19 December 2008


For me, in 1968, this day never really happened. We left California on the 18th and arrived in Wake on the 20th, thanks to the International Date Line. (I suppose one could say that we got 50 minutes of the 19th in Hawaii, but I’m rounding down to the nearest 12 hours because it makes a better sea story.)

After we left Wake, we remained in daylight, landing at Kadena Air Force Base at about 1100 on Friday, December 20. The Marine Liaison at Kadena was surprised to receive a draft of Marines so close to Christmas, but soon scrounged a number of busses to take us to Third Marine Amphibious Force (Rear) (III MAF) at Camp Hansen.

For most of us, this was an introduction to the Orient and foreign travel. (My sole exposure up to that time was a family vacation in Bermuda in 1959 and the trip to Canada in 1967.) As we drove up the island, the sights and sounds were interesting.

At III MAF (Rear)—so named because the Force Headquarters was in Vietnam—we were again received with some surprise. Our record books were collected and at 1400, we were briefed on our anticipated schedule. We were told that there were no scheduled flights into Vietnam until after Christmas, and that we should check in at 0730, 1200and 1800 daily. The Billeting Officer assigned us to rooms in the Bachelor Officer Quarters (BOQ) and gave us the schedule for the dining room at the BOQ.

Pat and I managed to get adjoining rooms and headed to the BOQ to get settled in. Because we had not eaten since breakfast on the plane, we headed to the Commissioned Officers Mess to see if we could find a gedunk (snack bar). As we were entering, two lieutenants in Summer Service Alphas (the most complete service uniform, it was khaki in color and consisted of a belted blouse and trousers (a suit, if you will), with a khaki-colored long-sleeve shirt and a khaki field scarf (tie). And these two were wearing the fouragerre, indicating that they were assigned to the Fifth Marines.

It was pretty impressive. From the conversation we overheard, they were heading out on R&R, which meant that they were at the mid-point of their tour of duty.

We found the gedunk (along with a large number of our classmates), and killed time until our 1800 meeting.

When we got there, less than half our detachment was present. A number of our adventurous brethren, adopting the theory that they could be a little lax with schedules (“What are they gonna do? Shave my head and send me to Vietnam?”), had headed for town.

At the meeting, it was clear that someone had finally awakened and discovered that they were in possession of 138 infantry lieutenants. We were told that there would be a flight leaving at 1800 the next day, and they began calling the roll to fill the flight. I was number 6 and Pat was 14. (Our erstwhile brethren who missed the meeting also went in country the next night, about 20 minutes after we did.)

We were told to report back the following morning to put into storage any uniforms and baggage that we were not taking in country. We were warned to take with us one set of Summer Service Charlies (short sleeved khaki shirt, khaki trousers, cover, and shoes for use if we did not come back through Oki on R&R). We would also get any needed shots and would receive a briefing on the current situation in country at the headquarters of the Special Landing Force . We were then dismissed for the night.

As we walked toward the BOQ, Pat said, “Let’s go to the chapel. It should be quiet and I need some time there.”

It was quiet, but surely not empty! A whole lot of us felt a need to have a very personal talk with God that night.

When we got back to the Q, I wondered if I would be able to sleep. No problem. It was one of the last times since then that I really got a good night’s sleep.

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