Marine felt “lucky to make it out alive” from Vietnam, Cuban Missile Crisis

At this site I mostly post stories I’ve written from interviews with World War II vets. Many people think those are the only vets I interview. Due to my association with another military-related publication, I have interviewed dozens of vets of all eras/branches, including Korean War, Vietnam War, post-911 and everything in between.

This publication is issued three times a year with 10 stories of mine in each. I’m always seeking vets to interview. If you are a veteran who would like to tell me your story, please contact me using the form at this site. I believe every veteran has a story that is part of our national heritage and deserves to be recorded.

This is a story I wrote about a Marine—I’ve only interviewed a handle from this branch. Not sure why as I’m interested in everything they do. If you have a request for a certain military era/ branch, let me know. I’ll post non-WWII stories occasionally.

Thanks to every veteran from my family for your service to our country!

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For the 13 months of his tour of duty in Vietnam, R.D. ‘Skip’ Esmond of Bluffton, Indiana, helped maintain American forces with the American Marine Corps Combat Base at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). North Vietnamese soldiers camped along the other edge of the demilitarized zone.

The DMZ served as an unofficial dividing line between North and South Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, it separated northern and southern Vietnamese territories.

“The enemy hit us with a lot of mortars,” he said. “Artillery and rockets blew up a lot. I felt lucky to make it out alive.”

Esmond was born in 1931. After graduating from Petroleum High School in 1949, he enlisted in the US Marine Corps.

Esmond was part of a patriotic family. His father, Richard James Esmond, had been a soldier in the Army after WWI, while other relatives served in World War II.

Esmond was sent to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, SC, for basic training. “I was rated a Sharpshooter with the rifle and Expert with the .45 pistol,” he said. He also learned to shoot an M1 Garand, though he had some problems with his drill instructor. “He liked to punch me,” he said.

At the airfield at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in Havelock, North Carolina, Esmond was taught how to be an aircraft mechanic. “We worked on F4’s, F9s, and F2s,” he said. In 1952 Esmond transferred to a duty station in Erie, Pennsylvania, for independent duties.

Staff Sergeant Esmond could then have transferred to Miami, but he had met the woman who would become his wife. Skip and Mary married in 1953.

The Marines kept Skip Esmond in Erie until 1956 when he was transferred to the 3rd Engineer Battalion in Okinawa. By then, the Esmonds were parents to a baby son, so Mary and Baby Tim stayed in Erie close to her family. “During this time, I was paid $147 a month and Mary received $96 each month,” he said.

Esmond stayed in Okinawa with no leave through November 1957. In early 1958 he was transferred to Jacksonville, FL, where he served as an administrative chief in the squadron office until 1960.

At Camp Lejuene, today referred to as Marine Corps Base Camp, in Jacksonville, North Carolina, Esmond joined the 2nd Marines in the Infantry. In 1962 Esmond saw more than the US when he participated in a six-month Mediterranean cruise.

While aboard ship in October of that year, Esmond and other sailors were made aware of events happening around the world surrounding President Kennedy and the Cuban missile crisis.

An American spy plane had secretly discovered nuclear missile sites being built by the Soviet Union on the island of Cuba, 90 miles south of the US.

After discussions with political advisors, Kennedy placed a blockade of ships around Cuba, effectively preventing the Soviets from bringing in more military supplies. He also demanded the removal of missiles on the island and the destruction of the sites.

For 13 days the world waited to see how Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev would respond to the American aggression. Thankfully, he agreed to dismantle the weapon sites and the US agreed not to invade Cuba.

It was a tense time in our nation’s history, but Esmond said he was not scared. “Mary was nervous, but she knew where I was,” he said.

Esmond left Marine Head Quarters to accept a transfer in Washington DC where he worked with joints chief of staff in Intelligence. During this time, Esmond was promoted to gunny sergeant, then received a commission to 2nd Lieutenant.

Esmond spent three years in the nation’s capital before receiving orders to go to Vietnam. Esmond joined the 4th Battalion, 12th Marine Artillery at the DMZ at Dong Ha.

Esmond’s last tour was at Camp Smith in HI as a casualty reporting officer. His family, which now included two sons, joined him until May 1970 when Skip Esmond, who had been promoted to Captain, chose to leave the marines.

“I had put in 21 years and done well with promotions,” he said. “But the boys were starting high school and Mary and I wanted them to be in a stable environment.”

The Esmonds moved to his hometown of Bluffton and purchased a home where they continue to live. Skip worked for city utilities for 43 years, retiring as manager in 2013. Son Tim graduated from Bluffton High School in 1974, while another son Hank graduated from the school in 1976.

Today, Skip Esmond is thankful for his adventurous life as a Marine. “I saw a lot of the world, including the Asia, Europe, Hawaii, and countries we visited on our Mediterranean cruise,” he said. “I loved it and thought I had it made. I think everyone should join the Marines because they are so well trained.”

The End

 

Cutline: First Lieutenant Skip Esmond of Bluffton holds a photo taken of him in 1968 receiving a commendation medal for serving in the American military as a Marine. Esmond served from 1949-1970.

 

 

 

 

 

B-29 Gunner Flew 33 Missions; Met FDR

Homer Bates 1943

Homer Bates flew B-29s during WWII

In 1942, after enlisting with the Army Air Corps and testing high for skills needed to work with aircraft, Homer Bates of Markle, IN, was assigned to the 20th Air Force 58th Bomber Wing. His assigned duties would be manning a gun turret on a B29. As B29s were still in production, gunners practiced on B17 simulators since they had similar controls. When it came time to practice shooting, the gunners experienced a problem.

“Several of us were told to shoot painted ammo simultaneously at a banner flying behind a tow plane,” he said. “It served as a moving target and we were judged on our shooting abilities. At first the judges could not tell whose shots went where. So we were given ammo painted different colors. The judges could then tell by colors of holes which gunners needed more practice.”

His first mission over Japan took place June 1944. “For more than a year it was a steady routine of dropping bombs and encountering enemy fighters and heavy accurate flak,” he said. His longest mission to Nagoya lasted 18 hours. During the war, Bates flew 33 missions over Japan in B29s.

In February 1944 Bates’ crew was ordered to fly a B29 Typhoon McGoon III to Washington D.C. No reason was given for the special trip. Upon landing at Bolling Field, the crew commander was met by General Hap Arnold and his staff. Each of the crew members was greeted and asked to explain the aircraft so he could brief the president. The following morning the crew was completing their pre-flight check of equipment when they saw a limousine pull up beside the plane, along with an official-looking motorcade. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had arrived!

He and members of his family began questioning the crew about the aircraft. Anna Roosevelt Boettiger and her two teenaged children, Eleanor and Curtis, went into the nose section and asked questions of the crew. “It was obvious she was well versed about the plane,” said Bates.

The president remained in the vehicle but appeared pleased with the aircraft. “That was perhaps the only time the President ever saw a B29,” said Bates. Considering that the B29 project cost $3 billion and the A-bomb $2 billion, the president’s approval was a relief to the crew. The president ended the session by shaking hands with each crew member.

bates-medals-table

Staff sergeant Bates was discharged November 2, 1945. For his bravery and contribution to the war effort he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and several other medals. In 1990 the Chinese Air Force recognized Bates’ efforts and sent him a certificate of appreciation.

bates-chin-af-doc

Military life had gotten into Bates’ blood. He joined the Indiana Air National Guard from 1954-1961. He re-joined the Air Force, spent a year in France during the Berlin Wall Crisis, then re-joined the Air National Guard full time until 1982, retiring as a Master Sergeant.

I was privileged to include Homer’s story in my book, WWII Legacies: Stories of Northeast IN Veterans. Homer is my husband’s uncle and in recent years we became good friends. Sadly, Uncle Homer passed away in Nov. 2016. We often thanked him for his service. As my husband and son have both served in the Air Force, they always had lots to talk about!