Hard-Hit Marine Unit from Vietnam War Celebrates 50th Reunion

The 6/67 Memorial at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia commemorates The Basic School’s sixth graduating class, which suffered more than 250 casualties, including 43 officers killed in Vietnam. (US Marine Corps photo) In the fall of 1967, The Basic School in Quantico , Virginia, finished training 498 twenty-something Marine second lieutenants. By the end of the year, nearly all were in Vietnam.

Before Christmas, the first of them was killed in action: 2nd Lt. Michael Ruane, of Mike Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines , on Dec. 18, 1967. The TBS class that began in June 1967 (TBS 6/67) would have a casualty rate of more than 50 percent — the highest of any Marine officer class during the Vietnam War.

For those second lieutenants and their platoons, the pace was unrelenting. They would go past the wire — when there was wire — on daily patrols through terrain that ranged from paddies and dikes along the coast, through the scrub brush and elephant grass of the interior, and into the triple-canopy jungles of the high ground reaching into Laos.

The New York Times declared that "the era of big battles" had come to Vietnam in 1967. Le Duan, the real power in Hanoi, ordered North Vietnamese Army regulars into South Vietnam to support the Vietcong. The battles became bigger in 1968.

At home, 50,000 anti-war protesters marched on the Pentagon. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was the big album. President Lyndon B. Johnson was getting ready to hang it up. So was Mickey Mantle. The Rolling Stones were painting it black.

Polls taken during the summer of 1967 showed for the first time that American support for the war had fallen below 50 percent.

The lieutenants would fight at Khe Sanh and Hue City, Dai Do and the A Shau and Con Thien, and so many other places that would, however briefly, grab a headline. Meeting at the Monument

The small monument to TBS 6/67 on the grounds of The Basic School states the toll. Forty-three were killed in Vietnam. One was killed in Lebanon. Another six died in training accidents. More than 200 were wounded.

The remaining members of TBS 6/67 gathered June 2 at their monument, probably for the last time — 50 years to the day after they began at TBS. They laughed about their screwups, boasted about grandkids, and continued to grouse, as always, about the switchover during their time in Vietnam from the M14 rifle to the M16.

They grappled again, mostly in silence, with the question that has no answer — why am I here when so many aren’t? Libraries can be filled with books on the subject, going back to Homer.

Shrinks would call it "survivor’s guilt." The guys from TBS 6/67 mainly call it luck, and the result of the sheer grit of the privates first class and lance corporals in their platoons. They had the gift of coming back that so many of their classmates were denied and, now in their 70s, they wonder how well they’ve […]