Independence Day of 2008 brought forth an entry in the Guestbook of my Web Site from a Marine who had been a Recruit in MCRD Parris Island, SC, Second Battalion, Company "K" when I was Company Commander in 1965.

 

Name: Jim Schwartz   
Country: USADate: Fri Jul 4 22:16:31 2008  
Comment: Hello, Captain Cathcart -

I was right guide of Platoon 214 in 1965.  Sgt A. R. Cowan, senior drill instructor.  Got my wings and commission March 28, 1967.   Flew H-34's with Dave Veazy in HMM-363 in 1968.

Have never forgotten your Elliot's beach flyover!!!! MOTIVATION +++!!!!!

Semper Fi - Jim Schwartz, your own personal Schwartz! LOL

BTW, you were the best rifle inspector I ever had to present to. Noo  s**t!!
 

Forty-three years had passed since Platoon 214 of 1965 graduated from Boot Camp at Parris Island, SC.  My mind still holds images and remembers events during my time in the Recruit Training Regiment.  I remember that his Drill Instructor Cowan was stuck in the grade of E-4 Sergeant and his career stymied by the required test for the new pay grade structure in the Marine Corps.  I recommended Sgt E-4 Cowan be promoted to Sergeant E-5 soon after I took over K company.  Cowan was a superior DI and many promotions and career advancements followed Cowan's first Meritorious Promotion.

I remembered Private Schwartz as Right Guide for Platoon 214 because of a couple of events which made him stand out to me as his Company Commander.  One vivid memory is the day of Battalion Rifle Inspection when I was scheduled as an inspector.  Normally the senior DIs and the junior officers were the inspectors.  I suspected the Battalion C.O., Lt. Colonel Russ, wanted to see if his new aviator captain could even handle a rifle, let alone inspect one.  I had not inspected rifles for several years but being a graduate of boot camp myself, then a cadet company commander and later a squadron training officer-I had practiced inspecting rifles until it was perfected, albeit flamboyantly baton-like and noisy.

Platoon 214 was the platoon I was to inspect.  Sergeant Cowan saluted when I arrived at the platoon and reported, "Sir.  Platoon two-fourteen ready for Rifle Inspection, Sir."  I responded, "Very well.  Proceed me in the inspection."

I stepped to the first recruit in the first squad who was the Right Guide, halted, and did a left face toward the recruit.  He was a sturdy built, confident looking, handsome, about six foot tall, light haired specimen.  The recruit brought his rifle up to port arms, opened the bolt, bobbed his head down to check the chamber and then was ready for my inspection.  His manual of arms and the rifle presentation were perfect.  I looked at his eyes and slammed the heel of my right hand upward into the upper stock of the M-14.  The recruit had locked his arms, hands and fingers in a death grip on the rifle.  His whole body moved upward an inch or two.  He still had the rifle. I said, "What is your name private?"

The private shouted, "SIR!  PRIVATE SCHWARTZ, SIR!"

This was a prank on the part of the DIs, I thought.  They had the Right Guide deliberately hang onto his rifle to see what my reaction would be and how I would handle the situation.  I quietly instructed Private Schwartz that he was to release the rifle the split second my hand touched the stock and that he had better be quick to let go.  I had Schwartz return the weapon to Order Arms and go through Inspection Arms properly.

I felt certain the recruit had been following orders when he hung on to the rifle because on the second try, my hand came up [at what I wanted to be the speed of light] and when the heel of my hand "whammed" into the stock, the M-14 shot up a foot above our heads, rotated left and turned upright as it landed in the palm of my left hand receiver up for my inspection.  I checked the receiver, banged the butt downward, inspected the bore, banged and rotated the rifle back to horizontal, looked closely at the trigger housing area, banged and rotated the butt up and after a cursory look, banged and rotated the rifle a couple of turns winding up with the M-14 in position for acceptance by Schwartz.  Inspecting a rifle was a chance for me to show off.  Trying to find rust or dirt was not important. Private Schwartz became permanently imbedded in my memory bank.

First Lieutenant Put Preston was the Series Commander of the four platoons that included 214.  As Company Commander I divided my time between Put Preston and his Series and the other two Series under 1/Lt Burl Terrill and 1/Lt J.D. Hunley.  Burl, J.D. and I were all fairly new learning the SOP for Recruit Training and supervising the hell-raising leadership of the DI's.  So, I got to see all the recruits frequently.  The guides and squad leaders were always in front of the others and under more scrutiny than they wanted.  1/Lt Put Preston's Series were the first platoons to get aircraft participation in the overnight bivouac at Elliot's Beach.  I borrowed an F-8 Crusader from one of the four fighter squadrons at nearby MCAS Beaufort, SC.  The single F-8 was enough to introduce the recruits to modern tactical aircraft noise and action.  I generously used the afterburner in low passes over the recruit tents for about an hour.

As the only aviator in Second Recruit Training Battalion, it was my duty to screen all qualified applicants for flight school.  Certainly Private Schwartz was given my spiel on Marine Pilot expectations.  I started the interview by asking if the applicant had any qualms about dying for his Country.  I advised him that he would face death on a daily basis flying modern tactical aircraft.  I stressed that pilots received hazardous duty pay and not flight pay.  Flying was hazardous to pilots health all the time and when in combat the chances of dying in the aircraft were at least quadrupled. Most of the applicants went on to flight school but knew what to expect.

I returned from Vietnam in December 1967 and passed through the MCAS El Toro Reception Center where rotating pilots and support personnel were processed in and out to and from Vietnam.  A young lieutenant aviator came up to me and asked if my name was Donald Cathcart.  I told him "Yes."

The pilot told me that I had interviewed him and recommended him for flight school when he was a recruit at Parris Island.  He said, "I have been assigned to H-34 helicopters and am leaving for Vietnam today."  I thought about all the times I had told the applicants how they would face death on every flight and explained their excellent chances of dying for their country.  There I was face to face with the young helo pilot going into the meat grinder of Vietnam.  I figured he had about a 50/50 chance of returning alive from his tour.  He could have been Jim Schwartz.  I shook his hand and wished him well with my best smile and a look of optimism.

Jim Schwartz was at Disney World within a couple of months after his entry in my Guestbook.  We got together.  Below is a picture taken during Jim's visit.  Forty three years have elapsed and both Marine Aviators have cheated the Grim Reaper longer than we thought possible.  Jim also took a picture of my license plate. 

   

Jim and I took 4 of my hand guns and went to the Shoot Straight Pistol Parlor.  We fired 500 rounds of .38 special, .45 and 9 mm  ammo. The groups were tight and in the kill zone of the torso targets.

Jim told me of his combat experiences in Vietnam.  He was fortunate to escape death or serious injury during his H-34 combat missions and especially during the NVA shelling of Khe Sahn and other fire bases and LZs Jim flew into. Here is a TINS that can be appreciated by a shaved headed grunt.  A Southeast Asia mandatory life or death extraction.  This tale was told to me by my long time acquaintance as only a 'rotorhead' would tell it.

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This is a "Sea Story" as opposed to "Fairy Tale," This is a bonafied no-shit saga! 
 
Don't remember the day or date, but it was the Evacuation of Khe Sahn, late morning, if I remember right.  Don't remember my crew's or copilot's names either.  Weather was good.  It was a very "hot" mission as was the actual temperature.
 
This was a multi squadron effort.  The object was to get the grunts out ASAP before the gooks decided to overrun the place.  At that point, they could have called that one if they weren't flocking with the 26th Marines.  But, even they could have only done so much as their numbers dwindled rapidly throughout the evacuation effort.
 
I flew a couple of loads of Marines out, and when I came back, there I was - on pax perch and only 4 Marines left,  a 2nd Lt [why I don't know], a radio operator, an M-60 machine gunner and his assistant.  Needless to say, I felt a little intimidated, but what the Hell, over.  I'm a Marine Helicopter Aircraft Commander.  A HAC!  I am the best pilot in the world, ever, the Ace of the Base, and all that hype.  LMFAO looking back, but scared shitless at the time.  Here I was, my turn to fly into the mouth of the Doom Pussy!  Flock that crap! I have always loved pussy, but never the doom variety.  Let  me out of here!!
 
Those thoughts all occurred in the first couple of nanoseconds.  Then I got really frightened for one of the very few times in my life.
 
I knew the gooks had the last 4 Marines zeroed in with arty from several positions in an almost 240 degree arc--almost surrounded.  We still held the arty hills, 881a & b & 882, so I decided to drop down behind them and start a very high speed and very low level run.
 
The runway at Khe Sahn is 9 - 27.  The grunts were huddled down in the trench that paralleled the north side of the runway and about 10 yards from it.
 
I radioed the grunts that I would land right in front of them, and they had 3 seconds to get aboard or they were going to be POWs.  I reiterated the situation and told them to drop everything they were carrying for weight purposes and reminded them the gooks had more of our stuff than we did, so what the hell?
 
I got up as much speed as the old 34 could muster as low as I could go.  I popped up over a small gap between the 2 high hills, nosed over and raced that old whore as fast as she could go, 120 knots or so, I believe.  She felt like a shaking, shuttering, shit house on top of a hill in a hurricane--just as advertised.  I wasn't much into paying a hell of a lot of attention to gauges inside the cockpit when the outcome of military history was in the balance.  I prayed my copilot was.
 
Sweat was burning into my eyes as I reached my predetermined side flair spot, I raised the nose, split the needles and kicked hard right rudder, as my ass bit into my seat cushion.
 
When I sensed airspeed coming to almost zero, I nosed her over, pulled in full military power and kicked hard left rudder.  I flopped her down right in front of the Marines in the runway trench and adjusted power to be light on my struts.  The grunts followed their orders brilliantly!  They were aboard.  We were off, exit stage right, right now!!!
 
I don't know how long we were on the ground for sure, but it seemed like a whole westpac tour right there, ass puckered and sweating putty balls.  As we started moving, I heard loud muffled popping sounds, louder than small arms fire.  I just knew I wasn't going home to Mama!
 
Whew, the old whore just kept picking up speed, and I knew we had pulled it off. 
 
When we RTB'd.  My crew chief pointed out several flack holes in the tail section of our H-34.   We got that on the way out from Artillary shells detonating as we took off.  One hole was from a large piece of shrapnel, about 8" - 10" long and oblong on each end. 
 
Close!  The outcome could have been much different.  I am oh so glad I am alive to tell the tale.  No one was more amazed than I was at successfully pulling off the extraction.
 
I had a great crew, and we had a lot of luck.
 
Amen & Semper Fi

by Jim Schwartz, Marine HAC 1968

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Mofak

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Donald Cathcart LtCol USMC Retired