Photo by Jim Mayfield
“If you want to know what fighting in Vietnam was like up close and personal, Gary Harlan tells it like it really was. His philosophy borne from those experiences is profound and well worth reading and considering.” Frederick W. Smith, CEO FedEx Corporation, USMC ’66-‘70
A U.S. Army general once remarked, “There are two kinds of people that understand Marines: Marines and the enemy. Everyone else has a second-hand opinion.” The truth of that statement is what inspired this two-tour Marine sergeant to embark on a journey that began with a cross-country road trip in which he visited the homes of Marines and Navy Corpsmen with whom he had served alongside in combat, and ended back in Vietnam meeting Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army (NVA) soldiers they had fought a half-century earlier.
Leaving his rural home in the Ozarks, Gary Harlan drove first to Boston where he attended the Semper Fi Society’s annual Marine Corps birthday luncheon. He had the honor of meeting the keynote speaker, General Joseph F. Dunford, the 36th Commandant of the Marine Corps who was currently serving as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The general asked Harlan what outfit he served with in Vietnam. When Harlan informed him that his first tour was with the 3rd Battalion 1st Marines, the General replied, “3/1 was the first unit I served with.” Just as Harlan was about to return to his table, General Dunford said, “I’m proud to have followed in your footsteps.” It was a remarkable, if not surreal way to commence the two-month road trip.