The Spirit of Tehachapi
September 28, 2019
Once again I will include a little episode from my husband's Marine Corps thirty-year career; a little glimpse of life in the "old Corps."
by CWO-4 Doyle D. Gracey, Jr. USMC
I was a member of the Marine Corps Base Rifle Team at Camp Pendleton on our way to compete at the First Hawaii Invitational Rifle Matches at Palua Point. Probably sometime in the early 1960s. Our means to get there was a C-130 out of El Toro, California. There were eight of us and we boarded the big multi-engine air craft preparing for the long flight. We passengers sat in web strapping along the sides; very uncomfortable. The C-130 plane was intended as a cargo mover with creature comfort not entering into it. With no insulation in the cargo area it's pretty cold in higher altitudes.
The baggage was piled up and secured and we discovered the top surface of the luggage made a great makeshift card table. We had a good game of Pinochle going even before takeoff. The engines started and our Pinochle game took on a new course of action. It was impossible to speak above the roar of the engines. Just in case one of us might have heard something, we were ordered to wear ear protection gear.
We used hand, arm and facial expressions to communicate. A pad and pencil was used to clarify the finer points. It was a memorable game and one I have always remembered. Oh, by the way, we were also the overall winners of the Rifle Competition.
Some years later I found myself, once again, a passenger on a C-130. The tanker boys in Southeast Asia, Vietnam in particular, were having trouble hitting anything with the 90mm guns mounted on their tanks. It's embarrassing and dangerous not to be able to hit what you are shooting at and something had to be done as soon as possible. They requested help from my maintenance outfit, 1st F.S.R., Okinawa.
Being a third and fourth echelon shop we had a fixture that would bring the gun and the sight back into sync. Colonel Burger, our C.O., made it clear, with quite picturesque language, that we were not to be separated from this fixture. It was an extremely important piece of equipment and expensive as hell. It was a solid block of steel on which the fire control components were bolted. Very fine adjustments must be made and the equipment re-installed to the M48-A1s (land tank). The fixture was six inches thick and thirty inches wide by forty eight inches long. The crate had letters on the outside indicating it weighed 1800 pounds. I suspect it weighed more than that for we had no means of weighing it and it was just someone's guess. I had a crew of seven expert turret mechanics. These Marines had been to school on the M48-A1s and had their stuff together. We saw to the loading of the crated fixture and then flew out of Kadena and were on our way.
How anything as big and ugly as a C-130 is able to fly as fast as it does amazes me (400 MPH, plus). Our journey had a stop off at Subic Bay, a naval base in the Philippines. We had to leave part of the plane's cargo there and pick up some more. They unloaded our fixture with a rough terrain fork lift and placed it on the field by the plane. They explained it would be easier to arrange the cargo more evenly on the plane and then reload our equipment last. With the Colonel's words ringing in my ears, I did not let our piece of equipment out of my sight.
The Loadmaster, a Master Sergeant, assured me it would be safely reloaded but I was leery as the cargo space was all but full. I had my misgivings about them even unloading it in the first place. I also wondered if they noted the weight of our fixture for as the fork lift had picked it up and lowered it onto the ramp door the nose wheel of the C-130 came off the ground! The Loadmaster, asked us what in the hell was in the crate and how much it weighed. I pointed out that the weight was clearly marked.
By this time the pilot was on hand. Their solution was to tell me that our fixture would have to wait for another flight which would be scheduled at an indefinite time in the future. That made me mad so I told them to unload some of their equipment. Our fixture was going to a war zone where people were waiting for a critical part. Not only that, I said, as I wrote down every name of everyone in the area, they were making too light of a situation that could cause fighting men in action to experience loss of lives while waiting for someone to find a convenient time to get help to them. I had been in that situation before, myself. My "words" must have worked for soon I was told that there would be a plane to transport us, "even if it was Air Force One." That was the answer I was looking for and we were soon off to Vietnam.
The next few days the men were hard at work in Vietnam. The Commander of A Company came by and asked how much good we had done. I was anxious to show him so I requested that five of the tanks be tested. Just outside the maintenance area there was a tree stump in the river bed. It was six feet high, two feet in diameter and about eight hundred yards out. My men adjusted the sights, which were called the flying geese, and the first shot took a foot off the stump. Each succeeding shot took the stump right down to the sand by degrees. They were delighted and so were my mechanics and myself.
The trip back to Okinawa on another C-130 found us riding with a shipment of fruits and vegetables. There were also body bags filled with Vietnam casualties. The odor of the vegetables and the odor of rotting corpses in the body bags gave off an unforgettable odor. Events such as these are never recorded in history books but live only in the memories of those who served.