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Digital Subscriptions > Newsweek International > 03 February 2017 > THE THINGS THEY BURIED

THE THINGS THEY BURIED

DURING THE LAST BATTLE OF THE VIETNAM WAR, THREE U.S. MARINES WENT MISSING. THE MILITARY SAID THEY DISOBEYED ORDERS AND LIKELY DIED IN THE FIREFIGHT. BUT THE BRUTAL WAR THAT STARTED WITH A LIE MAY HAVE ENDED WITH ONE AS WELL

TAP, TAP TAP.

Scott Standfast knocked on the door again. He’d been at it for several minutes, standing in front of a one-story brick house in Niceville, Florida, on a warm, dry day in November 2015. The then-59-year-old former Marine and his wife had driven more than 11 hours to get here, hoping to answer a question that’s haunted him for 40 years. He knocked again. This time, harder. Boom, boom, boom! Still no answer.

About four decades ago, Standfast fought in the last battle of the Vietnam War, and his memory of it is sharp—from the location of enemy positions to the smothering jungle foliage. But it’s not what he remembers that troubles him; it’s what he can’t recall about that traumatic day. He’s tried everything. In 2015, he even joined a group of veterans for a trip back to the battlefield where they met their former enemies. Some shook hands, trying to forgive and move on. The experience helped but not enough. “It’s blocked out,” he tells me on the phone, choking up. “I’m sorry.”

On May 15, 1975, Standfast, then a lance corporal and squad leader with an infantry battalion for the U.S. Marine Corps, fought in what’s known as the Mayaguez Incident, a bloody, mostly forgotten battle on a Cambodian island commonly referred to as Koh Tang. It began when Khmer Rouge soldiers captured a U.S. container ship and its crew off the coast of Cambodia. The American military came to their rescue, but dozens of service members died during the operation. President Gerald Ford hailed the mission as a resounding success, but in the chaos of their exit, three Marines went missing: Joseph Hargrove, Gary Hall and Danny Marshall. The Marines later investigated and said the three had disobeyed orders by not making it to the helicopters in time and that they were likely killed before the last U.S. chopper lifted off.

After the incident, Ford enjoyed one of the largest spikes in presidential approval ratings, but the trauma of the battle and the disappearance of their fellow servicemen gnawed at Marines like Standfast. The three lost men were members of a machine gun team assigned to his squad. They were supposed to be sitting next to him in that final helicopter out. Instead, they had vanished.

Standfast doesn’t remember being told they were missing that night. He doesn’t remember anyone lobbying to go back for them. He knows he went to the memorial service for his fallen comrades, but he can’t remember that either. The last thing he recalls is his chopper touching down in darkness on an aircraft carrier. Everything after that is blank. Perhaps it’s a way to protect himself from the pain. He manages to mostly keep that pain hidden, but there are signs of it beneath his hardened, jarhead façade. Sometimes he’s friendly and easygoing; the next moment he’s rigid and withdrawn.

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STATE OF RESISTANCE California is preparing to lead a national revolt against Donald Trump, fighting him on climate change, trade and that ridiculous wall. Gird your loins and pass the sunscreen.
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