1st Marine Division Danang Vietnam

After my trip around the world I reported into 1st Marine Division, confident that I would get a more "Gung Ho" assignment with the grunts. The Division had indicated that I would be assigned to one of the Infantry Battalions in the Que Son Mountains. 

I checked in with a brand new in country 2nd Lieutenant. The aged Colonel (much younger than I am now) received the two Lieutenants and noted that he had two jobs, one with 1st Marine Recon Battalion (Swift, Silent, and Deadly), and one with the Division Comm Company.

The other Lieutenant was just in from the States. The 1st Mar Div Force Recon job was the one that I wanted - finally a little taste of ground combat. I asked the Colonel for that assignment. But the Colonel said, "no, you are far too experienced for that job, we need you with the Communication Company." I argued a little, but Lieutenants don't win arguments with Colonels and so I reported to Division Headquarters.

I initially served as the Assistant OIC of the Comm Center, a pretty easy and boring job. Then I was promoted to Operation Officer, which was pretty interesting. We had equipment and personnel scattered all over I-Corps.  We supported a surge up to Khe Son and slowly closed down the Division and packed our gear and sent it back to the US. 
I was promoted at the end of my time with the Company to Executive Officer (2nd in Command).

The US Military spends a great deal of time instructing our Marines on proper conduct.  We explain to our people the difference between a lawful and unlawful order. Troops are taught to obey the lawful order and refuse the unlawful one. And we explain the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Code of Conduct. I have been to numerous classes that taught this.  I have taught a few classes telling people the same thing.

When I joined the 1st Marine Infantry Division in my first duty was to conduct an investigation. A PFC Angelsanti had knifed another Marine in an argument over a puppy. Angelsanti was not the brightest bulb, but not a bad guy. His version of the story was that the other Marine was playing too rough with Angelsanti’s puppy.  Angelsanti intervened and pulled his bayonet out to defend the puppy.  

According to Angelsanti the other Marine reached out and cut himself. Good story, but of course not too believable.

The next day on short notice I was assigned to teach a course about the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). In this class you tell your Marines about the law and how they should conduct themselves. You advise them of what they can do, what they must not do, what civil rights they have, how to treat civilians, etc.

Part of good military instruction is that you should start your session with a good attention getting joke. I came up with an idea on the spot and found one Marine and told him his part in the joke. Then I went out in front of the 300 or so Marines and called them savagely to attention. I then called my set up Marine to come up “Front and Center”.  He came up at attention and I began screaming at him. The audience, of course, thought I was a deranged lunatic (which of course is nearly correct). This was probably the first time they had been called to attention in months.

I did my best Drill Instructor screaming act and shouted at my set up Marine that he was a disgrace to the Marine Corps. His uniform was dirty. He was incompetent, etc.

I was originally going to make the Marine do some humiliating act and then explain to the troops why this would be an unlawful order.  But I was on a roll now and enjoying myself. I spotted the one Marine that I knew in the unit, Angelsanti, and shouted, PFC Angelsanti "Front and Center". Angelsanti raced up, stiffly at attention.

"PFC Angelsanti, this man is a disgrace. Right?” I said. “Yes Sir!”, said Angelsanti. Take him out behind the barracks and shoot him!"  "Yes Sir!", said Angelsanti, saluted smartly, and then they left, escorting my set up Marine.

I then put all the Marines at ease and asked them to sit down. I began my lecture. "This little act you just saw was to illustrate to you that you have civil rights. No one can treat you in this manner and you do not follow an illegal order,” I said.  

I was getting into my discussion and proud of how my little joke had caught everyone’s attention.  Then one of the troops said,  "Lieutentant, you better stop Angelsanti!"

So I yelled to Angelsanti to come back just as he and the set up Marine were going out of sight. I imagined how I would explain the murder of one of my Marines by Angelsanti as an attention getting joke gone bad. "It was just an attention getting joke gone bad. Angelsanti didn't get the joke" I would say.

Now Angelsanti was probably not that dumb.  But we will never know for sure.

No way to explain a screw up of that magnitude. A letter of apology to the family and a .45 bullet to the head would have been my only solution. Glad I dodged that bullet.

During this time I went to R and R in Australia. I had a great time in Sydney.  I also went to a sheep station two hours from Sydney. We also went on a sailboat. It was all you could eat and drink. This guy will go broke, I thought.  Then he took us to the mouth of the Bay in Sydney and we all got sea sick. This cut down the eating and drinking dramatically.

I switched units again to 7th Comm Battalion after the Marine Infantry and Air Wing left country. The Marine Division left country in the spring of 1971.  Security for Danang was provided by the 101st Airborne, which was a good unit. Then they left and the Americal of My Lai took over. They were not a good unit and we started getting nervous. Time to go home.

Our unit had to pack and turn in all of our equipment, and load it on ship. They wanted us to turn in all of our weapons 24 hours before we left country, which I considered a bad idea. I kept my little AR-15 rifle until I board theed airplane, then gave it to an Army truck driver.

Our unit was, I believe, the last Marine unit out of Vietnam at the end of June 1971. We were glad to leave. Vietnam is a nice country but I would not want to live there.

I left Vietnam with a feeling of guilt for having "skated" while others were wounded and died. So many of my friends were wounded or killed while I was in the rear with gear. As it turns out, however, I was diagnosed with cancer in 2002, which the VA considers to have been caused by Agent Orange.

A number of Lieutenants that I trained with were killed. Lt Kim and Song of the Korean Marines died.  Joe Montoya was a good friend from OCS.  And Lt Bod Wood also died. There were no doubt others.