Floyd Co. Veterans Plaza
I remember the day Murray Veron died in VietNam. No, I didn't know him, nor do I specifically remember the circumsstances of his death, or any of the ten men of 2nd Platoon, C Troop, 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry who died that day. It was the events on the periphery that were impressed upon me.
I was still seventeen years old, a high school senior, and had technically been an enlisted member of the U.S. Coast Guard for all of five or six weeks. I had been, like many of my classmates, paying very close attention to the war in VietNam. Each of us knew the local draft numbers were increasing every few months and those draftees, just eighteen or nineteen, were potentially canon fodder.
The senior class all understood military service was expected soon after graduating high school. Unless you had a darn good reason not to go it was likely you would be asked to meet an Army or Marine Corps tailor. Guys like me accepted that, we had the directions to recruiting offices of the Navy, Air Force, National Guard and Coast Guard. Don't get me wrong, we were not afraid of serving - and we were all proud to stand and recite the Oath of Enlistment. But most of us were bright enough to know that an unwise choice of uniform would very likely put us downrange from some nasty stuff. I, being the leader of peers that I am, set a good example by enlisting first. I joined the Coast Guard on a delayed enlistment program during Thanksgiving week of 1967.
Eventually, 35 kids of my class of 105 served. Almost every one of the boys volunteered, including two or three of the girls. Several served full tours of 20 years. Luckily all of us were able to return home, although two were awarded Purple Hearts.
The "Tet Offensive" was a watershed event for America. The North VietNamese were out to prove they were intent on winning the conflict and were willing to sacrifice whatever it took to gain that win. I remember getting ready for a Wednesday evening at the roller rink when David Brinkley and Chet Huntley greeted the NBC News audience. The lead story began with film footage of black smoke rising from Tan Son Nhut Air Base. Wrecked aircraft were in piles, mortar shell impact holes were evident everywhere, and the shots from the new US Embassy were frightening. Our Marine Embassy guards earned their pay and benefits that day
All of the evident damage was difficult to view dispassionately, because the narration with the images told us hundreds of American men, most of them still teenagers like me, had been killed in fighting throughout South VietNam. The most disturbiing segment was a ten second clip of a VietCong irregular being walked down a street in Saigon. Held tightly by two or three ARVN soldiers; they pulled, dragged and pushed the man forward to stop in front of an ARVN General officer. Without any warning given to the viewing audience, the General raised his pistol to the head of the prisoner and calmly pulled the trigger.
The film didn't immediately stop. Neither Chet nor David expected we the viewers to do anything more than watch, to see the absolute cruelty of a war being supported by our tax dollars. Television audiences today would never see this type of scene. The news anchor would softly say, "...and we will not show what happens next, but the prisoner is dead." The citizens of my world in 1968 were not ignorant of this behavior. The elder generations had participated in two World Wars. Our fathers and grandfathers knew the sights and sounds of death, and the smell.
We of the Class of '68 were not snowflakes. We all had gruesome war stories told to us by Dad and Grampa. Near the end of the war in 1945 my father was frequently in charge of crash recovery crews in the Florida Everglades. I can recall him telling the easiest way to find any crash site; drive the DUKW in circles downwind - the odor of rotting flesh would confirm the general location of the dead aircraft crews. The mental images were not "triggers" for me. They didn't cause me to consider that my old man was a PTSD hobbled man haunted by his memories. I just thought he was a big, bad ass, veteran that one should not disobey when he told you to do something - right now.
Sp4 Murry Lee Veron was a son of Uncle Sam born on Independence Day, 1946. He volunteered for service about one year before he arrived in VietNam on July 27, 1967. He was an "Armor Crewman" - in civilian that means "guy inside the tank." Two platoons of C Troop were called out at 0400 hours that morning. By 0430 a large convoy of armored vehicles were underway from Saigon to a small village about 15 miles southwest of the city. Veron was a tanker in 2nd Platoon, comprised of four tanks, seventeen M113 Armored Personnel Carrieers and t20 M106 Mortar Carriers, hauling three officers and 113 enlisted men into what was later called, "a confusing situation." The other platoon departed the staging area a few minutes later.
Intelligence and Operations officers throughout VietNam had received word that thousands of NVA regulars and VC were massing and moving toward American and ARVN lines - everywhere. It was the middle of the night and nobody really understood what was about to happen. Shortly after the convoy had gotten underway C Troop's mission changed. The new objective was to pass through the original village and move directly down the highway to protect Tan Son Nhut Air Base.
The Captain leading 2nd Platoon anticipated an ambush at the village and turned the convoy off road in order to paralell the road. He intended reaching Gate 51 of the Air Base without exposing hismen and equipment to enemy opposition. In doing so, Captain Leo Virant literally stumbled into an NVA attacking force more than triple the size of his convoy.
Anti-tank rockets started hitting the lead APC's and tanks. Several men were killed or wounded immediately, including all of the officers of the platoon. I can't veriify, but I believe Murray Veron was among the first group to die that day. The number of men killed appears to be ten. Ten men among a list of Americans nearly 250 long.
Were you alive then and old enough to remember the Tet Offensive? Does the image of General Loan murdering a captured VC still sit prominently in your memory? Yes? Then consider this - we don't specifically remember the date, but we understand the events may have slightly impacted our world. But for the Veron family and 250 other American families the date has NEVER left them. Murray's mother and father had another 41 and 45 years respectively to mourn their son. THEY always remembered the last day of January in 1968 as the day their world changed completely.