LIFE DURING MILITARY SERVICE
In August 1967, I enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps as a means of seeking gainful employment, fighting for my country, and impressing the girls. I completed boot camp at Camp Lejeune, N.C. I thought boot camp was pretty easy. I was always physically fit, did well academically in school, so boot camp was easier than I anticipated. I made squad leader the first week I was there. After boot camp I attended Advanced Infantry Training (AIT). After six weeks of AIT I was a lean mean fighting machine. I was ready for anything. After AIT, I got orders to Vietnam. I arrived in Vietnam in January 1968. When I got there my initial impression was complete shock. The place smelled bad, looked bad, and seemed dirty. After processing in, I was assigned to 1/9th Marines, 3rd Marine Division. As soon as I got settled in a grisly old gunnery sergeant made it a point to tell me I would never see the states again. I didn’t let him know at the time, but that scared the heck out of me. After only two weeks in country I witnessed the horrors of war.
January 1968, while serving guard duty, my forward base camp was mortared by the North Vietnamese Army (NVA). Mortars were dropping in everywhere. The sound was loud and the smell was horrible. A machine gunner about 10 yards away from me was hit on the left shoulder. The mortar blew off the entire left side of his body. I tried to administer first aid, but he died almost immediately. After the mortar attack stopped, I remember sitting in the bunker shaking badly for about 30 minutes. I couldn’t get the images out of my head of seeing my comrades killed.
February 1968, during a search and destroy mission in the jungle my unit came across three dead American soldiers. They were nailed to a tree, their ears had been cut off, and all of them had mud stuffed down their throats. The sight was horrible. We took them down and properly bagged them up and sent them to the morgue. The smell of their rotting flesh was awful. I didn’t sleep well for three weeks after that incident.
April 1968, during a search and destroy mission my unit was involved in a very intense firefight. We lost two guys in our unit. I just ended my pointman duties when the firefight started. The guy that replaced me was hit in the face by a few rounds. He died instantly. Another guy was hit in the chest and died as well. Several other members of our unit were wounded pretty bad. I’m not sure how I survived, but I did. In fact, I didn’t get a scratch. But, I was terrified. I had a few horrible dreams about the incident that night and days later. Of course, being the Marine I thought I was, I didn’t tell anyone.