Captain Michael Henry 1st Reconnaissance Company

1st tour RVN 1966-1967. Initially assigned as a Communications/Crypto Officer at HQ 3rd MARDIV. Re-assigned as Communications Officer 1st Force Recon, due to requirement for Parachute Qualified officers. Designated as Platoon Leader/Team Leader 1st Platoon, 1st Force Recon. Participated in 3 major operations and led 16 long range patrols into NVA/VC controlled areas. WIA June 1967.

Class: 1965 Degree: BBA Service: USMC

Years of Service: 1965-1972     Years in Vietnam: 1966-1967, 1971

Rank/Position while in Vietnam: lieutenant/Platoon Leader/Patrol Leader 1st Force Reconnaissance Company; Captain/Company Commander C/1/1

Medals/Ribbons related to Vietnam service: Bronze Star Medal w/”V”; Purple Heart Medal; Combat Action Ribbon; Presidential Unit Citation; Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal; Vietnam Service Medal

1st tour RVN 1966-1967. Initially assigned as a Communications/Crypto Officer at HQ 3rd MARDIV. Re-assigned as Communications Officer 1st Force Recon, due to requirement for Parachute Qualified officers. Designated as Platoon Leader/Team Leader 1st Platoon, 1st Force Recon. Participated in 3 major operations and led 16 long range patrols into NVA/VC controlled areas. WIA June 1967.

In between RVN tours, 1968-1970, assigned as Communications/Crypto/ Command Center officer at HQ Fleet Marine Force Pacific, Camp Smith Hawaii. USMC authorized and paid for attendance at MBA Program, University of Hawaii; graduated 1970.

2nd tour RVN  1971. Assigned as Commanding Officer Charley Company, 1st Bn., 1st Marine Regiment. Participated in 2 major operations and daily counter-insurgency operations.

Following withdrawal of 1st Bn, 1st Marines back to US, reassigned as Communications Officer 3rd Reconnaissance Bn. in Okinawa. Trained and supported Reconnaissance teams assigned to Marine forces afloat in western Pacific, including off coast of RVN. Participated in operations with USS Greyback, the last operational diesel submarine in USN. Greyback had been modified to support special operations teams such as Force Recon, SEALS, EOD.

Brief Overview of Reconnaissance Operations:

During this time in the war, USMC Reconnaissance operations were conducted more or less in accordance with pre-war doctrine. The two Division Reconnaissance Battalions [1st and 3rd] conducted operations in support of the Division Commanders. The Force Reconnaissance Companies [1st and 3rd] conducted operations in support of the Marine Amphibious Force [MAF] Commander. The Division Recon operations were in the Division Tactical Area of Responsibility [TAOR]. Force Recon operated in any area [TAORs, the DMZ, and other areas as directed]. I will write about 1st Force Recon as that was my experience.

The company had about 160 men but was organized as a mini battalion. A CO [Major], XO [Capt] , S-1 [Lt] , S-2 [Lt], S-3 [Capt], S-4 [Lt], Communications Officer [Lt]. There were 6 operational platoons of about 20 men with a Lt. platoon leader. The company was self supporting with Motor Transport, mess hall, supply, Medical, parachute riggers, SCUBA maintenance and repair sections.

Force Recon teams were 4-7 men. The patrol leaders were Lt (s), SSgt (s), Sgt (s) and Cpl (s). It was the custom that all Lt.(s) led patrols in addition to their primary assignment. So, for example, an operational platoon leader led one patrol in his platoon and 2 of his NCOs led the other 2. A patrol and the patrol leader were known by their radio call sign. [I was Nightsticker much of the time, but also Dutch Oven, Ceiling, and others]. Lt.(s) on the HQ Staff [s-1, s-2, Commo, etc] frequently led “pick up” patrols cobbled together for a particular purpose].

Force Recon training was supposed to include: the Airborne Course, SCUBA, Amphibious Reconnaissance, SERE, Pathfinder, Sniper School. Many of these skills were little used in Vietnam and many personnel did not have all the training they would have received in peacetime.

We did not have very much specialized equipment or clothing. I inherited an early version M-16, and a High Standard HD-1 .22 pistol with a Bell Laboratory silencer from the officer I relieved. I traded cigarettes with an ARVN Lt for a pack. For patrols I wore a London Fog windcheater that I had purchased in the Student Shop at Tulane. Many Recon personnel assembled their own kit in-country, or with gear from parents/friends back home

A typical Force Recon team on a mission was comprised of: a team leader, a radioman, a USN Fleet Marine Force Corpsman, a “point man”, a rear security/track sweeper, and 2 recon scouts. There was extensive cross training, particularly in first aid and communications. Interestingly, approximately 25% of the company had primary or secondary MOS(s) in Communications.

The operational patrol cycle was theoretically something along the lines of: day 1- receive order/make preparation; day 2- rehearsal; day 3- launch mission/make insertion; days, 4, 5, 6, 7 conduct mission; day 8- extraction; day 9- debriefing/clean gear; days 10, 11, 12, rest/admin/etc; next day start new cycle. In practice, casualties, unexpected missions, end of tour rotations, etc tended to compress the cycle.

Missions were conducted anywhere from 20-80 miles into VC/NVA controlled areas. There were rarely any friendly forces nearby. The types of missions included: detection of major bodies of VC/NVA force; B-52 bomb damage assessment; US/ARVN prisoner rescue from VC/NVA control; sensor emplacement and other technical operations; VC/NVA prisoner capture; and STINGRAY missions. STINGRAY missions covertly directed long range supporting arms [B-52s, long range artillery, fixed wing Close Air Support] on VC/NVA targets.

Generally speaking teams tried to avoid enemy contact or be the side to initiate the contact if it were unavoidable. When contact was made there were usually Recon casualties. Even if the Recon team prevailed in the initial engagement, the VC/NVA counter-reconnaissance forces went into action. Regular units in the area, specialized tracking teams, anti-aircraft guns for the extraction helicopters began to assemble and search and cordon. All the advantages were on the VC/NVA side: numbers, mobility, time, knowledge of area, etc. The ultimate bad scenario for a force Recon team was a “night emergency extract under fire”. There were lots of them!

Some personnel, officer and enlisted, who had volunteered and been assigned to Force Recon found at some point that they were not a good fit for various physical or psychological reasons. Some discovered this after a mission or two, some after an extended tour. They were allowed to withdraw, without any prejudice or criticism. They were reassigned to some other unit. It was better for all concerned that they be allowed to do this so as not to have them have a crisis of some kind at some future time inside enemy held areas a long way from help.

A common manifestation of psychological fatigue was “night cough”. There was frequently no obvious physical ailment. Night cough resulted in being placed on non operational status or reassignment. On one 4 man [me and 3 others] mission near the Demilitarized Zone [DMZ] in 1966, a few minutes before touching down for the insert, my radioman announced to me “I’ve had enough I’m not going in”. He was an 18 month Force Recon veteran with probably 30 missions. I tried to think of some inspirational leadership tip [from Midshipman days or from TBS] but all I managed or had time for was ‘OK, give me your radio and batteries” My now 3 man team inserted a minute later without him. He went back to our base alone; and by the time we returned had been reassigned. I blamed myself for not detecting that this man had reached the end of his rope. He was tired physically and mentally; he had been involved in several very bad missions. Psychological fitness was as important as physical fitness in this line of work.

Force Recon experienced officers and NCOs were frequently seconded to other organizations in Vietnam [MACV, SOG, PRU, etc] to apply their specialized skills and experience.

Exceptional or interesting anecdotes or incidents:

1. In preparation for or in connection with service in RVN attended the following schools/courses: US Army Airborne Course; USMC The Basic School; USMC Communications Officer School; USMC 1st MARDIV Sniper School; USMC Amphibious Reconnaissance Course; US Army Combat Intelligence Staff Officer Course; USN Jungle Environment Survival Course.

2. When I departed Quantico in 1966 en-route RVN I received a full battery of inoculations including Gamma Globulin. One week later the medical team at the ladder into the aircraft in California taking me to Okinawa determined that the appropriate entries into my medical record had not been made in Quantico. Over my protests I received another full battery, including Gamma Globulin. One week later departing Okinawa en-route RVN, the medical team planeside could not verify my medical records because they were in my seabag under about 300 other seabags in the hold. Again over my protests/explanations I received the full battery including Gamma Globulin. I never once while in country suffered any of the prevalent diseases, infections, Stomach ailments etc that so many did. I swam in, drank, filthy water, was cut sliced by Elephant grass, bitten by various small creatures, etc. etc but never once suffered from anything. Since then various medical persons are unanimous that this is not a recommended procedure and in fact could be dangerous. In this instance, ignoring the possible post hoc propter hoc fallacy, it worked for me.

3. On one patrol along the Vietnam side of the Laotian border in 1966 I got a very rare, for an American, and undesired view a B-52 strike. A breakdown in communications between the USMC and the USAF resulted in my supposedly exclusive Reconnaissance Area of Responsibilty [RAOR] [A box of grid squares wherein my team was the only friendly force] being designated a B-52 Arc Light strike zone. I was advised by radio of this and told that it was too late to cancel the strike and I had about 10 minutes to “find cover”. To this day I am not sure what exactly constitutes “cover” from an Arc Light strike. This was the type of disconnected from reality on the ground advice one frequently received from rear area personnel sitting in an air conditioned facility [usually close to the “O” Club]. Right at the appointed time I watched 3 B-52s at 30,000 feet pass by. Minutes passed, nothing happened, I felt saved, the strike had been cancelled. Actually I had forgotten that it takes a long time for a load of bombs from that altitude to hit the ground. But they did, as did the load from the next wave of 3 B-52s and the next wave of 3 and the last wave of 3. Two things saved us: one we had found a small stream with a bank to burrow into; two USAF bomb accuracy was off by several hundred or so meters. We were merely shaken up and covered in debris as opposed to vaporized. My request for an early extraction was denied and we continued to search for truck and vehicle movement along a branch of the Ho Chi Minh trail.

“For patrols I wore a London Fog windcheater that I had purchased in the Student Shop at Tulane.”