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Interview with Bruce F. Meyers [5/21/2005]

Bruce F. Meyers:

Okay, my name is Col. Bruce Meyers. I was born in Seattle, Washington in 1925. And have resided in Seattle with the exception of being away for about 28 years in the Marine Corps. I grew up on the east side, I did a lot of hunting and fishing and had two older brothers, one of which retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps the year after I did but was junior to me the whole time which was pretty interesting to have his younger brother as his CO actually, on occasion. I had enough credits to graduate from Franklin High School in Seattle in three plus years, and in December of 1942 immediately went into the Navy V-12 program, which was in the Naval ROTC program at that point. And we underwent, most of us, three years of officer training. It was supposed to be a four-year college course and we got pretty close, we got within our last year of getting our degree, but most of us were commissioned prior to actually having the degree. The Naval ROTC was called to active duty, we were housed in what are called "women's dorms" and they set up galleys in there with navy Mess men and commercial people came on in and set it up. And we would go to classes, usually we would carry about a 16 to 18 hour course, which was pretty high and about five of that or almost a third were Naval Science courses; Navigation, Ship-handling, tactics, that sort of thing. We would get liberty on the weekends but you would have to be in your room studying within an hour after supper. We had quite a few activities, like, we rowed large ships' boats and had a drum and bugle corps, and we ran it really as close to Annapolis as this Captain Eric Barr could run it.

At the time we were commissioned, I was commissioned at the age of 19. And that sounds a little young, but Chuck Yeager, a very eminent pilot was commissioned at 19, as was George Bush the first was commissioned at 19 as a pilot. And I went back to Quantico and finished officer training there as a Marine officer. I had been trained as a Naval Officer with some training as a Marine. We had Marine Officer Instructors there and most of them had just come back from Guada1canal, Kwajalein, or various other operations, all highly decorated, all very experienced officers and excellent instructors. Ed Kotzenback was one of my instructors. He and I later served in the Secretary of Defense's office; he was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense as was I. He was a professor at Princeton. The other officer was Paul Moore, who was Episcopal. He came home and became an Episcopal priest. He rose up through the Episcopal c Church and I used to go with a two-man shell with him at the University of Washington. He had been hit at Guada1canal and his heart had been contracted at the time he had been hit. He took some (3 Nambu) rounds and it went "bing bing bing" around the sides of his heart. The doc said that if he had had his heart expand, he would have been dead. He came back wearing the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, two or three Purple Hearts, so we had pretty combat related, motivating types of instructors.

WWII, I was only commissioned about 7 months before the end of the war. So I didn't see really any [war], other than having served as a Midshipman at sea, on three different ships, an escort carrier, I navigated a Marine transport, an AP A, down to San Pedro from Pier 91, and the third was on a corvette, which is called a PC, a patrol craft. They're pretty small and we depth charged the hell out of a lot of whales, I think, up along the coast of British Columbia, because we were patrolling for Japanese submarines. We used ASDIC and SONAR and that sort of thing to try to contact any Japanese submarines that might be coming in.

By the time Korea came around I was senior. I had been a Lieutenant for some seven years. I went over in November 1950 and landed just about the time the Marines were pulling out of the Chosin Reservoir at a place called Hung Nam, which is up on the east coast of Korea. And we got there just in time to upload the troops that were coming down out of the hills and take them down to the Pusan Perimeter. And we went into in to camp there, it was November and the first few days of December 1950. I was on a special team that had come over to evaluate training because we were calling all kinds of reserves in at that time and they wanted to ensure that what the troops were seeing in the fighting in Korea, that we were training appropriately in the United States. As a consequence, they had a team of about six of us that had all been WWII officers and we went over there and interviewed a lot of troops, interviewed a lot of leaders and came back with recommendations for the troop training centers. And then came back and I had just finished my first year of Law School and they assigned me. I wanted to get to a rifle company, I couldn't get up there, but they assigned me automatically, with my law degree from my first year oflaw school, to Intelligence. I became one of the assistant division intelligence officers. And I didn't like staying around the command post, the CP, so I talked my boss into letting me run a string of agents. I found out that we had what we called "line crossers" and these were Korean Indigenous personnel. And we would take them up to the lines and drop them off. And we had to do a lot of coordination. As you cross the line, you had to make sure that our Marines don'~ shoot them, and two, that we would try and have them cross at a place when its dusk and the other people don't see them crossing either. They would be dressed in civilian clothes, and they go in about 15-20 clicks, kilometers. Ten miles, fifteen miles maybe. They would memorize everything and then come on back and the hairy part of it was coming back into our lines. I'd get a call; I was basically on call 24 hours a day, to pick these people up. I had a team of people and that we would debrief with initially Korean linguists and then later I had Chinese linguists. So we used both types of translators. I finally was able to get on up to a rifle company. I was given command at, I guess I must have been age 25 by then and had been in country for the second time about 6 months so I was fairly senior. Korea was very hot in the summer and very cold in the winter. And when I got the rifle company we were over on the east coast on a place called Yanggu and Inje. I've gone back. I was invited by the Korean Govt., by the president of Korea, and had dinner with them and they presented us medals. And in going over, I wanted to go back to the area that my rifle company had taken. And in a Marine rifle company, you have about, well I had 250 people roughly, that's with, what we call, all the odds and bods. I had heavy machine guns that were attached to me from the battalion. I had recoilless rifles that were attached to me that were normally not in a rifle company. So we had actually moved out in the assault, and you started out with about 250 people but casualties began to hit you and my heaviest casualties were in my Corpsmen and my Wiremen, because they are always vulnerable, and they can't protect themselves a lot. We were taking a hill called 1052, that is in meters, so that's approximately 3,000 feet. It is a ski area in Korea and all you see is snow. And we walked up there with my rifle company and they told me to stop, because this is now the DMZ. We took that part of the DMZ, so that's kind of an interesting thing to look back on. And we moved up on the assault on this 1052 and I had a battalion on my right assaulting and a battalion on my left assaulting. I had the ridge line, with my company going up the ridgeline. It's not a very good idea tactically to run a ridge line anytime because that's where they're going to be and where they will have their major defenses. And I had certainly learned from that and used the lessons learned from that in Vietnam later as a regimental commander. I kept us off the ridgeline whenever I could. We took pretty heavy casualties. In September of 1951, myse1f and each of the other officers in my company, were w()unded and it took about 15 to 20 KIA's (Killed In Action) and quite a few wounded. Usually your wounded are about two or three times your KIA's. So actually we came out in relation to some of the other units relatively well. But I went through three Executive Officers (XOs) in 45 minutes. And the XO's would kind of be helping you run the company and your platoon leaders would try to run their platoons and so on and you have a mortar platoon and it's trying to pump out 60mm mortars and that all we had. I think I did have a section of 81mm mortars that were attached. You try and use all the firepower. Generally the company commander will have his forward air controller, who's the artillery officer. He may be a captain, but you're the skipper, whatever your rank. I think he was a captain. But no matter the rank, you were always the skipper and I think I had of the 27 rifle companies in the Marine Division, three were commanded by first Lieutenants, and I happened to have one of those three companies during the five months that I had the company, which was pretty fortuitous actually, because new captains would come in and say, "Hey, I deserve to get the rife company." Well, the battalion commander kept me in place and thought we were doing OK. So then besides the forward air controller to control artillery fire as you advance, you also need close air support. In the Marine Corps, use of close air support has always been exemplary. I mean, I had a marine aviator in the foxhole right next to me, a great aviator; he had won the Navy Cross in WWII, Joe Brandon. Joe had a great big pair offield glasses, and we were taking pretty heavy fire from 82 mm mortars on the front slopes of 1052, and taking pretty heavy casualties and we were trying to run air strikes on these guys on the reverse slopes of these little hills. Going up there would always be these molehills, these smaller hills and they would get on the reverse slopes and they would hide there. And we were taking pretty heavy fire and I said, "Joe, this is close." And we had jammed ourselves in the bottom of the hole and he put his field glasses up top on the font of the foxhole and we took a hit right in front of us and I said, "Wow, that was kind of close." And I looked over at him and I said, "Are you ok?" And he said, "Yeah I'm ok." We were kind of shaken up, so I looked at his glasses and there was a piece of shrapnel that just pierced it like a cartoon of some sort, had pierced the ITont lens of these Bosche and Lomb glasses. And later I went down to one of the airstrips when I was wounded and they flew me over to see my brother who was at Inchon and he took me into the bar. They had this pair of glasses over the bar, and it said "Now this is close Marine air support." Joe's never let me forget that. He says, "You damn near got me killed." I say, "You saved our butts."

Also for close air support we had South Afucan P-5l Mustangs. They were great; they would always do a victory roll after they dropped their Napalm. And the surprising thing about Napalm is that it sucks out all the oxygen out, so these North Koreans would come running out ITom this reverse slope, burning, and they had these quilted unif~rms, it was the fall, September 1951, so it was pretty cold at night, so they would be burning, and the Napalm had not completely killed them, so we would go ahead and wax them with our small arms fire, machine gun fire.

After coming home from the rifle company I was assigned to Coronado, CA, a unit called Troop Training Unit Pacific. And Chesty Puller, Lewis B. Puller, was the most decorated Marine in the history of the Marine Corps. He had five Navy Crosses. He was my boss and I was his recon officer at the recon school there for him. And I wanted to develop techniques for being able to insert reconnaissance Marines deep behind the lines and to bring basically, "reconnaissance into the 20th century". He liked it when I said that and he had me write a letter to the commandant, which I did. I went home and wrote it and Gen. Puller signed it the next day, and about nine months later I was on my way back to Fort Benning, Georgia.

I spent a year with the Army in what's called the Advanced Infantry Course. It wasn't just parachuting but it was for infantry training as well. These were all West Pointers that I was with and they didn't like that the Marines came in there. We had two of us. The other one, my good friend from Iwo lima, had gotten a Navy Cross as a company commander on Iwo lima. We had both been around as far as combat was concerned. We learned a lot and we enjoyed the experiences. Later, one of my classmates from West Point, from Ft. Benning, ended up as a G-3, or operations officer, First Air Cavalry coming up Route 9, and I was the Regimental Commander at Khe Sanh and for our two generals to fly in there, General Tolsom from the Air Cavalry and General Tomkins and they started to introduce us, and one of them said, "I want you to meet my G-3" and I said "Hi, Marv," and he said, "Hi, Bruce," Both generals faces just dropped and they said, "How the hell does a Colonel in the Marines know a Colonel in the army?" We said we were classmates for a year at Fort Benning. So, that was a good experience. I learned how to jump out of airplanes there and how to pathfind and then I came back and was assigned to Marine Corps Test Unit One, which was a small, secret, regimental sized unit at Camp Homo. Our mission was to develop tactics for the atomic battlefield. To do that, of course, you needed intelligence and reconnaissance. I was assigned, by then I was a major, and was assigned to head all the development and training and so on of the reconnaissance elements and intelligence elements. We worked in various teams and we initially formed a platoon of reconnaissance personnel. We got billets for them for jump school. I, of course, had been through there. When I had the recon school at Coronado, Chesty was pretty flexible about letting me do some training on my own, so I went out and learned how to pack parachutes at a Navy parachute 10ft at North Island, and was able to jump. My first six parachutes, I packed myself, but I went with the professionals when it came to the reserve parachute. I didn't want to push my luck.

I had also gone through UDT and was able to keep my submarine capabilities up as well. This is kind of jumping back, I realize, but I had the opportunity to go through Navy UDT while at Coronado, and I worked pretty closely with the SEALS. The SEALS were not formed until five years after I formed force recon. I had about 147 divers and jumpers and after the first year I sent about half of my divers and jumpers back to replicate and do the same thing on the east coast in 2nd force recon. Joe Taylor, my exec became the CO ofthat outfit. And P.X. Kelly who later became the Commandant of the Marine Corps was his Exec. So they had a good synergistic relationship as we had. And we were doing things that no one had ever done before. We were jumping out of airplanes that no one had ever jumped from before. So we had to go through EI Centro to become test parachutists. And then we began and developed the techniques to be able to put these teams in and either pathfind or go in for intelligence.

In regards to the submarine work, we wanted to come up with a method to be able to get out of the submarine without the sub having to surface. Once the submarine surfaces it becomes a target and neither the Marines or the submarine crew aboard liked that. So what you want to try to do is develop some means to be able to get in and out of the submarine without being seen. You want to get into a beach, get your intelligence and get back out to the sub without it being detected. So when I formed force recon and I spent 20 months in the Fleet Marine Force as a Major, at that time I was due for rotation. As a result I was able to go out as operations officer, the S-3, of the First Transplacement Battalion ofthe Marine Corps. The idea was to transport an entire battalion to Okinawa and bring an entire battalion back. The goal was to not lose the entire battalion in training. We were able to achieve a good deal more continuity. And we deployed on Okinawa for 13 months. We were actually "on the rock" itself for about 5 months and the rest of the time we were conducting ops on British North Borneo, and Malaya and up in Korea and Japan, so we did quite a few operations. We hit Singapore; we hit some great liberty ports. We did this operation in British North Borneo, at the time the only war going on was against the British against the Communist Terrorists, the CT's, and I wrote to the commandant of the Marine Corps, General Schoup, I'd been his division parachute officer in Force Recon years before, if I could go on leave and go down with Gurkhas. And they made arrangements for me and he said yes. So I headed down there, I had to pay my own way, so I hitchhiked on a Marine aircraft and then paid for an Air India flight for 90 bucks into Saigon and then paid 26 bucks and took a little narrow gauge railroad all the way down to the Thai border by the Gurkhas. I patrolled with them for a month. I was the only Marine there. I had to be in British uniform because it would have been a great embarrassment to the Marine Corps, to my wife and to the United States had I been involved (shot) down there. Fortunately, that didn't happen, and I was able to come back all right, I learned a lot down there. Particularly about the use of dogs in the jungle and we were doing primarily triple canopy operations. Triple canopy is three layers of canopy, at the top at about 150 feet and there's another layer at about 80 feet as well, and then 20-40 feet is the third layer. It is the most intense jungle that you can patrol in, as any unit, and I learned a lot from the British and I was able to bring that back to Vietnam. And jumping ahead after I went to the Marine Corps University, what we call Senior School at Quantico, I was assigned as a then as assistant G-2 ofthe Second Marine division. While there we had an unfortunate helicopter crash and I was somewhat burned while trying to get this Marine out. It was not a big deal but I got the Navy Marine Corps medal for that. Then I was deployed to the Mediterranean. We were supposed to deploy for six months but the Joint Chiefs extended us, because at this time it was just the start of the Vietnam War, and it was going to send us down through the Suez. We stayed another month and I operated with the French Foreign Legion while in Corsica. Now the Marine Corps, until the year I was at Senior School, at the Marine Corps University, didn't have a language-training program. Somebody asked the Commandant, then General Dave Shoup, ifhe has language training for his officers and he said yes, we just started it. So the next day, they scooped up every officer that could speak French and every Marine that could speak Spanish and indeed they started French 101. Where they got the textbooks I don't know but we started that week. And by the end ofthe year I could get by in French and they assigned me an interpreter. Here I am, a Lieutenant Colonel, a battalion commander, the Senior Marine in Europe really, and it was a neat experience. After the first time, they said I don't need an interpreter. I understood it well enough so it worked out ok. Right after that I came home from the Med and went to the Navy War College and we then, at that point all of us were on orders to Vietnam, virtually everyone of us in the class. And it was a great experience, a close family, because all of us knew we were going. My three sons were there and we had a sailboat and frequently went sailing in the Naraganset Bay.

When I got to Vietnam I was assigned as the operations officer, the G-3 of the 9th Marine Amphibious Brigade. And we had a C-130 transport squadron and some utility aircraft and the primary unit was the regiment and I was in country at the time as a consequence, even though the HQ was on Okinawa, I was in and out of country all the time because of the units we had down there. After about 5 months as that, I was assigned as a Special Landing Force (SLF) commander and I had made Colonel by that time. We were making a series of landings down what's called the 'Street Without Joy.' That's down along the coastline of the Cua Viet river, the DMZ River. These would be short incursions, 3-4 day landings and then we pull on out again. We got some good kills and disrupted the VC and the NY A trying by then to infiltrate down the coast line. I then got a call about 3 o'clock in the morning on the scrambler phone on my carrier and it was my general. He said "would you like to get a regiment" and I said "Hell, General, I'm the youngest colonel in the Marine Corps, of course I'd love to get a regiment." He said, "Well, when can you get over the side?" and I said, "0900 sir". They piped me over in a chopper, with side boys. I flew into Khe Sanh and took over as regimental commander, and took over for Colonel Dave Lownds, who was the regimental commander. I relieved him as a G-3 in the Brigade, maybe 6 months earlier and we were both battalion commanders together. That's one thing about the Marine Corps, it's small enough that the commanders know each other and they know who the "good guys" are and they know if they say they'll do something, they know it will be done and they know the people that may be a little bit slow or flaky or something. We didn't like to think that we had any of those people but some people are better than others in combat. So I had the regiment for the next 5 months and brought the Marine Corps elements out of Khe Sanh. I had 6200 people there, including 1/26, 2/26, and 3/26 (the three organic battalions, which would be about 3000 people). Then I had the first battalion- 13th Marines, which was my artillery for those elements. Then they attached another battalion 1/9 Marines and then I had an AR VN battalion of 37th AR VN Rangers, so a total of 6200 people. At Khe Sanh, unlike Dien Bien Phu, my opponent was General Giap, who was the same General Giap who took Dien Bien Phu from the French in May 1954.

The problem at Khe Sanh is you have an airstrip that is in the valley. Most airstrips are not on the ridgelines; they are down in the valley. And unlike DBP, both Dave Lownds and myself both kept units and battalions up there. And that's where 881 was. There were two hills. 881 Sand 881 N. The North Vietnamese were of881 North.

The most difficult thing to do is to resupply an inland unit, such as a Dien Bien Phu. The French had about three hundred miles to go to resupply them and you need daily resupply of artillery shells, food water, medical supplies, everything it takes to keep a unit in the field going. You, as the commander are responsible for everything the unit does or does not do. So the consequence, even though you don't really have control over it, you need to make sure that they are force feeding you all the ammo and chow that you need. One of the problems that we had at Khe Sahn, is we had the hill units, like at 881 S and the North Vietnamese were at 881 N. So we were pretty close to each other so you couldn't patrol outside ofthe wire at night, it was just too dangerous and there were too many ambushes. The resupply would primarily come down to the air strip which was down in the valley. We used C-130's and C-123's along with CH-53's and CH-46's. The NV A would fire, even though it was during the "Crachin," which is French for spit, which is the intense monsoon, clouds and rain and crap that you have in the weather. It made it very difficult. We could only use GCA to come in, in fact that is how I flew in, sitting on this bladder of Av. fuel. They're firing blind because they can't see the aircraft because we were in the clouds and we would break out of the clouds at about 200 ft. And he makes a quick turn and everyone's jumping out and they are throwing wounded aboard and people that are rotating and then immediately take off in the opposite direction. It was about 6000 ft airstrip, Pierced Steel Planking, and we were being rocketed all the time. I had a Construction Battalion (CB) detachment that would come out if there was an area where a hole had developed on the runway. Because the aircraft can't take off., they'd come out with their torches and they would cut out this bad piece of matting and replace the matting and have it going again in about 20 minutes. Just an amazing thing that they did. I had a "Charlie Med" there which was a surgical hospital if you will, and basically, what we did to build Charlie Med, was we bulldozed down probably 20 feet deep and then pushed the dirt on up and laid big beams across. And then these 12 x 12 beams. Then we would put pierced steel matting up there and old tarps and things like that to keep the water from coming down through. Then we would take the bulldozer and run the bulldozer over top. Then we would take expended 155 shells and 105 shells and pound them in vertically. So if we took a direct hit it would take probably close to a 140 rocket to penetrate that because the ceiling on the hospital was about five feet deep. They had just about every capability for trauma that you could imagine there. We had excellent surgeons. These people were mostly recalled reserves and I can't say enough about the quality of medical care that the Marines and Corpsmen were able to give us.

I had Chaplains up there, kind of a funny thing, the Chaplain that I had in the Mediterranean. We went up to the Pope's palace in the valley running North from Marseilles, and after having gone to the Pope's palace, the Commodore, myself and the Chaplain were sitting there and this young French gal comes walking up from this line of poplars, and she had a mini-skirt on. Neither the commodore or I had never seen a mini-skirt before. And this French gal was absolutely gorgeous, just drop dead gorgeous. And we were kind of looking at each other and Father Philmire, my Chaplain Priest said "Aren't God's creatures wonderful." And it just cracked us up.

When I took over the regiment at Khe Sahn, we were walking the lines with my Sergeant Major Agrippa Smith. He was big tall, 6' 4, big black NCO. An excellent NCO. I had no racial problems in the regiment with him as the Sergeant Major, it was very good. We started to get rocketed and the three of us are running on down and we dove into a foxhole with these two PFC's and I knocked over the coffee that they were cooking and they started to turn around and say "You son of a-" and they saw that it was the Colonel and they were like, "Holy God, it's the old man." And they turned to father Philmire and they said, "Jesus, can't you-," and they saw the cross on him and they looked over at the sergeant major and he looked like he was about to eat both of them alive.

So then we were still getting rocketed and as happens in combat, you start talking about unusual things and Father Filmire and I were talking and I said, "Father Filmire, remember when I had the Med battalion and we were north of Marseilles? Do you remember that French gal coming up," and the PFC's were really listening in at this point, cracking up to hear this Marine colonel and chaplain who had served together half a world away. We were sitting here being rocketed and we were talking about something as inane as checking some gal out.

Coming out of Khe Sahn was not a decision made on our level, it was a decision that was probably made at the White House and the state department to pull the Marines out. And the query often comes up, well you lost close to 500 marines killed and about three times that wounded, how did you feel about losing that area? Well we achieved what we wanted to do. We were placed in the intersection of the Ho Chi Minh trail and Route 9 that went out to the coast so in essence it became a blocking thing going. When Giap was assigned, he thought it was going to be a dust up, to come in and replicate his thing at Dien Bien Phu, but that was not the case because I had close air support within 8 minutes, on call. And, of course, as Regimental Commander, I had a Lieutenant Colonel; I had an air officer and a battalion commander artillery officer. So you have a pretty highly qualified staff. I had a G3, a G4 a Gl, the whole thing.

We were living in this old French Foreign Legion bunker in Khe Sahn. The thing on the air support is that we had to have all this ammo coming in and this food coming in and so on, so what they would do was that we finally found out that you just couldn't land because you were too much of a target the minute they landed even though it was a quick turnaround, take off in the opposite direction. So, they developed this system called LAPES which stands for Landing Parachute-Extraction-System. What they would do was level off at five feet above the runway in ground effect, and the ramp was down and they would just kick these pallets off. And the pallets are going, because the aircraft is going as slow as it can go, about 100 mph, with full flaps and the pallets would come racketing down the runway at that speed. There was a mess hall at the end of the runway and one day a pallet of mortar ammunition came down and the runway was slick from rain so when it was slick it was like a greased highway and the pallet came down and ran into the mess hall and killed a couple of Marines. And that should never have happened and I moved the mess hall after that. Part oflessons learned.

Getting the gear up to the 881 S hill station and other battalion locations that are up on the hill became very difficult because every time you would come in with a normal helicopter landing, they would shoot the hell out of the helicopter. And of course you'd lose the helicopter on top of the troops that are trying to unload the helicopter. So a series of people came up with the idea of a "gaggle". You had series of helicopters that would all come in on a line and A-4 fighters on either side and you would have smoke and suppression fire that had gone in previous to the insertion so in essence you made a corridor for them to come in. It turned out to be a pretty successful way of getting stuff. You had to be very quick.

The people that lived and fought on these hills of Khe Sahn are really the guys. Everyone says well look at the base itself, it was taking all that rocket fire. Sure it was, but those people were taking equally as bad in a slightly different way. We were just two miles from the Laotian border and there was this big mountain called Co Roc. The Vietnamese were up there and they had plunging fire and they had dug in caves and they had steel plates and they picked a page from the Japanese in the islands campaigns in WWII, particularly in Saipain, in one area in particular. The Japanese guns would fire and they would pull back behind the steel plates and we could never get them. We tried everything, air strikes, Jesus, the aviators were unduly brave, they would come in and pull up at the last minute damn near run into the mountain trying to take them out. We knew in general where these places were and finally we had a 155mm tube (Howitzer) that we used as a "sniper rifle" and we were able to get them that way. That was one of the difficult things was taking fire and not being able to do a whole hell of a lot about it.

I've got to comment on the Air Force and the B-52's. They did one hell of a job. We called these strikes "Arclights". And we could call the Arclight strikes within 1000 meters of my front line and that is pretty close and you are getting shrapnel coming down on top of your head. We knew exactly where they were going to be bombing though you couldn't see them, they were bombing from 40,000 feet. They were bombing by radar and they knew exactly where everything was and they had their checkpoints and so we would know exactly within a minute or two where and when the bombs were going to land so we would tell everyone to take cover and scrunch down and you would see this whole area of jungle, a half mile long, just literally erupt. And then to do Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA) immediately after that, we would task recon teams to come in and they would jump off at one end and literally run as fast as the could to the other end picking up whatever documents and rank insignias of the people that were killed they could find along the way. That was called the BDA, bomb damage assessment. That was another technique.

Coming back, all our gear had been shot to hell and we had to retrofit, and as a consequence I became the bane of a lot of not friendly feelings towards the 26th Marine Regiment because I had to get artillery tubes food, trucks, generators, from other units so it wasn't hard feelings but people were resentful, they had spares, everyone had spares and so they had to give their spares up and that's how we got our gear. Once we did that and retrofitted in that area, going back to the French I had one operation I pulled of with the Army ofthe Republic of Vietnam (ARYN) which was South Vietnamese Army. They turned out to be a pretty good regiment. They couldn't speak English and I couldn't speak Vietnamese and we never had enough interpreters, but both of us could speak French.

They could speak French because they had all been trained in the North in Hanoi, that's where the most trained and educated people were, in and around Hanoi, and I was able to plan this operation in French, a bit haltingly and it didn't go off with quite the aplomb that you wanted or as smoothly understandably, but nevertheless it went off pretty well and we got some good kills and some damn good weapons caches. Then I was asked to bring a regiment on down to Danang, from the Third Marine Division to the first Marine Division. By this time General Razor Ray Davis had taken over for Gen. Tompkins. Gen. Tompkins was old and tired out, I try to be as understanding as I can but some of his decisions towards the end really were bothering us as regimental commanders, they were just decisions that shouldn't have been made. But Razor Ray Davis was entirely a breath of fresh air, had a Medal of Honor from Korea coming out of Chosin Reservoir. Hell of a guy and I worked for him later at Quantico when I had The Basic School.

After pulling the regiment down (the coast) from Khe Sanh by truck down Highway 1 . Most of us by air in C-130s (Hercules). General Robertson who had been my commanding general in the 2d Marine Division, he had the Brigade and I was his G-2 (intelligence officer). He said, "Bruce you operated under the canopy with the Gurkhas (in Malaya)." I said, "Yes sir!" "Well I've got a place for you to go; I want you to go down near the Lao border (border with Laos)." Farther SW of Danang that any American regiment had ever gone.

So we did. I started leapfrogging my battalions to a place called "Happy Valley" and then we went through an "Antennae Valley" and then "Elephant Valley." There are elephants out there. There were pink elephants, too! Let me quickly explain why we had pink elephants. The laterite soil is a very red, textured soil. Elephants, like pigs, like to roll in the mud and when it gets wet it has a pink color. The mud would dry on the elephants and it would make the elephants look pink. Pilots would come back and swear that they had seen this line of "pink elephants" going down a trail. The debriefers would say: "Yeah, sure!" We would come across their bodies because the Vietnamese were using these elephants to bring stuff down the Ho Chi Minh trail. Now it was kind of sad to have to shoot these elephants because they were carrying gear (for the Vietnamese) but that is what happened.

Now, up at Khe Sanh, it was also a tiger area. These are things that you don't think about when you are on a normal operation. We had a recon team that we were inserting at night on this ridge line. It was pretty shear on both sides. It was about two-thousand to twenty-five hundred feet high. They were put in at dusk. They were put into a harbor site, set up along this ridgeline and they were going to patrol the next day. During the night the patrol leader (a sergeant) was taken by a tiger. Now in the jungle when a tiger, they would grab the Marine by the head and carry it in their jaws and run backwards through the jungle. If the team is quick enough they will attempt to shoot the tiger without hitting the Marine. They were unable to take such a shot in this instance. The tiger took this Marine sergeant. The recon team looked for him the next day (down slope) and they found and followed a blood trail on down and recovered his body.

They (recon team) kept going back in there to get the tiger that had killed their patrol leader. They were obviously pissed at their inability to get the tiger when first taken. About 10 days later they reinserted and this time they found the tiger and shot him. They called in an evac chopper. When the crew chief on the chopper saw the dead tiger he refused the team to bring the tiger aboard. About that point, an M-16 appeared in the crew chiefs face and the crew chief changed his mind and they loaded the recon team and the dead tiger aboard and returned to their base on the coast. The pictures that they later took of that dead tiger, hung with its head and paws over a bamboo pole, held up by the survivors of the recon team who were dressed in what we in recon call "tiger stripe" (pattern) camouflage utility uniforms. This picture appeared in Stars and Stripes and in the international press, all over the world. So we had a number of unusual problems to work with.

Another thing about operating under the canopy is that it is very difficult to cut a helicopter landing zone. I needed 200 foot circular area in the jungle clear of trees. What I would do initially was to drop engineers fast-roping down to the jungle floor with chain saws and they would cut all the trees down. The trees would fall in all different directions, so what we had to do was to clear these felled trees from off the landing zone. It would take another couple of days to clear the LZ. The engineers came up with this technique for quickly clearing a LZ. They would bore a 2 inch hole through the base of the tree about 4 inches above the ground. They would only go through 90% ofthe way and then pack it with C-3 or C-4 (plastic explosive). They then would move up 2 inches from this first hole and drill another at 90 degrees from the original hole. This was packed with explosives and tied together with primacord, forming an "X" at the bottom of the tree. When blown it would drop the very large teak, mahogany or ironwood tree very quickly. I would be a millionaire today if I had the value of all that teak, mahogany and ironwood that I blew down and cleared for my landing zones (LZs).

Then we had the same problem of clearing the fallen logs from the LZ. We had no means of moving them, no cranes or anything. I got on the radio and called Gen. Robertson and told him that he would not know what I was asking for but to get someone on his staff from the Northwest (e.g. Oregon or Washington) that was familiar with logging. I asked him to get my regiment a "bunch of Peaveys." He agreed that he didn't know what I was asking for but said he would try. The next day a basket of logging peaveys arrived overhead and from that point 011, we could blow a 200 foot LZ and have it cleared of fallen logs in about one day. A peavey is a very stout oak tool, some 6 feet long with a ferruled spike and a hinged hook that was used to roll the logs sometimes weighing some 3,000 lbs. from the LZ. Those are some of the lessons learned that we had.

Other lessons learned. Never run the ridgelines. The Vietnamese enemy would set up what we called horseshoe shaped ambush positions, with the open end of the horse-shoe facing up hill. On most of the hills we found game trails that were about halfway down towards the adjacent valley from the top of the ridgeline. My troops did not like my chosen routes to secure a ridge. They would frequently have to climb up rock waterfalls and the like. We would then go straight up to the top of the ridge line and then circle back running the ridgeline down hill. Thus we would "roll up" from the rear, undefended open end of the horseshoe. We had good success in doing this without incurring casualties, while inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy in the ambush site.

I always used patrol dogs with these units when operating under jungle canopy. I eventually was using more dogs than any other Marine regimental commander in the 15th Marine Division because I'd had the experience of using dogs with the British in Malaya. This was as a result of the experience that I had when operating with the Gurkhas (British mercenary troops) in Malaya. Also after we gained experience with the dogs under the canopy, we had good success on jungle patrols.

Some of the problems that we had with patrol dogs under the canopy, because of the high temperatures (110-120 degrees), the dogs could only operate for a couple of hours at a time. We put salt tablets in both our individual canteens as well as what we were giving the dogs (my Marines were taking about 12-16 salt tabs were day!).

Our patrol dogs loved to ride in helicopters such as the Boeing Vertol CH-46. My Marines had kicked out or removed all ofthe circular side windows in the CH-46s so that they could fire their weapons out of the chopper as they approached a hot zone. The patrol dogs when they were flown up to one of our jungle LZs had learned to really like flying in helicopters. They would stick their heads out of the windows, just as dogs like to do when riding in cars. It cools them down. They love helicopters. Consequently, when I would fly into one of my battalions under the canopy, if the dog handler did not have his dog on lead (leash), the dogs would break loose and run and jump on any incoming helicopter (presumably to replicate the cooling effects). Daily I was flying in to each of my battalions (I commanded from 2 to 5 depending on the mission and our location). I tried to visit each of my battalions every single day, not to "look over their shoulder" but to determine what they needed and bring my staffs attention to getting the gear they needed. I was concerned about our dogs with the high heat we had under the jungle canopy. I went to the veterinarian and asked what we could do to ensure our patrol dogs continued health and ability to operate with us. He responded with "Carry two canteens!" Each of us already did carry 2 canteens when under the canopy. He suggested pouring our water over the dog's privates as being the quickest way to cool a dog down. Soon the dogs began to expect to have their genitals cooled and one or two would actually roll over and wait for the water treatment. This became one more of the practical lessons learned that one never reads about in field manuals or stories about jungle canopy operations.

Upon return from Vietnam, you had 30 days leave and everyone was real happy about that. What ticked us senior officers off was that we were all stopped in Hawaii and debriefed for a day, a day and a half. We saw our peers going back but we had to go up and be debriefed, which we had a few words for at that point because we just wanted to get back and see our families. Most of us had been gone for 13 months. I was assigned to Quantico Virginia and was the Exec at The Basic School and did that for a year and took over command at The Basic School. And then I got caught between a four star and a three star from nothing that I had done at the time. As a consequence, I saw the handwriting on the wall, I had a good career and I had a law degree in my back pocket that I had earned by going to George Washington Law School. I had been assigned at headquarters of the Marine Corps on over to the Sec Def's office in 1962 and was assigned to a job that required lawyers. Everyone else in the office, a Major General of the Air Force was a lawyer, there was an Army Colonel, Air Force Colonel, and a Navy Captain, all were lawyers. I was a Lieutenant Colonel with a Bachelor of Arts in Law. I had only had one third of law school. So I went into my boss and said, "Can I go ahead and get a law degree on my own if you won't tell the Marine Corps?" And he said sure. He understood, because I didn't want to be a lawyer in the Marine Corps. My son was for 21 years. Completed 21 years as a Lieutenant Colonel and took his name off of the Colonel's list which he and I kind of parted ways on that but in any event, I did go ahead and finish my law degree.

I couldn't take the bar, I didn't dare take the bar till I was going to get out because the JAGs all knew I had been a law graduate, etc, so when I finally decided to get out at Quantico, I took the Virginia Bar and was admitted there came home and sat the bar at Washington state, and became a lawyer here. I immediately began doing heavy insurance defense work. I enjoyed the law, my dad was a lawyer and my grandfather was a law professor at Georgetown so I had law around the family but I had never been personally involved in it before.

I enjoyed very much the litigation. I was doing a lot of litigation and it was a very challenging time and it was a very good transition from a very active Marine Corps career to a very active civilian career. That worked out pretty well. With respect to friendships, I kept friendships predominantly from command days when I had the Med battalion. Ron Christmas for example, a Lieutenant General back in Quantico, heads the historical foundation was a young Lieutenant. Tony Zinni, the four star General that had CENTCOM had been a captain for me at Basic School, in my tactics department. Joe Hoar, who was Schwartzcoff s replacement, made four star and was CENTCOM commander after Schwartzcoff. He was one of my company commanders in Med and he worked also for me as a Lieutenant on Okinawa, for the in and out times in Okinawa.

It has been interesting, we have maintained these friendships. I don't agree with them politically, for example Tony Zinney I disagree with very strongly and Joe Hoare, it's much the same way. You keep your friendships you don't let political feelings go ahead and hurt you. The bottom line is that you do keep the friendships and the bonds that you form in combat are very strong bonds. In essence you would virtually do anything if somebody needed some help, why, you'd step in and help them. I have been able to participate to a degree.

We reinstigated a Navy Cross for one of my company commanders Bill Dabney who was up on Hill 881. That was the first offensive operation out of Khe Sahn that General Tompkins had allowed to be made. I said, "Is it OK in go out of the wire now?" So, I planned an attack from 881S to 881N. My battalion commander was John Studt, who had been a PFC in my rifle company in 1951. The Marine Corps is kind of small so he went back, got his degree and was a Marine officer and here he was one of my Battalion commanders.

John and I had planned it, I laid on every bit of air that I could. My predecessor had not gotten out to the hill positions during the entire so called siege. I vowed that I was going to try to get to those hill positions at least once a day if I could and I did, by them time I took over. So when that operation was supposed to take place, the troops of 3/26 went down the wire in the gut at about midnight and it was going to be a night approach and a dawn attack up the hill. We had taken all the recoilless rifles and lined them up as a battery for direct fire. As the troops came up the forward slope of 881N, they were wearing air control panels on their back so we could see exactly where they were, so we were blowing the tree line away as they progressed and it was what is called a moving barrage. They retook the hill, 881N, and we figured that there was in excess of an NY A battalion up there, and I had air stacked over us, ready to go, the pilots were slavering to get these guys and so the minute these people started streaming offthe back of the hill towards N. Vietnam, they blew the shit out of them, and Napalmed them and we had awfully good kills, good body count, they figured we had about 300 350 kills that day. It is used now as an example of a limited battalion objective attack at Quantico. They still are using it. It was pretty interesting.

I think that is about a wrap as far as I can see. Having a career as a Marine Officer provided opportunity for me, it provided more education and I would like to encourage anyone who sees this thing. I had an old Gunny that once said, "Skipper, they can never take your education away from you." And that's the truth. I encourage everybody to get as much education as you possibly could.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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