The jungle is alive with the sounds of mongooses, warthogs, and insects. I sit up from my sleeping bag on the hood of my Humvee and check my watch: 2 AM.
“Almost time to head out on patrol,” I think to myself. I pull out my notebook and go over my mission notes one more time before waking the rest of my team to head out.
We’ve had patrols going out all day and well into the night, probing enemy lines and conducting reconnaissance on enemy positions. As my team is getting their gear together, I walk over to my best friend Knox, who’s still asleep.
“Hey bro, you want to go out with my team? It’ll be fun. We might see some action,” I say to him.
He cracks a devious smile that I know all too well.
All 5 of us pile into the armored Humvee and take off driving, using only ambient light and our night vision goggles for sight. Any headlights would give us away instantly. It was our objective to ensure that everything was thoroughly planned and ran smoothly.
“Go ahead and cut the truck off. You guys stay with the truck. Corporal Knox and I are going to do some reconnaissance,” I say to my driver. It was time to dismount and patrol the rest on foot so that we didn’t give ourselves away with the loud engine of the truck. We close the doors quietly and take a knee to hold security while listening for any unnatural sounds in our new environment. Nothing but the sounds of the jungle. We push into the tree line and begin our patrol. Not 10 minutes of walking later, I hear a voice shout from behind some shrubs,
“Hey, who’s that!?” The bush screams.
“Think, think, think, John,” I say to myself as my body enters fight or flight mode
“Uh… We’re Combat Camera! We’re here trying to take some photos for the next Marine Corps Times,” I reply.
Two marines on the opposing force emerge from behind the bush.
“Hey, I didn’t know you guys were out here tonight,” one says suspiciously.
“Yeah man, want a picture?” I quickly reply.
They glance at each other and smile.
I pull out night vision goggles and pretend to focus a lens.
“Hey man, this picture looks sick. Look out for the next Marine Corps Times. You’ll be on the cover of it for sure. Say, where’s the rest of your platoon?” I say confidently. I figure I can get away with anything at this point.
“Thanks man… We really appreciate it. Mortar platoon is right down the road! You should take some pictures of them too,” Dumb and Dumber reply.
“Yeah, we’ll do that,” Knox replies.
We say our goodbyes and quickly move down the road until we are met with the most glorious sight of all. An entire line of 60MM mortars, without a single marine watching over them.
“Hey bro…Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” I say to my comrade.
Knox looks at me with that same devious smile. Here we go. We quickly grab a mortar and take off sprinting down the road, not stopping until we get to the Humvee. I quickly open up the trunk and throw the mortar tube and baseplate into it before jumping into my seat.
“Drive like hell! Go, go, go!” I scream to my driver.
We peel off, tires screeching, and drive like a bat out of hell back to our patrol base.
Looking back on my experience, the only thing that was funnier than my platoon sergeant’s reaction to me showing him the “borrowed” mortar was the look on the opposing company’s commanding officer’s face when we drove to their patrol base and handed the weapon back.
Now that I am out of the Marines, I find myself reflecting on all the good times my friends and I endured. Out of all my crazy adventures, this one is definitely one of my favorite memories. I also think about the hard times endured, such as instances of racism and trying to find my place in a majority white organization. Asian folks in the Marines make up a small 3.7% of the organization. There’s no statistics on the number of Vietnamese in the Marines, but to give an example, I was 1 of 2 Vietnamese Marines in a company of 100+ men. It was quite rare to find another Vietnamese Marine, especially in the Infantry, and when you did, it was like seeing a second cousin. Every Vietnamese I met usually had the same family story. Parents that pleaded with them to go to school to be a doctor instead of the Marines, tons of cousins, aunts and uncles, and the story of how their family risked their lives and escaped the war in Vietnam to provide a better life for their children.
Without my family’s bravery and sacrifices, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the life that I live now. This is the same story of thousands of other Vietnamese that fled a war-torn country in the face of grave danger. To this day, being an American born Vietnamese in the military is still my life’s proudest achievement. And even though my mom didn’t exactly agree with me joining 5 years ago, she now introduces me to her friends as her son in the Marines and not an IT Technician.