4:31 | 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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
Terry Sater joined the Navy in 1966 with hopes of avoiding going to Vietnam. His initial deployment was aboard the USS Enterprise stationed off the Coast of Vietnam. After failing Electronics School Terry was assigned to the Mobile Riverine Force Training in California.
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.
Forward Air Controller Bill Smith was part of the covert air war based in Thailand covering Laos and Cambodia. When not being shot at by angry insurgents with AK-47's, he found time to teach classes in a Thai middle school. The toughest job he had was search and rescue missions.
Dennis Haines had seen dead soldiers on stretchers but it was totally different with his friend Jack Kirchner. Dennis had been right there with him in the line of fire. He learned it was best not to be too close to your wartime comrades.
Two things Bill Acebes remembers vividly from Vietnam: the lack of drinking water in the field and the teak trees he used for cover. Ponchos were used to collect rainwater but there was something wrong with that and he can taste it to this day... The teak trees were good for cover but could also prevent evacuation, as he learned during a particularly bad day.
The decision was made to evacuate the villagers while booby traps and bunkers were destroyed. An old woman walked up to forward observer Frank Cox and started kicking the ground and giving him grief. This led to a surprising friendship.
Being trained in unconventional warfare, Ted Cummings and his division learned about going behind enemy lines and causing massive disruptions in their ongoing processes. In special forces, the key was to train so that there was a fully developed team effort so that the company never had to rely on a single person.
The sailors of the USS Kirk knew that one of the Vietnamese women they had saved during the chaotic exodus of refugees had named a baby after the ship. Captain Paul Jacobs tracked her down and she came to the ship's crew reunion, along with Richard Armitage, a civilian official at the time who took charge of the largest rescue operation.
When you set an eighteen year old kid down in a jungle and give him "half the power of the Lord to carry on his hip," it becomes a real concern to restrain him. According to Captain Marshall Carter, once they see their buddies blown away in front of them, they want to shoot anything that moves.
The 1st Cavalry was the first Army unit to have it's own helicopters and the Vietnam War was the first war in which they were used tactically in large numbers. Pilot Pat Richardson flew for them sometimes, as well as supporting Australian and New Zealand units. He remembers a party during which a couple of American pilots decided they could drink the Australians under the table. Bad idea.
Three of Captain Marshall Carter's men who were on a fateful raid with him, went to the battalion commander to tell him what Captain Carter had done during the operation. That conversation worked out well for him, much better than the conversation he had years later with a reporter from WGBH.
Frank Cox recalls the frustration and anger felt by many in Vietnam due to the ineptness of the war effort and the difficulty in the field. Channeling this anger fueled a successful career for him later, but there was an incident on patrol when he let the anger get the best of him.
Rody Conway knew that it was a waste of time to be in the infantry and not go into combat, so he pushed to get sent to Vietnam. First was a six-week course on what to expect, like the fact that “friend” and “shoot” was the same word in Vietnamese.
As an advisor in Vietnam, Bill Hanna faced an unusual obstacle, the cultural phenomenon known as "saving face." This led to some perplexing situations as he tried to school the Vietnamese in running a modern Air Force.
During the early days of the Vietnam War, West Pointer Bill Ray expected to be advisor to an ARVN engineer company, but he wound up advising the topographic company instead. He was comfortably housed at the Five Oceans hotel in Saigon and he remembers the great day when the huge mapmaking camera arrived.