5 Cents A Pack

5 Cents A Pack

Dear Sgt Grit,

As usual, I really look forward to reading your Newsletter each Thursday. The 31 May 12 issue of the newsletter had stories about the Cuban Missile Crisis, USS Noble, LST 1178 – Wood County and Yuma Marine Corps Air Station, all of which I have some connect too. My part of the Cuban Crisis was minimal, I started Boot Camp on June 12, 1962, went through San Diego Platoon 338 and we qualified at Camp Matthews Range.

After completion of 2nd ITR at Camp Pendleton. I went on leave prior to reporting to my Permanent Duty Station of 29 Palms, CA. I was home on leave when the Cuban Crisis started, some of my fellow Boot Camp brothers had been ordered to their Permanent Duty Station, prior to being granted leave. Those that reported to their units first, had their leaves cancelled because of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I can still remember sitting in my car listening to President Kennedy on the radio and wondering if I would get orders to report back to base ASAP! Since I had not reported to my unit at 29 Palms, CA, they did not know who I was. But being a newly minted Marine, I was sure that the US and the USMC would need me in this noble adventure! But that never came to pass, after the Russians stood down, I continued my Recruit Leave and reported to Marine Corps Base, 29 Palms, CA later that month.

Upon reporting, I discovered that one of our sister units, 3rd LAAM Bn. had been deployed from 29 Palms to the East Coast. Our unit had sent Marines to fill vacant slots prior 3rd LAAM being deployed. We also had several Marines who had been sent on Temporary Duty and they started returning in November 1962! Many of these Marines had earned a campaign medal and they stood out as the "Old Salts" along with the veterans of WW 2 and Korea. We admired those few Pfcs, LCpls and Cpls that wore the Armed Forces Expeditionary Ribbon on their chest. In 1962-63, they were proven veterans, with that ribbon on their chest. During that time, young Marines like me, had no ribbons to wear except our mark ship badge. And as we know, it would be a couple more years before our Marines would be earning a lot more
medals!

Then reading William Davis, Sr. story about being on the USS Noble brought back memories of my time on the USS Noble APA 214. In February 1964, 2nd LAAM Bn. was sent to Amphibious Training at Coronado Beach, CA. We learned and practiced amphibious training, loading on a ship and the art of climbing up and down the nets into an LCVP while bouncing up and down on the ocean's swells. Our final graduation exercise was to load up on the USS Noble go out to sea and then make an amphibious landing. All this training was new and exciting, especially to a young Marine who was stationed in the "High Desert" of 29 Palms. We were doing real "Marine Stuff" and that included liberty in the San Diego area!

The chow was great on board ship and we had calm seas for most of our time on the ship. One day I overhead a couple of sailors complaining about their chow on the ship, I told them that we would gladly swap mess halls and cooks with them! I told them that after a stay with us, they would appreciate their chow.

I had taken up smoking cigarettes while in Boot Camp, so that I couldn't be "volunteer" for extra details. So when the DI asked for "One (or more) non-smoker Volunteer" for a detail, I was not available since I had blended into the smokers group. After loading up on the USS Noble, we started sailing out of port. On the first night out when we passed the continental limits of the United States, the ship announced that the usual 25 cents a pack of cigarettes had been lowered. Since we had left the United States limits, they did not charge taxes on any purchases. We could purchase cigarettes for 10 cents a package at the ship's store and they had a special price of 5 cents a pack for Raleigh's cigarettes. I took them up on that deal and was wondering how many cartons of Raleigh's that I could put in my Field Transport Pack. So I ran down to the ship's store and bought a package of Raleigh's for a nickel. I have to confess that this was my first and only package of Raleigh's that I bought and smoked, even at 5 cents a pack! Need I say more?

I am attaching some pictures of the unit's trip, (All Pictures
by Fred R. Gonzales)

From first photo to last:

Feb. 1964 – 2nd LAAM Bn. practicing Dry Net Training, Coronado Naval Base, CA.

Feb. '64- Marines from 2nd LAAM Bn. on the USS Noble APA 214. Getting loaded up and starting to go out to sea.

Feb. '64 – 2nd LAAM Convoy rest stop on the return trip back to MCB 29 Palms, CA. L-R: Cpl Clark, LCpl Pemberton, Pfc Eldridge and LCpl Gonzales. Center Rear: LCpl LaMaster.

Feb. '64 – 2nd LAAM Bn. unit members watch as the USS Noble APA 214 heads out to sea. 

Feb. '64 – USS Noble APA 214 – launching LCVP's. 

Feb. 64 – LCpl Fred Gonzales preparing to go down the nets to the LCVP.

Feb. 64 – LCpl Gonzales(left) and Cpl Clark (Right) on deck  of USS Noble as ship leaves San Diego, CA.

 

1963 brought the first of several trips that 2nd LAAM would make to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, AZ. Although the convoy trip was a long one, it was a great duty station for us. The old WW II wooden Air Force Barracks were a joy to stay in. We were told that the WW 2 Barracks were not suitable for Air Force personnel, but it was like a palace for Marines! We were billeted 4 to a room and the room had a wash basin with a mirror, light and a door we could close! The shower and head was down the hall way, but it was still a wonderful set up and much better that our squad bay barracks at 29 Palms. And the
mess hall had great food and was like being in a cafeteria!

I do remember that the EM Club was very nice and they served the coldest Schlitz beer that I ever drank and they did not check ID's like back at 29 Palms. Also the Mexico border was very close and you didn't have to worry about being ID'ed there, so Liberty was also good for a young Marine. 2nd LAAM Bn. made several trips to Yuma MCAS in the time that I served with the unit.

In March 1965, 2nd LAAM participated in Operation "Silver Lance" which was conducted at Camp Pendleton, CA. We convoyed from 29 Palms, CA to Point Magu, CA. I had the great experience in driving a jeep as part of a convoy during afternoon rush hour traffic driving on LA freeways. Upon arrival at Point Magu, we loaded our missile battalion on a couple of Navy LSTs. The ship that Hqs. Btry. loaded on was the US Kemper County, LST 1190. And this was our home for several days as we got our sea legs and sailed into the blue Pacific!

I was the last men to enter our berth and took the only rack left which was on the very bottom row. We then steamed off toward the setting sun and floated around for several days. On the 3rd day, I was assigned Guard Duty on the top deck from 12 midnight to 4 AM. As we are on moving ship, I didn't think that any enemy personnel would swim out and attempt to steal or damage our 6X's trucks that were loaded with vans, missile launchers, mobile radars and other equipment. But I did my duty and insured that no harm or damage was done to U.S. Government Property that was in my care!

As I was ending my guard duty, our ship began heading into a storm that was coming in from the Western Pacific. Those who have been on a flat bottom LST know how it will start pitching and rolling with each wave. Just as I got down into the troop compartment and laid down on my rack, the ship was in the storm and it was really tossing our ship up and down and side to side. I usually did not get sea sick but this storm had me feeling with an upset stomach, dizziness and light-headed. I was sea-sick and it was bad!

A couple of hours later as I laid in my rack bouncing and rolling and rolling and bouncing. A buddy who was sleeping on the rack above mine, LCpl Brenner woke up around 6 AM and jumped down and woke me up. Brenner asked me if I was going to breakfast? In what little strength I had left, I informed him that "I ain't going to chow, I ain't going nowhere! I am staying in my rack!" So I remember Brenner taking off to chow and I wonder how in the world anyone can think of eating at a time like this!

I would regain consciousness periodically and see that my berth was still spinning, raising and falling and would return to my dream world. A couple of hours later, as I regained consciousness for a few minutes I saw Brenner dragging himself into the berth and slowly climbing into his rack. I asked him where had he been for the last couple of hours "Didn't you go to chow?" He answered "Yes, I went to chow and was doing real good until someone in the mess threw up and then everyone else started throwing up! I've been in the head throwing up since then!"

He then laid down and we shared the common feeling of lying there for several hours until the storm passed. Later that day, the seas calmed and I was able to get out of my rack and join the living again! A couple of days later, we landed at Camp Pendleton and participated in one of the largest Amphibious Training Operations of the Marine Corps "Operation Silver Lance". During this time we found out what happened to our "Lost" Marines, who had disappeared a few months prior!

The "Lost" Marines tale started in November 1964. 2nd LAAM was sent out on a long planned field problem, way out in the Northern reaches of 29 Palms. We had been out several days and everything was normal. Then one morning I went to work my 12 hour shift in the Tactical Operations Center. After finishing my shift, I returned to our tent. As I entered, I noticed that several of the cots were vacant and several of our buddies were gone or "Lost". All that our gunny told us that they had been sent back to main side.

A few days later when we returned to the battalion area, we noticed that 1st LAAM Bn. was gone, the barracks were empty, the warehouses vacant and no vehicles in the truck park. There were rumors about where they had gone, then a couple of weeks later we heard a rumor that they were in Okinawa. Then in March 1965, while we were on "Operation Silver Lance" the news reported that 1st LAAM Bn., was among the Marine Corps units that had landed in Vietnam. Now we had found our "Lost" Marines, they had joined 1st LAAM and were protecting the Marines at Da Nang Airfield.

1965 was an eventful year for myself and all Marines! Shortly after participating in "Silver Lance" and returning to MCB 29 Palms, I became an official short timer! On June 11, 1965, as I walked out of my barracks for the last time in civilian clothes, 2nd LAAM was having an Inspection and was formed on the grinder. I looked down and saw my buddies in formation wearing the Summer Duty Uniforms while wearing my "civvies". I was walking out as a civilian and looking forward to new experiences in the civilian world. I did not know that in just 2 months, these same Marine brothers would be landing on the beaches of
Chu Lai, joining 1st LAAM in Vietnam.

Also, I did not learn until many years later that on June 25, 1965, a C-135 loaded with 72 Marines, with several of them being LAAM Marines, would crash into a mountain while taking off from El Toro Marine Air Station. The aircraft was en route to Vietnam when it went down with the 12 Air Force crewmen, along with the 72 Marines. Their names are not written on the Vietnam Memorial Wall. But each man's lost is just as real, to the family, to our Corps and to the United States! Some of our Marine brothers that served in the Light Anti-Aircraft Missile Battalions, would be included in the more than 58 thousand
names listed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall. The Wall serves to honor their service and sacrifice in a strange land for a common purpose – Because Our Country Sent Us! That's what Marines Do!

Freddy "Speedy" Gonzales
2nd LAAM Bn., 1962 – 1965
Corporal of Marines
frdgs106 @ aol .com
 

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