My first day in the bush started 6:00am as I came off guard duty on the perimeter. I had been in country about 36 hours. When I returned to our tent a marine told me to get some breakfast and report to the LZ to be lifted out to Kilo Company. One of the marines in the tent told me to tear a couple of canvas traps off the cots to put around my leg below the knee to keep the leaches from crawling up my leg. I got the traps on and headed for the chow hall. Once at the LZ , I reported in, set down and waited for the chopper. I had been there about 30 minutes when a tank near by opened up with a round and scared me almost to death. The tank fired 3 rounds and then the crew came out of the tank. Nobody seemed to think anything about the event. Sgt. Giles came down to the LZ and yelled for Fritz. I raised my hand and he came over and introduced himself. He asked if I was a gunner 0331, which I was. He told me on this OP the trails are narrow so when the shit hits the fan they will yell "guns up" and you should take the gun run up to the front of the squad and lay down a base of fire. I thought this is bullshit, how could they ask one person to run under fire to the front of the squad and lay down a base of fire. I knew he was jerking me around since I was a green boot just in country. Sgt. wished me luck and said he would catch up with me in the field. Several choppers came and went out but none was for Kilo. I was so tired from no sleep the night before that I fell asleep and thought I may have missed the chopper going out to Kilo. Then a marine came over and asked if I would take the mailbag out to Kilo, and of course I agreed. Finally a chopper came in and the crew chief yelled out is anybody going to Kilo? I raised my hand and he waved me onto the chopper. I had never been on chopper in my life. I guess we missed that in training. When I set down and we took off I realized everybody else on the chopper was officers. After the chopper lifted off they took their insignias off and put them in their pockets. This gave me some idea we were not going to a very friendly place. While in the air, I looked down and saw what appeared to be small ponds. I yelled to the crew chief and asked if those were ponds, he just yelled "B-52". I had to process the information and then realized the ponds were in straight lines and they were B-52 craters. The chopper started coming down, but the crew chief told me they were just dropping off supplies to another unit. As we got close to the ground I could see a marine coming out of the tree line with a gas mask on and I thought "Oh Shit" we are being gassed, but he was just keeping the dust out of his eyes from the chopper. The chopper was back in the air and then the crew chief came back and told us the LZ we were coming into was "Hot". He said they could not stay on the ground long, so as soon as the ramp goes down, jump out, turn to the left and run like hell for the tree line. I kept thinking to myself, do not screw up and fall down. I also decided I was not going to look in the direction of the fire - just focus on the tree line. The chopper hit the deck and I was off to the races. The chopper provided cover as I ran for the tree line. The LZ was full of stumps and very rough ground, but I was running in a full sprint. I saw some marines waving for me to come in their direction. Once I got inside the tree line the marines were real happy to see the mailbag. One of the marines took the bag and told me to follow the trail down to Kilo Company. I walked for 30 seconds and then realized I could no longer see the marines I just left or anybody in front of me either. I realized I was in the middle of a jungle in Vietnam. I wondered if a gook might jump out at anytime, so I slowed down and tried to look at both sides of the trail. Then finally I saw a marine sitting behind a rock and he motioned for me to come on in. I explained I was reporting in and he showed me how to get to the Staff Sgt., which would assign me to a squad. So I walked up to this marine that was built like a brick shit house and looked like he would kick your ass for just breathing. I thought he was the Staff Sgt. and he asked me a few questions and I replied accordingly. Then he got upset and asked how long had I been in country. I replied two days. He said do you know how to address an officer. "Oh Shit" I was talking to Captain Barba. Of course I snapped back with "Yes Sir". I was assigned to James Alford's gun team and he was digging in when I got to him. Being a graduate of gun school I knew a gun team had a Team leader, Gunner, Asst. Gunner and two Ammo Humpers. So I asked Alford where the rest of the team was. He said you are looking at it. He told me to sit down and eat some C-Rats because we may be going out soon. Within 30 minutes I hear my first AK47 firing. The AK47 and M-16 fire was echoing through the jungle. Alford never stopped digging. I asked should we go help, and he replied, if they need help they will call, and he kept on digging. Then this large marine they called Gunny, but I believe he was only a corporal, came by and told Alford one our squads had ran into a NVA patrol and NVA could be coming thought the area. Once I heard that, I was scanning the trees and bushes with every bit of concentration I had, but Alford did not seemed too concerned about the whole affair. Then Corporal Walker came by and set down to discuss how the patrols are run. He told me always maintain twenty feet between the next marine and me. This will give the gooks less of a target in case of an ambush or if a land mine is tripped. Once the column stops always face outboard and cover the back of you fellow marines. We are in a free fire zone, so if it moves shoot it and do not hesitate because you are guarding you buddies back. Cpl. Walker said that if I catch you using drugs out here I would kill you myself. I will not allow you to get one of my buddies killed. He did not smile and it was not an issue to discuss. Since I had never used drugs or did not know how to get any, this was not a major issue, although his tone of voice and demeanor was very concerning. I had no doubt he was very serious and would back up his threat. Gunny came back by in about 30 minutes and told Alford to get his team together, we were going out on a stroll. I knew what he meant and was not really ready for this since knew the gooks were out there. Alford told me to carry the gun. Being a graduate of gun school I knew the m-60 machinegun had more fire power than an entire squad of marines. This meant somebody better be using this weapon that knows how to use it in a combat situation. I told Alford I have never been in combat and maybe he should take it today. Alford, said today is a good day for you to learn, so I take the gun. Then Alford told me if the shit hits the fan give him the gun and he would do the shooting. This made me feel a lot better. We staged near the LZ and I thought I couldn't believe this. I spent so much time as a kid playing cowboys and Indians. I watched all the John Wayne movies and the TV show Combat. Now, I was really in a combat situation and it does not feel as exciting as I thought it would. The squad headed out and they told me to keep at least twenty feet between marines. This gave me a very lonely feeling since you are not close to anybody else. We had not walked 500ft until an AK47 opened up. Then, to my astonishment, Lt. Joyce yelled "Guns Up" and Alford said let's go. Sgt. Giles was not bullshitting me and they did expect the gunner to run up the trail to the front of the squad. We were running up the trail toward this gook, which was shooting down the same trail. As we ran up the trail, which seemed to be a sure way of getting hit, I wondered how bad it was going to hurt. Alford took the gun on the run and then we hit the dirt. I snapped on the gun ammo to the cheaterbelt and would not look up. I did not want to see the gook that was about to kill me. I was making sure that gun ammo did not jam. For a short time Alford and this gook were going head to head. Alford got up on one knee and kept on firing. I took my first look and Alford was mowing down the bush with that gun. Then he stopped and the air was full of smoke. Lt. Joyce came and told Alford never to get on one knee and fire like that again. Then he told me I was not fast enough getting up to front and that next time he expected me to get up there quicker. I really thought the Congressional Medal of Honor was more in line than an ass chewing, but so much in the day and the life of a marine grunt. Lt. Joyce told McCormick to go and check it out. I could not believe how McCormick never seemed to mind the order, and disappeared down the trail where the firing was coming from, then he reappeared and gave us the arm pump to move out. As we moved up we saw this dead gook lying on the ground so we stopped across the trail, about 3feet away, while the squad came by so we could get back into our position in the patrol. I leaned over to Alford and asked what are we going to do to with this dead guy. The only dead person I had ever seen was in Pemerton funeral home in Lynnville, Indiana. Alford, with some disgust, said what do you mean? I said - should we bury him - I thought they did in all the western movies. Alford said I would not give that bastard the SOMBs. We continue on the patrol without any further action. We returned to the camp about 6:00 PM and got ready for night watch. I set there and did not hear any music or great speeches about bravery; just the loud sound of insects, as the first night in the bush was getting ready to start.
Mick Fritz - Kilo 3/26 - 1969
Operation Oklahoma Hills