Service Reflections: Veteran recalls being a teen in Vietnam War
Service Reflections: Veteran recalls being a teen in Vietnam War
RECORD YOUR OWN SERVICE MEMORIES
A comprehensive, easy-to-complete self-interview called Service Reflections is available on TogetherWeServed.com which enables you to create a permanent record of key people and events from your military service. Your Reflections may be shared with other family members by way of a web address personal to you.
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.
Sgt Steve Bosworth
Status: U.S. Marine Corps Retired
Service Years: 1967-1970
PLEASE DESCRIBE WHO OR WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MARINE CORPS?
I wish I could point to some patriotic or altruistic motive. The truth is I was kicked out of high school in the 10th grade. My mom had died suddenly when I was 15, and my dad simply couldn't cope as the sole parent of me, my three brothers and older sister. I decided to leave home but I had no place to go - fortunately for me the Marine Corps gave me a home. My dad gave his permission to my recruiter for me to enlist, and I began my recruit training at MCRDSD when I was seventeen years old.
WHETHER YOU WERE IN THE SERVICE FOR SEVERAL YEARS OR AS A CAREER, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE DIRECTION OR PATH YOU TOOK.
In and out with three years of active duty. A proud graduate of Platoon 3047, I completed recruit training in October 1967, then moved up the road to Camp Pendleton for ITR. Initially trained as a 0331 - later sent to an Army facility (Fort Huachuca, AZ) and was trained in the Ground Combat Surveillance program (SCAMP). I also spent time at H.M. Smith on Oahu where I earned my GED and received a promotion to L/Cpl. I enjoyed Camp Smith and had met many new friends. I was then transferred back to CONUS for staging in preparation for WesPac deployment.
By July, 1969 I was at Camp Pendleton's Staging Battalion receiving final training for an RVN tour. Inexplicably, I was presented with TAD orders to Fort Huachuca to attend SCAMP training. To this day, considering that my only MOS was 0331, I have no idea why I was diverted to SCAMP. Upon arrival at Fort Huachuca, I realized I was one of a handful of Marines on that post. Think of Southern Arizona in August. Somehow we persevered!
We learned all about different combat surveillance sensors that would activate and signal in the presence of acoustic (noise), seismic (movement), and/or detection of the presence of ferrous metals (weapons). We learned how to deploy and monitor each device. I'm sure there was some other weird stuff from that early generation of sensor technology that I've since lost in the fog of time. I do remember, however, our concentrated course in calling in fire missions from a variety of sources when they the sensors were activated. We also attended advanced map-reading and topography workshops.
When I arrived in RVN, no one in 1stMarDiv had heard of SCAMP so I spent several months as a 'grunt' with the 5th Marines, including assignments to 3/5 S3, Lima Co, and Regimental S2. Eventually, orders caught up with me, sending me to a newly formed SCAMP unit with dotted line reporting to 1stMarDiv G2. Teams of us went all over the division AO, inserting sensor strings, and establishing, and manning remote monitoring sites, in some very interesting places.
IF YOU PARTICIPATED IN COMBAT OPERATIONS, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE ACTIONS WHICH WERE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT TO YOU AND, IF LIFE-CHANGING, IN WHAT WAY.
My Vietnam memories have been a part of my thoughts every day of my life since leaving Vietnam.
I was assigned to 3/5 in 1969, transferred to a SCAMP unit in February, 1970. The operations I participated in were in and around the Que Son Mountains, Liberty Bridge, Arizona, Charlie Ridge, Antennae Valley and Nong Son.
In 1966 Robert McNamara ordered the creation of an electronic system designed to monitor via deployed sensor devices, the movement of enemy traffic and material from North to South Vietnam on what was then commonly known as the 'Ho Chi Minh Trail.' The media labeled the program as "McNamara's Wall." Critics called in "McNamara's Blunder."
To that end, the U.S. Army developed a Ground Combat Surveillance training program at Fort Huachuca in Arizona. As interest grew in remote sensor deployment and monitoring, the Marine Corps established its own Sensor Control and Management Platoons (SCAMP) and relied on the US Army to train selected Marine Corps personnel at its Fort Huachuca facilities.
The newly formed SCAMP units fell under the respective operational leadership of both 3rdMarDiv and 1stMarDiv G2 commands. The first teams were activated in 1969 with a mission to deploy by air, or by hand, sensors in what were determined to be target-rich areas. Additionally, teams were to establish remote monitoring sites in support of the deployed sensors.
To my knowledge, in the summer of 1969, the Marine Corps launched its first functioning SCAMP unit operating in and around the DMZ, as well as some of the western infiltration routes. However, the initial SCAMP impact for the Marine Corps was brief due to the stand-down of the 3rdMarDivision in Northern I Corps, in the late fall of 1969.
Several of the original SCAMP unit personnel and equipment were moved south to the 1stMarDivision HQ in Da Nang, where a new SCAMP unit was formed.
Our job was to deploy and then monitor a variety of devices--often multiple devices in 'strings' in remote areas--air dropped, or hand implemented in enemy controlled terrain. I do remember that many were battery powered, so periodically the teams that implanted the devices had to return over time to change the batteries. Many of them had self-destruct (go boom) mechanisms built-in, and required disarming before changing batteries. For the most part, that generation of equipment depended on line-of-sight FM (think high ground) capabilities for monitoring.
My response now takes me off the reservation a bit. I was a teenager when I arrived in Viet Nam. So in a lot of ways, I didn't even know the things that I didn't know, but should have known. I tried to be like a sponge. I kept my eyes and ears open, and attempted to absorb all the information about that place that I could.
I guess for me the whole damn thing was life-changing. I couldn't get comfortable. I can honestly say my butt was puckered tight my entire time over there--except when I had dysentery, so that shouldn't count.
Let's talk life-changing. I believe Viet Nam instilled a chronic paranoia into my psyche. I now have what seems like a hard-wired compulsion to check and re-check my surroundings. I never trust the status quo. As a civilian I eventually fell into a sales role and later formed a consulting business with a friend. So here's my personal neurosis, compliments of Southeast Asia. In my mind, Because business is competitive, I tend to relate that competition with elements of combat.
As a small-unit team leader I learned to adopt a set of best practices that sustain me to this day in business. I passionately believe in redundancy, meaning I'm assuming that something, or someone will break down. I always have a contingency plan.
As a Marine in Viet Nam, life was hard with occasional moments of stark terror. What helped me was the underlying confidence that I was part of a team, if things went bad, we weren't alone. The notion of team versus "I" was huge. Teamwork is a collaboration of brothers--there is no "I" in team. This was essential in small-unit combat operations, and has resonated for me throughout my professional career.
Whether you find yourself in a combat, or a business environment - each calls for diligent preparation for each mission, rigorous review of your operational plan, followed by someone else's review of the same plan. I can't begin to express the value that an extra set of eyeballs brings to the table as a devil's advocate.
My wife calls it paranoia, I call it staying alive. These habits are life-long for me, and they came right out of a combat zone.
OF ALL YOUR DUTY STATIONS OR ASSIGNMENTS, WHICH ONE DO YOU HAVE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY? WHICH ONE WAS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Camp Smith in Hawaii, it was the calm between the storms. Loved it!
It was at Camp Smith that I received my G.E.D. Getting my G.E.D gave me the confidence to reach higher, ultimately earning a bachelor's degree.
Easily, my least favorite posting was at the USA facility in Fort Huachuca, Arizona. We were billeted in July, in pre-WWII wooden barracks, without AC.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
Being called a "Marine" for the very first time rather than "recruit," or "maggot" after successfully completing recruit training at MCRDSD.
In those days, after drill and a presentation of the USMC marching band, we were all seated in the base auditorium, and Lt. Col. Terry addressed the recruits and their families. It was inspiring. My sister and my dad were there--both a little shocked that I'd finished.
IF YOU RECEIVED ANY MEDALS FOR VALOR OR AWARDS FOR SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENT, PLEASE DESCRIBE HOW THESE WERE EARNED.
I have a "V" on one of my decorations (NAM), but, I didn't do anything valorous. I remember vividly being scared, and wanting to get back to stateside with all my bits intact.
In retrospect, I honestly believe I was way too young to be a Marine sergeant in the bush, and I'll always be grateful that I didn't get any of my guys killed. In Vietnam I spent about a month with a Green Beret unit. Real interesting - they were career soldiers - very capable.
In March/April of 1970 I was flown to Nong Son which at the time was a Special Forces encampment (A-105) located in western Quang Nam Province. The area had changed hands between the Marine Corps and the Army several times over the years and lives had been lost there. It was here that Pfc. Melvin Newlin, 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division posthumously earned the MOH on July 4, 1967.
Within a few clicks of Nong Son the colossal Battle of Kham Duc erupted between May 10-12, 1968. At the time A-105 was located there, and only relocated to Nong Son after Kham Duc was destroyed. The camp itself had been reinforced with elements from the 1st Marine Division, the Army 1st Infantry Division and the ARVN ever since Tet 1968 when thousands of NVA/VC roamed the area.
During the two day battle, the Army suffered many killed in action plus 71 wounded at Kham Duc; the Marines at nearby Ngok Tavak lost 12 killed and 21 wounded. The combined services reported the highest number of missing in any battle in Vietnam, with 31 U.S. military personnel reported missing in action. Three were rescued within 5 days, one was captured and kept as a POW until March 1973, and 15 listed as KIA (9 recovered, 6 not recovered). Nine U.S. military aircraft had been shot down, including two C-130s. On 12 May, the North Vietnamese were in complete control of Kham Duc. The next day a massive B52 raid completely destroyed Kham Duc.
As I remember it, Nong Son was constructed on a razorback hill and hardened with concrete. There was an LZ located down the hill and a CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Group) Militia group encamped by it. I was part of a team of three USMC enlisted personnel sharing space with a Special Forces A Team (A-105) consisting of a CO and XO (USA Special Forces Capt. and 1st Lieutenant) and 7 or 8 Special Forces staff NCO's. They all were career soldiers--very professional. Each staff NCO had an operational specialty, i.e., Comm, Weapons, Medic, Mortars, etc. Additionally, they were required to be proficient with at least one other team member's specialty. I also remember a 4 deuce mortar pit.
Our USMC contingent monitored SCAMP sensor strings and devices that we'd previously introduced on sensor implant missions in an adjacent area called Antennae Valley. The string locations were bracketed and registered with regional artillery assets and our job was to call in fire missions on the heads of bad guys when movement was detected from the sensor strings in these areas. At the time, Antennae Valley was a free-fire zone.
The USA personnel maintained the Nong Son outpost and ran patrols from that site and simultaneously served as advisors to a company of CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Group) militia, who were resident just below the encampment. I remember going out on Med-Caps run by our Special Forces counterparts, and watching in amazement as their medic performed various surgical procedures in the surrounding 'villes.' One was a life-saving operation on a Vietnamese woman. This was an enlisted guy. Very impressive!
My team rotated out after a month--we were relieved by another SCAMP team. Our new mission was to hump back into Antennae Valley in as stealthy a manner as possible, find the existing strings, disarm them, and change the batteries, and then exit that nasty place as quickly and quietly as possible.
OF ALL THE MEDALS, AWARDS, QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICE YOU RECEIVED, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE ONE(S) MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
They are all meaningful to me because they were all earned, particularly the Combat Action Ribbon, the Navy Achievement Medal w/V, and the Expert Rifle Qualification Badge.
I was equally proud when I scored 2nd in my 0331 class--for which I was given my first stripe. I remember that for me, making PFC was a really big deal.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL(S) FROM YOUR TIME IN THE MILITARY STAND OUT AS HAVING THE MOST POSITIVE IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
Arriving in San Diego in the summer of 1967, my immediate assessment of my situation was that I'd made a tragic, perhaps fatal error in judgment. The nightmare began the moment the angry, red-faced man began screaming at me about moving my worthless self and scant belongings off of the bus and onto the yellow footprints. The joy continued as we spent the entire evening and early morning hours carrying heavy green canvas sea bags containing our brand-new "wardrobes." We were soon introduced to our Junior Drill Instructor, Sgt. Stumbo.
From my 17 yr. old perspective, Sgt. Stumbo was a bully and a sadist. He tormented me mercilessly, and I'm sure I trembled in his presence. He didn't strike me as a particularly bright NCO, but he was gifted in one singular respect. This man had the most creative, foulest and shocking repertoire of words, terms and phrases, coupled with family-member specific inferences of alleged cohabitation with small barnyard animals. His verbiage and descriptive capabilities were unlike anything I'd ever heard. In my opinion Sgt. Stumbo's elocution skills far exceeded those of any Drill Instructor from either of the Recruit Depots.
We all lived in terror of this Marine, yet we so marveled at his verbal creativity. He must have been a savant of some sort. Sadly, I can cite no other redeeming qualities in Sgt. Stumbo. Perhaps he had a mother who loved him, but it's unlikely. As the weeks turned into months, we learned to cope, and to anticipate his twisted behavior, just like we'd later anticipate a likely ambush site, or trip-wire placement on a trail in Viet Nam. We were learning survival skills. I realized that if I could hack it under Stumbo, I could handle it all. I was right.
Although my relationship with Sgt. Stumbo never evolved to a higher plane, something remarkable did happen. Through some stroke of luck, I qualified as an expert (221) shooter with the M14 at the rifle range. For me, life became a little more civilized during the remainder of Recruit Training.
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?
Sneaking home to Pomona, CA, while on R&R to Hawaii only to discover that Jody had been in my bed, and coming to the realization that I didn't really have that special girl waiting for me. I was crushed.
One good thing did occur during my illicit R&R journey. I visited Cal Poly University and made an appointment with the Dean of the School Arts. My aim was to somehow get into school after my release from active duty and despite my 10th grade status from high school I was in fact, a card carrying GED success. In this photo I am receiving my GED Certificate from the unit commander at Camp H.M. Smith.
I told the Dean my story about my technically AWOL status - including the part about Jody. He laughed so hard he almost wet himself, and promised to allow me admittance to the university for the fall 1970 session--on a probationary status, of course.
Eventually, I made it back to Hawaii in time for my return flight to RVN. In reflection, I know now, that I'd have never gone to the school, if I'd spent all my R&R time with her (which is what I intended), so because of her philandering ways, I ultimately earned a degree.
This story is recounted in Gregg Stoner's book, Echoes From the Halls - iUniverse Press: 2009.
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?
Juvenile Counselor - 1970 - 1984.
Software Salesperson - 1984 - 1994.
Consultant - 1994 - present. This is me and my wife during a recent business trip to Budapest.
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?
The late comedian George Gobel once said, "When I walked into the party, I felt like a pair of brown shoes in a room full of tuxedos." These were my exact feelings in the fall of 1970 when freshly released from active duty in the Marine Corps; I walked into a Southern California VFW Chapter for the very first time, and approached the bar to order a drink.
The ambient noise suddenly stops and I realized everyone was looking at me. These were a bunch of grizzled old salts ranging from in age from early forties through eighties looking at me as if I was encroaching on their private turf. I was immediately spot-checked for my new VFW Card and DD-214. Not one of them chose to engage in any small talk, or make nice in any way, even when I initiated it. At that time I was twenty, and looking around, there was no one there remotely close to my age group.
I remember feeling bad about it, but, in retrospect it's understandable. In those days the generational gap was huge, and for many of those veterans--China Marines, WW II and Korea--I was trespassing. There was however, an upside to my early VFW experience, and that was that no one cared that I was under 21, only that I met the membership criteria of having served in a combat zone - and the drinks were cheap.
As it turned out, I allowed my membership to lapse after that first year. By that time I was 21, and could drink anywhere legally. In 2013 I re-enrolled as an at-large member.
I'm also a past member of 1st Mar Division Association.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS SERVING IN THE MILITARY INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND YOUR CAREER?
The influence was strong in many ways. Using my GI Bill, I leveraged my G.E.D. to receive probationary status at a university in California. I earned a BS, and started my first post-military career as a Juvenile Counselor at Boys Republic School (BR), in Chino, California. I worked at BR for 14 years and was a Supervising Caseworker when I left.
I'd been interested in technology and decided to transition to a new career as a software salesperson at the enterprise level. I sold business (ERP) software for about 10 years, and began to burn out. In 1994, I embarked on my third (final) post-military career as a business consultant. Because of the Marine Corps, I understand the difference between tactical application and execution, and strategic planning. I have incorporated these elements where appropriate, into my sales training workshops. Many of the concepts, discipline and rigor we learned in training are highly applicable, and sought after in the business world. I've been fortunate enough to attract a broad market, and share these methods around the globe.
There's a back-story to all this. In my early days at BR, I met a counselor, whom I married in 1978. We've been together ever since, and she's been my rock. She transitioned from counseling to education, and has been a 6th grade teacher for many years. I sincerely believe she'd have made an excellent Drill Instructor.
BASED ON YOUR OWN EXPERIENCES, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THOSE WHO HAVE RECENTLY JOINED THE MARINE CORPS?
Stay in as long as possible. Apply or enroll in any training, discipline, or skill available. The Marine Corps experience prepares young men and women for any career imaginable.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU REMEMBER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND THE FRIENDS YOU SERVED WITH.
I've connected with old comrades and made new friends. Among them was my friend Bill Lavelle. We got together for the first time nearly 40 years after we were in Viet Nam together.
But here's an example of the power of TWS: In May of 2008, I was in Bangkok for a speaking engagement. Weeks earlier, I had mentioned in the TWS "Situation Reports" column that I'd be working in the Far East, and specifically in Bangkok. Unsolicited, I received a PM from MGySgt Luis Adrianzen who at the time was on a TAD assignment and based in our embassy.
In his message he recommended a number of culturally significant places to visit. I thought it was pretty cool that he reached out. We started chatting online, and I promised to give him a heads-up when I arrived in town.
My first leg took me to Hong Kong, and after my layover, I realized I was getting sick. When I arrived in Bangkok I had a full blown case of bronchitis, and had pretty much completely lost my voice. Keep in mind, that I was engaged (already received a 50% deposit) to lead a 3-day workshop for about a hundred people.
Desperate, I knew I needed a doctor, quick. I emailed Luis from my hotel room and within minutes my phone was ringing. It was Luis. "Be out in front of your hotel in 20 minutes." By the time I made it downstairs, he was waiting for me. It's real easy to spot an active-duty Marine, even in a crowd.
He took me to a local Thai physician at a clinic every bit as state-of-the-art as what you'd find in our facilities at home. The doc checked me over, gave me an injection in the rear, and handed me several envelopes full of medication. "You'll recover your voice in the morning, and be well enough to work in 36 hrs." When I went to pay, the bill was the equivalent of $26.00 (U.S.).
I had lunch with Luis that day (I paid) then I went back to my hotel and slept for 24 hours. After that, I was good to go. The bad news: I missed visiting the tourist sites. The good news: I fulfilled my business obligations, and left happy clients behind.
I will never forget the day that MGySgt Luis Adrianzen went out of his way for a fellow Marine. What an example of brotherhood he set for me. By the way, Luis retired on July 29, 2013 and I wish him all the success in the world as his journey continues.
So, to close the circle on this story, TWS has been extremely rewarding to me on both personal, as well as professional levels. I think of my brother and sister Marines every day, and this venue helps me remember. Always!
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