“If You Don’t Do Your Job, People Are Going To Die”: 18,959 Bonus Days Of Life

Bruce Marshall


Bruce Marshall and his brother Douglas grew up as Air Force Brats. Their father joined the Army and was commissioned during WWII. He flew B-29s in the Pacific Theater, and later flew T-33 jet trainers. His mother focused on raising the two boys as they moved around the country and the world. When Bruce was a boy living in Germany, the family visited Dachau, which was a shocking experience for a 10 year-old boy, and he had nightmares for three days after. When the family was living at Stewart Air Force Base, Bruce’s father took him to visit West Point. He was a good student and greatly enjoyed the outdoors, being especially fond of hiking and biking, lifetime sports that remain a passion for him. After graduating from high school, he feared he might be drafted. Taking matters into his own hands, he applied to West Point. His brother, Doug (USMA 69), joined the Long Gray Line the year Bruce graduated. At West Point, Bruce resolved that he was not going to quit, viewing the challenges the upper-class threw his way as a mental game. His performance in academics was average, but he did well physically, running five-minute miles and competing in both swimming and triathlon. As a Cadet, he served as his company First Sergeant, and four years later his brother Doug commanded the same company. When he graduated, his squad was the only one in the entire Class of 65 that did not lose a single person over their four years at West Point. His first assignment after Airborne and Ranger school was in 1-61 Infantry at Ft. Carson, Colorado, where he commanded a basic training company. In 1967, he deployed to Vietnam and was assigned to MACV after completing the MATA (Military Advisor Training Academy) course for Advisors. Assigned to the ARVN 10th Division, stationed at Phuoc Ly, his team consisted of a Captain, a Sergeant, and a Specialist, himself (a First Lieutenant). He was a little concerned when some on the team said, “Don’t worry, you’ll get your CIB (Combat Infantryman Badge) if we have to take you out and shoot at you ourselves.” He knew that a platoon from the division had been ambushed and wiped out the month prior, and was apprehensive when intelligence indicated that another attack was imminent, identifying a specific Viet Cong company in the area. The night before the attack, the Captain decided to go to bed early, stating that the listening posts would give early warning. The next morning at 0230, their compound was hit by a surprise attack, and the other three Americans were killed immediately or mortally wounded. Bruce was wounded, but felt that divine intervention saved him because bullets that pierced the front and back of his shirt only grazed him as they passed through. Two and a half hours later, as the sun came up, the attack ended. Bruce was medevaced to Tan Son Nhut, where he wrote a lengthy letter to his brother about the attack. Once he recovered, he wanted to get back into the field, and new team members were assigned. This time, the team was more cognizant of security and vigilance, which served them well during several intense fire-fights. Returning from Vietnam, Bruce transferred into the Quartermaster Corps and completed another assignment before leaving the military, eventually becoming a Financial Planner. In this interview, he talks about his childhood, traveling around the world with the Air Force, and his experiences at West Point. Recalling Ranger School, he notes that he learned more from his failures than his successes. He explains the perception that the acronym “MATA” stood for “mill around till ambushed,” and remembers how difficult the Vietnamese language was to speak. He describes his service in Vietnam in detail, and illustrates the story with the shirt he was wearing when he was wounded. He discusses his relationship with his brother, who became an Air Force Doctor and eventually a neurologist. He talks about having a positive attitude and some of the spiritual experiences he’s had while hiking. Finally, he reflects on what West Point means to him.


name Bruce Marshall
institution USMA
graduation year 1965
service Infantry / Quartermaster
unit 1/61 Infantry; MACV
service dates 1965 1971