Corporal, The United States Marine Corps
Bob Green graduated from Lincoln (Nebraska) Southeast High School in 1968.
He was interested in playing college football, but without a scholarship in sight he decided instead to enlist in the Marines.
“I beat the draft by enlisting in the United States Marine Corps,” he said.
After boot camp in San Diego — “I stood on those yellow footprints” — Green completed communications school as a radio man and was assigned to Camp LeJeune, North Carolina.
“I got there on a Sunday and on Monday they told me I was going to Vietnam,” he said.
After a short time at Camp LeJeune, he was sent back to California for more infantry training, and then flew out of El Toro to Vietnam, stopping at Okinawa, where all of his belongings were stored. “We flew to Da Nang with only what we were wearing,” he said.
He had received orders to the First Marine Air Wing, but those orders were ignored when he got to Vietnam.
Instead, the 18-year-old Marine was sent to the First Provisional Rifle Company at Force Logistics Command, a base just north and west of Da Nang.
He was assigned to the 2nd Platoon, First Squad. Despite his communications training, “I never carried the radio,” he said. Instead, he was an assistant machine gunner, and over time would become a fire team leader and ultimately the squad leader.
The squad completed a wide variety of missions, sometimes being helicoptered to locations, sometimes riding shotgun on convoys, sometimes traveling by truck, and sometimes simply walking out “beyond the wire” at the edge of the base to conduct patrols and ambushes.
“You’d see guys walk outside the wire and wonder where they were going, until you started doing it yourself,” he said.
On some operations, Green’s squad would be accompanied by MPs with dogs. Also utilized on occasion were “Kit Carson” scouts, former Viet Cong combatants who had defected and fought with U.S. troops.
The FLC base would be regularly rocketed and mortared by the enemy.
“I was very lucky,” Green said. “Far more veterans had it far worse than I did.”
Green spent his 19th birthday in Vietnam. Because his was considered a noncritical MOS, he qualified for early release, and mustered out of the Marines in the summer of 1970.
“I got the same ones everybody got,” Green said. “I did nothing special.” They included the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with device, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm and Frame, and the Combat Action Ribbon.
COMMUNITY AND VETERANS’ ACTIVITIES:
Bob Green knew, when he returned, that he wanted to go to college and play football, and that’s what he did — at Kearney State University in Nebraska. A defensive back, he played four years, and stayed on as a coach, starting a career that would culminate with his 24 years as coach of the Montana Tech Orediggers. He transformed the football culture at Montana Tech, leading the Diggers to the NAIA national playoffs five times, including to the 1996 National Championship game. He also worked for a time as a development officer with the Montana Tech Foundation, and is still active and involved with all things Oredigger.
Throughout his coaching career, Green avoided the frequently used “war” analogy to football. “War is something different,” he said. “War isn’t something where somebody blows a whistle and everybody goes and takes a shower.”
But he says the Marine Corps experience had a huge impact on his life, and certainly helped prepare him for football. “Whenever my coaches got after me, I’d think, ‘They aren’t going to do anything worse than a drill instructor did.” He said his coaches and teammates were accepting of the fact he was a Marine veteran, and a couple of years older than his teammates. “And I could buy beer,” he said with a smile.
“The Marine Corps is a ‘we’ organization, and a football team is a ‘we’ organization,” he said. “When I was out on patrol I was there for the rest of my squad, and they were there for me. That part is the same as football, which is the ultimate team sport.”
Being a Marine, he says, never leaves you. “It’s something to be proud of the rest of your life.” He said that all service personnel in Vietnam that knew and saw “did an incredible job in difficult circumstances. They distinguished themselves.”
Green is a member of American Legion Post One and is active with the Marine Corps League. Currently, he’s participating in the formation of a Veterans’ Court in Billings with other Marine Corps League members.