In December of 1965 I had just got back to the states from Cuba. It was good to be back in Camp Lejeune after 6 months of the heat, humidity, iguana’s, and enormous rats in Guantanamo Bay but something had changed in Camp Lejeune since we had left six months earlier. I soon learned that the difference was that a lot of people were getting orders to WestPAC and that almost invariably meant that they were headed for Vietnam. Like most of the guys, I had never heard of Vietnam until we were in Cuba. Marines had recently landed in Danang and we were hearing stories about combat breaking out. Little did we know that within two years there would be almost a half a million men there and that most of us would be included in that number.
Once I got the orders to go, the first thing I had to do was to report to sick bay to get some shots. I remember getting something called gamma globulin – a lot of it. I still to this day don’t know what gamma globulin was for but the Marine Corps seemed to be in love with it. The standard dose was one cc per ten pounds of body weight. Since I weighed about 200 pounds in those days I got 20cc’s, 10ccs in each cheek. 10cc’s is a big shot and I remember having trouble sitting for a while after getting the shots. At least they gave me an equal amount in each cheek so I wasn’t lopsided.
I went back to Boston on leave, spent some time with Janet and my family, and in mid-January of 1966 I headed for Camp Pendleton in California. Guess what was the first thing I got when I reported for duty in Camp Pendleton? You guessed it – 20cc’s of gamma globulin. I spent 6 weeks in California training for Vietnam. The training consisted of listening to newly-returned guys telling us how we would be killed when we landed in country. Notice I said “would” be killed rather than “might” be killed. Everyone I know that went to Vietnam as part of a replacement company like I did and was trained in Camp Pendleton landed in Vietnam convinced that they had been handed a death sentence and would be dead within hours of landing “in country”. The training also consisted of spending hours marching up and down the hilly terrain of the California coast in February, when it gets pretty chilly, preparing to go to a tropical country where I spent most of my time less than 20 meters above sea level.
Sometime during my “training” someone decided that I wasn’t old enough to go to Vietnam and get killed (I hadn’t turned 19 when I got to California) and they assigned me to another replacement company that was scheduled to ship out a few weeks later than the company I had trained with. Guess what was the first thing on the agenda for this new company? You guessed it – gamma globulin. So I got another 20cc’s. I won’t drag this story out any longer but I’ll simply tell you that when we got to Okinawa we all got another dose of gamma globulin.
When I got to Vietnam I was assigned to an artillery unit, which I expected because I was an Artilleryman. This unit had just landed in Vietnam a few days before. Actually they had spent the time I was running up and down the hills in California sitting on a ship heading for Vietnam. I ended up spending 19 months and 22 days with that outfit, 1st 155mm Guns, and I spent all of that time with four other guys.
Tomorrow I will leave Honolulu with one of those four guys. His name is James Kiser but for some reason we all called him Clyde. I learned a few years ago that Clyde is actually his middle name. So here we go, over 51 years after we first met, and together we will retrace our steps from Danang to Phu Bai and points north. I am going to try to post an entry in this blog every day we are in country. Welcome aboard.