Semper Fi: Former Marine Recalls Fallen Comrades
They were young, 17, 18, 19. Not much more than kids.
The older ones, in their early 20s, were often called “Pops” and were most likely to be the ranking members of their squads. They were Marines and they were in Vietnam.
I first met Randy Greene when I joined the Southern Pines Shooting Club. Randy is the president of the organization, actually assuming the post that his father, Bernard, had held in the past.
Randy is a soft-spoken big guy with Southern manners that would make his mother proud. He is also a former Marine and a combat veteran of Vietnam.
Last year during the final days of dove season, I convinced Randy to let me do a little piece about him in The Pilot around the celebration of Memorial Day.
Once a Marine always a Marine, and he reluctantly agreed with one stipulation, and that was we would talk about his buddies, fellow members of his unit, who paid the ultimate price for their country.
Randy was with “A” Company, Seventh Engineers, and their job was to clear roads and fields of mines and booby-traps.
“One morning we were out clearing a road and met up with the company who was working from the east side. We were in a big deuce-and-a-half dump truck so I climbed back in the bed of the vehicle for the ride to our firebase. A Viet Cong, or ‘Charlie’ as we called them, had sneaked out after we had passed his position and placed a mine directly in our return path.
“We hit it right dead center. Fortunately, the heavy truck took most of the blast and we survived. The driver and passenger were wounded, but all I received was a headache and poor hearing for the next day or two.”
When I asked how Randy had decided to enlist with the Marines, he replied, “I was like a lot of young people in those days, I guess. After high school, I received a football scholarship to Appalachian, but I really wasn’t up for college at that time.
“My dad had been in the Marines during World War II. He served on the USS New Jersey and was aboard ship in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrendered.
“So that’s what I decided to do, join the Marines and see the world.”
The part of the world that the Marine Corps sent Randy to see was a quagmire of death and destruction.
“One squad in our company was being shown by a second lieutenant the proper way to disarm a mine. They were all standing around him as he removed the firing pin.
“He didn’t know about a secondary firing mechanism and the mine exploded, killing the entire squad.”
Randy was quiet for a moment and I could tell that he was trying to regain his composure. “Those were rough times, Tom.
“One sunny afternoon I walked right into a minefield. I looked down and I was standing astraddle a mine and there were two more forming a triangle right behind me.
“I backed out slowly and probed with my bayonet so I could put in pins to disarm them. A lot goes on in your mind when you’re lying there, sweat rolling off your face. That wasn’t one of my favorite days.
“There were firefights all the time. We would be out on a sweep to clear mine fields and try to find Charlie; and invariably, we would take causalities from Viet Cong hiding in the tree lines.”
Randy handed me a sheaf of papers from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. The papers showed where the Marines he had served with were listed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington. There were 20.
“My wife keeps a close watch on me now,” Randy said.
He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and has had a tumor removed as a result of his exposure to Agent Orange. Randy has been married for 44 years to Janis, a lovely lady.
“I got home from Vietnam on May 4, and we were married May 11. Happiest day of my life.”
There were 57,000 military personnel who died while serving in that war. We are indeed fortunate that Randy was not one of them.
As we were preparing to leave, he climbed into his pickup and waved.
“Semper Fi, Tom,” he said and drove away.
Contact Tom Bryant at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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