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Sep 10

Written by: Diana West
Thursday, September 10, 2009 5:41 AM 

I just received the following letter from a good friend of mine -- a Marine who served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968, 7th Marine Regiment, Hill 55, Quang Nam Province, south of DaNang. He is also a Marine who, as he puts it, "became, and continues to be, totally disillusioned in the way our country prosecutes war." 

Here's why:

I don’t know where to begin on the piece you wrote about the four Marines killed yesterday in Afghanistan.  It’s just mind crushing. Rules of Engagement.  Maybe they should redefine ROE as Rules of Execration – something hated or cursed (not sure I used the right word, so let’s bring it down to something anyone could understand – Rules of Excrement).
I am certainly not an historian, but I would guess the ROE’s have been part of the “art” of war for some time.  The British certainly tried to follow ROE’s in the Revolutionary War, and that’s how they got their butts kicked – those dastardly Americans liked to hide, shoot, and run – the British made such beautiful targets, all red coated and lined up so properly – the way gentlemen should fight. At the risk of repeating what I have said to you ad nauseam, war, it seems to me, by its own definition, does not have any rules.  I find it difficult to differentiate between one person being killed or hundreds being killed, by whatever means, in a war.  Is it any worse to kill 100 people than it is to kill one??  Where is the line drawn that makes the brutal actions of war civil vs. inhumane.  War is inhumane and there is no civility involved.
Personal experience with ROE’s – Vietnam, 1967.  We had been stringing new barbed wire around our hill - Hill 55, at the base of the hill next to the rice paddies.  The barbed wire came in large rolls, to be stretched out and strung along the perimeter of the hill.  There were many rolls needed, and once darkness came the unstrung rolls were left in place at the base of the hill, work to be continued the next day.  At darkness, guards were positioned in the trenches that lined the perimeter of the hill, at varying distances from the base of the hill.
There were no streetlights around Hill 55.
In the total utter darkness of one night, two guards in the trenches heard, and with the use of the night scopes, saw some people doing something with the rolls of barbed wire.  They radioed the Command Bunker at the top of the hill and informed the Duty Officer of the suspicious activity near their post.  They requested permission to fire - Rules of Engagement. The Duty Officer, newly arrived, green,  and not yet in sync with the violence of the place, ordered the guards not to shoot – could be villagers, friendlies just trying to steal the wire. The guards obeyed the order and sat silent and still.  The Duty Officer filed his report.
The next day, early in the morning, I was to be promoted to Corporal.  The short ceremony would take place near the bottom of the hill, inside the perimeter.  As I was standing there waiting, another Marine came walking down the hill toward me.  He was carrying his seabag, and he was unarmed, having just moments earlier arrived, as he told me, from 30 days R&R from the States.  He had already served his 13 months in Vietnam, went home for 30 days and was back, as he had re-upped for another 6 month tour.  I didn’t know him, don’t remember his name.  He was to be promoted that day also, and stood next to me at the ceremony, his unpacked filled seabag laid at his feet. He had not even yet been assigned a hootch to live in.
Ceremony over, some officer told this guy to get with a 4 man demolition team (he had told me he was in demolitions) that was to go out and investigate suspicious activity in the rolled barbed wire outside the perimeter that had occurred the night before.  He was still unarmed – the five man demolition team had only to go out to check out the barbed wire that lay only a short distance away from us.
Someone gave him a helmet and a flak jacket and the team left to go out to the barbed wire.  His seabag was still lying there on the ground.  I turned to walk up to the Command Bunker and reached the top of the hill when I heard the explosion.  The Demo Team had located a booby trap that was set inside one roll of barbed wire and disarmed it.  They then got careless and moved the roll – they had failed to check for and disarm the second booby trap that had been set UNDER the roll of wire.
Two were killed, three wounded. The newly promoted, just returned Marine that I had moments earlier talked to, was one of those killed.
I’m not sure what happened to his seabag.
Mistake 1 – The guards should have just shot at the people around the barbed wire, without asking permission.
Mistake 2 – The Duty Officer should have ordered them to shoot.
Mistake 3 -  The just returned Marine that was killed should have never returned to Vietnam.
Mistake 4 – Rules of engagement were, and still are,  detrimental to the health and welfare of our troops, and should have been shit- canned long ago.  Pardon my language.
One lesson learned – I didn’t volunteer to go back to Vietnam after my 13 month tour.
Another lesson learned – F___ ROE’s!


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