Marc Spiridigliozzi - For Love of Country

Specialist 5 Marc Spiridigliozzi served in the Army from October 24, 1967 to June 18, 1971. A draftee, he voluntarily extended his enlistment after serving a year in Vietnam and was then sent for a tour of duty in Korea. The following remarks are from an oral history interview conducted at Cumberland Valley High School as part of the Army Heritage Center Foundation’s Veteran’s Oral History Project. Some of his comments have been subjected to minor editing for clarity.

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“I didn’t enlist initially; I was drafted. I was drafted out of a draft board in Altoona, Pennsylvania, but I was living in Michigan. My dad served in World War II… and there was never a question in my mind that I would serve. At that time, the anti-war sentiment was growing, people were seeking deferrals, doing all that. But the minute I got drafted, I knew deep in my heart that I needed to serve this country. I bleed red, white, and blue. I am as patriotic as anybody in this country, and I love this country and I love everything it stands for. So there was never a doubt in my mind that I would serve and do what needed to be done. Was I scared? I was scared to death. But at that age, you have to go forward, you have to grab hold of it, pull up your bootstraps and do what needs to be done.”

“For basic training, I was assigned to Fort Knox, Kentucky for eight weeks. Left there, went to Fort Polk, Louisiana, took advanced infantry training. Spent twelve weeks doing that. I went from Fort Polk, Louisiana directly to Vietnam after two weeks at home. I spent one year in Vietnam with the 1st Cavalry Division.”

When asked about how his family felt about his service, Marc says:

“My dad was a philosopher, very intelligent, and he guided me very closely. My mother was fearsome, and she actually said: “You’re never coming back,” when I was getting ready to go to Vietnam. But that was acceptable back then. Even though your mother loved you, she had that fear and she wasn’t afraid to express that fear. I had a brother who was an Air Force Staff Sergeant in Vietnam at the same time, and I had another brother who was in Fort Richardson, Alaska, serving in one of the radar sites that they had up along the Cold War border. My brothers supported me wholeheartedly. One brother told me that I should tear up the draft notice and enlist right away in the Air Force, but I chose not to do that. I chose to let fate fall where it may. My father was proud, my mother was fearsome, was afraid, and my brothers were supportive.”

“I was an 11-B20, which was a light weapons infantryman. I got all of the training to do that at advanced infantry training at Fort Polk, which was known as the 11 Bravo Factory. It’s where they made light weapons infantrymen; they took young people and made us into soldiers. It was a very, very rigorous training. You had a lot of weapons training- you had training with grenades, you had training with gas masks, hikes, and tactics of how to survive. Then I got to Vietnam and they give me more training.”

“I left from Fort Lewis, Washington, stopped in Anchorage, stopped in Tokyo, and then landed in Vietnam. I was assigned to the First Air Cavalry Division, so I processed in-country at Cam Ranh Bay, then went to Camp Evans, the 1st Cav HQ. Then I got more training, more processing, and I went into the zone, the landing zone. The 1st Cav, we were in helicopters. We did what were called “combat assaults,” where they would stick six or eight of us in a helicopter, then take ten or twelve helicopters and insert us into an enemy area.”

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“Three to four weeks, maybe two to three weeks, you would be out in the field, you know, on search and destroy, engaging the enemy, clearing rice paddies, clearing villages, doing all of those things that you have to do. Then you’d come back ,and there would be two days in the base camp where you would hold perimeter duty a lot… do two days of that and then get a haircut, get a shave, get cleaned up, get a good shower. Sanitary conditions in Vietnam were sketchy at best. We had bladders that we filled in these crude little huts that were showers… We used the bathroom… a 55-gallon jug cut in half that we had to burn to get rid of because there weren’t flush toilets…”

“When you’re in the field, if you came upon a stream and you could secure the stream, you would get a bath, but sometimes that wasn’t the best of baths because you’d come out of the water with leeches on you. And in Vietnam, a stream is a big toilet for all the Vietnamese, so there would be stuff floating by you that wasn’t exactly the best stuff in the world, so it wasn’t a very good position. So you did go back, you got cleaned up, you got haircuts, you got everything you need to do, you got clean fatigues. Every once in a while they’d bring fatigues in and give you clean fatigues there, but that didn’t happen very often, and they’d bring a hot meal, also. Most of the time, though, it would be C-rations, and water they would fly in for you.”

“[We ate] C-rations. On occasion, we would get a hot meal flown in. We were fortunate because we had the birds with us… the helicopters. We were in an envious position with most of the people there because we got some supplies that they didn’t get. But C-rations were just a box of food that we used to call “mystery meat,” and we would eat Spam, a lot of that type of stuff. I think that I actually survived on beans and franks for a year.”

“I tore Clayborn mines apart, which were explosive mines you would use to defend a parameter. I would tear them apart and take the C-4 out of them, and I would put it on the ground and then heat with C-4, a plastic explosive. You need to have heat and pressure for it to explode. If it just burns, it just burns super-hot. So I would heat the beans and franks and the turkey or whatever I happened to be eating that day in that. And then after that, I got to enjoy a cup of coffee out of that same cup, because what you did is you ended up with instant coffee that you would heat over that and drink your coffee out of that cup, too. Not only that, there was also toilet paper, you know, for the necessities in life. There were cigarettes because back then, the surgeon general hadn’t declared that cigarettes were cancer causing and all that, so you always had three or four cigarettes in a pack… you would have those in bunches.”

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“I ended up with malaria. In Vietnam, the mosquitoes were horrible. They were big. They were turkey-sized. I jest with that, but they were big and they would get you, so I used to take the bug juice- they always put three or four, it seemed to be, or you always had three or four toilet papers, and it was very tightly compressed, and you would pour the bug juice down in there, light it, and it would actually keep the bugs away and you were able to sleep and things like that. And sleeping… [we had] two-man pup tents. You carried half of the tent, stakes, and your ruck sack, and you and another person shared that, shared that pup tent as sleeping.”

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“[Eventually] I was medivacked out of the country. I picked up shrapnel up and down my left side, all because of a Vietcong that was a bad shot. If he was a good shot, I wouldn’t be here. We were working across rice paddies. We used to fan out across those paddies and walk across, looking for Vietcong and the North Vietnamese. They would be hiding in the dikes and things like that, and looking for tunnels. I was on the extreme left side of the column, and a B-40 rocket fired from the right side actually missed the entire column and went beyond it, probably about forty or fifty feet, and I happened to be on the end of that and it peppered me on my left side. Nothing that was big, gaping holes, but enough that I had to go get it all taken out of me at Camp Zama, Japan. And my whole side was black and blue.”

Asked about his friends in the, Army Marc says:

“I did make a lot of friends. I mean, you have to in order to survive… the camaraderie that you develop… you depended on that person next to you to be not just a friend or not just a cohort, but a person that you would trust your life with. I know that you guys know the term “six,” I’ve got your six, or your back. Those people all had my back. [And] they taught me that you have to be true to those friends. You have to be faithful. You have to be a person who is dependable and trustworthy… if you can’t be trustworthy and kind, you’re never gonna be successful in this world.”

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Regarding homecoming, Marc says:

“There are a lot of Vietnam veterans that talk about discord in the United States. I’m sure you all have read and know that we weren’t welcomed back with open arms. I did not experience what some people talk about. You’ll see a lot of Vietnam veterans saying they were yelled at, spat upon, those type of things. I did not experience that, although I did experience nothingness. I expected to come back and be welcomed home, and was not. And really, you know, up until they did the fiftieth anniversary recently, I never felt like I was welcome back, welcomed back from that.”

“I was different. I was different. I mean, I went over a boy [and] came back a hardened man. I had been to Vietnam, had been wounded, had served as an infantryman and came back and was not old enough to drink a beer in the state of Pennsylvania or vote. But I can remember my dad saying to me: “You have a decision to make. You have two ways your life can go now. One can be, you can feel sorry for everything that’s happened the rest of your life and never make anything of yourself. And the other one is, boy, pull up your bootstraps. Grab hold of life and do what needs to be done.” I chose that second, only because my father inspired me to do that.”

“I am very, very proud of being a Vietnam veteran. I don’t want anybody to ever think that I am not. I feel that that was one of my biggest accomplishments in life. I think that this country is worth defending. We need people to understand that everything that we enjoy is not free, that there are people out there that have to pay for that. I would do it again to defend freedom. And I realize that there are a lot of people who say, “defending freedom at what cost?” I don’t believe that you could put a price tag on freedom. So yeah, I would go back, do it all again, and never look back at it, even if it meant that I didn’t come back, even if it meant that I were to die to defend this country. I would do that.”