Surrender Was Not An Option
(copy righted 1989)
When I first arrived in California after boot camp at Parris Island, I received orders for the Combined Action Program (CAP) of the Marine Corps. Up to this time the unit was an all-volunteer force that lived within the peasant farming villages. (24 hours a day, 7 days a week.) Usually a Marine was assigned to one village for his whole tour. When Marine Vets returning from Vietnam Vets heard that we were assigned to CAP they told us to get out of it any way we could. Although CAP was nicknamed "A Peace Corps with Rifles"…CAP was considered a suicide squad! The reason Marines were being assigned to CAP units was there weren’t enough volunteers. Too many CAP units were getting wiped out. Eleven Marines and one Navy Corpsman living in a village of thousands can get a little hairy at times.
Once my buddy George Dros (New Jersey) and I (NYC) arrived in Okinawa, we heard again about CAP units always getting wiped out. I was getting a little nervous; what did I get myself into?
As soon as we arrived at the special CAP training school near China Beach in Da Nang, communist rockets slammed into a Village just outside the walls of our compound.
Two weeks later, in one of my first nights back at 2nd CAG headquarters, while I was on guard duty in a forty foot tower, a communist sniper opened fire on me from a village across the river. My orders were to keep my head down and not to fire back into the village for fear of hitting a friendly peasant. I was very frustrated and nervous. I was getting shot at, but I could not shoot back.
About a week later, I was sent to my village of Phu Da (the Duc Duc Resettlement Village) about 20 miles southwest of Da Nang. It was in An Hoa Valley, three miles from the 5th Marines Combat Base.
My first night in the village an intelligence report said that over 200 communists were coming to wipe us out. There were about eight Marines, one Navy Corpsman and twenty Vietnamese Militiamen called Popular Forces (PFs) to hold them off. A Marine, who was there a while, started telling George Dros and I how scared he was. He really thought this was it; and even started talking about our deaths. (We were actually figuring out when our parents would be getting our bodies for burial.)
When the communists did hit the village they started to probe by firing aimlessly into the village. This they did in the hope that the PFs militiamen would panic and return fire, thereby giving away our ambush site. (Surprise was our best weapon against much larger enemy units.) Since this was the first of many times that I was told we would be wiped out, I was scared shitless. I knew I had to fight like a Marine, but I was so scared my chest felt like it was going to explode from my pounding heart. Finally, with God’s help, it started to pour rain. The PFs militiamen held their fire. For whatever reason the communists left. After that Marine combat veteran had really gotten me going about dying, it took me a while to calm down,
A few nights later, I heard something as we were walking around our village on the way to our night’s ambush. I almost shot a little pig when it came running toward me. Everybody laughed, but seconds later grenades were thrown into our line of march, badly wounding our sergeant and two or three PF Militiamen. Rifle fire opened up from near the village back gate. We went after them immediately and drove the Viet Cong terrorists into the jungle just outside our village. We didn’t think the sergeant was going to make it. The grenade blew right next to him. For almost two weeks we were without a sergeant, which is the highest rank in a CAP village. The CAP was led by a senior Lance Corporal (E3). (The wounded sergeant never returned to our village.)
Soon after arriving in the Duc Duc Refugee Village, George and I were already included in the dinner invitations the other Americans were receiving from peasant families. Around this time my best buddy, George Dros, a Marine I went through training with, and I, started volunteering for the many Civil Action Programs our CAP was involved with around the village; Digging wells, fixing fences and huts, and helping the corpsman treat the long lines of peasants and their children. The First Aid training that we learned was a great help. Also, for whatever stupid reason, George and I volunteered for patrols and two man night killer teams. I guess we still thought we were fighting for the good of our country and democracy.
Over the next few weeks we came under fire a number of times during the day and night. (The communists were constantly trying to instill fear in the peasants.) On a number of occasions we received intelligence reports from our peasants. The Civil Action Programs within the village created a lot of trust of the American boys. We also received intelligence that we were going to be wiped out.
These reports caused some of our Popular Forces (village militia) to disappear at night. They felt why fight today when there’s always tomorrow. Some PF militiamen even took off their uniforms and hid them, along with their rifles, so they could blend into the peasant population.
(We could not!!) A few times we almost shot a few of them to prevent them from leaving.
Since the communist activity against the village was getting worse, the 5th Marines sent a company (150 boys) of grunts and two tanks to work our area outside our village. Even with them, we were getting hit with sniper fire. Not far from me one of the 5th Marines got his legs blown off by a booby trap. We found a tunnel where we captured three Viet Cong (terrorists), $5,000 in American green money, $3,000 in American military money and boxes and boxes of clothes donated to the Viet Cong (Freedom Fighters) from a student union from Berkley University in California.
That really hurt and frustrated everyone. We were fighting for our lives (and peasant lives) for what??? We already had heard about all the demonstrations across America. But now, they (students) were even helping our enemy. (I learned to hate.)
|Jack Cunningham in Duc Duc (Phu Da)
|1970 CAP 2-9-2
The day fighting continued and I received two minor shrapnel wounds on different occasions; once in the back and the other, in the hand. (I received no Purple Hearts for them, but the shrapnel is still in me.)
The intelligence reports of us getting wiped out were still coming in. Our own peasants and village boys supplied many of these reports. (Boys who did odd jobs for the Americans and also served as interpreters.) One day a report was so strong, a staff sergeant came from our company headquarters to set up with us. (He was an office worker and didn’t really understand day-to-day combat tactics.)
When darkness came the CAP Team was split into two and each patrol went their separate ways around the village for about an hour. After combining back together, the Staff Sergeant set us up in a good ambush site. However, he set me (M-79 Grenadier) up with the M-60 machine-gunner.
He ordered me to send up an illumination round as soon as the fighting started. About an hour later, the communists attacked by throwing grenades on some talking PF Militiamen. Immediately, I sent up the illumination round from my M-79 grenade-launcher and placed a high explosive round into my weapon to prepare for the combat action.
The next thing I knew, there was a huge flash and I was flying through the air and slammed against a cement well wall.
I was completely dazed, bleeding from my head, chest, arms, stomach and legs. (My flak jacket was completely torn up.) There was a tremendous ringing in my ears and my body was shaking. At first I was bleeding so badly I thought I was dying. But my bleeding was quickly stopped by all the bandages that my buddy, George Dros placed on me.
The fight raged around me and the machine gunner, who was also wounded from the bomb blast. Finally, our CAP Team drove the terrorists from our village. The Viet Cong left four dead and many blood trails
Immediately the 5th Marines up at their An Hoa Combat Base sent trucks to take out our wounded. I was not one of the four wounded Marines taken out. (There were only about four Americans left in the village that night.)
I went out the next morning. A Navy doctor up at An Hoa 5th Marines Combat Base tried to take out some shrapnel from my leg, but stopped. He left my other shrapnel in as well. After bandaging me and giving me a hot lunch, I was back in my village within hours.
The CAP Team was down to only four Americans in the village of thousands. That’s how it stood for about another two weeks. Our company commander said that it was hard to get replacements.
The communists played even more with our minds. The terrorist threats got worse during these periods of few Marines in the village. It was bad enough when we had a full unit.
Thank God for the intelligence supplied by the peasants. Although the communists loved to use the peasants to create false reports, the peasants did supply us with a great deal of valid information. Around this time we started to hear about communist moles living in our village and serving amongst the PF militiamen.
It was ugly. We couldn’t tell who they were. We could only guess. And we could not act on a guess. Too many Vietnamese would get upset if we were wrong and that’s not what we needed. We needed our peasant support.
About this time we heard about bounties on our heads. The communists hated us living in the village, so they did everything they could to motivate the peasants to turn against us. However, a large number of the peasants loved us living with them.
A lot of booby traps were being laid in the hope one of us would step on one. The communists also wanted to inflict terror in the peasants working their fields and rice patties. One afternoon, a water buffalo with a young teenage girl riding on its back, stepped on a large booby trap, instantly killing the both of them. I remember it clearly because a number of peasants were rushing from the fields to our village’s market place with large chucks of water buffalo meat.
Things got bad, anyone could be working for the communists. The pressure on us never let up.
During the daylight hours the communist movement outside our village became more and more brazen. One day on patrol in July 1970, when the temperature was over 100 degrees, our new sergeant wanted to go after a few Vietnamese that he saw with his field glasses. He witnessed them entering a known terrorist jungle stronghold, which was an area restricted to our village peasants. That area of our responsibility was what was called "A Free Fire Zone." A month earlier, it was the same area where our whole CAP Team, a 5th Marines Company of 150 Marines and 2 tanks got pinned down. (I wasn’t the smartest Marine, but I knew what we were about to get ourselves into.)
Since originally it was only going to be a short patrol, we each only took one canteen of water. (It was a major mistake we learned, as the long day taught us well.)
Our sergeant called it a perfect artillery mission, supplied by the Fifth Marines at An Hoa on an entrance to the communist jungle stronghold. (It also wasn’t the last time we would use their expert mortarmen that day.)
Immediately following two missions of 10 rounds of high explosive rounds each, our CAP patrol of five Marines (dispersed with six PF militiamen) headed out through about 600 meters of open rice patties (much of them dried-up) towards the enemy sanctuary. At times, the rice patty dike that lay before us was only a little over a foot wide on top.
It wasn’t too long before five of the six PFs started panicking. "Beacoup VC, Beacoup VC" was their answer. At a small knoll they completely stopped. We were scared too, but we had to go on. We were doing our job as Marines. We left the five PFs on the knoll and continued.
After the sergeant ordered me to put some high explosive grenades into the jungle face, the five Marines and one PF militiaman entered the heavy jungle.
Once inside we spread out and found food stashes, thatch huts, earthen bunkers, documents, and maps of our village and the makings of a booby trap factory. I started taking pictures with my Instamatic Camera. We were all excited.
Suddenly, the Vietnamese communists hit from what seemed like every direction, yet we couldn’t see one. Our sergeant called in mortars on what we all thought was a concentration of enemy fire. Although the Willie Peter round hit perfectly, the mortar’s base plate must have shafted because the ten high explosive rounds impacted towards us. The last round exploded a short distance in front of us, covering Marines with dirt.
For two hours we fought back in that intense heat, hoping our fire was hitting them. During which time, our sergeant called in air support and helicopter gunships.
CAP Team 2-9-1, the CAP Unit on the other side of the large combat base at
An Hoa, rushed to our aid, only to get pinned down themselves before they could enter the Viet Cong jungle stronghold. We started wondering how long we could keep it going. We were running low on ammunition.
The remaining five Marines from our CAP Team arrived from our village along with a few PFs that they persuaded to come along. Once CAP 2-9-1 was able to reach us, our sergeant continued to call in mortar, helicopter and air support. With the Marines spreading out into a better defensive position, the communists broke contact.
George Dros and I, being our team’s demolitionmen, destroyed what we could with the plastic explosive C-4. Everything of intelligence importance, which was much, our team carried off.
Out of fear of an ambush, our sergeant didn’t want to return to the village using the same route as we came, so he set up security and we crossed a neck high stream. The muddy water destroyed the film in my camera that I was carrying in my bag of grenades.
Once all the Americans and PF militiamen reached the other side, CAP 2-9-1 left to return to their own village. Not long after, my CAP 2-9-2 stopped on a small knoll for some much-needed rest. The five Marines from our original patrol were without water for hours. We were frying under our helmets and flak jackets, especially our brains. Three of the original Marines went off to fill up canteens. The bad thing, they did was to not take any weapons; an M-60 machinegun and two M-16 automatic rifles.
After about ten minutes of resting, our sergeant jumped up saying he wanted to get back to our undefended village and that he had to get the intelligence documents up to our CAP Company’s captain. I informed him about the three, weaponless Marines and I volunteered to stay and wait for their return.
After waiting and worrying for about twenty minutes on the open knoll alone with the weapons, I heard the three laughing Americans as they returned with full canteens. They were out in the open when the communists opened up on them with automatic fire and rocket propelled grenades (RPG).
Immediately, I returned fire, switching from the M-60 machinegun, to an M-16 on automatic and my grenade launcher. All I could think about was getting my three friends back to their weapons. I had no time to be scared. I wanted to draw the enemy fire towards me in the hope that my friends could make their way to the knoll. (My buddy since training, George Dros was one of them.)
Since the new attack started, the three Marines drove into the rice patty that separated us. Lying flat, they started moving by grabbing on the young rice plants and pulling themselves forward.
Although the enemy’s rocket propelled grenades were hitting short of me, many of their bullets hit around my position or buzzed by my head. (Remembering the sound of the passing bullets is still vivid and clear.) In what seemed like hours, (but was probably close to fifteen minutes) a few of the Marines, who left with the sergeant, returned and added some much needed covering fire. The first Marine back was DANIEL F. GALLAGHER . Immmediately, he dropped next to me and starting firing the M-60 Machinegun. He was soon followed by two other Marines. One by one the three Marines pinned down in the rice patty before me reached their weapons and opened up. It wasn’t long before the communists pulled away.
That day, although, the CAP Team fought for hours, there was not even a single casualty. Also that day the communists did not attack either the village belonging to CAP 2-9-1 or CAP 2-9-2. The intelligence that was gathered during the operation laid the foundation for a major assault on the communist jungle stronghold a week later.
|Some Of The Vietnamese Boys Who Hung Out With Us.
|They did odd jobs, ran errands and interpretted for us.
One night on an ambush outside our village mortar rounds and rifle fire started to rain down on our positions. Some PF Militiamen, who were clustered in the middle of our perimeter, panicked and started opening fire from where they laid. Most of the Americans could not pick up their heads. Even the PFs rounds were hitting all around us. Minutes seemed like an eternity. I felt that at any second a round was going to hit me in my side. We were helpless. Finally, two Marines crawled into the perimeter and started hitting the P Fs with their rifle butts.
On two separate days, three peasant friends of ours were killed while they worked in their rice patties. Their children witnessed it. The Viet Cong were trying to instill more and more fear into the people, hoping they would lose trust in us to defend them.
About two weeks later, two peasant women notified our CAP patrol that a group of Viet Cong were setting up an ambush a few hundred meters from our village. Our sergeant called in another one of his accurate air strikes on the communist position. Once the jets were finished, we went out and found about four wounded Viet Cong. Also a 500 pound bomb that did not explode during the strikes. Since my buddy George and I were the on-the-job trained demolitionmen it was our responsibility to dispose of the unexploded bomb.
Once the helicopters took the wounded communists to Da Nang, George and I went to work with our C-4 plastic explosives. We were both scared. This was by far the biggest dud we had ever blown. You could have cut the intensity with a knife. We thought it might blow anytime. We laid two sticks of C-4 plastic explosive on it, lit the fuse and ran to a knoll. After we waited past the two-minute fuse time with no explosion, we started walking slowly back to the bomb. Suddenly, it exploded. We jumped to the ground. When we started walking back we were laughing nervously. It seemed like a joke. We almost blew ourselves up
Suddenly, my foot went through the ground. I took another step and looked back at a booby-trapped M-60 mortar round. I could not believe it. I was in a state of shock. I called to George and pointed. When we blew the M-60 canister in place, the booby trap left a huge hole. If the booby trap had gone off by me stepping on it, the device would have probably killed the both of us.
We didn’t know whom to trust. Again, we heard that kids were being paid to plant booby traps to kill us. We were always reminded about the bounties on each of our heads. Everyone was concerned.
Over the next few days, the Marine sergeant got our captain to call a meeting with the Vietnamese district leaders and the village elders to go over why the CAP was getting ambushed and why so many of our peasant friends were getting killed. We (Americans) discussed the recent events amongst us and we felt that too many things were happening under the noses of our P F Militiamen. They lived in the village and should know a great deal more. Since their sergeant knew in advance all the CAP’s movements, we decided to set up some kind of trap for him. Our captain and sergeant worked the details.
Two days later, all the P Fs along with some peasants were taken from the village. The next day we had a new P F platoon that was just as bad. Being a bunch of cowards, they refused to go anywhere. Many times they disappeared as soon as it got dark. Usually, in the morning we would only have half them around once we broke our ambush site. The tension between the Marines and the PFs was very explosive. Even among our so-called allies there were few chances to rest. Rifles were being pulled on both sides. I had one pulled on me as I walked towards a militiaman. I was in such a rage I yelled for him to shoot as I continued walking towards him. Finally, Marines grabbed me and other PFs knocked the rifle from him. I was going to kill him with my bare hands. I had enough PF crap. I had enough of the whole fucking war.
There was never a let up. We had no one to turn to but each other. Even the people back home were against us, our allies, and at times it seemed even our own superiors. We became very close with each other (like brothers).
It was around this time that I received pictures from a friend showing my hometown’s Vietnam Veteran Memorial getting desecrated with red paint. I was so proud of that memorial, I though every town had one. Now, this!! Twice this happened in a two-month period. They never caught the scum that had done it. They attacked at night when no one was around. Just like the terrorists and cowards we were fighting. (The memorial was dedicated May 1968. My hometown’s Vietnam Memorial was one of the first in America).
It was also around this time that I heard about the Kent State deaths. This was all tearing me apart. I was exhausted from all the intelligence reports about us getting wiped out. I was tired of seeing friends get hurt. All for nothing. No one really cared!! They hated us back home and people were trying to kill us here. Why were we fighting?? Everything sucked!! The fear of dying for nothing…is the ugliest fear of all. I hated the people back home more than the communists who were trying to kill us. I wanted to be left alone.
It wasn’t long before we got another PF militia platoon. All together, we had three different ones in the village of Phu Da.
Rumors of the 5th Marines pulling out of An Hoa started flying around all the peasants. Soon the rumors of the CAP leaving Phu Da added to it. Many peasants stopped talking to us. Some didn’t even look at us. Even some of our civic action programs within the village were turned away. We all felt our problems were just beginning, needing the peasant support and now it was drying up. They no longer trusted us.
One night, a twelve-year-old boy threw a grenade into the CAP unit as we clustered around ready to move out. Four Marines and about six P Fs were wounded and our Vietnamese scout was killed instantly. The grenade landed between his legs. There wasn’t much left of him. He was a good friend.
Again, we only had five Americans living in the village, and this was the worst time. As usual, the reports of being wiped out became stronger. The communists made sure we always got them. They wanted us on edge.
Some of the older children would bring in dud rounds for rewards. This was done in order to prevent the Viet Cong from getting the explosives to booby traps. Since this was almost everyday, George and I were always working as demo men. Fuse problems were common. A number of times, they almost got us killed.
Finally, official word came down that we were being pulled out of Phu Da in a month. Since the 5th Marines were pulling out of their nearby An Hoa Combat Base, it was decided that there were too many communists in the valley and surrounding mountains for the two CAPs to handle. We were already having trouble with the 5th Marines still there. Some of the boys were to be sent home while the newer boys were assigned to other villages out of the valley. George and I were two of them. We were looking forward to it. We were assigned to 2nd Company, a couple of miles west of Dai Loc. A fairly secure village, so we were told.
By this time I felt completely exhausted, frustrated, betrayed, and cheated. So alone. This was not the way I thought wars should be fought. I didn’t have any answers how one should be experienced. I felt very confused. And at times depressed and scared. Were we going to get wiped out before the pullout??
|This Family Was Very Close To The Americans
Once the peasants heard we had a date to leave they turned very cold toward us. We lost most of our friends and it wasn’t even our fault. They were sure the communists would move into the village as soon as we left. They had no faith in their militia platoon. Some peasants even started helping the Viet Cong; they wanting to get on their good side before it was too late. We received orders from our captain to watch out for more terrorist attacks and booby traps.
The CAP started taking longer patrols in and outside our resettlement village. Our night ambushes were 100% watch all night long. We did our sleeping whenever we could find the time. Sometimes, it was days. Now it felt like a race. Were we going to get pulled out or wiped out??
During a blocking force another Marine and I saw two Viet Cong on a distant knoll watching us. After days of frustration we went after them without telling anyone. Me shooting my grenade launcher, and Fox shooting his M-16 rifle. One of them fell and the other picked him up and dragged him off. By the time we got to their position, they had entered a jungle tree line. Suddenly a Marine came running waving his arms and shouting to us. We found out that our sergeant called in mortars onto the enemy’s position, which we were now standing on. We took off running as fast as we could. Moments later, a Willie Peter round exploded where we had just stood. We kept running. My heart was ready to explode through my chest I was so scared. George, who was the radioman, spotted us out there and cancelled the ten high explosive rounds from going out. Once we got back, our sergeant screamed at us for leaving the line without orders.
Days later, during a long patrol miles from our village, the communists set an ambush and caught us in a crossfire between two jungle tree lines. We were pinned down in an abandoned rice patty bed. The sergeant called in mortars and a helicopter gunship, which drove off one side of the enemy. However, they continued fighting from the other tree line. A few militiamen were wounded and one Marine slightly. Our sergeant had us advance towards the Viet Cong on line, firing as we walked slowly. Most of the militiamen refused to go. The Viet Cong must have thought we were crazy because they broke contact. We called in a helicopter to take out the wounded PFs.
On the way back to our village some of the PFs decided to take a path back to the villages rather then walk along the rice patty dikes. A few of them actually swung their rifles over their shoulders. We told them to get back with us but they only laughed and joked with each other. (I guess they thought the war was over for the day) About a half-hour later, one of the Marines spotted some boys running before the PFs on the path. We tried to warn them that something might be up but again they laughed. We thought they were so fucking stupid. Seconds later there was a loud explosion and a cloud of dust where the militiamen were. What was left of them took off running in all directions, shooting into the trees that lined their path route. When we got there PFs were laying all over the place. Two dead and about three wounded. George and I had to drag the two bodies from the rice patty. We couldn’t believe how stupid they were. How were they ever going to hold the village once we left the valley?
|Andy and Ed (back center) with some PF Militiamen
|Ed Passed Away in June 2003. Brave Marine Rest in Peace
With about two weeks left before the pull out our captain came out to talk to us about an intelligence report that was being followed by the 1st Marine division high command in Da Nang. This time it wasn’t about our CAP getting wiped out, it was about the communists planning a major attack on the Fifth Marine Headquarters at An Hoa.
They estimated that there would be around 5,000 enemy troops involved in the attack. Since the base was only tree miles away from our village, we thought we would be called onto the base to fight along side the Fifth Marines. However, we were wrong. The captain told us we had to stay in our village. The main enemy drive was through our village. He wanted us to set up in the best place to give An Hoa a warning and some extra time to get ready. We were pawns in a chess game. After the captain left, we cursed him for not staying with us. Later, our gunny sergeant volunteered to be with us in the village.
Although I was scared, I was also more at ease than other nights. It was strange. I felt there was going to be no more painful thoughts, no more fears. I actually wanted to get it over with. So did some of the other Americans. How could ten Marines fend off thousands?? We knew we didn’t have a chance. We prayed in small groups and read the Bible (we read the Bible on many nights). When it started to get dark my life history went through my mind. I was even wondering about my funeral.
Once we moved to our ambush site I was ready to fight like hell. I knew I was going to die but I wanted to take as many communists with me as I possibly could. I was even fantasizing about it. Dying, and all.
Around 1AM, rockets and mortars hit the village and An Hoa. "Here they come," I thought. We stayed to our positions and waited and waited. My eyes started playing tricks on me. I kept seeing them moving in the darkness. It was the longest night of my 19 years of life.
For whatever reasons the land attack never came. (The damage was done in our minds). An Hoa got a few more rockets. At first light we went to the area where the rockets hit the village and found 15 dead peasants and a number of wounded. We did what we could and helicoptered them out. The next few nights, although there were no reports, I still feared the attack would come at any second.
The Navy Corpsman and a few of the Marines continued medical treatment of the peasants. Although we were leaving, there was still work to do where it was accepted by the peasants. However, every chance we got we would sit in-groups talking about going home. One of the Marines, Robert Pierce, who always kept to himself, picked George and I to talk about his home near Albany, Georgia. He was going home after the pullout and that’s all he talked about. He was so happy he was gong to see his mother and family. He wanted us to visit him when we got back to the States. Every night he talked with a big smile and it was always fun to hear. Every night his stories brought us home with him.
With about five days left, the Captain ordered us to make two long patrols during the daylight hours. He wanted the American Marines to highlight to the communists that we were still determined in protecting the people of our village. He hoped it would prevent the communists from attacking the village. He ordered each patrol to have a checkpoint on one of two knolls that we had nicknamed "Twin Tits." Since they were the highest points in our area, the captain felt the communists would see us. (The same area where I stepped on a booby trap months before. It wouldn’t be long before the communists had the idea to plant fresh booby traps.)
I was scared, but I never told anyone. I couldn’t. I was a Marine and I felt Marines should not get scared. My fears of getting killed by a booby trap started coming back.
For the first two days I led the morning patrols and Robert Pierce, the Marine from near Albany, Georgia, led the afternoon patrols. They were quiet but very hot. Usually everyone was in a bad mood. We were totally exhausted and we all thought these patrols were crazy.
One morning George came back from patrol and went to the marketplace to buy four batteries for his tape player, so we could listen to some music. An old woman, who was probably not from Phu Da, tried to sell the batteries at a high inflated price. Since, we lived in the village for almost six months; we knew what the prices were in the marketplace. George took the batteries, laid them on the ground outside the market area and shot them on the automatic with his M-16 rifle. The crowded market panicked. Although no one was hurt George was told he had to see the captain the next morning for a punishment.
That night I had an intense nightmare that two Marines died while on patrol. During my nightmare my body was trembling and sweating. I was yelling out. Robert Pierce, who had set up with me, woke me up. (I didn’t tell him about my dream.)
After that I couldn’t sleep. Nothing like that feeling ever happened to me before. I never felt a death was going to happen. I feared for death, but this was different. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. It took complete control over me. I guess the anxiety, associated from my stepping on a booby trap, was finally hitting me.
I felt that I had to get out of the morning patrol. Strangely I was not scared about the afternoon patrol, just the morning. I asked Robert Pierce to change patrols with me. I gave Pierce the excuse that I wanted to hear what the captain did with George over the marketplace-battery incident. Although my statement was true the main reason for not taking the patrol was that I was still upset over the nightmare. The dream was too real!
Soon after, the patrol went out. And I prayed.
|(back row center )
Being the only American left in the village, I stayed by the radio the whole time. About an hour into the patrol, my lifelong nightmare started. The radioman on the patrol screamed "Incoming… Incoming. A Marine down!"
I heard an another explosion in the background. I felt like my heart stopped. I asked the radioman for more information. My body started shaking. I was afraid of what was happening out there. I started placing my combat gear on. I had to go. I couldn’t take not being there. I grabbed the radio and ran to the back gate of the village. I left before I had the location of where the patrol was down.
George and the sergeant were on the way back to the village by jeep when the first radio transmission came. The sergeant radioed me to stop once I reached the back gate of the village.
As I waited for George and the sergeant to reach me, the patrol’s radioman corrected his initial transmission by saying the two explosions were from booby traps two Marines were down and the patrol’s position was on one of the knolls of Twin Tits. The nightmare was just getting worse. I wanted to go out to the patrol, but the sergeant continued to order me to stay where I was. (I think I was having a panic attack. I was afraid that the sergeant would notice something in me. I felt like a coward.) I damned God for allowing this to happen after all my prayers.
I felt so alone. I was a coward and someone got hurt because of it.
Donnie Asbury stepped on the first booby trap. After he stepped on the Bouncing Betty, Donnie’s M-79 grenade launcher fired and caused the second explosion. Disregarding his own safety, Robert Pierce ran to Donnie’s aid, triggering another Bouncing Betty.
Donnie Asbury died moments after tripping the mine. Robert Pierce was still alive, but he had lost large parts of both legs. Our U.S. Navy Corpsman worked feverously to keep Robert from falling into shock from his heavy loss of blood.
The sergeant had George and I set the PF militiamen into security around the base of the knoll. I begged the sergeant to let me see Robert Pierce. He said that he needed me more on security. All I could think about was the nights Pierce, George and I would sit talking about going home. Robert was so excited to see his mother in a few days again.
Over and over again, I begged God to let Robert live. I even begged God to take my life instead.
After about an hour and a half, a helicopter finally came the 20 miles from Da Nang. Within two minutes the helicopter was back on its way to Da Nang with Robert and Donnie. Once they were gone I ran up the knoll to the corpsman to ask him about Robert.
The corpsman said that Robert was alive, but he was in shock from a heavy loss of blood. He also said that Robert was asking for his mother, saying, "She thought I would be home next week." He kept asking about his legs and if he was going to die. He also said that he loved all the Marines on the CAP Team.
About two hours later, back in the village, I was on security with George. We were promising to visit Pierce when we got home. That’s all we kept talking about. While we were still there, word came over the radio that Pierce had died on the way to the Da Nang hospital. An U.S. Army doctor on the helicopter did all he could for him.
(I can’t put it in words how I felt.) I cried along with George. He cried for his reasons and I cried for mine. (I kept thinking about his mother.) Pierce died when I should have. Everything sucked! I felt that even God let me down a second time. Robert Pierce only had three more days of combat left.
The captain pulled us out of the village in two days. At our Duc Duc Company Headquarters we had a memorial for Pierce and Asbury then got drunk for two days. That’s when we went our separate ways. George and I went to our new village
CAP 2-2-2 and I was never the same. So much of me died on that knoll. About three weeks later I developed cramps and what was nicknamed the Hershey Squirts. I was hospitalized for them two months after Pierce’s and Asbury’s deaths and then again two months later. I was later diagnosed with Irritable Bowel.
During my stay in the new village combat was light. A month into our stay in the village, I lead a patrol where a new guy (Marine) stepped on a booby trap. Only a few times did we get reports of being wiped out. We got hit with two major floods. One of the floods was caused by a typhoon that almost caused the CAP Team and PFs to drown, crash in a helicopter, and me almost getting bit by a poisonous snake. (The bamboo viper two step. Nicknamed that because after you got bit you lived for two-steps.)
In Febrary 1971 when I returned home, besides the lame questions of how many babies did I have to kill and how many villages did I help burn down, I had a little incident on a NYC bus. Wearing my Marine uniform with my ribbons from Vietnam (including my Purple Heart), the bus driver said that I could get on the bus for free, but I had to sit in the back of the bus. He didn't want me to cause any trouble.
I never had anyone spit on me upon my return from Vietnam. However, my hometown of Rosedale, Queens had its Vietnam Veteran Memorial attacked by Anti-War Protesters. In May 1970, while serving in my peasant-farming village of Phu Da/Duc Duc, I received copies of the below pictures.
(The pictures and their related articles were taken from the Long Island Press.)
The Rosedale Vietnam Veteran Memorial was dedicated on
Memorial Day 1968.
(Will This Ever Happen To America's Honorable Veterans Again)
|Rosedale, NYC - Vietnam Veteran Memorial
|The Memorial Was Attacked By Anti-War Protestors
|Note The Impact Of The Paint On Each Picture
|The Paint Hit The Names Of The War Dead
|LEARN WHAT HAPPENED TO THE VILLAGE OF DUC DUC
|Please Press The Picture Of The Twins
Please Press the picture of the Twins
to learn what happened to the
Village of Duc Duc (Phu Da).
Is Hollywood Ready to Show Some Positive Truth About Vietnam Veterans?
(How will Hollywood portray today's heroes...)
Memorial of Honor - Robert J. Pierce
Memorial of Honor - Donnie D. Asbury
Please Press This Link To Visit A Website Dedicated To The Rosedale Vietnam Veteran Memorial.
|Jack Cunningham and his beautiful wife Joan.
To learn how Jack is currently doing, please press his above picture.
More Pictures From The Duc Duc Refugee Village
EVEN MORE PICTURES OF DUC DUC.