Late in the evening of June 7, 1969, my last night in Vietnam, I was on Hill 37, situated some 12 miles south of Danang. Hill 37 was the home base for Delta Company, 1st Battalion 7th Marines. At the time Delta Company was running patrols, etc., off of Hill 55. I joined 3rd Platoon Delta, in late 1968. I was 3rd Platoon Right Guide from April thru the last of May 1969. I was a Sergeant at this time and my last few nights in Vietnam I shared a hooch (tent) with Delta Company's First Sergeant, First Sergeant Headley.
It was dusky dark when I heard a 6x6 truck stop outside our hooch (tent). When I went investigate, there in the middle of the dirt street stood a young Marine. What gear he possessed rested in a pile at his feet. I asked if I could help him and he said he was looking for Delta Company. I quickly replied, "You found them." I introduced myself and I ask where he hailed from in the states. From behind me the First Sergeant asked, "What have you got, Sergeant Wilson?" I quickly replied that we had a new guy reporting to Delta. Top replied that it was late and he would properly check the new man in the following morning. He asked me to find the young Marine a place to bunk for the night and to bring him back to our hooch. I quickly complied with this request and returned to our hooch with the young Marine in tow. The First Sergeant shook hands with the Marine and took him into the back area of the hooch. I could hear them talking, but I was unable to make out what was being said. I was too busy getting my gear together for my departure for home, slated for the following morning. After about ten minutes, the young Marine came out of the rear of the hooch and headed for the door. Stopping him, I asked if he remembered the location of our perimeter trench line, which I had earlier shown to him. If we started taking incoming mortar or rocket fire he was instructed to take cover in the trench. He answered in the affirmative, and exited the tent.
Now at this point I would like to speak to something that even at the time pricked my attention. First Sergeant Headley, who was actually a Master Sergeant, was a veteran of the battle of Tarawa. He was a giant of a man and even though he was probably not that old, to my twenty-two year old eyes he was ancient. Typically First Sergeants of a line company are somewhere right below God in the eyes of the enlisted troopers and in any case they did not make a habit of having heartfelt chats with PFC's. The fact that he requested to talk to the young Marine caught my attention. Looking back, I believe he could sense the apprehensiveness displayed by this young Marine.
After the young Marine had left the hooch, Top Headley came out from the rear of the tent and began to speak. He related to me the fact that the young man was very upset. The young Marine's father was dead against him becoming a Marine. The father had refused to drive his son to the airport and he also refused to shake his son's hand as he departed on his long trek to Vietnam. Top Headley seemed to be shaken by the story and said in a sad voice "That is really sad". He slowly turned and headed back to the rear of our hooch.
About an hour or so later I heard the enemy mortar rounds hitting the bottom of their tubes and I made a mad dash to the sandbagged bunker at the rear of the hooch. After the impact of the five or six rounds I headed out the door of the hooch. At almost the same time I heard the cry "Corpsman Up!" I started toward the direction of the cry, which came from the trench line behind 3rd Platoon's tent area. I found Lt Tom Swanson, Delta Company XO, working over the body of a downed Marine. When I got closer I asked the LT the identity of the felled Marine. He replied "The new guy." He was dead. After the Corpsman came up, we placed the dead Marine in a body bag. We then carried his remains to the street in front of the 1st Sergeant's hooch. I could tell that Top was saddened by his death, as we all were. I talked to Tom Swanson about this many years later and he told me that as soon as the mortars stopped falling he headed down the trench line to make sure everyone was all right. He came upon the young Marine, lying face up. He could see that he had suffered a fatal wound to his upper chest. Even though the Marine was wearing a flak jacket, it had not been zipped closed. Later that night, a chopper took the Marine's body to graves registration in Danang.
The following morning the First Sergeant, the company driver and I left Hill 37. We stopped by Hill 55 where I said my good-byes to my Company Commander, Captain Brian Fagan, and the company Gunny, Gunny Chester Richards. We left Hill 55 and headed for graves registration located at the 1st Medical Battalion in Danang. There a large refrigerated Conex box was opened, revealing a good number of body bags. All held the body of a dead Marine. A body bag was carried outside and placed upon the ground at our feet. Someone grabbed the large zipper and in one quick motion zipped open the bag, revealing the remains of the young Marine. The First Sergeant and I were asked to identify the Marine from his pictured ID card. We did, and we also signed a form to that effect. At the same moment I heard the clop-clop sound of an approaching helicopter. I turned and saw a Marine CH-46 chopper heading towards the 1st Medical helo pad. Something was hanging from a cable attached to the bottom of the chopper. As the chopper got closer one could make out the object hanging from its cable winch. It was the body of a dead chopper pilot, still strapped in his seat. Vines were hanging from both his body and his seat. I turned to the First Sergeant and said, "Top, get me over to the transit area, I'm ready to leave this place."
Over these many years I had never forgotten the young Marine's death. Because the Marine had never formally checked into Delta Company, his name was not on any roster. None of the few Marines present on that fateful night could remember a name. As it was most had never even heard a name mentioned. In 2001, I found a copy of my original orders of departure from Vietnam. My departure date was 8 June 1969. I went to the "TheWall" web site and entered the date, 7 June 1969. Only one Marine met the criteria for the young Marine - Larry Hansen Bowen. Since then I have spoken with Larry's only surviving sibling, Harry Bowen. Harry said the facts that Larry had given the First Sergeant regarding Larry and the relationship he shared with his father was basically factual. Larry's name has at last been entered on the roster of Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines.