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.
The marksmanship of many of his fellow soldiers was subpar, according to Tom Reilly. He also asserts that the bombing halt ahead of negotiations caused a great increase in VC and NVA attacks.
To complete the process of registering his artillery pieces on the target areas, Frank Cox went to the highest ground around. There he found an exotic anti-aircraft battery with a delusional commander who had an exaggerated sense of his mission and of the worth of his weapon system, the HAWK.
The intel from the captured courier was juicy. A high level meeting of political cadres was to be held in a certain village and Captain Marshall Carter's unit was chosen to conduct a raid. Given the power to completely plan the operation, Carter requested extra choppers and a Medivac unit "on station," hovering high above the action waiting to descend. Part 1 of 5.
As the enemy swarmed towards them, the Marines formed a 360 degree defensive position and then they faced a night long assault. It was Frank Cox spotting the artillery support that won the upper hand against, as he calls the Viet Cong, "as difficult an enemy as the Marines have ever faced." Part 2 of 2.
When Les Carter arrived in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive, his battalion’s District was very unstable. By the time he left, nearly all enemies had been killed or driven off. That was the assessment of a North Vietnamese commander.
Captain Rody Conway had the best asset any advisor to a South Vietnamese unit could have, an experienced and knowledgeable sergeant, Harold Cook. At first it was relatively quiet and the most action was in keeping the road open.
Rody Conway’s first action with the South Vietnamese unit he was advising, was to aid in the rescue of four other advisors who were surrounded after their unit withdrew. He found a wounded friendly with a most interesting note pinned to his chest.
Marshall Carter went for the Marines when he graduated from West Point to escape the family business. His father and grandfather were both West Point graduates who were in the Army. They considered the Marines a small service with limited career opportunities, but to Carter, that was no problem.
He felt he owed it to the country, so Al Copeland volunteered early for the draft. He was infantry all the way, and after basic training and jungle training in the cold rain, he was ready for Vietnam.
Returning from his first tour of Vietnam, George Forrest went straight to Fort Benning, so it was a good experience. As for the return from the second tour, it wasn't the worst day of his life, but it was right up there as he changed into civilian clothes to avoid the protesters. He thinks about the conditions for service members today and wonders if the overwhelming social media communications are a good thing for morale and focus.
How did he spend his down time? "There was no down time," says Bob Atkinson, who was a Marine mortarman protecting Da Nang. He could relax enough at battalion, though, to play pranks involving a radio and a tape recorder.
His Vietnam experienced influenced and guided every job he had throughout his life, says George Forrest. He was disappointed in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at first, but that changed when he visited. And he finally got his parade.
As if getting shot in the head wasn’t enough, Dennis Haines had many complications on his road to recovery, including a serious infection. He was amused, however, by the process of molding the plastic plate to cover the missing part of his skull.
Even in the field, Rody Conway enjoyed the South Vietnamese food and the French coffee provided by the troops he was advising. His first operations were uneventful, since any North Vietnamese troops were usually passing through and gone.
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.
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.
He felt he had done his job well in Vietnam, but Marine Frank Cox wounded himself when his sidearm accidentally discharged. This bothered him for years, but the passage of time gave him the perspective to come to grips with it.
The worst day in Vietnam for Bill Ray, who was with an engineer unit building roads, was the day three civilians were accidently killed in separate incidents. Other problems during that tour included potheads and a reluctant Sergeant Major. At least the VC left him alone.