Basic School 2-65 Class Reunion 

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Terry DeLong's Story

3rd PLT, Lima CO, 3rd BN, 9th Marines (1965 - 1966)

PLT CMDR: Terry L. DeLong, 2nd Lt, USMCR

It was a day near the end of my tour in Vietnam.  At the time, I didn’t know it then, but within 48 hours I would be walking off a big jet transport at a California Air Force base.

Earlier that same day, we were on a routine patrol.  In the morning, a Marine five meters ahead of me, detected a trip wire strung across the path.  We proceeded to disarm the explosive.

Later that same day, early evening, we encountered heavy enemy small arms fire from the tree line about 100 meters directly to our front.  We countered with our own heavy barrage of suppressing fire.  The fire fight lasted only a few minutes.  My radioman, who had been with me since Camp Pendleton, took a bullet in the fleshy part of his buttock.  He was evacuated, but OK.

Early the next day, a radio message crackled over our PRC-25 (an upgrade from the PRC-6): “Lt. you got orders.  You’re going to Quantico.” I climbed aboard a tank, went back to CO HQS.  From there a jeep ride to BN HQS, and then onto Danang in a six-by.  I retrieved my duffel bag and chest; changed into wrinkled khakis; discarded an M-1 carbine I had picked up on the battlefield (I wanted to avoid any complications); and boarded the big jet transport waiting on the airstrip.

All of a sudden, it was over.  I picked up my 1959 red Studebaker Lark at my sister’s house in California.  She and her husband kept it in fine running condition over the year.  Within 10 days, I was back in Pennsylvania, attending a Welcome Home party.  First thing I took notice of was the free use of marijuana among my civilian friends (something that did not occur in Vietnam among my Marines).  Second, I met Peggy, my future wife, going on 46 years now.

The sudden departure from Vietnam left me with immediate mixed feelings.  I didn’t like the idea of leaving any Marines behind.  I love those Marines; and I know they loved me.  We went through a lot together.  On the other hand, there were few Marines remaining from the original rifle platoon that came ashore one year ago; and individual orders were coming in daily.

Mixed feelings!  Maybe.  But everyone has their turn.  Marines don’t volunteer.  There’s enough crap that comes down naturally!

In any event, as I sat in that big comfortable seat, heading toward Alaska first, a huge weight lifted from my shoulders.  This was the burden of command and responsibility.  It’s a Marine trademark.  It occurs at whatever the level of command.  All the way down to the fire team leader and individual rifleman.

We were getting really good at what we were doing.  We became strongly proficient in night operations, night movement; high water conditions caused by monsoon rains and river flooding; and in the assault and on aggressive operations.  During these times and conditions (which I preferred), the enemy was vulnerable and surprised.  We inflicted maximum enemy causalities, while taking few or minimal Marine casualties.

It got to be that I could look at a map and compass and visualize the terrain ahead, pinpointing where the enemy might possibly be, and what they were up to.

We always kept tactically sound, whatever our platoon strength. At one time our reinforced rifle platoon was down to about 20 Marines and one Corpsman.  Normal T/O is about 50 Marines.

During one operation, at this reduced strength level, our mission was to seize and control high ground around about 500 meters to the front.  I gave my one thousandth (or so it seemed) SMEAL:  1st Squad, secure the left flank; 2nd Squad up the middle; 3rd Squad secure the right flank; etc.  The recently promoted Corporal, newly assigned as 3rd Squad Leader, seemed to have a question. “Sir, what do I do?”   I said “you get the right flank, Corporal.”  A big grin spread across his face.  He understood.  He shouted “Yes Sir” and turned to move out quickly.

Living conditions were not the best!  Hours were 24/7; nearly 365 days for example, I was checking positions one night.  Two Marines were in their hastily dug foxhole.  One was asleep; one alert and focused.  “How’s it going?” I whispered.  “Fine Sir”, he replied.  He obviously was referring the tactical situation.  I looked around.  Both Marines were submerged up to their wastes in monsoon waters and mud!  I moved on, feeling confident that our position was secure.

And so the tour of duty came to an end! I cannot be more proud of the way Marines conducted themselves in Vietnam, under the most adverse conditions.  Selfless warriors. Exemplary performance.  Missions were accomplished.  Objectives seized.  In the best traditions of the Marine Corps.

Overall, ground, air and Naval forces in Vietnam were courageous and effective.  Were it not for weak and poor political leadership in Washington, and unfortunately, military leadership at the highest levels, the history of Vietnam could have been different.  That doesn’t mean that South Vietnam would be free and independent today. We should have been smarter, not stupider.  It does mean that the history and interpretation of our Vietnam experience could have been seen in a more favorable light.


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