Poor Tom, I guess had been comforting her on his last night before shipping out.
About 1030, we heard over the speakers “Make ready to be underway.” which meant that we were leaving. It was then that we heard the second call over the speakers, “Prepare to get underway.” After a few minutes the ship’s engines were revving up and tugs were pulling the huge ship away from where we had been moored for the last few days. The tugs pushed and pulled and swung the ship 90 degrees and pointed it out of the shipping channel the pier was located on.
Now, as we were headed west the engines kicked in and the ship slowly began to pick up speed and head up the channel towards the mouth. It was then that we heard the third call over the speakers, “Now hear this, now hear this, all Marines fall in.” You could hear all the commanding officers (COs) of the various companies giving their commands. “H&S Company fall in over here” was Lt. Grosz command as he pointed to the spot he wanted us to fall in on. The other COs repeated basically the same message to their companies.
After a few minutes the loud speaker erupted with another, “Now hear this, now hear this.” Then silence as we looked up at the speakers. One would have thought that the speakers would magically change into a person the way we looked at them. Heck, they were a new entity that we hadn’t seen before and I guess that these speakers fascinated us.
As we gazed at the speakers, a Lt. Colonel took his place in an area that was out of my sight but within the gaze of several of the COs. There was a loud, “Attentttttion” by one of the COs followed immediately by twin responses by most of the other COs and NCOs. So there we were, aboard ship and the ship was moving standing in formation at attention. “Good morning Marines, my name is Lt. Colonel Leon B. Utter and I am your battalion’s new commanding officer.” You could have heard a pin drop and the only other new thing aboard ship were the grins of a bunch of happy Marines as we welcomed the news of a new CO.
Colonel Utter told us, “At easy and smoke them if you have them.” He went on to tell us that he was an enlisted man during the Second World War and infact he walked guard duty around the powder keg area off our starboard side as we passed the weapons complex he referred to. We were informed that we would be some of the first combat Marines to enter Vietnam and that several battalions had landed several months before. He went on to say that our task would not be an easy one but knowing of our training, we would perform the job in a satisfactory manner. The colonel voice then got sober, “Men, look to your right at the Marine next to you, now look to your left at that Marine. Now remember this, one of you three will not be returning with us.” There wasn’t a sound nor would one have been heard had there been one.
He went on to tell us that when he was first in the Marine Corps, they would venture out to Lookout Point on the far tip of the channel that was accessible then. They would watch the ships as they departed the channel heading over to fight the early battles during WWII. “Today, as we pass ‘Point Lomas’ the farthest you can get is the cemetery which you can see off our port side. The viewing point we had is ‘Off Limits’ to most people.” Colonel Utter then told us, “Go a head and take a look at it as it will be the last glimpse you will have of the Mainland for many months.” The Marines acted like a herd, all moving at one time towards the port side for the ‘last look’.
“I’m sure we will have a good relationship together as I’m well aware of your leadership and I’ve watched you perform in the past few weeks. I know that you’ll make me proud. That is all.” With that he left the microphone and “Company commanders take charge of your companies.” were the last orders heard prior to the COs saying, “H&S Companies, Echo, Companies or whichever company, fall in, company attention, dismissed.” And before one could hide the NCOs were issuing orders for this and that.
It was a sobering speech that Colonel Utter made. Later in life I would be reminded of this 45 minute talk (during 2001 or 2002, Mel Gibson would read a similar one in the script of “We Were Young Once” about the 1st Cavalry and their IlDrang battle of November 1965). We continued on to the west as we watched the American landscape fade into the eastern sky. There wasn’t a lot of talk about the “Look to you right” part of the speech as we were young and nothing could stop us. We would soon find out different.
We made it to Hawaii and got a 36 hour “Liberty” so we booked a room on about the 8th floor next to the beach. Note: When I say beach I say it only because that is what Honolulu calls it. There are places along the beach where there isn’t a beach but an elevated walkway and other places where the beach is a foot or two wide. We had a good time and the 36 hours passed fast. Several of our communications section got a hotel room down by Waikiki Beach. The beach really didn't impress me at the time. Infact there were parts that you had to walk a 4 x 6" plank to get to the next beach section. Then it was back on the Pickaway and heading west to Okinawa for several weeks of advanced training and off loaded our supplies. We spent a week or 10 days at Camp Schwab which was mostly uneventful. I did get a massage and steam bath. The girl walked on my back and all in all I enjoyed it.
So, I'm sitting on the transport ship in the middle of the Pacific when I get a copy of late June, 1965 edition of Stars and Strips. As I was read the publication I noticed an article about a Green Beret in Saigon. In the story I found out he wouldn't fulfill his orders to go up to the Central Highlands. The headline read "Demonstrators Back Steinke" - hey, I my neighbors name is Steinke. Reading further was the story about him and I couldn't believe it. He was the "darling" of the neighborhood to many there as he went to West Point and became a "Green Baret". I always thought he was a horses butt who thought his ---- didn't stink. The article went on to state, "Early in the war, in June, 1965, Green Beret 1st Lieut. Richard R. Steinke was convicted by a courtmartial of refusing to obey orders and expose himself to “hazardous conditions” and “hostile elements” when ordered to join a Special Forces unit in a Vietnamese village of Gia Vuc. Well, He was dismiss from service and forfeiture of pay. I guess our hero got hit by his bad karma. I chuckled many times for the rest of the trip.
Then on June 30 we loaded our equipment and boarded the ship and headed south. We arrived off “Green Beach” (the military always has a colorful name for the beaches) at Qui Nhon, Vietnam on 06 July 1965. The following morning it was over the side with a full pack and radio and down the cargo nets to waiting landing crafts that were bobbing up and down in the water. At about 0700 we hit the beach and took up defensive positions with rifles and pistols at the ready. In front of us were beautiful girls riding by on the main drag in colorful dresses and laughing.
We stayed on the beach for three days in 100+ degree heat before moving west to what would be out new battalion command post (CP). This was located at Phu Tai (4) (named after a string of villages all given the name Phu Tai. It was about 12 miles west of Qui Nhon in the rolling hills. The area we were in, occupied by the French a dozen years prior, was used as an artillery post. There was a huge pit where the gun emplacements were and low hills all around. A few rice paddies and a stream of not so fresh water.