The Battle

by John W. Thomas">  

The Battle

by John W. Thomas, Sr.
Vietnam: June 15, 1967-Sep. 15, 1970


Once upon a time in a land called Vietnam, I walked the walk, and I talked the talk, and then I  met a bad, bad man, named Mr. Charlie, and my life was forever changed.

 The Beginning

I was  a child born of the 1950's , a product of what we kids born doing this time, would come to be known as the baby boomers. As this was the time of the Korean war. I grew up on the streets of east Baltimore. A group of us kids, had our own little gang, that was known by the older kids, as the Garbage Raiders. A bunch of 12-15 year olds just having some fun. We were Garbage Raiders, because we ruled the nights in the alleys, by turning over garbage cans.
We skated together, hiked miles along the train tracks  to holy bridge, the old brickyard, and played soldier, camping in the woods beside the railroad tracks.
In 1967,  I was in senior high, at Baltimore City College. One day two Marine Recruiters, wearing that beautiful blue uniform, came to the school.  At that point I decided, I was going to join the Marines, see the world, and go to war. Yes I had watched (John Wayne) as he portrayed the tough Marine Sergeant  I believe he played (John Striker) or something like that, charging up the hill, with his men raising the flag, on MT. Sarabuchie. The picture may have been the sands of  Iwo Jima, there were so many of these movies, in those days (good times) I don't remember, I was hooked.  My mom was the best mother that god could have placed on this earth, but I tricked her into signing, as I was only seventeen. The Marine corps told her my  enlistment was four years, and it was doubtful I would ever see Vietnam., instead I would go to Hawaii.  My father never signed for me, he refused, so I got my uncle, my father's brother to sign for me as my father. You see my uncle had fought in World War II, and I think he understood my need to join.

So on June 15, 1967, six days after my seventeen birthday, I arrived at Parris Island, the first member in all my family, and my relatives, to join the Marines. On  August 25, 1967, I officially earned the title United States Marine. I was  assigned  in November, 1967 to,  A- company,  Weapons  platoon, 1st. Battalion, 27th,  Marines, in Kanohe Bay, Hawaii. Half of the unit were Vietnam vets, and the other half were seventeen year old Boots. We received the best jungle warfare training available, at that time, this came from our counter parts that had already served in Vietnam. In early February 1968, we boarded the USES.. Bearx, A.P.A. 237, and headed for Vietnam. This due in part, to President Johnson's big troop build up, because of TET (The Year of The Monkey) 1968. We landed at Deep Water pier in Danang, Vietnam about two weeks later.  Some of the seventeen year olds were sent back with the ship, when it left. If they were within 90 days of their 18th, birthday they stayed with the unit, and went into combat.  I can still see my buddies debarking, down the gang way with M-14, in hands, this is the basic weapon we were armed with, our whole unit at that time.  I was spared going into combat not being within 90 days of my 18th birthday, plucked  temporarily from the hands of death, by a little known (U.S. LAW) concerning the age of combatants in a war zone. As we  departed Danang aboard the ship,  a couple of days later. The seventeen year olds were pissed-off,  that we were not allowed to go with our units. For we had trained together, partied, this is what we were all about.  As I watched the shores of Vietnam disappear, the last top of the highest mountain, faded down to the water in a 360 degree circle. With no point of reference left.  A tear fell from my eye, because like the rest of the seventeen year olds, I felt not worthy of the name Marine.