Local History Collections

Collection ID: LH-356
Location: LH-356

(Description ID: 595662)

Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museums

Cpl. Stephen J. Erchenbrecher


Biographical Sketch
Scope and Content

This collection of photocopied materials was given to the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center by Stephen J. Erchenbrecher in September 2008. Permission to use this collection for research purposes was granted by the donor.

Biographical Sketch
Stephen J. Erchenbrecher was born on 11 May 1951 in Fremont, Ohio to John and Anna Marie (Clark) Erchenbrecher.  Upon graduating from Fremont Ross High School in 1969, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in August of that same year.

After his graduation from basic training at Camp Pendleton in San Diego, California, Cpl. Erchenbrecher was assigned to overseas duty in February 1970 as a member of the 3rd Marine Amphibious Force, Combined Action Program (CAP) located in the Quang Ngai Province, South Vietnam.  He was accepted into Combined Action Group School (CAG) in Da Nang, South Vietnam for two weeks of training.  After completing his CAG requirements, Cpl. Erchenbrecher became part of CAP 1-3-2 located in the village of An Diem Hai.   

The mission of the Marine CAP Unit was to live along side the South Vietnamese and train them to fight against the Viet Cong.  While in these remote villages the Marines adapted to Vietnamese culture and learned the language.  The threat of a Viet Cong attack was always a possibility, which is why a majority of the CAP Units rotated between several villages in an effort to keep the enemy at bay.  At the time of Cpl. Erchenbrecher’s entrance into the CAP Program in 1970, it had reached its peak with four CAGs that included 114 CAP Units distributed over villages in five South Vietnam provinces: Quang Ngai (1st CAG), 350 km south of the DMZ; Quang Tin (1st CAG); Quang Nam (2d CAG); Thua Thien (3rd CAG); and Quang Tri (4th CAG), the northern most province.  By this time the CAP units had also gone from alpha-numeric designations to numeric designations, such as 1-3-2.  The first digit designated the group (1-4), the second designated the unit and the third designated the platoon.

While in An Diem Hai Cpl. Erchenbrecher and his CAP unit came under Viet Cong fire several times, most notably on May 8th, 1970.  It was on this date that his compound was over run with an estimated 150 Viet Cong soldiers around 2:00 a.m.  A battle ensued that lasted until daylight.  Cpl. Erchenbrecher received a Purple Heart as a result of the action.  During the fight, a fellow Marine, LCpl. Miguel Keith, was mortally wounded while defending the compound.  LCpl. Keith became the 53rd Marine to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in Vietnam due to his heroic action on May 8, 1970.  Because of Cpl. Erchenbrecher’s efforts during his nine and one-half months of service in South Vietnam he was promoted to Lance Corporal and received the Combat Action Ribbon.  The 3rd Marine Amphibious Force held its official deactivation ceremony September 23, 1970 on the My Khe Compound, Da Nang East, Republic of Vietnam.

After arriving in the United States, Cpl. Erchenbrecher was sent to Camp Lejeune near Jacksonville, North Carolina to continue his military service.  He began training with the 2d Reconnaissance Battalion - A Company as a Reconnaissance Marine. While stationed at Camp Lejeune he achieved his highest rank of corporal.  In September 1971, Cpl. Erchenbrecher was deployed on a six-month military cruise that ran operations in Spain, France, Italy and Greece.  On August 11, 1972, Cpl. Erchenbrecher was honorably discharged from active duty from the United States Marine Corps.  He remained a reservist until June 15, 1975.

Scope and Content
This collection, spanning the years from 1969 to 1975, contains photocopies of 150 letters, military documents, approximately 270 scanned photographs and miscellaneous paperwork pertaining to the service record of Cpl. Stephen J. Erchenbrecher in the United States Marine Corps III Marine Amphibious Force, CAP 1-3-2.  The collection also chronicles his experience in the 2d Reconnaissance Battalion after serving in Vietnam.   Cpl. Erchenbrecher’s letters were written to his parents and sister from August 1969 to February 1972 while he was stationed in Camp Pendleton, Okinawa, South Vietnam, Camp Lejeune and during his military cruise deployment.  The correspondence from basic training and South Vietnam include descriptions of his military duties, his role in the CAP unit, night time raids, movements, changes within the unit organization, his promotion, weather, camp life, and information about his comrades.  The latter half of Cpl. Erchenbrecher’s letters describes his duties and experiences while training as a Reconnaissance Marine.                                                

The photographs depict areas around the Quang Ngai Province in South Vietnam, particularly the village of An Diem Hai while Cpl. Erchenbrecher was stationed there in 1970.  Also included in the photographs are the locations of Da Nang, Chu Lai, Okinawa and several European countries.  Scanned artifacts belonging to Cpl. Erchenbrecher are also included.  A cassette tape and typed transcription from June 3, 1970 completes this collection.

Ac. 5733
4 inches

1: Letters; Basic Training/Pre-Vietnam  August 1969-January 1970

2: Letters; Vietnam  February 1970- April 1970

3: Letters; Vietnam  May 1970- September 1970

4: Letters; Okinawa  September 1970- January 1971

5: Letters; Reconnaissance Military Cruise: September 1971- February 1972

6: Military Documents and map of area around the village of An Diem Hai and Song Tra Bong          River area 

7: Miscellaneous Documents regarding the CAP Unit in the Vietnam War

8: Duplicate copy of cassette tape dated June 3, 1970 with transcription

9: Scans of photographs of Cpl. Erchenbrecher’s CAP unit, comrades, South Vietnamese countryside (Feb. 1970- Aug. 1970), Okinawa (Feb 1970; Sept. 1970-Jan. 1971), Reconnaissance training (Oct. 1971-Feb. 1972) and military artifacts (including dog tags, unit insignia, Purple Heart, U.S. Marine Corps identification card, Combat ribbons).                       

Cpl. Stephen J. Erchenbrecher

Cassette Tape Transcription
An Diem Hai, South Vietnam
June 3, 1970

[Start Tape]  Hi Mom. Hi Dad. Hi Lynne.  Anybody out there who’s listening.  Well here it is, my first tape.  I really don’t know what to say but I’m going to give it a try anyways.  I was just sitting around doing nothing, so since I got all these blank tapes yesterday in my package I just thought I’d might as well try and make one and send one out to you.  Yeah, I got my package yesterday.  I really liked it.  It had all the kool-aid, I drink that quite a bit and the peanuts.  The nut bread was really good, I really liked that. And the two tapes you sent, Bill Cosby and the Cream.  I really liked that.  Everybody got a big laugh out of the Bill Cosby tape, we’ve been playing it some this morning.  Everybody really likes it.  We’ll probably be moving to another part of the villa tonight.  We’ve been…we stay here at this villa in this part for two nights, so we’ll probably be leaving to a different part tonight.  We usually move, well some nights we stay in the huts two nights, some three, some four, some just one. And sometimes we move every night. It all depends.  We just try not to set a definite pattern for the VC to follow.  So that way they have a harder time finding us.  Things have been pretty good around here lately.  Not too much happening.  The only time we ever run into any trouble is usually at night or unless we go on operations during the day down in Ngoc Tri.  Ngoc Tri is a… kind of like a VC, you might call it a stronghold. But usually all the VC are down in there.  And uh….I’ve mentioned that in a couple of my letters before in operations we’d run on.  But during the day we usually have mostly to ourselves.  Sometimes we grab Hondas and go back into Headquarters and from there sometimes we go into Chu Lai and we get to go to the PX and eat a good meal.  Then we usually get back, we leave early in the morning, and we get back around four out here in the village.  But the days …we’ve got pretty much to ourselves to do what we want.  Well I finally got my promotion about a week ago.  I was a really happy boy.  Finally made it.  Should mean a little extra money I can send home each month.   I got $245 dollars this month and I mailed a check home two days ago with $200 dollars.  I kept $45.  That’s about all I need out here, we usually don’t spend too much money.  Unless we go to the PX a lot and buy cigarettes.  The PX here, they don’t have too many Marlboros sometimes.  Every time we usually get in there, they’re all taken up.  They’re sort of hard to come by.  So if you get a chance if you could send a carton or so every so often.  I could sure use them.  It’s about 2:00 in the afternoon right now, Wednesday the 3rd of January…I meant June.  The weather has been real hot lately.  It hasn’t rained for about oh a week now.  Oh and the sun, you wouldn’t believe it.  The sun just beats down on you…the hottest I’ve ever seen.  And when it rains…excuse me I had to burp.  And when it rains, the drops are about 2 inch big boy, they’re huge.  And when it comes down, it comes down all at once.  Sometimes it lasts for hours and hours.  I’m running out of things to say now.  Peanut just went in a few minutes ago, that’s our second in command, he’s a corporal, to Binh Son.  Binh Son is a…where our 3rd company headquarters is and 1st CAG headquarters is in Chu Lai.  And the villa we’re in is An Diem Hai.  We work in An Diem Hai, Binh Khanh and An Twon.  And we’re on the Song Tra Bong River and it’s about 4, 4 or 5 miles from Binh Son itself.  The Highway One runs north and south and we’re 4 or 5 miles west of Highway One.  Anyways...Peanut just went in a few minutes ago and he took my letters in.  I had a couple letters I wrote a little while ago to you guys and grandma.  I just hope he brings out some mail.  That mail sure does a lot for you.  You’ve got nothing to look forward to except the mail.  Only thing that makes you happy during the day.  If you don’t get any that day you have to look forward to it tomorrow.  I guess all you can do is take it day by day.  Well a few more days and I’ll have four months here already.  Time seems to be going pretty fast.  I just hope it keeps going this way, if not faster.  We’ve been getting some word down here that we might be leaving here sometime in August.  Maybe the first or last part of August.  See there’s four companies in 1st CAG and 1st and 2d company are being dissolved and the men from 1st and 2d company are coming down to 3rd and 4th company, and they’re going to be combined.  Right now we have 14 guys…15 guys in the CAF right now and we’ve been getting bigger and bigger all the time.  We’re suppose to be getting four more I think.  So that will put us up to around 18 or 19 and that should…that should be pretty nice.  It will take the strain off guys I guess more.  Have to do less work.  That would be fine with me.  Right now, well the team leader I had, he went home about three weeks ago and I’m the team leader now.  And I run all the [inaudible].  When it’s our team’s turn for the night patrols and stuff, and day patrols, I usually take them out and I’m in charge.  I’m still a little leery of stuff at night but I’m getting use to it now, got to.  Right now there’s only, well there’s only three guys on my team counting me.  With them other guys coming we’ll probably be adding on to it.  But as I was saying about 1st and 2d company, they’re dissolving them and I think there’s only going to be maybe two or three CAFs running up there if that many.  But we heard from some guys up there that they were taking 1st and 2d company out and combining them with 3rd and 4th.  So there might be some truth to the…us getting out of here in August maybe.  All you can do is wait and see, there’s nothing else you can do.   I sure hope it is true though.  Maybe we can get out of here early.  Well I’m back again.  I had to stop there for a minute.  We got a resupply chopper in just a few minutes ago and they dropped off some hot chow for us.  And we don’t get hot chow too often.  They had hamburgers and mashed potatoes in a little vac can.  You get about two hamburgers a piece.  We didn’t get any milk today, most of the time we usually get milk.  Milk’s pretty hard to come by out here.  We don’t usually get any unless we get on the chopper or else we go into Chu Lai or Binh Son and eat.  Well I really can’t think of too much else to say right now.  But I promise I’ll try to do better on my next one.  There’s a lot of talking on these tapes, about 60 minutes on each side almost.  I can’t think of all…I can’t think of two hours worth of talking right now.  So I’ll cut this one a little short and I’ll say goodbye for now.  And I want to say I miss you all so much and I wish I could be home.  Tell everyone I said hi, grandma, grandpa, Fannie, Uncle Carl and everybody.  Tell them that I miss them so much too.  And I’ll be coming home one of these days.  So I’ll say goodbye for now and I’ll be trying to make up another one later on then, okay?  Bye for now. [End Tape]