A Minnesota PBS Initiative
Looking for Answers
June of 1966, I am graduating high school in Indiana. I pick up our Sunday paper to see my friend Terry's picture on the front page. He is in his Marine uniform. The headline reads, "local Marine KIA, Vietnam.
I am 18 years old and so is Terry. We had sort of been first boyfriend/girlfriend in freshman year. It doesn't amount to much, no dating. Just talking on the phone and such. This can't be, dead at 18 years of age. We had been carefree, spoiled, immature kids just starting life.
Terry had been whisked away from our hometown to some hot, buggy, jungle, taught to be a sharp shooter, when he should have been riding his motorbike to the corner drugstore in his hometown for a malt. He's 18 years old and he is dead.
Terry had been whisked away from our hometown to some hot, buggy, jungle, taught to be a sharp shooter, when he should have been riding his motorbike to the corner drugstore in his hometown for a malt.
When his body arrives back in our hometown, I drive around the funeral home a dozen times. I want to go in but just can't do it.
I received a letter from Terry one week after his death postmarked Chi Tu, Quang Tin Province, Vietnam. He talks about the US efforts to keep communism from overtaking the country and they haven't seen much action for several days. He thanks me for writing to him.
I am severely haunted by his death for years to come. I need to know some details, how he died, was he alone, did he suffer?
I write his Mother and express condolences and asked if she would be willing to share information. I don't hear back. I wonder if she holds me somewhat responsible for Terry quitting high school and joining the marines, although I can't imagine she would.
Why didn't she write? it must be just too painful.
[Transcription of this document available below.]
The years move along, I especially remember Terry on his birthday and the anniversary of his death. I think at times that all the milestones I get to celebrate were robbed from him, marriage, birth of children, etc.
The Internet becomes available and a whole new world opens up. In 2004 I read online about the Vietnam Virtual Wall. I post a rememberence for Terry.
Before long I begin hearing from others who knew him. I learn that Terry was part of the battle on Hill 488 making them the most highly decorated small unit in the entire history of the US military. A book was written called "Hill 488.". Oh my goodness, a book written with the answers to questions I have had for forty years. I had come full circle with Terry. My questions were answered.
Transcription of the above statement:
Statement of Staff Sargeant Jimmie Earl HOWARD 1130610/0369/8651 USMC
On 16 June 1966 as the Platoon Leader of the 1st Platoon, Company "C", 1st Reconnaissence Battalion my platoon was manning an obervation post located on Hill 488. We had been continuously probed by the VC since 2100 the previous day. At approximately 0100 on the 16th we were attacked by a well-trained North Vietnamese unit, which I estimated to be of battalion size but was later established as a regiment.
LCpl BINNS was the first to see the enemy. He and his team immediately took the enemy under fire and dropped back to take their position on the platoon defensive perimeter. Shortly thereafter every member of the platoon was hit, six of which died instantly or of wounds later. Inasmuch as I was hit and could not walk I remained on the radio and directed attack aircraft and relayed my commands through LCpl BINNS.
The raw courage displayed was phenomenal. Though painfully wounded by shrapnel in one leg and later in the other he constantly exposed himself to intense enemy fire, which came from 50 caliber machine guns, 60 millimeter mortars, light machine guns, grenades and small arms. Moving from man to man he directed their fire and assisted our corpsman in caring for the other wounded.
Two grenades exploded near PFC T. G. POWLES 2140524 USMC and in addition to severely wounding him in the chest, the concussion effect blinded him. POWLES stood up and would have been killed had not BINNS, in complete disregard for his personal safety, stood up and pushed POWLES to the ground and administered emergency treatment. As the assault progressed our effective strength was reduced to 7 men. At this point LCpl BINNS took it upon himself to redistribute ammunition of those that were incapable of utilizing it. The he continued to do throughout the night and into the late morning when a reaction force arrived to relieve us. He appeared to be everywhere at once.
At on point when the enemy was extremely close they called out "Marines you die within the hour". Upon hearing this LCpl BINNS stood up and took them under fire and shouted back at them. There is no doubt in my mind that LCpl BINNS' heroic actions and indomitable fighting spirit was instrumental in inspiring our remaining 7 effective men to fight savagely and hold their position against overwhelming odds.
Story Themes: Closure, Correspondence, Death and Loss, High School, Hill 488, Memorial, Relationships