GROWING UP IN TURMOIL
By Scott Edward Dodson
A young man of seventeen must grow up quickly in troubled times. I was one, among many, of America's youth who were struggling to grow and learn fast. When a young man of seventeen joins the United States Marine Corps, a new life will be learned and long remembered. In a land far off, young men and women were serving their country. The men were in the field fighting and the women were seeing the horror of war. What no one knew was, it would haunt us for the rest of our lives. We would not be welcomed back home with ticker tape parades, bands or a cheering crowd. We returned to a home of hate and anger. We faced friends and strangers who would destroy our inner self. There was no glory. Our fellow countrymen would reject us. Facing someone in combat is one thing, but to serve your country and return home to find the home has changed is another. You are not welcomed back like those before your time. Their homecoming and the one you expected were not the same. Even other veterans turn their backs on you, and say, "You lost it". I was like so many other teenagers, when I became seventeen I joined the United States Marine Corps. It was my first trip away from home. Like those around me, I was lonely and scared. Then a man with a hat came into my life my drill sergeant, better known as "The Hat". He was my instructor for thirteen weeks. He would leave an impression on me forever. I could not turn to my mother. "The Hat" took and molded me into a man. After I left him, I was in a world I never had known. I had seen movies and television shows, but this experience was like nothing I had ever seen before.
I found myself on a ship going overseas to a land I did not know, to a place that was so totally different from my homeland. Again, I would not have my mother for comfort and guidance. I was completely on my own. Now I was completely in the United States Marine Corps. I met people from all over the United States. One day I was told I would join another company. We were to go on ship. We were informed we were going on a forty-day operation. After we were out to sea for two days, they told us where we were going. It was to a country that I could not imagine. It was called VIET NAM. In February 1965, we landed in Viet Nam. We had a mission to be done in forty days. Then came the news we would be there longer. Our original mission would change.
We would no longer be making bunkers, roads and draining ditches. In July 1965, I became sick and was returned to the United States. I spent three months in the hospital at Great Lakes, Illinois. December 1965, I reported to the 2nd Marine Division. From December 1965, to June 1966, it was all basic routine. We then went to Cuba and I had my first experience with being truly scared. On a rainy night, while on patrol, we came upon a group of Cubans. A firefight broke out and this lasted about fifteen minutes. September 1966, we left Cuba.
When I left Cuba, I had orders sending me back to Viet Nam. I volunteered for these orders because I was going to let it be known that I had a brother in Viet Nam and I wanted to help him get out early. He was my older brother and I felt he should be back home. While on the ship, my orders were changed. I would stay in Okinawa at a Marine Division. I stayed there until my brother had served his time. Well, so much for my hopes of relieving him early.
In March 1967, I was given orders to go to Viet Nam. I was assigned to a combat unit. They were on Special Landing Force duty. My company was assigned to helicopters. They would be used to carry us in. I thought this wouldn't be bad duty. Well, I thought wrong. We spent most of our time in the jungle. If we got five days on ship, we were lucky. It was nothing to spend two or three months in the bush. In Cuba, we came back to our barracks the next morning. But in Nam, we never knew where we would stop or for how long. It could be a day or three days. We never knew when we would come upon the Viet Cong or the North Army.
On June 28, 1967, we were told to pack up. We were going to be a backup for another Marine Unit. On June 30, we boarded the helicopters. When we came in sight of the landing zone, I thought it looked familiar. We had been there two weeks earlier searching for the Viet Cong. We finally arrived to make our camp and stay there as a support.
On July 8, 1967, our company had a platoon patrol out to see if the Cong was still around because the night previously we had been mortared. The patrol was out for two hours. Then a small squad was sent out. It must have been an hour or so, then word came that the two patrols had radioed they were being fired on. They could not get to one another. My platoon was ordered to help the squad patrol. When we arrived, the squad was in ambush. This ambush was known as a "boxed canyon". Before I realized it, I was being fired upon. The group I saw was not Viet Cong, we were fighting a North Army regular unit. This was nothing like Cuba.
The fighting became intense; it was more than rifle fire. They were shooting all types of weapons. I huddled next to a log. I fired a couple of shots. Then, my rifle jammed. As I cleared my rifle, I suddenly felt the most unusual sensation, a warm feeling. My right arm came across my chest to my left shoulder. I looked down and saw blood. Then, I knew fear.
It was not like the scare in Cuba. This time I was wounded and I did not know the extent of my wound. I began to lose control. Then I recalled the man with the "Hat", he said always keep your mind and never let fear control it. I searched for ways to do this. Then I remember a bunch of us were going home together after our tour of Nam. We had planned to party from California back to our homes in the East. I started to get mad because my party might not take place if I was sent out early. I crawled to a group of guys who covered me by firing over my head. Then a Navy Corpsman dressed my wound. I was with a group of other wounded. We had to go to another location for rescue by helicopter. Those that were able to walk carried the wounded. As we started to move out, mortars were being dropped on us. Someone with quick thinking guided us to a creek.
The plan was to use the foliage as cover. We managed to get to our pickup point. We then met what was left of our company, which were clerks and a small guard force that had been held back as we were sent out. With our first aid instructions and the help of company personnel, our wounds were looked after. Then came a most welcomed sound, the helicopters. We were finally taken back to our ship, which had a small hospital on board. I was made aware of the extent of my wound and was told I was going home.
Some may ask why I write my story. It hurts. But it is something I have wanted and needed to do for some time. After so many years, I find myself still fighting the war. By putting this story on paper, it helps me cope with my depression and hopefully enable me to deal with life one day at a time.
Scott Edward Dodson
F Co 2nd BN 3rd Mar