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Goode and Lucky – Thomas Calabrese

By   /  July 7, 2024  /  7 Comments


Angel of Death

Thomas Calabrese -Historically America has been referred to as a ‘melting pot’ because of the cultural integration and assimilation of legal immigrants into the country. The melting pot theory is often illustrated by the metaphor of a foundry’s smelting pots in which the elements of iron and carbon are melted together to create a single, stronger metal called steel. Others consider the U.S. to be a ‘salad bowl’ and rather than blending ingredients into one pot, the salad bowl highlights the differences. Maybe it’s a just a matter of semantics or preferences. You call it a pot and I call it a bowl, what is true is that most people in America choose to congregate around others who have similar interests, beliefs and ancestry. The term for this is ethnocentrism, a learned behavior embedded into a variety of beliefs and values of a group. Due to enculturation, individuals in these groups have a deeper sense of loyalty and are more likely to following the norms and develop deeper relationships with associated members.

I on the other hand am more inclined to think that the United States military is a better example of a true melting pot. Men and women from different cultures and backgrounds come together with the common goal to serve and protect the country. Maybe that is too simple an explanation because not everyone has noble aspirations when they join the Armed Forces, but once they are in, they have no choice but to accept the reality that the mission takes precedence over their expressions of individuality.   One example of this social phenomenon is the story of two young men who became legends in the Marine Corps when they served together in combat during the Vietnam War.

Johnny ‘Lucky’ Luciano was born in Kansas City, Missouri, the youngest of three sons of Italian immigrant parents. He was a fun-loving teenager with a quick-temper and a well-earned reputation as a tough streetfighter who didn’t go looking for trouble, but was ready if it came his way.

Life in the sixties in this Midwestern city was pretty much the way it was throughout the rest of the country with a bunch of restless teenagers looking for a good time and their place in the world. The main thing that put a damper on the carefree attitude in the country was America’s involvement in South Vietnam and the conflict between anti-war and pro-military factions.

Lucky was already on probation for drag racing and second degree assault when a gang of bikers came into the Villa Capri Italian Grill on Independence Avenue one Friday night. He was having a late night snack with two of his buddies, Steve Badalucco and Pete Saluto when the quiet ambiance of the eatery quickly changed as the boisterous gang made their presence known.

In a corner booth were Shirley Armato, Elena Ferrera and Patty Giordano. Patty turned to Shirley, “We’d better leave.”

The three girls’ exit was blocked by the bikers and their unwanted advances were met with a firm denial, but that only encouraged the bikers to become more obnoxious and persistent.

Lucky slowly wrapped cloth napkins around his knuckles and Steve noticed the look in his friend’s eyes and warned him, “Don’t cause any trouble.”

            “I’m not, I’m just going to talk to them.” Lucky walked over to where the girls were standing, “The girls are with me and we’re leaving.”

One of the bikers snarled defiantly, “Not yet…we just got here and we want their company.”

            “Maybe you didn’t understand me, I said we’re leaving, I don’t care what you want.”

Pete and Steve knew what was coming next and got ready to back up their friend’s play. Lucky stepped between the Italian girls and the bikers. When one of the bikers pushed Lucky, fists started flying and before long the fight moved out the front door to the sidewalk and into the street. Pete and Steve joined in the festivities. Lucky squared off against the biggest biker and ducked under a powerful right hand punch and hit the man with an uppercut that lifted him off his feet and placed him on the hood of a metallic blue 1956 Chevrolet Coupe.

The owner of the hot rod rushed over and protested, “Hey!” and pulled the unconscious man into the gutter, “I just got my car painted!”

Steve and Pete were off to the side and were able to slip down the alley just as a trio of police cars arrived. Lucky was not so fortunate. One of the officers yelled, “Put your hands behind your head.”

Lucky complied and looked off to the side and nodded to his friends to get moving.

A week later, Lucky was standing in the courtroom of Judge Dennis Brody. “Johnny Luciano. I was hoping I would never see you again.”

            “I feel the same way about you, sir,” Lucky said.

            “Three more counts of assault and a count of disturbing the peace. Didn’t I tell you to stay out of trouble?” Judge Brody said.

            “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time…does it matter that I didn’t start it?”

            “Not really…you should have walked away,” Judge Brody sighed, “You don’t leave me a lot of choices. You violated your probation and now we have additional charges. You’re looking at some serious prison time and when you get out you’ll be a convicted felon.”

            “Yes sir,” Lucky responded.

            “There might another option. If you had a chance to get all these charges dismissed, would you take it?” Judge Brody inquired.

            “Sounds too good to be true,” Lucky said, “What’s the catch?”

            “If you enlist in the Marine Corps for three years, I’ll drop all charges. Otherwise, get ready for a long stay at the Missouri State Penitentiary. Did you know that Time Magazine once called our detention facility the bloodiest 47 acres in America?”

            “Can I have some time to think about it?”

Judge Brody smiled, “Absolutely…take all the time you want, but if you’re not back here within one week with your enlistment papers, I’ll issue for a bench warrant your arrest. Have a nice day Johnny.”

Marine Sergeant George Goode was killed on December 8th 1950 while serving with 3rd Battalion 5th Marines in Korea. He was one of ten Marines who received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. His wife, Jane was pregnant at the time of his death and their son, Bobby was born April 2nd, 1951. The family was living in Wilmington, North Carolina at the time and after a few years of being a single mother, Jane opened herself up to the possibility of dating so her son would have a male influence in his life.  She joined a church group for singles and met successful businessman Eddie Wardlow. On the surface, Eddie was kind and attentive and was well respected in the community. He had all the qualities that Jane wanted to her son to possess. During their several months of casual dating Eddie stayed on his best behavior. When he thought the time was right, he proposed. Although Jane never felt the same love for Eddie as she did for her husband George, she made a practical decision and put her feelings aside and accepted his marriage offer.

Once they were married Eddie felt no need to keep up the pretense. In reality he was a very insecure man with serious mental issues who expressed his masculinity by bullying and intimidating Jane and Bobby. He wanted things his ways and was thoroughly inflexible. He felt inferior to the memory of a Congressional Medal of Honor winner and never missed an opportunity to disparage the Marine Corps and George Goode, “The Marines aren’t so tough, they give out for medals for anything. I could probably beat any of them in a fistfight.”

Whenever Bobby was around, Eddie was even more short-tempered and irritable than usual so the young boy looked for any excuse to not come home. Jane realized that she had made a serious mistake in marrying Eddie so she said, “This isn’t working out, I want a divorce.”

Eddie responded angrily, “I’ll kill you and your son before I’ll ever let that happen!”

As Bobby grew up, he found the strong male influence that he needed from former Marine Corps Chaplain Vern Miller, who had a small farm in the area. Vern Miller had served with Bobby’s father in Korea and the young boy could always go to him for advice or just to hang out. On the other hand, Eddie took zero interest in Bobby’s life and it was Vern who attended most of Bobby’s sporting events in high school. When Jane could get away without an argument from Eddie, she would sit with Vern in the stands.

After one football game, Jane turned to Vern, “I need to be home before my husband, he doesn’t like it when the house is empty when he arrives.”

            “Are you alright? Bobby is worried about you,” Vern said.

            “I’m fine…it’s not the best situation, but I’m used to it,” Jane sighed and left before she broke down.

            “I’m there for you and Bobby. You deserve to be happy and don’t let Eddie Wardlow take that from you. Remember I can’t help unless you take the first step.”

            “Thanks Vern, I needed to hear that.” Jane sobbed.

When Bobby got home that night after celebrating with some of teammates he had an eerie feeling when he opened the front door. A chill ran up his spine. He called out, “Mom, I’m home!”

There was no answer so he walked into the kitchen and saw his mother lying face up in a pool of blood. Her eyes were open and Bobby knew she was dead. He bent down and stared blankly at her terror stricken face.

He heard footsteps behind him and turned around to see Eddie behind with a pistol in his right hand. He had a glazed look on his face and dark vacant eyes. His voice was emotionless “I told your mom on numerous occasions that I would kill her and you if she ever tried to leave me. Tonight, she told me that I couldn’t scare her anymore so technically this is her fault not mine. I had to show her that I was serious.  I consider this justifiable homicide and now I’m going to keep my other promise to kill you.  I’ve never liked you in the first place. I always knew that your mother cared more about you than me and I don’t like competition. Let’s get this over with, where do you want it…heart or in the head…open gasket or closed gasket? There is some good news though.”

            “What’s that?” Bobby asked.

            “I’ll save some money by having both funeral services at the same time,” Eddie laughed, “I’ll make this look like a break-in and then make up my alibi.”

Bobby started to stand up and when he did, he pushed the kitchen table at Eddie with such force that his shot went off target and only grazed his shoulder. Bobby ran into his bedroom and slammed the door behind him.

Eddie was never a good man, but he had crossed over the line to become the personification of evil. “Don’t make this any harder than it has to be if you come out, I’ll make it quick and painless.” then shot the doorknob off and kicked it in the door. Bobby was standing off to the side and swung a baseball bat that broke Eddie’s forearm and the gun out flew out of his hand. He swung the bat again and crushed Eddie’s windpipe. Bobby watched as his stepfather choked to death then spit in his face.

Bobby moved in with Chaplain Miller and over the next two years, he learned some valuable lessons including on how to deal with his grief and turn adversity into emotional fuel to propel him along on the path to being a strong and good man. When he was old enough, Bobby enlisted in the Marine Corps to start the next chapter of his life.  He was sent to boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina then to infantry training at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

On the other side of the country at the same time, Johnny ‘Lucky’ Luciano was doing his basic training in San Diego and his infantry training at Camp Pendleton. Both young Marines were the given the same MOS (military occupational specialty) of 0331, machine gunner and given orders for South Vietnam. They arrived on consecutive days in Danang in the year 1968, Bobby on the January 3rd and Lucky on the 4th.

After two days of hanging around the transit barracks, Sergeant Dan Shackley called out so everybody could hear him, “Listen up, jarheads for your names and the unit you’re going to!”

After a dozen names were announced he said, “Goode, 5th Marines!  Luciano, 5th Marines! Grab your gear and head outside!”

The irony of the situation was not lost on Bobby who was going to the same unit that his father served in. He got his seabag and went outside. There was a truck with a wooden sign leaning against the rear wheels that read 5th Marines. The driver yelled, “Hurry the hell up, I want to get back to the area before dark!”

Bobby got in and offered a hand to Lucky. In less than two minutes, the driver was racing through the villages on the way to his destination. The Marines in back were bounced and jostled all the way to Hill 427. Upon arrival at 5th Marine Regiment rear area, Bobby and Lucky were assigned to Bravo Company, 1st Battalion and finally to third platoon’s machine gun team.Corporal Henry Wilcox had ten months in country and he sighed in resignation as he evaluated the new replacements, “What’s your names?”

Bobby said, “Goode.”


            “Victor Charlie got my assistant gunner and ammo humper while we were on operation last month. Goode, you’ll start off as assistant gunner and Luciano, you’ll be ammo humper. You can switch back and forth. I only got two months left until I head back to the world.”

For the next three weeks, Bobby and Lucky spent most of their time on working parties, routine patrols and practicing with the M-60. Since they were ‘boot’ (new) in country, they got every rotten detail as a rite of passage. During their time together Bobby and Lucky developed a friendship even though they had very little in common and found themselves talking about personal things that they never shared with anybody else.

While filling sandbags, Lucky suggested, “When we finish our tour, you should come to Kansas City. My mom makes the best Italian food you’ve ever tasted.”

            “Considering that I’ve only had spaghetti once in my life and it was out of a can, I’d be obliged to give it a try. From there we’ll go to my neck of the woods. Have you ever had fried chicken, collard greens, black-eyed peas, baked macaroni and cheese, candied yams, cornbread, sweet iced tea and pecan pie? You think you died and went to heaven,” Bobby smiled.

            “Then it’s a deal!” Lucky exclaimed, “I’m going to hold you to it.”

 The Battle of Huế  took place between 31 January 1968 and 2 March 1968 and was a major battle in the Tết Offensive launched by North Vietnam and the Việt Cộng during the Vietnam War. The battle was one of the longest and bloodiest of the war and is widely considered to be one of the toughest and most intense urban battles ever fought.

 Lucky and Bobby were at Phu Bai Combat Base, 6.8 miles south of Huế on Highway 1 and part of a brigade-size component of the 1st and 5th Marine Regiments. Not far away, two heavily fortified North Vietnamese regiments, two sapper battalions, and an assortment of VC local forces were based in the Thừa Thiên Province and had the entire city of Hue surrounded. They were just waiting for orders to attack.

In the early morning hours of 31 January 1968, a division-sized force of North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers launched a coordinated attack. At 02:33, a signal flare lit up the night sky, and two battalions from the enemy’s 6th Regiment attacked the western wall of the Citadel. Their objectives were to capture the Mang Ca Garrison, Tây Lộc Airfield and the Imperial Palace. At the Chanh Tay gate on the west wall of the Citadel, a six-man sapper team dressed in South Vietnamese army uniforms killed the guards and opened the gate. Upon their flash- light signals, the 800th Battalion and several teams from the 12th Sapper Battalion rushed through the gate and headed northwest towards Tây Lộc Airfield while a 40-man assault team secured the Huu Gate. The enemy’s attack was precise, brutal and deadly.

The three USMC battalions  protecting Phu Bai Combat Base came under intense enemy rocket and mortar fire and Corporal Henry Wilcox was seriously wounded by shrapnel.  He cursed as the corpsman treated his wounds, “I go eleven months in country without so much as a scratch and this happens to me while I’m a damn short-timer!”

Some Marines stayed behind to defend to the base while others were ordered to reinforce Hue. Bobby and Lucky looked at the sky that was aglow with flares as they rode into harm’s way in a convoy. Bobby commented, “Looks like 4th of July!”

            “Only this time, they’ll be shooting the fireworks at us,” Lucky responded.

The truck in front of them took a direct hit from a rocket propelled grenade and exploded.  A dozen Marines were killed. Bullets were coming from every direction and even the veterans of jungle combat had never experienced anything like this. Bobby and Lucky had only been in county for less than a month. What a learning curve!  Lt. Brockton Chabot had only been in country for six months and was thoroughly overwhelmed by the severity of the situation. He screamed out in panic, “Luciano, Goode, get your M-60 and as much ammunition as you can carry  Whittington, take your fire team and go with them. Go! Go! Kill anything that isn’t American!”

 A moment later, Lt. Chabot was shot in the chest and fell out of the truck. Bobby and Lucky set up their M-60 behind some bamboo trees. It was a target rich environment and the enemy was coming at them from every direction. Bobby was behind the gun and Lucky was feeding the belt of ammunition. He reminded his buddy, “Short bursts…we don’t want to burn out the barrel.”

            “Roger that,” Bobby kept turning in a circle and every so often both Marines would hit the deck as bullets riddled the foliage. They’d hesitate, then pop back up, fire 50 rounds then dive for cover. How they made it through the night is a mystery that will never be answered.

Come morning, the area around their position was filled with dead enemy soldiers. Bobby commented. “That was one long night.”

            “It only seemed like a lifetime to me,” Lucky responded.

Captain Bill Whittington called to the two machine gunners, “We’re moving out!”

Many of the Marines had no urban combat experience so this battle was especially tough for them. Due to Huế’s religious and cultural status, Allied forces were ordered not to bomb or shell the city, for fear of destroying the historic structures. Also, since it was still monsoon season with heavy rain and low clouds on many days during the battle, it was virtually impossible for the U.S. forces to use air support.  To conserve their ammunition, the Marines used the weapons of the enemy whenever possible. Bobby and Lucky only slept a couple hours over the next few days of the ferocious battle. They were functioning on adrenalin and that was running out. Everywhere they looked, a firefight was going on.  Enemy snipers were well positioned with excellent fields of fire so they made themselves as small as possible.

The worst was yet to come in the battle to retake the Citadel. Bobby and Lucky joined up with five M48 tanks from the 1st Tank Battalion and were ferried across the Perfume River to Mang Ca. Colonel Louis Post told the young machine gunners, “We got some Marines and civilians trapped in a building and they’re about to be overrun. We’re so short-handed I can’t send anybody with you. Do you want to try?”

Johnny smiled, “As long as I got our M-60’s and ammo I’ll give it a shot.”

            “What about you?”

            “We’re a team so where Lucky goes, I go,” Bobby seconded.

Bobby and Lucky went to where the ammunition and weapons were stacked. They emptied out their packs and filled them with belts of 7.62mm ammo. A thousand rounds weighs 60 pounds and an M-60 machine gun is 23.5 pounds. That’s a lot of weight for any Marine to carry, but luckily, Bobby and Lucky had only had a few hundred yards to travel.  They killed a dozen North Vietnamese soldiers on the way to the surrounded building. Once they surveyed the situation, they set up their machine guns on a wall and got their belts of ammo ready for quick reloading. Bobby reminded Lucky, “Once we open fire, they’re going to unleash the whirlwind.”

            “I need to get into the building, cover me,” Lucky said.

            “If anybody goes, it should be me,” Lucky responded.

            “Why’s that?” Bobby said.

            “I’m a faster runner.”

            “I don’t think so,” Bobby retorted.

Johnny offered, “Odd or even?”


Bobby put out two fingers and Lucky did the same. “I win.”

            “Two out three,” Bobby offered.

            “Not a chance,” Lucky took off for the building with bullets nipping at his heels and Bobby sprayed the area with machine gun fire to cover him. With Lucky on the inside of the building and Bobby on the outside, they were able to keep the North Vietnamese soldiers pinned down by keeping them in a crossfire.

A group of sappers made a frontal assault on the structure and Lucky cut them down. Finally when all things seemed lost, Bobby had other choice, but to come out into the open with his M-60 and block the assault against the structure by another group of sappers. Johnny saw what was happening and went outside. The two Marines stood next to each other and held off a company of enemy soldiers with their M-60’s until reinforcements arrived.

Two Marines who had been saved by the heroics of Lucky and Bobby were awestruck by the heroism. Pfc David Hoffman commented, “You ever see anything like that?”

            “See anything like that, hell no I ain’t!” Lance Corporal Mitchell exclaimed.

Johnny started touching his body to see if he had any holes in him, “Are we dead?”

            “Give me a minute to check” Bobby answered as his machine gun smoked from overuse. He lightly touched his M-60 on the barrel guard and expressed his appreciation, “Thanks Angel of Death, I couldn’t have done it without you.”

Lucky scolded his buddy, “Are you crazy? What possessed you to come out into the open like that?”

            “I had to distract them and it seemed like the only thing to do at the time. What’s your excuse?”

            “I thought you needed my help.” Lucky said.

            “I had it covered,” Bobby said, “All I need for you to do is get yourself killed by doing something stupid and I’ll never get my Italian dinner.”

Lucky snapped back, “And if you get yourself zapped, I won’t get my collard greens and pecan pie!”

As the Marines bantered back and forth, Colonel Louis Post arrived and saw what the two machine gunners had done, “Great work, Marines!”

            “Thanks, Colonel, we didn’t do anything that any other Marine wouldn’t have done,” Bobby shrugged modestly.

            What’s your names?” Colonel Post asked.

Bobby answered, “I’m Bobby Goode and this other troublemaker is Johnny ‘Lucky’ Luciano.”

Colonel Post embraced both young Marines as the raw emotions of brutal and merciless combat overwhelmed him. He stammered, “When historians write about the Battle of Hue City, this today will be forever etched in the annals of leatherneck history, If somebody asks me what was a major factor in retaking the Citadel, I’m going to respond simply, “It took the sacrifice and courage of a lot of brave Marines, especially two machine gunners that were Goode and Lucky.”  

Bobby held up his M-60, “Don’t forget the Angel of Death.”

The End


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  1. Tom says:

    When I was a lad, the best thing about Sunday was the comics in the newspaper. Now, it is receiving your story to read! And I savor every word. I recall the war in Viet Nam and several of my college friends were victims of the VC…so I have no love for it. However, I have great respect for the survivors and heroes who fought there. Marines Goode and Luciano in your story typify the valor and gallantry so many showed. One of my favorite candies growing up was a box of Good and Plenty. That has been replaced by these two warriors! Well done, Tom. BZ!

  2. bob wolf says:

    tom has another winner

  3. Lloyd M Thorne says:

    Tom, as always a great story.

    Semper Fi

  4. Clyde says:

    I concur with previous readers…great story. I love how Tom develops the characters….you know and care about them by the time the crisis comes.

  5. Bart says:

    Good one,

  6. Tony says:

    Mr. Thomas Calabrese has a knack that amaze me. When I read one of his stories in the Vista Sunday Press, I think this is it. Mr. Calabrese can not top this story and then a week rolls by and he produces another story like this one today, Boom he did it again.
    I can really identify with today’s story because I have known people like Lucky and Bobby that were assigned to the M-60 Machine Gun. I probably should say “Married” to the M-60 MG. It weighted 23 lbs; the heat in Vietnam is unbearable for most visitors. Let alone the military man carrying a 23lbs. a machine gun, his plus equipment. We haven’t mentioned the humidity in Vietnam yet? Let’s skip it. The Marine’s assigned to those Guns would not relinquish them to anyone unless they were “toes up” that is the kind of pride these men have in being the Gunner. When we were issued the M-16 to replace the M-14, the first time we used the M-16’s on an operation against the enemy they jammed. It caused approximately half the deaths in my company. What saved the remainder of the company was the M-60’s and the Gunner’s much like “Lucky and Bobby”. On a differt date, one Marine in my company stood by his MG when his platoon was being over run he continued to lay a heavy volume of fire down on the NVA, three different times he was knocked down and out by grenades, and wounded by enemy rifle fire. Each time he managed to get up and return to his MG and resume firing on the enemy. The fourth time the enemy made certain he was not able to return to his Gun. He later received the Medal of Honor. This is how a Machine Gunner feels about his duty as a Gunner and of course a Marine. The Marine I described went above and beyond the call of duty and is well deserving of the Medal of Honor.
    I understand Mr. Calabrese you served with the U.S. Marine Corps as Gunner with M-60 team in Vietnam.
    Your story today is closer to fact then fiction. Could it be the names have been changed to protect the innocent or the guilty?
    This is one great story Mr. Calabrese. Very Well Done.

  7. Skip says:

    Thanks Tom, A great story right from “my back yard”. I started my tour in Thua Thien Province at the Phu Bai Airbase in 1968, and was shot down there on my final flight in June 1969. Those of us who have fired the M-60 until the barrel smoked can “smell” this story!
    While it’s true that Lucky and Goode were only doing their job. The blessing is living to tell others about it.

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