View Mobile Site

‘Be happy with what you have’

Text Size: Small Large Medium
POSTED May 25, 2014 7:11 p.m.

Editor’s note: Mario Vernali is now a Manteca resident.
The medevac is delayed by four hours coming to transport him by helicopter. He is very hot, bleeding, and hears air escaping from his lung.  He knows, “One must do it for himself, no one else will do it for you.” Quite a mantra.

Mario Vernali was 18 years old in that summer of l968.  Unlike so many others, he volunteered and was inducted into the United States Army.

Leaving home in San Jose, California, Mario was sent to Ft. Louis, Washington for nine weeks of basic training followed by nine weeks of advanced infantry training.

When he landed at Bien Hoa Airbase in Vietnam, Mario was met with waves of new sights and smells.  A young soldier does not forget his first look at extreme poverty, coils of barbed wire, and fellow soldiers manning machine guns in sand-bagged bunkers.

With 216 other men he was sent to the 101st, a fire support field unit.  He recounts that upon landing at a hot, unknown and unsecured area he spots a young teen boy sitting on top of a water buffalo observing the troops at 300 meters. Mario carefully rested his M16, in secure grip and continuously fires his semi-auto tracer rounds over the youth’s left shoulder.  The water buffalo darts away from the firing, causing that boy to be thrown off. Dust flies everywhere. As the youth contacts the ground, the boy runs at great speed chasing after the buffalo.

Later, in First Battalion he was assigned to Charlie Company, known for its high loss rate, then to E Company with 30 men to patrol day and night observing the North Vietnamese army. 

Requested by John Ponton, a trade is made and Mario joins E Company. Affectionately, Mario refers to the squad as “John’s squad.” and to this day, John and Mario are friends.

Mario shares his personal jump-cut visual imagery of Viet Nam with its terrain of sand, hard-pack, swamp, and humidity.  He sees human breakdowns, witnesses the overt use of marijuana, use of explosives to dry out clothing and to dry that coveted poncho. He speaks of life threatening booby traps.  There are the three mile walks carrying a back-pack of 100 pounds, M16, M79 grenade launcher, ammunition, and six quarts of water.

There is the herd of water buffalos which are the farmer’s life blood.  He shares his affection of Lady, the German Shepherd mix who scopes out the thatched roof huts called “hootches” looking for the enemy.  He observes a young boy named Phieung who is protective of the U.S. soldiers.  The boy shoos away the other children who come to beg.  Mario befriends the lad and offers food.

Three months after finishing a fire support base in the Central Highlands, the squad was granted three days of rest and relaxation.  They began their descent down the arduous terrain toward the pick-up point by helicopter.  Coming to a valley there were mortars and small arms fire.  Heading for cover, the company lead man out of fear froze, so he took the lead.

Into a clearing about 15 yards away, the enemy, with an AK 47, firing fully automatic, Mario is hit with three bullets in the chest, collapsing his right lung and is also hit in his arm.  He is knocked backwards and pulls the quick release pull on his back pack, he returns fire.  Managing to take cover in the high grasses he is given field first aid.

Fires were set by the NVA to distract and impede rescue. The chopper finally arrives and it is a blurry trip to the hospital.

He spends nine days in intensive care unit under the care of Dr. Pardue at Chu Lai hospital in South Vietnam.  There were four days at Bien Hoa hospital in Yakoda, Japan, preparing to be sent to Travis Air Force Base in a C 141 which consisted of cots stacked four high. His final hospital destination is Letterman General at the Presidio where he wakes to see the Golden Gate Bridge and passing under it a flat top air craft carrier.

Mario is proud to state, “The medical attention that was afforded me by the staff at Chu Lai, the nurses aboard the C-141, Lieutenant Rhodes at Letterman Hospital at the Presidio in San Francisco were all top notch.”

In his seven months left, he requested to be sent to Fort Ord in Monterey, Ca. where he became a target detention instructor and taught survival techniques.

Sgt. Vernali returned home to a happy family and his 1969 Camaro SS.

He feels his Army experience has taught him: Be happy with what you have, take nothing for granted, always be prepared.

Mario Vernali received the:  Purple Heart, Commendation Medal, Viet Nam Service Medal, Bronze Star, and Silver Star.

Commenting is not available.

Commenting not available.

Please wait ...