By Jennifer Martin - email
JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - "You knew you were going to get drafted if you weren't going to college. If I was going to Vietnam, I wanted to go with the best," said Robert Dean.
Dean enlisted in the Marines in January 1968. He was 18 years-old. He trained at Paris Island and became part of the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, 3rd Division.
"I didn't have a clue who I was going with. I didn't know I was going to be joining the Walking Dead," added Dean. "We were continuously in the mountains and the jungle hunting north Vietnamese soldiers. We were clearing the Demilitarized Zone. We were probably outnumbered 20 to 1 all the time."
They wanted to make sure the area was clear as they launched what would be their biggest mission.
"Probably our greatest which was arguably the greatest operation of the whole war was Operation Dewey Canyon. Where we actually went into their sanctuary area on the borders of Laos and kind of caught 'em off guard and went in and destroyed their hospitals and captured the only artillery pieces of the entire war," said Dean.
It ended up being the largest capture and destruction of munitions.
"We killed over 16-hundred during that 40-something day operation," said Dean.
All three battalions took part. But, as successful as it was, Operation Dewey Canyon came with a price.
"I think we had 154 killed, 13 or 14-hundred wounded," added Dean.
Even though he felt his unit had been extremely successful, after a year in Vietnam, Dean was ready to leave.
"The last few days we had to carry our dead and wounded with us for 3 or 4 days because we couldn't get any supplies in. We were getting kind of stressed at the end of the thing,"
The day before he was supposed to leave, he came down with malaria. It was the second time he caught it.
"We were loading up on the convoys, getting ready to have a nice parade and stuff and I got sick," Dean remembered. "My temperature reached 108 and it was quite an ordeal. They iced us down when they got us. It was not very pleasant, I have to say that."
After he recovered, he spent 6 weeks in Okinawa, then went home.
"Mississippi was very good about being a patriotic state. We didn't have a lot of protests, recalls Dean. "I didn't have anybody spitting on me or anybody giving me a hard time."
Today, Dean visits high school classrooms sharing his stories of Vietnam.
"It's the 1st step toward bankrupting communism and it's done with blood. We actually forced the Russian to pour tons of money into Vietnam so we outspent them. We bankrupted them. As you can see, communism is gone, finished," added Dean. "We're still standing, as far as I'm concerned, we won."
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