Happened on 23 June 1968

Returning home from a combat zone can be a very joyous occasion for most military personnel, but for those who were in actual combat, the experience of homecoming can be quite different. This was especially the case for Vietnam veterans, who returned home alone after a couple of days upon completion of their tour of duty. I’m sure many Vietnam veterans experienced a homecoming similar to the one which follows.

30 June 1968: I’ve been taking Darvon for a week now, but there seems to be no relief from the excruciating pain. My head feels as if it is about to explode and I can’t even remember the flight out of Kadena AFB in Okinawa by GOVAIR to MCAS, El Toro, CA. Prior to 23 June 1968 I had the normal short timer fantasies of how it was going to be, booking on that silver freedom bird back to the “world.” It had been a long 18 months and I had made it out of that h&ll hole, Vietnam. To this very day I cannot remember the flight from El Toro to JFK International Airport. Even more baffling is I can’t recall what airline I flew to JFK on or how I got to the Long Island Railroad on the last leg home.

What’s happening here? What I can remember very vividly was what had happened on 23 June 1968. At approximately 0200 the concussion from a NVA rocket had thrown me through the air landing head first in a trench line, which had been dug by the engineers only days earlier. This occurred at the Quang Tri Combat Base and I was in transient to fly out to Da Nang at 0600 and then on to Okinawa. I had already turned in my weapons and 782 gear and I felt really naked. To make matters worse, as I was getting up, another Marine in full battle gear jumped on top of me, crushing my head against the wall of the trench. Bleeding profusely from the forehead and scalp I could remotely hear another Marine say jokingly say, “Hey buddy, you get to get a Purple Heart your last day in country.” I immediately replied, “they can keep it, I’m outta this f#$%^&g place in four hours.” A couple of Marines carried me over to the BAS and the Corpsman cleaned me up the best he could. Charlie figured that Quang Tri would be easy pickings since it wasn’t secured by the grunts of the 3rd MarDiv. They were wrong.

So I’m sitting on the train with my feet resting on my seabag and looking at my reflection in the window. Where am I? I look around and there are only a few people on the train this early in the morning. No one even gives me a glancing look. Am I invisible or am I really sitting here? They have to see the uniform, right? Oh well, welcome home. What did I expect anyway. These people didn’t know or even care what I had seen and done in the past 18 months. After all, they were engrossed in their own dull, uneventful world and my presence did not fit into their daily monotonous routine. We were told in advance how we were going to be treated when we got home. I finally get to my destination, Island Park. Am I really here? I throw my seabag over my right shoulder and step off the train onto the platform. I’m really home! Or am I! As I cross Long Beach Road onto Arlington Walk, I notice that the bench we used to hang out around had been removed. I found out later that it was removed in order to deter drug addicts from loitering. And this is small town America. As I make a left onto Quebec Rd., I stop a moment to switch the seabag to my left shoulder. Everything seems so serene and tranquil this early in the morning. I never remembered it being that way before going to Vietnam. I finally reach Julian Place and I pause to shift the seabag onto my right shoulder. As I get closer I can see my mom taking out the trash. My eyes begin to swell as she recognizes me. I dropped the seabag and rushed into the safety of her open arms. I was finally safe at home and with overwhelming emotion I began to cry for the bad dream was finally over. Or was it? I had mixed feelings about leaving Vietnam. I knew my brother Marines were fighting for their lives and at the same time it was an immense feeling of relief that I had made it home virtually unscathed physically and mentally. So I had thought at the time. Four months later I was back in the land that God had forgotten. I was “home” once again. Wannabes will never understand this story.

Semper Fi!
Joseph Alvino, Sgt. of Marines
66-72

 

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24 thoughts on “Happened on 23 June 1968”

  1. Can’t wait to hear what the reaction is to this one. Harry are you going to be first? I happened to be at that base at that date. Vietnam Dec 66 to Aug 68 went with 1/9,2/9,3/9 2/26 and others.

    1. Guess I am wondering what makes a Marine a combat Vet, and what makes you a wannabe ? (authors spelling) I think everybody has different views on that. They did give a ribbon for it, just like the purple heart, but having a purple heart doesn’t make you a combat Vet. I remember guys getting what they called a band aid purple heart, was there a just a little bit of combat ribbons? Who cares, only the wannabes. To me the story is right out of the Saturday Evening Post ( just a saying) and just what they want all of America to think is the way Vets should be, and all the wannabes start using this material in they’re stories. I never used the phrase “Semper Fi” or heard it used as it is now a days, back when I was in. (Feb66 to Nov 69). Another Saturday Evening Post Story that all the wannabes fell for. I think it was that famous Marine, Clint Eastwood where I first heard it used as it is today.( greeting or sign off) I’ll sign off with the saying I had written on the front of My helmet. ” I F__ken Love It”, the u and c where on my helmet but I thought if I spelled it out here it might offend some of you. My first shirt called me Mr. P , I lost the v and the t.

      1. Re: Combat Vet…..those who actually are normally will not discuss it with those who are not..also beware of those who feel the need to ‘broadcast’ that experience, especially among individuals / groups who have never served in the military……

  2. Thanx Murray. I arrived in Vietnam 4-Apr-68 did not qualify for CAR until 6-June-68. Rocket,mortar and sniper fire does not fit criteria for CAR. June 68 firefight near Hill 55 then again 19-Mar-69 at Liberty Bridge. Does that actually make me a combat vet? I guess that is a matter of opinion I never did and never claimed to be but, thats just me. I never used Semper Fi until I heard “The Gunny” on TV say it! Left Nam 22-Apr-69. Flew out of Kadena around 25-26 Apr Landed at Norton AFB near LA and took a taxi with 4 other Jarheads to LAX Got a flight home with a stop at O,Hare Then on to PIT took a bus to downtown then hitched home. Only had a “Diddy Bag” I shipped everything else home from Oki. Harry

    1. Harry just wanted to let you know I finally got 20% for the cancer. I just got out of the hospital Wednesday they tell me I have Ischemic heart disease I had a 2″ stint put in my heart artery. Monday I am going to send for the papers to put in for a disability.A friend I was at Gio Linh with told me I can get a rating for this.

  3. My feelings about traveling were basically the same when returning home and traveling across country in uniform from Nam as a Sergeant, Staff Sergeant, and CWO -2. I was never spit on or cursed at, just kind of ignored. No comments to me, pro or con, about the war at all, or my part in it.

    1. Just a bit about my travel experience, November ’66, as a Sgt, just back from Nam, flying out of Los Angles, going home on a 30 day leave to Chicago…was advised it would be best to change into civilian clothes at Midway airport Chicago, so pack accordingly for the trip there and on the way back……the Marine liaison at that Chicago airport ‘enforced’ that rule…before you set foot out the door and into the ‘enthusiastic’ crowd. I’m black, and there wasn’t one friendly black face to be found in that crowd I was not met by any family member ……… if you know anything about Chicago, its climate / atmosphere at that time as I traveled by cab to inner city / west side …..you might understand exactly what I felt…..at least in Nam I had a weapon

  4. The only thing I remember about coming home was feeling I was running out on my two best friends SKI and CRABTREE. We had been together a long time myself and SKI 18 months and CRAB 24 months. We were all going to extend again but My wife did not want to hear it so I didn’t extend. While everyone on the plane was cheering all I could think of was those 2 guys.

    1. Hey Sgt Sisson. I remember the cheers on the plane when the pilot announced that we were leaving Vietnamese airspace and then complete silence after that and I believe , like you and me,everyone else was thinking the same. I was thinking mostly of the friends I lost while there and my platoon mates that were in the field when I left AND that I made it! Never really had a chance for a good bye. The platoon was called out the day before I left and was supposed to be back by the end of the day, that didn’t happen.I got to see a couple at Lejeune about a year later. Harry

  5. I remember some of the same things – I’m coming home but I’m leaving my guys behind – who cares what people think back in the world other than my brother Marines & my family, I’m still here & some of my buddies aren’t, etc.

  6. Outstanding story! I was in the Corps in 1962 and didn’t get to Nam, there were other in my L Company 2BN Plts 236-237-238 and 239 Parris Island that were. I see one of Brothers Al Beye from 238 just post ahead of my self. “Gunner” was there for sometime. I have been able to find 154 Marines from L Company. The ones that are still alive are now all connected with each other. We also have our Marines and different services join us on a email list that put out stories like yours. We have had 2 reunions one 2013 and 2015. We have also posted videos on Youtube under the name on Ben Mashburn. Take a look at them. If you get a chance drop me a email to courtcurtis@usa.net. I will send you one of our posting. We ask nothing but Brotherhood to all our services. Take care and God Bless you and your family.

  7. Joe; I have the same non-memory except arriving back at JFK in March of 70 after 19 months, the last 4 as an instructor in Recon school at Camp Schwab. I remember telling a young PFC on the flight on his way home from Pendleton that my family would be there to greet me. I was wrong, my older brother, a Marine, was always fashionably late to the tune of one hour. The poor PFC felt so bad seeing me sitting there on my sea bag in the terminal that he and his family offered me a ride out to Center Moriches. LOL But the homecoming, though joyous, was short lived as things had changed so much in the attitudes of people and friends that I cut my leave short and headed back to Camp Geiger to be with my Recon brothers, people I could trust.

  8. Stand by your guns Sgt. Alvino!! Proud of you. Great story, shared by many. I’m 70 and I can’t remember NOT saying “Semper Fi” in public; I say “Say it loud, say it proud”. Oorah came much later, cool, but not the same display of pride as far as I’m concerned. Good friend, Retired Army 1stSgt, noted once that we were the only branch of the service that had a greeting like that; said he was always impressed with that. Recon, Camp Geiger? Geiger is geographically detached from Lejeune (but part of the Division), shared the gate with MCAS New River, and home to ITR, Staff NCO Academy, and HQ/Support Bn. 2nd Recon Bn. (at that time) was Hq’d at Onslow Beach. Force Recon was an abbreviated reference to Fleet Marine Force Recon Company, subordinate to 2nd Recon Bn 2nd MarDiv, Parent Bn/Div. I served with 5th Recon, 1st Recon, 2nd Recon in that order. BRC (Basic Reconnaissance Course) was, and still is, at Camp Pendleton, and BRC Instructors were E-5 and above, primarily (if not all) Staff NCO’s. Recon was a 2ndary MOS then, now primary of 0321.

  9. Your story is similar to mine. My problem is I did fine for 48 years until I retired. Now…….a lot of days I wish I could of died when I was 19.

  10. No hand shakes or “Thanks for your service” back then. You just got a job and it was expected that you just get back to normal. In college, a pretty blonde mentioned that I looked older than the other Freshmen, I told her I had served with the Marines first. She just gave me a dirty look & walked away. I never mentioned my Vietnam service, combat or even being a Marine until after 9-11. Even if we weren’t curse or disrespected, we were invisible. Welcome home, MARINE!

    1. I’m still waiting for an apology, that we will never get! All of the lies negative media reports Cpl Bill had a similar experience with a girl when in school 1971. It was shortly after JK’s testimony at Senate. She was completely indifferent to that point and then things took a bad turn. She came up to me and just said “Yuck I did not know you guys were all rapist and murderers” she would not even make eye contact after that. I wonder how she feels now? Not really. Harry

  11. MARINE HERE I AM CRYING AFTER READING YOUR STORY. I WAS AN AIR BOY AT DANANG IN 67-68 1ST MARINE AIRWING FIGHER JETS. ALL THE WOMEN BOOZE AND DRUGS YOU WANTED.I WISH , I THINK. ANYWAY ENOUGH BULLSHIT. I CAME HOME TO JFK AIRPORT ALL SO. IT WAS IF YOU DID NOT EXIST AND THE LOCAL FOLKS MANNER APPEARED FEARFULL. THAT WAS FINE WITH ME. SREW THEM. THEY DID NOT EXPERIENCE WHAT YOU AND I EXPERIENCED. IT WAS A MEDAL OF HONOR EVEN IF WE WERE NOT HOLY MEN. SOMETHING MOST WOULD NEVER EXPERIENCE. NOW THEIR SONS THE GOOD ONES ARE IN THE SAME OLD BULLSHIT WARS. I STILL TO THIS DAY AND THE NEXT AND THE NEXT STILL CRY ABOUT IT AND I HAD IT GOOD. CAN’T IMAGINE WHAT IT WAS LIKE FOR THE GRUNTS. GOD BLESS THEM. THEY ARE THE REAL MARINES TO ME. HARRY IT WON’T GO AWAY BUT YOU NEED TO TRY OR GET HELP FAMILY FRIENDS AND BEER SURE HELPED ME. A LOT OF GIRLS ALSO HELPED. SOME MORE ADVICE WHAT EVER ITS WORTH—DON’T TALK ABOUT IT ONLY TO GUYS WHO WERE THERE. NO ONE ELSE DOES EVEN FAMILY. YOU HAD TO BE THERE.

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