In the case of the Veterans History, we are hoping to capture recollections of life experiences and of the most memorable moments in wartime. We also hope to shed light on how a veteran’s service influenced his postwar life.
Name: Michael Curry
Hometown: I was born and raised in San Diego, CA. I have lived in Birmingham, AL the last 40 years.
Why did you pick the service branch you joined? I have always felt that the United States Marine Corps was extraordinary. When I chose to go to war, the Marine Corps was the only service that I would consider. Keep in mind that I had already been through Army Basic Training as a member of the California National Guard.
Do you recall your first days in service? I got tired of waiting for my orders to report to Officer Candidate’s School so I got on an airplane and showed up in Quantico, VA without orders. I remember having a very painful headache for the first few days of OCS.
What did it feel like? In true Marine Corps fashion, our Drill Instructors made it painfully clear to us who was in charge and how we were expected to act. That is very much an understatement.
Tell me about your boot camp/training experience(s). Officer Candidate School was physically and mentally challenging. It required most of us to reach down inside of ourselves and pull out reserves that we did not know we possessed. About half of my platoon washed out of the program.
How did you get through it? Sheer determination and a resolve that was somewhat surprising. Of course, I knew that if I washed out of OCS I would end up in Marine Boot Camp at Paris Island. That provided an incentive to stay in OCS.
While serving in the Vietnam War, where exactly did you go? I spent a lot of time in the jungle in the 1st Marine Division’s area of operation. I really didn’t see much of Vietnam other that that.
Do you remember arriving and what it was like? I was assigned to the 1st Marine Division in I Corps. The Division headquarters was near Danang. The overwhelming impression upon arrival when I stepped off the airplane in Danang, was the heat. It was suffocating. It enveloped you.
What was your job/assignment? Initially I was assigned as an Infantry Platoon Leader with Mike Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines. Ultimately, I spent most of my tour as a Platoon Leader in Charlie Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion leading long-range reconnaissance patrols.
Tell me about a couple of your most memorable experiences. I have had numerous memorable experiences. It is really hard to distill them. An abiding memory always is stepping off the helicopter in the middle of the enemy held jungle with six other Marines (actually five Marines and one Corpsman) at the beginning of each long-range patrol. It was the tensest part of a routine patrol since you really had no idea of what awaited you and you were extremely vulnerable. There was just the seven of you and a whole lot more of the enemy.
Were you awarded any medals or citations? Bronze Star with a Combat V.
How did you get them? Nothing brave or heroic. The particular incident cited had to do with a pathfinder mission where my team was securing a landing zone for an Infantry operation. The enemy was tracking us. Fortunately, we were able to evade the enemy and secure the landing zone for the Infantry.
How did you stay in touch with your family? There were a lot of letters. There was a MARS station with a shortwave hook up to shortwave operators in the States. You had to stand in a long line and then have a very stilted conversation. It was not very practical.
What was the food like? The food in the Battalion area was great. We got two meals a day. Ironically, we had to get the long-range rations we used on our patrols from the Army. They were freeze-dried and tasty.
Do you recall any particularly humorous or unusual event? Our Company manned an Observation Post overlooking the Que Son Valley that had a trail the enemy used almost nightly and we called in artillery. Each platoon rotated in turn to the OP. We frequently took a sentry dog up there with us. The dog commanded respect. As I walked up from the landing zone to the bunkered complex, I could see Marines popping up on to the bunkers, one after another. As it turns out, the dog had gotten out of his bunker and was wandering down the isle. Marines were heading for the high ground getting out of the dogs way. It looked like pop goes the weasel. One Marine was eating a sandwich. The dog approached, sniffed a couple of times and the Marine quickly offered him the sandwich. The dog had nipped me early on as I had foolishly tried to take his picture. He only had to growl at one or two others to put himself clearly in charge of the OP. Once that was established, we all got along famously.
Do you have photographs? Who are the people in the photographs? I have numerous photographs of other officers in our Company and of my teams.
Did you keep a personal diary? From numerous letters and official patrol reports, I have developed a journal of my experience in OCS and my tour of Vietnam.
Did you make any close friendships while in the service?
Did you continue any of those relationships? I made a lot of close friends in the Marine Corps and I maintain friendships with some of them to this day.
Did you join a veteran’s organization? I belong to the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion Association.
What did you go on to do as a career after the war? After Vietnam, I spent two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Jamaica. I got a PhD from the University of Alabama and spent 31 years as a Principal in the Birmingham City School System. I also retired as a member of the 20th Special Forces.
Did your military experience influence your thinking about war or about the military in general? I think wars should be fought as a last resort and I don’t think Iraq qualified. I was lucky. Fifty eight thousand were not. Vietnam was not a popular war and many in the public took that out on those of us who went. I have a great affinity for the military and take great pride in having served. I hold those who actually put their lives on the line in great esteem, less so armchair patriots.
How did your service and experiences affect your life? My son went to Iraq as an Infantry Officer with the 82nd Airborne Division. It was only when I saw him off that I had a clue as to how my parents felt when they saw me off to Vietnam.