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From L to R: Lt.           I remember First Lieutenant Kirkpatrick more so than any other platoon commander that second platoon, Echo Company had in Vietnam during the 12 months I spent in country. My outfit was Echo of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division (more commonly referred to as Echo 2/5). I spent my entire tour of duty assigned to the same platoon, and that’s where I met Lieutenant Kirk.

          A number of platoon commanders came and went from July, 1968 to September, 1969 while I served in Vietnam. I actually lost count somewhere along the way, because it was never expected that a gung-ho lieutenant would last more than a few short weeks in the bush country of South Viet Nam, not if he was a combat platoon commander, anyway. If my memory serves me correctly I worked for three 1st lieutenants in the second platoon before Kirk’s tour of duty, and perhaps two more after Kirk left the country.

          Kirk’s tenure with second platoon was exquisitely memorable, and there are several reasons why my mind sees him so vividly even several decades after I helped load his severely wounded body onto an emergency medivac helicopter. 

          Lieutenant Kirkpatrick had true promise of longevity. I could tell that he would ‘make it’, at least for a longer period of time than previous platoon commanders. By the time Kirk joined Echo Company I had been in country for 6 months. That didn’t make me an ‘old salt’ by any means and it didn’t mean that I was Superman. However, any grungy Marine grunt that ever made it more than a half year in the Nam could just sense who was going to make it and who wasn’t, and that included the officers.

          A lot of platoon commanders were known for taking the helm of a combat platoon and then immediately commencing to kicking ass and taking names. Many were cocky and arrogant and they knew much more than anyone else in the outfit, even if those other Marines had been in country for awhile and knew their business forward and backwards. Kirk wasn’t like that. He was quiet and he listened to every word. All relevant or irrelevant bits of information he could ascertain from his veteran soldiers was put away in his data bank for future use. He spent time with the enlisted men and wanted to know about each and every one of us, from the newest private first class to the gunnery sergeant in the field. There is even a photograph floating around of Kirk cutting the hair of a lance corporal as the corporal sits on a water can out in the bush country. I would say that Kirk was the consummate Marine First Lieutenant leading a combat platoon in an infamous TAOR (Tactical Area of Responsibility) in Vietnam. He was very confident and poised. He took no crap from anyone, but always respected a reasonable opinion from his NCO’s.

          In many respects this is how Marine First Lieutenants, or “silver bars,” cut their teeth in the Corps; in the capacity of a platoon commander in a combat zone. It is the perfect opportunity to display their knowledge and skills, and to become true military leaders. If one can make it as a combat platoon commander it is likely they will promote to captain and higher, assuming they remain in the Corps to serve, and stay alive of course. You might say that commanding a combat platoon is sort of the ultimate expression of desire for where a young lieutenant’s career is heading. It’s a chance to show their potential, as well as what level of danger they will become comfortable with.

          Kirk was 24 years of age when he arrived in Vietnam and joined Echo Company. He was tall and very, very lean — skinny might be more accurate — He was Ivy League schooled (Penn) and I liked that. This meant that Kirk knew how to use his God-given brains, which would soon become vital to the success of our mission more times than I can remember. Kirk could interpret and more importantly absorb a map like nobody else I ever knew; he was an expert at calling in any kind of fire support we needed like artillery, mortars, air support, or Navy gun fire missions; he was a fine leader, a gentleman, an inspiration to those who observed him in the field; you wanted to follow him into the rice paddies or the jungle, because you felt assured that he would be able to lead you out again when the job was done. Kirk cared about his Marines, and he would die to protect his platoon. We would do the same for Kirk, no questions asked.

          When Echo Company re-entered the Arizona Territory, which we seemed to do on a fairly consistent basis, in mid-May, 1969 our platoon followed Lt. Kirkpatrick with just as much confidence and purpose as we had come to expect whenever we infiltrated the bush with Kirk. About a month before in April, second platoon and Lt. Kirkpatrick had been crazily tested on the field of combat. Echo Company had more than its share of gruesome fighting and our platoon took its share of casualties. But, we also put a real hurtin’ on the NVA and local VC in the Arizona. Many of us won awards for action in April, and the company finally got a two-day break at the end of the month after more than 100 days afield. Kirk performed most admirably during those long days and nights, and the grunts in the platoon learned to trust the new lieutenant implicitly.

          Come May, things started to heat up all around the An Hoa combat base where the 5th Marines were stationed. The NVA felt an urgency to fight harder, and the entire 5th Marine Regiment was plagued with both NVA and Viet Cong attacks; battles with well concealed NVA soldiers became a regular occurrence, and Marines tripping booby traps set by the VC was a daily expectation from late April and well into the month of May. By the 15th things came to a boiling point and a bloody showdown with the enemy was pretty much inevitable. In many ways we relished the thought of duking it out with the bastards, for we were sick and tired of putting our fellow grunts on medivac birds and shipping them to the battalion aid station in An Hoa. We were all looking for a good, old fashioned fight, the kind that we all read about in the annals of Marine Corps legend.

          The following paragraphs contain, among my own narrative, actual DECLASSIFIED entries that were made in the 2nd Battalion 5th Marines’ official journal on May 15, 1969. Items that you read inside parenthesis are entries that I made for the sole purpose of clarifying the official script. The log entries are presented verbatim:

15 May, 1969:

          “0015H: Company G at (coordinates) AT830475 received small arms, B-40, 60mm and automatic weapons fire. Company G returned fire with small arms, grenades, M-79 (grenade launcher), 60mm and automatic weapons fire. Results: Five USMC WIA Evac (medivac from the field of battle) and four USMC WIA Non-Evac (stayed in the field to fight).     

          “0615H: Company G at AT830475 received small arms, B-40 rocket and mortar fire. Company G returned fire with organic weapons (in military terms this would mean chemical weapons such as CS canister grenades), and searched the area. Results: Three NVA KIA and capture of one RPG-2 (rocket propelled grenade launcher), one AK-47 rifle, six B-40 rockets with boosters, eight chicom grenades (a slightly cumbersome grenade similar to the German ‘potato masher’ grenade with a long handle for greater throwing distance), two packs, medical equipment, food, three AK-47 magazines and personal gear.

          “0930H: A squad from Company G moving 100 meters south of Company G Command Post at AT830476 received small arms, B-40 and automatic weapons fire. The squad returned fire and assaulted the treeline (where the fire came from). Results: Two NVA KIA and capture of one RPG-2, one RPD machinegun (a light machine gun developed in the Soviet Union by one Vasily Degtyaryova, capable of delivering murderous fire by a skilled operator; RPD stands for Ruchnoy Pulemyot Degtyaryova), 11 B-40 rockets with boosters, six chicoms, two packs, food and miscellaneous documents.”

          There was obviously an increasing pattern of aggression and daring from both sides on this day in May, particularly on the part of the NVA. From just after midnight, according to the journal, the NVA started to probe the lines and harass the Marines of Golf Company. Echo, Fox and Hotel were also operating in this area of the Arizona Territory, and Echo Company was closest to Golf if they really needed a reactionary infantry force.

          Earlier in the month the first platoon of Echo Company had been hit pretty hard and was ravaged as a result of bloody and prolonged battling with NVA soldiers. As a result, they were missing a platoon sergeant. Sergeant (E-5) Bruce Olson from our platoon was sent to the first platoon on temporary duty to fill the void in their chain of command. Platoon sergeants are critical to the efficiency of any combat platoon. Basically, they are second in command of the platoon if something happens to the lieutenant in charge. Platoon sergeants keep the platoon moving when there is fighting and they keep the peace among the Marines. Incidents can usually be solved at the level of platoon sergeant long before it becomes a burdensome issue for the platoon commander. Olson would later become a pivotal Marine in turning back the NVA during a major assault on Echo’s first and second platoons as the story of May 15th slowly developed. In fact, Olson would win the Silver Star before that day was over.

          The significance of Sergeant Olson being loaned out to the first platoon was that I would take his place in second platoon for this portion of the operation. As a corporal at the time, my official assignment was the platoon guide; but in extreme shortages Marines learn to “adapt and overcome”, as the saying goes.  

          The guide is responsible for assisting the platoon sergeant to some extent, and to make sure the men of the platoon have the supplies they need such as food and ammunition. They will oversee the filling of water canteens when rationing is in order, and will help fellow Marines with small problems so they don’t wind up at the platoon sergeant’s doorstep.

          The guide might also be the person to get a Navy Corpsman up to a wounded Marine, or to take over as the platoon’s radioman if the operator should be put out of commission during a fight. In the end, we were all happy to act in whatever capacity it took at any given time, to accomplish our mission, and so for a bit we did some switching around.

The regimental journal entries continue for May 15, 1969:

          “1200H: A Company F patrol at AT833504 received small arms and M-79 fire from enemy at AT834503. (It was disturbing to us that the NVA also were armed with M-79 grenade launchers). Company F returned fire and searched the area. Results: One USMC WIA Evac.

          “1315H: A Marine en route to an observation post from Company H detonated a booby trapped 60mm with pressure detonation located on a trail at AT851501. Results: Two USMC WIA Evac.

          “1600H: Company G swept area at AT835475 finding NVA bodies and equipment. Results: Four NVA KIA and capture of one NVA map case, eight 82mm rounds, 20 chicom grenades and six AK-47 magazines.

          “1630H: Continuing aggressive sweep of area at AT826473, Company G received small arms and automatic weapons fire from the northeast. Contact soon became intense and spread to the northeast, northwest and southwest. Company G returned fire and assaulted the enemy positions but soon became pinned down by an estimated enemy force of 80 NVA well entrenched and firing small arms and automatic weapons.  Company G maintained contact until casualties required withdrawal for medivacs. Although gunships and OV-10’s (known as Bronco’s in Vietnam, the plane was used for observation and infantry support; I’m guessing the Bronco was a precursor to today’s A-10 Warthog that is built with similar features) fired suppression fire, medivac helicopters could not be called until after dark due to intense small arms and B-40 fire. At 2300H eight NVA attempted to infiltrate Company G’s perimeter but were driven back. Air and artillery were utilized throughout the night and contact was broken at 2330H (on May 16). Results: Eight U

          SMC KIA, twelve USMC WIA Evac, five USMC WIA Non-Evac, three NVA KIA and capture of 10 chicom grenades, three packs and medical equipment.”

          By this time, (going back to 1600 hours on May 15), the first and second platoons of Echo Company were dispatched to the fight to help relieve the pressure on Golf Company, which was surrounded by a battalion-sized NVA force. Sergeant Olson and the first platoon took a flanking position and maneuvered into the edges and tall grasses that surrounded Easter Ville (really a Hamlet), knowing that the enemy was poised and ready. Second platoon was led of course by First Lieutenant William Kirkpatrick.

          We headed for the Hamlet. The third platoon of Echo Company would remain grouped around the company CP (command post) about a half click away (500 meters) behind us in readiness status. Our Platoon approached in staggered formation and in chronological order; that is, first squad on point, then second squad with the lieutenant (Kirk) and his radioman close at hand, myself as Platoon Guide/Platoon Sergeant, a Navy Corpsman, and then the third squad bringing up the rear. Our objective was a small cluster of thatched, Vietnamese huts that we affectionately called “Easter Ville” during operations there in April.

          The next entry in the regimental journal for May 15 documents what second platoon stepped into once the main body of our formation reached the Hamlet. Our first squad had actually already swept completely through the Hamlet, and all 8 Marines were crossing a rice paddy and were fully exposed to any threat when it all broke lose.

          “1630H: While moving across an open rice paddy at AT832478, First Platoon Company E was taken under heavy enemy fire by forces 10 meters southwest of the point man. Second Platoon, Company E moved to aid First Platoon and was soon pinned down. The Company E Command Post with two tanks moved in to support its units. The tanks (M48A1’s armed with 90 MM guns) were taken under fire by accurate B-40 rockets and were rendered inoperable. Company E returned suppressive fire until all Marines could be pulled back. As the Company pulled back, they received 60mm mortar fire from an unknown mortar site. Supporting arms, air strikes and Spooky gunships were called (AC-130 gunships, also known as “Puff the Magic Dragon”). Results: Six USMC KIA, 16 USMC WIA Evac and 18 USMC WIA Non-Evac.”

          I was among the latter group of wounded Marines but able to stay in the field.

          Keep in mind that the log entries are short and to the point but encompass long periods of time in most cases. The source of information for the Marines back in the rear areas who were responsible for logging the day’s activities came from the commanders in the field. In this case, the after-action reports were an abbreviated collection of specific events that were sent back to An Hoa via PRC-25 radio transmissions. That job fell on the captains who were in charge of their companies and they received their information from the platoon commanders.  So, if a lieutenant or a captain was unable to perform due to an injury (or worse), then the job of briefing the rear by way of occasional “sit reps” (situation reports) flowed downhill to the company gunny, and so forth.

          The point is this: Though quick, short, and quite abbreviated, there are tons of bits of information that never got back to An Hoa in a “sit rep” and therefore was never entered into the daily journal of the 5th Marine Regiment. Tidbits of info was all that could be expected under the duress of battle, reports would have to be filed later, and real briefings would wait until the bosses in the bush, what remained of them, could get to their bosses in the rear with individual stories of bravery, body count, and the like.

          During the battle that quickly turned ferocious on the bloodied grounds of Easter Ville that day, First Lt. Kirkpatrick realized that the tanks sent in to help defend our positions had been rendered inoperable, just as the journal stated. However, the word ‘inoperable’ in this case meant that the tracks on both tanks were blown apart by B-40 rocket fire, making it impossible for them to advance into the field of combat.

          But, their 90 mm cannons and .50 caliber machine guns were in fine shape and fully fit for duty! All that was needed was for someone to tell the tank gunners where to direct their fire, and Lt. Kirkpatrick took on this important mission.

          Kirk knew that the first and second platoons were in dire straights and desperately in need of relief. The first squad of second platoon was hopelessly pinned down behind rice paddy dikes and most of those Marines had already been wounded or killed in action. We all knew the horrible situation first squad was in, and none of us were more concerned than the lieutenant who was already rushing towards the crippled tanks across 50 meters of exposed landscape with his radioman in tow. Mortar rounds exploded in the trees above Kirk, and bullets zipped through the Hamlet with that ugly “snapping” sound that no combat veteran ever forgets for the rest of their lives.

          The M48A1 has a phone on the backside of the tank so that someone on the outside of the hulk of steel can talk to the people inside. As soon as Kirk reached the first tank and the phone, he began issuing orders at the driver to turn his 90mm gun in the direction of an NVA stronghold that had our first squad pinned against the muddy dikes. Just then, a B-40 rocket burst with a tremendous blast of metal and dirt just a few meters from Kirk. Also at that exact moment, a bullet struck the lieutenant in the face through the bridge of his nose exiting his left eye (which I did not find out about until 41 years later), and he went down in a crumbled heap fighting his way through the tremendous pain that wracked his tattered head. He was alive, though, as the bullet took a path away from his brain; had Kirk been facing just a half inch in either direction he would certainly have perished from a horrible head wound.

          The fighting continued and Marines were running low on ammunition. Other men needed immediate attention to their wounds. Remember that one of the responsibilities of the platoon guide is to distribute vital ammunition and, since I was that person in the platoon, it was up to me to try and resupply the troops if I could. First, I needed to find some ammo, and perhaps a Navy Corpsman, and then make our way out to where the fire fight raged. It was my turn to run.

          I arrived at the two crippled tanks to find Lieutenant Kirkpatrick fighting for his life. The corpsman had laid Kirk down on his back, which caused blood and nasal fluids to run down his throat. I was told that a bullet had creased the bridge of his nose, which caused immediate traumatic shock to his entire head, and a tremendous amount of blood, bone and tissue threatened to completely block his airway. I was astounded to see that Kirk was still conscious. I would have thought that a concussion would be the very least outcome after being hit so hard. I also mused that he was lucky he wasn’t looking just a few degrees to the front and center, because that bullet probably would have entered his head right between the eyes and not across his nose.

          One of our corpsmen had already applied several hasty field dressings to Kirk’s head and was preparing to do an emergency tracheotomy, because the lieutenant could not catch a full breath as he gasped through the mess in his mouth and throat. But, Kirk was determined to clear his own airway by rolling over on his side and using his fingers and his own will to survive. I seriously do not know how he was able to accomplish this seemingly impossible task, but he did, and just in the nick of time, as the doc was a second away from making an incision. In an exhausted heap Lt. Kirkpatrick lay on the sandy soil of Easter Ville to await a medivac, along with many other wounded and dead Marines.

          There was very little ammunition available in the tanks that we could use for our Marines on the front lines.  The rest of Echo Company was up and moving towards us but they carried very little in the way of a full resupply of ammunition. The tanks’ guns were .50 caliber and so the bullets were useless to our men who carried the M-16 rifle, so all I could muster up from either of the tanks was a spare M-16 and a couple of magazines. Those belonged to one of the tank drivers who had been killed earlier when the tanks were assaulted with B-40’s. My find would be of little consolation to the men of the first squad who continued, somehow, to hold their own out in the open rice fields.

          Then, an amazing thing happened. Like right out of a movie about the Marines in combat, a PFC by the name of Arthur Villalobos who was a member of second platoon’s weapons squad, grabbed his M-60 machine gun and a couple belts of ammo and dashed across the Hamlet with absolutely no regard for his own safety. Villalobos was bound and determined to kill the NVA who had first squad pinned down in the rice. Diving into a position where he could steady the M-60 on its bipods, Villalobos laid down a field of fire like none of us had seen before. It was accurate, deadly, and it brought instant relief and protection to the Marines out in the embattled red zone. Villalobos tore fighting hole after fighting hole apart with the sticky stream of death that rattled from the barrel of his M-60. He did so until he eventually paid the ultimate price for his heroism; the NVA fired back and eventually killed Villalobos. For his actions that day, PFC Villalobos was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.

          Also, Sergeant Bruce Olson seized this opportunity to move the first platoon into a better position to defend it and second platoon from the enemy. Olson’s Silver Star citation reads, in part,

          “Sergeant Olson rapidly analyzed the tactical situation and quickly deployed his men to return fire upon the enemy positions. With complete disregard for his own safety, he repeatedly exposed himself to hostile fire as he moved form one position to another, directing the fire of his men. Upon the arrival of supporting tanks, Sergeant Olson fearlessly led his platoon across the fire-swept terrain in an effort to evacuate the casualties from the hazardous area and, despite the heavy volume of enemy fire, boldly boarded a tank and directed its fire at the enemy emplacements until the vehicle’s ammunition was depleted. Instructing the men to provide covering fire, he then supervised the evacuation of the wounded Marines.”

          Soon after Villalobos’ and Olson’s heroic actions the fighting waned. It was dark out by then and we were able to get our squad of Marines out of the rice paddies and into the relative security of the Hamlet we called Easter Ville. There was action around us still, but very limited. A rifle pop might be heard out in the distance, and artillery flares were shot out to us to decrease the blackness and provide some visibility. Ambushes were sent out for the night, and one of them was activated when some NVA soldiers came back to attempt to drag out their dead and wounded.

          The regimental journal would state that the next day many blood trails were found in areas where Echo and Golf Company had pounded it out with the NVA. Our two companies also located several bodies of the enemy, mostly NVA regulars in full uniform and some Viet Cong who dressed much more casually, of course. During our sweep of the battlefield and the surrounding areas, Echo Company suffered another setback on May 16th when one of the tanks that had been damaged the day before, and was now outfitted with fresh tracks, rumbled over a buried box mine that exploded with a tremendous roar. Here’s how the official regimental journal reads:

16 May 1969:

          “1133H: A tank supporting Company E detonated a pressure type 75 to 100 pound box mine. Results: Seven USMC WIA Evac and six USMC WIA Non-Evac.”

          This had been one hell of an operation for Echo (and Golf) Company, 2/5. In the two days of fighting Echo Company alone lost 6 killed in action, 23 wounded and evacuated, and 24 wounded that remained in the field. First Lieutenant William Kirkpatrick was well on his way to 1st Med in DaNang, and then to a hospital in Japan. I didn’t know if I’d ever see or hear from him again. I didn’t know if he would live through his ordeal. Sergeant Bruce Olson was on his way to 1st Med, too, and I suddenly found myself with a bunch of new friends in the second platoon command group. That’s how it goes in war.

          40 years came and went in a flash, it seemed. Through conversations with Bruce Olson, now living in Australia, I found out that Lieutenant Kirkpatrick had indeed survived his horrific wounds and that he was married, had kids, and was living in Pennsylvania. Apparently, Bruce and Kirk had occasion to get together a few times since May, 1969 and they had been corresponding regularly. I asked Bruce for Kirk’s e-mail address and he willingly obliged.

          I sent Kirk an e-mail right away and got a response back that day. The lieutenant’s message was friendly and full of humor. He had done well since his days in Vietnam and I wasn’t surprised. With his intellect I knew he could master anything. Kirk had regained his strength and his weight (in one of his e-mails he told me he had gotten down to 112 pounds at one point).

          Over the next couple of years I was included in all of Kirk’s e-mails that he sent around on a distribution list. Stuff like what was happening with the Marine Corps and patriotic musings by certain politicians or key personalities. You know, good stuff that all of us former Marines love to hear (remember, there is no such thing as an ex-Marine). By and by I got kind of curious as to the extent of Kirk’s injuries from Nam, but I was always afraid to just come out and ask him.

          In October, 2010 Kirk sent an e-mail out to Bruce and I. We were preparing to head to San Diego, California for a reunion of Echo Company 2/5 slated for early November. Kirk told us about another former Marine from Echo Company who had called him up on the phone, out of nowhere according to Kirk. 

          Dave Corona was the former Marine’s name, and he claimed to have also been in Easter Ville during our operation there. Dave was one of the WIA Evacuees on May 15 that the 5th regiment journal spoke of; Dave now lived in Salt Lake City, Utah and had heard about the reunion from a veteran’s magazine.

          Kirk included Corona’s phone number in the e-mail so I picked up the cell and I called Dave a couple days later. We spoke for just a few minutes, and then Dave told me something that sent chills up and down my spine and brought tears to my eyes. You see, Dave was with Kirk for many weeks in 1st Med back in DaNang and then at the same hospital in Japan where they recuperated. Dave knew about Kirk’s injuries; the last time I saw Kirk was when he left the field with bandages tied all around his head.

          So, curiosity getting the best me after forty-one years, I asked Corona what the final outcome was for the lieutenant.

          Corona seemed sort of surprised that I didn’t know this, but then he told me that Kirk was blind in one eye.

          The news of this struck me like a hammer, because I didn’t remember the outcome of his wounds to be that way at all. I thought it was a simple grazing on the bridge of Kirk’s nose, at least that’s what the corpsman had told me. I didn’t know the incident had actually blinded him in one eye. The other reason I was so shocked was that nobody had told me. Not Kirk, not Bruce Olson, not anyone. After all the correspondence with Kirkpatrick and Olson, no one had mentioned this to me. Of course, I never asked, either, so I only had myself to blame.

          My next e-mail to Kirk was to confirm Dave Corona’s story. His response back was this:

          “Pat – Dave was, indeed, quite voluble as he spoke to me. As you say, 41 years of memories that has not been reviewed with others. The fact that he counts me as a ‘fine Marine officer’ tells me that his memories are fading. I am completely unable to remember time in 1st Med as they had me doped up until I went to another hospital in Japan.

          “I was shot in the face through an eye. Lost total vision for several weeks but got back the use of one eye. Took me a bit of time to figure out depth perception but at least it was amusing for those around me. I count myself lucky as I’m still vertical after 41+ years.

          “Sounds like everyone will have memories flooding back in San Diego … good and bad. Most of us have moved on and put those difficult times behind us. We’ll need to remember the youngsters who we ‘left behind.’

          Keep well, Kirk”

          The reunion of Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines kicked off on November 3, 2010. It was held at the Handlrey Hotel in San Diego which is conveniently located right along Hwy 8, a mere couple miles from the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. My wife and I checked into the hotel at around four in the afternoon, and after stashing our things in the room I headed down towards the swimming pool area where our organizers had set up a hospitality room. 

          As I approached the gate to the pool I noticed Bruce Olson up ahead, and alongside of him a taller individual with well kept and lighter hair than I remembered. His back was to me, but I already knew that it must be Lieutenant Kirkpatrick. I called out something like, “Hey you two old-time Marines – Semper Fi!” They turned to face me, and we shook hands and hugged.

          Bruce looked pretty much the same as I pictured him in my mind over the past four decades, but just a bit older and graying. I would have known him anywhere.

          Kirk was different. He almost appeared shorter than I remembered, but frightfully skinny people do look taller than they really are. He was slender but at a normal weight. He wore clear glasses and I guess I was looking for a patch over his left eye – the blind side. Actually, it was hard to tell that the eye was even injured let alone unable to see.

          Upon closer scrutiny there was a ‘milkiness’ in the corner of the eye and I could tell that Kirk needed to favor the other one. But, for what had been an incredibly horrible injury, I would say he looked pretty darned good. I would not have recognized him if we had crossed paths on a street somewhere before this reunion. I was absolutely relieved to see that he wasn’t disfigured, and his demeanor from then on told me that he has dealt with the demons and has moved on with his life. And, that is what’s most important.

          The next four days were fantastic. About 20 former Marines from Echo Company showed up for the reunion. We toured Camp Pendleton and ate at the mess at the 5th Regiment Headquarters. We also went to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot and watched a graduation ceremony of almost 500 new Marines. There is a wonderful Marine museum there, and we also visited some vintage Quonset huts the likes of which most of lived in during boot camp back in the 60’s. The other Quonsets have been replaced by more modern barracks.

          My wife and I, Bruce Olson, Kirk, and Lynn and Joyce Dixon pretty much chummed together during the periods when we were on our own. It wasn’t a long enough cluster of days, though, and I can’t wait for the next reunion which is scheduled for 2012, probably in Quantico, VA. Some of us will be getting together before then, rest assured, because the bond that forms between fellow combat Marines is incredibly strong.

          Kirk is right when he says, “The important thing is that we are all still vertical after 40+ years.” And, we will never forget those Marines who did not make it back alive.

          “Semper Fidelis” is much more than a Marine tag line – it’s really a way of life. And, I thank you, Kirk, for helping me get through Viet Nam.

By Pat Lisi/Southern Utah Vets Aid

One Response to “1st Lt. William Kirkpatrick”

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