First Person War Stories

Remarkable stories of war told by those who fought for a proud nation. Their words. Their voices. Our first episodes tell riveting stories from World War II, then we move on to the Vietnam War and other dramatic conflicts.

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Sgt. Bill Taylor: Close Calls in Vietnam

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Sgt. Bill Taylor: Close Calls in Vietnam

Sgt. Bill Taylor is a Marine who was sent to Vietnam in 1967 as an 18-year-old. During his 13-month deployment, he narrowly escaped death on multiple occasions and was wounded three times. Every platoon commander, sergeant, and squad leader he served with was either wounded or killed.

To hear more of Bill’s stories from Vietnam, read his book, On Full Automatic.

Please also visit Bill's website, williamvtaylor.com. There you'll find hundreds of photos taken by him, and his fellow soldiers while in Vietnam.

Ken Harbaugh:

I’m Ken Harbaugh, host of Warriors In Their Own Words. In partnership with the Honor Project, we’ve brought this podcast back at a time when our nation needs these stories more than ever.

Warriors in Their Own Words is our attempt to present an unvarnished, unsanitized truth of what we have asked of those who defend this nation. Thank you for listening, and by doing so, honoring those who have served.

Today, we’ll be hearing from Sgt. Bill Taylor. Bill is a Marine who was sent to Vietnam in 1967 as an 18-year-old and served there for 13 months. During that time, he narrowly escaped death on multiple occasions and was wounded three times. Every platoon commander, sergeant, and squad leader he served with was either wounded or killed.

Sgt. Bill Taylor:

My name is Bill Taylor. I was a Hollywood Marine to start off and I ended up in the 1st battalion, 3rd Marines Charlie Company. And we were a special unit. We were a unit that was designed to defeat the NVA and the Viet Cong in a special way. We were a reactionary special landing force and we were on the USS Okinawa. And later on the USS Iwo Jima LPH's helicopter ships. And so whenever any unit in that was sweeping or any unit that was in trouble, they would call in a company or a battalion of 1st battalion 3rd Marines.

Now, usually we're a battalion strength type of operation. I remember the first time we actually were going into combat, we're going into Operation Beaver Cage. And that was another one that was Operation Union at that time also, and four battalions of Marines were closing in on the North Vietnamese that had entered the Que Son Valley to… they wanted to get food. That's where they were getting their supply. So this was an area that was definitely Viet Cong and NVA. They were very hostile towards the Marines, a lot of snipers and booby traps. So they didn't expect us. The other three battalions were closing in on them and then we helicoptered right in, deep in the valley and then swept straight north to the Hills.

And it was so hot. Oh my God, you wouldn't believe. We trained in Okinawa for the special landing force. And then you had 80, 85 as the tops there in Okinawa, but in Vietnam we're like 110, humid. It was absolutely horrendous. We didn't get water but every three days that was flown to us in the field. And we each had two canteens. We had to watch what we're doing. And that first day, most went through at least a full canteen and maybe another half before the middle of the day, it was just excruciating. You're carrying 50 pounds worth of food and ammunition, all the supplies you need. And you're just trudging through the rice patties and through small hills and you're working your way up to the top. I mean, you could see, as you were getting closer, you knew you were in trouble.

I remember the first time someone shot at me. So we're sweeping and then all of a sudden an AK just had a shot out. And I remember that experience as being so different than actually practicing in Okinawa for an assault or a sweep. I mean, when someone is actually shooting at you and the rounds are bouncing all around you, just such a different experience. What they were doing was slowing us down. They just wanted us to slow down. They were setting up for us further on. And so we'd flank that sniper and he'd be gone. And then you'd move further and then you'd move another maybe half a mile, mile.

And then I remember the first time, I mean, I remember the mortars. So what happened was I was a new guy and the old salts were the guys that came in from Khe Sanh. They had the base there at Khe Sanh and they came over to Okinawa and we joined them to beef up 1st battalion 3rd brings to this incredible unit, 1,350 men. So I remember hearing the bloop sounds, *bloop, bloop, bloop*, and the old salts are hitting the ground and all of us, FMGs, new guys, we were just standing there wondering what these guys are doing, and they're screaming at us, "Get down." And all of a sudden you hear this *whoosh* go over your head and explode behind you. Well, then you realize, you never have to be told again, you hear that bloop in the future, you're going to be down.

And of course, we set up our mortars and they were aimed at the top of the hill that we were going to. Next thing you know, we did some flanking action, and of course they were gone. And all they were doing was stalling for us coming down into the future. And that's exactly what happened. We sent a patrol up ahead and they managed to get to the top of the hill. And they actually saw the Viet Cong with their black pajamas, watching us, and reporting our positions at all times. So they opened fire, of course, and they were too far away to actually get a kill. And so, we swept up and the next thing you know, as soon as we got into the hills, that's when they started mortaring us. And I mean, just those two little experiences, the mortars and the snipers, or being shot at was one thing. But when you have hundreds of people opening up on you and some guys are getting hit, you're getting yourself down.

And then that evening, it got so bad. It was unbelievable. We were told on the lines that they're probably going to try to overrun us tonight. And it was so terrifying waiting there, sitting in your hole, just waiting for them, clearing your field of fire so that you could get at them. And I mean, I remember in the middle of the night, just listening and hearing this sound up in the sky, like an airplane, just this slow *imitates engine sound*, and all of a sudden it got closer and louder and louder. And then all of a sudden out of nowhere, just right out of the sky, this beam of light comes down. And then maybe a two second, three second delay, you hear the roar of these machine guns, these mini guns coming from a flying platform. And it was spooky. And he was up there just spraying the area. They say it could cover a football field, every square inch of a football field in a minute. That's how many rounds are coming out of this. And they have enough rounds to lay out a football field or more. And of course they had some infrared, so they knew where they were at. And they were just blowing them away. And then next thing you know, there was nothing really happening that night. They must have pulled back or got the hell out of there.

I remember the days that followed that they got us trapped into different areas that we would always go after them, and as soon as we did, they were setting up traps is what was basically happening. So our headquarters, our people who were leading us were catching on, were learning how to do this whole thing. And I remember getting mortared. I remember seeing the CP getting mortared and the XO, he ran down and he was running to the CO, Captain Reczek. And all of a sudden they started getting mortared and he got down and *boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom*. Just crazy. And then all of a sudden it seemed like it stopped. And he got up, the XO, and that's when this explosion happened right next to him. Cut the guy in half that was right next to him and knocked him down to the ground. And it looked like he was dead, too. And I remember they carried him over to the side and eventually they took all the guys that were dead and they put them aside and all the guys that were wounded, they were calling in helicopters.

And these pilots, HMM-263, they were just incredible. We didn't have Hueys. I mean, Marines, we always got the tail end of everything. And we had these, they looked like grasshoppers, you might say, or a box car. And it would come in. And the NVA and VC were just pounding that and these pilots were so brave, they were just getting all of the wounded. And I remember that helicopter taking off. And I remember seeing that the gunner on the side with his M60 just blazing away where the firing was coming from. And he made it out of there, and when they got back, I think they had to get rid of the helicopter because it had so many holes in it.

I remember leaving that operation with mortars coming in, and I'll never forget those mortars because I had nightmares when I came home from Vietnam about getting hit with mortars and thinking I was going to die so many times. So many times. And that was our first battle. And that was nothing compared to the future battles that were coming. You're terrified. You're wondering, ‘Geez, if this is the first battle, I hope I don't have to go through them anymore.” Well, that's not what the case is.

In Operation Beau Charger, we ended up back on a ship for maybe two or three days. We'd be on a mission for a month out there, and they'd bring us back for supplies and stuff like that. And then they'd helicopter us in. And then we had Beau Charger in June. Beau charger was pretty vicious. What we had to do was we had to go into the DMZ and many Marine units, and also they had the South Vietnamese Police and everything, they were going to get all these people, they had all these villagers that lived near the DMZ, they wanted them out because the NVA were coming down. They were infiltrating over the DMZ and they were creating such havoc. And these people were right in the middle. And it was our job, Special Landing Force Alpha, we had to come in and we had to, along with the other Marine units that were in there on Beau Charger, I mean, they called in the Amtraks and they put the people in the Amtraks and then they would get them out of there. I remember that it was terrible because they knew the Marines were there and these people were being evacuated. And you think that they'd have a little mercy on their own people, but they slaughtered them as much as they tried to kill the Marines. And it's interesting, they got to fire at us from over on the other side of the DMZ. I mean, they actually used artillery. I mean, you think this is a mobile force, but they actually had emplacements buried in the ground, on the other side of the DMZ. And they would be able to pull them out and shoot, and then go back inside the caves and along with their mortars and they had cave systems up there in the DMZ that nobody really realized. You think you could just go in there and just wipe them out. But there were so many caves and underground entrances and things like that, it was near to impossible. And of course, you can't go over to the other side to eliminate these different artillery pieces.

Well, anyway, we ended up getting a lot of people out of there. And we had a lot of guys that were wounded and killed. We went through several other operations. As a matter of fact, we went through 25 operations in 11 months. And in that time, we were awarded two presidential unit citations for the actions that we fought. One was Beaver Cage, and one was Operation Buffalo and Operation Buffalo was when we had the 1st battalion 9th Marines, it was the Bravo Company was pretty much annihilated. That means 250 men were either killed or wounded. There was only a few that weren't and we had just gotten back on the ship. We didn't even have a chance to change our clothes or anything. We had to go right back out and right back into the DMZ. It was pretty vicious to tell you the truth. We landed and we had us sweep and wherever we went, we just kept on getting hit with artillery.

We're supposed to attack a tree line. And that was one of the most horrible experiences of my life. It's just so surreal to think that they want us, we're all lined up and we're going to attack a tree line. How many times have you seen in movies of marching forward when it all goes wrong and everybody gets hit and that was one of those battles. I remember Maloy and Pike were just to the left of me and were attacking that tree line. And we had three tanks to support us. I mean, you'd think, "Wow, well, we got three tanks." Well, about 20 rockets came out and just annihilated the tanks almost immediately. They were shooting large caliber rounds at us. And it was just like, "Let's get the hell out of here. Let's try to get some cover." Because as soon as we got in the open that's when they opened up on us.

We ended up pulling back and we couldn't understand that the jets were coming in, the Phantoms that were coming in and they were dropping napalm and 500 pound bombs and everything else. And we thought that they were going to be eliminated because that's why we were supposed to assault the tree line because they were probably all blown away. Well, they all went underground and nobody probably died.

So then we ended up getting out of that particular situation and in August, next operation, that was a nightmare, Operation Cochise and it was in the Que Son Valley. Again, we went back to where the Operation Beaver Cage was. So we go back in there and we were supposed to attack a specific unit of NVA. They had come back into the valley and they were going to take it over. And so the strategy was to sweep but the problem was they had a different strategy. Their strategy was to just take all these men and just have ambushes everywhere. They had their machine gun set up and as you're sweeping, then all of a sudden here's a tree line and it's opening up on you. They're hitting you from haystacks. They were hitting you from just about any concealed position from little ravines or whatever they could to get you. And it was just out of artillery range. That was one of the crazy things about Cochise that we had a lot of artillery support, but this was just a little out of the 105s range.

So anyway, I remember running into the tunnel complex and I remember going into one of the tunnels, they asked for a volunteer and I went thinking there'd be a hero. And well, I got to tell you, crawling in that hole and it was one of the most nightmarish experiences of my life, just crawling in deep and deep and deep into that hole. And the further I got, all I could see is an AK or a pistol coming out and just shooting down the hole. I mean, they'd have a perfect target down in the hole here.

I remember that I was walking and my site was down the tunnel, looking straight down the tunnel and I'm crawling and I've got my 45, not my 45, the sergeant's 45 and I'm getting out and I'm getting closer down the hole. And all of a sudden I felt something hit my face, like a heavy string or a cloth or something. And I backed up real fast and I put the flashlight up there and looked, and it was a snake skin. They had hung a snake inside that particular hole and it had shed its skin. And I backed out of that hole like you can't even believe. I mean, that was the last time I ever entered a cave hole.

So anyway, we went further and then we spent the night in our lines and woke up the next morning. And we were held up because there were ambushes everywhere, and our Lieutenant wanted to play hero and we were moving in a certain direction and there was a tree line and he wanted to make sure that the tree line was okay. So he sent my squad down towards there.

By the way, in Buffalo, Sergeant Pike and Maloy were killed right out. I mean, these are our heroes. If any two men could actually live through that battle, it would've been them. And now you're looking at, you've lost that. My squad leader became the Platoon Sergeant. And now I've got Sergeant Jones in August '67. And Sergeant Jones was a great leader. And Francis just wanted to send our squad out and he argued with Francis about, it wasn't a good idea and all that. And Francis still wanted it done. So he said he would lead the squad down the tree line. And we got within, I don't know, 40 yards of the tree line when it just opened up on us. I mean, you have no idea. You got a squad of Marines and you've got maybe 50 people with machine guns shooting at you. I mean, you hit the decks, you find cover so fast. I went behind one of the dikes that was there and bullets were just... I know they were missing me because you could hear them zinging by you. And I remember laying there and that was from 8:30, 9 o'clock in the morning and just laying there and guys are wounded everywhere. And I remember seeing one of the corpsmen get up and pop his head above that dike and I remember seeing him getting shot right in the head. I mean, guys were dead laying everywhere. This is my squad is out there. So what does Francis do? He's going to get us some help, but in the meantime, we're out there in the heat in this rice pad, and I'm throwing a burst magazine over the dike every once in a while and keeping my head down because of everything I'm seeing, everybody's getting hit.

So finally the other squad came out there. And of course that was a stupid thing. I mean, if we got wiped out, they came out and they got wiped out. And of course, he said, "Well, I'm going to send this third squad." Well, one of the squad leads, he says, "I'm not going to do it. It's terrible. This is a horrible decision. You just had two squads wiped out. Why should I take mine down there and have them all killed?" But he said he relieved him of command and put another guy in charge and he said, "I'll do it." And they just tried to figure another way to do it. And they got wiped out. And so by the end of the day, which I finally was able to crawl out of there at three in the afternoon. And by the end of the day, there was only seven of us left in that platoon. The second platoon was literally wiped out.

The jets couldn't come in. Nobody could come in to go after the people in the tree line because I mean, we were so close they were using us for bait and that's why they couldn't use the advantages of air power. Then that night I had to go back to the treeline and get our bodies in the middle of the night and there was only seven of you left and you got to go get the guys that died out there. And that experience is one of the toughest experiences of my life.

We finally ended up out of that particular operation and we ended up on Medina, which was in October.

Oh, and by the way, Jones was killed. And of course that was the end of all the good leaders for a long time. Everybody we had was pretty... They weren't like the original. It's like we were soldiers in that battle. You had Mel Gibson and all these great leaders. Can you imagine if they got killed? That whole thing would've fell apart. They probably would've been overrun and annihilated, but you have these great leaders that are able to put up a defense and put up and know just where to send the guys. They know how to move and tactics.

So anyway, on Medina, we were... Operation Medina was pretty... We weren't doing the sweeping. We were being the blocking force and another unit of Marines, another battalion Marines was, I believe it was two battalions, was going through the Hilang Forest and pushing all the NVA towards us. And of course we're supposed to wipe them out. Of course at that time, Captain Reczek was promoted up in the battalion and we got a new guy and he came in from supply. He wasn't very good. I mean, he didn't set the lines up. We knew what we were doing. We had set up the lines and he came around and changed the lines. He took us off the crest of the hill, pulled us back, was the dumbest move. I was so upset because by then I knew what the heck I was doing. And now they're giving us leaders that don't know what they're doing. And that night, that's when it really got scary.

No one came out to the lines to tell us that the LPs were coming in because they were out there and they were out there in force and nobody... So there's no illumination whatsoever. Come to find out that the CO wasn't telling anything. He got scared hiding in his hole. And everybody was saying, "We need to have illumination and he kept on saying, "We're going to give away our position." What we needed was light. It was so dark. It was so dark. You couldn't see. And you're terrified in your hole, just waiting for them.

I remember one of the OPs, outpost that came in, came right over my hole and the one guy that went right into our command post behind us and he stopped and he said, "There's hundreds." And I'm going, "Oh my gosh." Nobody's coming. Nobody's talking to us, and then all of a sudden, it's two in the morning, 2:30, all of a sudden they were throwing charges at us. Right in front of us. And the charges were exploding. And the guys to my left were opening fire. And I had a new guy and I told him, "Don't open fire." I said, "Look at these guys that are firing, they're giving away their positions." Every time they fired, it was like a strobe light in their face. And they were saying, "Hey, we're right here." That type of thing. And I knew that that was the wrong thing to do. I had put all my hand grenades right in my parapet, right in front of me.

I always carried a lot of hand grenades. Let me tell you. And the guy next to me put all his hand grenades, we had about 12, maybe 15 hand grenades in the parapet. And I was just waiting. I was just so waiting for... I knew these guys were coming, they kept on probing the lines and throwing grenades. And actually they didn't throw grenades. I think they were more like a charge, like an explosive charge, not so much... Chicoms. When they throw a Chicom, there's sparks coming out of the handle and you could see them in the air because I had seen them previously and what they looked like. So I didn't think it was that. And then when I knew they were coming, I mean, I knew that's when they started just throwing a lot of grenades and stuff like that at us in the lines, they didn't know where I was. They didn't know where my hole was, but they knew where everybody to the left of me was and they were coming. And as soon as I realized I just... One thing I did with my hand grenades, when I was in a situation like that, I would take that cotter pin that you pull out and I would straighten all that pin out so that it was very easy to pull the pin and you wouldn't be struggling. So when they started coming, I just threw every one of those hand grenades in front of my hole, every single one of them. And as they got closer we got down in the hole because there was going to be a lot of explosions in front of us. And it was like a minefield in front of us when they went off, it was *bam, bam, bam*. So all of them in front of us were pretty well wiped out.

There were drag trails and everything in the morning when I went to see, plus there were a lot of dead bodies out in front of my hole, but to the left of us, they had completely overrun the lines. Almost the entire third platoon was wiped out and they went right down into the command post and all the guys put up a good fight.

Now I remember turning around and you could see green tracers going one way and you could see the red tracers going the other way you could see them all over the place, tracers. And I wanted to start shooting, but I knew our guys were down there. And I didn't want to hit any of our guys. And I wasn't sure of who was who. So I just held my fire, but the guys that were down there were shooting at them and they ended up killing quite a few and actually captured some. And then they swept out of the lines and killed even more guys on their way out. So this unit did a number, and it was all because of this captain that came in from supply.

You got to understand, you don't think you're going to make it out alive. At this particular point, even before that, you say, " got here in February and it's already October, it's already October. I don't leave until almost March. I have all this time. I don't think I'm ever going to make it." And of course then because we're this special unit, we ended up going back into the DMZ and then our particular company took the lines.

We went to Con Thien first and from Con Thien, then we walked over to A-3, which is all part of the McNamara line. And so we're on a hill and I got to tell you, there was no grass. There was nothing but bomb holes over this A-3 area. And these guys that were walking out, looked like in World War II, you see the guys with their heads down, walking away, they're just all nasty, dirty, and you could see it on their face. They got beards that just look horrible. And that's what these guys look like. And we're kind of refreshed and that's what we were supposed to do. We were supposed to be at A-3 and take their positions while they took some kind of break somewhere else. And so we took the lines and I remembered getting into the hole and thinking, this place is horrible and it can't get any worse. And that's when the monsoon rain started. I couldn't have been further wrong from the truth.

I mean, it literally rained and we got hit three times a day. They would mortar us three times a day. They would come in and we'd send mortars back at them. And every time a chopper would come in, they would try to knock out the chopper. So we didn't get a lot of supplies. It was miserable. Another unit came in, took our place. We were going to start... We didn't know what we were going to do, but eventually we were going to be on a base right on the ocean, just south of the DMZ, just a short distance away, maybe a mile and a half, two miles from the DMZ. And we had to build a base right there and we were supposed to stop all the infiltration from the DMZ. There was a lot of infiltration that came down and nobody could handle the amount of infiltration. Nobody could stop this infiltration and here's our unit. We're going to be stopping this infiltration.

And I remember when we were leaving A-3 and we're walking and there's a huge explosion to my right. I remember walking and seeing all these holes everywhere. And I thought it was just like a mortar barrage or something. And when that explosion happened and someone said, "Minefield." We were in the middle of a minefield. I stopped immediately and was looking around wondering, "Now, what the hell do I do?" I mean, I had no clue. I'm standing there in the middle of a minefield and here's all the other guys around me. We're all looking at each other wondering if we were going to step on a mine and we had to back our way... I remember turning around on one foot and looking for the steps that I had taken. And I remember following my steps that I thought I took and each and every step was like, "Am I going to die? Am I going to die?" I just slowly work back. By the way, they were Bouncing Betties and Bouncing Betties are pretty horrible. We ran into them through all of our sweeps, we ran into butterfly mines, all these different punchy pits.

Also, we get to C-4 and we had to run patrols up towards the DMZ. And that's when the last battle for me was in January, just after Tet. In January, after Tet, we would run up to this certain place called the washout. And that's where whenever there was the monsoon rains or whatever big rain they would have, all that water from the flatland ran out to the ocean and it would run right straight through the washout right there. And so it was a slight depression with no trees, no bushes, no nothing. Just an open space from one location to another location where we were. So I remember as soon as we hit that everyday, mortars would come in and hit us. It was just like a game they played and we played. All right, they would send a patrol up and it would be a platoon size and we'd come up and we'd hit a certain spot. And then they would mortar us. And then we would get down, we'd send mortars back on them. And then we'd back off. And we did this day after day after day.

Well, the guys who were in charge, they said, "We're going to wipe these guys out. So we got a plan." And so the plan was to send a platoon and to sneak them in there over the washout in the middle of the night and wait for the NVA that we're going to be coming from the DMZ. Our Lieutenant and our Sergeant was, without a doubt, the worst ever. They were the worst of all of them. And I'm trying to... Here I have all this great experience and I'm a point man going out there and I'm seeing all the signs of, they're here. They're already here. And so just before we cross the washout, I just said to them, "I don't want to cross this washout. I got to tell you what, why don't I do a real quick recon, I'll go check the other side a little bit, and then I'll have confidence enough to know that we will be safe, but I don't want to walk in the middle of the washout and see us all die. I just don't want that to happen." He says, "Well, hurry up." Well, I ended up taking my cartridge belt off. I left all my grenades and everything. I only had my M16 and a couple of magazines in my pocket. And I crawled like a lizard all the way through that washout. And then I got over to the other side. And as soon as I hit the other side, I mean, I heard voices. I mean, it wasn't just one or two guys talking. This was three or four or five guys talking and laughing and I'm going, "Oh my God, they're here." So I would've thrown a grenade if I had a grenade. I didn't have any grenades with me. I wasn't going to jump up and attack them. I didn't know who was there. So what I did is I crawled back and I figured we could call in artillery on those guys. They would just wipe the heck out of them. The artillery was at the Cua Viet River. That's all you have to do is back off and bam the hell out of it.

That's not what happened. Apparently, our Sergeant, Lieutenant didn't know how to call in an airstrike, not an airstrike but artillery. And that was the beginning of the debacle. He wanted to make me cross that opening, even though I told him that they were already on the other side. He wanted me to go across that washout and just bring everybody to get killed. And it was just no way I was going to do it. I said, "I know that they're there. If we have to... I think it narrows over by the ocean. I think maybe why don't we go over there and see it." And it was 3:30 in the morning and he agreed to it. And we walked over there. And I remember the mist that came in. I mean, it was almost a hundred percent humidity. You could hardly see in front of you, it was so misty. And so we ended up crossing near the ocean of this washout and we're walking in a single file. Meanwhile, our Lieutenant, because of what I'm talking about, he decides not to go that way. He decides to go to the left in the open area where there was cover and a pagoda. He went... I could direct the battle from there and he's sending the other two squads right up towards the DMZ. And I knew they were there. I knew they were there. I just knew they were all over the place, but I couldn't convince anybody and we just got further and further up and he kept on. Finally, we dropped off a squad and they had machine guns with them. And then our squad, we continued further north. And as we got to, there was a big dune in front of us. And we either had to go right or left. And so right was to the ocean, left was to deeper within that area. And I looked at the ground and sure enough, there was a...

I remember when I was in high school, I lived near Rainbow Beach in Chicago. And at three or four in the morning, we would go out and go skinny dipping in Lake Michigan. And I remember as I was running on that wet sand, that there's pure white sand underneath, and the top sand is dark brown. So as you walked, you could see the footprints of white as you ran to the beach. Well, here is the same thing. I'm seeing, we've got wet sand all around us. And here's this path about two to two and a half feet wide. Now that wasn't footprints, that's a whole group of NVA walking down that path. And this guy is telling me I have to walk down that path. And then here it is, it's going on 4, 4:30 in the morning, I'm terrified. I'm telling him. He said if I don't go down the path, I go in the back and he'll put me up for cowardice in the face of the enemy. I'm going, "What the heck do I do?" Well, I don't want somebody else who don't know what they're doing. I want to be in the lead here. And if I spring the ambush, I'm going to spring the ambush. So I ended up walking down and we got pretty far down there before I saw this plastic top on the... It was someone who had put plastic over their heads and had propped it up with sticks. And it looked like just a piece of plastic that blew there. And I remember sticking my head down and getting closer to it thinking maybe somebody might be in there. Sure enough, two guys popped their heads up. And I had my M16 all in full automatic, and just put 20 rounds and got both of those guys yelled ambush right. That's when the Chicom grenades started coming out to our right. And I screamed at the Sergeant and was telling him, "See, I told you they were here."

And that was the beginning of the battle. I mean, that battle went until three in the afternoon. We were pinned down. My M16 jammed on me. Guys were getting hit everywhere. It was one hell of a battle.

Well, I remember at the end of the battle, I ended up, they're going to send me back into the DMZ. It was now February, and they're going to send me back into the DMZ on a patrol and I'm going, "Oh my gosh, I'm going to die for sure." A lot of the guys who in their 13th month, they ended up dying and here I am. I'm going into my 13th month. And I'm thinking, "This is the end." And that's when he told me, my third purple heart had come through and that I was going home. And I got to tell you, it was one hell of a tour of Vietnam. And it was on a grunt level. I'm not a hero. Those guys that died, they're the heroes. They're the ones.

When I first got there, I was a new guy. I was naive. I didn't know my ass from a hole in the ground. And I was an FMG, which is a new guy. And I thought I knew why we were there fighting for liberty and for freedom and everything. But what I started to notice after a while is that I questioned why we were there because I remember thinking, "Who are we fighting?" We're fighting the North Vietnamese. Those are the people of the north, and we're fighting the Viet Cong. And who are the Viet Cong? They're the South Vietnamese. So who the hell are we fighting? I mean, are we in there fighting for the South Vietnamese if they're trying to kill us?

Everywhere I went, these people were out of the stone age. And I started to develop not a fighting for liberty, but just trying to survive. Trying to make it out, trying to make it home. And I remember thinking so many times that I was never going to make it out alive, or I was going to come out wounded so bad that I might be crippled for the rest of my life and for what? I wasn't even sure why we were there. So I got smarter and I kept on getting smarter. My instincts were sharp as a tack. I remember always thinking and always being aware if someone was shooting at me, I was down so fast.

And so I really began to doubt the war about what was going on. And I would start talking to the other guys and the question came up, why are we here? Are we really here to help these people when they want to kill us? And they just wanted the farm. They just wanted to be left alone. And they didn't care whether it was going to be communist or whether the Americans were going to be there and save them. They just, that's the way it all became. And it became a nightmare for a lot of Marines.

Now one thing I also want to say is, I'm explaining everything that's happening and you wonder why some of these guys can't talk about the war. You wonder why, why is he so tight lipped? What is he? These are scars. And it took me hundreds of tears, thousands of tears to write this book, because these moments in the book are just so horrendous and to get them out. And it's very cathartic to write a book. And I would highly recommend, even if it doesn't get anywhere or do anything, just getting the stories out of your body. I noticed that I'm able to talk about them now, and I'm able to honor those guys in my unit that should have been honored.

Ken Harbaugh:

That was Sgt. Bill Taylor.

To hear more of Bill’s stories from Vietnam, read his book, On Full Automatic. The link is in the show description.

Thanks for listening to Warriors In Their Own Words. If you have any feedback, please email the team at [email protected]. We’re always looking to improve the show.

For updates and more, follow us on twitter at Team_Harbaugh.

And if you enjoyed this episode, don’t forget to rate and review.

Warriors In Their Own Words is a production of Evergreen Podcasts, in partnership with The Honor Project.

Our producer is Declan Rohrs. Brigid Coyne is our production director, and Sean Rule-Hoffman is our Audio Engineer.

Special thanks to Evergreen executive producers, Joan Andrews, Michael DeAloia, and David Moss.



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