August 1965-August 1966
“On October 30, 1965, early in the morning those gooks down in the village had set up a 75 mm French recoilless rifle. On the hill we had a tank and an Ontos, which looked sort of like a tank but had 6-106mm recoilless rifles mounted on it—a pretty deadly weapon. Those gooks had already zeroed in on the tank and that Ontos, and the first two rounds out of that 75 knocked them both out, knocked the track off the tank. They couldn’t maneuver to fire down the hill. Anyway, all hell broke loose. We estimated there were about 200 VC. They came up the hill and actually overran our position. They blew up the command post and got into our ammo bunker and got grenades and ammo, rockets and mortars. And it was pretty much hand-to-hand combat for probably an hour before we could push them back off the hill.
There were about 120 Marines there, a pretty full rifle company, which is three platoons. Of course, the Viet Cong had the element of surprise. It was raining like hell anyway. They approached, cut the wire, came right on up through the hill there. We were set up in a perimeter on this hill, which was about three acres on top. It was 22 feet elevation, so it wasn’t that high. They came up on the side of the hill opposite to where I was at and, normally, when you’re in a defensive position like that, you are firing outward. But they were coming up to our backside and anyone who was standing up in the middle of the perimeter was fair game—you just turned around and fired into them. You could hardly see anything—it was very dark and raining. About 2:30 a.m. that night we had medevacs flying in and out. We had 19 Marines killed and 47 wounded, so it damned near cleaned out half the company. I thought, ‘Hell, man. I’ve got 40 more weeks to serve in country—what’s that going to be like?’
The next morning what was left of us did a sweep around the perimeter of this hill—we got 43 Viet Cong KIA. We gathered them up and had a tank come in with a blade on the front and dug a ditch and threw those VC in the ditch and covered them over. I went out around the hill, and I was looking at the different kinds of ammo lying on the ground there from the previous assault. They had a lot of old French weapons left over from when the French were there in ’53. They had the old grease guns with the big banana clips on them. They had some old M-1 rifles they had collected that the U. S. government gave to the Vietnamese in the ’40’s to fight the Japanese; mostly automatic assault weapons, a lot of different weapons&mdahs;whatever they could pick up here and there.
We stayed on that hill for about another week. Like I say, we had the hell shot out of us up there. The VC were a pretty well-organized fighting force and they were pretty damn formidable too. Those guys came down there to kick our ass and they did kick our ass pretty good…
When I came back from Vietnam, the students were having a demonstration over on the Indiana University campus and they had these jerks out there in Dunn Meadow running around with North Vietnamese flags. I parked my motorcycle, ran down the bank and cracked a few heads. Off they took me to jail for disorderly conduct. That’s when I was still pumped up about the war being the right thing in 1966. After a while the war seemed to be so useless and futile. I kind of changed and I lost track of the war. I didn’t read about it and I didn’t watch the news. I felt like we should never have been there to begin with. What the hell for? Were we going to save the Philippines from Communism?…
I was lucky to get back without any physical injuries. I started having problems with PTSD about 10 years after I got out of Vietnam and then about 10 years after that was when I really started having some problems with flashbacks. I was having nightmares about Vietnam. The VA diagnosed me with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder related to combat trauma. In World War II they called it ‘Shell Shock.’ You don’t ever really outlive that—it’s baggage you carry with you your whole life. It’s just knowing the next minute you could be dead. When you get into a firefight, it’s organized chaos. You’re shooting at them; they’re shooting at you. You got people getting hit. It just absolutely scares the shit out of you. Witnessing those traumatic events forever changes you, and you can’t ever forget that—it’s a horrible thing to have to go through.
I’ve scared the hell out of my wife more than once when I wake up screaming in bed. One nightmare I have more than others is, we’re on patrol and somehow I get either left behind or I lose my way and the patrol leaves and goes on without me and I’m left there by myself knowing full well the enemy is right around there someplace. The next thing, I’m hiding beneath this big bush and I hear Viet Cong coming down the trail and then they stop right in front of where I’m hiding and raise the branches up and there I am. And it just scares the shit out of me. That’s when I start screaming.
I have that dream frequently. I probably have nightmares four, five times a month. It didn’t start right away because I was so involved with raising a family and working but I’d had some psychological problems involving my service in Vietnam. Anybody who has ever come out of heavy combat has got a bit of baggage to carry. When I look across this field at home here today and I see that tree line over there—that’s the things you look for while you’re on patrol. You scan those tree lines for snipers or any kind of activity.
You just deal with it the best you can—take your medication. It helps some with the nightmares and helps you sleep. We’re going to see people coming back from Iraq with these same problems. It can’t be helped. It’s just so frightening to be in a situation you have no control over where you can die at any moment.”