Service Reflections: Marine recalls deadly Vietnam battles
Service Reflections: Marine recalls deadly Vietnam battles
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Editor’s note: The following Service Reflections is one of many recorded on TogetherWeServed.com, a secure online community with a membership of over 2 million active-duty and veteran members. This story may contain language which may not be suitable for young children.
Cpl. Kevin M. Jewers
Status: USMC Veteran
Service Years: 1964-1968
Please describe who or what influenced your decision to join the Marine Corps.
My brother joined the Corps in 1959 and got out in 1962. I have a picture of him at the Marine Barracks, Key West, Florida, with President John F. Kennedy in 1961. He taught me how to "spitshine," emphasis on the shine.
John Wayne is still my hero. A little bit of me died with Sgt. Striker, but laughed at him in Green Berets.
Life at home was tough; father drank — a lot. I became his target. At times fistfights ensued. It's hard to hit your father. Dropped out of school, wasn't doing too well there, skipped way too much school to be let back in. Headmaster said," come back next year." Couldn't do it. I didn't wanna be a stock boy anymore, so I drove to Union Square Somerville, and talked to the Marine Recruiter at his office in the basement of the post office. I told my parents, suddenly they get interested in my life. The recruiter came to the house, both parents against it. Mother said, "will you teach him a trade?". The recruiter said, "Sure." I remember him telling my mother, "This is a good time for him to go into the service because nothing's happening." They signed.
Two weeks later, while I was at Parris Island, the famous Gulf of Tonkin incident occurred. The recruiter stayed and got shitfaced with my parents. Whoever heard of a Marine refusing a beer? I passed my physical with flat feet.
My Marine brother dropped me off in Boston to be sworn in and leave for Parris Island. The last thing my bother said to me was, "you don't have to go, you know." I said goodbye. Sworn in, wait around all day, bus to Logan Airport. A lot of reservists. Eastern Airlines Electra to South Carolina. Bus to Parris Island.
Whether you were in the service for several years or as a career, please describe the direction or path you took. What was your reason for leaving?
I joined the Corps with plans to become a career Marine.
The way the war in Vietnam was being waged played a major part in my decision to get out when my enlistment was up in July 68. We weren't allowed to win that war. The Tet Offensive caught everyone by surprise, and it shouldn't have.
We killed a lot of NVA in the fall of 1967; it was hard times; we sacrificed a lot. We were lulled into a false sense of security by the north. The end of Nov and December were fairly quiet. We weren't even wearing flak jackets and helmets when the shit hit the fan. January 68 was not.
Too many trips to Graves Registration. All those young, dead, naked, Marines, some in pieces, and for what. I still don't like the way that war ended. How could our government believe North Vietnam would keep the peace accords? I knew they wouldn't. The ARVN were no match for the NVA. The government was corrupt. I saw videos of Danang, crowded with refugees, and the planes leaving were loaded with panic-stricken ARVN troops. No women or children. They even climbed up into the wheel wells. Rifles never been fired and only dropped once. They were afraid of the NVA. I watched the tanks drive through the gates of the presidential palace and raise the flag of North Vietnam on the news. The evacuation. Run, rabbit, run. Peace with honor, my ass. I was pissed, that was first. I was ashamed of my country. I felt sick. All those young lives squandered.
If you participated in any military operations, including combat, humanitarian and peacekeeping operations, please describe those which made a lasting impact on you and, if life-changing, in what way?
Operations changed, but life didn't. Operation Lancaster Sept 67, my first operation, is deeply engraved in my mind. Baking in the sun on a re-supply convoy. Six bys with dead Marines bouncing around in the bed. One had new jungles, just like me. I dodged arty in Dong Ha, but it was my first time seeing dead Marines. That's when I realized this was the real deal - being mortared my first morning in the bush and getting med-evac names and numbers from the casualties to radio back to battalion headquarters. The first name in the book was the commanding officer's, second the XO. They were both hit. Calls of " Corpsman Up " in the foggy pre-dawn darkness. Guys yelling, "I'm hit." Waiting for med-evac choppers, then helping load them. Anguished faces. Friendly artillery that no one knew was coming. Rain filled holes, and incoming and outgoing arty over your head, that was Con Thien. There are no atheists in a fox hole. I just did not want to die in some shit hole country ten thousand miles from home. Life became very precious.
Tet 68 started for Camp Carroll on Saturday, Jan 20, at 1630. Glen Coltey and I were in the chow line when the first round came in. No flak jacket, no helmet, nowhere to go. Glen left and grabbed our helmets and flak jackets and brought them back to where I was laying in a shallow trench, and jumped in. We thought it was a short round, and everybody was pissed blaming the Army. They were blaming the wrong Army. We heard the gook guns fire, and fire, and fire. They were getting the range to the big guns 175's. Our 175's fired fire support for Khe Sanh, and they wanted to knock them out. We were just in the way.
A 75 mm pack howitzer was in a cave on Dong Ha mountain. They rolled it out, fired a round, and took it back in. One of those rounds was a direct hit on my hootch. I was the last one out the door before the round hit. Didn't even make it to our shitty bunker. I preferred the trench that ran alongside the road. It wouldn't collapse on you. We built a better bunker. Someone said, " the gooks won't fire on us at night because we could see the muzzle flashes." Nobody told the gooks that.
One morning, after we had been shelled all night, we came out of our hole and was sitting in the sun on the bunker, when a sniper took a shot at us. The round hit the bunker between Coltey and me. We hit Dong Ha mountain with arty from everywhere that could hit it. 175's, 155's 05's dusters, quad fifties, 81's, four deuce mortars, everything we had. Guys climbed up on top of rickety showers to get a better view. When the smoke cleared, the gook gun fired. Now they were jumping off the showers and running for a hole. Two Crusaders came in on an airstrike on the mountain. They bombed the mountain and then made strafing runs, and guys climbed up on the showers again. I watched the show from the edge of a trench.
When they were done, they flew over and gave us a wing wag. They weren't even out of sight when the gun fired. Everyone was a freaking paratrooper again. It took an arc light to silence the gun. We were told to get in our bunkers, then told to get out of the bunkers because they might collapse. I watched from the edge of my trench; it was pretty watching the bombs walk up one side of Dong Ha mountain and down the other. This time when it was over, the gun didn't fire.
Of all your duty stations or assignments, which one do you have fondest memories of, and why? Which was your least favorite?
Marine Barracks, NAS Cecil Field, Florida. Small 100 or so Marines, Two platoons. After the old-timers left, some had been there their whole enlistment; they ran second platoon. Always a rivalry between the two. Who was better? Got there in Dec 64. My first Christmas away from home. Made friends in both platoons. I had my first motorcycle, a 250cc Ducati. Lost my virginity in a VW Bug in the parking lot at the main gate. I never knew what hit me. Being Captain of the Marine Barracks Skeet Team. Great shooters, lost one in Vietnam. Killed two days before I got in-country. Beer busts. Wasn't a drinker until first beer bust in the Yellow Water Area. Another word for swamp. Made an ass of myself. Got sick, and had to listen to the Rebel's shit. A sentry was killed on post Nov 66. Jimmy Robertson. Bama Boy. Nice kid. He was 19.
H&S Co, 2ndBn, 9thMarines, Dong Ha Vietnam, Aug 67. The airstrip got shelled while the C-130 I just got off of was still on the ground. A black Army, Sgt. pulled me into a hole. I'm a barracks, Marine! Incoming artillery daily. Friend's names in the Stars and Stripes. Getting mortared the first morning in the bush. Marines dying waiting for a medevac chopper.
Con Thien. Tet 1968. Constant shelling at Camp Carroll. Having my hootch blown away. As bad as it was, I made some very close friends, and we are still in contact today. Combat does something to you. It was nothing like a Marine Barracks. It was my least favorite, but I wouldn't have changed a thing.
From your entire military service, describe any memories you still reflect back on to this day.
I feel I went full circle; only I did it in reverse. I was in the Honor Guard that did burial details for local Marines, while at the Marine Barracks in Florida. Sandy graveyards. I worked on the court-martial of the Marine who shot Jimmy Robertson. I had to assemble evidence packages for the court. Every packet had the autopsy report and accompanying pictures. I still see the pictures of him on the table. Cut shoulder to breastbone to his pubic hair, a "Y" incision. Parts of the autopsy report come back. I saw violent death, a gunshot wound, and didn't have to leave the country. I have his obit in my Marine Corps scrapbook.
I was 19. In Vietnam, I saw how men died in combat. I heard them die calling for their mother, or pleading to go home. Numerous trips to graves registration showed me what happened to our KIA's after they were med-evaced. Hosed down and cleaned off with scrub brushes on a pole. Some had their body parts on their chests. I typed the casualty letter to the parents of a young Marine who was killed on his fourth day in-country. He had stayed in my hootch until he went to the bush.
For my last two weeks in-country, I was at D-Med in Dong Ha unloading dead and wounded from choppers, while trying to find out if any of them were from 2/9. I left Dong Ha in a 53 for my freedom bird in Danang. While waiting for my flight, we got rocketed. I thought they were following me home.
I'd gone full circle.
What professional achievements are you most proud of from your military career?
My Combat Action Ribbon I feel I really earned it in Vietnam.
The Good Conduct Medal was something I worked for. When I went into the Corps, getting your Good Conduct Medal was an achievement. There were quite a few guys who didn't get past three years without screwing up. I got it in Vietnam. It took a month and a half to catch up to me.
The Presidential Unit Commendation, Meritorious Unit Commendation, RVN Meritorious Unit Citations w/ Gallantry Cross, and Civil Action 1st class w/Palm were awarded to me for being with one of the best outfits in Vietnam. I'm proud of my Vietnam Service Medal w/4 bronze stars. Those stars mean something to the guys who got them. I wear the Vietnam Campaign Ribbon because it goes alongside the VSM. They confirm that you were there.
I earned a rifle expert badge by shooting 231 on the range with an M1. Marksman Badge with the .45. Could not master the pistol.
I was Marine of the quarter at MB Cecil Field. Top Gun award from Cecil Field Skeet Club, a proud moment. I beat the man who taught me how to shoot skeet.
Of all the medals, awards, formal presentations and qualification badges you received, or other memorabilia, which one is the most meaningful to you and why?
In order to get promoted to the next rank, the new CO required you to take MCI courses. With the old CO, it was meritorious and time in grade. To get promoted, I completed all the courses. All Grunt courses, and one in my MOS. They're framed and on the wall. These courses almost got me killed in Vietnam.
The Marine NCO
Individual Protective Measures
Tactics of the Marine Rifle Squad
Map and Aerial Photograph Reading
Military Functions in Civil Disturbances and Disasters
Operations Against Guerilla Units
Protection Against Chemical Attack
Introduction to Personnel Administration (incomplete)
List the names of old friends you served with, at which locations, and recount what you remember most about them. Indicate those you are already in touch with and those you would like to make contact with.
There are too many names from guys at Marine Barracks, Cecil Field, to list. I stay in touch with Stoney, Thompson, Murray, Matthews, and Morrison. Hear about Gemelli from Murray every now and then. Even have a squid from the Navy side of the barracks, Zeoli, that I stay in touch with. We got together a couple of years ago and went to PI for a graduation. We didn't know anyone, we just went. I'm in touch with some guys from 2/9. Macko and I are in almost daily contact through e-mails. Pete Burdon, Chester C. Ray, Mike Libretto, and Tim Hermsen. Lost contact with Glen Coltey. Last time I heard from him, he was in Zephyr Hills, Florida.
Can you recount a particular incident from your service, which may or may not have been funny at the time, but still makes you laugh?
We should have all been court-martialed.
You needed a secret clearance to be stationed at the Marine Barracks. We were told, "if anything happens here, Florida will become an island." We knew what we were guarding. Edgar Garcia, a Puerto Rican from New Jersey, spent a lot of money on phone calls home because his wife was having their first baby. We decided we should celebrate, but with what? One of the guys had a gallon of moonshine from his brother's still in Georgia. He was close enough to go home on weekends, and he usually did. You couldn't drink it straight. We went to the soda machine and got some Fanta. It was a lemon and lime drink. I swear the moonshine made the Fanta curdle.
Most of us were still under the influence when we got posted at midnight. Garcia never made it. Another guy covered for him, but he was pissed. The other guys could go to the guardhouse and get coffee.
I was on the observation tower 40 feet in the air. I fell asleep on the trap door you climbed through to get into the tower. I was woken up by the noise the Sgt. of the guard made as he climbed up the outside of the tower. I was caught. I got an ass chewing and a half, along with some extra duty. He didn't write me up.
I can't believe how shit-faced we got on that shine.
What profession did you follow after your military service, and what are you doing now? If you are currently serving, what is your present occupational specialty?
What my mother was afraid would happen, happened. The Marine Corps didn't teach me a trade. Who needed a Rifleman?
My brother and I moved out to the west coast in September 68. We drove out in his Camaro. I worked for ADT alarm company because that's what we did at the MB. I was fine doing central office work. Then they decided to send me out in the field. I was given a .38 caliber pistol that was broken. They gave me a new pistol, but I wasn't going to do that for $3.59 an hour.
I worked in a liquor store for a while, then took a job with a finance company. All I was, was a bill collector. That sucked, but I bought my MGB and financed it through the company, so I stayed longer than I wanted to.
Worked on a ranch breeding thoroughbred racehorses. I enjoyed the work but didn't like the boss.
I got a job at an independent movie studio in Glendale. I really liked the job, but it was over when the movie industry went belly up in '71.
I came back to Boston in the spring, knew then and there I wasn't going back to CA. I worked for my brother that summer doing swimming pools, and that fall went to work for New England Telephone. Got caught in the layoff in 1975.
Worked construction, swimming pools, drove a tow truck, roofed then got on the fire department. I spent fifteen years on the department, doing swimming pools and hardwood floors on the side.
I went on disability retirement in 1995.
What military associations are you a member of, if any? What specific benefits do you derive from your memberships?
I am a longtime member of the American Legion.
In what ways has serving in the military influenced the way you have approached your life and your career? What do you miss most about your time in the service?
As a firefighter, I was once again in a brotherhood. It was nothing like the Corps, but it was still a brotherhood. It produced a feeling of belonging to something.
You have to be able to control your fear and function effectively in stressful situations as a firefighter. I learned how to do that in the Marine Corps.
Based on your own experiences, what advice would you give to those who have recently joined the Marine Corps?
Follow orders, keep your weapon clean, and your head down.
In what ways has TogetherWeServed.com helped you remember your military service and the friends you served with.
TWS gives me a place to put all my memories from my time in the Corps. All three years, eleven months, and twenty-seven days of it.
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