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Calendar >  Too Much Conversation, Not Enough Ammunition – Thomas Calabrese

Too Much Conversation, Not Enough Ammunition – Thomas Calabrese

By   /  April 21, 2024  /  11 Comments

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Beautiful Dogface

Thomas Calabrese – Guy Taggiano was from Alameda, California and Louie Dielman grew up in Kansas City, Missouri and the two recruits met during Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego. During rifle qualification at Camp Pendleton’s Edson Range, both young men fired Expert. After completing Advance Infantry Training, Guy and Louie were given orders for sniper school. After a six week crash course in field marksmanship they were sent off to that crazy Asian war. Upon arrival in Danang, South Vietnam on May 10, 1967, Guy and Louie were given orders for Lima Company, 3rd Battalion 26th Marines which was currently assigned to an area outside Chu Lai.

A sniper was occasionally referred to as the ‘13 cent killer’ because the rifle cartridges that they used cost 13 cents each and a sniper team was called two-bits. Two-bits equal a quarter and 25 is close enough to 26 for combat Marines. Don’t make a big deal out of a penny.

Maybe a brief history of the Vietnam War snipers might be helpful. In the early days of combat the Marines saw the need for expert marksmen. In mid-1965 the Corps initiated the first steps towards fielding properly trained shooters in Vietnam. The first sniper units that arrived in country in 1966 came with the target grade Winchester model 70 rifle. This was the same rifle that the 3rd Marine Division had used with great success in various rifle tournaments. The ammo was a 30.06 round, with a 173-grain boat-tailed bullet and the telescopic sight was the Unertl 8x magnification scope which was about 2ft long. Although this set up worked well in competition shooting, in Vietnam it didn’t fare so well. The main problem being the weight – it was too heavy and cumbersome.

The Marine Corps eventually decided that the Remington 700 was the right rife for the situation. Used in conjunction with a Redford 3-9x variable magnification telescopic sight, it was a deadly combination. Light, dependable, rugged and easy to handle, the Remington 700 was accurate up to 1000 yards. Snipers usually worked as two-man teams consisting of a shooter and a spotter. Their main purpose was to impede and harass the enemy in his daily or nighttime movements. The two-man team would station themselves in a position with a good vantage point and a long field of fire. Ridges were a good place especially if they overlooked a well-used road. Once in position both men would scan the area with binoculars, or a 20x spotting scope, looking for potential targets. When one appeared, it was just a matter of time and patience until it came within range (600 yards was optimum).  Battalion Commanders would often assign sniper teams to accompany infantry units going out on night operations or platoons on a daytime patrol. Sniper teams would also set up their own ambush site accompanied by a fire team or squad of Marines.

Snipers also operated at night using the Starlight scope, these scopes used all the available light from the moon and stars and amplified it approximately 60,000 times to turn night into day. Looking through the Starlight scope required a little bit of mental dexterity as the images observed through the scope were not in black and white, or for that matter color. What the shooter saw were images in various shades of green and black. Although useful the Starlight scope did have its drawbacks, it did not work in absolute darkness, it was heavy – weighing in at 6lbs. It only had a 4x magnification, and it was prone to the elements, i.e. fog, rain, etc. Despite these faults the Starlight scope was used successfully, with most night kills coming to M-14s with Starlight scopes.

As well as the Starlight scope another handy little gadget used by the sniper was the Suppressor (silencer). This deadened the sound of the rifle, eliminated muzzle flash, but did not interfere with accuracy. It was almost impossible to pinpoint the source of the rifle from ranges greater than 75 yards and this allowed sniper teams to operate without detection from the enemy.

Guy and Louie developed strong friendships with Joe Hanlon and Greg Garchar, both Marines were dog handlers and the four of them would often go out on ambushes. The two dogs, Johnny and Roscoe were very proficient at detecting booby traps and picking up the scent of enemy combatants. This made it a lot easier to get into dangerous locations without being noticed. A lot of people who never served in combat don’t realize how valuable sleep is to Marines when they are out in the field. They are already exhausted from moving through the jungle so anytime they sleep through the night was a special gift for any leatherneck. With properly trained dogs, the Marines did not have to stand watch. Johnny and Roscoe were happy to do that, but instead of barking or growling when they detected something, they just pawed at the Marine lying next to them.

It was 0200 hours when the four men were awakened by their canine companions. Using a starlight scope, Guy detected a North Vietnamese patrol moving across a rice paddy dike at a distance of three hundred yards. The scope was passed upon the Marines to take a look. Louie took aim with his Remington 700 and eliminated three enemy soldiers before they realized they were under fire. Guy then got behind the rifle and eliminated two more.

The snipers and dog handlers had so much success that  Battalion Commander Colonel Cale Whittington kept them together for the next few months until it was time for Joe and Greg to go back to ‘The World’ which was the nickname for the United States.

In a decision that remains controversial to this day, the Department of Defense classified dogs as equipment and most of these noble and brave canines who saved thousands of lives were simply discarded like useless trash or systemically euthanized. This was a national disgrace of epic proportions.

Joe and Greg were literally in tears in the Danang military airport when it came time to leave their dogs behind.

            “I don’t want to go,” Joe sobbed as he hugged Johnny.

Louie explained, “You need to find a way for us to get these dogs back home.”

Guy emphasized the point, “Don’t worry we’re not leaving until you give us the word that you got it covered. It’s very simple, if you ever want to see us back in the ‘World’ with the dogs, don’t fail.”

            “You can count on us,” Greg whispered, too emotional to speak.

Guy and Louie waited until Joe and Greg’s flight took off then got back in the jeep with Johnny and Roscoe and drove back to the Battalion Headquarters. For the next three weeks, Guy and Louie conducted ambushes with Johnny and Roscoe by their side.

After getting back to Camp Pendleton, Joe and Greg received 30 days leave, but instead of going home to visit their families the two Marines went to Newport Beach to seek John Wayne’s assistance. It was a longshot, but the Marines had to start somewhere. John Wayne lived on 2686 Bayshore Drive and his pride and joy was the Wild Goose, a 136-foot converted World War II minesweeper that was made into his private yacht that that was docked behind the house. The movie icon was a big supporter of the Vietnam War and the men who fought in the conflict.  Joe and Greg walked up to the front of the house and Greg knocked on the big wooden door. A middle aged Mexican woman opened it and asked, “How may I help you?”

            “We’re Marines and we just got back from Vietnam,” Joe said simply/

            “We’ve got a problem that we hope that Mr. Wayne can help us with,” Greg said.

The maid hesitated then replied, “Wait here,” and closed the door.

The maid walked through the house to the rear patio where John Wayne was sitting with Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. The three men were drinking and snacking on Mexican food. “Excuse me Mr. Wayne.”

            “What is it, Maria?” John Wayne asked.

Maria responded, “There are two young Marines at the front door and they say they just got back from Vietnam and they have a problem they want to talk to you about.”

John Wayne flashed a big smile, “Send those fighting leathernecks in!”

When Joe and Greg walked on the patio, Greg said, “Thank you for seeing us, sir.”

            “I heard that you just got back from the Nam?” John Wayne asked.

            “Two days ago, sir,” Joe replied.

            “Usually Marines can’t wait to go home,” John Wayne said.

            “We’ve got more important things to take care of, sir” Greg said.

            “Sounds serious, have a seat,” Dean Martin said.

            “Thank you, sir,” Joe replied.

The two Marines sat down and Sammy Davis Jr asked, “Can I get you something to drink?”

            “Beer would be fine, thank you sir,” Greg said.

John Wayne offered the Marines a tray of food, “Help yourself…what’s this problem that you wanted to talk to me about?”

            “Our Military Occupational Specialty is dog handler. I don’t know if you know this, but there is a stupid regulation that prohibits us from bringing our dogs home,” Greg said.

            “These dogs are heroes, they save lives and deserve to be treated with gratitude and respect,” Joe added.

Dean Martin quickly commented, “I agree totally…where are your dogs now?”

            “There are with our buddies back in Vietnam,” Joe said.

            “What do you want from me?” John Wayne asked.

            “We want to get our dogs back,” Greg said, “Any help would be greatly appreciated.”

            “There’s more to it than that,” Joe continued, “There are a lot of dog handlers who feel the same way as us about their partners.”

Sammy Davis Jr. pondered the situation for a moment, “Doris Day is really big into animal rescue. I’m pretty sure if you and I contacted her, she’d help out.”

            “You know who has a lot of contacts in the government?” Dean Martin asked.

            “Who is that, sir?” Greg asked.

            “Bob Hope.” Dean Martin said.

John Wayne’s eyes lit up and his voiced boomed, “I had full support of President Johnson and the Department of Defense when I made the The Green Berets. I think they’ll take my call.” John Wayne turned to the young Marines and added, “You think that you could stay around a few days while we put this together?”

            “We would be honored, sir?” Joe said, “We’ll do whatever it takes.”

Greg added, “Thank you…thank you…thank you, sir.”

            “No, no…thank you for your service,” John Wayne called to his maid, “Maria! Show these American warriors to the guest house and make sure that they get whatever they need!”

            “Yes Mr. Wayne,” Maria said.

Back in Vietnam, Guy and Louie were on patrol near Hill 827 with a platoon with Lima Company. Guy, Louie and their dogs went up to an elevated area on the ridge to scout the valley below. For the next two days the Marine platoon conducted routine patrols through the area while Guy and Louie kept their focus on a section of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. During the night Louie saw movement through the starlight scope and said, “Take a look,” and handed the scope to Guy.

The Intel was passed along to the platoon commander who relayed it back to Battalion and he was given orders to engage the enemy.

Louie warned young and inexperienced Lt. Jason Farber, “That would be a big mistake, you don’t even know how many NVA there are.”

            “I’ve got my orders and I’m going to follow them,” Lt. Farber stated firmly.

            “How long have you been in country…two…three months?”

            “Three and half months,” Lt. Farber snapped back.

            “I’ve been here a year and half and there is always some knucklehead back at command who likes to write checks that somebody else in the bush has to cash. The sign of a good leader is keeping your men alive and killing the enemy. It’s that simple,” Louie said, “Don’t be stupid, Lieutenant, set up a perimeter around our position and we’ll take ‘em out at a safe distance.”

            “You’re insubordinate. It is not for me or you to question orders.”

            “Really, is that the best you got,” Louie walked off, shaking his head.

Ten minutes later, the platoon left the area and Guy asked his partner, “Did you tell him this was a mistake?”

            “Oh yeah…let’s gets ready…things are going to get real heavy real quick,” Louie warned, “He’s at that point in his career where by the time he knows what he needs to know, he’ll already be dead.”

Lt. Farber ordered his Marines to ambush the enemy patrol and once the firefight started, it didn’t take long to realize that the ten NVA soldiers were just the point unit of two battle hardened companies. Once the main unit of the enemy engaged in the fight, the Marine were overwhelmed by gunfire.

Lt. Farber screamed out, “fall back!   Fall Back!”

The Marines ran back up the trail while Louie and Guy killed numerous enemy soldiers who were chasing them. When the Marines got back up the hill, Lt. Farber was panic-stricken. Louie turned to the platoon radioman and calmly said, “Call in for airstrikes.”

Louie shook the young lieutenant and admonished him, “You wanted a battle…you got one, now do your job!”

The Siege of Khe Sanh was longer and Hamburger Hill was definitely no picnic, but two NVA companies against one Marine Corps platoon on Hill 827 was also a very bad scenario. Air strikes bombarded the area, but the enemy kept coming and the Marines were eventually surrounded.

 Louie and Guy killed forty NVA soldiers in the few hours of the battle as enemy mortars fell like rain.  Ammunition was low and a request for an ammo drop was radioed in. Because of the heavy fire they took the enemy, the pilots could not be as accurate as they wanted to be. Several of the wooden boxes ended up in a ravine. Using their binoculars, the two snipers saw the one with the markings 30.06 on it. It was about 50 yards away and between the Marines and the NVA positions.

            “How many rounds do we have left?” Guy asked.

Louie responded, “Ten, I think.”

            “I better go get some more,” Guy said.

            “If anybody goes, it should be me,” Louie argued.

            “Why is that?” Guy asked.

            “Because I’m a faster runner.”

            “You may be faster, but I’m luckier. Besides you’re a slightly better shot and you can cover me,” Guy smiled.

            “You know what they say…a little less conversation and lot more ammunition,” Louie took off running, weaving and dodging bullets as he charged to the ammo crate. Johnny and Roscoe instinctively followed him and Guy shot six more NVA soldiers. Louie reached the ammo crate, broke it open and took out a dozen ammo clips. With bullets whizzing overhead, he stuck the ammo clips into the vests that Johnny and Roscoe were wearing and told them, “You know what to do. The dogs took off up the trail as bullets nipped at their paws. When Guy saw the dogs coming he yelled, “Hurry up!”

With the additional ammunition, Guy was able to drive the NVA back down the hill. Louie made it back to where Guy was and joked, “Fair shooting.”

            “Next time, I tell you I’m going then I’m going…got it?” Guy chastised his partner.

            “Next time,” Louie smiled and looked down the hill and saw the NVA regrouping for another assault, “Get ready.”

            “Hell with this!” Guy responded, “Radioman!”

Guy called in, “We’re about be overrun, we need Puff the Magic Dragon. Coordinates are as follows…16°39′15″N 106°43′27″E.”  During the Vietnam War, C-47s were gunships fitted with 7.62 mm miniguns. These weapons could fire up to 6,000 rounds per minutes and the aircraft carried 54,000 rounds. The gunship was affectionately nicknamed ‘Puff the Magic Dragon.’

When the lethal gunship finished with its lethal mission the two NVA companies were destroyed and the Marines were saved. Lt. Farber was wounded in the exchange and while being treated by the Corpsman, Louie walked over and snarled, “Maybe some jarheads will get lucky and you’ll get medevac’d home before you have the chance to get them killed..”

The Marine were airlifted out by two choppers and when they arrived back at Battalion, Joe and Greg were waiting for them at the landing zone.

            “What are you doing back?” Louie asked.

Joe and Greg embraced their dogs and Greg answered, “We got it done thanks to the Duke and some of his friends.”

            “Dogs can now return with their handlers under the revised SAP regulation which gives them, Space Available Priority on transport aircraft,” Joe added.

Louie and Guy hated to say goodbye to Johnny and Rsocoe, but they had earned the right to go home. After finishing their second tour in Vietnam, Louie and Guy also headed back to Camp Pendleton to take on their new assignment as instructors at sniper school. After the students had been secured for the day. Louie and Guy decided to partake in a little friendly competition.

            “Loser buys dinner,” Guy suggested, “Are you in a losing frame of mind?”

A dog was sitting nearby and Louie turned to her, “What do you think, Beautiful Dogface?”

            “Are you talking to me or the other Beautiful Dogface?”

 The dog barked and Louie smiled, “You’re on.”

The two legendary snipers got down in the prone position, loaded their rifles and took aim at the targets 700 yards downrange. The dog walked over and sat between the two Marines. Guy put ear protection on him then looked over at Louie and commented, “You know what they say at moments like this?”

             “How can I forget, a little less conversation and a lot more ammunition,” Louie responded.

The Marines each fired a round, striking dead center in the bullseye of their targets. Several more shots with the same results.

The End

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11 Comments

  1. Tom says:

    The Vietnam War was and still is a blemish on the history of US Armed Conflict. But the valiant warriors who fought and died there have gradually been rendered the honors they justifiably earned. And the four legged scouts used by the USMC and USA are just as worthy. I have no doubt that the Duke and his buddies would have figured out how to get the rules changed in order to support the Grunts. To this day, our Veterans are facing similar problems trying to bring home pets they have adopted (or been adopted by!) back home from the Mideast and Afghanistan.

    Too much talk and not enough ammunition can be compared to the WWII slogan: “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!” Well done, Tom!

  2. Bart says:

    Nice story and true to a point. I knew a sniper with a bad experience. Made the mistake of setting up in the same location twice. Just escaped a boobytrap the second time.

  3. John Michels says:

    Not a fan of Viet Nam stories but this is an exception because of those dog gone dogs

  4. Clyde says:

    Thanks for another informative and interesting story.

  5. Jeremy says:

    As a former Vietnam War veteran, this story really touched my heart. I loved the sentry dogs in Nam. Tom’s right, they saved a lot of lives.

  6. bob wolf says:

    GOOD STORY
    I ENJOYED THE INFO ON SNIPER TRAINIG AND EQUIPMENT.

    LIKE MOST
    OF TOM’S STORIES IT HARD TO TELL TRUTH FROM FICTIOM.

    i COULD SEE JOHN WAYNE AND HIS CREW GETING INVOLVED IN BRINGING SERVIVE DOGS BACK HOME TOO.

  7. Robert says:

    Nice story for the weekly read. Thanks.

  8. Tony says:

    Mr. Thomas Calabrese has an uncanny ability for writing and recall of events in Vietnam. His research in equally uncanny.
    This Sunday’s story hits home for me because it is more truth then fiction. When I arrived in Vietnam early in ’66. I was blessed with 3 great squad leaders.The entire battalion had trained together prior to departing Camp Pendleton and Okinawa prior to landing in Vietnam. I reported about 6 months later. At first we had Lt. and he was savvy. But, things change quickly in Vietnam and soon I found myself in the Lt’s position. I had sniper’s attached with the very rifle and scope Mr. Calabrese described in today’s story on least two two occasions. I can confirm the professionalism and accuracy of the Marine Sniper’s. On the first occasion the Sniper was able to work the bolt so rapidly, I had to glance out of the corner of my eye and at him to see if he did not somehow have an automatic rifle. When we gained fire superiority I had to complement him on the way he operated the bolt of his rifle. We had come close to being over run. On another occasion my platoon was just setting up in defensive position. I briefed my 3 Squad Leaders where to set up and tie in, when one squad stood up to move into defensive positions when a shot rang out and 3 men were hit. An eye sweep did not reveal where the shot came from, one of the men wounded was our Sniper. The Marines were at a good interval and staggered as they were trained. They had used the surrounding brush to conceal themselves until they were ordered to move into their positions. Thinking about the angle or trajectory, because the men were staggered and distanced from each other, we were on a bank of a river with brush for some concealment. On the other side of the river was a sand bar and a river bank and the same type of terrain. I moved to the injured Marines to move them to safety and another shot rang out barely missing me but unfortunately hitting the same Marine again. I managed to grab him and roll him into a ditch so he would not be shot again. My Corpsmen was on him and treating him, I was yelling to my Forward Observer (FO) a LT. to get a blanket of smoke down on the far bank, at the same time I am telling my Radio Operator to call a Medevac.
    The enemy sniper shot again, this time hitting the Artillery Forward Observer who had positioned himself or braced himself with his body leaning against a boulder holder his field glasses to his to his eyes scanning the area when another shot rang out hitting the Lt. under the arm and the bullet appeared to travel around his under his arm around his back to his spine. He had turned white as a ghost in shock, no doubt. Our company was part of a what is known a County Fair to conducting health checks on local villagers. The doctors and dentists would perform what they could for the children and adults, our mission was to secure the outer perimeter for their safety. After having everyone evacuated I summoned the Sniper’s Spotter and asked he if he could use the Sniper Rifle too. He assured me was equally trained and qualified to handle to the Sniper rifle. Please remember this was fairly new in Vietnam and to me. I am a very decent marksmen but not trained with this specific rifle and it makes a difference when you only have one shot! I a lot of thought of what occurred each time Marines were wounded, I only heard one shot, I thought about the angle of the shot too, every other Marine and I was convinced it was only one Sniper that got very lucky. I had our Sniper set up in a position near the bank of the river so he could scan the other side and provided him a fire team for security. Early in the morning a Shot rang out and I could tell it was from our side of the river. I made my way to our Sniper’s position and he said he got the Sniper and he thought it was a woman. Through a pair of field glassed I could see a person slumped over her upper torso was half out of a hole that was dug into the sand, her clothing was sand colored and she had a tan bandanna around her head with blood streaming from the center of the forehead, her face was resting on sand facing us. It appeared the Sniper had shot her in the center of forehead. Her rifle was laying at the right side of her. I hope this is not to graphic for the readers but it is reality and a complement to the Marine Snipers for a great job and saving American lives. Semper Fidelis.

  9. Jon Gregory Nielsen says:

    Ground Control to “Major Tom”…
    I whole-heartedly commend you for writing ✍️ this story for “we enthusiastic readers” last week.

    It immediately touched me in a couple of profound ways.

    NOTE: One of the side benefits to your weekly story is being able to read the remarks and personal thoughts that come in periodically from your “active” readers (aka: “thankful fans”).

    Special thanks to Tom and Tony yesterday.

    Stay strong for all of U.S.

  10. Marty says:

    Another great story Tom. One of your best!
    I did see a couple of names that rang a bell.
    Thanks Tom

  11. Stephanie Boren says:

    I love it when you creatively change history to the way it should be.
    My favorites are the happy dog stories.

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