Ed McSorley, a Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient, spoke with the Daily Caller’s Samantha Renck about his service in the United States Marine Corps, America’s Independence Day, and advice for future generations of Americans.
McSorley graduated from high school in 1967. A year later, he was shipped off to Vietnam after enlisting in the Marine Corps when he was 17 years old.
“I’m one of nine children, and financially we were behind the eight ball,” McSorley said. “My father lost his job. But at the time in 1967, there was a draft so you had a military obligation. I couldn’t afford college. I have four older siblings plus four [younger] — I’m the middle of nine. I pushed my mother, I said: ‘if I enlist here in the summer of ’67 right after high school, I’ll have the service pay for college under the G.I. Bill and I’ll fulfill my military obligation.'”
Throughout McSorley’s training, he met a man named Robert Leahy, who would later become his best friend.
“Bob and I came from similar backgrounds. He was one of four boys,” McSorley said. “His father was a police officer in New York. A working-class family. He was a very good athlete and a very handsome, and really down-to-earth and very funny.”
After training, McSorley and Leahy were sent to Vietnam together.
“Of the 13 of us, we all got separated but only Bob and I ended up in My Company, which is My Company — 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines.”
A top sergeant asked McSorley if he could type and then gave him the opportunity to serve as an officer’s administrative assistant, which McSorley said was “basically giving me a cakewalk.” However, he did not want to leave his friend.
“Is there 2 for us?” McSorley asked the top sergeant. “And he said, ‘no, you’re either on the convoy or you’re with me.’ And I said, ‘I’m not leaving Bob.’ So off to the jungle we went.”
McSorley was shot at during his third day in Vietnam.
“Bob and I’d share hole together. We were the same fire team,” McSorley said. “I would wear his watch because we’d dig a hole at night. I would wear his watch and we’d have four hours on, four hours off. We were going to go to college together. He was going to fix me up with some of his girlfriends. The whole nine yards.”
McSorley added, “If it weren’t for Bob, I would be dead right now.”
“When we were in this firefight, which wasn’t a firefight it was a major battle,” McSorley said. “We just didn’t realize how big it was until 30 years later when I was reading a book. It was called the Battle for Dong Ha. It was the largest engagement between North Vietnamese and U.S. forces in the entire war.”
McSorley and his company were engaged, the unit was hit and “we were in rapid deployment to go out and rescue them.”
“I was the point team for ‘My Company.’ There were three companies that were going out to meet the enemy,” he said. “I was second from point from this guy James Miller Christie. As the firefight opened up, James was killed and the two guys behind me were killled. As for some reason, I survived. I wasn’t hit, but I hit the ground immediately thinking James freaked out because of all the heavy fire. I crawled up to his body – he was dead.”
McSorley stayed there for the next couple of hours returning fire when jets finally arrived on the scene.
“I was wondering where they were and they were providing close air support with dropping napalm,” he said. “As they dropped the napalm, the napalm was so close it was robbing me of my breath. It was so hot. But I took that opportunity to run because the enemy, which was surrounding me, would duck and I was able to get back.”
As McSorley searched for safety, he found another marine who was shot up. McSorley threw him over his shoulder and started heading back. However, now it was nighttime and he was nervous about getting shot by his own men.
“Just as I made it through the perimeter, mortars came in and started blowing everybody up. I got blown up.”
McSorley later found out that 42 marines were killed in that battle and the North Vietnamese Army left 139 dead around his position.
“I had over 400 rounds of ammunition, and I was almost out of ammunition because when I was pinned down. If I spent the night there trying to sneak out, I was scared I was either going to be shot and killed or just have someone slit my throat. It was just the nature of what we were doing,” he said.
McSorley also reflected on what it was like returning home to America during a time of political and social unrest, advice for future generations of Americans, and more. (RELATED: Honoring The Sacrifices Of American Heroes: Mat Best)
Check out more from the “Honoring American Heroes” series: