Dedicated to William Overton Winston, Cpl, USMC, who left the world on 8/1/1067
Good day. I am writing this horrible story at the request of my family, although I don’t know why people would want to read about 18-year old Marines 45 years ago running through 125 degree jungles stopping to shoot at someone every 70 yards, dodging bullets all the way. The family justifies it: they tell me it’s a legacy of some kind.
Great amounts of death, blood, and trauma for 9 months, 2-3 times a week, around 80 firefights in 1966-67, Vietnam, USMC, WESPAC. Might have been 120 fights; who knows? Who cares.? Dead and wounded both sides everywhere. Penny a point, no one keeping score. I was a 105MM artillery Forward Observer, shooting the big bullets. What a legacy.
This is a 2010 Christmas present to them. As a Grandpa (“Papa”), I have 4 sweet kids and 6 grandkids. I haven’t spoken to any of them much about that year I spent as an 18-year old Marine half a century ago. It was pretty rough, and I didn’t want them thinking of me as what “Papa” had become over that year.
It wasn’t that I lied; I just chose not to speak the whole truth that much, or tell these stories. This will change that; can’t hide anymore. The only time I cried in the whole stupid war was when I lost count of how many men I had killed as a rifleman, then around 50 or so. I knew the Artillery count was larger, probably 400 or more, but that’s sort of indirect. I was surprised by the grunt work. Afterward, I kept on killing, but never started counting again. How can you lose count of the men you had personally killed? Unforgivable; and it haunts me to this day still. I never did catch up. There are other hauntings, too, as you shall soon see.
Then, the Greg I had known as a kid was in the never-never land forevermore, in the either always, no one would ever recognize me, there would be no friends nor lovers, and so it would be such for eternity, doomed, and so it would be, malevolent in the end, as it was that year. The only thing I would ever hear would be gunfire, explosions and violence, and I would end my short life amidst this milieu. And so it was in fact; 50 years later I still live there occasionally, still.
I was adrift, morally, forever. No one to blame but myself, I was the shooter with the hot hand. No one ever told me to stop firing, they needed me too badly. I was a volunteer and could have quit any day, but I enjoyed it and never wanted it to stop. I even enjoyed the weekly near-death close calls. Hello Satan. Mark Twain said “You go to Heaven for the Climate, you go to Hell for the Company.” See you soon, Mark.
However, as it turned out I had a pretty good life after this, in spite of my darker thoughts.
I prefer the legacy at the other end of the story. After an AK-47 punched two holes in you, one under the left nipple going in, and another going out the back; without much blood or hollering, you go quiet pretty quickly. Shock sets in fast, especially with only one lung left.
After five months, I recovered, went back to full Marine Corps duty, push-ups and runs, and was discharged (with medals), got out of the Corps and graduated two colleges with a BA and a Masters in business, worked for Merrill Lynch 5 years and was a real estate broker and developer for 15 more years. I married two women, had 4 kids, two each, have 6 grandkids, and am now retired, fooling around with all the kids and grandkids. Now that’s a legacy!
Back to Vietnam: There are two stories: 1) The Big Picture; and 2) The Little Photographs. We’ll see how this works out.