The Spirit of Tehachapi
February 18, 2023
Once in a while I like to include one of my husband’s “Tales of the Old Corps.” This one is just a few months after World War II ended. He was shipped from Okinawa to China in 1945. They were called China Marines.
by CWO-4 Doyle D. Gracey, Jr. USMC, Ret.
To gain proficiency in any field of endeavor requires practice and lots of it. I recall being invited to view a night artillery exercise by a Major Brown at 16 Area Impact Zone, Cone Hill, Camp Pendleton. The Major was an artillery man “extraordinaire” and had his men planning and re-planning the firing of 36 rounds of 105 mm Howitzer ammo all day Friday and Saturday.
I knew I was in for a good show and was pleased to have been invited to the night shoot. Brown’s H-6s (a tracked amphibious vehicle that has a 105 gyro stabilized gun on it) were positioned in a triangle, each 1,000 yards apart.
Extreme accuracy was the object of the training. At dusk all three guns were to fire on Brown’s command. They were to shoot all three azimuths and were to produce only one point of light in the coastal sky over Camp Pendleton. Well, the first and second firings produced multiple points of light, but as practice is the name of the game, the next time the Major had them fire I saw one of the best examples of gunnery I had ever seen. All three projectiles exploded at a single point. This feat in gunnery was repeated four more times that evening, each time exploding at an apex. The thirty-six rounds expended served to improve knowledge and performance of our fighting men.
I recall an excellent example of such training back in Tientsin, China in 1945. We were stationed with the 11th Motor Transport.
We had lost an aviator to the 8th Route Communist Army. They had picked him up after he had crashed behind their lines. They were holding him in a mud compound halfway between Tientsin and Peking. They sent an envoy of Chinese into the 3rd Amphibian Corps Headquarters in Tientsin and informed our command that they had the flyer and would return him only if we would supply them with a large amount of money, medicine and food.
We had some pretty good commanders out that way such as General O.P. Smith, General Holland M. (Howlin’ Mad) Smith and General Smedley Butler. They were not in any mood to deal with those Chinese Communists. They sent the envoy back to their mud compound with the message, “No ransom, turn him loose.”
Two days passed and our aviator was still being held. A smaller envoy of Communists showed up with a new demand. They wanted medicine and money; this time, with no mention of food. The Generals agreed that they would not bargain with the Chinese and sent the envoys home empty handed with the same “no deal” message and to stop the blackmailing process and free the flyer.
Another two days went by and the Commies sent two representatives with a request for medicine and money, but in drastically reduced amounts. They were told, once again, to free the aviator this time, by noon the next day or suffer the consequences. At that time the American Forces took all of their field pieces (wheeled artillery guns) that the 11th Marines had and surrounded the compound where the flyer was being held. They ringed the area with the equipment placing them about 2,000 yards from the compound. As the morning wore on there was all sorts of speculation from the men as to what the plan was.
At 11:30 that morning all of the guns around the compound fired one round. This is called firing for registration (they’re putting on what they thought they wanted and then firing. Then, by observing the impact, they could adjust the sights on the field pieces for the next round.). Five minutes later, at 11:35 a.m. everyone adjusted off the previous shot and fired again. This time they raised the sights ever so slightly so that the ring of exploding projectiles were some 50 to 100 years closer to the compound.
At 20 minutes to twelve another salvo (act of firing on unison) and the ring tightened up by another hundred yards. It became apparent to everybody that what we were doing was drawing a tighter circle around the compound. At 11:45 a.m. another salvo and all of the projectiles hit right at the base of the mud wall. We all began to calculate whether the next firing would go into the wall or just over the wall land reducing the compound to rubble - even possibly killing our own man. Extreme circumstances create extreme measures.
The Chinese must have figured out that we meant business because at 11:58 a.m. the big wooden doors of the compound swung open and our aviator was released.
You might call that Artillery Diplomacy. Also, it was a really brilliant display of gunnery to have watched. The responsibility of that decision must have weighed heavily on the Generals Smith and Butler, but it worked.
It puts me in mind of a much used American quote used down through the years that originated with one of our American statesmen, Charles C. Pinckney, from Revolutionary times. He summed up the situation nicely during the difficulties with France in 1797 during the XYZ Affair, when he said, “Million for defense, but not one cent for tribute.”