The Making of an US Army Vietnam Grunt

Posted on February 18, 2012


A lot of crap has been said about the Vietnam Grunt. Many movies portrayed them as illiterate and uneducated killers. Forrest Gump made the grunt look like simpletons.

I was a Vietnam Grunt. I had graduated from high school in June and  received my draft notice in early December as an early Christmas present. After I took all the tests the Army had to offer, I was offered a chance to go to Officer Candidate School or OCS for short. I declined. At about the same time the Army had a Non Commissioned Officer school but I was not offered a chance to go to it.

Everyone went to the same basic training. Advanced Individual Training or AIT was designed to teach you the skills you need for your “job” in the Army.

I was to be an infantryman and I was sent to Ft. Ord, California for my training. AIT lasted for 8 weeks. In that 8 weeks, you had to learn how assemble, disassemble and fire the M60 machine gun, the 45 caliber pistol, the M79 grenade Launcher and qualify with them.   We learned how to employ these weapons as well as the M16A1 rifle into a squad/platoon firing scheme. We were taught how to load, aim and fire the 90mm Anti Tank weapon.  With all of these weapons we had to learn the maximum range and the maximum effective range. The maximum range is how far the round could actually travel where as the maximum effective range is how far you can fire that round and still control where it hits.

We had to learn how to properly handle, arm and throw a hand grenade. We had to learn the different effects of the various hand grenades. The Fragmentation grenade had a killing radius of 15 meters. Where as the White Phosphorus Grenade (Willie Pete) had a  burning radius of 25 yards. The difference between a fragmentation and a Willie Pete grenade is the fragmentation grenade when it explodes it sends out small pieces of steel. When the Willey Pete explodes it sends out small pieces of Phosphorus that burns white hot (5,000 degrees)and can only be put out by smothering it so that no oxygen can get to it.

We had to learn how to set up and tear down the claymore mine. We had to learn how to aim it, detonate it and how to set it up with trip wires. We also had to learn how to arm and unarm other various anti personnel mines to include the “Bouncing Betty”. We were taught how to properly use the 50 Caliber Machine gun and various anti-tank mines. We also learned how to read a military map, how to conduct a patrol, how to set up and conduct various forms of ambushes. We had classes on First aid.  We also had to learn the various forms of communication and how to properly maintain these pieces of equipment.

The above will give you a basic understanding of what an infantry soldier had to learn in 8 weeks of training. At the end of the 8 week period we were given a test on all of this equipment and less than 2 percent would fail.

The Infantry soldier that the Army had was a far cry from uneducated or illiterate. He was a highly trained team oriented individual. He was a soldier who acted in coordination with his team members and when called upon  he showed no fear while in a fire fight.

I was and always will consider myself to  be a Proud Grunt. I tried (although I know there were some occasions I did not) to always act in a professional manner. There were times, as an RTO, I over stepped my bounds when our platoon was in trouble. Even during those times my intentions were to complete the mission and protect our platoon. So for these reasons I do not regret my actions. I would like to be able to apologize to those pilots but only because I know they were just trying to do their jobs.

So if you think being a Grunt meant all you had to do was point a gun and shoot, please read this again.

Sgt Phil Merritt US Army Infantry Squad Leader











Fill the 5 gallon can. Fill the cut off 55 gallon drum. Let the sun warm the water. Then shower.