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Vietnam War vet haunted by deaths of children caught in crossfire

Clyde Barnhart is proud to have served in the Marines, but not of 'what happened over there'

May 27, 2012|By DAN DEARTH | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com
  • A visitor to the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial touches the name of a fallen soldier etched on the wall of the memorial in Washington, Friday. On Monday, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall will begin the national commemoration of the Vietnam War's 50th anniversary.
By The Associated Press

Clyde Barnhart was in a foxhole in Vietnam when he suddenly felt the urge to check on the other Marines in his unit.

He said he left his radioman in the foxhole, telling him to put the receiver up to his ear and not fall asleep. Barnhart then walked over to the positions of the other men.

As he kicked them in the feet to make sure they were awake, a huge explosion rocked his foxhole.

“I ran back,” Barnhart said in a recent interview at his Hagerstown home. “A big ball of fire came out of the foxhole. All guns went off ... Fortunately, God told me to get out of that hole and check on those guys.”

Barnhart, 63, said he joined the Marine Corps in 1968 shortly after he graduated from South Hagerstown High School.

Less than a year later, he and 14 other Marines were assigned to live with villagers in South Vietnam.

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Their mission was to protect the local population from Viet Cong guerillas, who Barnhart said wrote on a large rock, “Ten thousand Frenchmen died here. Yankee, go home.”

Barnhart said the only combat that he saw when he lived with the villagers was occasional sniper fire.

“I was in that village for about three months,” Barnhart said. “I thought, ‘hell, this isn’t going to be too bad.’ When we went mobile, it all changed. They put us in helicopters and we flew into a new area. That’s when I saw most of the hell.”

He said that hell involved seeing dead Vietnamese children and seeing friends killed in combat.

“I had a (Navy) corpsman killed right beside me,” Barnhart said. “He didn’t have any fear. He stood up. One minute he was talking to me and the next minute he was dead.”

The Marines ran ambushes at night and into the early morning hours, Barnhart said. When his squad leader “flipped out,” Barnhart, then 19, was told to lead the patrols.

At night, the Americans set at least three forward-firing Claymore mines around their perimeter, he said.

When the Marines awoke the next morning, they often found that guerillas had crept up and turned the mines around.

After leading patrols for several months, Barnhart contracted malaria and was taken to a hospital. When he got out a few months later, he said he learned that two men in his squad had been killed.

One of the men who was killed was a Kit Carson scout — a former Viet Cong fighter who defected to the American side. According to Barnhart, the scouts defected for better medical care and other perks.

He said he walked behind the scout when they went on patrols. When the scout died, so did the Marine who was following him.

“That would have been me,” Barnhart said.

Barnhart spent a year in Vietnam before he returned to the states. He stayed on with the Marines in North Carolina for several more months, then was discharged in 1970 as a corporal. He said he returned to Washington County and got a masonry job near Clear Spring.

Barnhart said he comes from a long line of veterans. His father, Clyde Victor Barnhart, served in the U.S. ArmyAir Corps during World War II and his son, Cole Barnhart, is a warrant officer in the Marine Reserves.

He said he is proud to have served in the Marines, but not of “what happened over there.”

As he rocked his 1-year-old grandson in the living room of his home, Barnhart said he can’t forget Vietnam. He still has nightmares and sometimes feels like he is in the crosshairs of a rifle.

But what possibly bothers him the most, he said, are the memories of the Vietnamese children who were caught in the crossfire.

“Their dark little eyes still follow me,” he said. “There’s no glory — no glory at all.”

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