Jack Lee Marshall
Interview with Jack Lee Marshall
Interviewed by Suzie Colter
Marion High School
Interviewed on May 7, 2003
At 750 W. 26th Street
SC: Today is Wednesday, May 7, 2003 and this is the beginning of an interview with Jack Marshall at Marion High School. Mr. Marshall was born on September 22, 1946 and now resides at 1935 N. King Road in Marion, Indiana. I am Suzie Colter, the interviewer. Mr. Marshall is a teacher here at Marion High School. Mr. Marshall, for the recording could you please state what war and branch you served in?
JM: I served in the United States Army
SC: What was your rank?
JM: The rank when I left was Specialist 4.
SC: Where did you serve?
JM: Where did I serve?
JM: In the United States and also overseas in Vietnam.
SC: Were you drafted or did you enlist?
JM: No, I was drafted.
SC: What made you want to join the army?
JM: I didn't, I was drafted.
SC: Where were you living at the time?
JM: I was living in at home with my parents.
SC: How old were you when you joined?
JM: When I was drafted I was 19.
SC: Were you drafted into the army or did you choose...?
JM: No, I was drafted into the army.
SC: Do you recall your first days in the service?
JM: Yep, It was hectic. Very hectic.
SC: What did it feel like?
JM: Being home, I left my parents my friends and my girlfriend at the time and went into an environment that I never experienced before.
SC: What were you doing before you enlisted?
JM: I just came home from college, an auto accident limited me to go to college, so I came home to pick up some money and get back into college and the next thing I know I was drafted.
SC: Tell me about your boot camp/training experiences.
JM: My boot camp was at Fort Bining, Georgia. I had a little Puerto Rican drill sergeant. Very, very, very strict and disciplined. That's one of the key things, being out there, being disciplined. Because he knew alot of us was going to Vietnam and you have to be disciplined in combat. And some of my experiences was running. He had us run alot. In the mornings, every time you turned around it was running, run, run. That was basically to get us into shape. As far as experience we had to grenade throw. Those that did make it through the tire, you had to put three grenades through a tire, and whoever did it got to phone home. So I was one of the few that did get to call home that night.
SC: How did you get through it?
JM: I met some guys from Gas City and we kind of stayed together as a group because we figured, hey were close knit, Marion and Gas City and we done alot of things together. We helped each other support.
SC: Which war did you serve in?
JM: The Vietnam.
SC: Where exactly did you go?
JM: When I left country and went in country I first went into Saigon. Our plane landed in Bin Wah, which is outside of Saigon.
SC: Can you spell those?
JM: No, but then there, we was there for a couple of days and we left there and they sent us up north towards the DMZ, which is, I was stationed in, then finally my camp ended up in Quin Yan, which was on the South China Sea. We was, our camp was probably about 100 feet from the South China Sea.
SC: Do you remember arriving?
JM: Yes, I remember arriving on the airplane and the in country. At first it looked beautiful until you got in there and Vietnam is a beautiful country if there wasn't a war at that time.
SC: What were you assigned to do?
JM: At the first time I got there I advanced up with our company which was primary a transportation company and we would travel to different parts of Vietnam with the different units. My first job was to, why I don't know, but they put me unloading a cargo ship, which had supplies coming in country to our GI's throughout the country.
SC: Did you see combat?
JM: That I'm not gonna highlight I won't say much about it, I know I'll never, you know I just still kind of keep it to myself. I'll put it this way, there were times when I was scared to death, I'll put it that way.
SC: Were there many casualties?
JM: At that time I don't know if there was, it was on their part, the Vietcong’s.
SC: Did you suffer any injuries?
JM: No, no I was very fortunate.
SC: What were some of your most memorable experiences?
JM: Fun times or bad times?
JM: One of the things that I did, I picked up an orphan boy. He was about 10 years old. Because of my duties in Vietnam, I ended up driving a jeep and started working for a major and the major said we needed a jeep so some buddies of mine in the motor pool. I went down there and said “I need a jeep.” Well, you just don't get a jeep, so they said, “What we'll do is we'll put different numbers on it so nobody will know, it's not stolen, it's been borrowed.” So what I had to do is basically take care of them by they giving me the jeep. I went to some of my buddies in the supply depot and say “You know, I need some jungle fatigues, I need some socks shirts, stuff like this, and jungle boots.” So, in turn, to keep the guy in the motor pool happy and so in turn I had to keep the supplies guys happy so I said “What do you guys need?” They said, “Well how about some cigarettes.” So I let them use my rations to go buy some cigarettes and give them to them. And then what happened, it's basically the "What did you do in the war, daddy?” And I didn't steal a jeep I borrowed it, so anyway, one day on the road there was this boy. He was by himself. I stopped and started talking to him. I gave him some candy and gave him some Vietnamese money and asked him where his parents was. They had been killed in the village not too far from us and all his relatives. He was an orphan. So I took him in and kind of took him under my wing. I didn't take him into base camp cause we're not allowed to have them in the base camp. So every morning I'd pick him up, and let him ride with me throughout the day and then return and drop him back off. In the mean time, I give him money or candy or food, or something and I felt like I was a missionary in that part of helping this kid. So anyway, the kid the name I gave him was Day, D-A-Y. I called him that. I gave him some clothing. To this day I have no idea where he is at. Maybe one of these days we'll connect together. But I felt like God had led me at that time, I didn't know it at the time, to be a missionary to this kid. Who knows he may be here in the states.
SC: Were awarded any medal or citations?
JM: Umm...When I came back, we had received campaign medals, the Tet medals, for the years I was over there. I was there from 1966 to 1967. And when I got back state side to Fort Worth, Georgia, they did tell me I received a bronze medal, but I've never seen it. Alot of our orders got lost between Vietnam and here so, they never come through with it. Where the records are now in Kansas City and Missouri, I think, they don't show that. On my medical records, I thought I had Malaria when I was over there, cause I was running a very high temperature, my throat and ears was hurting very badly. Alot of that stuff I'll never see.
SC: Why were you given these medals?
JM: Probably because of the job I was doing. At the time of when I was driving documents throughout the region, Vietnam, we had, uh, there were alot of things we did. I don't know, that's what I was told. And I have no idea where it would be coming from.
SC: How did you stay in touch with your family?
JM: Just only by letters. I tried one time calling through short wave and it didn't, all I could hear was a hello and the weather had to be just right and it was disconnected. I waited in line for an hour to talk and I couldn't get through and so, you know, that was the only two ways we communicated.
SC: Could you stay in touch with your girlfriend at the time?
JM: I wrote her letters.
SC: How did you deal with being away from your friends and family?
JM: I just kind of said, “God, I just pray,” and at the time I wasn't a Christian, but I kept saying “God, I'd love to be back home, you know, help me through this.” I put alot of faith in Him, and the support of my fellow buddies to do that.
SC: What did they think of you drafted into the army?
JM: Who's they?
SC: Your family and friends.
JM: At the time alot of guys were being drafted. My father being a vet he kind of told me, you know, do what you got to do, I just hope, pray that you come back alive. They didn't want to see me leave either, you know, but I'm over there for my country.
SC: What was the food like?
JM: We had some rations, which was not very pleasant to eat, but, I mean, if that's all you had to eat that's all you had to eat. Now and then we would get some hot meals, which was very, very nice, but it wasn't all that great food, not compared to back stateside.
SC: Did you have plenty of supplies?
JM: As far as...
SC: Just were you able to take things from home?
JM: No, basically you took what, the bare minimum you could take because you already had your duffel bag packed and it was already been shipped across and you met up with it when you get to your unit, so. No, supplies, they had a commissary, where you go and buy shaving cream and razor blades, and deodorant and stuff like that.
SC: Did you feel pressure or stress?
JM: Stress to a certain point where you just learned to cope with it. You just learned that, as far as maturity wise, you learned to grow up about two years, you know than your normal age, that's because you was still a young kid and you know you’re drafted and now you're in a combat zone.
SC: Was there something special you did for "good luck"?
JM: For what?
SC: For good luck.
JM: No, I don't believe in luck.
SC: What did you do for entertainment?
JM: I drank. Most of the guys over there drank. You know, It was to take away some of the stress and the pressure that you were under all of the time. And you know smoking the, I call it wacky weed, you know, we had it over there but I didn't do it because I saw too many guys get hurt very badly.
SC: Do you recall any particularly humorous or unusual event?
JM: Funny? Yeah, well when we took alot of our showers or so called baths we was in the South China Sea. We didn't have our unit set up yet to take showers and then finally we did, but 3 or 4 of us went out into the ocean and took our air mattress, what we slept on, and started floating around on it. And we got out quite aways and then we just drifted back in anyway we just, well I fell asleep and somebody else fell asleep and the next thing I knew, one of the guys was hollering. He fell off his mattress and he came up and he was all black and he went like that on his face, he rubbed his face, and it was oil. We was trying to figure out where he would get the oil from. The 7th fleet ship the navy ships were out in the ocean there, and they apparently was discharging some oil and it floated in toward shore. So we was laughing at him and next thing I know we was all trying to stay on our mattress and get into shore. He goes and starts flipping us and we all come up there looking like, we was just black with the oil. And then we had to wash ourselves down with gasoline, which was not very good. So anyway, it was one of the funnier experiences.
SC: Would you guys pull pranks on each other?
JM: Yeah you did that just to keep things active, keep things going and keep your spirits up.
SC: What kind of pranks would you pull?
JM: Oh, you know putting shaving cream in your boots. Or make your pants turn inside out, you know put you're, spiders, you know, would come up there and get in your sleeping bag. That draws back one of the other things that we talked about funny, I was laying on the beach one day just resting and all of a sudden I woke up and some of the other guys was beside me and I had jumping spiders all over me. They were just jumping and they never bit me, and it was just funny. Guys just couldn't believe it. They were just jumping around. After I seen them on me, after I woke up, I was trying to get a sun tan. And what we call relaxation. And so anyway that was another funny thing that happened there.
SC: Do you have any photographs?
JM: Yes I do, I have photographs of Vietnam, the people, the culture, the things that they do over there, the land itself and the kid that I had helped over there.
SC: What did you think of the other officers and soldiers?
JM: Our officers were guys that were drafted. Our lieutenants and they were drafted into the military through the ROTC. Our commanding officer, the commanding officer we always called "the old man" because he was the man in charge. He was cool.
SC: Was there a certain officer that helped you get through this experience?
JM: There was one second lieutenant, Lieutenant Judd was his name, and he helped us, I mean, our platoon, or squad, he helped us because he was in charge of us, you know.
SC: Did you keep a personal diary?
JM: No I didn't keep any diary while I was over there.
SC: Do you recall the day your service ended?
JM: Yes I do, The service, you serve two years in the military time active duty then four years of inactive duty. Yeah I, it was a great day to get out, because at that time the Pueblo incident was happening and they had talked about extending the military guys, instead of letting them out, you know, so that helped us, or helped me to get out when they didn't do anything with the Pueblo.
SC: What was that?
JM: That was an incident, they had something about the ships, you know.
SC: Where were you at when your service ended?
JM: I was in Fort Gordon, Georgia. That's were my duty stopped, because I had like 90 days when I came back stateside from Vietnam, they put me down in Fort Gordon, Georgia driving for some generals that came out of Washington DC. I was a driver, you know. Had it made then. In fact, one of the generals wanted me to reenlist and come back to stay in the military and go with him back up to Washington DC and work out of DC. I didn't, all I wanted to do was get back home, you know. Umm At the time before I went to Vietnam, I was married, probably about a month before. I spent about a week with my wife and then next thing I was over in Vietnam.
SC: What did you do in the days and weeks afterward?
JM: After I had come back home? I shied away from people. Umm I want to be around people, people I notice alot of it, when we came back you know you go to airport, if people knew you was a Vietnam vet they didn't like you. They called you the baby killers. You know and kind of [disgrade] you. We came back we didn't get no ticket parade, we felt [disgraded], you know, and alot of the guys will still feel that today, we went over there for nothing, you know. But when I got back, I, I think I went to work. When I first got back my wife, I told her some words not to say, not around, and if so I couldn't guarantee what would happen. And uh one night we was just laying in bed and she was brushing her hair and dropped her hair brush on the floor. And it was a hard wood floor at the time and I just came up out of bed you know and I was just ready to deck her you know. So anyway, I caught myself where I was at, you know. It was hard a little bit to readjust to civilian life being over there.
SC: If you had to do it again would you?
JM: Umm, Yes but I think it would be in a little bit different circumstances than what the war was like then in Vietnam.
SC: How would you describe your experience in the army?
JM: Umm...To what?
SC: Would you say it was a good experience?
JM: It made me mature, like say two years. Plus it also made me have a more compassionate heart for people over there, you know, nobody wants to kill anybody and you know, I loved to help over there as much as I could and the kids I did. You know, some of the 17, 18, 19 year old kids, some of them was in school. I just felt like, you know, on the good side that was it, but there was the bad side too. When I say bad side I'm talking about the Vietcongs.
SC: Did you go to work or go back to school?
JM: Umm no I went straight to work. I didn't even think about going back to college right then.
SC: Where did you work?
JM: When I came back I started building homes with a company and then I was there for a couple years and then I went onto the Fire Department. I had my choice either going on the Police Department or the Fire Department. My wife didn't want me to get shot at so she says, why don't you just go on the Fire Department.
SC: Did you make any close friendships while in the service?
JM: Yes, yeah I did, I hung around with some guys, alot of them was from New York, to this day I have no idea where they’re at I met, I had some guys from Illinois, I know where they're at and Oklahoma. Some of them I've just lost contact with and then there's the ones from Gas City, that I keep in contact quite often them, and there's like one in Wabash, but most of them was in Gas City or Fairmount.
SC: So you still talk to some of them?
JM: Oh yeah, yeah, every now and then we'll see each other, you know, give each other hugs, you know, talk and see how things are going. In fact, we're getting ready to have a reunion, just among us guys that's local here.
SC: Did you join a veteran’s organization?
JM: No, I didn't join anything until just here a few years ago, I joined the American Legion. But then the Veterans of Foreign War but then I stopped that. I no longer belong to any of them.
SC: What did you go on to do as a career after the war?
JM: A career? I was on the Marion Fire Department, so, I was on there for 26 and a half years before I had to retire off on the disability.
SC: Did your military experience influence your thinking about war or about the military in general?
JM: In what respect?
SC: Just did it change what you think about war?
JM: No, umm, you know when I grew up I used to play cowboy and Indians and alot of times we would play army men, you know. No.
SC: How did your experiences in the service affect your life?
JM: Well when I first came back, like I said, it was at the point where I didn't want to be around people I was shy and you know, you just need to be around people until finally, the more you're around people you start working out things. I know alot of times I felt uneasy, I didn't want to sit still, I just wanted to be on the move all the time.
SC: Is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered in this interview?
JM: One thing I never knew, that when I left home, when I left home here on the plane to go to Chicago to Oakland, California and then to Vietnam, military, you try to be the macho man. One thing is when you're leaving the family and your wife. As I got on the plane, you know, their crying and so forth, and when the plane took off that's when I broke down because I wouldn't let them see how I was. And then once I got in country and situated I was scared to death. I was scared to death everyday, you know. Because you didn't know what day would be your day to come home in a body bag. And I knew I was coming home, one way or another. I was either coming in a body bag or I was coming home walking, or I was coming home alive. So, talking about Vietnam, I just in the last five or six years just started talking about it. Over the last thirty years I kept everything inside and some stuff I still do, I used to have the ghosts in my closets, from Vietnam. Now some of them ghosts are out and it's making me feel alot better about myself, and by sharing with the kids here in the classroom. Before I wouldn't talk about it. The only time I would talk about it would be with another student. I mean other military guy, Vietnam guy, and not to anybody. You just kept it in. And I used to have, my wife told me, I've had dreams about it cause she's have to sometimes shake me or she would kick me instead of being close to me because she didn't know what my reaction was. And I did have one time, at Christmas time; I did have a back flash of it. With the little boy, it took me, I mean I just started crying. I usually don't cry like that. And I just kept crying and I cried probably for a good six hours about it, and just something that triggered it, was something on TV was Vietnam. So, anyway, that came to a pass and I know God has helped me to deal with alot of it. He took away alot of the pressures and stress off of me and allowed me to talk about it, now as a Christian. Before I probably would still have it bogged down inside of me. But I just, you gotta give Him the praise because He's the one that helped me to deal with all of this. I’ve had guys I'd see, my buddies and so forth, we talk about certain things because I knew what they was talking about and they knew what I was talking about. And we feel, the veterans I know, speaking my own personal view, some of the guys I've talked to, we feel neglected by the Vietnam War. It was a war we went over and fought for nothing, you know, we lost alot of our guys, I lost alot of buddies, you know, alot of friends, but, and their names are on the wall. And somebody asked me the other day, they said, “Mr. Marshall would you go to the wall? Have you been to the wall?” And I said “No right now I probably couldn't deal with that right now, right now, maybe someday I'll go out there.” I support our Veterans, the Desert Storm and this Iraq, I support them a hundred percent. I support what President Bush is doing. President Bush being a military person, he knows alot of, probably, what they guys are going through. But, you know, I just have to say I'm proud to be an American and I'm proud to serve my country, even in the capacity that I did, you know I was scared to death and didn't want to do it. But I did it and I have nothing to regret. I can hold my head up high, even though what they called us and what was did, I can still hold my head up high and say I did serve my country.
SC: Well, thank you.
JM: Oh, you're welcome.
SC: And that's the end.