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In the early spring of 1967 the Marine Corps was engaged in what were dubbed the 'hill fights' around the Khe Sanh combat base. Hills 558, 861 and 881 North and South dominated the landscape around the combat base as well as important incursion routes from the North. In the unexpected cold and darkness of the north-west monsoon the Marines experienced some of the most savage fighting of the war as they drove the North Vietnamese from the four peaks.
A number of the rifle battalions engaged in the hill fights were the first Marine units to be issued the 5.56mm M16 rifle. Nearly four pounds lighter than the M14 it replaced, the M16 quickly became the subject of some controversy. On 22 May a letter from an unidentified Marine was read into the record in the US House of Representatives, blaming the new rifle for many of the Marine deaths during the hill fights. It was discovered that the M16 was not as forgiving of field combat conditions as its predecessor, while a shortage of cleaning gear and the basic lack of experience in its care all added to the Marines' initial distrust. Within months these problems would be resolved, and the M16 would become dependable - if never as well loved as the old M14.
The Ml helmet is worn with its web chinstrap typically fastened up around the rear. The rubber retaining band holds packets of C-ration toilet paper and a C-ration plastic spoon is tucked into a foliage slit on the camouflage cover.
The tropical combat uniform is a mismatched set of a second pattern coat and third pattern 'rip-stop' trousers. This third version of the uniform was manufactured either from the original cotton-poplin or from the new 'rip-stop' fabric. This latter was basically cotton-poplin which incorporated a nylon weave which greatly increased the strength of the fabric. Under the tropical coat is worn a Marine winter weight woollen shirt for additional warmth in the monsoon chill of the Khe Sanh hills.
Web gear consists of an M1961 belt, two M1956 canteens, and a K-Bar utility/fighting knife on the left hip. This example is of World War 2 vintage, originally issued in a russet leather sheath which has been polished or dyed to comply with a 1963 directive which changed the colour of all Marine Corps leather items from brown to black. Suspenders, if worn, are obscured by the body armour.
Ammunition for the M16 is carried loaded into magazines in the cotton bandolier draped around the chest. Experienced Marines soon learned to load the magazines with 18 or 19 rounds, as the full 20 were found to put a strain on the spring and cause malfunction.
The AN/PRC-25 FM Radio became available to the Marine Corps in early 1967 as a replacement for the largely unsatisfactory PRC-10. The PRC-25 was partly transistorized and, depending on the terrain, had an average optimum range of 3.5 miles, though far greater distances could usually be reached. The radio was issued with a choice of either a sectional long range antenna or a shorter 'tape' antenna, as here. Attached to the radio's carrying frame are a spare parts bag, a Claymore mine bag and a selection of signalling grenades.
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