Daryl Duden said being a Marine in Vietnam taught him five important lessons. He learned the first lesson the day he arrived.
A small group of Marines had gone in five days earlier to learn about the area and help the larger group when they arrived. One of those Marines had already been killed, and when Duden's truck arrived, the others had just found him.
"It was our first day there, and we were seeing our friend, who had been on the ship with us, horribly mutilated," he said. "They unrolled the poncho, and we each walked by and saluted him. Guys were puking. If you had any doubts about if you were going to be able to pull a trigger, after that moment, those thoughts disappeared."
He recorded his first lesson in his diary. "People die here."
He was sent into the field immediately. He was constantly on the move.
"They called our regiment the nomads, because for a long time, we didn't have a base camp," he said. "Wherever there was action, that's where they sent us."
One day the Marines shot a mortar near a village, and it killed a water buffalo. On the same day, a Jeep driver was delivering mail, and a young boy ran in front of the Jeep and was killed. The village leader was angry and wanted compensation for the loss of life.
For the boy, he wanted three boxes of C-rations, the equivalent of three meals. For the water buffalo, he wanted three cases or 36 boxes. For Duden, lesson number two was, "In Vietnam, the water buffalo is more valuable."
Lesson number three, never volunteer, came when he figured out how to shoot a 60 millimeter mortar by sitting on the ground and holding it between his legs. He could accurately drop a white phosphorus round on a target, creating smoke and marking the target for everybody to shoot at. By demonstrating how to shoot that way, his reward was carrying a 40-pound mortar as they walked the trails and through the jungle.
The fourth lesson he learned was that in Vietnam, war medals mean nothing. He and his fellow soldiers had noticed a pattern. If someone was wounded and accepted a Purple Heart, "we ended up putting those people in a body bag and sending them home two or three weeks later. It happened so often that we realized that the Purple Heart wasn't necessarily something that you wanted."
His final lesson was to control what you can control. As a squad leader, he did everything he could to keep his men safe. When his tour of duty was over, he turned his squad over to the next leader. The men were no longer in his control. He returned to the United States and was stationed in North Carolina.
When the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive in 1968, Duden watched it on TV.
"They attacked every city in Vietnam," he said. "Every place I had been and walked through was under attack, and I was sitting in Camp Lejeune and there was not a damn thing I could do about it. It was frustrating, but you can only control what you control."