|Download PDF of this full issue: v35n1.pdf (13.5 MB)|
By Joseph Giannini
I first met Captain Edward Patrick Duffy in October 1966. He was my company commander at Officer Candidates School (OCS) at Quantico, Virginia. We nicknamed him "Double-Time Duffy" because he double-timed us everywhere. He designated another Marine and me the company guides. The two of us stayed approximately fifty yards in front of the company at all times. I can't recall how many times I looked back at Captain Duffy to see if he'd given the order for normal time.
Physical fitness and training were an important part of OCS. If a candidate failed the physical part, he would be washed out. During PT (physical training), the candidates dressed in gray sweats, black watch-caps and black combat boots. Meanwhile, Captain Duffy dressed in green sweats, a green watch-cap and black combat boots. Because of this, I secretly gave him another name: the "Green Hornet." One day, on an off-base pass, I came upon some Green Hornet stick-ons. Great. I went back to the base with at least a dozen. That night, when I thought everyone was asleep in our barracks, I snuck down to Captain Duffy's office. I plastered the stickers all over his office-door window. I told no one, and was never found out. Cool.
One cold day, on a company hike, we came up to a wide stream, and I looked back at Captain Duffy. He signaled for us to move across. The other guide and I started across, and I quickly realized that the stream was about chest-deep and that the current was moving very fast. I told the other guide to keep going, and waited midstream to give a hand to Captain Duffy. He approached, somewhat unsteadily, but motioned me off. I made for the opposite shore, then looked back. He was struggling in the current. I emerged on the other side of the stream, soaked and feeling about thirty pounds heavier. I stood on the shore watching Captain Duffy approach. Surely this would be the first time he would order normal time. He caught my stare, and pumped his right arm two times—double time!
In December 1966, I graduated from OCS. I was commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps (and could run a marathon). I said good-bye to Captain Duffy, and I went off to the Basic School. I graduated in June 1967. Left, on leave, with orders for Vietnam. Got married on June 12 and left on June 24, 1967. I stopped over on Okinawa and was held there for about two weeks.
Finally, I was on my way out. Waiting in an airport lounge for a typhoon to let up, I spotted Double-Time Duffy, now a major, sitting at the bar. I approached and said hello. He was upset, and started complaining about not having orders for Vietnam and being stuck on Okinawa. "Lieutenant, I'm a career officer. I need line experience. I've got to get in-country." I really didn't know how to respond. He was in no mood to make small talk, so I pushed off to wait alone for my flight. When I left, he was still drinking alone.
In early December 1967, I was leading a rifle platoon: Bravo Three. Our battalion was ordered to occupy a hill designated Alpha Three. It was just below the DMZ (demilitarized zone, AKA Dead Marine Zone). Our mission was to defend this hill and the Seabees building a combat base on it. This soon-to-be combat base was slated to be part of the McNamara Line, a string of bases extending from the China Sea to the Laotian border. The concept was that the defenders would use electronic surveillance to detect the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) coming across the DMZ, then intercept them. (It didn't work.)
It was the monsoon season, cold and windy with torrential rains. We moved on to the hill under cover of darkness. We were cold, soaked to the bone, and miserable. No one could get any sleep.
The night passed without any casualties. The next day, one of our patrols was hit with a command-detonated claymore and suffered several WIAs and two KIAs. The NVA could plainly see us from their camouflaged positions in the surrounding jungle. The incoming started: artillery, mortars, recoilless rifles and, most deadly, rockets with delayed detonating fuses. We dug deeper, but surviving was just plain luck. This hill could be a smaller Dien Bien Phu—the site of a 1954 battle during the French War of Indochina in which the Viet Minh (now the NVA) surrounded 15,000 French soldiers and decisively defeated them. The incoming was continuously intermittent. Leaving your hooch could be a deadly decision. We became giant, filthy rodents, fearful of moving about.
On December 7, 1967, the sun came out. I looked up and out: it was quiet. I waited. No incoming, so I cautiously emerged. It was still quiet, I began to stretch and look around. Suddenly, two short whistles went right over my head. The rounds exploded in my position, just where the FNGs (fucking new guys) were standing. We had been suckered! I dove for cover. Incoming rounds were falling right on my platoon position, but mostly on my previous platoon, Bravo One. "Corpsman up, corpsman up!" I pushed down my fear and ran to the two new guys. One had been hit in the right hind area. A huge piece of flesh was gone, leaving a gaping red crater, and his leg had been dislodged from his hip. The other had lost his right arm; it had been severed at the elbow. I found the arm, and we put it in his poncho, and both men were carried toward the field hospital. Lucky bastards. Only two days in-country and they were going back to the World. Million-dollar wounds.
I ran over to Bravo One's position. Their bunkers had taken several direct hits, and there were many casualties, including their platoon leader, Second Lieutenant Grosshans. This was my first command, and I knew them all. They started calling out to me, asking, "How bad is it, lieutenant?" It was terrible; half of Bravo One had been ripped apart. Many had multiple shrapnel wounds. But I assured each one, "It's okay, and you're out of here." Each wounded Marine was laid in his own poncho and carried away. I didn't hide my tears. Out here, men cried. This was the second time for me—I hoped it would be the last time.
Our battalion got a new executive officer, Major Edward Patrick Duffy. Double-Time had finally got his wish. He was in-country with a line battalion. I wouldn't welcome him; why risk leaving my hooch? Damn, he'd joined us at a really bad time and place. At least he'd survived coming aboard; some hadn't. Our LZ was a killing zone.
On December 9, 1967, I got called up to battalion. I carefully covered the fifty or so yards. I entered the bunker, and saw Major Duffy sitting in the entranceway, reading a letter. We said hello, but he was more interested in the letter. I understood, and moved on into the command post.
On my way out, he was still sitting there, this time writing a letter. He looked up as I passed, and I realized that he had bunked down in the entranceway. Not a good choice. I got back to my bunker just in time, as a barrage of rockets slammed into the hill. I put my face into my private corner. The earth shook, and I bounced. Death was taking a walk, and I didn't want to catch his stare. I was terrorized, and I started laughing.
Finally, the incoming stopped. I climbed out of the bunker and looked around. My guys were okay, but there was smoke rising from the battalion command post. I knew that Double-Time had stopped. Later, I watched as his body, wrapped in his poncho, was put on a chopper. It rose, amidst swirling dust. I stood straight, pumped my right arm two times, and saluted.
Joseph Giannini is a former Marine grunt who fought in 'Nam 1967-68 with the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines.
For the past thirty years, he has worked as a criminal defense lawyer. He has been a member of VVAW since the first Gulf War.