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By Joseph Giannini
In Vietnam, there is a green Bamboo Viper. Marines call it "One- Step." It bites. You take one-step. You're dead.
Off The Coast of South Vietnam Aboard The USS Iwo Jima
September 12, 1967
A Marine enters our quarters and says, "Captain Landes wants to speak with Lieutenant Giannini." I walk to the CO's State Room and enter. Stand just inside his open hatchway. He is to my left. Lying belly down in the lower section of a bunk bed. Buck-naked! I stand adjacent to his feet. Trying to stare straight ahead.
He turns his head and speaks over his right shoulder. "Lieutenant, you have an image around here of being Peck's Bad Boy. A kid. Not serious." This is not a conversation. I am demeaned by his naked words. He goes on, "You are too close to your men. I'm concerned about you making the right decisions when their lives are at stake. I'm thinking about relieving you. That's all Lieutenant." Without a word, I leave. He has misjudged me. Or this is payback because he knows I hate him?
Four days later, in the dark just before dawn, we Chopper west to begin Operation Freemont, in Quang Tri Province. The northern most province in South Vietnam. As we come into the LZ, rounds ping against our CH-34 Choppers. We jump out. Run. Form a perimeter. Start setting in, on the west side of a small river. Across is a large village bordered by a thick strand of bamboo trees. The village is eerily quiet. No signs of life. This isn't good.
Mid afternoon, Captain Landes radios down to me. He tells me to meet him. He's on the small hill, overlooking the river and the village. I walk over and up. Stand on his left. We're facing east. A clear view in front of us. As Landes begins to speak, a lone woman comes out of the bamboo across the river. She begins walking across a narrow strip of white sand. Toward the river's edge. She's in peasant black. Wearing a straw hat. Carrying, on a long stick across her shoulders, two empty water cans. One on each side of the stick.
"Lieutenant, I have a mission for your platoon. Tomorrow morning our battalion is crossing this river. At 0500, take Bravo One down river one mile. Provide left flank security."
The woman is now squatting down at the river's edge. About 50 meters to our right front. Beginning to fill the water cans. POW! A shot from the bamboo thicket to our lower right. Impacts in the water near her left shoulder. She doesn't react. Continues filling a can with water.
Landes shouts down to Marines set in the bamboo to our right. "What's going on down there?"
An unseen Marine in the bamboo yells up, "There's a VC across the river."
I say to Landes, "That's no VC. It's just a woman."
Landes ignores me. Responds to the Marine, "If it's VC kill it."
POW! POW! POW! Rounds impact near her. She stands with the filled water cans.POW! POW! Turns and begins to step. POW! WACK! A round hits her center back. She falls forward into the white sand. Cans empty beside her.
Without a word, I turn and walk away from Captain Landes. I think to myself. I'm losing my humanity. My heart and soul mostly black. I have to hold on. Protect what remains. Can I?
Off the coast of South Vietnam Aboard the USS Iwo Jima
From a letter to my sister
September 29, 1967
"... This fighting to save face and stop Asian communism is bullshit. I don't give a damn about these Asians. Losing American boys to protect them is tragic..."
"... This is a mess over here. I just can't make myself believe we have a good cause..."
"... Flo, I hate being away. I hate everything I'm doing and seeing. I'm getting by but I feel like I'm being skinned alive. I'm losing something out here. I just hope it returns when I leave this place. I wouldn't mind carrying such a heavy burden if I could believe in what we are doing.
Well enough complaining. I'll end now, write again soon. You're still my best friend.
Joseph Giannini enlisted in the USMC in 1966. He is a "Mustang," a Marine that rose through the ranks, from Private to Captain. He served in Vietnam with the First Battalion, Third Marines, also known as "The Home of The Brave."