Sunday, July 29, 2007

Tribute to Kenneth Montone

I am writing this tribute to Sgt. Kenneth Montone to be published in an up- coming book about Operation Kingfisher, in Vietnam, September 21, 1967. The heroism by all the Marines that day would make the toughest of men wither and hide.

One of the six Medal of Honor Recipients of 2nd Battalion 4th Marines on that day was Lance Corporal Jedh Colby Barker, a machine gunner in Fox 2/4 under Sgt Montone's command. Sgt Montone was awarded the Bronze Star with combat V posthumously for going to the aid of several of his men before succumbing to his own wounds.

I first met Kenneth Montone after going through boot camp in San Diego. We were assigned to Advanced Infantry Training at Camp Pendleton, California. I remember he had an Anchor, Globe and Eagle tattoo on his chest (the Marine Corps Emblem). Wow! I thought, "I want one of those." I had already been through college and had a degree in accounting and was the blunt of many jokes by my fellow Marines. I think Ken saw this and came to my aid many times. We worked from daylight to dark most days running the hills around Camp Pendleton. He kept us together day and night as a squad should be. We worked hard and played even harder. I remember the night just before we were to leave for Vietnam, the entire squad met in a tiny bar across the street from the bus station in Ocean Side, California. We all got trashed that night. Little did I know I would spend most of my time in country with these 17 and 18 year old men.

We flew from the California El Toro Air Station to Hawaii, then on to Okinawa. We were in Okinawa several days to store our equipment and doing more training, giving blood, and going on leave in a little town. The cab ride the next morning was the price of admission after an entire night in the town. The Cliffs of over 700 feet on a single lane highway in a cab was a lifetime experience. We were all young and ready for what we thought was a great adventure, besides what could hurt us, we were Marines. I think some of the ones that had been in the Corps a while were a little more cautious. However, we never saw that in Kenneth, he was a Marines Marine. Even if he felt something, we never knew it. I will never forget landing in Da Nang in July. When they opened the doors of the air-conditioned plane, we could feel the nice warn 100-plus degree temperature and humidity. We were in Da Nang for about 3 or 4 days before we were assigned to our units. Kenneth and I were assigned to 2nd Battalion 4th Marines, the Magnificent Bastards, Second to None. Da Nang was a place if you were with any one whom you had gone to boot camp with, chances were that you were separated. We all made new friends that day, however there were a few of us that were assigned to the same units. That day we found out that we were bound for the 2nd Battalion 4th Marines at Camp Evans. I remember riding with Kenneth in a convoy North from Da Nang across so many rice paddies I could not count them. We arrived at this dusty compound called Camp Evans. It was kind of nice there looking back in retrospect; we had hot meals and cots to sleep on, even movies (Combat with Vick Morrow and Rick Jason). We would occasionally take a casualty from mines laid by the local Viet Cong, but nothing on a large scale like where we were going. We were there about 4 months.

We got our orders one day to board the trucks going North. I thought we were already north, at least enough to suit me. Even our Officers and platoon commanders were beginning to wonder where would we be assigned next. Well, from that day to when I left Vietnam, was any thing but pleasant. No more hot meals, C-Rations. No more cots, a poncho and the hard ground. No more movies, the only movies would be ones we may one day show our grandchildren about this place. Life had definitely taken a change for the worse. We were first at Con Thien, a Northern fire base.

On the way there we had a few self-inflicted wounds. The area changed from a dusty camp to dense jungle and the start of the monsoons. It would rain all day and night while we tried to sleep. Mud was everywhere.

It wasn't long until we were sent on our first big operation, called Operation Kingfisher. We were to clear the enemy from around the fire bases, which was no easy task. These guys were there and had dug-in positions, not easy to take when in open country. The morning of September 21st, 1967, the rain stopped. We were on line sweeping through a banana plantation around Con Thien when we were shot at by snipers. Then, as we advanced,we came under heavy machine gun fire so intense it cut down several banana trees and some bamboo. That was my first taste of Vietnamese soil. I could hear people getting killed that day, many of them friends. I was pinned down to the left side of where Kenneth and Jedh Barker was pinned down. We tried to surround them by going to our left and around where the fire was coming from. It seemed like every time we would go left, there was another machine gun. We eventually made it to a ravine where we thought we could make some progress. That is when it went from bad to worse. We were targeted by the enemy with artillery. It seemed like eternity while the rounds fell. The enemy was ordered that day to annihilate us to the last man and it felt like it. We were fighting back but was not able to hold much ground. Eventually, when it seemed like we would never get out, the shelling stopped and we started evacuating our dead and wounded. We were then told to get started back to our compound where we had fox holes dug. I found out later that a superior force of North Vietnamese Army reinforcements had been detached to finish us off. It was almost a month before we were re-supplied and had new troops. We went back and recovered the bodies of our fellow Marines on October 10, 1967.

I still remember Sgt Montone, Jedh Barker, as well as every one else that day. I thought, "That is what real courage is, these men laid down their lives to cover our retreat." I thank God for the Marines that I served with. We truly are the Magnificent Bastards.
Semper Fi,
Robert Mercer

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Forty Years Later

By: Chris Trollinger – Sister of William Kildare

Forty years ago, on September 28th, 1967, my family received the news that our Bill had been killed in action in Vietnam.
Standing at the distance of time and space, one still muses as to the truth of the whole affair.
Especially given all the secrecy over the deaths they sustained that day of September 21,1967- in Operation Kingfisher.

It seemed like a bad dream at the time, but it was oh so very real. The Marines coming to my parent’s house, and informing them of the death. The official telegram, all neatly delivered according to protocol.

Shortly thereafter, another Marine assigned to burial detail, arrived to help the family through the funeral according to protocol. To the Corp. It was just another day in the life of the Marine Corps. Burying their dead. Dispatching an ordinary Marine to his eternal reward. Directing our family on all the details, they planned the funeral with precision and little emotion…after all, Bill was just another KIA Marine. His funeral would be the 13,500th the various branches of the Military had presided over in the Vietnam War. Before the War in Vietnam would end, that scene would be repeated many times more.

The first thing my father of course did, was to inform them that my younger brother Mike had been reported wounded on August 21st. We still had not received any confirmation as to his condition or whereabouts. The Marine, got on the horn, and got some lowly clerk somewhere, who reported back, rather matter of factly, that Mike had died of his wounds.

And then the cadence of protocol began to un-ravel. My father immediately got on the horn and called his old Marine buddy, from WWII, Brigadier General Louis Wilson, who was legislative assistant to the Commandant of the Marine Corp.
Louis immediately set to work, to locate Mike and found him in a hospital in Okinawa, Japan. As my father suspected, the clerk mixed up our brother’s names and relayed Mike as KIA, without bothering to check further. Arrangements were quickly set in motion to send Mike home for the funeral. He had been burned in the explosion, which hit the convoy he was in, but the burns were almost healed. He was scheduled for R & R.

This was not the first time we had dealt with this. The previous February, the Marines had sent a telegram to my parents, informing us Mike had been wounded. Then within days, the Marines arrived on our doorstep to inform us Mike had died. Somehow they were having trouble locating the body though. Dad had called Louis then also, and within a day’s time, Mike called to inform us he had been slightly wounded and was fine. He would be reporting back to duty shortly. That was the day, my brother Bill, determined he would re-join the Marines as soon as he finished the semester at Texas A & M. His intention was to have Mike ask for duty out of the combat zone, using the Sullivan Rule, which allows a family to request that only one son, serve in the combat zone at a time. Mike of course did not agree. Bill then decided that he would stand and fight with Mike. He wanted to watch out for Mike somehow, just as he had always done when we were children.

With Mike located and on the way home, the normal protocol was back in orbit…or so the Marines thought. But, my Mother would now throw a problem in their lap, which would unravel the neat protocol once again. My Mother wanted to make sure that the body coming in on the train, was really our Bill. She wanted him positively identified, and Dad demanded to see that our Bill was dressed properly in his Marine Blues.

It seemed like an ordinary request at the time. Who could blame them, as we had endured so many mistakes about identification thus far.

The next thing we knew, our lowly honor guard was replaced with higher up Brass from Denver. Suddenly, the ordinary KIA Marine burial became something that required more clout to keep Protocol on track. They neatly arrived with a personal letter from LBJ of condolence on our loss. Of course, they tried to present it as the Commandants request to honor our family of Marines in a special way. Obviously, they never met a family of Irish Marines before…and so the battle began.

Back and forth the negotiations flew. They insisted the body was in such bad condition, that it could not be viewed. Dad got on the horn to Louis once more, and obtained the autopsy reports in short order. It confirmed that Bill could be identified, still, even though the body had suffered some decomposition from being left in the field for sometime. His face was still intact, and the wounds he received were the loss of both hands and a stomach wound. The report stated that the wounds were the result of his weapon and ammo exploding from hot shrapnel.
When that ploy didn’t work, they set about trying to convince us to just quietly accept that all was well; our Bill was definitely in the casket. We stood our ground, and they finally agreed to allow my Uncle Jack, to ID the remains. Uncle Jack had served at Pearl Harbor and his job there had been body retrieval after the Pearl Harbor attack. Thus, the funeral for another Marine KIA, was accomplished. But to this very day, the question lingers…”Why so much secrecy?” Were they trying to cover up the poor quality of weapons our boy’s were forced to use? I suppose we will never know for certain one way or the other, but it does make one wonder. Why all the secrecy?

Faces In The Wall

By: Christine Trollinger
In Memory of:
2/4 Casualties 9/21/67

When you approach the Wall, can you tell me what you see?
Do you see balance and beauty laid out in perfect harmony?
Perhaps this is all the merely curious ever really see.

Some come to the Wall looking for just one precious name.
Maybe it is a brother, father, child or a friend.
The heart, which knows this name, must see a face, a place and a sad time in our nations history.

Some come to the Wall at the break of dawn with two or more names written upon their heart. They see more than names etched in granite stone. They must surely travel back in time and in memory to a place where they can see the faces of those who were so much a part of the fabric of their lives. Brothers and friends whose loss changed the color of their lives.

For all the hearts that have been broken in the aftermath of War, for all the words unspoken to those they still adore…”May Christ’s Peace” be with them and may they come to understand:

“They lived and died for all of us, and have risen from this…”Their Calvary.” The veil, which now divides us, is only for a little while.

They died that we might complete our own special mission living out our lives with dignity, honor, grace and even joy. And once our Mission is accomplished, we shall see them once again. Let us not cry for those who are gone, for they have fulfilled their Mission with utmost grace. Rather let us rejoice that we stand to testify to the worth of their sacrifices…until we meet again.