I just returned from a five-day reunion of 3rd Marine reconnaissance Battalion from the Vietnam era and I gotta tell y’all it was great.
Those who never served in combat environs will never understand the comradery that developes from a small, tight unit.
A Recon battalion is an elite unit somewhere in the hierarchy between infantry and special operations. We operated two to twenty miles beyond any friendly forces in eight-man teams and relied on each other for everything, including our lives. We spent our days in the bush patrolling and looking for signs of the NVA or we holed up in an observation post watching for them. At night we slept in a harborsite, preferably in a bramble patch that required us to crawl into to avoid being tracked. Our packs and radios were stacked in the center with our heads near the packs and our legs radiating outward, the men on each side within touching distance: we could easily fit into a dining room.
When in the rear we had our own hooch (tent) for the team and we spent nearly every hour of the day together from cleaning gear to going to chow to working parties to packing for the next patrol. We knew each other well: where we were from to our girl friends to cars we drove to foods we ate.
To say we were “tight” is a gross understatement.
I never had a “home” since my dad worked construction for the big contractors (Peter Kiewitt and Morris Knudson mostly) building dams and bridges. We moved a lot and I attended five schools in three states in first grade, three more elementary schools (all in Antelope Valley, California) and two high schools (Antelope Valley and Las Vegas). So, when people ask where I’m from all I can say is every state west of the Rockies except Utah and Hawaii. Although I have a few close friends along with numerous friends from those days , I was never able to develop life-long friendships with school pals. I never developed close relationships in boot camp or in the motor pool when I was stationed at El Toro in southern California.
And so it came to be that I developed a very close relationship with the Recon Marines of Marblechamp, 3C1, 3rd Recon Battalion. Marblechamp was our radio callsign and we were the first team of third platoon of Charlie Company.
Of the fifteen or so who served with Marblechamp during 1968, six of us were at the reunion, thanks to the efforts of Smitty who called and cajoled us to insert to the San Antonio Drury Hotel.
We hugged like long-lost family and ordered beer. After discussions of where we had lived and what we had done over the past 47 years (everything from oil patch workers to cops to executive types) we began talking about various people we served with and patrols we ran. It was like we had just shared a meal of C-rations in the hooch last week. We were blessed with a good staff of officers and NCOs so there was limited bitching about the officers, although a couple of junior officers (who only lasted a few weeks before they were reassigned to other units) caught a bit of criticism.
It was a great time to reminisce. To Smitty, Dick, Steve, Wayne, and Jerry: Welcome home brothers and Semper Fi. That goes for the other members of 3rd Platoon, Charlie Company, and 3rd Recon. That includes Steve and Jeff from 3C2 as well as Tutone and Roberto who I shared the sergeant’s hooch with for a short period.
If you have a reunion of old chums, be it school, fraternal, or military, do your best to attend. You’ll not regret it.
Not many people have heard of the Arizona Rangers but they did exist for about a decade. Here’s a story I just finished.
The Arizona Ranger
Tired as he was Ollie Webb sat the saddle well as he approached a newly established and still un-named mining town along the San Pedro River. He kept Coal, his pure black stallion, at a walk since the animal had been on the trail for nearly three weeks in the stifling heat. Early June in southeast Arizona was hot and dry and would remain so until the summer rains started in early July. The San Pedro had waned to a largely underground stream although water could be found in small pools.
The town came into view then disappeared as the wagon trail crested a small rise then dipped into a small valley. He entered the town that consisted of fourteen buildings stretched along both sides of the trail, which was also the main street. The saloon was the last building on the left and a livery stable was the last building on the right. He passed through the town, his head slowly turning as he looked for signs of life but not a soul was on the street or in doorways or looking out windows.
He stopped at the livery, dropping the reins over the hitching post. After a good stretch Ollie entered the building to find a boy of ten or eleven sweeping out stables. He looked up at Ollie. “Can I help you mister?”
“Can I stable my horse here?”
“Yes sir. Four bits a day with grain and grass.”
“Sounds good to me. I’ll bring ‘im in.” He whistled and Coal walked in to the stable a few seconds later.
“Wow. Well trained horse, mister.”
“That he is. I spent a long time training him when I was about your age. Which stall is his?”
“The front one is open. Want me to rub him down?”
“Nope. My horse, my job. Where’s your pa?”
“At a meetin’. Be back in a bit.”
“You have any law in this town?”
“Kind’a. That’s what the meetin’s about.” He looked more closely at Ollie to see a man of medium height and thin build wearing range clothes with a holstered revolver at his hip. He looked to be about sixteen but had an older look in his eyes. “Wait a minute. You ain’t runnin’ from somethin’, are ya?”
Ollie laughed. “Nope.”
After tending to Coal, Ollie walked across the street to the saloon, eased the batwing doors open and stepped inside. Only the bartender and one customer, who sat at the far table, were visible. “Hit me with a whisky, kind sir.”
The bartender poured a shot, and quietly asked, “Name’s Gus. Lookin’ for work?”
“Naw. Got me a job down in Cochise County. Just passin’ through tryin’ to get there. What do y’all do for law ‘round here?”
“All we got is sheriffs from Pima, Cochise, and Graham Counties. Seems like we’re in the middle of nowhere and no one is sure where we belong.” His voice lowered even more. “The man at the back is an Arizona Ranger and he’s got a fine fer everything. Killed my business. Miners ain’t comin’ down from the mountain and the town folk are just stayin’ away.” He started to say something else but the other customer butted in.
“Hey. Kid. You don’t look old enough to drink. I’m gonna fine you a dollar. Bring it over here.”
Ollie didn’t turn but his right hand slowly moved to his Colt and removed the thong attached to the hammer. “I’m old enough to drink.” He turned to face the man and saw a heavy-set man of about thirty wearing town clothes with a tin badge on his vest. “Name’s Ollie Webb. Who are you?”
“Name’s Stewart Smith. Stu to my friends but you ain’t one, so call me Ranger Smith. Now bring me that dollar.”
“Hold your horses. Do you know my uncle? Dave Webb? I heard he’s a ranger. How long you been a ranger?”
“Don’t know no Dave Webb. Been wearin’ the badge fer over a year. Now what’s with all the questions? I fined you boy, now pay up.”
“Who’s your boss? If I decide to be a ranger who do I contact?”
“I work for Captain Barnes. I’m gettin’ tired of you asking me questions. Toss me that dollar.”
“Do you know Captain Mossman?”
“Never heard of ‘im.”
“He’s a friend of my pa. After Cap’n Mossman heard that I fought with Teddy Roosevelt at San Juan Hill, he asked me if I wanted to be an Arizona Ranger.”
“You’re too damned young to have fought at San Juan Hill. That was three years ago.”
“I was there. I’m twenty years old. And, I’m an Arizona Ranger.” With his right hand hovering over his Colt, his left hand slowly opened his vest to reveal a gold, five-pointed badge. “This is what a real Ranger badge looks like. I was just in Phoenix to be sworn in and your name was never mentioned. I never heard of Captain Barnes. And Rangers are supposed to not announce their presence. You, sir, are a fraud.”
Smith lurched to his feet and drew his own Colt but was too slow. Two bullets fired by Ollie found their mark in Smith’s chest.
Still holding his revolver, Ollie walked over to Smith and saw he was dead. “Gus, pour me another drink and go get the town folk. I need to find out who this fool is. Y’all can split any money he has and you can send the burial fees to Ranger headquarters. If y’all need any more help I’ll be workin’ outta Benson.”