It was the middle of June 1969 and the 2/5 Battalion headquarters was stationed at Phu Loc 6, Liberty Bridge. Although I was still on the Hotel 2/5 June and July 1969 roster, I was assigned to H&S 2/5 reporting to the Sargent Major. From May 26th – July 20th, 1969, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines provided security for Liberty Bridge and Liberty Road in the eastern part of Duc Duc in the Quang Nam Province RVN. Capt. R. W. Poolaw was the Hotel 2/5 Company commander then. Daily road sweeps would find booby traps on the road. Sometimes, 250-to-500-pound bombs would be found planted into the roadbeds along with other booby traps. Tens and tens of our men were medevaced during this time period for setting off hidden booby traps.
During the month of June, I had become the Sargent Major’s battalion bugler and a mailman helper. I was never an official postal worker for the USMC. The Sgt Major had also given me a radio right after the short bugler position was abandoned. The CO’s jeep driver wasn’t a radio operator, so when he took the Sgt Major or LtCol Higgins somewhere, I rode along with the radio in hand. With the radio, I used two different frequencies. One frequency was connected to the 2/5 battalion command post. The other frequency was tuned to the 5th Marine Regiment command post. I enjoyed listening to the chatter, responding to radio talk, and handing the handset over to LtCol Higgins when he was needed on the radio.
By the middle of June, I was bunking with the Commanding Officer’s jeep driver. He was rotating back to the States near the end of July. He let me know that they had to replace a broken windshield on his beat-up old jeep and even though he had been driving the Colonel’s jeep since March, he had to go to driver’s school in a day or two and was issued a driver’s license. He wasn’t happy about that.
Also, during the month, the nearby Duy Xuyen District Advisor and District Chief met with Lt. Col J. H. Higgins, our battalion commander, to coordinate the planning of a New Life Hamlet to be built near Liberty Bridge. The Xuyab Hoa Village Chief completed a census of 200 families which were to be moved into the new hamlet. U.S. materials continued to be stockpiled for the construction of the hamlet. Colonel Higgins and Sergeant Major Burks had dinner with a family in Dai Loc Hamlet in joint celebration of a Vietnamese holiday. Both the jeep driver and I went with them for personal security and I managed the radio. A platoon of Marines were also close by outside the hamlet in a security position should anything happen. Several days later on June 21st, Colonel Higgins hosted a dinner at Phu Loc 6 for Xuyen Hoa Village Chief, Assistant Chief, and the village elders.
I hung around Phu Loc 6 helping sort out the mail and prepared to take the mail out to the guys in the bush. Sometimes, I went with the CO’s jeep driver and met the company commander’s guys out on Liberty Road. Other times, I was catching a helicopter ride with Lt G. E. Powell, the 2/5 Chaplain. We brought the mail and hot meals in metal canisters out to the bush. We would stay about an hour or so, feeding them hot food and cold drinks, collecting back the empty food containers, reading some scripture, said some prayers, did communion, and I took back all the new letters the guys wanted mailed back home. I enjoyed working with the Catholic Chaplain. He did the communion for the Catholics, and I helped do the communion for the protestants. This was my first involvement in becoming the Chaplain’s assistant although this was not an official position. I was still an 0311 MOS.
The biggest event on the 4th of July was that Fox Company Marines were charged by a water buffalo. They had no choice but to kill it. It is a very serious matter if we kill a water buffalo. The farmers use them to do their rice patty plowing and harvesting. The farmer was paid a huge sum of money and many apologies were provided to the family.
On July 20, 1969, security operations for Liberty Bridge and the Liberty Road area were turned over to 1/5 Marines. The H&S 2/5 group, with a company from Golf Company, providing security for us were sent out into the Arizona Territory in the early dawn the next morning. We had to cross the Song Thu Bon River at Football Island where the river water level was low enough for us to wade across with all our gear.
When the battalion command post travels out in the bush, you can always detect them because of the tens of radiomen with their antennas. Notice the second group in the background. I’m carrying LtCol Bowen’s radio and taking the picture. He is following my footsteps.
After we had wadded through the river and reached the sandy shoreline, (see the red X on the map) the unit halted, and we were pinned down on the north shore of Football Island for about two hours while Golf Company swept through the area in front of us and killed some NVA. LtCol Higgins immediately had me call up some amtracks and two tanks from behind us to provide security for us while the CO’s command post of radio operators, himself, the Sgt Major, and I laid in the sand in the hot sun.
We took off our boots and dried out socks out. Our clothes dried out within the first half hour. I pulled a poncho out of my backpack and grabbed two small pieces of driftwood and made a small lean-to. The LT Col and the Sgt Major rolled over under it getting their heads and chests out of the bright sun. I was getting sunburnt, so the Sgt Major told me to move over next to him in the shade I had provided them. The Sgt Major lying next to me pulled out his transistor radio and began to listen to the American Forces Vietnam Network Station. After a song or two, they were broadcasting the Apollo 11 moon landing live. While laying there on that hot sand, we heard, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Spoken by Neil Armstrong. It was 10:56 p.m. EDT on July 20th 1969 back in the States.
The 2/5 battalion moved its CP from Phu Loc 6 to An Hoa to support the battalion which was participating in Operation Durham Peak. On July 24, Hotel Company climbed the Que Son Mountains which were located Southeast of An Hoa. They found the terrain very steep and rugged with much of the area covered with undergrowth and a high canopy. On 31 July the Battalion was helilifted into the Que Son Mountains. Four CH-46 and two CH-53 helicopters were employed to lift 643 combat troops. Operation Durham Peak lasted through August 11th. I stayed busy managing radio calls, going to the bush with hot food and mail for the troops.
The week we were located in An Hoa, Sgt Major Burks asked me if I knew the words to any of the “good-old” Baptist songs. I began to write down the words as I remembered them. In our Protestant Lay Leader services, he would lead the singing with a couple of Baptist songs, like “The Old rugged Cross” and “Just as I Am”.
On August 12th, 1969, the 2/5 battalion Companies G and H were helilifted from the Que Son Mountains to An Hoa. From there they and H&S Company went by trucks in a convoy to Hill 65. Picture is Hill 65 looking north.
The next day, I was officially assigned to be the Commanding Officer’s Battalion Driver and Personal Military Aide. Lt Col Higgins jeep driver rotated back to the States a week earlier. I was selected over other candidates because I had already been with the leadership team since Phu Loc 6, liked by the Sgt Major, volunteered helping with the mail, assisted the Chaplain, and was already handling the radio for the battalion C.O. from time to time. Sgt Major Burks told me that I had completed my apprenticeship well and was promoted to Lance Corporal to take on these new responsibilities.
I picked up three new assignments. One was being the jeep driver for the Battalion Commander (MOS3531). (See the ‘Commanding Officer’s Clean Jeep’ article for more details.) The second one was to be the personal radioman for the Battalion Commander. I was also assigned to be the Battalion Commander’s and Battalion Sgt Major’s Personal Military Aide.
I had already been doing some of the Personal Military Aide duties for the past two months.
These duties included:
- Protecting the Battalion Sgt Major and the Battalion Commander from harm.
- Providing meals when requested including barbequing, preparing, cooking, c-ration meals.
- Passing along information to others as requested.
- Provide and build shelters when in the bush.
- Dig foxholes and fill sandbags as needed while in the bush.
- Clean their weapons as needed.
- Get personal hygiene gear such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, etc.
- Provide security while they are taking outdoor showers.
- Provide clean clothes and polish their boots and buckles.
- Run their errands as requested.
- Bring them breakfast, lunch, and dinner while on Hill 65 and at An Hoa.
- Maintain a supply of goods such as sodas, beers, liquor, ice, ice cream, candy, boxed chocolates, popcorn, beef jerky, nut snacks, crackers, chips, smokes, peanut butter, jams, fresh fruit, etc.
I served LtCol James Higgins, LtCol James Bowen, Sgt Major Burks, and Sgt Major Williams as their Jeep Driver, Personal Military Aide, and Personal Radio Operator from June 1969 to January 1970.
In addition to these assignments, I also kept busy being the Chaplain’s assistant (me on the left, Chaplain Lt V. J. Hultberg on the right) and helping with the U.S. Mail packages.
I bunked alone in the mailroom on Hill 65 while serving the Sgt Major and the Lt Colonel. I kept very busy. When I wasn’t tending to the Sgt Major, the Lt Colonel, or the Chaplain, I helped with getting mail packages out to the guys in the battalion, washing and maintaining the jeep, etc.
My living quarters were inside the mailroom on Hill 65 where I kept much of the “contraband goodies” for the Sgt Major and the Lt Colonel. In the picture were some of my off-duty guys sitting on my bunk. They were all radiomen that worked in the CP. There is an electric frying pan in front of the Johnny Cash LP album. The M16, Guitar, and Cassette player were mine.
Out behind the Colonel’s living quarters was a private privy, an outdoor shower, and the barbeque grill. These were off limits to everyone except us three.
I networked with the mess hall cook on Hill 65 to get frozen hamburger meat, hot dogs, steaks, and any food supplies as needed or asked for. That was the reason for the refrigerator. No other Marines were allowed in my living quarters, except the mailman. Both Sgt Majors would drop in from time to time to get a candy bar or have a cold drink. A local Vietnamese guy would have an ice block delivered to me and the mess hall most mornings. I had an ice pick to chop up the ice as needed during the day. I stored it in a wooden box lined in plastic, wrapped in canvas bags.