Memorial Day: Remember & Honor

Published May 28, 2021 by SMBC

By Brian Jefferies, South Main Member. A heartfelt thank you to Brian for sharing this personal story as we reflect on the sacrifices so many made this Memorial Day weekend

As we approach Memorial Day, I thought I would share an event that became a part of my life for the rest of my life.This occurred on 12/04/1969 in the Republic of South Vietnam, I Corps, Quang Tri province.

I was assigned to "C" Co 1st Tank Bn 1st Marine Division and was nearing the end of my first tour. I was a radio operator assigned to Headquarters Platoon and became acquainted with HN3 David Schoenwald, a Navy Corpsman we called Doc, assigned to our company. The Navy handled the medical needs of the USMC and, although there was no love lost between the two services, Marines loved their Corpsman because he would come out and save your butt while the enemy was trying to kill the both of you. Doc and I shared a 2-person hooch and became friends which was a big mistake that I never made again.

Our Tank Company provided fire support for a number of infantry units and one of them was the Korean Marines who were vicious fighters, as were US Marines, so we had a great deal of respect for each other. We made a mail run several times a week to that platoon taking mail and picking up return mail. The platoon was located at Hoi An and being able to make the mail run was highly sought after because we could trade rations with the Koreans which helped spice up our c rations. The mail run consisted of one vehicle, usually a jeep, and a total of 3 Marines acting as guards and lookouts.
I was scheduled to go on the mail run that day when Doc approached me and asked if he could take my place. He needed to check the shot records before he was scheduled for R&R in Hawaii to meet his pregnant wife. How could I say no? Doc made the mail run and that was the last time I saw him alive. Returning from the mail run required driving along the beach, which was a high point in the trip. This usually required a transistor radio be tuned to Armed Forces Vietnam radio and maybe find a Beach Boys tune on. They drove right into a Viet Cong ambush, Doc was hit and fell off the the back of the jeep and into the surf which carried him out to sea. Everyone in the jeep was wounded; however the driver did manage to drive through the ambush and call for help. The wounded were evacuated and all eventually recovered. They recovered Doc the next day. His remains were returned to Arizona for burial. A Navy Chaplin met his wife in Hawaii and delivered the sad news. I cannot imagine the pain of that meeting.

Life goes on. Jane and I were married and I started my career in Law enforcement. In 1976 our rugrat Robert arrived and we got really busy. I managed to keep in contact with some of my fellow Marines from Vietnam and to my great surprise, in 2015, I was contacted by one of these Marines who had obtained the email address of Brian Schoenwald, Doc's son. I looked at the email for several days before working up the courage to contact him. I was not sure I wanted to reopen ancient history. I finally made the contact and we communicate several times a year. He is married with a family and seems to be doing well living in Arizona.

Mistake made and lesson learned : Never make friends in a combat zone because they may not be around the next day.