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Year of Survival - Intro - 07:2018

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YEAR OF SURVIVAL - INTRODUCTION

I didn’t know what fear and darkness were until I arrived in Vietnam in

1970, and I mean that both literally and figuratively. I was assigned to a

Combined Action Platoon (CAP Unit), which meant living in primitive procommunist

villages and hamlets off the Red Line (Highway #1 was called

the Red Line because that's how it appeared on the map) approximately

20 miles south of DaNang, Vietnam. This was a 24/7 survival challenge.

We weren’t sent out into the jungle for missions. We lived in the jungle.

Our mission was to survive. I still remember my first night.

The sheer weight of the gear and ammunition I carried was overwhelming;

my legs trembled when I walked. I struggled to keep my balance in the

pitch black of night. I worried about being ambushed and not able to

disentangle myself from the straitjacket of weapons and gear strapped to

my sweat drenched body. There was a moment when I held my hand up

to flick sweat from my brow, and I could not see it. It was like being

completely blind. There were no lights in the bush. No stars. No

reflection. It was just pitch black darkness, and man let me tell you…” it

was a real bummer.” We knew we were surrounded by the enemy. In

fact, there were VC residing in the villages where we lived. I recall a time

when Doc Coonfield provided the village chief with medical attention for a

laceration on his leg. A couple of nights later we ambushed and killed 2

VC. One of them was the village chief. He still had the bandages that Doc

wrapped his wound with on his leg.

Within one month in the bush CAP 10 had engaged in several firefights,

had suffered 3 Marines wounded in action (WIA) and 1 killed in action (KIA)

as well as numerous PFs and civilians killed or wounded and we even

exposed an enemy soldier embedded within our ranks. This happened

before my first letter home even got back to Lorain, Ohio. At age 21 I was

struggling with emotions tied to my family’s low-income status, staying in

college and chasing girls. By 22 I was struggling with the emotions tied to

a war I couldn’t run and hide from: losing fellow Marines in my arms,

witnessing charred bodies riddled by shrapnel, killing in order to avoid

being killed myself.

On one occasion, we went on patrol and against tactical basics returned

using the same path because the patrol leader wanted to use a plank the

villagers had laid out as a bridge to cross an irrigation canal. When we


eturned to the canal Gary, BooBoo, and Dakota, who was carrying the

PRIC 25 radio, started across the plank. Little did we know that while we

were out blowing empty bunkers, the VC had hidden a rigged command

detonated 105mm artillery round under the far end of the plank. In

addition, they had set a kerosene-soaked command detonated claymore

mine in the bushes on a rice paddy dike in front of us. They waited for

Dakota to walk over the 105 round when it was detonated. Frenchy,

carrying the M-79 was about 5 feet behind him so they were able to knock

out our communications and grenade launcher at the same time. I was on

the plank behind Frenchy when the force of the detonation catapulted us

skyward and we splashed into the canal.

I panicked when I realized that I had dropped my rifle which I spotted in

the murky bottom of the channel. But, each time I tried to reach it I

needed to do an underwater dog paddle in order to stay erect. I had tied

my k-bar knife sheath to my right thigh and as I went into the water

somehow the rope slipped under my knee so that I couldn’t straighten my

leg to stand. Desperate to surface for air I was able to use the knife to cut

the rope and I was able to reach my rifle. I could hear gunfire on the

surface so I stayed underwater as long as I could. Gasping for air, I

surfaced and despite the dinning sound in my ears, I could hear the guys

yelling, “GET FRENCHY! GET FRENCHY!” and pointing behind me.

When I looked back I saw Frenchy floating face down, arms stretched out

as if on a cross and blood saturating the water around his head. The

sensation of rushing through the water to save Frenchy was like the inertia

in a slow-moving nightmare as I fought to free each leg from the muck that

sucked at my boots. When I reached his unconscious body I turned him

over and blood squirted from his left upper lip with every heartbeat so I

pinched it tightly. In a half-conscious state, he murmured, “Ah It hurts” so I

let go and was surprised that the bleeding had stopped. I pulled him

toward the edge of the canal where Caiado, our dog handler, jumped in.

The react team from our day-haven had arrived by then and they gave us a

hand in lifting him up onto the bank. As I pulled myself out of the canal I

saw Dakota leaning against a dike smoking a cigarette as he was being

attended to by Doc Coonfield. Doc Coonfield ran over to give Frenchy first

aid and in the commotion, I could see Gary excitedly talking on the radio

calling for a medevac helicopter. While we waited in a defensive perimeter

Boosinger spotted a kerosene-soaked claymore mine that had been aimed

at us. It had malfunctioned when detonated and broke in half. Had it not


malfunctioned it would have fired 600 steel bearings into our column.

Both men survived and Frenchy was ordered back into the bush a few

weeks later when discharged from the 95th Evacuation Hospital in

DaNang.

I also experienced the heartbreak of not being able to save the life of a

fellow Marine charred and riddled by the shrapnel of a grenade booby trap

in the middle of the night. The Russian roulette nature of war and the

hatred that motivated revenge instilled a “don’t mean nothin'” devil may

care attitude. Except for Dan Gallagher, the CAP Marines I knew that were

killed in action, Glen Fiester, J.J. Arteaga, Rae Rippetoe, Robert Gaffigan

and Ronnie Ross lost their lives before they could celebrate their 21st

birthday. Rippetoe, Gaffigan and Ross were killed by PFs our “allies.”

Even though some have passed, this book could not have been

undertaken without the support of 7th Company members that lived the

nightmare life of a CAP Marine and made it back to the world (United

States). They are Paul “Tex” Hernandez, Steve “Booboo” Boosinger,

Michel “Frenchy” Wilson, Bill “Doc” Coonfield, John “Paladin” Shockley,

Greg “Chief” Fragua, Frank Hutson, Juan “Doc” Sanchez, Eddie “Chipper”

Caiado, Jim Wallace, Ed Nunez, Rene Torres, Al Singleton, Mike “Seadog”

Wright, Al “Hofacker” Ryan, Ernie Soliz, Neil “Bama” Cooper, Mike Burns,

Channing “Blinky” Prothro, Terry Westbrooks, Terry “Stretch”

Straavaldsen, David Stevens, Everett O. Cooper, Prentiss Waltman, William

“Doc” Donoghue, Arthur “Brother Chubby” Yelder, Ken Duncan, Roch

Thornton, Glen Trimble, James “JimRudey” Vollberg, Nathan “Willie” Fulfer,

Mike Harper, Nelson Kilmister, Guy Melton, Dennis “Hucklebuck” Prock,

Scottie Shirley, Al Simmons, and others that are mentioned in this book.

We survived horrors that no human being should ever face, but we made

it. Some of us crippled. All of us traumatized. So when I say that I came

to know the darkness in Vietnam, I mean complete and utter mental and

physical darkness. I consider this memoir the first ray of light to shed light

on those memories. My hope is that it can attest to the insanity of war and

honor the heroism of the Patriots asked to fight it. All incidents and

accounts are true stories based on my diary and the recollection of other

2nd CAG, 7th Company, CAP Marines. The photographs and interactive

media used in this book were either captured personally or by CAP

Marines that have graciously shared them with me.

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