THE GRUNT
 

      This may be your finest hour, for you are about to meet a "grunt." Doff your cap, if you will, wave a flag, choke back a sob in your throat, wipe away a tear from your eye, for this is the man who is fighting your war. He is the Marine up front, the one who is sticking his nose in the mud each day, every day. He is the one who sees the enemy at 25 yards or less. He is the one who knows what it feels like to be shot at by small arms at close range. He is the one who dies a thousand times when the night is dark and the moon is gone. And he is the one who dies once and forever when an enemy rifle belches flame. If you have ever slogged through a sticky rice paddy or waded a stream carrying 200 rounds of ammunition, a rifle, several canteens and a pack with enough field rations, extra gear and spare clothing to last a week or more, you know why they call him a grunt. It's fairly obvious. But look at him well and know him, for he is really something. He wears, in dirty dignity, a helmet and a flak jacket and a faded and torn uniform. His hands are ripped and infected from contact with barbed wire and elephant grass. His wrists are swollen from mosquito bites. His pockets are full and his boots are mud-caked and his eyes never stand still, they move and squint and twitch. He is nervous, aware of every sound. For he operates in a never - never world where the difference between death and one more tomorrow often depends upon what he sees or does not see, what he hears or does not hear. The grunt is the man who lives as close to war as it is possible to get. His rank varies, but mostly he is a private first class, a lance corporal, a corporal, a sergeant or a lieutenant. He likes the Air Forces because planes give him a measure of protection. He likes artillery outfits because they can knock the bejabbers out of an enemy platoon. He cares about supply outfits only to the extent that they can provide him with something to eat and more ammunition to shoot. He lives first for the day when his tour will be up and he can get out of this country. He lives next for R and R. He'd like to get his hands on a can of cold beer because it could drive the heat form his throat and ease the corroding pain in his gut. He'd like to feel the softness of a woman. But he is a grunt and if he can live through today then there will be tomorrow. And if he can live through enough tomorrows there will be the R and R, the cold beer, the feel of a woman and the end of his tour. The grunt as he stands in dirty, muddy majesty is as fine a fighting man as the United States has ever produced. He is young, tough, intelligent and he knows how to kill. But he is a lot more than that. There is something of the builder in these young men. They speak sometimes of what must be done to South Vietnam to make it right and workable. They speak, sometimes, of government and how it must work. And if you are lucky, you may get a grunt to speak his mind about the war. He may tell you many things in a language largely unprintable. But it may or may not be surprising to learn that , for the most part, he understands why he is here and he believes in the purposes that put him here. And that is something, because if you take a grunt out of his muddy, water filled bunker, remove his helmet, his flak jacket, his field uniform, take away his rifle, clean him up and dress him in a sport shirt, slacks and loafers, you've got the kid who was playing on last year's high school football team. He is a national asset to be cherished.  Written by: Jay Reed from the Milwaukee Journal, a former Marine sergeant, sent to Con Thien to find human interest stories of war.