FAIRFIELD — The doctor thought he was doing Rufus Williams a big favor in 1969 when he handed him the results of Williams’ physical fitness exam. It said that the Mississippi man was 4-F, meaning he was not acceptable for military service because of hypertension and would not be sent to Vietnam.
Williams, who badly wanted to be a U.S. Marine, demanded that the designation be taken off his records.
“That Army doctor blew up my dream. I was downcast. I wanted to be a Marine. It took me six weeks and my own money to get that reversed,” said Williams, pointing out his intention “was to lead men in combat.”
Williams succeeded and was commissioned as a second lieutenant, choosing the artillery. After training at Fort Sill, Okla., he was sent to Vietnam to become a forward observer attached to the First Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment outside of Danang.
His job there was to accompany Marine units in the field, accurately calling down artillery to pound any Viet Cong the Marines were able to hunt down.
“It was to provide direct fire support to reduce enemy numbers,” Williams said of his duties. “Whenever we occupied a position for the night, we were to register defensive fires on suspected avenues of approach and to make sure the captain of the unit knew where he was.”
Williams was raised in east central Mississippi on what he described as a small dirt farm in a family that had a long tradition of military service.
His first attempt to join the service in 1964 was foiled when his father refused to sign the papers allowing his son to sign up. Williams then entered Mississippi State University in 1966 and entered a Marine Corps Platoon Leaders program that allowed him to be commissioned as a second lieutenant when he graduated in 1969, Williams said.
Once in Vietnam, he was stationed at LZ Baldy, a huge combat support base at a time when the Americans were drawing down their presence in Vietnam. Outside of boobytraps and harassing fire, the Viet Cong were avoiding combat to wait out the American withdrawal.
The Marines’ mission was to find, pin down and punish the Viet Cong as much as possible. The idea was to send out a small platoon as bait in hopes the Viet Cong would engage them and then quickly bring in a reinforced platoon.
Whenever the Viet Cong were found, it was artillery that Williams called in to hit them with, “and when they broke contact, that’s what we chased them with.” Part of that strategy was sending out small units to bait the Viet Cong into attack and then hammer them with re-enforcements and firepower.
Once, Williams got closer to the enemy than he expected when the unit he was with approached a village, “and two VC literally ran into me with their AK-47s still slung.”
Williams yelled what little Vietnamese he knew, which was ordering them to stop and lay down. The VC chose to fight and that did not last long, with both VC dead and the Marines without a casualty.
A third of the landing zones Williams went into were hot ones and “helicopters felt to me like they were the biggest target.”
“AK-47s make a pop, pop, pop sound, and when those bullets hit an aluminum plate, it makes another particular sound,” Williams said. “I still remember that sound.”
Williams’ fire base was never probed by the Viet Cong while he was there, and when the Marines finally pulled out as part of the drawdown, “the engineers blew the top of that mountain off” to deny the Viet Cong any material to scavenge.
After leaving Vietnam, Williams drew a two-year stint in Guam before he mustered out in August 1975.
Williams, now a Fairfield resident, is active in VFW Post 2333 and spends part of his time going out to David Grant Medical Center to visit wounded service members returning from Afghanistan.
“It is a simple honor and pleasure to reach out to them. These young men and women wear the uniform with such as espirit de corps that gives me hope for the future,” Williams said.
As for Williams’ feeling of his own service, “I wanted to be a part of the best and I still proudly wear the title of Marine.”
Reach Ian Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.