MARINE CORPS TANKERS VIETNAM HISTORICAL Foundation's
Vietnam Personal Accounts
"Close Call - A Marine Dodging Death"
by John F. Wear, III
John Wear II was born in Frankfurt, Germany on December 2, 1946 to an USAF career officer. His father retired as Full-Bird Colonel after 30 years. John and his family (father, mother, two sisters and a brother) moved around quite a bit and attended several schools throughout the United States and Japan on military bases. He was both a Cub and Boy Scout and was on his school’s intramural soccer, track, swimming, touch football and softball teams. He also was involved in judo and varsity wrestling.
At the end of his college freshman year, he became dissatisfied with life and went down to check out his options with the military recruiters. Since he had taken 3 years of Junior ROTC in military prep school, he leaned towards the Army. When he got to the recruiting station, the Army recruiter office was closed, the Air Force recruiter was out of town and according to John, “the Navy recruiter had long hair over his shirt collar.” It just happened that the Marine Gunnery Sergeant with his chest full of ribbons said the right thing to him, “Son, do you think you have what it takes to be a Marine?” and he replied, “Sign me up Gunny!”
John entered Boot Camp at San Diego, California in August 1966. In jest he said, "When I piled off the bus and stood on the yellow footprints, they issued me sun glasses, sun tan lotion and surf board wax." Upon graduation, he attended Infantry Training Regiment (ITR), Tank Crewman School, Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) School, Embarkation School and Non Commissioned Officer (NCO) School, all at Camp Pendleton, California. He was assigned to the 5th Tank Battalion at Las Flores for about a year and picked up the rank of Corporal.
1st Platoon, Alfa Company, 3rd Tank Battalion
Northern I Corps, Vietnam
I arrived "in-country" in middle of January 1968 and was involved in the liberation of Hue City during the Tet offensive of 1968, which was the most famous battle that I was involved in, while in Vietnam. I was then assigned to the 1st Platoon, Alfa Company, 3rd Tank Battalion. We were mostly attached to the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines (2/9) and utilized as infantry support.
1 July 1968
Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)
Between North and South Vietnam
Operation Thor was a seven day joint operation conducted by the United States Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines against the North Vietnamese enemy artillery, rocket and air defensive positions in the eastern end of the DMZ. In the summer of 1968, the NVA dominated the DMZ with their long-range, flat trajectory 122-mm and 130-mm guns and 152-mm dun (?) howitzers. The NVA had more than 100 artillery pieces that could out range all U.S. artillery except for a select few Marine (8”) and Army (175 mm) gun batteries. The NVA could control the Marine logistical base at Dong Ha and the supply routes along the Cua Viet River and Route 9.
The first three days of Operation Thor were dominated by 210 B-52 arc-light strikes, followed by Marine and Army artillery, naval gunfire and 350 fighter-bomber sorties.
7 July 1968
North of Con Thien, Vietnam
By now, I was a tank commander and flame-thrower tank section leader working with Hotel Company, 2/9. We were involved in a search and destroy operation, sweeping in a huge arc around Con Thien. Later, I also learned the "brass hats" wanted us to observe the devastation that the B-52 arc-light bombing raids had made on the countryside. We had very little enemy contact on the first few days of the Operation.
July 7 was very hot and muggy; some saying it even reached 114 degrees that day. As we headed out in the morning with grunts along side our tanks, we hit a massive amount of shit about 2,000 meters in front of our nighttime position. There were NVA .51 caliber heavy machine guns, RPG teams and so many AK-47's on full automatic that we could not count them all. There were also enemy 60-mm mortars exploding everywhere. Due to the loud tank noises, communication radios blaring and the sounds of firing on both sides, I found it very hard to focus. At first, I didn't really see anything specific that was going on. I did observe some grunts standing up, firing from the hip like John Wayne. Some Marines were lying down and keeping out of the firefight, while others were just running all over the place not knowing what to do. The platoon sergeants and lieutenants tried their best to assume command but the huge amount of enemy fire made it very difficult.
I called over the tank intercom to my driver, “Steffo,” to pull up past the prostrate grunts in front of our tank so that we could take the gooks under fire. As the tank lurched forward I peered out of the tank commander's cupola when all of the sudden, a hot rush of air passed over me and I felt as if my face was burnt. I didn't have time to think about what had just occurred since there were several wounded Marines all over the place. Most of these men had been hit in the legs, arms and neck by shrapnel from mortar rounds.
The standard MO of the NVA who are about to be overrun, was to shoot like crazy and then fall back firing off their 60-mm mortar rounds, which was exactly what they did. I looked in front of our position and saw SGT Towers standing inside of his cupola, frantically pointing to his left. There was a tree line and it appeared as if there was NVA firing between two large trees. I told Steffo to head over towards the tree line and said, "Charge the bottle Flash; we are going to burn some gooks!"
As we pulled up to the trees we started to get intense incoming arty from 152-mm cannons that the enemy was firing at us from the mountains to the north. I mean, big impact blasts were now happening. Just as we were passing, SGT Towers caught a mortar blast off the side of his tank. We got maybe another 50 meters closer to the tree line when two grunts held up their hands to stop us. I yelled at the top of my lungs, "Get the fuck out of my way you stupid assholes, we got to kill us some bad guys!"
All of a sudden, the tree line in front of us exploded, with hundreds of NVA shooting at us. Wounded grunts fell all around us. The two gun tanks on either side of me were firing their main guns while Flash was making our .30 sing like an opera star. SGT Towers came over the radio and said, "Foxtrot 31, I just got hit. I’m going to get medevaced but I want you to come over to my left and hose down the tree line from that pos. Over." I replied, "Roger, Alpha 12."
"OK Steffo, kick it in the ass. Flash, get ready to work the main gun and keep hosing the tree line with the .30. We pulled right next to SGT Tower's tank and he called over the radio, "Foxtrot 31, there are RPG teams all in the tree line. Hose them as I cover you with my .90. Again, I replied, "Roger, Alpha 12."
"Ok Steffo, kick it in the ass but be ready to stop for Flash to work his magic." We approached the tree line as the two gun tanks pumped round after round from their main guns into the enemy lines. By now, the grunts are also pouring it on. I saw tremendous explosions everywhere. "Ok Flash let her rip!" The liquid napalm shot out of our gun tube from left to right and then all of a sudden, Flash hit the igniters and….BOOM, the whole tree line ignites in flames. The NVA then started to isolate their fire on my tank. "Steffo, back out of here on the double! Flash keep up the firing into the tree line!" The grunts were now up charging, as were the two gun tanks. "Get some!" It was over before it began. The gooks took off and left only a few charred bodies behind. We continued to move throughout the day.
Later that evening, the grunt platoon sergeant asked me, "Did you see that RPG that almost took off your head?" I blurted "Huh?" He then proceeded to tell me that the "warm air" that I felt on my face earlier had been a gook B-40 rocket that almost parted my hair. Holy Mother of God! I had almost "bought the farm" right then and there! They had been either trying to take me or my tank out, or both of us. Whew! If we had stayed still and not moved up, I would have had my head taken off by the most powerful anti-tank rocket in the NVA's arsenal.
Operation Thor resulted in 3 friendly KIA's and 25 WIA's. The joint attack destroyed 93 enemy field, coastal and air defense artillery weapons and neutralized the North Vietnamese offensive potential in the DMZ area for the next 3 years. NVA manpower losses were unknown
John completed his "12 months and 29 day" tour, in what he calls the "Land of Oz." in February 1969. He then returned to the 5th Tank Battalion back at Camp Pendleton, where he was promoted to Sergeant E-5 and later discharged from the Marines in July 1969.
He graduated with a B.S. Degree in Marketing from the University of Denver in 1971 and has held a variety of positions involved as a department store buyer, merchandise manager, sales manager and independent manufacture's sales representative for several different companies.
He and his second ("and last") wife, Jeanne, currently live in New Haven, PA on a beautiful country lane. He has a son, John III, who is a 14 year Army Ranger and three lovely daughters; Meghan, Brooke and Caitlin, who all have had children of their own.
Suffering from PTSD, John started to get involved again with his old and new Marine friends around 1999. He is a charter member and current "acting" President of the USMC Vietnam Tanker's Association. He also belongs to the 3rd Marine Division Association, the Marine Corps Tanker's Association, the Vietnam Veterans of America and the Veterans of the Vietnam War, although not as a very active member. He communicates regularly with several of his old Vietnam Marine comrades.
John currently enjoys scuba diving, running, gardening, wheel pottery and dog agility (he has 3 dogs and 2 cats.) He and Jeanne are looking forward to retiring in a few years and moving to their 140 acres in New Mexico where he plans to open up a pottery school.