14 March 2010


Beginning in June 1969, the United States began to withdraw troops from Vietnam as part of President Nixon’s “vietnamization” process. Eerily reminiscent of President Obama’s plan for Iraq and Afghanistan, the idea was to turn the war over to the South Vietnamese. Thereafter, the US would provide logistic support for the South. It might have worked, too, except that as soon as our combat units were out, the Democratic controlled Congress welshed on the logistic support part of the deal, cutting off all aid and abandoning the South Vietnamese to fight a North Vietnamese army that was fully supported by the Soviet Union.

The Ninth Marines were pulled back to Okinawa in July, and by September the entire 3d Marine Division was gone. The Fourth Marines went to Oki and the Third Marines to Hawaii, where, along with a battalion of the 11th Marines, it became the ground combat element of the 1st Marine Brigade.

As soon as I returned to An Hoa, along with all other embarkation officers in the 1st Marine Division, I was called to Division headquarters for an embarkation conference. The gist of the two day conference was that since the Division’s arrival in Vietnam in 1965, no thought had been given to the process of leaving. Mount-out boxes for all our gear were either non-existent or in bad repair after 4 hard years. Our embark plans were out of date. We needed to get our respective units ready so that we could move on short notice.

As I was preparing to return to An Hoa, I was in the visiting officers quarters (a strong-back tent), packing up. Suddenly, Lieutenant Chuck (“Liberty”) Vallance walked in. We are Basic School classmates, and I had seen him the night before in the mess. He looked shaken.

“Hey, Mac. Tom Pottenger is still your S-1, right?”

“Sure is.”

“Well, when you get back, tell him Mike Quinn is dead.” Lieutenant Quinn had been one of Pot’s classmates in OCS and one of his roommates at TBS. Liberty had been called over to Graves Registration to identify the body.

On that somber note, I returned to An Hoa and immediately broke the news to Tom. He was stunned. Roy Phillips, KIA with Bravo Company right after we arrived, had been his other roommate. I went back to the S-4 bunker to settle in.

A few minutes later, a wild-eyed Pottenger was in my face, calling me every name in the book. He wound down with “That’s just not funny, Mac. I just talked to the G-1 casualty officer and Quinn’s not dead.” At that moment, a runner from S-1 came in.

“S’cuse me, Mr. Pottenger, Sir. G-1 Casualty just called back. They said to tell you that they just got word that that Lieutenant named Quinn you was askin’ about was reported KIA today. When you called, they hadn’t got the word yet. They said to tell you they’re sorry.” We grieved again.

It was late for our class to be losing people. In the early months of our tour, I dreaded seeing the back pages of each month’s Marine Corps Gazette. The official magazine of the Marine Corps Association, it was still a true gazette in 1969. In the back pages each month, rank by rank, were reported promotions, retirements, transfers, awards, and command assignments. And deaths. Until at least June, I saw the names of classmates every month. But by now, we were mostly out the bush and less exposed to danger.

To the best of my knowledge, Mike Quinn was the last member of our class to be killed in ground combat in Vietnam. At the time of his death, he was serving as Executive Officer, Company H, 2d Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division. He was 23. His name appears on the Wall on Panel 18W, Line 8.

© 2010 Michael R. McCarty. All rights reserved.

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