God bless the Corps

IMG_0819“There was an expectation in my family that you’d do military service in time of war. My dad had surgery so that he could join the Navy in order to fight in World War II, and I had several uncles that served in the Pacific. My brother was four years older than I was and ended up in Naval ROTC at the University of Nebraska and went the Marine Corps track. I also decided on the Marine Corps.
“I flew the CH-46 Sea Knight. After flight school, I went to New River, North Carolina. Cindy and I were already married, so I asked to go overseas early so she could go back to college. It was 1971 and I got orders to Okinawa. I got there, and we were asked who wanted to go ‘in country.’ Three of us raised our hands. I wanted to go to Vietnam because the war was so controversial, and I thought that getting closer to it, I’d understand it better. Also, a buddy of mine once said the worst job out there is being in the military during peacetime – it’s like working for a telephone company with no wires or poles. Two days later I was at Marble Mountain, south of Da Nang. Turns out the closer you get to war, the muddier it gets.

“You have to have the mentality that you’re going to be able to handle anything. The first night I was there, the base took rockets. I hit the deck so hard and my salty roomie laughed at me; he said, ‘Nah, those are so far away.’ The next time one sounded, I jumped out of the top bunk bed and landed on top of my roomie. He said, ‘Those were damn close.’ The first few days were spent trying to absorb the difference between flying stateside and wartime flying. We did recon inserts and extracts, resupply, emergency medevacs and night medevacs. I didn’t like the night medevacs. It’s dark, you can’t see anything, you’ve got three or four people talking to you on the radios. It was the classic fog of war. Everything about it was blurry. 

“One mission I remember clearly was a day medevac. They didn’t call them IEDs at the time, but it was like that. They called them land mines. We were supporting the ROKS, Korean Marines, and were flying to pick up their injured. From the time we’d taken off to the time we’d arrived, they’d set off another booby trap. When we landed at the clearing site, they just started carrying in pieces of people. It was horrible. I was flying with this major, and people were yelling at us on the radio that we had to get out of there. We had been in the zone way too long. Seemed like a lifetime. The major had his window in the helo down and was yelling at the Korean Marines to hurry up. I’ll never forget it. One of their men walked up to our helicopter locked and loaded and started to point his weapon at the major. The major looked at him, gestured and yelled, ‘Take as long as you need.’ You never know how a rescue like that turns out, but we didn’t think there was any way any one of those guys made it that day.

“I’m telling my story because of the way Vietnam veterans have been characterized by the media. I’m a little angry about it, really. Until a few years ago, even my own kids assumed I smoked weed while I was over there. Not only did I not use it, I never even saw it. There has been such a sweeping generalization that all Vietnam veterans are drug abusers, burn outs, and drunks. The truth is, we’re the most successful group of veterans in the history of America. We have amassed more financial wealth, we own more businesses, and I bet if you did spiritual assessments, you’d find we lead in that area too. I wish everyone would read the book ‘Stolen Valor’ by B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley. They talk about all this. ‘Vietnam veterans were as successful or more successful than men their age who did not go to Vietnam.’ This book shows just how wrong the media has gotten it: alleged Vietnam vets put in prison who never actually even served in the military; falsified records and made up stories that are broadcast as though they represent all of us. They don’t, and it denigrates our service. The book talks about a survey published by the Washington Post on the tenth anniversary of the fall of Saigon. It said that, ‘Ninety-one percent of those who served in Vietnam were glad they served their country.’ I certainly am too. God bless the Corps.”

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