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July 16, 2020
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Veterans story Mark Weston

  • Mark Weston Photo by Bill Hanson

By: Bill Hanson
November 9, 2018

At ease on his deck, looking out over his vineyards and live oak, Mark Weston reflected back on his time in the military. As a boy, Mark dreamed of being a special forces guy when he grew up, “They were so heroic how could any boy not want to be a Green Beret.” Mark did well in high school in L.A. He wanted to live anywhere other than L.A. His application to UC Boulder, Colorado was accepted. His drive to do well in school quickly left him and he left college to find himself. It was 1967 and Vietnam had become the hottest issue on peoples’ minds. Based on what happened to some of his friends, Mark knew he had only a month or two before the draft caught up to him. Instead of being drafted he opted to pick his own service.

“I did well in mathematics and understood the geometry of aiming and setting coordinates. Without really thinking about it I could see in my mind’s eye where a shot would end up.” This put him squarely in the mortar pit during training. In January 1968 he was stationed in Vietnam with the storied 101st Airborne in the A Sa U (phonetically: Ah Shah) Valley near the DMZ. As a green trouper he, along with others, were harassed by the more seasoned troops. Since he was assigned a mortar specialist, he and the other three in his squad were thrown into a pit to see how ‘skilled’ they were. The first three of the four flunked and were tossed out in disgrace. Then it was Mark’s turn. He hit the mark on the first try. The soldiers went wild and turned it into an ‘event.’ Money changed hands and he hit the mark spot on with the second shot. Then it got serious: the major challenged him to another shot, and this time, he would set the target. A lot of money was wagered. The major hopped into the pit and kicked over the mortar, then chose a target upwind of the first. “OK son, let me see you hit that one.” Mark reset the mortar, took the coordinates and calculated the azimuth of the shell. The mortar fired and hit the mark. Mark was given special privileges and promoted on the spot. 

Although not the Green Beret hopes he coveted as a boy, the Army Rangers offered him a position to train for their units. He accepted and became an official Army Ranger. He was assigned long range recon patrol (acronym: LURP). In May of 1968 his unit was bedded down in an area of enemy activity. At 3 a.m. their position was attacked, his position was overrun by a ‘sapper’ what we call today a suicide bomber. Mark took a large piece of flak in his left hip and in his lower right leg. He lay where he fell until the attackers left at dawn. The medic tried to stop the bleeding, unsuccessful at first, he improvised with an inflatable sleeping mat. He cut it open and wrapped it tightly around Mark’s wounds and put another wounded man on top of Mark to add pressure. It worked, the bleeding stopped and he was ordered to evacuate on the first Huey in. Unfortunately, that one was blown out of the air and Mark was loaded into the second EVAC and taken to a M.A.S.H. Field hospital. They couldn’t help him and he was off to Japan where they did surgery on his wounds. The first doctor unwrapped the wound and said, “Wow! Look at this!” as he pulled out a six-inch metal fragment. After the surgeries and recovery, Mark was then transported back to the States where more surgeries were done to repair the damage, do skin grafts and to rebuild his hip. Fifty years later he said, “I still have pain every day, I will always have pain, I know that now. I try to keep busy taking care of my place so I don’t think about the pain.” Mark is now part of the Federal Disaster Medic system. When a disaster hits, they are deployed to set up emergency field operations. There is also a California team C-DEMAT which works closely with the Federal program. Mark is now head of the San Francisco regional disaster response team.