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Old 11-13-2009, 09:31 AM
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Post Moon Walks and Woodstock

There was a flurry of stories in the news this summer about the 40th anniversary of the Moon landing (July 20th, 1969) and the Woodstock Music festival (August 15-18, 1969). Each event seemed to represent opposite aspects of our culture and define that period. I smile with some nostalgia and irony as the events that I witnessed then were quite different.

That summer, I had just turned 18 and was being indoctrinated to the ways of the Marine Corps at Parris Island, SC (boot camp). Being under-aged before I joined, my dad signed the enlistment papers for me that April so that I could begin training soon after graduating high school and after my 18th birthday in June. My recruiter, Sergeant "Ski" had been required to show us films about the intensity of boot camp as well as the role of the Marine Corps in Vietnam. He also informed us that the casualty rate for Marine infantry in Vietnam was high. How I came to that decision to join then was a mixture of youthful idealism and following a family tradition of military service. I wanted to earn my place in America as my dad had done in WW II.

July 20th, the day America landed on the moon was a Sunday and the one day of the week when the rigors of boot-camp training were scaled back. As recruits, our only contact with the outside world had been through letters received from family or friends; otherwise we might as well have been on the moon. That evening, our lead drill-instructor (DI) informed us about the lunar landing. Just before lights-out and after our usual ritual of singing the Marine Corps hymn and god-blessing every Marine hero in history, we laid at attention in our bunks, sweating and listening to our DI. He wrapped up his news report with, "...a technological accomplishment like this could only be achieved by the most powerful nation on earth... and every one of your miserable little hearts should swell with pride on this day! Not just because you are Americans, but because you ladies have been offered a rare and magnificent opportunity to turn around your worthless lives by becoming US Marines. Should you earn yourself a place in my Corps, you will be part of a brotherhood of highly-trained warriors who walk the earth with powerful weapons to annihilate those who threaten democracy." We were proud...sort of.

That August, we never heard any news about the Woodstock festival but were regularly reminded of the long-haired, anti-war, pot-smoking hippie culture that was touted to be as great a threat to the American way of life as the spread of communism. Our daily dose of harassment often included references to the hippie lifestyles that some of us likely left behind and how "...Marines fight and die everyday to protect the freedom of those people who burn flags, protest, smoke dope and at this very moment, were probably slipping a pickle to your girlfriend." Much of the propaganda was very funny and we learned to grin inward or swallow it while we counted the days to graduation. Some did not make it that far due to injury, mental breakdown or inability to handle the intensity of the training or discipline. For many of us that graduated, we were rewarded by being assigned a military occupational specialty of 0311 (Infantry/Rifleman) and a duty assignment (after infantry training) to: WESTPAC (West Pacific) Ground Forces, Republic of South Vietnam.

By late August, I had started Infantry training at Camp Geiger in North Carolina. Whereas boot camp was designed to convert us from civilian misfits into Marines through discipline and physical conditioning, infantry training was more about endurance, living "in the bush" for extended periods, firing weapons and combat/assault tactics in mock Vietnam villages and scenarios. Every instructor and Navy Corpsman (medic) who was assigned to train us had just come off at least one combat tour in Vietnam and nearly all of their uniforms displayed a Purple Heart ribbon.

Within some of our instructors and nearly all of our Corpsman, I found a conspicuous trait missing which, for a newly minted Marine whose ego and pride had been pumped up, seemed perplexing. It was their lack of enthusiasm and bravado about fighting and winning the war. There were some that bragged about their confirmed kills and the glory of having prevailed in many battles or firefights. For those few, almost all Vietnamese were lumped together as enemy and no amount of firepower was excessive. But most where quiet about the grim aspects of their time there. It was the rare advice from these quiet veterans that caught my attention because I sensed a raw truth that the bad-asses ignored.

The advice from the quiet-ones often took the form of avoidance and survival, rather than the full-on confrontation with the assault tactics that we were being taught. In those rare moments of candor, their anguish came through about the cost and waste in human life that they had witnessed or taken part in. Each of them carried this weight with a burned-out exhaustion that seemed to question our purpose and sapped away much of the pride they had for having gone. Although conflicted about discussing what they had seen and done, they all wanted to do something decent before getting out: teach us about surviving and returning in one piece, as they had done.

By late 1969, draft deferments for college students had ended and a lottery had been started that fueled the anti-war movement across the country. Momentum to end the war accelerated with massive moratoriums and protests in Washington, major cities and college campuses. Richard Nixon had been elected on a platform "to bring an honorable end to the war" and was now implementing his Vietnamization policy between troop withdrawals, secret carpet bombings in Cambodia and peace negotiations in Paris. By the time I had completed advanced infantry training that November, the war had claimed almost 40,000 American lives and 280,000 wounded. By the end of 1969, nearly 90,000 troops had been withdrawn and would accelerate in the months that followed.

While staging for deployment to WESTPAC at Camp Pendleton, our orders were placed on hold and most of us were reassigned back to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; they needed us elsewhere. Over the next 18 months, many Marines still went to Vietnam as ordered and some volunteered to go as replacements with convictions that were both noble and brave. A few volunteered simply because they wanted to get in some "trigger-time" before the war ended. As for me, I had done a great deal of growing-up and reflection during those months of moon walks and Woodstock and after having come so close, was now both glad and humble that I had the opportunity to choose. I did not go.
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Old 11-13-2009, 09:56 AM
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When I joined the Army and went to basic I tried to find a Vietnam veteran among my instructors that I could look up to for training in real world scenarios. I could not find one. When I finally got up the nerve to ask one of the DI's why there where no Vietnam veteran drill instructors he told me candidly "they got the hell out of the military after coming home from Vietnam". He did not explain further but years later when I returned to garrison after the first Gulf War I think I understood some of the reasons why they may have left.

I emphasize "some" of the reasons as I was too young at the time to appreciate the wholly different experience Vietnam veterans had.
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Old 11-13-2009, 10:45 AM
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I would not salute the flag or rise for the national anthem until the early eighties. If anyone said anything I would just say, "I'm exempt." One of the main things I learned from Vietnam was how truly idiotic the self-righteous were and how rarely they put themselves on the line for their beliefs. This country is now awash in phonies, liars and demagogues trying to take away the right for us to think and judge for ourselves. "You can fool all of the people some of the time, some to the people all of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time." Demagogues are working tirelessly night and day to prove Lincoln a liar while the deluded cry for more, more self-righteousness, terrified of getting up off their fat asses and going to find out the truth for themselves. " You can take my gun when you wade through the McDonalds wrappers to where I lie dead in my recliner with talk radio on and pry it from my cold dead fingers."
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Old 11-13-2009, 10:59 AM
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Default Carpet bombing

One of the lies told by the antiwar movement was the concept of "carpet bombing" It brings up images of bloodthirsty generals deciding which province to obliterate that day. The reality is a table surrounded by the president and his aides having the hubris to think they know something about tactical bombing and drawing circles around landmarks to avoid bombing for political reasons, many of which were killing our guys. I think the real reason they wanted to avoid bombing Haiphong is they might hit a ship of an "ally". I say this because of all the French medicine our guys found every time a medical cache was captured.
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Old 11-13-2009, 03:51 PM
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jriley1349,
I enjoyed your story and I consider it a factual and enlightening window into a subject that is different than my experiences, only a year earlier in the Corps and with a tour of duty as an 0311 in VietNam.
Perhaps you can post more and I will add to it with a different perspective. I already tried but my post got somehow deleted or lost due to either a crash or the server failing. Very frustrating !

Semper Fi Marine !

Scott
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Old 11-14-2009, 05:25 AM
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Default Moonwalks and Woodstock

Scott,
Try again to post as your story would likely have been similar to mine had I gone in a year earlier. Logic tells me that I was better off at not having gone - but the "grunt" in me wishes otherwise.
Jim
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Old 11-22-2009, 10:54 AM
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Angry Another Perspective

I'll try again and keep it short.
One year earlier was far different from your story.
The U.S. military, especially the Marine Corps because of our limited size and combat mission, due to heavy casualties from TET '68 and the escalating offensive nature of our Generals, was adding troops late in '68. Early '69 you could enlist in the Marine Corps for only two years but you were guaranteed infantry and VietNam. This is what I did, with my eyes wide open, albeit I was looking through rose colored glasses from the perspective of an ignorant youth of only 18 and someone with no worldly experience period. A patriotic idealist, short on facts and high on honor.... that was me.
Right before graduation, our Senior D.I. told us to pay special attention to our next training in AIT and Staging. He told us that one out of four of us would return either wounded or in a body bag and I'm afraid I can only say that he was correct. It comes as a shock to me that only a year later, you say the Corps was asking for volunteers to go to VietNam and that you could ask for and receive non-VietNam duty. There was no defeatist attitude in the Corps in late '68 but there was grim determination to fight the good fight and maintain the honor of the Corps and not let your buddies down. Most of us, even the few ones that were drafted, seemed to believe in our Corps and our country and each other. We knew we were winning the fight on the ground but at a tremendous cost of human misery and life.
About the middle of the year in '69 troops started to be pulled out of VietNam and those of us that remained became more resigned to our fate. It took real courage to continue the fight to the best of your ability and watch many fall each and every day, knowing that the war was being decided not by our sacrifice but by some politician thousands of miles away.
I can say without question that before I rotated home almost thirteen months after arriving in VietNam, after my entire tour in the bush as an 0311 grunt, wounded once and a squad leader before leaving, that the only thing we still believed in was each other and that we knew the enemy was even more determined to kill as many of us as possible. You see the real war of attrition wasn't about numbers reported in the rear, the real war of attrition was between those of us whose duty was to seek out and find and close with the enemy on his terms and kill him before he killed us, and that my friend took a lot of guts when the news from home talked about huge anti-war protests and the President was negotiating a "peace with honor" and pulling troops slowly out of VietNam. By the way, I'm proud of my effort and have nothing to apologize for to anyone. However I do feel that my country and my government owes me one.
And they wonder why so many of us have mental issues for the rest of our life. When news of the moon walk came out, I felt very disconnected to America. I looked at the moon and thought to myself, they care about that, not those of us in this damn war.
I'll stop for now, this may not get posted if I take any longer.

Semper Fi

Last edited by 03Fox2/1; 11-22-2009 at 11:38 AM. Reason: fubar
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Old 11-22-2009, 01:05 PM
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Thanks. I appreciate you sharing your story.

When we finished AIT in late Nov. 69, I remember some 0311's being assigned to FMF 2nd Div for a Med cruise. They took some flack for skating out of WESTPAC, but few were complaining. Only about a month later I had a choice only because our particular staging company found itself reassigned back to 2nd Div. The top sgt said he'd put in the paperwork to get anyone transferred that wanted to stay with WESTPAC. Most of those that asked, got it, but it wasn't a majority. We all went through a lot of mental preparation while in AIT. Add in what we were hearing about what was going on politically and in the country, it was a confusing time. But it was nothing compared to what you guys in the bush must have felt. My decision to not "ask for it" has haunted me since then.

Due to the course of politics and I guess dumb-luck timing of when we were born or joined, we were part of the beginning of the scale down. Thereafter, more grunts had their orders changed while still in AIT. Most of my company got transfered to FMF 2nd Div to either an expeditionary force, rapid-reaction team, Gitmo, or retrained. I believe the Corps in 1970 was faced with a larger batch of grunts than it needed due to the shift in mission priorities in 69 and buildup in earlier years.

-----

Make every effort to live well the rest of your days, my friend. You have my deepest respect at having served under the worst conditions and I'm sorry that our country has been so slow to recognize your commitment and sacrifice.

Semper Fi, Marine
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Old 11-22-2009, 02:04 PM
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I am a survivor and I have no right to bitch about anything really. My hard feelings have long ago went from myself to representing those that can no longer represent themselves because they are dead. If my country and my government and even the Corps forgot about me, what does that say about the countless unknown heros that reside silently in forgotten exile. Those on the Wall in Washington D.C. at least have a memorial, although it took all of us and our family members and civilian friends to get one. All the government did was donate the land if I remember right. You are correct that the entire military, especially the Corps was rapidly downsizing when you were available to go east or west.
Just as there were special circumstances that dictated my initial enlistment for only two years and infantry and VietNam guaranteed in March of '68, when my tour was over and I returned to America, again special circumstances dictated that since I only had four months left on my active duty obligation, I was offered and accepted an early out. So my entire time in the Corps was determined by circumstances out of my control and I went straight from boot camp and training to combat and a return to civilian life, all in 19 months with most of it in combat. The Marine Corps was then glad to be rid of me and between it's rush to discharge those like me and the nations new excitement over troops pulling out and the war winding down and the "Peace with Honor" that Nixon and Kissinger promised actually beginning to happen, it seemed like all of our sacrifice and personal effort had been for nothing. It wasn't for many months later before I got a letter in the mail telling me that my Purple Heart had arrived and for me to go down to the Reserve Center to have it presented. A ceremony in an office with a Gunny and a Major that took about 10 minutes and was obviously very non-newsworthy to anyone. So yes, times did change and change very rapidly.
You have nothing to regret about your decision to not go to WestPac and with hindsight, you probably were right. That doesn't make those like me wrong, it just means that we were each given a different set of circumstances and we each made what we believed to be the right choice. You know more Marines died long after I left, including the final evacuation of our Embassy later and let's not forget one of the saddest chapters in the history of this war, all the way to May of 1975 when Marines and others died trying to rescue the Mayaguez off the coast of Cambodia. Three fighting Marines were left accidentally behind and intentionally written off by President Ford and his advisor Henry Kissinger. They were captured and beheaded by our enemies and to this day I consider them the last casualties of the VietNam War and I think their fate was indicative of how our government considered all of we grunts as expendable.

Semper Fi Marine

Last edited by 03Fox2/1; 11-22-2009 at 02:08 PM. Reason: fubar
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Old 11-25-2009, 03:58 PM
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Our conversation has jogged a lot of memory so I apologize for rambling.

My overall career in the Corps was rather uneventful and I'm a bit embarrassed to post my story here on this forum, but it does reflect part of what went on stateside during the Vietnam draw-down. I mentioned that most of us went to 2nd Div after WestPac staging. I was assigned to a rapid-reaction team at Camp Lejeune with 5th Marines. That October, an anti-war moratorium had been held in Washington and major cities. Just a month later in mid-November, the largest protest in history was held in Washington, DC with something like 250,000 protesters. Officials at the highest levels of government were getting nervous that the demonstrations might turn violent and threaten government buildings and military bases. With increasing numbers attending these protests, anything could happen so the Marine Corps was tasked with providing defensive support.

Our unit was designed to react quickly to defend government installations and buildings - sort of a military SWAT team that could deploy quickly and independently or to backup National Guard or civilian police. Most of the training was related to riot-control and urban assault tactics (prevent or retake a govt. facility). Every week we took a turn in the CS (tear) gas chamber to build up a tolerance and practice fitting masks between training in tactics and riot-control. A wide range of scenarios were presented and it seemed that rules of engagement could be very muddled and restrained.

The typical duty rotation was 3 days/24hrs and then a day or two off. We could sleep or read during idle time but had to stay dressed and ready. A truck was kept backed up to our ready building with ramp down to get us loaded and headed out to a chopper if we got a call - otherwise, we had reactionary drills 24/7. The idea of fighting fellow Americans did not sit well with most of us as it was 180 degrees from why we had joined. But the more radical anti-war elements had already firebombed recruiting offices and government buildings and talk of violence was on the rise. Defending the infrastructure of government, whether we agreed with it or not, outweighed our concerns.

Fortunately, we were never deployed during my time there so the duty was absolute gravy compared to your experience. I did get to participate in an amphibious assault operation when some of us were temporarily assigned to a grunt battalion. We loaded up on Navy LST's for a week off the coast of Virginia and joined up with a carrier group. After the Navy had gunfire practice, we launched from the hold of the LST's in amtracs about a half-mile offshore and stormed the beach for a week of wargames. We wound up capturing the CP of the enemy and kept the coast of Virginia safe for democracy!

When traveling home on leave, we had been advised by civilian authorities to not wear our uniforms in train/bus stations or airports. There had been a lot of scuffles between servicemen and anti-war elements who hung out at those places and looked for uniforms to throw chicken-blood, eggs or just heckle them. Most of us ignored it and welcomed confrontation with protesters. Of course, lean young guys in civilian clothes with white-wall haircuts and carrying sea-bags was not exactly blending in with the population. Once, I wore my uniform on a college campus to visit a buddy which looking back, look some balls in 1970. I got a lot of cold looks and nearly came to blows from side-of-mouth comments during the few hours I was there. As you know all too well, it was a lousy time to be a proud Marine in America.

When I got off active duty, I joined a Marine reserve rifle company that was close to my hometown. They offered me a stripe and I got to play Marine grunt one weekend each month and two weeks each summer. The rifle company was composed mostly of reservists but there were also a number of previous-regulars that liked staying connected to the Corps. Discipline in our grunt rifle company on those drill weekends was not much different from the regulars. At 06:00 on those weekends, we'd load up packs and weapons in trucks and head out to a forested military base to play war games through the night, ending late Sunday afternoons. Of course, each week I had been back in civilian life, I got softer as had every member of the company so, I guess if we had ever been activated, it would have taken a month or more of intense physical conditioning to get us anywhere close to the readiness of a regular company. We were nearly activated once, put on standby with gear packed and loaded, but as had often been the pattern of my Marine Corps career, it was canceled.

You mentioned that you had been called to a reserve center to have your purple heart presented. It sounds like you were shortchanged. Our reserve rifle company had a number of ceremonies for purple hearts or KIA Marines that lived in the area. They always took place on Sunday evenings after we had returned from 36 hours+ of running around the New Jersey "bush." There we were, a tired, filthy infantry company of Marine reservists wearing helmets, packs, cartridge belts, M14 rifles slung on our shoulders with M60's, 81mm mortars and other assorted gear on the deck - called to attention while our CO read an action-report or purple-heart citation. Afterward, he presented the Marine or family with a medal or document and offered condolences to families of those who died. It was always a quiet ceremony and did not include any bugle call or 21-gun salute. I'm sure that we were just an additional honorary to another that took place at the burial. But, I think it may have been meaningful for the families to hear the action-report while the brothers (albeit reservists) of their loved one, stood there in combat gear and at solemn attention. It was often a sad, family-like moment as we in the formation and the family members seated, silently regarded each other.

Sometime in early 1973, our reserve rifle company got disbanded. The Marine Corps was in full-scale draw-down of everything so I found myself again, with an option - of getting out entirely, or transferring to either a Marine reserve artillery company or a helicopter squadron. I choose the choppers. HMH-772 had about a dozen heavy helicopters, CH53's and chinook CH47's. Since I had office skills (could type) and was now an E4, I was assigned to the operations group which was responsible for keeping track of squadron readiness and pilot flight logs - basically, a desk job. After about a year, I was given another stripe bringing me to sergeant E5.

I quickly learned that the Marine Air Wing was like a completely different branch of the military because, other than the uniforms and shared pride, the level of discipline was much different. Not that they weren't serious about performing their jobs with precision, just less obsessive about the little BS things that infantry CO's are always dwelling on. For lack of explanation, I guess the "grunt" mentality was not necessary there. Some officer/pilots and enlisted/crew/support members were on a first-name basis when they were flying or working together and out of earshot of others. It seemed that there was a greater degree of mutual respect between officers and enlisted because their jobs were closely connected and dependent. I guess it was obvious to every pilot that a mechanic could easily leave any of a thousand nuts or screws loose if animosity grew. I did get to fly a number of times as assistant crew-chief which was always a hoot. I got out completely in 1975 without ever leaving the states.

You are right Scott, we each are handed different circumstances. Some, like yourself and many others were handed the hardest service the country can ask. Many others like myself, prepared for the worst and are humbled that we were where not called. You and many others are owed.

Live well. Semper Fi!
Jim
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