Wilson, just after arriving incountry
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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!”
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
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
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?”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
1967, as I'm about ready to leave Nam. I'm the one in the middle.
Fi, Warren E. Wilson