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Interview with Oscar Gary [undated]

Alex Graves:

Today is November 3rd, I am Alex Graves and I am interviewing Oscar James Gary via telephone from my home at 4404 Riverbirch Run in the state of Indiana. Mr. Gary is my second cousin; he is 62 years old and was born on July 1, 1945. Mr. Gary served in the Vietnam War and was in the 3rd Marines 2nd battalion and in the 1st Marines 9th battalion and held the rank of corporal. Mr. Gary, were you drafted or did you enlist?

Oscar Gary:

I enlisted in Tacoma, Washington.

Alex Graves:

Why did you join?

Oscar Gary:

Some more of my cousins had joined earlier and I thought it would be a great adventure.

Alex Graves:

Why did you pick the service branch that you joined?

Oscar Gary:

They make men out of you, you can prove whether you're a man or not. I thought, at the time.

Alex Graves:

Do you recall your first days in service?

Oscar Gary:

Yes I do, we flew to San Diego, California that's where basic training was, and we got off of the bus and they lined us up on the sidewalk and I remember all the civilians coming by telling me what a big sucker I was, that I would be sorry later on, and it came true. They had us in a line, they marched us up to the barracks, of course we weren't in any kind of military formation but we were in a line. And I got the first taste of being a marine where they get in your face and call you all kind of names and tell you to straighten up. That was my first memory of the marine core.

Alex Graves:

So, how did you get through it?

Oscar Gary:

We went in with some buddies from Tacoma. It was about five of us and I had a cousin Morris Orange, which is your cousin we joined together plus the other three. And we gave each other a lot of support, and it really wasn't hard anyway. I mean there was a change of routine from civilian life into military life of course, and being a recruit, they throw all kind of things at you. If you make a simple mistake you have to do pushups, you know, and then we had the calisthenics every morning, getting up early in the cool of the morning with just a t-shirt on, you know all of that just played into see if they could break you in a way, to see how much pressure you could take and that wasn't too hard, that wasn't too hard at all.Alex Graves:: Where exactly did you go over the course of the Vietnam War?

Oscar Gary:

Oh boy, you mean from Camp Pendleton, starting out at Camp Pendleton to where I ended up later? Or just in Vietnam?

Alex Graves:

Just in the war in general.

Oscar Gary:

Oh. Oh, I stayed around Da Nang Air Base. We did a lot of time at what they call Marble Mountain, and that's just sections of our patrol area and, our home base. I went to Happy Valley and then I went to, oh boy I can't think of the name of it, but they was known as "Double Eagle." I went on a big mission, a big operation called "Double Eagle." So basically I was around [interview interrupted by dog barking] Da Nang Air Base.

Alex Graves:

What was your job assignment?

Oscar Gary:

I started off as a three point five inch rocket team, and I ended upas a, in the machine gunning team. I was an assistant machine gunner.

Alex Graves:

So you reloaded the machine gun?

Oscar Gary:

Yes. Yes, I was a rifleman in the machine gun team at first, then I became an assistant machine gunner and I never did have to load the machine gun while I was in Vietnam. But, that was one of my duties if called upon to do that.

Alex Graves:

And did you see combat?

Oscar Gary:

Yes, I seen plenty of combat. It started off as what we were supposed to do is guard Da Nang Air Force Base, where they did the bombing runs to north, everywhere else, in the south. They used to send us on we called them Sunday sweeps. Every Sunday we went on a patrol through our area and all the patrol is, is trying to find out if there enemy penetrating into our zone. All these patrols we would get shot at. If somebody got hit in our squad, cause these were squad sized patrols and that's consistent of about 13 or 14 men. If someone would get hit, we would know we were fighting the North Vietnamese. If no one got hit by the first shot when they shot at us, we would know we were fighting the Viet Cong, the local guerillas. These patrols lasted anywhere from a half a day, all the way to two or three days. And, as we make our rounds and send in our reports and check in on the local villages, and seeing what was happening with them, then we would come back to the base and we would have, you know, our duties at the base. They set up a perimeter and we would stay there for two or three days and make some more patrols from there and then we would move somewhere else in our sector and try to get to high ground, set up our perimeter, dig our little fox holes and go from there. Start some more patrols. So one thing I want to tell you Alex from the get go, you would have to march for hours and hours and hours and hours and you wouldn't even be in combat for two or three minutes. So it was just boredom and marching, that's what we did most of the time. On my, on our patrols I met some of the local population, and the kids especially they used to call me Din, which meant black, and they would carry my, carry my, some of my equipment, and I couldn't let them carry my gun of course. But they would follow me everywhere. I always used to take candy and stuff so I could give to the kids. Then we found an orphanage in our sector. And the orphanage I started seeing little Black kids and they had big naturals, these naturals probably were, you know, a foot long. And they're just little kids, and I wondered how these Black kids got over here in Vietnam. And it came about because of the French, when they were in Indonesia, Indochina I mean, they were, they had African troops come in from, they were Senegalese troops from Africa. And I guessed they mixed with the population, you could say it like that, and these children were born them, and I guess the Vietnamese population didn't quite accept them so they were in orphanages. And we used to go to the orphanage and bring them all kind of stuff, food, candy. We would go to the commissary, because at Danang Air Base they had a Commissary, you know, that would make Wal-Mart look bad, and so we would go there and buy anything you wanted to and we would take it to them, you know. Go ahead.

Alex Graves:

And, were there many casualties in your unit?

Oscar Gary:

I remember once we went on, we used to go on search and destroy missions. Most of the time, like I said, these patrols were just walking, getting tired under the sun, you know. Let me start off, I got to Vietnam and, we got off the ship, they put us on trucks and they took us somewhere around Danang, and I'm seeing the population for the first time and how people are living and they put us in a big field, that's where they dropped us off at until they could assign us a different sections, where we were supposed to go. And I remember were sitting, our unit, talking, laughing, and smoking cigarettes and a big ole, all of a sudden I mean it's so hot that we're sweating and all of a sudden a big downpour comes and this big downpour it lasts maybe a half hour and then it's gone and we see steam coming up from the ground. Everyone's drenched. And we stayed there that night, my unit, but another unit that I knew this, this, this, he was from, his name was Bourgeois, he was from Houston, I believe it was Houston, they have wards in Houston I believe cause he told me what ward he was from, but I forgot now. And while we were training in the states he had told, because he didn't have too many Blacks in his unit and he used to come over to our battalion and talk to us, you know we were all friends, and he was saying that him and his Sergeant didn't get along together at all. And I remember when we were there in the field that day, he had came over and he said that he don't think he's going to come back alive, or either his sergeant is going to be dead. That's how much animosity was between them. Well they took his unit and put it, I think the name where they went that night was Iron Ridge. Anyway, they were up there that night, we didn't leave the field that day or night, we slept in that field. That we heard gunfire during the night, not heavy gunfire, some heavy artillery way off in the distance but some light gunfire not that far away, but it was far enough away that we didn't, you know, weren't in any danger or anything. The next morning the report came that someone had got killed that night out of his unit, and it was him. And his sergeant had killed him. Now the sergeant's story was that they were on guard duty and someone had, I mean in the fox hole on the perimeter looking out, someone had relieved Bourgeois and he was coming back I guess to their little base there, and Sergeant thought he was an enemy, and shot him. That was there story. I remember one Sunday sweep, this is ?[cried] the name still, Marble Mountain, they took us in the helicopters and we landed in the rice patties. And there was a helicopter from the South Vietnamese army with someone who spoke Vietnamese and he was telling the village to get out of the village because we were going to come through and see if they had any weapons, ammunition, whatever. They told us this was a search and destroy. That we were to destroy everything in the village, that includes the chickens, the hogs, the dogs, whatever was there. We got in a big straight line, perpendicular to the village. And when they gave the order everyone start walking forward. Now you can't run too fast in a rice patty, the mud sucks at your feet. So if you're moving too fast your feet get stuck in the mud, it's sucking, you fall. If you fall, now your rifle and you are covered in I guess whatever's in the rice patty, and they uses human feces for fertilizer. So you can imagine someone falling in that. And we used M-14's; the M-16's hadn't came out yet. Well they hadn't gotten to us yet. So if you fall you get all kind of grit, sand, whatever in your rifle, and then your rifle wouldn't function right. So now you're a marine going into combat and your rifle don't fire. But on this straight line they said "forward" so we're moving kind of slow, like I said you move too fast your feet get sucked in and you fall. And I guess about a hundred yards we start taking fire. About three or four men down from me I think out the corner of my eye one of my fellow marines, I know him, he went up in the air I guess about six feet and fell on his face, "boom." Now we couldn't stop to help him, they had corpsman in the back, and so they would help him. They called for the corpsmen to come up to work on him. We're still going forward. Now they're shooting mortars and other artillery into the village because we've taken fire from the village. Half the village is on fire, you know the top of their hooch's or whatever, their little homes, you know made out of straw, that type of material. And there's smoke billowing up. And as we get to the village there's, from the rice patty, there's a bank. So we get to the bank now that gives us some cover. And there's all kinds of shooting going on but I don't know what's going on because all I can see is this little part where I'm at. And we're right next, right in front of a buffalo pen, and its fire on top of the pen, so it's fire all around. And I can hear these buffalo snorting and stomping and squealing. And all of a sudden they came out right over us. We had to duck down below the bank and as they passed some of us, and the people in the back killed them. They gave the order "forward" again, we all went forward again. Now I'm in machine guns, so as we go through the village I don't have to be on the line, I'm in back of the line because wherever they need the machine gun they can call us up. You know wherever they need to suppress the enemy with fire. And, so they gave us the job of throwing grenades in these bunkers. So as we went forward there's people in front of me, they're shooting the chickens and shooting at other things which I don't know because I'm not, I'm about I guess 20 yards behind. And there's all kinds of blind spots, you can't see because of how the hooch's are made, and the trees and the bamboo fences and stuff. And as we moving forward they're clearing everything out supposedly in front of us and then they'll spot a bunker, they won't do anything to it. We're supposed to throw the hand grenades in. And I guess about halfway through the village one of the marines, a corporal; he gets shot in the back. So that means that they're in the bunkers and they let the first wave go by, and they pop up and shot him. And so now we're really trying to throw grenades into these bunkers because we know that there are people in them. My bunker that I threw my grenade in, I, it blew it up. And you just can't throw them in because they have the entrance to them, you have to put your arm in and around the little wall in order to throw it in, and I did that. Everyone step back, locker blew up, then when we checked it out. All kinds of scalp, hair, children everything in there. The last time I threw a grenade in a bunker. I wouldn't do that anymore. We moved on through pig pens. They said don't shoot the pigs with your rifle it's too dangerous for people around you on the ricochets and stuff. So, I had a rifle at the time, and the machine gunner, you know, he has the big ole machine gun, so he carries a forty-five on his hip. The machine gunner gave me the forty- five and I'm trying to shoot the pigs, but I hit one in the side of the head, but it doesn't kill him. He's squealing and hollering and making all kind of noise. So, my corporal, because at this time I was a Private, my corporal took his rifle, shot the pig, the bullet ricocheted and hit the Platoon sergeant. Hit him in the hip, and he goes down. I know what happened cause I said it too fast, "Oh you done shot the sergeant." You know, and I wish I hadn't said that because they gave the sergeant a purple heart and said that the enemy had shot him. But that's alright he deserved that. Now more combat, or...

Alex Graves:

Yeah.

Oscar Gary:

Things like that happened quite often. There weren't any major battles or anything it was just I, I, looking back on it, it was just little units of Viet Cong and our little units running into each other. You know they knew the territory and we didn't, so they would hide. Just one guy would take a shot and you'll see just faded back into the night or whatever. And that kept on for, just like that, I mean it wasn't any big battles. We rode a lot of helicopters and got out and set up some lines and perimeters for another unit driving in toward us. But no big battles. One more I remember, Amtrak's, they have Amtrak's, troop carriers. They can go in the water and on land. We're inside the Amtrak and all of a sudden it stops and they tell us to pile out because the enemy is 100 yards away. I jump out of the Amtrak. This time my feet do get sucked in. I fall in this rice patty. I struggle to the bank of the rice patty. They're shooting at us. I mean the trees that were at the rice patty, at the edge of the rice patties, the leaves are coming down like snow. The enemy's bullets are coming through the trees and snapping off the leaves, and they're just falling. And all kind of mayhem going on. I look up over the bank, aim my rifle, I don't see anyone. I just hear. I'm gonna shoot my rifle. That happened. And the guy next to me, when he landed on the edge of the bank, he landed on a big ole pile of buffalo doo. And he's stankin, my rifle won't fire. I have to break my rifle down. I had to take my magazine, not my rifle, my magazine out of my rifle. Take all the bullets out. Get a clean cloth and put it through my magazine trying to, trying to get the grit and sand out. Reassemble it. Put my bullets back in. By this time they're saying "move out." So we move out again, going through the little jungle that we were facing now. And you know you never know what's going on. You never do. It, when you start fighting, shooting your rifle, it's a lot of mayhem, a lot of confusion. And you never know what's going on. We advanced; they said "halt" so we stopped trying to get ourselves back together, and our line straight. And it started to get dark. All of a sudden mortars started coming in. I guess they landed about 100 yards from me, they weren't too close, you know. And we couldn't get in touch with our other machine gun team. And we knew that the rumor was someone had got killed, some people had got killed, and we couldn't get in touch with them, so we were kind of afraid. But they turned out to be alright. So then they called in the jets to clear the, the, in front of us, to bomb that. And a big ole F-14, no a BAM, a BAM jet came over our heads so close it seemed like you could reach up and touch it, but it, your ears were... Anyway, we had battles like that all, for about I guess, the first five months. And when I got to Vietnam, about a week after I had got there, they came to my unit, 19, and said that some of us were transferred to the third marine, the 32. And 32 had gotten there about, I guess six or, about six or seven months before we did. In fact they were one of the first units there. So when I transferred over there I found out that they were going back to Okinawa to retrain and the people who, to refill the ranks, because there were casualties in 32. So I got a big break. You know, getting there, staying there for four or five months, and then the whole unit that I had transferred to went back to Okinawa. And retraining, and that gave us a break from Vietnam that, that boredom everyday of just marching and marching. And then it would be 2 or 3 weeks then a little bit of excitement, another 3 or 4 weeks then a little bit of excitement, you know, on and on and on. So when we went back to Okinawa it was a big break for me. And they sent us to raiding school. We were supposed to be a battalion that floated off the coast of Vietnam, and go kidnap people on special raids and stuff. So they put us through the training, of the little river boats, paddling in the ocean; how to rappel; how to rappel off the helicopters; how to get on the submarines and all of that kind. And a whole lot of swimming. And that was my worst, that was my weakest thing, swimming. I just barely passed the test when I was in basic training, I mean barely. I hung onto the side for about a half hour trying to get my breath. Really, really weak in that. An in order to finish this raid school you had to swim five miles. I mean that was ridiculous to me, how am I gone do this. They had a little, a little, I guess they call it a life saver. You tie it around your waist, and if you get in trouble you could pull the string and it would inflate this rubber ball with C02. And I punched my C02 just a little bit, to put just a little air in it. And I swam those five miles. But they had boats beside us just in case anyone gets into trouble. And I found out you couldn't, you couldn't swim five miles doing the Australian crawl, the overhand swim. You wouldn't last. You had to do a side kick. And the side kick let you float for a little while after the kick, and so you would rest during that little float and then you would do it over. And whenIgot to shore, they had to drag me off the shore cause, well they had to drag a lot of people off the shore because we couldn't walk we was so tired. What else do you want to know?

Alex Graves:

Tell me a couple of your most memorable experiences.

Oscar Gary:

Oh boy. That was one of them with the buffalos, with that fire. If you go back during that period I think it was Time magazine had a marine on the cover of it lighting a hooch with his cigarette lighter. If you ever see that picture that was my squad leader, doing that. They had sent some television, I don't know whether it was commercial TV or it was the Marine Corp photographers, I don't know. That was during that buffalo thing, so I remember, I remember that. Another one, the other two that I really remember, were, I mentioned Double Eagle to you. That was a big operation. We were supposed to take the boats and land on the beaches like they did in, you know in World War II, but we didn't. Instead we were on a aircraft carrier that only had helicopters on it. So they took us inland on the helicopters. And we were supposed, this was a stronghold of the North and the Viet Kong, and we were supposed to search and destroy. It was, it wasn't a battalion sized operation, this was a division size operation. And I guess we were, the whole battalion were in a column of, you know, I, I, I, and we were, cause we were on a mountain trail and couldn't but one person, you couldn't be 3 or 4 side by side on this trail. And we had took some fire, but not, not much. And the whole time we were there I hadn't seen anyone, I could hear people firing their weapons but you know, like I told you when you're fighting and you march for two weeks and have 2 minutes of action and you don't even know what's going on. So I'm on the side of the trail and I was the first machine gun, and see they try to get the machine gun because the machine guns put out more fire power than the regular rifles. So, if they're going to ambush someone, the first they're going to shoot at the officers and the machine gunners. And that's their priority. So we're walking, I mean this thing might have been a mile, I don't know because I was up front. But this column, it may have been a mile, for all I know; maybe, you know, a quarter of a mile. We're all in that line going up the side of the mountain, and down below is, it drops off. It drops off. At first it dropped off quite a ways but as we walk these miles there start to be rice patties maybe 30 feet below us. And on this trail, on the other side of the trail there's a bank. It's about 4 or 5 feet high. And all of a sudden, now we're the first machine gunners. They start shooting. They shot the guy, he's about, I guess about 10 yards in front of me. They were aiming at us. The machine gun team. They shot him and he fell over the little slope and about five more feet he would have fell down into the rice patties which were about, I don't know, at this time maybe 20 or 30 feet down. But he was on the slope. He was hit. They called for a medic. In the mean time, when we saw him fall we jumped up on the bank. And now we are trying to look, the whole battalion is trying to look to see where the rifle fire is coming from. No one has an idea, but we're looking. Some people saying it's coming from over there, some from over here, over there. In the meantime the Corp man is coming up to see about the fallen marine. He gets hit. He falls over. Now there's two down there. Same thing, Corpsman up. Corpsman got hit. Corpsman up. And now I hear the gurgling of blood in these people. I mean this, this corpsman came up I told you he was about 10 yards away. I say this is the kill zone, crawl up here, do not run up here. But the corpsman they're brave people man, they really are. I mean they don't have no fear in them. He got hit because he's running up to see his buddy, especially since a corpsman had got hit. He get's hit too. He falls over the ledge. Now I hear all this gurgling. Finally, the, I guess they suppress the fire, or either the people left from where they were because now helicopters are trying to find them and you've got hundreds of eyes and ears trying to pinpoint where this rifle fire had came from. And they called in helicopters and they landed on the bank behind us, and now they got to the corpsman and the other people who had got shot. And they drug them up the hill, got them on a stretcher, put them on the helicopter and took them away. Now that blood gurgling, two of them had got killed. The other one he was wounded. And that blood gurgling like that, on that death thing, I never will forget that. I never will. You know I get 100 percent disability, and that's one of the reasons why. Bullets. I remember one time, this was before this happened. I was, we were on a Sunday sweep on a patrol, and we're, we came under fire, and this fire was, this was a platoon, this wasn't a squad of thirteen or fourteen men, this was about, I guess 150 men. Whatever a platoon is, I can't even. I, that's a company, a platoon is about, well you have 4 squads in a platoon, so you can figure that out. That's how many of us were on this patrol. A platoon sized patrol. And we came under fire. Now I could hear the bullets, you know, going by. They make a certain sound, and they tell you the truth. If you're hearing the bullets go by you're alright. The one that kills you, you don't ever hear it, because it doesn't go by. It goes in, you know. And I remember they halted, you know they said "halt." And so we had been marching for hours and stuff and looking and all this kind of stuff and I remember when the bullets started coming by that first time I hit the ground kind of hard. They had what they called pungee sticks, and they put feces on them and they stick them in the ground, with the sharp end up of course. And if you happen to fall on them, you get infected, and that was their thing. You know over there, everywhere I went in the jungle, everywhere, I never did touch anything that I didn't need to touch. But, as I dropped to the ground a pungee stick went up in my knee. And I think we stayed there for about an hour. Now I don't know what's going on. I hear gun shots, gun fire, maybe 75 yards in front of me. There's no more bullets coming over our heads, so I guess the people up front are trying to flush these people out, or chasing them. The sun is hot; I got all this heavy equipment on me. I've got my rifle, I my ammunition, I got the machine guns ammunition, I've got my water on me. Oh boy! Then sometimes I have a spare barrel bag. That's the extra barrel for the machine gun. Cause when you fire the machine gun the barrel gets hot so you have to take that barrel off and put the spare one on. And all this equipment. I'm a little guy. I weighed 135 pounds at that time. And I see, I went to sleep. They had to wake me up to "let's go." That's how common the gun fire and the bullets coming past you and all the rest of the stuff, that's how common it had become. I went to sleep. Because I couldn't, I couldn't, where I was at I couldn't be effective anyway. If I started shooting, I'd probably shoot my own men. I remember one time we were, it took us three days to climb this mountain in Vietnam. I forget the name of it, but it was famous among us. And it took us three days to climb this mountain. If you stood up straight on this mountain you could put your hand out and touch it. That's how steep this thing was. So finally I guess we got near the top of the range and we started going through jungle, and you have to cut with the machete, now the Viet people have to cut with the machetes to get through. And it was getting dark and we had gotten by a clearing so we were going to bivwac there for the night. And we got our little ponchos out, and you know the poncho, you know that's a rain coat, but if you can get inside of it, snap the sides shut; you can get inside of it, and put your mosquito nets on it and your repellant. Because these mosquitoes, they had jokes, a mosquito landed at Danang airfield and they had filled it up with gas before they realized that it was a mosquito. That's how bad these mosquitoes wouldn't make little bumps, you had hickies on your head or wherever they bit you. You had, I mean lots! I remember that night I got already for bed and you know you dug your little fox hole, but I figured that couldn't no one get near us because you could hear someone coming for miles, coming through that jungle with the bamboo and trying to get through it. So I didn't have my fox hole too deep at all. And I got my poncho and lined it up and snapped it up and this takes time because it's got to be almost perfect. And I layed down finally and put my helmet under my head, put my little pillow and got comfortable, and all of a sudden I thought I was dreaming about, I guess I'd been there 15, 20 minutes, and I thought I was dreaming. And I felt something on my lip and I put my hand up to my lip and I felt something and I jumped straight up out of my poncho howling, pulling my lip. It was two leaches that had got on my lip, hanging down off my lip. Two of them. I woke everybody up. Told them I was crazy. These leaches were so bad, that if you go, if you go through a little river or something on the other side you had to stop and check yourself. And most of the time we had leaches on us when we got to the other side. And what you do, you took your insect repellant and you put a little dab on them, or either your cigarette, your fire, and they would drop off. And when they dropped off they would contract and you would see the blood coming out of them, your blood. And that night hanging on my lip, that was quite an experience for me. END OF SIDE ONE, BEGIN SIDE TWO

Oscar Gary:

Water leaches, when you go through the water they get on you. Other times, they had land leaches also. We stopped to rest or something and you could see them coming, in droves. And as they get near you, you take your finger you put it on this side, they'll stop. And just like a periscope on a submarine, they're tuning in on I guess that heat from your body. And you would have to stand up and get them off of you. I remember one time on a patrol when I first got there, I had all the little kids with me, we were laughing, and I layed up against the tree and all of a sudden something started biting, and man the tree was full of ants and they had gotten on me. And they made me a believer in these ants can. Everything there in Vietnam, it wasn't like here, you know, unless you're talking about fire ants. But the bugs, the ants, the snakes, the leaches, everything was twice as fierce as it is here, you know. And you had to fight the mosquitoes, the leaches. I didn't see too many spiders, and I didn't see any cats. I seen dogs, you know, in the village, because they were warning people, you know. We had what we call el cids, they were just a box with some prongs that you could set out in front of you and if anyone walked it would register on the box. It would make a little "scuz" [sound effect]; you could even set it so high that you could hear the chickens walking. And one night I was on watch and in the fox hole with the machine gun, and listening to the machine and I heard the walking on it. But it has four prongs, and at that time, this is old technology now, you had to put the button, put the dial to the one that was making the noise, so it took a little time to pinpoint what sector that the walking or the noise was coming from. And by the time I would, I would get the, pinpoint it, it would stop. Now, we're in a perimeter on a little rise and we have barb wire about 30 yards out in front of us with tin cans with rocks in them. So if anyone hit that barbwire, shake the cans, the rocks make the noise, we know that someone's there. And I only went on an outpost one time, and I was glad it was only one time, but we had an outpost out in front of us. And basically he's just someone to give up to death if somebody comes; you know they're going to get him first. But he'll give the rest of us a sacrifice, give the rest of us a warning that they're coming. And that's just like patrols. When you're out 10 miles from your base on a patrol you're just a sacrifice. If you run into a battalion of enemy and you're only 13, 14 men, you know you're not going to come out alive, so but they'll get a warning from that on the radio and stuff- "Hey, we made contact with the enemy" and so they know they're coming. But you, your squad, your team, you're just a sacrifice. But, they, the outpost was out in front of the barbed wire, I guess they were 50 yards out. And I kept hearing something walking, but before I could tap on it they patched out. So all of a sudden, and the wire would shake, and they would throw up a flare, but you couldn't see nothing. All of a sudden, in the next fox hole to me, blew up. Bam! Everybody from this point, when the fox hole next to me blew up, everybody starts shooting. I didn't shoot because I couldn't see nothing to shoot at. Then all of a sudden, now I'm in the machine gun right, and the fox hole, and we had the radio back to headquarters. And I'm so happened I'm on duty you know to watch, everyone else is asleep. They call me and ask me what's happening. I tell them I don't know. We thought we heard something at the fence. And the fox hole next to me, I think a grenade blew him up. And I don't see nothing, I don't hear nothing. All of a sudden from headquarters in back of me, they're about I guess 30 yards, mortars start falling all over the ground in front of us. And there's a village about 100 yards to the front and side of me. The mortars, about 4 or 5 of them, fell into the village and almost to the village. And then when things died down they shooting flares up so you can try to see. When things died down. I only had about 20 more days to go before I went home, so you know I wasn't stickin my head up trying to shoot no one anyway. In fact, when I used to be gung ho like John Wayne, Lieutenant used to tell me put my head down. I'm telling him how can we fight if we got our heads down and don't know what to shoot at. So that's how I was and then when the Watts riots happened in LA, and we get the newspaper the Stars and Stripes, and they had it all over the big riot and the police were killing Black people. Black people were burning their own businesses and neighborhoods up. But, that made a lot of us think, hey these people over here haven't done anything to us and in fact we're over in their country bothering them. If they want a certain type of government and it's not forced upon them, why not? I came from Alabama living in a shack with no running water, no electricity. My grandfather still sharecropping and we still picking cotton like slaves. In fact you know I picked the last row of cotton my family ever picked. So, when I thought about it, why am I over here fighting these people? I need to be back home in LA, fighting the establishment. And you guess who the establishment is, I won't say. From that day that I came to that realization instead of being John Wayne, I was him no more. In fact I didn't fire my rifle again. And the only time I would have fired my rifle again were to protect my buddies and myself. But just trying to shoot someone, someone running away, and I'm shooting at them; I didn't do that anymore. Put my head up, and everybody else down, and I'm standing up shooting where I think that they were. Because I only seen three Viet Cong the whole time I was there. I saw some dead ones. But live, I saw three, and they were running. You know war, all war is, there's nothing glamorous about it, there's no heroes. There's just scared boys with tough sergeants spurring them on. There's no patriotic duty. There's no fighting for my country. There just fighting to survive and to keep my partner alive and keep my team alive, and my squad alive. That's all it is. There's no glamour in it. It's just filth and death and gurgling and what's glamorous about that. I feel sorry for the ones now that are in combat in Iraq, because the type of war that they're fighting. See in Vietnam you don't fight a war just to, not to win it, you either gonna win it or you're not. Now they say well, they're shooting civilians. When you're fighting war, well let me ask you this, if a country were to invade America right now and they're going to come and destroy your family and rape your wife and whatever else they're going to do you would pick up a gun. I wouldn't have to be in the marines or the army I would get me a gun, a rifle, and I would fight them. So, now when they kill me, are they going to say "Oh, they're killing civilians." In Vietnam, same thing, there's a whole village here, and the 10 Vietcong is there village. So, I've seen "Mamasan" old lady look like she's 90 years old, I don't know how old she is, she looks like she's 90 years old. She got a submachine gun. She's shooting at people. So when you kill her, have you killed a civilian? If you're going to fight a war, win it. Don't like in Iraq, "Oh, they're killing civilians." No, either get out of Iraq and let them do there thing, or you take bombs and everything else and kill everything in sight. Like the bible tells you to do - kill everything that pisses on a wall. You keep some of the women, because they, you know, whatever, yeah anyway. You got anymore questions?

Alex Graves:

Were you a prisoner of war?

Oscar Gary:

No I wasn't. Thank God, I wasn't. I didn't come close to getting captured. Not close.

Alex Graves:

That's good.

Oscar Gary:

It's very good. And I don't know of anyone in my immediate circle or my area that did get captured. But I know that on these patrols that you go on, especially squad sized, there was always a Black as the point man. Now when fighting start who you think gonna get killed first?

Alex Graves:

The point man.

Oscar Gary:

The point man. So I don't know whether it was because he was Black that they put him up there or because he was the best that they put up there. But I know it was always Black up there. One time I did that and I never wanted to do it again. But see they didn't make me do too many things like that, because I was a team and the machine gun team. You know I was the guy, the soldier, the marine in the machine gun team. So that team should stick together. They put me out there one time. And remember I weighed 135 pounds and they got 80 pounds on me, sometimes more if I have extra ammunition for the machine gun. And these big ole corn-fed Nebraska people, they just got their rifle and their ammunition, and they're falling out. I used to step on them, step over them. And call them, I'll be nice, woodsy or something, you know. The food, K-rations, or was it sea rations, K-rations. The food, it was alright, when we went back to the battalion headquarters we could get hot meals which whether it was good or not, I don't know, but it was excellent to me after the sea rations for a month or so. We had favorites, they had, all this is fake, but they had bacon and eggs, they had lima beans with pork, and I don't even eat pork, but I ate it then. They had the breakfast with the eggs, they had cookies and hot chocolate and you know you had your little pellet that you lit and put up under your canteen cup, and it was metal, and you would boil your chocolate, or heat up your eggs or your beans. We used to trade them around you know, cause I couldn't stand the beans so I would trade that for this and that and this. But it sustains you. It sustains you. One thing that I didn't like, when the rainy season came it rained for about three weeks one time. You ever wash dishes for an extended period of time, you look at your hands and they're all wrinkled up. That's how our whole bodies used to look, our whole bodies used to look. The junk when I first went over there we had the standard military boots, and that's when they gave us the new boots that could breathe and let the water, cause once you went through water with those standard boots your feet are wet. And in that climate they never did get dry, so you got what you call "jungle rot." And I know they were trying to get rid of that jungle rot because if you could smell a cigarette in the jungle, the enemy could smell your cigarette. If you got that jungle rot, he could smell you from a mile away. That's how stanky it was. It was putrid. Whew! I still think about it. And I had it when I came home and I finally got rid of it though. Sleeping. You slept where you could, you know. With that little poncho [laughs]. And you tried not to get where ants, or leaches, and whatever have you, you tried to keep away from that. Hot. Hot. No relief. Rain. No relief. Your bunker, when you did get to a stationary place your bunker was full of water; you're bailing it out constantly. Cold in the morning. I mean actually cold. Beautiful sunrises and sunsets. Beautiful. The people. I did like the children, I did like the children. And I did like the people too. You know, we were over there messing with them, they weren't here messing with me. You know. So, anything else sir?

Alex Graves:

Were you awarded any medals or citations?

Oscar Gary:

I got the citation the regular one for Double Eagle, and you know they're just to let you know that I was there. I had no bronze star and all of that. In fact, my last good conduct medal, they didn't give it to me. Because I wasn't, see when I came from Vietnam I became a Military Policeman, and I stayed, I had a year left after I got back form Vietnam. And I made Corporal; I didn't make sergeant because I messed up. And then when? I could get out, this was about May of '67,1 got out in June of '67, they offered me my sergeants stripes if I would re-up and quite a bit of money, and any duty station that I wanted. I could go to Sweden and be an embassy guard, or I could go to Morocco, or wherever they would. But I know they were tricking me man, because they had tricked so many, in fact they tricked me in the first place. But what they would do, they declare my MO critical, machine gunner, we need machine gunners and send me right back to Vietnam. And I had lived through that, you know, by the prayers of my mother and my family. So I wasn't going to take no 12 or 13,000 dollars and become a sergeant and end up back over there. When I left Vietnam, Vietnam stinks. They had to open sewers and stuff. When I landed at Air El Toro, a marine base, in El Toro, California. When they opened up the door to the plane and we stepped out, I smelled roses. I mean it was a fragrance in the air that I will never forget. And I was back home, and I was salty. That's a marine term for somebody who's arrogant and think he's big time because he done went through combat and saw things. And so I was salty, and become a military Policeman. And I got in trouble 2 or 3 times, not nothing bad, serious, you know. What they say, disobeying the gunnery sergeant. But once I became a Military Policeman I was so sharp that if I was on the front gate of Camp Pendleton the General who comes through there he tells them how sharp I was. If I'm on the back base the adjuvant comes through there and he tells them how sharp I am. And maybe I kept getting these, not rank promotions, but assignment promotions. I started out as a turn-key, a jailer at the brig at the police, MP headquarters. Then I became a patrol, drove the trucks, give people speeding tickets and what have you. And I was so sharp on that they put me on town patrol. I used to work with the Oceanside police, and I was your friendly MP. I got in trouble for wearing my sunglasses. They were prescription. And I didn't have anymore glasses. And a lieutenant told me I couldn't wear my sunglasses. And I'm telling him I can't see if I don't. Anyway, I enjoyed myself after I get back from Vietnam. I really did. Your cousin who went in with me, he got out on a medical, because of asthma. And when we were in boot camp he couldn't make those long miles, five mile runs, I used to go back and help him across the finish line. We were all tight. You know the ones who came from Tacoma, Washington. Anything else, sir?

Alex Graves:

Did you stay in touch with your family?

Oscar Gary:

Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Aunt Osie. Ask her about the letters I wrote her. My mother. I used to them sometimes. I'm not too much on writing anyway. But I kept in touch. In fact in boot camp my mother could visit me often in Camp Pendleton. In fact, she got to know some of my sergeants that were over me. And see I got disillusioned when I went in the marine corp. I thought this world, I'm just a young guy from Tacoma, I thought you made advancements on your merits and I quickly found out that that's not the case. Most of the time it's who you know. It's who you know. They made me go to a, what you call a refresher course after I got back form Vietnam. And you know my attitude on that. I'm going to, they're going to teach me how to shoot again and how to do this and how to march, all this, and I didn't need this. And anyhow the captain who was over this school he was from, you ever heard Johnny Walker Red?

Alex Graves:

No.

Oscar Gary:

That's a alcohol, [laughs] You never heard of Johnny Walker?

Alex Graves:

No.

Oscar Gary:

Well that's a big alcoholic company. They have whisky and brandy and I guess whatever else they have. And it's a fortune, that's one of the biggest in the world. And the captain who was over it, he was a heir to the Johnny Walker fortune. And he was an old captain, and if you don't make rank, if they pass you over more than twice, I think it is, you're forced to retire. But anyway he'd been a captain for 50 years it seemed like. And I went to his school; I got a little award out of that, a certificate for coming in 3rd in my class. But that was who I knew. The sergeants who were running the thing. They were my sergeants in Vietnam, [laughs] So did I really deserve that? I guess I deserved it as much as the next guy did. Anything else, sir?

Alex Graves:

A couple more questions to ask you.

Oscar Gary:

OK.

Alex Graves:

What did you do when you were on leave?

Oscar Gary:

What did I do? Ask your father what young men did back then on leave. I was supposed to go to Thailand on a R and R when I was in Vietnam, they give you a little break, call it R and R, rest and relaxation, and you get to pick where you want to go - Hong Kong, Bangkok, Australia, you know. They ended up sending me to China Beach. That was about 20 miles from where I was. [laughs] That's where I spent my R and R at for a week, but I was gonna go to Bangkok or Hong Kong and get some suits made, and send my mama something. Because your dollar went a lot further than it does today in those countries. What did I do on, when I got my leave. I found my ex-girl, my girlfriend and all my partners in Tacoma, and there I went to a funeral, and I seen my grandmother Sul, and Lane, my Uncle Demp, and I just enjoyed myself. And it was no anxiety going back because I knew I wasn't going back to Vietnam. And I had a car that I drove my car back down there, and so I had a nice time. Ask your father what marines do when they go on leave and those other things, [laughs] Ask your father.

Alex Graves:

And do you recall the day that your service ended?

Oscar Gary:

Yes, I do. June 23, 1967. I packed my little bags and I went out to my car and I said "adios" don't wanna see you no more. And I rode off, drove off into the sunset. Now you know if you want another one I'll give it to you on another subject, but not today please. And if this suffice, so be it.

Alex Graves:

When your service ended did you join a veteran's organization?

Oscar Gary:

No, I didn't. I haven't joined one yet. I left that completely behind me, as much as I could. I left that completely behind me. Because like I said all I wanted the world to do for me was to be fair, and I found out that the world is not fair. I was disillusioned. And I guess from there I didn't turn out right. Ask your father about it. I was one of the black sheep of the family. I guess I still am, I don't know. No, I'm alright now [laughs.] Ask Aunt Osie about me, she'll tell you. You talk to Aunt Osie?

Alex Graves:

No.

Oscar Gary:

You don't?

Alex Graves:

Oh yeah. I talk to her on a regular basis.

Oscar Gary:

That's what I'm talking about. Ask her about me. Tell her that's I said it's alright to tell you about my history. On everything.

Alex Graves:

Okay. I have one more question. Did you go back to work or did you go back to school after your service ended?Oscar Gary:: I went back to work at Boeing for a while and then I quit that. I became, I guess you would say, a Black Panther. I was second in charge of the Black Panthers at Tacoma. But we weren't Black Panthers because we weren't affiliated with them. We were called Horumbe. Horumbe. Our little riots and stuff, your cousin Van he went to prison behind that. We, they asked us finally what did we want, from our rebellion; because it wasn't a riot it was a rebellion, trying to get the oppressive foot off of our necks. That we couldn't get the good jobs, we couldn't, eh, when we came up there were no Blacks at Sears, there were no Blacks at Penney's, at the phone company. There were very few Blacks at Boeings, so you know what that meant. That we had to have the janitors jobs and on the railroad and things like that. But after we got through with it they asked us what did we want, why are we rebelling. We got the employment office - I became a job developer. I went out to Penney's, and Sears, the telephone company and all the other businesses in Tacoma, and they promised us, and which they did, jobs, and we got them. And I would go develop jobs. And then I would take someone and I would have to buy them an alarm clock and sometimes I would have to go by and wake them up and get them to work. But the employers had promised me that they wouldn't fire anyone unless they talked to me first, or some other employees at the employment office. And then they offered me a job at the Washington State employment office. And I turned it down. They were making $400 at the time and I was making about twice as much as that on my job. So I didn't go to the Washington State employment office. And everybody else offered me as job, but I hung tight with the employment office, until I fell from grace and I became homeless, if you can say that. Those Vietnam vets who are homeless, they still are, even to today, because they couldn't adjust. And when we came back it didn't happen to me, but I know a lot of people it did happen to. They got spit on, called baby killers. They didn't accept them back like they did in the Korean War and World War II. And even this Itagui war. They didn't cheer us. Give us a parade. And I remember in Tacoma the funerals of the Black boys of my friends and relatives, one of them, that had died over there and coming home and they have the funeral service and church service for them, people crying, and oh, boy. War is a mess young man. And what's so cold, I didn't even have to go. But I'm kinda glad I did. Kinda glad I did. Because what happened to me afterwards, I don't blame that on the war, I blame that on stupid choices. A lot more things, you know. You'll understand one day, when life, just, you live it, you live it, you'll understand.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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