|An up close and personal interview with U.S. Marine Corps Veteran and Togetherweserved.com Member:|
GySgt John D. Foster U.S. Marine Corps (1966-1979)
WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
I was like most teenagers in "the Sixties." I wasn't concerned about where I was going. I was more concerned about getting away from Santa Cruz, CA. The quite streets and sandy beaches of my hometown along the Monterey Bay had been taken over by hippies and potheads, many who camped out in the redwood forests above town. Also, my family was struggling in the construction business. Mostly, I wanted to find my own way away from home.
I had two older brothers, one served in the Air Force and another in the Army during peace time. I wasn't impressed with either and I didn't like bell bottoms, so the Navy was out of the question.
One day, shortly after graduating high school, me and a buddy were walking downtown Santa Cruz when we passed a Marine Corps recruiting office. I don't remember the recruiter's name but he sure knew how to give a history lesson. We were hooked! My buddy, Glen Lamun and I, wasted no time getting our parents to sign our enlistment documents. We were only 17 when we set foot on the yellow footprints at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego (MCRDSD) in Sep 1966.
WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?
Upon graduating from boot camp, I was assigned the military occupational specialty (MOS) 1391, which was a Bulk Fuel Man. After completing the bulk fuel school, I was assigned to 9th Seperate Bulk Fuel, 9th Engineer Battalion, Camp Pendleton, Calif. I wasn't terribly excited about my MOS but it wasn't bad duty either. A couple of months in the unit, the commanding officer told us the Marine Corps was running short of "grunts" in Vietnam. He randomly picked about 6 Marines. I was one of them and off to advanced infantry training we went.
When I arrived in Da Nang, South Vietnam in 1967, I was assigned to Echo Co, 2nd Bn, 9th Marines.
I returned to Camp Pendleton in 1968 and was assigned to 5th Engineers. I disliked this duty even more than being a bulk fuel man so I reenlisted for a duty station in the San Francisco area. I did six months at Marine Barracks, Hunter's Point when the SgtMaj approached me and asked if I would like to go on embassy duty. I jumped at it.
My first post as a Marine Security Guard was in Kabul, Afghanistan. I stayed there in 1969 and 1970. I got orders for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for my second post. The NCOIC in Addis Ababa was a Gunnery Sgt. whom I had bumped heads with in the past, so I opted to remain in Kabul. I returned to Camp Pendleton in late 1970 where I worked at the "Brig", officially known as Base Correctional Facility. I also picked up the corrections MOS.
In 1972, I got orders for Okinawa where I joined another grunt unit, Mike Co. 3rd Bn, 9th Marines located at Camp Schwab. When I finished my 13 months on Okinawa in 1973, I returned to Camp Pendleton where I was assigned to the 1st Marine Division Operations (S3) as the Operations Chief and was promoted to Staff Sgt. I was honorably discharged in 1974.
I transferred to the Marine Corps Reserves in Reno, NV. I also served with the reserves in Los Angeles and Sacramento. I was promoted to Gunnery Sgt. in the reserves.
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?
I was assigned to Echo Co, 2nd Bn, 9th Marines when US forces were seeing more and more combat. Our principle area of operation (AO) was Con Thien, a region just below the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) known to most of us as "Our turn in the Barrel" and "The Meat Grinder," which tells you just how bad things had gotten. We were also part of Operations Lancaster, Lancaster II and Kentucky.
On February 2, 1968 our battalion left Camp Carroll on a battalion size sweep. As Echo Company was approaching the vicinity of Cam Lo, movement was spotted atop Hill 37. I took point on a squad and moved around the hill and began to slowly move up the back side of the hill. Shots were heard on top of the hill and my squad got into position anticipating the enemy to retreat to our side of the hill. About 50 yards to my right was a small unit of NVA opened up on us. I was the first to get hit. The second was our radio man who took a round through his right wrist and left shoulder. A round from an AK-47 entered the right side of my cartridge belt and exited the left side of the cartridge belt. When I got hit, I was immobile. I couldn't move. I was in the open. On several unsuccessful attempts of trying to get me off the hill, Cpl. Daniel Boone and Lance Cpl. Barry Allen, came running toward me and threw a poncho at me. As they were running back for cover, one of them yelled, "Get your ass on the poncho or we're leaving your ass up there." I didn't need any more encouragement than that to get moving. I managed to spread the poncho out and crawl on top of it. Heavy enemy fire was coming in hot and heavy, yet Boone and Allen ran toward me, each grabbed a corner of the poncho and told me to hold on. I must have passed out on the way down the hill. When I came to, our corpsman, "Doc" Abbott was giving me morphine.
A couple of days later a doctor from 1st Med in Da Nang told me that the bullet missed my spine by 1/8th of a centimeter.
WHICH, OF THE DUTY STATIONS OR LOCATIONS YOU WERE ASSIGNED OR DEPLOYED TO, DO YOU HAVE THE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY?
I wasn't fond of boot camp at the time but today, 46 years later, I have memories that fill me with pride. Becoming a Marine is no easy task. I am proud to say that I became a Marine through blood, sweat and tears.
I wasn't fond of my time in Vietnam either. But today I look back and am glad I did serve in Vietnam. I would do it all over again. What I learned in Vietnam is the true meaning of love. There wasn't a Marine that I served with that wouldn't lay down his life for me. I would have done the same for them. The camaraderie while in a combat environment was overwhelming. The heat, the mud, the leaches, the elephant grass and the jungle utilities that could stand up by themselves are just some of the inconveniences we dealt with and through it all, we had each others' back. It is bond understood only by those who serve in combat with their own "band of brothers."
Marine security guard was a wonderful experience. At the time, Afghanistan was a Third World country that didn't rate a large embassy. Because it was small, their only six Marines assigned. Perhaps that is what gave it its charm. The State Department employees were a great group of people who treated us Marines with friendship and respect.
It seemed like every week the embassy threw a cocktail party and always invited the Marines. Ambassador and Mrs. Robert Newman would always make a point of shaking hands with the Marines, asking where we were from and how we liked working at the embassy. I like to think I was his favorite because he was also from Santa Cruz. The Charge-de-Affairs officer, Lowell Bruce Laingen, was equally as pleasant. He was a senior political officer when the Iranians took over the American Embassy in Iran in November 1976. He and other 51 Americans were held hostage for 440 days until they were released in January 1981
Being a foreigner in Afghanistan was like being a fish out of water. Yet the Afghans were always very friendly and courteous. We had a house boy (bacha) named Nazzar, who helped teach us Farsi. This was in spite of the embassy sending a tutor once a week. The difference was, Nazzar was there every day teaching us Farsi.
I wasn't fond of working at the Camp Pendleton Brig either. But today, I have fun memories. It was there where I met my best friend Nat Holmes (TWS member). Nat nine look like brothers. Were the same height, same weight and we rated the same ribbons which we often wore when wearing our "Class A" uniforms.
One day we escorted four prisoners to get haircuts at our local brig barber against their wishes. Throughout getting in there, they're getting their hair cut and marching them back to the brig, they showed a lot of hostility. While they were getting their "high and wide " Marine haircut, Nat and I, were standing tall side by side, staring at each prisoner with a steady gaze and a quiet smile on our faces. After that detail we became known throughout the prisoner community as the Sgt. Bobsey Twins.
I could write a book on some of our escapades while working at the Brig in 1970 & 71. Maybe someday I will.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
There isn't a day that goes by that I don't relive my last fire fight while with the Second of the Ninth Marines. I often think about what I could have done differently. Had I been more vigilant, I probably would have spotted the enemy unit that ambushed us. I believe that what upsets me most about that incident is the fact that I didn't get off one shot.
Regardless of what was or what may have been, I'm very proud of the Marines I was with that day. They were brave men doing what they had been taught to do: destroy the enemy and take care of your "brothers." I am forever grateful for the courage and resolve shown by Boone and Allen, who I credit with saving my life at Con Tien.
WERE ANY OF THE MEDALS OR AWARDS YOU RECEIVED FOR VALOR? IF YES, COULD YOU DESCRIBE HOW THIS WAS EARNED?
Lt. Gen. Robert Cushman, Commanding General, III Marine Amphibious Force, pinned on my Purple Heart Medal while I was bedridden at the 1st Medical Battalion in Da Nang. At the time, I was still pretty doped up on medicine so I don't remember even seeing the general.
After full recovery and back to duty, the Purple Heart seemed to be "No big deal." As the years passed and I matured, my Purple Heart Medal has become my most cherished procession.
OF THE MEDALS, AWARDS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICES YOU RECEIVED, WHAT IS THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
I have been around rifles most of my life. I began hunting with my father when I was twelve. I considered myself a pretty good shot. So you can image my surprise, and yes, with a bit of humiliation, that I struggled at the Edson Range during boot camp. I was convinced I would qualify Expert but I barely qualified Marksman. I was embarrassed wearing the marksmanship badge. It looked like I was wearing a postage stamp on my chest. I couldn't wait to get back on the rifle range and prove that I was the shot I had always though myself to be. It wasn't until I was with 9th Separate Bulk Fuel that I got my change.
This time I was much more relaxed. Without drill instructors or range personnel on my back, I shot a 236 on qual (qualification) day with a M-14. When I worked at the brig, I tied Camp Pendleton's range record with a score of 247.
My most memorable time on the rifle range was when I was at Marine Barracks, Hunters Point, San Francisco. We went to Mare Island just north of San Francisco where we were issued World War II vintage M-1 rifles but. On qualification day, the wind was so strong that my windage was set as far as it could go and still, I had to use Kentucky windage. I shot a 221, barely qualifying expert. I have a 6th award bar on my badge.
The Marine Corps prides itself on the fact that all Marines are riflemen and to be a good Marine, one must be a good rifleman. Wearing my expert badges is one small way I was a good Marine. Maybe the struggle I had in boot camp makes it even meaningful to me.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL PERSON FROM YOUR SERVICE STANDS OUT AS THE ONE WHO HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
My Drill Instructors had an one of the greatest impacts that has last throughout my life. They are the ones that instilled a sense of discipline. They taught me to always have a plan. Always work hard. Always stay in control. I will forever be grateful. Without their discipline, I would not be the disciplined person I am today.
Lt. John Carson was my platoon commander in Vietnam. He wasn't much older than I. He had an easiness about him that made you feel comfortable even in combat. He knew his men and he knew his job. He was well respected by all. Sadly, Lt. Carson died in Vietnam a few months after I was medevaced. He will never be forgotten.
There was one other Marine that had a major impact. Master Gunnery Sgt. Len Maffioli was my NCOIC while on embassy duty in Kabul. He had a toughness one sees only in an "old salt," one who is confident in his abilities and skills. He never held back and he shot from the hip. In other words, there was no gray area. It wasn't my way, it wasn't his way but always the Marine way.
During his thirty-three years in the U.S. Marine Corps, Master Gunnery Sgt. Len Maffioli saw combat in World War II, the Korean War, and the war in Vietnam. He was one of eighteen Marines who participated in the only successful organized escape from a Chinese Communist POW camp during the Korean War. In his book, "Grown Gray in War," he offers an eyewitness account of his three wars and how war fighting changes after each war. He was a remarkable man.
CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE THAT WAS FUNNY AT THE TIME AND STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?
When I reenlisted in 1968, not only did I receive a cash bonus and a choice of duty station, I was also to receive a promotion Cpl, or so I thought. Just before the promotion ceremony, the SgtMaj asked me why I was wearing LCpl chevrons. I told him that it was because I hadn't received my new promotion to Cpl yet. He told me that I wasn't being promoted to Cpl but to Sgt. "No sir, I am not," I told him. He showed me my service record book (SRB) and my last orders identifying me as already having been a Cpl for six months. I was dumbfounded. No one in Vietnam had bothered to tell me anything about being promoted. I had to borrow another Marines blouse with Cpl chevrons for the promotion ceremony to Sgt.
Following the ceremony I looked through my file and found a few orders showing I was indeed a Cpl. Why I never took time to look at my records before I'll never know.
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER THE SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT JOB?
After being discharged on a Friday, I checked into the Nevada Highway Patrol Academy on Monday. The academy was fun and the job was fun for the first few months. I quickly got tired of chasing tail lights and returned to California where I began working on my degree. My hope was to eventually land a Federal Law Enforcement job once I got my degree.
I earned my Bachelors degree in criminal justice in 1979. At the time, none of the federal agencies were accepting applications. A friend suggest I get a job with the U.S. Postal Service, get some experience and apply for a position with the Postal Inspectors. I did get a job as a letter carrier and 2 years later, I applied. The interview went well. The test went well as did the written exam. My name was put on a registry list in Washington DC. Hiring would be done through attrition, I was told. About a year later I receive a letter telling me that there was a freeze on federal hiring and the list was abolished. When they opened up the position again, I was too old to apply.
I retired as a letter carrier with 33 years of federal service.
I am happily retired and enjoy golf 3 to 4 times a week.
In February 2012, my first book, "Heroes From the Wall" was published by Xlibris Corp. The book consists of chapter size biographies on some of the men that died in Vietnam. My book is available through Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. It is also available as an e-book. I donate all profits from sales to the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Fund and the Make a Wish Foundation.
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?
I must admit that I am not much of a joiner. I am a life member of the DAV (Disabled American Veterans). I don't participate in any of their functions and I am sorry to say that I do not read their DAV newsletter. I support the DAV because they do outstanding work for many of our wounded warriors.
I am also a member of our local American Legion. They also do good work for our community and they put out a pretty good Sunday Brunch.
I am proud to be a life member of TWS. I have many friends on this site whom I served with and it seems like I meet new friends every day.
My wife Noelly and I have had the pleasure of meeting Mike Christy and his lovely wife. We have dined together and hope to do it again soon.
GySgt Terrence D'Alesandro often joins me on the golf course and even though we may have been cursing that little white ball or harassing each other over our swings, we have truly enjoy each others' company. Kind of a birds of a feature you might say.
HOW HAS MILITARY SERVICE INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND CAREER?
Discipline. Discipline. Discipline. Above anything else, the Marine Corps taught me the necessary discipline to get me through any situation, regardless how hard or seemingly impossible.
The Marine Corps taught me to be smart about whatever my career path I was one and to built the right skills at the right time.
The Marine Corps taught me to be organized, to always have a plan. Always work hard. And always stay in control. This one-step at a time approach has made it easier for me to accomplish any task I've been given.
And the Marine Corps has taught me to respect others in such a way that I become respected.
I believe my life would have been constant turmoil had I not joined the Corps. Whenever I see a homeless person, I think to myself; "That could have been me."
Whenever I see a teenager or a young adult being carted off to jail for any crime, I think to myself; "That could have been me."
Through Together We Served, I continue to live the life of a Marine. It just doesn't get any better than that!
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR THOSE THAT ARE STILL SERVING?
Listen to those senior to you. Hear what they have to say. You will learn something that may save your life and those of your friends.
Obey any lawful order given you.
Do every task given you to the best of your ability.
Inculcate the positive traits that are offered.
Discipline, organization and most of all, learn to respect. After all, you have the respect of all Americans for serving your country.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU MAINTAIN A BOND WITH YOUR SERVICE AND THOSE YOU SERVED WITH?
When Marines join TogetherWeService.com we know our bond with other Marine members is already established. We are already brothers and sisters. "Once a Marine, always a Marine." This is not a slogan for us who have served in the Marine Corps. It is how we feel, how we see ourselves. We are there to help any who needs or ask for our help.
Whenever I sign onto the site, I can find those former Marines with whom I served, as well as other Marines of my era or who may have served before my time and those who are still serving. That's what make the Marine Corps TogetherWeService.com so special to us. Bonding with our fellow brother and sister Marines is only part of the great value of TWS.
Because of TWS' s seemingly endless search parameters, just about any information is easily available. Things such as service records, VA assistance and other military related issues . Every time I begin searching for more of what the sites has to offer, I learn even more of the seemingly endless value of being a member of TWS.
I'm also entertained by this site. The Marine Humor forum keeps me laughing. Many of the old salts remind me of trivial things that have been long forgotten.
A huge Semper Fi to the creators and administrators of this site.
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