Hill 65, Liberty Bridge - June 1967

Dreams of Glory, Clear fields of Fire!
© 1997,
by Refujio M. Barela

1st Platoon, India Company 3/7 1st Marine Division

Good Day to Die ...
 

I served in the Republic of South Vietnam during June 1967-July 1968. I was know as "Cookie" in Vietnam, a machine gunner with 1st Platoon, India Company 3/7 1st Marine Division. In June of 1996 I found the diary I had kept in Vietnam and begin to rewrite not a War Story, but the A Story of War, a recollection of the pain and sorrow, the glory and honor a platoon of Marines shared and endured.

The following is the Prologue to that book and I welcome your comments:

I was stationed on Hill 65, Liberty Bridge, and operated in what many knew as the Arizona and Dodge City Territories. I Participated in operations, Knox, Foster, Badger Hunt, Worth, Rock, Mameluke Thrust and many others. The book is dedicated to the Marines of India Company and especially to Corporal Ronald Allen Moore, my Machine Gun Team leader. Early morning July 19th 1967 he volunteered to go out with a fire team in my place. That morning as I laid on the cold Vietnamese ground, huddled up with only my flak jacket as a cover, Ron took off his utility jacket and placed it over me. I awoke to its warmth, and wish to this day that I had thanked him for such a caring deed.
      I only caught a glimpse of his shadow as he and the fire team disappeared into the early morning fog. Two hours later the fire team was ambushed and Ron and Kenneth Stoker were killed. Ron was awarded our Nation's second highest honor, the Navy Cross. I am to this day searching for his family members. Ron was from Manhattan Beach, California.

On the morning of January 23, 1968, I awoke with a stiff neck. I ached all over from having slept for the last two hours on the hard Vietnamese ground. During my early morning watch a heavy fog had covered the jungle's floor. The fog was now being quickly dispersed by the rising sun. An hour later we moved out and I was walking point. Within minutes we were all drenched in sweat from the hot humid air.
      We moved out cautiously through thick overhanging vines and heavy underbrush. We were patrolling in Dodge City, on a search and destroy mission. The area was known for its many booby-traps, ambushes, heavy enemy engagements and fierce fire fights. As we moved out I was looking for trip wires hooked to booby traps and smelling the air for the odor of the enemy. In the thick underbrush I knew we would smell them before we could see them.
      Behind me, the rest of the platoon followed in a long stretched out column. Sweat was flowing steadily from my forehead, neck and back, soaking my undershirt and waistband with dirt and grime. My soiled trousers had been torn the day before, the day we entered the thick jungle. Slits were cut straight across, by the sharp needle-like leaves that poked and cut with razor sharp edges. We hadn't been resupplied for days, and hadn't eaten for two days. We were out on patrol, dirty, hot, hungry, haggard and miserable. It was the beginning of another day in Vietnam.
      My eyes began to sting from the salty sweat that was steadily flowing from my helmet's wide web band. As I reached up to wipe the sweat away, I walked out of the thick underbrush and into a small clearing. Over to my right about twenty feet away an enemy soldier broke into the clearing at about the same time. I stopped and the platoon stopped behind me. The NVA Communist soldier was looking down, he had been carrying his AK47 rifle parallel to his right leg. The protruding vines had entangled themselves to his rifle's front sight housing and its bayonet attachment.
      As he jerked it free, he turned and saw me. We both froze. We stood there silently, staring at each other. Two, three, five long seconds passed between us. His hair wasn't combed, one side stood stiff from having been slept on. Sleep wrinkles were still clearly visible on his light skinned unwashed face. His uniform was dirty, tattered and torn, like mine. A skinny thin bedroll was draped over his shoulder. He wore no hat.
      His eyes, fixed on me revealed much pain and sorrow. His rifle was still pointed downwards; mine was at port arms and we both knew I had the advantage. Behind us, others didn't know what was happening. In the next few seconds, we were going to be engaged in a fierce fire fight. There was going to be a lot of spattering of blood, guts and pain. We would be firing blindly and violently at each other. The bullets, noise, and the clamor of war, would soon reek death and destruction. He knew it and I knew it. The NVA soldier took one small step backwards, then waited for me to react.
      Life, death and eternity flashed before us. I heard his stomach growl, loud and empty. Instead of raising my rifle, I lowered it slightly and also took a small step backwards. Life returned between us with its promises of tomorrow. His eyes grew big and he released a deep sigh. He took another small step backwards. I followed suit. Our eyes never moved, never blinked. He turned to his left and quickly disappeared into the tall elephant grass.
      I turned to my right to get out of the clearing and behind me the platoon started moving again. I never told anyone about that encounter and to this day, I wonder if that enemy soldier is still alive and hope that he is.

I kept a diary in Vietnam. I did it out of curiosity more than anything else. I jotted down notes and listed the names of friends and acquaintances that I knew mostly by nicknames. During my tour of Vietnam, my world revolved around the lives and actions of the forty-seven men in a Marine infantry platoon. We were young, dumb and lived on borrowed time. Three times only twelve of us survived fierce battle scenes. I was the only Marine in my company to come out of Nam without getting killed or seriously wounded, during my tour of combat.
      Over the years the diary sat like a silent soldier awaiting its call to service. It gathered dust and I never talked to others about my war experiences. I had no desire to see a Vietnam war movie nor had I read any of the books about the war. Then one day as I began to read a book on the history of the Marine Corps, I realized, that I had a story, that needed to be told. The diary's silence begged to be heard and another side of the Vietnam war needed to be shared.
      I found my diary and sat down to write. I wrote for three months. I wrote what I remembered and what the pages of the book brought to remembrance. The loud angry sound of the Vietnamese language, the beauty of the country and the military slang unique to Vietnam. The book revived the smell of hot blood which lingered in the air long after a fire fight. I recalled the days of pain, sorrows, glory, joy, laughter, jokes and friendship, it all returned, fresh and real.
      When I had finished writing the book, I read only the last page to my wife then broke down and cried. I realized that I had forgotten many of the words, phrases and military jargon as well as the nomenclature of the weapons we used. I wanted the reader to be able to see and hear what I experienced, to understand the weapons and military training of that time. I wanted to dispel the Hollywood hype found in the movies that I finally sat down to watch. I did my research and then the historical background checks to be as accurate as possible in reporting the events that transpired. I Checked the dates, and events, facts and figures, both of the enemy's dead and Marines wounded or killed. I found out, that some of the events I wrote about did not correspond with what was narrated in the Marine Corps' After Action Reports.
      Many Marines that I thought had been killed, were listed only as wounded in action (WIA). Others that I thought had only been wounded, I found listed as Killed in Action (KIA). I later found those names inscribed on a black granite wall, at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC. I don't know which account is correct, with the all passage of time it no longer matters except to those who were there and their relatives.
      I changed names only where necessary and gave names to only a couple of Marines I did know by name. There are some names, I felt compelled to change for obvious reasons. I wrote what I saw, what I experienced and what happened to a platoon of Marines fighting in the war of Vietnam. I also wrote about my personal life and how it changed while I was away from the states. How life back home would never be the same, not just because of the war but because I came of age and now saw things differently. With new insights, values and needs.
      There are Marines who are alive today because I volunteered to serve in Vietnam, because I fought alongside of them against the enemy. There are others that died when I should have been the one killed. Some died because they were near me, and the M60 machine gun I carried. They died because they believed in preserving the liberty we enjoy. Many of them, like myself during that time in history were unaware of the protest and demonstrations beginning to be waged against the war at home. We were fighting for our country and for what we believed in and that made the difference in the way we fought and in the way we died. They died while standing firm because they believed in our country, in America. They were Marines and Americans and that is the reason this book is written. It is a true story, written to honor them and in hopes that we never again make the mistake of not supporting the American fighting men at war.
      I would like for the public to realize that this story belongs to America. Because it was our country that sent us to Vietnam and as a Marine my job was to kill Communist soldiers. That is what a Marine is trained to do. I went there to kill them and to come back alive; I did both. I don't know if I ever killed a Viet Cong. I do know that I killed many North Vietnamese Communist soldiers, individuals that were trained and supplied by the Soviet Union and Communist China. That was my job as a United States Marine--to kill Communist soldiers, and that is what I did.
      There are words that I use in this book that some may find offensive. In today's society, they are not politically correct. I use them here because they are the words of war, words of that time and era. They are words we used in a Marine rifle squad that was made up of individuals from all across America. Blacks, Mexicans, and Whites, in the Marine Corps we enjoyed a common bond, a unity and relationship bonded by the Marine Corps green that we all wore. We used these words to describe the enemy, ourselves and a culture we didn't understand. But that's the way it was then and it was our way of life.
      Someone once asked me if I regretted having fought in Vietnam. No, I don't regret it. I wouldn't give up that experience for anything in the world. We fought, not for a dream that was unobtainable, but for the idea of democracy, we fought against Communist aggression and for the type of life that we honestly believed in. We believed that liberty and justice was for all. We felt honored to have served our country, to have been given the opportunity to help others, to try to obtain the same freedom we enjoyed. I was fortunate to have been given the opportunity in life to be more than just a witness in history. We will never see battles again as we did in Vietnam. If we failed, it was not because we did not do our duty, it was because others entrusted with higher responsibilities failed to do theirs.

JUNE 21, 1997, COOK BARELA, Riverside, California.

Your comments welcomed Refujio M. Barela, or write me at:
Cook Barela
P.O. Box 33111
Riverside, California 92519
phone (909) 685-0700


Email Response

Fabio Allodoli
Sent: Tuesday, January 14, 2014
To: dlp@war-stories.com
Subject: Liberty Bridge

HI Don,

Long time since I responded to this bulletin board.

Going back as far as I can remember, you are correct that 3/7 Kilo – India did not have KIA at the Liberty Bridge.

The two men were across the river and not sure who was there. I made contact with a Lieutenant who was there for about 30 days and remembers when we lost 17 men on the way to An Hoa base and if I remember he was with the 1/5.

The time frame was around Mid August and early September.


I was able to remember small specific details and tie them together: The men were KIA in an ambushed as they had left about an hour and half for an LP, and heard the conversation between the men and Headquarters on the other side of the river and that’s were I was when the men left. I was sitting inside on of the tanks that earlier that week threw a track and and help them men put a new section. I used the large 18,000 Lbs fork lift to pull up on the Idler so they could make the connection.  About an hour or so I heard the chatter on the radio as I was sitting inside the tank talking to one of the men. when all hell broke loose. You heard the rest of the story already. Well, I remember receiving some letters from home a week or two later from my wife and telling me she did not want to be married any more. my Chief found out about it and wanted me to go home on emergency leave bur I denied since we were going home after our deployment. Si I had just lost two guys about a week or two earlier than that news. 

So I would put the time frame around end of August early September. 

I do not remember the event but there was two casualties at the bridge one Marine and one Seabee who got hit with a frag grenade from one of the Marines from 3/7. I believe they both survived. My mind blocked that event all together as two friends of mine told me what happened, and I was also involved in helping to stop the bleeding until medevac came. I found out this event two years ago from both of these friend of mine and a three months apart. That still bothers me I cant remember.

Ironic, all that stuff happened in the Arizona Territory and I now live in Arizona???

Fabio
Point Man Ministries

You can reply to me via my email  fallodoli@hotmail.com           

P.S. I have spoken with two men about a year ago and one was there in our camp he lives in Texas and does Nam ours.

 

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