Remembered by Mike McFerrin
Paul arrived at Mike Company while we were in the first phase of Operation Taylor Common in December, 1968. He wound up being delivered to Third Squad, Third Platoon. Mike 3 Charlie was our call sign.
Though we were actually in the beginning of a relatively slow period of combat, none of us really knew that at the time. Contact with enemy forces still occurred but was not severe and would continue that way for December of 1968 and part of January of 1969.
I had not received any new people for a while and as squad leader needed to insure that Paul was quickly and adequately trained so that he could be a contributing member of the unit as soon as possible. The easiest way to accomplish this was to make Paul the new radioman for the squad.
Paul was of large frame so it was clear that he could handle the extra weight on his back and by putting him into a position where he had to stay by my side 24 hours per day I could insure that he would hear and see all that I did. He would be able to see all that I did and any orders I received and gave. My old radioman was very good at everything at the time so it made sense to move him to fire team leader.
Paul very quickly earned basic respect from the squad. We were in the mountains at the time and moving through this type of terrain with some 70 pounds of gear on you is very difficult and exhausting. Paul was not yet physically acclimatized to Vietnam or the level of physical requirements for a grunt there. It was very obvious that Paul, with some extra 15 or 20 pounds on him, was being extremely taxed yet he did it without complaint or passing out. And he took all the ribbing about being the "Nebraska corn farmer" that is normally dished out by fellow Marines. Within a few days, the only thing left for his basic, "in the bush" training in Vietnam was to be in the middle of the "real thing" --- Combat.
I remember Paul's first time under direct fire from the enemy. I had to give him special notice during this because he was new, carried the communications capability for the squad, and he was physically closer to me than anybody else. If he was not going to be able to cope with the abrupt terror, it would be up to me to salvage what I could for the safety of the squad, myself, and him.
We came under very sudden and very heavy small arms fire on a mountain trail. The sound of the attack was amplified by the terrain as was the fear it generated in us. We hit the deck immediately as we were showered with tree branches and other vegetation that fell from the hail of bullets. I immediately swiveled around to get the radio handset from Paul so that I could find out exactly what was known about the location and size of the enemy force. I checked his face as I did this remembering that I was also going to have to watch him for "panic" problems.
Paul was ashen faced as he faced that all too horrible moment that we all had to face at some point when we were new in Vietnam. That moment when the war becomes very real to you. That first time you realize that somebody is trying to kill YOU. I had my hand extended to him as a request for the handset without saying anything. He quickly handed it to me. He even began moving his body closer to me to insure that the handset would be able to reach my ear.
As I tried to listen to what was going on around me and what was coming over the radio, I kept my eye on Paul. I began to relax as I saw him successfully summoning all of his inner strength to keep himself together. He was focusing on doing his job to fight the fear welling up in him. This is the ultimate sign that the person is probably going to hold up. He was resorting to his training, Marine esprit de corps, and keeping a focus on what was going on around him.
After a couple of exchanges on the radio with somebody, I talked as calmly as I could to him to let him know what was going on. I let him know that we would be staying where we were at for the moment and we would just strengthen our defense here. I had Paul move a couple of feet to a better covered position and told him how to cover the area in front of him and about looking under the bushes and looking for leaf movement. He was immediately responding and understanding the temporary shift from radioman to rifleman. Yes, he was going to be one more good Marine for this squad.
I had been pulled back to the combat base at An Hoa to do some work for Regiment and some 2 or 3 days later Paul was killed in action on April 21, 1969. That day I received a message from the Mike Company clerk regarding the incident. He knew that Paul had been my radioman when I was a squad leader. I talked to other people when they came in.
Paul had moved up to platoon radioman and, doing his job well as always, followed Lieutenant Hatton as he attempted to make his way to the front of the column. They were on one of those double rice paddy dikes that formed sort of an irrigation passage in between them. As they stepped from one rice paddy dike to the other, Paul stepped on a large booby trap. Probably a 155mm artillery round buried in the ground. Paul and the corpsman, Curran Jones, were killed instantly. The squad leader, Calvin Turner, and one other who I can't remember were severely wounded. I believe both of these survived. Lieutenant Hatton received a wound that was not life threatening.
Paul had made many friends amongst his fellow Marines and his death caused more than a ripple. Doug Maier provided the photo of Paul. Doug was in the hospital in Danang when Paul was killed. Doug was called on to identify Paul when his body was taken there. After all the combat that Doug saw and some thirty odd years, Paul was the first one Doug mentioned to me when we got back together on the Mike Company site this year. He has never been forgotten by those who served with him.
In the photo provided by Doug, I am the third one from the front and Paul is in
front (see below).