A Rifle and An Old War Story

The following story was relayed to me by my father, William Hatfield, whose personal photos of his time in Vietnam make up a chuck of this collection. I will do my best to tell the story as he relayed it, he did like to exaggerate sometimes but upon going through my photos and seeing the image above, well it just reminds me too much to not give it a try.

William “Bill” Hatfield went into the Navy right out of high school and after a very short stint in submarines he found himself in Corps school and a few short months later was sent to Vietnam as a US Navy Hospital Corpsmen serving with a Marine unit in country. The story goes as such.

Being a Corpsmen Bill carried a standard issue pistol, most likely a 9mm. Being medical personnel they were really not allowed to carry anything else according to the “rules of war”.  After a few weeks and several fire fights Bill asked one of the guys in his squad if he could teach him how to use the rifle, you know, just in case. Everyone sort of laughed and suggested that they had no issue with Bill knowing how to use the rifle, but before he could use one he needed to know how to clean it. Performing such maintenance on a firearm is important, but in the jungle it takes on another level of necessity. Bill agreed and underwent field classes on how to take apart, clean and reassemble the rifle as pictured above.

There was one problem. Bill had a hell of a time getting the rifle back together. It became a thing. Whenever the men were on patrol, during the breaks they would hand Bill a rifle and watch as he skillfully tore it down and leaned it like he had been doing it for years. When the time came to reassemble it though, he never had much luck.

One day his patrol entered a small village that was considered friendly and the men spread out to take a rest. Dutifully one of the men handed Bill a rifle who took a seat on the ground in front of small hut and started tearing the rifle down. Over his shoulder he noticed a small boy, five or six watching him very intently. Bill got the rifle apart and cleaned it, with the boy watching all the while. Before he could start the painful process of assembling the weapon he heard shouts coming from the other side of the village. Bill dropped the rifle parts and took off.

One of the Marines was trying to get up close and personal with one of the young ladies of the village and found himself on the wrong end of an irate father. No one was seriously hurt from the misunderstanding, but the Marine required a few stitches.  Bill realized he left his medkit back where he was sitting and headed back to get it. Upon reaching the hut he saw a sight that stayed with him the rest of his life.

The little boy was just finishing re-assembling the rifle like he had been doing it for years. Bill walked over and the young man handed the rifle to him smiling from ear to ear. he checked it out and everything looked good. he patted the kid on the head grabbed his medkit and went back to where the men were gathered.

When they saw Bill walk up with the re-assembled rifle some of the men started hooting and hollering.

“Doc finally put it back together!” His friend said.

Bill confidently held up the rifle and said, “Wasn’t hard at all!”

The image of the kid putting the rifle together when he couldn’t would stick with him. From that day on he never carried a rifle, cleaned a rifle or tried to put one back together.  He also never told anyone about the incident until well after he was home. Seeing that picture above always makes me smile and think about that story.