Jack Monahan served three tours in Vietnam during the war. He returned to Sarasota in ’69 and became a general contractor. He was doing well until the housing took a nosedive a few years back. He lost everything. At 70 he’s not in great health and he lives in an efficiency apartment in east Venice and subsists on a Wartime Veteran’s Pension of $1,054 per month. Life is tough.
“I joined the Seabees in 1964 and went to Marine Corps boot camp and advance infantry training at Camp Lejeune, N.C. I also attended civil engineering training and after that we shipped out for Vietnam from Port Hueneme, Calif.,” he said almost 50 years later.
“One morning at Port Hueneme when we fell out they asked all the single people to step forward. When we did we were told we were going somewhere in the Orient,” Monahan recalled. “We got on a troop transport plane with full Marine gear and took a 54-hour flight to Vietnam. On the way over our Marine Corps gunny sergeant said we were lucky that war had just started in Vietnam, we would be landing in 30 minutes and our base was under attack.
“When we landed at Da Nang Air Force Base in the middle of the night everything was lit up, enemy mortars were coming in and we had no place to go but on the ground,” he said. “The first thing I remember when we got there is that VC sappers were hanging on the wire with their C-4 explosive charges and blowing themselves up to clear a path through the razor wire. We took 60 or 70 mortar rounds that first night.
“Of the 300 Seabees that flew in we probably had 230 wounded. Nobody was killed that first night.”
Monahan and the rest of the Seabees were armed with M-14 rifles which he liked a lot. They were much better than the M-16 rifles that replace them, in his estimation.
“The M-14 used a 7.62 NATO cartridge. It was an excellent weapon that worked in all conditions and it was easy to field strip in the dark. When the M-16 came out they were always jamming because of the sand we fought in. They used much lighter ammunition and they had too many little parts that made them hard to field strip in the dark in combat.”
Monahan served his first two tours in Vietnam as a member of Seabee Unit Mobile Construction Battalion-9 and his last tour with Mobile Construction Battalion-12. Initially our unit was attached to the 3rd Marine Amphibious Force at Da Nang.
“We built the hospital in East Da Nang, constructed the helicopter pad for the Marine gunships and built facilities for Special Forces,” he explained. “We were proud to be fighting for our country and we were proud to be with the Marine Corps.
“We were located near China Beach, Marble and Monkey Mountains. We were always on duty we had no time off.
“My first tour only last four months because we were attached to the Marines and when their time in Vietnam was up ours was, too. Three months later I arrived back in country for my second tour that lasted for 13 months.
“During my second tour we built all the special forces camps along the Ho Chi Minh Trail–A-101, 6,7,8 and 9. We provided them with camps in the whole I-Corps area,” Monahan said. “We flew in with a four-man Seabee team, six or seven Green Berets, some Chinese mercenaries, who worked for the CIA, and some Montagnard troops.
“We built small air strips for fixed-wing planes and triangle fighting positions for the Green Berets. I produced all the maps that located where these facilities would be placed, then another Seabee team come in and build the facilities.
“I was 22, a petty officer and slept in my shelter half with a .45 pistol under my head,” he said. “One of the problems we had while in the bush was rats. If they chewed on your fingers or toes at night you had to get rabies shots which meant 12-shots in the stomach.
“After my second tour I got out of the service in 1968, but then the Seabee Reserve Battalion from my home town in Massachusetts was activated and sent to Vietnam. All of my old friends were going over there, so I signed up to go back for a third tour,” Monahan said. “Because of my in-country experience I had my orders to go back with them in 10 days.
“I became the corporal of the guard in charge of perimeter security for MCB-12. By then the enemy was using Russian-made rockets instead of mortars to attack us. Again we helped provide the buffer zone around the Marine Corps gunships in east Da Nang.
“One time I went out on patrol and we were taking sniper fire from six Vietnam huts out in front of us. Right above us were two Huey gunships. They waved down at us and we threw our canisters of red smoke out toward the huts. The huts were full of women, children and VC snipers.
“They opened up on these huts with their Gatling guns and rocket launchers and killed everybody in them. Everybody was dead–men, women and children. Then they pulled up, waved at us and took off.
“This was a very memorable incident in my life.
“A week later we were 55 miles south of Da Nang and I was out with a small track vehicle called a “Ontos” and a four man team of Marines. The vehicle had six, 106 recoilless rifles and a.30-caliber machine-gun.
“I was the guy in charge when we came across this hut where we were taking sniper fire. I told the ‘Ontos’ driver in charge of the vehicle to turn it on the hut and kill everybody. That was a horrible thing to do because there were women and children in that hut. We killed ‘em all!
“Because of things like this I had nightmares for years. When I returned to Boston after my third tour. Every time a car backfired I hit the ground. I’d hear a noise at night and go on alert.
“I went to the VA in Boston and they said I had an anxiety disorder. Later they called what I had PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), not an anxiety attack.
“During my last year in Vietnam I went through heavy spraying with Agent Orange. I’m also on a federal list of people who drank contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. At 70 I’m having trouble with pre-cancerous lesions I have to get cut off.”
Monahan came to Sarasota County because his parents moved down here from Boston. He became a general contractor because of his Seabee background and was doing well until the real estate market crashed a few years ago.
“I lost everything in the crash. For a while he ended up on the street until he found out about a Wartime Veteran’s Pension the VA provides for distressed, poverty level vets who went to war.
“I get $1,054 a month to live on to pay all of my expenses, which is $400 below the federal poverty level. I have $15 a day to eat on. I live in a small efficiency apartment in east Venice. I have $100 a month for any other expenses in life. That means I have $25 a week for extra expenses.
“If I need any dental work I have to work that out on my own. The VA pays for no dental care except for 100 percent war disabled veterans. I’m 100 percent disabled, but it’s not war connected.
“The one group of people who have really helped me are the ‘Enforcers Motorcycle Club’ of Venice. They’re all retired police officers and firemen.
“They’ve made me their friend. They provide me with moral support and give me food to eat and clothes to wear.
“I’m welcomed into their club even though I don’t have the money for membership or a motorcycle. Even though I’m poor they treat me with respect.
“One good thing that’s happened to me recently, I’m on a diet and I’ve lost 50 pounds in the last four months which has cut down on my food expenses, but it’s hard to live on $1,054 a month.
“What I would like to see happen is that the Wartime Veteran’s Pension would be increased for all veterans that receive this support,” Monahan concluded.
Name: John Joseph Monahan
D.O.B: 5 Dec 1943
Hometown: Lawrence, Mass.
Currently: Venice, Fla.
Entered Service: 14 June 1965
Rank: Petty Officer
Unit: Seabee Unit Mobil Construction Battalion
Commendations: Vietnam Service Medal (5 Campaigns), Fleet Marine Force Combat Insignia, Vietnam Campaign Medal, National Defense Service Medal
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Jan. 29 and is republished with permission.
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