My first impression of then-Corporal Herchkorn
was not a favorable one. After a very short afternoon liberty,
we boarded buses in the Battery area and were dropped on a
dock in San Diego where we boarded an APA. While on
liberty a number of the troops had tipped a few too many at
the EM club and Cpl Herchkorn was one of the louder and rowdier.
Our attempts to keep him in control were somewhat less than
successful and he "came to the attention" of the ship's
Executive Officer. Too bad! Over the 17 days it took to get
to Okinawa, Herchkorn paid for his revelry several times over.
We debarked in Okinawa and spent a couple of weeks at
Camp Hansen where, as a unit, we fired our M101A1, 105mm
howitzers for the first time. We had hoped to get
individual gun Velocity Error Corrections from the firing,
but the Muzzle Velocity measuring equipment was on the fritz,
so we lacked some very vital information for our sortie into
combat. Our second priority was to equip our vehicles for
amphibious landings. We found the Marine Corps supply
system a bit lacking and resorted to guile and brazeness to
crash the U. S. Army vehicle recycling yard at Machinado and
strip several trucks of their oil pan drain plugs which just so
happened to fit the deep-water fording ports on our vehicles.
Suitably equipped, we shipped out and landed in Subic Bay, PI
where we did more firing exercise in the Zambales and
of course - visited Olongapo. Due to the unfortunate
decision of the Battery CO to not allow the mama-san of the
area to have our dunnage (shell and fuze boxes and other trash)
and to sell us beer and sodas while on the firex, the
residents of the Zambales walked off with two fully automatic
M-14s and all the fire extinguishers on the trucks.
In addition, the troops in the listening posts were
"visited" by a number of the "dirtiest" girls in
mama-san stable and we left Subic with the highest VD rate
among all the units in our Battalion Landing Team!
Over 20% of a 128 man battery!! Further, the Navy was
flooded with claims for compensation for domesticated animals
killed by our firing. Moral?
Do NOT mess with mama-san!
At Subic we "combat loaded" on a Landing Ship, Dock (LSD)
along with the Tank Platoon (M48s), the Anti-Tank
Platoon (Ontos), the Engineer platoon, the AMTRAC platoon
and the Shore Party Platoon. Most of the equipment was
stowed in the Well Deck, along with Landing Craft,
Mediums (LCMs or "Mike" boats) and an Landing Craft,
Utility (LCU), and some was stowed on the
Mezzanine Deck. LSDs are loaded while in deep water by using
the Mike boats and the LCU to transport the vehicles
and heavy equipment from the beach to the Well Deck.
The vehicles are driven onto the Well Deck and driven (backwards)
as far forward as possible. The vehicles and equipment
is loaded in reverse order of need in a landing situation.
Typically, this placed the artillery forward, followed by
Shore Party, Engineers, Ontos, and Amtracs. When all the
Marine equipment was loaded the Mike boats, each with a tank,
and the LCU, with three tanks, would enter the still
partially submerged Well Deck. The Rear gate would be raised
and the well would be pumped dry. Except, our LSD's
Engineering Officer ordered the Well Deck flooded instead.
This action put salt water to the depth of three feet at the
forward bulkhead of the Well Deck and all our heavy equipment
under at least that depth of water. We didn't sail that
evening with the rest of the Task Unit.
In fact, the next day we off-loaded all the vehicles in the Well Deck.
We spent the next several days drying equipment and stripping
down the vehicles, replacing fluids and re-packing bearings.
Thank goodness for oil pan plugs we had appropriated from the Army in Okinawa.
The LSD's Engineering Officer (a Chief Warrant Officer) was,
from that day forward, the subject of disdain from all the embarked Marines.
Well, we finally sailed, and tried to break all speed records
to catch up with the LPH (Landing Platform, Helicopter)
and the APA. Those two ships carried the Infantry Battalion
and the Mortar Battery (Whiskey/1/11).
For the next couple of months we paraded up and down the
northern caost of South Viet Nam (the I Corps coastal area)
inserting the infantry, the mortar battery and the tanks for
short duration raids. Several times we ("B" Battery) also
landed, but we never fired a round. We did go ashore - by
helicopter and without our guns - to act as infantry to guard
the task force headquarters and casualty evacuation
center on Operation Harvest Moon. IT wasn't very satisfying.
In late December, 1965 we landed at the port of Hue and
trucked down to Phu Bai where we replaced another 105 battery
in defense of an Army communications installation. We assumed
their positions, equipment and guns and they took over ours.
We were attached to the 4th Battalion, 12th Marines - a mixed
Self-propelled and Towed 155mm General Support artilley battalion
In January, 1966 the USMC head shed in Danang came to the
realization that before long whole units would reach their
rotation dates and depart for CONUS (CONtinantal United States)
as complete units. That would mean replacing veteran
units with rookie units. As that was not thought top be a
good idea, they decided that they would homogenize the units
by making a wholesale swap of individual Marines among the
units in-country. Afer the shipping out incident in San Diego
with Cpl Herchkorn, he dropped off radar screen.
He was not outstanding in either a positive or a negative way.
He was just another Marine doing his job - no more, no less.
As such, he was not critical to the battery's operation and he
was put on the "swap" list. He went south - to Danang as I recall.
Shortly thereafter, I was transferred from Battery Executive
Officer to Battalion Intelligence Officer (also Civil Affairs
Officer, Counter-Battery Officer and Training Officer).
Because Phu Bai was fairly quiet at the time and because the
Marine Corps had an extreme shortage of Artillery Officers to
serve as Forward Observers, it was decided that our Battalion
would conduct an abbreviated Artillery Observation class for
junior NCOs drawn from USMC units all over I Corps. I was
assigned the task of training these new observers. Among the
troops reporting for training, I was surprised to find the
newly-promoted Sgt Herchkorn. Short time, no see. The class
began with classroom training and chalk-talks.
This lasted several days and then came the first "shoot" - live firing!
During the night preceeding the shoot, a civilian radio
station north of our location was attacked by mortar fire and,
as Counter-Battery Officer, I was detailed to locate mortar
shell craters and determine the location of the weapons which
made them. I left the class in the capable hands of the
Battalion Operations NCO - a Gunnery Sergeant and set off with
the Battalion Intelligence NCO to look for those mortars.
When I returned - empty-handed - to the Battalion area
late that afternoon I learned that the second of the two 3/4
ton trucks (PCs) carrying the Ops NCO and the class to the
observation area had struck a mine.
Sergeant Herchkorn had been sitting on one of the fold-down seats on
either side of the bed of the second truck when the mine
exploded under the rear wheel. I was told that the metal
strapping which held the wooden planks of the bed in place
were blown up like banana peels with razor edges and they amputated his legs.
Sgt Herchkorn died of these wounds
and several other Marines were badly wounded.
I hardly knew him. If it hadn't been for his
tipsy behavior while boarding the APA,
I probably would have known even less of him.
But, after two tours in Viet Nam, he is the only Marine, I had ever served with
who I know FOR SURE had been killed as a result
of enemy action. And up to a few years ago I had pretty much
forgotten about him. But since I found his name on
The "Traveling" Wall when it visited Sacramento a
couple of years ago, I think of him quite often.
And I wonder at the stroke of fortune that caused the VC to
drop a couple of mortar rounds on a radio station and take me
away from the scene where he was killed and his buddies were wounded.
As it happened, the Marine Corps became a lot less attractive
to me as my third trip "over there" approached and I looked
around to see many among my peers (and seniors) who had yet to
go for the first time. Consequently, I resigned my commission
on 31 August 1967 and moved to the Sacramento, CA area.
Without knowing it until I found him "on The Wall",
I was and am still located almost exactly the same distance from his home town (Walnut Grove, CA) as I was in Viet Nam
in February 1966 from his point of casualty.
Perhaps - one day - I'll drop by. I really should.