November 11, 2013
Host: Ted Simons
Morenci Vietnam Veterans
- In 1966, nine young men left the Arizona mining town of Morenci to serve in Vietnam. Only three returned. Their stories are told in Arizona State University history professor Kyle Longley’s book: “The Morenci Marines: A Tale of Small Town America and the Vietnam War.” Longley will talk about their stories.
- Kyle Longley - History Professor, Arizona State University
| Keywords: military
Ted Simons: In 1966, nine young men left the Arizona mining town of Morenci to serve in Vietnam. Only three returned. Their stories are told in ASU history professor Kyle Longely's book, "The Morenci Marines: A Tale of Small Town America and the Vietnam War". Kyle Longely joins us to talk about the Morenci 9. Thanks for joining us.
Kyle Longely: Thank you very much for the opportunity.
Ted Simons: Who were the Morenci 9?
Kyle Longely: There was eight young men who had just graduated from high school. They were joined by a friend who had graduated two years before. He had gone to the U of A but came back and joined sort of a band of brothers. And so, you have got a cross-section of the town. Three Mexican American, one Navajo, and the rest are Anglo but all the sons of miners or people who worked in the smelters.
Ted Simons: And why did they decide to join?
Kyle Longely: A number of reasons, and I explore these in the book. And the major one is the draft. Most of them with the exception of two had no exception going to college, so they didn’t have a deferment. There are many other reasons, their fathers had served. In Morenci, they are proud of their service, so they were following in the traditions their fathers, uncles and others had established.
Ted Simons: And these were friends, people that knew each other, families that knew each other, and Morenci, even then, a small town.
Kyle Longely: Very much so. A town of 5,000. They played football together, and they partied together, and they went to church together. It's a very small close-knit community, even today, so everybody knew everyone, the good, bad, and the ugly. And they just joined as a group. Again, they thought, we're going to go together and join the Marine Corps because we want to be with the best.
Ted Simons: But they wound up with different specialties, different deployments?
Kyle Longely: They did, and from the period of, in the first wave, four of them went over on a ship together, and they dispersed once they hit South Vietnam. One was recon, and several were riflemen, and another was to serve on an air base. But, over time, all nine went, and unfortunately, over the period of six out of the nine will die in combat.
Ted Simons: And that is this part of the story that is so wrenching, and not at the same time. So it sounds as though the town, the small town had to go through these funerals one after the other, talk to us about that.
Kyle Longely: It was devastating. The first man to die, Bobby Draper was the star football player, the good, self-described Mormon kid, from a prominent kid in the community. His death in the August of 1967 is the first. But soon after, Stan King dies, he's the all-state tackle that was off at the University of Arizona. 6'5", 230 pounds with red, flaming hair who lasted six days in the country.
Ted Simons: Oh, my goodness.
Kyle Longely: So you have got these stories then, Van Witmer, then Larry West, who went back for a second tour of duty, and dies on May 17, 1968, followed by Roble Macayo who dies after being in the country 18 days.
Ted Simons: Three survivors.
Kyle Longely: Yes.
Ted Simons: What did they go through?
Kyle Longely: It was very difficult. The survivors' guilt was significant. And especially Mike Cranford, who lost his best friend, Larry West, in combat. They had, they were supposed to be out on mission together, but at the last moment, Mike got pulled off because he was a radio man, and another company needed him. So they were supposed to be in the same operation, and Larry dies, and Mike comes home. Mike struggles mightily, as do the other friends. How do you explain why I survive and my friends didn't? You know, they never age in their minds. They are 18, 19, their whole lives, but these men, age, and they do oftentimes deal significantly with PTSD.
Ted Simons: And I would imagine the town, itself, we talked about the funerals and about the reaction there, but, in general, this is a story, a big story about a town, as well, isn't it?
Kyle Longely: It's very much the community. And it's a mining camp. So, it's a very unique community in many ways, and dominated by Phelps Dodge during these days, and there’s strikes, there is conflict, and there is cooperation, and you know, their fathers worked 26 days on and two days off. It’s hard labor, hard work. But they are very proud of their military service, and the contributions that they made to their country.
Ted Simons: Did the attitude towards the Vietnam War in the town, as far as you could tell, from your research in the story that you have told here, did it change over the years as the funerals piled up?
Kyle Longely: It really didn't on the outside. I do think that it did on the inside. For example, the last young plan to die, Clyde Garcia, his brother wanted to join, and why his mom and dad were very proud to say their son had made a sacrifice, when the youngest son joined the Marine Corps, they squashed it, and they did not want to lose another son. So, the exterior, strongly in support of the war, if anything, the complaint we did not win, but behind the scenes, there were a lot of people that started to question, not like anti-war protesters, but just why do we have to make such a sacrifice when others are not?
Ted Simons: Well, listen, so is this a typical or is this an atypical small town American story during the Vietnam War?
Kyle Longely: I think that it's a very typical one, and I think their story, even though it's about nine men from the same community, it's a story of a generation of Vietnam combat soldiers, and that have, that go off to war from small towns, and farming communities, and mining towns in West Virginia, or Montana, and these small towns, these small, you know, urban, suburban enclaves, oftentimes immigrant, take significant casualties. So there is a lot of things replicated: loss of friends, the experience of combat, the PTSD, they deal with, the dishonor many people heap upon them for their service, and how they have to overcome that. So there is some really unique characteristics, so again, in this group of nine, for six to die, that's just a devastating loss, but at the same time, there are a lot of continuities and a lot of similarities with the Vietnam generation.
Ted Simons: How is the legacy of the Morenci-9 preserved, especially in a town like Morenci, which has literally changed from those days. It has been swallowed up. Much of the history of that town is now the bottom of the pit.
Kyle Longely: Very much so. And they did it, makes it difficult for me as a historian to recreate the story because it was not there for me, and I couldn't see the physical characteristics, but what has been an important -- I think the story means more to people there because it's the way that they hold onto their old traditions, is through the stories, because the physical characteristics are no longer there. So they have to hold onto these memories, and I think that, it's extremely important, and again, they will be the first to say, you know, other Morenci men served, and some died, but the story is sort of a central piece of that story of remembrance.
Ted Simons: Is that why you wrote this? But why did you write this book?
Kyle Longely: I read in a newspaper article in 2000, and I looked at it, and I go, there is so much more to this story than just a newspaper article, it was a wonderful article. I looked, and I went, this is an important story, not just for Arizona, not just for the southwest, but for our country. For the Marine Corps, for the people who served in Vietnam because their story is a story of many.
Ted Simons: And when you started to write the book, when you had an idea of what you wanted the book to be, and how it would, the results would be, when you wound up with the hard cover edition, was it the same book?
Kyle Longely: It is the same book, and I think that what made it because I wrote their story. That was my goal. Is not to incorporate my story into the process. It was to write their story, and the story unfolded. Now, it was a very difficult story. And because there were no central depositories of materials taken, and used. I had to do a lot of world history and beg families for, for letters and diaries, and many of them were forthcoming, and a lot of the families wouldn't talk to me because it still hurts so bad. 40 something years later, to have lost a brother, to have lost a son. And so, it was a very difficult process, but one where many people in Morenci embraced me and helped me.
Ted Simons: Now that the folks will have a chance here, just recently released. But, are you -- what response are you expecting from this?
Kyle Longely: I expect a good one because again, the people who have read the advanced galleys are supportive of it. And these are scholars, people not even tied to it. But I think that the people in Morenci will enjoy it, as far as you can enjoy this, to a degree of a sad story. They want the history remembered, and Leroy Cisneros just died, one of the survivors, and his comment was always, I want my friends remembered. I want my sons to know about Bobby Draper, my best friend, and I don't want them ever forgotten.
Ted Simons: Well, it's a great piece of work, and congratulations on a success of completing the book, and good luck with your future and the book's future.
Kyle Longely: Thank you very much.
Ted Simons: Thank you. And that is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you for joining us on this special edition of "Arizona Horizon." You have a great evening.
- Three Veterans were honored at the 11th annual Heroes Patriotic Luncheon, hosted by the Veterans’ Medical Leadership Council. Manny Lugo is an Arizona native who was drafted by the Army in 1969, but volunteered for the Marines instead. He fought in many battles in Vietnam, and sustained a shrapnel wound in 1970. Tracy Lea is a Third-Class Petty Officer in the US Navy Reserves. She serves as an avionics technician, providing maintenance on the C-40 Clipper aircraft. Les Nagy, a native of Northville, Michigan, entered military service in 1950 and served as a demolition and construction specialist, laying and disarming mines in the Korean War. All three tell their stories of service to our country.
- Manny Lugo - Former Marine
- Tracy Lea - Third-Class Petty Officer, US Navy Reserves
- Les Nagy - Korean War Veteran
| Keywords: veterans
Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to the special Veterans' Day edition of "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. We begin tonight with three who served our country, and who are honored at the 11th annual Heroes Patriotic Luncheon hosted by the Veterans Medical Leadership Council. Manny Lugo is an Arizona native who was drafted by the Army in 1969 but volunteered for the Marines instead. He fought in many battles in Vietnam and sustained a shrapnel wound in 1970. Lugo came back to Phoenix and joined American Legion Post 41. He helped revive the Marine Corps League’s Ira Hayes attachment, a community service organization. Lugo currently serves as commandant of that group. Also joining us is Tracy Lea, a Third-Class Petty Officer in the US Navy Reserves. She serves as an avionics technician, providing maintenance on the C-40 clipper aircraft. Lea is also the venture manager for ASU's entrepreneurship and innovation group. And finally, joining us is Les Nagy, a native of Northville, Michigan. He entered Military Service in 1950, and served as a demolition and construction specialist laying and disarming mines in the Korean War. My goodness, good to have you all with us on this Veterans' Day special and thank you so much for joining us. Before we get too far here, Veterans' Day: what does it mean to you? What do you want it to mean to others?
Manny Lugo: I think it's a great way for Veterans to get together, first of all, and for people to, somehow, appreciate what the Veterans went through. Sometimes, if you are not from a Veteran family or a military family, it does not really impact your life, but, my father was in the service. I got a lot of friends who went in the service. They feel like the people don't appreciate them. But on Veterans' Day we all come together as a military family.
Ted Simons: Yes.
I think that means a lot to the Veterans themselves and for what they did for their country, for the love of country.
Ted Simons: Tracy, Veteran's day, what does it mean?
Tracy Lea: It means honoring those who sacrifice so much for this great country, and it means reflecting on many family members I have in my history. My brother’s currently a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves. My dad was in the 101st airborne, a lot of family buried at West Point, and my family served in many wars and conflicts. It reminds me of that spirit of what they gave so much for, and it also reminds me exactly why I joined the military and why I'm so proud to serve. But I want others to honor those that have given so much and are true Patriots of our country.
Ted Simons: Les, Veteran's day, what should we all take from it and what do you take from it?
Les Nagy: I think that everybody should appreciate the freedom that we have because if it wasn't for the Veterans, you would not be here. I go to schools and tell the children the same thing. If it wasn't for the Veterans, you wouldn’t be here. And I really remember a lot when I was a little fella. My science school teacher was a World War I Veteran. He would take us on scouting, and then we would have Veteran's programs. I blew the Taps at two cemeteries. There were three of us that blew Taps, and that's what made Veterans' Day for me at that time. Today, I noticed that there is a lot of people, say oh, you are a Veteran. And I say, yes, I am. And they shake my hands, and move on with life. And, but I feel good I’ve served, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. And it made me what I am today.
Ted Simons: And that's an interesting point. Manny, I want to get to you on this one. Talk briefly about your service. You saw action in Vietnam, and you were injured, shrapnel, came back, had some challenges coming back. First of all, what were those challenges? Are they still there?
Manny Lugo: Some of the challenges were when you are coming back from a combat situation, I think, and it was five days when I left my unit, I was back in San Diego, it took me 5 days to get out of the service. And five days before that I was with my unit, and we were probably doing some kind of operations, and five days later, you are at home, and you think to yourself, what am I doing here?
Ted Simons: Yeah.
Manny Lugo: It's kind of hard to get yourself back into this life of being back home with your family and your friends. And somehow, we don't fit in with them. You know, you are still thinking about the unit that you left behind, part of the military life. It's not easy coming back in, and even today, like this gentleman was saying, you think about it -- I think about Vietnam almost daily, you know. And maybe I have gone to the V.A. to get help, but there is no help for that. When you go through something, that -- it sticks with you, and your family, sometimes, doesn't understand what you are going through.
Ted Simons: With that said, Les said he would never trade it. It shaped him and made him who he was. Considering the challenges, would you trade your experience?
Manny Lugo: I would never trade it. I have met too many men and women that are Veterans, and I would consider them my family. I would back them up in any situation. And there is no way that I would trade it, not one day.
Ted Simons: Tracy, you are now involved in a lot of things along with the U.S. Navy Reserves. Talk about the military experience, the non-military experience, and how the two impact each other in your life.
Tracy Lea: Well, the military experience is something indelible. It's something, as Manny was saying, it does not leave you, and it's a family that you have, and it does change you in ways that you are so grateful for in so many reasons, but, fortunately, I have the opportunity with my work and the civilian sector to work with Veterans to be able to help provide opportunities to have some of those connecting points. I work with ship mates in my unit that go overseas, and they are mobilized in Afghanistan and of course, served in Iraq, and they come home, and it's harder for them to come to civilian life because we don't have a military base to come back to for active duty, so they’re reservists, that come back to a lot of detachment in our community, so, I tried to help knowing what that experience was like on the military side of it, and help to try to bridge that with the civilian side. But, it's the honor, courage, commitment, Navy core values, that I bring to everything else that I do, and in my civilian life.
Ted Simons: Les, let's get to you, les. You are our veteran Veteran here with the Korean War, Heartbreak Ridge, you were there. What were you doing?
Les Nagy: I was laying mines and is booby traps and disarming them. You don't -- I come up and I tell people, I wanted to get away from that trade because it's very dangerous. It is. No kidding. And they would not let me change, but they went through all the training from basic to specialty training. I had to go through it. I had mines I set up, barbed wire, and I was laying mines one day, and I was, I was -- I was stringing constantina wire in front of the line, so I would go ahead and, and I worked with my fellas there, and there's a guy up above on the peak, up on the ridge, and he's in the nest, a 50 caliber bunker, a slot that big, and that's where the barrel sticks out, and he could see me down there. And he said, Sarge, he said I would not trade my job for anything in the world because I got to this 50 caliber. And I says well, I can't trade. But the next day I got hit. The mortars came in, and dropped on us. And I yelled, “Scatter!” And they scattered, and I waited until all 27 guys were gone. Then I picked myself up, and I started to go, and what happened, I got a concussion from the mortar that come over. Knocked me into a ravine. I was unconscious for seven, eight hours, and they picked me up, later, and they brought me back to my area. And I was all right. They gave me time to get straightened out, but I got a concussion from that mortar. And I stop and think about it. Also, I had, when I was in that position, the snipers got my boots. Three times. But they never drew blood on me. So, therefore, I was not entitled to a purple heart. Then, I brought all of the guys back, and I went back to my area. And I was home about six months, and my mother called me and said, Leslie, she says you got a telegram. And I said oh, no. Do I have to go back in again? I didn't want to go back at all. And I was scared, really, because they offered me OCS while I was there, and I said no. And so, what happened is that I was awarded the bronze star for meritorious service bringing in 27 guys alive because the other battalions, they lost 40%. And I didn't do it for the award. I done it because I thought that that was correct. And now, I have a problem with PTSD.
Ted Simons: So you did develop post-traumatic stress --
Les Nagy: Oh, yeah. Yeah. They determined that here about a year ago. Finally.
Ted Simons: Wow.
Les Nagy: It took a long time to pick it out. And I got 60%, but what's 60% if you are not exactly right. So, what I keep on doing, I keep busier than you know what. So I don't think about it.
Ted Simons: That's, that's excellent advice, and Manny, PTSD is part of your life, as well?
Manny Lugo: Yes, it is. Yep. You deal with it, daily. And I have talked to a lot of Veterans, sounds, a certain noise. You hear the radar going on and hear song that takes you back. It's just -- it stays with you, you know. It doesn't -- it's not something that you can go and get help at the V.A. like they tell us to and, and they give you the magic pill. There is no magic pill, you know. You live with it the rest of your life, and it's always there.
Ted Simons: But stay active, as well, the Ira Hayes detachment, you are the leader of that particular operation, and you are the Marine of the year. 2013 Marine of the year. And you are keeping busy, and you are still fighting the good fight.
Manny Lugo: Yes, I am. I was the commandant for the Marine Corps league two years, and now I'm the past commandant. We have another gentleman in there right now, but the Marine Corps league, it happened that Ira Hayes was in limbo, the detachment, so it was offered to us. We took it over, and I took it over, revived it a bit. And there was a lot of good guys that started the Ira Hayes. But they are older gentlemen, already, their time has settle down, so we will get the younger guys to try to do something with it. But the fundraisers that we do have, the money that we do raise, goes to the Marines helping Marines coming back, wounded, in different hospitals, and not just Marines helping Marines because there is other branches, service and hospitals of course so, that's our goal, and then with the, the, with the Toys for Tots, the Marine corps reservists is in charge of that. And our detachment is now in charge of the central Phoenix Toy for Tots program. And we're doing really good.
Ted Simons: That must make you feel good.
Manny Lugo: It makes you feel good when you see the kids come in and, and, and pick out their toys, you know.
Ted Simons: Tracy, I want for close it out with you. These two gentlemen over here, the military background is tremendous. And with the stories, and we could go on all day, and these are fascinating gentlemen with fascinating lives. I would not trade it for the world. As a more recent military person, what do you think of?
Tracy Lea: They are the true heroes at this table. Really. There really are not any words to thank them for their wonderful service, and I feel like, and I know that I have not even come close to the level of service they have, but I will keep trying to serve honorably and thank them by my service and what I bring to the Navy reserves. To be able to thank them properly.
Ted Simons: It was an absolute honor, it was a pleasure to have you all here. Thank you very much. Thank you very much for your service. For everything you have done for us. And continue to have good health and a good life. Thank you.