A Story of Two Vietnam
Marines and a Camera
When two Marines meet the usual greeting is "Semper Fi". This greeting comes
from the Marine Corps Motto of "Semper Fidelis" which in Latin means "Always Faithful". When heard, a deeper meaning of trust can only be understood by
those men and women who served in the Marine Crops, especially those who served together in combat. This "brotherhood" continues even after their
military service is completed and, by tradition, continues until death. This story is one of trust between two Marine "brothers". A story of an
obligation of trust fulfilled after 33 years.
In the mid 1960s a young Marine Frank Ambrose, had just graduated from "boot camp" at Paris Island SC. He went to the Base Exchange on
graduation day and saw a small camera costing around $200. Knowing he was going to Vietnam and
wanting a camera that was light and easy to carry he purchased the camera from his meager earnings. (Pay for a Private in those days was $93 a
month.) He was now ready to take pictures of his experiences in Vietnam; mementos he
could look at and remember as he got older.
In mid 1967 he arrived in Vietnam and was assigned to Company "M" (Mike) of the Third Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. Here for
several months he served, with distinction, as an M-60 machine gunner during the Tet Offensive and in many of Vietnam's bloodiest battles.
Serving alongside him was another Marine machine gunner, Corporal Ken
Fields, who had arrived in Vietnam several months before. Together they
faced the horrors of war. They became Marine "brothers". Their unit received a Special Presidential Unit Citation for the close quarters combat they were
involved in. Cpl. Fields and L/Cpl. Ambrose each received three Purple Hearts. Between them they received several other awards and Medals for their
service in Vietnam and the USMC.
Immediately after the Tet Offensive of 1968, Cpl. Fields was removed from
the field as he was due to rotate out of Vietnam and go home after 13 months of duty. Just before going out on another operation, L/Cpl.
Ambrose entrusted to Cpl. Fields his highly prized camera knowing that when he returned Cpl. Fields would return it. However, while L/Cpl. Ambrose was on a
patrol, Cpl. Fields was given just a couple of hours to pack-up and get to the airport for his return flight to the States. Excited about going home he
forgot he had the camera and took it with him.
Later, after returning home, Cpl. Fields found the camera in his baggage. He wrote to L/Cpl. Ambrose but his letter was returned. Unknown to Cpl. Fields,
L/Cpl. Ambrose had been severely wounded while on patrol and had been sent out of Vietnam to Okinawa for hospitalization.
Unfortunately for L/Cpl. Ambrose, the Marine Corps had lost all of his gear. Everything he owned and carried in Vietnam including all of the film and
pictures he had taken with his camera.
After receiving his honorable discharge from the United States Marine Corps, Ambrose returned to his home state of Florida and earned his degree in
Criminal Justice. He joined the Altamonte Springs police Department and later the Seminole County Sheriffs office. He never forgot about his
camera. He had often told his family, friends and fellow officers about the camera he bought and lost. His memories where his only mementos.
Then, one day in 2000 he was surfing the Web and found a website for "M"
Company Third Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment . He saw many names familiar to him and decided to add his own to the roster as a former member of the Mike
Several months later Ken Fields also found the site and saw Ambrose's name. Contacting Ambrose he told him that he thought he still had the camera but
was not sure. Ken Fields had moved to Jacksonville, Florida two years earlier but left some possessions in storage in Missouri. Having to visit
Missouri a couple weeks later, he told Ambrose he would check to see if he could find it. Ambrose told Fields at that time that he had the gut feeling
the camera would be located with out any problem. Sure enough when Fields went to look for it, it was in the first box he opened on top of everything.
Ambrose was quite excited that he not only got his beloved camera back but the only possession he will have from his time in Vietnam. Fields is
excited to be able to fulfill a trust given him by returning the camera.
Ambrose had asked Fields to mail the camera to him but Fields wanted to
return it to Ambrose by his own hand to symbolize a trust fulfilled. So, on
April 21, 2001 (33 years after L/Cpl. Ambrose entrusted Cpl. Fields with his prized possession) Fields
traveled from Jacksonville to Longwood, Florida to reunite with Ambrose and to reunite him with his camera.
click to enlarge
Fields had never used the camera but had kept it in storage on the hopes of
someday locating Ambrose. In May 2001 3rd battalion, 5th Marines had a
reunion in LaGrange GA. The camera was used to take pictures of Marines that were the some of the same Marines it took it's last pictures of in Vietnam
This is one meaning to the words Semper Fi" (Always Faithful) A meaning held close to heart by all United States Marines.