Monday, December 22, 2008

The Business End of a Long Rifle

That's the M40A1

It was designed in Quantico for the Marine Corps and was the standard Scout/Sniper weapon. It is a superb weapon. Semi-automatic with a 5 round magazine capacity. Balanced and tooled to exacting tolerances it is a fine tool.

My first use of the M40A1 in combat came at Dong Ap Bai.

Musical Interlude! (look, this shit costs me to think about, much less write about, so bear the fuck with me yo)

Listen to Great Big Sea singing "General Taylor" while you read the rest of this.

When the mortars and rockets ceased after the first assault failed to carry our position, my buddy from boot camp and BUDS, Lynn Barnes (Barney), and I were on top of the command hootch. Barney had the "big eyes" (high power binoculars with an embedded range grid) and was helping me to spot targets.

Our task was clear, we were to identify any person who looked like they were in charge. We looked for brass, for whistles, for pistols, anything that would identify somebody as an officer or senior non-com. We looked for things like standing up in front of a group and waving an arm in the classic "follow me" gesture. While Barney worked the big eyes I was looking through my redfield 3-9X scope. Optics for shooters have gotten a lot better than they were in '67, so has stuff like recoil management and report noise. I must say that for the size and punch of the .308 it was a sweet action to fire. More of a nudge than a punch. There were other, bigger rifles, like the .475 Nitro Express which had a murderous recoil. Murderous to the point of I could only bring three rounds to a target before I began to flinch uncontrollably. The .308, I could fire all fucking day.

In this position, with this task, I was the definition of the calculating and impersonal shooter. I don't have any clear recall of any shots, or any individuals. You have to remember that this was my first big time toe to toe type of action. Everything I had been involved with up to this point had been LRRP patrols where we were trying to avoid contact and confrontation, or ambushes that developed and went by quickly. My adrenaline was up, my pulse was probably racing, I would hear Barney call out the range and clock position of my shot, swing on it, acquire the target and shoot, then I'd move to the next thing he called or the next thing that caught my eye. Barney wasn't calling hit or miss for me either. All I can say with any certainty is that by the time I changed out my fifth five round magazine I burnt the shit out of my hand on the barrel.

I don't know how many "kills" I racked up during that time, as a matter of fact I don't have a clear idea of how long I was up there.

What happened next was that through the scope of my rifle I saw a young officer, classmate from BUDS, and a friend go down. There were two NVA types standing over him. I shot them down. Then I shouted "Barney, Gary's down, gimme the shot gun, a 16 and your pistol, I'm going out there!"

The shotgun carried 8 rounds of 12 gauge magnums loaded with 00 buckshot (it was a standard Browning) in its magazine, plus there was one in the chamber. By the time I got to Gary it was empty so I tossed it and slung the 16 into play. The M16 was on single fire. A convention of the teams was that we seldom had our weapons (except for weapons like the BAR and the M60) on full auto. Too often we were out of sight lines with each other and hearing auto fire was a clue that probably the source wasn't one of us. Also, we knew by this time that the chances of our being resupplied were somewhere in the unforeseeable future. Making it to a foreseeable future meant conserving ammunition. I also never did the John Wayne hipshot kind of crap. I brought shit up to my shoulder and aimed with ruthless intent. Again, I don't have any clear recollection of body count or anything else. That wasn't what was important to me. I would guess that anybody I perceived as being between me and my friend was down and bleeding.

By the time I reached Gary the 16 was finished too, it was chucked. Using Barney's .45 Colt first, since it was tucked into my waistband and not in a holster I made it the rest of the way to my friend, I ignored his yelling at me for putting myself at risk to save him and scooped him up in a classic "fireman's carry" and lit a shuck for where our lines had been redrawn. I just fucking ran.

I jumped the berm and laid Gary down. I did the best I could with his injuries which were grave. I was trying to stem the bleeding from his legs and his right arm. I also had to stop and shoot some assholes which got to close to us from time to time. By this time though, Barney showed up with Master Chief Norr and a couple of Marine corpsmen. They took charge of Gary while Barney and Master Chief tried to get me to breathe and calm down and shit.

Master Chief Norr said "You are one ringtailed motherfucker aren't you Tonto?" I puked. He said "Don't worry, that's just nerves. I was on my way to pull you off that hootch when I saw you jump." He pointed to the smoking heap of rubble that had been our TOC. He said "Charlie didn't much care for the toll you were taking and I figured they'd be laying some shit on top of you."

This was an illustration of a correct and tactical use of a sniper in a combat action. While the assault was being made, identifying and eliminating those who appear to be in immediate command and control can absolutely disrupt unit cohesion and even the will to continue among the enemy.

In this case, indeed I was aloof and impersonal. Usually though, with the long rifle, the only way to get more personal is to use a knife.