Bruce B. G. Clark(Col. US Army Ret.)
Clarke's purpose is to
set the record straight, clarifying reports and stories that have
failed to accurately depict what happened.
Clarke describes the
experiences of himself and his colleagues in the battles around the
Khe Sanh Combat base in 1968, during the Vietnam War. He looks at
the decision-making at multiple levels surrounding the battle, which
he judges to have been a bloody tactical victory and a strategic
defeat for the United States. Reference & Research Book News:
reveals a little-known chapter in the story of the siege of Khe
Sanh--how the battle really began and who was targeted in the first
and biggest North Vietnamese assault in the opening round of an epic
clash." - Joseph L. Galloway, co-author of We Were Soldiers
Once...and Young and Triumph Without Victory: The History of the
"Warrior, professor, deep
thinker, and highly engaging and articulate writer, Bruce Clarke has
written with compassion and wisdom borne of his personal experience
in the village of Khe Sanh, 38 years ago. Good war stories take a
long time to write, and this one is worth the wait. I am fascinated
by the tale and the wonderful new insights that this major historian
and military analyst brings to the reader. His sharing of the battle
before the battle, the defeat of an NVA Regiment before the main Khe
Sanh battle ever began, is masterfully told. A real page turner. And
the lessons learned that he shares are well worth noting at a time
when we are again, as a nation, engaged in war." - John K. Swensson,
Dean, Language Arts Division; De Anza College and Custodian, The
DeCillis Viet Nam Conflict Collection.
"Most books studying the
1968 siege of Khe Sanh focus on the Marine Corps' defense of the
base and the hilltops to the north. Other books examine the fall of
the nearby Lang Vei Special Forces Camp overrun by North Vietnamese
tanks. To most Khe Sanh was a Marine battle. While heavily shelled
and the hilltop outposts fought off attacks, the main base
experienced only minor ground attacks. There was another battle
though, unheralded in most books, the vicious fight for Khe Sanh
Village south of the main base. This fight saw 25 Army and Marine
advisors and 175 Vietnamese irregular troops fighting off a North
Vietnamese regular battalion. Bruce Clark aptly describes the valor
and spirit of the defenders as they beat back repeated assaults with
little support from the main base. This is a first person account of
a virtually unheard of battle characterized by heroism and
dedication to duty." - Gordon L. Rottman, author of Khe Sanh
"I'm honored that Bruce
Clarke has portrayed the bravery of not only the Americans but all
of us who fought and won the largest ground battle of the siege of
Khe Sanh. We believed in our cause and dedicated our lives to it and
this book clearly illustrates what many efforts about the Vietnam
War do not--the bravery and efforts of the warriors who fought
beside the Americans in the Vietnam War." - CP Nhi, Vietnamese
For those with a vivid
memory of the Vietnam war, there is consolation in knowing that the
impact of that war altered and shaped politics and warfare for the
next generations. But in that altering we must take the lessons and
apply them to new situations, new challenges and new policy
dilemmas. To fail to do so would mean that the warriors at Khe Sanh
and all of Vietnam were truly expendable, The battle of Khe Sanh was
won and the Vietnam war was lost at the same time. Expendable
Warriors describes at multiple levels the soldiers and marines who
were expendable in the American political chaos of Vietnam, 1968. On
January 21, 1968, nine days before the Tet offensive, tens of
thousands of North Vietnamese regulars began the attacks on the Khe
Sanh plateau, which led to the siege of the Khe Sanh Combat Base.
Gen. Westmoreland was fully aware that the North Vietnamese would
attack but he declined to alert or warn the small unit of American
soldiers and marines serving at Khe Sanh in an advisory capacity,
considering them expendable in the greater strategy. Not just an
analysis of the battle, Expendable Warriors also ponders the
question of how to win an unpopular war on foreign soil, linking
battlefield events to political reality.
BRUCE B. G. CLARKE
(Col., U.S. Army, ret.) was Director of National Security Studies at
the U.S. Army War College, and is the author of Conflict
Termination: A Rational Model (Strategic Studies Institute, U.S.
Army War College).
1st Regiment of the Marines in 1966 were stationed in I Corps, the
northeastern part of South Vietnam. Pronounced "eye" corps, the area
comprised the five northern-most provinces and contained the port
city of Da Nang, just south of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) at the
17th parallel. Fighting had been heavy in that zone throughout the
year, and in October, U.S. Army combats units were introduced to
provide reinforcement. The enemy had more than doubled in size, from
23 battalions in midsummer to 52 by the end of the year. During this
era, refugees swarmed into Da Nang from the embattled countryside.
Tommy J.'s first encounter with its population would be in the form
of children, who begged for (and were given!) his dinner before he
could eat it.
The next encounters he would have were not so innocent. The area
surrounding Da Nang was heavily infested with Viet Cong, who were
conducting a form of combat almost unheard of at that time. Prior to
the war in Vietnam, American soldiers fought in an orderly manner,
on battlefields, and in rows of troops. That was how it had been
done in World War II and in every other war prior to that. But in
Vietnam, everything changed.
Guerrilla warfare against American troops used three main tools:
ambush, sabotage, and espionage. The jungle and mountain terrain in
Vietnam facilitated this approach, making hiding and ambushes
easier. Sympathetic villagers hid and protected the Viet Cong,
allowing them to set mines and hide rice caches and weapons nearby
which were the life blood of the guerrilla fighters. Battles were
almost always sudden and unexpected. The North Vietnamese objective
was to destabilize American troops through extensive, low-intensity
confrontations-to tie them up in unexpected battles for no real
reason-a tactic that lowered morale, caused psychological terror,
and gave the NVA the upper hand.
Finding the enemy was one of the biggest challenges to the American
forces. The Viet Cong had created extremely complex and intricate
tunnel systems over vast regions of South Vietnam, built over a
period of 25 years, beginning in the 1940s when they fought the
French and Japanese. The tunnels allowed the Viet Cong to control a
large rural area, and formed an underground city with living area,
kitchens, storage, weapon factories, hospitals, and command centers.
They could be several stories deep and house up to 10,000 people.
For the North Vietnamese troops, these tunnels were fighting bases,
capable of providing continuous support. The bases were well hidden
from American spotter planes, and the remote swamps and forests
provided ample cover from air and ground alike. Vents were installed
in order to hear approaching helicopters. Smaller vents were used
for air. There were hidden doors and punji traps. At deeper levels,
there were chambers for arms factories and a well for a steady water
supply. There were storage rooms for weapons and rice, and hospitals
for guerrillas. Communication tunnels connected one base with
another. The tunnels not only allowed guerrilla communication, but
they allowed surprise attacks, even within the U.S. military bases.
Weaponry changed. The Viet Cong arsenal-handmade but deadly-included
booby traps, pits, rocket-propelled grenades, mortars, and
recoilless rifles. Recovered American shells and bombs were turned
into traps, mines, or another explosive devices. One of the most
common, and hated, mines was nicknamed the "Bouncing Betty." It was
triggered by the release of pressure on the mechanism. The soldier
could stand on a Bouncing Betty, hear the arming mechanism operate
and know perfectly well that if he moved his foot, the mine would
jump in the air and blow up at chest height. Mortars were easily
portable and easy to operate, their main appeal being their
extensive flight time. A mortar team could set up a position out of
the sight of the enemy, fire a number of rounds, and be moving away
from the firing sight before the first rounds even hit their target.
The list of non-explosive booby traps was just as deadly, including
punji stakes, bear traps, crossbow traps, spiked mud balls,
double-spike caltrops, and scorpion-filled boxes. The punji stake
was by far the most common booby trap weapon. It was a shoot of
bamboo or metal with needle-like tips that had been hardened by
fire. These tips were often coated with excrement, poison or other
contaminants to cause infection. Designed to "fix," or locate
American troops, punji stakes caused a wound that, if not treated
within 24 hours, often required amputation. When victims were
medivaced out, the Viet Cong often shot down the helicopters.
When Tommy J. arrived at the Da Nang air force base, he was assigned
to Fox Company, 2nd battalion. The second Battalion, 1st Marine
Division had recently completed its participation in Operation
Hastings during which many of its members had been wounded or
killed, including the commanding officer. Captain Gene Deegan
assumed command of Fox Company during late August 1966. Deegan was
well-liked and respected, with a genuine concern for his men. In Fox
Company, Tommy's job would be to conduct search and destroy
missions, and run ambushes and combat patrols.
Thursday, Dec. 28
I am here! We got
off the ship this morning at Danang and were split up to our
different organizations. They then trucked me to my Battalion area
and I was assigned to a company and platoon. My platoon is out in
the field right now on a mission. They won't be back till tomorrow.
Only 6 boys are in the platoon with me from the whole draft and I
don't know any of them.
Viet Nam was quite a shock. The
people, the houses and stores and everything. I was trying to eat
dinner, but all the kids kept begging for it, so I gave most of it
have tents for us to sleep in and there is only mud and rain right
now. The monsoon season is still on. I was issued a rifle
immediately when I got here and told I must carry it everywhere. To
eat, sleep, and anywhere I go. We get our combat and jungle gear in
don't know if I will ever get the mail you have mailed before this
letter, or if it will take a long time if I do. Use the new address
to get it here faster. Tell Kaye about it for me.
I am just north of Danang a little ways. It is not too nice right
now. I see patrols going out tonight and they are all wet and muddy.
Loaded down with ammunition and wearing all kinds of gear. I guess
I'll be doing it soon.
I'll have to get all the U.S. money I have changed into some kind
of Viet Nam money. I don't know why.
I guess I'll close
and mail this. Don't worry.
I love you all.
Sunday, Jan. 1, 67
I hope you have started off the New Year in good humor and
spirits. I was standing guard on our line when the New Year came in.
There were no horns or yells but it started a new year. It has
rained every day I've been here. Just mud and rain. You can't keep
dry or clean. It sure is a miserable feeling. The monsoon season
should end next month, I hope.
We will be leaving this area I am in now about tomorrow to move
to a new location. We are going to an artillery location for 6
weeks. Then we come back here to the company area.
I will finish a 3 day indoctrination period today, in which you
have to stay in the battalion area before going to the field. It is
just a rule.
is a different war than I expected. You not only fight the V.C., you
also fight the weather, snipers, and booby traps. Most of the
company's wounds come from traps.
The platoon stands on a notice to be ready to go to an emergency
anytime. They have 4 + 5 missions all the time. I guess I'll not get
to write very often.
I have seen them bring in V.C. suspects, and dead V.C. It sure
makes you that much more scared. I guess I'll overcome it though.
Well, I must close now. Will write again later. I love you all.
P.S. We just got
the word to pack up only essentials to move out tomorrow.
Happy New Year
January 4, 1967
I hope this finds you well and in good spirits. I am in a new and
exciting place. I guarantee you don't get bored.
All it has done is rain everyday. It will rain till the end of
this month. Then the hot weather comes in.
We live in tents when we are not in the field. They don't stay in
the tents too often. This is a bigger war than people think. Every
time the platoon goes out, they get in a firefight with the V.C. I
am just trying to get a little experience, but it sure is
nerve-wracking. I get awful scared when I hear those bullets.
We are just north of Danang right now. The Regiment moves around
I sure miss
home now. I am really learning how to appreciate home and those
everyday things you don't think about. Maybe this will be a fast
go, I have to carry my weapon and ammunition. I eat, sleep, and go
to the bathroom with it. Some friend. I hope it does its job.
How's your school coming along? I hope you and Patsy are getting
I'll close for now and go hunting later on. Raise Hell for me! Write
if you get a chance.
Your old pal,
the big rifle range.
Sunday Jan. 8, 67
have just been lifted up in spirits this evening, when I finally got
a letter from you. It was written Dec. 31 and had the Kool-aid in
it. Thanks a lot.
haven't written lately because I have been becoming a veteran. We
left Friday on a search and destroy mission - my first - and have
just come back. Friday we captured 4 V.C. suspects and sent them to
be interrogated. Friday afternoon we were helicoptered to an area
where they had some V.C. trapped in a area. After landing, we were
crossing about a 500 meter rice paddy when the V.C. opened up on us.
My heart stopped, I know. I jumped into a rice paddy and was under
water. Then I came to my senses and began to return fire. We
assaulted their position and they fled. We killed 4 of them and that
was my worst part. I am certain I killed one, because I aimed and
shot at him when he ran. It is a awful feeling. I still can't get
over it. They told a couple of us to put them in some raincoats and
move them to a pick-up area.
I just couldn't do it. I couldn't even look at them. The Sgt.
didn't make me do it. He said all new ones were like that. I am
trying to look at it as if I had to kill him or be killed. This is a
crazy war. I never thought war could be so nerve-wracking.
The rain still comes everyday. I can't keep dry clothes. I am
going to need those socks you are sending. I have stopped wearing
underwear; too much to dry out and it gives you a rash.
I haven't gotten the candy yet; I hope I get it though. I hope I
get all the back mail. If you had anything important to tell me in
those letters, tell them over.
We are on 10 min. standby right now. That means if they give the
word, we have to be ready to move out in 10 min. I hope we don't go.
I am so tired and feel still wet.
I will close and hit the rock; I mean cot. I love you all so
Your 1st son,
Monday, Jan. 9, 67
I am writing this short letter just to ask you to send me a few
articles I need and can't get here, because they don't have a P.X.
where I am. I hope you don't mind and you can get some money out of
the bank to pay for this and 2 packages of film I am sending home to
have developed. They were taken at home, Camp Pendleton, Disneyland,
and while on ship. Send me the ones of you and Kaye back please.
I'll close now.
1. Tooth brush
2. Lighter fluid
3. Small piece of steel wool
4. 1'' paint brush
5. Pack of Razor Blades
6. About 6 Air Mail stamps for sending home film
7. Writing Paper (like this)
8. A candle for use for light. About 6'' or 8'' tall
I didn't get to mail this off yesterday. I got 5 letters and a
box of fruitcake last night. Sure feel a lot better. I finally got
one from Kaye and Mom Davis also wrote. It was real nice of her -
she said it was her first letter of the New Year. She also sent a
dollar in it. I was surprised but glad. The Bowman's sent the cake.
We went out all last night and guarded a bridge that the V.C. had
been firing at. They didn't come last night. I just got ate up by
we will have a patrol later on today. I'll close now. I love you
under 5 lbs. come by air mail. I hope you don't mind sending these
things. They are just necessities. Don't worry if you can't send
Jan. 10, Tuesday
Dear Mom and Pop
I received your letter and was real
glad to hear from you. It was one of the first letters I have gotten
since I have been here.
The weather right now is rainy and cool. The monsoon season will
not be over till Feb. Then the hot really begins. This rain makes it
a big problem to keep clean and dry clothes. I'll be glad when it
stops raining I think.
I spent Christmas on the ship and we got to Da Nang, South Viet
Nam the 28th Dec. We had a turkey dinner and church services that
My company is
now just north of Da Nang. We are working all around the Da Nang
area. The Viet Cong are everywhere. We live in big tents and have to
use cots to sleep on. But we can get pretty comfortable sometimes.
Mother and them send me everything I need so don't worry about
me. Say hello to everyone and I'll write more later.
January 12, 67
I hope this finds you all well. I received your letters you had
to re-mail today. I also got one from Kaye.
We have been on a 2 day operation called "Sparrow-Lark." A search
and destroy mission. Bombs were dropped and then we started sweeping
through. Guess where we got hit again. You're right, in the rice
paddy. We opened up firing like 3 or 4 divisions. We got to the
other side and found 4 wounded V.C. women. The most of them had
fled. We also captured one man. Women fight along with the men. It
is hard to picture. After that action, we didn't see any more the
rest of the time. Now I am back at the area and we have to guard the
camp tonight. I guess I'll have a hard time catching up with my
I am glad you
and the Bowmans got the packages I sent. I hope they were good. Kaye
told me about the present you gave her. It sounds real nice. How is
O'Keefe's soccer doing now? I guess they play as many games as we
did last year.
I have to close and get ready to guard. I'll write more later.
By the way, I hate to ask again for something, but would you
please send me a combination lock for a footlocker I made. Master
lock will be fine. Thanks.
I love you all.
Jan. 13, 1967
I didn't get to mail these as soon as I thought I would but maybe
it is for the better. I got a big story to tell about what happened
when we went out on the ambush this morning.
We had been out since about 4:30 a.m. and had not done anything.
Then we started walking through some jungles around some villages
which run along a river. It was about 7:30 a.m. and just as we came
upon a hut, we spotted V.C. in it. They saw us, opened fire and took
off. We returned fire and began to chase.
Just as we had almost lost them, we saw one of them just going
down a hole in the ground. We had a hand grenade fixing to throw
when one of our bullets got him and the grenade blew up. We started
firing on the hole, throwing in grenades and smoke and everything.
Then we thought all were dead. We only expected 2 in there. I
guarded the hole as our squad leader started in. Just as he had got
a little ways in the hole, a grenade came rolling out. We all jumped
for our lives. The grenade went off and one of our boys got
fragments in the cheeks and mouth. We fired more ammunition in the
hole and started in again. We asked them to surrender and they said
nothing. Finally, the squad leader pulled one of them out and he was
dead. He had an American made weapon. We thought that was all, but
when we went in further, we found two more and another American
weapon with American gear and grenades. All, except one, were dead
and blown all apart. I really got sick. We tried to keep him alive,
but he finally died. We then radioed in our success and Headquarters
was real happy. Just as we thought all was over, we started getting
automatic fire from snipers across the river. They really had us in
a fix. The bullets were hitting all around. The boy who was beside
me got hit in the leg. He was from Georgia. I was shaking and in
shock, because the bullets had me pinned down. I almost froze. Then
some finally started firing back. I crawled up to the edge of the
river and sprayed the whole area with bullets. We saw the V.C.
running and we really laid it on. I don't think we killed him,
because they couldn't find him. We had been fighting for about a
hour or more. Finally, reinforcements got there because we only had
11 men out there. We called in a helicopter and got the wounded out.
Both boys are going back to U.S. because it is their 3rd purple
heart. One has only been here 4 months.
The communist V.C. had all kinds of documents, N. Viet Nam money
and other stuff. They were in pitiful shape. I won't describe it.
never thought I could be so scared. I don't think I can take this
place. We only have 7 men in our squad now.
I am praying like I never prayed before.
I am now kind of ashamed to send this letter, because I know how
you will start worrying. Please don't. It is my battle now. I have
come back in and trying to rest. It is awful hard to believe war. I
know why Daddy hates to see war pictures. I jump at the slightest
noise now. I'll be unbelievable when I do come home.
I will close now. Just pray and please don't get upset. It will
be awful if I knew I was harming you.
"It is better to have lived one day as a lion, than to live ten
thousand years as a sheep." From an ancient Tibetan proverb.
The era of the sixties was a turbulent time in America. Nowhere was
the impact any greater than in my home of Collin County, Texas.
During the 1860s, it was a war between the states of the North and
the South that divided the country so drastically. Hundreds of local
men and boys left their families, ranches, and farms to form up in
the town squares, and march off to battle. Just over 100 years
later, in the 1960s, the country was again divided over a war
between the North and South. But this time the battles were being
fought on the other side of the world in the rice paddies and
jungles of a small obscure country in Southeast Asia called Vietnam,
a place that was practically unknown to the average American at the
time. Nonetheless, America was again going to war, and again called
upon her young men to wage the fight for freedom. And just like 100
years earlier, the young men of America answered the call and
proudly wore the uniform into battle after battle.
I was just one of hundreds of those boys pretending to be men who
left in search of adventure, the chance to be a living participant
in the making of history, and to always have the inner feeling that
we fought for our country. When World War II hero and US Navy
veteran, President John F. Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country
can do for you, but what you can do for your country," many of us
took him literally and accepted that challenge. Twenty-one of those
boys from Collin County, Texas, who did take that challenge, did not
Those men, the ones who did not come home, paid the ultimate price
so that the rest of us could live another hundred years as free
thinkers and doers. Freedom does not come free; it comes with a
This book is an attempt to tell the stories of those 21 young men.
Through the details of available official military records, history
books, veterans’ websites on the Internet, photographs, maps,
personal and eyewitness accounts, letters to family and friends, and
my own experience as a Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War, I
have attempted to tell the stories of their young lives to the best
of my ability. As I began to write this book, my war had been over
for 35 years. For some of the guys, I found an abundance of
information, and for others not much at all. I have tried my best to
tell their stories with the honor and dignity they have earned and
deserve. Many of them were friends of mine, some I had never met,
but we are all brothers in an elite family of warriors, freedom
fighters, and adventurers.
In January of 1961, President Kennedy explained the presence of
American military personnel who were involved in a war in that
obscure little country in Southeast Asia: "Let every nation know,
whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear
any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe,
to assure the survival and the success of liberty…"
A small section of the population of the United States was becoming
vocal in their opposition to our intervention into what they saw
another country’s war. On September 2, 1963, the President answered
those critics: "… These people who say that we ought to withdraw
from Vietnam are wholly wrong, because if we withdrew from Vietnam,
the communists would control Vietnam. Pretty soon Thailand,
Cambodia, Laos, Malaya would go, and all of Southeast Asia would be
under the control of the communists and under the domination of the
After President Kennedy was assassinated on Friday, November 22,
1963, in downtown Dallas, Texas, 15 miles south of the Collin County
line, the problem of Vietnam fell into the lap of another Texan,
Lyndon B. Johnson. The President was the son of a Collin County girl
who was born just three blocks south of the square in McKinney, the
county seat. On August 3, 1965, his reply to the growing number of
war critics on why we had 16,000 military advisors in South Vietnam
was: "If this little nation goes down the drain and can’t maintain
her independence, ask yourself, what’s going to happen to all the
other little nations?"
On the eve of the presidential election in 1964 between Johnson and
his Republican opponent, Barry Goldwater, the Viet Cong (VC) staged
a rocket attack on the American air base at Bien Hoa, in the
southern part of the country, killing American personnel there. The
United States’ Ambassador to Vietnam, General Maxwell Taylor, urged
a retaliation bombing on Hanoi, but the President refused. The VC
attacked again and again, becoming bolder each time, and instead of
their traditional guerrilla style of hit and run fighting, they
began showing the influences of their training advisors from North
Vietnam, China, North Korea, and Russia, as they utilized more
At the time, the only large American military installations housing
American troops were air bases, and they, as well as the aircraft on
the ground, were becoming more and more vulnerable. The protection
of the bases had been left up to the Army of the Republic of South
Vietnam (ARVN), and it was becoming increasingly apparent that they
could not be counted on to do that job. On March 8, 1965, the
President ordered 3,500 US Marines to land and deploy in a position
to protect the air base at Da Nang. Three weeks later, the VC
attacked the American Embassy in Saigon, as regular troops of the
North Vietnamese Army (NVA) began pouring into the South by way of
what would become known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
President Johnson, in a speech to the nation on January 12, 1966:
"How many men who listen to me tonight have served their nation in
other wars? How many are not here to listen? The war in Vietnam is
not like these other wars. Yet, finally, war is always the same. It
is young men dying in the fullness of their promise. It is trying to
kill a man that you do not even know well enough to hate. Therefore,
to know war is to know that there is still madness in this world.
For we have children to teach, and we have sick to be cured, and we
have men to be freed. There are poor to be lifted up, and there are
cities to be built, and there is a world to be helped. Yet, we do
what we must. I am hopeful, and I will try with the best I can, with
everything I’ve got, to end this battle and to return our sons to
their desires. Yet as long as others will challenge America’s
security, and test the dearness of our beliefs with fire and steel,
then we must stand, or see the promise of two centuries tremble."
And just like that, the politicians of the world had gotten us into
another war. And just like that, boys from all over Collin County
answered the call the same way that our fathers, grandfathers, and
great grandfathers had. Some volunteered seeking an adventurous
opportunity to see the world and to be a part of history; some
dutifully went when their names were called. Some went kicking and
screaming all the way, but once they got there, they did their jobs
with honor and dignity. Those called, served with just as much duty
and honor as the volunteers. According to the most decorated soldier
of that war, the late Colonel David Hackworth, US Army (Ret), he
could tell no difference between the regulars and the draftees in
the soldiers who served under him. They were equally good soldiers.
A good friend of mine, Frank Seals, joined the Marines after he had
graduated from McKinney High School in 1965. At the completion of
boot camp, and just before he shipped out for Vietnam, he came home
wearing his summer tropical uniform and was a changed man, not a boy
anymore. Frank was slim and trim with an attitude and a look in his
eye that I didn’t quite understand at the time. He was a Marine, by
God. Just like those legendary guys I had read about on Guadalcanal.
Although he was only 18, having earned that famous Eagle, Globe, and
Anchor on his hat, Frank would never have to prove his manhood
He told me stories about what it had been like so far. Yes, boot
camp had been hell on earth. I was totally fascinated. In fact, I
wanted to hear all about infantry and jungle warfare training with
live ammunition in the hills and on the beaches of Camp Pendleton,
California, the same place I had read about in the novel "Battle
Cry," written by Marine Corps veteran Leon Uris. Frank told me that
Pendleton was where they had filmed the movie that was made from the
book. I could easily picture myself wearing that uniform, but I
didn’t know if I had what it took. Not just anybody could wear those
clothes. But he told me if he could make it, I could make it.
Honestly, I wanted to go, and it scared the hell out of me.
My dad, his brothers, my mom’s brother, and my two older brothers,
had been soldiers during WWII, Korea, and the Cold War against
communism. I decided there was no way I was going to miss this one,
a real genuine shooting war. What an adventure, and what stories I
would have to write about when some far-off day I did get ready to
settle down and remember it all for my kids and their kids to read
about. And I was not the only kid who felt that way. The Marine
Corps was full of them, 17 and 18-year-old guys like me, most of us
from the poor side of town, never having been anywhere, and ready to
see the wonders of the world, and be just like Audie Murphy, the
most decorated soldier of World War II, who was from my hometown of
We soon learned, however, there was no glory in war. That fallacy
comes from those Hollywood movies where men die without pain,
without spilling blood and guts, or missing limbs or heads, terrible
sucking chest wounds, or crying and screaming. And the movie
soldiers always seemed to have time to say a few last meaningful
In Vietnam not everyone was involved in direct combat, although no
one place in the country was ever totally safe from death and
destruction. Our war was basically one in which there were no front
lines like there had been in all the ones before. It was a new kind
of war in which the score was kept not by the amount of ground
gained and conquered, but by body counts, a daily tally of the
number of soldiers killed by each side.
Everyone who went there has a story to tell. Twenty-one young men
from Collin County went and never returned. Someone has to tell
their stories. Out of those 21 heroes, there were 13 soldiers of the
US Army, one sailor, and seven Marines.
On March the 5th, 1966, the Vietnam War hit home for the first time.
One of the Marine Corps’ mottoes is "First to Fight." That usually
also means first to die. Our first casualty was an 18-year-old
Marine, PFC (Private First Class) Royce Glen Scoggins of McKinney.
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