Warren Wilson, just after arriving incountry

Warren Wilson, USMC Combat Photographer, 1st Marine Division November 1966-December 1967. I now live in Lanham, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC. I work as a Digital Lab Technician for the National Geographic Society. I’ve worked there for the past 33 years.

In all, I participated in 13-15 combat operations. Some operational names are clear; others are not. As a combat photographer, my general mission was to document on film the lives of Marines as they conducted their duties, with a strong focus on combat search and destroy missions.

Left to Right (Sitting): Warren Wilson (AL), Brumley, Ron Curry (NC), Joe McClory (Boston), WOII Huntley, 2nd Lt. McKay, GySgt. Jones, MJ Smedley (OK?), Ken McIntosh, RJ Smith (Cleveland)

Left to Right (Standing): Charles Aker (IL), Clark D. Thomas (Detroit), Don Sullivan (CA), Benson, Sgt. WF Dickman (Buffalo, NY), Brusch, SSgt. Broussard, Speckles, SSgt. Upton, GySgt. Dietz

Operation SWIFT

As a photographer, I carried only a pistol for protection. Rifles were burdensome and got in the way of my cameras. Carrying only a pistol allowed me more freedom to move about. I was there to document the action, not to get into the action. All that changed for me on September 4, 1967.

Some details of that first day of Operation SWIFT are still a bit blurry. I do not remember the helilift into the landing zone; I do not remember the tear gas coming back on us; I do not remember the events that occurred that night. So, please forgive me if my recounting is somewhat lacking in detail.

Late in the afternoon (3:30-4:30PM), I was with “M” Company, 3/5. By listening to and reading accounts of that day, I’ve surmised that I wasn’t with the first platoon—I do not recall being trapped in a rice paddy. Neither was I with the second platoon—I did not go into a village.

I have concluded, with some certainty, that I had been assigned to the third platoon. My afternoon starts when, after being fired upon by our own helicopters, I crawled out of the trench, looked at my watch and said to myself, “September 4, 1967. I will always remember this day. Our own helicopters shot at me!”

Little did I realize that more was in store for me. We had just started crossing a small knoll. Then, all hell broke loose. At first, it didn’t affect me. As I recall, I was even documenting the action with my movie camera.

Then, the mortar rounds began hitting around us. Marines all around me began falling. One who had just been hit by rifle fire (I think) fell near me. I crawled over to where he was. Realizing that his wound was beyond my expertise, I yelled “Corpsman.” I don’t recall one coming.

Then, the NVA began charging our position. I think that was when I realized that we were in deep trouble. Marines kept falling. The mortar rounds continued. That was when I asked myself, “Do I pray to God, or do I try to get out of this myself?”

I chose to fight. I picked up a rifle that someone had left. After one of the first rounds there was a small explosion. The Marine next to me said something like, “Way to go! You just blew him up with his own grenade.”

Most distinctly, I recall looking up the hill and seeing jets dropping either bombs or napalm. They were flying very low. I was so fascinated by it because I could see the pilot in the cockpit. I could see his head motions. Like, WOW, what is going on??! Why is he so close? After that, everything is a blur.

One thing that I didn’t realize until recently was the bravery exhibited that day. A lot of good men lost their lives that day, a day that has lived in my mind all these years.

Over the years, I’ve commemorated that day, September 4. I remember the Marines who fought so bravely, and their fallen comrades who did not make it home.

And, I also thank God for allowing me to take credit for “saving myself” that day. I’ve come to realize that it was He who guided me through that one day that has had such a direct influence on my life.

The Gang

John P. McGrath and Howard J. Briel were photographers with the 3rd MarDiv. Frank Lee was a war correspondent/photographer with the same outfit. Hometown for McGrath was/is Newark, NJ; Howard Briel was from Trenton, NJ. John McGrath was stationed with the 3rd Marine Division in 1966-7. I haven't seen him since Feb, 1967. Frank Lee got a Bronze Star in March/April, 1967. I am looking for Frank, John and Howard...if anyone knows how to contact them, please let me know.

"Farewell to Warren"

December 1967, as I'm about ready to leave Nam. I'm the one in the middle.

Semper Fi, Warren E. Wilson

Operation SWIFT

Mike 3/5 website

(Background by Redeye)