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.

 

 

 

 

 

Funeral of a Soldier

Thx to all who served sign

Ever attend the funeral of someone you don’t know? Yesterday I did so and it affected me greatly.

I don’t mean it was a long-ago friend of my husband’s or one of my kids’ teachers. This person was not related to me or acquainted with anyone I know.

Why would I attend a funeral for someone so distant from me? Because he was a Vietnam-era veteran with no family.

James Beavers served 1963-1966– it was not in Vietnam but the specs of where he served are unknown. Here is the obit from D.O. McComb & Sons Lakeside Park Funeral Home:

James Beavers , 74, passed away Monday, November 23, 2015 in Fort Wayne. He was a US Army Vietnam-era War Veteran. He has no surviving family. Funeral Service is 2:00 pm, December 17, 2015 at – D.O. McComb & Sons Lakeside Park Funeral Home, 1140 Lake Avenue with calling from noon until service time. Burial in Riverview Cemetery, Churubusco, Indiana with military honors.

Reporters uncovered other tidbits of information about Mr. Beavers:

He was a disabled Vietnam War Veteran, who held the rank of Private. He was an orphan, originally from Marion, Ind. He was never married, and never had children. He was honorably discharged. Where he worked (if he worked) after the war is a mystery. As the Brits say, ‘He kept himself to himself.’

After 3 weeks of searching for family to claim Mr. Beavers’ body for burial, no one came forward.

The Allen County coroner finally gave up. Thankfully, a local funeral home offered to conduct a funeral for Mr. Beavers and invited the public to attend to show their respect for him and his service.

Estimates of possibly (I’d say probably) more than 1,000 people – many from out of state—were there.

People of all ages attended the funeral. A woman I would suspect was close to 90 years old sat in front of me. A family with a baby sat beside me. Lots of teens were there, which was refreshing, as well as dozens of law enforcement and military groups. It was crowded but everyone was patient and kind.

The funeral lasted about 45 minutes. People prayed and a woman sang a beautiful rendition of ‘Amazing Grace’. There were even bagpipes.

The internment with military burial was in a town about 45 minutes away. From news reports apparently many people attended that as well.

Keep in mind it was the middle of a weekday a week before Christmas. Everyone there, including me, probably still has shopping to complete for next week.

Ouabache display night Iwo

Obviously, we all felt it was worth our time to show respect for this veteran that had no social connections. None of us had anything to gain by being there.

As part of a military family, it was a privilege to honor Mr. Beavers by attending his funeral. I don’t know how he would have felt about it, had he known thousands of complete strangers would walk past his casket, most stopping for a moment and many adding a salute.

Hopefully, he would have been okay with that.

Still, it bothers me to think we may still have vets forgotten and feeling they are unappreciated. It may have been the way Mr. Beavers wanted to live, though it could not have been healthy for him to be behind doors much of his later years of life.

Perhaps people did try to reach out and were rebuffed. Perhaps things happened to Mr. Beavers while in military service that disturbed him so much he could not deal with people after the war.

Having had the privilege of interviewing a few Vietnam vets, I’ll say that I wish that period of American history could be re-written.

I wish we would have treated our vets more respectfully. As one Vietnam veteran I stood next to in line for viewing told me, “When I got off the boat in San Francisco, I didn’t know Americans protested our part in the war. That changed as soon as a man spit on me.”

This veteran went on to say he made it easier for the spitter to spit in the future (draw your own conclusions).

But he added that he went to Vietnam because in this country people are allowed to protest.

That’s freedom.

Ouabache display night knee

It was not prudent or, in my opinion American, for the protester to spit on a soldier, but he was afforded the opportunity to stand on the street and publicly acknowledge something about our government he didn’t agree with because our government allows him to do so.

I repeat, that’s freedom. It’s not something every country offers in this world and I’m proud of our nation for still offering that freedom today 50 years later. I don’t take that for granted and hope you don’t either.

I just wish all of our vets could find peace with our responses to their service.

I’ve said it before and I’ll keep repeating it. Thank a veteran. Better yet, go see him/her and make an effort to be their friend or at least someone who shows respect for their military service.

If any veteran reads this, please know the family of this writer appreciates what you have done for our country.

Thank you.