Fallen Heroes

Dedicated to all the Fallen Heroes on the Wall

For Mike and the Marines of 2nd Platoon and Charlie Company
who died on January 19, 1968
in the battle on the DMZ,
Northeast Quang Tri Province, South Vietnam.

Their names are inscribed on Panel 34E on the Vietnam Memorial.

Visit the wall, touch them and say a prayer.

They will know you are there.

Chapter I


Memories, respect, sorrow, prayers and love.

Reflections of a combat veteran standing at the Wall


It was just after 6 o’clock in the morning when Frank walked through the hotel lobby and exited the door leading to 16th & K Street NW. It was miserable out – cold, windy and a slight drizzle. As he walked down the street, Frank buttoned his fleece-lined leather jacket up to cover his neck, pulled down the black knit watch cap over his ears, and set out into the morning’s darkness. Frank would be celebrating his seventy-first birthday in February, and his pace was steady but a little slow — unlike his early years when he was a conditioned, well-built strapping six-foot Marine grunt. After a few blocks, he turned right on Constitution Avenue, passed the Washington Monument and World War II Memorial, heading to his destination, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

The old habit of marching at the Marine regulation 30-inch steps at 120 steps per minute was still there. Frank remembered drilling troops, barking out almost unintelligible singsong sounds of a Marine cadence he had mastered when he returned home from Vietnam. He made the growling, staccato noise under his breath that sounded like “Laoo-riii-lao! Step yo lao, riii, lao, rii, leff!” Frank smiled and strained just a little to pick-up his pace to mirror his cadence. He made his boots pound the wet sidewalk with an old Marine’s steady left-right-left marching cadence.

Every year, beginning January 19, 1969, Frank awoke before dawn to say his prayers, thanking God for sparing his life, honoring the sacrifices of his buddies, remembering his experiences, and meditating on his life since returning home from Vietnam. He always asked God why he had survived, and why God allowed him to live, when he should have been killed with his buddies during the firefight against the NVA on the DMZ that day in January, 1968. The events of that day haunted Frank – a sad mystery of his survival and a feeling of guilt for still being alive. God never answered Frank, so he kept praying and kept asking God why.

This year, business brought him to Washington, D.C. on January 19, and Frank was determined to go to the Vietnam Memorial Wall to visit his fallen buddies. The two-acre memorial was only about a 30 minute walk from his hotel, and the dark streets were mostly empty except for a few hard working cabbies looking for their first fare. Frank was enjoying the walk so he waved off the cabs. The old habit of scanning the dark around him and watching where he stepped was still with him.

As Frank approached the Vietnam Memorial, he saw a homeless man sitting on a bench at the entrance to the sidewalk that leads to the Wall. A grocery store shopping cart was parked at the end of the bench with paper bags of empty cans, dirty bedding and assorted ragged cloths. Two broomsticks were tied to the front of the cart, standing straight up, one with the American flag and the other with the Marine Corps colors at the top of the improvised flagpoles.

The streets of Washington, like most major cities, have a large and growing population of homeless veterans, most from Vietnam. But too many were young vets scarred by their experiences fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most suffered from post-traumatic stress and simply couldn’t manage to separate the horrors of close combat and a return home to a normal life. After surviving battle, life is never the same.

The light from a street lamp shone down on the bench, and Frank could see that the homeless man wore a faded Vietnam era jungle utility jacket with metal Marine Sergeant stripes pinned on his lapels. He sipped steaming coffee from a regulation military canteen cup and stared straight ahead into the dark. Frank stopped, the vet looked up and their eyes met. “How’s it going Sarge?” Frank asked.

“Couldn’t be better,” replied the old Marine. “Every day’s a holiday and every meal is a banquet.” They both laughed at the standard answer Marines have been giving for generations about living conditions in the Corps.

“What’s your name?” Frank asked as he sat down next to him on the bench.

“Sergeant,” said the Vet. Then he laughed and said, “Sam. Sam Johnson. From Houston.”

“Frank O’Brian. From next door in Louisiana.” They shook hands.

“I was with Charlie, 1/3, in 1967-68 on the DMZ,” Frank said. It is important to pass inspection and confirm to other veterans that you are also one of them. Frank identified his infantry unit as C Company and 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, a storied, highly decorated combat unit.

“Delta, 2/4,” Sam replied. “I got dinged during Starlight in 1965. Forgot to duck.” This meant that Sam was likely just a few years older than Frank. He had been in D Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment during Operation Starlight, the first major search and destroy operation in Vietnam where Marines engaged hardcore VC battalions. The 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines were nicknamed “the Magnificent Bastards.” Starlight was brutal. The operation cost the Marines over 50 dead and 200 wounded, while the VC lost over 600 dead and over 40 were taken prisoner.

They were quiet for a few moments. “Is there anything I can get you? Do you need anything?”

“Nah,” said Sergeant Johnson. “I’m home here with them,” gesturing toward the Wall. “Feels right to stand sentry. Me and the other homeless DC Marines take turns sitting on this bench, standing watch each month. Billy will take over in a few weeks.”

Frank fully understood wanting to be near their buddies, and he appreciated having Marines watch over the fallen. He stood and turned to go. “Semper Fi” he said to the sentry.

“Semper Fi” said Sergeant Sam Johnson, “Semper Fi.”

It was almost 7 o’clock when Frank walked down the sidewalk, past the stand holding the casualty book that contained the list of all 57,939 dead Americans. The index has their names, rank, branch of service, home of record, the date they died, and the panel where their names are etched in the wall. The book is protected from the weather in a plastic case with a light that allows evening visitors to look up the names of the fallen. Many vets prefer to visit the Wall after sundown when they have some privacy.

He turned and continued down the walk in front of the wall where night-lights shone up from the ground, illuminating the names of the fallen. He walked slowly, as the list of dead rose and grew from panel to panel starting with the first battlefield death in 1961. As the daily casualties grew through the 1960s the fallen peaked in May 1968 when 2,415 Americans died in a single month. The panels in the middle of the wall mark the highpoint in casualties.

On the other side of the peak, the wall angles off at 125 degrees and the list of names on each panel declines from May 1968 as casualties fell until the end of the war. The last American died in May 1975.

Frank stopped at Panel 34E where the names of his 2nd Platoon buddies were listed for January 1968. He found their names half way up the Wall. Seeing his reflection on the engraved panel, Frank whispered each of their names in reverence. He touched the cold stone, and could feel the letters of each name etched into the Wall. The tears flowed and his chest heaved. “Why,” he wept softly. “Why them, and not me?”

The sickening memories rushed back, the deafening sounds, the rancid smells, and the vile taste in his mouth returned. He felt the hot burst of adrenaline that rose from the base of his spine and burst into the base of his brain as AK-47 bullets cracked past his head. He could still hear the explosions of grenades and the screams of fury and pain. The battle had lasted for an eternity.

Frank stepped back from the Wall and looked into the sky. Dawn was beginning to break through the clouds and cast a soft glow on the names on the Wall. Frank softy murmured a prayer, thank you God for giving me all these years. I hope you have a good reason for saving my life.

The rain started to fall in a slow, steady drizzle. The drops collected on the shiny face of the Wall and began to flow together forming small streams that ran to the ground. Frank thought the drops looked like tears that flowed from the face of the black wall. He was alone at the Wall that morning.

A police siren suddenly broke the silence. The rise and fall of the wailing siren brought back a tragic night in Vietnam.

“AhhHHHHHhhh. AAAAHHHHhhhhHHHH.” The siren sounded like the rise and pitch of a scream that Frank remembered had brought his battalion perimeter to full alert.

Frank’s unit was providing perimeter security at Alpha-3, one of the strong points being built on the DMZ. The only thing that separated the Marines’ two man foxholes from the NVA was triple-strand concertina wire spread around their perimeter. The wailing in the middle of the night changed from “AhhhhHHHHHHaaaaa” to “NOOOOOOOOOO. NOOOOOOO!” And then it suddenly stopped.

Frank and Mike were best friends and foxhole buddies. They sat in the mud the following morning when “Frenchie”, the veteran 2nd Platoon Sergeant made his rounds, checking on his Marines.

“What the fuck was that?” Frank asked. No need to be specific. Frenchie knew what Frank was asking about.

“The sin of sins,” Frenchie spat. “Stupid shit in Delta Company fell asleep on watch while his buddy was asleep behind him in their foxhole. An NVA Sapper crawled through the wire and found that the guy on watch was asleep. So the Sapper crept by him, slipped into the foxhole and slit his buddy’s throat.”

“Damn. Damn,” said Mike. Everyone who stands watch at night in the bush has to fight to stay awake. Physical exhaustion and the continuous lack of sleep take an unimaginable toll on Marines in combat.

“Yea,” said Frenchie, with a weary sigh. “And his failure to stay awake and protect his buddy will haunt that poor bastard for the rest of his life.”

Frank was relieved and grateful when the police siren stopped. He returned the image of Alpha-3 to that lock-box of memories where he stored his Vietnam experiences. Frank stood staring at the wall for a long time. He liked being close to his buddies. Frank thought back about how he got to Vietnam, almost 50 years earlier, smiled and shook his head.

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Marines who sacrificed, fought, and died in battles on the DMZ in Vietnam 1967-68

The Cross of Gallantry is a story about Vietnam that is told at two levels – a personal journey for two young Americans, and a portrayal of the gross mistakes made by politicians and the Pentagon’s civilian leadership.

The personal story is about Frank O’Brian and Mike Morgan, two middle class Americans who join the Marine Corps in 1967 and go to Vietnam where they are thrown into the middle of bloody combat operations on the DMZ. Their story begins when they meet on a Greyhound bus, headed to Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island. Marine Drill Instructors are brutal, demanding and uncompromising. Their goal is to weed out the weak recruits who they judged would not survive in battle and indoctrinate the remaining recruits into the ethos of the Marine Corps.

Surviving boot camp, Frank and Mike continue warrior training at the Marine Infantry Training Regiment (ITR) in the woods of North Carolina at Camp Geiger. From ITR, they have short visits home to say goodbye to family and friends, and then they enter the pipeline of replacement with thousands of other young Americans headed for Vietnam.

Frank and Mike meet again in Da Nang harbor, aboard the USS Iwo Jima, a helicopter carrier. They are assigned to 2nd Platoon, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, the Battalion Landing Team (BLT) for the 3rd Marine Division. The new replacements join the battle-hardened Marines of Charlie Company, a brotherhood of veterans where most have earned at least one Purple Heart for combat wounds. Their story continues through a landing, search and destroy operations, building bunkers along the DMZ, crossing minefields, being hit with friendly fire, and engaging in close combat firefights.

Their personal experience reflects on the overarching story of every troop involved in the Vietnam War. Four major military planning mistakes made in Washington and implemented in Vietnam had a deadly impact on American troops.

First, the original strategy of the generals of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was offensive — to win the war — was ignored by President Johnson when he chose to adopt the political-military strategy promoted by Defense Secretary McNamara and his team of “whiz kids” – all highly intelligent but woefully inexperienced and naive in military tactics and strategy. They devised a defensive strategy, a “war of attrition”, based on obtaining a “10-to 1 kill ratio” – 10 North Vietnamese to 1 American – that would convince the NVA to stop fighting.

The second military planning mistake was to build a barrier – “McNamara’s Wall” – across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Vietnam where the Americans would take “protected cover” in bunkers while killing NVA soldiers crossing the DMZ in the open. The defensive-attrition plan would also be combined with an “impenetrable” bunker system built across the entire DMZ.

The third fatal mistake was the initiation of Operation Ranch Hand, the defoliation of the DMZ with Agent Orange. Air Force planes sprayed millions of gallons of the deadly poison on the vegetation across the DMZ. It did kill the vegetation, but it also soaked those Marines who conducted combat operations along the DMZ with highly toxic chemicals.

Finally, the M-16 rifles provided to combat units in Vietnam by the Pentagon were untested and faulty. Gene Stoner, the designer of the M-16 and its manufacturer, Colt Manufacturing Company, warned the Pentagon that the Improved Military Rifle (IMR) propellant or gunpowder should be used in the ammunition for the M-16. However, the “whiz kids” in the Pentagon and the Army Ordnance Corps decided the supply of left over ball powder would be used in the M-16 ammunition supplied to troops in the field. The Army Ordnance Corps failed to adequately test the rifle and ammunition together to certify that the M-16 would not jam.

In October 1968, while Marines were fighting NVA soldiers armed with well proven, reliable and highly effective AK-47s, the US House Armed Services Committee, under Congressman Richard Ichord (D-Mo 8th District), the Chairman of the Special Subcommittee on the M-16, issued its startling finding. The cause of the M-16 jamming was not troop failure to maintain clean weapons. Rather, it was the ball powder propellant of the ammunition being fired that caused the jamming!

Frank, Mike, Charlie Company, and the entire 3rd Marine Division struggled, fought, suffered, survived, and died in the hell created by these mistakes imposed by Washington. The Cross of Gallantry takes you into the combat units, on the ground in search and destroy operations, the futility of building bunkers, the tragedy of friendly fire casualties, and the insanity behind a foreign war of attrition.

The political-military strategy was never designed to “win” the war in Vietnam, but combat troops still won countless battles. The Cross of Gallantry tells the stories of Marines who struggled, fought and died as brothers on the DMZ in Vietnam in 1967-68.

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News and Reviews


Local Author To Hold Meet-And-Greet

The Enterprise

Cape man’s book offers firsthand look at a Marine in Vietnam

The Cape Cod Times Veterans’ Day Edition 11/11/2017


“I was a marine with Charlie Co. I was in the firefight that Patrick describes on January 19, 1968. A day in my life I will never forget.”

“Somehow I survived my time in Nam. This book is a reminder to me of all my brothers that did not.  Patrick, I would like to thank you my friend for writing this book and sharing some of what happened so many years ago.”

“Succeeds in juxtaposing the implications of Vietnam War strategy with the experience and sacrifice of Marines on the DMZ.”

“There are many books that recount moving personal stories of wartime gallantry. There are also many books that have analyzed the Vietnam War strategy. This book succeeds brilliantly in juxtaposing both.”

“Spellbinding!! Absolutely riveting!! This book has its place with other great books about war from soldier’s perspective, Das Boot (Buchheim), All Quiet on the Western Front (Remarque).”

“The Cross of Gallantry is the best Vietnam novel since Fields of Fire.”

“As a Marine Corps Officer and Vietnam Combat Veteran – I highly recommend this book.  Those who’ve carried a rifle in combat will become part of the patrol as they read the book.”

“This book should be read in conjunction with H.R. McMaster’s Dereliction of Duty. What Mr. Blake describes is the awful price the grunts had to pay because Kennedy, Johnson, McNamara, and the Joint Chiefs committed us to a halfhearted war of attrition because of political considerations.  Well done Mr. Blake.”

“Amazing work from beginning to end. The descriptions are superb.”

“Mr. Blake wrote a first class war novel.  I’m looking forward to his next works!”

“The combat scenes are full of detail that transports you to the DMZ.  I would love to see this on the big screen…”

“As a former Marine, I am hopeful that our political leaders will read this book to gain insight and perspective, and to appreciate the gravity of committing men to combat.”

“Hello, my name is Brian and I was a combat Marine in I corps from 1968 to 1969. Thank you Patrick for helping me to remain proud of being a Marine but also to clarify some of my confused feelings.”

“Through Pat’s detailed accounts of the hell of war, I could, in some ways, experience why the words “semper fi” are so special to those who have served our country as marines.”

.”I highly recommend the Cross of Gallantry for those who desire to gain some understanding of what our U.S. combat forces in Vietnam experienced and its effect on them and us.”

“The work, when proposed as a writing project, would seem an impossible lift. Blake pulls it off with incredible deftness in a style that is at once personable and authoritative–he speaks from bitter and loving experience. The Cross of Gallantry is a riveting read.”

“Blake is a first-class spokesman for the uncommon, common Marine, among them. I found the detail of the training experience meticulous. The prospect of eventual battle service as Frank Obrien and his colleagues prepared to leave the US was rendered in a heartfelt and bittersweet manner.”

“The Cross of Gallantry is a must read.”

“Every Vietnam veteran should stand tall. Excerpts of the stories of Vietnam warriors should be studied at all Military Academies. Excellent read.”

“Outstanding read. I was so engrossed in the characters of Charlie Company I didn’t sleep at all on my redeye.”

“The book is realistic about the Marine Corps training and what we went through in Nam.”

“This book describes what combat troops deal with on a constant basis, hour to hour survival and looking out for your buddies around you. You feel the intense reality as Pat tells the story, reflecting his own experiences in Vietnam.”

“On balance compared to several other Vietnam works the Cross of Gallantry was a perfect story of a young man’s Human experience in life and war, the others I read were tilted more to the horror of war.”

“The Cross of Gallantry is one of the best “soldier’s perspective” books I’ve read. I highly recommend it.”

“The reality of war and the love of country is on full display in The Cross of Gallantry…”

“The book is a “must read” for anyone that wants to learn what it was like getting onto the Vietnam War, the hardships that the Warfighter puts up with, and that freedom come at a heavy price. The next time you see a Veteran, thank him/her for their service that gives us the liberties we enjoy.”

“Excellently written and a must read by all so they can understand and appreciate what some Americans sacrifice for their country.  I have bought 6 copies to pass out.”

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About the Author

Patrick M. Blake, the author – spent a year in the Naval Hospital in Pensacola recovering from his wounds.  He declined to accept the medical discharge recommended by the Navy doctors and reenlisted in the Marine Corps on a medical waiver.  The waiver stipulated that he could not continue to serve in the infantry and he was given a desk job that he quickly came to hate.  Over the next six years on active duty, he attended college at night and eventually retired on disability in 1975.  Pat began a second career in the computer software industry, and today he is the president of his own life science software and consulting company.

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Email feedback and questions to – pat@thecrossofgallantry.com

For a signed copy

Pat will be happy to sign your book. Suggest you order the book from Amazon and have it mailed to Pat with your name and mailing address. Pat will sign it and mail it to your address. Thanks for reading The Cross of Gallantry.

Send your book to:
775 East Falmouth Hwy., #145
East Falmouth, MA 02536