Clearly the double negative in the title is a clue to expect a no-nonsense chronicle about the hazardous realities of Vietnam War combat through the eyes of a United States Marine. It Wasn’t Like Nothing: One Marine’s Adventure in Vietnam by Thomas J. Hynes (iUniverse 270 pp., $20.95, paper; $3.49, Kindle) covers the author’s path from enlistment to fighting the Viet Cong and and NVA.
Hynes’s rapid change of venue after graduating from Georgetown Law School in September 1966, then taking the Marine Basic Course and Officer Candidate School and his subsequent assignment to Lima Company, Third Battalion, Fifth Marines near Da Nang all happened in less than a year. 2nd Lt. Hynes even somehow managed to fit in his marriage during a two-week leave.
A Catch 22-like assignment was the new Lieutenant’s introduction to Lima Company. Introducing himself as Captain K, his CO said, “Lieutenant, we have a problem. I already have three platoon commanders, and I don’t have a place to put you except as weapons platoon commander.” Captain K then told Hynes that there wasn’t a weapons platoon. A temporary mortar team was created and Hynes began “learning the hard way.” Talking to experienced members of Lima Company was more valuable than most stateside training.
This OJT often took place during platoon sweeps, patrols, and battalion-wide operations. Calling in artillery strikes and air support requires full knowledge of where your unit is and where the enemy is. “Just as the rifle was the basic tool of the infantryman, the map and compass were the basic tools of the platoon commander,” Hynes writes.
Responding to a firefight, another platoon commander “intentionally called in the mission on top of us. He thought we would get out of there in time and we would catch Charlie sneaking in behind us. He didn’t give us enough time to clear the area before the artillery came in.”
Hynes offers his opinions on the South Vietnamese military and civilians. “We went from village to village,” he writes. “The reaction of the villagers was one of studied indifference. The peasants were caught in the middle of this war. All they wanted was to tend their fields in peace. Regardless of who ruled their country, they had to raise enough crops to survive another year.”
One battle in which a Marine platoon advanced on a treeline responding to small arms fire from Viet Cong inside the forest did so without support from the the ARVN squad they were working with. The Vietnamese later explained, “we do not attack treelines.”
Although the book’s photographs are of poor quality, the author’s descriptions of his platoon’s combat actions are as vivid as any images on film. One such account describes a ground action that could have caused many friendly casualties.
A battalion operation was winding down as two companies were returning to their base camps. Lima Company detected incoming fire from the woodline in front of them and laid down a field of fire into the woods. Delta Company, advancing on the other side of the woods, returned fire toward Lima Company’s position. Miraculously, none of the thousands of rounds fired resulted in friendly fire casualties. The din of rapid firing drowned out cease-fire commands until radio transmissions halted the gunfire.
Operation Swift was among the most critical enemy engagements Second Platoon was involved in during Hyne’s year in country. His report on this series of battles reveals a startling action that had the Marines and their lieutenant thinking about the futility of such operations over a few kilometers of The Que Son Valley.
Official reports often conflicted with what the grunts actually experienced. Lt. Hynes recalled: “I later read the after-action report on the operation, and it was my opinion the official version of Operation Swift was suspect.”
Hynes has written a remarkable personal journal enabling readers to appreciate the work of a group of brave Marines.