Marine Corps Pfc. Wayne King of Rotunda West was a “short-timer” in 1968 when he survived the worst of his nine-months tour during the Vietnam War. His company was sent into the jungle to protect an artillery unit at Fire Base Maxwell 80 miles south of An Hoa. They were surrounded by a North Vietnamese Army unit and nearly wiped out.
He hadn’t even set foot on Vietnam soil when his C-130 military transport plane flew into the country on came under enemy mortar fire while landing at night at Da Nang Airbase.
“Things in Vietnam were pretty hot when we landed,” King recalled. “As we got off the C-130 the NVA opened up on us with mortars. I’d never experienced anything like that. Everybody was screaming, ‘Hit the deck! Hit the deck! Hit the deck!’
“In February ’68 I had about 40 days to go in the Marine Corps. I was sent to an artillery base as part of M-Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division” King said. “It was up in the mountains in thick jungle with a double canopy of trees. Our company’s job was to protect the gun crew from the enemy. About the time I arrived, the artillery outfit pulled out.
“Our company commander was ordered to take the next mountain the NVA used to attack our fire base. We only had a company of Marines, about 250 guys. The NVA had at least a battalion on the hill they were holding—twice as many people as we had.
“We started down the hill Fire Base Maxwell was on into the valley below. Right off the bat when we reached the bottom of the hill we had lost four or five of our guys to enemy fire,” he said. “By the time we got half way up Hill 332, where the NVA were, we had lost half our company.
“We couldn’t advance any further up the hill we were on. So we sent up a squad to try and find out what we were up against. Six of our guys in the squad were killed. We recovered three of their bodies, but three were left on the hill with the enemy,” King said.
He carried an M-60 machine-gun and at this point he became the senior member of a fire team sent into the jungle to ambush the NVA. By then the enemy had their company of Marines surrounded.
King’s best buddy on the team was a Marine named Dunn. He had just become point man—the guy who took the lead position as they advanced through the jungle. Dunn got shot by an enemy sniper. He died at King’s feet.
“The night before Dunn had a premonition he might die in Vietnam. I told him to forget it because we all had these thoughts,” King said almost 50 years later. “He was right– he died on my patrol.”
The old Marine stopped telling his story for a minute, turned his head away, blew his nose and went on.
Trapped on that mountain by the NVA, helicopter gun ships weren’t able to fly into the area and provide protection for the beleaguered Marines. The forest canopy was too dense so gunners couldn’t see what they were shooting. They were concerned they might shoot their own men if they fired blindly.
“We killed an NVA messenger a couple of days later who was carrying a note that said another NVA battalion was within a day’s march of us. They were on their way to meet up with the unit that had us surrounded. The note said none of us would escape the hill we were on.
“I wanted off that hill so bad. I was hoping I’d stay alive long enough to escape,” King remembered.
“It was about this time we made contact with our people back at headquarters and told them we were surrounded. We explained there wasn’t much left of our company,” he said. “Two companies of Marines were flown into Fire Base Maxwell by helicopter. Our rescuers formed a column of twos so we could carry our dead and wounded off Hill 332 flanked by the two new companies of Marines.
“Our escape was terrible. We took enemy fire all the way out of there,” King said. “When we reached the top of what had been Fire Base Maxwell they flew us to safety in An Hoa in Hueys. Only 133 members of our company had not been killed or wounded.
He ended up in the hospital for a short while. He got hit in one arm by shrapnel during the escape from Fire Base Maxwell. When he recovered he was determined he would not go back into the bush where people were dying.
“After I did a lot of arguing with our first sergeant they made me a radio carrier,” he said. “I didn’t have to go back in the bush any more.
“Finally it was my time to get on an airplane and fly back to the USA. I flew into a Marine base in California, changed into civvies and took a commercial flight from Los Angelis to Cincinnati on the way home.
It was while I was getting on the plane in Los Angeles I ran into Vietnam protesters. I tried to stay away from the protesters, but a lot of the guys who were still in uniform got spit on and were called ‘baby killers — the whole works.
After the war, King became a railroad engineer with the L & M Railroad that was eventually bought out by the CSX Railroad. He worked as an engineer for almost 40 years. He and his second wife, Roxanna, retired and moved to the Englewood area two years ago. He has three adult children: Lisa, Tonya and Sherry.
Name: Wayne Ray King
D.O.B: 24 Jan. 1946
Hometown: Covington, Ky.
Currently: Rotunda West, Fla.
Entered Service: 20 Feb. 1964
Discharged: 12 May 71
Rank: Private 1st Class, M-60 Machinegunner
Unit: M-Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment, 1st Marine Division
Commendations: Purple Heart, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Servie Medal w/1 star, Vietnam Campaign Medal w/device, Rifle Maksmanship Badge.
Battles/Campaigns: Vietnam War
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, June 26, 2017 and is republished with permission.
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