When I awoke aboard the WW II era USS Pickaway attack transport off the coast of Da Nang, South Vietnam, on July 4, 1965, I thought I was in for a real bang-up celebration.
My outfit, the 2nd Bn, 9th Marine Regiment, was going to make a text-book assault landing, kick some butt and clean up the Vietnam problem in about three months.
We were issued live ammo, and I spent the early morning hours cleaning my .45 and loading magazines as the 2/9 comm chief Sgt. Herbierto Gonzalez fretted he was going to a war in which , alas, I was one of the armed combatants.
I strapped my Korean War-vintage AN/PRC-10 radio onto a packboard along with extra batteries, poncho, and smoke grenades, put the load on my back and headed on deck to play the Navy’s favorite game, hurry up and wait.
My buddy Bill Schwartz, who worked in the message center, strapped his communications device -- a typewriter -- onto his pack frame and on top of that his guitar, because you never know when you might need one during an assault landing.
After much of the morning elapsed, a small LVCP landing craft pulled up alongside the Pickaway. I then got to engage in one of my favorite activities -- climbing down the net with both the ship and boat bobbing up and down on a sea swell.
Along with landing craft from other ships, we circled while choppers roared overhead. Finally we stopped circling and headed straight in to hit the beach and smite some Vietcong.
The LVCP grounded to a halt off the beach, the coxswain dropped the ramp in about three feet of water (the usual practice, it seems). I jumped off the ramp, waded ashore and immediately hit the sand as I was trained to do.
When I looked up, it appeared we had landed in the middle of a beach party -- a lot of Vietnamese women sporting their best ao dai dresses, a phalanx of Vietnamese and American dignitaries dressed in suits and ties, and a bunch of Army MPs who were there, it turned out, to direct traffic.
As my mind tried to comprehend this scene, a civilian festooned with cameras appeared in my line of vision and said, “Kid, welcome to Vietnam. There’s no war going on here. Get up and have a cold beer.”
The AP photographer explained that there indeed was a party going on, and it was to welcome 2/9 to Vietnam.
For the record, we did not clean up the Vietnam problem in three months; there was indeed a war going on and things went rapidly downhill after the landing.