Mike Parker 001


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Transcript:
MS. HURST DOWNING: Today is April 16th, 2004. I
am interviewing Vietnam veteran Michael Parker at his home
in West Hartford, Connecticut. The interviewer is Eileen
Hurst Downey of Central Connecticut State University.
Mike, would you state your full name, your birth
date, and your current address?
MR. PARKER: Michael A. Parker, Sr. 5/25/50. My
address is 68 Westminster Drive, West Hartford,
Connecticut.
Q What branch of the service were you in, Mike, and what
war were you in?
A United States Marine Corps, and I served in Vietnam.
Q What was your rank when you were discharged?
A Lance corporal.
Q Mike, were you drafted or did you enlist?
A I enlisted.
Q Where were you living at the time?
A West Hartford, Connecticut, with my folks.
Q Why did you join?
A I was getting out of high school, I wasn't ready for
college. And my father, my uncles were all in the
service. I thought it was the thing to do.
Q Do you remember the date?
A July 22nd, 1968.
Q Why did you pick the Marine Corps?
A They were always known as the best, and if you were
going to be going to war, you didn't want to be going with
people that did not want to be in the service, and if
you're going to be some draftees who did not want to be in
the service, I thought it would be detrimental to my
health.
Q Do you recall your first days in service?
A Oh, yes. First day in boot camp, yes.
Q What was that like?
A Getting yelled at, getting pushed around, not getting
any sleep. They kept us off balance for a couple of days.
Q Where did you go for boot camp?
A Parris Island, South Carolina.
Q So you left West Hartford, Connecticut, went right to
Parris Island?
A Yes. Took a train down.
Q How long was boot camp?
A We were in boot camp July, and I was out of boot camp
in December, third week of December. I had a stress
fracture in one of my legs, took me a little longer.
Q While you were in the boot camp?
A Yes.
Q Did you get the fracture from boot camp?
A Yes.
Q Do you know how that happened?
A No, not really. Too much marching or running or
whatever; but it was okay, just held me back for about
three weeks.
Q What kind of things did they train you for at boot
camp?
A Boot camp is just to get you into military frame of
mind, do what you're told to do and don't hesitate.
Taught you a little bit about using weapons, the M-16, or
M-14 at that time.
Q Do you remember any of your instructors?
A Staff Sergeant Guzby, Staff Sergeant Forsythe. And
there was one more, I can't remember. Goodwin I think it
was, Sergeant Goodwin maybe.
Q Do you remember what they were like?
A Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. They were tough.
Q Can you share that?
A They were tough. Very tough individuals. They had a
job to do, and they did it quite well.
Q How did you get through boot camp?
A Day by day. Took it one day at a time. You're up
early, and if you -- after you got through with your daily
physical training, your morning physical training, you
went to breakfast, and then you geared everything between
breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It was a day-by-day
operation down there.
Q Do you think that it was tough physical training?
A Oh, yeah. Yeah, it's very tough physical training. I
went down there, I weighed 230 pounds; when I left boot
camp, I weighed 170 pounds.
Q Holy cow.
A They don't like fat people down there, I guess.
Q Earlier, Mike, you told me that you had actually
signed up while you were in high school before you
enlisted. Can you tell me how that worked?
A Yes. We -- it was a group of us that decided we were
going to go in the service. We were 17 years old. And
our parents had to sign for us. And eventually only
myself and my buddy, Bob Leeman, went down together, and
the other guys didn't go down till almost six months after
us because their parents wouldn't sign for them.
Q So you were actually still in high school and your
parents did sign for you?
A Yes.
Q And then you didn't actually leave until you graduated
high school?
A Correct. Graduated in June and left in July.
Q And it was you and one of your other buddies who
actually went?
A Yes.
Q Did you stay together with him?
A We stayed for a few weeks together, and then he got
set back for I forget what reason. And I didn't see him
again until we were both out of the service.
Q Which war did you serve in?
A Vietnam.
Q After basic training did you go right over to Vietnam?
A No. I went to North Carolina for advanced infantry
training, came home for leave for a few weeks over
Christmas and New Years, and then we were sent out to
California for mountain climbing, staging.
Q Where in California did you go?
A El Toro. We were at the air -- we were at
Camp Pendleton, excuse me, we were at Camp Pendleton for
our training.
Q Did your mountain climbing help you ever?
A Oh, yeah. I never knew Vietnam had mountains.
But you'd pack up every day and do some more
infantry training with the weapons, but there was a lot of
just humping up and down mountains.
Q Where did you go from Camp Pendleton?
A Okinawa.
Q Did you know at that point that you were going to
Vietnam?
A We knew when we were in Camp Pendleton we'd be heading
for 'Nam.
Q Oh, you did. So the mountain training was actually
for Vietnam?
A Yes, that was the staging, that was our staging area
to go to Okinawa and then to Vietnam.
Q Do you remember when you got your orders for Vietnam?
A Yes.
Q Where were you?
A I was -- we were in North Carolina when we were told
we'll be staging in California before we came home for our
first leave.
Q So that was before --
A They told us that, officially they told us in Okinawa.
I mean, things could change, but officially it was done in
Okinawa.
Q Did you stay in Okinawa or was it just a stop-over?
A I think we spent maybe a week there. Wasn't much
time.
Q And from Okinawa where did you go?
A I Corp, Vietnam. Flew into Da Nang Air Base.
Q Do you remember when you landed in Vietnam?
A Yes.
Q What were your first impressions?
A It was warm, dry, instant sweat. And very -- a lot of
people moving around. It almost looked chaotic.
Q Do you know the date; month and year anyway?
A In Vietnam?
Q Yeah, when you first --
A February '68. I'm sorry, February '69 I landed in
Vietnam.
Q What was your job assignment?
A My first job assignment was I was a baker. They asked
who could cook, and I raised my hand. I figured that
would be a good duty. So I was assigned to night -- night
cook I guess it would be called, with a half dozen other
guys. I did that for a few weeks.
Q Could you cook?
A Oh, yes. Yes. I still can cook.
Q Where was your base?
A It was Headquarters Company, Headquarters Battalion,
I Corp.
Q Right at Da Nang. So right where you landed --
A Right, north of Da Nang. We landed -- yeah, it was
just north of Da Nang is where my base was.
Q After your first couple of weeks as baker, what was
your next job?
A I was in the battalion mailroom. I served in there
for the rest of my time.
Q What were your duties there?
A In the mailroom?
Q Yes.
A Was just to get the mail out to all the guys. It was
the most important job in the service, is the mailroom
people.
Q I can imagine.
A Mail is very important.
Q How regular was the mail service?
A It was good. It was a seven-day-a-week operation, but
when we were --
Q Did you get mail in every day?
A Yes, every day.
Q Did you send mail out every day?
A Generally every day. Depends on the activity around
us. If we were called out to go on a patrol or do a line
duty or go with recon or whatever, because we were still
grunts and we still had to go out with the different units
that went out. So it's generally an everyday operation,
but if there was activity that would slow mail down, no
one was there to do the mail.
Q I bet you were one of the favorite people on camp.
A We were very popular until people got Dear John
letters or some bad news from home.
One individual actually shot up our hootch when
he got a bad letter from home.
Q Oh, really?
A Yeah. We were all out on patrol, and he got into the
hootch with his M-16 and shot the place up, thinking that
it was -- you know, he was blaming us for his bad letter.
Q Kill the messenger.
A They took care of him.
Q Did you see combat?
A Yes.
Q Can you recall any incidents?
A The first few weeks we were there, we got hit up on
the alpha line, the ban line. They actually took our flag
down, the American flag, from the communication tower,
raised up their Vietnam flag, the North Vietnam flag.
Very scary moment for new recruits in Vietnam, if it
wasn't for Puff and some Cobras coming in, because we
basically lost the hill and we had to take it back before
morning. So it was -- it wasn't a good night. It was an
all-night thing. They hit us pretty good.
Q What's alpha line?
A Heavy line around the -- we had alpha and beta, or ban
line we used to call it. It was out by Dai Loc Pass. We
had our own area we had to cover. I mean, it was a
mountain. It was a mountain range. And it was more
security for our headquarters. And we ran our own
security.
Q So when you would go out on these patrols where you
would actually be in combat and you weren't in the
mailroom, what was your job?
I was -- I was a 0331, a machine gunner with a
60, I had a 16 sometimes, sometimes we had a 79. Depends
who was available that could handle the different weapons.
Q So when -- in this particular instance when you had
only been there a few weeks, were you responsible for the
machine gun?
A Yes. I was an A gunner.
Q What's an "A gunner"?
A Assisting the gunner itself. You know, you work
together to keep the gun working.
Q Were there many casualties in your unit?
A In the unit? Overall, no.
Q Tell me about a couple of your most memorable
experiences.
A The good ones?
Q Both.
A There was -- well, the first few weeks in 'Nam when we
got hit, it was, you know, an eye opener that we actually
do -- do strategic withdrawals to get us -- to get the
hill back.
We got hit again. We were just going out on
patrol. We were going through a riverbed. And I don't
think we got 200 yards outside our line; we got ambushed.
And they knew exactly where we were going, they knew
exactly where our ins and out trails were.
And another time when we took some -- we took --
they hit us when we were changing the military postscript
money, the MPS I guess it was called. We weren't allowed
to have greenbacks, and we had military money. And every
six months, I believe, they would change it. It was
called "Monopoly money." And that would infuriate all the
people that were in the black market because now their
money was no good. And so they would take it out on
whoever was around. And we got hit that night. And when
we dragged some of the enemy bodies back in, three of the
people that were -- that attacked us worked inside our
compound.
So those are the -- some of the memories you
remember.
Q So they were actually enemy spies that were working in
your compound?
A Yes.
Q And no one was aware of it until you found their
bodies?
A No one knew that, yeah. I believe they were the
laundry guys, and one was a barber.
Q Is the reason for using the Monopoly money because of
the black market?
A Yes. The greenbacks, they don't want that to filter
out anywhere throughout -- back up to North Vietnam at the
time. I believe if you got caught with greenbacks, you
could get brought up on charges.
Q So your whole time in Vietnam you used Monopoly money?
A Yes.
Q Were you awarded any medals or citations?
A No, just a combat action ribbon, and we got some -- I
don't know, Cross of Gallantry and some other stuff.
Q Your unit got the Cross of Gallantry?
A I think so, yeah.
Q I saw an article on that.
A Yeah, for our successful actions in the I Corp area.