tv Oral Histories Vietnam War Veteran Milton Jones CSPAN April 16, 2021 8:00pm-9:32pm EDT
battle of america exploring the american story watch american history tv this weekend on c-span 3 next milton jones recalls his experiences as a us marine during the vietnam war. he talks about his initial reluctance to serve in vietnam and his loan journey to meet his unit in caisson. this interview is part of the veterans history project conducted by the atlanta history center's kenan research center. tell us a little bit about your upbringing. preacher's kid huge family ah great time as a kid.
i kind of begin to realize that we were poor by the time i started into junior high school. i never understood or new what that meant because we were always happy. we had a at the time i was coming along i was the seventh. of what at that point was? children seven of my mom's plus my older brother of my dad's. and at that time six of us were still in the house. shotgun house, okay. i learned many years later what shotgun house meant, but nonetheless there was the front room which served as the living room and my mom and dad's bedroom and then there was the kid room and there were three
girls over on and in the one bed and three guys three boys on the other side and and i can remember in the kitchen. you went out the back door to go into the kitchen. and of course we had no power. no electricity. i i can remember maybe fourth grade-ish. coming home from school one day and i could see the wires coming from the power pole into the house. oh, this was like it doesn't get any better than this. yeah, no more using lamps. kerosene lamps to read i was a voracious reader all along and and really had a a great childhood. as i begotten as i begin to become a teen and really gotten a high school years. i kind of realized that yeah. little guy bookworm preaches kid
nobody really wanted to hang out with me or whatever. and so i it occurred to me that i i needed to i guess develop some street credits and and and before very long the streets had me as opposed to me developing credits. i've made well have been but it was it was not good. not pretty my dad and i grew apart or at least i grew away from my dad and it was kind of rough during those years. thankfully we had great. community support great teachers counselors are my sunday school and church and so on the strength of these people, honestly. and my family somehow other i
ended up receiving a couple of early entrance scholarships to college because i by the end i was i wasn't even present for high school by my junior year, but i i ended up receiving scholarships which to me were basically just the actual letters. they were always good for a drink or two if i could sneak into a bar. yeah. i had no interest in actually going to college at the time and was in no way ready, of course my dad. he finally lowered the hammers and say boy you're going to go to school or get out of here. so i ended up at pain college in augusta. my hometown alma mater i had a scholarship to pain which is in augusta, and i had a scholarship to a full full four year full tuition scholarship to morehouse signed by dr. mays who was at
that time president. i never even responded. in any event after a i'd after my first semester and early into my second semester of college. i realized that although i was academically sound i know way needed to be there and i realized i was wasting a bunch of my time whole lot of other people's time and with what was going on in the rest of my life, which at that point. i here i was just just turning 17. i was now and expectant dad. i was 15 year old expectant mother at the time. i i was really kind of in trouble with the police or at least the group i ran with were in trouble with the police and i realized later on that they were the guys were actually shielding
me from they wouldn't tell me when they were really going to go and do something bad because they kind of said duck was my nickname duck kind of has a chance of getting out. and they literally and i mean looking back. it was just overpowering to realize that that they were kind of shepherding and protecting me from from myself if you will nonetheless this all kind of came upon me early into my second semester of college. and to this day. i can only say that. the lord led me directly to the marine corps recruiter. i had no. no reason and no relationship that would have indicated even a conversation with the marine recruiter at that time. my nearest brother was in the air force had been in the air
force for a couple of years at that time and hey, i thought the world of him and my oldest brother older brother had been in the honor army. new no one in marine corps. and lo and behold bang i at the marine corps recruiter. well, i learned there that you're only 17 so you're going to have parental consent. and i take the forms down and of course notary was the forms have to be notarized. so notary was a kind of a foreign concept to us though. either that or you come down to sign it in. my mom is kind of she you know, you're so young. and yeah, my dad said give me them papers. let's go down there. so boom. i'm i'm in the marine corps, and this was march sometime in
march, i guess february march and april 2nd. i'm at paris island in boot camp and i immediately conclude it. everybody down there. it's got to be crazy, and i'm the only sane one here. so it's my mission in life is to hold on to my sanity somehow or other. so now many, i never traveled or anything like that, you know a big trip for me was taking a school bus trip when i was in junior high down to albany state college. that was a really big trip, you know. otherwise only travel if you if you wanted to call it that i done was working as a driver's helper on a long haul trucks delivering cookies from the cookie flat in our community. murray's cookies was like hollering distance from our
house and and the drivers would let youngsters go along is quote drivers helpers, which really were you helped the cookies off the truck when i get where where we're going inside done that in by virtue of that it been through at least several towns and cities mostly around the southeast. otherwise never been in any place and so for me. a boot camp was kind of a game. it was it was, you know, remember milton you got a hold on to your sanity in these guys here in the smokey the bearcats they are crazy as hell. so you he's gonna you know, go with the flow, you know, but remember you got to get out of here still saying and after boot camp, during boot camp. actually, i guess i'd concluded that. i wanted to be a long haul truck driver.
these were guys that i counted new from from murray's cookies. they were they were one of the very very few if if not, the only ones we knew at the time time where they were actually black. over the road truck drivers that that was a job that you didn't get back then and matter of fact in augusta, georgia at that time a black man couldn't even get a job with the city sanitation department on a garbage truck that that was a you know, because that was a fairly good paying job and it had benefits and and and our parents said, you know boy whatever you do you find yourself a good paying job with a company that's got benefits period but anyway, the drivers at murray's cookies were kind of my heroes. they were they were young black men who drove these big powerful.
diesel trucks and murrays at that time 62 is 63 is had a brand new fleet of white 5000 diesels and mixed up so i decided concluded that i should be a truck driver and besides, you know, little guy. hey big truck. yo power. marine corps had other ideas and they just about dragged me kicking and screaming off to electronics communication electronic school out in san diego. great deal, so i go from parris island boot camp to infantry training in camp lejeune camp geiger, north carolina and then to san diego and i'm at san diego for the next year in basic electronic school electronic telephone teletype repair school in between that in my next
assignment i which was cryptography repair school back at the naval shipyards of portland, virginia, but while waiting there in san diego i ended up being one of the students if you will who helped test the syllabus for marine tactical data system, which is a far control battlefield command information system if you will heart battle horror or at least hard and for battlefield use so i've gotten by the time i finished school in san diego and then another seven weeks over in. in norfolk i'm it's probably it is at that time. a year and a half. i am into the marine corps between basic training infantry training technical schools etc. and so i'm i'm a year and a half into the marine corps and then
off to marine career station, beaufort, south carolina 110 miles from home doesn't get much better than that. it's just so here i am. i'm 18 at the time. i'm just turning 19 as i head into beaufort actually turning 19. san diego was just oh, it's great. you know i i've never i never been any place so so i'm out here at san diego and it's just beautiful great great town as a matter of fact many years later. i never went back to hadn't gone back to san diego since that time so 2005 or 6 it was i was taking my wife off to sandy rather to hawaii on a trip because i'd been sheet sacrifice a lot while i had been working on the road. and so we were going to stop off on the west coast and wherever it's going to be the cheapest
ticket. which was la of course and and my daughter the younger ones his dad. you've got too much of your youth tied up in san diego you all got to go to san diego and and to make sure you do week you insisted bought us. tickets for harbor tour tickets for the midway museum there's you got to go back to san diego which which was great, but san diego was great for me. here's a kid 17 and 18 place like san diego for me. that's a huge city at that time and just tremendously enjoyed so san diego marine corps communication electronic school battalion was innocence kind of my college experience if you will looking back on it. so i enjoyed that. went over to norfolk had my time
there did the kw7 cryptography repair course over there and spend a little time at marine barracks funny story may not be funny, but we're on the naval base the norfolk naval shipyards at portsmouth and there are five of us five. maybe six of us who came over from san diego going to this naval school and you know, we were by that time we considered ourselves pretty salty marines and we were lucy goosey. and we didn't really fully understand the reporting structure. there's a marine barracks on every naval station for the most part and we were formally assigned to the marine barracks but in school we didn't realize it. we just saw. hey, we're hanging out with the navy and they're loose and goose. so we go around the the base,
you know bowling alley club, whatever and you know, we we were not properly bloused as our trouser should be or you know, maybe maybe our shirts are out of pants and and there was this first sergeant marine for sergeant there on the base. we see imperiatically and every time we see him this guy would just be you could it's almost as though he would explode periodically he'd come over and marine you need to square square uniform there. whatever and we kind of laughing and go ahead and do it. we know that. we were his once we finished school, so. we we finished school is coming up on thanksgiving 1965 and we now have to actually report to the marine barracks and he's sitting there. in his office, he could see us
as we're coming in the joy that was on his face was the immeasurable. the man had us on every picayune detail that you could think of they had a they had a base housing there for for married. i officers and married in ceos. and they had trash pickup. while they had a big wagon that was pulled by a big tractor. he has signed us one or two of us to wax wash wax and polished attractor whilst the other three or four of us pulled the wagon around to pick up leaves and one detail like that after the other it was kind of a lesson well-earned and well learned there but we go from there to i go i never see any of my five matter of fact, i never was
stationed with any of the out of the four schools 15 week school 16 week school seven weeks seven weeks never saw anyone else except the one guy and he was not in my class that i later saw in vietnam. and another fellow who i just learned about recently. who was not in my class, but we hung out together in san diego. he played host to me when i first came into vietnam when i was trying to work my way up to my base, but never saw any of these people again, and so i go to marine career station beaufort and great. with marine air wing at that time marina wing 31 was stationed there along with marine air wing 32 each of which had three flying squadrons squadrons and at that time. about four three or four of the
total six flying squadrons were f4 b phantom jets. probably a couple of a4 skyhawk jet squadrons, and then the other squadron was an f8 crusader squadron anyway. at the time the structure was that each of the marine air groups would have three flying squadrons and a headquarters and maintenance squadron and an air base squadron and i was in the air base squadron marine air base squadron 31, they no longer have that designation. it's been subsumed into a different type of structure but marine corps, by the way while i was in san diego i kind of came to a realization that she you know, i i i miss my dad. and i realize how right he was
and gee, so i wrote him a long letter and we reconciled and you i was the one who needed the reconciliation. he was right where he was and it was just and we became so very close from there. so when i came home on leave from san diego. and then later on getting ready to go off to norfolk. he and my uncle john brings me to the airport in augusta small airport and he's so proud i'm walking and i'm there in my uniform and he's he and my uncle are walking behind me behind me. that's my boy. hey, he's been all over the country. he's been studying all sorts of stuff. i'm totally embarrassed you that had to make you feel good though. absolutely. absolutely and during that leave there in 65 between san diego
and norfolk we just became so close that from that point on every time we parted we parted literally with a kiss on the lips. but i was just bold over at at his pride in me and it's just it's just yeah lifted me up anyway, beaufort. marine craft station beaufort and the marine corps in general was then that's why i thought about my dad. i was about to say the marine corps in general provided the kind of structure. that i needed and always knew. in the core in that organization at that time of my life exactly where you fit into the scheme of things. okay exactly. what? my role is and so as i applied that to my assignment of
beaufort being part of the air base squadron were part of our role was. whenever and if ever we went ashore. in in any sort of operation amphibious landing or as we went ashore. my squadron with a variety of skills. our job was to get an air base up in operational as quickly as possible. my specific role layer was to make sure that security communications were up and running as quickly as possible. and at that time that meant typically telephone and teletype and cryptography so great assignment there then in buford. this reminds me by the way when i mentioned security communications, i while in san diego had to have a national agency check in order to get a
security clearance in order to operate in my specialty and i kind of realized at that time that oh, i was advised if you will by command that. i wasn't gonna be able able to get my security clearance. and the reason was that i was listed as a card carrying dues paying member of a communist front organization on the attorney general's list and and i'm kind of and so turns out that that my junior high school was directly across the street from what at that time was probably the largest black church african-american church in augusta, georgia tabernacle baptist. this was i was at that school from 59 east 60 ish through
about because we did eight nine 10th grade theirs to say 16 3 early 63 mass meetings civil rights marches etc emitted from there. well 14 year old kid you come out of class. big sign freedom now mass meeting she walks the street. come in the church. they got a registration list of people who are attende list whether you want to call it you sign the list. that made me a a good a member and somewhere in those meetings. the pan got passed around and i probably took the remainder of my 50 cent or 25 cent lunch money and through in the path. so that made me do's paying. yeah, and it turned out that the meeting was being conducted by the i forget which name it was
originally and then it later got changed to i believe it was originally called the national negro labor council. that organization like so many other civil rights organizations was infiltrated by the by the fbi and whether they were or not is probably immaterial because they were posted as a communist front organization. so since i'm 14, i would not have known it, but for the fact that i was denied my clearance, and of course i appealed if you will i guess that would be the appropriate term. and lo and behold eventually my communist sympathies were waived by some general back on the east coast. i was in san diego at time. however to to operate in the
full range of my occupational specialty. i really needed a top secret crypto clearance. i because you know, i was apparently suspect because of my communist tendencies. apparently i only got the secret crypto. i didn't get the autopsy creek crypto thing that occurred to me though many many years later. is how many? other people who walked into that meeting with me? and other such meetings had on their record some place or other. yeah, something like that. and so they are going through life. and they apply for this. educational program or apply for this job or whatever are turned down or and they have no idea of
why exactly and they've got this quote black mark on their record that that that they are totally unaware, but that that came about while i was in in san diego, san diego is an exciting place. i also applied for an enlisted appointment to the naval academy while i was out there. and of course you you have to you go through review boards, and i did the review boards in my organization and then all the way up to. i forget what is the naval district on the west coast southern west coast, probably the 11th, but in any case i went through review boards all the way up to the naval district level and came through all of them with flying colors. lo and behold there and very
fine print in the naval blue book of medicine and surgery. one of the many among the many reasons one could be disqualified from a an officer appointment was a disorder which i'd had at 11 call nephritis it's an inflammation of the kidneys. and i had this thing when i was 11 years old and it kept me out of school for about six weeks. i'd have an itinerant teacher never any recurrences ever at that point or or since, but of course there's this little fine print and my view was that hey, it just wasn't time in their minds for young black guy from augusta, georgia to be at annapolis and that would have been 1965 also. so i i trudged on and and did
what i do just gonna roll with it and kept on his point. your vietnam was. get more active every year we were sending more troops. yes vietnam got active early that year the first organized units were sent over and they were marines out of camp pendleton. and they staged i forget which regiment and i'll get the regiment wrong, but they staged out of several areas in southern california. some stage got along beach some staged out of camp pendleton directly oceanside and san diego and this started in about early spring of or maybe even late winter of 1965 early part of the year. and so i'm in san diego at that time. i'm i'm if you remember the gomer pyle tv show my barracks
is is literally the entrance to the left of the flag pole on that big parade deck that they showed at the opening in the closing of the door us and that ferrick's and so so lots of things would happen out on that huge parade deck troops coming and going would come through there who weren't based in san diego, but just happened to use that facility. and so we we kind of noticed that things were picking up and and troops were going over to vietnam and i'm kind of saying hmm. that's not some place that i really want to go. so maybe i'll start trying to see if i can work my way back east and maybe just kind of got away from it. yeah, and so and that's partially why i was so long there in san diego. i had a quite a few weeks if not a month or two over between my last class and the time i went
over to at several months is a matter of fact in time. i went back caught my class on the east coast and so now i'm back east. ahmed beaufort, i'm 110 miles from home. i'm in this fascinating fascinating world of air power. and understanding how marine air ground task force teams work together during that year. i went afloat as part of marine expeditionary brigade that that was operate we operated in the atlantic and and the caribbean area and back then the the island of villegas puerto. rico was still open and being used as a live firing range. they shut it down. no just within the last ten years or so. i didn't know it at the time but people actually lived on the door now they had big signs of you us reservation, you know
danger do not enter but there were people living in in other areas on the island. our brigade we were doing joint exercises and it's just go down, then just literally blow the island away this what what you did at the time. and being i was on board the pocono uss pocono, which was the command ship agc 16 was was the command ship for that particular amphibious ready group as we went down there and it it's just exciting we had it at while we're at buford for operational readiness. we kept a detachment down at what was then the naval air station roosevelt rose poor rico. so we pure audi glad to go down there to so out in puerto rico, you know and hank bad when we went when we went a float with
the expeditionary before with the expeditionary brigade after we finished the exercises. well, then we took liberty. so we we ended up in aruba. netherland antilles we ended up in jamaica and in saint thomas virgin islands, that's a good travel great travel. i'm 19 years old, i guess. yeah, i just turned 19 and and i'm a professional and experience professional in my in my field. i i know what i'm doing and i've got a broad array of skills. it's just this is great. life is good. and so somewhere along the way that summer life is good and i i get these orders to the artist basically read they all kind of
said about the same thing report to the officer in charge. fleet marine forces westpac western pacific so we get orders to westpac and oh, --, you do what that means. yes. so actually i had to report to camp pendleton to to get ready and to do some pre-deployment training at camp pendleton. and so when did you take off and your deployment in vietnam? we left on board and oh. rust bucket god named the general lee roy l. tinge was the name of the ship it i think it was probably one of the world war ii liberty ships. that was that was re you know repurposed and the merchant marines were operating the darn thing. and so we took off i wanted to
think it was in november my records now say it was december of what yeah of 1966. okay. i we arrived on okinawa i do know on like christmas eve. okay 66 now i'm in beaufort by the way while i'm in boot camp. i start writing. the lady who is now my bride of 47 years now, we we've known each other since we were three and two respectively and and we grew up in the same community same sunday school and church and then they moved when i was about 12, and she must have been 11 at the time. and so we saw each other maybe once a year she'd come home to visit relatives. and and that's your like it the holiday time and that's it. so last time i'd seen her was 1960.
three holiday season. so now i go in the marine corps and boot camp. you need to hear from somebody and i'm writing letters. i'm writing letters. she's by the end probably a junior or senior in high school. she could care less. yeah, she's out doing whatever young ladies do when they're in high school and and so eventually i write her like eight or ten or twelve page epistle include in it a stamped self-addressed return envelope and and she finally answers so we strike up a a relationship through the males actually all the time. i'm in. boot camp in south carolina and in north carolina, and then san diego and then norfolk and now back in south carolina at greencrest station buford. so we're over a couple of years. we're now in 1966 and i go down to miami visitor at they live in miami on miami visit her a
couple times and and we become we became serious through the through the males and and i guess technically we got engaged through the males. when i sent her a couple of couple of friendship rings nice in our friendship ring and a birthstone. yeah birthstone ring and i let the jury salesman, you know. that's all me coming today. hey, marine. he says he sells me a ring and i say well, you know, i like this friendship ring, but her birthday is in december also, just tell you what you said no both of them and tell them to send you back the one that she doesn't want. oh, what a sales. yes. this is every time i will build until she sends the other one.
course. yeah, i'm not too swift with women. okay. i said no both of them. keeps both of in any case we've been we've been communicating and and so i go down that year to visit her a couple of times and i'm i'm sure i even got a picture i brought with me a copy heavy with me when we went went out her her parents. treated us to a night out on the time town because hey, i'm i'm a marine. i got no money, but we went out and i had my my uniform on which which at that time bought some respect. oh, yeah, and so i go and visit her i get my orders october to westpac of 66. and i know i'm going to vietnam. so i go to miami to visit her.
and during which time her baby sister is born, but i go visit her and and we talk about marriage etc. we couldn't make it happen, but we actually did go and we exchanged bands and so i come back to home augusta visit my parents because quite frankly i have no no desire at all to go to vietnam. but hey, i'm a marine. all do what? big green machine it wants me to do so. i got camp pendleton and we train out there for several weeks. we bought the ship either late november or or early december. where etsy for roughly a month and i show up on okinawa just at christmas time. and okinawa was great. as i look back though. most things are great for me, or
i don't remember him. yeah, that's a great attitude. that's good. but i'm on okinawa and i meant camp henson on okinawa and i'm with an organization called provisional service battalion now the way i get there. i'm on ship. and it's an old clunker. and we're out there doing nothing and i realized and i'm kind of saying to myself and to others because i met my classmate my junior high and high school classmate on the ship. neither one of us having known the other was in the core and we both been in the corps for sale a couple years at the time and bumped into him on ships. so i'm then never saw him again until after we were both out had a reunion with him. and some other friends at home in augusta earlier this summer. anyway, i'm telling him and
other people man. i i got to figure out a way to get off this ship before he gets to vietnam. i mean, i'm just being candid. i really did not want to go to vietnam. and so i i met this captain i think the guy was in a card game, but i heard him talking with somebody else about he new somebody who was in this outfit on okinawa and he was going there son. be good to know that and turned out he was the brig warden while we were on ship. i guess that was just some temporary duty. he was assigned we had a dozen or so troops who were over the hill or whatever as the ship was sailing or maybe fighting the night before shore patrol picks them up. they dump them into the brick. so i go to work for this i kind of chat with him and ask him about the prison. so they're just they're just,
you know over the hill or either fighting and they're just in the can until we get where we're going. and and i said, what are they doing? he said well, you know i take them out for pt and maybe on work details and you need some help. and so i ended up going to work for him as the assistant reward. and so i marched these guys out to work details and that kind of a thing which was good because we were starving on the ship. i yeah, and and periodically we got to clean the cruise mess. they were eating like kings roast, whatever anyway i got close to him and i learned about this organization now. i don't i may have ended up there naturally. anyway, but this this provisional service battalion on okinawa and i go there and turns
out the organization was we were part of in a large organization called the ninth marine amphibious brigade the ninth mab as it was called. was responsible for all of the troops marine. assets in the western pacific that were not in the country of vietnam and then of course all of the troops that were in country then they reported to the three math as it was called the third marine amphibious force that was in country. part of the responsibility of the of the ninth marine amphibious. brigade was to provide outfit the the landing forces the battalions which were the 26 marines that i ultimately ended up with but i didn't didn't know that at the time they operated out of camp swab on okinawa.
and our our outfit provisional service battalion provided material equipment and maintenance support for and in other types of support for these floating battalions, which were called special landing forces and they go out on seventh fleet missions and they would actually land them in vietnam and they may be assure a day or weeks or more. so once they went ashore basically just got kind of chopped up chewed up and and eventually what was left of them them were pull out gonna r&r. and and and then their terms would be up or their tours. i should say would be up meantime. they're outfitting a replacement set of battalions. there were two of these reinforced battalions special land enforce a and special line
enforce b, so they would both be with different amphibious ready groups out in the with the seventh fleet. anyway, our job was to was to continually for the next. set that we're going to go afloat, and they kind of collectedly call these regimental landing team 26 rlt 26. so we were constantly outfitting the next group to go go ashore and if need be repairing and replacing and refurbishing some of the equipment that might have been salvaged from last group that that went in and so there was a lot of work, but it was it was great work. it was meaningful work and and okinawa was just was just a great time great time for partying great time for work great time for extra assignments and just just to i could have
stayed there, but i eventually so i went to vietnam from there. yes. yes talk about that. when you found out you were going and what your feelings were and then what you did once you got there, yeah. has doing a great job on okinawa and i guess that's probably when i first kind of understood what later became the term workaholism. i i just worked i found stuff to do i did my regular assignment. i took a job extra job a couple days a week nights a week working in the enlisted club. that was finally referred to as the animal pit because 95% of all marines going to and coming from vietnam stopped off at a transient area right adjacent to the animal fear that we closed that thing up just about every other night with the you know, so all western style brawl going on in there. so i'm working at the animal pit part time i take on extra
assignments. as training in so which was really out of my bailiwick and i i get some special recognition for that. i i take on a volunteer thing as a score for the inner service baseball league on okinaw. i'm just i'm in my zone and i'm doing stuff great. i end up going to i got finally got promoted to corporal because i was still a lance corporal e3 had not made any rank it back stateside. and so i finally made corporal and i go to nco school amidst the all of this is an inner service school with army air force and marines in it and i end up coming out first in the class. plus i done all this these other extra duty things in had been recognized for it. and so i end up being awarded a meritorious mast and then
subsequently a meritorious promotion to sergeant with only three months timing grade is corporal. and so i'm just jubilant. but i didn't realize that along with that promotion came a came a chip for vietnam. this is oh -- so okay, i got to go. yeah, i went i bought a continental airlines charter. i'm probably one of if not the only one of a very few people on the plane. i mean, it's got flight attendants the whole kitten caboodle. i'm one of the few people on the plane who are sitting there with full gear on you like jacket got my helmeter under my seat and the whole i got everything except for weapon. and people are kind of looking at just i'm i'm just sitting
here. i'm dumb and numb actually. i'm i'm i don't want to go here. but here i am. and so we land in danang. and actually probably within hours after we land there's a little incoming into the airfield not much but enough to cause people to go diving into bunkers and things. i feel pretty good about that stuff. i had on my end. yeah you prepare exactly. so i report in i'm at denang and i find now as i talk with people at reunion recently. this is typical. and i think it was the it was probably one of the terrible things about the whole vietnam experience is that people went? and went to war individually not as a unit. and so i come in i report to the
marine nco whoever there. and guy looks at my artist says oh you have a caisson. so, where's that? he's about as far north as you want to go. so how do you get there? she's probably gonna rough rider and ding ding ding dinging rough rider, and i'm not too swift, but i know that i don't want to be on a convoy going someplace way up into indian country as it was called. yeah, and i'm thinking and trying to figure out. okay. i know i don't want to get on a rough rider. and so you kind of left your own devices to get to your unit. you got to find them and get to them. so i'm i'm kind of thumping around asking people here. where are you? where are you? where are you headed? i'm headed back to the world. i'm getting out of here. you know, where are you going? i'm going to fubai. i finally talked to a guy and and he says i'm going to fool by but i know some people up there.
there's chopper goes through to a case on from there the chapter flew by. so sure enough i get on a chopper with him and we get to fubai. when i which is right outside the old imperial capital of way. and we get the fubai and lo and behold here's my neighbor next door neighbor who i knew from letters home that he joined the core didn't know anything about him apparently. several a several being as many as half dozen guys from my community join the core after i join the cool. and so here's richard richard jordan. he's there and and here's john kelly. who's a who i met and we spent a lot of time together in san diego while we're in tech school there. he was in he's a radio
technician and i was teletype and telephone and crypto. they basically hosted me. i mean they're living like kings in in fubai. anyway i stay there for several days and you know, they take good care of me, you know, make sure i know where the good chow is and whatever and i then managed to board a chopper into dong ha on the way to caisson and so eventually i go to dongha and then work my way over the case on and i get the case on and you know, things are kind quiet at the time. i knew about what is now called the first battle of caisson also called the hill fights. he'll 881 south and north he'll late 61 951 all of these were hills and hilton 15 of the other one much happening there all of
these were hills that i'd seen we'd seen coming over the wire as we were back on, okinawa that this was all hot. i never realized until i got the caisson that these hills really were here's caisson about 700 and however many meters and then these hills were all here he was a higher altitude surrounding caisson. and and so now i'm kind of putting to do together. she it was bad up there. the last several months. it's quiet now quieter, i should say and it kind of stayed quieter. while i was there now according to my fitness reports. i did a marvelous job of keeping equipment running. i i essentially was the
electronics maintenance chief it my role there. so you're in charge of maintenance and repair of the electronic equipment. yes, that's been specifically communications okay or in electronic equipment and related testing with men and and there were other technicians there, you know some working on radio some working on other devices, but apparently and i say apparently because i honestly have no real knowledge of this. apparently i was the and i and i recall that i i thought i was the the electronics maintenance chief or nco in charge and my fitness reports that i got this year kind of confirms that right up of my professionalism. keeping the equipment running and keeping message traffic open in in case on in spite of the
conditions the lack of available parts and support etc. and so i worked. i our equipment thank god was in a bunker. or our workbench. yeah area and as i it we were right. at the command center the combat operations center. and that we were right across a what i will call a generously a parade ground between there in the chow hall and then the air strip was out beyond and in of the few memories i have. are the seabees? out always maintaining or repairing because the extra would get blown up. and they're out there these guys. i mean they're being shot at is
they are out there relaying the airstrip all the time. just a constant thing. i do recall the airstrip was closed at some point while we were there. the rats horrible i'm big you know light wharf rat size guys and i mean, he's these rats you stamp your foot. i mean, he's one piece of me. it was that type thing and actually we would shoot the rats, but the brew tribesmen in the mountain yard people. no, no, shoot. and they would actually use their crossbows which was their standard arms and they would shoot the rat with an arrow. and take that guy home. yeah. i remember. the brew as we call them
montyards variously. just to really really. both simple and almost pure. yes people very very nice people. to be around and and you just automatically had a sense of loyalty they periodically some worked on the base others would come in with with because they were there were any number of what do you want to call them dark types of units operating out of caisson and and you know the kind of the weird guys the spooks etc and and most of these units had indigenous. people working with them because they you know, they disappear off. yeah some place rather for x
number of weeks days weeks and nobody knew where the exactly yeah, they were they were gone over into laosag gone up into vietnam or wherever but and and the brew they were hey. we kind of live here, but you got the sense that they really didn't consider themselves vietnamese or or anybody they consider themselves montyards, you know just happened to be typically friends of the americans. yes. they were they absolutely were the absolutely were so i i remember that i i should remember and people tell me about it and i see the names. i should remember in october when c130. crashed and burned i've got the names from the wall.
of probably five of those crewmen died there only one say of six crewmen survive, and that was the the captain the commander of of the craft because caisson was a major. resupply issue even when i was there the the road was cut shortly after i got there the the highway where convoys would have come in. the the north vietnamese it did basically taken over and cut that road so you couldn't come in anymore through so all of the supply and evac was done. through air and i can remember them. trying various. i guess they were testing. i remember i first was introduced or at least became aware of.
low altitude parachute ejection where they come across the runway, you know that high and basically use a shoot to jerk the cargo out while the plane never stopped and kept going. i remember thanksgiving. of 67 which was just a couple days or so after my birthday. i had my 21st birthday there caisson. i don't remember that but i remember thanksgiving we had we had fresh eggs like that morning and we had we had real real turkey in the town hall and i understand the child got later on completely blown away. but we had real we had real food and all of this through airdrops and and it was amazing stuff.
i remember colonel lowndes david lowndes who was are he was our commander? his also he was a cowboy. he was you know, a john wayne with a big red mustache, you know all over the place just the guy was hey, you know john wayne, i'm just going out there and doing whatever and so i remember him i remember nothing of my shop. i can i can see a workbench and and some maybe test equipment and a few people with with no faces. i have no idea who i worked with. i've now learned from my records that my communications officer was a major john. i believe it is shepherd. i'm sure i had another senior
nco there have no idea who here he would have been and other. text and other communications people in the area. i do remember. communications traffic regarding the buildup of enemy troops around the base. i remember that i remember communications traffic about censors which i've later learned were what they were calling the magnum airline, but i didn't know that term at the time, but i i was aware of traffic about sin sores that had been placed in because we're we're way up in what was then south vietnam kind of? near enough laws that you could see there. and just short hop from the
demilitarized zone so these sensors were placed. like throughout the demilitarized zone with the intent of being able to detect movement of substantial movements of of troops course. i also remember on more than one occasion that apparently some rock apes were who were were not only setting off this census there, but but it started up quite a few skirmishes around our perimeter. they throw things or they're out walking around because you know, you got you got troops there. you got americans who tend to be kind of messy with with their garbage and and hey good eating around here for the for the rock apes, so they come up and started a small battle there. but but i i just don't remember.
any specifics i was reading just last night about the the one c-130 and i was surely there october the 15th, and i i was in eyesight both my hooch where i slept and my shop where i worked. and the child which which was there at the time. all within eyesight line aside of the airstrip and i have no memory of that if you ever either figured out yourself or have somebody tell you why you don't remember some of that. no, no on the letter. i i kind of think i figured it out my myself or at least this is my theory. is that i'm i compartmentalize. pretty effectively and and you
know if if we had to go do something else right now, you know, i could kind of put this into suspended mode while we went off and did the other and i think personally that that was something that maybe i wasn't prepared to deal with. in and i put it in a compartment, but i think the compartment became sealed so to speak once i got home i mentioned earlier that once i left caisson eventually made it back here. first thing happened after the trans-pacific flight i land we land several of us again traveling individually. i don't know these guys. several of us get off the plane again another continental airlines charter with flight attendants the whole kitten
caboodle. we landed travis air force base. we get off the plane. we're so thankful to be back in the world world a good old us of a we get off the plane. we kiss the runway neil on kissed her own way. i'm home. i'm back in the world. everything's gonna be. great. few hours later after processing out we walk off the base along comes a hippie bus. they throw crap feces whatever else out on us. call us. all sorts of names and it's like can i i fit this experience into into the feelings that i was just expressing. and i couldn't. and and as we traveled as i travel because after after that point i was with two three other marines who we were trying to find a pay master to get some
money because we'd partied on okinawa and we were broken naturally. and so we make it over to treasure island the naval station of time and and get some pay and then i'm on my own so i'm headed home. and i realized that you know, maybe something's wrong with me because if i'm in an airport and i sat on a bench, you know, all of a sudden. people just kind of got up and vanished and so i get back i've got two and a half months three months actually roughly left in the core and i'm reporting back into my old unit at marine corps air station beaufort marine air base squadron 301, and i've got leave so i come home. and we immediately marry. within a week after i return home. few days later.
here's caisson emblazon on the front pages on the six o'clock news in magazines time magazine, wherever and this is to the question of you know, the compartmentalization and also to feelings in general. i'm looking at this stuff and my first i guess impulses. man, thank god. i'm out of here. i'm back in the world. i'm not dealing with that and and so then kind of the next thought was i wonder if anybody heard me thinking that. because i'm supposed to. be back there. with the troops with my brothers and you know did anybody. does anybody know how i'm
feeling about getting out of there and and and what a cowardly thought? that they would think of me if they knew i was kind of rejoicing about being out of there. and this thing was just constantly. in the news meantime i'm i'm trying to i'm trying to get situated for civilian career. no career wasn't even a thought a job, you know a civilian job while i was at caisson. i came across an old magazine ebony magazine that happened to have a one of these little coupon ads recruiting ad people with whatever skills electronic maintenance skills complete this and i sent the thing back in to ibm turned out.
was ibm, atlanta. and literally i got a response from them while i was a caisson and we found the letter. i don't know. 15 20 years ago and i kept it and i kept the letter it was folded up in my pocket got caisson spots of caisson mud on it, you know red mud, but i kept that letter. you know, i'm thinking this is my ticket. when i get back and sure enough this was would have been say octoberish. of 67 when i communicated with them september october they answered in october from not mistaken. actually the letter a dates like two days before this. c-130 crash that i talked about where the crew was killed. i have no memory. they see 130 crash i do have and i have the letter as evidence of the memory of the of of with ibm.
so i'm trying to. i guess rationalize. what the heck is happening here because i've been essentially out of the primary society during a period of it. biggest change if you will and out of the country. a 1965 voting rights act all of this so i'm trying to fit all of this into my head meantime, here's this. never ending barrage of information about caisson; caisson did the marines and and and i don't remember it. at this point, but i i read i i
have an old time magazine from february of 1968. so i'm a month home at the time and even the magazine article talks about how they continue to show. the flaming crashed. yeah c-130 aircraft out there and it wasn't the only one that several crashed and burned out there. are vaguely remember the carcass of an aircraft out there, but i don't remember the so i think to the question of of why i think that was kind of a self-preservation and get this thing locked off. yeah someplace rather so that so i could operate. so i mean time i'm this is first quarter of 68. i'm trying to prepare myself.
for to get this job. and my bride she had no clue of whether or not i was gonna be able to to be the provider that that i needed to be. i think i think she just she just believed in me, but thankfully i went ahead and contacted. i contacted ibm and she and i drove to atlanta because there was little and no it was augusta was too small to have any significant resources there and but at caisson the i guess the biggest thing for me was maybe this didn't happen. yeah, maybe.
whatever. i do remember multiple occasions of making it to a bunker. during relatively infrequent incoming we would we were taking in rockets a little mortar a little artillery here and there while i was there now as i left. i mean they were sustaining incoming at the rate of light. thousand fifteen hundred rounds a day. coming into the base. and so i'm reading this and i'm seeing this and and it was i think it was just more than it was an overload. yeah psychologically and and i just kind of push it off and so i got back here. i didn't really. with the experiences that i was having and realizing that that it was not in vogue to be even associated with the military and the thought of being in vietnam.
you definitely didn't want anybody to know that. so i think that also kind of contributed. too much to this thing being kind of locked away or at least no memories because because i haven't i have no real memories there. then once you got back you settle down and started working. i assume yeah. yeah, it's interesting. i got that letter from from ibm and i was holding on to that thing like this is this is my ticket. and so i i come back we're living in augusta, which is hometown for me. i'm stationed at buford, south carolina 110 miles away. so i take a couple days off and we drive over to atlanta. and i come in. to the ibm office now money i don't have i don't make an appointment.
until i get here. so we come into the ibm office and i am a uniform on. and come into the office and i ask for the same oh, no, i called in. ask for the gentleman who had authored the letter to me and of course he'd be shunted me off to to the appropriate person. and so i asked for for this fella mr. lovett bill lovett. and he wasn't around probably he. so i kind of stood around. and in those days 68 most offices kind of had a kind of a glass front area, you know had a kind of a big imposing reception desks where the reception is kind of look over at you they had a door to the back back office. that was also glass.
so you got this vietnam guy out here in the lobby. so yeah, it's so tell me, you know, well, we're gonna see if we can't get an appointment for you and if you'd like to call back says no you don't understand i need to say i need to see somebody. so one guy comes out. he actually takes me back and interviews me. any peace got favorable words. good good to have you here good interview. i'm sure you know, we'll we'll be in touch, you know, and that me on the back and i ain't going anywhere. yeah, i mean, i'm spit shining. i got my back barracks hat on that voice shining my shoes. i'm squared away and and he so he goes off into the back. i'm still around i can see people kind of coming in kind of
looking out the windows. is that crazy guy still out there? so the guy comes back out again. i have a couple of interviews finally. i tell him says you don't understand. i need to know if i've got the job. he says oh, this is highly unusual. i i practice is to let you know by letter what our next steps are. you don't understand. i'm getting out of the core in a month or two. i i got a brand new wife. i need to know if i get a job he vanishes off again, you know in the meantime, i think this is becoming kind of a soap opera in the back because other people are coming along just you see that guy is out there. so he finally comes back and just this is highly regular. i'm not authorized to tell you what the salary might be but i
can say that you will be getting an offer. i didn't hear anything else yet. doesn't matter to me what the salary is gonna be. i don't have an appreciation for civilian money. anyway, boom go out of there sure enough the next week or however long i get a letter from ibm with an offer. to go to work literally to start i'm getting out on april fool's day of 68 and they want me to start up april 2nd. and so i call them and ask for a little bit of time to get moved. and so i i started on april 8th. and actually going to ibm essentially, i traded my marine corps uniform for an ibm. dark suit with white shirt. you can wear any color shirt you want it to as long as it's white and drab tie.
and i traded my marine corps uniform for the ibm uniform and i traded my hard metal. marine corps toolkit for a nice disguised like a briefcase ibm toolkit and i i came to an organization ibm of the 60s, which was very regimented very hierarchical in its organizational structure. i knew exactly where i fit in the organization what my role is what my contributions could be etc. had a great time with ibm state at 30 and you're used to a structure in the marines and you're just going to another stream. it was it was like p and a pod, you know, i just boom a natural fit for me with ibm and i stayed there 33 years actually a couple months shy of 33 years and i retired there about 15 years ago or yeah. well, that's a credit to you for
your persistence. i mean a lot of people were just walked out of that all yeah, wait for a call. hey, i had a new bright. that makes you persistent. yeah. tell us a little bit before we finish about your family. wonderful family wonderful support structure my immediate family my wife. and our two daughters and i mentioned my daughter normal my older daughter. barbara my wife we go back to three and two years old respectively. we have monica and marsha our two daughters. they are both. young professional women doing their thing. the older has been in the law firm marketing business she
works for for a major law firm and has been it with law firms for many years and the younger is is a counselor who happens to now be for the last several years probably five years ago doing working as a contract family military family life consultant, so she's been working with the various military units on the stress both the service member and their families so so she kind of we we always kind of always felt she's looking into my mind, you know from the beginning so she kind of helps to manage me, but she's kind of an aside her. couple of years doing this she'd do an assignment a few months and then she off doing her regular practice and then she'd go back and do she's working
with the army. and then she's working with the air force and she did several, you know, four or five of these rotations. i'm kind of sitting back there saying to myself. she you know, i i know that's her business but sure would be nice if she really had a stint with marine corps because that way she'd see how it's really done. yeah, everybody should have one. yeah. so sure enough. she's now probably in our third year or third cycle anyway of working with marine corps. so she she's worked in the right right now with marine corps recruiting station right atlanta and i think she's hooked. well, i always like the world of you. they're blessing to me. we have wonderful friends. have a wonderful, uh family as far as my and and they're still
eight of us left alive and you're a lucky man. yeah. yeah, and so there are plenty of subsequent generations. norma has my three grandsons our other girls have no has have no children. yeah, that's wonderful. i want to ask sue. before we get much further if you have any questions that you'd like to ask. i think i'm good. this has been fabulous. really? and one thing and what we want to do also before we finish is give a chance to say. anything you want to say over and above what you said you don't have to but if there's something you want to get. all the record just something you left out or a message. you want to give just feel free to do it? oh, i would just kind of and i've alluded to it along the way my experience as a veteran if you will having immediately upon
my return and then actually getting out of the core. i spent years. i think i mentioned to you. i never would i wouldn't have been caught. yeah with anything like this. i got rid of everything that i had that was military related. i think i got one field jacket that that all of the old uniforms anything and it was like, you know travel incognito. don't let anybody know not that they wouldn't have known anyway, but i hid. the fact that that i was a veteran. and it was that way for years. i after i got out i then started in school at night at georgia state and i i just kind of yeah,
i didn't didn't get too close to anybody because of the atmosphere toward military. and i went that way until the mid 80s, so i'm talking over 15 years. and i'm reading. an article about the moving wall the man this was the vietnam memorial. i guess had just been introduced at the time. and i'm reading an article about a moving version miniature version in atlanta, and i was compelled to i picked up the phone call home and and told barbara that gee let's let's keep the girls out of school. whatever day this thing is here. want to go see it and it was when? i went down there and it was it was it hurt park or whatever. the thing is right now at five
points in atlanta. i went down and it was like boom a and awakening, whatever. and and i think it was such a a potent moment even for our girls that monica when she went off to college she her birthday a birthday gift to me from her was a a print it's a pretty popular and common print but as a print of a businessman. standing at the wall with his briefcase down and he's standing with his hand the wall and they are. comrades if you will fall in comrades trying to reach from within the wall, and so she must have been middle school age when this when this experience at the moving wall happen, so it had
been impactful for her. but for me it was was it was just like things just open up. i just i mean i i was in tears. and even then though i never was really i hadn't reached the point where i wanted to talk about the military. or and certainly not publicly acknowledged that i had something to do with the military. and so probably at about the time. i'm retiring from ibm, which would have been 2,000 2001. it was actually january 2001. i retired i began to within that this last 15 year period have more and more interest in and so now i've been trying to put together, you know my experience and it's been very cathartic for me to try and and rebuild my
special my time on okinawa and on vietnam in vietnam. yeah. well, you've got an amazing story and you're an amazing person. i mean you growing up. you didn't have the opportunities that some people had back then but you made your opportunities both with the truck and company when you're unloading it when you were a teenager. yes way up to hanging the office at ibm. and you served in one of the more dangerous. theaters of vietnam during a dangerous period and your family obviously loves you with respects you for a lot of reasons. and we want to thank you for doing this and and particularly. thank you for your services. well, thank you. thank you for the opportunity. thank you for your service and for coming. american history tv on c-span 3 exploring the people and events that tell the american story every weekend 60 years ago this
weekend more than 1400 cia train cuban exiles launched a failed invasion to overthrow fidel castro's communist government in cuba at the bay of pigs live saturday at 9am eastern on american history tv and washington journal. we'll look back at the invasion and its consequences with former cia historian, nicholas dumovic and sunday at 4pm eastern on reel america for films on us cuba relations an edited version of the 1961. nbc report cuba bay of pigs president. john f. kennedy's 1961 speech after the failed invasion a compilation of universal newsreels from 1959 to 1961 on the cuban revolution through the bay of pigs inv and a 1960 broadcast cuba the battle of america exploring the american story watch american history tv this weekend on c-span 3 american history tv on
c-span 3 every weekend documenting america's story funding for american history tv comes from these companies who support c-span 3 as a public service. next virginia lee dornigan recounts her time as a us army nurse during the vietnam war. she describes injuries. she treated the night the hospital came under fire and the impact the job had on her life. this interview is from the veteran's history project and was conducted by the atlanta history centers, kenan research center. i was born and raised in a small town called gettysburg, pennsylvania. very historic place, very small town. my whole family was there aunt's uncle's grandparents. so it was really easy to