So, you’re a U.S. Marine inside a steamy jungle in Vietnam, moving silently through marshy terrain on a 5-man Recon mission, when gunfire erupts, killing two and severely wounding another two of your comrades – what to do? Speaking by Zoom to 24 Y’s Men of Meriden on May 25, Norman VanCor described this and other experiences revealed in his recently published book “Swift Silent Deadly,” written after his 70th birthday.
Deployed to Vietnam from 1968-1969 in the 3rd Marine Division, VanCor served with the elite 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion as a radio operator with Company C. He participated in 14 recon missions averaging 5-7 days each, looking for downed American pilots needing rescue or enemy bunkers, and carrying radio equipment, an M-16 with 25 magazines (8 rounds each) and five canteens (to avoid drinking iodized swamp water). The five Marines walked slowly and quietly off trail (“man, did we hate walking in water,”) speaking only in whispers and not at all during nighttime, while trying not to lose their bearings.
The five men shared one tent and had to quickly learn to move and think as a single entity. They constantly rehearsed numerous “what if” scenarios. VanCor explained that this training provided him confidence in later civilian life, as a senior executive with Connecticut Light and Power and Yankee Energy System, Inc. in Meriden, with a “Plan B” always available.
During one mission, VanCor’s company was ambushed by the enemy; two Marines were killed and two others critically wounded, leaving only VanCor uninjured (with his radio equipment destroyed by gunfire in the encounter). As enemy troops closed in, he killed one causing the rest to scatter back into the jungle. He then carried the wounded men leapfrog style (repeatedly carrying one forward, then returning for the other) about 250 meters through hostile territory to the helicopter landing zone, signaling with a mirror and smoke canisters. VanCor was awarded the Navy Cross, along with other awards, for his heroism.
For further information about the Y’s Men of Meriden, go to ysmenofmeriden.com or call 203-238-7784.