Vietnam veteran most proud of service in Operation Shufly

Hagerstown resident helps commemorate Shufly's 50th anniversary

April 29, 2012|By DAN DEARTH |
  • Clark Mayer, who served in Operation Shufly with the U.S. Marine Corps in Vietnam, talks about his service from his Hagerstown home.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — Clark Mayer is a Marine to the core.

The 66-year-old Hagerstown resident still attends Marine functions and speaks fondly of his service in the Corps, including a three-year stretch at the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

But what makes him most proud was his time in Vietnam during Operation Shufly in the mid-1960s.

“We were operating by the seat of our pants,” Mayer said recently in an interview at his home. “We did every ... thing you could think of. We dealt with snipers on a daily basis ... If you were there for more than a week, you didn’t even flinch anymore.”

Operation Shufly ran from April 15, 1962, to March 8, 1965.

During the mission, Marines provided assault support, air support and air reconnaissance for American advisers and South Vietnamese combat forces who were hunting Viet Cong guerillas, according to Marine Corps Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The endeavor represented the first large commitment of a Marine unit during the Vietnam War.

On Friday, Mayer and other Marine veterans were honored at the New York Stock Exchange to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Shufly.

Although Mayer wasn’t in Vietnam when Shufly was initiated, he was deployed in time to be among the last troops to serve in the operation before it ended.

Mayer said he grew up in South Dakota and graduated from high school in 1963. Shortly thereafter, he joined the Marine Corps.

He went to boot camp in San Diego, then shipped out to Japan. The men in Mayer’s unit spent four months training in Japan before they were sent to Vietnam in January 1965, still wearing cold-weather gear. He said they soon received more suitable clothing and equipment for the jungle climate of Southeast Asia.

Mayer said he spent a good bit of his service in Vietnam filling sandbags and manning an M-60 machine gun.

“We filled a lot of sandbags,” he said.

Mayer said the Marines in Shufly did a variety of jobs.

The duty involved pulling security around the perimeter of an airfield in Da Nang and escorting dignitaries, including Gen. William Westmoreland and U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam Maxwell Taylor. He said chain-link fences surrounded the airfields to prevent guerillas from throwing grenades.

In addition to duty in Da Nang, Mayer’s unit needed to be ready at a moment’s notice to fly medevac missions and salvage American helicopters that crashed because of mechanical problems or small-arms fire. He said the Marines raced to crash sites and formed a perimeter around the downed helicopters until they could be repaired by mechanics.

“They were always able to pull them out,” he said.

Mayer said the Marines tried to win the Vietnamese people’s hearts and minds. On numerous occasions, he said, the Americans donated their own money to make life easier for the local villagers.

He said 38,000 Marines were in Vietnam when he left the country in 1965.

The number of American troops eventually grew to the hundreds of thousands until the war ended with the fall of Saigon in 1975. 

After his deployment to Vietnam, the Marines assigned Mayer to courier and embassy duty in Paris. That’s where he met his wife, Joan, who worked for the U.S. State Department. The couple later returned to the United States and raised a daughter.

Mayer said he moved to Hagerstown in the mid-1970s to attend Hagerstown Business College. He operated Automated Sports Machines Inc., a business that sold tennis accessories, until his recent retirement.

Mayer remains active in Marine Corps League programs, such as Toys for Tots and Wounded Warriors. He also regularly attends the annual Marine Corps Birthday Ball in November.   

Mayer said he doesn’t deserve any special recognition for serving in Vietnam.

“We were just doing our job,” he said. “That’s all we did.”

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