Copyright 2002.  F. E. Dutch White, USMC (Ret), All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be copied, faxed, electronically transmitted, or in any other manner duplicated without the express written permission of the author. whitehouseaz@cableone.net
 
 
I was sitting there at the computer that chilly morning in late 1998 drinking a hot cup of joe and waiting for my 30 some odd e-mails to download. As I sat there watching it do it's thing I saw this message from a person that I didn't know. I almost arbitrarily hit the delete button. Normally I would! I hate spam, and, mostly, I hate viruses! But, curious ... I read it instead. The e-mail turned out to be from a high school kid from Alaska. A girl. She said in her e-mail that she had read the comments that I had submitted about something or other on a Marine brother's web-site guest book, and then went on to ask me if I would mind answering a few very short questions from her high school history class project about the Vietnam War. 
 
To make a long story short - covering about six or seven e-mail's back-and-forth and a long distance phone call to her Assistant Principle in Alaska to confirm the validity of  their request - I decided to go along with it. I'm not sure why. These kids made me use my head for something other than a hat rack for a whole bunch of weeks. I had to get my brain housing group back into a place that I thought I had left behind many years back. I had to take it back to the bad place. These young high school kids took me on a memory trip back to what should have been a very beautiful country. They took me on a thinkquest!           
 
 
"THINKQUEST"

 

by Dutch White

USMC (Ret)

 
Part one:
 
 
QUESTION 1.) Do you think you were treated differently when you came back from the war?

ANSWER:

Yes, I know that I was, but, so that you can better understand where I am coming from, I will need to put your question into the proper perspective with a little background information regarding my three tours of duty there.

Here goes: When I left for Vietnam in the spring of 1965 it was with what I thought was the blessing of the American people backing me and my fellow Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen. We marched off to do what we understood the President of the United States, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, the Senate, the Congress, the leader of the Republic of South Vietnam, the various allied countries, but most importantly, the American people, wanted us to do. To stop the spread of communism in this part of the world by going to their backyard to fight an oppressive, communist enemy who wanted to enslave another country under the bindings of a doctrine that has never worked, and by the sheer madness of it, cannot, and will not ever work. It was a really simple plan when it first kicked off. We get our weapons and equipment all squared away, pack our seabags, get aboard ships and transport planes, wave goodbye to all our wives; mothers and fathers; brothers and sisters; our school buddies; and all our girlfriends - who invariably make unwavering promises to wait for our heroic and triumphant return. Then, upon arrival at our final destination in-country we get busy doing our jobs.

It was on March 8, 1965, and the landing force was called the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (later changed to the 3rd Marine Amphibious Force). Ours was the first significant landing of ground forces to engage in the war in Indochina, between the two halves of Vietnam, and the build up of troops was in a hurried frenzy of activity at Da Nang. The 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade landed on May 7, 1965 . . .

I served my original tour of duty of thirteen months, and then extended for another six-month tour. Before that extension was up I extended once again for an additional six months in-country. Don’t "read" anything into that - I was just doing what I thought all United States servicemen should be doing at this point in time in American history. Most especially, the United States Marine Corps. I spent close to twenty-five months straight in-country. This comprised my first two tours . . . Then I extended for a six-month tour on the island of Okinawa, having been promised that I could return to Vietnam after that tour was up. You were only allowed to extend twice while still in-country, but by leaving for six months you could sign a waver and go back in. At least, that was the way the order read at the time, but the way the order read changed during my tour in Okinawa. The new order read that you had to be transferred back to CONUS (continental United States) for a period of no less than six months, before signing a waver and going back into the combat zone. It is important that you understand that I was out of this country for about thirty-one months straight at this point in time. This has to do not only with question number one, but also, and perhaps even more importantly, question number two . . .

QUESTION 2.) If so, why do you think you were treated this way?

ANSWER:

America changed during my thirty-one months absence. Attitudes toward the war changed. Attitudes toward servicemen changed. The way people dress changed. The way people treated each other changed. American pride changed. Changed hell, disappeared! I was overwhelmed by all the changes because I was not here to see them evolve. I was too busy doing what I thought my country fully expected me, as a member of the Armed Forces of our country, to be doing.

Attitude toward the war - 1965. I went to Okinawa by ship, via Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and then Yokohama, Japan. At a later date I flew from Okinawa to Da Nang Air Base in the Republic of South Vietnam. The night before boarding the ship (we were to leave out of the port of San Diego the following morning) I, and some of my fellow Vietnam-bound Marine and corpsman buddies were hitting some taverns in Oceanside, California, it being the last chance to party in the good old United States for who knows how long . . . We had a great time. All we had to do was mention in passing that we were headed to Vietnam, and that’s all it took. The civilians of Oceanside were treating us like royalty. I had never seen such respect and love for servicemen. They wouldn’t let us pay for a thing. It was a wonderful experience - A whole lot of back-slapping from the men, hugs from the women, and "good luck’s" all around, and "Hey, Mac, zap one of those VC for me, will ya?" and I promised that I would . . . All this passed around by people we had never met, and would, most likely, never see again . . .

 
Attitude toward the war - 1967. I arrived back in the United States in the late autumn of 1967. I landed at El Toro, Marine Corps Air Station, California, at just about sundown. After getting my transfer orders I had sent a letter to a Marine buddy at El Toro telling him when I would be landing and the flight number, etc, and he was there to pick me up when I got through at the in-bound inspection area of the terminal. We went to his house in the base housing area where I met his wife and children. My buddy then asked, "What do you want to ‘do’?" I explained that I just wanted to lie down on his couch and "sleep for a few days, maybe even a week," to get over the jet lag, and that, if and when I ever awoke  we could talk about "doing" something. He persisted ... and I soon found myself fitfully catnapping while on the way to "the strip" in Los Angeles to have a couple of beers and get used to the idea that I was really, finally, back home, more-or-less in one piece. We arrived at the strip and he woke me up. We went into the first beer joint that looked halfway decent. We took a seat at the bar and ordered a couple of beers. I rubbed my eyes and looked around the dark interior of the place. What I saw was appalling - I was actually looking at this new breed of people that I had read about in the Stars and Stripes newspaper while I was in Vietnam and Okinawa. War protesters. Communist scumbags! "Hanoi Jane" Fonda’s brothers and sisters! Remember the picture of "Hanoi Jane" Fonda sitting on the North Vietnamese Army antiaircraft weapon near Hanoi, laughing her head off, pretending to aim in at American fighters and bombers, while her North Vietnamese Army buddies were laughing back and applauding their approval? I wonder how many American lives that picture cost us? I bet that some of these people in this bar were part of the same commie pukes that caused Ho Chi Minh to change his mind about disengaging with us and suing for peace early on during the struggle. I cannot imagine how many American Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen’s lives it cost this country, including all the missing in action, and all the prisoners of war, many of whom are still there, when this radical bunch of bums caused us to remain in Vietnam much longer than would have been necessary for us to just do our jobs, then honorably turn the reins of the war back over to the Army of the Republic of South Vietnam, then get back on our ships and airplanes and return home to our wives; our mothers and fathers; our brothers and sisters; our school buddies; and those very few girlfriends that may have remembered to wait for us!

We drank a couple of beers and I was more than ready to leave the place. My buddy says, "just one more, one for the road." I dropped my head on my chest in protest, then agreed, and he ordered two more beers for us. Actually, I hadn’t had a beer for a few days, and it really hit the spot. About halfway through that third bottle of ice cold Coors someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around on my bar stool and came face-to-face with one of the dirtiest, most unkempt people I have ever seen. He smelled like last weeks garbage. I asked him what he wanted. He asked if I could contribute a couple of bucks to help out a friend of his that had been arrested that day by the Los Angeles Police Department. He wanted to bail him out of jail. Always eager to help the downtrodden whenever I had the opportunity I automatically went for my wallet while asking what the poor guy did to get himself arrested. The answer was, "he was arrested by the pigs over at Pershing Square for demonstrating against the war." Well, that was just exactly the wrong thing to say to a returning veteran of that war . . . I stuck my wallet back in my pocket and  slid off the bar stool while making a fist out of my right hand. Then I pulled my arm back all ready to let fly with a right cross to his jaw. I was prepared to take on the whole bar, either one at a time, or all at once, it didn't matter! . . . That's about the time when my buddy grabbed my arm and started pulling me out of the bar. He did so amidst many catcalls, up to and including the time-honored phrase "baby killers!" and "go back to ‘NAM where your kind belong!" and . . . "you should have died over there!"

It was a very quiet ride back to my buddy’s place at El Toro. He tried to talk to me, but I was inconsolable. He explained to me that this new breed was protected, just like the real citizens of the country. I could not understand that. The only thing I could think of was that maybe this new breed of people were all correct. Maybe I should not have returned to this country that I have always loved so dearly. Maybe I should have died there! What a difference a thirty-one-month absence serving in a war zone overseas can make in a serviceman’s life.
 
 
QUESTION 3.) In Vietnam, did you make friends with other soldiers, or did you choose not to?

ANSWER:

I made a lot of great friends while serving over there. Everyone has seen the war movies about soldiers never making friends in combat because it is always so horrible to become really good friends with someone; only to have them become a casualty and be medevacced out or - much worse - get killed in a combat situation. A lot of that is movie magic. All that wonderful pain to draw the audience deeper into the story line. I’m not saying it didn’t happen. I am sure it did on occasion. I’m just saying that in my opinion it was not the norm, whatever the "norm" is in a combat zone . . .

One of the first people I made good friends with while there was killed when we were attacked one night. He was killed on the perimeter of the base by incoming sniper fire. It was a bad experience and hurt me deeply at the time. But, it was not an experience that was so bad as to make me crawl into a "shell" and not make other really good friends while there. Each person is different in how they handle their emotions in that situation and I would be the last person in the world to look down on someone that gets emotionally upset when something like that happens - To the contrary, I have seen really tough Marines and/or a Marine and a Corpsman hug each other just because one of them "needed" it, and the other person recognized the need . . .

If the opportunity ever arises and you get the chance go to "The Wall," in Washington, D.C., you will see what I mean. You will see many very tough looking men in their 50's+ hugging other very tough looking men in their 50's+ in the presence of Our Wall. Don't even try to understand it . . . you won't be able to. You can't. You are not expected to. The only way to understand it is to hump your way through the same bloody tracks their jungle boots have trod in . . . It is one of the reasons that we Marines (and we always include "OUR" Fleet Marine Force Navy Corpsmen when we say "We Marines") are called the "Band of Brothers." The Marine Corps motto is Semper Fidelis, which is Latin for "Always Faithful." To God - To Country - To Corps, in whichever manner you care to arrange it . . .

My best Vietnam Era buddy lives up in Alpine, Utah. He is a retired Navy Master Chief Petty Officer. His name is Wayne Hardman. I met him at Marble Mountain Air Facility on the shore of the South China Sea, six miles east of Da Nang, in 1966. He was an FMF Corpsman and flew on numerous medevac missions in a UH-34D helicopter, picking up, and patching up the wounded and broken Marine infantrymen while I was overhead busily covering them while serving as an aircrewman in a UH-1E, “Huey” Gunship armed with two rocket pods containing three dozen rockets, four external M-60, 7.62MM machine guns, two internal M-60 7.62 MM machineguns and an M-79 grenade launcher to, hopefully, ensure that they got safely in to - and then back out - of the landing zone in one piece.

Our families get together as often as we can. We are going to be together again in March of this year (1999) at a recreational vehicle campground in northwest Arizona. I expect that we will drink a bunch of coffee. I expect we will play some horseshoes. I expect that we will go hiking up in the mountains. I expect that we will have a lot of fun together. I do not expect that we will talk about the Vietnam War. With the exception of quite a few funny incidents that occurred over there we never do. Yep, I made some great, lifelong buddies over there.
 
 
QUESTION 4.) Do you know exactly why you were sent there?

ANSWER:

Yes, without a doubt. I know exactly why I was sent to the Republic of South Vietnam. In November of 1964 I was called into the Career Planners office at Force Troops, Marine Corps Base, 29 Palms, California for a reenlistment interview. At the time I had three months left to do in the Marine Corps. When asked if I was willing to reenlist for three, four, or six more years in the Corps, I asked about whether I could go to any duty station that I wanted . . . I was assured that I could. The Lieutenant got his pen out and applied it to the contract. He asked which duty station I thought I wanted to go to and I told him, "any duty station in South Vietnam, sir!" Now, at this point you need to sort of bare in mind that with the exception of some "advisors" and "helicopter support personnel"  (tongue-in-cheek as I type this) we were not officially "in-country" in Vietnam. At any rate he put it down and the rest is, as they say, history.

Notwithstanding all that, I would have known exactly why I was sent to Vietnam, (had the situation been different, had I sufficient time to serve there without reenlisting) and that reason was quite simple, almost ridiculously simple: The President of the United States of America - the man that we elected to run this country for us by popular vote - the man that represents us in all matters relating to our country, including it's foreign affairs, made the decision to go to the defense of a country in southeast Asia that was in the process of being attacked by the murderous thugs of a communist regime. I went to Vietnam. I served my country to the best of my ability. I could only pray that what I was doing was enough for my country! I did not ask "why," - I went - I served - I returned . . .

I wonder how many people even know that in 1955, Marines, while working with the 7th Fleet of the United States Navy, transported nearly 300, 000 refugees from North to South Vietnam so that they would not be slaughtered by the Ho Chi Minh government’s butchers? We were very deeply involved in Vietnam long before most Americans even knew anything about it.

I lost a good friend there in 1963. He was an "advisor" in-country, serving with a South Vietnamese Marine unit in the training of "popular force" units. America lost a very tough Marine fighting man when we lost him! With the exception of the government, his relatives, obviously, and a few close friends, no one was even aware of the loss of this outstanding Marine warrior! What a hell of a great shame!
 
 
QUESTION 5.) Was there ever a moment when you didn’t think about what was going to happen to you?

ANSWER:No. There was never a moment. The nights were the worst. If there were ever a way to hold back the night I would have pulled whatever strings it took to do so. I still jump awake in the middle of the night when I hear a noise in or near my house that I do not immediately recognize, I'll grab for my rifle, my ammunition belt, my flak jacket and my helmet. Then, after becoming fully awake I lay there praying that my wife didn’t wake up and notice my sub-conscience, erratic behavior.

In Vietnam there were times that the machine guns, the artillery, and the mortars would pound away all night and the only thought you can muster is "are the VC, or the NVA headed toward my camp," or, while in the bush, "are they headed toward my piece of real estate here in the jungle?" Each dawn when you open your eyes over there you tell yourself, "thank God for little miracles - another one down."
 
 
QUESTION 6.) How did the experience of combat and violence change your life?

ANSWER:

I matured overnight in Vietnam. It wasn't exactly my idea, but there was very little choice in the matter. I learned fast and early on that my fun days were over for a while. At the very least my life was put on “hold" until I could finish my tour and rotate back to the states or to some other friendly country. That is just the way it was! I still have a lot of problems even today with regard to my experiences in Vietnam. There were many things that happened in Vietnam that I still do not talk about even to this day. Not even to other servicemen, much less to my family. There was just too much ugliness and pain and horror in what could have and should have been a very beautiful place. There are still a lot of nightmares to work my way through. A lot of demons continue to pop up, and not just during my sleeping hours when I least desire their presence or activity . . .

I don’t run around wearing a dirty Marine Corps field jacket with Vietnam Veteran patches or chevrons affixed all over it. Nor do I wear a Vietnam cap with patches all over it saying "hey look at me, I’m a combat veteran." To the contrary, I leave that to others that "need" the recognition for whatever the reason. I'm sure there is nothing wrong with it. It is just not something that I personally would do. I also cannot visualize my ever grabbing a weapon and going out blowing people away during a post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) "flashback" episode. There are many of my brothers that have very severe problems with PTSD and I would give my right arm, both arms even, to cure that problem for them --if only I could. But the terrible truth of the matter is that the best I can do when I meet one of these brothers, no matter which service they were in, nor which war, is to just shake their hand and say, "I understand what you are going through, brother, just try to hang in there!" Because I know full-well that "there" but for the grace of God, go I . . .
 
 
~ End of part 1 ~