Veteran recalls difference in Vietnam tours
BRUNSWICK, Ga. — Many veterans were influenced by family members who served before them, but Bill Harvey drew his inspiration from another source: books.
Harvey grew up on a farm in Rochester, Vt.
"As a teenager I was an avid reader," Harvey said.
It was reading books like "Battle Cry," "Guadalcanal Diary" and "Heroes of the Marine Corps" that gave him glimpses of Marine life.
While in college, he attended a platoon leaders class summer camp in Quantico, Va., during the summers of 1964 and 1965.
"I just fell in love with the Marine Corps," he said.
As a newly commissioned officer following his graduation from college in 1966, he attended basics school.
The school typically lasted 26 weeks, but with the climate of the Vietnam War, it was shortened to 20 weeks, after which Harvey went to Vietnam.
For 17 months he served as a platoon commander with 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines and spent all of 1967 in An Hoa.
Action was in no short supply.
"We were stuck out in the middle of nowhere," he said. "The whole year, we never won a battle."
The following year brought the Battle of Hue City, which was part of the Tet Offensive. He worked as a staff officer in charge of making riflemen out of cooks, mechanics and others who typically never used guns.
"We stopped worrying about logistics and just worried about survival," he said.
After his first tour, he returned to the states for two years, during which he attended reconnaissance and amphibious warfare school.
He was called back to Vietnam to be a company commander for 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines and 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines.
Harvey brought the last Marine rifle company out of Vietnam in May 1971.
"I tell everyone I turned out the lights for the Marine Corps," he said.
When Harvey looks back at the two tours, he sees stark differences.
In his first tour, he saw countless battles resulting in heavy casualties and few victories. When he returned, he saw less conflict and fewer casualties.
The introduction of the new Cobra helicopters was the most important difference.
"Every time we got in a fight, there would be a Cobra lurking over the next hillside," he said. "That really got [the enemy's] attention."
In 1971, he became an inspector-instructor of the reserves in Albuquerque, N.M.. He also served as the area's casualty officer. He also served as aide of the general of the Fleet Marine Forces, Pacific, and served at Camp Pendleton as the commanding officer of 1st Battalion, 7th Marines.
In 1987 he retired as a lieutenant colonel.
Harvey lives in his Rochester during warmer months and operates a business specializing in landscaping, stonescaping and aquascaping. He and his wife Judy escape to their winter home in Brunswick during the cold months.