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04-12-04, 05:19 PM #1
Beirut Archive's Article 12/08/83
This article was sent to me in my email today....I completely forgot about it. Brought back memories.
BEIRUT, LEBANON'; They called their position "Root Gulch."
In the weeks they spent at a seemingly remote location at the northeast perimeter of the Beirut International Airport, the U.S. Marines of Charlie Company’s 1st platoon saw themselves as characters in a Western epic.
The transition was easy. It began with the complex mission of the Multinational Peacekeeping Force. Scaled down to a platoon-sized level, their objective was to maintain the security of the portion of the airport perimeter assigned to them, the area they called Root Gulch.
“ROOT GULCH” was like a little Western town,” said Second Lieutenant Bill Harris, 1st Platoon commander and “Mayor” of Root Gulch. “There were three concrete buildings, one which served as a church. It had a little steeple and a broken alter inside it. There was a dirt road that went along behind the position, so it was sort of like a one-road town,” the La Grange, GA. Native explained.”
“In its boom days Root Gulch had a population of about 60,” Mayor Harris continued.” That included our platoon plus three sniper teams, a tank crew, Dragon attachments, and a 50-caliber machine gun team.”
Little imagination was required to make normal functions of the platoon camp become features of the stereotyped Western town. One building became “Town Hall” or the Mayor’s Office.” Naturally that’s where 2nd Lt. Harris lived and worked. The American Flag few out front.
Another building became the “Root Gulch General Store and Post Office” where food, ammunition and mail were distributed. In the sandbag bunker above it, sodas were stored, so that space became the “Saloon.”
And the Marine who took up post and residence in the third building of course became the pastor of “Root Gulch Church.”
The residents of Root Gulch became a “posse” to protect the town from “outlaw bandits,” the warring factions that are ruining Lebanon with violence to gain power and wealth. Between them stretched a 400-yard “No Man’s Land,” bounded by barbed wire on one side and a concrete and brick wall on the other. To maintain law and order in Root Gulch, the mayor depended heavily on his “sheriff” and “deputy”.
The Sheriff was Staff Sergeant Joe Curtis, platoon sergeant, was already a legendary lawman when Root Gulch was established. “That’s law, spelled LAAW,” drawled his deputy, Sgt. Charles Hall, platoon guide, pointing out the acronyms for light anti-tank assault weapon. SSgt. Curtis of Champagne, Ill became the first Marine in Beirut to fire a LAAW.
The engagement occurred while Charlie Company occupied a position at the southern end of the airport, near the Beirut suburb of Chalde.
The withdrawal of Israeli forces and a movement of the Lebanese Army prompted a response.
“They opened up on us with everything they had, said “Sheriff” Curtis, “Small arm machine guns and RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades). We were pinned down tight. Snipers in a building 75 meters away were giving us the world of it. We couldn’t get to them with our rifles because it was a concrete building.”
SSgt. Curtis summarized the desperate situation. “The wagons were in a circle, the Indians were all over, and there weren’t no cavalry in sight. So I relied on the long arm of the LAAW.
As to the effectiveness of the shoulder launched, armor-piercing rocket, the sheriff simply said, “They stopped shooting…”
Sergeant Charles Hall of St. Petersburg, FL was deputized by the sheriff while the platoon staked out their claim on Root Gulch. As the platoon guide, he was responsible for the administrative and logistical tasks necessary to care for the platoon. Specifically, he was the shopkeeper of the Root Gulch General Store and Post Office. He also ensured that there was plenty of sodas for the Saloon upstairs. Next to the store was a tent occupied by a Navy hospital corpsman known to the Marines as “Doc”.
“In the old Western movies,” said Sgt. Hall, “If someone got shot in the saloon they’d always run upstairs to get the doc. But in Root Gulch they’d have to run downstairs.”
Getting shot at was a matter of great concern to Root Gulch residents, especially when snipers from behind the wall at Hey es Sellum began shooting at them. October 14, a Marine was killed and another injured in attacks from behind that wall. In that engagement, “Deputy” Hall became another legend in Root Gulch lore. He became “The Phantom Blooper.”
1st Platoon exchanged fire with the snipers for two hours, “ said Sgt. Hall. “But we couldn’t get at them. They would shoot as us from behind the wall, then duck back down.”
Finally, Sgt. Hall picked up an M-203 grenade launcher left behind by a Marine on liberty. The weapon, known as a “blooper,” was familiar to him even though his own weapon was an M-16 rifle. When he first joined the Corps, he was trained as an M-79 grenadier. The M-79 was used extensively in Vietnam, but was later replaced by the M-203, which fires 40mm high explosive grenades.
“Deputy” Hall fired 19 grenades, “walking” the first four into the target, and dropping the last 15 behind the wall. “It was very effective in stopping the fire,” said Sgt. Hall.
Since then, “Deputy” Hall accepted the tag, “The Phantom Blooper,” taken from an Vietnam-era tunnel rat who would suddenly appear “from nowhere” to attack with his M-79.
A professional clown for 16 years, Sgt. Hall produced a costume for his role, consisting of cutoff camouflage trousers, and a mask made from one of the legs.
A classic tale of the Old West involves the Bible in the shirt pocket which prevents the gunman’s bullet from penetrating the heart. Though 20-year-old Corporal Robert O’Toole of Cliffside Park, NJ had no Bible in his pocket, God was with him just the same, he said.
A Root Gulch resident and squad leader for the platoon’s third squad, Cpl. O’Toole’s Marines were standing post on the line during the fighting. “We were taking sniper fire and I was moving from position to position and my rifle got shot.” He explained. A 7.62mm round penetrated the stock and lodged in the buffer spring assembly.
A visiting press photographer took a picture of Cpl O’Toole holding up his rifle. Cpl. O’Toole knew he was lucky but it wasn’t until much later that he realized just how lucky he was.
“Later that afternoon, I went to take a drink from my canteen and there was a hole in it,” he said. “I didn’t even feel the impact. I guess the adrenaline was pumping too fast.”
Before Cpl. O’Toole could write home to tell anyone about it, he was receiving mail from his family and friends asking him about it. His picture was printed on the front pages of his hometown papers.
The Marines of Charlie Company’s 1st Platoon have now left Beirut and are home. Though they may never forget their brief stay in Root Gulch, they willingly left it to the Marines of the 22nd MAU to add their own chapters to the saga of Root Gulch, if they choose.
Camp Lejeune Globe December 8,1983
04-13-04, 01:06 AM #2
Great read Dep'ty Hall!
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