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Alan Green Remembers LZ Margo (continued)

In the Midst of Violence, a Target

And soon we had a target identified.

The recon platoon was just uphill from the 81s fire direction center. The first barrages of the incoming -- dozens if not hundreds of rounds -- swept an arc of the hill from the waterhole where Echo company had just arrived from a long combat patrol, uphill through the mortar platoon and on to Recon on still higher ground. And back again. There were a lot of Marines in that arc. The results were carnage.

Huddled over his radio, Cpl Gary Engman calmly polled the forward observers (FOs) in the rifle companies for the source of the enemy fire.

But even before he received his first response, in the midst of that violence, in an act of remarkable courage, Staff Sergeant James Doner of the Recon platoon stood up and got a fix on the enemy tubes by estimating their locations from their apparent direction of fire. Without taking cover, he plotted their coordinates on a map and shouted them to the 81s FDC.


Moments later he was severely wounded.

Listening to radio traffic in the 81s Fire Direction Center on LZ Margo the day before the battle. The FDC consisted of a few dirt-filled ammo boxes inside the lip of a bomb crater. Note the plotting board used to compute fire missions resting on top of the ammo boxes. Flak jackets and helmets are close by, as are several radios. From left Cpl Fritz Torrey, SSgt Person (back to camera), Cpl Eloy "Rod" Rodriguez (dark hair, sitting on ground), Cpl Walt "Phil" Philbin (holding handset up), Cpl Gary Engman (shirt off, back to camera, facing down), Lt Alan Green (standing, head down, listening to handset), LCpl Manuel "Manny" Ramos (far right, holding handset in right ear), Cpl Bruce Pilch (back to camera, closest). Photo courtesy of Eric Smith.

The 81s fire direction center (FDC) was a crater with some ammo boxes filled with dirt and a handful of Marines trying not to die.

At moments like these, crouched low in the dirt with shrapnel whizzing past, the job of a mortar platoon fire direction center is to find out where the incoming fire is coming from, work up a suppressive fire mission and communicate it to our eight guns scattered about the hill.

All in the midst of a continuous incoming barrage.

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