CPL Bobby Jordan (USMC, ARMY, Vietnam Veteran)
Let's speak a bit to the designation of the term, “hero.” Since this project started roughly four years ago, you the reader, have received an insider's look into the lives of some of our nation's greatest heroes. Some of these stories are tragic, some horrific, some beautiful, some redemptive, some infuriating. All of these legacy pieces include the likes of men and women who truly earned freedoms that many of us take for granted on a daily basis. Men like Bobby Jordan living out his Post-Vietnam days on the land of his ancestors, desiring no spotlight or displays of commendation, are our nation's greatest heroes. In his early 20’s, Bobby stalked the jungles of Vietnam with roughly four months of training under his belt, prepared to take on one of the most formidable fighting forces our country has ever faced. But Bobby would tell you that he wasn’t prepared for what met him and his fellow Marines in those deadly jungles. The enemy was well dug in, highly educated, and fiercely loyal to their leadership. Most of our fighting force were draftees, and quite a few of those draftees didn’t necessarily want to be there. Bobby did.
However, throughout this blog Corporal Jordan will speak openly and honestly about fighting against overwhelming odds. He speaks to the darkness of political choices that made their way to the battlefield, needlessly endangering the lives of young men on the frontlines. He even speaks to the distrust he still has for those politicians, and the fact that he feels no resentment towards those who ran from the draft. Bobby Jordan is one of our finer examples of what it means to be a warfighter, but if you asked him he’d probably just say he was a scared kid from South Carolina who made a decision out of duty and national pride. His example of humility is what should make veterans most proud to be a part of the warrior community. This is the first inside look into the life of a Vietnam Veteran from The Veterans Project perspective. The insight offered by Mr. Jordan on his time in the jungles is much like the aura of the war itself, messy and with no definitive conclusion. There is no clear victory, no glory in the hard times, no welcome party on the end of surviving for months against a brutal enemy. Still, at the end of this blog, you most likely won't be asking yourself about the necessity of the conflict. You, more than likely, will find yourself admiring a man who lived out the essence of words like "duty, honor, courage." Enjoy this hero's perspective on life as a young man living in rural America, the truths of combat against a formidable enemy, and living your best life post-service. Here's Bobby Jordan.
Did you grow up in South Carolina?
BJ: Where I live now in South Carolina is about six miles from where my Great, Great, Great, Great, Great, Great, Great Grandfather lived. He led a company of troops during the French/Indian Wars. His grandson served in the American Revolution and his grandson's grandson served in the Confederate Army. I was the first man in my family, to my knowledge, to serve in the Marine Corps. We’ve always been an Army family until I joined the Marines.
What made you decide to join the Marine Corps?
BJ: I didn’t really decide to join the Marines. When I graduated high school in 1964 they had the draft. If you were a 1A classification (means you’re ready to serve) you couldn’t get a job. I tried to enlist in the Air Force when I got out of high school but I couldn’t because I had a hernia. I went and had my hernia surgically fixed and in 1966 I volunteered for the draft. The reason I did that was if you enlisted in the Marines, Navy or Air Force it was for four years, and the Army was three. I thought if I volunteered for the draft I would only have to serve two years as active. If I liked it I could re-enlist and if I didn't I could get out in two years. I didn’t know that the Marines were drafting too (laughs).
I was at Fort Jackson standing in line and this Marine walks up to me and asks, “How would you like to be in the United States Marine Corps?” Before I could give him an answer he told me that’s where I was going and to get in the line (laughs). I was at Fort Jackson but was transferred to Paris Island. I trained there for nine weeks which was abbreviated from the twelve weeks that they usually had because of the need for soldiers in Vietnam. When I got out of boot camp they sent me up to Camp Geiger, North Carolina, which was part of Camp Lejeune. I took my advanced training there and was sent to Camp Lejeune where I joined K32 or Company K, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines. We went down to the Caribbean and took part in amphibious training.
What do you remember about boot camp and your Drill Instructors?
BJ: My Drill Instructors were definitely tough (laughs). When we first arrived they had us stand in formation. They were using words I had never heard before in my life. I had one of them get right in my face and start yelling. He said, “You G** D*** rebel white trash I got your number!” I asked myself, “How did he know I was white trash?” (laughs) They would beat the tar out of you and smack you around to make sure you knew it was their way or the highway.
Do you remember any funny stories from boot camp?
BJ: I remember one time it was about half way through boot camp and we were out on the rifle range. The mess hall was right next to the range and we were getting ready to head to chow. At Parris Island the sand gnats would eat you alive. Our heads were shaved but I knew I better not scratch or slap them because the Drill Instructors called them their “little helpers.” When they would march us up to the chow hall you had to stay in line. When I ran through the door I took my hat off and the drill instructor saw me. He told me I was killing all his little helpers (laughs). He cut a switch and beat me with that switch for that infraction. I finished boot camp and went to ITR (Infantry Training Regiment) at Camp Geiger, North Carolina. I was with Echo Company. We did field training and marches. When I graduated from that training we got twenty days of boot leave. I had made PFC and I was the proudest Marine in the entire Corps. We went down to the Caribbean at Vieques, Puerto Rico and trained for a time. We trained there and got back on the ships a LST (landing ship tank). It was an old World War II ship and it rode like a two horse wagon. The ships would run right up to the shore and they would drop the ramps. We got our sea legs on that ship. It was several days before we hit shore and we were stumbling around like a bunch of drunks (laughs).
We trained on Vieques and would make amphibious landings. There were times when we would climb onto scramble nets on the side of the ship. We left for Panama for jungle training at Fort Sherman for about three weeks. We got back on the ships and headed to Guantanamo Bay Cuba. We were only there a short time when they sent word to get back on those ships because a hurricane was coming. It was Hurricane Inez in 1966 and we rode it out at sea. It scoured the side of the mountain and in the village a church was left standing. We were half a mile off the coast and saw helicopters bringing in supplies. There were kids out there in boats using coconuts for paddles and would dive for things that fell into the water. We arrived back at Camp Lejeune in December. I came home for Christmas and they gave us a few days leave to go home. We came back from leave and headed to Cherry Point, North Carolina to leave for California. We went to a small training camp there to learn how to snow ski. I had never even seen a snow ski.
What was the particular importance of that training block?
BJ: The Marines are supposed to be trained in any kind of terrain movement. They were going to send us over to Norway to take part in an exercise. We got to Norway where they loaded us up on these little buses to a small town out there. We were up above the Arctic Circle and joined the Norwegian Ski Group there. They were the 3rd Battalion Brigade North and those Norwegian soldiers could ski much better than us. We took snowshoes with us too for the mountains. It was a different kind of cold there, a very dry cold. There was a battalion sized base and we stayed in the gym. We had to walk a ways outside to get to the shower so you had to be sure you dried off (laughs). I’ve seen the M60 machine guns freeze up and not fire from the cold in Norway. We trained there with the Norwegians and they were the most honest people I’ve ever met in the world. Norway was a “dry country” which meant absolutely no alcohol. We walked into a little town off base and they had this bottle called “lager ale” that looked like beer and tasted like beer. We were sitting there drinking those ales and we looked at the bottle. It didn’t have any alcohol in it (laughs). We stayed in Norway about six weeks and came back to the states after that.
We arrived back at Camp Lejeune. The First Lieutenant and Master Sergeant came up to us and asked who was an expert marksman. All of us who felt we were, raised our hands. They wanted to form a scout sniper platoon. I volunteered to become a scout sniper. My orders then came in for Vietnam and they asked if I wanted to go or finish up with the scout sniper school first. If I wanted to finish they would send me up to Quantico to train officers there. I was gung ho to go to Vietnam and ready to get into the fight. We grew up listening to all of our family talking about World War I and we were very patriotic. I was sent to Camp Pendleton for training and then had orders to go to the First Marine Division. I had been reading about in the Stars and Stripe News that they were having trouble in the DMZ. They flew us out from California and we landed in Okinawa. The medical teams lined us up to get the dreaded gamma globulin shot. It was supposed to prevent all sorts of diseases. They loaded us up on C130’s and flew us into Da Nang. When we landed they bussed us into the Marine Base and were out milling around. This 100 year old Sergeant Major (at least he looked that old), walked out and asked for volunteers for the 3rd Marine Division. He looked at me and chose me. I guess I was one of the volunteers (laughs). He chose me along with several others standing there. He told us we were now with the 9th Marines and he wished us luck because we “would need it.” (laughs)
We were supposed to leave that evening for south of the DMZ. They had to cancel our flight because they were shelling the runway and they would need to fix it first. The next morning they loaded us up and we got in there on a C130. The North Vietnamese were around there with the 82mm mortars dug in around the landing area so the C130’s didn’t hang around long. The next morning they issued us our combat gear and put us on a truck to Con Thien. It was the most shelled place in Vietnam. We were about 200 yards from the hill and they dropped us off. They had a minefield that was about 100 yards long and with a narrow road that ran between. We walked up through there and a Captain was waiting on us and said, “Welcome to Con Thien.” While we were standing there listening a whole bunch of artillery shells fell around us. They got us assigned to our company and mine had 27 men in it. The company was so small because they had been shot all to pieces the day before. They had run into a North Vietnamese regiment and had been decimated. The Commander had been killed and Lieutenant Delaney who was supposed to be back on the mortars, was wounded. Staff Sergeant Leon Burns ended up taking the company over and called in an airstrike. They sent a Captain from Con Thien with tanks and a platoon of men to beef up Bravo Company. The NVA were shelling there every day and night.
I had been there about three nights and we got word all the North Vietnamese in the area were coming towards Con Thien. It was after dark and I couldn’t see anything. We dug in and there was a bowl the size of a washing machine that we threw a shell in to loosen the dirt up. There were four of us in that hole and I didn’t know a single one of those guys. The artillery shells were coming in and falling behind us, either 130 or 150mm shells. One of those shells hit close and the shockwave traveled through the ground. It felt like it shook all of the fillings out of my teeth and my ears were ringing. We came back to our senses and began checking to see if everyone was all right. The next morning when it was daylight you could see where the shell had hit the night before. I don’t know how it did but fragments got down inside our hole but didn’t hit any of us men. One of the Marines who couldn’t find his rifle in the dark could now see it in pieces in the daylight. That made me really homesick right about then. I knew there was a good chance I’d never make it home. This enemy was highly effective.
Do you remember feeling afraid during that night?
BJ: When those shells started coming I was afraid. Our Lieutenant came along and told us that the enemy was close to the line out there and was watching us. He asked who was in charge and no one said anything. I spoke up and told him I was a Lance Corporal. He told me to pass that word along the line to the other bunkers and foxholes. I didn’t know where the perimeter was at. I went wandering off passing the word along and I ended up in the barbwire (laughs). I heard someone yell, “Halt, who goes there!” I told him who I was and he told me I had better get out of there. I made it back up to my men after that. We stayed in Con Thien for about two weeks on patrols during the daytime. We had other units in the woods around us and sent out ambush patrols at night. They sent us down to a little Vietnamese village and found this small triangle fort. We occupied the fort and began retraining men. The company had been shot up so bad that replacements were coming in. We stayed there for several weeks and I really thought it was pretty. Vietnam was only 17 miles wide where we were located and you could sit in the mountains with a full view of the ships in the ocean. We went through a village that had been shot up and saw a church. That area was called the “four gates of hell." We dug in there and began having air bursts going off over us. We moved on to the west of Con Thien and there was a bunker complex up there with a few tanks. We dug in and those tanks worked that hill over.
We started up the hill and saw how the tanks had devastated the hill. We kept moving in a southwestern direction where we picked up a soldier who had been 13 months in Vietnam and then when his time was up he extended for 6 more months. They shuffled him right over to the DMZ (laughs). The day he got to us they started coming with helicopters and flew us over to the triangle fort. There were trucks waiting for us because down below the 4th Marines had a convoy ambushed. Command was going to send us down there to engage and help 4th Marines. We hopped on the trucks and went to head across the mountains. When we got to the mountain and dug in, it was like a rainforest environment. We swept through the trees and walked out in the open which was like walking out into a parking lot. It was just tall grass and clear of trees. I looked out and could see palm fronds along with a machine gun pointing out directly at me. I walked over to it and there was blood everywhere. The Army had called in artillery fire and if they hadn’t, the NVA would have killed me right then. The enemy had gotten their man out but left his cartridge belt with his oil can for his gun along with his bayonet. I took his bayonet with me and brought it home. That night we dug in between two hills and it was so quiet. We were sitting there and I heard something and realized that it was mortars. I had never heard what a mortar tube sounded like before that night. Those shells began dropping all around us but it didn’t get anyone in my squad. The next morning we took off down the hill and walked right through the position where the mortars had been sitting.
Me and my Marines walked up the hill and it took us all day long to get up there. Our team leader told us to dig in and I began to dig in that red clay. The team leader came up about the time I had my hole dug and told me the Lieutenant wanted the machine gun right where my hole was. I had to dig a completely new hole which made me cuss (laughs). I went down to the perimeter and dug another hole which took me until after dark to get that done. I went on watch early that night and when my relief came, I laid down and went to sleep. This was the only time I laid down on the ground outside of my foxhole to sleep. I had taken off my pack and all my gear. I woke up just before daylight because something had made a sound and I heard a grenade go off. It startled me so bad that I went tumbling down the hill. I scrambled back up the hill and retrieved all of my gear. There were tracer bullets whizzing by us which destroyed my night vision. The North Vietnamese were yelling and screaming as they were attacking which scared me pretty badly. We had a guy with a M79 grenade launcher and he was firing at them working those North Vietnamese over. When the attack was over we got reorganized and moved out. We came up on the positions and found the machine gun team leader slumped over dead. Bently was laying near there dead as well. When they’d gotten in a fight about who would be manning that position, they’d forgotten to link the ammo belt back together to extend the rounds. When the machine gun opened up and they fired, it only fired about fifteen rounds because they hadn’t clipped the ammo back together. It was a tragedy that those men died.
How did you feel about that?
BJ: I really had other things to think about right then. The boy that was on the machine gun was dead and I knew that for sure. There were several that were taken out by a MEDEVAC because of their injuries. There was one guy that had a piece of shrapnel that hit him in the eye and he stayed with us because he could still see out of his one eye. He was walking wounded. We stayed on that hill for four days and nights.
The first night you were on the hill and lost guys around you, was that your first experience with death?
BJ: It was my first experience with death close to me in Vietnam. It scared the devil out of me. Those tracers would make your night vision where you couldn’t see and with them hollering it was scary. You just didn’t know where you were at. Their ambushes were specifically designed to make you feel overwhelmed and confused. They did a hell of a job at that.
What happened during that fourth night?
BJ: We were hit with more artillery fire and another one our boys was hit in the head with shrapnel. They got him out by MEDEVAC the next morning. We had 16 men to start on August 25, 1967 and lost 5 that were killed plus the 5 wounded. We were down to 6 men. They told us that morning to get our holes filled up. We had one guy that was just mentally wrecked and would wander off by himself. So instead of him staying and filling his hole up, he wandered off. They had air dropped a bunch of mortar shells to us and we couldn’t carry them out. We decided we were going to blow them in place. They had piled them all up in this huge pile. My command told the guy that had wandered off to stay there and guard the two engineers that were going to light the fuse to blow them up. He came back to me whining about it and wanted me to stay with him. I could have killed him for that. I told him I would stay and told the Lieutenant that I was staying with him. There was a little hill about 300 yards away and it was open with just grass on it where you could see for quite a ways. The Lieutenant told us he would get over there on top and wave his arms to give us the signal to light the fuse. They walked off and left us standing there. I could have told Hank Williams a little bit of what it meant to be truly lonely (laughs). We got the signal when they reached the hill and we lit the fuse. He took off and so did I. They had taken all of our packs and gear so we flew down that trail with no weight on us. The one I stayed with to guard was all upset and scared. He didn’t want to be tail end charge because that meant you had to walk backwards to keep watch. I told him that I would walk backwards and would take the rear of the patrol. He sat down and nodded off to sleep and we walked off and left him. I could have killed him again (laughs).
We got down and joined another company. The camp we went to had this concrete slab right about 10 feet by 30 feet with a shower head right out in the open. I told myself I was going to take a shower because it had been a month since I had one. I talked to my platoon Sergeant who said to go ahead. I took my towel, flip flops, and shower kit to take a shower. I walked up and turned it on and the water was so cold but it just felt so good. I got finished and headed back across the base and about that time a rocket flew over my head. The North Vietnamese used a lot of those but this one was a dud. I was running to look for some place to hide. I ran and jumped in this hole but I could still hear the rockets. There was a big German police dog in the hole with me and he stayed on his side while I stayed on mine (laughs). We stayed there at that camp for a couple weeks. One day we loaded up and headed out to a place near Con Thien and dug in around this old church. The Marines had a “hammer and anvil” attack where you have a company set up to ambush and the other company would fire to flush them out. The NVA would come out and we would shoot them up. At least that’s what the plan was. I didn’t know about this because no one told me (laughs). Where we had dug in, there was a hole about 25 feet across and 15 feet deep from a bomb crater. There was a tank sitting on the other side of the bomb crater so that’s where I dug in because the ground was soft. We never got enough sleep, never got enough rest, and never got enough water. After a while when you get that run down you start doing dumb things that you normally wouldn’t do.
We didn’t like to fire our rifles at night if we could avoid it, so we threw grenades instead. The muzzle flash let them know where you were. One guy said he was going to straighten the pins on his grenades where he could ease them out. I told him that sounded like a good idea and decided to straighten one of my pins. I was sitting there in the pitch black and couldn’t see a thing with my nerves as tight as a banjo string. The other guy in the hole with me was sound asleep. I worked the pin out and was sitting there with a hot grenade in my hand. I pushed it back in the hole but was scared I had it in the wrong hole. I thought to myself that I couldn’t sit there like that and I was so tired that I could go to sleep. If I had relaxed my grip on the handle it would kill us both and if I threw it, that would upset the entire crowd (laughs). I sat there a few minutes and thought about it. I nudged the boy in the hole with me and told him I needed one of his boot laces. I hated to tell him I was sitting there with a live grenade (laughs). I told him what was happening though, so he took off his laces and we tied it tight. We laid it outside the hole and he was pretty hard to get along with the rest of the night (laughs). I think he might’ve resented me at the moment. I came to realize at that church that up until that time I had hope in living. We had lost some guys and the machine gun team was wiped out in July was also wiped out in August. Their replacement team was wiped out in September. I realized then that the law of averages was that I wasn’t going to make it. I would either leave in a body bag or on a stretcher but when I realized that, I realized I could do my job better.
How did you handle loss when it started occurring all around you?
BJ: I had to learn to accept loss. I couldn’t dwell on it. I knew all the boys in my squad but after a point I quit trying to remember names and dates. I didn’t want to get too attached to guys that most likely wouldn't be there with me at the end of it all. The last of September they trucked us out and we walked to Con Thien again. The NVA shelled us so bad up there and it was just before daylight every day. We would leave the positions each morning before they began and walk out into the woods to lay down. They would shell and then we’d patrol back into camp. I had to take an ambush patrol out one night in October. We would rotate it around through the company so I knew several days ahead when it was going to be my turn. I began to realize how we would fight to take over a place then walk off and leave it. The North Vietnamese would come in and occupy it. I decided to start looking out for my guys and myself. I was shown the map and told where I needed to go which was quite a distance out. I thought to myself I was not going that far out with just a squad of men. I walked over to the mortar crew and got my concentrations to be able to tell them where to fire. I said, "Boys, guess where the Company Commander wants us to go?” I told them and they all replied , “Hell no!” (laughs) I told them we would go out and find a place to hide.
We went out about 200 or 300 yards and found some tall grass to hide in. That night about midnight we could hear a plane coming and we didn’t think anything of it because they were always bombing us.. There were two of those bombs fell between us and Con Thien. It fell so close to us that most of the blast went over us. We were just laying there hearing the pieces of it falling around us. The next morning we peeked up out of the grass and were looking right down the barrel of a quad 50. The Army had parked a quad 50 in this hole scooped out by a bulldozer and it was sitting just at ground level. We went back into the perimeter and occupied our positions. It was the first part of November when I was talking to a guy from Florida about our losses. I asked him if he had noticed anything about the squad. I told him that we were the only two left from our squad of sixteen that had arrived back in June. On November 7th, I got hit by a mortar shell along with all the other guys that had been in the hole with me. They were all hit worse than I was. We couldn’t hear the mortar tubes going off because the planes were flying overhead drowning out the sound. One shell got three of us.
There were shells hitting all around us and we were both down there with a grenade. When you dig a foxhole like that you alway dig a secondary hole. When they threw a grenade it would fall in that first hole and so you would get into the second hole. I looked at guy in the hole with me and he was bloody all over. I asked him, “How come you’re hit ?” He said, “No, I’m not hit.”
I said, “Well somebody is hit and there isn’t anybody else in this hole.” Where the mortar had hit started at the back of my leg and went up my right knee, thigh, lung, and shoulder. It also got my right arm, shoulder, elbow, left hand and busted my eardrum. One place that had been hit had nicked an artery and every time my heart would beat, blood would spurt out. I started taking off my clothes and couldn’t find any holes. I stripped down to nothing but my dog tags. I had a little South Carolina flag in the corner so I grabbed it. The boys came and threw me on a stretcher and took me towards the helicopter. The North Vietnamese saw us and they got pretty angry. They really started shelling us. It got so bad that the boys that were carrying me dropped me and run to jump in a foxhole (laughs). I was just laying there flat on my back. The helicopters flew in and got me on there to get out. There was a M.A.S.H unit where they patched me up. There was an entire hall full of stretchers with wounded guys on them.
Did you think at any time you weren’t going to make it?
BJ: When I saw that blood just spraying out of me like that, I really began to wonder if I was going to live. They loaded all of us wounded on a C-130 and flew us to Da Nang. They helicoptered me out to a hospital ship there in the South China sea. I was still buck naked (laughs). Those women nurses would come up and would look at me so I wished I had something on (laughs). That night they did surgery on my lower abdomen where I had been hit. They pulled the big piece of shrapnel out and left the wound open. They left about 6 inches of gauze hanging out and the next morning they pulled it out. It was mostly small pieces of small shrapnel. The Corpsman told me that when I would get up to take a shower and get the gauze wet I could pull it out myself. I was laying in that bed just in terrible pain and when the Corpsman walked by I asked him for something for the pain. He handed me this little pill and the next thing I know I’m out walking around on the deck. I was feeling fine (laughs). It lasted about 45 minutes and so I went back down to my bed. I asked him for another one and he told me no. He said if he gave me another one it would make me a “dopehead.” (laughs) I stayed on the USS Sanctuary for about a month and they finally sewed up the hole in my side.
You stayed on the medical ship for about a month?
BJ: I stayed on the medical ship for about a month from November to December. They took us back by helicopter to Da Nang Air Force Base and put us on a plane. When that plane took off you could have heard a pin drop. Nobody was saying anything. The pilot finally talked to us and said, “Okay, we are out of range of the little SAMs now.” (laughs) Everybody just began cheering after that. I finally arrived back at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington D.C. where we spent the night. They came the next morning to tell us where we would be headed and began calling out names. They called out my name and I said, “Here!” When they called my name there was a boy I went to school with on the same plane. He was a combat engineer and had been sent back home because he had a hernia. I got discharged about two months later and came home. The first person I ran into was the boy from the plane. We worked together for 30 years after that.
What was your biggest take away from time spent in the jungle ?
BJ: My biggest takeaway from my time in the jungle was to not strictly depend on a hand grenade (laughs). The biggest thing I took away from Vietnam was that I came out alive. It wasn’t because of my skills or intelligence but it was chance. It was surviving war. There were men that were smarter and more brave than me that were killed. I'm just grateful I got to come home. Many of us didn't.
Do you remember the attitude of everyone when you got back ?
BJ: Nobody really cared about the Vietnam War back home. Nobody was hostile towards me. It was like a “so what” attitude here in South Carolina. Some of the boys I worked with had served. They didn’t really bother me, but there were others that had never been in the military or understood combat. When a plane would break the sound barrier I would hit the ground because it was a natural reflex. They would just laugh and make fun of me saying I was “shell shocked.” There wasn’t a need to try and explain it to them since they wouldn’t understand anyways. I talked to a lot of World War II and Korean War veterans when I came back that helped me deal with my problems. When I came home I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but didn’t really know I had it. One of the things I regretted was that I never told Dod, the boy in the hole with me that night, how much I thought of him. He was a good man.
What led up in your life as far as your parents raising you to becoming an effective Marine?
BJ: I was raised on a little tobacco farm here. I had an uncle that was killed in World War II and my grandmother had five boys and four of them served. There were three of her boys that served in World War II and one served in Korea. All of the men in my life had served in World War II or Korea and were my heroes. I looked up to them. When it came time for me to go, there was no doubt in my mind what I would do. I volunteered to go over there because I felt like it was my duty. I believed those veterans from World War II and Korea. They are my heroes to this day.
What do you remember about your parents?
BJ: I’ve never really talked about my father. He was a drunk and wife beater. In 1957 he got drunk and wrecked the car which killed my younger brother. He went to prison for that and my mother divorced him. In 1960 he was out with a friend drinking and they were in a wreck where they both were killed. He’s buried about eight miles from here and I remember when they finished with the service inside the church I just walked out straight to my car. I didn’t go to the graveside. I’ve never been to his grave. My mother did the best she could and I was close to all of her family.
When you got back from Vietnam what did you end up doing ?
BJ: When I was discharged and returned, I came home and went to work for the state owned power utility company here in South Carolina. I was a power lineman for thirty years. When I got discharged from the Marine Corps in 1972 I joined the National Guard in Conway. I stayed with them for seven years. My first wife who I lost to breast cancer in 1993, told me that the only way my children saw me was by the back of my head leaving. I started thinking about that and realized my obligation to my country was done. I wanted to obligate myself to my children at that point. When it came time to re-enlist I decided it was time to get out.
What year did you get back?
BJ: I was injured in 1967 and got back around December. I stayed in Charleston Navy Hospital for about a month. I got my orders to go to Camp Lejeune and when I arrived over there I only had 30 days left. I took 24 days of leave that they offered, was discharged, and jumped in my car and came home.
What year did you get back?
BJ: I was injured in 1967 and got back around December. I stayed in Charleston Navy Hospital for about a month. I got my orders to go to Camp Lejeune and when I arrived over there I only had 30 days left. I took 24 days of leave that they offered. I got discharged, jumped in my car and came home.
What’s been most instrumental in helping you through things now?
BJ: My wife now, who I married after my first wife passed away from cancer, has helped a lot. She helps me through all the issues I have now. I go and see a psychiatrist to talk through things from time to time.
Was it hard to admit that you had mental trauma from your time in service?
BJ: I didn’t really know that I had PTSD. I felt good about myself and didn’t think I did. I started to read up on it and I had all the symptoms. I would have these bad dreams at night and jump out of bed only to run into the wall. I would dive off the bed onto the floor or jump on my wife. The boys I served with were just regular people. We were scared to death most of the time. We did what we had to do and did things to the best of our ability.
How did you feel about the enemy as a fighting force?
BJ: The North Vietnamese Army was one of the best on the field that has ever been in the history of the world. Their basic warrior skills were excellent. They were well trained, motivated and extremely well equipped. They were equipped a lot better than we were. The NVA had the SKS rifle which is a semi automatic rifle and I don’t think those ever malfunctioned. However, those M-16s we had were guaranteed to let you down when you needed it the most (laughs). They were terrible. We knew they were well trained. There were times when we would go out and take our position to see them just fighting ferociously. We would just go dig a hole and crawl in it. (laughs) They were orderly and good soldiers. They were also smart, well led, and used a lot of common sense. I was talking to a Marine tank commander with a flame tank about the RPGs that they used. He said that those RPGs with the heat round would shoot through the turret. It would shoot right through the breach cloth and through the turret. I was scared of the 57mm rifles because the shell was so fast coming in. You would see the flash and the dust fly but by that time you could get to the ground the shell was there. I got to where I wasn’t afraid of the mortars anymore. The small mortar shells they used would just cake you in dirt even if they landed a few feet from you. They had to make almost a direct hit to kill you.
What do you think the NVA did best as far as fighting against you?
BJ: They had really good artillery which was Russian artillery. The 152mm gun was really good. The NVA had them in caves and would fire those about 11 miles out from the target. They had 122mm rockets, 82mm mortars, 60mm mortar, recoilless rifles and the RPGs. They were very effective. When we were at Con Thien it was only about a half a mile from the DMZ. You could look across and see it. We were fighting the 324th NVA Division primarily. They had some of the largest caves with electric lines that we knew nothing about within a few miles of us. They could keep their numbers up because they had constant reinforcements from the Chinese.
What are some of the biggest differences in Marines from that time to today in culture?
BJ: My honest opinion is that the military is better trained and more professional nowadays than they were in my day. My son who served in the Army National Guard was in Afghanistan and he could tell you the details of every rifle, break it down, tear it apart and put it back together. In Vietnam you didn’t have the unity like you did in World War II and Korea where you sent the units in and they were all trained together. I think the soldier and Marine is just better trained and more proficient nowadays. I didn’t know anything about radios or radio procedure. I was out one night on ambush patrol and you had to call in every few hours. They called me and I answered. Command said, “We need a SITREP, over.” I didn’t know what the heck that meant (laughs). I was told it meant, “Situation Report.” He told me that if I saw the enemy there to key the mic once and if I didn’t I could key it twice. I keyed it twice and he was happy. I didn’t know that but I should have. The Commander that took over when the Company got wiped out had never called in an airstrike. We weren’t as trained as we should have been. We were trained well with our rifles but that's about it. I could dot an “i” from 300 meters with a rifle, but it takes more than just rifle knowledge to win a war. The NVA showed us that on a pretty regular basis.
What did you try to bring to your family when you were raising your kids ?
BJ: I made a vow when I was about twelve years old that if I lived to be a grown man, got married and had kids that they would never see me drunk. They never have. My family had a lot of shortcomings but we were honest people and if they told you something you could depend on it. My grandfather on my mothers side would get drunk and fight but he still helped a lot of people. In 1918 when influenza epidemic hit they would quarantine the houses. He would go into people’s houses and do what he could for them. People would do a lot for other people back then. He was a good man with a sense of humor but you could make him mad by talking about the Klan (laughs).
How did you feel about the war when it ended?
BJ: While I was over there, I was convinced that we were doing the right thing. There was no doubt in my mind. I was naive because I believed what I was told by our leaders and politicians. It was like the Word of God as far as I was concerned. I was raised to believe that. When I was over there, I began to get suspicious because they were always talking about the “body count.” They would say we had killed 300 but I only saw half a dozen that we killed. It was all propaganda that we killed that many. We really hadn’t killed nearly as many as they said we had. I was taught by the Marine Corps that you’re supposed to be honest. I would see officers acting dishonorably quite a bit and that had an impact on me. When I came home and began realizing these things it made me not trust people in power. It was those in politics especially. I still don’t trust them (laughs).
What would you say to the civilians that misunderstood about being a Marine?
BJ: The people here in this part of South Carolina didn’t really say anything to me. They didn’t condemn you or anything. The first time I had someone condemn me was when I was getting on a plane to go to California. I was going to Camp Pendleton and you had to travel in uniform. I ran into a bunch of hippies and they wanted to know if I was going to Vietnam. I said, “I was told to go to Vietnam.” (laughs) . The boys that went to Canada, I don’t hold a grudge against. I have learned over the years to be careful how I judge people. Not everyone walks the same path and that’s okay with me. I did what I had to out of a sense of duty and not everyone shares my convictions.
Do you remember any of the guys not wanting to be there that were in your unit?
BJ: There were a whole bunch of boys that didn’t want to be there in Vietnam (laughs). My unit had several that weren’t even high school graduates. I went to boot camp with quite a few boys that had the choice of either the Marine Corps or prison.
What was the culture of the day like back then when you joined?
BJ: It was entirely different around here in South Carolina. The people in my community are very laid back, because we have been living here for generations. There were four brothers of my father’s family that married four sisters of my mother’s family. We were all kin and just very easygoing. I was twelve years old and had a twelve gauge shotgun and went out hunting all the time. You went anywhere you wanted and didn’t have to ask to go on anyone’s land. You would go in the woods and hunt wherever you wanted. It never occurred to me to not respect the other man’s property. When I would come to a fence I would treat it just as if it were my own.
What did you do besides your time as a Line Operator?
BJ: I taught at an environmental education club on the side from my regular job. I would make bows and arrows and things like that but that was thirty years ago. I'd teach the students about medicinal plants that grow wild in the area on the nature trails. We'd talk about how natural history affects your political history and even the moral concepts of right and wrong. The county we live in is not like the rest of the coastal counties in South Carolina because we didn’t have plantations. We made our living by naval stores. We got our turpentine out to sell to England. Our economy sold to England because it was a maritime nation and they needed pitch to weatherproof their ships. There was no need for slaves to do that. This county was strongly anti-slavery. Some of the churches that were around here didn’t allow you to own slaves if you belonged to the church.
What made you want to teach?
BJ: Teaching has always been an interest to me. When I was a boy I would find artifacts in the field that were obviously really old. It amazed me that the natives could make them with very little tools or resources.
What would you tell the guys thinking about joining the military now?
BJ: I would tell people to join the military if they asked me about it. I had a young man sit down and talk to me last night about it. I told him I was proud of him for joining. I’m proud of my military service.
What do you think the best thing was about serving your country?
BJ: We showed up. The time came for us to serve and we showed up. I don’t say it because I was an instrument of death or because I saw combat. A man could serve and never see combat but he showed up. I don’t regret any part of my service.
How do you see the difference in our war fighting terrorism and the war you were fighting?
BJ: I see a lot of similarities in the Vietnam War and the wars we are fighting now. It’s a difficult war to fight, and a lot more difficult than most realize. You don’t know where the terrorists nowadays are going to strike in this world. Vietnam was similar in the way the enemy fought us through their guerrilla tactics. Their behavior was built on how to beat us.
What do you think this country needs to do better?
BJ: I would like to see our politicians start working together. The Democrats and the Republicans need to come together somehow. I’d like to see Donald Trump watch his Tweets a little more (laughs). He has some good ideas but he goes about it in the wrong way. The kids today live in an entirely different world. I was raised completely different than kids are nowadays.
Did you maintain friendships from your time in the Marines?
BJ: I’ve had contact with a few of the guys I served with but not really as much anymore. I didn’t get super close to anyone while I served to be honest. Vietnam was a lot about survival and just watching each other's back. In order to do that, you had to make sure you survived as well.
What do you think the greatest thing about the Marine Corps is?
BJ: I think the Marine Corps traditions are an awesome thing. They had good traditions but when those get in the way of common sense it’s not good. The Marines are bad about that in a lot of ways. They’ll honor tradition to the point that it can actually hurt the overall aim of the conflict, and that hurt us in Vietnam to some extent. Marines are great about adapting for the most part, but some of those traditions had turned into stubbornness in the way we fought. That’s a dangerous thing.
Were you depressed about the prospect of not going home?
BJ: I didn’t think about going home too much. It was mainly in the back of my mind. It was really the law of averages as far as coming home was concerned. I read that in World War II the Marines lost about 85,000 but in Vietnam they lost over 100,000 killed or wounded. I knew that I could lose my life at any minute so thinking about home didn’t do me any good.
How do you want people to remember you as your legacy?
BJ: I’d like to be remembered as an honest man. I’ve never been a very prosperous guy from a monetary standpoint. I made a living. The best thing would be to be remembered as honest. I’m certainly not a rich man or a genius (laughs).
All throughout the Vietnam conflict there were incredible examples of heroism and intrepid sacrifice. Most of those stories have been hidden from public view, or lost altogether with the lives of those who've since perished. More of those accounts need to make their way into circulation or we will lose them completely. Whether or not you agree with the necessity of the war has nothing to do with the individuals who fought the actual battles. To shame those who served or act as though the conflict never happened, would be an act against the individuals. We can't, as a nation, send young men and women to combat zones then blame them for the wars we don't like. No matter the nature or scope of the engagement, we must always realize that our men and women serving don't make the choice to fight. In the case of the Vietnam War, with a full-scale draft enacted, this was more true than almost any other time in our country's history. Bobby Jordan fought because his country told him to, and his maintenance of duty is to be lauded. No matter what, moving forward, our nation must learn from our actions during this tumultuous time.