Marines sent to Vietnam enlisted 50 years ago
Angela Cooper-McCorkle photo
Walter Scott at home in Everett last week. He is among five in the Evergreen State Platoon from this county.
EVERETT — Bill Davis and Walter Scott were 19 when they volunteered to serve in Vietnam. They left home young men, returned villains in the eyes of many against the war, and became heroes over the decades.
The teenagers had barely ventured into adulthood before they and 78 other Washingtonians joined the all-volunteer Evergreen State Platoon 3041 assembled in 1968.
Davis, who hailed from Monroe, needed a change of scenery in a serious way.
“I was kind of in trouble with alcohol and with the law a little bit, and I got encouraged by our judge … that I probably should join the military, so I did. My brother was in the Marine Corps and always my hero, so I thought, well, I’ll just be a Marine,” Davis said.
Scott, meanwhile, was an Everett Community College student about to lose his deferment. He decided to take control and enlist voluntarily.
The Air Force and Navy were already at quota, so when the Marine recruiter told Scott he could make no promises but that he would never lie to him, Scott was sold.
The platoon proved their mettle early on, winning 11 of 12 pennants in training exercises at boot camp and the title of honor platoon.
“I was going to change the world, we were going to make a difference, be heroes and save the day,” Davis said.
Most of his peers went into the infantry, but Scott scored high on proficiency exams dealing with munitions, and ended up working with bombs, rockets and missiles.
Once deployed, the days were grueling: Scott spent 12-hour shifts at Chu Lai Air Base on the strip where temperatures could hit 140 degrees.
“It was 365 days of sheer boredom and two minutes of sheer panic,” Scott said.
Scott’s “two minutes of panic” came when the Viet Cong attacked the base, striking its water tower. The tower was ringed with railroad ties. The wood shattered, spraying projectiles through the air. When Scott put his face to his hand, it came away bloody.
He’d taken a shard to the mouth.
Still, life on the base was not like the “ground pounding” Marines like Davis did around Da Nang, Scott said.
“We were on the move all the time, carried everything we owned,” 60 or 70 pounds worth, “wading through rice paddies and mud, elephant grass and crud. Then the whole freaking world blew up and we’d be in a firefight,” Davis said.
Davis spent two-and-a-half months in Vietnam, and nearly six in a hospital.
An explosion only three feet away left him full of shrapnel and in danger of losing an eye. He recalls being dead for a few minutes, a transformative experience that led him to later become a preacher.
He kept the eye and slowly healed after 120 stitches in his face.
Both men were reassigned to lighter duty to finish their terms. Davis was sent to Hawaii and Scott was sent to Whidbey Island.
They returned changed, but they returned alive. Six platoon members did not: Mike Duffy, Donald Heider, Craig Hemphill, Daniel Minor, David Smith and John Smith were all killed in action.
Minor was among the three platoon members from Everett; he was killed at age 19 on Feb. 27, 1969.
Scott still visits Minor’s grave in Everett and leaves flowers in his memory.
Homecoming was bittersweet. The threat of imminent death ended, but the fear of it did not. Platoon members still struggle with PTSD. And their return was not a warm one, as Scott and Davis keenly recall.
“I flew into a California air base and out (by) the fence they were throwing bags of dog (feces),” Scott said.
Davis hid his service.
“You didn’t dare tell anybody because it was terrible, people would ask me ‘where you been?’ Oh, out of town,” he’d say.
The two made meaning out of their painful return home, vowing they would never allow such treatment of future veterans.
Scott experienced the transformation as his son returned from duty in Iraq to an inspiring reception.
Looking back at the fall of Saigon in 1975, the war’s end, Scott calls it a conflict “driven by oil and greed.”
Davis was stricken. “Oh my gosh that was horrible, what a waste, 58,000 young men died for nothing, that’s how I felt: awful, horrible.”
Davis and Scott returned home traumatized, but carried with them a camaraderie and strength of character that has survived the decades.
“For those of us that lived through the Vietnam War, those were difficult times. It was extremely brave of these men to volunteer to go in harm’s way. These volunteers are true heroes,” said state Sen. Barbara Bailey, a Republican of Oak Harbor on the Washington Joint Committee on Veterans’ and Military Affairs, in an email.
Davis returned recently from a veteran’s trip to Washington, D.C. When he disembarked from his return flight, he was greeted by hundreds cheering for him.
“That was the first time in 50 years I felt honored, Davis said, and “I get goosebumps thinking about it. It’s like being pissed off at somebody for 50 years, and finally forgiving them, what a relief.”
On July 12, the platoon will convene in Olympia for a 50th reunion.
For more on Bill Davis, the veteran turned preacher has written a book about his experiences, “Twice Dead Now I Live.”
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