What follows is an excerpt from “Sole Surviving Sons, a Marine Tanker in Vietnam“. The book is unpublished as of yet and is a Marine odyssey in Vietnam. Please comment if you would lie to hear more…..




by D.
Although I’ve since learned from my cousin that there are now automatic big inch 
guns, in 1967 there weren’t, particularly not on a tank. The new ones are on board ship.
There was an event that became a minor tank legend in our company after we 
participated in some unnamed sweep. On which for a few brief minutes there was an 
automatic 90mm tank.
Being a tank gunner has mixed blessings. More often than not, because you can’t 
see anything much, you have very little idea of just what the hell is going on. Which is 
probably just as well, saving wear and tear on your nerves. The only way you can tell 
what’s happening outside is through the gun sites, or listening to the three channels of 
confusing radio traffic, or whatever the TC might tell you. The gunner’s seat is a 
frustrating world sometime, but your one consolation is that when it finally happens, 
you’re in the number one position to deal out the retribution from a 90mm main gun or 
the coaxial machine gun.
This particular sweep I was gunning, my usual slot, LaVigne (often called 
Frenchy) was loading and Sgt. Mac was the tank commander, I don’t remember who was 
doing our driving.
We were taking a lot of fire off and on with the grunts, they were getting chewed 
up and we were running in very close to the tree lines to provide support and evacuate the 
wounded and then running back a few hundred yards to the LZs. All this shuttling, and 
the close in work was making me jumpy. Mac would say come right or come left and I’d 
bang the hydraulics so hard I’d almost pitch him out of the turret with the speed of the 
traversing. “Come right” or whatever usually precedes a firing command, which implies 
that we are taking fire. There were a lot of RPGs whizzing around out there and I didn’t 
want to take one. Mac got tired of hanging on for his life and told me to “Calm down, 
take it slow”. So I pulled myself together and cooled out.
We had run back into the tree line to pull out more wounded Marines when Mac 
said “Come right”, in what sounded a normal tone, so I started to SLOWLY traverse 
right, then heard a second “Come right”, in the same tone and then a third time louder, 
followed by “We’re taking fire, COME RIGHT”. At this I whipped it over into some 
smoke trails that came out of the bush at us, and started popping off the main gun. 
Normally this fire reload has all sorts of commands to it, but then, there was just one. 
LaVigne yelling “UP!”, every time the breach block closed on the round he had just 
loaded. As soon as I heard “UP”, I squeezed the triggers, and immediately heard another 
“UP” and squeezed again. This went on for about five blistering rounds until Mac 
hollered “Cease fire!” Whoever had been out there they would have to sift through a 
strainer, half the tree line was gone. We were blowing off “Canister”, which is like a 
giant shotgun shell, three and a half inches across and ten to twelve inches high, filled 
with 250, .45 caliber steel slugs. Until we got back in, I really didn’t have much idea as
to what had happened. We got down from the armor plate and LaVigne took a look at 
the track on the gunner’s side. There were a half dozen holes through it and the road 
wheels from the RPGS that had been fired at us, none had hit the hull. That rocket 
gunner must have been close and very nervous to have missed.
Re-hashing the story with the other crews that were out that day. When we 
started firing, they were popping off so fast it sounded like auto fire and the other crews 
looked to see us bang off five rounds in as many seconds or less. “The Auto 90”. Seems 
LaVigne was pushing in the rounds and as soon as the block went up, he’d yell “UP” and 
snap his arm back as the gun recoiled into the space his head and arm had been, while
picking up another round with his other arm. I doubt if there were many other 
loader/gunner combinations that worked as well as we had that day, and I hadn’t known 
what the hell was even going on.
LaVigne and I worked together many more times after that until he was on the 
bad end of an ambush one day that took out two Lts., that were TCing, one of them was 
on LaVigne’s tank. He was gunning and when the TC got it, the body and the gore fell 
on top of him sitting below. The crew said it was too much for him to take and he 
freaked out, so they med-evaced him, I don’t know what really happened, but I never saw 
him again.

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  1. Well, as a 30 year veteran of the Army, I certainly enjoy these stories immensely! On my first tour, I was on an 81mm mortar crew in the Airborne Infantry. Consequently, I can relate to exceeding the normal rate of fire when the situation dictates. Another awesome sight is the perception that machine guns are shooting a laser beam. Although the ratio of tracer bullets to ball rounds was 1 to 4, when the gun fires long bursts it looks like one continuous orange beam. The ricochets look pretty cool, too!

  2. I don’t know,John, there are some pretty honest people on here. I don’t think many would lie to hear more!!! Regards, D.

  3. D., EXCELLENT! I have heard that at the end of your life you wonder…. you ask yourself, did my life matter? Did I make a difference? Those who served won’t feel the need to ask that question….

  4. Well, John Gault, I can’t say that I’ve ever heard about asking of the relevancy of life at the end, but I am confident that you see events quickly passing before you in those final moments. I fell off a cliff outside Fort Lewis, WA in February 1981. I did see many things from my life flash by in an instant, before I blacked out. Obviously, I did not die. Nor, did I land at the bottom of the cliff. I’m not exactly sure what happened. I like to think that my Guardian Angel, Saint Michael (Patron Of Paratroopers), rescued me. I had an Army buddy with me. To this day, he will not say what he saw. He is a proud heathen and just won’t give this Catholic boy the satisfaction of admitting “Jesus Saves”! Thanks D., for sharing your experiences.

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