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Vietnam veteran Larry Guthrie says, ‘I’m not a hero, I did my job’
Special to The Hesperian-Beacon—
It started with a pellet gun he received when he was nine years old and it took him halfway around the world to the rice paddies and jungles of South Vietnam. Larry Guthrie’s shooting abilities, which he honed on the farm, paved the way to a job as a sniper in the Marine Corps at the age of 20.
On June 1, 1967, Guthrie enlisted in the Marine Corps as the war in Vietnam continued to escalate. Initially, he signed up to be a truck driver but at the end of the nine weeks of boot camp, he, along with several others, was asked about becoming snipers. Those that accepted then spent another six weeks in training that included improving their shooting skills by understanding the physics of shooting as well as what to do and where to stay as a sniper.
At the end of the training, Guthrie shot 224 out of 226 and it all started with a pelt gun and shooting grasshoppers off of the fence at 20 yards.
“When I was nine, I received a pelt gun and I practiced with it shooting at grasshoppers,” Guthrie said. “Then I got a .22 rifle and continued to improve my shooting skills.”
Once all of his training was completed in San Diego and Camp Pendleton, Guthrie received his orders to deploy to Vietnam. During this time, he told his fiancée, Rhonda Burns, that they would have to wait for him to get back from Vietnam to get married.
“I couldn’t marry her and then leave for Vietnam not knowing if I would even come back. It wasn’t fair to her,” Guthrie said. “The trip to Vietnam took us through Hawaii where Rhonda’s brother was and I couldn’t even go to a nearby phone booth to call him. They kept us restricted. We then went to Okinawa for five days before they sent us on to Da Nang.”
Guthrie arrived in Vietnam on Oct. 1, 1967 to scorching temperatures of up to 140 degrees and heavy rains that pushed the temperatures down to 60 degrees. He said even a West Texan had a hard time adjusting to the weather and his poncho became his best friend during the rainy season.
He spent much of his time on and around Hill 55, southeast of Da Nang. Going out with a partner, they would spend from one to three weeks out in the jungles performing their duty as snipers.
“It was the job I was assigned to do and I did my job,” Guthrie said. “I’m not a hero; I was just a Marine doing his job. It wasn’t fun but it was what I had to do. Most of my shots were between 1,000 and 1,500 yards.”
Guthrie said most of the times that he and his partner would just walk out into the jungle then disappear to do their job, but sometimes they would catch a truck out to a drop point. They had supply drop-off points where they could resupply themselves when they were out for extended periods. Guthrie said he and his partner slept very little because they had to be alert at all times.
“I didn’t make friends over there, especially with my partners that I went into the jungles with because there were too many that did not come back,” Guthrie said.
With the stress of Vietnam plus the extra stress of being a sniper, Guthrie still has flashbacks of that time in his life. He said the only pleasant memories over there were when they got to go on weekend leave to a secure beach where they could play football and blow off steam and when he had kitchen duty.
Guthrie said, “I told them I could cook, although I really couldn’t, just so I could do something different. The chore gave me relief from the daily stress I was under as a sniper. I did get pretty good at cracking eggs. I could crack two at a time and do it pretty fast because there were a lot of Marines to feed at base camp.”
Guthrie remembers that in early 1968, the Tet Offensive was beginning and things intensified around Da Nang. By August 1968, many of the snipers were pulled out of the field to reinforce the ‘ground pounders’ otherwise known as the infantry. In late August, they were battling for control of the city of Da Nang.
“On Aug. 21, I was in a building during a battle when I took three rounds. Two rounds hit my rifle and the third hit my upper left arm,” Guthrie said. “The rifle saved my life, but I know there were over 100 U. S. personnel killed in my area that day.”
Guthrie helped save his own life as the medic attending to his wound had to have him plug the hole in his arm in order to slow the bleeding so the medic could get the arm wrapped tight enough to stop the bleeding. Guthrie was then put into a personnel carrier with other wounded to be evacuated. A sergeant gave Guthrie his .45 pistol to protect the back of the personnel carrier as they were taken to an evacuation zone.
Guthrie was transported to a hospital ship, which took them to Japan for recovery. The Marines restricted wounded to base for seven days following evacuation, then they could go on leave but when his seventh day rolled around, Guthrie was ordered to get on a plane headed for the states. Following a stay in California, he was sent to Corpus Christi where he was discharged on Dec. 21, 1968 as a lance corporal. His wound left him disabled because of severed nerves in his arm, which caused him to have little feeling in his hand.
“The hard part of coming back was the anti-war sentiments that were so strong in the states,” Guthrie said. “When we got back, we were told not to wear our uniforms when we were off base because they feared we might be in physical danger from the anti-war demonstrators.”
After his discharge, Guthrie headed to Lubbock where Rhonda was going to school and surprised her at her apartment. On May 17, 1969, they finally were married. It took another 10 years before Guthrie received his Purple Heart. He also received the National Defense Service Medal and Vietnam Service Medal.
Guthrie said that the conditions and the dangers were always present while he was in Vietnam. The North Vietnamese were sneaky and they had Russian-made weapons that were superior to the weapons that the U. S. forces had available. He feels he was one of the lucky ones because even though he was exposed to Agent Orange, he has seen limited effects to his health.
Even though he faced death on a daily basis as well as dangerous conditions in stressful situations, Guthrie said he would do it again.
“Yes, I would do it again,” Guthrie said, “because of our country and what we stand for, not that I liked it or would ever hurt anyone, but I would go back.”