A Firefight Near O-2

Even though I was still a FNG, I had better than average night vision and hearing (despite years of playing the bagpipes), so I was put on point one night, and fortunately heard the enemy before they detected us. I couldn't see anything - it was in part of a plantation to the southwest of our compound and as black as could be.

LCPL Donald Gullickson (aka "Gully") was leading the patrol. Gully was already an experienced Marine who had seen heavy combat as a Scout-Sniper with 2/26 on Operation Hickory and other operations prior to coming to CAP.

"Gully" came quietly up as I halted the patrol to see what was going on.

I indicated by hand signs the presence and apparent direction of the enemy. He nodded and prepared his favorite trick - an air burst with a grenade. Pulling the pin, he popped the spoon and held the grenade for what seemed to me an interminable time - then let fly. It burst in the area we believed them to be in, and we all opened up with everything we had. The enemy was apparently as surprised as we were, and may have been stunned and perhaps wounded by the airburst and heavy volume of fire. They returned sporadic fire at first, but got their act together and soon were putting out a good volume of fire .

However, in a matter of minutes, ALL the M-16s had jammed, one after another - if the Bru hadn't been armed with M-1s and a BAR and I hadn't had my .45 and grenades, the enemy might have easily waxed us. However, the Bru quickly went through their meagre supply of ammo. (They were issued 90 rounds a MONTH, as I recall, supplemented by us as we were able.)

The BAR man was a small but sturdy Bru we called "Popeye" because (as I recall), his Bru name sounded similar to that of the cartoon sailor, he had a bit of a squint, and he smoked a small pipe, and wore his USMC soft cover at a jaunty angle, all of which reminded us of the iconic cartoon sailor.

The Browning Automatic Rifle, a .30 caliber fully automatic weapon of WW II and Korean vintage that, as the name implies, was something of a cross between a machine gun and a rifle. It is large and heavy, with a heavy recoil, but our small friend still managed to control it and keep putting out rounds!

Finally, "Popeye" and I were the only ones still firing, though some of the others were still throwing grenades.

We beat a fighting retreat to the road, in reverse order of our entry, with Popeye and me covering the others, popping rounds off in the general direction of the foe. Once on the road, we regrouped, and started moving back towards camp, awaiting the reactionary force that soon came pounding out in support - fortunately, we hadn't gotten very far from camp when the action occurred, and they came running!

However, the enemy had already decamped. We found little evidence of their presence the next day when we "swept" the area - they typically left a very tidy battle-ground, both because they could ill spare the equipment, and because they wanted to prevent us from gathering information on them.

(Ed. Note: We were fortunate enough to get in touch with LCPL Gullickson, and after he read the above incident, he verified it as being substantially the same as he remembered, but with a rather interesting twist. Apparently, in the excitement, he was under the mistaken impression that the grenade was an illumination grenade rather than an anti-personnel fragmentation grenade. He had intended to throw an "illum" behind the enemy to outline them for our fire. The illumination grenade has a longer fuse, thus Gully was counting down for an illum, and only found out at the last possible moment (as he shifted his grip to throw) by feeling the "lip" around the grenade, which differed from the illumination grenade, that he held an armed and "live" frag. What I had construed as combat savvy combined with major cojones was in fact a technical error — and one that, had he not realized it and had held it a moment or two longer, would have certainly killed or maimed him (and your present interlocutor). Wars, battles, and even rather small firefights are often made or broken on small matters such as this. The engagement can be a disaster, or a success, but the outcome is often based on luck . It is said that Bonaparte was once asked what he looked for when selecting a field commander - bravery, tactical ability, or strategic skill - he replied; "I look for the man who is lucky." That said, Gully was lucky — though he always did exhibit exemplary courage as well. )

(Oscar-2 members: Does anyone remember who else was on this patrol and the reaction force?)