26 August 2010


By Andy Weddington
Friday, 27 August 2010

“Within the soul of each Vietnam veteran there is probably something that says "Bad war, good soldier." Only now are Americans beginning to separate the war from the warrior.” Max Cleland

Today's Commentary...true story about a couple of captains--a courageous U. S. Marine Corps infantryman and an equally courageous U. S. Air Force pilot--and their battlefield hasty rendezvous and subsequent hair-raising dash--through heavy enemy gunfire--to friendly lines.

But first, a little history to set the stage...

The year--1967.

Lyndon Baines Johnson was president of these United States. The current resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was 3 1/2 years-old, and living in Jakarta. For the geography-challenged, Jakarta is not in the United States.

General Wallace M. Green, Jr. was Commandant of the Marine Corps. General John P. McConnell was Air Force Chief of Staff.

The NFL played its first "Super Bowl" (AFL-NFL Championship Game)--the Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs. Quarterbacks Bart Starr and Len Dawson "captain'ed" their respective teams. I remember the game but not the score. It doesn't matter. And, by the way, it'd be another two and a half years before Brett Favre, once of Packer fame, would be born. And decades before we'd know from season-to-season whether or not he was retired. In colors or not--cheesehead?

Astronauts Chaffee, Grissom, and White were killed in a fire during a pre-launch test for Apollo 1.

Thurgood Marshall was sworn in as the first black justice to sit on the Supreme Court.

'Bonnie and Clyde,' 'Cool Hand Luke,' 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner,' 'In the Heat of the Night,' and 'The Graduate' hit the silver screen.

Old school Frank Sinatra won a Grammy for 'Strangers in the Night'--Record of the Year. He also earned a Grammy for Album of the Year. New school Beatles released 'Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.'

A team of South African surgeons, led by Dr. Christiaan Barnard, performed the first successful human heart transplant. The patient lived--for 18 days.

John Coltrane, Woody Guthrie, and Spencer Tracey died.

America was amidst significant cultural change and turmoil--long hair, afros, bell bottoms, lava lamps, black lights, hippies, free love, drugs, tie-dyed T-shirts, love beads, racial tension, peace signs, draft dodgers, incense and draft card burners, riots, and war protests. In other words, it was pretty damn nutty. Sometimes it was downright scary.

The day--Monday, March 20th...

The 79th day of the calendar year and less than two weeks after my mother's annual "29th" birthday.

Just another day. People were born. People died--some of natural causes, some in accidents, and some in combat. Yet the day was as unique as each day before it and each day after it. So goes life.

The Supremes--fronted by Diana Ross--released their hit song "The Happening."

In Garland, Texas, a baby boy was welcomed to the world who grew up to be a phenomenal basketball player; a star in college Division I and the NBA. That boy? Mookie Blaylock.

The popular war-themed series, "The Rat Patrol"--a small, elite force running amok in heavily armed jeeps--in its first season aired episode 27,"Take Me to Your Leader Raid."

A U. S. Marine Corps captain reported to the Commanding Officer of VMD-6--a helicopter squadron deployed to Vietnam. From his reporting date through 22 September--little more than six months--he earned the Medal of Honor, Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, and 32 Air Medals. His name? Stephen Pless. Surviving hundreds and hundreds of combat missions, he was just 30 years-old when killed in a motorcycle accident in Pensacola, Florida, in 1969. A hero indeed but not the star of today's Commentary.

General A. J. F. Moody became the first U. S. Army flag officer to die in Vietnam.

And, the monthly issue of Playboy magazine was on the street--for the 20th day; officially. Playmate of the Month: Fran Gerard--a nineteen year-old 5' 2" 110 lb looker and the first to wear eyeglasses in her centerfold pose. Fran was popular with the Marines in Vietnam. And Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen, too. So much for the old adage about guys not making passes at girls who wear glasses. Then again, maybe they didn't notice her glasses--or Fran. For everyone knows young men--especially warriors, and some old ones, enjoy Playboy not so much for the half-ass (sometime full) photojournalism but for the exceptional articles. Well, maybe just a peek at the photos. Though it is peculiar how the color pages of the rabbit-eared mazagine get dog-eared; another mystery of our universe.

I wore a uniform  in those days, but knew nothing of such a magazine. A fourth-grader attending a K-8, one classroom each grade, non-air-conditioned parochial school--with convent on the second deck--in mill country North Carolina had little time for the fairer gender. School began with a semi-circle formation, by grade, near the flagpole. After classmates raised colors, we recited the Pledge of Allegiance or sang our National Anthem. I was aware of the Vietnam War but only as much as any 10 year-old in the day could understand. And, yes, we prayed in school--for everything and everyone; including soldiers.

Other than going to school, I've no memories from that day--probably homework, out to play until dinner, television, and to bed (to sleep peaceably because rough men were doing violence on my behalf--to paraphrase George Orwell). For sure I could not have imagined what a hectic, remarkable, and dangerous day--doing their duty and hoping to survive--a couple of rough Americans waging war on the other side of the planet had. And little did the Marine know that when the heat of battle was over it'd be well into the fifth decade after his heroism that official recognition--a decoration--would catch up to him.

And for one last tidbit of context...visiting with some retired Marines, far my senior, before the award ceremony I learned they were colonels and sergeants major when the general, who was going to pin the award on "Big Mac's" jacket lapel, was a second lieutenant. And that general was no more than six or seven, if that, on that fateful day in Vietnam. He, too, clueless as to what was happening on the other side of the world, slept peaceably. Time marches on. Marines are Marines are Marines.

                      "Courage is the art of being the only one who knows you're scared to death!" Earl Wilson

Here's the official story as it appears on letterhead...

Centered just below a blue flag--adorned with a white anchor and a white five-point star in each corner--at the top of page is the blue all upper-case words...

                                                                 THE SECRETARY OF THE NAVY

Then follows...

      The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the

                                                                     CAPTAIN MARCEL J. DUBE

                                                               UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS

for service as set forth in the following


     For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy as Senior Advisor to the Third Battalion, Vietnamese Marine Corps engaged against enemy forces in the Republic of Vietnam on 20 March 1967. During a heavy battle Captain Dube led a small team of Vietnamese Marines through enemy lines to rescue a U.S Air Force Forward Air Controller whose L-19 aircraft had been shot down by enemy fires 200 meters in front of friendly lines. In route to the aircraft he personally killed 11 enemy soldiers with his weapon as they fought through enemy lines. Reaching the aircraft Captain Dube extricated the pilot and then fought his way back to friendly lines, eventually evacuating the pilot by helicopter, all done under heavy enemy fire. Returning later in the day to the L-19 he righted the overturned aircraft, disarmed its onboard ordnance, and then coordinated the arrival, hook-up, and departure of a cargo helicopter to recover the L-19, again under enemy fire. Captain Dube's heroic action prevented the capture and saved the life of the Forward Air Controller, enabled the recovery of the L-19, and destroyed 11 enemy soldiers by his own hand. By his bold initiative, undaunted courage, and complete dedication to duty, Captain Dube reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.

                                                                                                          For the President,

                                                                                                          (signed) Ray Mabus

                                                                                                          Secretary of the Navy

That is how the award recipient--Big Mac Dube, the rescued pilot--Phil Jones, hundreds of others including family, close friends, distinguished civic leaders, Marines and Sailors, reporters, and me heard the citation at the award presentation on Friday morning, 20 August 2010, aboard the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California--ironically, Colonel Dube's last duty station before retiring 24 years ago. He was the Chief of Staff.

I have six riveting pages titled "The Story Behind the Story" Big Mac penned recalling his actions on March 20th, 1967 and gave to me a month or so ago. As I received his detailed account before acquiring a copy of the citation, I thought for sure I'd make use of it for this Commentary. But once reading the citation it was clear nothing more really need be said. As with all heroism the succinctness and power of the citation needs no edification.

Though Big Mac's Silver Star was a long-time coming his heroism was never forgotten by a handful of Marines (some now dead and some unable to attend the ceremony) who had first-hand awareness of his bravery, and especially not forgotten by Phil Jones. For readers unfamiliar, the Silver Star is our nation's third-highest award for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States.

At a reception following the ceremony I had the pleasure and honor of meeting Phil Jones and his wife--they'd come from considerable distance to be with Big Mac. Phil's time was in demand but I managed a few minutes to hear his account of that day. Fascinating. It looked to me like there was a bead or two of sweat as he recollected. In short, he was flying low (100 to 300 feet typically) and slow (80 mph or so) looking for bad guys when--as he said, "...my propeller stopped..."--shot down behind enemy lines crash-landing his airplane upside down. It's important to note the L-19 was not outfitted with ejection seat nor was the pilot equipped with parachute. Infantryman respect, if not admire, this sort of aviator--likewise a rough man and not sure whether to think them brave or foolish, but thankful for them regardless. Though injured and disoriented, he managed to free himself from restraints and exit the aircraft about the time his guardian angel, Captain Dube, appeared. Then came their harrowing hundreds of yards dash through heavy enemy fire to friendly lines and his evacuation for medical care. Oddly enough, there were enemy POWs on the helo.

Phil Jones flew more than 300 combat missions (sometimes two a day). His interesting day on March 20th was not nearly his last flight. After recovering from injuries he returned to flying status for another six months. He mentioned a bird strike on one of his early flights that was a little unnerving but the frightening experience of being shot down did not otherwise interrupt his subsequent flying, low and slow, doing what he was trained and expected to do--support gunfighters on the ground. Though there was no mention and I did not ask, I know Mr. Jones was awarded at least one Distinguished Flying Cross, certainly some Air Medals, and sundry combat decorations. In his own right he's a larger-than-life hero of our country. As he spoke, he struck me as humble and not one to talk about his service unless directly asked and maybe even not then--it would depend upon who was asking; such is a common trait of warriors who have nothing to prove. Here was a man thankful to be alive, and enjoying the moment reunited with the man who saved his life.

Shortly after the reception, while another small gathering of old Marines was about to recognize Big Mac and Phil, I heard someone mention "...43 years ago..." and Phil casually remarked, "I was a kid." He was. An then it occurred to me--thankfully, our country still produces kids like Phil Jones and Mac Dube. Those "kids"--some witnessed the ceremony and some are now on duty; some in Afghanistan. And one or two unknowingly destined to not be recognized for their extraordinary heroism for decades. So goes the business of war. Every generation has true heroes.

Anyway, that "small gathering of old Marines"--representing the Desert Cities Chapter of the 1st Marine Division Association named in honor of Medal of Honor recipient Marine Colonel Mitchell Paige--presented Big Mac, one of their own, with an engraved K-Bar (combat knife) and welcomed Phil Jones as a lifetime Honorary Member. Presented an attesting letter and Chapter polo shirt Phil, clearly moved, struggled to find his words; find them he did.

Though corresponding through the years the reunion was the first personal visit between the two rough men in more than 43 years. No hostile gunfire and mad dash toward safety this time. Just memories and genuinely heart-warming camaraderie--in the Officers' Club pub of walls adorned with Marine units plaques. How fitting.

But the story is not quite over.

A few weeks ago I received an email from a stranger--a Marine so not really a stranger--who had found my Commentary site and read, "MARINES, BRASS RECYCLED, AND MYSTERY--SOLVED" posted for Friday, 28 May 2010. That Commentary another interesting tale involving Colonel Big Mac Dube. Strangely enough, the reader had, a few days earlier, himself received an email from a stranger--another Marine--asking if he could possibly assist with connecting him to a "Captain Dubee" a "Mustang" (term used to describe an officer who has served as an enlisted man) who he served alongside in 11th Engineers in Vietnam. The note to me wanted to know if it could be the same Dube? As Marines speak to each other, I sent a note to the Marine querying me, "Stand by." I then sent an email to Colonel Dube. Following is his reply--which he probably did not expect to see in this forum but would not object whatsoever:

"There is no doubt about this one, my brother, First Lieutenant Serge R. Dube (Former Master Sergeant) was with them at that time and we had several occasions where he had the time to visit with me when he found out that my Vietnamese Marine Battalion was around his area of operations. In fact, I had the opportunity to visit his compound once and met his CO and some of his friends during a lull in battle. I was in the Saigon area and had just been bandaged up after sustaining some wounds around the Cambodian Border.

Serge died last year from cancer which he no doubt inherited from his extended months trodding around that Vietnamese countryside getting sprayed with agent ORANGE!

Feel free to give them my phone number or e-mail, my friend! VERY GRATEFULLY!!!!!!!!

Yours Aye/Semper Fi

Big Mac"

Major Serge Ronald Dube, USMC (Ret) -- (21 Sep 1931 - 02 Oct 2008), another rough man, was a Marine for 28 years and like his brother a "Mustang." He was a veteran of the Korean War and Vietnam War. During his faithful and distinguished service, among other decorations, he was awarded the Bronze Star and the Navy Commendation Medal with Combat "V" (Valor). What a shame Serge was not able to share in his brother Mac's big day.

These are the real Dube brothers! A couple of rough Marines. A couple of unpretentious true American heroes.

The other Doobie Brothers--not kin, their name taken from slang for the illegal weed, came later. They were mere musicians who wrote and played some memorable tunes--'China Grove,' 'Listen to the Music,' 'Neal's Fandango,' and 'South City Midnight Lady' come to mind. Coincidently, one of their other memorable tunes is titled 'The Captain and Me.' Life is full of ironies.

Congratulations, Big Mac!

Semper Fidelis.

Post Script

The L-19 'Bird Dog' was a tail-dragger developed from the Cessna 170. It was so named because the pilot, a Forward Air Controller, was to loiter low and slow over the battlefield, locate enemy, then direct artillery or aircraft fire in the attack; similar to a bird dog alerting a hunter to prey. The 'Bird Dog' was effective but also vulnerable. Losses in Vietnam totaled 469. The U. S. Air Force lost 178 (179 if not for Captain Dube). The U. S. Marine Corps lost seven. The U. S. Army, South Vietnamese forces, and other friendly forces accounted for the rest.

A distinguished career spanning well over three decades, Colonel Big Mac Dube also earned the Legion of Merit, four Bronze Star Medals with Combat "V", four Purple Hearts, two Air Medals, the Joint Service Commendation Medal with Combat "V", three Navy Commendation Medals with Combat "V", the Army Commendation Medal, the Combat Action Ribbon and sundry other unit decorations, foreign personal awards (Vietnamese), and for his time as an enlisted Marine he wears the Good Conduct Medal with one star. His recent Silver Star rests atop them all.

Colonel Big Mac Dube--a Marine's Marine. As 27th Commandant, General Robert H. Barrow--himself a highly-decorated combat veteran, penned to him years ago, "...a stalwart of the Corps."

Author's Endnote

Max Cleland, credited with the opening quote, is a disabled Army veteran of the Vietnam war. He was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star with "V" and the Purple Heart. He served in the United States Senate--D, GA.

1 comment:

Bruce said...

Colonel - we're on the same wavelength it seems. After posting nothing on my blog for a few days, my post today by sheer coincidence is about another hero whose passing was un-noticed by all but a very special group of men ... The Medal of Honor Society. The man's name was Sergeant David C. Dolby, USA. An amazing story of an amazing and VERY brave man.

I wish I could write as well as you - the man deserves the best - and I freely admit my skills in putting such things into words are lacking.