Welcome to dmzdiary.com, an illustration to my Vietnam War memoir DMZ Diary. Click on the thumbnail photos for a larger view and additional text. The original site was shut down by the host and I'm still rebuilding this one. If you have photos or material from that time and place and would like to have it displayed here I would be most appreciative.
This book is an account of what I saw and did in Vietnam in 1968. I began the first draft more as therapy than as histroic record or artistic expression in 1969 while on MP duty in Japan. Years later, when my battalion's command chronology was declassified, I was able to verify my notes against it and found my memory of events surprisingly accurate. In preparing this work I relied heavily on the command chronology and on conversations with former comrades. In this second edition I have made a few factual corrections and added some previously unpublished material. Psychological wounds from exposure to heavy combat are deep and long lasting. The political climate in the United States in the early seventies tended to aggravate that trauma. Many valuable lessons have been learned about the treatment of posttraumatic stress since then, but at the time a returning vet was on his own. Writing was my release, my safety valve. Through writing the memories returned with astonishing clarity. Conversations, facial expressions, even details like the texture of a leaf -- all were recorded in that voluminous first draft. I have used those recorded impressions in this work and although I cannot attest now, decades later, to their verbatim exactness, I have faith in their authenticity. Radio call signs are extensively used in this work. In Vietnam call signs were changed every few months for security reasons. "Fighting Mad" was the call sign of the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines during the first three months of 1968. For simplicity I kept the call signs constant throughout the book, even though we did change in April to the less-formidable sounding "Amanda". Another concession made for simplicity and lack of confusion has to do with PFC Truman Joseph McManus who was killed-in-action on 05 June 1968. I call him "Kid" in this book but his actual nickname was "TJ," the same as mine. I made this change so as not to confuse the reader with two TJs. This explanation is for the benefit of those who knew him. Map coordinates, village names, other Marine units and aircraft types are all historically accurate and verified by the command chronology. My quest for accuracy is, I hope, more than a quirk. Through accurate reporting my aim is to offer a revealing glimps into the rarefied circunstances of the DMZ where death was sudden, life stripped of the superfluous, and survival dependent of teamwork and a little luck.
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This is a map of Northern I Corps. The double jagged lines in light red across the top of the map are the southern and northern boundries of the Demilitarized Zone, the DMZ. They follow the course of the Ben Hai River, roughly the 17th Parallel. All the action in the book, except for a brief time around Da Nang, takes place in or around the DMZ. The area by the coast is flat and sandy. The Cua Viet River had heavy concentrations of civilians on its banks, as did the towns of Dong Ha, Cam Lo and Quang Tri. Up on the DMZ, however, it was a free fire zone, meaning if it moved and wasn't an American or an ARVN, we could shoot it. Inland from the sandy area was the hinderland marked by low, rolling hills and abandoned settlements mostly overgrown with single canopy jungle. The red square on the right side of the map is Leatherneck Square, a heavily contested area. Beyond Dong Ha Mountain starts the hill country. The mountains on the Laotian Border were true rain forest with three levels of tree tops, or canopies. The jungle floor was always shaded and steaming hot. The book covers operations is all three of these regions.
Sometimes we cried, like when we learned a buddy got hit. In combat there was precious little time for grieving. Within minutes of hearing bad news a grunt would be moving again, assaulting the next ridge or setting up security to hold this one. The tactical situation didn't allow much time for crying, or grieving. So we learned to do without. After a few months on the DMZ we became very good at it. We had a lot of practice.
We called each other brother. Young men from very different backgrounds formed iron bonds of friendship that were tested by North Vietnamese fire. It wasn't political; it had nothing to do with stopping the spread of communism or concerns for the domino theory that made us fight. We had a better reason to fight and take chances and sometimes die. We fought for each other.