Saturday, April 18, 2009

Corporal Frank Bill Sr.

He entered The Marines in July of 1967 after graduating high school. Boot Camp at Paris Island. Entered the Vietnam War December 18th of 1967. Returned home on January the 2nd or 3rd of 1969.

His name is Frank Merritt Bill Sr.

He phoned me late one night in the a.m., happy with the rattle of ice cubes in his drink. I'd been up late working on a short story about an ex-Vietnam Vet who raised, trained and hunted coon hounds.

Dad was open for conversation. He'd recently been contacted by men he'd served with in the war. Men he'd not spoken with in some time. One had a website, listed and described the battles in which they'd fought. Dad later sent this same man some of his photos and he placed them onto a disk with the ones he had from their time over their.
Dad never talked about the war a lot when I was growing up. I always accompanied him to the local VFW. Where, looking back now, he felt at ease. Among others like himself. Men who'd seen and participated in things others could or would not.

Dad was an engineer. Part of the Tankers Division. I asked why he never applied for a good civilian job as an engineer. He told me he wasn't that type of engineer. He blew things up with C4. I won't offer details. But I will offer what our town Newspaper wrote about my father back in 67:

Marine Lance Corporal Frank M. Bill was recently awarded the Navy Commendation Medal for outstanding performance in operation Allen Brook-a search and destroy mission in Vietnam.

He is also in line for a Purple Heart for wounds he received when a fellow soldier stepped on a land mine during the same operation.

His commendation authorizes Corporal Bill to wear the Combat "V". The citation read in part as follows:

"For heroic achievement while serving as a Combat Engineer....on 15 May 1968...the unit to which Lance Corporal Bill was attached came under intense automatic weapons and mortar fire from a large, well entrenched enemy force and sustained several casualties. Realizing the seriousness of the situation, Lance Corporal Bill unhesitating-exposed himself to the hostile fire and assisted in the evacuation of the seriously wounded Marines.

"On May 16, the Marines came under a heavy volume of enemy fire from a nearby village. Ignoring the enemy rounds impacting near him, Lance Corporal Bill boldly assisted several casualties across the 300 meters of open terrain to a helicopter landing zone and fearlessly remained in the hazardous area, unloading vital ammunition."

"Upon returning to his unit, he calmly assisted in destroying a large cache of enemy ordnance which was dangerously emplaced within several concealed booby traps, despite the accurate sniper fire directed at his position."

"By his courage, bold initiative and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of great personal danger, Lance Corporal Bill inspired all who observed him and upheld the finest traditions of the Marine Corps and of the United States Naval Service."

Coming home from the war my dad lost most of his papers. Never got his Purple Heart nor his disability compensation for losing part of his hearing in one ear from the land mine. The man mentioned above, who stepped on the land mine and lost his life, dad witnessed this. Was within earshot. He carried this with him for over 20 years.

He once told me you tried not to get too close with others, never knew if they'd be there the next day. Everyday that passed and you were still breathing, you said I made it another day. Still he said he questioned his life, why him and not me?

After his time was served and he came home, he tried to get his lost papers sorted out. To get his compensation for hearing damage from Uncle Sam. It became a headache and he decided it wasn't worth the trouble. Still, what he saw over there was carried around for years and years.

In the 80's he re-enlisted. Entered the Army Reserve. Towards the end of his years in the Army he spoke with another enlisted man. Talked about what had happened. The man told him he should pursue getting his compensation. That he deserved it. Dad decided to go through the headache of all the paper work, get compensated.

Dad got compensated over 20 years later for his disability. But he never did get his Purple Heart. He carried the memories of those he watched fall, that didn't make it home. He carried them for years and has only begun to speak about it openly within the past five to ten years.

My dad is a cut up. Has a lot of funny memories about boot camp. Some very graphic and detailed accounts from the war. Being pinned down for hours. Watching men fall. Waiting for back-up. How he and others survived. How the M16 always seemed to jamb up when needed most. The brush he carried in his helmet for when this happened. To this day he still hasn't looked at the disk of pictures his friend sent him from their time in the war. Afraid there'd be images he still wasn't ready to see.


  1. What a hero! My brother was in during the same period and I realize I had a cake walk (93-98) compared to these Vets,

    Tell your dad I said thanks for his service.

  2. Thanks David, means a lot. My father is a one of a kind dad. Real story teller.

  3. My old man was a Korean war vet with the 82nd airbourne division. He was also a prisoner of war for 18 months after being captured on a mission below the 38th Parallel and since the mission he was on was considered illegal by the Geneva convention, the U.S. goverment informed my Grandparents and his first wife that he'd been killed in action. My dad was pretty tight lipped about his time in the service and it wasn't until I was 17 or so that he told me about his time in the service.(and only did so as a means of dissuating me of going into the service after high school.)

    You're lucky your old man is around to share these kind of stories with you, Frank, he seems like a pretty incredible guy.

  4. Nice post. I am lucky enough to have a WWII Vet in my writer's group and he is amazing and a beautiful memoirist. Writing is such an essential way of preserving history.