A Marine's Story: Part 2
Millington Naval Air Station: 1967
Our Marine is now (1967) at Millington, Naval Air Station near Memphis, TN. He is assigned to the air wing and the supply office and enjoys his time off and getting to know the area. There are places in Memphis that are forbidden to the military! Imagine that.
Vietnam is looming in the background and he learns that his brother is heading over for the jungles.
In early December a young woman Marine begins working in his office while she awaits her MOS school. After a couple weeks he asks her out on a date. He is smitten, but cautious as he is still broken hearted over Betty! On their first date, this woman Marine melts his heart and as they’re walking home from their date, he gives her a big hug and kiss, Clark Gable style! She looks up at him and says, “I’m going to marry you someday!” The seed is planted.
He heads off to Texas for the Christmas holiday for two weeks shortly thereafter.
A Promise of Marriage
When our Marine returns from the holidays at home, he continues to court his young woman Marine for a few days until she heads off to her MOS school in South Carolina. As they part, he promises not to volunteer for Vietnam, and they talk about one day getting married. Their time together during these few brief days were happy and joyful like none they had ever had.
He is lonely and writes to his love nearly every day! Remember writing letters! She arrives at her school and is quite lonely and worried about her Marine and Vietnam. The nightly news is very troubling. And then she learns about his brother going over.
The Sullivan Act prevents two siblings from serving on the same front and leaving the family vulnerable to losing all heirs. It resulted from the Sullivan family in WWII losing all 5 brothers in a Submarine bombing.
Having cared for his younger brother all his life; protecting his brother from bullies in school; and bailing him out of fights and brawls as young men, our Marine invokes the Sullivan Act to rescue his brother from the jungles of Vietnam. He is in the airwing and feels he’ll have a better chance of surviving on the air base at DaNang.
As the younger brother is leaving, they cross paths and have a couple of hours to visit and share their stories. The younger brother was deep in the jungles and being 6’4” and very large, he was a force to be reckoned with! He tells of rescuing some of his mates after they were wounded and of some of the battles that gained him the nick name “Animal”! Our Marine is impressed with how his brother has grown and matured. It had been over a year since they saw each other. He is now a war-hardened Marine!
As they’re sitting and chatting on the asphalt near the airport, a young 2nd Lt walks up to them and begins to dress them down for not having their covers on and not jumping to attention when he walked up. He was just out of training and knew nothing of war! “Animal” jumped up, looked down on this scrawny, ”Lilly white, 2nd Lt” and said something that can’t be repeated here! (Use your imagination). He scurried off knowing he’d been bettered by a real Marine. Who knows, weeks later he would have experiences to harden him as well.
Our Marine’s tour of Duty in Nam was on the airbase at DaNang in supply. He was there for the Tet Offensive of ’68 and stayed for 2 tours. He had R & R in Thailand and often talked about the young woman who was his guide while he was there. The problem was he got dysentery and was sick most of the time from the food they ate. He stood guard duty and had a few harrowing experiences we know of.
On one tour of guard duty the Major told him to shoot anyone he saw outside the gate as there were serious threats to the base. He heard a noise, pulled his rifle up to shoot only to hear the Major yelling to stop. He was just testing him, and he passed. They also went out and searched villages which involved serious threats and people trying to kill them. One story was of an older village woman he ordered to leave her hooch and when she didn’t, he found a grenade on her and she tried to stab him when he took it away from her. He had to hit her with the butt of his rifle to protect himself and that always haunted him. His generation was taught to honor your elders, so it was truly against his nature!
There were many other stories that haunted this Marine from his tour in Vietnam that he couldn’t tell anyone. He’d wake up in night sweats and was always on guard. He worked on base as a bouncer at the NCO club for a few months, but had a hard time dealing with the stupidity of drunken Marines so quit that. He also had a few fights during that time, too. Finally, after breaking up with his “Marine Sweetheart” he wrote to her in December ’68 with a proposal!
The proposal was accepted, and our Marine took 30 days leave to come home and get married in March-April 1969.
He was so happy and the two laughed and had a great time until he had to return to Vietnam. His bride hadn’t noticed the change in him and wouldn’t until his next trip home!
After Vietnam: 1968-1970
In October ’69 our Marine’s father passed away suddenly, and he returned to Houston. What he had seen and done in Vietnam those 6 months had changed him drastically. He would never talk about it to anyone. Upon returning he had a difficult time with all that was happening. Were it not for his bride, he remarked later, that “I would not have made it”. The Sullivan Act prevented either his brother or him from returning to Nam and he was sent to Camp Pendleton after his bereavement leave was over. His bride was in VA! In those days the military was not at all accommodating to young couples who were both serving.
Finally in Feb ’70 he was discharged early as many Marines were during those days. The war was de-escalating. He flew to VA to begin his civilian journey with his lovely bride! Their reunion was stressed and not what either expected. The next chapter of his life was about to begin!
Grady T. Birdsong, Corporal USMC Vietnam 1968 – 1969 Family & Growing Up My dear grandmother related many family stories to us when I was
A Fitting Sendoff for a Beloved Man: Col. Richard H. Sargent A little over a month ago, on July 14, surrounded by friends, Colonel Dick
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