OPINION – Once, or twice, upon a very difficult time in a land that could have been James Hilton’s Shangri La, I looked at the Marines of my platoon; muddy, exhausted, weighed-down with packs, ammunition, weapons, and various types of explosives, taking a few minutes to gather themselves before resuming the “hump,” in monsoon rains, up a steep slope of a 800-plus-meter hill a mile or so inside the Laotian border. We had to get to the top so that we could destroy artillery that one of our Southeast Asian enemies was using to harass Khe Sahn, LZ Pete, LZ Mac, and various other parcels of real estate occupied from time-to-time by American troops.
The Air Force claimed to have “arc-lighted” (B-52s dropping 2,000-pound bombs) this hill a few times but the shelling soon resumed so the thought was the enemy was using caves or some other troublesome strategy to continue to jump up and call down hell on us. The idea was to send Marines up the hill to destroy the artillery, the troops, the caves, and anything else we could kill. Even then I didn’t have any doubt that our endeavors “would not” solve the problem; we’d do some damage to them, they’d do more damage to us (because we had to carry our dead and wounded, with the enemy in pursuit, back to Vietnam), and within a couple of weeks it’d be “back to business” for all of us.
From the moment I got briefed on the operation then passed it on down to my squad leaders and weapons teams, all of us knew that whatever it was going to take and whatever it was going to cost to carry out the operation wasn’t going to make any difference. We used the phrase “It don’t mean s#!t to a tree” to explain the logic of these kind of operations that took maximum effort and generated minimal benefit. I suppose that statement came from us “grunts’” practice of telling our troubles, doubts, fears, and moral injuries to trees because “no one” wanted to hear them; they had their own problems.
My job was to get these exhausted, fearful, and forgotten man-children up and moving so that we’d give “Charlie” less of a chance to be dug in and waiting for us. We really wanted to do something to slow the death that these gun positions rained down on our fellow Americans. We really wanted to be brave and to “spit in the eye of the devil.” We really wanted to hear something that would inspire us to be capable of wringing just a little more adrenaline out of our ragged spirits. They really wanted me to perform magic…
I spend far too much time listening to talk and reading emails that complain about our government, our elected officials, about this country going to h…, and what coulda-woulda-shoulda been done. So please, I’ve got to find a way to get us up this hill, don’t send me any more negative emails, don’t bend my ear about how bad “they” or things are, it just makes it harder and besides, “It don’t mean s#!t to a tree.”
Bruce Solomon is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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