Rodger Craig had just graduated from high school in 1950 and signed up to be a Marine about the time the Korean War started. He was in boot camp at Parris Island, S.C. when war broke out.
“When the war started the World War II vets came out of the woodwork and started teaching us how to be Marines,” he said. “The guy I remember best is a Marine who had been a Japanese POW during the Second World War.
“He had no fingernails. They pulled out a fingernail one day at a time trying to get information out of him. This guy was one of our instructors,” the 79-year-old Venice vet recalled.
Craig ended up in Pensacola Naval Air Station. He wanted to be a Marine aviator but his eyes kept him out of the flying business.
The teenage recruit wound up in Korea as a 19-year-old corporal in December 1951 attached to the 5th Marine Division. Eventually he went from a rifle toter to helping run a signal supply unit located a half mile behind the front lines.
Craig’s supply unit went all over Korea chasing the North Koreans and the Chinese who had infiltrated the southern part of the country.
“We weren’t supposed to say anything about the Chinese because they weren’t suppose to be in South Korea,” he said. “We knew they were there, but we kept our mouths shut about ‘em.”
Craig’s only military injuries during the Korean War were two frozen little fingers. He came back from the war in February 1953, five months before it ground to a halt without a peace treaty.
By this time he was married to Lois, his wife of 59 years. By then the couple’s first child was born.
“I re-enlisted in the Marines for another six years when my first tour was up. Jobs in the private sector were not very available,” he explained.
“After returning to Parris Island as a supply sergeant I became a D.I. (Drill Instructor),” the old Marine said. “I spent 18 hours a day, 7 days a week as a drill sergeant for the next three years.
“After that I served my first tour in Vietnam in 1965 with the 1st Marine Division. I ended up at ‘White Beach,’ south of Phu Bai, a small town about 25 miles north of Danang. We landed on the beach and Vietnamese kids were handing us Coca Colas,” Craig said.
“We met no resistance from the enemy and so we moved our equipment inland across the beach. The Vietcong and the North Vietnamese Army had booby taps waiting for us in the road, Today they call ‘em IEDs,” he said.
A short time later Craig’s tour in ‘Nam was up. He returned to a Marine Corps Reserve unit in West Palm Beach where for more than a year he was one of the people who notified parents about their sons or daughters who were killed or wounded in the fighting.
“Our battalion commander picked myself and the 1st Sergeant to serve in this capacity,” he said. “It was a tough year going out and meeting the parents of killed and wounded Marines.
“People would see a military car pull up in front of their house and they wouldn’t answer the door. We took our personal cars on these tours.
“I had one man who had two sons in the Corps and both were wounded twice in Vietnam,” he said. “The second time I showed up at his house he was ready to take me on.”
Craig was a staff sergeant who became a 2nd lieutenant at the stroke of a pen. They’re known in the Corps as “Mustangs”–enlisted-men who become officers.The Marines needed more cannon fodder in the form of young 2nd lieutenants for Vietnam and he and other sergeants became officers and gentlemen.
“From there I was transferred to Vietnamese Language School in Washington, D.C. for a year. After the first six weeks our instructors, who were Vietnamese, spoke nothing to us but their language.
“After language school I was sent to Interrogation School. From there it was back to Vietnam on my second tour. By the time I arrived in-country I had made 1st lieutenant. I ended up in the 9th Translation Team in Vietnam. I was the guy who interrogated all the VC and NVA prisoners,” he said.
“At one point we were operating out of an old French fort. There was a little Vietnamese village down below us,” Craig said. “We’d go down there and talk to the people. We’d try and find out what the VC were up to.
One of the Vietnamese who worked with him learned that the VC had found a 500-pound bomb in the jungle they turned into a IED.
“I took my assistant and my entire company into the jungle searching for the bomb. We ended up on ‘Carley Mountain,’ a 500-foot-tall hill American bombers dropped bombs on. This bomb didn’t explode and the VC carried it down the hill and buried it in the road as a booby-trap.
“The Bomb Disposal Team came out and disposed of the bomb,” he explained. “By the time it was detonated we were at least a mile away.”
Another incident that made an impression on Craig was a trip he made in a helicopter into an Army base camp on the top of a hill surrounded by VC and NVA enemy troops.
“This was near the Cambodian border and the only way in and out of the base was by helicopter. The Army would start throwing artillery and mortars out from that hill. At this point the helicopter pilot would drop straight down into the base to escape as much enemy ground fire as possible.
“Coming and going was an exciting experience flying in and out of the base with a 19-year-old Army helicopter pilot. It was something you don’t forget,”he said.
“At one point we evacuated an entire Vietnamese village in a big CH-53 (Sikorsky Sea Stallion) helicopter–all 64 of them,” Craig said. “Once the villagers were out of there we destroyed the village because the VC were in there.
“Shortly after the chopper landed we interviewed the villagers. I think there were four of us interviewing them to learn more about the VC and the NVA.”
He left Vietnam and was transferred to Okinawa and the 3rd Marine Division. Craig sent 13 months there establishing a training cycle for troops. He was home bound once again, but not for long.
Craig returned to Camp Lejeune, N.C. just in time to take another trip out of the country almost immediately. A Marine Division was headed for the Mediterranean and they wanted him to come along.But the old Marine had put 20 years in the Corps and decided to call it quits.
By 1975 he and his wife, Louise, decided to come to Florida. Craig heard of an opening for a Junior ROTC instructor at Venice High School. He signed up and got the job.
“I spent the next 13 years, until 1987, as the Junior ROTC instructor for the high school,” he recalled. “You could take a 14 or 15 year old kid and train him to your way of thinking. You’d put your body and soul into him.
“Several of my kids went to the academies . At one time I had five of them in the Air Force Academy over a two year period,” he said proudly.
“I got tremendous support from the military organizations in this area. At the end of each school year we would have a ‘Pass in Review Parade’ on the school football field. The principal would review the cadets and the officers of the VFWs and American Legions would pin medals on the ROTC cadets during the review.
“It was a tremendous job working with the ROTC.”
Name: Rodger Lee Craig
D.O.B: 29 Sept. 1932
Hometown: Xenia, Ohio
Currently: Nokomis, Fla.
Entered Service: 1948
Unit: 1st Marine Division, 3rd Marine Division
Commendations: Purple Heart, Navy Unit Commendation medal
Battles/Campaigns: Korea (East & West Coast), Vietnam (Danang)
Children: Butch, Meledie, and Ginger
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Monday, June 11, 2012 and is republished with permission.
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