I was a young Lieutenant going through TBS in the early seventies. The instructors where all Viet Nam Veterans and most of them where highly decorated. Navy Crosses and Silver Stars adorned the chests of many of the instructors and especially those in the tactics instructor pool. These instructors where serious, dedicated and highly motivated. Their instructional techniques included attention gainers and methods of instruction that have become legendary in the Corps. They often used examples from there own experience in Viet Nam or from the stories of extraordinary exploits that remain with units forever. This is about one of those exploits and its impact almost three decades later. The story starts in the year 1966 on Hill 488 northwest of Chulai overlooking the infamous Duc Valley where 1st Platoon, C Company, 1st Recon Bn’s 16 Marines and 2 Navy Corpsmen are inserted and ends in City of Jacksonville, Florida in 1997.
I was introduced to the exploits of SSgt Jimmy Howard and his 17 man Recon Platoon in one of those TBS classes. I can still recall how riveted we all were to every word our instructor said. SSgt Jimmy Howard and his Recon Platoon were conducting sting ray missions from the top of a 1500 foot hill over looking the Hiep Duc Valley that was loaded with North Vietnamese regulars. They had been there for two days directing artillery and air strikes into the heavily used valley. They had been very successful in directing strikes on the enemy, but this success soon lead the enemy to conclude there was an observation post atop one of the hills and they were intent on destroying it. This became an extraordinary story of how Marines survived a seemingly hopeless situation through superb leadership, Marine training, and raw courage. They were able to rise above normal expectations and perform extraordinary feats; the kind of stuff that sets Marines apart from all the rest.
“On the evening of June 15th the Marine patrol received a report that an estimated battalion size enemy force was in their area and could be headed their way. The platoon was placed on 100% alert and manned listening posts at strategic positions around the hill. If the enemy were detected or contact was made they were to return to the Platoon Command Post at the top of the hill immediately and the platoon would "bug out".
During that night and the next morning every member of the Recon Platoon was either wounded or killed. The enemy paid a high price as well. The sixteen Marines, two Navy Corpsman, and their close air support wounded or killed approximately 200 of the enemy force. When relief arrived the next morning, around 10:00 am, forty-three enemy dead lay within 5 - 20 yards of their hill top perimeter, some as a result of hand-to-hand combat. Some reports say that the Recon Platoon was out numbered by twenty to one.” Hill 488, Hildreth and Sasser
The 16 Marines and 2 Navy Corpsmen were attacked by an NVA Battalion. Unable to call in artillery because the enemy was too close and not having the immediate use of air strikes they endured over 24 hours of continuous assaults. It was not long before they were running dangerously low on ammunition and were out of grenades. They resorted to throwing rocks to deceive the enemy and routinely had to resort to hand to hand combat. They were held together by a tough SSgt of Marines who finally managed to get them extracted. Twelve of the 18 men who were on that hill survived despite the overwhelming odds. There were 4 Navy Crosses (2 posthumously), 13 Silver Stars (4 posthumously), 18 Purple Hearts and 1 Medal of Honor awarded; they became one of the most highly decorated units in Marine Corps history. It was as one officer stated “the Alamo with survivors”.
This story stuck with me throughout my career. I used it as an attention gainer during some of my classes to motivate my Marines and at TBS when I was an instructor. It is an extraordinary story of heroism and the toughness of the individual Marine at his best; it exemplifies the fighting spirit of Marines and the power of Marine leadership.
I never ran into any of those Marines while on active duty. I suppose most of them got out after their initial tours. Although Jimmy Howard was still in the Corps around this time frame, our paths never crossed. I believe he remained primarily a west coast Marine while I spent most of my time at Camp Lejeune NC. I retired in 1995 and eventually took a position as a facility director at Fleet Landing, a retirement community for military officers. I managed one of those typical maintenance crews that support residential facility operations. It was a far cry from the Marine units I had become accustom too.
“I hear you were a Marine”, said one of the older maintenance crew members. “Yeah, I spent a few years in”, I replied. “I’m a Marine; served in the mid fifties for two years” he continued and pointed over to one of the other painters who was walking towards us and said, “Chuck was in the Marines too”. Chuck Bosley introduced himself and as all Marines eventually do when they met another Marine, we chatted and asked each other about MOS’s and duty stations. I asked what he did in the Corps. He responded that he was a GRUNT and served from 1965 to 1969. I asked if he had been to Viet Nam and he replied that he had and served with 1st Recon Bn. Having been a Recon Marine myself, this sparked my interest as to who he may have served with that I knew from my time in recon. He couldn’t remember who is commanding officer was, but he remembered his platoon commander, SSgt JIMMY EARL HOWARD. Damn, this got my attention. Jimmy Howard! He was Medal of Honor Recipient and legend in the Corps. A decorated Korean War Veteran, he had a reputation of being “tough as woodpecker lips”. He had been awarded several Purple Hearts and a Silver Star in Korea. We still had a few Korean War Vets in during those years and they were all “hard Corps”, Howard was no exception. He was well respected in the Infantry Reconnaissance community as a Marines, Marine.
When I heard his name I instantly recalled the story of SSgt Jimmy Howard and his Recon Platoon on Hill 488; I asked Bosley if he was with SSgt Howard on Hill 488. “Yes, I was with him”, he replied and went about his business. My mind exploded with excitement; I was talking with and had working for me a former Marine that was part of one of the most extraordinary battles in Marine Corps History; he was one of those 12 surviving Marines from Hill 488. He was with SSgt Howard when he earned the Medal of Honor. I wanted to ask him a thousand questions and get a first hand account of the actions that took place on that hill. I had heard all the stories second hand and read a few articles on the battle, but never had an opportunity like this. For those who know Marine Corps history and the exploits of Marines throughout it, this was one of those extraordinary actions and I was talking to one of the hero’s that survived it.
There aren’t many folks who know much about Marine Corps history, Viet Nam or even care and to most of them Chuck Bosley was just a blue collar guy, a painter in a maintenance crew. But I still saw a Marine, a Marine who rose to the occasion when called upon, looked death in the eye, was willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice for his fellow Marines, and like so Viet Nam Marines never asked for anything in return. He just came back home and became a forgotten hero.
Charles Bosley was from New York and only 19 when he went to Viet Nam. He was a PFC assigned to 1st Recon, 1st Platoon, C Company. His “first” patrol in Viet Nam was Hill 488. After the action on Hill 488, he and the other survivors were assigned primarily to rear area duty. He finished out his tour in Viet Nam and was assigned to the Basic School Support Battalion as an Enlisted Instructor. It was through his familiarization with TBS and the training of Lieutenants that we eventually developed a rapport. I had the same duty station on several occasions in my career and fondly recalled the Enlisted Instructors that taught me as a young Lt and worked with me as an instructor. As we chatted about Quantico from time to time, he started to open up a little more about his experience in Viet Nam and the patrol to Hill 488. You could tell he had the utmost respect and admiration for SSgt Howard, the Marines he served with and he was proud of being a Recon Marine in 1st Recon Bn.
I knew that Chuck received a Purple Heart from the stories of the battle, but was unsure of what other awards he may have received. I thought about getting him a shadow box for his medals. One day, I asked him if he still had his Purple Heart and the medals he was awarded for his service in Viet Nam. He told me that all his medals and what gear he had was stolen years ago. He reminded me he got out in 1969 when it wasn’t fashionable to be in the military let alone been to Viet Nam. I told him about the government re-issue policy of medals and I suggested we could get his replaced. I asked him to bring me his DD-214 and what other medals or paperwork he had from his time in the Marines. A few days later he brought me his DD-214, or what was left of it, and the bottom part of a Silver Star. No Purple Heart, no citations, nothing, just small piece of the Silver Star and a worn out barely readable DD-214 is all he had left. I examined and confirmed on his DD-214 that he did in fact rate the Silver Star and Purple Heart.
I have a special place in my heart for Viet Nam veterans; I had friends that died in Viet Nam. Viet Nam Vets trained me, they fought magnificently and returned home to nothing and never got any recognition for their sacrifice and service nor did they ever ask. They are a special breed and this Marine was no exception. In my eyes he was still a MARINE. I didn’t see a painter, I saw a Marine NCO who was a Viet Nam Veteran and War Hero. I felt compelled to recognize this Marine for what he did and tell him we are grateful for his service and all he did. I didn’t want him to remain one of those forgotten heroes.
I took his DD-214 to a Marine Base and asked the admin officer if he could start the process for a re-issue of medals for this Marine. You usually don’t have to push to hard when they notice a Purple Heart and a Silver Star. They were only too happy and I know honored to help this fellow Marine. I told Bosley about what I had done and it was during that conversation, I asked him if he ever had heard of PTSD. It was obvious he had had a hard life and alcohol played a major part in it. I wasn’t sure whether he had PTSD not, but it was obvious to me that this Marine was still dealing with some demons. He told me he went to the VA shortly after getting out years ago, but it was a waste of time. He said the VA didn’t do a damn thing for him and they were too difficult to work with. I told him that I wanted him to go back to the VA and register, so we could determine what they could do for him now. I told him the VA has changed since Viet Nam and even though they are still struggling to meet the needs of Vets, they are better prepared to assist most Vets needs today than in the 60’s. From one Marine to another, I told him to get back with the VA. He hesitated and started with the thousand and one excuses; I pulled rank and ordered him to go! He said he didn’t have a driver’s license, I said I would drive him, he said he had to work, I said I was his boss and he could have the day off with pay; we went to the VA.
This was a man that was struggling with something. I couldn’t image how that experience could not have affected him. He was a 19 year old PFC on his first patrol in Viet Nam with an 18 man Recon Platoon that went head to head with an NVA Battalion for over 24 hours. They were out gunned, out manned and on the verge of being over run and annihilated and he had survived it. I was still an officer of Marines and he was one of my Marines, I was going to get him some help.
We arrived at the VA office and we were assigned to a counselor that was also a former Marine. I briefed him on Sgt Bosley and his experience on hill 488 in Viet Nam. I told him in my opinion this is a Marine Corps Hero, I wanted him to get Sgt Bosley whatever assistance he needed or was entitled to; we were not leaving until he found something that could be done. They were in the counselor’s office for over three hours. When we were driving back to the office, Sgt Bosley said he felt better about going and thanked me. Semper Fi!
It was a waiting game now with the VA and I told him to be patient and I would help him with any and all the paperwork the VA would generate and throw at him. I had experience dealing with the BUREAUCRACY and they weren’t going to wear him down filling out forms, writing statements and wanting names and addresses of witnesses, etc, etc. not this one. I figured he deserved whatever he could get, and more if I could get it; I was going to make sure this VA claim wasn’t negated because he didn’t fill out a piece of paper or write good enough statement.
I helped Sgt Bosley work up his statement and I had his wife, who was his high school sweet heart, provided me with a statement as a witness to the Marine before and the Marine after Viet Nam. We forwarded this to the VA. It wasn’t to long afterwards that he was asked for more information. This time they wanted to know if there where any surviving members that could substantiate his statement concerning the nature and cause of his injury. Sgt Bosley hadn’t been in touch with any of the other Marines in years and I knew that GySgt Howard had passed away a couple of years before. I wrote a statement that basically said that of the 12 Marines that survived the battle that day, all were recipients of the Purple Heart, all have either passed away from natural causes or succumbed to the wounds suffered as a result of the battle and we are not aware of any remaining survivors. This statement was submitted along with the comment that Sgt Bosley was awarded the Purple Heart and a Silver Star for his heroic actions that day in Viet Nam in 1966. I attached it to another copy of his DD-214 and mailed it back. We waited.
In the meantime, during one of my conversations with Sgt Bosley, I asked him when and if he was officially awarded his medals. He told me they all got them in Viet Nam a few days before being shipping back to the states. He said it wasn’t that big of a deal; he was more concerned about just getting back home. I could relate to his feelings about getting back home and I also recalled the coming home most Viet Nam Vets got back then. So, I decided to set up a welcome home and awards ceremony to re-award this Marine Hero his medals and welcome him home in the presence of his family and fellow workers. I thought it was important for those he worked with to know just what he did in Viet Nam and that he was a War Hero. I wanted his daughters to see their father as more than just a painter, I wanted them to see him being recognized and honored by the Marine Corps. I wanted his daughters to hear, from the Marines, what he did and how he preformed under unbelievable odds, I wanted them to know their father was a Hero that we were proud to call a Marine. I wanted to provide others the opportunity to say thank you for your service and willingness to sacrifice for us, the thank you he didn’t get in the 60’s. He rated it and his wife, who has been with him forever, deserved it after all those years.
The awards ceremony was to be held at Fleet Landing activities center. Captain Richard “Dick” Stratton USN a former POW in Viet Nam and resident of Fleet Landing was asked and agreed to award the Purple Heart and I wanted a SNCO to award the Silver Star out of respect for SSgt Howard. Master Gunnery Frank Ortiz of the Blount Island Command accepted the honor. Retired Marines from Fleet Landing and Marines from the Blount Island Command in Jacksonville, FL were invited to participate. It was important for me to have Sgt Bosley experience the camaraderie of being a Marine once again. It was important to me to have his wife and two daughters, who weren’t born until years after he left the Corps, see their father being honored by his fellow Veterans, Marines and his Marine Corps. I wanted to make sure Sgt Bosley felt the pride of being a Marine and a Viet Nam Veteran.
I special ordered an anodized Silver Star and Purple Heart from the Marine Shop in Quantico, Va. as a gift to Sgt Bosley. I told him he could pass them down to his grand children. I planned on having these medals presented to his wife and daughters during the ceremony. But there remained one problem…NO citation. We needed something to read at the awards ceremony for the presentation of the Silver Star. The Purple Heart was easy, but an award for heroism usually explains the actions involved in receiving the award. After a few days of thinking it over and still not being able to locate a citation, I decided I would write one for the occasion. I had knowledge of the procedures involved and I had read and wrote several citations for both meritorious and heroic actions during my career. I figured I knew enough about the battle that I could write something respectful and appropriate.
I already received the anodized version, they were awesome. It wasn’t too long afterwards that the government issued medals arrived. This is what we needed to move forward with the ceremony. I unpacked medals and in the package, to my surprise, were copies of his citations. When I read the Silver Star citation, it become evident to me that there was no way I could have done this man’s act of heroism justice. It was one of those citations that hit’s you hard. It was one of those that leave you spellbound and wondering why this PFC wasn’t awarded a Medal of Honor. It has been years since I’ve seen that citation, but one part does stick out in my mind. It mentions amongst several actions that PFC Bosley seeing a grenade land near a wounded fellow Marine shields the Marine with his own body absorbing the concussion, suffering shrapnel wounds he returns to his fighting position and continues to repel the enemy. This was just a small part of that citation; it was a remarkable citation, it was a remarkable act of courage.
The ceremony went off without a hitch and the center was packed with veterans from WWII to current day Marines. It was covered by the local TV news channel. Captain Dick Stratton awarded SGT Bosley the Purple Heart, hugged him and said, Welcome, Home! The Silver Star citation was so powerful that during the reading the reader become emotional and could not finish, I had to take the citation and finish reading it. Master Gunnery Sgt Ortiz pinned on the Silver Star and Marines presented Sgt Bosley’s wife and Daughters with the anodized medals. There wasn’t a dry eye in the center. This was a powerful moment for all involved and I was thankful this Marine was getting the recognition he so rightfully deserved and other Viet Nam Vets and heroes have been denied. It was a good day to be a Marine. It was a good day to recognize one of those forgotten heroes that walk amongst us.
Sgt Bosley had a few days off to spend with his family before they returned to Pittsburgh. When he returned he thanked me and handed me a copy of the 1968 reader’s digest with the article on Hill 488. I still have it and cherish it as a reminder of that day and the heroism of those Marines. It’s special.
It returned to business as usual in the maintenance department. I asked Sgt Bosley if he heard from the VA; it had been a few months by this time. He told me he didn’t hear anything and probably wouldn’t because that’s the way the VA has always been. I told him he had a file number and to go into the office and call about the status of his case. He reluctantly did what I directed and as I watch him from afar over the several minutes he was on the phone, I saw his expression change. I asked him what was wrong. He told me that they had awarded him a disability pension. He was stunned! I pulled him aside and told him to use this money to get what ever help he needed and get back on track with his family. It was a good day for Vets!
Sgt Bosley eventually left Fleet Landing and moved back to Pittsburgh. His daughters asked him to move back there to be closer to them and his grand children. I can’t say whether seeing their father being awarded a medal for something that happened years before they were born had any impact, but I do know by the look on their faces that day they not only witnessed a tribute to a hero but also started to understand. I guess Captain Stratton put it the best way when he said, “Welcome Home”!
I was honored to have met Sgt Bosley and damn proud of him as a Marine. I look back on that time not only with a smile, but also a sense of sadness. Sadness because we still have other forgotten hero’s that haven’t had their day. I suppose they’re some who say we as vets got what we bargained for and just serving your country is a gift and reward enough. But I submitted to those that feel this way, the real gift is what we who served and serve gave and continue to give, our lives. The time spent in the defense of this country whether it is for 2 years, 4 years, 30 years is a big gift and in some cases the “ultimate sacrifice” is a significant gift. Those that are willing to offer this gift comprise less than 10% of our population and today less than 5% of the population is currently off defending the country in the War on Terrorism. Less than 10% of our population is willing to step up and defend this country while 90 % continue, with uninterrupted lives, to enjoy the benefits of their sacrifices. All those that serve and served are the ones that are the gift bearers; they are the ones willing to make the sacrifices for the sake of all. So, is it too much to ask of the 90% that did not or will not serve to look around and take some time and effort to acknowledge the forgotten hero’s? Vets take care of Vets and MARINES certainly take care of MARINES, but to all those that didn’t serve I say, take the time to say THANK YOU. You never know you may find one of our forgotten hero’s amongst you. Well Done, Sgt Bosley USMC, thank you for your gift of service and sacrifice; Welcome, Home, Marine!