RogerG on Family Tree Circles
RogerG , from Kingman, Indiana, USA, has been a Family Tree Circles member since Nov 2012.
Roger G. Spurgeon Sr.
I was born during the baby-boom era four years after World War II. My parents, like many others, were still struggling to throw off the deprivations caused by the "Great Depression". Despite this we never went hungry or lacked soap to keep ourselves and our home clean. I had an imaginative childhood and had imaginary Tom Sawyer like adventures. My Mississippi River was a lot smaller and was known as the Little Monon Creek. My friends and I built rafts of inner-tubes and other various materials which were floated up and down the creek. My childhood friends included Roy and Ray Jones, Danny Smith, Rolland Jeffers and my Nephew Kevin. We delighted in visiting the old haunted house, having shoot outs with BB guns and dueling with wooden swords and trash can lid shields. Books of ancient history and movies like "Spartacus" fueled our already vivid imaginations. Corncobs, horse weed stems and dirt clods were often turned into war-time missiles that sometimes found their mark and even brought blood. We most always would brush off the minor pain and continue on with the imagined conflict. Often, on warm days, we would take a break and go to the stone query, south of town, and swim in its crystal clear spring waters.
When I was thirteen or fourteen, Uncle Jesse told me a riddle about ghosts that gave me the idea to pull a prank on a couple of my superstitious friends. Johnny Owens and I talked them into holding a séance on Halloween at midnight. We all acquired candles out of pumpkins that were smashed by goblins and headed toward the cemetery. We circled the grave marked by the largest tombstone in the cemetery. We then lit our candles and chanted in unison, "John G. Doe, what did you die of?" The ghost was supposed to say "Nothing at all, Nothing at all." Silence blanketed our group as our candle flickered in the steady northwest wind. We could hear the wind whispering through the tall thick ceders next to us. Then, out of this silence came a scream from my friend, "I HEARD HIM, I HEARD HIM." My friend's loud and excited voice threw his contagious excitement into all of us and, in a flash we left the cemetery aided by adrenalin flowing in great quantities through our pounding hearts. We the supercilious led the way and stopped only after sprinting four blocks from the cemetery. The last time I talked to my friend, he still believed that he heard the ghost say, "Nothing at all, Nothing at all."
As a teen teenager, most of my time was spent going to school, working on farms, mowing yards, delivering newspapers, water skiing, swimming, hunting and fishing and courting my future bride.
I met my wife in my early teens. We were married October 18, 1968 in the Linden Baptist Church. A few months previously, Uncle Sam had solicited my services and I joined the Marine Corps. My reasons for joining were partly patriotic and partly economic. Many factory employers wouldn't hire young men in fear that they would soon be drafted, so I decided to get my military obligation over. I also felt that it was my duty to do my part in stopping world wide communist aggression. After volunteering, my after thoughts of dying in steamy, tangled jungles were suppressed by my infatuation with my friend and lover, Judy. We were married when I was home on leave from boot camp and lived together for about a month before I received orders to Vietnam. My tour of this West Pacific country was from February of 1969 to March of 1970. During this time, the North Vietnamese Army worked hard to try to terminate my life. Similarly, Uncle Sam's Marine Corps went to extreme measures to eliminate those poor souls of the opposition. Little consideration was given to the safe working conditions of those on either side and despite this, I'm still alive. Or, at least part of me is. My wife said that the person who came back from Vietnam was not the same person who went there. I suppose, the war did severely wound the child part of me, and I'll probably spent the rest of my life trying to revive this part. When I returned from Vietnam, I was told that I could take all my decorations and 25 cents and go the drug store and get a cup of coffee. My Combat Action Ribbon and the remainder of my decorations were seemingly sneered at by our society, our government and the people of Vietnam. This is exemplified by the cool reception of our returning War Vets, the amnesty given to the deserters and the lack of determination shown by the South Vietnamese who failed to stand when the Communists over ran that country. However, I feel no shame for my actions as some war protesters might expect. I do feel shame for my country, swayed by the war protesters and deserters. My country deserted her young Hero's, tore their hearts out and allowed all of those who died, to die in vain. One must not dwell on ugly thoughts such as this, least he become ugly himself. Wars are such vain solutions. I would think if one should have to war, that those left living, and those who would inherit the benefits obtained by the war, would be better off than before the fighting began. This is not so with Vietnam. The anti-war protesters swayed the outcome. The fleeing boat people of Vietnam who risked their lives attempting to get out of Vietnam seemed to verify they were not better off.
Because I was always interested in my father's military service in WWII, and am unable to get his account of it, I am compelled to tell my experiences in Vietnam. I'll start my story in a California air-base. Here is where I remember that the reality of war began to become real to me.
Roger Stevens, Cecil Vanarsdale (friends from basic) and I were sitting in a staging room awaiting the plane that would carry us toward the war in Vietnam. As we were waiting, two M.P.s with pistols walked in and positioned themselves at the doors. I began to try and rationalize the reason for the armed guard; then I panicked. I realized that this was the last chance for me to back out of an uncertain fate. In the combat situation, my life would be an expendable resource in the hands of others. They wouldn't value it as dearly as I. I quickly calmed myself thinking that I knew of no Spurgeon cowards, and I wouldn't be the first. Glancing at my friends, I noticed concern on their faces and began trying to make light of the situation. "Too late to go to Canada now", I said, and got an uneasy smile from my friends. Soon we began cutting up and conversing as normal as the situation would allow. Somehow, I'm sure all of us could relate to what death row in a prison must feel like.
Soon we moved out to board the plane and to our surprise it was a commercial airliner. We were going first class! When we were under way, the pretty stewardess asked if we wanted a cocktail. I told her that I wasn't old enough. A hurt look came over her face, then quickly changed as I perceived she regained her composure. She then stated that we weren't in the United States now and that my age wasn't an issue. I ordered a Bloody Mary, which I thought suitable for the occasion. My friends and I laughed at the fact that were wereenough entofor our country, but not old enough to drink alcohol in it. The plane set down in Hawaii for about a half hour, then resumed toward its destination while we mostly slept the time away. We had a few days lay over in Okinawa, and I went to the dispensary for an ear infection. Then, back on an airliner to finish the trip to Da Nang. We were not sure what to expect when the plane set down at Da Nang. Our anxieties were reinforced with the stewardess' emergency landing instructions. We landed without incident and didn't dodge bullets and mortar rounds as some expected. We were then taken to 3rd Marine Corps division Headquarters and issued orders to our combat regiments. A good friend, Ronnie Wolford had arrived with us. He told us that the 9th Marine Regiment was the one that was the least desired unit to be in, according to the stories told by stateside Vets. The Marines ahead of us in line were getting put in units other than the 9th, but when it came our turn, we were not so lucky. Ronnie got 3/9 and Stevens, Cecil and I were put in Charlie 1/9, better known as the "Walking Dead". One of the office pogy troupe handlers told us that all the Marines in 1/9 got issued body bags to take to the field with them and laughed. We failed to see the humor in it.
By airplane and convoy, we arrived at Quang Tri. Here, we were introduced to some of the lesser desired characteristics of a war camp. Mud from the paths and ruts of trucks built up on our boots and made it difficult to walk. Bile burned with Diesel fuel had a putrid smell that made everything in the camp seem untouchable. The food was horrible and combined with the putrid smell of burning bile, it made eating an unpleasant chore. Showers from cold water barrels on top of wooden frames left me shivering, but I felt a little cleaner.
Operation Dewey Canyon:
After waiting about a week, they issued us rifles and the rest of our war gear and told us to stand by to be joined with our units. After taking off on the helicopter (chopper) en route to my unit, I remember asking myself, "How the hell did I get myself into this mess?". I believe Vanarsdale and Stevens were thinking about the same thing as we looked at the war torn landscape and tangle of jungle and below us. All too soon, the chopper sat down on the edge of a bomb crater and the crew chief yelled at us to get off. We jumped and fell into the crater and the chopper was gone. We were then ordered to run to the top of the hill. We couldn't see the owner of the voice but, it was Marine Corps familiar. Toward the crest of hill, we heard the sound of mortar rounds being fired as well as smelling a horrible rotten smell. Then shouts of incoming and a command of "Get down on the ground" were soon followed by explosions going off around us. Dirt, dust, smoke and shrapnel flew all over and then, as abruptly as it started it ended. The mortars exploding was louder than anything I had ever experienced. I was totally confused and in a state of shock. When it got quiet, I regained my feet and felt much weaker, almost so weak that I couldn't walk, but I made it with the rest to the owner of the voice that commanded the orders to us. We were moved to nearby fox holes and told to be ready to get in them. A marine by the name of Gonzales was next to the hole that I was assigned. He coolly asked me if I had a cigarette. I gave him one, but I had a problem with his attitude. Moments earlier I was running for my life because some damned S.O.B.s were trying to kill me, my heart had been pounding and ready to burst out of my chest and this Marine acted as if nothing had happened. My mind replayed the horrific experience all over again. The reality that I could be Killed here hit me like reality had never done before. The shock of this filled my being, and I was terrified at what could have happened, but didn't. Hello Vietnam! A transformation came over me, and I became serious, real serious, and more than anything, I wanted to live. I had been in the bush for what had been moments and still these moments could have become an eternity. I smoked several cigarettes and asked Gonzales what was that terrible smell. He pointed to a dead North Vietnamese soldier covered with maggots and told me that I had almost tripped on it on my way up. Death seemed to say hello to me as I stared at the corps.
We were then put into vacant positions of the company, and I made myself at home as much as possible. Vanarsdale and I were put in the same squad. Stevens was put in a different platoon of the company. Shortly, Gonzales came down and told me to get my war gear on and ready myself to go out on a listening post. I had no sooner picked up my gear when Gonzales directed me to the center of the command post. A short, Hi, how are you?, introduction to two other members of the detail, instructions and we were off. It had just turned dark. This time of the evening was picked, so that our position wouldn't be observed by the enemy. We went out on a long finger that extended from the hill that the company was dug in on. As we descended the hill on the finger, an insecure feeling came over me and seemed to become greater as we began to get further away from the Command Post. Finally, we arrived at our destination and watches were assigned. I drew a middle watch, and to no avail, tried to sleep wrapped in my poncho liner. Moisture from heavy fog now dripped from the rain forest. My turn of the watch came and I was handed the radio to monitor and told to wake up the other two if anything happened. Near the end of my duty, enemy mortar tubes began pumping out potential death for those on the receiving end. Our Command Post was the target. After my watch, still no sleep. I sat there in an exhausted state, eyes closed at times, but no sleep came to give my body and mind the rest it needed.
The next morning, before daylight, we returned to the C.P. As I neared my foxhole, a detail of men were putting what remained of the men who occupied the foxhole next to mine. One of the dead had just arrived with me the day before. Death, it seemed, didn't care how much time in country you had. They had taken a direct hit with a mortar and were mutilated horribly. I looked away from the mess that used to be living people and felt sick. I was in culture shock. There was no way the Marine corps could have prepared me for this horrible place, other than instill self discipline, which they did. This place was pure hell. Only my death would shorten my tour. Dying quickly like the poor soul who arrived with me might not be the worst option. My thoughts changed shortly to something very important to me, Staying alive.
The remainder of the morning was spent improving the camp site and foxhole. I did manage to get a short nap. Improving the camp site and foxhole turned into a daily routine. Short naps during the day was all I could do as far as sleep was concerned. The fear of sapper teams sneaking up in the night kept my senses alert at night for the remainder of the operation. I worked hard at keeping comfortable, which meant staying dry. The moisture from the continuous night fog saturated most everything. Keeping matches for cigarettes and my poncho liner dry were priorities. I fashioned some logs to sleep on in an attempt to keep out of the mud, but sleep never came, only naps. Trying to get warm was a challenge. My hands had turned blue from the moisture and cool weather. When we cooked C-Rations, we warmed our hands over the heat tabs as we cooked. This was only a temporary solution. Soon, the nagging pain of the coldness returned.
I was placed in 2nd squad, 2nd platoon. Big Mac McCann was our squad leader. With us, the reinforcements, our squad now had five members. Little Mac, McCann and Big Mac took right up since they share their last name. Little Mac had trained to be a Catholic Priest, but dropped out. David Joseph Gonzales was there before I came and the first advice and only advice to me was to forget everything that was taught in infantry training. Good friend Cecil Vanarsdale and myself made up the rest of the squad at this time. At a later time, Powers and Phelps would also become members of the squad. Other platoon members included Sweeny, Paganelle, Bob Munsen and Angus.
All too soon, I was told to get ready to go on a daylight patrol. When our squad was ordered out, we readied our war gear and formed up for the ordeal. While inspecting our equipment Big Mac ordered me to take the point. At this time I didn't know it, but this would be my job in the squad and the platoon when sent out on various missions. I physically obeyed the order but, if Big Mac could have heard my thoughts, I'd have been charged with insubordination. I thought it was outrageous that I be placed as point man on my first patrol. Needless to say, fear of the unknown and the lack of self confidence took its toll on my nervous system. I started up the trail proceeding cautiously, methodically checking out the area in front of me for booby-traps and the enemy. Soon sweat was dripping from my nose. I shook with every step I took. Quickly, Big Mac's patients shortened and he commanded me to move it out faster. This order shot through my mind and I felt my face flush with anger at what I perceived to be a death order. I complied without a word and stretched out my steps and quickened the pace. My full attention almost immediately diverted from my anger and I did what was expected of a point man. I scanned the area looking for anything that might not belong in this jungle, holding my rifle at the ready, while at the same time picking the best route possible through the vegetation. After traveling a ways further down the finger of this mountain, I was ordered to hold up. Our man on the right flank had sighted what proved to be the entrance of an underground hospital. Our tunnel rat came back with his report and evidence of the hospital. Among other things he brought out presents to the North Vietnamese from America. Glass containers of vitamins and an entrenching tool bore stamps which read, "COMPLEMENTS OF BERKLEY UNIVERSITY". It was evident that there were traitors back home. This created quit a stir among the squad and I swore that I burn down the school if I lived to return home. We cleared away from the tunnel and blew it up. We went a ways further down the finger, then returned to the C.P.
Back at camp we rested and made ready for nightfall. We ate supper, picked watches and talked and even joked with each other. I thought of the beauty of the rain forest that I had walked through on the patrol. It was quite different from the bombed out areas that made up my first impressions of the environment we were choppered into. I had never seen a more splendid forest. Its most majestic feature was the tall trees which were branchless to an extreme height, then flowed out at their tops to block most of the sunlight from the ground. The trees were anchored into the ground by three large roots which extended symmetrically at the base of the trunk. One could completely disappear behind the mass of the roots of some of the larger trees. The ground was covered with ferns, moss, vines and leaves. Occasionally, the forest roof would open and other various types of growth would fight for a spot in the sun and often would be very thick.
When the sun fell, watches began. Two would try to sleep while the third kept watch in the foxhole. When it was my turn for the watch, I place two hand grenades on the crest of the foxhole where I could easily get them if needed. We were not allowed to fire our rifles at night if we saw enemy movement, of course unless all hell broke loose. We were to throw grenades, but were warned by Big Mac if we threw grenades there had best be at least a blood trail left by the enemy. Moisture from the heavy fog caused limbs from the trees to fall and the eerie mist and darkness cause ones imagination to work overtime. My eyes would play tricks on me and several times I saw movement in the jungle. Because of this and the stress, it was possible to imagine seeing enemy soldiers moving through the mist. I knew that my eyes were fooling me, but I picked up a grenade after being on watch for about a half an hour. Suddenly, the sound of an M-16 rifle violated the sounds of the forest, causing all not on watch to jump into their foxholes. Others in the company joined in and began firing. Big Mac came running and cursing down the hill and commanded all to cease firing. He shortly got it, then chewed out the marine who started the firing and went cursing back up the hill. Firing a rifle at night made you a target, easily seen by the enemy. It wasn't a smart thing to do, unless a battle ensued. We were allowed to smoke at night if we pulled our ponchos over our heads at the bottom of our foxhole and not allow any light to show from it. If one allowed the light to show, he wasn't allowed to smoke at night. We policed ourselves on this since nobody wanted to be targeted by the enemy.
Later, a day, three days?, we received word to be ready to move out. We took down our ponchos, folded them neatly and fastened them to our utility belts. All our gear was neatly packed and we picked up c-rations, mortar rounds and cans of machine gun ammo which added weight to our already heavy load. A marine carried sixty to eighty pounds when the company changed locations. Our platoon was located in the middle of the column, so I didn't have to take the point. Soon we were taking a scenic tour of the Ho Chi Mien Trail.
I was enchanted with the beauty of the country that we walked through. Since I was in the middle of the column, I could enjoy the majesty of the trees, vines and spotty show of fauna. This kept my attention until the heat from the sun and my own energy began to diminish along with my comfort. The march became almost unbearable as profuse sweating drench us and our clothes. Pesky insects added to the discomfort. The column held up and word was passed that there would be a "fire in the hole" (engineers blowing up equipment). I never saw what they blew up, nor did I care. What I did care about was that I was getting a break. The insects really zeroed in on us. After about a half hour the march resumed. Almost as soon, the effects of the break disappeared and pack straps dug into our soaking wet uniforms. In an hour or two, a few peculiar sounding automatic rifle bursts sounded and the column stopped marching and took cover or concealment. Word was passed to us that we were held up by sniper fire. Then there was more firing and the column moved our again. One of the old salts told me that the peculiar popping sound was from an Enemy AK-47 automatic rifle. This sound soon became familiar. As we marched, the AK-47 reported several times. This continued several times though we didn't stop. Finally the Ak-47 sounded again and was followed by shots from an M-16 and a LAW (disposable Lightweight anti-tank weapon). The LAW silenced the AK-47. We marched until late in the afternoon when we halted again. We were all out of water and there was a mud puddle next to the trail where we stopped for a break. We put our handkerchiefs over the top of our canteens and filled them with water and added purification tablets. The water tasted nasty, but it was wet. Word came down that we were setting up on the top of the hill. After a short wait, Big Mac showed us our positions and we began to fortify and after that build our hutches.
There were foxholes and tunnels made by the North Vietnamese already on this hill. We made our own, preferring not to use the enemy's. However, we did investigate the tunnels and checked out the entire perimeter area. One of the tunnels, on the other side of the hill, held a large cash of rifles, ammo, mortar rounds, rocked propelled grenades and launchers, 122 rockets and tons of rice. I was on the same side of the hill that the mud puddle was found. I found a trench that was used to keep the water from the fortifications . The trench drained into the mud puddle from which we filled our canteens. Thinking of midnight trips to relieve myself, I poured the water out. The remainder of our team followed suit.
Also, here we daily ran patrols, ambushes, spent our turn on perimeter watch nightly, and took turns on going outside the perimeter on listening post duties. When night time came, we followed the same drill each night, unless we were chose to go on listening posts or killer team ambushes. On perimeter watch we were assigned a position on a company 360 degree perimeter. There were three men assigned to a position where they dug foxholes. Each stood watch for a third of the night. On a killer team, only four or five men went out to a chosen spot and set up ambush. A hit and run tactic was used because of the low number of men that made up our company. On a listening post, usually three men were sent outside the perimeter about a thousand yards and stood watch for enemy movement coming near the perimeter. They were given a radio and checked in hourly. These duties were performed nightly when in the bush. Sometimes contact was made with the enemy on ambushes, sometimes there was no contact. Sometimes we were ambushed. It was like this throughout my tour.
We were never up to strength. I think that we got more men in the squad at this time, though I'm not sure. We were resupplied and the supply choppers took out the captured rifles and rice. We were given rifles as souvenirs if we wanted. I took an SKS rifle which was still packed in grease. What wasn't hauled out was destroyed with explosives. When the sun appeared the next day we were on the road again, till we found something or met resistance. The drill was pretty much the same over, I don't know how many days, but they were numerous.
Soon the fog failed to lift and the temperature dropped to the 40's Fahrenheit. After the fog failed to lift during the day, we stayed put because we were not able to get the air support, etc. that we needed to push on. The following month or so, became nightmarish. Exposer to the elements made us all miserable. Supplies could not be brought in to us because of the risk of enemy fire of dislocated choppers. Sometime after the first week of going without food, we were ordered to eat our emergency long ration. Later in the week, one of the guys brought out a long ration, ate half of it, and auctioned off the remainder. It sold for over $250, and only at that low of a price, because no one had more money.
When our resupply situation was at its lowest, our strength diminished. We were extremely weak and patrols going out of the command post (C.P.) were grueling. Attempts of resupplying us by parachute drops were inadequate for they never hit their target. We were sent out on patrols to find the parachuted pallets of food but seldom found them. Our squad was able to find one pallet and it was so far from the C.P. that carrying it back became a major chore. We were able to get a meal or two from a drop, then would go a long length of time till another was found. The enemy soon discovered our dilemma and began to harass us with ambushes when we went on patrol. On one of the patrols we were caught in the open when ambushed. One of our men had a rocket propelled grenade go off right in front of him. A fragment of the rocket had creased his helmet and caused a horribly bloody mess of his head. The corpsman looked at him and decided he was dead, picked up his rifle, and began firing at the enemy. When the fire fight was over, the dead man came to life and began moaning. When we returned to the C.P., our company commander (Captain Kelly) told the wounded marine that he could keep his dented helmet and take it home as a souvenir. This seemed to enlighten the wounded Marine's spirit somewhat. During one of the contacts with the enemy, I received a hot sting on my posterior from a rocket propelled grenade (RPG). This was one of the two minor wounds that I received while in Vietnam. I didn't turn it in.
One incident at this location was thought to be very funny by me and others, but was at the expense of the poor fellow it happened to. About mid-morning a guy from another location on the hill came searching for a latrine. Before he found it, the sound of enemy mortar tubes firing caused all of us to dive for cover. Several marines yelled "Incoming", which was followed by the rounds exploding around us. Then, we heard a massive amount of cursing coming from the direction of the latrine. We popped up from our holes and saw the poor fellow who was looking for the latrine was holding his hands away from himself. He was slinging them and trying to get something off of them. The unfortunate had sighted the latrine and dove in head first to evade the mortars. He was covered with brown from head to foot. Me and my friends laughed so long and so hard that our stomachs hurt. His vocal protest to our amused reaction added to the hilarity.
Finally, one night, it quit raining and the fog lightened up. I had been sleeping in the mud on tree limbs for what seemed and eternity. The following morning I decided to improve my situation and fashioned a hammock from my poncho liner and com-wire. The following night I rested for the first time in the warm, dry, unlumppy hammock. That morning, in half dream, I heard the sound of mortars and people yelling. Someone yelled, "Where's Spurgeon", and I aroused from my half dream state. A loud explosion nearby awoke me fully and bailed out of the hammock, weapon in hand and dove into my fox hole. We were under attack. Bullets from the enemy's automatic weapons kicked up dirt all around me. Mortars, RPGs and who knows what were falling all around the company's positions. A large force of North Vietnamese Army was attacking us. I fired back from the hole that Angus and I shared and when I did enemy automatic fire bore down on our position. After a while, a large fallen tree that was directly behind our hole, began to splinter from the intense enemy fire. We used up all our loaded magazines. Then reloaded from the bandoleers as we fought back. How long the battle went on, I don't know, but it seemed hours. A command came to stay down in our holes, that we were getting close air support came down. We gladly obeyed. Within moments the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing bore down on the Enemy position from us. The positions were only about 100 yards across the ravine. The 1st Marines dropped hell on the enemy. Sticks and limbs were falling into our hole from the explosions as I rejoiced in thedevastationn beingdealtt to the enemy. The enemy's attack ceased. Then word came from the C.P. to stay in our holes but stand by to move into choppers. We were overjoyed.
After what seemed only a few moments, a fire fight broke out to the left of our hole. The NVA were trying to over run our perimeter. After a short while several of us were ordered to the fire fight and help evacuate some of our fallen. Mortars and bullets were still flying when we got into the area. We quickly moved up the to the Marine line and picked up one of the wounded. His legs were blown off below the knees by a mortar round. He pleaded for us not to forget his legs and we loaded them up too. I was so weak that I don't know how I continued to move. We took the wounded back, still under fire. Then the NVA attack stopped at least for the moment.
Back at our foxhole we threw our gear together and waited to be taken out by helicopter. The helicopter landing zone was directly above our hole at the crest of the hill. A helicopter (chopper) came in to pull out the wounded and was hit by enemy small arms fire and mortars followed. The commander of the choppers told our commander that the zone was too hot and that they couldn't pick our company up. An Army chopper group was monitoring the situation and volunteered to extract us. Soon the company began to get out of the jungle. My team was the next to the last to be extracted. After we boarded,, I kept tense until we were clear of the area. My friends and I had made it out of our first operation alive. This was the end of Operation Dewey Canyon for Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines in the A-Shau Valley. I joined with my company sometime in February and we were taken out of the valley sometime in March of 1969.
After we landed we found out that were were going to get two restnlast andperation. We had been without food for a long time and all of us were extremely poor. Powers feeling badly about his condition complained that he had whithered away to nothing. When he arrived in country he was a lot larger.
At my first meal, I inhaled the food, drank milk and filled my shrunken stomach. I didn't really eat much. A few steps outside the mess tent I vomited. My system couldn't tolerated food. After a few more meals my body was excepting food normally.
Later, we embarked on to naval river patrol boats and were moved to a place on the ocean call Qua Viet. I felt very vulnerable riding on the open deck of the river patrol boats. There was no concealment or cover. Luckily we made no contact with the enemy and reached our destination after a several hour river cruise. Most of us were covered in jungle rot. Our corpsman mandated that we all soak in the ocean's salt water to get rid of our infections. It did the job and we healed nicely. On the beach were the remains of amphibious landing craft, most of them blown to pieces. There wasn't much of this country that was untouched by the war. All too soon our short vacation ended, then we got back on the river boats and were moved up river. Then we loaded on to trucks and were taken to CampVandagriftf or LZ Stud as we called it.
After arriving at LZ Stud we were issued new trousers and shirts. By this time none of us wore underwear because we carried no change of clothing into the bush except socks. After a while the underwear would begin to rot and were thrown away anyway. I did learn from my starving experience of Dewy Canyon in A-Shau Valley. Whenever we captured enemy rice, I filled two socks with it. I never went hungry for long again.
Our old Platoon Commander was replaced by Lt. Adkins. I don't remember the name of the Lieutenant that was replaced. When we first met Lt. Adkins, the platoon was called to formation. He introduced himself and visually inspected us and ordered us to shine our boots. We all thought he was joking and started laughing. It was not a joke and he stood there shocked speechless as we laughed. Our Platoon Sargent, Sgt. Lafayette Bronston, nicknamed The Monster took him to the side and explained a few things to him. The Monster hacharismaticatic personality and everybody loved him and The Monster knew what was going on. Adkins was straight from the states and was not aware of the combat culture of our Vietnam environment.
Our Sparrow Hawk Mission:
On our second formation we were called to, Lt. Adkins stated he had some exciting news to tell us. He had just volunteered our platoon to go on a mission to rescue a recon company that was located in the middle of an area infested by the North Vietnamese Army. My opinion of Lt. Adkins was now at an all time low of him. I was not alone in my thoughts as other platoon members expressed the same opinion. The news was exciting all right. Down right terrifying. I believe that when volunteers were asked for, it was for a suicide mission. In a short time we put on our war gear and (I think) headed to the helicopter pad. Sometimes we were choppered to to our destination other times we were transped by truck. My memory of my Vietnam experiences is somewhat lacking in some instances. Possibly caused by the trauma of the war and the fact that the war has been almost 30 years past when I started writing this. Over forty years have passed on the part I'm writing now. After writing and refreshing my memories, I become severely depressed and have to quit writing. Back to the story.
After being inserted into the mountainous jungle near to the recon team we were rescuing, I was ordered to take point. Walking on a ridge there was sometimes a path to follow and sometimes triple canopy vegetation. I had been issued what I call a corn knife to cut the dense growth, but found it difficult to use because it often hit vines and growth causing the knife to glance before it hit my target. At my request my wife Judy had purchased a K-bar survival knife and sent it to me. This was far more efficient to clear the paths for those behind me. Lt. Adkins was in communication with an aerial observer that was directing our way to our objective. After moving a ways down the ridge, with sweat soaking my clothes and running into my eye, I followed the Lt's direction to turn right. I did so and while cutting growth fell straight down catching my fall with arms spread open on vegetation at the ground. The Lt. reached down and pulled me up by the back of my flack jacket. Lucky I had caught myself, because a closer inspection of the spot a few foot further revealed a drop off of about a forty foot drop. I could have easily slid on down a couple of feet and fell off the drop off. We were then directed to go a little further down the ridge to a descending ridge. Starting down the ridge the vegetation was so thick that I requested the Lt. to take my rifle so I could cut more efficiently. He readily took the rifle and had the platoon set down while I cut a path through to the bottom. After reaching the bottom and starting up the hill where the recon company was located, I became dizzy and fell down, then passed out for a short while. The next thing I know I was being carried up the hill. I protested stating that I could walk. I was told to shut up and they continued carrying me.
Having reached the top of the hill, the Lt. set up perimeter defense. I found out that a recon team had been observing North Vietnamese Army (NVA) movements were discovered and engaged by the enemy. They called in Puff the Magic Dragon (a large slow moving airplane gunship fitted with mini-guns and cannon) for support. Puff could put a round every nine inches for the length of a football field. While firing support for the recon team it hit them as well as the enemy. One of the wounded died at our arrival at their position. Several more recon teams were sent in to try and recover the first team, but three of their helicopters were shot down. So ending up on the hill was a recon company and three helicopter crews. After securing the hill another helicopter (chopper) was called in to extract the dead and the wounded. As soon as it began to land we were hit by the NVA with heavy small arms fire. Trying to get them out of this area by chopper was aborted. We then picked up the dead and wounded and other survivors and began a march to find a place for a safe extraction. I have no idea how many casualties there were. I and three other Marines were assigned to carry the Marine who had just died when we arrived at the recon teams area. The next two day in grueling hot temperatures we marched trying to find a suitable place to get the dead in wounded extracted. On the first day while taking a short break, I saw movement on a parallel ridge from ours. I reported it and it was found that it was just a troupe of large monkeys or apes. In retrospect, the troupe was probably scared up by the NVA for they had been following us. On the second day of the march we found a spot where we thought we could get an extraction, but to our dismay, again we were hit by the NVA when an extraction was tried. All of us in the platoon were still weakened by our starving experience in Operation Dewey Canyon. When the chopper came in they were able to drop some food and a new sergeant. We all tried to eat, but couldn't even get a few bites down. The dead marine that we were carrying had swollen up by the heat and had busted. All of us who were carrying him had his body fluids leaking onto our legs. To top it off, this idiot sergeant began to micromanage us. We had no tolerance for his foolishness. One Marine in our platoon pushed the sergeant to the ground with the point of his rifle, then stuck the barrel in his mouth stating "This rifle is the only one here that will pass out orders. Now shut your $#@%& MOUTH". The sergeant went to the front of the platoon where the Lt. was and I never saw him again. I heard later that he requested a transfer and it was given to him. The new sergeant was lucky, at least he survived the ordeal.
The next day and last day we, marched carried and dragged our burdens over a rugged trail of the jungle covered foothills. In a valley we found an area cleared of foliage by Agent Orange (I say agent orange in retrospect. At the time we knew nothing about it). We crossed it. The NVA wouldn't follow us through the open area. Medavacs were made and we were choppered back to LZ Stud. From here on out, as far as I know, Lt. Adkins never volunteered for any other assignments.
My Best Friend, Cecil
Cecil Vanarsdale, LZ Stud Charlie 1/9 Company area: An unsung Combat Marine HERO. During Operation Apache Snow he came to my aid when ambushed; running back down the mountain to lay down support with his M-79 for my fire team caught in the open on the mountain side. He yelled "Hang on Spurgeon, I'm coming" all the way to us. His heroic action helped turn the tide of the ambush AND is the reason I am able to write this record. During Operation Utah Mesa Charlie Company was ambushed by a large NVA force. Our point element was missing and I was ordered to take my fire team down the trail of death to find the three missing men. Going down this trail Cecil who remained with the remainder of the company saw the .50 Caliber Machine Gun of the NVA, but couldn't get through the vegetation of the jungle with his M-79. He grabbed an M-60 Machine Gun, stood up exposing himself to the enemy fire and took out the enemy emplacement as we proceeded to bring the fallen Heroes of our point element back to our defensive position. On this tragic day Nine brave Heroes of Charlie Company were KIA and 14 were wounded. It often haunts my memory. Cecil has since died of cancer, possibly due to Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam. He was a true friend and risked his life to save mine. He is my Brother. Soldiers are still dying because of Agent Orange!
Some stories with me and Cecil:
When we reached Con Thien, our destination, we unloaded from the trucks. Here we saw men sweeping the road for mines. They indicated that the NVA mined the road frequently. We moved into the compound that was surrounded by razor wire and mine fields. We learned where the path was through the mine field and always made sure we were on it. Vanarsdale, Gonzales and I were assigned to one of the bunkers. We were now guarding Con Thien, running patrols, blowing tunnels and going on listening posts, pretty much the same as in the previous areas, except we hardly made contact with the NVA. When going on patrols, sometimes we loaded up on Army tanks that were assigned there and rode to our destination, which was usually was at an area riddled with NVA tunnels. On one such patrol the tank that my squad was riding on hit a land mine placed in the jungle by the NVA. When the explosion happened it threw me high into the air and I landed on the ground flat on my back, knocking the wind completely out of me. I tried to get up but my legs wouldn't move. They would not respond to me trying to get up. I thought that I might have been hit and checked them for blood and wounds but found none. The squad leader kept screaming for me to get up, but the legs wouldn't cooperate. Finally, they responded and I did as I was ordered. The driver of the tank was messed up somewhat, but no one was seriously injured. After looking at the massive damage to the track and wheels of the tank and the hole blew into the ground by the blast, I don't understand why somebody wasn't hurt badly. God must have been watching over us.
At Con Thien we were on the DMZ and very close to North Vietnam territory. To the north of our bunker, way out in the distance, the NVA had erected a very large flag of North Vietnam for all to see. Long hours of standing perimeter duty was very boring. Some of the men would go into the bunkers and fire their rifles at the flag. The sand bags of the bunker muffled the sound of the rifles. We did many things to remedy our boredom. We practiced knife throwing using our bayonets with sand bags as target. Some would wiggle the projectile of a 50 cal. tracer around in it's case and fashion a mortar round out of it. The tracer projectile would make a sizzling sound as it flew through the air causing those who were unaware of it to drop to the ground for cover. I got a lot of laughs from it. At night we would go a few bunkers over and visit the snipers stationed there. They welcomed us and allowed us to scan the area through their night vision equipment. This gave them a break from their job.
Shortly after we arrived an NVA sniper began to harass us. I took notice that he would fire at us every day at about the same time. On about the third day of his harassment, about five minutes before the time he fired, I dropped down into a fox hole next to our bunker. The guys with me laughed and thought I was foolish for my action. As they laughed at me, the sniper opened up on them. Their laughs fell short and, after that, they followed my lead and got down into their holes at that time.
Possible because of our behavior cause by boredom we were instructed to change positions on the perimeter. We were moved to the south side. When cleaning up our new bunker, previously occupied by officers, Vanarsdale found a partly filled bottle of whiskey. We began looking under sandbags and found the better part of two fifths of whiskey. We didn't want to get anyone in trouble for having this contraband and rather than waste it, we decided to drink it. After we drank most of it, one of our instigating neighbors told us that there was a stash of C-ration fruit and a few poncho liners left at a listening post just beyond the mine field. We jumped at the chance of getting these valuable commodities and promptly headed in the direction of the listening post. Vanarsdale told me not to bring my rifle, rationalizing we could carry more back without them.
Within a short time, we had staggered about three quarters the way through a safe lane of the mine field when I heard the popping sound of a rifle round going over our heads. I said, "Vanarsdale, we're getting shot at". Vanarsdale replied "No were not". After a few more steps, again I heard the report of the rounds over our heads only louder. Again I relayed to Vanarsdale that we're being shot at. He told me that I was imagining things. Within a few more step, bullets were splashing up the ground around us. I said, "See there Arsdale, I told you we were being shot at". He replied, "Your right". A few steps further I asked, "Think we aught to run?" and with that we did our best to run to the listening post as well as our drunken condition would allow.
Upon arriving at the listening post, we found it to be empty of the valuables that we had came for. I stood up several times and taunted the sniper by sticking my thumbs in my ears, wiggling my fingers and making faces at him. He was probably laughing too hard at us to shoot and quit firing. We then headed back through the mine field.
About half way back to our destination we saw a Marine waving his arms and shouting something at us. It was Lt. Adkins. When we got close enough to hear what he was saying, he instructed us to go to our bunker and get ready to receive office hours (disciplinary procedures). The next thing I can remember we were sitting in the bunker receiving a tongue lashing from the Lt. He explained that our behavior had been very bad and that we could expect to receive harsh discipline, even be sent to the brig. I knew enough to keep quiet, but Vanarsdale didn't. He looked at the Lt. and said, "What ya gonna do to us Lt.; send us to Vietnam?" My heart sank, thinking that Vanarsdale had sealed our fate with his statement and we would be sent to the brig. The Lt. just sat there for a moment, then stated in a raised voice, “Oh Hell; Get the Hell out of here”. Later I found out that I was no longer a fire team leader, but other than that nothing more was said and it was not entered on our permanent military record.
Operation Utah Mesa, The Walking Dead
Page 2, Charlie 1/9 Operation Utah Mesa June 12-30 1969, The Vietnam Center and Archives, 3rd Mar Div Message Sit Reps, Doc # 12010350119
A note from The Virtual Wall:
"On 18 June 1969 the 1/9 Marines were under the operation control of the 1st Brigade, 5th (US) Infantry Division, participating in Operation Utah Mesa on the Khe Sanh Plateau, where three battalions of 577th Regiment, 304 NVA Division, were known to be located.
Reports of the 18 June action involving Charlie 1/9 can be found in the 1/9 and HQ MACV Command Chronologies for June 1969. The 1/9 Chronology states that
At 1030H, Company C entered a well entrenched enemy .50 caliber machine-gun position with automatic weapons and suffered 9 KIA'S AND 14 WIA's. The company assaulted and secured the position and directed air strikes on the enemy situated on the high ground. Artillery was called in as the enemy withdrew into a draw. A total of 35 enemy were killed...
The location was 4 miles Southwest of Khe Sanh. Our brave Hero's who gave their lives were:
2nd Lt. Gary W. Letson
Cpl Enrique Miramontez
Hm3 Paul A. Rezendes (Corpsman)
LCpl Edward W. Charles
LCpl Frank Cruz
HN Thomas D. Naughton (Corpsman)
Pfc Michael D. Boyer
Pfc Robert G. Carr
Pfc Walter J. Griffin
and killed earlier that morning Pfc Stephen Orosco of Alpha 1/9"
On June 17, 1969, Charlie Co. had marched into a very hilly grassy area and set up a 360 for the night. After digging foxholes and supper Lt. Adkins, our 2nd Platoon Commander came by our position with a great big smile on his face. He then proceeded to inform us of President Nixon's decision that would very soon get us taken out of Vietnam. We were all very excited about the news, but were still aware that we were still the NVA'S #1 target. After the sun went down Cecil told me that someone had hit him with a rock. Soon another followed from outside of our position. I sent word of this strange movement to the Lieutenant. Soon the Lieutenant came to our position and explained that the movement was happening all around our platoon's positions. We were to stand by inside of our fox holes each of us with a grenade and throw it when he yelled the command. This we did and after the many explosions I heard scuffling through the grass that surrounded us. However there was no other movement detected that night. The next morning the area was checked out and blood trails found as well as tramped down areas in the grass where our enemy had been.
We began our march toward the triple canopy that morning. Third Platoon took the point. Second Platoon was behind them. I was somewhere in the middle of second platoon and had just made the crest of the next hill when all hell broke loose. I started to move over the crest, but was ordered to stay where I was by Big Mac. A large firefight was taking place and I was unable to know what was going on. The fight died down but didn't stop all together. I was order to the Lieutenant's position on the enemy's side of the hill. He told me that we were missing our 3 point men and told me to take my fire team down the trail, find them and bring them back. Immediately we snooped and pooped down the trail of death where our fallen Hero's and NVA soldiers alike lay dead. Bodies laid on both sides of the downward winding trail. There was no cover but it still had good concealment from the vegetation. About half way down the trail our men opened up and it was soon followed by a Huey Gunship flying over the top of us and firing into the enemy's position in front of us. The gunship went over us several times as we wound down the trail. When we reached the bottom and turned a corner we found our missing HEROES. They had been stripped of everything but their utilities. It was evident that they had been murdered after being wounded. Little Mac lost it when seeing this and emptied his weapon in the area where the enemy were. We picked up the Heroes and drug them back to our perimeter. I found out later that Cecil had spotted the 50 Cal. position and since his M-79 wouldn't penetrate the vegetation of the jungle had taken an M-60 machine gun away from its crew, stood up exposing himself and took out the men manning the 50 Cal. Machine Gun position. Again Cecil had come to my aid. Had he not done so, when we rounded to corner to pick up our fallen Heroes the 50 Cal would have taken out my fire team. We then choppered out our dead and wounded. We then proceeded through the enemy's entrenched position where they had left many of their dead. Then we marched the rest of the day and set up a 360 at the crest of a mountain. We cleared fields of fire. In a day or two we were choppered off this mountain at the same time that 3/9 was inserted into our position.
From an Internet website:
"Acting on intelligence reports that enemy units had infiltrated the area south and east of the old Khe Sanh Combat Base, 3d Marine Division headquarters created a joint task force to deploy Marine, army, and ARVN units into the area. Operation Utah Mesa began on l2 June, when 1/9 moved onto FSB Bison northeast of Khe Sanh. The 3d Battalion, 2d ARVN Regiment occupied nearby FSB Quantico. While these units swept west, three companies of U.S. Army mechanized infantry would advance west along Route 9.
The NVA reacted to this intrusion by launching a series of night attacks against the allied units. The first came against Company B, 61st U.S. Infantry on l8 June. Before dawn that day, the NVA hit the soldiers' night defensive position located just east of Lang Vei. After breaking through the perimeter, the NVA swarmed over the NDP, fighting the soldiers at close quarters. The NVA pulled out at dawn, leaving forty-one bodies behind. The U.S. Army units lost eleven killed and fifteen wounded.
A few hours later, a recon patrol from Company C, 1/9, was am bushed three kilometers southeast of Khe Sanh. The fight started when the NVA raked the patrol with .50-caliber machine-gun fire, instantly killing three Marines. The patrol's survivors then attacked, destroying the enemy machine gun. Soon joined by the remainder of Company C, the riflemen assaulted the enemy's defensive line, driving them southward into a wall of artillery fire.
Two days later, after having continued their westward push, the allied force was hit again. In three separate ground attacks the NVA assaulted the combined NDP of Company D, 1/9, and Company B, 1/61. Though they had to call in air strikes, artillery, and helicopter gunships, the Marines and soldiers held, killing twenty-seven NVA."
On 23 June, 1/9 was pulled out of the field and returned to Vandergrift Combat Base. There, the battalion's equipment was up graded and its personnel was mix-mastered. On 12 July, the battalion moved to Da Nang. Two days later, the unit boarded the USS Paul Revere and sailed for Okinawa.
After my tour of the West Pacific, I went to San Diego, California and became a Drill Instructor. Judy came to live with me in California and on May 30, 1971, our son Roger Glen Jr. was born in the San Diego Naval Hospital. Having completed my tour of high stress in the Marine Corps our family located in Crawfordsville, Indiana. I worked at R.R. Donnelly and Sons Company as a bindery man. Here, I was promoted to a set-packer and then to Building Maintenance. In 1972, we had a home built outside of Wingate, located on Old State Road 55. Julia Kay was born in the Culver Union Hospital at Crawfordsville. In 1977, I changed jobs and, went to work at ALCOA in Lafayette, Indiana. After ten months there as a sawyer, I was promoted to Unit Supervisor. All the while, I maintained a position in the Indiana National Guard. Here, I started out as a Field Medic in Crawfordsville, Then, transferred to Frankfort, where I became the Platoon Sergeant of Scout Platoon. When I quit the National Guards, I was Assistant Artillery Field Commander in Battalion Headquarters Company. In the late 1980's, I quit the guards to have time to attend Purdue University. While working full time at ALCOA, I earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree, with my major in psychology. I lack only three coursed to earn a second major in History. In 1994, I was down sized out of ALCOA along with many others who were nearing a retirement , or making good money, or both. Disillusioned with big business factories, I began driving expedited freight, but after two years quit the because the pay was not enough to support a family. I worked for about 2 years at Master Guard in Veedersburg, Indiana and was in charge of quality on the night shift of MG2 department. I made several trips to the NUMMI auto plant in Freemont, California to remedy quality issues on Master Guard's bumper products. Still fed up with factories, I quit Master Guard and went to work as a Correctional Officer at the Rockville Correctional Facility. After 2 1/2 years at Rockville, I was promoted to Correctional Sergeant. Then on September 23, 2007, I was promoted to the position of Casework Manager.
My wife, Judy Kay, was born in Culver Union Memorial Hospital at Crawfordsville. She grew up in Linden, Indiana where she graduated from Linden, High School. She learned how to make clothing from her mother and often made her own clothes.
At the age of 14, she met me while baby-sitting for my Nephew and Niece. She was a member of the Linden Baptist Church and was baptized October 23, 1966 at the New Richmond Christian Church by the Baptist minister, Reverend Williams. Judy was very active in the church and taught Bible School and Sunday School for several years. After we were disgusted with public school, Judy was instrumental in teaching our children in home school. Judy's life revolved around her family and, both her and I agreed, that she should work at home and raise our children. Presently, Judy and I live at Lake Holiday Hideaway, Kingman, Indiana. She keeps our house, cans food, makes wonderful jelly and helps me mow. I can't keep her off the mower. We now have three grandchildren, Sadie, Kisiah and Travis Jr. We look forward to their visits.
Judy is a descendant of Robert Mason and Johann Frederic Beck. These progenitors of Judy and our children are shown in another part of this record. Her father Cletis Edward Birge, was the son of James Thomas Birge and Cloe Irene Basil. James' father was Jesse and his mother Demaris Bartlett. Chloe's mother was Bessie Grimsley and her father John Basil. John Basil ran a cornwhiskey still in Thompkinsville, Kentucky while his son-in-law James Thomas Birge delivered the outlawed spirits. James Thomas Birge moved to Indiana with his young family when Cletis was a young boy. Cletis said that one of his grandmothers was a Native American, Cherokee. Cletis' prankster cousin Homer was responsible for the Big Foot scare that made the national media headlines in the early 1950's. Further research is needed on these families.
This research and my own writings on my life and my family's is dedicated to my children and grandchildren so that they might know from where they came. Their pedigree is as good as anyone's in the entire world. They need to know that whatever they endeavor, or what ever they wish to become is within their grasp. My father told me, "Your no better than any one else in the world, AND your no worse."