"I was always happy to see first light.By first light it was over . . . "for a while."-from "Down South There were a lot of ways to get killed in Vietnam. You could get "zapped," "dinged," "burned," "popped," "smoked," or "wasted." Marine 2nd Lt. William H. Hardwick was familiar with all of them because, unlike most USMC artillery officers-who waged their war from bunkers inside protected compounds-Hardwick as a forward observer fought alongside rifle companies and lived like a grunt for most of his thirteen-month tour. In Okinawa, Vietnam was referred to as "Down South," and in 1968, "Down South" was a bad place to be. Hardwick did it all-walking point, springing ambushes, capturing prisoners, and spending months in the bush surrounded by crack NVA troops. At times the attacking enemy was so close, Hardwick had to call in air strikes almost on top of the Marines themselves just so they could survive. William Hardwick volunteered to fight as one of the few, the proud, the Marines.
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August 02, 2004
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Excerpt from Down South by William H. Hardwick
One More for the Corps
I will not be the first American president to lose a war.
--Richard M. Nixon, 1969
By the mid-1960s it was clear that political stability did not exist and was unlikely ever to be achieved . . . the South Vietnamese, even with our training assistance and logistical support, were incapable of defending themselves. . . . I deeply regret that I did not force a probing debate about whether it would ever be possible to forge a winning military effort on a foundation of political quicksand. It became clear then, and I believe it is clear today, that military force--especially when wielded by an outside power--cannot bring order in a country that cannot govern itself.
--Robert McNamara, April 1995
September 27, 1968. We were ten Marine second lieutenants in a commercial airliner jammed full of Marine and navy personnel, all headed from Okinawa to Da Nang. Since 1961 the war in Vietnam had grown from something approximating a civil defense drill using American advisers to a full-blown American war in Asia. By this date, five hundred thousand American troops were involved, and the fighting was raging. My twenty-fourth birthday was less than a month away.
In December 1966, I was a senior at the University of Oklahoma when I signed on for Marine Corps OCS (officer candidate school). The war then was still relatively small. American forces were suffering about fifty killed per week. At that time, three hundred thousand Americans were in Vietnam. I knew that going there would be dangerous, but the danger seemed to make this grand adventure even more alluring.
I joined the Marines with my eyes open. Growing up right after World War II and during the Korean War, I had read war novels and chronicles. After participating in ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) for three years in high school, I knew what I was getting into. In spite of that, or perhaps because of it, I still wanted to be in a firefight. I wanted to see how I would respond. The war in Vietnam seemed like an opportunity to fight communism and have a great story to tell my grandchildren. Along the way, however, something went terribly wrong.
In January 1968, while I was still training at Quantico, Virginia, completing my officer's basic training, the communists launched their Tet Offensive. The number of Americans killed each week jumped from fifty to five hundred. Although the Tet Offensive turned into a military defeat for the communists, the shock of the event shattered American resolve. Mike Thomas, a fraternity brother of mine, died in the fighting around Hue during the first week of Tet. Mike had "caught one between the running lights" (between the eyes), I was told. The war was turning into a giant meat grinder. As the war raged in Southeast Asia, the antiwar movement was also raging back in the States.
The year 1968 was big for shocking events. In February, Lyndon Johnson announced that he would not seek reelection. In April, Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in Memphis, and in June, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in California. In August, at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, antiwar demonstrators gathered from around the country, and Mayor Richard Daly's police force waged a running, screaming, club-swinging battle that was broadcast nationwide on television. The spectacle divided the country like no event had since the Civil War.