OKEECHOBEE — Veteran Lawrence Saucier was born in Ontario, Canada, but because his stepfather was in the Army, his family traveled quite a bit as he was growing up. They even spent some time living in Alaska. His stepfather’s last base was Fort Leonard Wood, where he retired as a lieutenant colonel, and then the family moved to Florida. Saucier graduated from Melbourne High School in 1965 and then joined the Marines.
He went to basic training at Parris Island, South Carolina, and then was sent to Camp Geiger in North Carolina for AIT. “I was infantry, what they call grunts, rifleman. You carry a rifle, dig holes, put a pack on your back and crawl in the mud.”
His first assignment was at Camp Lejeune, where he spent several months doing more training. Then, the whole battalion was ordered to Cuba to Guantanamo Bay.
In Cuba, they guarded the perimeter around the naval base. “There wasn’t a lot going on at the time. It was 1966. Castro was there, and he drove around in a blue jeep, and we could tell it was him. We would see him every now and then.” His biggest memories of Cuba are the mosquitoes and nickel beer. “You could spend $1 and get 20 beers,” he laughed. “I remember swatting a thousand mosquitoes in an hour one time. I counted them!” The men were kept well vaccinated and took malaria medications, so the mosquitoes were annoying but at least they didn’t usually get sick from the bites. He spent several months in Cuba before returning to the states.
They were all given 30 days’ leave, but were told when they got back they had all “volunteered” to go to Vietnam. “I said wait a minute! I don’t remember volunteering for that!” So, after 30 days leave, the whole battalion reported for jungle warfare training in California and then went on to Vietnam.
He said the strangest thing about his arrival in Da Nang, Vietnam, in November of 1967, was that they were given no weapons and were just taken in and dropped off at an almost empty camp. They were told to just wait for the unit to get back. They would get weapons and supplies when returned. Saucier was eventually assigned to a 106 recoilless rifle.
From Da Nang, they went to Quang Tri Province up near the DMZ (demilitarized zone) and then to Camp Carroll. They saw a lot of action there, he said. They did a lot of rifle patrols and manning the perimeter. Saucier’s platoon leader, Johnny Paul Bobo, was killed at Camp Carroll. He was only about 24 years old. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. “He kept fighting even after he was wounded and had to have known he was going to die. He had a pistol and shotgun and fought until he died. He was a good guy. I keep his picture on the wall so when I start to think I’ve got it rough, I can look up there and remind myself it’s not that bad.”
After Camp Carroll, he was sent to Gio Linh. “It was right by the fence line at the DMZ. You could see across. I lived in a bunker there.” When he left there, he went to Dung Ha which was like their rear base, he explained.
It was about 30 miles from the DMZ. There, they had field showers and tents set up, so it was kind of like R&R (rest and relaxation) for the men. After they had been there a few weeks, they received orders to go back to the DMZ. He was sitting at an early dinner when they came running in yelling, “Everybody needs to go back. Grab your pack and weapons.” A unit had been hit on the DMZ, ambushed. They loaded the men on choppers. “They told the cooks to go back and grab their weapons, because they were going, too. They took us all.”
As they were crossing a barren area between where the choppers dropped them off and the DMZ, they began hearing canons fire and thought it was strange. “They were firing too close. We called to tell them they were firing short. They should have been firing over us, but they were not far over us at all. They called back and said it wasn’t them firing. The North Vietnamese were firing at us. It was bad. A lot of people died. One artillery round hit so close it burned the front of my body, and I was thrown about 20 feet. I thought I was dead.”
Next, they went to Con Thien Marine Base, and while they were there, the North Vietnamese surrounded Con Thien. “We didn’t have any food or water coming in by truck, so they had to drop water in by chopper, big ol blister bags of water. It was terrible,” he said. “So many people died there.” Saucier was wounded in Con Thien about three weeks into the siege and was taken out by chopper to Cam Rahn Bay where they had a Navy hospital. When he was released from the hospital, about 30 days later, he was sent back to Dung Ha. From there, he was put on search and kill patrols. He finished his time out there and went back to Da Nang to get on a plane back to the states.
After a 30-day leave, he was sent to Quantico, Va. for a couple months before his discharge. He got out 60 days early so he could go back to college at Florida State. While he was there, an Army captain talked to him about joining the ROTC. “I told him I did not want to go back again.” He said, “Well, you’ve already been there, you probably won’t have to go again.” In 1973, Saucier was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army infantry. After graduation from college, he joined the Army Reserves, serving as company commander of the 320th Military Police Company in St. Petersburg.
In 1985, he got a call from the Army wanting him to come back and teach at a college working with ROTC cadets, getting them ready to serve.
“In 1990, I was off again for Desert Storm, but that didn’t last long.”
He had various assignments over the years, finally ending up at Fort Leonard Wood. There, he was the assistant commandant of the military police school. Right about this time was when 911 happened, he said, and they began training troops to go to Afghanistan.
In 2003, Saucier retired with 33 years of service to his credit. He was only about 53 years old and not really ready to retire, he said. He looked around trying to decide what to do. He decided to check into teaching JROTC, but he had a hard time finding a school, because that’s what a lot of retired military choose to do after they retire.
He heard about Okeechobee, where they wanted to start a program and came to talk to the principal and was hired. He got the program started in 2003 with 175 cadets and stayed there for about seven years.
During his career in the military, he was awarded the purple star, the legion of merit, the defense meritorious service medal, joint service commendation medal, achievement medal, Vietnam Service medal, anti-terrorism medal and many more.
He now serves as the adjutant at the American Legion in Okeechobee.