MARSHALL BUCKINGHAM DARLING

" BUCK "

COLONEL USMC (RETIRED)

MARCH 19, 1941

JUNE 20, 2004
by
Harold L. Thrasher

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1st Lt Darling on left and 1st Lt Phil Freed (FAC) on right
Picture submitted by former Captain Tony Monroe given to him by 1st Lt Phil Freed. Picture taken on Howard's Hill (hill 488) about 20 miles west of Chu Lai around 16 June 1966.

 

Captain Darling on left and Lieutenant General to his right.
Notice who is standing parade rest while Captain Darling is speaking.
Picture submitted by Linda Darling wife of Buck Darling.

 

 
     

These three pictures submitted by Linda Darling, wife of Buck Darling.

When I first met retired Colonel Marshall Buckingham Darling, the Vietnam War was thirty plus years behind us. Our scars and wounds were still being carried on our shoulders but we had survived physically. The meeting was a great honor for me to finally meet a legend that I had heard and read so much about. Our first meeting was over ten thousand miles away from the shores of Vietnam . Of all places, we met in Richardson , Texas , during a reunion being held November 7 through November 11of 1998. The veterans of Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 5 th Marines was having a reunion for those that served in Charlie Company in Vietnam during the years of 1965 through 1971.

Buck Darling was the former company commander of Charlie Company, 1 st Battalion, 5 th Marines, 1 st Marine Division prior to my arrival in Vietnam in late March of 1967. Then Captain Darling had turned Charlie Company over to Captain R. J. Caswell around Christmas of 1966. He then took over the command of Headquarters and Service Company of 1/5.  So I never had the honor to directly serve under his command.

There was a chance meeting in Vietnam while I was a member of Charlie Company led by Captain R. J. Caswell. Captain Buck Darling's H. & S. Company and Captain Jim Caswell's C. Company came together in the field. I don't remember the specific occasion or the operation we were on. I remember one of the Marines who had served under his command prior to the command change, pointing out to me then Captain Buck Darling. This Marine was very impressed with this officer and his leadership abilities. Many a time Captain Buck Darling's name would come up during the many bull sessions we would have during lull times in Vietnam . Not only was this Marine a legend in his own time, he was highly respected by the men that served under him and other officers.

While the two companies were entertaining each other in small talk, a fire fight broke between the Marines and a small band of Viet Cong that were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The Viet Cong lost the battle that day without the Marines sustaining any causalities. However, I do have a very vivid memory of that day. I was a private first class, green and on my first combat operation where we had contact with the enemy. I and a few other privates were instructed to drag the enemy bodies out of the bushes and lay them side by side. My first but not last time to touch a casualty of the Vietnam War.

Some forty years later while visiting with former Captain R. J. Caswell, he related a story where Captain Darling's H. & S. Company and his C. Company met in the field. A small fire fight broke out where both Captain Caswell and Captain Darling fired over the heads of their Marines towards the enemy on the run. Both were carrying the M1 Carbine which has its own distinct sound when fired. It was also a favorite weapon of our enemy. The noticeable cracking sound from the M1 Carbines of these two officers were alarming to those they commanded. A young Marine looked back at both Caswell and Darling who were firing in rapid succession. He told them that they might want to cease firing their carbines as it was the favorite weapon of the Viet Cong and their Marines might return fire towards them, thinking it was hostile fire. Both Caswell and Darling shouldered their weapons upon the polite request of the private. What power us privates have.

Buck Darling had a clear, precise way of communicating and the best command of word choice when talking to other Marines, both officers and enlisted. During his tour in Vietnam he was called to report to the hootch of Lieutenant Colonel Hilgartner, 1/5's Battalion Commander. Highpockets as the Colonel was called ( not to his face) was feared but respected by those Marines under his command. He was known to chew and spit out both officers and enlisted under his command. A beer was offered to Captain Darling. After a few chugs, Highpockets says to Darling, " Get rid of that mustache. I'm trying to get the mustaches off these Marines and I can't do that with one of my Captains walking around with a mustache". Without hesitation or reservation, Captain Darling responded "I don't think so." A few more words were exchanged between the two about the mustache. Highpockets sat back in his chair and offered Captain Darling another beer. The mustache remained. Rumored history has it that it was Buck Darling that tagged Lieutenant Colonel Hilgartner with his other nickname, "The Dragon."

Vietnam was well known for the rain that came down during the months-long monsoon season. Having lived on a ranch, his reference to this hard rain was "it's raining like a cow pissing on a flat rock!"

Buck Darling graduated from University of California at Santa Barbara . He grew up in Lancaster , California , where his parents had a ranch. Being raised on a ranch and hearing that the Marine Corps was giving away weapons and paying guys to hunt full time became too irresistible not to join up. He also ended up being a Marine because the local recruiter in Barstow , California , was a legendary Marine, so it was an easy decision. Don't you know that recruiter is boasting that he was the one who signed up Marshall Buckingham Darling into the Marines.

Buck Darling spent eighteen months during his first tour of the country side in Vietnam on his first deployment. His rotation date was May 10, 1967. Even on this last day he was out in the field providing security for the battalion . He liked it in the field away from the hassle of the base camps. In a way it was like being back on the ranch. He wanted to stay out in the field, and out of the way. A re-supply chopper landed and his replacement stepped off the chopper and told Buck "I am your relief."

On this date of his departure, his former Charlie Company Marines were in a battle for their lives on top of Hill 110 during Operation Union. Had he known, he would have asked for an assignment or an extension to help his beloved Marines of his former company out. He was that type of a Marine. His next tour of duty in that far away place was in 1970 where he spent another year of his life as a Marine in combat.

After rotating back to the states from his first tour of duty in Vietnam on May 10, 1967, Buck got married on June 10, 1967, at the First Baptist Church of San Mateo in San Mateo , California .

His wife Linda and he had first met while in Hawaii in the summer of 1965. Bucks's legacy lives on with his wife, his four children and his six grandchildren.

Marshall Buckingham Darling retired from the Marines as a full Colonel. He retired honorably with distinction on July 1, 1993. In his interview with Nicholas Warr, he mentioned that he had fun every day. He loved his Marines and his few low days were marked by tragedy and loss of his beloved Marines. His tours of duty in Vietnam were considered to have been some of the fiercest fighting during the early days and were only marked by victory over the enemy.

Tony Monroe, a former Marine Captain who went through basic with Buck and served with Buck writes the following:

"Buck was a great Marine and a really good guy. He lived and breathed the Marine Corps. I had the privilege of knowing him pretty well for over three years. We were in Basic School together as 2 nd Lieutenants, and then served together in the same infantry battalion for two and a half years. I last saw Buck at Hill 54 north of Chu Lai at the end of July 1966. I was going home. Buck had extended to stay with his troops. I thought at the time that he would keep on extending until he got his ass killed. I was very pleased to hear later that he was okay. But I was surprised to learn many years later that he had retired as a Colonel. I figured he would be Commandant some day. Semper Fi!"

Nicholas Warr, a former Marine and Platoon Commander, who knew Buck and interviewed him for his new book, Charlie One-Five; the Battle History of C Company, 1 st Battalion, 5 th Marines, 1965 - 1968, writes the following:

"Buck had a unique quality, a " knack " for leadership that came as naturally as his sweat. He was a hybrid animal, a merging of a bulldog and a water buffalo. He was strong and belligerent and he was tenacious and stubborn like a bull dog. He was also a Marine commander who loved his Marines, and he did everything in his considerable powers to help them and protect them."

During one of our reunions in Palm Desert , California , in 2003, Buck was overheard telling someone that he had driven out to the ranch where he had grown up, and spent the night under the stars. I am sure he was looking up at the heavens. This was Buck, a person, who loved the outdoors and enjoyed the gift of freedom that he had fought so hard for, for others in Vietnam . He was last seen by my wife Suzanne and me, as he drove off from our memorial service driving a red convertible with the top down.

Many thanks go to former Marine and Author Nicholas Warr who provided a transcript of the interview he conducted with Buck Darling for his book. Many thanks to Marine Tony Monroe who provided the first picture of Buck Darling above, and for sharing his memories. Many thanks to Marine Jim Caswell for sharing his story about the M1 Carbine. Many thanks to Buck's widow, Linda Darling who also provided several photos that she had of Buck, taken while he was in Vietnam and helping fill in some blanks. Without their help, this tribute to a great Marine would have been impossible. Buck was camera shy and photos of him are very scarce and rare. I feel honored to have known him. I have two hats that he has given me over the years at our reunions, I will always cherish them.

John: Chapter 15 Verse 13: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Marshall Buckingham Darling had great love for his wife Linda, his children, Michael, David, Melissa, Matthew and six grandchildren. He had great love for his country. He had great love for his Marine Corps and those Marines that served under the Eagle, Globe and Anchor. A great friend and fellow Marine, Marshall Buckingham Darling.

Semper Fidelis!

Harold L. Thrasher
C 1/5 Vietnam 67/68