I received my copy of Red Clay Today and learned that my friend Father Joe Gietl had passed away on August 17, 2013.
I met Joe Gietl in October of 1967 at Phu Bai South Vietnam while serving with the “G” CO. 2ndBN 26th Marines, 3rd Marine Division. Joe was assigned as a rifleman, Private First Class at the time. I was serving as First Sergeant and in dire need of someone with some college education to serve as company unit diary clerk. After reviewing several service records I asked my Company Commander, Captain Overstreet to consider Joe for the job. Joe became our unit diary clerk and because he learned so fast was meritoriously promoted to Lance Corporal six weeks later. Joe was a natural at maintaining an errorless unit diary which effected all stages of our Marines lives as related to pay, promotions, leave and new joins, transfers and yes, unfortunately timely reporting of casualties. Joe also served as postal clerk and sorted /delivered our lifeline to the bush on surrounding hills.
Right before Christmas Eve we received orders to move north and were transported my C-130 aircraft to our new home at Khe Sanh Combat Base and would remain there till April of 1968. President Johnson ordered Marines at Khe Sanh to hold the base at all costs.
Upon arrival we were met with erratic mortar and artillery fire so we dug in underground and lived as such on a daily basis. My staff considered Cpl Cooper and LCpls Gietl and Garribay.
During the siege at Khe Sanh we were bombarded with hundreds of incoming rocket and mortar shells daily. One day in January 1968, we received over 1100 incoming rounds. During this period we also lost our Chaplain and several Marines during an outside service. I believe Father Joe never forgot that incident.
We all got to know each other pretty well during these days of absolute mayhem. My biggest problem with Joe was making him wear his helmet. I was on his case constantly and it soon became a matter of humor between us. He told me he wanted to be a priest someday and I told him he would never be a Bishop, Cardinal or Pope because they all wore covers!
I left Khe Sanh in April of 1968 and found out our unit went on board ship for return to Okinawa, Japan.
All contact was lost between Father Joe and I until about five years ago when I received a call around 2 AM in the morning and it was Joe. My wife had been working on line trying to find him. She located a niece of his and she helped put us in touch.
Father Joe, (with that laugh of his, hehehe) told me he was a “Padre” which is Spanish for “father” of course. I teased him about playing for the San Diego “Padres”, never expecting to learn he had been a priest for the past 35 years.
The next time I heard from Father Joe was when he was having problems applying for his disability through the V.A. My wife and I were honored to be able to help him in this regard. I'll never forget the day he received his first disability payment, he called to tell he was “rich”.
About two years ago we were going to take a trip out to see Father Joe. Our plans came to a halt when we became caregiver for my wife's mother who is now 97 years old.
I will miss Father Joe. He was a man of quick humor, the highest of character and a genuine patriot.
The last stanza of the Marine Corps Hymn is as follows:
If the Army and the Navy ever
Look on Heavens scenes
They will find the streets are guarded
By United States Marines.
Rest in Peace Father Joe.
Master Sergeant U.S. Marine Corps (R)
2nd BN, 26th Marines CO “G”
3rd Marine Division
Fleet Marine Force Pacific.