Robert Vaxter Bio
In May of 1967 I ran out of money for college; the draft was breathing down my neck so I joined the Marine Corps. I took the delayed enlistment program and went to boot camp in August of ’67. As a Hollywood Marine I was issued my sunglasses and suntan lotion the first day of boot camp. From then on it was the usual routine for that period: boot camp, mess duty, ITR, boot leave, tank school, staging, and then across the big pond to Okinawa and on to Da Nang, Republic of South Vietnam.
I remember those first three days in Nam like they were yesterday. As the TWA flight circled the airport we were told by the stewardess (that’s what they were called then) that we could not land because the runway was taking incoming. We circled for about 20 minutes and then landed in Da Nang. As it was four o’clock in the afternoon and the clerks were done for the day, we were sent to the transit area to spend the night. That night, we FNGs woke up to the sound of incoming mortars. Needless to say I dove into the bunker next to the hut. In my memory, the incoming seemed very close.
The next day we were processed and those of us who were tankers were put on an airplane and flown to Phu Bai. We were then told to go to the mess hall up on the hill and come back around one o’clock when the clerks would be there to process us. The roof of the mess hall was full of holes from incoming the night before.
That afternoon we lined up in the battalion office and the clerk went down the line pointing at each man as he came to him and saying First Division, Third Division, First Division, Third Division, until he ran out of people to point at. That’s how I ended up in Third Division. The same procedure was used to assign us to our companies. Those of us going to Charlie Company were flown to Dong Ha and put on a six-by to the Marine base just north of the city of Quang Tri.
The Marine Corps base at Quang Tri in February 1968 consisted of the CB area and a company of grunts that guarded the base. Charlie Company, Third Tanks, was at the rear of the base. We were told by the company gunny to toss our gear in one of the tents, the sides of which looked like Swiss cheese. We were told the NVA had set up a machine gun on the railroad tracks the night before and shot up the area.
So here I am, an FNG, who’s been in country three days and every place I go to has either been mortared or shot up. I remember thinking that this is going to be one very long year. I spent my tour at all the fun spots in northern I Corps: Cam Lo, Cua Viet, Khe Sanh, and several other exotic places. They were all the fun places to be in 1968.
I returned to the world in 1969, got married, and had two more years in the Marine Corps. I worked as a police officer/firefighter for the city of Springfield, Michigan until I retired from full-time work in 1996. I took advantage of the GI Bill and went back to school. I attended Nazareth College in Kalamazoo, Michigan. I went to school during the day and worked at the police department at night. I graduated in 1979 with a BS degree in Police/Business Administration. I worked multiple part-time jobs until I retired officially in 2009.
I have had two marriages, two divorces, and two children from the first marriage, several grandchildren and basically a pretty good life.
Like the old saying, “I learned everything I needed about life in Boot Camp.
Improvises, adapt, overcome and persevere.”
The last certainly has come in handy when interacting with the Veterans Administration with disability claims. Now as an older retired guy my job is to sit on the Board of Directors for the USMCVTA and be a pain in the backside for everyone.