By Joe Cordileone
PFC Randy McPhee was a giant contradiction. Nobody loved the Marine Corps more than Randy and nobody hated it more than Randy. Although he denied it at the time, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that he was a lifer. In the Corps, he had come home. He wasn’t very big, but he had a huge heart and he wasn’t afraid to fight. He also had a great affinity for getting into trouble.
Randy was funny. He was also a teacher. Although I'm sure the Corps wasn't happy about what he taught. He loved to poke the Corps in the butt. He came to Mike 3/3 in late December ‘66. It was his second tour. He had fought in Operation Starlite in ’65. That was the first major operation the Marine Corps did in Vietnam. When he got to us, after 3 years in the Corps, he was a private. Randy had some difficulty with authority. We knew he had been a corporal at least once and it may have been twice. He was back in the Nam, no doubt, because he would be more likely to get his rank back sooner that way.
Here's a story Randy told me about what happened to him on his 1st tour in Nam. The way we did it in Nam was we would set up a base to operate from out in the field. There was always a perimeter and the different fighting holes were usually connected all the way around the perimeter with a trench. In front of the perimeter was no man’s land, a cleared area with fields of fire set up and in front of that, plenty of barbed wire all around. Sometimes we mined no man’s land as well.
Every night, of course, we stood watch. Often the C.O. or X.O. would walk the lines, making sure the Marines were doing their jobs. This event happened on one of those dark moonless nights when Randy was standing watch at his hole. Randy wasn’t very tall. It just so happened that standing in his hole, just enough of his head and shoulders stuck out so that he could cross his arms on the sandbag in front of him and lay his head down on top of them. It helped him to think he said. What he meant was it helped him to sleep.
The inevitable happened. Randy dozed off while on guard. With his chin resting on his forearms, it was a perfect position to catch 40 winks. Unfortunately, the X.O. was walking the perimeter. He wasn’t walking in the trench. He was out on top, in the open. He moved silently enough that McPhee didn’t stir until the XO was almost literally on top of him. He looked down and saw the young Marine, head down, silent, unmoving, failing to challenge him with a proper “Who goes there.”
"Who's on guard here?" the Lt. asked. No answer.
A little louder he spoke again, "Who's on guard here? Marine, you'd better answer me!"
McPhee, was instantly awake. And instantly he went into action. That was the genius that was McPhee. Without skipping a beat, in a single, lightning quick motion, he popped his head up, shushed the Lt., motioned him to duck down and then put his head back down on the sandbag exactly as it was before the X.O. had come along. Even though it was dark and the X.O. couldn’t tell, Randy even closed his eyes again.
The Lieutenant hit the deck flat. "What is it?" he asked.
McPhee slowly turned his head towards the X.O., opened his eyes again, drew the man just a bit closer and whispered, "Out there, in the wire.”
The X.O. was galvanized and stared into the blackness. As quickly as he could do it without making any noise, he reached down to his holster and pulled out his .45. He was about to chamber a round but McPhee put his hand atop the Lieutenant’s and slowly shook his head. “He’ll hear it. Best to wait and hope you don’t have to do it McPhee said in his stealthiest voice.
“I could hear him crawling under the wire,” he continued. I thought if I pretended to be asleep, I might be able to capture him." Then Randy paused, gave the Lieutenant a disapproving look, and whispered "I hope you didn't scare him away SIR."
The X.O.'s eyes widened. "How many are there?" he asked.
McPhee replied, “It sounds like there’s only one . . . maybe two. He could either be a scout or a suicide sapper. But don’t alert anyone yet Lieutenant. It might only be rats. More likely, he’s probably turned around and nothing is going to happen now.”
The X.O. replied, “Oh . . . Uh . . . Okay. I’m going back to tell the Captain. You send someone back to me with word if anything else happens.”
"Right, sir.” he said softly. “But I think the noise you made was enough to drive him off. I don’t think we’re going to get a prisoner tonight."
Somewhat chagrined, the Lt. crawled away on his stomach.
McPhee went back to sleep.
* * *
Thanks to Joe for this humorous anecdote.
Randy Neal McPhee was subsequently KIA on Hill 881-South on 4/30/1967 with M/3/3.
Over the last few years, Craig Slaughter and I have made a concerted effort to accumulate as many of the USMC archives, specific to 3/3 in RVN, as possible. We’ve been very successful!
(And thanks again to Dick Matthews for his financial support in getting the UDs and MPRs)
Among our collection (in digital format for reproduction in print format) are some 16,000 pages, which include the Monthly Personnel Rosters, the Unit Diary pages, and the Command Chronologies for the entire Battalion.
MPR’s: 3,000 pages
UD’s: 8,000 pages
CC’s: 5,000 pages
There are maybe 4 or 5 pages of the UD’s that were lost back during the VN war, plus 2 months of CC’s that are simply not in the Official Archives. (May 65 and May 66).
Many of you have requested supporting documentation for VA claims, or Purple Hearts that you didn’t receive, and we’ve attempted to get info to you in printed format.
We have scoured the UD’s and have noted each page that your name appears on. The Unit Diaries are NOT a diary as commonly referred to, but rather a Payroll oriented diary that shows when you arrived with 3/3 (and where you came from), when you left and where you were transferred to, when you were not in combat status (R/R, hospitalized, emergency leave), when you were WIA and what Med facility you were evac’d to. Tons of info!
We have just obtained copies of the last 3 (of 6) months of the CC’s currently, (that were not photo’d by the USMC), just in time before they disappeared to NARA.
I’ve been cleaning up the originals, and I’ll print the full set of CC’s (again), and have them at the reunion in Orlando.