John "Mike" AUSTIN

Profile Updated: December 26, 2016
First Year in Viet Nam with Alpha, 1/7: 1969
Residing In: Garfield, WA USA
Spouse/Partner: Susan
Occupation: Captain US Merchant Marines; Painting Contractor;
Children: Devin; Shannon
Military Service: United States Marine Corps  
Alpha 1/7 V.N. Stories and life experience since:

My Favorite Memories
Because of what we did together...
I have found a bit of pride I haven't felt in many years just remembering all of you, meeting you here for the first time, because for most I never had the time to know anyone other than a first name usually, except for a few. Now reading about you here puts people to the uniforms. I didn't know most you.

I wasn't there, by your side, in Alpha Co., when you were fighting for your lives, I was usually protected by you, you 0311's. When moving, I had flanks out on both sides of me, two or three of you in front of me and many more to the rear in the unit. I actually felt comfortable and it made it easier for me, to do my job. Some sympathized that I had a 12 foot whip antenna waving in the air, and the "official" rumor was, in an ambush we had 3 seconds to live and 1 second for who I'm standing next to, Captain or Sgt. I watched you in action, especially the exchange of fire at night and tracers going over my head, I had the Capt. to keep up with, and my heart was with each and everyone of you while I watched, trying to make out enemy fire positions and hearing Clark next to me on the radio. You took the brunt of the fire and it was only you between me and them, you saved my life many times, taking the fire upon yourselves.

I knew Ken Godin very well and I remember an 0311 radioman named Wallace, one of the platoon radiomen from North Carolina, and Rick Winters, our "one four" operator, had his name confused with another "one four" operator Charlie Brown. And of course Capt Clark, I was basically his secretary and hole digger.

Hills I've traveled across, or lived on through my time as Alpha Co. radio or with H&S Co.
Hill 37 H&S and TAD to Alpha Co. (around March? April? Was Alpha Co. Radio Operator just before start up of Operation Oklahoma Hills to LZ Baldy.
Hill 65
Hill 52 to Thoung Duc
Hill 55 Alpha Co. CP security for Hill 55.
Hill 10
LZ Baldy
LZ Ross.
Areas I walked the most.
Arizona Territory
Dodge City
Thoung Duc
Chou Sans, around Hill 55 and Liberty Road.

1. Once while on patrol as Alpha Co. radio man, Col. Dowd, the "6" was with us while we were on the move. The Col. and I were walking one man back from point and I always thought that Col. Dowd was a brave man since he didn't have to be so close to point. After about four of five hours of stopping and starting the Col. finally stopped the patrol to talk with the "point man". After some conversation with the "point" about "observations" he began small talk with us a bit as we stood there sweating our asses off, a small group of about four or five. He looked at me and said "you must be really tired carrying that damn radio". Of course I said "yes sir". He looked at a guy next to me and said "give this man a break carrying this radio" and told me to give my radio to him. As I was taking my radio off to give to the other man, I was feeling really proud that the Col. had that kind of sympathy for me and that he recognized me with such compassion. I was "really" elated. Once the man got my radio on his back and got everything situated and the Col. had finished talking to us, He then looked at me and said "Go on up ahead and walk point man for a while". My heart sank and my proud moment flooded quickly away and as I started to walk up ahead for point man, I thought, "you bastard"! Here I thought he was going to give me a rest from my radio and then he sends me to point man! I have laughed about that moment for years and told that story but at that moment I went from an elated "proud moment" to complete dread in a matter of a minute.
2. Alpha had been in the bush for quite awhile and we were on that road that follows the Song Vu Gia from Hill 65 to Thoung Duc, at a point where the road and the river converge a short distance. I had went in a hole, with special permission from Capt. Clark, we thought might lead somewhere but since the hole was already dug open we were pretty sure it had been searched already. Nothing was inside but I had gotten, we supposed, tear gas crystals in my shirt and my skin was burning. Capt. Clark said go get in the river. I went down the high bank since there were two other Marines there who were washing off weeks of stink. After about 10 minutes, one guy there startled us whispering "look, look" and pointing where he spotted something across the river.We froze and sank in the river neck deep, and there we saw a plain green uniform pass by a small opening in the bushes. It was NVA and we kept watching, then another, we were counting and then the next one to pass the opening was carrying a mortar tube. As soon as he was out of sight we scrambled up the bank over to Capt. Clark. He spotted one and Rick Winters, one four operator, called in F-4's and ran airstrikes for a while. We watched each F-4's ordinance drop out directly above us as they made there target across the river. We ran snake and nape for about an hour at least. Those pilots had à field day. I was with Rick Winters, Alpha Co. "one four" radio operator who ran the air strikes. I was Alpha Co. Radio Operator, Our call sign at that time was "Prime Cut Alpha". Before that it was " Drafthorse Alpha", a tongue twister and was changed pretty quick, after a few weeks
2a. During the airstrikes I had to take a piss and went back across the road a ways and was taking my piss when something hit the dirt in front of me. It was a perfect tear drop of metal. I reached down to pick it up and it was too hot so I pissed on it to cool it. I carried it for several days wanting to bring it home, but one disheartened night while on radio watch, I decided a "souvernier" wasn't what I wanted, I just wanted to stay alive, and I chunked it into the brush. Wish I had kept it since it missed me by maybe a foot. There was a small dirt hill where this shrapnel landed and I had set my radio up against it several times that we had passed this way and stopped. This same spot was where a fellow radio operator from H&S Comm was hit by a booby trap and took a lot of small pieces of shrapnel. Could have been me.
3. We had left Thoung Duc, been out there about a week, and pretty much force marched to near Hill 65 and set up for the night. Lined out with Capt. Clark the radio watches and we had to change frequencies on the radio somewhere around 2400 hrs give or take. Told Capt. Clark that I would be on the radio when that happened to make sure everything went through alright. We had Alpha (platoons)1, 2, and 3 plus coordinate with H&S Comm, we all had to flip over at the same time. When we flipped over to the new frequency, I couldn't raise one of the platoon radios. Went back to the old freq., nothing. Back to the new freq. (Zzzzzzzz...Zzzzzz...I knowwww how tired one can be.) Nothing. I knew where they were bived, not too far away from my pos so I woke up the next watch coming on, briefed him the situation and told him I was going up there to see whats wrong. Started up the road towards their pos. A light moon was out and it was easy to see the road as I looked for landmarks that I remembered earlier when it was still light before dusk. I kept looking to my left for a lil break in the brush where I remembered they were at. It seemed like I had gone pretty far but felt I misjudged how close they were located so I kept going. I noticed in the light moon a large hill coming into view, thought "that can't be hill 65"! Kept going a lil bit further, sure the platoon I was looking for was within sight. I turned around thinking I went too far but "no, I know their right here near me", so I went a little bit further as that hill was clearing from behind the trees. BUNKERS! "No, can't be"! I'm thinking as I eased a bit further. "Oh shit! It is hill 65" as I turned around hoping they didn't see me. I knew I was going to die that moment but I had crept up slowly to see around the high tree limbs and leaves. I was really nervous now as I headed back down the road in the light moonlight. "The guys on guard duty in the bunker along the side of the hill didn't see me but now I had to get back. I kept a low profile as much as I could. Hiding now was risker than heading back down the road even if I wanted too, but I wished I wasn't where I was. I was still looking for that platoons pos as I made my way back when I heard "halt" in a loud whisper tone. I froze. "Who goes there"? "Alpha radio man" I said in the same loud whisper. "Come on in closer" one said and I did and when I got nearer, one of them said "come on in". I was quite relieved to see them up close, I was back in my lines. Then one of the guys ask me "what the fuck are you doing out there"? I briefly told them why and one said "how did you get past us? I said " I don't know cause I came right down this road. Why didn't you shoot me", I ask them? "You were too big to be charlie so we waited to get a better look". "I'm glad you did. Where are they located'? Speaking of the platoon I was trying to find, About 30 yards down on the right,", which I knew that already. " I got to get to that radio", I said. How did I miss the cut off on the road to their position I thought, as I started back to their bivouac area, just off the road. I had gotten lost. We got to hill 37, walked up the hill, out the other gate on the other side of the hill for a few clicks for a coupl err more days in bush, well, the paddies anyway where we were now. Open rice paddies. No shower a few more days. I guess three weeks in the bush wasn't enough in the eyes of the "six", that bastard! But I liked him, as a Marine. He would walk anywhere we walked, unlike many I wouldn't expect would do the same. In my mind and heart, he was a Marine's Marine. He might have been a commander but when I was around him as 1/7 CP radio, he was a soldier and acted like one, one of us. I guess that's why he is where he is, Arlington National Cemetery. I always wanted to go and salute him one day. I finally did, after 32 years. Visited with him, watched the changing of the guard of the unknown soldier, waited for the crowd to leave, walked back over to his place, spoke a few words, and did what I came do. Snapped to attention and gave him a "real" officers due, a last salute to my Battalion Commander. I had to leave Alpha Co. because of some assholes at H&S Comm. That's another story, but Col. Dowd was KIA a week later. Did the memorial service on Hill 55 before leaving for LZ Baldy in a MT Convoy. Life in Nam would never be the same for me. Stuck on fucking boring ass hill. That's why I "volenteered" to do the road sweep from Baldy to LZ Ross. "They" offered at Comm for someone to volenteer for that road sweep and, whoever did wouldn't have any guard duty or radio watch nor working parties like filling sand bags or burning shit, because it was a long road sweep and we couldn't ride back in on a 6X because they wanted us out there if a truck or convoy were ambushed. (A lot of good that would do on a 7 mile stretch of road. Yea, I volunteered for that one. Sweet deal, I didn't have to deal with the rear eschelons.) Like the day we were returning to Baldy from Ross and came up on a burned out tanker truck that wasn't there on our way to Ross earlier that morning. We never knew it happened until we walked up on it.
What I would like to know is, who almost shot me that night I went and got my dumb ass lost and looking at Hill 65 bunkers in the twilight, alone, outside our perimeter? I want to thank you two, for not firing off at me, for being smart and cautious. You extened my life 45 years that night. Thought it would be nice to be out of the field for awhile once I was on that convoy to Baldy but to be honest, being in the rear sucked big time. Why was I pulled from Alpha Co.? That's another story. Yes, I'm writing a book...
4. Before arriving in country I went to the Mediterranean Sea aboard the USS Chilton, Flag ship of comphibrontwo, a fleet of six US Navy ships with a Battalion Landing Team of US Marines, 3/2, Third Battalion 2nd Marines, 2nd Marine Division in June 1968. What we did was make six beachhead landings in conjunction with NATO. We deployed from the ships down the ropes into the MIKE boats, the same landing craft used at D-Day and landings throughout the Pacific Theater. 3/2 made landings in Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and then Spain again. OK, maybe it was five but I know from working in the Navy message center of the USS Chilton, having a secret clearance, that six landings were planned. (Memory not perfect at 64 years old) I was a board this ship with Marines that fought in Khe Sang, the rock pile, Hue City, Pleiku and other great battles of I Corp tet offensive 1968. I wanted to be like tCarolina requested orders for Wes PAC as soon as we arrived back to Morehead City, North Carolina, before we disembarked from the ship.
Once we arrived back at Camp LeJeune, I had orders for Wes PAC, went on leave for Christmas Holidays, then back to Camp Pendleton for more training. We trained with a hunk of metal shaped like an M-16 with the same weight. I never fired an M-16 before arriving in Vietnam but we did throw "one" grenadeITRost of the training was humping Pendleton hills again and instructions at bleachers like we did after boot camp at ITR. A little more intense and in depth for preparations for Nam. They were pushing us through like they did in radio school, dropping our telegraph (RTO-radio/telegraph) and cut to training for voice radio in 1967/68. We weren't using morse code in Vietnam, at least where I was going. So I never even carried an M-16 before arriving in country. On the truck leaving DA Hang for Hill 55 they actually gave us in the back two M-16's, which actually several, we were all new, guys wanted me to give it to them. They were pretty worried. I was hunting a lot when younger and while attending Military School had fired the M-1, so I was confident and wouldn't relinquish the weapon. Nothing happened on the way out to 55. I eventually made it to Hill 37 sometime late Feb. I figure. It's not on my DD-214. Had some kind of in country indoctrination and fell into routine of Comm section H&S Company 1/7. A Sgt. Lane was there whom I knew from radio school and it felt good to know somebody. My first patrol was Liberty Road sweep from 37 to 55. The remainder of the time I was doing radio watch at the French bunker and working parties, burning shit, filling sand bags, digging holes, building bunkers, oh, and guard duty on the hill. This until one day after lunch at the mess hall walking back up to Comm, which was right next to the LZ, Sgt. Lane was discussing with someone, can't remember, who they could get to go out withabout Alpha Co. as company radio man. They threw around some names and I was feeling left out because they didn't mention me so I piped up "Sgt. Lane". "Yea" he said. "I'll go out with with Alpha Co." "You want to go with Alpha Co.?" " Yea" I said. "Go get your gear, come to the office," I did and that's how I got to Alpha Co. as company radio man. I had been on one patrol before that, a road sweep, but luckily I had a lot of training with NATO in the Mediterranean Sea doing war games.This must have been around late April but who can remember that detail crap.
I don't remember if I was with Alpha Co. when the following situation occurred or not because when Alpha Co. was on the hill, as a 2531/33 I reported back to COMM section and would be called on for other small ops like night ambushes and stuff besides guard duty and radio watch on the hill. I'm out on patrol and Sgt. George Smith, (Smitty) was with us. The other company.We had our night positions in place and you know how it gets quiet when everybodies in position. Something erupted in the quiet night.

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Posted on: Dec 14, 2014 at 3:16 PM

Hi Rick. I just keep thinking "how many people I served with could have the name Winters, because Alpha Co. "one four" radio operator's name was Winters but some reason I'm always thinking his name was Charlie Winters. Are you one and the same?

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