Lafayette native Sam Phillips continues to serve fellow veterans

Published 7:48 pm Thursday, March 14, 2024

Profile 2024: Lafayette native Sam Phillips continues to serve fellow veterans

By Harold Brummett
Rebecca Alexander photo

Sammy (Sam) Phillips was born in Oxford on March 5, 1941. Sam is as much a part of Lafayette County as the soil and trees that grow here. Sam was not transplanted to Lafayette County; his roots are deep and strong.

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Lots of family and friends keep him anchored to this place as his 79th birthday approaches. Joyce (McNeil) Phillips is a strong wife and partner for Sam.  

Sam attended University High School up to the 10th grade. He then went to work helping his dad, Glin Phillips, on his milk truck. Sam’s dad worked for 40 years for Avent’s Dairy.

Sam then worked for the Beacon Restaurant, delivering orders to the University of Mississippi campus. It was while delivering food to campus that he witnessed the first two shots fired by U.S. Marshalls during the troubles at the university.

After joining the Marines, Sam graduated from Parris Island in July 1963 and was assigned to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina as a heavy truck driver. Several temporary assignments to Puerto Rico followed, where he drove big trucks ferried by ship to and from Vieques Island. 

In 1965, Sam was sent to Camp Pendleton, Calif. It was there he received training in survival, guerilla warfare, and escape and evasion.

After a couple of months of this training, Sam was sent to Vietnam by way of Okinawa, Japan. Sam’s orders were to the 3rd Marines, 3rd Motor Transport Battalion. When Sam arrived in Vietnam, he was met by a Lt. Wood, who was from Memphis. Wood told Sam, “I see you like excitement; why don’t you join my Otter platoon?” 

In Keith Nolan’s book “The Magnificent Bastards,” Nolan wrote about the M76 Otters in action: “The Otter crews also earned their pay in the resupply effort. Even though the M76 Otter ‘was always broke,’ the boxy, open-topped, tracked vehicle ‘did more than it was ever designed to do’. The Otter was able to negotiate water obstacles by floating. ‘The vehicle was totally devoid of armor; it had a high profile on land, and was mounted with a .50-cal MG (machine gun) that invited RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades). It was slow and ungainly in water, but could and did perform in places that would not support an LVT (Light Tactical Vehicle). These craft were invaluable and those who manned them were completely without fear.”

Sam and his Otter section of three vehicles were fearless during their time ‘in country.’ Sam and his Otters did whatever they were called upon to do, from ferrying observers to relieving and resupplying an encircled Marine Infantry company. Sam when asked about coming home said that he went from fighting in the jungles and rice fields in Vietnam to being discharged from the Marines and sitting at a table having supper with his family – in three days’ time. 

In Santa Ana, Calif., where he was discharged on June 30, 1967, after 11 months and 23 days in Vietnam, Sam was shown disdain for the uniform in California, but back home in Mississippi, the mood was indifference. Sam did not know many of the people he grew up with, as his time in service created a gap of experiences and a worldview that could not be bridged.

One of the things that helped Sam get on with his life was a book by Carlos Hathcock. Sam said a passage stuck with him: “You can’t dwell on the lives you took; you must think about the lives you saved.”

Sam Phillips and other veterans (Submitted)

Sam worked at several jobs after the service, mainly driving trucks and vehicle maintenance. Sam raised a family, and as the family matured, Sam found helping veterans gave him a sense of purpose by giving back.

Sam belongs to the VFW, Disabled American Veterans, American Legion and the Marine Corps League. He is active in all of them. Sam helps at the Veterans Home, the Veterans Hut and by visiting and talking with other veterans.

Veterans have a different rapport with other veterans; it’s a shared bond of experiences no matter what branch of service they served.

Sammy Phillips is a Marine and continues to serve. Semper Fi.