Marine Corps Air Facility Futema, Okinawa
ARCH 3, 1965: Received my Combat Aircrewman Wings. [mckee] [note: The Combat Aircrewman Wings Badge is the only U.S. Navy and Marine Corps metallic badge to denote combat participation.]
USS Princeton, LPH-5, at Subic Bay NB, Philippines
3/5/65: Two planes to take us to the Philippines, then on board the USS Princeton, LPH-5. Got to the ship about 1700 hours. Much larger than the USS Iwo Jima, but the living space is much worse. We have to live out of our seabags. [mckee]
3/6/65: Liberty at 1600 hours. Went to Olongapo. Dirty place, but the women are beautiful and speak great English. The money here is the peso. [mckee]
Liberty call at 1000 hours. Went into town with Cooper and Mayher. Shopped around until 1400 hours. Got recalled to the ship and got underway at 0100 hours Monday. Word is that we are going back to Vietnam. [mckee]
Got back from Manila pretty late - just in time to catch the last launch back to the USS Princeton, or so I thought. When I got off the bus in Olongapo it was around midnight. I noticed something different. There wasn't a single Marine to be seen on the streets of town. I hurried down to the dock where I would normally catch the launch to get back to the ship. There were nothing but sailors there. Not a single Marine. I got hold of a Master at Arms and asked him where the launches for the Princeton were. He told me that there weren't to be any more. Then he pointed to some lights in the middle of Subic Bay. He said, "See those lights out there? That's the Princeton and her task force and she's heading out of port." My heart sank. All I could think about is that I was going to be charged with missing movement and probably spend the rest of my Marine Corps days in the brig.
South China Sea
The Master at Arms then told me that I should go to Cubi Point, the air station across from Subic Bay and from there I might be able to get a helicopter to the Princeton. Luck was with me that night because I when I got to Cubi there was a helicopter cranking up on the pad and it was heading for my ship. I told the crew where I need to go and they let me on without a manifest. When the helicopter landed on the flight deck of the Princeton I heard the the pipe and announcement come over the the ship's loud speaker - "Task Force Seventy Six arriving!" I was the first person to jump out of the helicopter and I noticed some sailors standing on the side of the flight deck saluting. I guess they were expecting the task force commander to come out of his helicopter instead of me. So that they would not be disappointed, I returned the salute. [delrosario]
Aboard the flagship USS Mount McKinley (AGC-7), the commander of the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, Brigadier General Frederick J. Karch received orders:|
Close DaNang. Land the Landing Force
The four ships comprising the task force, carrying the men and war materiel of the 3rd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, and Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 365, swung their bow into the rough seas and headed west toward Vietnam, and the beginning of America's longest direct military involvement in a war.
3/8/65: Worked on the planes all day. We are expected to arrive off Vietnam by 0600 tomorrow. [mckee]
We left Subic Bay, headed out into South China Sea, and right into the middle of a typhoon. Even a ship as big as the Princeton was being tossed about by the high waves and strong gusts. Never felt so sick in my life. It's a good thing that my hammock was on the bottom (they are stacked four high) because I did nothing but barf. It took great effort on my part to even make it to the galley. The only thing that I could keep down were saltine crackers.
The first sergeant came up to me and told me that I had volunteered myself onto mess duty for the little escapade I pulled back at Subic Bay, almost missing movement, and for having the gall to act like I was the commander of the task force when I jumped out of his helicopter. [delrosario]
3/9/65: 0400 hours wakeup. Arrived off Vietnam at 0600 hours. All helicopters were ready by 0700. We are right off the end of DaNang runway. [mckee]
VEN BEFORE THE FIRST WAKE UP CALL, the USS Princeton was abuzz with activity. Officers of the Naval Task Force, the Marine Landing Force, and the helicopter squadron, shuttled in and out the narrow passageways leading to operations rooms, communications, intelligence, ready rooms, and even the galleys. The order had been given and received. Now it needed only to be implemented. In the three other ships of the Amphibious Task Force 76 also, sounds of a few voices and feet soon were joined by scores, then hundreds, then over a thousand human beings making the sounds of men preparing for war. Here before them was what they have been preparing for since they first stepped foot on the grinder at San Diego or Parris Island. The amphibious operation, the most difficult of all military maneuvers to execute, the raison d'etre for the existence of the United States Marine Corps, was about to take place.
Prayers had been said, ammunition passed, blades honed, rifles readied. On the upper deck, below deck, in the immense cavern of the ships' troop and equipment staging areas, green men laden with the accoutrement of their trade, were lined for tactical deployment, as their officers and noncoms oversee their embarkation onto waiting amphibious crafts and helicopters.
Land the Landing Force!
|Red Beach, Vietnam, March 9, 1965
At 0903 hours, the first Marine from the 9th Marine Expeditionary Brigade stepped on to Vietnamese soil. Hitting the sand with his rifle at high port, he was greeted, not by bullets and shrapnel, but by young, willowy Vietnamese girls dressed in their traditional ao-dai, who adorned his neck with a lei of flowers. The hundreds of thousands of Marines who were to follow in the years to come would not receive such a friendly welcome.
Finished flying at 1500 hours and now we're leaving for Okinawa. Left our aircraft and gear in Vietnam. [mckee]