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“Down the hill, Corp. Blake was wounded and yelled, ‘I don’t want you coming out here. They’re just gonna kill you.’ I yelled back, ‘I’ll decide who’s gonna live or die!” 

Ned E. Seath, Lance Corporal, 3rd Marine Division December 1965-July 1966. (Photo: Jennifer E. Berry)

My dad asked me, “Ned, you plan to go into the Navy or get a football scholarship or go into the Marines?” I said, “Well you’re a WWII vet and really liked the Marines. I’d kinda like to go into the Marines.” In 1962 I was 19 and didn’t know anything about Vietnam. After basic and infantry training, I reported to sea school and landed on the aircraft carrier USS Kearsarge. In May 1963 we picked up astronaut Gordon Cooper on the last Mercury mission. I then got orders to go to 1st Recon in California and from there went to Cuba Marine Barracks. After that I was assigned to the brig in Albany, Ga., in 1965. One day I got called to the sergeant major’s office. “I have some orders for you, Lance Corporal Seath,” he said. “It’s kind of bad news. I know you’re going to get out in eight or nine months. We’re sending you over to Vietnam. You’ll probably end up with an M-60 machine gun. I’m sorry.” I said, “I’m not.”

After a month in Okinawa, in December 1965 I climbed down the cargo net of a troop ship close to where the Perfume River flows into the China Sea. As soon as we got to Phu Bai, we started running night ambushes.

We were in the rear after an operation in June 1966, the month I was to be discharged, when the first sergeant told us he had bad news. “I know you want to go home to your sweethearts,” he said, “but you are involuntarily extended by an act of Congress.”

We went back into the jungle during Operation Hastings in July. We were being dropped by CH-46s, and the one I was in got hit and made a hard landing. Another one got hit and tangled up with us. As we ran out, the blades cut some of the mortar men right in half. There was an arm laying there, off a big red-haired Marine, his wrist watch still working.

Randy Jerral was right in front of me, protecting the machine gun. “Ned, just hold on a second,” he said. He signaled me to stop and spotted an NVA corpsman treating a wounded man. Cool as a cucumber, Randy drew down on him and motioned for the corpsman to back away and not reach for his SKS carbine. But the corpsman reached for it, so Randy shot him dead. We moved on. Around the hill perimeter there was thick undergrowth. I positioned my M-60 in the main avenue of approach, a wide trail under triple canopy, a perfect spot to assemble the enemy.

The next day, July 15, a patrol down the hill got hit by a machine gun and sniper. I was sent as a team leader to cover the corpsman and wounded. Corporal Blake was wounded, about 50 feet away, in the enemy killing zone. His leg was really messed up. He yelled: “I don’t want you coming out here. They’re just gonna kill you.” I yelled back, “I’ll decide who’s gonna live or die!”

I crawled out, grabbed him by his good leg and dragged him back. About halfway, that sniper grazed my helmet, and the round went in at the bottom of my spine about a half-inch. I got Blake back, and now I knew where that sniper was, so I got on the M-60, and almost cut him in half. Randy, Frank West and I then rushed the position, and from there we protected our flank and corpsmen. Randy yelled, “They’re massing down there, we gotta get out of here.” We hurried to get the fire team, corpsmen and the dead out.

On July 16, we knew there was a lot of enemy around, and after dark the bugle blew and the firefight started. Frank, my machine gunner on the right, yelled: “Machine gun down! I’ve been shot through the hand, and the front of the gun is blown up.” I told him to crawl over to me. I gave him my M-14, and he gave me his .45.

Lance Corporal Ned Seath sets out on a patrol in 1966, shouldering his trusty M-60 machine gun. (Photo courtesy of Ned Seath)

I crawled about 15 feet over to his gun, threw a poncho on the ground and started to disassemble the machine gun. Bullets were flying, and illumination flares were going off. Meanwhile, the enemy charge started. The machine gun on the left flank was firing, but just a single shot at a time. I realized there was something wrong with the gas system, or it wouldn’t complete its feeding cycle.

I called for them to get the gun over to me and threw it on the poncho with the other one, which I had apart. I quickly realized the one gun was too damaged, so I took parts from the other gun and started reassembling it. A rifle squad leader firing an M-79 over my left flank yelled: “I can’t hold ’em much longer, they’re gonna overrun us. Hurry up, Ned!” “I’m trying,” I said.

About then I got some shrapnel in the shins, but it just burnt. Finally, I had a working gun and about 200 good rounds. I cut loose, 8-10 round bursts because the NVA were massing up. Under the flares, I could see I was really chopping them down. They were shooting their AKs, trying to finish us off, but they were coming up on a line, about 30-40 feet away. I was mowing them down like a weed whacker, and my barrel was cherry.

There was a little lull, so I changed the barrel and got more rounds from Pat Engleman, who had braved enemy fire. They were now coming around the pile of dead, so I stood up, put the M-60 to my shoulder, grabbed the bipod leg steady, pulled the gun tight to me and shot them to pieces. We stopped ’em. 

Ned Seath was awarded the Navy Cross in February 2011 for his actions on July 16, 1966, and the Bronze Star Medal with V Device for his actions on July 15.