Marines honed in U.S. 'jungle'

By Robert R. Brunn

Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Camp Pendleton, Calif. — A squad of sober young marines, about to fly the Pacific and face the Communists in South Vietnam, is finished with advanced training at Camp Pendleton.

Talking to the tense youngsters who face combat, it is apparent they are ready, even if they are not afraid to show uncertainty here at the huge 2d Infantry Training Regiment camp.

One of them, Pvt. Robert W. Miller, admits this.

After a shouting anti-Vietnam-war rally at the University of Pennsylvania, he decided "to walk out of all this and enlist in the marines." An antitank weapons specialist, he left behind a guaranteed full medical scholarship with almost certain deferment from the draft.

He is glad he is on his way across the Pacific as a replacement. He is one of 4,000 to 6,000 marines who go "all the way" each month to fit in slots among the almost 60,000 marines, each allotted one year in combat.

What concerns marines when they are close to combat, naturally, is their Communist opposition.

As they leave the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains, they look toward the trying terrain and the sticky heat of South Vietnam.

Mines examined

Lesson No. 1 for these new marines is the need to overcome a fear of the unknown and not to be surprised by Communist tactics.

Just before the flight to South Vietnam the marine replacements spend hours examining Viet Cong booby traps and crude mines. Several "jungles" are set up at Camp Pendleton. Adroit instructors "just back" explain how to detect these enemy devices.

Sitting in the shade of great California oaks, after going through a session of firing at electronic-controlled "pop-up" targets, the marines are told that "we've never had a war quite like this one."

Sgt. L. Horne, just returned, explains that the tension in South Vietnam is never eased.

Unlike the more "orderly" fighting in Korea in the 1950's, the Viet Cong and regular North Vietnamese soldiers are elusive. They pop in and out of sight, almost always at night.

Maj. William McMillan points out that the marines must drop their armor in the jungle for freedom of movement are often shot at point-blank range, and in turn the marines have no chance to sight their rifles.

During the last days of training, special attention is given to techniques for survival, evasion, resistance to capture by the Communists, and how to avoid capture when separated from the main body of troops.

Marines are turned loose in Camp Pendleton and forced to make their way at night through so-called aggressor hill country, trying to avoid detection.

They are taught to live off the California "jungle."

Officers at Camp Pendleton always seem to have relations with the Vietnam peasants on their mind. Marines are reminded that civic action is as important as engaging the enemy.

Marine officers will repeat, over and over again, that what is basically different in the anti-guerilla war in South Vietnam is the continual presence of peasants.

Maj. Gen. Robert E. Cushman, commandant of this camp, says with emphasis, "These boys must be trained how to help a village get back on its feet."

This leaning is best done in South Vietnam. But from General Cushman on down the Pendleton command tries to orient the marines to the thinking of the peasants, urging them to pick up a few words of the language.

Before the last few days, when the replacements at the 2d Infantry Training Regiment are concentrating on South Vietnam, the new marines usually are learning to shoot.

Executive officer is Lt. Col. William Clark, who explains that the regiment often fires off 200,000 rounds of ammunition daily and another 2,00 pounds of high explosives.

Famous esprit de corps

In a few hours this reporter saw: three black tank hulks blasted by 3.5mm rockets at 325-yard range; M-60 machine guns chattering at targets 800 yards away; and grenades tossed at close-in mounds, using a baseball-pitching movement.

But as combat draws closer with all of its dangers, the fable esprit de corps of the Marine Corps comes to the fore.

Dozens of marines find themselves reassured because they know that they will shove off together for South Vietnam. Loyalty to one another is effective military glue. It has much more meaning to them than such an abstraction as "patriotism."

Esprit de corps has been meddled with in civilian vocabularies and has emerged as a glib term on occasion. Yet among marine officers the phrase is leaned on, and in training at Camp Pendleton they go out of their way not to vulgarize it.

Respect for one another among the marines begins on the awesome boot camp obstacle course in San Diego, when a platoon of recruits will pick up a fatigued buddy and carry him bodily to the finish line.

At Camp Pendleton the marine officers begin to see a moral stamina expressed by the troops, a type of organized individual freedom. At base this is what makes "a marine."

As a final shot this reported walked up to a huddle of marines learning to survive in the Asian jungle. They were asked, "What is a marine?"

Each had his own definition.

Replies: "A tiger!". . . "The best fighting man in the world!". . . "Gun ho! We're all together". . . "We've never been defeated!". . . "A marine and his rifle stick together."

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