After Vietnam: Okinawa, Home, and Camp Lejeune

Marine Corps barracks in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina

Looking back at my Vietnam experience, there is one thing that I keep thinking about: the fact that God was watching over me and keeping me from harm. As I previously wrote, I put in for a transfer from my first infantry unit to go to a village unit, because I thought I would have a better chance of being involved in battle. Well, as it turned out, I was in no battles at all in the village unit. And I also found out from a friend that the unit I had transferred out of, at hill 52, had been almost overrun by the Vietcong, and many of the Marines there were killed. So, as it turned out, all the action I took to put myself in harm’s way, God seemed to turn it around to put me in a safe place. That has made me wonder what God has in store for me. What purpose does He have for me?

After Vietnam I was to be sent home for just a week; and then, after that, I had 6 more months to serve on the Marine base in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. But my first stop was Okinawa. I had a large duffel bag full of clothes and uniforms locked up safe in a storage ben there—so I thought. As it turned out, after looking for a while, the supply clerk told me that there was no duffle bag there with my name on it. Of all the luck. I had a brand-new set of dress blues in that bag that I never got a chance to ware. I wouldn’t have felt so bad about it if the clerk would have been just a little sympathetic toward me. He didn’t seem to care, nor did he seem the least bit interested in trying to recover my stuff. Well, so much for that. I put it out of my mind. Next stop, Minneapolis.

When I arrived at the airport in Minneapolis, I didn’t bother to call home. I just took a taxi home. It was about noon and my mom came to the door. She was quite surprised and glad to see me. For some reason I don’t remember too much during my week off at home. Things were a little different with my mom. She had recently divorced my dad, and so, I hate to say it, but everyone was feeling relieved and more at peace. I suppose the only thought my mom had about the divorce was that she probably wished she’d divorced him sooner. I think we all had the same feeling.

I don’t remember clearly how things were with me and Joy, but I think during this week was when I saw her one last time. I did love her, but I knew the relationship was wrong or would not work. Yet I kept praying for her salvation.

My week off at home went by fast and I was back with Marines again, in a new Marine unit in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. I had only 6 more months to serve, and I was a little surprised by what they had me do: more combat training. Why? Why was I put in a training unit when I just got back from Vietnam? Well, I can’t remember if I ever asked any of my commanders that question; but I reasoned…what else would Marines do? A Marine trains for war and goes to war. That’s his purpose. Possibly they may have expected that I would re-enlist. In fact, at the end of my two-year enlistment they offered me a promotion if I would re-enlist. I said no. I had been to Vietnam so what else was there for me to do?

Vietnam: Processing

This is a CH46 Marine helicopter, used to transport Marines and cargo.

After my combat training in San Diego and my week off at home, my first stop on the way to Vietnam was Okinawa to be processed. During my week stay there I stored my extra military uniforms (that I wouldn’t be needing in Vietnam), and I was issued new combat clothes, boots, rifle, poncho and liner, and backpack—everything I needed for Vietnam. That didn’t take more than 20 minutes or so. So why were we there for a whole week? Good question. Nobody questions things like that. We were just glad to get a few more days off. Okinawa was beautiful compared to where we were headed. And the food was good too.

When we left Okinawa I kind of expected to go right to my new unit, but we had one more stop to make—Da Nang, one of Vietnam’s major cities. We stopped there for I think it was two days. I wasn’t sure what was happening there, but I suppose we were waiting to be assigned to our new unit and to complete any final paperwork. When it was finally time to go, we all got separated into different groups, according to what our particular duty classification was, and where we were needed. My duty classification was listed as 0311, rifleman (better known as “grunt”); and my new address was: Co K, 3rd Bn, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division. So, those of my group, just a few of us, were directed to get onto a large green helicopter. I remember looking out the helicopter window as we flew over the trees and rice patties. It didn’t take long at all before we arrived at our destination—hill 52. Vietnam is a small country and my unit was only about 15 miles southwest of Da Nang.

The first thing I remember upon landing, was all the dust that the helicopter was creating, and a few dirty-faced Marines that were there to greet us. Though it was late February, in Vietnam it was warm. Questions raced through my head. What had I gotten myself into? Where was I? Where was the enemy? We all needed some direction.

Next blog: Meeting My New Squad