Alan Michael TanguayPrivate First Class
K CO, 3RD BN, 7TH MARINES, 3RD MARDIV
United States Marine Corps
14 September 1946 - 10 March 1966
Panel 05E Line 135
The database page for Alan Michael Tanguay
The name of PFC Alan Tanguay, USMC, is etched on Row 135 of Panel 5E of The Wall. Alan was our next door neighbor growing up in Yakima, Washington. He was seven years older than my brother and nine years older than I was. He was like a big cousin, sometimes playing kid games with us like Kick-the-Can or sneaking us firecrackers to destroy plastic models. Alan was a high school athlete and taught my brother some athletic skills that later translated into a college football scholarship for my brother. Alan was, in a word, cool.
Alan died in Quang Tin in 1966. He was 19 years old. We all lose a little something from war. Alan lost his life, his parents lost their son, and my brother and I lost some youthful bravado.
I often think of Alan and that he never had a chance to continue his education, to fall in love, to raise a family or enjoy a lifetime of sunrises and sunsets. These thoughts are the foundation of my gratitude for Alan's service and that of all of the veterans I have known.
The last day of Alan Michael Tanguay, a Private First Class of the United States Marine Corps, was no different than any other day for any other Marine in Lance Corporal Barone's Fireteam of the 1st Platoon of Kilo Company the Third Battalion of the Seventh Marines, in Chu Lai, Vietnam. There was nothing very special that would differentiate Alan from the other Marines he served with. The best that could be said about Alan was that he was a Marine, and that did his job so very well with honor to the very end. And, of course, there was the water buffalo incident.
Alan was not so overly impressive as human beings go. He was almost as tall as I was at 6 feet tall; he was skinny as most of us were in Vietnam from the diet of C-rations, called 'rats' and rather scarce cooked meals. What weight he, and we, did have was a combination of the 'rats' and the field kitchen, and what we supplemented our diet with by the consumption of goodies from home sent to the members of the squad in the 'Care Packages' from our Moms, and from our sisters, and from our girlfriends alike to let us know that they were still thinking of us in our time of need.
I guess it would not be fair to call Alan skinny, or any of us for that matter to be called skinny, we were lean, and we were mean, the Marine Corps breed us that way. We were the short-haired Dobermans of War. We may have been under weight, but we were able to walk up and down rain slicked and muddy mountains, and through water filled thick mudded rice paddies, and we worked our way through thick jungle patches, all in the same day while carrying the implements of war on our backs in a climate that would best be described as 88% humidity and 90 degree temperatures of heat all the time, that is when it was not pouring down rain on us, because then it got worse.
On March 9th, 1966, the day before we walked into Phu Le (1) with Alan at the point, he and I went down the hill from our positions at 0630 Hours just as light was just breaking in the eastern sky over the South China Sea, Nam Hai the villagers called the mass of water, the sun would not show its face for another half an hour yet. We wore our standard cotton olive drab utilities, an ammo belt with a magazine on it, and we were soft covered being behind the lines so to speak. This was our appearance, while we tried to keep our M-14s on our shoulders as we carried water cans in our hands while walking down the mountain trail to the Battalion CP below us. We, along with a FNG Private, were carrying four five-gallon water cans, and we had a carry board on the back of the FNG Private, who would carry the 'Rats' for the day, and any ammo and grenades that the Company told us to take up the hill to the unit.
We walked over the worn path with just enough light to see and to avoid some of the loose rocks that were in our way down the mountain, and by the time we reached the mountain stream where we would bath and wash our clothing, when time permitted, the sun was just poking its head up over the sea to take a look around at Vietnam. Maybe, it too knew the dangers of the country we were in, and it almost appeared cautious in its rise into the sky over Vietnam.
In fifteen more minutes we were at the front flap of the Company CP Tent, and the FNG and I went to the Water Buffalo to fill the water cans, and to get a drink for ourselves. The water was still cool from the night, but it was still water out of a canvas bag, and it still tasted like a tent, but it was better than nothing at all.
As the FNG and I returned to the CP tent where Alan was BS'ing with the Company Clerk, whom he knew back in Pendleton, we started to load the carry board with two cans of M-14 ammo, a can of M-60 belt ammo, two radio batteries, and two boxes of 'Rats'; it was one heavy load, but once on the back of a man, and the man under it was moving, it was nothing that we hadn't carried before. When we walked up the hill, we would switch loads so that each of us carried an equal amount of the load for a ways.
The CP, and the clerk most of all, was where we got the 'scuttle-butt' for the day, and we would be told of what was happening around the Battalion CP, and we would dutifully pass on the news to the other members of the squad when we got back up on the hill. The clerk said that there were some operations coming up in the next couple of days and our company would be the lead elements of the operation. He also informed us of the different enemy units that were in the area, or at least those that had been identified by the locals.
We then carried the water and supplies up the hill to the lines, as I said earlier, switching loads as we went up the hill.
When we arrived on the lines, we told Corporal Brock, the Squad Leader of First Squad, of what we had heard, and as he poured water into his helmet to shave and wash with, he told us to have the Fireteam leaders report to him for their water, and their ammo, and their chow.
After morning chow, ham steak for me, and after we had shaved and washed, we were told to police the area real good, and to go cut down brush in front of the positions. Alan and I grabbed the machete and worked on the brush out to the wire. We went down the hill beyond the wire and checked our flare trip wires, and we moved some from the positions that they were at to other positions. We checked the two Claymores to make sure they were in the right positions, and that enterprising and stealthy young VC had not come up the mountain and turned them around on us. Everything was SOP!
Corporal Brock came around and he checked the positions for any trash, and he checked for brush in front of the position's field of fire. He also told us that 'we were out of here' before first light in the morning, and to 'stow away' anything that the people that take our lines, during the operation, may lift from the area. He said there would be a rifle inspection in an hour, and to make sure that our canteens were filled to the brim. That a second work party from the Second Squad had just returned from CP with 'Rats', more ammo and grenades, and some more of the new plastic canteens for those that did not have them yet. Many of us had our old aluminum canteens replaced by this time because of the water gaskets that would not seal the canteen tops and because of the noise the canteens made coming out of the canteen cup at night on ambush.
Brock came around an hour later to check the rifles as he had said he would, and handed out some squeeze bottles of gun oil, and some tubes of gun grease for the bolt slide. He told us to put enough on so that there would not be any jams that we had experienced before. He was actually pretty thorough in his inspection, and he even checked the gas piston for carbon build up. Alan had too much carbon in his and he had to redo his rifle for a second inspection.
After all that was done, we sat by the small fire we had in a protected area, and we heated water for coco and coffee, and we played cards. We talked of different things, like baseball teams and girls back in the states, and cars, and different bars, and the older guys would tell of different duty stations they had been to around the world.
Alan and I were playing Rummy up to about 2100 hours, and then we manned our positions for the night until 0200 hours, and we were relieved of watch and went to sleep, but were awakened at 0430 hours. Water was already there, so we washed in the dark and shaved, and we formed up and were moved to the field mess where we received morning chow. By 0630 hours, we were mounted on Six-bys [trucks] and we were headed south on Highway 1.
SOP on the trucks was rifles outboard as we moved down Highway 1, and somewhere around Chau Tu we were dismounted to start a sweep of the area westward to the railroad tracks, and then we turned south to the Song Tra Bong River.
We moved up the river in a column to the area where we had conducted Operation Humbug in November of 65. I, as usual, walked the point in the area. We stopped for an hour near the village of Tan Phuoc, and Alan had a close encounter with a water buffalo at one point while we were walking through the village, and he was pretty shook up by almost being hit by the train engine sized animal as it jumped out at him from between two village huts. When it was all over, we were all laughing at the sight of him drawing down on the animal and ready to pump the poor dumb beast with a mag of 7.62s. I even had to stop him from throwing an M-26 at the retreating beast, but we all continued to laugh at the thought of it all, and he too laughed when he finally calmed down, but not without mild oaths of what it would be like to have a Water Buffalo Burger.
With the exception of the water buffalo incident at Tan Phuoc, and the rain and the humidity, it had been a pretty uneventful day up to that point, and we went on line and we swept through Phuoc Thuan, and Tien Dao (1) as we neared Phu Le (3), and we split to units on both sides of the railroad tracks.
We had moved back across the built up area of the railroad tracks, and we moved to the pathway between Phu Le (3) and Phu Le (1) west of the tracks, when we received our first rounds of sniper and mortar fire for the day. The rest of the company turned towards the south, and they went in search of the enemy towards the Song Tra Bong River, and we were ordered to clear the village of Phu Le (1).
Brock called me forward to take the point, but Alan volunteered to go in first. He said that he wanted to get a good shot at the next water buffalo he saw, and he didn't want anyone in his way this time. We all laughed at that. Brock told me to maintain sight contact with Alan, and to keep on his ass through the village. We had already seen signs of VC units in the village what with some new excavations and trench work on the outskirts of the village. We knew they were around.
Usually, walking point was the safest place to be in the unit. It wasn't often that the VC would take down the lead man, in favor of getting more people in the main ranks of the column.
The south entrance to Phu Le (1) was at an intersection of two paths, one coming off of the rice paddies and the mountains to the west, and one, the one we were on, from Phu Le (3). There were three or four huts near the entrance and there was a growth of bamboo along each side of the village pathway with more village huts yet to come up along the pathway to the north. The path turned a little to the left, and, for just a brief second, I lost sigh of Alan, and then I heard the shots, and they weren't M-14's, they were AK's.
I ran forward and saw Alan on the path, I called for Doc, and, Alan, he already looked blue in the face, and there were three holes in his chest that was plain to be seen and heard as he sucked air. I put my hands over two of the wounds, and I looked around, and I saw Doc running up the trail, and when he took over, Alan looked much worse. I went to look for the VC!
I followed some pushed down brush, and I was headed out into the paddy after the VC, when Brock called to me to hold my position right where I was. I wanted to pretend that I did not hear him, but I held my position all the same.
Squads two and three came on line, and my squad, minus Barone's Fireteam spread out around me and then we pushed through the village. It was at about one hundred meters to the north that we came across two young males hiding in a dugout, and we pulled them out of the hole, and, just then, we received some incoming small arms fire from just ahead to the north, and it was about this time that a squad from the 2nd platoon came running up the trail with the Vietnamese interpreter, Chong, in tow, and he settled down to interrogate the two VCS we had, and he found carbon on the hands of one of the VCS, and they had no ID Cards.
As the questioning was going on, I saw a chopper land and take off again, and there afterwards Barone's Fireteam and the Doc came up. They let us know that Alan was dead, and he was being taken back to Battalion Aid.
The rest of the day, we continued on in the search, and eventually, it became an operation called Operation C&H, and we never had a peaceful day after that until we were lifted out of the area on the 14th. We had a couple of wounded, but no other KIA, and we were not done with this area for a while to come. It was a few days later that Operations Utah and then Texas were to find a regiment of VC and NVA in the area, and many more of our Marines were lost, including me to wounds, but the story of the water buffalo at Tan Phuoc was told over and over again. I guess it kept Alan alive in our minds just a little while longer. It kept him in the unit. He was no longer laid down in the middle of that path in the middle of a rain shower, with each telling of the story he was with us again.
From a brother Marine,
A Note from The Virtual WallFaces from the Wall contains the following obituary for PFC Alan Tanguay:
PFC Tanguay is buried in Greenacres Memorial Park, Ferndale, Washington.
Top of Page|
With all respect
Jim Schueckler, former CW2, US Army
Ken Davis, Commander, United States Navy (Ret)
Memorial first published on 5 Feb 2004
Last updated 08/10/2009