Operation Allen Brook in May 1968 was the worst of the numerous combat operations Cpl. Neal Gettle of Gulf Cove participated in during his 14 months of service with the Marine Corps in Vietnam.
Hundreds of American Marines were killed and wounded trying to capture the two square mile Go Noi Island at the convergence of the Ky Lam, Ba Re and Chiem Son Rivers 25 miles south of Da Nang from seasoned North Vietnam Army regulars and Vietcong Irregulars.
“I was an 18-year-old corporal attached to a helicopter support group that controlled the movement of choppers in and out of the landing zoning during an operation,” the 64-year-old Marine said. “We were the first ones into an L.Z. (Landing Zone) and the last ones out.”
The teenage “Leatherneck” flew into Da Nang in November 1967 and was acquired by the 1st Shore Party Battalion. He flew all over the country taking part in offensive airborne operations throughout Vietnam.
“We controlled the landing zone and called in the Medevac helicopters and sent them out of the zone after they were filled with dead and wounded,” he explained. “My job was to control the helicopter traffic in and out of an L.Z. I spent a lot of time with Marines in combat on the ground.”
The high-water mark of tough combat operations was “Operation Allen Brook” in May 1968.
“The Marines were told there was an NVA hospital on the island held by the enemy. They wanted to clear the island of North Vietnamese forces.
“Coming in during the start of the operation our Chinook helicopter was hit by a rocket propelled grenade when we were 30 to 50 feet off the ground and shot down,” Gettle said. “The big twin-rotor chopper set down soft enough no one aboard was injured.”
The first day of battle they got in a firefight with the enemy. The Marines were trying to stabilize the area. During the shooting all the people in Gettle’s helicopter support group were killed.
“We started filling tracked vehicles full of dead Marines. You could put 35 bodies in one of these vehicles. But they couldn’t go anywhere because we were still in a fire fight with the enemy,” he recalled.
The 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Division were ordered in one battalion at a time to confront the enemy on Go Noi Island. After they were chewed up and spit out by the NVA and VC they tried one last time to confront the enemy on the island with more unseasoned combat troops.
“The last battalion that went in was a bunch of green Marines from Hawaii. They were untrained, unskilled Marines and they pretty much got wiped out on the island,” Gettle said. “Of the 700 green Marines that went in from Hawaii only 50 or 60 left the island alive.
“The Marines came off the island and we sent the B-52 bombers in with napalm to destroy the place,” he recalled.
Operation Allen Brook was only the tip of the iceberg for Gettle. He also took part in Operation Trust, Operation Darling, Operation Dodge City and many more during the 14 months he served in the war zone.
“I went from one operation to the next all over Vietnam, Gettle said. “I left Vietnam Christmas Day 1968 and flew home to Los Angeles. When I flew into LA Airport there were hundreds of war protesters who called us ‘BABY KILLERS!
“Six cabs of Marines arrived at LA Airport in a bunch. Because of our numbers we had no problems with the protesters,” he said. “I flew first class to Philly aboard a plane that only had 17 passengers.
“When I arrived in Philadelphia my wife, Cindy, was waiting for me along with Neal, Jr., my son I had never seen, who by then was six months old,” Gettle explained. “Shortly after I returned to Lebanon, Pa., my home town, my wife and I went out to to dinner. That was an eye opener.
“I was wearing my Class-A Marine uniform when we walked in this restaurant in my home town and they wouldn’t serve us,” he said. “We went down the street to a second restaurant and when we walked in they told us there was no service.
“So we left and drove to the next town. We stopped at a local restaurant. They invited us in for drinks and dinner,” Gettle recalled.
When he returned to work Gettle went back to construction which he had been involved with as a teenager before he went to war. Eventually he became a heavy equipment operator.
In 1992 he was working on a highway project outside Philadelphia running heavy equipment. He jumped off the equipment to move a couple of traffic cones when he was hit by a car doing 60 mph. Gettle spent the next few years recovering.
“In 1995, three years after I was hit by the car my wife and I were vacationing in the Englewood area and I was still in a wheelchair recovering from the accident. During the six weeks we were down here the weather was warm and I started to walk a little on my own,” he recalled.
It was the beginning of his recuperation. Today he walks around his Gulf Cove home just fine.
He and Cindy have three children: Neal Jr., Janeen and Jonathan.
Name: Neal Edward Gettle
D.O.B: 13 Sept. 1949
Hometown: Lebanon, Pa.
Currently: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service: 2 Nov. 1966
Discharged: 6 Nov. 1969
Unit: 1st Division
Commendations: National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with one battle star, Vietnam Campaign Medal.Battles/Campaigns: Vietnam War
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on May 7, 2014 and is republished with permission.
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