MARINE CORPS TANKERS VIETNAM HISTORICAL Foundation's
Vietnam Personal Accounts
On July 2, 1967, two companies of the 1st Battalion 9th Marines were overrun while on a sweep northeast of Con Thien. I don't how many were KIA, but I heard it was the worst day the Corps ever had in Vietnam, and it was certainly my worst. It was named Operation Buffalo.
I was attached to 3rd Bat. 9th Marines at Dong Ha on July 2 for a relief operation. I was a radio operator on a Helicopter Support Team. We ran the Landing Zones, talked in choppers, helped get MEDEVACs loaded and out, ran air strikes if needed, etc. I'd been in the country 9 months and had seen a lot, but never anything like Buffalo. It was just blood, suffering and death.
I went in with C Co. 1/9 which was attached to 3/9 on the first lift of 6 or 8 CH-34's. We were landed on the south side of the trace and moved north across it. At first my team hooked up with some Marines that had come down from Con Thien with a tank and tried to go back up 561, but the NVA were everywhere, and there was no way. So we set up on the north side of the trace at Rt.561 and tried to get the wounded out. And they were everywhere; I never saw so many WIA's at one time. We ran out of everything almost immediately. We didn't even have enough ponchos to cover the dead. The MEDEVACs started out good but the NVA must have spotted the choppers because they started shelling us with some pretty accurate stuff. It really slowed us down.
On the 3rd or 4th of July, a load of reporters came in -- maybe 10 or 12 of them -- with a Marine guard (a Gunnery Sergeant complete with a Thompson). They took a bunch of pictures of some dead and wounded Marines that we were just bringing back from up on route 561 where they had gotten ambushed. I hated that. I always did. Death is never very pretty, and I always thought that a person’s parents and loved ones should never see it like we did. The reporters always seemed to think that they had some kind of special right to defile the dead and wounded and I usually said something about it when they started to take those pictures. This time I went completely ape-shit, and I told them what a bunch of low life SOB's they were. And I told the Gunny what a rotten asshole he was for standing there and letting them do it. I was thinking about doing some very bad things when the NVA got in range and really unloaded on us. [The reporters] panicked. A couple were crying. One of them grabbed my radio which was on the ground and told anyone who was on the net that he was a personal friend of general somebody and they had to get him out of there right now. I got a big kick out of that and told them all that they had better find rifles because the NVA were close, and if they caught them they would cut off their balls if they could find them. [The reporters] hung around for a while. They had to. They couldn't get out -- I wouldn't let them. The only people we were getting out were MEDEVACs, and that wasn't easy. Every time a chopper came in, the NVA would pound us for a while so we had to keep the WIA's well off the LZ and carry [the wounded] out each time. We would get 2 or 3 out before the NVA hit us and the choppers would leave, orbit out, and try to get back in when the incoming slowed. We lost half of our 4 man team to an NVA who snuck in close with an RPG the first night. I was still pissed off at the reporters [so] every once in a while I would tell them they could get out and send them running out to a chopper and [then I'd] tell the crew not to let them aboard. The arty would start up again and the reporters would come running and crying back. I finally let them go with a load of our dead. I told them that since they liked taking pictures of dead Marines so much, they could ride back to Dong Ha with some of them. A few weeks later my Dad sent me the magazine with a picture [of those dead Marines] in it. I went ape-shit again. I burned the God damned thing and was really sorry I didn't kill the SOB that took it. \
I forgot about most of Vietnam, but I've never forgotten Buffalo. I always think about it a lot in July, but as the years pass, I mellow on the reporters. Everybody has a first time, and everybody reacts differently. Later, some of them helped us carry wounded. [Carrying the wounded is] normally a real bad job, but on Buffalo it was a nightmare. [The reporters] probably saved a few Marines, and I'm really sorry about the way I treated them.
The picture was in Newsweek: a bunch of dead and wounded Marines piled on a tank. This July, I sent an e-mail to Newsweek to see if they might know where some of [the reporters] might be found, but I never got a response -- I guess arrogant reporters haven't changed.
I can tell you this: Buffalo changed me. I thought I had seen a lot, but I had never seen it like I did on Buffalo. Buffalo made me see a lot of things differently and more clearly. I was out on Buffalo until July 14. I saw some very bad things. Things that were very embarrassing. Things that I sincerely hope the people who did them can remember and still be ashamed of today. But I also saw the very best of things. Brave and giving things and the people who did them who I believed then and now, make up the heart and soul of the Marine Corps… and I still remember.