Serving My Fellow Marine

Growing up as a teenager, my parents always taught my twin brother and me to serve others.  They are prime examples of always helping others.  In order to serve others, you need to love others.  That love is a practical, personal kind of love that is expressed to individuals.  You show love by making personal sacrifices to meet someone’s needs. My mother would say, “If you see someone who has a need, you must meet that need as far as you’re able, or you prove yourself to be deficient in love”.  “It’s not about you, it’s about loving others”.  They would quote the golden rule from Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31 “Do unto others as you would like them to do to you”. In other words, treat all persons like you want to be treated, and more than that treat all as God has treated you.

When I got to boot camp, I immediately decided not to always be in competition but to be available to serve others.  When I learned the recruit’s creed, “To be a Marine you have to believe in:  Yourself, Your fellow Marine, Your Corps, Your Country, Your God, Semper Fidelis” I took that to heart and I immediately did my best to make both my platoon leader and my squad leader look good and care for their personal needs.  Besides caring for my own personal gear, I worked hard at inspections making my platoon leader look great.  I polished extra on some parts of his boots, cover visor, and his brass buckle.

Although I didn’t smoke, I picked up every cigarette butt around our Quonset hut every morning of boot camp.  I was the last one out of the latrine every night to be sure the place was clean, and the lights were off when we turned in.   I made sure the trash was picked up, the toilets were flushed, etc.  I went the extra mile to provide information to my platoon leader.  I would give him my extra water and sometimes give up some of my chow for him so he could have a little extra.  Some saw me as “kissing up to him” but I wanted our platoon to win the honor platoon position, so I worked hard to help him.  He and I talked a lot together in bootcamp.  When we graduated on October 7, 1968, my platoon 1056 received the award for “Honor Platoon”.  I was proud when Steve Klein had received the awards for “Platoon Honor Man”, “Series Honor Man” and received the “Blues Award”.  He was a great leader, and I was proud of him even though I stayed a private and Steve got his first stripe when we left boot camp.

When I assigned to “F” Company, 1st Bn. 2nd School of Infantry, Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton in October 1968 and then on to Rifle Training Company, Basic Infantry Training School Bn, 2nd Infantry Training Regiment, Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, I also practiced serving my squad leader Jim Trenam.  I helped him with compass readings, copied class notes for him, and helped him clean his M14 rifle on several occasions.  I remember him not feeling good one night, so I took his turn on the night watch. I didn’t get noticed and remained a Private (E1) until I arrived in Vietnam.

I was always passing rifle inspection when others weren’t.  I had learned not to fire my rifle unless an instructor was nearby.  There were many exercises where we would be humping the hills and shooting blank ammo at moving targets most all of the time.  I never fired my blank bullets and threw them away under the brush we were crawling through during the night exercises.  It was easier to clean the dirt and dust off my M14 rifle rather than having to worry about the carbon build up every day.  I was partially motivated to go home every weekend during liberty call because I lived in the Los Angeles area, so I made it a practice to help everyone in my squad pass inspections, assist cleaning their rifles and motivated them to work hard during the week.

While still on the airplane when we landed in Okinawa, I volunteered to stay on the airplane with several others and head straight for Da Nang, Vietnam, rather than stay a few days in Okinawa.  I received my first strip on that day!  I learned quickly to be a team player when I got to Vietnam.  I was well liked because of that.  I guess it had a lot to do with my continued attitude that I was there not only to fight a war but also to encourage and help serve my fellow Marine.  Whether I was in the “bush”, out on patrol, or in “the rear” for a day or two in An Hoa, I would consider the needs and comfort of my buddies that I served with.   I knew what it took to make me comfortable, so I determined it was the same as how I should meet the needs of others.  The way you treat your own desires is the way I treated the desires of other Marines.  I loved them in terms of self-sacrificing service, just as you make sacrifices for your own benefit.  I was willing to give up whatever it is that makes you comfortable in order to provide for the comfort of someone else.  I was willing to sacrifice the things I enjoy so another’s needs could be met.  That’s “loving your neighbor as yourself”!  It is not psychological; it is sacrificial.  I think those around me understood that because I was liked by my leadership and those I served with.

My dad too would tell me when I was growing up, “When you see a need, fill it if you can”.  This idea was engrained within me.  When I got to Vietnam, I instinctively got involved and volunteered with a smile on my face.  When it came time to carry supplies off the LZ, get water resupplied to the guys, or dig a latrine, I volunteered.  I didn’t have to do these things.  There were always other green horns with a lot less time in Nam than I to carry out those types of tasks.  I did it to help set an example to others.  When our radio operator was killed, we needed a radio operator, so I became one.  When we needed someone to walk point, because they had been killed or medivaced out, I volunteered.  I walked point for about twelve weeks. That’s a very long time to be doing that job especially out in the Arizona Territory.  When we needed someone to launch a hand carried M72 LAW (Light Anti-Tank Weapon), I volunteered.  When an officer wasn’t available, I called in artillery.  I called in helos to land on our temporary LZs bringing troop replacements, ammo resupply, mail, food and water.

The same was true when I was assigned to H&S Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division in late May 1969, I saw opportunities to serve others and I took them.  I had been reassigned as Battalion bugler by Sgt Major Clifford Burks then and had little to do each day other than play the bugle a couple of times in the morning and again at night while stationed at Phu Loc 6.  I noticed that the mail wasn’t getting out to the field to our troops very often, so I asked and got permission to fly on resupply helicopters several times a week and began getting mail and packages out to the guys in the bush.  I became the “unofficial mailman” for all the Battalion for several months while at Phu Loc 6 and while on Hill 65.  I understood how important it was for everyone to receive mail from home.  I would sometimes beg to get the mail and its packages, even if it was a small amount, on a supply chopper to drop off the mail to the men in the bush.

At times, because I had been a radio operator with Hotel Company in the past, I offered to help as a radio operator in the “CP” at Phu Loc 6.  It was optional but appreciated giving guys a break.  Additionally, I would talk to some of the guys coming in out of the bush for a night or two of rest about their “walk and talks with God”.  Having been raised in a Baptist Church, I knew tens and tens of those old choruses and hymns by heart and I always carried a Bible on me to read and encourage the guys.  The battalion chaplain, a Catholic, asked me if I could help with monthly services, prayer times, and communion since there was no protestant chaplain.  I served my fellow Marines by praying for them, reading them the Psalms, encouraging them, praying over the sick and wounded, and handling the protestant portion of the monthly religious services while at Hill 65.

In addition to helping these men, I was honored to be chosen by Sgt Major Burks to serve as the personal aid/bodyguard of the battalion commander and the battalion Sergeant Major.  I became their personal radio operator, jeep driver, and personal aid.  I served both Col Higgins and Sgt Major Burks and then their replacements, Lt Col Bowen and Sgt Major Williams.   I handled their needs whenever we went into the bush, by setting up their tent, opening the cans of C-rations, cooking their meals, cleaning their 45 pistols, or lighting the colonel’s pipe.   Even though I didn’t smoke, I carried around Lt Col Bowen’s “Captain Black” tobacco for him and would let him light up only when it was safe to do so.   In the rear, at An Hoa, Hill 65, at firebases we choppered to or at Phu Loc 6, I would tend to the needs of these men.  I would make sure they got heated water for showers when that was possible, grilled their barbequed steaks and burgers for them, and got them their favorite brand of beer and personal mail from home.  In the bush, I looked after them, set up their tent sites, got their favorite C-rations, and kept them safe when out in the wilderness.

I received a lot of privileges being the battalion commander’s personal aid.  I was issued a jeep, allowed to freely move about at Phu Loc 6, An Hoa, and at Hill 65.  During my last 6.5 months in country, being in H&S 2/5, I acquired over 100 hours of helicopter riding time.  I got to see more of the Quang Nam Province terrain than most of the other Marines in 2/5 during that time.  I had access to the command post, S1 through S5 HQ’s, the motor pool, free access to the refrigerators and freezers at the Hill 65 Mess Hall.  I got to drive around VIPs, including Generals, USO Show girls, and of course the Sgt Major and the Battalion Commander.

Because of my willingness to help others in Vietnam, when I got home from the war zone, I was asked to serve as a drill instructor at MCRD.  I was honored to take that assignment but fortunately, I was also offered an early out of the Marine Corps to go back to college.  Instead of heading to MCRD as a Corporal, I took the college route, was transferred into the Marine Corps Reserves after serving 12.5 months in Vietnam and went back to college.  I served only eighteen full months of active duty in the Marine Corp and was honorably discharged.

Larry D. Tyler