Phil Viavattine responded to my “Nicknames in Vietnam” posting and submitted this story in the comment section.  I liked it and thought it was good enough to stand on its own – so I’m featuring it as a guest article.  Thank you Phil and Welcome Home! 

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I was First Fire team Leader 3rd Squad, 2nd Platoon “M” Co. 3rd Battalion 4th. Marines when we landed in Viet Nam April 1965. Cpl. Royster was the Squad Leader, Sgt. Wright was the Platoon Sgt.and Lt. Steve Kemple was the Platoon Commander. Prior to our amphibious landing up the Perfume River near Hue, my fire team and others unloaded ammo for the 9th Marines who landed ahead of us in Danang. It should be pointed out that up to this point there were no combat units in Viet Nam, so we had no information to go on as to exactly what was about to come. When we returned to our APA the Magauffin (better known as the Magoo) we were issued our personal ammo to carry ashore. The Platoon Sgt. and the Right Guide oversaw the issue of the ammo in the berthing area. There was no attempt to restrict anyone from taking as many fragmentation hand grenades as they wanted. In my 2 1/2 years in the Corps the one thing that they never ever let you handle unless you were on the grenade range are the M-26 frags! I knew that the sh_t was about to hit the old fan. So we better get our sh_t together right away. The general feeling as I recall was one of anticipation, fear and excitement. We did not think that whatever we were going into would last as long as it did. We were American fighting men and Marines with a proud tradition. Besides we were the 4th Marines with something to prove.

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Our first mission was one of a defensive nature protecting the airfield at Phu Bai. Our TAOR (tactical area of responsibility) was very limited and we were not trained for a long term defensive posture. In Hawaii we were trained as a jungle fighting, guerrilla warfare unit. So the first weeks there we experienced several cases of jitters from the Marines in the line at night. Now the Battalion Commander was getting tired of reports about Marines shooting at whatever (sounds & movement) and nothing to show for it. A directive was issued from Bat. HQ that stated that from now on if you hear something out there throw a M-26 fragmentation grenade at it and there will be something there in the morning (we were told that it was a directive from Battalion). That night it was pitch black, no moon and overcast. It was hot and humid and no breeze the mosquitoes were out in force. Out of nowhere there was movement right in front of my position. We could hear something moving very slowly.

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Nothing could be seen, but we knew it had to be a VC patrol trying to sneak by (the sweat was really pouring from us now and our hearts were about to pound right through our flack jackets). Very quietly I took a frag and motioned to my rifleman with me to do the same.

We took the frags and tossed them out to our front (after pulling the pins of course). When they detonated all hell broke loose.

Machine guns opened up , flares were popped, just about everyone was shooting it was a real battle (all one-sided I might add). The next morning there was a huge water buffalo laying there with over one hundred bullet holes in it. The Lt. comes up to me and wants to know why we threw the grenades. So I took full responsibility for the action and told the Lt. that the directive from Battalion was my reasoning for throwing the grenades and at least we had something to show for it. As I recall he did not appreciate my answer and the humor behind it. He had a look that could kill on his face (I’m sure he had to answer for it to the CO).

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Shortly after that a similar incident happened on hill 225. Machine guns had opened up and were shooting along the concertina wire flanking my teams positions. No water buffalo this time. While being debriefed the next day, I tell the Lt. that it was a real “FUBAR”, the Lt. tells me “Viavattine the Marine Corps is going to start charging you for those grenades”! I asked him how much they cost and what happens when my E-3 pay runs out. Again he did not appreciate my humor and knew I didn’t give a fat rats ass if they charge me or not. My men & I were going home. Besides what could they do; send me to Viet Nam.

We were on a Search & Destroy Mission and called an Air Strike on this VC Village. The bombs opened up a huge tunnel complex running through the area of the Vil. Now the Lt. wants me to take my fire team and recon this trail leading to the river.

Viavattine the Marine Corps is going to start charging you for those grenades

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The Company Gunny gives me a PRX-6 radio and a satchel of frags and orders to blow up any tunnels and caves (boy did he give it to the right guy). After patrolling down to the river and blowing up several tunnel entrances & some stores of rice we headed back to the Vil. On the way back I spotted a small building off in the jungle about 30 yards away. We deployed in front of the structure and there was a large, flat, upright stone about 5 feet from the entrance door. We got behind it, and everyone got 2 frags ready and we tossed them in. Well there were no VC in there, there was no roof anymore and the inside looked like hell. Mission accomplished, so we returned to the Company area. When we reported back in the Lt. wanted to debrief me and asked me what that big explosion was he heard just before we got back. I explained that we came upon a building that appeared to be a fortified structure, so we blew it up, with frags! Now the Lt. really comes unwrapped and says “ who do you think you are Viavattine! Mr. Hand Grenades or what”? Everything was always Mister something with him must be an Officer thing. Now he had raised his voice enough that several Marines nearby heard it and they started calling me the Fragman.

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Who do you think you are Viavattine! Mr. Hand Grenades or what”?

Minutes later the Lt. says he is going to go up and take some pictures of all the tunnels exposed. I asked him to let me take my team up there and recon and clear the area before he goes up (despite the incidents listed above the Lt. & we liked and respected each other, he once put me in for Meritorious Corporal). He tells me that’s OK, he would be taking the Radioman Offtadahl and the Doc (Navy Corpsman) with him. They were gone about 5 minutes when there was an explosion in their area (one of them stepped on a booby trap). We got there and all three of them were wounded. We called in a Medi-Vac and got them out.  All of them recovered from their wounds, which is to say they lived. Lt. Kemple later became a Naval Aviator, Marine Fighter Pilot, flying jets so he could stay in the Corps. Lt. Ahern ran into him in El Toro. He was now a Major. Me, I just became known as the “Fragman” and went home.

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Recently an entry was made in my Guestbook (Duty Log) from a Marine who served in Mike Company in 1968 and he recalled hearing about the “Fragman” and the M-26 grenade. I can only imagine what a sea story that must have turned into after 2 years time. Semper Fi!

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