Grady T. Birdsong, Corporal USMC Vietnam 1968 - 1969
Family & Growing Up
My dear grandmother related many family stories to us when I was a child. She especially held my attention while sharing vivid memories of her large family traveling via foot, train, and boat from the Volga River colonies of Russia to the plains of Kansas in the late 1880s from almost halfway around the earth.
On my father’s side, our family established a small homestead on the prairie near Fort Hays, Kansas, just after the famous General George Armstrong Custer and his men fought their last battle at the Little Big Horn River in Montana June 1876. Before that, Custer brought his wife to Fort Hays while commanding the 7th Cavalry. Wife Libby said of the rowdy Hays City, “there was enough desperate history in that little town in one summer to make a whole library of dime novels.”
Those great-great-grandparents earlier, German by nationality, farmers by vocation, settled in Russia’s Volga River region at the invitation of Katherine the Great during the late 1700s. After the Seven Years War (1756-1763), they left war-torn Germany, which enveloped Europe and their homeland. But they and many families in their new home, the Volga River colonies, would eventually face pressure from the Russian government.
The nineteenth century brought an end to Catherine’s incentives for the hardworking German farmers in the Russian steppes. That included exemption from military service, which had initially persuaded them to settle in the Russian steppes. They had readily adapted to their austere surroundings, toiled in the treeless wilderness, creating a productive agrarian society of rich farmlands and endless wheat crops. They were aggressive and hardworking.
When the Russification policies enacted in the 1870s threatened the Volga German’s way of life, many chose to leave the region. My great-grandparents chose the central Kansas prairie over South America (Argentina) as their new home and began capitalizing on their newfound freedoms of worship, work, and liberty. However, the chaotic politics of those times in the Volga stirred many families to America to continue their traditional values of family, religion, and work.
My great-uncle Sam, whose parents insisted he remain fluent in German, answered the call to serve in the United States Army at the start of WWI. After boot camp, staging, and journeying overseas, he participated in the offensive campaigns in France’s Meuse-Argonne and Verdun areas in 1917. Later, my father told me that my Great-Uncle Samuel Giesick, a sergeant in the U. S. Army, also served as an interpreter to General of the Armies of the United States, John J. “Black Jack” Pershing. Unfortunately, I have never been able to verify this officially through research or documentation in the Army archives but know it to be a family story passed down over time.
According to my father, “Black Jack” in the early 1900s would telephone Uncle Sam and say in effect, “Samuel, get your uniform on and be with me in Kansas City to talk about the WWI Memorial…” I often wondered what was talked about at those functions. That story told by my father was my first exposure to servitude and memorializing the sacrifices of war. What is this all about, I would ask myself?
My future and service to our country began taking shape as a child from the most demanding challenges and hard work forged by my past generations. Everyone in the family worked and shared family chores. Giving and teamwork guided our family through tough times. Hunting was leisure time as well as provisional activity for food on the table for the family. The sports of football, basketball, and track in my teens toughened my physical abilities and taught teamwork which would benefit me later. Little did I know working on farms from dawn to dusk and on oil drilling rigs for my father along with school studies would strengthen me for the coming Vietnam War in the late 1960s.
Service and the Denver USMC Memorial
My time in Vietnam sculpted my entire civilian future afterward. It set the stage for the gradual acceptance of my war witnessed traumas, making me grateful to come home and for the honor of walking among real men, real heroes. Thinking back about those sacrifices and contributions to our nation’s existence set in motion a yearning to tell our stories. It would come to fruition in the form of a book. It took years to mentally format, three years of research, interviews, compilation, and finally the rough draft. The further honing performed by a professional editor brought it to the public arena.
To the Sound of the Guns (BirdQuill, LLC 2018) documents the journey of 1st Battalion, 27th Marines, 1st Marine Division, FMF—an undermanned maneuver Battalion—in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive of 1968 and our participation in the Hue City area and later Operation Allen Brook. As a result of countless combat engagements inside of five months, the Marines/Corpsmen of 1/27 lost 112 good men and tallied close to seven-hundred Purple Hearts while rallying to their original Battle Cry on Iwo Jima, “March to the Sound of the Guns!”
The book is dedicated to the Marines and Corpsmen of 1/27 killed in action serving in Vietnam and their families who loved them. It was also intended to be a beacon to the Marines and Corpsmen who survived, endured, and returned home to their families. Both living and dead, each of these men willingly and unselfishly volunteered to serve our great nation.
Additionally, another book burst upon the scene. The idea conceived by Colonel Bob Fischer, USMC (Ret), took shape in our circle of Marines, Corpsmen, and Veterans. Colonel Fischer asked if I would shepherd it to fruition. Acting as chief editor and contributing a chapter, this book was born in December of 2020. The book features nine Marines and one Navy Corpsman extolling many memories and lessons learned from the Vietnam War. It is adorned with both Foreword and Epilogue by Colonel Fischer. The books title, Echoes of Our War: Vietnam Veterans Reflect 50 Years Later (BookCrafters, Parker, CO 2020).
Through writing these books, I then realized one hundred-fold we must never forget those who gave all their yesterdays. The USMC Memorial Foundation became a substantial furtherance of that thinking and legacy; a reminder of other brave souls who joined and gave their all to our nation… these exercises led me to the USMC Memorial on our front range of Colorado.
What the USMC Memorial Means to Me…
In Echoes of Our War, the back cover displays the following words urging us to pause and reflect our past:
“We returned to the world with scars, guilt, and confusion. The Wall: A good-bye list of a conflict that probably will be nothing more than a footnote in history books one hundred years from now… Deprived of their hopes and dreams in that awesome sacrifice… Ordinary men who became extraordinary in death. The cold breath of ghosts chills us as we stand before the black wall.” ~ Author Unknown
As Captain Daniel Guenther, USMC, one of the Echoes, Authors, explains, “an echo can be a haunting sound, a response, as well as a result of a vestige from times past…The word echo is derived from Latin (vagire), which means to wail.”
Therefore, Veterans and Civilians mourn past loved ones thus motivating memories… and thus reflection. The USMC Memorial in Golden allows us veterans to honor past sacrifice while reminding of the fraternal bonds we held so dear…
 The Wall – referring to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (U.S. National Park Service) in Washington, D. C.
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