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.