This memorial not only honors all those we lost 50 years ago but also serves as a legacy for our active and future marines. The 5th Marine Regiment Memorial Garden at Camp Pendleton is open to the public and we encourage you to visit with your children and grandchildren.
The American Flag means many things to many people. Fifty stars, thirteen stripes, freedom, liberty, patriotism, and safety are the most common. There are fifty stars for fifty states united together, thirteen stars to represent thirteen colonies that pulled together to create the beginning of the United States. For some Americans, it does not mean much of anything past the idea that it is just the flag of America.
. . . . (Click on the title piece in red above to open the PDF file to read the full article)
The flag isn’t just a piece of cloth to show that ‘America’ exists. It is there to represent us. People would die for the flag, just as they would die for their country, there is no difference. I would die for the flag and for my country so my kids and grandchildren and others may have peace, freedom and security from evil.
As a boy I had a patriotic view on life. As a young man at the age of twenty, I experienced firsthand living or dying protecting my country. As an older adult veteran, I would still do the same. Freedom is worth the price.
John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”
They never trained us in boot camp or during infantry training about how to survive from many of the elements of Vietnam or its challenging environment. We were trained very well on how to use our weapons to kill and to protect ourselves from the enemy, but we never had any training for all the other ways you can catch a disease, get wounded, or even die in Vietnam.
Whether it was from booby traps, malaria from insects, hepatitis, homicides from friendly fire or suicide, a buddy shooting at you while he was stoned on pot, accidents riding in vehicles, or helicopters, or animal bits from ants, scorpions, venomous snakes, monkeys or rats; any of these can seriously mess you up or kill you. Yes, even rats!
The 1st and 3rd Marine Divisions had to deal with rats in Nam, yes very big rats. I’m talking about man eating rats. There were rats everywhere up near the DMZ. From Khe Sanh to Hue City, from Charlie Ridge to Ia Drang Valley there were thousands of rats running around everywhere. They ate from the city’s garbage areas to the store supplies full of rice and potatoes. They even ate the tossed out food and garbage from the NVA soldiers, the ARVNs, and us Americans.
When you weren’t in a firefight, ducking incoming mortars, or on night watch, you had the opportunity to catch some shut eye. Keep in mind that most of the time; you are sleeping on the ground, in an old bunker, or in a freshly dug foxhole. It’s dark, with no lights, and pouring down rain during the monsoon season. It’s a hell hole but you survive. Once in a while, but very rarely, you might get to sleep in a cot in a tent behind a perimeter line.
In Khe Sanh, there was a Marine who didn’t cover up tightly when he went to sleep his first night in the Nam and got bitten in the face from one of these rats taking a huge chunk of flesh out of his cheek. He got medevac’d back to the States.
Rat bites and scratches can result in disease and rat-bite fever. Rat urine is responsible for the spread of leptospirosis, which can result in liver and kidney damage. It can also be contracted through handling or inhalation of scat (poop). Complications include renal and liver failures as well as cardiovascular problems have resulted from rat bites. From the transmission of bubonic plague to typhus and hantavirus, rat infestations can prove harmful to human health. Rats also are a potential source of allergens. Their droppings, dander and shed hair can cause people to sneeze and experience other allergic reactions. Yep, they never educated us about these possibilities as we were exposed and lived among the rats.
You haven’t seen big rats until you’ve been face to face with these rats that roamed the areas we lived and fought in. The rats had fleas, ticks, and mites. The rats would hide during the day and run around at night looking for food to eat. We could stab them with our bayonets but not shoot them. Shooting them might have given away our night position. Besides, it would have been a waste of preciously needed ammo.
What was your experience dealing with rats in Vietnam? Please login and leave a comment below this blog telling us your story about the big rats.
I am sure every Vietnam Infantry Marine recalls the water in our canteens and where it came from during those long excursions in the countryside. In the rear, there were water buffalos. We would dip our canteens into a river or a creek and fill it up with the local water. Of course the water was muddy, full of little invisible critters, and probably full of all sorts of chemicals from the war. In addition, it had human and animal waste as well. How we drank that stuff is beyond me today. Actually, drank is almost a misnomer. We chewed it then gagged it down. It would give us the Ho Chi Minh trot and I blame the loss of my hair on my head on it.
Well, the Corps had the wonderful solution. Halazone tablets concocted and stored somewhere in those little brown bottles since World War Two. We would add those tablets to the water and we drank that stuff. Mom would send me packets of Kool Aid. My canteen contained brown muddy water, halazone, and Kool Aid. What a combination. To this day I will not drink Kool Aid or flavored water.
By the way, what we did not tell you about those little tablets was that once the bottle was opened it had a maximum, in ideal conditions, an effective life of three days. Given we were not in ideal conditions, the tablets probably lost their effectievenss in less than a day. No wonder those little rolls of toilet paper were in short supply.
One day while Hotel was guarding the coal mine at Nong Son. I had a brilliant idea. By the way, why did we guard that coal mine as they never mined a lump of coal. Also how was the NVA going to steal a coal mine? Never made sense to me. Back to my brilliant idea, chlorine. Brilliant right? Chlorine was used back in the states to purify the water for everyone to drink. Why could we not have some of our own?
I wrote on one of those dumb supply forms in triplicate “one box of powdered chlorine for medical purposes” and sent it onto to supply. I did not have it approved as I never had anything approved. It always seemed a waste of time and as a corpsman no one ever asked for approval.
A few days later I received a call that there was a “package” for me at the helicopter landing pad. So I trotted down that long hill and they pointed to a barrel sitting on the ground. This was my box. Well the Marine Corps in all its generosity had sent 50 pounds of highly concentrated chlorine. There was enough of it to treat the water supply for the city of St. Louis for a week. I envisioned a box about the size of a C Ration box. No they had sent me an entire barrel.
So with difficulty I picked it up and an hour later I had it to the top of the hill. I only weighed about 116 pounds. It weighed nearly half of my “skinny ass” (as Wadley would say) and it was difficult, requiring many stops to rest. My arms had burn marks on it from the residual of chlorine on the outside of the barrel.
I decided that I would ration it out to the Marines and not allow access to it. An overdose of the stuff would burn your insides. So every morning I would put a small pinch into the canteens of the guys until we left. That barrel is probably sitting there in the bunker and I would even hazard a guess the coal mine is still there too.
Zippo lighters captured a wide range of feelings and opinions about the war in Vietnam, from the obscenity-laden anti-army mottoes of the unwilling draftees, to the simple love notes of the homesick, to the eight Special Forces emblazoned lighters, conspicuously absent of any further embellishment.
These lighters were used for lighting cigarettes, heating food, illuminating letters from home, or setting fire to huts of suspected VC, Zippos were used so frequently in Search & Destroy missions that GIs nicknamed them “Zippo Missions” or “Zippo Raids.” After purchasing one from the post exchange store for $1.80, a soldier could personalize his lighter at sidewalk tents with one of a wide selection of stock designs or a personalized message. Today, these collectable Vietnam Era Lighters cost about $100.00 each. I bet you wish you had hung on to yours. New ones today shown below cost $18 – $25 each
Although I do not have my Zippo anymore, I had it engraved with a map of Vietnam and the city of “An Hoa” marked on it. I used mine for the typical uses listed above but also for lighting the C4 for boiling the water when making coffee or hot tea for the Sergeant Major and the Battalion Commander. I also used it for lighting the skipper’s tobacco pipe. I practiced a lot to be able to snap and twist of my finger one handed and the lighter top would open and light.
I also had the privilege of using my Zippo to light the candles on the Marine Corps birthday cake for 2/5 that was served to the troops on Hill 65 on November 11, 1969.
- What the U.S. Government states:
- The VA states:
Veterans, including activated Reservists and members of the National Guard, are [Combat Veterans] if they served on active duty in a theater of combat operations…and have been discharged under other than dishonorable conditions.
[The above definition is for eligibility for VA benefits]
- The American War Library states:
What is a Veteran? – A veteran is defined by federal law, moral code and military service as “Any, Any, Any”… A military veteran is Any person who served for Any length of time in Any military service branch.
What is a War Veteran? – A war veteran is Any GI (Government Issue) ordered to foreign soil or waters to participate in direct or support activity against an enemy. The operant condition: Any GI sent in harm’s way.
What is a Combat Veteran? – A combat veteran is Any GI who experiences any level of hostility for Any duration resulting from offensive, defensive or friendly fire military action involving a real or perceived enemy in Any foreign theater. Wartime medals also define various levels of individual combat involvement, sacrifice and/or valor.
- Hotel Company 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division definition of a Combat Veteran
- For more than two centuries, the ground combat units of the Marine Corps have asserted combat power and established battlefield dominance. We trained in a ground infantry unit before going to Vietnam with specialties within Infantry including:
- Rifleman: Trained in close combat, operates M16A4 rifle, M203 grenade launcher, the M72 LAW with the M61 Grenade and the M18 Claymore.
- Machine Gunner: Employs medium and heavy machine guns (M60’s) in support of maneuver elements.
- Mortarman: Provides indirect fire in support of maneuver elements using light, medium or heavy mortars with M19 60mmm mortar and the M1 81mm mortars.
- Assaultman: Assaults fortified targets with rockets, demolitions and breaching/infiltration techniques.
- Infantrymen are trained to locate, close within and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver, or repel the enemy’s assault by fire and close combat. Riflemen serve as the primary scouts, assault troops and close combat forces within each infantry unit.
- In our day, our mission was to seek out the enemy, kill or be killed while fighting the enemy face to face in close combat both during the day and all through the night. We lived on the ground and fought most of those days we were in country in Vietnam.
- A combat veteran was one who engaged with the enemy, sweats, shed tears, and bleeds on the battlefield. One who gave all we had to fight for freedom from communism and justice. We fought to keep our families, friends and all Americans free, secure, and out of danger.
- All combat veterans express similar thoughts about who we are. Many of us say we are survivors that started out with idealistic and positive goals about the war but all of that evaporated in the brutality of combat. Many of us still grieve the appalling casualties and losses we suffered, not to mention the appalling casualties among the civilian populations we were sent to protect or liberate. But beyond that, we experienced tremendous loneliness when we returned home — the unique isolation of knowing that our closest friends and family will never really comprehend the hell and destruction that we went through.
My Thoughts While Walking Point in the Arizona Territory
Many Vietnam veterans struggled upon returning to the United States. They wrestled with the psychic trauma of the war and felt isolated and out of place, rejected by their country.
As point man, the greater danger wasn’t from an ambush or getting shot from a sniper, it was from the booby traps. Our point element would often take casualties from them.
In the Arizona Territory, our point team existed of 3 or 4 men. Point lead, left and right flank and often a radio operator directly behind the point man. We were about 15 to 25 yards apart from each other as we moved through rice patties with distant tree lines and also through dry land, fields, and even small villages.
I picked up the radio shortly after arriving in Vietnam and became a squad radioman and then later a platoon radio operator. I often volunteered to walk point and did so from mid-February through April 1969. No one died while I was walking point. We did however take casualties. I looked for everything, anything out of place, listened for the birds or the lack of sound; I always knew what I was doing, within sight of my point team and knew where I was going. Sometimes, I would stop to check the compass and/or review the map I carried.
As we slowly approached the terrain in front of us, I would examine the area for trip lines, NVA bunkers, broken branches, blood trails, a matted down path, bunkers, obvious openings in tree lines where a booby trap could be planted. Trip wires, spider holes, a gum wrapper, a tin can, a pile of leaves or a pile of brush, a change in the color of the ground foliage where it turned a bit yellow, wilted leaves or dead branches. These could indicate a booby trap.
As radio operator, I knew how to key the handset for relaying messages to the other radio operators. We would run in silence mode. One press on the handset meant stop or hold up. Two squelches of the handset meant all clear move ahead, three clicks of the handset meant enemy or non-friendlies observed nearby. We also used hand motions between the four of us walking point. Each team member would be in constant hand signal communication to the radio operator walking point.
I can remember one afternoon in late March while in the Arizona Territory, All hell broke loose, we got hit and were pinned down and couldn’t move. A machine gun position opened up on us. My right flank machine gunner went down. He was hit with four bullets in the left leg. We had to call in air support and mortar power to chase away the enemy.
I did whatever it took to keep me and my team alive. Nerves, sense of touch, sense of smell at night, being smart and extremely alert, a keen sight, including a 6th sense to know we were close to danger all contributed to the safety of my point squad. We had a lot of respect and trust for one another during our walks at point.
On a separate occasion, I lost a point man to a booby trap. He lost his left foot just below the knee and was medivaced in a timely manner. The rest of us lost our hearing for a few days and all four of us were hit with some hot shrapnel. I was glad for my helmet and flak jacket.
I saw many men die and many more wounded while in the Arizona Territory while being a combat Marine in Hotel Company.
For all of you smokers back in the day, which brand did you prefer and which brand did you smoke while living in the rice patties, mountains and jungles of Vietnam? It appeared that many (about 60%) of the soldiers in my platoon smoked. Every C-Ration meal contained a single four-pack of cigarettes; ten different brands were primarily offered, but like the meals, some were more popular than others. If somebody liked Lucky Strikes, Parliament, Chesterfields or Pall Mall’s, they would never run out. The popular brands like Winston, Marlboro, Kools and Salem were always in short supply and benefited the non-smokers who used them to barter.
Although I wasn’t a cigarette smoker, I did for six months of my duty, pack “Captain Black” tobacco into Lt. Col. Bowen’s pipe and lite it up for him. The Col. would always light up before he turned in for the night. He always had me clean his pipe, pack it and light it for him and if at night in the bush, I did so at least 50 feet from him in case someone saw the light and started shooting at it. I can remember lighting it a few times in the bottom of a foxhole that I had dug earlier that day for him, the sergeant-major and myself. During the rainy monsoon times, I was glad I had my zippo lighter. (That’ll be another subject [Zippos] to talk and comment about.)
Make your comments here about your experiences with your smoking habits or while smoking in the bush. Can you remember which cigarette brands were available back then? Did any of you get to smoke any cigars from the “black market” or any of those so-called mama gook smokes?
Nonsmokers can leave a comment here too about how you used your allotted smokes to trade with. I always traded my smokes for cans of fruit from out of the MRI boxes. Tobacco chews were also a bit popular in those days.
Typical commercial brands issued in the cigarette rations in Vietnam were: Camel, Chesterfield, Kent, Kool, Lucky Strike, Marlboro, Pall Mall, Salem, or Winston. Due to health concerns, cigarettes were eliminated from the MCI accessory packs in 1975.