OSAGE — Ten days before his 21st birthday, Bob Marreel received his Army draft letter.
Sitting as his kitchen table nearly 50 years later, he flipped through a wartime scrapbook, recalling a conflict he felt Americans were never allowed to win.
Marreel was drafted in 1968 and spent about a year in Vietnam in Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 47th Regiment of the 9th Infantry Division, stationed near a base in the Mekong Delta.
“I was trained in the States here for anti-tank fare and demolition,” he said. “When I got to Vietnam, down in the Delta that wasn’t needed so I carried a machine gun.”
He carried a machine gun for 3½ months, and then served as a radio operator.
“You never saluted anybody,” he said. “Some of the people who first went to Vietnam, they wore bright (patches) and they paid for it.”
In charge of bridge security, his unit often saw combat, he said.
“Most of our combat was during night ambushes, but during the daytime we would search various areas, secure engineers, roads and bridges, and medics while they treated the Vietnamese people,” he said later in an email.
Once, while he was recording a message to send home to his family, mortar rounds inched closer until one “landed right on us” and he got wounded with shrapnel to the back.
It was on April 1, 1969, he said. “I was the fool that day.”
His platoon sergeant was killed the next day.
Graffiti from American soldiers was present all over Vietnam, he said. One he later recalled: “If I had a farm in Viet Nam and a home in hell, I would sell my farm and go home.”
Marreel came home with combat honors including three Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart and Combat Infantry Badge.
In 1979, he met his wife, Donna. They eventually had two children. Marreel worked for the Postal Service for 33 years and was a Mitchell County supervisor for more than six years.
“When I came back from Vietnam there was nothing here for veterans,” Marreel said. “You just came home, you threw all your stuff in the closet and you went about being a civilian again.”
Of five men including himself that joined his unit in the same day, all survived their tours. He began to reunite with men from his unit more than 25 years later.
“I think the Vietnam vets are supportive of (post-9/11 vets) coming back now, because we knew how bad we were treated,” he said.
“I was never called a ‘baby killer’ myself,” Marreel said. “People wanted to fight. They wanted to pick a fight with us. I said, “We were not trained to fight, we were trained to kill,’ and that kind of solved it.”
“The press said we lost,” he said. “We did not lose, because we weren’t there. Saigon fell two years after the Americans left.”
“It was a war just to have a war. There was never a plan to win,” he said. “We weren’t allowed to win.”