It was my high honor to participate in yet another Vietnam Program with The Greatest Generations Foundation, thanks to founder Timothy Davis.
This program proved to be exceptional because among the outstanding participants was Captain Dale Dye, a legendary Marine and film star/military movie advisor. He was, and remains special to me because of his advisory role in the movie Forrest Gump.
You see, in the Vietnam portion of that movie, Forrest, Lt. Dan and Bubba’s roles were portraying infantry soldiers with the 47th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, which was my exact ole combat unit.
I was most anxious to meet Captain Dye to discuss Forrest Gump and ask how it was decided that segment would feature the 47th Infantry. He explained that the filming location’s terrain reminded him of the Mekong Delta and that’s where the 47th and 39th Infantry Regiments patrolled back in 1967.
He personally chose the 47th because it sounded way more cool. Rightfully so, I told him.
I also mentioned to Captain Dye that the uniform Forrest Gump wore for his Medal of Honor ceremony is the exact same uniform I have hanging in my closet. The same buck sergeant stripes, 9th Infantry Division patch, 47th Infantry shield, infantry blue cord (fourragère); all the same but of course minus the Medal of Honor.
As we retraced these Marine War journalist’s (dubbed Snuffies) footsteps, I found the clarity of their memories of key events quite amazing.
Captain Dye, Mike Stokey and Steve Berntson walked us through block by block of their battle in Hue during the 1968 Tet Offensive, with Dye taking the lead.
He explained how their unit had crossed a main bridge headed into Hue to investigate a so-called Buddhist uprising.
Once their company crossed that bridge, the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) blew up the bridge thus trapping them from the main body of the Marines. They soon discovered, there was no Buddhist disturbance, but instead they encountered an NVA hard core fighting unit consisting of 4,000 communist soldiers.
And so instead they were faced with urban warfare fighting building by building, and block by block; not exactly the jungle-fighting that they had trained for.
These brave Marines were war journalists, but in Hue during the 1968 Tet Offensive they had to virtually fight for their very lives and for each other.
It became quite emotional as Steve Berntson described what happened at the exact location where he was seriously wounded and a good buddy paid the ultimate sacrifice. It hit these tough Marines pretty hard standing right there remembering their fallen brothers.
Captain Dye stood at the exact corner of the same building he had pulled up to, to blaze away at an NVA machine gunner half a block away. Little did he know at the time that there was roof top sniper who had him in his sights. The next thing he knew a bullet blasted into his M16 stock nearly taking off his thumb and driving a plastic shard into his chin and through his tongue.
Dye explained, and even chuckled how he stood there spitting out blood and gurgling while trying to speak with his tongue pinned to his mouth’s bottom. This is one tough Marine I’ll tell ya.
By the way, Dye’s bullet holes are still seen in the block wall where that NVA machine gunner had crouched in February 1968.
As the three Marines revealed their stories of fallen brothers and the raw horror and randomness of combat, it was obvious revisiting that place will leave long lasting memories.
As for me, I realize that this country of Vietnam strangely lays deep in my soul and I believe this is also very true for these courageous Marines.
Bill Reynolds is one of the “Boys of ‘67,” Charlie Company, 4th/47th, 9th Infantry Division and director of veterans affairs for The Signal.