Viet Cong wrecked Vic Ciullo’s Christmas present while he served with the Marines

Vic Ciullo of Venice, Fla. was an amtrac driver in Vietnam with A-Company, 3rd Amphibious Tractor Battalion in 1966-67. His outfit was assigned to various Marine divisions in ‘Nam — the 4th, 5th, 7th and 9th.

He started on the beach at Chu Lai and then moved to I Corps, west of DaNang, at Hill 55, Hill 190 and at the Namo Bridge during the 13 months he was on the ground over there.

The amtrac he drove carried 26 Marines in an armored box that was 30 feet long, weighed 30 tons had a .30-caliber machine gun mounted on its top. The front door of the contraption dropped to allow the leathernecks to get out.

“We could drive right through rice paddies. It was pretty amphibious. It was on tracks,” the 63-year-old Marine explained.

It was also dangerous. The amtrac was susceptible to enemy mines and RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades). During the Vietnam War, Ciullo said, some 200 of these vehicles were lost that way. And the occupants in these vehicles didn’t fare too well when they were hit by enemy fire. Often the vehicles burst into flames.

Ciullo was pretty lucky. He came home from Southeast Asia without a scratch.

Vic Ciullo is pictured near the Namo Bridge in I Corps in the middle of Vietnam in 1966-67, when he served with the 3rd Amphibious Tractor Battalion. Photo provided

Vic Ciullo is pictured near the Namo Bridge in I Corps in the middle of Vietnam in 1966-67, when he served with the 3rd Amphibious Tractor Battalion. Photo provided

But Ciullo ‘s story is not about any of this; it’s about a record his mother sent him as a Christmas present in 1966.

“I was on a river patrol when her Christmas package arrived. When I returned and opened it, I found she had sent me a battery-powered record player and a 33 rpm album of Petula Clark. My mother knew I like Petula Clark very much,” he recalled with a smile.

“I was really thrilled and I asked the lieutenant if I could put the record on and play it. He said, ‘Yes, go ahead.’ There were probably eight or nine guys in the tent with us.

“When the first side was done, I flipped it over to the other side. Just as I did, the Viet Cong started shooting bullets through the tent at us. The first thing I did was hit the deck. I reached for my rifle and cartridge belt. Everyone else in the tent scrambled around and did the same thing. We had a firefight that lasted about 20 minutes. The VC was probing us to see how much firepower we had,” Ciullo said.

“When I went into the tent the next morning, I found the record completely shattered. The arm that held the needle had been broken off,” he said. “I must have done it when I hit the deck when VC rounds punched holes in our tent,” he said.

“The fact is, my Christmas present lasted about 25 minutes, thanks to the VC,” Ciullo said in exasperation 45 years later. “It was a difficult time in Vietnam. We were shot at continuously.

This was Private Vic Ciullo at 18 when he joined the Marines at Parris Island, S.C. for boot camp. Photo provided

This was Private Vic Ciullo at 18 when he joined the Marines at Parris Island, S.C. for boot camp. Photo provided

“I could never tell my mom the truth about what was going on over there with me. I lied to her constantly. I’d write two letters home each time. One went to my father at his barbershop. I told him the truth. The other went to the family at the house. It was a bunch of lies,” he admitted.

After Ciullo was honorably discharged from the Marines in ’68, he went to work for Con Edison, where he worked for 31 years until he retired and moved to Venice in 2005.

Ciullo’s File

Name: Victor Ciullo
D.O.B: 63 at time of interview in December 2009
Hometown:
Currently: Venice, Fla.
Entered Service: June 1964
Discharged: July 1968
Rank:
Unit: A-Company, 3rd Amphibious Tractor Battalion in Vietnam, 1966-67
Commendations: Presidential Unit Citation, the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry, the Vietnam Service Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Ribbon, a Vietnam Presidential Unit Citation, a National Defense Ribbon and a Good Conduct Medal

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Friday, Dec. 25, 2009 and is republished with permission.

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