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Surviving a nightmarish battle in Vietnam

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Evergreen veteran featured on Military Channel's 'Ultimate Warfare' series

By Sandy Barnes

Retired Marine and Evergreen resident Bill Purcell was barely 20 years old when he was thrust into one of the bloodiest conflicts in Vietnam. As a member of a gun squad in the third platoon of Alpha Company in the First Battalion in 1968, Purcell and other Marines battled the North Vietnamese army in the City of Hue.

Purcell tells the story of his platoon’s struggle to take back the ancient imperial capital from the North Vietnamese in an episode of the Military Channel’s “Ultimate Warfare” that aired on Feb. 26.

Purcell and other Marines were heavily outnumbered by thousands of North Vietnamese soldiers lying in wait for them in Hue.

Purcell’s memory was vivid while talking about his experience during an interview with the Canyon Courier.

“We started taking fire in a suburban sector of Hue,” he said. 

After a while, Marine tanks came by as Purcell’s outfit was heading north on Route 1, and he got a ride on one of them. 

“Soon as the first tank crossed the bridge, all hell broke loose,” Purcell said. “There we were in the middle of that hailstorm.”

“Word came to bail out, and we headed out and took the wounded.”

As Purcell and his platoon started walking toward the main section of Hue, they followed tank tracks to avoid land mines, encountering repeated attacks from the North Vietnamese.

After receiving an order to charge from the platoon sergeant, Purcell and his buddies continued traveling through a rice paddy, going down on their knees in the deep mud.

“Once we got up there, we spread out around the American compound and took positions along the river,” he said.

“We could hear fighting across the river. A squad of us went over … and held out for a while.”

Purcell said he and other members of his platoon then learned that no other troops could get in to give them support. 

While attempting to take back the city building by building, Purcell’s platoon drew heavy enemy fire. Purcell said he fought through a maze of buildings while trying to secure a cathedral.

“All the buildings around it were a nightmare to take,” he said.

As the platoon moved up a commercial street, the GIs were hit by a barrage of mortar fire.

“We all got hit,” he said. “I got hit pretty hard.”

Out of more than 40 Marines in his outfit, only about five of the original platoon were left, he said.

“We lost a lot in that damn fight,” Purcell said. 

Purcell suffered serious shrapnel wounds and was transported to Da Nang for treatment. He was later taken to Hawaii for further surgery. 

“I’m more or less recovered,” he said.

Because of the extent of his injuries, Purcell said he was placed on the “temporarily retired” list by the Marines. 

Purcell decided to go to college, and chose St. John’s University in New York City, where he grew up. He became involved in a banking career, and eventually settled in Evergreen after a corporate transfer to Colorado.

Through the years, Purcell said he has kept in contact with Marine buddies.

“I met, and still know, some great people,” he said.

Contact Sandy Barnes at sandy@evergreenco.com or call 303-350-1042.