Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Two Brothers' First Tour Prologue/2nd Tour Preamble


So, the first tour was an absolute blast, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.  To be sure, 24 fights was a lot of battles, probably too many, particularly given the time period 1965-1966, where things were 'relatively' quiet compared to '67, '68, and '69.  I loved the way I played out patrol actions using the cards to dictate the action, timing, enemy force, and random events, it worked awesome (or at least I think so).  I also loved the way I was able to interweave real history into the various tabletop operations and games, without getting too bogged down (I hope).  I suppose I'll never find a perfect set of skirmish rules, but my variation of Five Men at Kursk sure seems to give an exciting fight.  The only problem is that it still can seem a bit disjointed; I forget the actual quote, but Ed Texeira of Nuts!/Two Hour Wargames has written something along the lines of the challenge of skirmish games is having leadership matter, that it's a military op, not a gang fight.  And if I'm having a hard time with true skirmish (a handful of guys per side), I'm REALLY having a hard time finding a set of platoon-level rules I like.  My modifications of KR-16 did a pretty good job for Operation Hastings I think, but there's just still something missing.

The squad started out with fights against the Viet Cong, and then things really ramped up with Operation Utah and the first fights between the USMC and the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), which the squad ran into again during its first trip to the DMZ for Operation Hastings.  The Operation Utah fights were the most fun of the entire first tour for me, just a ton of great action and great scenarios, pulled straight out of the official US Marine Corps history books for Vietnam.

Regarding the troops, of course I was invested in the boys, and I tried to develop other characters, but then typically they would get killed or medically evacuated.  Corporal Little started off very slow, and I didn't thin much of him, but once they got into Operation Utah he became an absolute stud, to the point that I'm taking him with me into the 2nd tour.  I really liked how LCpl Jackson developed as well, and I thought about taking him to the 2nd tour as well, but I didn't want to overplay the fact of Marines extending for multiple tours as the vast majority of Marines served their one tour and then took their butts home like normal, well adjusted humans ;)  So I let Jackson rotate back to 'The World,' but the Correa came on right at the end, so I ended up taking him into the 2nd tour as well, and now he's turned into some sort of  'crack shot,' so I'm really looking forward to seeing how that plays out in future games.

So our four characters will join a squad that already has a bunch of Marines (and a Corpsman), and a whole bunch of South Vietnamese militia members.  I plan on starting them off as totally inept, but as time goes by the Marines are able to get them trained up and have them performing as a competent fighting force, before handing them off to the next CAP platoon and going back to the grunts, just in time to head back up to the DMZ for Operation Buffalo, which I have an affinity for because I met General Libutti while I was in the Marine Corps and he was a Lieutenant with Charlie 1/9 during Operation Buffalo and is mentioned quite a bit in the book of the same name on the first day of fighting, which sees 1/9 pretty much cease to exist (Bravo was completely overrun and then Alpha and Charlie took so many casualties they had to be combined just to form one understrength company).  I have no idea what will happen after that as I'm not sure who will survive the meat grinder up there in Leatherneck Square...

Regarding the squad itself, it was rated to consist of a squad leader, a grenadier, and three four-man fireteams, for a total of 14 men.  During the time period of 5 Oct 1965 to 5 Oct 1966 a total of 36 Marines and Sailors were cycled through the squad's roster.  During that time a total of:
-4 men survived to extend their tours and go to different units
-6 men survived their entire tour and were able to rotate back to the United States
-13 men were wounded and evacuated to the United States
-9 men were killed in action
-4 men were left in the squad with at least six months remaining to carry on their tour

These men were awarded:
-1 Medal of Honor

-2 Navy Crosses
-1 Silver Star
-3 Bronze Stars w/V device
-3 Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medals w/V device
-1 Navy/Marine Corps Achievement Medal w/V device
-54 Purple Hearts (not including KIAs)

Nikki led the league with a whopping FOUR Purple Hearts, while Doc Johnson (who won the Medal of Honor) and Lamont Jackson were the only two guys to survive and entire tour and rotate home without being hit.

So, to wrap up the boys' first tour, we last saw the Danny coming out of the field and going to visit Nik in the hospital.  Danny left Nik in the hospital and went back to his barracks, and returned to see Nikki the following day, but Danny couldn't keep it light anymore, time was growing too short, and thus began three straight days of arguing about whether to sign on, or not sign on, for a second tour of duty in the Republic of Vietnam.  Being so close to the end of the his tour, Danny had been pulled out of the field, so he had nothing to do but sit alongside Nik's hospital bed and argue all day and all night about shipping over.  The night of the third day's arguments ended with Danny yelling at Nik that they only had a few days left to ship over, and Nikki replying that Danny was asking him to choose between him and his own mother; "I'm all she's got, and she's the only family I got left on this Earth, Danny."  Danny hissed "she's not all the family you've got, @#$hole," and began walking away, to which Nik responded "If you walk off right now, I don't ever want to see your stupid ass ever again!"

Danny was aggravated enough that he actually didn't go back and see Nikki the next day, and Nik was aggravated enough that it wouldn't have gone well if he had anyway.  But the following day Danny walked into the hospital and was shocked at what he saw; Nik was lying there, staring off into space, eyes red, tears running down his face.  Danny felt a sudden urgency and moved close to his brother, and asked what was wrong; Nik opened his mouth to reply but no words came out, he simply pointed to a document lying on the bed.  Danny's heart jumped into his throat; it was a Red Cross message.  Danny picked it up, looking to scan it, but it was only two sentences long.  "Nik, I'm so sorry..."

Danny sat down and held his friend's hand, and all through he rest of the day the two sat there in silence.  Finally, the sun nearly down, the walls purple, Nikki's voice croaked: "I can't believe she's gone, that I didn't get to see her again..."  Danny, feeling more helpless than any other point during his life, just nodded silently, and the two boys sat there until a nurse came in to check on Nik a couple hours later.  The nurse took care of whatever it was she was there for and departed, looking as if she wanted to say something, but not, and then Nik finally spoke again: "Let's go."  "What?" Danny replied.  Nik achingly sat up and began pulling bandages off and needles out (which is INCREDIBLY painful when you don't know what you're doing, by the way), with Danny exclaiming "what the hell are you doing?"  "Well, I figure we gotta get over to S-1 and sign our papers to ship over," Nik replied.

"What are you talking about?  Now?" Danny asked.  "Well, why not?  You're all I've got left."

So that's it, that's the end of the first tour, and now we've set up the second tour.  The nurse came back over and got Nikki to lay back down and put everything back in, but Danny went to Admin and got the paperwork drawn up the next day, and was followed back to the hospital by a Staff Sergeant who dutifully witnessed the boys sign their extension paperwork for a second tour.  They were on the spot promoted to Corporal, and granted a 30-day R&R, which was tacked on to Nik's Bereavement/Emergency Leave, and the Battalion Commander graciously signed off on a weeks' worth of Annual Leave for Danny to accompany Nik back to Texas to bury his mother.  

Following that they returned to Vietnam and then began their 30-day R&R, choosing to go party in Hong Kong.

Before they left though, they had several discussions with the Career Planner, the Battalion Sergeant Major, the Ops O, and the Admin O; Nik was convinced they needed to do something different for a bit, and the boys had both really enjoyed Operation Golden Fleece (at least up until the point Nikki got shot), where they were working hand in hand with the local Vietnamese to protect them from the Viet Cong and make their lives better.  In these discussion they learned about the 9th Marines' 'Combined Action Program,' where a squad of Marines would live in a local village and form a 'Combined Action Platoon' with local militia from that village to safeguard the villagers from the VC.  This sounded right up the boys' alley, so they immediately signed up and were accepted; they even took it back to the platoon to see if anyone was willing to come with them.  They'd become very tight with Sergeant Rob Little and LCpl "Poncho" Correa, who both extended their tours in Vietnam in order to go with Nik and Danny.

Rob and Poncho remained with the squad until the boys returned from R&R right after Thanksgiving 1966, and then all four attended mandatory CAP training during the month of December.  The training consisted of education on Vietnamese key words/phrases, culture, and customs, and because the US Marine squad operates relatively autonomously, they were given focused training on leadership, communications, fire support, intelligence collection, weapons, and combat first aid.  Following completion of their training, the boys, Rob, and Poncho, were given a few days off for Christmas, the moved south to Quang Ngai Province to check in with local US Marine forces in the area and get a turnover, arriving at their assigned CAP location on 2 January 1967.  They were assigned to (fake) CAP 7-7-9, in the (fake) village of Duc Pho Linh, where they joined 11 other Marines, 1 Navy Corpsman, and 35 Popular Force Militia troops assigned to the defense of the village.

So, there's the plan.  I've got some other wargaming stuff to tend to, but I plan on getting back to this as soon as I can.  


EDIT: Adding a few pics of my WWII Pacific project for a buddy.

Two Brothers, Fight #24


1330 Local Time
26 September 1966
Near Mo Duc, Quang Ngai Province, RVN
Operation Golden Fleece

When Sergeant Little walked into the squadbay and announced the Warning Order on 14 September 1966, only 22 days before the boys were set to rotate back to the States, neither Nikki nor Danny said a word.  First, Danny didn't care, running ops was why he was in Vietnam, and though Nik was pissed, he knew better than to voice it in front of the junior Marines.  And he knew it wouldn't change anything anyway.  Danny had kept bringing up the idea of shipping over for another tour, and Nikki had kept ignoring it or pooh-poohing it.

But Rob could tell Nik wasn't happy, so he pitched it the same way the Lieutenant had to him: Operation Golden Fleece is set to be a piece of cake.  Eleven days in the field, down south, with 1st Battalion, 7th Marines and the ARVN, providing security in some village called Mo Duc for the annual rice harvest, no sweat!  The squad packed its gear and reported in to 1/7, trucking down south to Mo Duc, approximately 170 kilometers down the coast from Da Nang, which brought Nik much happiness, as it was about as far away from the DMZ as a Marine in I Corps could get!

The Marines hit the ground running on 16 September 1966, working closely with the ARVN and local villagers to clean out suspected Viet Cong weapons caches and safeguard the rice harvest.  Even Danny had to admit this was much more fulfilling work than anything else they'd done since arriving in Vietnam.  They'd arrived young and idealistic, helping the people of Vietnam by keeping them safe from Communism; things hadn't really worked out that way, and the villagers they interfaced with on a regular basis sure didn't seem to appreciate the American's presence.  But this was different: here the Viet Cong actually had a history of coming in, stealing the rice, and pressing youngsters into service, and so the Marines, actually keeping the villagers from being mistreated by the VC, were finally finding a local population that was welcoming and actually helping them to root out the Viet Cong.  The villagers were actually pointing out Viet Cong cadre members, as well as booby traps and weapons caches!  The Marines, working closely with the ARVN, would then cordon off the area and politely conduct a search of the area, with no preparatory airstrikes or artillery barrages, rather than their normal 'Hammer and Anvil' tactics on Search and Destroy missions.  Hell, the docs and dentists were even here giving vaccinations, setting broken bones, stitching up lacerations, and checking teeth!  Several times Nik actually caught himself smiling; he was helping people, and they were making a real dent in the local Viet Cong forces and infrastructure.  Over the past ten days the battalion had arrested over 100 suspected Viet Cong members, people the locals villagers had pointed out, and had uncovered hundreds of weapons and tons of ammunition and explosives.

But with all that success, the Marines had to know the Viet Cong weren't going to take it lying down.  The squad was out, conducting a presence patrol in one of the nearby villages; this village had been a problem for a number of years now.  The ARVN had originally wrested control of the area back from the VC in 1962 and installed a militia unit there (known as "Ruff-Puffs"), which had fortified the village with bunkers and trenches.  But the VC had infiltrated the village, killed the village chief and Ruff-Puff commander, and demanded fealty.  There was an uneasy peace for a bit, a truce between the two sides or, closer to the truth, an agreement by the Ruff-Puffs not to interfere with the Viet Cong, but the problem was that every now and again ARVN infantry would return to the area, and fighting would again break out.  Under one of President Ky's Pacification initiatives, the village was relocated and the area left unoccupied, with regular ARVN operations to ensure it stayed that way.  The last ARVN operation had been more than a year ago, and it had been very quiet, but this morning villagers in the closest village reported Viet Cong activity in the area.  The squad was dispatched to investigate...

Overview, north is up, and back to the tropical tables again!  There is a creek visible in the northeast (top right), which is the direction the Marines will enter from, and the fortified, abandoned village is visible in the southwest (bottom left).  There are slight rises in the northwest (top left) and southwest, more important for their dense foliage than their elevation, with more dense vegetation spread around the perimeter of an area dominated by open rice paddies.

A couple admin notes: I'm playing this game using a modified version of Ivan Sorensen's "Five Men at Kursk" rules and I'm playing this game solo.

I'm playing in lovely 15mm with individually-based troops.
The Marines are from Jimmi's Flashpoint Minis.
The Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army troops are from Martin's Peter Pig.
The mat is from The Wargaming Company.
The roads are from Fat Frank.
The fields are from Hotz Mats.
The rice paddies are from Battlefront.
The villages are from Flashpoint Minis, as are the bamboo thickets and most of the trees.  The rest of the trees were bought off some cake decorating shop on Ebay.
The sampans are from Flashpoint Minis.
The rivers are from Wargamers Terrain.
The bridge is from Novus Design Studios.
The sandbagged emplacements are from JR Miniatures.
The railroad tracks are cheap, plastic jobs from Target.
The craters, burned out areas, and rubble piles are from Battlefront.
The trenches are from Battlefront.
The bunkers are from... I can't remember.  The company is still in business but they no longer do 15mm terrain.

The opposing forces, an understrength squad of US Marines on the left versus an understrength squad of Viet Cong local force militia on the right.

The squad, with a command element consisting of Sergeant Little, the squad leader, and LCpl Jackson, the RTO.
1st Fireteam consists of Corporal Benavides, PFC Burrows (carrying McCaffrey's M-79), PFC Dombrowski, and Pvt Connor
2nd Fireteam consists of LCpl Danny Thomas, LCpl Nikki Jacobs, LCpl Correa, and PFC Higgins

The Viet Cong squad consists of a Sergeant, a grenadiers with RPG, a light machine gunner with RPD, and four riflemen (two AK-47s and two bolt-action rifles).

Overview, now with troops.  You can see the VC occupying the fortified village at bottom left, and the Marines have reached the creek at top right.

Sergeant Little gets the squad to the river and then calls a halt, pulling a set of field glasses up to his eyes.  "Damn, I don't like the looks of this at all; look at those brazen bastards, you can see'em running back and forth, and lots of'em, like a damn ant colony.  Lamont, give me the RT."

Rob got on the radio with battalion, then was handed over to a FAC.  Twenty minutes later the Marines were treated to a good old-fashioned barbecue...

Navy A- Skyraiders rolled in and pounded the village for a good twenty minutes, dropping napalm, 500 pound bombs, firing 5" rockets, and strafing with their 20mm cannons.

Sergeant Little looked over at Jackson, "yeah, how 'bout that Lamont, whatcha think about that!  These dinks are used to dealing with the ARVN, they ain't used to dealin' with' Marines."

"Okay Rob, I hope you're right man..."

"Alright, saddle up Marines, and let's move out!"

But the VC were seasoned, accustomed to dealing with ARVN and American air and artillery.  At the first sign of the Forward Air Controller's small, propeller-driven airplane, they fell back into tunnels underground, and when they felt the explosions stop, they reemerged to man their defensive positions.

The Marines get on their feet, check their gear, and then Sgt Little signaled Danny to head out, his 1st 2nd Fireteam leading the way across the creek for the squad.

Sergeant Little and Jackson followed them, and then Corporal Benavides and 1st Fireteam joined the column.

As 2nd Fireteam reached the rice paddies, Danny had the Marines fan out into skirmish line.

2nd Fireteam (far right) slowly pushed forward as Sgt Little, Jackson, and 1st Fireteam fanned out to the left...

Getting the whole squad on line as they advanced on the village. "God bless, it's hot, little brother," complained Nik (far right).  "You bet yer sweet ass it is," Danny smirked back.  Sergeant Little jumped in: "Knock off the chit-chat, ladies, stay frosty," he demanded, when something caught his eye.  "Hey, I got moov..."

But before he could even finish the word, the heavy, oppressive, still air was disturbed by the 'pop' of a B-40 rocket being launched, coming straight in at the squad...

The rocket hissed in at the Marines' left, zooming straight between Connor (red bead) and Burrows (with M-79) and slamming into the paddy dyke behind them, showering the Marines with mud and buffalo dung and suppressing Connor.

No sooner had the rocket burned in then a VC rifleman in the northern end of the village (bottom left, next to the RPG gunner) rose up from behind the retaining wall and opened fire with his SKS carbine at the right end of the Marine line (top right).  Two rounds snapped past Nikki's head (top center) and a third zipped in and smacked into the dirt beside him as he hit the deck, burrowing into the sun-dried earth, suppressed.

An enemy rifleman in the trench at the center of the village (bottom left, with the VC machine gunner at bottom center) cut loose, suppressing Higgins (top right).

And then the VC light machine gun (bottom left), an RPD, got into the fight, pouring out a steady stream of green Commie tracers at the Marines, suppressing Sgt Little, Jackson, and Cpl Benavides!

 A Viet Cong concealed in a fresh crater (bottom left), opened fire with his AK-47, causing Burrows to panic!

Followed by the enemy rifleman on their far-right, taking cover behind a hedge, firing on Dombrowski.  The rounds missed, but were close enough to force the young Marine to go nose first into the rice paddy.

And lastly, the Viet Cong leader (bottom left, also in the craters), sighted in and fired on Danny's fireteam (top center), but the Marines were already down and were unaffected by this latest fusillade.  Despite not hitting anyone, the VC's opening round of fire was quite effective, suppressing everyone but Danny and Correa.

And Dann immediately gets to work, dashing up to check his brother Nikki...

Laying down fire (Danny and Nik at bottom right, Correa at bottom center) with his M-14 the entire time, causing one VC at the retaining wall (top center) to duck for cover.

Correa (center bottom) sights in on the VC in the craters (top left) and opens fire, suppressing one of them.

"Nik, you alright?" Danny asked between shots.  "Yeah, I'm alright," Nik replied.  "Have you given any thought to goin' ahead and joinin' the fight?"  "I've been doing a bit of pondering."  "Well, whenever you're ready, just go right ahead and jump in."  "I'll take it into consideration."

And with that, Nik (bottom right) rose up on his elbows, sighted in on the enemy trenchline in the center of the village (top left), and began squeezing off rounds from his M-14...

Danny (bottom right, with Nik above him) continued firing into the retaining wall (top left).  "Nik, I'm going forward, cover me!"  "What? No, wait!"

But Danny was already moving, dashing forward then diving through a nearby hedge as Viet Cong bullets began slamming into the earth all around him (left top).  Nik rose up to a kneeling position, flicked his M-14 to automatic, and let rip on the VC at the retaining wall.

But the VC rifleman there (bottom left, with the suppressed grenadier above him) hangs tough and returns fire, sighting in on Danny (top right) and pinning him!

Meanwhile, over on the Marine center and left, Sergeant Little (far left) takes advantage of a momentary slackening of the incoming fire and raises his head up above the paddy dyke: "alright Marines, get your @#$% together and get in the fight, bust some caps!"  

It worked for everyone but Burrows (white bead at bottom right) and Higgins (top left); across the Marine line, muddy Marines slithered forward, dragging their weapons into play.

As VC in the trench (bottom left) shifted fire onto the Marine right (top center/right), driving Danny (top center) deeper into the dirt, suppressed.  "These damned buttons keep gettin' in the way..."

Nik (bottom right, with Danny above him and Correa to his left) pops in a fresh magazine and begins squeezing off 3-4 round bursts at the trenchline (top left), as Correa lets out a long breath, sights in...

And drops the VC RPG gunner (top right) with a single shot!  Nik's automatic fire had suppressed the two nearby VC riflemen (red beads).

"Holy crap, Correa, nice shootin' man, that was some real Pancho Villa @#$% there!" Nik exclaimed.  And thereafter Correa was known as 'Poncho.'

On the VC right, their leader (in craters at bottom right) rallied a nearby rifleman as their machine gunner (in trench at bottom left) continues spraying rounds out at the Marines pinned down in the rice paddies.

Rob and Jackson (bottom right) raise up and exchange fire with the enemy gunner...

But then the VC leader (bottom center left) raises his AK and unloads to the north...

Correa prays for salvation, nose deep in the dirt, sprawled out in the course grass as VC rounds snap past overhead, suppressing him, and disaster strikes when one of the incoming rounds finds Nikki, sending him crashing to the ground...

An odd sensation struck Sergeant Little (with Jackson in the long, narrow rice paddy at right, Higgins and Correa immediately to his right and Danny suppressed at top right) causing him to pop his head back up and looked right: "Did someone just get hit?"  "Yeah, Two-Bung caught one!" replied Correa.  "What???!!!" Danny exclaimed, head popping back through the hedge.  "How is he?" queried Sgt Little.  "Dunno," replied Correa, "can't reach him."  "I'm still here," Nik moaned.  "Sit tight brother, we'll get to you!" Sgt Little hollered.  "Let's go Marines, lay down some fire!"

The left side of the Marine line immediately erupted (well, everyone except Burrows, who was still panicked in the fetal position) in fire, three M-14s pouring out lead.

But they hadn't really acquired targets, were just spraying and praying, and began taking fire from the VC rifleman on the enemy's far right flank (bottom left), though it was also ineffective.

Sergeant Little (bottom right, with Jackson beside him) continued pouring fire into the enemy center; "Jackson, quit shooting and get on the damn radio and get us some support!"

"Dammit Rob, I AM on the radio, and I just got a battery on the horn!  Red Leg, Red Leg, this is Spartan 3-Lima, Fire Mission!"

Over on the Marine right, fear for Nikki's life was helping the Marines rally, getting them back into the fight.  Danny hollered back over the hedge, "Poncho, can you get to Nikki?"  "Negative, the fire's too heavy, you're gonna have to hold your horses," was the reply as Correa and Higgins (center right and far right, with Danny at top left and Nik lying at center top) calmly squeezed off rounds at the VC.  "I know he's your bro Danny, but quit screwing around and bust some cap before we all get popped."  "@#$% you, Poncho, we can't leave him out there!"  "@#$% you too, Danny, but relax, he's fine, we ain't goin' anywhere without him, but if you run your dumb ass out there you're gonna get hit too!"  "I'm fine," Nik moaned.  "Dammit," Danny exclaimed in anguish, before slapping in a fresh magazine and returning fire.

While on the left, Corporal Benavides had had enough!  He hopped to his feet, jumped in the paddy, and began sloshing his way towards his Marines (he'd been lying in the dirt outside the rice paddy, at top left), VC rounds snapping past and zipping into the paddy, kicking up geysers of water.  "Let's go, @#$holes, get yer @#$% together, ain't nobody coming to save us so you'd better get yer ass in the fight!  And I mean you, Burrows!" as he kicked the cowering Marine, then slapped his helmet off.  "Yes Corporal," Burrows screamed, grabbing his helmet and M-79...

But no sooner had Burrows grabbed his gear and sat up in the paddy then a machine gun round skipped off the dyke and ricocheted into his chest, putting him out of the fight!  "Dammit," Cpl Benavides yelled, "lay down a base of fire!"

Cpl Benavides, Connor, and Dombrowski (bottom center, at center, right, and left) went cyclic with their M-14s on full auto, laying into the center of the village.  All three reloaded as Cpl Benavides yelled out, "Connor, keep firing, Dombrowski, get up that left side!"

Sergeant Little (just off camera to right top) heard Corporal Benavides' order to Dombrowski and yelled out "no, it's too far, we've got arty inbound!"

But just as Sgt Little (center top) was yelling the VC in the village (bottom left and bottom right) cut loose with a terrible volume fire on the Marine left (top right)...

Dombrowski had lurched to his feet and begun stammering forward (bottom left) as the enemy began firing, suppressing Cpl Benavides and panicking Connor (top right)...

But the VC's far-right picket (bottom left) spotted Dombrowski (center right) and opened fire...

Corporal Benavides (top right), suppressed with his face down in the mud and buffalo crap, didn't even see Dombrowski get torn to shreds by the AK rounds, dead before he even hit the ground (bottom left).

And no sooner had Dombrowski's lifeless body hit the ground (just visible at far right) then the first artillery spotting round came crashing down, right in the middle of the firefight (center), kicking up a shower of dirt, quite close to the Marines...

"Holy @#$% Jackson, what the @#$% coordinates did you give them!  I think you just rattled all the filling outta my teeth!  Get'em off us before they kill us all!" screamed Sergeant Little.

Immediately following the arty impact the entire battlefield went perfectly silent for a few seconds as everyone wondered where the next round was going to land, allowing every Marine and VC within five klicks to hear Sergeant Little's expletive-filled tirade.  But it was only a moment before the VC rifleman on their far right (bottom left), the one that just killed Dombrowski, shifted fire to the north and began firing on LCpl Jackson and his precious radio (top center)...

Sergeant Little and Jackson (bottom left) both flopped back down into the mud, suppressed, with Jackson screaming out his adjust instructions then completing it with "Fire for effect, fire for effect, fire for effect!"  Higgins also dropped his rifle and dove into the mud (white bead at bottom center, with Correa to his right); Correa just sort of looked over at Higgins and snickered, then calmly sighted in on this new threat with his M-14 before pulling the trigger.

Dropping another VC with a single round.

Red Leg replies to Jackson: "Negative Bravo 3-Lima, negative, we're Danger Close, giving you one on adjust!"*

*Because the Fire Mission is so close to friendly troops the arty battery is refusing to fire a bunch of 105mm rounds before they've pinpointed the enemy positions and are on them, so they're going to fire a second spotting round.

Having seen their comrade (bottom right) go down, the VC leader and nearby rifleman (far left) open fire on Correa (top center)...

But Correa (bottom right) hangs tough, shifts his point of aim, sights in, and squeezes off a round at the VC in the trenchline (to left)...

Dropping a third Viet Cong soldier as their leader looks on in horror, spattered with pieces of the dead man's head.

Despite Correa's excellent marksmanship, the volume of Marine return fire has diminished substantially, allowing two of the enemy riflemen (top left, behind retaining wall, and far left, in trench, with the enemy machine gunner to his right) to rally back into the fight as the VC machine gunner began squeezing off a series of bursts at Danny (top center right), keeping him pinned down.

And once again LCpl Correa (left bottom, with Higgins panicked behind him, Danny pinned at far right, and Nik still down, behind the trees at right bottom, between them) adjusted his sitting position just like he was on the rifle range, calmly sighted in on a VC in the trench (top center), and fired...

Dropping a fourth enemy soldier!

Danny called out, "holy @#$% Poncho, I didn't know you could shoot like that!"  Correa (bottom right) just smiled.  "Hey, I'm coming back, cover me!" yelled Danny, so Correa flicked his M-14 to full auto and began pumping rounds into the village as Danny squirmed back through the hedge and high-crawled to Nikki (center top, from left top).  "Hey bro, glad to see me?" Danny asked.  "About @#$in' time, little brother.  I think I'm about outta time, feel like a grape turnin' into a raisin, not sure I got any blood left."  Danny looked down, could see the tracks of tears down Nik's dust- and bloodstained face, his skin gray and shallow, his blonde hair somehow looking dirty but suddenly bright red; Danny leaned in, "hey, don't sweat it man, I got ya, and I'm gonna get you outta here, and if it's blood you need you can have all mine, you just hang in there, you gotta fight man."  

Danny grabbed Nik and pulled him close, preparing to move, nearly died when he heard his buddy whimper in pain; "Poncho, we're comin' in!"  "Hang on, reloading!"  Correa slammed a fresh magazine into his M-14 and screamed "Go!"

Danny grabbed Nik and began moving, sort of half-carrying, half dragging his buddy, surprised at how heavy he felt, falling exhausted into the relative cover of the rice paddy (top center, from off camera to left top) as Correa burned through ammo (bottom left) as fast as he could.

Sergeant Little (center left) called out to all the Marines to hold their positions and keep their weapons at the ready; "is everybody back in?" The fire team leaders quickly counted noses and reported everyone accounted for.  "What about Dombrowski?" asked Sgt Little.  "He's down, up to our left," called out Cpl Benavides.  Rob dropped his head to ponder the situation, but Connor jumped in, "dammit Benavides, he's wasted and you know it, that VC nearly cut him in half!"  "Is that right?" asked Rob.  "Yes Sergeant, he's dead."

"Alright Marines, hold your positions, we got arty coming in and the cavalry is on the way."

The Marines of the squad involuntarily burrowed further into the earth, smashing their faces into mud and buffalo crap of the rice paddies, as the next 105mm screeched overhead, landing in the enemy trenchline at the southern end of the village (top left).  Rob and Jackson raised their heads to find the impact; "got'em," whispered Sgt Little, "rain down hell on them bastards."

But these VC were vets and knew what was coming, so just as Jackson was telling Red Leg the round was dead on target and calling 'fire for effect,' the three remaining enemy soldiers were di di-ing out of the area (falling back to bottom left from center)...

As the Marine howitzers began pounding the village.

Red Leg called out 'mission complete' and the Marines laid there in the paddies for another five minutes of total silence before raising their heads up and scanning the village.  Satisfied the enemy had left or was dead, they began rising to their feet, and Cpl Benavides and Connor immediately headed out to check Dombrowski (bottom right).  However, as previously reported, he was already KIA...

The squad, already saddled with three casualties and afraid to push into the village and bite off something more than they could chew, consolidated their positions in the rice paddies, treated their wounded, and waited for help, which wasn't long in coming (top right).

The lead element of the platoon broke off to assist the squad as the rest of the platoon pushed on into the village.

The platoon Corpsman moved up and began treating Nik and Burrows.  "Hey, good job in getting these two stabilized Marines, makes my life a lot easier, but we gotta get some blood in this one immediately, and get them both outta here ASAP.  Sergeant, do you mind calling in a MEDEVAC?"

"Already on the way, Doc," replied Jackson.

The platoon, joined by some members of the squad) fanned out and searched the rubbled, cratered remains of the village, finding four enemy bodies, some personal weapons and ammunition, but nothing else.  "Well lookie here, we got four bodies, and I'd swear I saw some more blood trails and bandages, so I'd say we're looking at at least a body count of twenty, twenty-five VC, right men?" said the Lieutenant.  "Beggin' the Lootenat's pardon, Sir, but twenty-five, Sir?" queried Danny.  "I only see four, and those are the four we saw ol' Poncho here zap all by himself, with four rounds to the good ol' dink noggins, and I don't see nuthin' else." 

"Well, that's not how it works here, Marine, and if I say we have a body count of twenty-five, then we've got a body count of twenty-five!" replied the Lieutenant.  "Well Sir, we just came out of Helicopter Valley on the DMZ, and if you're that hard up for body count I know where there's a place you can get some," retorted Danny, with Correa and Connor smirking.  "Alright, alright, let's go 3rd Squad," said Sergeant Little as he rushed into the fray to drag his Marines out, "nothing good can come from this, the El-Tee's got 25 body count and so do I, so enough jaw-jacking, let's get back tot he LZ and get our people taken care of."

"Dammit Nik, how many times you gonna let these dinks put holes in your dumb ass?" asked Danny, smiling, as he offered his buddy a drink and a smoke.  Nik drank thirstily, then coughed, before taking a long drag on Danny's proffered cigarette.  "Well, if my calculations are correct, we've got nine days left in country, so this should be the last time."  Danny scowled down at him, then softened: "aww, that's just the morphine talking, I know you're not gonna chicken out and leave me all alone on my second tour."  "God bless it Danny, I'm tired as @#$% of arguing with you about this bull@#$%, I told you, I AM NOT..."  Nik was still yelling at Danny about not shipping over for a second tour as they were loading him on the CH-34 helicopter to be lifted back to Da Nang for medical treatment.

Following the fight, Burrows received his first Purple Heart, Nikki received his 3rd and 4th Purple Hearts (number three was catching him up from Operation Hastings), while LCpl "Poncho" Correa was awarded the Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medal w/V for his cool and calm demeanor and resolute marksmanship that saw him fell four of the enemy in the midst of the furious firefight.  During that time Ed McCaffrey and Eddie Contreras rotated back to the States, followed soonafter by Lamont Jackson, the squad's superb RTO.

The squad remained in the field another couple days without contact, then wrapped up the operation and pulled back to Da Nang.  Danny was surprised to learn Nik was still in the hospital at Da Nang, figuring he would have been evacuated back to the States since they were so close to their rotation date, and said as much when he went to visit Nik at the hospital.  "Brother, I'm still here because I told them to keep me here because I didn't want to leave damned Vietnam without you."  Danny sort of choked, then sort of chuckled, then dropped his chin to his chest, his eyes welling up with tears.  He shook his head to clear it out, and decided to keep it light, no talk of shipping over for a second tour, so he just sat on the bed next to Nik and the boys discussed pizza and beer and cars and girls, everything you'd expect a 19-year old and 20-year old boy to be talking about.

I'll post a closeout to the tour as well, if anyone is interested.