Forged in Fire

WHEN BILL WEISE WAS A THIRTY-YEAR-OLD CAPTAIN, HE was greeted by his new battalion commander with the unwelcome news that the colonel planned to use him as his logistics officer. Weise replied that he was more interested in the battalion’s vacant rifle company commander billet. “Colonel,” he said, “I can out run, fight, fuck, or fart anybody that you have in mind for that job.”

Wild Bill Weise got the job. Weise was from a working-class neighborhood in Philadelphia, where his father, who had been a doughboy in France, was a coppersmith at the Navy Yard. Weise attended college on an academic scholarship, and graduated in 1951 with a degree in political science. His plans for law school were put on hold by the Korean War, however. Where Weise came from, service to the nation was expected; it wasn’t an issue. His older brother had been in the Navy in World War II, and his younger brother, who later became an Episcopal priest, was an Army infantryman headed for Korea himself.

Weise allowed himself to be drafted. When volunteers for the Marines were sought at the induction center, he made a spur-of-the-moment decision to do his two years with the best. The next stop for Private Weise, in October 1951, was the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island, South Carolina, where he was selected for officer training. Weise was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1952, and upon graduation from The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia, in 1953, was assigned to the 3d Marine Division at Camp Pendelton, California. Because he finished in the top 10 percent of his Basic class, he was awarded a regular commission.

Lieutenant Weise began his twelve-month Korea tour in July 1953 with the weapons platoon of G/3/5, 1st Marine Division. His baptism of fire came during the last three weeks of the war. There were daily shellings on the battalion line, and numerous Chinese attacks against their outposts in which Weise helped direct supporting arms. Weise’s Wild Bill nickname originated in Korea: He loved demolitions, and used TNT instead of an entrenching tool. He also found that he loved being out with the troops. By the time he rotated stateside after serving as a mortar section leader, rifle platoon commander, and company executive officer, he knew he was in for the long haul.

After the Korean War, Weise married and had two daughters and a son, who became a doctor. Weise served three years at The Basic School and Education Center at Quantico, during which time he was promoted to captain and underwent Army Ranger training at Fort Benning, Georgia, and attended the supply officer course at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He was then sidetracked into several supply billets at Camp Pendelton—until 1959, when he got out of more logistics duty with his run-fight-fuck-or-fart proclamation. The battalion commander instead gave him command of F/2/1, 1st Marine Division. Weise truly earned the Wild Bill sobriquet with Foxtrot Company. He ran the men hard every morning, and, taking his cue from the Army Rangers, he emphasized night operations, long marches, and the desirability of taking unconventional approaches through rough terrain that the enemy was unlikely to strongly defend. One night, during a regimental field exercise, Weise used what had been considered an impassable deer trail to move his entire company into the opposing force’s rear. Their surprise was total.

After the battalion rotated to Okinawa, Weise finished his tour with it as an assistant operations officer. From there, the play-hard, drink-hard, train-hard Captain Weise moved to the super gung-ho world of Marine Recon. He served with the 1st Force Reconnaissance Company at Camp Pendelton in 1960-62, a tour that included airborne and scuba training and attendance at the Special Warfare Officers’ School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Wild Bill was part of the team that developed a method for submarines to recover recon teams from hostile shorelines without having to expose themselves by surfacing. The procedure involved swimming out five thousand meters from shore at night, signaling the sub with an aquahorn, then using a scuba bottle to run a line down from the periscope to the forward escape drop, which each man would then swim down to lock into the sub. It was exciting and risky stuff, as was Weise’s participation in the first night carrier launch of recon parachutists in the Navy’s largest twin-engined bomber, and his team’s free-fall parachute jump through the bomb-bay doors.

Weise made major during a 1962-65 tour as the Inspector-Instructor, 3d Force Reconnaissance Company, USMC Reserve, in Mobile, Alabama. In 1965-66, he attended the Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He was then assigned as an adviser to the Republic of Korea Marine Corps via the U.S. Naval Advisory Group, Korea.

As earlier described, newly promoted Lieutenant Colonel Weise’s Vietnam tour began in October 1967 with his surprise assignment as commander of 2/4 following Operation Kingfisher. The battalion was down to about three hundred effectives, one-third the battalion’s normal wartime strength. The NVA had gutted it. Weise knew the wounded lieutenant colonel he replaced to be an intelligent, brave, and conscientious Marine officer. The problem, as Weise saw it, was that the battalion, having fought the VC down south for so long, had been afforded no time to adapt to facing the NVA when it came north. Operation Kingfisher had been the battalion’s first campaign on the DMZ, and its tempo had been intense.

Captain James Williams, then the battalion’s assistant operations officer, was Weise’s touchstone to what had gone before. Williams participated only in the tail end of Operation Kingfisher, but from what he had seen, it had been “an absolute abomination. There was no security. There was poor light discipline. The battalion wasn’t doing the simplest things that you learn in school, like flank security, or observation posts, or putting out listening posts at night far enough where they can do something. It was a real mess.”

The 2d Battalion, 4th Marines, had joined Operation Kingfisher from Camp Evans on 11 September 1967, and initially served as the 9th Marines’ roving battalion outside Con Thien. The battalion was shelled every day from the DMZ. On 21 September 1967, it was ambushed by entrenched NVA and, despite a lot of courage and firepower (the battalion claimed thirty-nine confirmed kills), the Marines were forced to withdraw at dusk with 16 KIA and 118 WIA. Fifteen of those dead Marines had not been recovered. The battalion then defended a bridge on Route 561 in Leatherneck Square. The NVA attacked after midnight on 14 October 1967, probing first against H Company. Repelled there, the NVA used tear gas and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) to breach G Company’s sector. The fighting was hand to hand, and individual Marine heroism was again stunning, but the NVA killed the company commander, forward observer, and three platoon commanders. Two of those dead lieutenants had joined the unit only that morning. The assistant operations officer, sent to take command of G Company, was killed before he could reach it. The NVA fought to within hand-grenade range of the battalion CP. The battalion medical chief was killed, and the fire support coordinator, headquarters commandant, forward air controller, and battalion sergeant major were wounded before the NVA were pushed out by E and F Companies. The NVA left twenty-four bodies, but the battalion suffered twenty-one KIA and twenty-three WIA in what became known as the Battle of Bastards’ Bridge.

The battalion was withdrawn to regimental reserve at the DHCB to recover from the debacle. It was at that point that Captain Williams left 3d Recon at Khe Sanh and joined 2/4 as the new assistant operations officer. Soon thereafter, 2/4 participated in the final phase of Operation Kingfisher, a sweep on the west side of Route 561 with 3/3 in blocking positions at Bastards’ Bridge. The battalion commander gave his assembled officers a pep talk the day before the sweep commenced. After telling them that “the S-three shop will brief you on the details,” the colonel left the tent, leaving Williams and his boss gaping in astonishment. Neither man had any knowledge whatsoever of the operation, but having been pointed in the general direction, they made up the order of march, et cetera, as they went along. They were not going to embarrass the colonel.

Afterward, though, Williams confronted the S3: “What the hell? We’re going on a big operation and we don’t know anything more than that? The colonel told the troops that we would brief them on the details!”

“Well, that’s the way it goes,” the S3 replied with a shrug. “We usually just kind of wing it around here.…”

There was no contact on the first day of the sweep, 25 October 1967, but, given the nature of the area, the battalion commander asked for an emergency ammunition drop at dusk. He knew that the helicopters would reveal their position, but he took the calculated risk that once resupplied they could move on to their first night’s objective before the NVA could respond. Unfortunately, more ammunition was delivered than requested, and the battalion, unable to carry it all, was forced to squat in place. The situation was made worse after dark by battle-rattled Marines who imagined themselves being overrun by every shadow, and who popped flares accordingly. The illumination pinpointed them, and ten artillery rounds crashed in shortly before midnight, wounding the battalion commander and killing his executive officer.

The regimental operations officer took temporary command of the battalion. The next day, following several sharp contacts, 2/4 got into a firefight with 3/3 as it moved into the area to reinforce the embattled Bastards. The battalion battened down for the night, intermixed and uncoordinated with 3/3, while taking casualties from NVA shellings and probes. After the NVA pulled back, Williams suggested to the interim battalion commander that, since their lines were so screwed up, word be passed for everyone to hunker down and anything that moved be considered enemy and shot on sight. No sooner had the directive been issued than one of 2/4’s company commanders began acting irrationally. He was scared, really scared, and Williams was directed to relieve the man. Unclear as to the company’s exact position, and expecting to be shot by his own side, Williams crawled around, whispering the password like a mantra until he found the fighting hole occupied by the company command group.

In the morning, having lost eight men killed and forty-five wounded in the previous two days (they reported nineteen NVA kills), 2/4 was ordered to move to Charlie 2, and then on to Cam Lo. Williams was still an acting company commander during the withdrawal when they found a dead Marine from 3/3. They brought the man’s body out with them in a poncho. It took six Marines to carry the corpse; it was so hot that another team of six had to spell them every few minutes. Along the way, they encountered a company from 3/3 and an indignant captain who snapped, “Hey, that’s my Marine! We take care of our own guys—give him to us!” Angered by the officer’s brusque, unthanking tone, Williams shot back, “You left him out there. We brought him this far, so we’ll carry him the rest of the way. Fuck you!” When the captain responded by taking a swing at him, Williams countered the blow and their first sergeants jumped in to pull the two skippers apart. It was a fitting, self-defeating end to the operation.

We are really fucked up, Williams thought.

The next day, 28 October, the 2d Battalion, 4th Marines, moved back to the DHCB, where Lieutenant Colonel Weise joined them later in the day. He arrived with the new battalion exec, Maj. Charles W. “Chuck” Knapp, who was new to Weise as well but who would soon prove to be a cornerstone in his rebuilding efforts. Knapp had been an enlisted man in World War II and a junior officer in Korea. According to Weise, Knapp was “very intelligent” and had a “quiet, unassuming manner, but was tough and could raise the roof when necessary. He seemed to have the answers to questions before they were asked, and solved problems before others knew they existed.”

After giving the battalion priority on replacements, division headquarters also greatly facilitated Weise’s reconstruction plan by moving 2/4 into defensive positions around the Ai Tu airfield north of Quang Tri City. The war there was with the Viet Cong. Officially, 2/4 was participating in Operation Osceola, with the mission of constant patrolling to the depth of enemy rocket range on the airfield complex. Unofficially, the operation was a time-out for Weise to absorb replacements, establish his leadership, and train his battalion in a hostile but low-intensity environment.

At Ai Tu, Weise put Captain Williams in charge of their company-at-a-time training program, in which marksmanship, camouflage, and basic patrolling and security techniques were stressed. They practiced crossing streams with ropes at unlikely, seemingly unfordable spots. They learned to move into villages through the hedgerows in order to avoid the booby traps and ambushes that covered the trails where the going was easier. They conducted live-fire, fire-and-maneuver exercises against mock enemy positions. There was the usual Weise emphasis on night work, and on properly briefing and debriefing each patrol. Weise dictated that machine gunners were no longer to be used as automatic riflemen with the assault squads. A good M60 gunner, he said, could put well-aimed fire on visible targets up to two thousand meters away; furthermore, by squeezing off three-round bursts instead of letting the weapon run away on full automatic, a gunner could keep the barrel from burning out while keeping his fire on target. “When I first took over the battalion, the guys weren’t carrying their tripods,” Weise commented. “They were shooting John Wayne-style with a bipod or from the hip. We had to kick ass on that one. I threatened to relieve one company commander if he didn’t get the tripods back on his machine guns. It was a matter of getting back to the basics in a lot of things, just requiring them to do what most of them already knew how to do.”

Lieutenant Colonel Weise was a crew-cut, tough-as-nails cigar chewer who had his initials tattooed on his left forearm. That had been done with a needle and coal dust when he was twelve. He was a big man who came on strong and could get pretty boisterous when angry. Captain Williams, who was given command of H Company a month after Weise’s arrival, was skeptical of the new battalion commander:

We were really gunshy of Weise because our impression was that he was a hip-shooter. He would see something wrong and he wouldn’t investigate—he’d just take immediate, instantaneous action, and sometimes it was wrong. He made hasty judgments of his commanders. That was because he was under so much pressure to shape us up, and he was pushing real hard to overcome all this inertia that the battalion had built up. What he was doing was gaining a strong, firm control to compensate for the previous total lack of leadership from battalion level. We didn’t fight him, but we company commanders looked askance sometimes and we grumbled to each other.

Although their troops needed physical conditioning, Williams was initially unimpressed when Weise ordered the companies to conduct physical training (PT) at Ai Tu:

We company commanders thought the idea of doing PT in a battle zone and running in cadence with company formations was a little much. Admittedly we were in a kind of rear area, but we were certainly within range of artillery and rockets. We thought it was hokey and not very tactical, not very safe, but we came around. We never did take any incoming, and it did get us back to thinking like Marines again. Gradually, Weise got our confidence and we found out he was maybe a little flamboyant and hot-doggy, but he had the substance to go with it.

During the two months the battalion spent at Ai Tu, 2/4 lost six KIA and seventy-eight WIA against seventeen confirmed kills, forty probable kills, and two prisoners. The battalion’s command chronology spoke of the decrease in contacts and booby-trap incidents that corresponded with 2/4’s familiarization with the terrain and the enemy, and noted that “newly arrived unit leaders and troopers alike received invaluable training and experience from the numerous small-unit operations. A steady improvement in the tactical employment of units was evident.”

After the Magnificent Bastards were relieved at Ai Tu, stage two of their rebirth began on 6 January 1968 when the battalion disembarked at Subic Bay in the Philippines for seven days of training, liberty, and refurbishment. The battalion, newly redesignated as BLT 2/4, was brought up to full strength, and old weapons and equipment were rehabilitated or replaced.

It was a shiny battalion that sailed back to I Corps and the 1968 Tet Offensive, and it was on that brutal proving ground that even the most skeptical became Weise converts. “He did the right things,” said Williams. It was that simple. The commander of the battalion’s Headquarters & Service (H&S) Company, 1st Lt. Edward S. “Ted” Dawson, a Korean War veteran and ex-master sergeant, considered Weise exceptional in his ability to develop initiative in his subordinates by issuing mission-type orders and keeping abreast of progress without over-supervising. According to Dawson:

Bill Weise didn’t feel that he had to have the last word on everything. That’s true leadership. Never once did Weise approach me and say, “This is the way we’re going to do it, and that’s the bottom line.” He said, “We need to do such-and-such. I want you to come up with a concept and get back to me.” After being there awhile, it was, “Take care of it.” When you have the reins let loose that far, you do the very best job you can. Weise, as well as Knapp and Warren, were prepared to explain in detail, without criticism, when they disagreed with an idea. In a combat situation, it’s easy to say, “No, we’re not going to do it that way, we’re going to do it this way,” and just carry on. But a couple minutes dedicated to recognizing an individual’s idea shows that the commander is not a demigod, but one who is interested in what you have to offer. A positive outlook is contagious, and I would have moved heaven and earth to accomplish any task that Bill Weise gave me.

“I thought commanders who flew in helicopters while their troops were in a fírefíght were assholes,” said Weise. “You have to go where the action is to find out what’s going on.”

Lieutenant Colonel Weise, at thirty-nine, did just that. Wearing helmet and flak jacket, he carried an M16 rifle and six magazines, a compass, and a map case, and had his binocular case taped to the left side of his flak jacket. He also shouldered a small rucksack in which he toted his toothbrush, shaving gear, an extra pair of socks, and his poncho. He did not wear his rank insignia in forward areas, and he ordered all other shiny objects removed. Rings were worn around the neck, and watches carried in pockets or kept covered. As to a commander’s fire-drawing circle of radiomen, Weise commented, “It’s hard to disguise a PRC-25 radio, but we usually used the short antenna and kept spread out.”

Lieutenant Colonel Weise, who was wounded three times in his six months with the Magnificent Bastards, was usually side by side with Big John Malnar, his six-foot-three-inch, shotgun-toting battalion sergeant major. No man in the battalion had more combat experience than Malnar, and no man was closer to the colonel. Like Weise, Malnar came from a hardscrabble background. He grew up in Sawyerville, Illinois, and enlisted in the Marines three weeks after his seventeenth birthday in 1943. He saw action as a tank crewman and infantryman on Saipan, Tinian, and Okinawa, where his older brother was killed.

Malnar barely survived his next war, Korea, where as a sergeant and squad leader in G/3/1 in September 1950 he landed at Inchon. He was awarded a Bronze Star on D day for cutting a path through a barbed-wire obstacle despite enemy fire that killed the man who was with him. Two days later he earned the Silver Star when he climbed atop a tank and, with enemy fire bouncing off the armor around him, put its external .50-caliber machine gun to lethal use on a North Korean machine-gun crew. Just eight days after that, Malnar got another Bronze Star when his patrol took fire while passing under a railroad trestle on the outskirts of Seoul; he used a Browning automatic rifle to cover the recovery of their wounded even though he was shot five times in the leg and had one of his testicles blown away.

Sergeant Major Malnar, who was hit two more times in Vietnam at the age of forty-one, had to wear a two-inch sole on his custom-made, all-leather boot to compensate for the bone he lost in his wounded leg. The mask he wore during their long, hard humps across those paddies and sand dunes could not completely conceal that his leg was hurting, but he never complained.

Sergeant Major Malnar had volunteered for duty in Vietnam. He never married. The Marine Corps was his whole world, and he was the kind of loyal, tough, battle-wise sergeant major a battalion commander had to love. Malnar got things done. He was a strong, forceful taskmaster. He was a sounding board. He was a fatherly counselor. He was a provider of impossible-to-find bennies, thanks to that unique network of senior noncommissioned officers that extended through battalion, regiment, and division, and all the way to the III Marine Amphibious Force (MAF) in Da Nang. Malnar had the reputation of being a gruff sonofabitch. He was not, nor should he have been, a buddy to any of the junior enlisted men, and he viewed lieutenants and captains as part of the necessary rabble. “He tolerated us captains,” remembered one officer. “Occasionally, if he remembered, he’d say ‘sir.’”

In rebuilding BLT 2/4 Lieutenant Colonel Weise had one other godsend in addition to the service of men such as Big John Malnar: The battalion was always employed just within its growing capabilities. Each operation required more than the last, but with a constant emphasis on lessons learned, it became that much more able. “We were just a really aggressive outfit, and the initiative was ours,” said Captain Williams. “Other units were always waiting for the enemy to do something. With us it was exactly the opposite. We were doing it to them. You have to put the credit right at the top. I witnessed this extraordinary evolution of a battalion that was on its ass in proficiency, morale, esprit, and discipline—the four indicators of leadership—as Weise turned it into probably the finest fighting outfit in Vietnam.”

Weise’s tactical right-hand man was his S3, Major Warren, a positive and personable Marine who was “gung-ho in a clean-cut sort of way.” Prematurely graying at thirty-five, Fritz Warren was one of fourteen children from a low-income Catholic family in Jacksonville, Florida. He had come to the Marine Corps via Parris Island at seventeen, after dropping out of high school and forging his parents’ names to the enlistment papers in a patriotic flush at the beginning of the Korean War. He never made it to Korea, but he did make sergeant and earn an appointment to the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland.

Warren graduated in the Class of 1957; one of his early assignments was as Wild Bill’s exec during the gung-ho F/2/1 days. They impressed each other enough that when they next crossed paths in December 1967, when Warren was assistant S3 of SLF Alpha and assisting 2/4’s conversion to BLT status, Weise instantly asked him to come aboard when his six months of shipboard staff duty were up. The S3 Weise had inherited from Operation Kingfisher was too inexperienced. Warren was the only officer Weise asked for by name and was able to get. “Warren was an unusually talented operations officer,” Weise wrote. “He could keep a dozen balls in the air and react swiftly to the changing tides of combat. A man of very high morals, he was also very brave.”

Because he did not join BLT 2/4 until 19 February 1968, Major Warren missed the battalion’s first two landings. Operations Ballistic Armor and Fortress Attack (22-31 January 1968) were fallow affairs, however, with only five friendly injuries and a dozen confirmed or probable kills. During the Tet Offensive in February, BLT 2/4 was opcon to the 4th Marines on Operation Lancaster II north of Camp Carroll. There it started running into NVA platoons, and during the month lost ten dead and ninety-eight wounded against thirty-five confirmed kills.

The tempo picked up again when BLT 2/4 was placed under the operational control of Colonel Hull’s 3d Marines during Operation Napoleon/Saline. The battalion replaced BLT 3/1 in Mai Xa Chanh West on 5 March. The NVA response was immediate. That night, a mortar and rocket barrage preceded a ground attack that was repulsed with only two Marines seriously wounded. The enemy left behind thirteen bodies. The battalion followed up with a series of successful assaults to clear and reclear the evacuated hamlets above the Cua Viet River on berth sides of Jones Creek.

The number of enemy they killed was impressive, at least until BLT 2/4 hit Lam Xuan East on 12 March. Weise described the engagement as “a fiasco from the start,” and wrote that “Foxtrot was sucked into a preplanned meatgrinder when the point squad chased a few NVA, who had deliberately exposed themselves, into a carefully-prepared fortified ambush.” The NVA held their fire until the Marines were so close that they could not employ supporting arms. “The forward platoon was chewed up trying to extract the point squad, and soon the entire company was involved,” wrote Weise. Eighteen Marines were killed. Golf Company was sent to relieve the pressure, as were elements of Echo and two tanks. The BLT’s attached recon platoon recovered the wounded, while Weise made the decision to break contact and regroup. The dead were left in the ville. “I hated to leave those bodies, even temporarily. It went against everything that Marines stood for, but I couldn’t see killing more of my Marines to pull back Marines who were already dead.”

Following prep fires, Hotel Company provided a feint and then a base of fire from the south, while Echo boarded amtracs to attack from the west across Jones Creek on 13 March. “The amtracs got stuck in the mud,” Weise wrote. “Only Captain Livingston and a few Marines were able to make it across into Lam Xuan East. The remainder of Echo couldn’t get across. I did not want to send Golf or Hotel into the ville from their positions because they would have been exposed to the same murderous enemy fire that chewed up Foxtrot the day before.”

Faced again with tenacious NVA resistance that included mortar, rocket, and artillery fire, and with darkness approaching, Weise again decided to withdraw. Lam Xuan East, thoroughly shattered by air and arty, was not actually secured until 15 March, by which time the enemy had retired with their casualties.

Lieutenant Colonel Weise was tagged by higher command as being unaggressive at Lam Xuan East. “Even though they almost relieved Weise, he did not come down on us company commanders who had made the recommendation to break contact,” said Captain Williams. “Weise could see that it was unjust criticism. It’s easy to sit back at regiment or division and point your finger, but all they were doing was showing their ignorance. If anything, Weise was a little overly aggressive.”

Weise’s vindication came during an 18 March assault on Vinh Quan Thuong. This time, the recon platoon discovered the NVA before a rifle company could be sucked in. Given sufficient time to plan, muster supporting arms, and get into assault positions, BLT 2/4 was able to conduct a coordinated attack with the initiative in its hands and the whole day to get the job done. Echo and Hotel overran Vinh Quan Thuong while Golf Company hit the enemy flank. The NVA were killed in their holes; as the mopping up began, Weise turned to Warren and said with satisfaction, “Well, they can’t say we weren’t aggressive this time.”

BLT 2/4 was credited with killing 474 NVA during the March 1968 battles, while losing the lives of 59 Marines and Navy corpsmen, plus 360 wounded. The tragedy was that, tactical excellence and sheer guts aside, those Americans died in vain. What was required was all-out war against Hanoi, plus pacification operations along the densely populated coast of South Vietnam. The first option, however, was denied by the politics of a limited war; the latter was denied by Gen. William C. Westmoreland’s search-and-destroy strategy. Instead, the 3d Marine Division was forced to squat along a defensive, strong-point-and-barrier system facing the DMZ. This was a battlefield of Hanoi’s choosing, for it pulled the Marines away from the defense and development of the South Vietnamese people. Furthermore, their DMZ sanctuary allowed the NVA to generally pick the time and place of battle. Willing to absorb terrible casualties for the political goal of demoralizing the U.S. home front with a seemingly endless stream of American body bags, the NVA played off the Marines’ superaggressive, storm-the-beach approach to battle. The NVA tactics had the Marines seizing the same hamlets time and time again. Ho Chi Minh’s taunt to the French also applied to the Americans: “You will kill ten of our men and we will kill one of yours, and in the end it will be you who tire of it.”

Actually, a ten-to-one kill ratio may have tilted the war of attrition in the 3d Marine Division’s favor. But such punishment was never actually inflicted, despite such crippling numbers as the 474 NVA kills reported by BLT 2/4 during the hamlet battles. That figure was false, as it turned so-called guesstimates of the damage delivered by supporting arms into confirmed kills. Major Warren considered such manipulations the most distressing part of his duties, and he would later comment that “Weise succumbed to this body count situation in reporting that kind of stuff.” Weise was certainly not alone. As Warren noted in a document prepared two years after his tour and originally classified for internal use only, “the actual operational necessity of survival in a command billet was a suitable body count ratio of enemy to friendly KIAs.” There was, Warren added, intense pressure from regiment “to submit estimates early in a battle when virtually no information was actually available… the early estimates were expected to be revised upwards as the battle progressed.” The result was that regiment “not only allowed but implicitly encouraged their subordinate commanders to become professional liars.”

Whatever career-enhancing juggling was done with the reporting of enemy casualties, the NVA thought well enough of BLT 2/4 to shift their infiltration routes west to the ARVN TAOR around Dong Ha. The Bastards made only infrequent contact during April 1968, usually at night with ambush operations Weise had begun implementing to compensate for the sudden paucity of targets. The lull gave BLT 2/4 time to break in the influx of replacements, and to analyze what had been done right and not so right in its first major campaign under Weise. The result was an updated, Ai Tu-style training schedule out in the sticks at Mai Xa Chanh West.

“People thought Weise must be crazy having us train out there,” Warren noted, although he did not agree. The battalion was surviving, he thought, precisely because of Weise’s exacting standards and unrelenting, train-train-train-to-perfection philosophy. “He believed that his most important responsibility was to make sure not a single life would be lost because the men weren’t properly trained. He never let up. He expected great things of people. He demanded the same things of himself.”

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