One to Remember

By Steve "Shortround" Shircliff

Patrol Date: Nov. 27 1968
Team Name: Showcase
Team Members:
Cpl. Steve Shircliff P/L
L/Cpl.. Bob McGuire Ass/PL
L/Cpl. Ron McClain P/Radio
Pfc. Yerbich 2nd/Radio
Pfc. Robert Dahlin

My Last Patrol

At the time this patrol took place, I had been in country way too long. As most of us know, the last few weeks in country can be very uncomfortable. The first 3 months or so, you are trying to figure out what the hell you got yourself into and the next 10 months,( if you make it that long,) are shared with many hair-raising experiences. This brings us to our last month of our tour and at this point, you become somewhat paranoid. We have seen too many of our brothers get wasted in their final days in country. It's hard to explain, but I guess some incidents were preventable while others seem to be just pure fate. It was customary for a Marine to spend the last 30 days of his tour in the rear area doing as little as possibe and counting the few days before he went back to the "World". As it happened, I was doing just that. In fact, I was appointed as the Company driver for our C.O. Capt. Courter. I had turned my team over to Bob McGuire, and I was enjoying my new status, until one day Bob came to me with a very concerned look on his face. We sat down together in my hooch, grabbed a bottle of Jim Beam, and after a few drinks things got rather interesting. The conversation started out kind of casual, but the longer we talked, I could sense something was wrong. As you know, when a person is made a Patrol Leader, his whole world changes. All of the sudden he is looked upon in a very different manner by his peers. In most cases, he instantly becomes the father image to his team mates. The resposibility he bears is greater than ever before. Every decision, and every move he makes, will directly affect every member of the team. Sometimes it can be a very awkward situation. In most cases, a man chosen for patrol leader has been in country quite a while, and has proven himself under fire many times. Most of us can remember the first few patrols as patrol leaders and it can definetely give you a "gut" check. With this in mind, I could better understand what L/Cpl McGuire was experiencing. He had ran 2 or 3 patrols in the "backyard" initially and was upset with himself. He told me that after all he had learned in the bush, he was feeling unsure of himself and his abilities. Then the big question came. He asked me if I would return to the bush for another patrol, so he could observe and make sure he had all his ducks in a row. This was a very easy decision for me to make. These men had looked to me for leadership and trust, just as I did with my former patrol leaders.
It wasn't but a few days later that a patrol order came in and I was once again preparing for the bush. This particular patrol was being conducted in the backyard area and it was very different than the usual recon patrol. Third Marines had set up a cordon around Dong Ha and we were assigned to run point for the operation.
I was very uncomfortable with the situation from the very first minute. We were patroling several hundred meters in front of the perimeters, in broad daylight, with every gook farmer in the area watching every move we made. I kept telling myself that this was not something we should be doing, all the while thinking about the "River Patrol" in July that was a disaster. It was starting to get dark, so we huddled in a clump of bushes until about 10 o'clock. We then moved about 200 meters to another area which provided a little more cover. Immediately, I started setting up my "on-calls". Boy was this an experience I wouldn't soon forget! For the first time I could remember, our fire support was coming from the grunts in the form of 60mm mortars. The first round I called for was so far off the mark that I figured they had misunderstood the coordinates. After several attemps, I knew we were in deep shit as far as the mortars were concerned. It was only an hour or so later that we heard some movement directly out in front of our harborsite. With everyone on guard, we heard a sound as if someone had kicked a c-ration can. It was one of those nights where it was pitch black dark and finding a silouette was next to impossible. I was able to raise the "Sierra Relay" and told them the situation. I was advised that any support I needed would be available. It wasn't very long before the movement was within 40 or 50 meters. I may have reacted a little prematurely, but at this point it was a no win situation anyway. Together, each one of us threw grenades in the direction of the movement. Just upon explosion, we recieved a chi-com back at us and the firefight was on! We were taking small arms fire right out in front of us. The gooks almost had us in a 180. The green tracers were coming right at us, all the while I am on the radio trying to get some artillery support. Seconds later, I contacted the grunts again and asked for some mortars. Suddenly, mortar rounds were right on top of us and I remember screaming thru the radio, "cease fire you son of a bitches, you're trying to kill us". They informed me that they were not firing, so now I'm really confused. Meanwhile, I get back in touch with Sierra and it wasn't long befor the 155's from C-2 were kicking up the paydirt. All along, I am begging for an extraction, but to no avail. The Marine Colonel in charge of the operation denied the extraction and said he was sending a company of his men and some tanks to reinforce us. Not really out of my character, I told him he was crazy and in no uncertain words, to keep his f-ing men right where they were. I have yet to figure out how you are supposed to fight mortars.There was a short lull in the action and I noticed a mortar tube flash in a tree line several hundred meters away. The first round fell well short of us, but I knew it was a matter of time before we were dead meat again. It wasn't long before some gunships appeared on the scene and started doing what they do best. After several bursts from the gunships, things were starting to subside again. It wasn't long after the choppers left town that the little bastards were at it again. This time I called in some fixed wing and within 15 minutes the F-4's were over our heads. I just knew that now we would get our extraction and this nightmare would come to an end. With no confirmation of an extraction as of yet, I was really upset with the whole situation. We felt as if we were being used as sacrificial lambs. Guess what? The mortars start coming at us again. Now I'm really pissed, and everyone involved knows it. My man on the relay asked me if we needed Spooky and I assured him that we need anything he can send us, especially an extraction bird. The mortar rounds were getting so close that the shrapnel was piercing our ears as it flew by our heads. Soon I heard a voice come over the radio and it was Spooky 1-3. I could hear him in the distance and told him to open up right where he was at. Once he fired the initial burst, the mortars came to a halt. As he drew nearer, I was holding my strobe light and he acknowledged our position. The gunship made two passes around our perimeter and I told him to drop 50 and make one more pass. This time he was firing so close to us, that you could hear the rounds thumping in the mud. Damn, I thought we had bought the farm again. Finally, after 4 or 5 hours of hell, we were extracted back to Quang Tri. My whole team was in tears of elation. It was by the grace of God that we had made it back with no more than a few shrapnel wounds. Just after daylight, as we were well into a bottle of Jim Beam, Gunny Altizer came down to the hooch and informed me that a certain Colonel from 3rd Marines wanted a part of my paycheck. Well, it didn't take me long to figure out what this was all about. The Gunny said there was a chopper waiting for me, so away I went to confront one of my superiors again. As the chopper landed, Lt O'Conners met me. He was the recon laison for us on this mission.The Lt. informed me that he had monitored the whole patrol from the first contact to our extraction. He assured me that he was 100% in my defense. We walked into the command hooch and were greeted by a very disturbed full bird Colonel. Naturally, being the Marine that I am, I respectively snapped to attention. The Colonel wasted no time telling me his intentions. After very attentavily listening to the man chew my butt for ten minutes, I very politely asked the Colonel if I could add some input to the conversation.
He agreed, so I gathered my thoughts and asked him if he was not in WWII? His reply was, "Hell yes!" I then referred to Korea and again, his reply was "Hell yes!"
Not trying to degrade the man by no means, I simply asked, "Sir, would you explain to me just how in the hell do you fight mortars"? "Do you put your men on line and arm them with baseball bats"? It is a known fact, that if those men had tried to reach us on foot, they would have payed one hell of a price.The Colonel looked at me in a very strange way, and then put his hand on my shoulder and gave me an apology. I don't remember the exact words, but he admitted that he was about to make a very hasty decision on his part, that in fact would have spelled disaster. I shook his hand and thanked him for being so diplomatic. He returned the handshake with a generous hug and told me that in fact, we had done one hell of a job, "Carry On". There were many times that you were acknowledged for a job well done, but this one was very special.
After leaving the Colonels hooch, myself and Lt O'Conners were shooting the breeze and not too far from us was several grunts. They were talking about the night before and the recon team that was in the firefight. I could hear a distinct voice comimg from the crowd and somehow I knew I had heard this voice somewhere in my past. As I approached the Marines, I noticed this tall, thin, dark-skinned GySgt standing off to the side. I walked up to him and low and behold, it was Gunny Wilson, my Senior Drill Instructor from Parris Island. He asked me if I had seen all the fireworks that took place last night. I assured him that I not only seen it, but it was me and my recon team that was involved. His jaws dropped and he just stared at me. I probably looked like hell, with camoflauge dripping and smeared all over my face. For a few brief seconds, he just continued to stare. Finally, to my amazement, he looked at me and said, "Shircliff", 388. It was unbelievable to me that this man had remembered me from a recruit in boot camp almost two years beforehand. He grabbed me and picked me up off my feet and hugged me with huge tears running down his cheeks. We both shed some tears and spent the next couple of hours talking about the patrol. He was so very proud, knowing that he had a hand in my development. Of course there aren't enough words in the dictionary to describe my feeling towards Gunny Wilson. We all hated our drill instructors while we were going thru boot camp, but upon leaving, we had a new profound sense of respect for these men. I made it a point to go visit Gunny almost every day thereafter. His Company Hdqs. in the rear was within walking distance from our recon area. It turns out that one of the reasons he remembered me was he had been corresponding with my Father while I was in boot camp. Naturally, all of this was a suprise to me. You see, my Father was a Marine himself and had made the original landing on Guadacanal with the 1st Marine Division. Gunny was very fond of my dad and they had stayed in touch all this time. I remember that I bought him a Zippo lighter before I left country. On the front of it was inscribed: If it weren't for Gunny Wilson, I would not be here today!
There were many times, and many situations during my tour in Nam, that I figured there was no way I was going to make it back home. This particular patrol exemplifies those feelings all too well and this was one that I will always remember.

Steve Shircliff
Delta Co 2D2 - 67/68/69