Here’s my story about my recurring nightmare…..

Sgt. John Folk
1st Marine Radio Battalion
USMC

My unit was 1st Marine Radio Battalion. We were the electronic intelligence arm of MAF III. I was in country from July 1969 to August 1970. I served at many different sites, as we had platoons all over the place; all in I Corps; we operated anywhere between Danang and Dong Ha We were COMINT/SIGNIT units supporting 3rd Marine Division as well as 1st Marine Division; my role was Radio Intercept (Morse and voice), RDF (Radio Direction Finding) and cryptology.

Towards the end of my 13-month tour, things got interesting with a story that still haunts me to this day. The way I was initially treated at home, and some reminders pop up this memory that is embedded in my life; reluctantly, there are triggers that make me relive this story time and time again. I can’t shake it, and it has scarred me for life.

In a war, you meet all kinds of people, in all kinds of situations. But some of the meetings you have, you’re never really prepared to handle the emotion of the situation. It is in these heart touching moments that sometimes we cry, and hopefully, sometimes we’re able to answer – why. But, this one can’t be reconciled. I’ve spent 50 years trying, and I give up. The event I’m writing about here indeed hurt. In the end, I cried; and I still ask WHY, even to this day…. why this did happen….

It was a hot, humid day just after the monsoon season in Vietnam. My squad was returning from an intelligence patrol near Quang Tri-City. We were still in the bush, but it was a peaceful, uneventful mission. The area was very quiet, and all was tranquil. We were sitting and waiting to hear the familiar sound of the helicopters rotors as they would approach to take us home.

We were tired, sweaty and thirsty, but were enjoying the peace and quiet. Suddenly, there was a quiet explosion, a painful scream and the wretched smell of burning flesh just yards away from me. I threw the safety off my rifle and spun towards the noise ready to shoot and ready to kill. I held the rifle in my shoulder aiming at the screaming figure as it slowly came towards me.

I lowered my rifle when I saw the dirty, blood-stained, pale brown skin of a child, covered only by a pair of shredded blue shorts, and heard his whimpering as he collapsed. His long jet-black hair was uncut, filthy, and his teeth were blackened with rot. His hands and his only remaining foot showed signed of hard labor and work, as he was plagued with calluses and blisters. His other foot, the cause of his pain, was completely severed at the ankle. The ground around the stump of his leg had already become blood-soaked, I went running to his side, I used a bandoleer as a tourniquet and twisted it tightly just inches above the stump. I covered the wound and hoped it would stop spilling his blood.

In the distance, I finally heard the thump, thump, thump of the choppers as they approached. Seconds later, it landed, and we were away. It only took minutes to fly to a hospital for the small child who was no older than seven years old.

Corpsmen rushed to the chopper and took him away, and in a matter of minutes, the doctors were in surgery with him. In the next few hours, I had filled out the reports, debriefed the patrol, relaxed, ate and took a bath in a polluted river. A few days later, I returned to the hospital to see how the child was doing. The doctors had finished with him, and he was talking, but obviously in Vietnamese.

I found a translator, a Dancer, we used in field ops, to visit with the child and I. We talked for quite a while, and I learned that he was an orphan, having never really known his parents. He did know that his dad was taken away, and his mom was dead. He knew only his first name, Nguyen. He couldn’t remember his age, or whether he had any brothers or sisters, or anyone in his life. His life had always been the same, stealing food off dead soldiers, whether they be American, South, or North Vietnamese, it didn’t matter – if they had food, he’d take it.

In his short life, he’s had Malaria, snake bites, and mountains of other challenges, and he faced them alone. Never getting help from anyone. He remembered stepping on the cartridge trap where he lost his foot. He didn’t really know that the war around was about and knew it had nothing to do with him, but it was the only life he knew, and it had little consequence for him – just another saga in how he had to adjust and live. But, while he was here, in the hospital, he was smiling, and he was happy. For the time being, he knew he could be happy because he was being cared for, and knew he’d be fed while he was here.

I told him that if he’s lucky, we’ll get him into an orphanage where he may have a better chance, but that was too far in the future he said, and so, who knows…. Anyway, I left him, and, even though he was in such pain, he was smiling – what a welcome vision that was.

Later that night, we got the usual rockets and mortars which seemed to plague us from time to time. The bombs exploded everywhere, spreading their torn twisted bits of metal at everything and everyone. At half-past two in the morning, it stopped, and it was over. The damage was everywhere. I saw the burned and broken bodies of several people – Marines mostly. But then when I went by the hospital tent where Nguyen was, I saw it too had been hit. I went in, and I carried Nguyen ‘s lifeless body to the street, and I cried.

A few days later, and my tour ended. I flew home. But Nguyen’s story didn’t end there, at least for me. It’s not even his fate and death that plagues me; it’s what happened when I got home that still haunts me, and hurts.

There is yet another story, part two if you will, I feel I must share…. if only to sensitize you to where my mind was at the time. By now, you should have learned that during the 60’s, the Vietnam war was extremely unpopular. This wasn’t just a political thing; it was also a “60’s” thing – where “peace, freedom, and free love” were all part of the culture and lifestyle. Dodging the draft, refusing to go off to war, running off to Canada (to avoid the draft) were pretty common things going on in society. To “enlist” into the service (which is what I did) was not a cool thing to do – according to ‘society’, but I did.

To further appreciate this story, you also need to know that as a child (basically from age 7 to 16), I was actually very much into the church, and going to Sunday school. My brothers and I did this every Sunday. Our parents seldom went, but they did pack us off to church. We went to a Baptist church in Birmingham, Michigan, and walked across the park to get there. The minister was Reverend Whitfield, and he guided us through the church for all those years. He baptized us (Baptists dunk the whole body!) and I (because of Reverend Whitfield) held the church in pretty high “awe”. I enjoyed it and participated in quite a few things (I even sang a solo at church one evening!). I felt pretty close to the minister and the church, and I even hung out with his daughter.

So, it didn’t seem unusual, at least to me, that when I came back from Vietnam, to put on my dress blue uniform (all Marines are proud of this uniform!), all my ribbons and awards, and go to church. At the time, I was home only 3 days, and the incident I mentioned above, with Nguyen was less than 2 weeks in the past. I even had it in the back of my mind to corner the reverend and tell him the story to seek his solace. I will tell you that that going that day was the worst mistake I made in my life. Reverend Whitfield, saw me in the audience, with the Marine Corps dress blue’s, and with obvious reference to my recent Vietnam service, launched and shifted his sermon into one of slamming people who served in the immoral and unjust war, stared me in the face, and actually called me a baby killer in front of his congregation.

I kept my mouth shut. My wife, was with me with a shocked look, and showing concern that I’d blow a gasket. At the end of the sermon, I quickly left; and I left the church in such utter disgust, and shame. I never returned to that church again. I never talked with him again, and in fact, have been rather leery of any church since then. I used to treat the church with importance and key to life, but I haven’t taken church serious since this man I held in such high regard, Reverend Whitfield, destroyed, in such simple words, what faith I had.

I know, now in hindsight, he was unfair in his judgment, but the embarrassment he put on through tainted my view of not only him, but the church overall. Sorry, but that event in the church is one where I lost my pride and my soul. I sacrificed the church I once appreciated; and it’s a long road back, I still haven’t found it – and even if I do, at best, it’ll only be at a distance – I cannot commit to more; not again. To this day, I can’t go into a church without that dreadful comment haunting me. It caused a wound so deep; it still bleeds on my mind today.

I cannot remember one Vietnam War protest going on in San Diego.

OS2 Arthur Ellingson
USS Henry B. Wilson (DDG-7), U.S. Navy

I served in the Navy Reserve from 1969 to 1975. I was on active duty from September 1’st of 1970 until June 15th of 1972. I joined a Navy Reserve program at Great Lakes which was called the 2×6 program. The 2 stands for two years of full-time active duty, six years total Reserve commitment.

I failed several times to get into an ROTC unit in college. They bounced me out because of my vision. They were not taking people who were as blind as I was without glasses. I was always 20 / 20 correctible but, when he showed me the chart and said: “Read the top line of the chart” I said, “What chart?”—I couldn’t even find the chart half of the time.

I figured that I would do the service first and let the military pay for my college education, which is basically what happened. I graduated from high school in June of ’68, joined in October of ’69. I had one year of college. I went to Reserves meetings one night a week and did all the paperwork associated with boot camp. In the summer between 4 and ten months after I joined, they sent me to boot camp at Great Lakes for two weeks. I reported on June 28th of ’70. After two weeks at boot camp, they sent me to Norfolk for two weeks of workship. During those two weeks of workship, I was on the USS Henley DD 762. Which is a destroyer, and we made a cruise during the middle weekend up from Norfolk to Baltimore. I spent the weekend having Liberty in Baltimore, then Monday morning we came back to Norfolk.

I spent four weeks in the summer of ’70 on active duty then I was back to Reserves for maybe a month give or take. They gave me orders on a Tuesday night to report to Great Lakes on Friday, September 1st. So I had three days’ notice that I would be on active duty. This was Labor Day Weekend.” I reported in at 11 o’clock- 11:15 and they said: “You’re on liberty till 08:00 Tuesday morning.” So I didn’t even unpack, I just turned around and drove back home and came back Monday evening.

My orders were to go to Radar A School at Great Lakes. I was there about four months attending that school. Then on January 22nd, 1971 I graduated. I graduated 2nd in my class, the guy that beat me had a Master’s Degree in Physics from Purdue. He only beat me by a tenth of a point.

I had orders to my 2’nd choice of assignment which was a destroyer out of San Diego. I was assigned to the USS Henry B. Wilson (DDG-7). They were in intensive training to go overseas so they would go out to sea from 7 o’clock on Monday morning until 7 o’clock on Friday. They would tie up to a buoy and then take boats ashore. That would save them 2 hours of going completely into the harbor. It also got the crew used to living on the ship.

I had heard about Vietnam when I was in grade school. My parents were saying “I’m glad that the Vietnam War is going on now because it will be over before our kids are out of high school.” Wrong. Okay. I was aware of what was going on in the news. I remember watching Johnson on the news during the first year I was in college, I didn’t have a TV, but I typically would knock off studying at 5 to 10 and go upstairs to the TV lounge and, at least, watch the news to know what was going on in the world.

When I graduated from Radar School, I anticipated that I would be on a ship that would take a West Pack Cruise and the ultimate destination was Vietnam. But I also knew that from my Reserve time that the Navy’s side of the war was relatively friendly at that time. Now guys who were in the Army and Marines do not like to hear this, but we knew the shore batteries had the range of about 3 miles, so we stayed 3 ½ miles off the coast. Our guns had a 13-mile range so we could shoot anything within 10 miles of the beach and still not be in danger.

From the time I left San Diego until I returned to San Diego was six months, one week and one day. We were off North Korea and off Russian waters during July and August. On September 12th, we left Yokosuka and went down to Vietnam. Then we spent about five weeks off the coast of Vietnam, went to Hong Kong for a week of R&R, spent another five weeks off the coast of Vietnam and spent another week of R&R in Singapore. At that point, we had a vote to see whether we were going to go home, which was the original schedule, or whether we were going to go back to the gun line for a month. Well, if we went back to the gun line for a month, then the deal was we could spend two weeks in Sydney for Christmas. And the single guys all said, “Yeah, let’s go to Sydney for Christmas,” and the married guys said, “Let’s all go home.” So we ended up going home. I voted to go to Sydney. I would love to have seen it.

We left Subic Bay the evening of December 1st, and we were running a typhoon coming back, so very few people ate much during that first 13 days. We pulled into Hawaii on December 13th for Customs, food and mail call. We left at five o’ clock in the evening and were off the coast of San Diego at seven o’ clock Friday night. We could have easily been at the pier by eight thirty, but no, we had a band waiting for us at ten o’ clock in the morning. So we had to sit off the coast and wait. We putzed up the coast at five knots, but we were close enough we could turn the TV on and point our TV antennae at San Diego.

When I came back I had 30 days of leave coming so I went home. I came back after about two weeks. I came back early because I knew the ship wasn’t going to be doing much for the next six months. You have a very relaxed day for the first three months you’re back from overseas. You didn’t do much of anything. One of my jobs was to update a couple of technical manuals. So I would get classified mail every day, and I’d have to update these manuals which would take typically 15 minutes a day. And when that was done, I was on liberty at ten o’clock in the morning.

We began to do a little bit of training, but they also knew that I was going to get out. My discharge date was September 1st. We weren’t scheduled to go back overseas ‘til September 15th. So there was no reason for me to train with them. So they sent me to temporary duty on shore often.

I cannot remember one Vietnam War protest going on in San Diego. I spent a bit of time at San Diego, but I never saw any protest when I was there.

Getting out was a two-step process for me. First, there was a weeklong process of checking off the ship, and that went maybe the week before Memorial Day Weekend. I had liberty Memorial Day Weekend, and then Tuesday morning they handed me my orders to transfer me to the 32nd Street Naval Station to be mustered out. I spent about a week there, where they would go through all their process including physical exams and so forth.

They told me, “Tomorrow you’re going to get your papers,” and they said there’s nothing special about it. I got my package of papers, which they said, “Take this package of papers, this is your stuff to keep. Once you check in at a Reserve Center, bring this package with you, but then we’ll send your records, our set of your records to the Reserve Center, but you’ll get to keep these forever.” I called a friend of mine who had a car. He came and picked me up. I was packed and ready to go. I had five bags, which of course two bags were free in those days, with five bags, you had to pay for three. But when I got to the airport, they’re like, “Five bags!” “Well, I just got out of the Navy today.” As soon as I said that, they said, “Okay, we’ll fly those home for free.” They never charged me extra.

Coming Home
I boarded a United flight. Now at this point, I’m in my dress blues. The night before they gave us all of our ribbons. So I had ribbons on for the first time. I’ve been wearing one what was called the GeeDuck Ribbon, which was officially the National Defense Ribbon. Now I’ve got three or four ribbons on my chest. And so, I get to the airport, and I got five bags with me, and they fly all this stuff home for free. But United Airlines is where I bought the ticket, and it was standby. They had me board one plane, and then they bounced me, and then they boarded me on the second plane, and they bounced me. Then they put me across the hall at American. American put me in the back row, in the middle with the seats that don’t recline, and I thought, “Well, this is better than not getting home at all.”

But then they called out my seat number, I don’t think they called out me by name, they just called me by seat number, this is passenger and seat number, I didn’t know what the row number was, I was in the very back row of the plane – “Would you step up to the front of the plane please.” And I get up to the front of the plane, and there was this college hippie girl who’s sneering at me, “Haha, I’m getting your seat.” She was paying one-third off, I was paying half off, and so she, “Haha, I get your seat.” And she went back, and I thought, “Okay well, I’ll be singing when you find out where that seat’s located.” And I was getting ready to get off the plane, and they said: “Just hold on a minute.” They waited for her to get down the way, and then they were like closing the door. “We have one seat left, first class, all yours.” So I flew home on American, first class.

All my bags were on the first United plane, so I had to walk across the terminal back over to the United section to get them. I did not know what was going on at home. I didn’t know if my parents were home or not. I don’t recall if I even tried calling home. I don’t think I tried calling home. I know I had written them a letter which was mailed from Pearl Harbor that said that if all goes well, I’ll be in San Diego by noon on Saturday. I don’t know if they got that or not. So when I finally got home to Chicago about seven o’clock, I called from a payphone. First I got my bags because we lived very close to the airport. My cousin answered the phone at my dad’s house, and I’m saying, “Rich, what are you?” He says, “Oh, we’re having a big party because your brother just came home from the Marines.” He was actually in Quantico, Virginia. Going to a Marine Corps school. He finished college in March and got commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, so he went to Basic Infantry School in Quantico, Virginia. He finished that school in mid-December. So they’re having a big party to welcome him home. So I came home in the middle of that.

I told my cousin that I was at the airport. I don’t remember who picked me up, I think it was my Dad, but I don’t remember. I remember when we got to the front door, I could see that nobody had taken in the mail. So I open up the mailbox, pulled out the mail, and there was the letter I mailed them from Pearl Harbor. It was in the mailbox. They hadn’t even looked at it.

My mother was putting dinner on the table when I got there. And the whole focus of the party shifts from my brother, who is the wimpy jarhead who has just graduated from school to the hero that just came back from the war. My brother was, you know, very miffed that I stole his thunder. But our whole lives he was always miffed at something.

During my Christmas leave in ’71 or 72, I remember walking into the local VFW hall wondering what was going on. The only thing that I knew was what that the VFW hall was famous for sponsoring the Park Ridge Drum and Bugle Corps. So I remember going to the VFW hall, and asking, “What do you guys do here?” and so forth, and even before I could get those words out of my mouth somebody said, “You don’t belong here. This is for veterans of foreign wars.” And I said, “What do you call Vietnam?” And I don’t remember what they said, but I was not regarded as one of their peers. I’ve been in Vietnam, I’ve been in Korea, and I was made to feel totally unwelcome. I did not go into a VFW building again until around two years ago when I heard that there was a Vietnam veterans group, and they met at the Park Ridge VFW.

Afterward
I went to Illinois State. Whenever you saw somebody who was older than the typical college student, you sort of figure they were a veteran. My winter jacket was my Navy pea coat, but at that time everybody was wearing blue Navy pea coats, so I blended in.

In April ’75, I was in college, did not own a TV, I probably did not know Saigon fell until a couple of weeks after that. There was very little reported about the war in the Daily Gazette at Illinois State, the only newspaper I typically read in those days. By 1975, I was a part-time college student at Illinois State and a full-time pastor in Streator, Illinois. I’m preaching on Sundays; I’m not reading the newspapers. And I was at a church that had a Sunday morning service, and a Sunday evening service. Well, I’m preaching two different sermons every Sunday, so I didn’t have a lot of time to read the paper or watch TV. And I didn’t own a TV at that period.

The war was awful. The people who bore the brunt of the battle got shafted in more ways than one. But every time there was a dogfight when I was not on the radio with the pilot, I was, at least, listening to the conversation. Any time there was a dogfight between three Mig’s and one Phantom jet, the Phantom always won. If there were four, sometimes the Phantom won, sometimes the Phantom didn’t. But if there were three, two or one, the Phantoms always won. And what it did was told the Soviets, “Don’t you dare start a bigger scale war because we’re going to clean your clocks.” Because our technology was so much better and our pilots were so much better than theirs. It prevented other, larger scale wars from happening. So regarding holding back the spread of communism, regarding stopping other wars, I think it ultimately saved lives in the long run, just like the nuclear bombs in Japan. Yeah, 40,000 people died in a flash, in the long run, those bombs saved lives.

National Vietnam Veterans Day

March 29th, Welcome Home to all Vietnam Veterans

On March 28, 2017, President Donald J. Trump, signed into law The Vietnam War Veterans Recognition Act of 2017, designating every March 29 as National Vietnam War Veterans Day.

National Vietnam War Veterans Day joins six other military-centric national observances codified in Title 4 of the United States Code (i.e., Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day, Navy Day, Veterans Day).
March 29 was chosen to be celebrated in perpetuity as March 29, 1973 was the day Military Assistance Command Vietnam was deactivated.

The United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration honors all United States veterans who served on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces from November 1, 1955 to May 15, 1975, regardless of location.

November 1, 1955 was selected to coincide with the official designation of Military Assistance Advisory Group-Vietnam (MAAG-V); May 15, 1975 marks the end of the battle precipitated by the seizure of the SS Mayaguez.

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that today there are 6.4 million living Vietnam veterans and 9 million families of those who served during this time frame. We make no distinction between veterans who served in-country, in-theater, or who were stationed elsewhere during the Vietnam War period. All were called to serve and none could self-determine where they would serve.

Additional Background: U.S. involvement in Vietnam started slowly with an initial deployment of advisors in the early 1950s, grew incrementally through the early 1960s and expanded with the deployment of full combat units in July 1965. The last U.S. personnel were evacuated from Vietnam in April 1975.

This national commemoration was authorized by Congress, established under the Secretary of Defense, and launched by the President to thank and honor our Nation’s Vietnam veterans and their families for their service and sacrifice. In 2007, the 110th Congress incorporated language in House of Representatives (H.R.) 4986 authorizing the Secretary of Defense to conduct a program commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.

H.R. 4986 was signed into law as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2008 by President George W. Bush on January 28, 2008.

44th U.S. President Barack Obama officially inaugurated this Commemoration at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. on Memorial Day, May 28, 2012.

Section 598 (Public Law 110-181) of the 2008 NDAA specifically addresses Commemoration activities.

Congress outlined a total of five objectives for this U.S.A. Vietnam War Commemoration, with the primary objective being to thank and honor Vietnam veterans and their families for their service and sacrifice on behalf of the Nation, with distinct recognition of former prisoners of war and families of those still listed as missing in action. The four remaining objectives highlight the service of our Armed Forces and support organizations during the war; pay tribute to wartime contributions at home by American citizens; highlight technology, science and medical advances made during the war; and recognize contributions by our Allies.

By Presidential Proclamation, The U.S.A Vietnam War Commemoration will continue through Veterans Day, November 11, 2025.

 

I had two homecoming experiences, and they were as different as night and day.

LTC Roger D. Shiley
18th Signal Detachment (TI), U.S. Army
AVEL Central, 520th Transportation Bn.

I joined the Florida National Guard in 1956 while I was a junior in high school. I had taken JROTC the year before, and the new high school did not offer the program. The main reason I joined was that I needed spending money and the Guard paid about $90 per quarter, which paid my car insurance. (And I kind of liked wearing a uniform !!!!)

In 1960, my company commander convinced me to attend OCS at Ft. Benning, Georgia. I graduated and returned to the National Guard as a 2nd Lieutenant. In March 1965, I applied for active duty. I received a form letter stating that the “Army had all the company grade officers they needed.” In October of 1965, I received a letter from the Army stating that if I wanted to come on active duty my application, which was “on file” would be used and I would receive orders in 30 days.

I reported to Ft Gordon Georgia to attend the Signal Corps Officer Basic Course and from there I was on my way to “Southeast Asia,” better known as “The Republic of Vietnam.” I understood that when I volunteered for active duty that I was going to Vietnam and I looked forward to it as an adventure. My second tour came in 1970, and I had mixed emotions about it because I had just graduated from flight school. My family now included five children, and I realized that the life insurance would be a “drop in the bucket” compared to the real needs would be.

I had just been promoted to Captain when I went to Vietnam, and I was assigned to the 18th Signal Detachment (TI). The TI stood for Technical Intelligence, and my detachment processed all captured communication equipment. We wrote several studies and backed up our work by translations of captured documents and interrogation of over 40 NVA/VC POWs.

I was stationed in Saigon in 1966, and I lived a sheltered life. The 18th was the largest intelligence HQ in Vietnam and had a pretty easy life until I started going out to interrogate POWs. I learned real early that if you were a Captain, you were expected to look out for yourself and any soldiers around you. I was demonstrating how to use a CHICOM radio, to some fellow officers, one day and we started receiving fire from a sniper. Some of the officers were not even armed, and my driver, and I returned fire while the twelve officers attending the demonstration headed for cover.

During this tour, I went to the First CAV headquarters to interrogate two prisoners. When I reported to the Colonel, in charge of the POW camp, he informed me that there was only one POW for me to interview. I was told that he would answer any questions I had. This POW (LT Van Ty) was captured with his radio operator, and he had decided not to answer any questions. On the flight from the point of capture to the POW camp, someone decided that Lt Van Ty would be more willing to talk to us if he didn’t have his radio operator with him so he “jumped” out of the helicopter at 3,000 ft. AGL. Lt Van Ty provided me with over forty pages of ORDER OF BATTLE information. For his help, I gave him two cans of SPAM.

I interrogated a POW at the 4th ID HQ, and he was terrified. I told him that he was alive because I needed some answers about a special radio that he was using and would he “help” me. He stated that he would answer questions if I would give him a canteen cup so he could drink water in the camp. I gave him a canteen cup, and a package of Lucky Strike cigarettes after he responded to 30 questions I had prepared for him. I never heard what happened to him, but I mentioned him in a special report that was sent to the Vietnamese Army POW commander.

When I received orders for my second tour in Vietnam, I asked my Signal Assignment Officer if I could go to a specialty school before returning and stated that the only school that he had allocations for was helicopter school. He also stated that he had six slots for the school, and he was required to turn the slots over to the Infantry branch if he couldn’t fill them in eight days. I was the class leader at the Signal Advanced Officers Class and I ask the class if anyone wanted to go to flight school…..Five days later I hand carried six applications for flight school to Signal Branch in Washington. All six of us graduated from flight school, and we all came back from Vietnam and retired after 20 – 30 years service.

At the time I went to Vietnam everyone was going and the ones that didn’t go were draft dodgers …
While serving my second tour in Vietnam, I had a company that had one soldier with a master’s degree, six that had a bachelor’s degree, and seven that had, at least, one year of college. Can you imagine what it was like being the commanding officer of a unit with these soldiers and you only had about two years of college credit?????

Coming Home
I had two homecoming experiences, and they were as different as night and day. In 1967, I arrived at Travis Air Force Base, and there were people waving “Welcome Home” signs. There was a two-night stay in the processing center and three other Captains, and I went into San Francisco to see the big city. We all wore our uniforms and people would come up to us and shake hands and talk “happy talk.” We had a big meal in a night club, and the head waiter came over and informed us that our tab was being paid by the owner.

My second homecoming was a lot different. After landing at Travis AFB we were bussed over to the processing center and about two miles out of the airport, our bus picked up an “escort” of about twenty bikers. The long-haired riders “escorted” the bus and we were subjected to catcalls and hand signals.
I had been appointed as the “bus commander” and several of us decided that we ought to stop the bus and meet these nice hippies. When I ask the bus driver to pull over for a few minutes, he refused and informed me that he had worked for the bus company for 24 years and if he stopped the bus he would be fired.

When we arrived at Travis AFB, we were processed in. As before we would be spending two nights before flying home. We were told, by the commanding officer of the center, that we could have a two-hour pass to go into town IF WE HAD CIVILIAN CLOTHES. No one would be allowed off base in uniform. Since none of us had civilian clothes we were stuck on base. One Major had civilian clothing, but he tried to get out wearing Army issue low quarter shoes, and he was not permitted to go.

I was comfortable to be home after both tours. After the first tour, I was assigned to Ft Gordon and my family lived “on post”. We did not feel the tension that was building up.

After the second tour I was assigned to a college to finish my college degree, and I wore civilian clothes for two years. I did have some high school friends that I would meet from time to time and sometimes I would feel that they were avoiding me but no one ever “got in my face” about my service in Vietnam.

In 1975, when Saigon fell, I was in Germany and watched the event on TV in the Stuttgart BOQ. I feel that I wasted two years of my life on a war that was a big political experiment, led by people that had no idea what they were doing.

Afterward
Many years later I found out that I had prostate cancer and several other health issues related to the exposure to Agent Orange, I found out the details of Agent Orange and after a lot of hospital time, I have “recovered” from cancer. I have so many of the illnesses associated with Agent Orange that I have a 125% disability. I now spend a great deal of time working with our soldiers that have Agent Orange problems. I visit the Asheville VA hospital and encourage servicemen to file for VA benefits.

My children ask me, every once in a while, about my time in Vietnam. I once told one of them that I was sorry that I spent two years away from them just to further my career. To this, I was surprised that one of the boys said: “Dad, you did what you thought was right, and we are better off because you did serve.” Now, where is the logic of that??????

Did my service in Vietnam change my faith in God? Not so much at the time. Now that I have allowed time to take effect, I know that HE was watching over me all the time. He helped me through the tough times and prepared me for my next assignment.

I have been to the wall, and it is something that must be seen to believe. I found the names of soldiers that I had known, and it seemed that for just a few minutes they were alive again…….

In summary, I served in the Army for a total of 31 years. I served two years in Vietnam and eight years in Germany. I commanded units from the size of a 14 man detachment to a battalion that had over 1,400 soldiers. I held a top secret security clearance with special intelligence (SI) suffix. I was honored to have served with soldiers that were dedicated to their work and always made me look good.

We were young. We knew nothing.

BU3 Terry Molinari
MCB 4, Delta Co., Chu Lai

It was a strange war we fought in Vietnam. We were young. We knew nothing. Vietnam is tropical, mostly jungle with temperatures averaging ninety-five degrees in summer with high humidity. The mosquitoes were little-bitty things that could get through a pinhole.

Our battalion, U.S. Navy Seabees, MCB #4 was home based in Davisville, Rhode Island. We had just made it back from deployment in Spain. Word was out we were being transferred to the west coast Seabee Base at Port Hueneme, California. We would relieve MCB #10 in Chu Lai, Vietnam. It was November 1965. I had just turned twenty-one. It was legal to drink in California. I celebrated. It wasn’t pretty. A William Shakespeare quote comes to mind. “My Salad Days, when I was green in judgment.” As it turned out those “salad days” were more like salad years for me.

Our next stop was the U.S. Marine Base at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina for six weeks. There we were hosted by the Second Marine Division where additional training in combat demolitions, field communications, field medical, flamethrowers, and the M-60 machine gun. I remember Jack Lemon and I marching along a dirt road with packs, M-14’s and carrying the base plate of a .81 mm mortar. Some dropped out before we got to our “camping” destination. One such guy was a 2nd Class Builder named Sorenson. I never forgot the smirk on his face as he rode by us in the back of a deuce and a half kicking up dust in our faces. I never cared much for him after that. It was the early stages of the Vietnam War. LBJ extended all active duty enlistments for six months. Money and men where rapidly funneled into Vietnam.

The trip over was in a C-130. A rough ride with lots of stops in Hawaii, Guam, and Japan. When we landed in Chu Lai, I remember the back of the plane opening and we were greeted by a wall of heat. As I deplaned I saw one of those wagons that reminded me of the ones farmers used to load hay bales on. It was stacked with rubber body bags. “They’re going home”, an old timer informed us newcomers. “Welcome to Vietnam.”

Our camp, a tent city, was named “Camp Shields.” It was named after Navy Seabee Marvin Shields who was attached to the 5th Special Forces Group. He was mortally wounded during an ambush at Dong Xoai and died June 10, 1965. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.

LBJ was President. All members of the Armed Forces had their active duty enlistments involuntarily extended for six months. I was due to get off active duty in November 1965. I got to spend my extra six months in Chu Lai, Vietnam about fifty-five miles south of Da Nang. Our main job was laying metal matting for an airfield, Butler buildings, hospitals and more.. Packing and repacking sand under runway matting. We worked 12-hour shifts and often had four-hour guard duty at night. Our C-ration meals were delivered to us. The weather was always hot or wet. Exhaustion came and went.

All villages looked the same. People, pigs, chickens and villagers squatting along the road chewing beetlenut. The one near our camp called An Tan was no different. The Vietnam Cong offered a reward for every American vehicle blown up. Every now and then a woman would pull out a grenade and toss it. Little children came up to us smiling; they could blow us and everything within two-hundred feet to hell. Little children wired by their own people, wired to explode. How could we Americans understand this culture? Their determination was beyond our comprehension.

Morale occasionally suffered from news of anti-war protests back in the states. People always supported our soldiers. It was hard to comprehend the country was against it. Our mind played tricks on us. I remember fearing I was gonna miss the freedom bird out of Chu Lai when it was time for me to leave.

The clock ticked. Those who were lucky enough to escape in one piece returned to their hometowns and civilian life. I remember landing at the Marine Base in El Toro, California. I got off the plane and kissed the ground. I transferred to Long Beach Naval Station for mustering out. It was 1966, Teresa Brewer was playing on the Jukebox “Till I Waltz Again With You.” I flew TWA from LA back to La Guardia Airport in New York. The stewardess gave me a pack of playing cards. I still have them. William Mozingo was in my Battalion in Nam. He was from Oceanside, Long Island. He had a cousin, Juanita Odom. She wanted to write to someone in Vietnam. I volunteered. My home was four hours from La Guardia in upstate New York. No one from my family came to meet me at La Guardia. Strangers did; Juanita, along with her mother and father. They took me to their home on Long Island and drove me upstate the next day. Her father was a baker and her mother was a school crossing guard. Juanita was going to college at the State University in New Paltz, New York. I never forgot their kindness. I often wonder what became of them.

Protests about the war were rampant in the states. It wasn’t popular to be a Vietnam Veteran. We thought we were doing the right thing and risking our lives for our country. When we got home we learned the country believed otherwise. It was the end of innocence.

The guys I served with were quality men. Some of us kept in touch, other lost touch and went on to live their lives. Years later I have reconnected with some. They were well on their way into geezerhood but their personalities were intact. There were a lot of guys from my hometown, Oneonta, N.Y., who served in Vietnam. Some didn’t make it back. I was one of the lucky ones.

“I did not settle down for at least ten years”

Specialist 5 Kirk Cooke
125th Air Traffic Control Bn., USARV

I joined the U.S. Army in 1968, mainly because I had girl problems. I was 17 years old and my parents had to sign for me. I turned 18 during basic training. I felt we had to win in Vietnam, as in World War II. That was my attitude.

My basic training was at Fort Campbell Kentucky. After basic, I was then sent to Fort Rucker for additional training. Shortly after arriving they pulled me out of formation and said, “You did good enough on the tests, we want you in air traffic control.” So I signed up for that.

I was sent right away to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi Mississippi for AIT as an air traffic controller. My M.O.S. was 93H20 Air Traffic Controller. After the training was complete, I was sent back to Fort Rucker as my first duty station. While at Fort Rucker I worked at various staging fields where they trained pilots and door gunners.

A buddy from Ohio and I got tired of all the lifer crap, and so we put in a 1049, (a request to go to Vietnam) and one of the questions on the form was, “Why do you want to go?” And we both said “Because we want to kill gooks!” and they said, “We’ve got two live ones here.” So the requests were approved and away we went.

Before Vietnam, I was given a month leave. I went to my native Canada, where I was born, to visit family. My uncle wanted me to stay in Canada and avoid Vietnam. He was going to set me up in business, get my name changed help me find a place to live. But I said “No.” So, I went back to Michigan and prepared to ship out to Vietnam. While I was in Michigan I got married.

I flew to Vietnam on a T.W.A. charter flight. I arrived in Vietnam in December 1969 and was assigned to Castle Tower northeast of Bien Hoa Airbase. Castle Tower was near Bearcat. I also was stationed for short periods of time at Tra Vĩnh and Tây Ninh. I went on what you call a “Convoy to Cu Chi” once as well. During my tour I also was sent to Malaysia for three days for disaster relief. They wanted some controllers in case they needed help with the tower.

The Army had a program where you could get discharged early if you had less than six months left on your enlistment when you returned from Vietnam. So, I extended my tour to take advantage of this program. I had spent a total of 13 1/2 months in Vietnam when I left there in March 1971.

Coming Home
I flew out of Tan Son Nhut for the trip home. I guess I felt apprehensive and confused when I left Vietnam. As I recall, we were pretty much cheering when we took off. We were dressed in khakis for the trip home. When we arrived at Oakland airbase, I kissed the ground when I got off the plane. I remember they gave us a steak dinner and beer. That is still my favorite meal today.

I was discharged there at Oakland. Here I was, an E-5, 13 ½ months in Vietnam, I am only 20 years old. I can’t even buy a beer in the United States. So I grabbed my gear and caught a cab to the airport where I caught a plane to Detroit. I guess I was just feeling kind of numb at this point. I landed at Detroit Metro, wearing my dress greens and was met with rude stares. No one said anything to me or spit at me; they just glared at me. I had an immense feeling of being let down. I thought “Why do you hate me? What did I do to you?” I didn’t expect that. I grew up with John Wayne and World War II. We were the good guys you know.

I came back to an unappreciative nation. I was treated pretty much like dirt. I wore my uniform home, and people said, “Don’t put it on again, they’ll spit on you.” That was the last time I wore my uniform. You are supposed to be proud coming home. You served your country; you did your duty. I did what the country asked of me, and I mean, it still affects me.

My wife’s family picked me up at the airport. I stayed with my wife and her family in their home in Sterling Heights. I didn’t see my parents right away. Finally, after about three days my wife’s mom says, “You’ve got to see them and tell them you are home.” I don’t know why I stayed away. I just didn’t feel comfortable. Maybe because I changed and they changed too. I worried, “Were they part of the rest of the world that was against me?” I didn’t know who was on my side. I was totally, totally confused.

My relationships were strained at best. Everything was cordial but not comfortable. One day I was at dinner with my parents and my Dad said “We want to have it just like it was.” but see it never was just like it was. It couldn’t be.

Afterward
I did not settle down for at least ten years. I got divorced pretty quick and then it was you know, drinking. Then it seemed like I wandered, and then I got married again, then another divorce. I was just too angry, and there was no help. There also wasn’t any thrill; there wasn’t anything dangerous anymore. No adrenalin.

I finally met my 3rd wife. We stuck together, and we had kids. It worked out well since then. We were married 27 years when she died of cancer in 2009. I don’t wish that on anybody; that’s the devil’s disease.

Looking back on the war I would say that it is nothing that should be repeated. The waste. I look at these Vietnam websites, and I see how young we were. Now when people say “Well where did you go to college?” I say, “I went to the University of South Vietnam.” That’s where I went– so, that’s the answer I give to them.

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about it and every time you hear a chopper you are right back there. But, I would do it again. Absolutely. Every freaking day.

“They both immediately flipped me the bird”

Ravis E. Stotts
Mobile Construction Bn. 62 (MCB-62), U.S. Navy

I joined the US Navy Seabees in June 1964. I guess I joined because I felt patriotic. My specialty was as a Construction Electrician.

I volunteered to go to Vietnam. I was eager to serve my country. I was assigned to Navy Mobile Construction Battalion 62 and was deployed to Vietnam twice. My first deployment was to Phu Bai and my second was to Da Nang.

Coming Home
Our reception in the United States was less than cordial. I didn’t expect protesters throwing feces and urine bags at us, flipping us off and calling us names. After the reception at the airport, I was uncertain and wary about going home, but I was cautiously excited.

For the most part, I was ignored by the public. I wasn’t really comfortable back home. Not at first; then it got worse since no one there had experienced what I had been through. They all thought that I was embellishing the events I talked about. I became disconnected from my old friends.

Afterward
I did have some problems afterward. They began almost immediately. Heavy drinking, very jumpy and easily startled by loud noises, especially fireworks and car backfires. I never sought help professional help. My wife and kids have been a big help for me over the years.

My wartime experiences changed me. They made me much more pessimistic and untrusting of our government officials. I was lucky enough not to have been in any major firefights and trudging through the jungles like the grunts did.

My worst times were seeing people suffering the effects of war; some of those scenes haunt me at times still today. An old lady who wouldn’t shut up when the police told her to do so, so he shot her right in the face. People so hungry they dug out the pieces of meat in the hot, soapy barrels where we washed off our meal trays. Families mourning the loved ones who were killed in the villages.

When I returned stateside, I was treated the same as the rest of the returning GI’s; horribly. One thing sticks in my mind in particular: I was walking down the sidewalk in Oxnard and noticed a car passing by with a couple of pretty round-eyed girls in the back seat. I smiled and waved at them; they both immediately flipped me the bird. I thought that they must be local girls that didn’t like the military, but as the car passed, I saw it had Iowa plates on it. After I got home in Oklahoma, my friends and family treated me OK, no outright hostilities, but not a lot of them rushing up just to greet me and say welcome home. When I did tell of my experiences in Vietnam, most of them thought I was just making up war stories to play the hero. So after about two months of that, I called the local recruiter and told him that I wanted to re-enlist. At least, the Navy people understood me; my shipmates were more like family to me than actual blood kin. Turned out to be the best thing I did. I stayed in for 20 years, had a good career and raised a great family.

I don’t have any Agent Orange issues that I am aware of.

As far as the war goes, I think the war was lost by government bureaucracy. I have a few fond memories of good times with my fellow Seabees; for the most part, I have been able to put the bad times behind me.