One man’s service in Vietnam, Part 3

Listen to this article

Part 1 —  Part 2

His arrival in Vietnam was utterly unlike anything this brave young Marine had ever before experienced. After disembarking the aircraft in DaNang, South Vietnam  the group of Marines all jumped aboard a truck and were driven to a large hanger. There they were issued all of the equipment they would need for service in Vietnam: One M14 rifle, 100 rounds of 7.62 millimeter ammunition, six fragmentation hand grenades and the usual “782” gear. Once complete they were told where they would be going.  This guy and about six others got the short straw and were being sent about 50 miles south of DaNang,  to a place called Chu Lai a place he had heard far too much bad about.  But Marines go where they are told to go and do what they are told to do so off they went.

They went aboard a C-130 aircraft. Upon landing the plane went into instant and powerful reverse thrust, did a quick 180 degree turn, dropped the gate and told the Marines to get off the plane.  Once they were off the plane it raced back down the runway and sped away from Chu Lai. They had absolutely no idea what to do or where to go but eventually a truck came across the sand dune and they were taken to their billeting area. Each one was assigned to their respective unit and soon it was time to go to the nearby beach and take a quick shower from a mobile shower unit.

Living quarters Chu Lai, Vietnam

After returning to his tent he met another Marine who had been in Chu Lai for a few months. As they chatted he noticed tracer rounds being fired maybe 300 yards away. He brought it to the attention of the other Marine who simply said: “Ah no big deal that happens damn near every night. Not our problem.”

Eventually he layed down on his cot and as he was beginning to fall asleep he felt something on his chest.  He openned his eyes and saw that he was nose to nose with a gigantic Viet Cong rat. He reached over for his bayonet and about half way through his swing he realized that was a bad idea because the likely outcome would be that he would  stick the rat to his chest with the bayonet jammed into his heart. He stopped and the rat ran off. Welcome to Vietnam.

A few days later he was awoken in the middle of the night with several loud voices screaming “INCOMING!” Then came the loud explosions from incoming mortar rounds. Happily he was never hit by a mortar nor from a bullet by the occasional intruder. But one fine day he was attacked by a Viet Cong mosquito. The way he tells it he knew he was a Viet Cong mosquito becaue it was wearing tiny black pajamas and a little conical straw hat. And for sure he was an enemy because the mosquito bit him and soon after he came down with malaria and dengue fever.  That got him put into the field hospital, a large tent with maybe 15 cots. Looking out of the tent in one direction he saw bodies of dead Marines being stacked up. Looking in the opposite direction he could see a hospital ship which he knew had women, real food, nice beds and airconditioning. Then a Corpsman told him that if his temperature didn’t drop by the next morning he would be medi-vaced to that ship. He woke up with a temperature of 98.6 which messed him up  in many ways.

Mortar attacks. periodic perimeter breaches, disgusting food, deadly mosquitos. gigantic rats were not the Asia he knew and loved and so his goal was to survive and then leave. Then it was down to one more day and a wake up and he would be gone. So he was given one final mission: Deliver a package to someone in Da Nang. His fight left early on the morning and he would not be flown back until early that evening so he would have about 8 hours to do whatever he wished in Da Nang. What he decided to do was to remove himself from the war for a little while so he decided to take a long walk through the rice paddies. He figured that given his rifle and bullets and  grenades no one would likely stop him and he was right.

Ron Irwin when he was a young Marine

Soon a little hooch came into sight and as he got closer he saw something painted in red on the side of the hooch — “cold beer.” Nirvana. When he got to the hooch he was met by a Vietnamese man and he asked if they did indeed have cold beer. The man responded “Cold beer, hot woman five dollar package deal.” A little later he and his girl friend were enjoying a cold beer when suddenly two F-4 Phantom jets swooped down and dropped napalm maybe 300 yards away. In other words way too damn close. It also then occured to him that if they were dropping naplam there it was because the people we called the bad guys were over there and if they were over there they would surely much prefer being where he was and sure enough it was about then he saw two North Vietnamese Army guys walking straight for the same hooch. He quickly stood up and chambered a round and told his girl friend to tell the two guys that they could put down ther guns and come in and he would buy them each a beer or in the count of three they would meet Buddha. Happily they put down their guns and he did buy them each a beer.

As wild as this surely is I can authoritatively say that there is so very much more to tell because this guy I have been writing about is in fact me. There are millions of other stories happening right now in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. As crazy as all of this can sometimes sound one thing it demonstrates is that many and probably most of our military men and women serve our nation with true courage. In so doing many of them do get killed and their sacrafice deserves our recognition. And sometimes the dangers presented in a war zone are not immediately noticed.  In Vietnam for instance many thousands of our troops were exposed to Agent Orange which it turns out has had severe negative effects on tens of thousands of us. Thank you for your service.

•••• •••• ••••• •••• ••••

NOTE: If you  would like this entire gripping story it as available in a small but powerful book  142 page book entitled:  51:50 the Book  available here.

And if you want to say something to or request of the author please send your email to:

Photos by Ron Irwin
Top photo: The flight line at Chu Lai, South Vietnam