10 September 2019

LEAVING VIETNAM

Anthony F. Milavic
Major, United States Marine Corps (Retired)


In May 1969, I was standing on the tarmac in Danang, Vietnam with some hundred other Marines waiting to board an airplane to Okinawa. The group was made-up of those who had served in the First and Third Marine Divisions and the First Marine Aircraft Wing. This was to be the first leg of our journey back to the place young Marines called, “The World.” Standing there, thoughts ran to: 13 months had passed since we first landed here; 13 months had passed in combat at places known as Khe Sanh, Dai Do, DMZ, Ashau Valley, Dodge City, Anh Hoa, Arizona Territory, etc.; 13 months had passed anticipating this day, and now we stood silently, cautiously aware that it had arrived. Finally, on order, we shuffled aboard a chartered civilian airliner and took our seats. 

Rolling down the runway, the anticipation in the cabin rose with the plane’s increasing speed to become airborne. When its wheels freed themselves and us from “Nam,” a spontaneous round of applause broke out followed by a shouted chorus from a popular song of the day: 

                  We gotta get out of this place
                  If it’s the last thing we ever do
                  We gotta get out of this place
                  'Cause girl, there's a better life for me and you

Seemingly, everyone started talking to each other and the American stewardesses--especially the American stewardesses. As Okinawa drew ever closer, the excitement grew over what they were going to do when we got there: a hot bath, a girl, get drunk, a girl, a meal on dishes in an air-conditioned restaurant, a girl, use a flush toilet, a girl, sleep in a bed with sheets, a girl, and GIRLS. With months of back pay coming, all wrestled with the decision: What to do first on this island stopover back to “The World”? 

It was early evening when we landed at Kadena Air Force Base. Some in our group immediately mounted waiting ground transportation and sped off to an out-processing location. The rest of us went into the air terminal to wait for a ride to Camp Hansen, Marine Corps Base. After picking up a coke and a sandwich at the snack bar, I wandered about the terminal and then went outside. The cool night air was tranquilizing causing me to pay little attention to the passing time. Suddenly, I sensed that I was alone. Fearing the buses had come and left without me, I hurried back inside to search for the others on my flight. After several frantic moments, I found them all jammed into the TV lounge. The scene bordered on the poetic: The first thing these Marines did after leaving the combat environment of Vietnam was to watch an episode of the World War II television series, “Combat” starring Vic Morrow.