Alright, I’m not the typical United States Marine of the 60’s. I wanted to go to Viet Nam, that’s why I joined the Marines, to experience combat. Here you find short a monograph of one of the more illustrious adventures during my military service in South Viet Nam — under a formal contract with the United States Marine Corps. Here I illuminate the dates surrounding February 28, 1968, a growing number of years ago.
In honor of those on the four sides of the conflict I served with and against, I present a few images from my time spent in Vietnam: Quang Tri Province, Hue’ City, Khe Sanh, the Rockpile, Lang Ming Mihn, A Luoi , the A Shau Valley, Dong Ha, Ben Hai, Dog Patch, DaNang and Hoi An. I have never forgotten the beauty of the peaceful reaches of Vietnam nor its diverse peoples, or the unique way they dealt with their life with literally everyday a war; literally for generations. Which is different from other nations. The “Nam” is an amazing place and I think you will find these documented stories often amazing, full of adventure and sometimes comical episodes.
The famed founder of the Jesuit Order, General Ignatius Loyola is credited with personifying if not originating the concept, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” A fellow warrior of lasting infamy, that man, no doubt, was driven much like this man to try and work his way through the trying and often inscrutable trauma of Post Traumatic Disorders often associated with combat; always seeking to attain the “high” associated with mortal combat: kill or be killed.
Following are some of the pages found in my personal Memorandum pocket notebook. This little green notebook was standard issue to any requesting it, and I used it to regularly journal while on my tour of duty with 1st Battalion 1st Marines in Viet Nam 1967 – 1968. These pages depict several combat activities that I experienced from my arrival in Da Nang with orders to report to (1st Battalion 1st Marines (1/1) Battalion Headquarters in Hoa An (the birth place of Ho Chi Min.) My orders were to report for assignment to Weapons Platoon with Delta Company as replacement machine gunner, (my military occupational specialty was 0331.) When the Gunny (Gunnery Sargent) read my folder he recommended I be appointed Fire Team Leader. I would fight with the M-60 “gun” across the flats of Hoi An up into the National Forest of Quang Tri Province. After the events of The Battle of Medina, my subsequent work would be as Battalion Scout in the northern reaches of I Corps, up on this and that side of the DMZ. Viet Nam for me was quite a time, quite a place: from the beaches of the South China Sea to the Highlands on to the shores of the Ben High River, I saw a great deal of the theater of the Viet Nam War.
There are other battles that I could and will expound upon from the view point of my personal participation; few would deny that I played a significant, if not pivotal role in, but the events here about the closing days of the Battle of Hue best suit today’s purposes. My purpose is more than just self aggrandizement; it is to hopefully expunge the psychosomatic traces of an event that is a part of an era that haunts my very being with particular emphasis each Tet Season. Those events remain like contrails across the sky, like the fire of tracer rounds that have colored my adult life path with a driving pain and illness that at times have carried me to the brink of self termination.
Strange, I started the outline for this document in 2004 and it is now, well today. So, I start again in the belief that a draft of this nature may be of some benefit to me, my wife (as well as my ex’s) and children, affording them and you a better understanding of my behavior patterns, and perhaps that of many other so-called warriors.
To get in the genera of the man, picture me as Karl Emmett Bockman, setting on a bar stool in Columbus, Ohio after classes at the Columbus College of Art & Design in early 1966. There I enlisted, signed a three year contract to serve with the United States Marine Corps. The enlistment granted me a few months for a summer break from classes before reporting to Marine Corps Recruiting Depot (MCRD) San Diego, CA.
I graduated MCRD, San Diego with distinction as the Platoon Guide and Platoon Honor Man: at the head of my class of 96 men. Yes, it was tough – one boot couldn’t hack it (take the pressure, pain, pugilism and committed suicide (yes numb-nuts, it was a different Boot Camp then.) I was meritoriously awarded the US Marine’s Dress Blue Uniform by Leatherneck Magazine of the Marines and received a Meritorious promotion to the rank of Private First Class.
At the Rifle Range, my Platoon Commander Drill Instructor (DI) asked me to set for the test, that if I passed, I could attend Officer Candidates School (OCS). I passed the test but after consideration I declined the offer. I’m glad I did, but I didn’t know why I did. Perhaps it was my grandpaw’s parting words to me as I left for Boot Camp, “Karl you are the only man born into our family since the war (of northern aggression) to fight for the Yankees. Remember there is a power greater than all of us and you can and should follow His lead.”
Reared a Roman Catholic in a Southern, agrarian honoring family, I had never heard those words or concepts before. God is indeed in control of all things, and often I have felt the hand of His messengers on my shoulder. Rejection of the OCS offer was one of those times – He had something else in store for this Marine PFC. Perhaps innately, I understood that although I was an accomplished Marine, confirmed the best in my class on three occasions, I was too immature to be an officer like Nathan Bedford Forest and others in my family’s background. Little did I know that the bulk of the officers I would meet would often be as equally immature as I.
I wanted to go to Viet Nam, that’s why I joined the Marines, to experience combat. So I was issued Orders to report to 5th Marines where I was mentored in the practical use of the M-60 machine gun by a soldier-of-fortune from Wales, UK, Corporal Roberts. My primary motivation was to hear the call: “Guns Up!” One has no idea of the thrill associated with that call. It means the shit is at hand or about to hit the fan (contact with the enemy is eminent.) It means that the contest of wits, position and courage in face of an unknown force is in the making, not by a fella setting in front of a TV or in a stadium seat, but in real life, real time, real dirty, cold blood.
My shooting with the M-60 was tested effective on the range at 1000 yards and so steady was my reach with it, I could walk the rounds up and down a telephone pole at a cyclic rate of 250 rounds per minute – but that is another story.
I make no lame apologies to anyone about my warrior history or nature and love of the adrenaline rush; rather wish to thank all those that have lived and worked with me in spite of the risk of fear, peril and turmoil, especially my wife, mother and son. Diagnosed in 1989 with super high concentrates of Agent Orange toxins which accentuated combat related PTSD, I also had substantial intestinal parasites; I spent 3 years at the turn of this century in and out of the VA hospital system from New Orleans to Palo Alto, with San Antonio in the middle. I may speak more of this later but I’m convinced that my wife of now since May of 1997 Nancy Gail Tow saved my life. First through sitting with me to make sure I would seek competent treatment and then through her research leading to her culinary expertise in the Nourishing Traditions style – again, she has saved my life. Love is not blind; I can testify that love is work.
Marines destined to the current popular Theater of War receive particular training for that environment called Staging Battalion. You get special conditioning and insights into