LANCE CORPORAL LIGATO RECALLS HUE CITY AND THE LEADERSHIP OF A BROTHER NAMED JOHN
By Andy Weddington
Friday, 26 March 2021
Without discipline, there is no Marine Corps. - Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey, USMC
Lance Corporal: Paygrade E-3; ranks above Private First Class and below Corporal. They wear crossed rifles and bleed but do not wear blood stripes.
What do Marine lance corporals do? That question best answered by a retired Marine colonel friend, Jerry, who was a lance corporal and served in Vietnam: "Exactly as they are told."
Truth be known it was a Marine lance corporal who first uttered, "Hold my beer!" They are a proud, high-spirited lot capable of feats beyond mere mortals. Leadership matters.
Gunnery Sergeant: Paygrade E-7; ranks above Staff Sergeant and below First Sergeant/Master Sergeant; commonly known as "Gunny." They, since lance corporal, wear crossed rifles and since promotion to corporal blood stripes. They bleed.
What do Gunnery Sergeants do? Any and everything! Including lead lance corporals. There is no peer - military nor civilian - to "the Gunny."
And so begins commentary to close the week.
Monday afternoon past my wife received email from her alma mater with but a few addressees cc'd. One address caught her attention so she spelled it aloud to me. It was variant of "leatherneck."
I said, "That's a Marine!" And suggested sending a short note.
And that's how Lance Corporal Ligato crossed my path.
A few email exchanges between the alums revealed Lance Corporal Ligato and I have quite a few mutual Marine acquaintances - one of whom, my OCS company commander, he would be playing golf with Tuesday morning.
"Good grief," I said to my wife, " ... though there's no reason for Bruce Gombar to remember me - but I did introduce myself when seated near at a base commander's retirement ceremony aboard Camp Lejeune and we have served with some fine Marines in common - the late Chris Cowdrey (Brigadier General) and Rich Charette (CWO5 - Gunner) coming to mind."
So Monday evening we ordered one of Ligato's books from the Marine Corps Association and Foundation. Yesterday afternoon UPS delivered. I finished it before retiring. And was awakened less than four hours later by thoughts of how to tell this strange small Corps story.
Where to start?
For certain I know two Marines who commanded Alpha Company, First Battalion First Marines (A 1/1).
One a peer, retired Marine, and close friend for nearly 40 years; we speak often and likely will today. The other commanded the company some 40 years before him during the Korean War. And that Marine his late father - whom I met a time or two, and have written about.
Between those captains Barrow of A 1/1 Marines and battles fell the service of Lance Corporal John Ligato and battle for Hue City.
I know and have written commentary of Marine friends who fought in Vietnam and were awarded decorations for heroism under fire.
First coming to mind then Lance Corporal Dan Mulvihill, recon Marine, who fought alongside Staff Sergeant Jimmy Howard against a superior enemy force atop what became known as Howard's Hill. Lance Corporal Mulvihill was awarded the Silver Star and Purple Heart. And Staff Sergeant Howard the Medal of Honor and Purple Heart. In fact, every member of Howard's small recon team was awarded either the Silver Star or Navy Cross and Purple Heart (some posthumous).
Another is then Captain Marcel "Mac" Dube, an advisor to the South Vietnamese Army, whose Navy Cross recommendation for rescuing a downed and injured U. S. Air Force pilot behind enemy lines was lost - and more than four decades later resubmitted was downgraded to a Silver Star. The medal presented during formal ceremony aboard the Combat Center in 29 Palms, California a few years prior to his death. The Air Force pilot, living in Texas, attended. As did I. Emotional? An understatement.
And last night I learned a retired Marine for whom I worked, indirectly but closely for a couple years, was as a captain and commanding officer of F 2/5 during Hue City awarded the Silver Star. Lance Corporal Ligato, too, knows Brigadier General Mike Downs.
Lance Corporal John Ligato's book is about the Tet Offensive and fight for Hue City.
And his story, told bluntly through the eyes of a 19 years-old Marine rifleman but with decades to reflect, weaves throughout his and A 1/1's leadership - namely a gunnery sergeant named John.
Gunnery Sergeant John L. Canley was the company gunny and also held command of the company until turning those duties over to young First Lieutenant Ray Smith. For extraordinary leadership in combat Gunnery Sergeant Canley was awarded the Navy Cross. [Smith, too, earned decorations for heroism.]
Decades later Canley's Navy Cross was reconsidered.
The Medal of Honor approved and awarded by President Trump.
Present at the White House ceremony in October 2018 was my friend who commanded A 1/1.
He (as did his date) met Sergeant Major Canley.
Lots of people, time short, so not surprising he did not meet Lance Corporal John Ligato. Too bad. [But somehow I have to fix that (having learned an invaluable lesson years ago about how important such small Corps introductions when fortuitous circumstances made for me introducing my friend to Colonel Mac Dube an admirer of his father).]
If plans work out, later this year my wife and I will meet leatherneck - John Ligato. We're looking forward to that occasion.
There's plenty of books on Tet and Hue City but for an interesting ground-level take through a lance corporal's eye absolutely pick up a copy of John's book: THE GUNNY - Medal of Honor Recipient John Canley.
Written in Marinespeak - straightforward, blunt language; sometimes colorful. [Throughout the story, many a Marine's name familiar just too many to cite with proper justice herein.]
At the time of the Hue city fight, my 11th birthday cake candles were still smoldering - with no inkling 12 years later I'd be a Marine. Life forever changed in a way only Marines understand, and others envy.
Time shrinks the world.
And time compacts the Corps - into a world about the size of a blood drop. Brothers all.
Semper Fi, Marines.
Post Script: Lance Corporal is just one of John Ligato's distinguished titles. If not already familiar, you'll find that out soon enough.