The last post here was a fictional account of a soldier returning from the Vietnam War. This post is a letter written by a Vietnam War Veteran. I have not changed a single word.
While going through my diary I ran across a letter I wrote shortly after returning from Vietnam and thought it might be of interest to some who would take the time to read it or not. Let me know what you think.
I am a Marine and from the day I entered boot camp in 1964 I was taught that Marines are fearless. From the moment I landed in Danang Vietnam in October of 1967 I feared for my life. Can I put a date on incidents that increased that fear no not really. The memories of my thirteen months in Vietnam are locked away in my mind. On occasion when I am asked to remember those days I do so with reluctance.
My first thought of dying was probably in November of 1967 when the sirens went off and I heard the screaming sound of rockets overhead and the explosions of 120mm rockets as they impacted on the flight line. I grabbed my rifle and helmet and ran for the bunkers on the flight line in the revetments. I didn’t think it was possible for anyone to run that fast. With my fellow Marines we dashed the hundred yards to the bunkers as rockets landed all around us. When the rockets struck the shrapnel flew around us, it was pieces of fiery gold metal, and somehow we ran faster. On one occasion a rocket struck an aircraft ahead of me and the explosion knocked me back. I dodged to the right and angled to the bunker away from the exploding A-6.
These attacks occurred on an irregular basis throughout my tour.
On one occasion when I ran for my position at the bunker at the entrance to our hangars a rocket struck the aviation fuel tank 29 yards from the command bunker and the tank exploded and burned all night long. The sides of the tank seemed to melt as the tank collapsed. I remember seeing a man on a bicycle pedaling by as if the devil himself was chasing him. We laughed at the time but I thought afterwards how I emphasized with the man and felt his fear.
On a weekly basis I would travel to the Air Force’s side of Danang’s airfield and I saw the open sided sheds that were 15’ high and filled with shiny aluminum caskets. They were the dead waiting to be transported back home. That sight still haunts me as I think of the 50,000 men killed in a futile war.
I remember hearing that a truce was declared between the North Vietnamese and the US only no one told the Viet Cong. They kept on attacking. In January of 1968 during Vietnam’s Tet or New Years the Viet Cong began a massive assault on South Vietnam. We heard they had overrun Hue and several other Marine bases. Our turn came shortly after. The rocket attacks intensified, on one occasion the rockets struck all around as we were in the chow hall. I dropped my utensils and ran for the nearest bunker. I tripped on the wooden sidewalks leading to the bunker, falling face down and splitting my lip when my teeth smashed through my lip. My partners scooped me up and carried me to the bunker and later to the medical center where the Corpsman stitched my lip . I remember him saying “Your mouth is dirtier than your asshole!” When he saw the startled look on my face he said there were more germs on my lips than on my anus
My friends joked that I should get Purple Heart for being injured during combat. I thought of all the Marines out in the jungles being wounded and killed by bullets and booby traps and thought my injury paled in comparison to their traumas.
One night during a rocket attack a missile struck the bomb dump at the end of the runway and blew down dozens of our tin roof screen sided huts. There was a mushroom cloud rising into the sky and I thought they had finally gone the final step and dropped an Atomic bomb on us and I would surely die a horrible death from the radiation. Shortly after they hit the Flare dump in the same area and I saw the most spectacular fireworks show I had ever seen. We were standing on the top of our bunker between our huts photographing the explosion dressed in our underwear, a flak jacket and helmet when the First Sergeant came up to us and told us to get our ass’s inside the bunker. Shrapnel was whizzing all about us piercing the side of our hut and the sandbags of our bunker. I still have pieces of shrapnel as a reminder of how close I came to being maimed or killed.
When the Viet Cong over ran the base we ran to our bunkers on top of the revetments and began shooting at the black pajama clad Viet Cong as they ran down the run way caring satchel bombs to throw under our aircraft. Suddenly bullets started striking the metal below our sand bags. We discovered it wasn’t the Viet Cong shooting at us, it was the Air force. I thought that it would be a hell of a thing to be killed by “friendly fire.”
Speaking of “friendly fire” shortly after Martin Luther King was killed back in the States a black soldier went berserk and began firing a M-79 grenade launcher into our living area scaring the hell out of me and every other Marine in the area. Fortunately he was captured before he could complete his revenge attack on the “white people” who had assassinated his hero. Was I scared, hell yes I was scared every day I was “in country.”
The last thirty days were the worst. Rumor had it that more men were killed in the month before they rotated back then any other day of their tour. The happiest day of my life was when the plane carrying me home lifted off the runway in December of 1968. When I flew over the San Francisco bay to land at the SF airport a lady commented on how muddy the water was and I said “yes it is but it’s my home and I’m so glad to be back here alive and not in a silver box!”
My first wife can testify to my lingering fears; when a siren would go off and I would jump out of bed and run for the door. She caught me and held me till the fear and shaking stopped. My second wife can tell you how movies about the war in Vietnam would ignite those old fears so bad that she wouldn’t allow me to watch those films.
I was in Country during the intense spraying of “Agent Orange” to defoliate the jungles to expose the trails and hiding spots of the Viet Cong. Did this cause the degenerative nerve disease Multiple Sclerosis? I don’t know and I don’t think my Neurologist Doctor Joanna Cooper can say for certain. The cause of MS is still unknown but the possibility is there.
I returned to the States in December of 1968 and was advised I would get an early out in December instead of May 1969. I was still credited with a full four years of service. I received a letter from Sgt Major at Treasure island advising me that Marine Corp in its infinite wisdom promoted me to Staff Sergeant, added a metal and then invited me to Treasure Island to accept the stripes and ribbon. I declined seeing an re-enlistment pitch coming.
David R. Evans USMC 2113468
David R. Evans-6580
USMC 1964-1968 Semper Fi
Our guest today is Mark R. Clifford
A Proud fourth-generation San Franciscan, Mark is the second-born in an Irish Catholic family of seven, making him a self-proclaimed expert in the pseudoscience of birth order characteristics. He served in the Marine Corps infantry for ten years and as a Police Officer for over a quarter-century. TYPHOON COAST tells the story of what haunts him.
In the Marines, he rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant. Mark received Special Operations training while attached to the 3d Marine Division in Okinawa and was operating in the Philippines in 1991 during the historic eruption of Mount Pinatubo. His law enforcement career was equally eclectic. He rose to the sergeant’s rank and served in a myriad of assignments to include SWAT and undercover narcotics.
Mark still calls the San Francisco Bay Area home. He and his wife have been married for almost thirty years and have raised three beautiful children. He has written for the San Jose Mercury, Contra Costa Times, San Leandro Times, and read his works at the famous Cody’s Books in Berkeley.
Mark, we have a few questions about TYPHOON COAST and your writing history. To begin with, what genre or genres do you write in? I work mainly in adventure fiction, magical realism, and historical fiction.
Please tell us a bit about your book.
Ten-year-old Trent McShane watches in horror as his beautiful young mother is swept away from California’s Typhoon Coast into the unforgiving wild blue Pacific, never to be seen again. Lost and bewildered, Trent falls under the spell of class clown Eddie Thompson, who has a wanderlust for treasure hunts—in particular, the infamous World War II Golden Lily Treasure, buried on the other side of the ocean, deep in the wild green Philippine jungle.
Together, Trent and Eddie follow childhood illusions of grandeur through San Francisco, then become men in the vast Philippine mountains. Mount Pinatubo explodes with apocalyptic fury, but does it take the Golden Lily Treasure with it? Eddie and Trent are not alone in the hunt. The trillions in treasure could afford the US government incredible power in international affairs and bankroll the nation’s black operations. It’s all fair game.
Typhoon Coast is a rollicking ride through 1980s San Francisco, through the vibrant eyes of a boy who loses his mother, and then his innocence. In the jungles of the Philippines, in the 1990s, that boy becomes a man, falls in love, and begins a lifelong quest for a mythical treasure trove hidden in the canopy. Magical realism and romanticism merge with the hard, cold reality of a Marine’s life to reveal a glimpse into how the imagination conspires to keep us dreaming.
When did you realize you wanted to write novels? After twenty-six years, I retired from police work as a Sergeant on June 1st, 2020. Sadly, I watched a massive mob loot and burn the town I served from one end to another. I had friends die on those streets. Friends become disabled; their dreams cut short. Police officers live many lifetimes. It is common to live a lifetime in one shift—all a single life’s emotions wrapped up in a unique tour.
I lost a friend and fellow writer on those streets. He was savagely gunned down. As I folded the flag over his coffin, I promised I’d write a novel. I started soon after.
How long did it take you to realize your dream of publication? Sharing my work with the world was always part of the plan. As the writing process ended, the marketing began. I quickly realized that the publishing industry was changing, and I had to make my luck.
Are you traditionally published, indie published, or a hybrid author? Next step! I am not the smartest guy. But I am stupidly ambitious. I found a guy (now friend) who wanted to give indie publishing a shot. I put the magic on paper, and Greg put his spell on the computer. It was a joint operation, and we were pretty proud of Typhoon Coast the day she was born.
Where do you write? I write from where I am in life. I went from being an altar boy and an Eagle Scout to being a Marine and a cop. I work at my computer in the family room every morning at 6:30. Writing is not a discipline for me; writing is something I serve.
I reach for my hot cup of black coffee in a military veteran mug that my kids gave me for Christmas years ago. The computed screen glows in a dark room. My dog sleeps on the couch behind me. I like quiet; however, I don’t need it. Technically, I was not a true feral child raised by wolves, but I’m Irish-Catholic, and I was the second oldest in a family of seven children—I got peace like I got stigmata.
The world is still quiet at six-thirty—a treat.
I remember my dreams from the night before. I still dream about the jungle and the streets. The concerns of the day will begin in a couple of hours. At six-thirty, the story I serve weaves itself into the rules of my craft. I am its servant.
How much of your plots and characters are drawn from real life? Henry David Thoreau wrote, “How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.” I will never claim that Typhoon Coast is an autobiography. On the other hand, every single detail has a pure life nexus. A writer must write from a place they know.
Sadly, at twenty-six, I was wealthy beyond imagination.
The Philippines is a nation of 7,641 islands and just as many spectacles. June 1991, I was a Marine stationed on Luzon, the chain’s largest island, where fate had ushered me to a front-row seat to an epic adventure. While enduring the fatigue of jungle patrol, I’d befriended a Filipino selling machetes. He’d disclosed to me the suspected whereabouts of a treasure trove rumored to be near the top of the now-infamous Mount Pinatubo.
There is much history about this legendary Golden Lily Treasure, as well as intrigue behind its origin. My new cohort and I soon took a jarring jeepney ride, to board a slow-sinking banca boat that ferried us back to the boonies, where we footslogged toward Pinatubo’s Vesuvius splendor, to unearth our riches in Luzon’s lawless wilderness.
Treasure hunting is rousing. I don’t need to bother you with the intricate details of how the machete man read a series of etchings in rocks, or how we avoided a bottle as if it was a landmine because the Japanese filled Saki bottles with deadly gas to protect the cemented entrances from looters. But we’d found the sealed cave! I could smell the perfume of my soul within…that undeniable fragrance of one’s hopes and dreams. The bigger problem was staying alive to claim it. However, in the end, it didn’t matter. A few days later, I was back on filthy jungle patrol. I tasted the unmistakable lure of treasure that had seeped into my nose and caked to the back of my tongue, as I watched Pinatubo’s cataclysmic eruption blow 500 feet of its summit twenty-two miles into the wild blue yonder.
Typhoon Coast was inspired by the second-largest volcanic eruption of the twentieth century, which blew my life of opulence to oblivion. I have since raised a family and was a cop for more than twenty-five years. I plan on writing two more books based upon the adventures of Typhoon Coast’s main character, Trent McShane. We will follow his life of dramatic happenstance, as he is plucked off his beat and back into the Marines, seizing opportunities to right his life’s tragic wrongs on the trail of a high-stakes mission.
Describe your process for naming your characters? One of the biggest problems with man is that we name everything we see! A “name” is a label that simplifies very complicated things. For example, “Man” is a word that reduces a person’s biology, psychology, genetics, and personal history to three letters. I have lost lots of friends whom I immortalize throughout Typhoon Coast. Their loved ones will recognize them.
Real settings or fictional towns? Why? Create a world that your reader will understand and do it early. I learned something important about storytelling as a young cop. I’d lose my audience at body number two in a multiple homicide story. It wasn’t that I couldn’t tell a dramatic tale; it was that the subject matter was just too remote for a reasonable person to grasp. Now try telling a story about being buried alive in quaking cataclysmic volcanic eruption while a typhoon raged outside. An actual apocalypse that blackened out the sun. They just can’t connect. As a result, I create composite settings and situations to better reach my reader. They are not looking for me. I’m looking for them.
What’s the best book you’ve ever read? I rarely read for pleasure today. I write. I do read voraciously to see how others have written. I have bookshelves uniformly fitted with tattered books that profoundly influenced my inner writer. Drum roll…. The best book I ever read (and recommend to fellow artists) …. Ready for the big reveal?
Answer: The Moon and Sixpence is a novel by W. Somerset Maugham, told in episodic form by a first-person narrator, in a series of glimpses into the mind and soul of the central character Charles Strickland, a middle-aged English stockbroker who abandons his wife and children to pursue his desire to become an artist.
BUT! Don’t run out and buy it. It’s available through my website and Amazon.
What’s in the future for you and your writing? To continue to write, of course. A story can be told from many perspectives.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and/or your books? Stay tuned for Barbary Coast: Fly from Evil to be released in 2021!
Website and/or blog links: www.typhooncoast.com