I joined as an enlisted man because I wanted to see it from the bottom up. I anticipated becoming an officer. I already had a pilot’s license and I was going to make it a career.
But in boot camp they gave us IQ tests and told us that the top scorers would go to aviation electronics school; next would be jut mechanics, then cooks and truck drivers and the rest would be ground pounders in Viet-Nam. So I scored zero. I wanted to go to combat.
The head DI called me out and gave me all kinds of grief – and told me to go take the test again and I had BEST be the top scorer. I did, and I was. So I want to AFU ‘A’ school and aced that, too. But I sniveled about not getting to go to combat and I wasn’t promoted out of the school.
When I finally paid an orders clerk $20 to get me orders to Viet-Nam, I was thrilled. Stepping off the Delta Airlines plane in Da-Nang, we were hit by mortars and rockets. It was the end of December, 1967. They gave me a PRC-25 radio and sent me to Chu-lai where someone noticed I was an avionics geek – so I was sent to a wing just in time for TET.
I still had the radio and everyone in Nam during TET was in combat. Believe me. So I was sent to the south fence near the ammo dump and the Hawk battery. We fought off waves all night for a couple of nights. Some of the bodies we found on the fence were locals who had worked on the base. I recognized one of the barbers. Finally they hit the ammo dump with a rocket. It looked and felt like the end of the world.
I liked Viet-Nam. The stateside Corps was too chickenshit. After an extended tour, I was going home. Before I left the XO called me in for an OCS interview. But rather than flight school, I was told that after Basic School I would have to come right back and lead a platoon for another tour before they would consider it and if I DID get flight school, I’d have to commit to another 6 years. By then I was over two years into a four year tour, still a Lance Corporal, and I’d probably have to serve 14 years with no prospects past Captain, so I declined. After that of course, I was never promoted again until just before I got out, and than only in an effort to get me to ship over.
When I declined to do that too, the officer scratched the CAR off the back of my DD-214 and wrote that it had been issued in error. That wasn’t true. At all. And I lost a lot of respect for the Marine Officer Corps because of it. And they have never rectified it even though I was drenched in AO several times in the field and was shot down in an H-34 over the Rockpile.
So I’m a Marine and always will be. I served in combat. I volunteered twice on Swift boats as a gunner, and I flew several combat missions as a volunteer gunner. I was shot at, mortared (close enough to knock us all over and wound a couple) and survived numerous rocket attacks I did 62 days with MACV…I still have two boarding passes from Air America (Yep they gave boarding passes). But no one seems to remember any of that and I can’t wear the thirty cent CAR the Marine Corps already issued to me. How silly is that?