Thomas Sloan

  • Birth Date: February 27 1946
  • Place of Birth: Pocatello Idaho
  • State of Residence: Arizona
  • Years of Service: 1964-1968
  • Branch of Military: Marines
  • Division: 3rd Marine Division
  • Rank: Lt. Corporal
  • Wars Involved In: Vietnam

Two of my high school buddies and I joined the United States Marine Corp in December 1964. We flew from Denver, Colorado to San Diego, California to the USMC Recruit Depot for basic training. Once we completed basic training we were then given orders to report to Camp Pendleton, California where we went through ITR (Infantry Training) for combat readiness. Upon completion we were given orders to report to Okinawa for jungle warfare training. At this point and time we knew where we were headed. You guessed it – The Republic of Vietnam.

We arrived in Vietnam and set up defensive positions around Da Nang Vietnam. One of our areas we were responsible for was called Monkey Mountain. In March 1965 the 3rd Marine Corp Regiment arrived in Vietnam. We were then divided up with a number of us being transferred over to them since we had already had some experience in country and had gained some combat experience. Remember at this time we were one of the 1st troops to go into Vietnam. Most of us were young kids (18 years old), fresh out of boot camp, had with no previous combat experience and was not really prepared to what we were about to encounter. I can tell you it did not take long to grow up and your perspective and outlook on life changed immediately.

Upon joining the 3rd Marine Regiment they were ordered to move West of Da Nang to set up a M.L.R. (Main line of Resistance). We moved approximately 16 miles West of Da Nang and areas of responsibility were given to the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions. The 1st Battalion had an old French Fort there were able to use for the base camp while the rest of us had to dig in and set up our base camps. We operated out of these base camps setting up ambush and roving patrols. Some of the areas we were responsible for patrolling was called elephant valley and leach valley. We had a large area to cover – Hwy 1to the North and towards Happy Valley to the South. In these areas of our responsibility there was a lot of Viet Cong activity involving their supply routes for stock piling weapons, ammunitions, food and medical supplies.

While in Vietnam for the 16 months I was there my job description was that of a 0311, Infantry or better known as a ground ponder. I joined the Marine Corp for I did not want to be in the air or at sea. I spent more time on ships and helicopter than on the ground. My rank was an (E-3) Lance Corporal assigned to a 14 man squad as an assistant squad leader. Our unit saw lots of action during this period of time as individuals in the field on ambush or roving patrols as well as numerous Battalion size and joint operations. This is where you learned survival skills, team work and dedication to your team members on taking care of and looking out for each other. These guys were your friend and family. They were there for you when you cried and there to support you when good things happened. There is no way to describe things we encountered over there from living conditions, extreme heat, the monsoons, the food you ate, sleeping conditions and of course taking another humans life. Some of the things I saw while in country of what the Viet Cong did to their own people was barbaric to say the least. To think that mankind could do to others of their own on making a point for gaining control and cooperation is unreal. They were no better than Hitler and his extermination of the Jews.

The culture in Vietnam is so much different from any other country in the world. Sometimes you think you have stepped back in time. You could go to different villages and find they had their own language and customs. It was like a country inside a country. Vietnam is a pretty county and someday I want to go back to tour it with our fearing for my life.

I do have a funny story to tell instead of talking about the experience of combat. Sometime in the middle of my tour a group of soldiers had been our on a patrol that was based out of the 3rd Battalion rear area. The rear area was considered basically a safe zone where the troops had large tents to live in, an actual mess hall that served hot meals (no sea rations), showers, a bar and some entertainment. If you had the chance to go to the rear area you thought you had died and gone to heaven. Some of you will remember the shoulder straps that we were issued I think they were hand me downs from wars before us. A lot of us were able to obtain the new type the Army was issued by either buying them on the black market, or buying them from a fellow solider or borrowing them. This had a low back pack that was perfect and comfortable to wear when we were in the field – sure beat the old style we carried high on our backs. There was also a place on the straps to attach your K-bar knife and grenades.

Any rate (this part is not funny) when they returned to their tents they had to remove their grenades and put them into a box for accountability. One of the troops pulled the pins on two of his grenades and put them in the box – you catch on fast – they exploded along with the other grenades killing a number of them and wounding a host of others.

The higher ups of Command made a decision on how grenades were to be handled. A field order was put into effect that from that point and time all grenades would have their handles taped down to the grenade. You would have to remove the tape, pull the pin and then throw the grenade. What a brilliant idea on a way to ensure the safety of those handling grenades, so not to have a repeated incident.

Several weeks later we were out on a 3 day patrol and was returning to base camp when we received a call from the base camp at the French Fort on needing assistance due to unusual activity in their area. So we responded to their location. It was nice to be inside a fort that had hardened walls that offered some protection with a great view of the surrounding area. We went on a 50% watch and the rest of us were able to catch some shut eye. At midnight we went on a 100% watch due to unusual activity in the surrounding area. A short time later we were hit from all sides of the fort. We started lobbing grenades over the sides of the fort, and then all of a sudden we had grenades being lobbed back inside of the fort. You could hear the grenades hitting the rock floor of the fort, bouncing across the floor (people yelling – GRENADE) soldiers were hitting the deck taking cover – but yet no explosions. After the fire fight was over the area was searched for the grenades that had not exploded and you can guess what we found. The grenades that our troops had thrown over the side and had been thrown back inside by the gooks the pins had been removed, but the tape holding the handle had not been removed.

So after this incident the standing field order was resented. I left Vietnam after serving 16 months in the field and was medivaced to Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego to recover from injuries sustained in Vietnam.