By Jeremy P. Ämick
While attending Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo., in the fall of 1965, Ron Saucier and a group of friends decided to skip their classes so they could enjoy themselves around the city. Their escapade, however, landed the group at a local Marine Corps recruiting office and became the start of an unanticipated adventure.
“The recruiter gave us the (enlistment) papers for our parents to sign,” said Saucier during an interview in 2014.
As the Brazito resident explained, the next morning only he and his close friend Steve Amick returned with the papers.
Saucier and Amick enlisted on October 20, 1965 as part of the Marines’ “buddy program,” and completed their boot camp in San Diego.
In late December, the friends’ military paths split after Saucier returned to Jefferson City to marry Myra, his high school sweetheart. A few days later, the new husband was on his way to Camp Pendleton for six weeks of infantry training.
“They kept me at Pendleton (after the infantry training) and put me in a staging battalion … just hanging around, going on maneuvers and waiting for my Vietnam call,” he said.
The call soon arrived and Saucier was flown to Okinawa and, following a brief layover, arrived in Da Nang, Vietnam, on St. Patrick’s Day of 1966.
“They flew 75 of us over as individual replacements for guys getting ready to rotate back to the states … or those that had been killed,” he sadly noted.
From Da Nang, the inexperienced Marines were loaded onto a truck and began a journey into the Vietnamese countryside, during which frequent stops were made to drop the men off at their new assignments. Saucier was one of the last men off the truck when arriving at the location of 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines.
His initial assignment, Saucier described, was with a line company on “Hill 55,” which was located south of Da Nang and north of Chu Lai.
“We spent until the first of June living in foxholes—we didn’t even have bunkers yet,” Saucier explained. “We’d run patrols from the hill; everyday we’d be filling sandbags and snipers would take shots at us.”
According to Saucier, the North Vietnamese Army would use the cover of night to conceal booby traps around the Marines’ hill. The next day, they would use sniper fire in hopes the Marines would give pursuit and consequently trigger the booby traps.
During one mission called “Operation Orange,” Saucier recalls participating in a search and destroy mission to assist a Green Beret outpost that had been overrun by enemy soldiers.
“We went into where (the Green Berets) were and got ambushed,” he said. “We ended up taking quite a few casualties that day.”
Months later, in early June 1966, Saucier’s battalion moved to an airbase at Da Nang to work base security and await replacements for previous casualties they had sustained.
While there, volunteers were requested for an initiative called the “Combined Action Platoon” made up of 10 Marines and a Navy Corpsman. The platoon, Saucier said, would help win the “hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese people by living among them in their villages.
Saucier volunteered and was sent to the village of Tuy Loan located southwest of Da Nang. For the next 10 months, he and his fellow team members became friends with the locals and helped train the “popular forces,” which he describes as “guys living in the village who carried M-1 carbines.”
Saucier says he and the team formed close bonds with the villagers, and on several occasions, the corpsman attached to their group was able to perform rudimentary medical procedures that saved the lives of some of the local children.
The combat-tempered Marine returned to Camp Pendleton in April 1967 and spent the remaining six months of his enlistment working as a corrections corporal at the military brig on post.
Discharged in October 1967, he returned to Jefferson City and spent the next 30 years working for state government.
Now retired and with many years of experience to his credit, Saucier says that although his time served in a combat zone spanned only 13 months, it was long enough to have provided him with an enduring measure of meaning.
“I certainly believe that it made me a wiser person,” the veteran said. “When you come close to death that many times and at such a young age,” he added, “you learn to respect life and to live every day like you may not receive anymore.”
The Marine Corps veteran passed away at his home in Jefferson City on August 22, 2015 at 68 years of age.
Jeremy P. Ämick is a military historian and author of several books on military history