'Let's Go Charlie'


An introduction by retired Marine Master Sergeant Bruce A. Martin

"When you hear Marines in combat singing 'The Hymn,' they know they're in trouble!" General Oliver P. Smith reportedly uttered words to this effect as some of his First Division Marines sang "The Hymn" at Korea's Chosin Reservoir.

A couple of generations later, First Division Marines were again singing in combat: veteran and boot riflemen of Charlie One-One found succor in the words of "The Marines' Hymn" as mustang First Lieutenant Jack Ruffer led his platoon up a fire-swept trail. The scene was Vietnam's Hai Lang Forest, northwest of Quang Tri City. Like their 1st Marine Division brothers of Frozen Chosin fame, the men -- mostly, very young men in 1967 -- of Company "C", 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, were surrounded by well-honed North Vietnamese Army units. Some NVA soldiers wore flop hats inscribed with "Born North, Die South" on them. In breaking the encirclement, the Charlie Company Marines made the daring motto the last wish for many of the NVA soldiers. As green incoming tracers laced into Charlie Company's tenuous position flagged by a petrified tree, the riflemen returned red tracers into the surrounding double-canopied forest. Lying atop a wounded Marine named Betts, believe it or not, I thought of General Smith's words as I tuned in that fierce, screaming rendition of "The Hymn" Lieutenant Ruffer was directing while charging. "Let's go! Let's go, Charlie!" he railed above the din. "Let's go get some!"

Thirty-one years ago, in Da Nang, in the relative safety of a small French villa converted into the III Marine Amphibious Force's Combat Information Bureau, I was proud to write the story that appears on the following pages. The story won Best Combat Story of the Year 1967 by the then Marine Corps Combat Correspondents, Photographers, and Artists Association. It won the honor not because of stellar writing, but because of the stellar brotherhood of Charlie Company. I was only the eyewitness conduit of that great collective effort of many brave men, some of them just 18. Happily, such an award assures the Marines of C-1-1 that what they did on the night of October 12,1967, is forever more than just a terse unit diary entry; the deeds have words, and names, and emotions associated with them forever. The doers of those deeds are forever unintentional heroes.

NOTE: Bruce Martin, who had two regular tours of duty in Vietnam (the first with 3dMarDiv ['65-'66], the second as III MAF's Sea Tiger editor ['71-'72] ) and two abbreviated tours in-country for Leatherneck [7 mos. in '67, 4 mos, in '69], retired from the Marines in 1980 after 20 years. In 1989, he wound up nine years as the special projects editor for the Pensacola (Florida) News-Journal to return to college. Today, he teaches middle schoolers in Pensacola, reminding them that America's experience in Vietnam began with the noblest of reasons and ended for the best of reasons.

The following article was published in the February 1968 issue of Leatherneck Magazine, and was written by then SSgt Bruce Martin. SSgt MARTIN also took the Photo's. Major Michael Leahy drew the artwork on the cover of the February issue shown below and the artwork in the article. Both Major Leahy and SSgt Bruce Martin accompanied Charlie Company on Operation Medina...