Michael Thomas Alexander Interview
From: Michael Thomas Alexander (ma) Medium: Video Tape Date: Wednesday, May 4, 2011 Place: The home of Michael Alexander, 28 Colonial S Park Dr. Collected by: Gabe Flores (gf)
Gf: This interview is taking place on May 4th 2011 in the home of Michael Alexander uh what year were you born
GF: umm Also Gabe Flores is interviewing him
Umm what war and branch did you serve in?
Ma: Vietnam, United States Marine Corp.
Gf: what is your rank?
Ma: E5 sergeant
Gf: umm what type of work did you do during the war?
Ma: I was radio operator and forward air control
Gf: okay, umm okay did you uh were you drafted or did you enlist?
Ma: I enlisted
GF: where were you living at this point of time?
Ma: Marion, Indiana
GF: uh what made you want to join the United States Marine Corp?
Ma: I think because of that time what was going on I knew I wasn’t going to college and my dad was a ex marine and it kind of inspirited me to that yes
Gf: Kind of what did it feel like first entering into the U.S Marine Corp?
Ma: uh I think there was a lot of not knowing what was going to happen but hearing my dad talking about his experiences I kinda knew what was going to happen when I went in but uh it wasn’t like I thought it was going to be no
Gf: uh now when you uh when you went in you had to go through boot camp and uh what was boot camp like?
Ma: well it was uh they had condensed it from 16 weeks to 8 weeks because at the time the push was really on and uh it was very fast it was very rigged it was mentally and physically very strenuous it’s a lot more than id though it’d be it was probably at that time the most strenuous boot camp I think of all time what I heard from other veterans because uh of the push of it it was consolidated down to 8 weeks so it was a lot going on in a short period of time
Gf: so like was the reason for condensing the time because they needed to push more people into Vietnam?
Ma: yes yes
Gf: and uh what battles did you go through during uh the war of Vietnam?
Ma: well uh you know and that’s that’s a interesting point the ones things that stick out of my mind is I was on a ship going over the USS Iwo Jima and we went on uh uh a lot of just I had no idea where we was going half the time we assaulted off this ship uh and there were some that were very significant and we didn’t know where we were half the time uhmm the only ones that stand out in my mind was the very first one was what they called the three gates of hell I don’t even remember where we were at but we had so many casualties that we had to go back to Okinawa to regroup and the other one was we went into Kason this would have been later on when I was with the second battalion third marines and uh uh what involved hill 881 uh and at that time that was a 11 day battle that involved many loses I mean there was 500 marines killed I don’t the enemy was great I mean there was 2000 killed off that you know the rest of time was just more the fire fights never really particular things but those two actually stuck out in my mind yes
Gf: now uh back home there was a lot of controversy about the war of Vietnam how did that affect you know coming home not knowing that some people didn’t respect the war like how did that make you feel as a veteran like to know that you went to serve the country and not like as many people respected you as you wanted to?
Ma: ya uh well uh I think that affected myself and other Vietnam veterans at that time uhh and I think it was where you were from or the area you were in uh around the military bases it was really bad I mean they did not like service men uh those protest anti protest were going on all the time but you know here in Marion when I got back home that image wasn’t really going on I think the people here really uh understood what was happening and all my friends and relatives supported me a lot uh I don’t think I got the full affect as probably some of the big city uh people really did I mean coming back uh being from Marion Indiana a very small community compared to Philadelphia or Los Angeles or New York and I know those very very hard times I don’t think I really went through a lot of that but yes it was going on.
Gf: umm is there is any like certain uh things that stick out your head from the battle of Vietnam like I mean during the war like any memories and such?
Ma: well uh you know I think uh uh what really stands out of my mind is uh and I think that every combat veteran can tell you this it’s not the war itself cause that’s always about killing and being killed and what you experience there but I I think it’s about the endurance of where you are at you know every war is in a different country it’s it’s you know extremes of hot or extremes of cold or you know the things that stand out in my mind is you know the mosquitoes where we were at the leeches uh the heat was so bad uh the conditions of war you know there were times where you went without food or water uh you know for some reason that stands out a lot to me uh because it was more the long jevaty of that then it was the war itself yupp
Gf: now uh being a US marine there is a lot of talk that they are the first to be sent out and uh like did that affect you or scare you more?
Ma: you know I don’t think so you know I I don’t think that was because you I don’t think especially during Vietnam because it was so vast and there were so many outfits there of all branches of service you know you back to the second world war for instance you know when you look at the beach head uh the marines were the first in and uh and I think that image of that wasn’t really that significant because that wasn’t that type of warfare at that time umm I think that uh the thing that was very significant about the marines was uh is that when you joined the marines and went you went to war that you had an understanding that really what it was all about that you were trained to kill and uh that’s a good thing when you are going into combat uh its very harsh training you know for the public not to understand that but you know when you are going into war you know it’s very significant that you are trained to kill and not be killed but not the it wasn’t the first line like it was in other wars no
Gf: okay now you stated that you were a radio man uh what were some difficulties or some things that made it easy to be a radio man?
Ma: oh well I think very significantly especially the position that I had was if you look at what I did I got us I transported us in and got us out and in between I took care of all the air strikes and medevacs I was very well protected uh I was like I would be in the battle but I would be in the middle of this protected I mean seriously they really took care of us because you know I was our number one communication I mean you know I was in charge of everything that had to do with overall whatever we ran into I don’t care what it was if we needed to call in air strikes you know especially the medevacs and so for me you know it wasn’t me being the grunt you know I have to admit it wasn’t me being up front in the front line action I was there but I really wasn’t involved with that was there did I see did I experience yes but the position that I had I have to admit I was very well protected yepp.
Gf: so um kind of explain like what was your equipment like what was your radio like what guns did you have to carry?
Ma: well for me you know weapons were very light for me I just carried a 45 umm but you know that’s because we had a rifle man with us that took care of us because we had a job to do obviously being on the radio and taking care of these things uh we had what they called a prc25 we had a 47 that was from ground to air uh very basic radios at that time which I what they have today I don’t know how advanced it is umm but when you called in air strikes you had to be very close uh you either had to mark targets or we had what they called cubby planes that would come in fire flyers for you to mark targets but it was very close compared to what they do today that’s the best way I know how to put that yeah
Gf: umm memorizing like codes and stuff like that like was that hard for you to do when you had to call in air strikes just in case radio transmits were intercepted and stuff like that?
Ma: yeah uh we actually had codes we had to break down uh this is kinda funny about this because we all communicated with each other through our companies and back to our unit uh you would have to every so often I’m guessing every month you would break down numerical codes into letters and number that coincided with like with like when you are giving coordinates but because it got so difficult with that we actually made up our own we called it monkey shit and monkey shit was one through nine and actually zero through nine and you would those coordinates c had the letter to do with or number to do with the letters and that was just among us which got us by with this and we didn’t have to rely on getting these break downs of these codes all the time we actually called it monkey shit and we got by with it we don’t it the whole time I was on tour of Vietnam umm it done the job it got it uh thank god the enemy didn’t pick up it for 13 months that I was there which I’m sure they didn’t but we own had our own system and it did work.
Gf: what years did you uh serve in Vietnam?
Ma: 1966 through 67 it would have been July of 66 through august of 1967
Gf: umm what was it like afterwards from being a combat veteran going back to society?
Ma: yeah and that’s a real good one because the Vietnam era that was the thing is uh too many veterans came back from combat too soon back into society which wasn’t a good thing uh because uh no combat veteran is ever the same again never you de characterize you’re what you have experienced in war changes your life I thought there should have been some kind of degrading time uh to slow you down as far as when you come back into society now for me I spent two more years in the marine corp. back in the Garretson life and that helped me but too many guys came back from Vietnam went right back into civilian life and that was not a good thing uh that saying that but I think to end a lot of things of this I mean we could talk for ends about all my experiences but I think one thing that stands out in my mind is when I came back and most veterans at the time didn’t have no idea how long it was going to take to get back you were on a waiting list and I when I came back I came back late at night to Indianapolis and I ended up at the bus station in the morning and there was no buses going out till later that day and I really didn’t wanna wait in the bus office the bus station the depot sorry and I there I went outside and this is something I will never forget there was a cab driver sitting there and I told him my situation I just got back from Vietnam and uh I wanted to go home and I said you know what would you charge to take me back home and he said well I tell you what I am going to charge you taxi off I am off work and he took me back home for 25 dollars which at that time that was pretty good and on our way back I come to find out he had he was a veteran of the second world war and understood and it was kind of uh that was good thing have someone understand why you was wanting to get back home but that was kind of the end of my time at that time so yeah.
Gf: um now commonly known with the war with the war of Vietnam was the Agent Orange breakout how did that happen?
Ma: well there well you gotta back this up there was this admiral his name was Zomwald and he was the one actually involved with agent orange and when they assaulted with all the chemicals and you have to believe that it saved a lot of Americans lives because when you killed the foliage what you done was you took those hiding areas from the enemy and from the gooks themselves took it away from them I mean it killed everything but what they didn’t realize they were exposing us to chemicals they were spraying us with chemicals that we were exposed and even today they don’t look at it like that look at is as they see it as saving a lot of lives in Vietnam that’s just a sacrifice that Vietnam veterans have to go through which I myself was exposed to it and I have certain problems with that not as significant with a lot of others but I have skin problems but again that’s the price of war the atom bomb during the second world war same thing there were people that were exposed to the experiment to that that died from it but when they dropped the bomb they figured that they saved a lot of lives but along the way it took a lot of military lives same thing.
Gf: ummm now were you ever wounded in the war?
Ma: yes and it was really kinda ironic because I go back to Kason and it actually happened twice in the same day uh and the first incident was I caught shrapnel underneath my flak jacket and it was a very light injury it was just no more than a flesh wound and I was going on with whatever I had to do and later on we were carrying some wounded back that were very critically injured to get a medevac out for them to a self landing zone area and we were under heavy mortar fire and I actually ended up I ran into a tree actually and it tore half my clothes off and scarred me all up and got scratched up and again that was all that bad and that was the highlight was my injuries and what also stood out in my mind it happened in a very short period of time in one day.
Gf: now what type of uniform did you wear during the war like what was your uniform and clothing?
Ma: well we just had we just had utilities they were just green a green utility we didn’t have camouflage utilities they were just a basic green for the marines that’s about it
Gf: were they heavy or like thin?
Ma: well it was uhh I would say wouldn’t know how to describe them they were were they actually were not thin they were very durable and I thought they were very hot for that climate. Ya I didn’t think it was very appropriate for it no
Gf: now Vietnam is kinda like known for the rain and trenches stuff like that and going through deep water?
Ma: sure during the monsoon that you’ve never seen rain like that before in your life it would rain for weeks at a time you would lay in the water very wet at times you did a lot of river crossings that’s a good point about Vietnam I think.. Just there rice patties the rain I mean you were like exposed to a lot of wet. That’s why I think there was a lot of jungle rot what they called emersion foot when it got infected that was a very big problem for Vietnam yep
Gf: umm like as we all know during wars you get send out with with like a certain number of men you train with a certain number of men so like I’m sure that you grew strong relationships with certain people and like built on those being with them with the four year time period of being with them how was that like?
Ma: Well you know of course my tour of duty in the marines was four years but Vietnam was thirteen months but yes you had these strong connections with these men you were there was a couple that stood out in my mind that I went through my tour with we had a lot of my replacements and people you didn’t get that close to uh I was very fortunate in the fact we had a lot of wounded with my direct units not that many people were killed uh with the people I was directly involved with uh there was a lot but not comparably to a lot of outfits or the grunts that were actually front line fighting but you have this common monetary about each other you have these strong feelings about something you will never experience or have again in life and I think it’s very significant in combat you know you get that close to people and the way you think and talk to each other and don’t give a shit about stuff and uh you know death becomes like just a apart of life you realize tomorrow you’re going to be dead so when you’re out drinking it’s just like the last days and you’ll never have that again I mean those things will never happen to me again that that stand out a lot in my man.
Gf: um now being a veteran of the Vietnam War and a branch of the United States Marine Corp. now how has that made your life?
Ma: well I think that now that it is over with and it’s been 44 years since I have experienced that but I think that as I look back at it it’s made me a stronger person it’s made me uh more aware of life and uh what it’s really all about living and getting by and putting up with certain obstacles in life it’s you know what I’ve been through has hardened me with the experiences I’ve been through that’s helped me some things that may seem very significant with some people that aren’t tome I was fortunate enough to have a wife who has guided me very strongly through our hardships and things that we’ve been through and she’s been very understand and I’ve been fortunate there. But I think that overall I think that my experiences of war in Vietnam for me especially has propelled me through my life to being where I’m at today and having the family that I’ve had and during the things that I’ve had in life uhm ya for some people that’s probably hard to understand life is hard and if you have to experience things that you’ve not had experienced for then it can be very rough and inexperienced for ya so I actually believe the way I look at it those experience help me out with where I’m at today. How’s that