It was July 3, 1969…
It was July 3, 1969. 3rd Platoon, Gulf Company, was part of long line with the rest of the Second Battalion First Marines moving across a space called GoNoi, Island in I-Corps of the Republic of Viet Nam. We were on an operation called Pipestone Canyon (who knows, the operations just needed names). We were executing a sweep across an extended piece of terrain.
While we were not given that much background, this was apparently an R&R location for the Viet Cong and NVA. Our basic mission was search and destroy. And this is what we had been doing for a few weeks.
I had just gotten into country in late to mid May; a 2nd LT recently out of Psychological Operations School at Fort Bragg and a six week Vietnamese language school. I was O3/02, an infantry officer.
This was my first real job in the Corps, Platoon Commander — 3rd Platoon, Gulf Company. Captain Frank Adams was the Company Commander. The guy who was really in charge of both the platoon and helping me learn my job was SSGT Bill Mees, who, according to his helmet cover was from Big Sky Country. He was used to seeing gold bars come and go.
We’d already run many company, platoon and squad missions on this foray into GoNoi Island. Something about being out in the bush — work continued day and night and it wasn’t always easy to tell which was the scariest time of those unending days.
A couple of weeks before the Battalion sweep is when I remember getting our first casualty. I was moving with one of our squads in what was a general patrol when over to my right was an explosion that had many of us hitting the ground for cover. As we began to figure out the noise, one of my guys came stumbling from a cluster of bushes with blood coming from wounds to his face and other parts of his upper body. He’d hit a booby trap. With the blood and the mud he looked at me asking — “Lieutenant, what the hell are we doing here, anyway.” The injuries did not require immediate med-evac and since no choppers were close, we resumed patrol.
His fire team watched his six. He was my first guy to get hit. He would not be the last.
July 2,1969, somewhere on GoNoi Island in I Corps. The Battalion was in defense with a pretty good sized perimeter. Not certain of this but I believe we started digging out evening accommodations, set the outer guards and went in the one-awake, one asleep mode. The sky felt high. Until someone would fire a flare we were treated to a most magnificent view of the galaxy. And in the far distance our pre fourth firework show was B52s creating Arc lights as they bombed their targets. Those lights lit the sky for klick after klick after klick. We were too far away to hear the booms but the sound was provided by guns from the battle ship New Jersey that was making it difficult for anyone to sleep. The shells sounded like trains as the flew through the air. And as uncomfortable as you might have been, you thought, I am glad they aren’t shooting at me.
Third platoon, Gulf Company 2/1 was up and moving as the sun rose with the rest of the Batalion.
It was July 3, 1969. 2/1, Gulf Company and Third Platoon were moving forward on GoNoi Island. Going was slow as the front was riddled with booby traps (they call them IEDs now) and we had choppers in for medivac. One of my guys tripped a wire. He didn’t make it.
We kept moving — too fast for conditions — and BOOM. I was looking down seeing my Marines moving, yelling and I could hear someone groaning. The realization struck, those sounds were coming from me., Suddenly I was back in the world, and my thought, Lieutenants aren’t supposed to make those sounds brought me back to my body. One of the Docs was moving up fast and he slapped a compress onto my crotch. I did not have a head wound, so I think he hit me with morphine. I was not hurting. I still had a job to do. The adrenalin was pulsating among the entire group.
I got on the radio to the Company Commander. SSGT Mees set up a larger defensive perimeter as medivacs were called. We were not the only platoon that took casualties at that time. for the chopper they were calling in. I asked who else was hurt. No one said, but PFC Nunez, my point guy ( in front of me) did not make it. I noticed my radioman was bleeding a little as was at least one of our corpsman. This was a big explosion! After the platoon and the rest of Gulf Company Marines secured a landing area a chopper swooped in. Those hit were put on medivac, I was last in — giving my watch and ammo to guys who were near by. I remember thinking — oh crap, they already had too much to carry as I unloaded machine gun bands and three 60 mm mortar rounds. Several us, including PFC Nunez, were loaded onto the medivac and we were soon in the air.
Sometimes I call July 3, 1969 my second birthday. Wounds were waist down and treated in the Naval hospital in Danang and in a couple of days I was on a flight to the Naval hospital in Yokosuka Japan. I was back in NAM a few weeks later. PFC Nunez did not have that opportunity.
As we celebrate July 4, 2021 remember there is a price to freedom. Nam was not a good war and, in truth, that can be said about Iraq, Afghanistan, and most wars of our history from the Revolution to today.
You can love the Corps and still hate the war.