On Board News – USS St Louis

Every day on board ship we would get news updates. Ship-wide radio news couple times a day and also a mimeographed newsletter covering non-classified military news, movements, or actions. It was the only connection we had to the outside world.

At first it didn’t seem so important. We were just part of a “Cruise” off the coast of Vietnam. Everyone “knew” that the only Marines in Vietnam were Embassy Guards in Saigon. That wasn’t actually true, but there were only about 500 Marines total serving In Country at the time.

Then “something” happened. Found out much later that it was the “Easter Offensive”, a massive full scale invasion of South Vietnam by 15 Divisions of North Vietnamese Regular Troops. It the largest campaign of the entire war, and the only campaign to use conventional ground tactics versus the typical VC guerilla campaigns. The War was “On” again, and we were in the front seat. News became very important. We would wait outside the mimeograph office to make sure we got one of the newsletters as soon as they came off the machine.

We knew that Quang Tri was in serious trouble. None of the reports were good. Bad stuff was happening for sure. Then the mimeograph office closed it’s doors, no more newsletters. The radio news broadcasts were cancelled. We found ourselves totally in the dark. We couldn’t even get any ‘contacts’ to spill any information. No one knew what was going on, but we all suspected it was very bad news.

It was 2 or 3 days later when a formation was called for the Marines on deck. We all sat on the deck, crowding forward as an Officer approached a large map on a tripod. Quang Tri was prominent on the map. The Briefing Officer told us everything we feared. Quang Tri was about to fall, it was up to us to save it. I felt like I was in some bad WW II movie as he pointed out the routes where we would make our amphibious beach landings. I wasn’t ready for THIS.

The Marine Corps assault force consists of 5 “waves”. The first wave is the hard core grunts, the ones that eat, live, and breath combat training. Conversely, the 5th wave is the “bottom of the barrel”, the cooks and clerks – support personnel.

I was finding solace in the fact that I was in the 5th wave when his briefing broke into my consciousness again. “First, Second, and Third waves will go in here on the beach. Fifth and Fourth waves, in that order, will be heli-lifted into the city to bolster city defenses and hold the perimeter until the city can be reinforced.”

Oh my God, I was about to go to War! Why had I been so nonchalant during my training? I was already wishing I had paid more attention. I suddenly understood that old cliché the Instructors droned on, “Every Marine is a Rifleman first, THEN whatever his job assignment is next”.

Each man left that briefing with his own thoughts. There was a lot of letter writing going on as we prepared. Not a lot of talking, just people tending to their own business.

It was with mixed feelings we received the news that Quang Tri had fallen. We had dodged the bullet, but Quang Tri paid the price. We would make the assault later, as we pushed to take Quang Tri back. But that’s another story.

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