Author:Smith, Clint

More than 1.5 million of these battle rifles were issued to American soldiers with the statement, "There are many like it, but this one is mine."

This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. 1 must master it as I master my life. I will learn it as a brother. I will ever guard it against the ravages of weather and damage. I will keep my rifle clean and ready, even as lam clean and ready My rifle and myself are the defenders of my country ... So be it, until victory is America's and there is no enemy but peace.

With this credo, written by Maj. Gen. WH. Ruperetus USMC, I received my initial introduction to the M-14 rifle on Oct. 28, As young Marine recruits, we had been issued the rifles early in September, but our primary focus until this time had been sitting on shiny little buckets and conducting repetitive disassembly, cleaning and reassembly drills. In the warm fall California sun we gathered together like inverted muskox in the "snapping in" circles at Edison Range on Camp Pendleton, practicing firing positions while locked into biting slings and cramping Thighmaster positions.

Little did we know or appreciate the value of the hard work invested in us. Very soon, it would serve some of us well.

The M-14, a long-time favorite of the U.S. Marine Corps infantryman, was carried ashore by the Marines in their first action in the Republic of Vietnam circa 1965. This first all-Marine campaign, dubbed "Operation Starlight," was to be the initial test of men and metal that would set the stage for the next 10 years of Marine Corps history. In this time before the M-16 was issued in significant numbers, the bulky, cumbersome M-14 remained a powerful and effective force in combat.

Master Of The Jungle

The air feels heavy as you slowly draw a breath into your lungs. Mist glides in the air around you, carrying the familiar smell of unwashed bodies blended with the remnants of LSA and bore cleaner. You try to wiggle your toes silently to relieve an itch on the skin of your always-wet feet.

Hours ago the sun sank below the horizon, and you know all too well that it will take its own sweet time in returning. In these dark hours, when your own hand disappears into the blackness at arm's length, your mind is consumed with childhood fears of falling into a bottomless pit. The only sounds are your breathing -- which never seems quiet enough -- and the barely audible hum of the Starlight scope atop...

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