Vietnam vet: We were just a bunch of boys, fighting a war

Published 12:32 am Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Among the first Marines sent to Vietnam in the spring of 1965 was the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, 3rd Marine Division, sent mainly to protect the Air Base in Da Nang.

Local Ray Miles belonged to that unit, and saw things that in all his years, he still won’t talk about to friends or family.

Miles joined the Marines when he was only 17 years old, and was sent off to training for six months. A year after his training, he got his orders to Vietnam.

“I remember feeling apprehensive, but at the time, everybody was going, everyone you knew was in Vietnam or going to Vietnam,” Miles said.

In fact, before Miles even made it to Vietnam, the Da Nang Air Base was under attack. His unit’s aircraft had to circle overhead for an hour before landing.

“It was an ugly scene,” Miles said.

Miles worked on aircrafts mainly, but was also trained in advanced infantry.

“I consider myself pretty lucky to have spent so much time stateside,” Miles said.

Miles spent most of his time at Da Nang Air Base guarding the base.

“It was pretty rough, it rained a lot. There wasn’t a whole lot of provisions for our unit, and it was always hot,” Miles said.

Some memorable things for Miles were the bonds he formed with his comrades, and the occasional hot meal.

“People got hurt. We were in a war where 70 percent of the fighters were 17-, 18-, 19-year-old boys. You’re not a man at that age. Vietnam forced you to grow up. We watched each other mature,” Miles said.

Miles remembers the rice paddies clearly, the locals, and the rain.

“We didn’t do much for fun, a lot of the time, to be honest, we were high. We tried to cope with what was around us, we were just a bunch of boys fighting a war,” Miles said.

What bothered Miles the most, was when he returned home.

“I left a hostile environment, to come home to the same situation. I saw all the signs, the ‘baby killer’ ones, the ones saying we weren’t American. I had no choice but to be in Vietnam, and I wasn’t even sure why we were there in the first place. I never got a ‘thank you’ until just a few years go. I was just as confused as the rest of America,” Miles said.

Miles is now a pastor at Northside Baptist Church, and his experiences in Vietnam influenced his decision to become a pastor.

“I am who I am because I went into the Marine Corps,” Miles said.