In 1966, nine young men left the Arizona mining town of Morenci to serve in Vietnam. Only three returned. Their stories are told in Arizona State University history professor Kyle Longley’s book: “The Morenci Marines: A Tale of Small Town America and the Vietnam War.” Longley will talk about their stories.
Ted Simons: In 1966, nine young men left the Arizona mining town of Morenci to serve in Vietnam. Only three returned. Their stories are told in ASU history professor Kyle Longley's book, "The Morenci Marines A Tale of Small Town America and the Vietnam War." I spoke with the author. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.
Kyle Longley: Thank you very much for the opportunity.
Ted Simons: Who were the Morenci nine?
Kyle Longley: Eight young men who had just graduated from high school. They were joined by a friend who had graduated two years before, gone to U of A but came back, and they joined as sort of a band of brothers. You've got a cross-section of the town. Three Mexican-American, one Navajo, the rest are Anglo, but they're all the sons of either miners or people who worked in the smelters.
Ted Simons: Why did they decide to join?
Kyle Longley: A number of reasons. I explore these complexities in the book. Major one, of course, is the draft. Most with the exception of two had no anticipation of going to college. So they didn't have a deferment. There are many other reasons. Their fathers had served, and in Morenci they're proud of their military service so they were following in the traditions that their fathers, their uncles and others had established.
Ted Simons: These were friends, people that knew each other, families that knew each other, Morenci, even then a small town.
Kyle Longley: Very much so. A town of 5,000. They played football together, they partied together, they went to church together. It's a very small close-knit community even today. So everybody knew everyone. The good, the bad, and the ugly. And they just joined as a group. They thought they would go together; we're going to go together and join the marine corps because we want to be with the best.
Ted Simons: But they wound up with different specialties, different deployments, I would imagine?
Kyle Longley: They did. From the period -- In the first wave four went over on a ship together. But they dispersed once they hit South Vietnam. One was recon, several were riflemen, another actually was to serve on an air base. But over time all nine went. And unfortunately over the period of six out of the nine would die in combat.
Ted Simons: That is this part of the story that is so wrenching. Not at the same time, so it sounds as though the town, the small town had to go through these funerals one after the other. Talk to us about that.
Kyle Longley: Yes, I mean, it was devastating. The first young man to die was the star football player. The good self-described Mormon kid from a very prominent family in the community. And his death in August of 1967, is the first. But soon after Stan king dies, he's the all-state tackle, who had been off at the University of Arizona. 6'5", 230 pounds with red flaming hair, who only lasted six days in the country. So you've got these stories then, Van Whitme, then Larry West, who went back for a second tour duty, dies May 17, 1968 followed by another, who dies after being in country 18 days.
Ted Simons: Three survivors. What did they go through?
Kyle Longley: It was very difficult. The survivors' guilt was significant. Especially mike cranford, who lost his best friend Larry west in combat. They were supposed to be out on a mission together but at the last moment mike got pulled off because he was radio man and another company needed him. They were supposed to be out in the same operation, Larry dies, mike comes home. Mike struggles mightily as do the other friends. How do you explain why I survive and my friends didn't? They never age in their minds. They're 18, 19, their whole lives. But these men age, and they deal often times very significantly with PTSD.
Ted Simons: Would I imagine the town itself, we talked about the funerals, but in general, this is a story, a big story about a town as well.
Kyle Longley: It's very much the community. It's a mining camp, so it's a very unique community in many ways. Dominated by Phelps dodge during these days. There's strikes, there's conflict, there's cooperation. Their fathers worked 26 days on, two days off. It's hard labor, but they're very proud of their military service and the contributions they make to their country.
Ted Simons: Did the attitude toward the Vietnam war in the town, as far as could you tell from your research in the story you've told here, did it change over the years as the funerals piled up?
Kyle Longley: It really didn't on the outside. I do think it did on the inside. For example the last young man to die, Clive Garcia, his brother wanted to join. While his mom and dad were proud to say their son had made a sacrifice, when their youngest son went to join they squashed it. And did not want to lose another son. So on the exterior, very strongly in support -- If anything the they complained we didn't win, but I think behind the scenes a lot of people started to question. Not like anti-war protestors, but just why do we have to make such a sacrifice when others are not?
Ted Simons: So is this a typical or is this an atypical small town American story during the Vietnam war?
Kyle Longley: I think it's a very typical. And I think their story, even though it's about nine young men from the same community, it's a story of a generation of Vietnam combat soldiers. That go off to war from small towns, farming communities, mining towns in west Virginia, Montana, these small towns, these small urban suburban enclaves often times immigrant, takes significant casualties. So there's a lot of things replicated -- Loss of friends, the experience in combat, the PTSD they deal with, the dishonor many people heap upon them for their service and how they have to overcome that. So there's some really unique characteristics. Again, in this group of nine for six to die, that's a devastating loss. But at the same time there are a lot of similarities with the Vietnam generation.
Ted Simons: How is the legacy of the Morenci nine preserved, especially in a town like Morenci, which is literally changed from those days, because it's been swallowed up. Much of the history of that town now is at the bottom of the pit.
Kyle Longley: Very much so. It's very difficult to recreate the story. It wasn't there for me. And I couldn't even see the physical characteristics. But what has been an important -- And I think this story means more to people in Morenci because it's the way they hold on to their old traditions, through the stories. Because the physical characteristics are no longer there. So they have to hold on to these memories. And I think it's extremely important -- And again, they'll be the first to say, other Morenci young men from Morenci served. Some died. But this story is a central piece of that story of remembrance.
Ted Simons: Is that why you wrote this book? Why did you wrote this book?
Kyle Longley: I read a newspaper article in 2000, and I looked at it and I go, there's so much more to this story than just a newspaper article. It was a wonderful article, but I looked and went, this is an important story, not just for Arizona, not just for the southwest, but for our country, for the marine corps, for the people who served in Vietnam because their story is a story of many.
Ted Simons: When you started to write the book, when you had an idea what you wanted the book to be and how -- The results, when you wound up with the hard cover edition all set to go and all the work's been done is it the same book?
Kyle Longley: It is the same book. I think what made it, because I wrote their story. That was my goal, not integrating my story into the process, it was to write their story. And the story unfolded. It was a very difficult story because there were no central depositories of materials to take and use. Had to do a lot of oral histories, had to beg families for letters, and diaries, and many of them were forthcoming A. lot of the families wouldn't talk to me because it still hurts, so bad. 40-something years later to have lost a brother, a son, so it was a very difficult process, but one where many people in Morenci embraced me and helped me.
Ted Simons: With that in mind, now that the book is out, now that folks have had a chance, well, they will have a chance here, just recently released, but are you expecting -- What kind of response are you expecting from this?
Kyle Longley: I expect a good one. Because again, the people who have read the advanced galleys are very strongly supportive of it. These are scholars, these are people that not even tied to Morenci. But I think the people in Morenci are going to enjoy -- As much as you can enjoy this to a degree this very sad story, they want the history remembered. Leroy Cisneros just died, and his comment was always, I want my friends remembered. I want my sons to know about Bobby - my bestfriend. And I don't want them ever forgotten.
Ted Simons: It's a great piece of work, congratulations on the success of completing the book, and good luck with your future and the book's future.
Kyle Longley: Thank you very much.
Kyle Longley:History Professor, Arizona State University;