Another Day at the Museum

I'm a Docent at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. A few months ago, I was asked to discuss Air Support operations with a group of Captains from EWS (AWS for us old farts) who were doing a battle study of Operation Dewey Canyon (1969). Their main question was why the grunts had difficulty getting Artillery, Fixed Wing, and Helo support during the operation. I explained that the operation had been conducted during the monsoon season and often the mountains were socked in by clouds. I also explained that Helo pilots had to be able to visually find the zone before they could come in. I further explained that Artillery was reluctant to fire missions & Fixed Wing were reluctant to drop ordnance unless the grunts knew exactly where they were. At this point one of the Captains leaned over to his buddy and said something about "GPS". I explained that this was during the dark ages of 1969. No GPS, cell phones, satellite communications, etc., just a compass and a map and "dead reckoning" navigation. Often times the grunts could only say, "We think we're at XXXXXX coordinates. Not good if you're actually where you want the ordnance dropped/shot.

Following the discussion, one of the Captains asked me, "What was my criteria for going into a zone?" I answered by telling him that if we could find the zone visually and get a zone brief, we went in. His response really floored me. He said "We're much more risk averse today." I looked again at his uniform to make sure I wasn't talking to an Air Force weenie, but he was a Marine. He wasn't wearing wings, so I assumed he was a grunt. I really didn't have any response to his comment, but it continued to bother me for several days.

I finally called the senior air instructor at EWS (a CH-53 major) and related my earlier conversation to him. He replied that the Captain was correct, because today they have to ensure that the area is "sanitized" before risking aviation assets into a zone. I told him that we always had gunship escort on missions who would suppress enemy fire. He informed me that today they have to utilize F/W air & artillery to ensure the "sanitization" of the zone. I responded by saying that when I flew with the Purple Foxes in Vietnam ..., at that point he interrupted me by saying, "Oh! I've read about you guys, you were crazy!" I ended the discussion with the answer I should have thought of when I was talking to the Marine in the Museum. I informed the Major that, IF WE GO INTO A ZONE WE MIGHT TAKE FIRE, AND WE MIGHT GET HIT, AND WE MIGHT GET SHOT DOWN; BUT IF WE DON'T GO IN, THOSE MARINES WILL DIE. He didn't have any response to that.

Larry "Slick" Britton
LtCol USMC(Ret)
Purple Fox '68-'69

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