Fifty-three years ago now, I was given the distinct privilege to be assigned as a Fleet Marine Force (FMF) Navy Corpsman to a company of Recon Marines: Bravo Co. 3rd Recon Bn., 3rd Marine Division.
As a Corpsman, I had not gone through much of the training that Recon Marines go through, but they taught me everything I needed to know with serious patience. Those men took me under their tutelage and their protection for 11 of my 13 months in-country from January 1968 to February 1969.
The Marine Corps has two kinds of Recon units: the regular Marine Recon and Force Recon (FORECON), or MARSOC in today’s parlance. Marine Recon units are trained for “battlefield” reconnaissance, whereas Force Recon units are trained for both “battlefield” and “beyond the battlefield” reconnaissance. Both are trained for “Green Operations” (for example non-enemy contact reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, surveillance, etc.), but Force Recon is also trained for “Black Operations” like covert enemy contact and direct action operations.
Force Recon is also trained for “Deep Reconnaissance” and/or “Long-range Reconnaissance” as well as unconventional/irregular warfare. They can “disappear” deep into enemy territory, without communication and without backup support, for unlimited periods of time, living off of the land and reappearing at their choosing. They are trained to do this, to gather intelligence and do damage to the enemy without being seen. The Recon motto is, “Celer, Silens, Mortalis,” (Swift, Silent, Deadly).
Much of what is described here is what we did as Recon Marines in Vietnam. We generally went out into enemy territory in six-to-eight-man teams. We were assigned a mission and an area to cover. Most of the time, it was our job to gather information on enemy movements, numbers, and strength and to call in artillery or fighter jets to take out enemy positions without being detected. We moved about as silently and as watchfully as possible, and, most of the time, we were successful at both.
When I arrived in-country in January of 1968, I was assigned to Bravo 3rd Recon. I was handed an M-16 and was told, “Doc, from here on, you are a Marine first and a Corpsman second.” I was to come to understand that message soon enough.
Because we were good reconners, most of the time we were able to remain unseen by the enemy on our patrols, but on some occasions, our patrols would encounter enemy contact up-close and personal. In those times we were always outnumbered, so the Corpsmen would have to be riflemen, just like their Marine brothers, in order to put out as much suppressing fire as possible from six or eight men. But 90% of the time, we lived up to our motto; we were swift, silent, and deadly.
This video will let you into the mind of Recon Marines. You may remember the old Marine recruiting posters and commercials that invoked the phrase “The Few. The Proud. The Marines,” implying that though they were the smallest of the combat forces in the United States Military, they were something “other.” Well, Recon Marines take it one step further; they see themselves as the “fewer and the prouder.”
The following might give you an understanding as to why they see themselves this way. During my time in Vietnam, because of the successes that Marine Recon teams had against them, the North Vietnamese actually put out “wanted” posters and offered cash rewards for the killing or capture of any Recon Marines. We took that as a compliment.
Reconners, whether Marine Recon or Force Recon (MARSOC), are a special breed. To have served with them in Vietnam was one of the great honors of my life. I am hoping to see some of my 3rd Recon brothers at this year’s 3rd Recon Battalion Reunion in Tucson, AZ. God willing, we will be able to this year. Last year’s reunion was canceled by the COVID situation. We are not getting any younger, and we have lost some of our brothers over the past year. To all of them, I say, “Semper Fi!” We are, and will always be, Fratres Aeterni. Oorah!Whizzco