Tony Vargas

From City Boy to First Target

Profilers: Paul Martinez and Nick Bopp


Joining the Marine Corps

As a high school senior, I didn’t pay much attention. I didn’t watch the news a lot, but I knew what was going on, obviously. I graduated from high school, went to one year of Mount SAC [San Antonio Community] Junior College. My major was police science. I thought I would go be something in law enforcement, and the following summer after a year of Mount SAC I was visiting with an old high school friend, and I thought I would join the army. And he says, ‘Well, you don’t want to do that—join the Marine Corps!’ and I said, ‘Well, that sounds look a good idea!’ [laughs].

So the young and dumb nineteen year-old I was, I went to the recruiter in Pomona and I walked into the recruiting office. The recruiting officer was there, and I said, ‘I’d like to have some information regarding the Marine Corps.’ He was a sergeant with hash marks from here to there [points from upper arm to lower arm], and he pulled out the drawer and pulled out a piece of paper—a form—and he put it on the table and he said, ‘Sign here, son.’ And that’s how I got in the marine corps [smiles].

Life of a Machine Gunner

The next day we were issued our jungle fatigues, which are different than your basic fatigues that you have here. You’ve probably seen the camouflaged fatigues that are pretty common in the street today, and they’re similar to that. And Buy purinethol online then we were issued our jungle boots, which are different than the regular boots that we had.

I went to the armorer and he issued me my machine gun. You tell the armorer—he asks you, ‘What’s your MOS?’ and he’ll give either the M16 or the M60, and I told him, ‘Well I’m a three thirty-one.’ That’s a machine gunner. He handed me the machine gun—the M60—and he looked at me and said to me, ‘You have seven seconds to live.’ And I looked at him and I didn’t quite understand.

What he was trying to tell me is the average life span of the machine gunner in Vietnam was seven seconds from the moment you pulled the trigger. There were three individuals that the Viet Cong would shoot for. Of course the officer, the radio man, and the M60 machine gunner. The officer you could understand. The radioman you could understand—there’s no communication. But the man who has the most firepower is the machine gunner. So the average lifespan is seven seconds.

What they would do is—if you were in a patrol and you got ambushed or you were in a firefight, you would open up and right away they would know where the M60 was because of the rounds and the rapid fire of the machine gun. They would spot you right away. So what you would have to do is once you were in a firefight, you would shoot, and then you would have to move if you could. If you couldn’t move, then you stayed where you were. But we would open up, shoot some rounds. I had an aide gunner with me, my assistant gunner. He was also trained as a machine gunner. One carried the machine gun, the other carried most of the ammo. And the ammo for the M60 was bandoliers.

You’ve seen pictures of bandoliers strapped across people. I would carry two bandoliers, my aide gunner would carry two bandoliers, and then he would carry the box that has the extra rounds. In a squad, there were, maybe, depending on the size, eight to fourteen [marines], and each marine would carry a bandolier. They never begrudged carrying the bandolier because they knew it was needed. I would use all the bandoliers that I had, use the aide gunner’s, and then the rest of the squad, as we needed, would throw the bandoliers to us so that we had sufficient rounds in the case of a firefight.

Mercy

We saw this Viet Cong that was by himself, that we saw in the rice paddy, and we started chasing him. We saw him in the rice paddy, and he finally raised his hand to surrender, and I got to him. There were two other marines that were with me when we got him and I had my machine gun pointed at him, and the other marines said, ‘Shoot him! Shoot him!’

He raised his hands and he stood up and I pointed my machine gun at him, and one of the marines was saying, ‘Shoot him! Shoot him!’ For what must have been just a couple of seconds, I stood there, and the thought did cross my mind to pull the trigger. With a burst, he would have been gone, and nobody would have said anything. I thank God to this day that I didn’t pull the trigger.

Attracting Bullets

So we’re going down the road headed towards Hue City, waiting to be picked up by transport to be driven to Hue City. We were just outside of Phu Bai. And as we’re going down the road, all of a sudden, and this happened without warning, you never receive any warning — there was gunfire. It was right to my left. Off the road there was a little ditch — an embankment — and there was a railroad track.

And as we turned to look, I could see two Viet Cong that were shooting at us. And instinctively I just turned around and fired off some rounds. I always had a clip on my machine gun ready in case of situations like this. And the Viet Cong were shooting directly at me, I could see the rounds coming. I wasn’t hit but it’s one of those things that — one of those miracles that happen in individuals’ lives. I should have been hit, but the rounds were coming and then they were going up, as if they were hitting something and going up.

This lasted — this whole chain of events — lasted seconds. The moment I heard the fire, the moment I turned around and swung, and I saw the rounds as I just explained, was seconds. We went down to the side of the embankment to take cover and return fire and they were gone. We didn’t see them again. But I know that it was not my turn to die.

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7 Responses to Tony Vargas

  1. Elisa Posey says:

    You will always be a hero to me Dad… I thought we would have this conversation “some sunny day.” I am proud of you for serving your country… I admire that quality in you… God Bless America…

  2. I love you Grandpa! Thank you so much for fighting for our country. God Bless America!

  3. I’m glad for you also that you did not pull that trigger. You seem like a very stand up man and your family must be very proud. I enjoyed listening to your comments and was moved by your moment of decision that day.
    Thanks for serving our country.
    Doug Dobransky

  4. Richard Hagan says:

    I was doing a search for a friend of mine about how long you life expectancy is as a machine gunner and ran across your article. I would up in Vietnam in December of 1967. I was the M60 gunner for C/1/502nd 101st Airborne Division. What you said in your article is absolutely correct. Many times under fire they had me move to the front to lay down fire to help my pinned down soldiers. The second I opened fire without question a hail of bullets would rain down directed at me. I lived long enough to to be prepared for this and would immediately return fire within milliseconds. It was this quick responses that saved my life. I made it 9 months without a scratch and then in a very heavy firefight I was shot in my left leg and hit with grenade fragments in my right leg. It was really fast thinking that saved my life. It was this repetitive training that made me react the way I did. I sure resented it while doing it but know know why they did it. I am happily married for 16 years living in Palo Alto CA.
    Rich

  5. Brian C. Turner says:

    Hello Brother Vet and gunner, carried the gun for 6 months for the Wolfhounds 227 Infantry Regiment 25th Division most of 68 until may 1969 made both Tets. I was most fortunate .I was there 15 monthes. I am 1 of only 5 guys in our unit that i know that was not hit. Very busy these days producing and gathering food for our local Food Pantry with the KC and busy in our holy Spirit Catholic Church

  6. James R Reinebach says:

    Thanks for your brave faithful service to our nation.
    My brother’s WW2 Machnie- gunner father-in-law just died a year ago at age 94.
    At D-Day he went in on Utah Beach. That day a bazooka man took out a tank that would have killed his team. They never saw the bazooka man again. The next day the machine-gunner was firing and his team was hit by grenades and motor, I think. A German medic was the first man on the scene and bandaged him up and probably saved his life. His buddy dragged him back to the beach 8 miles, including through our incoming 105 fire. The army patched him up and months later he was in the battle of the Hertgen Forest. Operating his machine gun into an enemy position German artillery found him, the second round shot shrapnel sideways across his knee tendons. He fell backwards and this time was mercifully sent home to the states. The buddy who hauled him to safety at D-Day plus 1 was reassigned to be an MP in Paris. The machine gunner met his wife during his hospitalization. Years later he gave his heart by faith to the Lord Jesus Christ. He was a kind gentle man.
    p.s. He said they told him that machine-gunners life in battle was 15 minutes.

  7. This is my father and he is completely amazing to me. I’m so grateful for all you’ve done to make my world a better place. I couldn’t be more proud of you.

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