A Note About Weapons and Equipment

We were originally armed with the sturdy, reliable, M-14, but we later received the M-16. I got a very worn XM16E1. I was later told that the X stood for "experimental" and that this would have been a very early prototype model. How and why it was in the field in combat is beyond my comprehension, but the Marines have historically often gotten old and worn gear, often Army discards, such as our present NCO sword, which was based on the 1850 Army field officers' sword, adopted for Marine NCOs in 1859. CAP units almost always got even worse gear -- the junk nobody else wanted -- when we got anything at all.

I was very sorry to lose my M-14, because despite the weight, it always functioned. The M-16 was very subject to jamming, even when cleaned scrupulously - especially the old pieces of junk we were issued. Most of us were in the habit of taping an assembled bore punch (cleaning) rod to the side of the stock to facilitate clearing the frequent jams.

I soon came to deeply despise my M-16, and "acquired" a .45 (with 4 extra magazines) and also carried a sack of grenades. I also sometimes carried the shotgun (especially at night) or one of the WW II / Korean War vintage weapons we had for our native counterparts. At least I knew these would sustain me when the inevitable jam occurred.

I think that I can say without fear of contradiction that the "pucker factor" - ever present in combat - is at an all-time peak when your weapon fails to function. Of course, as "Murphy's Laws of Combat" remind us; "Never forget that your weapons were made by the lowest bidder."

Just for the record, I have heard many men tell the same sort of story. Several Marines who were in the Hill Fights at Khe Sanh earlier in 1967 said that they were issued their weapons shortly before they went into action, and given only a short familiarization lecture, if that. Nobody knew how to operate or clean them, and there were a number of incidents of Marines being killed while trying desperately to get their weapons to function, with some of the weapons being found in various stages of disassembly by their bodies.

I have had this discussion with many troops, Marine and Army, and although some tolerated or even liked the weapon, the bulk of the men I knew who used them in combat didn't. The ones who did were usually armed with the newer "improved" versions, which had addressed at least some of the malfunction issues the weapon had.

(Interestingly, in recent years, I have heard from Marines and other forces who have been engaged in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that although much improved over our version of the weapon, the light 5.56 mm [.223] round won't penetrate the cinderblock, cement, and mud-brick construction common in the region, and the talcum-powder fine sand soon finds its way into every nook and cranny, despite ingenious attempts [such as a condom placed over the muzzle] to keep it out. According to report, the troops were attempting to acquire old M-14s, as well as .50 MGs and sniper rifles, and other weapons that pack more punch. As for those who say "They just have to be cleaned properly" - I was raised around guns. My dad was a WW II Marine and hunter, as were most of my family. I KNOW how to shoot AND clean weapons - I have been doing it since age 9. Any combat weapon that finicky is, IMO, BS, and I consider the adoption and distribution of this weapon without proper testing and evaluation, and in such a half-assed manner, to be nothing short of criminal.)

We often used the weapons meant to be issued to the PFs - these were WW II and Korean War surplus weapons and ammo sent to Vietnam as part of the military aid program. They included small arms like the M-1 rifles and carbines (as well as the M-2 fully automatic carbine), the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), .30 machine guns, 60 MM mortars (aka "the company commander's personal artillery"), M3A1 "grease gun" and other such implements of destruction.

We would sometimes carry these weapons on patrol in lieu of the despised M-16s. (I personally favored the Browning pump riot shotgun with 00 buckshot, especially at night.) Note the picture (below) of Rick Valdes of O-2 ready for a patrol as point man. Note he is wearing a totally unauthorized jungle camouflage utilities with matching bush hat, and shotgun, and shotgun ammo waist belt with several grenades.


Of course, as O-2's FNG (F***king New Guy), I got to hump the radio. These were originally mostly the older PRC-10s, which we called "Pr**k 10s." They were fairly short-range, line-of-sight radios were fairly useless unless you were in line of sight of a tower or relay, or on top of a hill. They were old, cranky, heavy, and much of the time they were malfunctioning. We eventually got some of the "newer" PRC-25s, but they still were of limited use in the high, mountainous terrain that rose all around Khe Sanh.


We often wore what we wished, as uniform regulations were very loosely enforced in CAPs, due to their usual remoteness (esp. Oscar Co.) and an almost total lack of knowledge among other Marines and Army units about who we were and what we did. Some thought us some type of "Special Forces" (we weren't) while others thought we were some sort of CIA (which we also weren't). Some envied us because of our opportunity (in those days) to sleep in hard-back huts on camp cots with covers, and have hot showers and hot food regularly, which we generally did have - prior to Tet 1968.

When I was at Cam Ranh Bay in January 1968, trying to get back to KSCB after the Tet Offensive started, I was wearing what I had been med-evaced in - a worn-out set of jungle utility trousers and combat boots, a green wool Marine issue cold weather shirt over a Navy issue (but not to me!) black watch sweater (like the one "Doc" Roberts is wearing in the photo with the .45 "grease" gun), and a Scottish Balmoral bonnet with a Rampant Lyon cap badge that a girlfriend had sent me. (As noted elsewhere, I got a ration of s_ _ _t about it from a beefy Army MP SGT - clearly a REMF with his spit-shined boots and starched utilities - while I was at the air station, trying to get a ride back to Khe Sanh after Tet started.)

Others have told me that while they envied our living conditions, they did not want to be us - because we were only small units of Marines, with slightly larger forces of native troops (which they considered untrustworthy), generally operating away from major bases and often with little to no support if we were hit. (Also true.)

I have often thought of and described the CAP experience as a sort of armed and militarized Peace Corps - first providing security for the people, and arming and training their militia in defending themselves, and also providing much-needed "hearts and minds" work such as medical care, assisting them with schools, infrastructure, and other useful programs - and I believe they were working - until the larger war caught up with us at Tet.

As to uniforms, except for the weekly inspection, when we would turn out in field "uniform of the day" CAP units could be pretty casual.

Inspection, Sub-Unit 4, 1967

(Note original CAP patches, embroidered cloth on leather, later replaced by the enameled pins as seen at the top of this page. See CAP History for details.)

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