I've written before about my tour in Korea but I didn't mention much about my job as Base Photographer.
I took some photo's of damaged and ruined equipment for the Ordnance Officer. The pictures came out so good the CO asked me to be the base Photographer (We had none at the time). I was issued a Graphic, complete in the box with all the accessories. I had to beg, borrow or steal film, Developer and Paper, never having enough for the CO's demands. We finally got a Marine Corps Photog, an Old Hand with WWII experience. I was kept on the job until the Photog was ready to let me go (meaning I had all the cr-p jobs). Here's a photo of me with one of the Interpreters down town looking for stuff to shoot and supplies. "Note the Herring Bone Twill Dungarees" and Sergeant Stripes painted on sleeves.
GySgt. F. L. Rousseau, USMC Retired
Luck Of The Draw
I have read with great interest the many comments and opinions concerning Vietnam Era Veterans and Vietnam Veterans. I can only relate and comment concerning my experiences, but I think my fellow Marines may find my comments interesting.
I went to Vietnam the first time in October 1965 after the Santo Domingo crisis in April 1965. I was an 18 year old hot shot combat veteran, or so I thought. The Domingo escapade was mostly digging fighting holes in their golf course. Never the less, I had combat experience! I knew nothing of real combat when it comes right down to telling the truth. But I would soon learn during an operation called Hastings.
I eventually would serve a total of 44 months in Vietnam (Arizona, Deckhouse I, II, III, Union I, II, III, Hue City, Baxter Garden just to name a few). My last tour was from February 1970 until January 1971 as a Sergeant assigned to the Combined Action Program. I was wounded twice that required hospital time which cut two of my tours short by several months. I'm honored to wear 8 stars on my Vietnam Campaign Ribbon and several stars on my Purple Heart Ribbon. I guess I was never very good a getting my azz down. I never volunteered for duty in Vietnam - period. My unfortunate situation is that I learn languages rather easily. I learned Vietnamese during my first tour there, and somehow that information made it into my SRB. Now, you can guess the Marine Corps' response to having that information. I was volunteered for duty 4 times by Headquarters Marine Corps. And I was indeed a feisty young prick. I held every rank from PFC to Sergeant twice. SSgt and GySgt I held only once. I guess I was more arrogant than feisty.
As a brand new SSgt, I had the professional pleasure of serving with a Marine who took me under his wing and put me on the right track to becoming a Marine leader. His name was Sergeant Major Petty. Sgt/Major Petty never served in Vietnam or any war for that matter. He wore only two ribbons - the National Defense and the Good Conduct Medal with 7 stars. He forgot more about leadership than I will ever know. His comment when asked about his lack of a fruit salad on his chest was - Ribbons don't tell where you're going; they tell where you been.
Every Marine who ever served or will ever serve, serves at the pleasure of the Marine Corps. Duty assignments are at the discretion of the "Corps".
For those of you who never set foot on the ground in Vietnam, rest assured that:
1. You did your duty as you were assigned.
2. You performed those duties professionally with love of country and "Corps" in your heart, even though you may not have recognized it then.
3. You were disparaged equally with those of us who did have boots on the ground.
4. Today your service is equally honored as it should be.
5. You are just as much a Vietnam Veteran as any who were in country.
It's the luck of the draw.
- 9,087,000 million men served on active duty from August, 1964 until May, 1975.
- 2,594,000 million men were "in country".
- 75,000 were disabled - 300% more than WW II and 70% more than Korea.
Again, It's the luck of the draw.
A Former "Hat"
GySgt, USMC, (Ret)
Hill 510 - 11th Marines
The first photo shows Marines of Echo and Whiskey Battery, 2nd Battalion, 11th Marines, 1st Marine Division working on clearing gun positions for fire support base on Hill 510, 35 miles southwest of DaNang. (Defense Dept. Photo, Taken by GySgt Parnell on or about 17-18 Jun 1970)
The second photo shows Marines of 11th Engineers as they swarm all over bridges as work is being rushed to Operational Route #9 to Khe Sanh on Operation Pegasus. (Defense Dept. Photo, Taken by SSgt J.A. Reid in April 1968)
Marine Corps Never Saw Fit
For years now, it has bothered me that the Marine Corps never saw fit to put me in a combat situation; initially, I was assigned to a 60mm mortar section of the local USMCR company, when I first joined in March, 1949. Our company, as was hundreds of others, was activated when North Korea attacked, and by 21 August 1950, we were on a troop train headed for Camp Pendleton.
After arriving at Camp Pendleton, I was pulled from the company, and began working for an old WWII Tech Sergeant, by the name of Jesse. Most of the Company was integrated into the 5th Marines, and made the landing at Inchon in September, and here I sat processing other Reservists as they came into Pendleton. Somewhere along here my MOS was changed to 0143, Clerk Typist, and in October I was transferred to Marine Barracks, U. S. Naval Station, San Diego, CA, and remained there until April 1951.
I was transferred to MCRDep, assigned to a recruit platoon in the 3d Recruit Training Battalion, graduating in June. At this point, my date of rank as PFC was 1 September 1949; the day after graduating from booth camp I began working in the Battalion office, and within a month of graduation, I was promoted to Corporal (E3).
So, from October, 1950 to April, 1956, I was stationed at MCRDep and the Amphibious Base at Coronado; five and one half years; transferred to the 3dMarDiv, on Okinawa for 14 months, and then right back to MCRDep for another 2 years.
Up and down the West Coast, MCAS, Iwakuni for a year, then to MCAS, Yuma, and onto HQMC in March 1967. By the end of 1969, I was fed up enough to submit my letter of intent to retire, THEN the Marine Corps issued me orders to Vietnam. Talk about the irony of the whole situation; the orders were cancelled and I hung it up on 31 January 1970. At the end of this month, it will be 45 years since I retired; now that makes me an old Marine!
It still bothers me that here I am a Gunnery Sergeant, with 5 service stripes, a Good Conduct medal (with 1 silver star), the National Defense Service medal (with 1 bronze star), and I finally realized that none of this would have happened if I HAD gone to Korea, and possibly, not come back! The best thing that ever happened during all this time was the fantastic lady that I would meet and marry, and have her around for over 56 years.
I guess it all works out in the long run.
James R. McMahon
GySgt of Marines (1949-1970)
PI 50 Years To The Day
My wife & I planned a visit to Parris Island for 19 September 2014. It was fifty years to the day that I graduated with Platoon 157.
Unbeknownst to me, my wife was planning a surprise for me. With the help of a few members of my Marine Corps League Detachment (Tamarac Det. 755) she was able to get in touch with the correct Marines aboard Parris Island to help in the planning. â€‹She was hoping that maybe I would get recognized as a past recruit who was aboard the base for the day. What got arranged was reserved VIP seating at the Morning Colors Ceremony and the Graduation Ceremony. In between the two ceremonies I was asked to pose with the Commanding General and Depot Sgt Maj, along with my wife Lucretia, on the steps of the Headquarters Building (photo attached). As the General was giving his talk to the spectators at the Morning Colors he stood directly in front of me and glanced at me when he said something to the effect that the Marines of today build upon the Marines of the past.
We live about seven hours from PI and have visited the base many times over the years, but this visit will stick in my memory for many years to come.
WWI And Truman
I have something to add about President Truman. Awhile back it was said that he was at the battle of Belleau Wood, he was not. Truman was an artillery officer with the 35th Infantry Division. This is a National Guard division made up of men from Kansas and Missouri. The 35th got in country about the same time as the battle and were put into one of the defensive sectors under French control. They did participate in the Argonne Offensive. I am researching them because my Great-Great Uncle was a rifleman in the 137th Regiment. I believe Truman's WWI experience affected his view of the active duty Army and probably played a role in his disdain for Gen. MacArthur. The 35th was constantly treated badly by the active duty component, and on the eve of the Argonne Offensive had many officers relieved and active duty officers put in those billets.
Years ago I read a book about WWI that stated because of censorship rules, Army units could only be identified as being "American Expeditionary Force" components, while some loophole in the rules allowed reporters to identify "Marines" in a battle. This caused a lot of b-tt-hurt in the Army and is a big reason why Marines were left out of the European theater. That is what the book said anyhow. The book stated that Gen. Eisenhower was one of the leaders keeping the Marines out of Europe. I wish I could remember the book, it was one of those I read on duty overnight about 20 years ago.
Gunny Rousseau, keep 'em coming, I really enjoy your letters. If I can find the disc with my Iraq pictures I'm going to submit a picture of me guarding a train in Iraq, hopefully to compliment your Korea pictures.
Yoshiwara was the area in Japan Proper where houses of ill repute had been for years and men wanting company of kind would go there. A lot of you that served in Okinawa will not know there was a Yoshiwara in Okinawa. This old brain doesn't recall it's location but I went there with a Member of the "Morning Star" Newspaper where I worked during Liberty Time.
When I last went to Okinawa, a year or so before I retired, I ran into an old Friend that had as exciting career as one could want serving in Two Wars as a Radioman.
Some time in the early 1950's (I believe) a plane with Eight Marines aboard went down some where in the Washington area. All men were put on duty and flew as "Observers" in the search planes, Rusty, my friend had just came back after doing his tour as Observer on a plane intending to get some chow at the Gedunk nearby. As he headed toward the gedunk a plane came down and cartwheeled between him and the gedunk so he forgot his wanting food and went to his Quarters.
During Korea on a Patrol he got separated from the Patrol during a Firefight and later found his bearings and was headed toward our lines when a Sniper saw a figure coming into our lines and was getting his sight on the figure when a Sergeant said: "Stop! That's Rusty" (There was so much more to this story I wish I could tell you.)
So here I was in Okinawa and ran into Rusty, he said he was working as Proof Reader at the Morning Star, but his time was up and asked if I wanted the job? I took over from Rusty as a Proof Reader at the Morning Star Newspaper for the grand sum of $5.00 an hour, the time one worked as Proof reader was about 4 to 6 hours a week, some times less and only with permission from your commanding Officer.
It was at the Morning Star I learned of many secrets of the Island and Yoshiwara. As I had a car one of the Okinawan Proof Readers showed me the Island and Where Yoshiwara was. Americans couldn't get into the Area, it was one area Out of Bounds for Americans but I got The Grand Tour around the out side with Girls hanging out of windows gesturing us to come in. He even pointed out Twins waving at us. Okinawa was a Bummer for most Marines but my Tour as Proof Reader kept it from being too boring.
GySgt. F. L. Rousseau, USMC Retired
Keep In Mind
Just read in the newsletter Wally Mackow's letter about being ignored while on a visit to Parris Island. He needs to keep in mind that almost everyone on that base is a Marine. It is not unusual for a Marine stationed there to see returning Marines and you really cannot expect them to fawn over them all -- if they did, they would have no time to earn their pay. It's nice when people recognize my service but I never expect it when out in the world, and I would not ever expect it on a Marine Corps base because there, you are not special, you are the same as everyone else. By the way, Wally, did you think to thank THEM for their service?
Semper Fi to one and all and a Happy New Year!
M. F. Weaver
Fed The Fish
The voyage that Norm is referring to was 9 days long as there was some maneuvers involve as well. About the the second day out I began feeling more than a little seasick and fed the fish until there was nothing left. I thought that would be the end of it, if there was nothing down there to throw up, you wouldn't have to hang over the rail anymore, WRONG! A couple more days of dry heaves and I seriously thought about letting go of the rail and just get it over with. Some wise old salt told me if you keep your belly full so the juice doesn't slosh around, you won't get sick. I made a record fast trip to ship stores and bought 2 huge boxes of soda crackers and ate till I thought I would pop. MAGIC, I started feeling a lot better right away and actually enjoyed the last couple days of the trip.
I felt lucky to be on the Clymer as the times we were in rough water I could see the bottoms of the LST's or LSD's, whatever they were, and was very glad not to be aboard one of those.
VMA 212 '60-'63
The High Ground
By Robert Clark
A couple of years ago someone asked me if I still thought about Vietnam. I nearly laughed in their face. How do you stop thinking about it? Every day for the last twenty-four years, I wake up with it, and go to bed with it. But this is what I said. "Yea, I think about it. I can't quit thinking about it. I never will. But, I've also learned to live with it. I'm comfortable with the memories. I've learned to stop trying to forget and learned instead to embrace it. It just doesn't scare me anymore."
A psychologist once told me that NOT being affected by the experience over there would be abnormal. When he told me that, it was like he'd just given me a pardon. It was as if he said, "Go ahead and feel something about the place, Bob. It ain't going nowhere. You're gonna wear it for the rest of your life. Might as well get to know it."
A lot of my "brothers" haven't been so lucky. For them the memories are too painful, their sense of loss too great. My sister told me of a friend she has whose husband was in the Nam. She asks this guy when he was there. Here's what he said, "Just last night." It took my sister a while to figure out what he was talking about. JUST LAST NIGHT. Yeah I was in the Nam. When? JUST LAST NIGHT. During s-x with my wife. And on my way to work this morning. Over my lunch hour. Yeah, I was there.
My sister says I'm not the same brother that went to Vietnam. My wife says I won't let people get close to me, not even her. They are probably both right.
Ask a vet about making friends in Nam. It was risky. Why? Because we were in the business of death, and death was with us all the time. It wasn't the death of, "If I die before I wake." This was the real thing. The kind where boys scream for their mothers. The kind that lingers in your mind and becomes more real each time you cheat it. You don't want to make a lot of friends when the possibility of dying is that real, that close. When you do, friends become a liability.
A guy named Bob Flanigan was my friend. Bob Flanigan is dead. I put him in a body bag one sunny day, April 29, 1969. We'd been talking, only a few minutes before he was shot, about what we were going to do when we got back in the world. Now, this was a guy who had come in country the same time as myself. A guy who was loveable and generous. He had blue eyes and sandy blond hair.
When he talked, it was with a soft drawl. Flanigan was a hick and he knew it. That was part of his charm. He didn't care. Man, I loved this guy like the brother I never had. But, I screwed up. I got too close to him. Maybe I didn't know any better. But I broke one of the unwritten rules of war.
DON'T GET CLOSE TO PEOPLE WHO ARE GOING TO DIE. Sometimes you can't help it.
You hear vets use the term "buddy" when they refer to a guy they spent the war with. "Me and this buddy of mine..."
"Friend" sounds too intimate, doesn't it. "Friend" calls up images of being close. If he's a friend, then you are going to be hurt if he dies, and war hurts enough without adding to the pain. Get close; get hurt. It's as simple as that.
In war you learn to keep people at that distance my wife talks about. You become so good at it, that twenty years after the war, you still do it without thinking. You won't allow yourself to be vulnerable again.
My wife knows two people who can get into the soft spots inside me. My daughters. I know it probably bothers her that they can do this. It's not that I don't love my wife, I do. She's put up with a lot from me. She'll tell you that when she signed on for better or worse she had no idea there was going to be so much of the latter. But with my daughters it's different.
My girls are mine. They'll always be my kids. Not marriage, not distance, not even death can change that. They are something on this earth that can never be taken away from me. I belong to them. Nothing can change that.
I can have an ex-wife; but my girls can never have an ex-father. There's the difference.
I can still see the faces, though they all seem to have the same eyes. When I think of us I always see a line of "dirty grunts" sitting on a paddy dike. We're caught in the first gray silver between darkness and light. That first moment when we know we've survived another night, and the business of staying alive for one more day is about to begin. There was so much hope in that brief space of time. It's what we used to pray for. "One more day, God. One more day."
And I can hear our conversations as if they'd only just been spoken. I still hear the way we sounded, the hard cynical jokes, our morbid senses of humor. We were scared to death of dying, and trying our best not to show it.
I recall the smells, too. Like the way cordite hangs on the air after a fire-fight. Or the pungent odor of rice paddy mud. So different from the black dirt of Iowa. The mud of Nam smells ancient, somehow. Like it's always been there. And I'll never forget the way blood smells, stick and drying on my hands. I spent a long night that way once. That memory isn't going anywhere.
I remember how the night jungle appears almost dream like as the pilot of a Cessna buzzes overhead, dropping parachute flares until morning. That artificial sun would flicker and make shadows run through the jungle. It was worse than not being able to see what was out there sometimes. I remember once looking at the man next to me as a flare floated overhead. The shadows around his eyes were so deep that it looked like his eyes were gone. I reached over and touched him on the arm; without looking at me he touched my hand. "I know man. I know." That's what he said. It was a human moment. Two guys a long way from home and scared sh-tless.
"I know man." And at that moment he did.
God I loved those guys. I hurt every time one of them died. We all did. Despite our posturing. Despite our desire to stay disconnected, we couldn't help ourselves. I know why Tim O'Brien writes his stories. I know what gives Bruce Weigle the words to create poems so honest I cry at their horrible beauty. It's love. Love for those guys we shared the experience with.
We did our jobs like good soldiers, and we tried our best not to become as hard as our surroundings. We touched each other and said, "I know." Like a mother holding a child in the middle of a nightmare, "It's going to be all right." We tried not to lose touch with our humanity. We tried to walk that line. To be the good boys our parents had raised and not to give into that unnamed thing we knew was inside us all.
You want to know what frightening is? It's a nineteen-year-old-boy whose had a sip of that power over life and death that war gives you. It's a boy who, despite all the things he's been taught, knows that he likes it. It's a nineteen-year-old who's just lost a friend, and is angry and scared and, determined that, "Some *@#*s gonna pay." To this day, the thought of that boy can wake me from a sound sleep and leave me staring at the ceiling.
As I write this, I have a picture in front of me. It's of two young men. On their laps are tablets. One is smoking a cigarette. Both stare without expression at the camera. They're writing letters. Staying in touch with places they would rather be. Places and people they hope to see again.
The picture shares space in a frame with one of my wife. She doesn't mind. She knows she's been included in special company. She knows I'll always love those guys who shared that part of my life, a part she never can. And she understands how I feel about the ones I know are out there yet. The ones who still answer the question, "When were you in Vietnam?"
"Hey, man. I was there just last night."
Good Morning Sgt. Grit,
I Hate to be the Bearer of Bad News. We have lost another United States Marine. William, "Bill" Costello received His Final Orders Apx. one week ago. Before WWII, Bill was stationed in China with the United States Marines. I believe that was The Sixth Marine Division.
I met Mr. Costello when I joined The Marine Corps League, Captain Paul L. Gormley Detachment 823 in Hudson New Hampshire. Captain Gormley was K.I.A. in Vietnam. From the information that was given to us; The Captain's last word's to his First Sgt. "Make Sure All of Our People Get Out of Here"! The Captain Never Made It Out.
I'm reporting that Cpl. Thomas M. Christensen of Crescent City, Ca. has recently reported for duty at Heaven's Gates. Tom was wounded early in December 1950 by a Chinese grenade that fractured his skull and rendered him with a severe concussion during the breakout at the Chosin Reservoir in Korea. During the trip down the winding mountain road that lasted several days to the Port of Hungnam and evacuation, Tom was in and out of consciousness, but three things stuck in his memory. He remembered his litter being placed in a warming tent one night and an officer coming in and shaking his hand. He remembered one morning having his litter placed inside a weapons carrier along with that of another Marine and a Corpsman lashing the two litters to some stationary fixtures inside for one leg of the trip. The last memory was (always) the bitter cold that he and others had to endure. Tom eventually recovered from his other injuries but the frostbite and gangrene that followed left him missing some toes on both feet with circulation problems below the knees as well. Tom was medically retired as a Corporal with a certain percentage of disability. Through physical therepy and sheer determination Tom was able to walk at at normal pace and gait for most of the rest of his life, but any long walks or running was out of the question. He eventually raised a family and carved out a career for himself at FedCo.
Sgt. of Marines
I want to thank you for helping me with my dads 78th birthday. Just when you think an old gunny has it all. Thank you again.
Mrs. Beth J.
"A Marine will dive into the Jaws of Death and bring back the Jaw Bone."
--(WWII era Commedian whose Brother was a Marine)
"He shows the Resolute countenence of a Marine who just went through Hell and has lit his cigarette on the tines of the Devils pitchfork."
--(A Marine Serving in Iraj or Afganistan)
"We Marines are Truely Blessed. We get to enjoy the Sweet Taste of Freedom because we know its Price."
--(Marine Veteran, John Chipura, Survivor of the 1983 Beirut Bombing. He became a New York Fireman who wrote the above for the 225th Birthday of the Marine Corps. He was killed September 11 at the World Trade Center.)
"Make a hole and make it wide, part like the red f--------n sea."
"This is my rifle. There are many other, but this one is mine..."
"I pulled mess duty at the last supper."
"I was assigned to the Marine Detactment on Noah's Ark!"
Semper Fi, Mac!