Service Reflections: Veteran recalls earning Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star

Service Reflections: Veteran recalls earning Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star

Marines Together We Served


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Sgt Paul Burton
Status: U.S. Marine Corps Retired
Service Years: 1963-1969

Please describe who or what influenced your decision to join the Marine Corps.

I was raised in a military family. My maternal grandfather served twice in the USMC, once after WWI and again throughout WWII.

My great great grandfather was a Sgt. in the Union Mounted Infantry and served in the 30th Kentucky from April 1864 to April 1865. He was discharged the day President Lincoln was assassinated.

My father served in WWII, during the Korean Conflict, and in Vietnam. I never thought I would do anything else. I always knew I would be a Marine.

Whether you were in the service for several years or as a career, please describe the direction or path you took. What was your reason for leaving?

I joined the Marine Corps at 17 years old, in July 1963, completed boot camp at MCRD San Diego, Honor Platoon 352, 2nd Squad Leader. Completed ITR, Q Company, Camp Pendleton, CA, and was assigned to Kilo Company 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines. We departed CA in April 1964 and sailed to Okinawa and became B/1/9. I did 30 days of mess duty, went to 3rd Marine Division Mine and Demolition Warfare School graduating first in my class.

With the B/1/9 I completed guerrilla warfare training, escape, and evasion school in the Northern Training Area. I shipped out to Japan, Mt. Fuji, for cold-weather training. In December 1964, we departed Okinawa for the South China Sea for three months as a float battalion.

We were replaced in March 1965, and our replacements promptly hit the beach at Da Nang. We rotated back to Okinawa and then Camp Pendelton, where we became Kilo/ 3/1. I was selected for the State Department (Embassy) School in July 1965 and completed it at Henderson Hall in October 1965.

My next tour was Saigon, Vietnam, where I served two full years and rotated back to the States due for release from active duty. I extended for a year to return to Vietnam for a combat tour and arrived back in the country in early February 1968 during TET.

Then ono H&S Co. 3/4, 106's, and M60's, where I was wounded in action on Hill 689 on 15 May 1968 and Medevaced with malaria in August 1968. I returned to 3/4 and received an early release to attend college. I left Vietnam on 14 Jan 1969, being Honorably Discharged shortly after that.

If you participated in any military operations, including combat, humanitarian and peacekeeping operations, please describe those which made a lasting impact on you and, if life-changing, in what way?

Yes. I arrived in-country for my combat tour and arrived at H&S 3/4 on 4 February 1968. I participated in Pegasus, Robin South, and several other operations between early February 1968 and January 1969.

The most significant was Robin South. where the 3/4 engaged the NVA on 12 June 1968 at Lang Hole, then again at Phui Nhui on 15 June and 18 June, killing over 700 confirmed NVA. I was awarded the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star. Between 1 May 1968 and 1 July 1968, 3/4 took 500 casualties; 419 WIA and 81 KIA.

Did you encounter any situation during your military service when you believed there was a possibility you might not survive? If so, please describe what happened and what was the outcome.

Third Battalion Fourth Marines of the 3rd Marine Division in Vietnam was one of the most underrated and effective fighting units in the war. The Unit boasts 3 MOH recipients. Between May 1 and July 1, 1968, 3/4 took 500 casualties (81 KIA and 419 WIA), one of those WIA was me. We provided the NVA with a significant casualty list of their own.

On June 12, 1968, 3/4 helo lifted out of Khe Sanh Combat base on CH34s and did an assault into Lang Hole south of Khe Sahn. We immediately took 3 KIAs in the assault. A friendly fire mishap (snake eyes dropped from F4s on the wrong spot) produced many additional casualties. We left Lang Hole on the 13th and went to Phou Choi about 20 klicks south of Khe Sahn.

On June 15, we received a large NVA frontal Assault, which produced significant casualties on both sides. Lima Company lines were breached, and Lt. Stephen Joyner was tasked with retaking the lines and was KIA in the process. His story is recounted in the excellent book Promise Lost, by my friend and Marine Officer Dan Moore. Kilo Company, which I was with, was tasked with reestablishing Lima's lines and was again assaulted on June 18, 1968. My friend and immediate superior SSgt Albert Russel Taylor were the first KIA in the attack. I repositioned my M60 Machine Gun Team tot he top of the hill facing the assault and watched as the NVA were driven off, and the NVA Base of Fire on the opposite hill was engaged by U.S. aircraft, including a Marine Cobra Helicopter out of Marble Mountain. (Marines did not get twin-engine Cobras into Vietnam until 1970 or so but were furnished with single-engine Cobras by the Army in early 1968 as part of their test protocol. One of these single-engine Cobras attacked the NVA Base of Fire. I have verified this by three Marine helicopter pilots, one of which was later the Air Commander of a State National Guard, and one of which was an Army Cobra Pilot and Silver Star recipient in Vietnam, and one of which was a Marine CH46 Pilot and later flew the Blue Angels accompanying the C130 and was later assigned to the President's Marine Helo Unit.

I had seen the devastating effect of the NVA Base of Fire (responsible I think for Lt. Joyner's death on June 15), so I conducted an assault and capture envelopment of the NVA Base of Fire resulting in capturing the entire NVA Base of Fire Weapons. I received the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry w/ Silver Star for the action. Later that day, as 3/4 withdrew from Phou Choi, we were taking significant incoming motor fire, and I was slightly wounded. Given the horrendous casualties we had taken and that there were many significant Marine wounded, I only mentioned my wound to the Corpsman and then shut up as they had their hands full. I had already earned a Purple Heart on Hill 689 on May 15, 1968, in an engagement with the NVA, so never receiving my second Purple Heart was no big deal.

May 15 was the day before 3/4 Corpsman Donald Ballard earned the MOH on Hill 689.

From your entire military service, describe any memories you still reflect back on to this day.

First, the brotherhood of my first two years. I am still in contact with many of my Marine brothers who shared the hardships and rewards of those first two years. We had an outstanding set of leaders including Cpls Petro, Burglund and Hillesheim, and most predominantly LCol. T. Owens, Battalion Commander. I saw Full Col. Owens in Saigon several years later and had iced tea with him at Ton Sanut Airbase. A great man!

My tour in Saigon on Embassy Duty was fascinating and frustrating. I was senior watch stander the last year, Oct 1966-Oct 1967. The last year of Embassy Duty sealed my fate to leave the Marine Corps and go to college.

My combat tour with 3/4 was from 4 February 1968 - 14 January 1969 was an initiation into the brotherhood of combat veterans. I am still in touch with a few of my Marine Brothers from 3/4. How I survived those 12 months is a mystery to me!

What professional achievements are you most proud of from your military career?

Cam Lo District HQ

Yes, I received the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Silver Star for Combat Action on 18 June 1968. My immediate superior, SSgt Albert S. Taylor was KIA. I assembled my 106 fire team (we were manning an M-60 on this operation) and we moved to the peak of the hill which was directly under attack by the NVA. The NVA were driven off, and a Marine Cobra and several other helicopters engaged the NVA base of fire directly across from our position.

We were taking heavy motor fire and were basically pinned down on top of the hill. At first opportunity, I had my team descend the hill, encountered what was left of the NVA base of the fire, and captured all their weapons. We all humped these down the NVA base of fire mountain and back up to our CP on top of our hill. I dropped a heavy Chinese Machine Gun at the feet of General Davis, the new Third Marine Division Commander. A year later I got a notice in the mail I had been awarded the medal.

Of all the medals, awards, formal presentations and qualification badges you received, or other memorabilia, which one is the most meaningful to you and why?

The Combat Action Ribbon is most significant.

The Presidential Unit Citation for B/1/9 in April 1965, I did not find out about until 40 years later.

The Embassy Duty Ribbon is a hard-won ribbon, requiring dedication to academic and Marine physical fitness.

I missed qualifying Expert with the M14 by only a few points, a disappointment to me!

I enjoy the Marine Good Conduct Medal, a testament to getting away with a lot. I think 3/4 was unrecognized for Vietnam in 1968. We did the heavy lifting, kicked the NVA's collective asses, and received little or no recognition. So be it. We know what we did!!!

Which individual(s) from your time in the military stand out as having the most positive impact on you and why?

SSgt Albert Taylor

Sgt. Joseph A. Daily, he was smart, squared away, and great competition which inspired me to study hard and learn my first two years.

Sgt. Bennie Gallant, he was my best friend on Embassy Duty. I wish I could connect with him today!

Sgt. William Hubbard, Bill was, and is, the best Marine I ever met. I am proud to be his friend.

Cpl. W.W. Thompson and Vance were young 0351 Marines who participated in the capture of the NVA Base of FIre on June 18 and should have previously been decorated for their valor and competence and fearless engagement of NVA with the 106 Recoiless against Hill Peanuts in May. He kept everything combat readiness and was a dead-eye with the 106. A good Marine and a good man!

SSGT Albert Sidney Taylor was an outstanding Marine and Combat Leader.

Lt. Stephen Joyner was an outstanding young Marine Officer and Combat Leader.

Can you recount a particular incident from your service, which may or may not have been funny at the time, but still makes you laugh?

Yes. LCpl J.A Jackson and I went through Embassy School together in August/September 1965. We served together in Saigon, Vietnam for the first year, then he was assigned to Bangkok, Thailand. I visited him there in January 1967. He was gung-ho to get into the officers' program. The next time I saw J.A. Jackson he was walking between the row of 3/4's Hqs. tents at Dong Ha, a bright, shiny butter bar on his utilities.

I was in the rear recovering from malaria. I jumped up and ran out of the supply tent and saluted him and congratulated him on having made it as an officer! What a great guy! We both laughed at what we had been through to get where we were. He was with 3rd Tanks. I would sure like to meet him again today!

What profession did you follow after your military service and what are you doing now? If you are currently serving, what is your present occupational specialty?

I went to Illinois State University and got a teaching degree in 1973 and taught school. I received my Master's Degree in Administration in 1977 and became a school administrator, Assistant Principal, and then a Principal.

I finished my coursework, oral and written exams for my Doctor of Education Degree in 1981 but never wrote my dissertation as I took a High School Principal position. Then became a School Computer Consultant for the State for 3 years, and then a Superintendent of Schools for 6 years.

I entered law school at Southern Illinois University School of Law at age 48 in 1994. I graduated in 1997 and was admitted to the bar in Washington State in 2009. I currently practice law in Washington State and have served as a Judge Pro Tem in District Court since November 2012. I was elected President of the East King County Bar Association in 2015 and again in 2016.

What military associations are you a member of, if any? What specific benefits do you derive from your memberships?

Vietnam Veterans of America. I derive no known benefit from this organization. I joined to fulfill a death wish of a high school teammate (Michael Sinclair) who lost both legs, a hand and an eye in Vietnam. I am a life member, but decidedly cool about the organization.

Marine Corps League. I am a Life Member of Puget Sound Detachment 336 and currently serve as Legislative Officer (3026). I think the League was seriously damaged by the political behavior of those Marine Corps League members who wore their colors while supporting the liar Blumenthal. However, 336 is an outstanding Detachment with great Marines who I am proud to serve with.

VFW Life Member. MCL 336 shares facilities with the VFW in Redmond WA and I belong to support those who support us! This VFW is very special and has great members!

I am a Life Member of Disabled American Veterans. This organization should be avoided by Veterans filing claims. They are worse than useless. They have a history of conflicts of interest and are not supportive of their members.

Puget Sound Marine Support Group. This is an outstanding organization and I encourage all Marines in the Puget Sound area to join and attend the excellent meetings, Marine Corps Birthday Luncheon and participate in the group's activities.

In what ways has serving in the military influenced the way you have approached your life and your career? What do you miss most about your time in the service?

As I was brought up in the military, I had a good idea of the discipline and honorable behavior required to be successful. My first-hand experience as a Marine was instrumental in molding my discipline, intellectual curiosity, and unabashed and unafraid approach to life and work.

I was never afraid to fire teachers who deserved it while I was Principal and Superintendent, and never afraid to promote and support teachers who did a good job whether they were politically correct or not. I attribute my successes to my development in the Marine Corps and my continuing success to the influence of the good men I met in the Corps with whom I continue to be friends.

Based on your own experiences, what advice would you give to those who have recently joined the Marine Corps?

Study hard, be a leader, work at being a mature, squared-away Marine. Lead by example. Talk less and act positively more. Stay physically fit beyond what is required. What you do in the Marine Corps will be with you for the rest of your life. Make the best of it! Be a Marine YOU will look back on with pride.

In what ways has helped you remember your military service and the friends you served with.

I connected with several members of my boot camp platoon here. I had not had the privilege of having any contact with them prior to joining TWS.

I have been privileged to find my Saigon Embassy Duty friend Sgt. Bennie Gallant here with the help of a Together we served Marine. I also connected with several MCRD Bootcamp mates here

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