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Eagle Days

A Marine Legal/Infantry Officer in Vietnam

Written by Donald W. Griffis

Publication Year: 2007

Much has been written about America’s war in Vietnam, and an enduring and troubling subtext is the composition of the body of soldiers that made up the U.S. troop deployment: from the initially well-trained and disciplined group of largely elite units that served in the mid-sixties to what has been termed an “armed mob” by the end of that decade and into the early 1970s. Drug use, insubordination, racial antagonism that often became violent, theft and black market dealing, and even “fragging” (murder of officers and senior noncoms by disgruntled troops) marred the record of the U.S. military presence. Don Griffis served in the twin roles of legal officer charged at various times with the task of both defending and prosecuting servicemen, while at the same time leading combat patrols in “search and destroy” missions against the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese enemy. Eagle Days is a remarkable account of Griffis’ personal record of experiencing what the military should do best—meet, engage, and defeat the enemy—and what it becomes when esprit de corps, discipline, and a sense of purpose decay.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

As a twenty-five-year-old Marine lawyer, I arrived in Vietnam on 11 June 1968, where I was assigned to the legal office of Force Logistics Command (FLC). FLC was a major supply base northwest of Da Nang that supplied Marine units operating throughout I Corps. By June 1968, the major North Vietnamese Tet offensive of January and February had been repulsed, as well ...

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1. The Road to Vietnam

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pp. 1-6

My journey to Vietnam began on a cold, blustery winter day in Sewanee, Tennessee, in 1961. I was a freshman at the University of the South, an isolated liberal arts bastion of learning in the Cumberland Mountains. It had just turned 3:00 pm, and I needed a break. Leaving the library, I strolled over to the student post office to check my mail and kill some time. As I entered ...

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2. Going South

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pp. 7-11

My trip to Okinawa on my first leg of the prestigious, government-sponsored “Griffis Year Abroad” plan got off to a shaky start. There was already enough emotion in the air as I completed packing and loaded bags into the family car for the trip to the airport. As Dad clenched the steering wheel and Mom kept back the tears, the emotional level in the car soared even higher when ...

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3. Learning the Ropes

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pp. 12-22

I reported to FLC headquarters at Camp Books and met the personnel officer. He looked over my record book and told me that he had been expecting me for several months. When I inquired about assignment to a military police company, he told me that I was assigned to the FLC legal office, which is part of Headquarters and Services Battalion. Lieutenant Colonel Fred M. ...

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4. Joining the Provisional Rifle Company and Early Legal Battles

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pp. 23-36

After eleven days here I am not satisfied with my passive role as a lawyer. Spending my tour here in the safety of a legal office is not the reason I came to Vietnam, and it troubles me that I am doing so little while others are sacrificing so much. I talked to the executive officer in charge of base security and applied to be the company commander of the Provisional Rifle Com-...

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5. The Chief of Staff Loses His Jeep

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pp. 37-39

Shortly after becoming a trial/defense counsel at FLC, I was handed a hot potato in the form of a young corporal accused of stealing the chief of staff’s jeep. Although the MPs caught the suspect off base after curfew and in an off-limits area, this was a case that appealed to me. It looked to me like a When I met Corporal Mike Slaughter, I found him to be clean cut, de-...

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6. Summer 1968--Bracing for the Enemy's "Third Wave" Offensive

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pp. 40-64

It has now been two days, but the time blows by so quickly I seem to lose track. We experienced two rocket attacks at FLC that resulted in four killed and thirty-nine injured. Many of those injured, I understand, are from bunker injuries that happened when people ran from their huts through walls, stumped their toes, and so on. The Army unit next to us suffered two dead and some ...

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7. Typhoon Bess Meets the Chaplain

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pp. 65-66

For three days beginning on the fourth of September, Typhoon Bess battered FLC. Gale winds reached up to sixty knots at a time, tin roofs were torn off, buildings were flooded, and rain swirled in sheets that felt like pinpricks when they hit the skin. We had to close the office one day due to flooding and the loss of electricity and a part of the roof. So we all splashed back to ...

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8. Patrols and Alarms

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pp. 67-78

Yesterday I accompanied a patrol through the hamlet of Ap Nam O, the rice paddies, and Ap Trung Son. It was so steaming hot that the men were soaked with sweat and looked visibly drained. We waded several streams, played with leeches in the muddy ditches and paddies, and held our breaths as we treaded softly past the solemn glare of nervous water buffalo. I went along ...

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9. Night Assault

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pp. 79-82

I have just finished an intense experience. Last night I took the company into the village of Ap Trung Son in what I believe to be the first night helicopter assault in our area of operation. I know it was my first. ...

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10. Racial Tensions Boil Over

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pp. 83-85

Private Jerome James from Maintenance Battalion went to trial the day after our night helicopter assault on Ap Trung Son. James was accused of being involved in a racial beating and attempted murder at the heavy-equipment recreation room last July. The facts reflected that he and two other black Marines went by the heavy-equipment club the night before the incident and ...

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11. Trials under Fire, a Trip to the Repose, and the Marine Corps Birthday

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pp. 86-90

Several days after the James case, I went on another night ambush patrol. We left from an artillery battery about a mile from FLC and hugged the villages along the rain-swollen, leech- infested rice paddies, hoping to creep craftily into Ap Trung Son to set up the ambush. We were less than silent, however. The damned ducks and dogs of the Vietnamese we were passing honked and ...

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12. A Difficult Client

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pp. 91-93

In late August 1968, the luck of the draw presented me with another Seabee to defend. He was a pathetic worm named Petty Officer Sam Preston. It was not that I disliked him. I simply had no reason to warm up to his personality, his deeds, or his words. He ran down and killed a Vietnamese National Police officer while in his weapons carrier in what apparently was honestly an acci-...

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13. Thanksgiving and a Trip to Saigon

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pp. 94-98

This past week was one marked by sameness of routine: paperwork at the office, workouts, administrative work on the Provisional Rifle Company, and so on, until night before last. Once again, as the siren’s wail shook us from our sleep, we were sent stumbling and crawling to the bunkers in the middle of the night. At 1:30 am the VC hit the air base with ten rockets that were ...

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14. War in the Christmas Season

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pp. 99-108

The night before last we were hit twice. Most of the rounds fell short and outside our perimeter, and the rest fell in the swamp on the Truck Company area, causing no casualties or damage. Nothing exceptional resulted this time except that crater analysis shows that the rounds are 140 mm rockets for the first time instead of 122 mm. They were equipped with delayed-...

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15. Bringing in the New Year

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pp. 109-112

I am now into the last half of my tour. On New Year’s Eve I went on patrol with fellow lawyer Jack Provine, who wants to join the Provisional Rifle Company. We crept onto an island with an old pagoda and burial mounds, set up machine guns, calculated fields of fire, spread the riflemen in a 360° security circle, and set out to await the dawn of a brilliant new year and/or the ...

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16. R&R Down Under

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pp. 113-115

Finally! My R&R date arrived. On 14 January 1969, I reported to the R&R center at Freedom Hill to go to the continent down under. It is amazing, on driving away from base with orders and bags packed, how much the spirits are lifted. It was a happy exhilaration accompanied by an intense feeling that the sky was bluer, that the grass was greener, and that life was infinitely richer. ...

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17. Back to Reality

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pp. 116-120

While I was enjoying the bliss of R&R, VC sappers cut their way through the perimeter wire of our base, penetrated inside, blew up some paint and other minor supplies, and escaped with no casualties on either side. Obviously, the VC were only probing us and training their cadre on how easy it is to get into FLC. Perhaps they will come back later for the real show. The ...

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18. Looking for Trouble

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pp. 121-124

On the fifteenth of February, I went out with a daylight patrol to try out a different approach to an ambush and to show the troops that I was not bothered by the threat of booby traps— so, somehow, they need not be either. This, of course, was a lie. The squad went out in the afternoon, and my plan was for us to make ourselves seen, leading the Vietnamese into thinking that ...

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19. Tet 1969 and New Threats

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pp. 125-131

On 16 February we received word from Fifth Counterintelligence that they had picked up a Chieu Hoi who was willing to lead us to a bunker complex containing his weapon and several other VC. We tried to get the OK to go after them, but the labyrinthine chain of command refused us permission to act. There was a Tet truce in effect from 6:00 pm on 16 February until ...

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20. A Life-and-Death Drama

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pp. 132-134

The night before last was both tense and frustrating. We are now on high alert, with ground attacks expected in our area from 8 March to 15 March. Two battalions of NVA are threatening in our area, and FLC is expected to be challenged with rocket and mortar attacks. With contact imminent, I decided to accompany Sergeant Parker’s squad, which was patrolling the ...

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21. Murder at Chu Lai

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pp. 135-138

Today I represented the government in an article 32 investigation into the circumstances surrounding the killing of a first lieutenant (First Lieutenant Earl K. Ziegler) by a corporal (Corporal Charlie Eason III) at Chu Lai. First Lieutenant Ziegler was shot at close range in the mailroom of the First Combined Action Group headquarters shortly before Christmas 1968. Jack ...

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22. Keeping the Pressure On

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pp. 139-145

We have survived two intelligence reports of impending doom at FLC and are awaiting the future cheerfully. Twice we received word that two NVA regiments were ready to start the last phase of their offensive, but nothing has happened. On the fifteenth, we conducted a cordon and search of Xom Long, and after the initial confusion of surrounding a village in the dark ...

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23. Easter and Operations in the Spring

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pp. 146-155

Easter Day. A cold wind and shredded clouds have been whipping out of the northern mountains all day. I attended church and again heard the good news of the Resurrection. Like most holidays here, however, it was rather anti-climactic. To top off Easter, at 2:00 pm the chief of staff hit on the brilliant idea of putting out gas canisters in the battalion area and gassing the base ...

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24. Final Days

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pp. 156-161

Rotten night’s sleep last night! The air base was hit six times, and Mournful Mary, the siren, sent me stumbling from my rack to the bunker, dragging my thumping heart along behind. Nothing hit FLC. I dislike being awakened to be a spectator at someone else’s drubbing. Our time in the barrel is past due. ...

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25. Going Home

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pp. 162-164

On 24 June 1969 it was finally my time to climb on a bus at the Da Nang airfield and be carried to the area where passenger jets were landing and taking off. When our plane’s engines revved to a high pitch and the aircraft rolled down the runway and lifted off the ground, cheers exploded from the homeward-bound Marines. It was a dream to be going home and to be able ...

Glossary of Military Terms and Acronyms

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pp. 165-169


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pp. 171-174

E-ISBN-13: 9780817380328
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817315788

Publication Year: 2007

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- Personal narratives, American.
  • Soldiers -- United States -- Diaries.
  • Griffis, Don W. (Donald Warner), 1942- -- Diaries.
  • United States. Marine Corps -- Lawyers -- Diaries.
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