Lullabies for Lieutenants: Memoir of a Marine Forward Observer in Vietnam, 1965–1966

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Viet Nam Bibliography" Lullabies for Lieutenants by Franklin Cox

Imprint Jefferson, N. Physical description x, p. Online Available online. There are some things that are so insistent they cannot be recalled. The human mind can only assimilate a certain level of pain until it finally just checks out, a merciful circuitry meltdown.


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He may try, but he cannot revisit the utter state of exhaustion he endures on the march in the heat, just one step at a time, baby, try to think this is really not happening. But he does remember the sense of touch and yearning. He is 20 years old and suddenly from his core the hormones race unsolicited, testosterone on the run, and standing in a line to draw water from a well or to draw grenades for the ambush patrol that will start just as darkness falls and out into the countryside owned by Victor Charlie he will go, he suddenly becomes erect.

A blue-veiner has decided to arrive and is about to burst the cotton of his green jungle trousers. When he daydreams he revisits the file of each girl he ever yearned for, all the way back to grammar school. He recalls how the ones he had success with tasted when he kissed them and how they smelled and what they whispered when he touched them.

Then he daydreams about the ones he wanted but never got and how he will pursue them and what he will do with them when he returns to the world. He remembers fetching mm howitzer shells and quickly screwing in the proper fuse and, after jamming the round in the breech, turning away from the artillery piece and covering his ears the second before his gun teammate pulls the lanyard and the machine recoils as the steel shell is resoundingly fired while the smell of tart gunpowder smoke swirls in his midst.

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The veteran remembers patrolling into a village with such stealth in broad daylight that the surprised mothers, wheeling and spotting the advancing Marines, fetch their infants off the hard-packed, recently swept clay floor of the village where they were slicing freshly harvested cu cai turnips and scurry under the shelter of a nearby thatch-roofed storage bin, looking back one last time at the Americans while clutching their babies. Their faces are contorted by such consummate fear it is matched only by the fear of deer on the hoof trying to outrace a wind-blown forest fire, and the Marines feel ashamed.

The radioman remembers suddenly halting when his lieutenant, who is issuing hand signals to his squad leaders does five paces in front of him because the man on the point thinks he has sniffed out a band of guerrillas on the other side of a copse of trees with dead vines of brown, withered leaves fastened to them. He is alert as a mother leopard is when her cub falls to the ground from the crook of a tree limb and the baboons approach with their big teeth shining.

The squad leader remembers his eyes must be multitasking, glancing all about for the safety of his 12 Marines, who are wading vulnerably across the open rice paddy toward the only close haven, a dike about 30 yards ahead between the Marines and the tree line they are headed to. The captain commanding the rifle company remembers the ambivalent nature of his responsibility, to lead his Marines to kill as many of the enemy as possible while at the same time safeguarding them with risk-avoidance whenever possible to keep them alive.

At the same time he is describing over the radio to his battalion commander the rapidly changing environment and simultaneously calling in artillery air bursts and close air support, making sure the incoming medevac helicopters are not harmed by friendly fire. Even though surrounded by chaos and besieged with scores of details that he must immediately address, he marvels at how effectively his brave Marines fight and sacrifice for each other, not for the U.

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Constitution, not for the cause of democracy, not for God or the good old Red, White, and Blue, but for pride. Pride for each other and for the exquisite pride in being a Marine. The grunt remembers incessantly cleaning and oiling his rifle, which he pampers more than his own body, for it is his lifesaver. Each time after ramming an oiled cotton white patch down the bore to remove the carbon deposits inside the barrel—because a malfunction could be the death of him in a firefight—he releases the magazine and removes the live metal-jacketed cartridges and wipes each one clean before loading them back into the magazine he has cleaned the grit out of, which he inserts back into the receiver.

The grunt remembers the special times he would remove his muddy, sodden jungle boots and tug his filthy socks off and lay them in the sun next to his poncho, where his rotting haversack and web gear and rifle are placed.

US Marines Forward Observers Direct Mortar Firepower During Fire Support Coordination Exercise

His feet are wrinkled and blue-white and the sunlight warms them. He pulls his utility shirt off and sees white vertical streaks of salt on it that dried from his sweat, and he strips off his trousers and lays on his back naked on the poncho.


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  • His body tingles from the warm sun, and soon he falls into a slumber. The grunt remembers going back with his company after long stints in Indian country looking for Victor Charlie on search-and-destroy operations to the relatively safe area of the battalion base camp. There are good things there like a chow hall with hot food, showers, tents with wooden floors, mail from home, chaplain services—Bless me father for I have sinned—vehicle runs to the ammo dump in the rear and on the way back a quick stop at a skivvie house—Maline I make you so happy!

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    The grunt also remembers his backpack is not balanced, so one of the straps is cutting into his left shoulder and it is one more nuisance he must forget about because he cannot stop until his squad does.