Going home Page 1
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This picture depicts what was probably the hardest moment in my entire tour in Vietnam. The time is about 0530 in the morning (it's a bit blurry as it was taken with a time exposure and without a flash).
What's happening here is that my recon team is getting ready to head to the LZ to be inserted on another recon mission. This time, however, I am not going. All I can do is stand there and watch as they get ready to step for the LZ. This is my last wake-up in the Nam and I am packing the last of my gear before departing for Danang Airbase and the "Freedom Bird."
In the foreground is LCPL Paul from a small town in Oklahoma. The Marine sitting down behind LCPL Paul with his back to the camera is CLP Ernie Eusay (sp) from Louisiana. The heavier set Marine bending down applying the face cammo is a new guy on his first patrol. He had come from Camp Lejeune and he will soon loose those excess pounds humping a 100lb rucksack in the bush. The rest of the team cannot be seen in this picture.
If leaving my team was the hardest thing I had to do in Vietnam, this was probably the most difficult thing to watch. Here, as we're sitting aboard the Boeing 707 Freedom Bird that's shortly going to take us out of hell, we taxi'd up next to aC-141 cargo aircraft (most of them were unpainted in mid-1968). The difficult part was watching them load the cargo; several pallets of "transfer cases." That's basically military jargon for the large aluminum coffins that the dead are flown back to the US in.
As I sat there looking out the window, the profound sadness of the scene brought me to tears. I looked away a bit embarrassed that this combat Marine could be so easily reduced to tears. Then I saw that several other Marines and soldiers, all combat vets by their ribbons, had tears in their eyes. They were tears of both sadness and of joy. Sadness at seeing some of our brother combat veterans were not going home alive and joy that we were going to actually make it out alive ourselves. It is the most complicated feeling I've ever had then or since.
As our aircraft taxied onto the active runway and the engines ran up, there was an enormous pall of silence in the cabin as almost 300 men and women were holding their collective breath. As the aircraft lifted off, cleared land and was out over Danang Bay and out of range, there was an enormous cheer, followed by laughing, back-slapping and all sorts of celebration - we had made it out alive!
There followed a long leg of over-water flight. The first landfall was heralded by a small ocean-going freighter that I spotted out the window, About five minutes later, I saw this sight. It was the end of Wake Island coming into view and we were going to land to refuel there.
Once we got to the terminal (such as it was) we had a 3-hour lay-over while the aircraft was refueled and serviced. I walked around a bit and was amazed to find a bunch of 1941 bunkers and fighting positions still there and relatively intact. I also found this stunning and breath-taking memorial to the Marines and civilians that fought there in early December of 1941.
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