In 1966, I was assigned to a new engineer battalion that was being formed at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California. We were deployed to Chu Lai, Vietnam. I spent 13 bloody months in country, returned to the United States in 1967 and was honorably discharged as a sergeant E-5 in 1968. That year, I joined the Indianapolis Police Department, where I worked for 32 years.
In 2009, I was offered a position as a Law Enforcement Professional (LEP) adviser to the military - a one-year commitment in Iraq and/or Afghanistan with a Marine Corps infantry battalion. The recruiter who offered me the job said if I accepted, I would help save young Marines and soldiers from being killed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
I told my wife I wanted to accept the job. I told her I loved America and felt honored to be able to serve our great nation in uniform twice in one lifetime. With reservations and lots of tears, she said she would support my choice.
That year, I said goodbye to her, my kids and grandkids, and flew to Washington, D.C., for training. I was 63 years old.
After training, I received orders to report to Camp Pendleton. When I arrived, I met several other retired law enforcement officers who also had volunteered for the LEP program. Our group underwent more training at Camp Pendleton before our individual assignments were given. I was the only adviser to be assigned to a battalion at Camp Pendleton.
I hadn’t kept a journal in Vietnam, and I regretted not having done so. You forget names and details over the years, so this time I made a decision to keep a journal detailing my deployment. I emailed the following entry to my wife (excerpted):
May 10, 2009 | Oceanside, Calif.
The following story I have never told to another living soul before now. I am recounting it now so my family will know my real reason for volunteering for this mission to save young Marines and soldiers from being killed by IEDs. I want you, my family, to know the real reason I volunteered for this mission in case I don’t come back.
Let me go back in time. The date was Jan. 13, 1967, and I was stationed in Chu Lai, Vietnam, with the 9th Engineer Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps. That morning my fire team had been assigned to a patrol area off Route 1, north of the village of Tam Ki. I was ordered to stay in camp by my company commander for some reason that I do not now remember. I do remember I asked him if I could go on this patrol and take care of my other duties when the patrol returned, but he was unyielding and ordered me to stay in camp. I went to where my buddies were loading up the truck so I could tell my guys to watch their backs and to crack a few jokes before they left. I had my camera with me and I shot the below photos as they loaded up.
My buddy Marines loaded extra ammunition on the truck and climbed aboard. I told them I couldn’t go with them because the captain was making me stay in camp. In true Marine Corps fashion, they all gave me the “one-fingered salute” as noted in the below photo.
Then they drove out the front gate and toward the area they had been assigned to patrol. I busied myself with my assigned duties for the next couple hours or so until another corporal ran up to me and asked me if my fire team had left the base by truck. I said they had and he spoke words to me that I will never forget.
He said, “Their truck hit a mine buried in the road, Judd. Your whole fire team is dead.”
I just stood there. I couldn’t and wouldn’t believe it. I told the other corporal he must be wrong. It had to be somebody else. The other corporal told me the truck was a 9th Engineer truck because it had our battalion markings on the doors. I remember walking to the motor pool where they brought in damaged vehicles. I sat on a sandbag and waited. It wasn’t long before a Marine Corps flatbed trailer was pulled into the motor pool with what was left of another truck resting on the trailer. I walked up to it and saw the 9th Engineer Battalion logo on the door. I still had my camera. I took the below photos.
I sat down again on the sandbag and stared at the damage to the truck and my heart sank. The next thing I knew my captain was standing next to me. He said, “I’m sorry, Cpl. Green. I’m sorry to tell you your entire fire team was killed in that truck.”
I don’t have words to express how I felt. I guess I would say now that all people have defining moments in their lives that change their core being. You are just never the same as you were and you will never be what you would have otherwise been. That moment in time stood still for me and it seared my soul forever. My buddies - my fellow U.S. Marines - the guys I ate with, slept with and had laughed with, had vanished from my life and the face of this earth forever.
I want you to know who they were because I have never, ever forgotten their names or their faces or their smiles or the sparkle in their eyes:
Pvt. Jeffery Thomas Dines of Waterloo, Iowa, 19 years of age
Lance Cpl. John Patrick Eads of St. Louis, Mo., 21 years of age
Pvt. Aaron Burr Jones, Jr. of Wilmington, N.C., 18 years of age
Lance Cpl. Michael Joseph Kehoe of New York City, 20 years of age
Pfc. Leroy Pierson of Hamilton, Ohio, 20 years of age
And the NCO who took my place that day:
Sgt. Bobby Gene Jackson, Marshall, Mo., 26 years of age
... Once again, I have to go back many years. The time was summer 1966 and the place was Camp Pendleton. A bunch of young Marines were ready to ship out to Vietnam. One evening it was decided we would treat ourselves to one last great meal before we left. We drove down to a fish house overlooking the bay and got a table outside. I can’t remember what any of us ate, but I can remember lots of laughs, arms around each other’s necks, punches in the shoulders to see who could “really take it like a Marine” and just a great time of fellowship for a bunch of innocent young guys getting ready to go off to war. We all made a promise to each other that night. All of us would return to that place when we came back from Vietnam to have dinner and to celebrate. We couldn’t admit it then, even to ourselves, because we were tough Marines, but what we would really be celebrating was our love for each other as brothers in arms.
Tonight, I was alone at a table outside on the deck of a fish house overlooking San Diego Bay. The evening was cool so no one else was eating outside, and I was glad it worked out that way. ... I looked out at the sea we had all sailed across to meet our destinies in 1966. I remembered that celebration some 43 years ago and the promise we had all made. I raised my glass and toasted to those brave young heroes, six pieces of my heart torn out so many years ago. I was the only one to make it back. It was my duty to them to keep the promise.
. ... I have made a silent promise to the young Marines in my battalion to do all I can to help save their lives and to help them return safely to their families. God willing, I will keep that promise, too.
Dec. 20, 2009 | Al Asad, Iraq
May 3, 2010 | Indianapolis
Today the last of the Marines from my battalion returned home after our deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan. ... They all came back home safe.
Second promise kept.