By Joseph Giannini
Senator Bob Kerry's admission that he was involved in an incident in Vietnam that caused the death of unarmed civilians reminds me of several times when I was on the edge.
In March 1968 I'm in my 9th month of a 13 month tour, leading a platoon of salty Marines, Delta One, Delta Company. Mad Dog, the Company Commander, gave me this platoon to straighten them out. I've had them about a week. So far they remain rebellious and undisciplined. We are moving in a V formation through knee-deep rice paddies, one squad up two back. I'm behind the point squad with my RO, (Radio Operator). Under a gray sky we lean into a hard Monsoon rain. We're soaked to the bone, tired, miserable. We trudge on through the muddy water. I climb on top of a paddy dike. Then step off on to hard object. I freeze. A mine! Fuck.
I yell back to my RO, "I'm standing on a mine. Tell the platoon to spread out, take cover and face out board." Backing away he radios my orders. Suddenly I'm standing alone in the cold rain, on the edge, facing death or worse. I take a deep breath and carefully look around for anything to replace my weight on the mine. Fuck. I see nothing but mud and water. Slowly I squat, careful not to move my right foot. I'm fucked and about to meet the Big Kahuna. My only chance a slim one, to dash and dive. I reach down with my right hand into the muddy water. I want to see how big the mine is. I feel metal under my foot. It's a big mine. Wait. No it's not a mine. It's a weapon, an AK. It could be booby-trapped. But that doesn't make sense. It must be a discarded weapon. The owner dead or severely wounded — or maybe nearby. I slowly slide my foot off the weapon. Into the sound of hard rain, I say "Thank you Kahuna."
I pull the weapon from the muck and hold it above my head. I've heard the AK is reliable. Unlike the M-16 it never jams. I put the weapon on full automatic and pull the trigger. A burst of automatic fire rattles out. Damn that was fucking stupid. But I'm sold. This is now my weapon of choice. I yell back to my radio operator, "Tell the squads, all clear. Saddle up and move out."
We move on in the unrelenting rain. I haven't seen the sun or stars for twenty days. I never realized Nam could be this cold. A Marine up ahead slips and goes down on his side. He attempts to rise but falls again. Now almost completely covered in mud he rises again and falls again. I start to laugh. I still can laugh. A bit of humanity remains. Pointing at the fallen Marine I ask my RTO "Who is that stupid bastard?" He responds, "Lieutenant, that's Platoon Sergeant Scott." Fuck, he's right. Sergeant Scott finally gets to his feet.
We slog on. Suddenly my First Squad leader yells back, "We've got a prisoner" I move up to take a look. An NVA (North Vietnam Army) trooper is half lying in the corner of the paddy, just below the dikes under a makeshift lean-to. Blood is soaking through his utility shirt, seeping into the muddy water. He has a stomach wound. He is probably the owner of the AK. I point it at his head. I'll kill him with his own weapon. He would do the same. I'll show Delta One what a crazy bastard I am. Get their attention. The trooper looks at me. Weakly extends his right hand. I lower the AK. I'll do something worse. Leave him. Let him slowly bleed to death. " Fuck him. Take the lean to down. Get ready to move out." I wait a few moments then shout, "Move out."
Joseph Giannini is a former Marine grunt who fought in 'Nam 1967-68 with the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines.