Posted 11/06/13 (Wed)
By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer
Though, to this day, some will argue whether America’s presence in Vietnam was a police action or an act of war, Lyle Leiseth will tell you that men served their country and gave of their lives, and that is all that matters.
Leiseth states that he always knew he was going to serve in the military. And, even though his time came in the middle of the Vietnam War, he has never regretted having to go over there.
“I knew the war was on and I knew I was most likely heading there,” states Leiseth. “But when I stepped off the plane and heard all the mortar and rifle fire, the thought that went through my mind was that I was a long way from North Dakota.”
Leiseth states that he was drafted on Jan. 4, 1966, to serve in the United States Army. But, a woman from the Marine Corps changed that designation in a matter of minutes.
“I stood there with all the other drafted men and a woman walked in from the Marine Corps,” states Leiseth. “She was looking for two volunteers for the Marine Corps, and she looked at me and another guy and decided that we would be it. I told her that I was drafted into the Army, and she told me that now I was drafted into the Marines.”
Choosing not to argue, Leiseth went to Boot Camp in San Diego, Calif., and through four months of training at Camp Pendleton. At the end of June, he flew to Vietnam where he joined the Bravo Company of the Seventh Marines, which was stationed in Chu Lai.
Chu Lai, when Leiseth was there, was one of the quieter regions of Vietnam. But that did not prevent him from being injured, not once, but twice.
In November of 1966, Leiseth was wounded by a booby trap while out on patrol. That wound sent him to a hospital ship, where he states he floated around the ocean for roughly 105 days.
“Then, on April 7, I was wounded again,” states Leiseth. “And this time, about 14 of the men I was serving with were wounded along with me.”
According to Leiseth, he and the men in his platoon were out on patrol, and came upon a rice patty.
“When we came back, our C.O. sent us back to that same rice patty to relax. I have no idea why he did that,” states Leiseth. “Between the time we had passed through that rice patty the first time and the time we went back to it, the Vietnamese had set a booby trap for us.”
This second injury, being less serious than the first, put Leiseth on a hospital ship for 35 days.
“At that time, if you had two hospital stays that lasted longer than 48 hours, you could get out,” states Leiseth.
During that time, Marines were supposed to stay ‘In Country’ for a year before they could earn the right to travel. But because Leiseth had two long hospital stays during his tour in Chu Lai, he was sent to Okinowa for the last month and a half of his year tour in Vietnam.
He spent that month and a half, from May to June of 1967, on duty with four other men weighing the sea bags of the men coming home. It was an enjoyable time, away from rifle and mortar fire, and it was the first time he saw someone from back home since being in Vietnam.
“I was on duty and got a phone call, which was usually a bad thing,” states Leiseth. “I was talking to this person and he asked if I knew who he was.”
Leiseth came to find out it was Bob Muri, one of his old high school classmates.
“We called him ‘Goose’ in high school, and Goose and I bummed around Okinowa for a month and a half,” states Leiseth. “Though I enlisted with other men from the county, he was the only person I saw from McKenzie County from the time I got in.”
After a month and a half in Okinowa, Leiseth finished his time in the military at Camp Pendleton as a troop leader. For four months, he had the opportunity to train men who were heading to Vietnam.
“Some of the men knew they were not going to Vietnam and they did not listen to us very well,” states Leiseth. “But we tried to teach the kids what was going on over there, and the hope was that the ones who were going were listening in spite of the other guys.”
Leiseth served his country from Jan. 4, 1966 to Jan. 4, 1968. He did not get any fanfare for serving in the Vietnam War and his time of service was not celebrated on the home-front.
It was not until later that America celebrated the service of those who fought and those who lost their lives in Vietnam through the commencement of the Vietnam Wall War Memorial in 1982.
In the meantime, Leiseth returned to McKenzie County and met Sharon, whom he married exactly one year after being discharged from the Marines, on Jan. 4, 1969.
In May, Leiseth and his wife attended a reunion in Reno for those who served in Vietnam. While he did not see anyone he served with, he did discover that things got worse for the Bravo Company of the Seventh Marines after he left.
“I met another man from Bravo Company, but he served in another platoon,” states Leiseth. “He told me that they kept moving the company north, and by the end of 1967 to the first part of 1968, Bravo Company was almost completely wiped out. There will never be another Bravo Company in the Seventh Marines.”
Many men from McKenzie County served in the Vietnam War. Leiseth, though he was wounded twice, states that he knows a lot of other people went through worse things than he did.
“There were men who came home with nightmares and were not able to sleep. But I did not have that,” states Leiseth.
To this day, Leiseth does not regret serving his country during the time in which he was called.