Wednesday, May 22, 1968
The increased activity in the Thuong Duc Corridor brought men and equipment to Hill 52. With this movement, there were skirmishes and more fire missions. Across the river in Arizona Territory, the 5th Marines from An Hoa were patrolling by day and setting new perimeters at night. The mobilization south of us was spreading like a spiderweb.
In the afternoon, a squad-sized party of Grunts worked below the mess hall. They were reinforcing the perimeter wire. I filled a thermal container with our Rainbow Jello and carried it down to them, and started a conversation with the squad leader. I’d seen him before and knew he was a machine gunner. He was getting short and only had a month left before leaving for CONUS. He spent some time showing me how to tighten loose wire . . . it was tricky work, and he wore special protective gloves. I learned how to set up illumination flares and attach tripwires.
A Marine came over to refresh himself with the Jello cubes, and I realized he was Lance Corporal Murphy. * He had served on mess duty back in January before TET and had taught us how to sharpen knives. He took a handful of Jello and went back to where he had been working. I could tell something wasn’t quite right and asked the squad leader about it. He said, “Yeah, Murph’s been real quiet and doesn’t talk much.”
I got permission to talk with Murphy and asked how things were going. He said, “It don’t mean nothing.” I questioned, “What means nothing?” He looked all around and said, “All of this is crap!” It was as if the young energized kid I knew was gone. This 20-year-old Marine had spiraled into a dark place . . . I wanted to help but didn’t know how.
The exchange with Murphy was troubling. The issue was called combat fatigue in WWII, and it was obvious Murphy was mentally detached. I made a comment about his condition to the squad leader, and he said, “You stick to cooking Sarge, you got no business with our mentality.” I knew he was right and let it go.
* See previous “Murphy Leaves for India Company” blog (February 15, 1968)
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