Down South: One Tour in Vietnam - William H. Hardwick Vietnam was called "down south" by soldiers in Okinawa.In 1966, Hardwick joined the Marine OCS at his university. By 1969, he was a green 2nd Lieutenant being sent as an artillery observer to Danang. Already two of his classmates were dead, not even lasting a week in the field. Hardwick notes that the war, which had occupied the country's attention until Richard Nixon's election and his "secret plan" for ending the war, no longer remained in the headlines, yet 20,000 more men were still to be killed.

Hardwick bought into the domino theory, mutually assured destruction (MAD) and the Cold War that the U.S. had to win. By the end of his tour he wasn't so sure. "The Cold War generated a lot of mad theories. It turned out that all we had to do to defeat Communism was to let it succeed." His first encounter with the war he described this way: "The war seemed immense. It was happening in the air, on the ground, and all around. It created its own atmosphere in which extreme violence was normal."

No one wanted to be a platoon leader as their lifespan was incredibly short. Hardwick was assigned to be an FO, a forward observer, calling in shells from artillery emplacements which might be miles away, in support of the troops. It could be incredibly tricky and one false assumption or minor error in coordinates, or one message unreceived might mean dropping lethal high explosive on one's own troops. WP, white phosphorus, would be the first round, to signal that HP was on the way, but the enemy knew that signal too, so they would be gone often before the HP hit. In one case Hardwick had not received a message that an American troop wold be crossing the river at a certain point and shells were delivered right on target. The commander of the devastated friendly-fire victims, called Hardwick over to see the killed. He never forgot it.

40% of the casualties in Vietnam were from friendly fire. Hardwick attributes much of this to poor fire discipline. A noise would result in the jungle being sprayed with fire. “It drove the NCOs crazy. . . But poor fire discipline is the sign of an amateur. The enemy usually had excellent fire discipline. At times, we did too, but generally we did not.” A marine slips on a muddy hill, his gun goes off, and his buddy in front of him dies. It happened all too often.

They received word that Nixon had beaten Humphrey while in the midst of an intense battle. A cheer went up, which must had made the VC think the Americans had gone nuts.

At one assignment, their job was to fire at anything that moved in the “free-fire” zone. One day they saw a farmer and his water buffalo working in the fields in the middle of the zone. All excited because they actually had a “live” target, they called in an air strike which dropped a stick of 500-pound bombs. The casualty radius for a 500-pound bomb is five hundred meters. If you drop a stick of twenty-four bombs fifty meters apart, you should get pretty good coverage of an area more than one thousand meters long and five hundred meters wide. We centered the stick between the marking bombs. . . . The bracket bomb was perfect The farmer, being no fool, saw the bracket bombs hit, and immediately ran perpendicular to the stick which was always dropped between the two bracket bombs in a line.

The next day they saw him back at work. Two things happened right then, like the snap of our fingers. First, I was surprised how relieved John and I both were; we were pleased and relieved to see the farmer alive and apparently fit. Second, and more profound, for the first time, the futility of our effort hit me hard in the face, that we could not win this war. We might not lose it, but no matter how long we stayed there, no matter what we were doing, we could not win by doing what we were doing.

Silliness abounds. Every effort is made to hide there position from the enemy yet they are resupplied by helicopter every day.

Marines were volunteers; the army was made up primarily from draftees. They hated the Marines. If they knew they were being followed by Marines, they would destroy everything at a fire-base. “tearing the doors off was not enough. They rammed their trucks into the sides of bunkers and used chains to pull things apart. . . . Virtually everything bad you have heard about the draftee army in Vietnam is true. At times they were not much more than a mob.”

“War is always wasteful. This one, especially so.” Hardwick was awarded the Bronze star for valor after hauling some wounded to a helicopter while under fire.

A good addition from the Marine perspective, to the ever-growing number of Vietnam memoirs.