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Marine recalls time in Vietnam

Managing editor

For nearly 30 years, now retired U.S. Marine Corps Colonel Dick Schwartz, of Marion, served with the Marines, including 13 months in Vietnam.

Even though it has been more than 40 years, Schwartz recalls much of his experience as if it was yesterday.

Schwartz spoke Monday at Marion Cemetery for the annual Memorial Day ceremony.

He introduced retired Master Sgt. John Voisine of Junction City who served under Schwartz for two years while Schwartz was a company commander of Co. M, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment.

“Memorial Day 2011, a day the Lord has made — a day earmarked to honor the men and women who gave their lives on the battlefield,” Schwartz said, “so that we in America can live with the freedom we so dearly cherish.”

Schwartz said it is also a time to give thanks to the millions of veterans who served our nation honorably.

“Don’t forget wives and families of the military,” he said, whose lives are drastically changed when their service member deploys overseas — often on very short notice.

Schwartz said the U.S. Navy Corpsman and combat doctors assigned to combat units are trained and equipped to conduct life-saving measures.

“Many lives are saved on the battlefield by their presence,” he said.

(While serving in Vietnam) Navy chaplains keep spirits high when he detected “we were dragging,” Schwartz said, while risking their lives to help rescue others.

Schwartz recalled one particular experience in May 1965, when he and his company were deployed to Vietnam. The marines had to train for two weeks in Okinawa, Japan. One of the most important lessons for the troops was to stay 5 to 10 yards apart while moving through the jungle in case a landmine was activated so it wouldn’t wipe out the entire company.

“Two hundred men walking 5 to 10 yards apart stretched out a long way,” he said.

As the marines were marching along a busy highway, Schwartz said they had to figure out a way to get the 200 men safely across the road.

Here was the plan.

A red star cluster was fired in the air as a signal to the men to cross. The 200 men had only four seconds to cross the busy highway. Unfortunately, when the fireworks were detonated, Schwartz said, “You would never guess what happened.

“When the dust settled I had 100 troops on each side of the highway arguing about what side of the highway they were supposed to be on,” he said.

Mayhem ensued with the marines fist fighting in the middle of the highway.

“I became concerned about taking these guys into battle,” Schwartz said.

To this day, members of that company recall that incident with a laugh.

About a month later, the made the first night amphibian landing at midnight in Vietnam.

“It wasn’t pretty and I don’t think a marine unit has tried it again,” Schwartz said. “The saving grace was it was a very dark night and my superiors could not see what was happening.”

The two landing crafts with 100 marines in each boat roared up to the beach and hit a sandbar — stopping dead in the water 50 yards from the beach. The ramps went down and the men waded ashore in chest deep water while under fire from the Viet Cong.

All 200 men made it to the beach — at the same time, Schwartz added.

“After two weeks of slugging it out with the Viet Cong, we returned to the ship for the next encounter,” he said.

Schwartz attends the annual reunion of his unit — about 150 attend each year — where the then 20 and 30-year-olds are now 60 and 70. Many of the veterans attend with their families.

“The memorial service is the highlight of the reunion,” Schwartz said. “Bells ring for each comrade who died on the battlefield or subsequently died of an Agent Orange illness.”

At the end of 13 months, 165 of Schwartz’s original 200 marines and sailors returned homes; 25 others were on a hospital ship, recovering before going home.

“It is wonderful that cities like Marion take time to honor these men and women who stepped forward and paid the supreme sacrifice,” he said.

Schwartz showed those in attendance a plaque, designed by members of his company that had names of fallen marines that are also on the Vietnam memorial wall in Washington, D.C.

Schwartz read the inscription:

Those marines of Co. M 3rd Battalion 7th Marine Regiment who died on the battlefield in the Republic of Vietnam, June 1965 through July 1966. Capt. Richard H. Schwartz, USMC, commanding officer.

The inscription on the bottom of the plaque sums it up for Schwartz:

“Look not for our fallen comrades in the mossy hillsides beyond nor search the dewy sod of the jungle floors of Vietnam, their ashes lie hidden deep in sacred places but their spirit is entrenched with their God.”

Last modified June 1, 2011

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