MHS alum’s letters supply account of Vietnam War

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Ed Holcomb and Dennis Harbaugh before shipping off to Vietnam. (Submitted photo)

Ed Holcomb and Dennis Harbaugh before shipping off to Vietnam. (Submitted photo)

Of the Keizertimes

I was laying there watching the opening when I saw the top of a black shirt moving slowly through the rice paddies but he turned back to the tree line. I became excited, thinking I should have fired when another one came to the edge and rose to his knees. I already had my rifle off safe and carefully aimed in and squeezed the trigger and my four round burst found its mark as he fell face down. At first, I was happy and yelled out, “I got one, I got one,” but then it hit me; I had just killed a human and there for a while I stared out and shook deep down inside.

Until earlier this week, Ed Holcomb thought the only copies of those words he wrote in 1968 in Vietnam were the ones in scrapbooks belonging to him and his mother.

They appeared in a series of letters he sent back from the front lines of the Vietnam War to the McNary High School newspaper, The Piper. But there’s at
least one other copy of all of them and Celt history teacher Gary Bulen is using them to bring the war to life for his current students.

“It’s unbelievable. That they’re still using them, it’s pretty cool,” said Holcomb, 66, who now lives in Klamath Falls with wife Sherie.

Holcomb’s letters cover a full year of his experiences on the battlefront from January 1968, when he was a “boot,” to the final weeks of his tour in December 1968 when he was grappling with the major losses his unit sustained while fighting.

Holcomb was one of McNary High School’s first graduates in 1966. He took classes for a year at Oregon College of Education, now Western Oregon University, before enlisting in the U.S. Marines.

“My dad was a Marine, and I had a history teacher who told us that communism was bad and democracy was good. I felt it was my duty to go out and defend it,” he said.

Before he left, the advisor to The Piper, Margaret Vanderford, asked if he would consider writing letters and relating his experiences…

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