The "Body Count" Game

One of our three 105s manned by C/1/13 Marines.  Note condition of tires.  Also note ammo ready box in background.  Had a 120mm mortar round hit a ready box once.  The HE rounds did not explode - composition B is wonderfully stable stuff.  WP, however, did go off.  Hell of a mess, set parapet on fire.  Hot!  Melted tires, damaged gun.

One morning about mid-February, we were fogged in, C/1/13 Marine was in parapet alone, cleaning gun.  A 'valley' opened up in the fog, Marine cleaning gun looked out to the south and saw group of NVA climbing slope of ridge about 1 click to south, passed the word.  The trails of his gun were oriented that way, he depressed tube, slammed ready-box round in with a maximum  charge 7, sighted along tube using 'Kentucky windage'  (We always dismounted sights because they were easily damaged by incoming), and fired.  Scared hell out of troops in trench in front of him (Charge 7, depressed-tube direct fire is LOUD, especially when muzzle of gun is 25 feet behind you!), adjusted, fired three or four more rounds, said he hit right amongst NVA with point-detonating HE round.  Then the 'valley' closed in again, nothing but thick gray fog rest of the day.  Whole incident lasted perhaps 50-60 seconds.

We reported incident in just about those words to Khe Sanh.  They asked for 'body count'.  We said we didn't have a clue, could see nothing.  They asked again several times, we got tired of answering, told them C/1/13 Marine thought NVA were carrying a couple of what looked like tubes (remember this was a click away).  They asked again, Lt. Richard Foley told 'em, "If it's any help, it may have been NVA 82mm mortar section, and our order of battle book says 82mm section has 21 men.  But we can't see and don't have any idea how many we hit, if any."  That stopped the questions, I forgot about it.  About three months later, when I was Asst. G-3 OpsO in 3rd MarDiv COC, I looked up the SpotRep 26th Regiment had sent to Division.  SpotRep reported incident and claimed 21 NVA KIA (confirmed).  Now, WE didn't say that!

Shows how much 'body count' statistics were pushing everything.  Mr. McNamara's bean-counters at work again.  Drove tactics, skewed statistics, we wound up fooling ourselves into thinking we were winning.  All because President Johnson didn't want to be first democrat president to lose a war, surrounded himself with 'yes' men, didn't have sense (or maybe guts, since McNamara a JFK holdover appointment) to fire him and get someone for SecDef who had some common sense.  He needed a man who could  see forests, he had the world's leading expert at counting trees.

Submitted by:
    William H. "Bill" Dabney, Colonel USMC (R