"Rat Pack 16"  10/66-3/67
Miami, FL

  Red Bar Line


On returning to Vietnam for a second tour of duty, December 1966, I reported to my assignment at Nha Trang airfield, with the 281st Assault Helicopter Company, commanded by Major Bill Griffin.  It was a weekend.   The unit was in direct support of the 5th   Special Forces Group.

On Monday I went through the normal unit processing  which included drawing an M-15 semi-automatic rifle, magazines and 7.62mm cartridges from our unit supply office.  The Supply Sergeant was busy with someone else and his supply clerk attended to my needs.

A few days later, Major Pat Sheely, our Operations Officer, advised me to hop on a local ‘slick’ flight, which was to take me to a free fire zone to test my weapon in the mountain jungles nearby. The flight was routine.  I had a headset on and was able to hear all of the communications between pilot, control tower and crew.  About a ten minutes into the flight the pilot alerted me that it was O.K. to fire my weapon into the terrain out of the left passenger door.  I pressed my intercom transmitter button and “rogered” into the headset mike.  I  re-checked the M-15 safety insuring it was on the “safe” position and inserted a full magazine into its recess.  Chambered a round.  Sighted the rifle on the tip of a treetop.  Pressed the safety to the “fire” position.  Placed my trigger finger on the trigger concentrating on the selected target and began the trigger-squeeze process.

At that very moment a suprisingly loud inner-voice emphatically told me, “Don’t pull the trigger!” The strange, distant voice really shocked me.  It certainly wasn’t mine.  It was a voice that seemed to come from deep within an unexplainable dimension of my being.  I lowered the weapon, safety to “safe”.  Released the clip and removed the chambered round from the barrel.  Advised the pilot that I’d fire another time, without explaining the unexplainable. Upon returning to the helicopter pad I thanked the crew for the flight and headed for the Supply Room.

The Supply Sergeant was present.  I asked him for a rifle cleaning rod which he provided.  I checked the weapon again to insure it was “safe”.  Placed the butt on the floor, barrel end up.  Inserted the cleaning rod into the barrel.  Something hard, down into the barrel, abruptly stopped the cleaning rod. Why had I performed these automatic actions, seemingly without thought? 

The Sergeant’s face became visibly alarmed as he turned toward his clerk.  “Didn’t you issue this weapon to the major the other day?”  The clerk responded, “yes!” I could sense the Sergeant knew where he was going with his questioning.  “Isn’t this the same weapon that Lieutenant Blank turned in a few days ago?”, the Sergeant continued  The supply clerk’s face turned red and scared as he again answered, “yes!” “I told you to put a red tag on this piece when the lieutenant turned it in, didn’t I?”, the Sergeant queried.  “Yes,” again from the chastised clerk, seemingly realizing the serious consequences of the tragedy he might have caused. 

The sergeant turned to me and offered his deep apology.  He explained that Lieutenant Blank had turned the weapon in several days prior because a round had somehow gotten stuck down the barrel of the rifle.  Due to a busy supply room the clerk had failed to follow the sergeant’s instruction to “red tag” the weapon.  The red tag would have made it visibly apparent that the rifle could not be issued.

Fully realizing that had I pulled the trigger of the M-15 rifle on my earlier flight either myself, or one or more of the ‘slick’ crew, might now be dead or critically injured as a result of a rifle blowing up in my face.

I have never learned where that inner voice warning came from, telling me, “Don’t pull the trigger!”

You just have to believe in Guardian Angels!