L. Neil Smith's

Number 10, July 1996

The Sure, The Straight, The Brave

By Vin Suprynowicz

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

         I was sitting down to contemplate what I might write, this Fourth of July, when my friend Harvey Wysong in Atlanta sent me the following:

         "On July 2nd, I'll plant a large, well composed version of the message below at The Wall, directly in front of the names of the men who died on 2July67.

# # #

         On the second of July, 1967, Alpha and Bravo companies of the First Battalion, Ninth Marines were on patrol just a few hundred meters south of the D.M.Z.
         Bravo blundered into a well set ambush at the marketplace; soon, Alpha, too, was in the thick of it.
         The enemy consisted of a regiment of the North Vietnamese Army supported by artillery, heavy mortars, rockets, anti-aircraft guns, and surface-to-air missiles.
         Charlie and Delta companies were rushed to the field in support, but the outcome had been decided. The Marines were overwhelmingly outnumbered.
         But, worse than that, they were equipped with Colt M-16 rifles. Their M-14 rifles, which had proven so effective and reliable, were stored in warehouses somewhere in the rear.
         The M-16 would fire once or twice -- maybe more -- then jam. The extractor would rip the rim off the casing. Then the only way to clear the chamber and resume firing was to lock open the bolt, run a cleaning rod down the barrel, and knock the casing loose. Soon, it would jam again.
         This was the rifle supplied to her troops by the richest nation on earth.
         The enemy was not so encumbered. They carried rifles which were designed in the Soviet Union and manufactured in one of the poorest nations on earth -- the so-called People's Republic of China. Their rifles fired. Fired every time. They ran amongst the Marines, firing at will.
         Sixty-four men in Bravo were killed that afternoon. Altogether, the battalion lost around a hundred of the nation's finest men. The next morning, we bagged them like groceries. We consigned their bodies to their families and consigned their souls to God. May He be as merciful as they were courageous.
         Today, people are still debating the issue: Was it the fault of the ammo? The fault of the rifle?
         Neither. It was the fault of the politicians and contractors and generals. People in high places knew the rifles and ammo wouldn't work together. The military didn't want to buy the rifle when Armalite was manufacturing it. But when Colt was licensed as the manufacturer, they suddenly discovered it was marvel of Yankee ingenuity.
         Sgt. Brown told them it was garbage. Col. Hackworth told them it was garbage. And every real Grunt knew it was garbage. It was unsuited to combat.
         There was no congressional investigation. No contractor was ever fined for supplying defective materiel. No one uncovered the bribes paid to government officials. No one went to jail. And the mothers of dead Marines were never told that their sons went into combat unarmed.
         To all outward appearances, those marines died of gunshot and fragmentation wounds. But a closer examination reveals that they were first stabbed in the back by their countrymen.
         The politicians, contractors, and generals have retired to comfortable estates now. Their ranks have been filled by their clones -- greedy invertebrates every one. They should hope that God is more forgiving than I.

         Brave men should never be commanded by cowards.
         First Lieutenant Harvey G. Wysong
         United States Marine Corps Reserve
         First Battalion, Ninth Marines"

# # #

         Lt. Wysong says he was not in the marketplace that day -- the fight is still called "The Marketplace." Newly arrived, he was on a hill overlooking the battle. When enemy artillery from across the border joined in the carnage, he shot a quick azimuth and asked how he could call up a counter-barrage.
         "Forget it," he remembers being told. The enemy artillery would shoot further than our own.
         After being formally assigned his new command the next day -- a command he describes as being made up of slightly fewer Marines than "former Marines" -- Lt. Wysong had his men test-shoot all the available .223 ammunition. "The Remington jammed the least often. I had them throw all the rest away."
         The story is often told that the early "teething problems" with the M-16 were solved by the installation of the "forward assist," which allows the user to manually hammer the bolt closed.
         "I always say, if you're going to change a tire, change the one that's flat," comments the lieutenant. "The forward assist did nothing to solve the broken casing problem. I never did find out what problem it was supposed to fix." Some months later, Colt began chrome-lining the chambers of the M-16, the lieutenant says, and the jamming problem was greatly reduced.
         As good as could be expected? Not from the nation whose genius fielded the Browning Automatic Rifle, the M-1 Garand, the Springfield M-14, and John Mose Browning's "25-minute machine gun," which stunned onlookers by firing precisely that long -- through a barrel which turned red hot and threatened to melt -- without a stoppage in its first Army demonstration.
         When the belt-fed Browning finally did stop, the Army brass looked to see why. It had run out of ammunition.
         God bless the boys, A.E. Housman wrote, "The sure, the straight, the brave,/ The hearts I lost my own to,/ The souls I could not save./ They braced their belts around them,/ They crossed in ships the sea,/ They sought and found six feet of ground,/ And there they died for me."

Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

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