The battle of Frank McAdams
Profilers: Yuhao Wang, Angeolyn Dayrit & Michael Gurayah
Motivation of Joining the War
Q: Hi Frank, thank you for joining us here today. To start can you tell us your motivation for joining the war
My motivation for joining the Marine Corp was in 1965, after the Battle of la Drang Valley got a lot of publicity. It really heated up on my college Loyola University in Chicago and I realized then that it was going to be the biggest thing that hit my generation and I had to make a decision if I was going to be a part of it.
Q: How did your family or significant other react when you told them that you were going to join the Marine Corp and plan to go to Vietnam
After I went to the Officer Selection Office in Chicago, I told them that I applied for Officer’s training in the Marine Corp. At the time, the young woman who that I was dating… she and I decided to get married. It caused a lot of controversy… both pro and con… mostly con because they were very concerned about what was going to happen to me If I went to Vietnam as a Marine Officer going right into warzone. As a result of that my wife would be a widow at the age of 22 so it caused a lot of concern and controversy… we talked it over and we decided to take the chance anyway. There were a lot of people who were for the war who thought what I was doing was wrong. I saw a considerable amount of hypocrisy, especially with some of my peers in college who were very supportive of President Jackson… very supportive of the war… but let the other guy go.
Q: So you didn’t want to be like that person… letting somebody else take your spot
Right. I saw that to be extremely hypocritical.
Conflict in The War
Q: In your memoir, you devoted a considerable amount of time describing the conflict between you and your commanding officer. Can you explain that conflict to us?
Sure. When I got to Vietnam,I went to a Motor Transport Battalion… I was trained to run Motor Transport resupply convoys. We ran Motor Transport convoys up and down highway 1, north to the High Van Pass to Hue Phu Bai, south to Hoi Ann and other points. I went in as a Second Lieutenant as a platoon commander in a transport company. When the president commander (1st lieutenant) left… I got promoted to first lieutenant and then I become the interim company commander. I was told at the time there will be a company commander coming in shortly… so for about two weeks I was the company commander. What I did was I just held staff meetings with the sergeants, I had to sign papers and memos and stuff like that … then one day I was called to a meeting with all the company commanders and then I met my new company commander.
My company commander was a very difficult man… to be perfectly blunt, he was the most despicable person I was ever around. He turned out to be a coward and a liar and this captain when I first met him, I thought he was going to be a pretty good company commander. Then came the June 10th convoy that he was on… it was a 120 truck convoy and we had to go down to operations and get briefed on it. We knew at the time… that we could tell by his mannerisms, one of the other Lieutenants looked at me and said … he mouthed it, I am sitting across from him and he mouthed it over to me … He said * Frank mouths words*… and I said what *Frank mouths words*. I figured out what he said… he doesn’t want to go. The captain didn’t want to take the convoy because we were going through a notorious High Van Pass, which was about 600 feet above sea level… climbing up the pass they called Ambush Prone and then we got to the top of the pass where there was an old French Fort… we had to take the convoy down to the other side, which was written with a lot of ambush sites and he knew that.
We tried to get the convoy broken up over a 3 day period into various serials… 1 serial, 2 serials, 3 …. over a 3 day period. Operations turned it down and they wanted the entire convoy going up. Once we got to the top of the pass, I thought it was going to be okay… we came down on the other side of the pass and about 5 minutes later, a big gap emerged and there were about three South Vietnamese village boys who were filling sand bags for a bridge security squad. The North Vietnamese soldiers came upon those three boys and immediately killed two of them… shot them both in the head… set up a mortar site, a 82 millimeter mortar site and claymore mines… so when the second part of that convoy moves through that area they were hit. It was a big ambush and I was the pace officer… I got on the radio and I told them where I thought the ambush site was. I tried to contact my company commander… he was missing off the radio net for approximately 12 minutes . We found out later… what he did was he got his jeep driver to get on the side of the road and he got out of there… he wouldn’t take any radio messages. As a result, I think we lost about four or five trucks… and we took eleven casualties.
When we got to Phu Bai, we staged at the air strip.. there was a big air strip there. The first thing I did is I went over to his jeep and I asked him why was he off his radio net for about twelve minutes… he looked at me and he said, “ We’ll talk about that later, I have to get over to operations”… so he told his jeep driver to drive him to operations. I looked at the jeep driver’s face and the expression on his face said it all… I just thought to myself that something happened. What happened was that he told his jeep driver to get out of the area. When we got back to Da Nang, I went to the communications shack… I pulled the jeep driver out and I asked what happened? He said I am sorry Lieutenant, I can’t tell you anything… I said why.. He said the captain ordered me not to say anything. I saw that and I remembered how he acted in office meetings… I remembered the incident with moving the bunker … and I knew I was going to have one hell of a problem on my hands… and I did. That was the start of my dilemma.
Conflict in The War
Q: During your time in Vietnam, did your views on the war change or did you feel like your beliefs were even strengthened during the war?
My view on the war did change during my time in Vietnam… we had to win the hearts and minds of the people as we were told. That became a cliché to the point where a lot of us didn’t believe it at the time because we could see that attitude of some of the villagers who simply wanted to be left alone… but they were being bothered not only on our side but on the other side also. All they wanted to do was survive, work the rice paddies and not really be a part of what they call the American War. We saw that we didn’t really have the entire support of the country side in the provinces, I knew it was going to be a long, protracted war and it was a good chance that we would have to pull out. I saw how difficult war is… that you can train for it… you can prepare for it… but one you’re in it, things change in an instant where you have to react to it. Then things will change again and you will have to react to that. At the same time, you have to maintain a certain, even disposition… even though you’re seeing people getting killed… villagers… and even your own men.
After a period of time, that really wears you down. You find yourself sometimes after an action where you’re wondering if you did the right thing because as I said you could prepare for it… but you can only prepare up to a certain point and at that point you have to rely on your training and your instincts. Over a period of time If I saw my senior command, the senior usher line in my battalion… they really relegated the truck convoys going into what we called hot areas … they relegated it to us younger lieutenants. Then after we would come back from the convoys, we would get a lecture on what we did wrong… not what we did right. It was always they were always right and we were always wrong.
Life After The War Pt.1
Q: In your memoir, you mentioned how you kept correspondence with your wife who was still in the U.S… specifically you talked about how she witnessed the Chicago rally and the riots after Hubert Humphrey’s democratic nomination. Do you think that prepared you adequately for your return home to the U.S?
What I was expecting was after the Democratic Convention, which was the third week of August… I was in a terrible fight. I had to take a first force recon down to an intersection where a North Vietnamese battalion crossed the rivers south of the nine-yard strip. They just thought it was a sapper unit… about ten people… but it actually turned out to be something like 500 Vietnamese troops and we were down there for a 3 day fight. It was absolutely terrible; house to house fighting and everything. Anyways, I survived it… I saw a lot of people get killed …. I saw a lot of villagers get killed. But, I survived it and came back wearing my same uniform that I went down there with after three days and a three day’s growth of beard. My wife sent me not only a letter, but a tape telling me what was going on in Chicago at Hubert Humphrey’s headquarters… the Battle of Grant Park. This happened when I came back from this fight… it was the third week of August of 1968 and in her letter she said, “you think you’re the only one in trouble… let me tell you where I was today”. She explained what the Battle of Grant park was like … the anti-war riot at the Chicago Democratic convention… and I realized at that point that the anti-war movement was really going to heat up. Once I landed back in Chicago to go to my next duty station which was Camp Pendleton in California, I realized that I’m going to be walking into something that’s going to be very unusual.
My father was a World War II naval officer and he was wounded at the invasion of the Phillipines. He told me he said “I came back (this is my father talking) a war hero… you just came back .” He was up on all of the reactions and everything and about the student anti-war movement which was really across the country… going from the Ivy League universities, Columbia, the University of Wisconsin all the way to the University of California Berkeley and even they had big anti-war demonstrations at UCLA and also even here on the campus of USC.
Life After The War Pt.2
Q: Well, do you think your father’s reaction was very telling of how influential the young generation was
What my Dad’s reaction was simply to realize his war was a good war… he came back a hero, whereas I just came back. After I assimilated into the workforce…. After I left active duty on the Marine Corp, there were a lot of people who resented me for not only being in the Marine Corp, but fighting in Vietnam. I went into a syndrome that was called they were blaming the warrior… and not the war. I was a journalist for six and a half years and I got that at both newspapers. For the first newspaper I was at, they had a cocktail party social function right after I joined the staff… and I walked in the week before they had a little item in the newspaper about me and the fact that I was with the first Marine division in Vietnam. The managing editor’s wife walked up to me at the cocktail party and she looked at me and said, “Why did you join the Marine Corp!”… It was the first thing she said to me in that tone. Anytime I was at a social function during that particular time, she always found a way to slam the military in general and the Marine Corps in particular because she knew I was in the Marine Corp. That was just one incident… there were several others too. I had a business interview when I was on active duty and I wore my uniform … I got criticized for wearing my uniform with ribbons and badges. I’m in the business interview with two other people for a communications company and once they saw my ribbons and badges on my chest, one of them looked at me and said, “ Did you ever kill anyone over there!”…. in that tone.
Q: How did you reply?
The way that I remember it… I gave him a round about answer. I didn’t want to give him the pleasure of saying yes. I really resented it and even when he asked me that question, I knew any chance by me getting hired by this company was gone. At that point I ended the interview and I said, “Gentlemen… I don’t see any reason to continue this interview.”… I got up and walked out… I went out into the hall to the elevator and pushed the down button. The coordinator who set up the interview plus the two people in the interview were leaving for a coffee break. They came around the corner to catch the elevator … I was still waiting for the elevator and they refused to ride down in the elevator with me.
Q: Did they just walk off?
No, they hid around the corner. They came around… saw me and then ducked back around the corner. That all changed with the Veterans coming back from Operation Dessert Storm. I think the country realized their own guilt of the way they treated Vietnam Veterans and the attitude all across the country toward Veterans started to change. It has changed and it really gone completely 180 degrees to the opposite of the way we, Vietnam Veterans, were treated when we came back.
Q: That’s a great change
Yes, it was. All for the better too. There is still a lot of Veterans out there that can say and some of them have the attitude that I have: I can forgive, but I’m certainly not going to forget.
War Is A Mistake
Q: Is there something that you think anyone regardless of when they were born either during the war or after the war needs to know, what would you want to tell that person?
That war is the worst human experience on the planet. That as the man said a long time ago, war is hell. We keep repeating the same mistakes… it’s the worst experience that anybody can go through and it shows sometimes the ignorance of nations who refused to speak with each other and resort to war. War affects everybody… even the families that stay behind and occupy the home front… they are affected by it during the war and when the Veteran comes home. The thing that I find so troubling is the fact that this keeps happening through history over and over again… people have to start talking to each other and listening to each other and avoiding war because once war starts, the younger generations are going to pay for it.