was not Rocky whoever.  Had not proved a thing to me….except he was a fuck up.

 

    Another thing before I go on.  If this gets out there…..and I hope it does.  There are probably a few people that may read it that might say “I knew Rocky.  He was a great guy.  I remember Curcio.  He was a dick to me.  If that happens, so be it.  I can say this, without any reservation; “I did my best to do what was right and fair” Not everybody will agree to that.  I may have told or done something that rubbed guys the wrong way.  If I did, and those people read this.  I would really like to hear from them.  For the first time ever, we would get the chance to clear the air.  If memory will allow, I can either tell these Marines why I did whatever it is.  Or, say I am sorry.  It was the times, events and what I thought best during those times.

     My greatest hopes are that none of the guys that could still have a “Bad Taste” in their mouth when my name comes up…..didn’t serve in the same squad I did.  That would cause me some distress.  With the exception of Rocky, I can’t recall anybody, especially in the same squad, that I had to most respect for.  We were Marines and we were our own man.  I have no problem saying there were guys….just regular guys….that I envied.  I can say that now…..even though it was true back them…..I never would have said it then.

    OK……Let’s get back to that night and the quilt I have been avoiding.

     By now it’s clear how I felt about Rocky.  The other Marine, we all called Bull.  I liked this guy very much.  He was fairly new.  He had a lot more to learn, but the guy was like a sponge.  He wanted to know how to be a Combat Marine.  Every task he was given, he did.  At an early time, he was able to understand the stuff that he need not question.  He asked or questioned the stuff he was ordered that required asking or questioning.  Smart stuff that knowing the answer would help do the job.  Stuff he had not been in country long enough to figure out the hard way.  If this guy had lived, he would have become a good squad leader.  maybe more.  When he wasn’t sure of something….he would wait until it was just the two of us….and ask.  Sounds funny now…..but remember how important it was to “Put your gear on correctly”?  I had guys that could not get the concept of “Dropping your pack in one quick move” Those of us that had been through this knew……ditch the pack, in one more.  What remains is everything you need to fight for an unknown period of time.  Pat, are you smiling right now?  How many NEW dumb fucks….even after being told…..packed their shit so it became a full undress…..just to get rid of the pack?

     Anyhow, this guy Bull caught on quick and was a real plus to my squad.  Again he would have been a real plus to any squad.  Buy he was fairly new.  I believe, because of this, and his rank….below a Cpl., he may have fallen into doing something he knew he should not of.  Or the Cpl he was with that night just told him “This is how it is going to be” Not only was Rocky a Cpl, but he had been IN Country for some time, and had received a Purple Heart.  To new guys….that holds a lot of weight….even if it is all bullshit.  Pat, how many of those guys have you known?

 

   Now to what has been grinding on me for 40+ years.

     First….I believe we were sent out to those OP positions too soon.  We still had hours of daylight.  I don’t blame the Officers above me for that decision.  But I really believe that if I had taken a stand with anybody above me that would listen, I think we could have come to a safer way of moving into those positions.  I should have done a couple of things different.  My usual MO when moving into a squad night position.  Especially ambushes.  Was to spot a good ambush spot and move past it several yards.  Wait for darkness, then slowing, with as little noise as “Grunt” Marines can muster, move back to the site I had already seen as best.  The Marine Corps may not agree with this but, I always tried to set up in a defense position.  I wasn’t as interested in killing KNA as I was coming back from night ambushes and OP’s with everybody in the same health. I was more than willing to get into whatever I had to with our “Pit” Helmet wearing friends that were trying not to let that happen.

     The OP night, I was not able to do this.  I should have pushed harder on letting me go out during the afternoon.  With one or two guys.  Spend very little time scoping these positions and moving my guys after dark.  I did not do that.  I know exactly why I did not.  It had been an easy few days.  We had quit humping early.  I was actually feeling good about both.  I let it slip that these NVA fucks weren’t far from us.  Looking back….they must have been jacking off…just watching us set up 3 spots in the light of the day.  They had plenty of time to zero in on us, and sit back and wait until the right time.

     The other thing is placing Bull with rocky.  Next to having him with me that night, where I placed him was the best fit.  Bull was new, but smart.  Romaine was with me because he was the radio operator at the time, and I was squad leader.  That was how that was supposed to be.  The radio justified him and I being together.  The truth his….we did whatever was legal to be together.  We had never even considered not being there for each other.  Pat, you had to have guys that made your life feel easier and you slept better.  It was never good.

     I could have put the new guy that was with us with Bull, and bring Rocky into our POS.  That did not make sense.  Then I have two new guys in one spot.  Moving around the guys that were in the right position was not good either.

     So here is where the “Two headed monster in the room shows up” I should have been in the two man position with Rocky.  Romaine could and did handle everything but using the radio, from the center position.  He would have got the wounded guy back.  The guys on the right were good together and did fine.

     Rocky and I had real bad blood between us.  The thought of spending an entire night, just him and I was a receipt for disaster.  I was not in any fear of him at all.  As long as I didn’t have to turn my back or sleep that night.  There is no reason for me to believe that after the first shot was fired, the second one would have ended my life.  The difference being, that I would have never put up with the shit I believe got him and a very good man killed.

     You speak of the smell of “dope” in the air by Sgt Olson.  I never saw or smelled it.  That was not to say it was not there.  I trust Sgt Olson completely.  You might even say….with my life.   What I do remember……and this makes me sick……was the faint sound of that FUCKING radio Rocky owned.  I had warned, threatened, and even told him I would turn him in if I ever heard that thing at night.  He knew what a radio on the lines at night meant.  But I still took the time to remind and reason with him.  A lot of guys had some sort of tape player, or radio.  I had on myself.  But you don’t play the FUCKING thing at night on watch.  No exception!!

     As far as the dope goes…..if it were there it belonged to Rocky.  Bull was new and would never have “fired up”.  I never even saw him do it in the rear.  Believe me, I know about that.  In the rear, I was one of those “dirty white boys” in the bunkers, with the brothers.  I grew up with Black Guys and Mexicans.  So to be partying after and OP….I was there.  But I swear, I never took anything into the Bush.  If they sent us a couple of warm beers out there….that was it.   I never even considered taking anything that would make me stupid, hungry, and sleepy to the field.  From what I recall, I was already hungry and sleepy most of the time.

     Pat…this is almost coming to an end.  Could I have changed what happened if I had done a few things different?  I think so…..because in my heart….at the time…..I knew I had a Fuck up in my squad.  I looked around and put a lot of my thinking that night into the fact we had not made any contact for awhile.  That was stupid….but it played a part.

     The big thing that has caused me concern about my worth in general is……I let my own personal feelings and concern for my own well being, come before what would have been….in my mind….something a really good leader of men should not have done.

     That rocket team probably had that position picked out well before dark.  They moved to where it was going to be their assignment to take out.  Just like the NVA with the M-79.  He put those rounds right on top of us in the pitch blackness of dark.   The B-40 team had another advantage; they either smelled the dope or heard the slight sound of that radio.

     They won that round…..fucked us up good.  I just don’t blame them for what they did to my life.  I hope I returned the favor for a bunch of them.

 Note:  Joe Curcio served with Echo Company, 2/5, 1st Mar Div in Vietnam from mid-October, 1968 – September, 1969.  He was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received in combat.

 

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