TH: “The world is no worse off except there’s a lot of dead people. North Vietnamese, South Vietnamese, Americans, civilians.”

What is your birth year? 

1943.

How old are you today?

74. 

What branch of the United States armed forces did you serve in?

I served in the United States Coast Guard.

What was your rank?

I finished my Coast Guard duty as a Lieutenant Junior Grade. 

Where did you serve?

For the three years I was on active duty I served at the United States Coast Guard Academy- which is somewhat like the Naval Academy and the military academy at West Point- but it’s remarkably smaller, and of course it’s more directed toward the mission of the Coast Guard. The Academy’s in New London, Connecticut- it’s been there a long time. [It’s] kind of famous for the Coast Guard Cutter Eagle, which is a steel-hulled three-masted sailing vessel; it was a war prize, of WWII, from Germany- different war prizes were taken by different aspects of our government- the Coast Guard got that. It’s pretty famous, and it’s kind of one of the footnotes or one of the exciting things about the Coast Guard Academy. The Coast Guard cadets actually sail it. 

Where were you born?

Portland, Oregon.

What are your parent’s names?

My father’s name was Thomas, and my mother’s name was Evelyn. 

Do you have any siblings?

I have a sister, Sally, who is deceased. 

What city did you grow up in?

I grew up in Portland, pretty much on the East side, and went to Grant High School. 

What schools did you attend?

I went to Kennedy grade school- I went to a couple different grade schools but the bulk of it was Kennedy grade school- and then I went to Grant High School and graduated from there. 

Can you tell me any specific memories you have from your childhood?

Sure. My father owned a meat market, so I ended up worked in my dad’s meat market first sweeping floors, and later on cutting meat, selling over the counter- unlike Fred Meyer’s where you walk in and pick up a package- it’s like the new Fred Meyer stores, where there’s a butcher behind the counter and he picks it out for you. It was a big meat market, so I worked there a lot after school and in the summers. My father liked to fish, so we fished a lot- camping and fishing were our activities in the family. In my very early years, I lived on Peacock Lane- that famous Portland site- and therefore participated in the lane summer street dance, and the parade- I think they still do them- and put the lights up every Christmas. That’s the street my parents were living on when I was born in 1943, and I think we moved out of there when I was like in the second or third grade- then I moved to different schools, and that’s how I ended up at Grant. 

Tell me about high school.

I was active in high school, played sports- track and football. I actually have been named to the Grant High School Sports Hall of Fame. Oh, really? It’s not exactly, ‘oh, really’. I was on the track team at Grant the year Grant won the state championship- I was on the team- that means I went to practices and did some things- I did not participate at the state events. I wasn’t good enough- I wasn’t fast enough or strong enough. I did participate in various dual meets throughout the spring, but when it came time to qualify to go to state, lots of my classmates and kids in school with me qualified, and we did win- by quite a margin. I did not attend, but I was still on the team, and so when [the] Grant High School Hall of Fame group awards these 4- 5-6-8 people a year, including teams, they awarded the 1965 track team. I was on the team- I got a letter that year- so I am in a sports Hall of Fame. I kind of snuck in- back door entry. 

Were you drafted or did you enlist?

I went to OCS. What happened is, I was a student at Oregon State, and in those days we all had to register for the draft at age 18, and I of course registered, and you got different qualifications; you were 1A, which meant you were very draft-able, [and] if you had a disability or medical reason you got 4F, and you probably wouldn’t be drafted- and one of those categories was student. So I got a student deferment, and you could pretty much keep from getting drafted as long as you had a student deferment- you could also get out of the draft if you got married, which I didn’t do! But the draft boards were pretty aggressive about when you stopped being a student, you kind of moved to the top of the list. I knew it was gonna happen- it happened to people older than me- so I knew it was going to happen, so as I started to approach graduation in 1966, I applied for Navy OCS and Coast Guard OCS. You could do that on the campus- they were actually out recruiting. You take a test- the Coast Guard you took a test, I think I took a test with the Navy, too- and get interviewed. I got into both, and therefore chose Coast Guard. I had grown up on boats, my father had boats- he liked to fish, as I said. At that time in his life he had a boat that would go out into the ocean for fishing, and I actually acquired a charter license to operate that boat for hire- he had one, too. He had kind of retired from the meat business at that time, and he kept his charter license and took people out in his boat, and I got a charter license so I could do that, also, and I’m sure that had some say on why the Coast Guard liked me. I accepted Coast Guard OCS, and I was accepted for the Coast Guard OCS class that was going to start in either November or December of 1966. I applied to them for deferment to go to the next class, which was in February, because I was given the opportunity to travel to England and France to play rugby with the university. Were you good at rugby? Good enough. Good enough to make that team and go on that trip. It was kind of stinky, because there were several of us who were very draft-able, [and] had in fact graduated the prior June, that were selected for the team, and the draft boards didn’t want you to leave the country- they were afraid if you left the country, you wouldn’t come back. I remember distinctly; there were three or four of us, [and] we approached Governor Hatfield, and got some letters written for ourselves from the coach- ‘Why You Should Lobby the Draft Board to Let These Young Men Go to Europe- it’s good will for nations, etc, and they will come back, and they will serve.’ And it was granted. So [we] went on the trip, came back, and I just worked in the area until February came, and I went to OCS in February. I went to OCS, essentially, four or five months later than I was supposed to go. The Coast Guard OCS was in Yorktown, Virginia- they subsequently transferred that station to New London- so here I was in Virginia, where I’d kinda never been- I guess my family went to Washington, D.C. once, so I was in Virginia- and that was a seventeen-week course. There was about two hundred in the OCS class, and [I] completed that and was given a commission in June of 1967. While you were getting commissioned, they started assigning you things, all two hundred that got commissioned- they didn’t all get commissions, they kinda weeded people out, I’d say 15% got weeded out, and/or quit. But if you quit, you had to go on active duty- you’re not out of the military, but you got out of the OCS business. People got different assignments- some got assigned Coast Guard vessels that fixed buoys, others got assigned to Coast Guard bases all over the place. And mine popped up, ‘teach at the physical science department’- which was chemistry or physics- ‘at the Coast Guard Academy in New London’.  

Did you have any training during or prior to service?

The OCS was seventeen weeks- it was mostly seamanship, trinology, navigation- learning about the levels of the navigational instruments we used in those days- which are totally obsolete now, we all use GPS. They don’t use a sextant anymore to find you. So I got all that kind of training- but there [were] all the things about being a Coast Guard officer; there’s Coast Guard justice, if you have an enlisted person that’s reported to your group unit that needs some sort of penalty for having broken rules- how that all worked. So yes, all the basic training to be an officer in the Coast Guard. Did you feel people had high expectations of you as [an officer]? Nah. 

Do you remember your reaction to your assignment?

I was surprised. First I was surprised [because I’d never] thought about it- Coast Guard officers teaching. But I didn’t really know what to think about that. So I right away sat down with one of my instructors from the Academy, who was an Academy graduate, and he explained a lot to me about how it works. This is like probably a month before commissioning- he explained that yes, there are civilian instructors, there are [a] variety of other officers, and there is a group like yourselves, who are college graduates, non- Academy graduates, that have a special area that works for them, that go and teach, and you’ll probably be there for thirty-six months- most assignments were eighteen months- so your three full years will probably be at the Academy. At the time, there was about 800 cadets at the Coast Guard-small, where’s there’s several thousands at a bunch of military academies- he explained that part to me, too. They’re very bright young men- at the time, young men. They [were] all men. There was no women. It’s very competitive to get it- to be accepted to go to the Academy, so there’s very clearly bright young men. The cadets go to the Academy for four years- some go five, we call them retreading- and they graduate with a bachelor’s degree. They specialize either in engineering- which is not a degree in engineering, but the Coast Guard calls it engineering, which is more the mechanics of running a ship- or liberal arts, and that’s not so mechanical. Both can become captains and admirals and everything else. 

Do you remember arriving at the school you would be teaching at?

I do. It was the first time I’d seen something like this. I’d never really had any affiliations to any of the Academies, particularly the Coast Guard Academy, and they were very welcoming. When you arrive there in June, only about half the staff is there, because it’s the time of year they can take vacations, plus they are sent out on summer assignments with cadets, so groups of cadets would go to different summer assignments, kind of like more basic training, and some officers from the Academy would accompany them. There was a staff there, and in addition, part of that staff was there to indoctrinate the incoming cadets, who arrived there at the beginning of June, and were there all summer before the academic year started in the fall. They were great people; a few were, like myself, college graduates who had been given these assignments. A large number were Academy graduates who had gone back for some sort of a training to teach at the Academy; and some were career Coast Guard officers who had now made this their career, that converted from driving ships to teaching, full-time for the rest of their careers. 

Do you have any specific memories from your three years of teaching? Anything that stands out in particular in your memory?

Well, I had no idea that I was going to teach chemistry when I was taking those chemistry classes at Oregon State. I had to kind of get going, and I did. I remember when I was getting ready for my first set of lectures- I’d say in the first year of my three years- we’d prepare our lectures, and [there were] probably five or six chemistry instructors-not all taught full-time. We taught from the same textbook. There was a leader; a head of department who kind of described how we’re going to cover this textbook, and what order, and what we’re going to do this quarter and the next. As I prepared my lectures, I remember I was- maybe not the first quarter I was there, maybe the second or third- I had three lectures Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and they were at eight, nine, and ten. All three the same lecture- [just] thirty new kids in the classroom. As I got going [in] the first lecture, I totally ran out of time. I couldn’t get it done. In the second lecture, it was better. By the third one, I’d gotten more efficient, and I ran out of stuff to talk about. You can see by their faces if they’re understanding it. So in the first hour, I wasn’t getting across to them- more blank stares and questions- so I realized I wasn’t telling them about this in the right way, so you have to try a different way. It was the case of getting better and better at the same thing. That was kind of an interesting outcome, that I had time left over at the first lecture and didn’t have enough in the first. I got better at that as time went on. I taught lectures- it was an hour or 50 minutes at a time- either twice or three times a week, and then I had to do labs- extensive chemistry labs. As I said, there were like six or eight hundred cadets total at the Academy, but more than a third of them [were] in the freshman class. There was a huge amount of drop out. By the time they get to be what you’d call a senior- they call first class- at least a quarter had dropped out. Why do you expect they dropped out? Some couldn’t handle academically; some hated it. Some realized, ‘this isn’t what I want to do for a career’. It would be at no penalty if you dropped out before the end of your second year, but if you dropped out after your second year, you had to go to active duty and do either a two or four year active duty with the Coast Guard. That was okay with some. Most ones that quit, though, quit early enough to get transferred to another university and [get] a regular college education. 

Were you awarded any medals or citations during that time? 

That’s another funny story. Yes, I got a marksmanship award- at OCS, they teach you how to shoot a rifle. During this period of time- Vietnam period- anybody who was serving active duty had something called a Vietnam ribbon. So I was awarded a Vietnam ribbon, and I didn’t wear it. I didn’t think I should- I wasn’t in Vietnam. My commanding officer called me in one day- “Mr. H, I see you do not have your Vietnam ribbon on.” I said, “No, sir, I don’t.” [He said], “Why don’t you? Where is it?” [I said], “At home on the dresser.” “Why is it there? Why aren’t you wearing it?” “Well, I don’t feel as if I’ve earned that. I mean, I have acquaintances and friends who are in Vietnam. They’re earning it. I’m here at the Coast Guard Academy, and this is not exactly fighting in the Vietnam war.” He said, “That’s irrelevant. You are filling a role. It’s because we have you here we can have other people other places in the military. You should be wearing that.” I kind of drug my feet [and] I never should’ve. I said, “Well, I really don’t want to,” and he said, “Now it’s an order. I’ll see it on you tomorrow.” And it was on me tomorrow. 

Did you find it hard to keep up with what you were being taught?

I really wasn’t being taught. Not at that level. I was doing the teaching. I didn’t find it terribly hard- I had to work hard, the first year especially, to learn the process of teaching, and of teaching in this particular college textbook. While I was at the Coast Guard Academy, I also coached the sailing team. I knew how to sail sailboats, and had an interest in that, so I volunteered to coach. There was an extremely good sailor; in fact, there was a couple who were Olympians. I got involved with Coast Guard sailing [by coaching the team]. It’s an intercollegiate sport. I coached sailing in the spring and fall- they put the boats away in the fall. That was kind of a bonus, because I got to do that, and as a coach of one of the sailboats, when the cadets weren’t using it, I could use it. It was really sweet, because I could use it, personally, with friends and family, and when you brought it back to the dock, there was an enlisted person- because they had them working around the Academy- who would meet you at the dock and help you tie it up, and then he’d stand there with a clipboard and say, “What things need to be fixed or repaired?” It was like having a servant! Things do go wrong with boats, and it was nice to have someone fix them, so they would work properly the next time, for safety and comfort. These were not fancy sailboats; they were kind of basic and sturdy. I also had the freedom to play rugby; I played rugby in Hartford, Connecticut, and my wife and I met some really fun people from Hartford, as well as Coast Guard people we were friends with. When I finished OCS in June, I flew to Portland and got married. We were engaged while I was at OCS. We got married and literally left the next day and drove to New London. Our honeymoon was driving to New London. We went to Yellowstone; we went Niagara Falls- among other stops along the way. We had to get there by a certain time- I only had leave after OCS for a little while. I took four [or] five days to process through Portland and get married. I did not come home during the OCS period- cadets who lived close could go home two-thirds of the way through OCS- you could get leave for a weekend. 

How old were you?

I must’ve been 22 or 23 when I went to OCS. [I served from] 1967 to 1970. 

What was your personal reaction to the war?

Those were the years when there were hawks and doves. I was probably a hawk. We were doing the right thing- trying to give personal [and] public rights to people- protecting part of the world from communism. 

What was your family and friends’ reaction to the war?

I can’t remember anybody who was a pacifist or protester against the war- in my family. In my particular setting, it was kind of neutral. I really wasn’t in war; I was in the military during a war. There were no issues. My wife’s brother was a conscientious objector- he did not get drafted- and there were people who did that, which was a little different. 

How did you have any difficulty staying in touch with your family?

No, just distance. My family visited me in New London, and I visited my sister and her husband in Cincinnati. The Coast Guard entered a sailboat race with two boats in ’68 or ’69, or in the middle of all that, and I sailed with crew cadets in Bermuda in a race. While I was on that, [my wife] flew home. That was her only visit back in Portland, although her parents visited us in New London. I think my parents came at least once, maybe twice. 

Did you feel stress or pressure about the war and its effects?

No. 

How did you entertain yourself on free weekends?

Sailed my boat. {Laughs} I sailed a Coast Guard boat. New London is essentially halfway in between Boston and New York, which is really fun. When you went to New York, you could stay at the Coast Guard base- there was housing for officers and spouses- cheap, like five bucks a night. In Boston- I don’t think there was a Coast Guard base in Boston- one of the people I taught with was a Coast Guard Academy graduate who taught physics while I was teaching chemistry- in fact, we shared an office- his family lived in Boston. We stayed at their house a couple of times- his parent’s house. 

Did you enjoy teaching the cadets?

Oh, yes. I loved it. I loved to teach- I didn’t know it at the time. Did any cadets stand out in particular? Well, they go through you pretty fast. Every cadet takes freshman chemistry, and you see them for three terms. Once they get beyond their freshman year, you don’t really have much contact with them, except the kids I coached sailing. I did keep in touch with them while they were at the Academy. A Coast Guard ship came to Portland for the Rose Festival- not uncommon; they used to do it a lot more than they do now- and the general manager of the Multnomah Club invited some officers from one of the ships up for lunch. He knew that I was at the Coast Guard Academy, and he said, “Would you please come have lunch with me, I have nothing to talk to these people about! You can talk to them!” So that was fun, because I could kind of be the go-between; one of the officers had taken chemistry from me. And he remembered me! I didn’t remember him. {Laughs} He said, “I remember you! You taught me chemistry in 1958.” By then, he was a lieutenant- several years into his career. 

Did you know anybody specifically who went to Vietnam?

Oh, yes. Lots. Are there any people you met that you specifically remember? A fraternity brother did not come back. A catcher for the Oregon State baseball team did not come back- I knew him but we were not close friends. Of that age, a lot of people went.  Did you stay in contact with anybody who went away to serve? My wife and I stayed in contact with a couple of couples that we knew at the Academy; we were close for a while- we’d visit each other. I can’t stay we’re seeing anybody now that’s of Coast Guard era. There’s several people that I’ve come across here- now there’s several people who were at the Coast Guard Academy when I retired and moved out here- and I’ve spoken and visited with them. Not extensively, though. 

Why, or when, did your service end?

Technically, my served ended something in ’75 or ’76. I served my three years, but they had the right to call you back. I was a reserve officer; I was active duty while I was [at the Coast Guard Academy], but then you have to go back to reserve status, and they can call you back. Did you have a draft number, then? No, I was before they had numbers. I’d satisfied that obligation- it was not an issue. When I came back- there is actually an active Coast Guard reserve unit in Portland- that was meeting three times a week, and I was called and asked if I’d like to participate. I was concerned they’d say you had to participate, because they have the right to do that, but the guy I spoke with said, “No, you don’t have to do it. It’s voluntary. It could change, but you’re not required. If you’d like to join us, we’d like to have you.” [I] didn’t do it. I would’ve been 27 [when my service ended]. 

How did you feel?

I am proud I served. I really have fond feelings for the Coast Guard. Besides being a great service and being a good fit for what I had to do, it was a very pleasant time- not miserable in any way. I really do laud the Coast Guard for its mission; at the time, it was mostly search-and-rescue, saving people’s lives, and putting out aids to navigation to keep boating safety. Now- they did have some kind of a mission like this [then] but it was not nearly as intense- now the Coast Guard mission includes intensively drug interdiction. There was probably some of that going on when I [was there], but nothing like now. It’s a major component of their operation now. Why would you say that is? Well, why does the federal government think we should do drug interdiction? {Laughs} And, the Coast Guard is pretty good at it. They have the boats, and you don’t have to involve your military- your Army’s and your Navy’s- to do it, although they could. It’s a good fit for the country, and the Coast Guard. We’re intercepting boats that have drugs on them, and flying airplanes over the top, and drones, and all kinds of high-end stuff now. 

Did you come back to Portland after you served?

Yes. 

Did you have a family after the war? How did the war affect this?

We had our first child while I was in about the thirtieth month of thirty-six month stay. Our son was born in New London, Connecticut, and then returning to Portland, [we had] two more children. [Having a family while in service] just kind of came with it. We were not in a situation where it would be problematic, and others in the Coast Guard who were older than I had regular families- three [or] four kids in grade school. People my age- not all of us had children, but a few generally had their first child. 

What was your job or career after the war?

I went to work for Kaiser Permanente- the HMO. I landed in Portland in June and started looking for a job and bounced around- wasn’t a great market- but got a job with Kaiser. Quite frankly, I wasn’t sure I was going to stay- I thought, “I guess I’ll work here for a while”, but I ended up staying thirty years. I liked my career.

How did your military service affect how you think about wars today?

It’s really, in its own way, kind of the same thing- we’re trying to get democracy established, and protect populations of allies of the United States from being overrun. Not too much different than the Vietnamese- the Vietnamese who were trying to overrun South Vietnam; which, by the way, they did, and they won. And guess what? It didn’t turn out all that bad. Nothing’s wrong with South Vietnam because they got run over by communism, as it turns out. So it’s kind of futile. We did not win. Did you feel that the loss affected you, personally? At the time, I probably had feelings [that] we shouldn’t lose, we have so much more power, the United States has never lost a war before, this isn’t right- [but] in retrospect, it didn’t matter. The world is no worse off for except there’s a lot of dead people. North Vietnamese, South Vietnamese, Americans, civilians. 

Has serving in the military affected any decision making today?

It hasn’t come to pass, but it probably would’ve effected how I would coach my children if they were faced with it; of course, they’re not. It’s all voluntary army now, and none of my children have chosen to serve. I think if one of my kids had said, “I want to be in the military”, I think I would encourage it; I would not discourage it. If we were drafting people, and putting them in a place like Vietnam, I’m not sure I could support that. There’s been talk of reintroducing the draft. I’m not really against reintroducing the draft, or some sort of an involuntary conscript. You should pay your government- pay your citizenship, your nation- something. It would get excessively complicated, but it doesn’t have to be military. We’ve had things like Peace Corps, but I would favor a national conscription- not for military, but some sort of a requirement that you gotta serve, you gotta do something. Like Israel. 

Do you think being in the military helped to shape the person you are today?

Sure did. I mean, there’s no question it did. I cannot be specific about [what exactly], but I’m sure it had an influence on my life- an appreciation for what the military does and does not do. 

What do you think the general public should know about war?

I think there probably should be more concern about terrorism than war. Terrorism is more clearly a bigger threat. We don’t spend near the [amount] of lives we used to in a war environment. How many people were killed in Vietnam? Fifty some thousand? Big number. Huge number. Add the [fatalities of the] wars together- the Afghan, the Irani, the Iraq war- we’re in the thousands, but we’re not at that level, because war is so much more sophisticated. It’s not as [many] boots on the ground. Did you think it would benefit if it was? No. 

How has living in Portland now shaped your veteran experience? Have you found adequate resources and connections?

I haven’t had any use or need for veteran’s affairs. I don’t have any physical [or] mental issues, so I don’t really have a use for veteran’s affairs. Therefore, since I haven’t [needed] to tap the system, I couldn’t have possibly had any trouble with it. 

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This interview has been lightly edited for readability. However, to maintain integrity, and to respect the stories of the veteran, content has not been altered from the original transcription. This interview was originally recorded and later transcribed. Questions partially retrieved from: 

“Guidelines.” Veterans History Project. Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 23 June 2017. <www.loc.gov/vets/guidelines.html>.

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