I recall at one point sitting on the rim of a bomb crater, and with all my heart wanted to cry my eyes out, but the ever-alert syndrome would not allow it. I became angry with myself at that point, and I believe I have been angry ever since.
I vaguely remember the Chaplain having some kind of service that afternoon late... M-16's with bayonets in the ground, and helmets atop them.... I stood at the rear of the group... not really hearing anything.... just numb, full of grief and unable to release it. (It would be 15 years later before I first cried... and have done a lot of it since... but the pain does not go away.... it seems to be comforting in a way.)
I remember some honcho's coming out on a chopper, in pressed uniforms, and strutting around like they were really cool, but I was mostly blank until we headed out later to clear away from the area after it had been secured.
We had walked into elements of the 27th NVA Regiment, and 33rd Sapper Battalion. We had been sent in to find them, and destroy them.
The following sent to me on Aug 9th, 2009 from Bob Atkinson re: June 17th ...
"I was with Mike Dawson that memorable day when he was KIA. I was one of four Marines following Mike down a tank trail when what sounded like an AK-57 opened up from our right flank.
All was hit accept myself for only God knows why. I could hear the bullets whizzing around my ears. I immediately hit the ground and rolled with each spray of automatic weapon fire. An unknown Marine that had joined our machine gun unit and was running in front of me was hit and down screamed in pain. I pulled him from the trail opening into tall elephant grass for safety. He yelled of pain and I assured him he would be ok - just to be quiet. I think he died in my arms. We were isolated from the unit and I just sat still with the wounded or dead comrade in my arms.
After a period of time someone touched me on the shoulder and asked "Are you ok Marine?" I responded "Yes!" He requested I follow him and as we moved I could see dead or wounded comrades laying in the brush.
Mike had possibly saved me earlier that day by telling me to keep my head down because a NVA sniper was in our front hiding in a hold. Needless to say an incoming round exploded immediately after that and a new Marine was hit. That's when we left the position at Mike request due to the possiblity of another round coming in on us. We were trying to connect with other Marines.
This event has caused me a lot of grief reconnecting with this event. I think of Mike a lot and it seem as though this happen yesterday!
Robert Atkinson, Jr."
The Command Chronology reads as follows:
(1) Complete rehab on afternoon of 16 June and motor march to Dong Ha CB.
(2) Upon EENT 16 June, conduct motor march up Route #1 and using same as LOD by
162300H commence night movement to contact west within zone. The night movement will be supported, non-illuminated.
(3) Be prepared at daylight on 17 June to attack to the west, to destroy all enemy forces in the Leatherneck Square area, supported by an armor/infantry reaction/reserve force (from C-2).
(skipping to four days later) 1. Regimental Frag Order 74-69
(1) Conduct R&R at Cua Viet R&R center.
(2) Don’t be a LITTERBUG. (Oh give me a friggin break!)
It seems we, in our area of contact, were extremely outnumbered, and they were dug-in in trenches and fighting holes. We were in deep doo-doo. I truly believe that if we had not had the artillery and air support, and those ballsy chopper pilots, not one of us would have survived.
The NVA were even killing our wounded, due to the close proximity of our forces. The other Companies in the Battalion also saw action in the overall areas during this time also. This was a part of what was known as Operation Virginia Ridge.
That night they "Arc lighted" the retreat area the NVA took, and that was quite a show! The sound of high flying jets, then the high whistle of the bombs dropping, seemingly hundreds of them, then when they landed… it was if it were daylight!
We then went up through that area the next day.....being careful of all the little antipersonnel bomblets left by the bombing run the previous night.
The Command chronology mentions:
17 June 0800H Co. M made heavy contact with the NVA Co. 11 Marine KIA’s, and 25 WIA’s(I count 26, they missed Rick Hazelwood, one of our FO's.), 10 NVA KIA’s (note no mention of the NVA Officer KIA, or POW’s captured that day either see following picture of POW’s).
19 June 0845H Co M discovered 1 grave. 1 NVA KIA
20 June 0715H Co M discovered 5 NVA Bodies. 5 NVA KIA’s (notice the importance of body count…it all seemed to be about that.)
21 June Bn moved to Cua Viet for R&R 22June 1600H Co M began search for missing Marine.
The Marine was waiting to be picked up at previous Co location. (We had somehow left one of our men behind!)
Then on 28 June 0640H Co M received 4 122mm rockets while on mine sweep. 6 Marine WIA’s (2 engineers). We were back at Con Thien by this time, and I think Tim Roth was the Corpsman on that patrol.
Most of my tour with Mike Co. is a wash after the 16th. I lost my edge, my sense of being, while kneeling over my fallen comrades.
I had two FNG Corpsmen (Doc Dutch and Doc Eby), Doc's Dulin and Carson, Doc Jim "Willie" (William's), as well as Doc Tim Roth with me on that day. There might have been more, I really can't remember.
They performed admirably! I don't know if I ever thanked them, but guys ... You were fantastic!
I was very lucky in that none of my corpsmen ever were seriously wounded, dysentery discounted, while I was with Mike Co. Our Marines took damn fine care of us. Thank you Gentlemen!
When we got to Con Thien in late June, and I contacted Ray Gallant, whom I had replaced at Con Thien 4 1/2 months earlier, (He was at Division Surgeons Office) and I asked him to get me the hell out of the Bush.... I was wasted. Ray, a true friend, jammed it through, and I found myself as Division Training Petty Officer on July 8th, an office pogue, for which I was aptly suited.
In that position, I could keep tabs on my Mike Co., and was still, truly with them in my heart. When Division began it's mount out in September, I was getting short, and did not want to go to OKI and play military BS, so I got myself transferred to FLSG-B, ("Floozie Bravo"), and I stayed in Quang Tri until December 26th when the last of us pulled back to Da Nang to FLC.
There, on my last foray to the EM Club, I ran into some of my old Mike guys. Why they were still in country I don’t have a clue. I was passing their tent, and they hollered at me. "Come in Doc and have a drink!" Okey-Dokey, one little one! However they were out of booze, so I made a recon to a Chiefs hootch, and cajoled an imperial quart of Imperial (cheap rot gut) from
him. Well, my Marines were thrilled, but not satisfied with the little nip I took from the bottle, so they grabbed me, held me, tilted my head back and damn near drowned me, and subsequently poisoned me by pouring it down my throat. I spent the next few days in absolute misery with the Mother of all hangovers!
Seven days later I was a civilian, unceremoniously dumped back into the world, not ever able to
recall anything between being at DaNang airport seeing my freedom bird on the tarmac, and stepping off the RTD bus at Long Beach Naval Station. Those 24-36 hours are an absolute void!
If I would have shipped over, I would more than likely have been an E-6 in three months, but believe me, that was the furthest thing from my mind. I have never been involved in the medical
The ensuing years found me in a variety of jobs, moving on every year or two, destroying each
situation somehow; an eight year marriage that I failed miserably at… still living those days;
unable to find the magic elixir to quell the pain. The body is miserably alive but the soul was
ripped out long ago and far away.
I cannot close this, without expressing my deep sorrow for the death of Pfc. Lawrence DeMilio. He died of heat on May 17th, 1969, his first day in the bush.
The day began on a hill we had "humped" to the previous night, and we received a few new replacements. Some time around 1:00 or 2:00PM (I can't get the sun's angle completely correct in my mind), jets came in and bombed the hell out of the hill north of us.
We then began the assault down off our hill (with full gear) and up the steep slope of the targeted hill. I call them hills, but we were in mountainous terrain. The temperature climbed to well over 100 degrees. Being the Senior Corpsmen, my position in the march was with the Command group. As we proceeded to scramble up the steep slope, I stopped to check on one of our newly arrived Marines who was having problems with the heat. His platoon's Corpsmen were attending to him, and a couple of Marines were assisting with getting him up the hill. The situation appeared to be handled, and some enemy contact was made, so I resumed my position with the CP group. The objective was not secured for a period of time due to NVA remaining hidden on the hill.
At some point later, I was summoned to check on the casualty, and made my way over to the platoon's area and found that although IV fluids had been established, his condition had become critical.
The hill had no Landing Zone cleared for a helicopter to land at this point, and the wind had come up, which would make a Medevac "iffy" at best. I discussed Larry's condition with Captain Riley and we agreed that if a chopper might be able to hover above the tree stumps left from the bombing, and maybe we could lift Larry high enough so they could pull him aboard. This maneuver would require great skill and bravado from the chopper pilot and crew, and would be their option to attempt. It would also place the men on the ground in potential peril.
The helicopter arrived on scene, made the maneuvers necessary successfully getting Larry on board and he was on his way. We all felt relieved and assumed he would be alright once he got to 3rd Med or the Hospital ship (actually to the hospital ship just offshore as we learned later).
Late in the day we got word that Larry didn't make it. We were devastated. I wasn't used to losing them once we got them out ... we expected miracles and post evac losses were so rare.
For 35 years, I couldn't recall his actual name ... but his MedEvac number was burned into my brain ... DL-4653. 16 or 17 years ago, I got into the internet and found a resource with the Casualties on it. I sorted out all the D's, then sorted them to narrow the list to first name "L" ... narrowed in on USMC and May 1969. One name fit all my criteria and then it all came rushing back.
Larry was lost on his first day in the bush with Mike Company ... has never seemed fair at all.
At our reunion last summer in San Diego, I had the honor of spending some quality reminisce time with two of my Corpsmen who worked so hard to stabilize Larry. We remembered him and talked about that day. It eases the pain a bit.
I hope no one is offended by what I have written, that is not my intent. This is for those who weren’t there, and cannot begin to comprehend the intensity of our experiences. There were the other days, but June 17th was my Waterloo. I think my story is not so different from most other Corpsmen, yet I feel I died in VietNam... still waiting to come home... still waiting to be alive. Still struggling to keep going on, while trying to conceal much of my anguish from others. Still trying to cope with today, while struggling hopelessly with yesterday. It is yet another frustrating war, with no victory in sight.
This recollection is for my daughter and granddaughters, so that they may begin to understand this part of my life, and it’s effects.
Doc Hoppy HM2USN M/3/3 '69 RVN