Alan Ebert never planned on being in the Marines.
The 1968 Mason City graduate was drafted by the Army after one semester at North Iowa Area Community College.
He was getting ready to fly from Des Moines to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, when Marine officers approached.
Two Marines who had enlisted had been hurt in a car crash, so they wanted Army soldiers to take their places.
Ebert was one of the soldiers who switched.
“They just wrote a big ‘MC’ across my papers and sent me back in for processing and that was how it started,” said Ebert.
Much to his parents’ confusion, Ebert was flown to Marine Corps Recruit Depot south of Camp Pendleton, California, instead of Missouri.
He landed in Da Nang, Vietnam, in July 1970, with the 1st Marine Division. A quick reaction force, Ebert’s unit would be sent in when additional support was needed.
They worked an area from Da Nang to the Laotian border, clashing with the Viet Cong communist fighters as well as the larger, more disciplined units from the North Vietnamese Army.
It got bloody, and there are sights and smells that are with Ebert to this day.
Ebert, who now lives near Denver, knows his personality was affected.
“My ex-wife told me I have the emotions of a rock. And I know that,” Ebert said. “Because nothing excites me any more.”
He believes it stems from the intensity of combat compared to everyday life.
“You spend a year in those situations and they say that the experience is so overwhelmingly intense that it just puts your mind in a place where it just takes a higher level (of stimulation), and you don’t get that stimulation on a daily basis, so lots of times you just feel numb,” he explained.
Ebert is proud to have served in Vietnam, but doesn’t think the end result justified the sacrifices people made.
So many people died, but the effort didn’t improve the lives of people in Vietnam, he said.
“To me it was just a waste of lives for politicians to, you know, play their games,” he said. “When we were over there our hands were tied in so many situations by politics.”
He and the other members of his unit were there to do what the government told them to do. For that reason, Ebert doesn’t harbor any animosity toward the Vietnamese.
“Those soldiers were put in the same situations we were,” he said.
Even though he’s proud to have done his part, Ebert wouldn’t want to do it again.
“A lot of people say they wouldn’t trade that experience for a million dollars, but I wouldn’t give a nickel to do it again,” he said.