Colonel Kenneth R. Burns (Ret.)
Following graduation from The Basic School at Quantico I was designated an Amphibian Vehicle Officer, and assigned to 1st Marine Division, Vietnam, with Amphibious Vehicle School, Camp Pendleton in route. Prior to the completion of school my orders were changed and I was directed to report as a Platoon Commander to the recently formed Fifth Amphibian Vehicle (Amtrac) Battalion. Like any hard charging Second Lieutenant I questioned the wisdom of this change, and was told that my NROTC four year obligation gave them an extra year to control my destiny.
For the next 10 months I served as an Amtrac Platoon Commander and then as a Platoon Commander at the Infantry Training Regiment, before receiving orders to Vietnamese Language School. Of course the Marine Corps in their infinite wisdom did not send me to the West Coast School at Monterey, which would have made the tour somewhat more tolerable, but rather they sent me back to D.C.
Finally in July of 1968 I arrived in country and was assigned as Company Executive Officer, B Company, 3rd Amtrac Battalion, First Marine Division located at Marble Mountain. The Battalion’s Amtracs were spread across the entire Division AOR, so the Company Commander and I spent the majority of our time traveling to the various compounds and fire bases where our vehicles were assigned. Occasionally we were fortunate enough to get a helo lift but the majority of the times the trips were by jeep, always hoping that the engineers had paid attention when they did their morning sweep of the roads.
After five months Battalion was requested by Division HQ to send an advisor to the Korean Marine Corps to which was assigned two platoons of Amtracs. Again in another bit of Marine Corps logic, who better for the assignment then someone with Vietnamese Language training, notwithstanding the fact that the relationship between the local Vietnamese people and the Koreans was far from idyllic. The Korean Marine Corps had a well-deserved reputation as an excellent military force, but their success was built on the leadership principle of severe corporal punishment for any failings or transgressions. It was not unusual to see a Platoon Sergeant carrying a baseball bat which he was not in the least hesitant to use.
With four months remaining of my 13 month tour I was ordered back to Battalion HQ where I was assigned as one of two Watch Officers in the Battalion Combat Information Center. Being the junior of the two I drew the short straw and was given the 1800 to 0600 tour of duty. Actually it proved to be a challenging two months, as the nights were always filled with activity as we conducted our own perimeter security patrols as well as interfaced with the surrounding infantry and artillery units.
With two months remaining I was selected for Captain and was given Command of Headquarters Company. Regrettfully I ended my tour on a tragic incident. The LVTP5 variant of Amtrac used in Vietnam had an engineering version designed to clear mine fields. These vehicles were assigned to Headquarters Company. The vehicle had a uniquely configured blade on the front for removing buried mines as well as two internal line charges, each containing several thousand pounds of C-4 that were rocket propelled. Standard procedure was to fire the rocket deploying the line charge and once fully extended the safety cut off was removed and the charge fired electronically. For whatever reason the crew chief wanted to impress the supported infantry and attempted to achieve an air burst. He removed the safety cut off with the intent of depressing the firing trigger before the line charge was fully deployed and laying on the ground. He depressed the trigger while there was still several blocks of C-4 in the vehicle interior, which of course detonated the remaining charge of several thousands of pounds of C-4 as well as an estimated 200 gals of gasoline. Needless to say the vehicle and crew was pulverized, but tragically so were a number of surrounding Marine Infantry.
THE REST OF THE STORY:
After Vietnam I was in the process of resigning my Commission and leaving the Marine Corps, when my detailer offered me a sweetheart assignment as an Amtrac Company Commander located at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. There I met the wonderful woman whom I have been married to for going on 50 years.
On a whim I applied to the Marine Corps Advanced Degree Program and to my surprise found myself back at Tulane where I graduated with an MBA in the summer of 1974.
The rest of my Marine Corps career included two unaccompanied tours on Okinawa, a comptroller tour at 29 Palms, Ca, attendance at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, and far too many years assigned in various positions at Headquarters Marine Corps. Finally retiring as the Comptroller, MCB, Quantico.
Sandwiched in those years I was fortunate to have three unforgettable years as the Marine Officer Instructor, NROTC Unit, University of Notre Dame.
Following my retirement, for 19 years I was the Comptroller, Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) – the real one, not the TV show.
And finally for the past 30 plus years I have been a member of the Board of Directors, Navy Federal Credit Union.
Class of 1966
27 Years of USMC Service