A West Virginian by birth, in 1948, I am one of two sons of a career Air Force NCO who was a veteran of B-24 bombing missions in the CBI (China-India-Burma) theater in WWII. I grew up on most of the SAC (Strategic Air Command) air bases in the continental United States east of the Rocky Mountains and in Madrid, Spain.
I graduated from high school in Alexandria, Virginia, in June 1966. Only one guy in my graduating class immediately went into the service--he joined the Army. Vietnam was a rumor to us then, and we had no idea that it was about to escalate and become reality for half of the male population.
Like most of my peers, I went off to college in the fall after that *perfect* summer. By the middle of January 1967 I discovered that I wasn't going to make it through my Freshman year, but I stuck it out and was formally flunked out (and kicked out for raising hell) at the end of the spring semester. Good-bye to Lynchburg College in Lynchburg, Virginia, and hello to an immediate future of uncertainty.
The summer of 1967 was spent learning what hard work really was--I worked for a company moving furniture. My draft status was 1A (the most likely to go), and the news of the war was heating up. I knew I would have to go, and I knew that I didn't want to be in the Army. I chose the Marine Corps, and my Dad supported my choice because I had made it.
I went through boot camp at Parris Island, SC, in the fall of 1967, got a Christmas leave, and reported to Camp Lejuene, NC, in January 1968 for infantry training. While we were in training, the North Koreans captured a CIA spy ship by the name of the "Pueblo." We were told that we may be invading Korea to get them back. Fortunately, they were released; and we finished our training.
In the last week of infantry training, the reconnaissance battalion asked for volunteers from among us trainees to go to airborne training school and learn how to parachute from airplanes. Sounded good to me and 400 others in our group, so all the volunteers were put through a rigorous and very physical elimination process which ended with a challenge to do 5 pull-ups from the railing of the base water tower. Only 8 of the 400 were selected to go to airborne school, and I was one of them.
The first half of February 1968 was spent with the Army at Ft. Benning, GA, where we learned to jump out of perfectly-good, flying airplanes with a parachute on our backs. Once we earned our silver wings, the 8 Marines were sent to Camp Pendelton, CA, for further training in reconnaissance work. It was while we were there that Khe Sahn was besieged, and the famous Tet Offensive startled America with the resolve that the Viet Cong and NVA (North Vietnamese Army) displayed.
I arrived in Vietnam on April 26th, 1968, and was assigned to team alpha (Call sign "West Orange," which was later changed to "Empire State" and then to "Grim Reaper") of the 1st platoon, Delta Company, 1st Recon Battalion, 1st Marine Division. Our home base was Camp Reasoner, just outside of the city of Da Nang.
While I was stationed there, I participated in 19 long-range reconnaissance combat patrols in the bush and to mountain top observation posts. After attending Navy diver's school in the Philippines during the Christmas season, I participated in 13 underwater inspection dives of local strategic bridges and river sweep and search expeditions. In early May of 1969 I went on R&R to Sydney, Austrailia, and then returned to the continental United States on the 19th of May, 1969.
When I returned from Vietnam, via Okinawa, a very persistent Captain signed me up for duty in Washington, D.C. At the time, I could have cared less where I was going to be stationed for the last two years of my four year enlistment as long as it was stateside.
Maybe it worked out for the best because I was put in a company of all Vietnam veterans, 39 sergeants and 1 corporal. You talk about having someone around who understands! Our duty was to march in the parades in the summer. From Memorial Day to Labor Day we had a parade every Tuesday evening at the Iwo Jima Memorial and one every Friday evening at Marine Barracks at 8th and Eye (That's the letter "i", but everybody said "eye") Streets in D.C. The rest of the time, we served as platoon riflemen, escorts and body bearers for funerals in Arlington Cemetery (Now there is another story!).
We also traveled around the country, by request, and performed ceremonial duties at state fairs, conventions, and celebrations. Every ceremonial detail, as they were called, required us to wear our dress blue uniforms. Because I was over six feet tall, my specialty was the Color Guard. I carried the Marine Corps Battle Colors in the Tuesday and Friday night parades and the National Ensign when out on a traveling detail. While I was at the barracks, I met and married my first wife. I was with her when she was killed six months later in an auto accident. When I physically recovered, I once again carried the colors until I finished my active Marine enlistment.
I returned to college in the winter of 1972 to Northern Virginia Community College and transferred to Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA, in 1973. While I was there I joined the Marine Reserves, serving as a public affairs NCO for a CH-46 helicopter squadron. I graduated with honors in 1975 with a B.S. in Biology and left the reserve unit.
I then got a job as a laboratory technician with a chemical company in Virginia. They transferred me to Mobile, Alabama, were I met and married my wife, Cathy. About the same time, I changed jobs and began working for an industrial services company.
The decade of the '80s was spent based in Lakeland, Florida, but working all over the United States and the Caribbean. At least I was at home for the births of our two daughters Emily and Sarah, who are now in their teens. The second most exciting thing I did in the '80s was to work on the space shuttle launch site at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
At the close of that decade, I again changed jobs, this time to work for an environmental company. That meant another move - this time to suburban Wilmington, Delaware. And that is where you will find me today, camouflaged well and hiding in society. But most importantly, my family is happy; and I enjoy my work and my writing.
-Robert Wood Dailey Baird III
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