View Full Version : Marine vet returns to Vietnam 38 years later

01-23-08, 08:43 AM
Marine vet returns to Vietnam 38 years later


Article published on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2008

SEMINOLE – In recent years, Jim Adams of Seminole became curious.

After serving 26 months in the Marine Corps in Vietnam during the late 1960s, Adams, 60, settled into civilian life but always wondered what it would be like to go back under safer conditions.

In August 2006, he got his chance when he and 21 other Vietnam veterans took a two-week trip to the areas where they once served during a much more turbulent time.

The trip, organized by Military Historical Tours of Alexandria, Va., began in Hanoi before heading south to DaNang, Hoi An, Chu Lai, across the Hai Van Pass to Phu Bai, Hue, Dong Ha, Camp Carroll in the former demilitarized zone, a visit to the Laotian border near Dong Ha, back to DaNang and then a flight back to Hanoi before heading home.

“The first day, my thoughts were all over the place,” said Adams, who joined the Marines at age 17 in Somerville, Mass. “Then we met some former (Viet Cong) and (North Vietnamese Army) who we actually fought against and it was OK. I don’t know how to put it. There was no hostility. It was just like we were old buddies.”

The meeting was outside the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum in Hanoi.

Things were much different a few days later in Hoi An, a coastal city south of Chu Lai, where Adams served in a combined action platoon, or CAP unit, known as Sierra 5 with 12 other Marines and a local militia.

Duty in CAPs was volunteer and due to the nature of their assignment, they didn’t officially exist. Their job was to neutralize VC and NVA activity through night patrols and ambushes, while converting villagers in the area to allies.

Adams said he is the lone survivor of his unit.

Shortly after the Tet offensive of 1968, the tide of the war took a dramatic change and Adams’ team was not immune. In March of that year, he watched as his commanding officer and executive officer were blown to pieces by a pair of mines leading into the unit’s Hoi An compound.

Meantime, back in Massachusetts, Adams said his family was growing concerned because they had not heard from him in a long time. So they contacted the Red Cross, who in turn contacted the Marines to find out the status of Adams.

Once he was located, Adams was called into a Marines regimental headquarters and questioned by a chaplain why he had not been sending mail home. Adams sarcastically replied that there weren’t too many mailboxes on the palm trees where he was assigned and the conversation got worse after that.

Later, after he was warned that he could be court-martialed, Adams said the chaplain switched gears and reassigned him to a state-side base. Less than 48 hours later he was back in the States.

About six weeks later, Adams said the NVA and VC dug tunnels into the Hoi An compound and killed all members of Sierra 5. He said most were shot in the back.

Had he not been reassigned that year in April, Adams would have been there too.

So, when he first revisited Hoi An, it was a chilling experience. Four days later he and other members of the U.S. veterans group revisited the site and it was much different.

“I was able to point to certain locations and explain what happened there,” said Adams. “It was a lot easier.”

It was final closure, he said.

Initial closure on his war experiences did not come easy.

“The first 10 years, every holiday around New Year’s, something would trip me off and I’d have an altercation with the police,” Adams said.

Thanks to treatment by Veterans Administration medical personnel, he was able to beat the demons.

“It’s been a rough road but over the last 30 years I haven’t had an incident,” Adams said. “This trip was sort of the icing on the cake for me.”

He recommends other Vietnam vets experience a similar trip.

“I highly suggest it,” Adams said. “Everything American is gone. China Beach is gone. But it still looks like Vietnam. It’s just more built up now.”

For more information on Military Historical Tours, go to miltours.com or call 703-212-0695.

For more information on veterans associations for combined action platoons, go to capmarine.com or cap-assoc.org.

Article published on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2008