Veteran Spotlight: John Harding Jr.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — John Harding Jr. served his country with bravery and distinction as a corporal in the Marine Corps from 1963 to 1966 and in the Vietnam War.
Harding said he enjoyed his basic training at Camp Geiger, Marine Corps Base Lejeune.
"Boot camp was probably one of the best times for me ... had no idea what it was like to be a Marine and most people in my platoon were out of shape, I was in good shape," he said. "My commander was tough but a good guy. I excelled and made PFC [private first class]. I was proud as hell."
Harding's first assignment was with the grunts at Camp Pendleton in California. "I was originally supposed to go to Sea School but they sent me to Pendleton. Then I received orders to go to Okinawa, Japan," he said. "We did rigorous training every day. I loved Okinawa and the people treated us great."
His first tour was the Gulf of Tonkin aboard the aircraft carrier USS Valley Forge, where he was on duty for two months.
"Then the [expletive] really hit the fan in Da Nang. I was aboard the USS Lanahan. They gave us a presentation on what it would be like. It was a big shock to me," he continued. "Went to Hill (22) I was squad leader and an M60 machine gunner. We were supporting the air base at Da Nang. What really bothered me at first, was seeing those metal coffins — that stayed with me. I was on edge…..when we got to Vietnam, all we did was search and destroy missions.
"The higher-ups ordered that we don't shoot at the enemy first, it made no sense, it really bothered me," he remembered.
When asked about the holidays Harding shot back quickly, "we never had any holidays ... we were always in foxholes."
Was he ever afraid? "If you said you were never afraid during war, you are lying. I had insomnia, if I got two hours
of sleep a night, that was a good night," he said. "One night I was so worn and fatigued ... my Marines stood by me though, I never lost a man," he said proudly.
Corp. Harding shared another powerful story of when his squad was lost on a search and destroy mission.
"All of a sudden, we were in a firefight with our own men — it was chaos. Our guys thought we were the [Viet Cong]. Our squad leader got hit in the chest, we had bullets hit the ground and the dirt flew up in my mouth. Somebody yelled out and said we were shooting at our own guys," he said. "It really affected me. We went back to camp and
I was in complete shock. I couldn't understand how guys could go out in battle, then come back and sleep like a baby."
Harding said the doctors sent him to a hospital in Guam where he kept pacing the floor.
"I didn't know anything about PTSD. I stayed in that hospital for seven months. There were three suicides, it was like 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.' One guy hung himself with his feet still on the ground" he recalled, shaken
by the memory. "PTSD really affected me. My own brother didn't recognize me when I came home. I had severe mental fatigue."
Thoughts on his service? "I have always been patriotic," he responded. "I love my country. My men knew I did my job and were proud of me."
Corp. John Harding Jr., thank you for your service to our great country and welcome home.
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