Monday, February 4, 2013

TET '68

"I wouldn't miss it for the world,"


"L'Angelle, I didn't think you would make it," the Captain remarked.

My reply to the Captain in the formation that morning out on the parking lot that served as the grinder behind the barracks. I had barely made it there in time and had spent the night in Newport Beach with my girlfriend, Patty Dell, a real surfer chick blonde looker. She dropped me off in her VW and that was the last I ever saw of her.

I'd met Patty at the Hatch Cover Bar in Laguna Beach on the Coast Highway, next door to the Sandpiper, and that's another story, the Hatch Cover. Anyway, I was playing the guitar and she went over and dropped a quarter in the juke box and it drowned out my playing. I went over and told her about it and she apologized and took me home.

San Onofre was the HQ for the 28th Marines and a number of us had just been called up to fill the billets for the 27th RLT, a ready action unit that had been given the nod to go West (to the East) in a hurry, in C-141's from El Toro, and I was going along, free of charge, for my first and only tour of duty in-country, in Vietnam.

They say that 1968 was the "Defining Year" for the war, but it had been going on for quite some time already with no end in sight. When Tet hit at the end of January, General Westmoreland needed more troops and LBJ obliged by offering the 27th RLT and the 82nd Airborne. Westy wanted 500,000 more to fight the VC and the NVA; he never got them. In fact, he was eventually replaced and I got my first look at his replacement, General Abrams, when he visited Liberty Bridge during Operation Allen Brook in May of '68.

I historically have set the date for that famous grinder formation when Patty Dell dropped me off as February 4th, when in fact it probably wasn't. It was today, 45 years ago. It wasn't until many years later that I heard the line I spoke to the Captain, used in Mel Gibson's movie, "We Were Soldiers" (2002). I am sure everybody else at the 28th Marines at San Onofre could agree that it was better to serve and fight than to shine boots and stand firewatch, or for that matter, mess duty. So we went.

The Radio Section at the 28th Marines was lucky, it got to go to the Nam as one unit so we all pretty much knew each other by the time we were mounting out our gear over at Camp Margarita, the home of the 27th. A little like the movie "Battle Cry" (1955) where Tab Hunter, Aldo Rray and the rest of the Marines all served in the same radio unit. By then, we had all done enough training at Camp Pendleton to be familiar with each others' radio procedure only we left a few good men behind at the 28th, some vets who just came back to The World like Randy Elliott from Arizona and Mertz, forever on mess duty but one hell of an inspiration for morale around the radio section at San Onofre. We went without them and I never heard or saw them again. But we had Rossi, Downey, Seitz, Quantz and a few more who proved themselves time and again on the radio.