5:31 | Normally, a door gunner would not fly his last month in country, but Steve Long finagled his way into the air. In his other job in the avionics shop, he had a run-in with the new officer in charge. He got a little satisfaction the night after he got his orders home.
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He was an indifferent student until an assistant principle suggested he get involved with the International Relations Club. He saw something in Steve Long and challenged him to do more.
He was real good at baseball, but not so good at sociology. He gave college a go, but it just didn't work out, so Steve Young enlisted in the Marines. This led to a good news, bad news situation with his father.
Steve Long was on a bus headed to Marine boot camp when he encountered his first DI, barking orders. He thought he was getting a plum job while marching, but road guard turned out to be not so good. He did enjoy meeting recruits from a wide variety of backgrounds, which was new to him.
Basic training was physically and mentally demanding, so tough that it was too much for one recruit. Steve Long recalls how that incident was used for more enlightenment from the DI.
The DI had drilled the young Marines well, and on the eve of their graduation from boot camp, he had a sobering prediction to make. Steve Long's response was one of bravado and then he was off to infantry school.
Marine Steve Long was at his first post as an avionics technician when he told his officer that he wanted to go to Vietnam. They needed him there, and tried to placate him with some specialty schools, but when he returned, he asked again.
Marine Steve Long was visiting family before he shipped out to Vietnam. His grandmother introduced him to a friend, who had a son in the Marine Corps. When he found out who it was, he could hardly believe it.
It started 45 minutes out from Da Nang with a sobering announcement from the pilot. Then there was the oven-like climate, the surprise machine gun fire, the ribbing from the old-timers. Steve Long was definitely in Vietnam.
He was learning the ropes at the Marble Mountain helicopter base. Avionics technician Steve Long had to pivot to Hueys because he'd trained on different aircraft. There were other duties, like working in the officers mess, which turned out to be a great deal. The cook liked him so much, he got a parting gift.
It was hot in Vietnam, so avionics technician Steve Long took off his shirt before he climbed into an access hatch. He felt someone pulling on his leg and yelled something not altogether complimentary. Then he realized who it was.
Steve Long had settled into the routine at Marble Mountain. The helicopters were kept flying and he was getting kind of salty. One day his friend told him that Bob Hope was doing a show in Da Nang. You want to go?
Only results mattered to the night crew at Marble Mountain. Marine avionics technician Steve Long led the crew and they set records for keeping the helicopter systems working. One day, an NCO told him an aircraft was down waiting on a part. That didn't sound right.
He maintained the avionics on the Hueys, but Steve Long also flew as a gunner when he could to get that sweet extra $60 a month. The missions were varied, covering other aircraft or supporting troops on the ground. He began to get skeptical when the powers that be decided to limit the munitions they were allowed to carry.
A Huey gunner's gear included a ceramic plate vest and an M-79 grenade launcher. The first for the air and the second for the ground, if you wound up there. Steve Long recalls the "sniffer" missions, where you flew low and fast to pick up enemy formations with air sampling equipment.
A door gunner got to know which pilots were the best. One thing was sure, remembers Steve Long, you don't want to fly with the C.O. while he's getting in his flight time. In between the action, he saw some great scenery from the air. He flew in a Huey, often in coordination with Cobras and F-4 Phantoms.
Steve Long was on the ground overnight at An Hoa when the base came under mortar fire. He recalls the selfless action of his hosts there, who protected the visiting Huey crew as best they could. He lost a good friend in another incident, made more tragic by the unusual circumstances.
Steve Long enjoyed his company in the avionics shop and in his hooch as well. There was one new arrival who announced that he was in love. When the others found out with whom, the teasing was unmerciful.
There was a little trick the crew chiefs would play on the door gunners to see if they were doing their check list. Steve Long recalls the time this led to a salvo of rockets being fired at some fish. In their off hours, he and his hooch mates "acquired" various amenities for their billet.
His first experience with Vietnamese civilians was quite embarrassing. As time went on, Steve Long began to feel sorry for them, especially the children. The craters he saw while aloft in the Huey were a reminder of the awful firepower being used.
Returning from Vietnam was not traumatic for Steve Long. No protestors and a loving family to meet him. He had a year to go on his enlistment and, by luck, he got a good post. He declined all entreaties to stay in the Marines, not the least of which was their final pitch.
Steve Long's time as an avionics technician in the Marines influenced his post Vietnam career in a very positive way. He finished his basic college courses in New York and then went to Georgia Tech for the engineering degree.
Newly minted electrical engineer Steve Long embarked on his post-Vietnam career as a draftsman. That did not last long. He lucked into a role managing the introduction of computer aided design, known as CAD, into the engineering and architectural workplace.
It took a while for Vietnam veteran Steve Long to process the experience in his mind, but after a while, he began to get involved with organizations and reunions, which he learned to appreciate dearly.
Steve Long hopes that we learned from the Vietnam experience, but he isn't so sure, with the ambivalence of the more recent wars. He does know one thing, please get rid of that Nancy Sinatra song.
As if the horrific battle he experienced during the Tet Offensive wasn’t enough, Rody Conway was nearly flattened by friendly fire in the form of artillery strikes. Back at his base, he relived the battle in his sleep, alarming his roommate.
It was a novel method of lighting his position for the helicopter pilots that involved heat tabs and ration cans. Beirne Lovely explains this and then discusses the relative accuracy of two popular Vietnam War movies and his luck in avoiding the psychological effects of the war suffered by so many.
Bill McCowen participated in his third war when SAC was levied for pilots to send to Vietnam, and that's not counting the Cold War. Going from mammoth B-52's to the C-123 assault transport, and from high altitude cruising to treetop level and dirt strips, was no problem for him. He loved flying and was ready for any mission.
On the road to Hue, McMahon encounters legendary war correspondent Catherine Leroy, who surrenders herself to North Vietnamese occupiers for her now famous article "The Enemy Lets Me Take His Picture". Years later, the two reconnect.
For Larry Jordan, the most poignant memory of Vietnam was Christmas Eve 1969. In the field on an ambush, he wondered what he was doing hunting his fellow man on this holy day. In the dark quiet of night, an explosion rocked the jungle. Someone had triggered one of the trip wires.
Bruce D'Agostino took a temporary duty assignment in Saigon repairing teletype machines. The Air Force technician and his crew worked long days so they could have some free time. He used his to become a photographer, inserting himself into both government functions and battlefields. At the latter he learned firsthand the vagaries of the rules of engagement.
Tom Reilly was nearly killed in Vietnam seven times. Once, an RPG landed in a pond next to him and sizzled like a giant Alka Seltzer in the water. His friend, Dennis Haines, was not so lucky when three snipers opened up.
Unlike some outfits, Foxtrot Company based it's number of kills on actual body counts, but a touring colonel made them take down their sign, saying no outfit had killed that many. As Frank Cox tells it, one sergeant took exception to that and did something totally inappropriate.
The Viet Cong ruined a USO show with a rocket attack, causing Tom Reilly to dash for cover. He remembers the civilians, though, as unfailingly polite and gracious people, especially the Le family of Saigon.
Dasher Wheatley taught Lowe many important lessons and he was always prepared for whatever situation befell the men. One day Dash filled up his canteens with water, added the purification tablets, put them away, and then drank water straight from the stream. Confused, Jim asked what he was doing, to which Dash responded in a way that proved just how valuable a soldier and great a friend Dash was to Lowe.
Sergeant Robert Johnson, one of Lowe’s comrades, was known as “Pockets” amongst the Vietnamese soldiers because of his uncanny resourcefulness. Johnson was a tough man and the men looked to him as a leader, but when he started behaving strangely, Lowe ordered that he return to Quang Tri.
The patrols were brutal during Operation Double Eagle, recalls Frank Cox. Thick jungle meant no visibility and a lot of hacking at foliage just to move. They also ran out of water, which caused a risky decision involving a rice paddy.
The war changed him for the better, says George Forrest, though it took a while to realize that family was more important than chasing a military career. A visit to Vietnam decades after the conflict made him wonder if it had been worth it. He does know two things, he would have liked a free ticket to a Packers game and he wishes the war was remembered for more than alleged atrocities and stoned troops.
In 1969, the worry was that there would be another Tet Offensive. That did not materialize, but there was plenty of combat. Marine Captain Paul Van Riper tells the story of a large encounter with the 141st NVA Regiment during which one of his men, Lance Corporal Lester Weber, charged the enemy with such fury that he is now part of Marine history.