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A Christmas Tale of a Chi-Com 50

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By Terry Dunne

It was late Fall 1966, near Christmas, and Echo Co., 2nd Bn, 1st Marines was pinned down behind a rice paddy dike by a Viet Cong heavy machine gun.

We’d been walking up this dark spooky trail, a bamboo-tunnel kind of trail when — kapow — a big booby trap, maybe a mortar round or a 105 artillery shell, took the life of a young Echo PFC. As we medevac-ed his body, random bullets aimed at us tore through the left side of the bamboo tunnel. The radio crackled: “Shift Left.” We turned left and poked out of the bamboo tunnel single file to the open rice paddies. Zing-zing-zing…more bullets, a lot more. We ducked low, running our way to cover behind a good-sized rice paddy dike.

In the far tree line, a Viet Cong platoon had deployed a Chinese Communist .50 caliber machine gun, what we called a Chi-Com 50, and it was talking big time. I looked down the line at the Echo Raiders laying low behind the paddy dike, the Chi-Com 50’s fearsome bullets tearing the dike apart. It was sickening. Stick your head up and you were dead, simple as that.

Then, something changed. You could feel it down the line. The radio crackled, “Guns up” and six M-60 machine guns nosed over the dike, looking for the Chi-Com .50. The M-60’s red tracers quickly pinpointed the big gun’s location. Behind the M-60s, an Echo mortar team smashed a 60mm mortar baseplate to the ground, attached the mortar tube, connected the bipod and sight, and fired off a high explosive round in all of about 30 seconds. Soon, three Echo mortars were blasting the far tree line to rubble.

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In the middle of it all, in the middle of the Echo line, Echo’s company commander Captain Thomas M. Pratt III and his radioman stood up. The Captain—radio mike to his ear, hand on his hip—was ordeing his rifle company into action. The radioman, wide-eyed, heavy PRC-10 radio on his back, bobbed and weaved the enemy bullets aimed at him and the Captain. We all saw it. We were deeply moved but, much more, we understood. Capt. Pratt was going for the jugular.

The radio crackled…“Up” and 80-or-so U.S. Marines rose up alongside Capt. Pratt. The radio crackled a final time: “Charge.” We went over the dike. An enemy bullet hit the Marine next to me. He was carrying two machine gun belts Pancho Villa-style and the enemy bullet harmlessly detonated one of the rounds close to his neck. He kept it as a close-call souvenir.

Echo’s middle platoon formed a fighting wedge, the remaining platoons on each side in frontal assault mode, staying abreast laterally to avoid shooting each other. We charged over the rice paddies, an entire rifle company of crack-shot Marines firing from the hip. As we closed on the tree line, the enemy fire ceased, the Viet Cong shooters long gone, along with the Chi-Com 50. We couldn’t help but notice more than one dead or dying innocent civilian who’d been caught up in the fusillade aimed at the VC. But that was the way the VC operated. Attack from a well-populated village then use the dead and wounded civilians for anti-American propaganda.

A few weeks later, on Christmas Eve, it was raining buckets and Echo company was turning up a drink or two, safe inside 2/1’s battalion perimeter. Some 30 or 40 Echo riflemen decided to go Christmas caroling and gathered in the rainy dark outside Capt. Pratt’s hooch. It began to rain even harder as the Skipper came out smiling, joining in the caroling. The words were:

“On the 1st day of Christmas the VC gave to me, a sniper on the Echo CP (see sidebar for more verses).

It went on and on and then a soaking-wet tipsy Marine held his beer up high and yelled:

“Here’s to Capt. Pratt!”

And out of the steaming gushing river of rain came a roar: “To Capt. Pratt! Merry Christmas!”

Echo’s 12 Days of Christmas

On the 1st day of Christmas,
The VC gave to me,

On the 2nd day of Christmas,
The VC gave to me,
Two Bouncing Bettys,

On the 3rd day of Christmas,
The VC gave to me,
Three Claymore Mines,

On the 4th day of Christmas,
The VC gave to me,
Four 6-foot Mantraps,

On the 5th day of Christmas,
The VC gave to me,
Five Punji Sticks,

On the 6th day of Christmas,
The VC gave to me,
Six Bamboo Whip Traps,

…and the rest was lost in the drenching rain.

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