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

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