By Corpsman Ronald C. Mosbaugh
  2/1 Hotel Company 1966-1967


Email: [email protected]
It’s weird how an event or simply a word can trigger a memory that has been dormant for years. Last night I saw a commercial for the movie “American Sniper”, and I instantly thought of a Marine sniper who was attached to Second Battalion, First Marines, Hotel Company back in 1966.  I couldn’t sleep as I deeply pondered about the situation and was inspired to write this story.

We were 26 miles south of Da Nang, living in an old French school house; I was lying on my army cot reminiscing about the events during the past few days. The week before, I received a Dear John letter informing me that my fiancé, Sandy, had found someone else. She wanted us to get married before I left for Vietnam, but, I told her no because, if something happened to me, it wouldn’t be fair to her. I was feeling very melancholy and extremely depressed. I was 10,000 miles from home and there was nothing I could do. Dear John letters were common for soldiers overseas as we were out of country for months at a time; in my case it was a thirteen month tour.

A short time later, a Marine jolted me back into reality and informed me that I was requested to attend a briefing for a patrol that was planned that day. I had already run three patrols in the past 24 hours. The war effort was evidently intensifying as we had already received six WIA’s and two KIA’s this week, and this is only Wednesday!  By the way, WIA means {wounded–in-action} and KIA means {killed-In-action}.

In our briefing, our platoon commander, aka “Rabbit,” informed us that several NVA (North Vietnamese Army) troops were moving in our direction.  Our mission was to scout out the area near Hill 55 and report our findings. We were a squad size patrol with approximately 12 to 14 grunts. It was a cloudy day and we were expecting rain at any time. The walk was approximately 2 clicks toward our south, which was a little over two miles, before we arrived at our destination.  Our location was about 16 km southwest of Da Nang, Vietnam. During our patrol our sniper stated that he did his marine sniper training on that hill, pointing toward Hill 55. When we arrived at our designated area, the sniper found a good hiding place and settled in. He was going to do some reconnaissance of his own.  We then left him there and proceeded about a quarter of mile from that position to set up our bivouac.

When we arrived, the Marines set out claymores in unsuspecting places in case the VC tried to penetrate our perimeter. As we settled in we started hearing the night Morse code sounds from the Vietcong. They were banging on gongs and bamboo sticks to relay messages. After a while, the sounds increased to almost a constant thunder.  More than likely, this was a means to create a psychological effect which played on our nerves. I don’t mind telling you that it worked; our emotions were gearing up. We were anticipating to be overrun by the Vietcong. Our radio operator, Corporal Gerace, AKA “Bomar”, called back to Battalion for illumination. These flares lasted a long time and gave an almost daylight condition. This gave us a clear view of the battlefield. We also called in 105 howitzers to discourage the Vietcong from attacking our perimeter; 105”s can shoot a missile as far as eight miles!  Some of the missiles came so close that we could feel the earth move!  Luckily, after a while, it started raining and the gooks stopped shooting at us temporarily. Then it happened, the ambush was sprung and the bullets were flying! Soon, that all familiar dreaded call was made, “Corpsman Up!”  There was nothing I hated more than having to treat a wounded Marine, especially at night; it causes a lot of extra problems. 

At this time I would like to focus my attention on the wounded Marine and my responsibility as an 8404 field corpsman.  I think it is important for you to understand the duties of a Corpsman or Medic.  Consider if you will, that bullets are flying, grenades are exploding and there is pandemonium everywhere, and the rain does not help matters. The wounded Marine was crying, yelling and scared due to the excruciating pain and danger that he was enduring; not to mention the thought of dying.  Most people could not fathom the chaos that is happening at this point.  Right now I am afraid for my life, the wounded Marine’s life and all the Marines that are present.  I am exhibiting emotions that are off the chart. The first thing I must do is to assess the body for bullet wounds. There is an entrance and an exit wound to consider, since he could bleed out by either wound. Exit wounds are very interesting, since sometimes the bullet ricochets from bone or whatever and exits in the most unusual places.  It depends on the rifle used and type of bullet that enters the body.  To assess the body is not an easy task.  He was bloody, muddy and soaked to the core. The poor lighting did not help the situation, not to mention the close quarters. We were under a poncho during this whole procedure because it was raining, dark and we had to use a flashlight. It was common procedure to use a poncho while treating wounded casualties at night so the enemy could not see where we were.

The wounded Marine was our 30 caliber machine gun operator. He was from the Chicago area and was well respected; he was what we called a short timer; he only had a few weeks before his enlistment was up. I have no doubt that the flashes from his gun showed where he was firing from and the Viet Cong shot at the flashes. I will never forget his face because it was camouflaged; some Marines did this, and others did not. When the rain mixed with it, he was a scary sight! While I treated him, another Marine held the flashlight; however, he was shaking so bad I had a hard time finding the wounds. Then as if things couldn’t get any worse, the flash light went out! Total darkness!!  I always had two extra batteries for emergencies such as this. I fumbled through my Unit One bag and located them and replaced the batteries. I then treated the wounds as best I could.  Now consider this; while I am treating the marine, I get another call, “Corpsman Up!” Do I continue with this causality or do I go to the other wounded Marine?  I try to use triage as much as possible, but you have to use common sense. I can only be in one place at a time so it’s a judgment call.  I will say that multiple casualties were the norm on most patrols. Unfortunately, the Marine died of his injuries.

At dawn, we were still receiving sporadic incoming rounds. Our radio operator, Bomar, called in a medevac. In the mean time, I checked the casualty card again for accuracy.  I was so nervous that night my handwriting was shaky and the smudges from the rain caused the card to be illegible.  I decided to rewrite a new casualty card. Casualty cards have two wires attached to them which allow us to attach them to the patient.  So I put the wire through the button hole of his shirt and tied them together. While this was going on the radio operator was on the radio. I heard him say, “Hotel, Hotel, this is Hotel 1-request a med-evac for GFA5632.  He is a KIA. We are located at One-Zero-Niner-Three-Niner-Two. Our LZ is not secure. “

About fifteen minutes later we heard that all too familiar sound of the helicopter approaching, whop, whop, whop.  To this very day, when I hear a helicopter my adrenaline goes up along with my heart rate.  When we had the chopper in site, Corporal Gerace popped a smoke to let the pilot know the status of our LZ. This gave him a fix on our location and let him know about the wind conditions on the ground.  He threw a yellow smoke, indicating that we had incoming fire.  Red smoke meant that it was a hot LZ. The pilot would normally not bring a chopper into a hot LZ- only in an extreme emergency. Green smoke meant the LZ was clear. Radiomen always tried to bring the chopper in with the open door facing him. This made it much faster for us to load the causalities in the chopper.

If red or yellow smoke was used, a Huey gunship would make a few passes to clear the LZ. The Huey gunship was an iconic image during the war in Vietnam. They were equipped with a 30 caliber machine gun and a rocket and grenade launcher. During the war they airlifted more than ninety percent of our casualties to medical facilities! By the way, more than 7,000 Hueys served in Vietnam.  When the chopper landed, the marines carried the casualty on a field litter to the chopper. The pilot then medevac the casualty to graves registration at the hospital in Da Nang, Vietnam.  We then headed back to our sniper to see how his night went. Now, this really gets weird; we could not locate him!  For some unknown reason he was nowhere to be found.  We could think of several scenarios, but that is all there were. We never did find him, so he was listed as a MIA.

During my tour in Vietnam, I remember a time when we were getting several grunts killed by gunshot to the head. This was a hard shot to make at the distance they were shooting. We figured that someone had a rifle with a scope; this concerned us very much as it added to our anxiety level.  A short time later there were no more head wounds, so we figured the shooter either ran out of bullets or he moved into another area of Vietnam.  I have no doubt that this was from a North Vietnam soldier; as the regular Vietcong farmer was not trained to be that good of a shot.  I would like to mention that the NVA did have sniper shooters, most of their rifles and scopes were supplied for the Russians.  I do not know the timing of these kills; it could have been before our night ambush with our sniper or weeks later. 


I do not like putting this segment into my story. However, I think it is pertinent to the validity of my story.

I would put my hand on a stack of Bibles that the facts I am giving are true without a doubt.

1.     FACT : We did have a sniper attached to Hotel Company.

2.     FACT : We did go on a night patrol, and we left our sniper alone and proceeded to our bivouac.

3.    FACT :  We did get several Marines killed by head shots in a short amount of time. We were very concerned because the sniper had a scope. I believe now that it was the NVA’s rifle and not our Marine sniper rifle.  I do not remember the timing of the kills; was it weeks before our night ambush or weeks after it?

4.     A thought : I mentioned that our sniper was going to do some reconnaissance.  What if, he got into a situation that he could not move because he didn’t want his position to be compromised?


A Marine friend of mine and I tried to find the name of our sniper, but to no avail. We spent many hours on different websites as we searched for companies attached to, year in country, etc. etc. etc. There are too many variables to consider.

Our radio operator, Corporal Gerace, does remember our sniper; however, he does not remember him being listed as a MIA.  He is a friend of another corpsman who was attached to our company during that year, and he does not remember our sniper being on the MIA list either. Corporal Gerace was telling me about his corpsman friend but I do not remember him!  I am sure I saw him every day but I cannot place him!

If we had a sniper who has gone missing that would be a BIG deal! Everyone in our company would be talking about it and this is something that they would never forget. Headquarters would be very interested and I am sure we would be running extra patrols looking for him.

Now, I am questioning my own sanity, what is truth and what is imaginary? I told the story the way I remembered it; however that may not be the way that it really happened. Sometimes it is hard for us to tell the difference.

During my thirteen month tour in Vietnam I dealt with a lot of trauma and have suffered from PTSD for many years. Has this played a part in my mental state of mind??

I contemplated not submitting this story because I cannot prove our snipers capture. However, I think it is a worthy story to tell and the psychological effect that warriors endure during war should be told.

Second Battalion First Marine webmaster, Vin Burdziuk, sent me some very interesting information that I think you should read. It may give you a better perspective on MIA’s.  

How many Americans are "missing" in Southeast Asia?

At the end of Operation Homecoming in the spring of 1973, 2,646 Americans did not return from Southeast Asia -- they were "unaccounted for."  Since then,  1,010 have been "accounted for" by (1) recovering and identifying remains; (2) return of a small number of individuals after Operation Homecoming; (3) recovering the remains of several individuals as a group whose remains are not separately identifiable.

Currently, 1,636 Americans are "unaccounted for" in Southeast Asia:

Vietnam: 1,272

North Vietnam : 468

South Vietnam : 804
Laos : 305

Cambodia : 52

China (territorial waters) : 7

These figures were last updated on February 09, 2015
Figures include 468 at sea or overwater losses


Mystery solved!

Two weeks after this story was posted, a radioman that was attached to Hotel Company contacted me after seeing this story and stated that he remembered this sniper but did not remember his name.  However, he gave me an address of someone who knew our commander.  I contacted him and he got in touch with the commander and the next day the CO contacted me.  Wow!  For forty-eight years I have never spoken with anyone from Hotel Company since 1967 and now I am E-Mailing two guys who I served with, it is amazing and I am so happy.

The first thing I did was ask our CO if he remembered the name of our sniper, he did not, however he did remember him. I also asked him if our sniper was listed as a MIA. He said that Hotel Company never had a MIA during his enlistment. He also said that he would never let a sniper go on a night patrol by himself, if he did so, it would be with one or two Marines.

To make the story short, the sniper and other Marine made it back to the compound the next day, so he was actually never missing! The CO said the sniper was transferred to another company a short time later, that’s the reason I never saw him again. Looking back on it, I suppose I should have made some inquiries about him, but I was so busy that the thought never occurred to me. All these years I wondered what happened to our sniper and now find out he was never captured. I am extremely happy about the way it turned out. Maybe I should change the name of my story, “The MIA Sniper that Never Was”

Semper Fratres
HMCM Ronald Mosbaugh