Arizona mining town was a gold mine for Vietnam War-era military recruiters


TED SIMONS: KEN BURNS' DOCUMENTARY ON THE VIETNAM WAR CONTINUES TONIGHT AT 7:00 ON ARIZONA PBS, IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE SPECIAL PROGRAMMING WE'VE COLLECTED STORIES FROM A NUMBER OF ARIZONANS WHO SERVED IN VIETNAM. JUST ABOUT EVERY COMMUNITY IN THE STATE SAW SACRIFICES DURING THE WAR BUT PERHAPS NONE MORE SO THAN A SMALL MINING TOWN IN EASTERN ARIZONA. ALYSSA ADAMS AND ROB MCJANNET HAVE THE STORY OF A GROUP OF FRIENDS THAT TRANSFORMED FROM BOYS TO SOLDIERS TOGETHER IN VIETNAM.

ALLYSA ADAMS: IN THE HILLS OF EASTERN ARIZONA, JUST UNDER THE TREE LINE OF THE WHITE MOUNTAINS, MORENCI EMERGES FROM THE LANDSCAPE. A TOWN DUG OUT OF THE MINE OF COPPER AND LABOR.

JOE SORRELMAN: IT WAS A GOOD PLACE TO GROW UP IN. THERE WAS THREE RIVERS HERE THAT YOU COULD GO FISHING TO, A LOT OF OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES, AND WE'RE RIGHT AT THE BASE OF THE WHITE MOUNTAINS.

ALLYSA ADAMS: JOE SORRELLMAN WAS A TEENAGER IN THE MID 60s, GROWING UP IN A COMPANY TOWN WHERE EVERYONE KNEW EVERYONE AND THE MINE HELD ALMOST ALL OF THE OPPORTUNITY.

JOE SORRELMAN: MORENCI WAS PROBABLY 5,000 PEOPLE, COUNTING CATS AND DOGS, AND MORENCI WAS A JUMPING OFF PLACE TO NOWHERE, YOU KNOW.

ALLYSA ADAMS: BUT NOWHERE HELD A LOT OF PROMISE FOR MILITARY RECRUITERS LOOKING FOR YOUNG MEN TO HELP THE AMERICAN CAUSE IN VIETNAM.

KYLE LONGLEY: AS OUR BOYS DIED, I USED TO FEEL IT WAS SUCH A WASTE, BUT I NO LONGER FEEL THAT IT WAS A WASTE. THESE ARE TOUGH KIDS. I MEAN, THEY LIVED OUTDOORS, A LOT OF THEM ARE BOY SCOUTS, IF WE WANT TO TALK THE PATRIOTIC FOUNDATIONS, ALMOST ALL HUNTED, YOU KNOW, THEY CAMPED, THESE WERE NOT CITY BOYS.

ALLYSA ADAMS: KYLE LONGLY IS THE AUTHOR OF THE MORENCI MARINES, HE SAYS AS THE WAR RAMPED UP IN VIETNAM, RECRUITERS SPENT A LOT OF TIME MAKING THE ROUNDS OF SMALL TOWNS LIKE MORENCI.

KYLE LONGLEY: THEY WORE THEIR DRESS BLUES, THEY WOVE GREAT STORIES OF OPPORTUNITY, AND THESE YOUNG MEN BASICALLY HAD TWO OPTIONS, ONE, JOIN THE MILITARY, OR GO STRAIGHT INTO THE MINES AND WORK JUST LIKE THEIR FATHERS.

ALLYSA ADAMS: SORRELLMAN WAS ONE OF THE FIRST TO MEET WITH A MARINE RECRUITER IN MARCH 1966. HE WAS NAVAJO, HE THOUGHT BEING A MARINE WAS JUST PART OF THE NAVAJO TRADITION. IT WASN'T LONG BEFORE OTHER CLASSMATES FOLLOWED. FIRST IT WAS SORRELLMAN'S BEST FRIEND, LARRY WEST, THEN SIX MORE. LEROY SISNEROS, MIKE KORANFORD, BOBBY DRAPER, CLIVE GARCIA, VAN WHITMER. STAN KING WHO HAD ALREADY GRADUATED FROM HIGH SCHOOL SIGNED UP A FEW DAYS LATER. THE MORENCI 9 WENT THROUGH BOOTCAMP TOGETHER, SORRELLMAN REMEMBERED THE PHYSICAL PART WAS DIFFICULT BUT THE MENTAL GAME WAS THE REAL TEST AND WAS IT NICE TO KNOW SOMEONE ALWAYS HAD YOUR BACK.

KYLE LONGLEY: BOBBY DRAPER WHO WAS A LITTLE HEAVIER SET WOULD FALL BEHIND ON THE LONG RUNS AND SOMEBODY WOULD PICK UP HIS PACK, HELP HIM OUT.

ALLYSA ADAMS: BUT THAT MUDDY WAR IN VIETNAM WAS LOOMING, AND WHEN ORDERS CAME, THE MORENCI MARINES WERE BROKEN UP. SORRELLMAN WAS IN THE FIRST GROUP TO HEAD IN COUNTRY.

JOE SORRELMAN: THAT'S ME.

ALLYSA ADAMS: HIS FIRST ASSIGNMENT GUARDING A HELICOPTER BASE WAS TEDIOUS AND LACKING THE ADVENTURE THAT SORRELLMAN YEARNED FOR.

JOE SORRELMAN: I WANTED TO GET INTO WHAT THE REAL COMBAT WOULD BE LIKE, SO I VOLUNTEERED TO GO TO DIVISION.

ALLYSA ADAMS: HE WAS SENT TO A MILITARY BASE JUST OUTSIDE THE DEMILITARIZED ZONE THAT SAW SOME OF THE WORST FIGHTING OF 1967.

JOE SORRELMAN: AT THE TIME I WAS SCARED TO DEATH. I DON'T KNOW HOW YOU EXPLAIN THAT. I MEAN, IT'S A DIFFERENT KIND OF AFRAID. IT'S NOT LIKE WHEN SOMEBODY JUMPS OUT IN FRONT OF YOU TO SAY BOO TO YOU AND YOU GET SCARED. IT'S A SCARED THAT WE'RE -- IT'S KIND OF YOUR BODY KIND OF LIKE JUST TAKES OVER TO SURVIVE.

ALLYSA ADAMS: AND EVEN A WORLD AWAY FROM THE DESERT MINE IN THE HUMID JUNGLE OF VIETNAM, HE STAYED CONNECTED WITH HIS FRIENDS.

JOE SORRELMAN: LARRY AND BOBBY AND LEROY, WE ALL KEPT IN TOUCH.

ALLYSA ADAMS: MORENCI AND ITS PEOPLE HAD A STRONG PULL ON THE BOYS.

JOE SORRELMAN: AND THIS IS LARRY WEST, MY VERY BEST FRIEND.

KYLE LONGLEY: IT'S A SMALL TOWN. YOU DIDN'T GET TO QUESTION, YOU KNOW, WHAT THE DUTY WAS. THIS IS NOT BERKELEY, THIS IS NOT MADISON. THIS IS MORENCI, ARIZONA, SOUTHEASTERN ARIZONA, AND THEY'RE VERY, VERY PROUD OF THE MILITARY SERVICES THAT THEIR PEOPLE HAVE GIVEN THROUGHOUT MOST OF AMERICA'S WARS.

ALLYSA ADAMS: MORENCI, LIKE MANY SMALL INDUSTRIAL OR FARMING COMMUNITIES, IS USED TO SACRIFICING FOR COUNTRY.

KYLE LONGLEY: OF THE NINE, BOBBY DELL DRAPER IS GOING TO BE THE FIRST THAT DIES AUGUST 2, 1967.

ALLYSA ADAMS: THE TOWN, IT SEEMED, WAS ASKED TO SACRIFICE AGAIN AND AGAIN.

KYLE LONGLEY: THE NEXT ONE TO GO WAS STAN KEEN, HE HAD ONLY BEEN IN COUNTRY TWO WEEKS, THEN APRIL VAN WHITMER DIES, THEN LARRY WEST, WHO CAME BACK FOR SECOND TOUR DIES, THEN ROBERT DIES JUST OUTSIDE OF CASON. IT'S BANG, BANG. IT BECAME SO BAD THAT PEOPLE WOULD LOOK AT THIS AND STARTED PRAYING, DON'T STOP AT MY HOUSE. BUT THEY KNEW THEY WERE GOING TO STOP SOMEWHERE.

ALLYSA ADAMS: THREE OF THE ORIGINAL NINE CAME HOME. ONLY SORRELLMAN IS LEFT. BUT THE TOWN HASN'T FORGOTTEN. THERE'S TWO DISPLAYS AT THE NEW HIGH SCHOOL REMINDING TODAY'S TEENS ABOUT THE PAST. AND HIGH ON A HILL THAT OVERLOOKS MORENCI'S SISTER TOWN CLIFF STONE A MONDAY EWE -- CLIFTON IS A MONUMENT BUILT BY OTHER VETERANS, A REMINDER THAT TOWNS LIKE THESE PAY A BIGGER PRICE THAN SOME.

KYLE LONGLEY: IT'S STILL VERY MUCH BUILT INTO THE PSYCHE AND IT WON'T GO AWAY ANYTIME SOON.

ALLYSA ADAMS: SORRELLMAN SAYS HE THINKS A LOT ABOUT HIS FRIENDS.

JOE SORRELMAN: I GO BACK SOMETIMES AND THINK ABOUT THE THINGS THAT WE DID, YOU KNOW, AND GUYS I USED TO HANG OUT.
ALLYSA ADAMS: HIS BOYHOOD MEMORIES ARE RICH IN THE MOUNTAINS AND RIVERS HERE, AND MORE THAN THE BATTLES OF VIETNAM, MORENCI SHAPES WHO HE IS.

JOE SORRELMAN: BECAUSE IT'S HOME.

TED SIMONS: JOE SORRELLMAN NOW LIVES IN THE VALLEY CLOSER TO THE BIG CITIES OF ARIZONA BUT HE SAYS HE WOULD LIKE TO ONE DAY MOVE BACK TO MORENCI. VIETNAM WAR BY KEN BURNS CONTINUES TONIGHT ON ARIZONA PBS AT 7:00. WEDNESDAY ON ARIZONA HORIZON, A PREVIEW OF THE UPCOMING SESSION OF THE U.S. SUPREME COURT. WE'LL LOOK AT THE MAJOR CASES TO BE CONSIDERED AND THE IMPACT OF THE COURT'S NEWEST MEMBER, JUSTICE NEIL GORSUCH, A SUPREME COURT PREVIEW ON THE NEXT HORIZON. THAT IS IT FOR NOW. I'M TED SIMONS. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

During the Vietnam War, small-town America was a prime target for military recruiters, and the mining town Morenci, Arizona, was no different.

When the conflict in Vietnam began to escalate, many Morenci High School seniors saw the war as a way to escape a life as a copper miner, one of the only options in the 6,000-person town. Nine recruits left Morenci to fight in the war, and the last remaining member of the Morenci Nine spoke with Arizona PBS about his experience. His story is a part of the ongoing series, “Vietnam: Arizona Stories.”

Sponsor message:

In this segment:

Joe Sorrelman: Veteran
Kyle Longley: Author, "The Morenci Marines"

Sponsor message:

Sign up to receive the Arizona PBS Insider

Get up-to-the-minute information about your favorite programs and learn more about Arizona PBS news and events.

Dressed to kill: 'The Collection' delivers high stakes, high fashion

The Collection on Masterpiece

In post-World War II, Paul Sabine is restoring Paris as the fashion capital of the world. His dresses are a sensation, but his shady past and an inconvenient corpse block his way to success. Dressing up was never so dazzling — or dangerous.

You never know what we’ll find on 'Arizona Collectibles'

Arizona Collectibles

Catch new episodes every Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

'The Durrells in Corfu' returns and hijinks ensue

The Durrells in Corfu Season 2 on Masterpiece

Get ready for a second season of the Durrell family's adventures with Corfu’s townspeople, customs and wildlife.