A lot of them — the kids, I mean — went to boot camp, came out of boot camp, got on an airplane to Vietnam, and went straight to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone). One such case was where we were up along the Laotian border, and we were getting replacements coming in. And I was up on a hillock kind o' directin' the helicopters. And of course anytime 'copters came in and bad guys were around, they would start mortaring us. Well, a helicopter landed and mortars started coming in. And the troops came out of the helicopter and they just started running, you know, tryin' to get into cover. And I remember one kid came off, he ran over, he jumped into a foxhole, and a round came in right on top of him. He did not last more than a minute in combat. I don't even know his name.
- Col. Jack Kelly, USMC (Ret.)
I think the public as a whole couldn't care less, but those who do care don't know that there were two wars going on. Everyone thinks we were running around chasing Vietcong in black pajamas and conical hats. That's not true. The real war was up in the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) with the NVA (North Vietnamese Army). These are the guys with the flamethrowers at Con Thien, better equipped than the Marines, you know. As FO (Forward Observer) I personally saw I don't know how many thousands of NVA infiltrators. This was big-time warfare.
- Lt. Col. John Fanning, USMC (Ret.)
Basically, I enlisted in the Marine Corps 'cause I was being drafted into the Army, and the Marine Corps offered me a 120-day delay — four extra months! I hardly know truly what the Marine Corps was, except for some John Wayne movies. I was in my first year of college, confused, no real direction, taking basic bullshit classes. This was 1965. Vietnam was hardly even talked about, certainly didn't seem like, you know, it was gonna turn into what it did. I was raised in a very religious, loving family...father from a farming background, a B-24 gunner in the Pacific, highly decorated...so it just seemed like the thing to do. It was my American Duty.
I was a mama's boy, grandma's boy. Mother worked full time, Grandma raised me. This was a suburb of L.A. I was a good kid, went to Catholic school, church. I was an altar boy. My grandmother had ambitions of me becoming a priest. But when I got to the age of reasoning, puberty, about 12, 13 years old, things changed. This was the '60s. I had a period of time where, uh, I had a problem with stupid authority figures. I rebelled.
And when I was about 15 and a half years old, I split and went to San Francisco later the Lovin' Spoonful. That got too crowded, so I went over and lived with a group called the Quicksilver Messenger Service. I got in with some of the so-called alternative music of the days, hung out with Big Brother and the Holding Company and Janis Joplin. I partied a lot with Janis Joplin. I did a lot of things like that up in San Francisco.
The war was going on, but it wasn't talked about that much - still in the technical-advisor stage - so the antiwar/peace movement really hadn't started yet. The protests happening in Berkeley were about "Ban the Bomb." That's where the original peace symbol came from, a symbol for a B-52 bomber. Anyway, I started seeing friends having serious problems - one died from an overdose - and I started thinking, "Where am I gonna go?" I felt guilty. I kind of did a self-reality check there. Came back down to reality and, uh, decided, you know, I don't have a masculine side to me. I mean, I knew I had a masculine side in me, I just didn't know how to express it. So I guess for me, the Marine Corps was a kind of savior type of thing. You know, I'm gonna go be a man now. And I signed up.
In high school I was full of testosterone and energy, all revved up on the express train to nowhere. My parents were neurotic and didn't have a clue how to raise children. So I quit high school and joined the Marine Corps. There wasn't a war yet, January of '65, but as long as there are dumb 17-to-18-year-old kids full of adrenaline and testosterone, there will always be war. It was the best thing for me, I guess.
Operation Buffalo? Sure, I remember it. It was a bloody slaughter. Three battalions of Marines were being eaten up in the DMZ. We had these handheld KB-28 cameras, which we - we being a Marine Observation Squadron - would use. I took some pictures of the area where the church was..."the corner," I think they called it. One unit was trapped in a crossfire by the enemy and their damn artillery in the north. We flew in there firing, tryin' to fire on the bad guys, not...thing was...Marines were callin' fire down on themselves.
- Chief Warrant Officer L.F. Lacy, USMC (Ret.)
Except for a few years of schooling in Mexico, I was born and raised in East L.A. Most of my childhood was spent in the barrios during the last vestiges of the pachuco era, you know, young guys in long clothes and khaki pants, like images of American Graffiti, subculture youth, car clubs, dances, street fights...you know, nothing dangerous, not the way it is now. It was comfortable getting up Saturday mornings, because you knew that the world around you was at ease. Elders were respected. Sunny afternoons appreciated. Everybody had a pattern. Anywhere you went you were home. Everybody waving hi. And then all of a sudden, my dad one day approached me with the idea of moving to Mexico. He talked about the quality of life we could enjoy there, you know, opening our own bakery. At that time I couldn't understand what he was suggesting. I didn't want to go south. I was having too much of a good time! Later I understood my dad's logic. I was 18. I had just received my draft notice.