PEG: “I’m thinking about this and that, and all the sudden we come around this corner into the valley, and two of the rocket gun ships are coming this way, firing rockets, and we’re going between them.”

What is your birth year?

1949.

How old are you?

68.

What branch of the United States Armed Forces did you serve in?

Army.

What was your rank?

E-4, which is the same as a corporal in the Marines, but because it’s not a command or leadership position, they call it E-4.

Where did you serve?

In Chu Lai, out of the divisional base camp. They divided the country into four sections- from the militarized zone south. Since it’s Roman numerals, they called it “Southern I South.” We had a big divisional base camp, and it had over a mile perimeter; just to pull guard duty every night, they had to keep one of the infantry companies in, along with the headquarters company, just to have enough spots to guard it. That means we were out in the field less. {Laughs}

Where were you born?

In Bell, California- part of Los Angeles county. 

What are your parent’s names?

Both have died; my mom had a stroke and still lived another 8 or 9 years, and then my dad just died three years ago. His name was originally Fred William Baker, and I learned stuff all throughout my life about him. He was not legally adopted by his stepdad, until he went into the military in WWII. He served in WWII? Barely. That’s an interesting story, because [when it blew up], he was in high school, in the LA area. They let you join on your 18th birthday, which was April- his senior year. He was signed up to go to the city track meet, because he was that good- he had a [track] scholarship offer for USC. They called his number- telegram, in those days- to get on a troop train to go all the way to Tennessee for training, to be an aircraft carrier bomber pilot. He told his coach, “I can’t go to the city track meet. I got my telegram.” Then they delayed it. He called his coach somehow and says, “Well, they delayed the train. Can I still compete?” He came and did three or four of his events, then rushed back to the train and headed for Tennessee. My mother’s name was Mary Grace Agal. She was raised in Long Beach, California. My dad said that because there aren’t many divorces in the ’30s and ’40s, they legally adopted him because if he died, it would be easier for them to get the death benefits, because he wasn’t married. {Laughs}

Do you have any siblings?

Four. Two have died; [an] older brother, two grades older; another brother, two grades younger; a sister five years younger, and a brother ten years younger. 

What city did you grow up in?

It took all of the family to count, but we moved 24 times in 18 years before I left home. Why did that happen? Multiple, multiple reasons. [My dad] coming back from his service, getting married right away, then getting a job, going back to school. He was a minister for a while, and started as an associate pastor in the Methodist Church; they moved him around every two years, and then you’d get reassigned and have to move- within a district area. Sometimes, because you weren’t the head pastor, they’d find you cheap housing, and move you over here, so you’d go to the same elementary school. Not big moves, but a different neighborhood, and stuff like that. Choices later on, because he decided that he wanted to teach in school, and then again moved. Then, he wanted to get out of the big Southern California 3,000 kid- three year high schools, because of the baby boomer generation. Kindergarten through high school, I never had a class with less then 30+. No teacher’s aids, no nothing. I grew up in Los Angeles County, and headed what would be East in the San Gabriel Mountains. Basically, moving East past [there] towards Covina and West Corvina, which are East of LA. Then, when I was 10, there was a lot more moves, [and] we moved to the city of Orange, in Orange County. It was small- every town was small orange groves. No freeways but I-5. Our playgrounds, if there weren’t enough people to play at the school in the summer or on weekends, were in the orange groves. Pre paintballs- you could just throw oranges at each other. Orange trees are not very big- at the max, they are maybe 20 [feet tall], and thickly packed- so easy for hide-and- go- seek. They have eucalyptus trees, and they grow 80-100 feet tall. We would climb up those 20-30-40-50-60 feet trees and build forts. It was [fun]. 

What schools did you attend?

There would be too many [elementary schools]- and I couldn’t remember them all. Where did you graduate high school? In the city of Orange, at Villa Park High School. It was the second high school- my other brother finished at Orange High School as a senior, and when they opened up the new Villa Park school, only sophomores and juniors went, so I started there. Where did you graduate college? In Orange County, at Cal State Fullerton. It’s now a university- used to be a college. 

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

We’d play in what you’d call washes- [in] Covina, West Covina, East LA area- because they never had water unless there was water coming out of the mountains. They dried up in the summer, because they weren’t year-round full-blown rivers, so we’d play in those- catch lizards. We’d call them blue- bellied lizards, because they would grow to [be] four to eight inches long. If you grabbed them by the tail, they would disconnect their tail. If you turned them over, they’d be all grey and sand-colored, but they had a white-blue oval on their stomach. If you rubbed that real soft, eventually it’d put them to sleep. We’d cut bamboo, and make high jump[s] with them; because you’re young, you’d just pile it up with sand, and that’d be your landing pit. You’d kick your feet and scissor over it, so you’d land on your butt or feet. That was good enough when you were 10, 12, 14. 

Did you play any sports growing up?

A lot; by the time I was in eighth grade, [my dad] ended up teaching, and as I mentioned, he had an offer [of a] track scholarship to USC. Then, of course, it wasn’t there when he got back. He even played football and fast-pitch softball when I was growing up. They didn’t have slow-pitch. I can remember even earlier, [being] like 7-8-9 [years old], going to watch his softball games. A lot of those games were won by a score of 1 to nothing. He was the #2 pitcher, and the catcher. It was pre- good gloves, so he’d come home and have to soak and ice his hands, after games. They would be so swollen, and red. It was fun to watch those games. As early as we played sports was fifth grade- in sixth grade, you could play flag football, and that was about the only thing. We played flag football for those two years and then in Southern California, where I lived, junior high was 7th-8th-9th. Some districts, 9th was high school, but not down there. In 7th and 8th grade, you played flag football, and in 9th grade, you started tackle. I played all three years, and ran track as well. 

Tell me about high school.

Some of the high school kids [came] over because they were recruiting for the cross-country team. The longest distance they had- they didn’t have cross-country in junior high- was a 6.60. Everything was yards, not meters yet, so a lap and a half. That was the only race they had. They came over to watch some of that and said, “You might be a good runner. Would you be willing to run cross-country in high school?” I said “Yes,” and I ran cross-country and track, and depending on the school and the year, basketball and football. In the big high school, I didn’t play football. I was about 5’7″ or 5’8″ my sophomore year, maybe 105 [lbs],- so I skipped football. I hadn’t played basketball in junior high, but we had an elementary school by our house with chain link fence that went up about 20 feet, covered with ivy, and the kids that didn’t play a lot of sports might go there after school. I got good playing on the sandlot courts, like baseball. I tried out, and made the lowest-level basketball team as a sophomore. Junior year, my dad wanted to get out of the big Southern California districts, and we moved to a mountain resort at Big Bear Lake, which is across the valley from Palm Springs. The smog would back up all the way from LA, come down that valley against those mountains right by Pasadena, and it would [be] in our air before they started backing off on smog control. It would get up on the mountain- top over 5-6,000 feet. They didn’t have a track- they had a track team, but no track, because it was pre- 1968 Mexico City Olympics. They would come up there for football and basketball, but for some reason, they wouldn’t come up for track, so they never built one. They built it a couple years later. I went from a 3,000, kid three year high school to a 400 kid, 4 year high school, which meant that evenly divided, there were only 200 boys in the whole school. You’re a junior, so if you have any idea of ability at all, you could play any sport, because you’re a[n] upperclassmen, too. I went back and I played football; even as a junior, I only played junior- varsity, because I was still smaller. 

Were you drafted or did you enlist?

Yes. {Laughs} This was pre- draft numbers, so I quit after my freshman year of college and volunteered for the draft, which meant you got two years instead of joining for three.

 

Why did you choose to do that?

Combination of reasons- mostly because my girlfriend at the time, who’d I’d met at the Big Bear High School, had left with her family.; even though she’d grown up there, they’d moved to Nevada for her dad’s job. South of Reno, Carson City- the next town is Gardenerville- Minden, two towns that had grown together, on 3-95. We were getting serious- at least through letters. I was two years older, so I was a freshman in college, she was a junior. I would fly up there- you could get a stand-by flight out of Orange County for $29- I’d go up and see her once every couple months. Her real dad- her mom was remarried- either went wacko, was wacko, or got PTSD, when they didn’t have a name for it, from the Korean War. He was in the Marines, and he came back and was abusive. You ever see the old show M*A*S*H? If you saw the tents, there were basically four corners, and a stove pipe going up through the center. He had his family- which was that girl, his wife, and him- living up at Big Bear Lake, in the snow, in one of those tents, on a cement foundation. For some reason, he didn’t want his daughter- who was about two at the time, who had never known him, since he had been gone, [and] wasn’t comfortable with him, didn’t know from anyone else except that she was supposed to call him Dad- he didn’t like her being barefoot. Maybe it reminded it reminded him of the peasants, of the kids, in Korea- I don’t know. Anyway, he picked her up one day and threw her against the tent, because she was barefoot. Luckily, she didn’t get one of the stands. Eventually, he got removed, and put in a mental institute. She would get warnings when they were going to release him or not- she was afraid he might come back, but he didn’t. So, I didn’t want to us to get married, possibly have kids, and then me get drafted. I didn’t want that to happen, so I told my dad, and being a WWII veteran, he was fine with [it]. Although, my older brother was a conscientious objector, which my dad did not like. He was fine with it, but my family was an era where you just did what your parents told you, and there wasn’t big family meetings or discussions. I just made the decision, and told them- I didn’t ask him, didn’t consult him, didn’t ask him what he thought. I finished my freshman year, and went in and was drafted right after the next school year started in October of ’68. 

How old were you?

19 by one month. 

Did you pick the service branch you were in?

Well, I thought I did, but we got down- because it was Orange County, the induction center was still in LA- you’d meet a bus, and they’d take you down there. You’d come in, and they’re doing the final physical or paperwork, whatever else they’re doing, and this drill sergeant Marine guy comes out, and we’re all there in a line, and he looks at the line of about 10-12 people or so, and he points and goes, “You, you, you, Marines- this way.” He didn’t pick me, and that’s when I was thankful for being a scrawny runner. We were looking at each other like, “I hope he doesn’t come back and need a couple more before we’re processed through.” Then, we were processed through into the Army. That was a scary moment. {Laughs}

What was your boot camp or training experience like?

It was before they put limitations on it, so it was quite harrowing. I’ve had coaches, but this was beyond coaches. They could curse at you, they could kick you in the butt, and do other stuff- they didn’t strike you [or] hurt you, but they could come close. They’d be in your face, cursing, screaming; their theory [was] to break you down and build you up later. That you’d follow orders was part of it, regardless, and not think about it. In that situation, that’s how part of that theory worked at the time. You’d talk to people on the bus- one guy had his purple cape, and he looked like Prince, before his time, and had long hair. They get you all in there, shave you, give you military stuff- and you gotta re-greet everybody, because you don’t know them anymore. You only knew them for a couple hours on the bus ride. I had come out of cross-country and track, so after a week or so, I knew where everything was- when we’d go to the rifle range, to practice shooting, and the exercise area, this or that. You would start out organized, in your ranks, your platoons, your company, and then one drill sergeants would start leading you, but they, after a while, knew that the lead knew where you were going, and would trust you.  They’d fall back, and start yelling and screaming and kicking, and bothering the people who were lagging behind, and weren’t physically fit. Several of us that were really fit would take off;  we weren’t supposed to, but we’d jet away, because they weren’t there to catch us, [and] get to where we were going. It [was] like getting a birthday present- five minutes of peace and quiet until everybody else arrived.

How did you cope or manage with expectations?

Probably from coaching, although maybe on that, like I said- I didn’t have a lot of instruction, or explanations of how it happened, or how it would be, but just [to] follow along directions, and try to not be the person they focus on, or they might make you do push-ups until you dropped, then give you one minute’s rest, and then they’d make you do more. The sergeants would have contests, and it was old barracks- I don’t know how old, but there was no foundation- it was pure block, and then a little garden. They would bet each other, and then say, “Ready, set, go,” and you had to lead formation in your platoon of 40 people, and get under that building [and] dig out the dirt. You learned that the skinny guys go first, and then the dirt starts getting dug away, because it’s pretty sandy, and then you start pulling the bigger guys through to help win. Stuff like that. {Laughs} And [they would] throw your mattresses out of the second floor window, because they weren’t made properly, when we were gone on training maneuvers. If yours was out there, you had to drag the mattress back upstairs and make your bed [to] see if it would happen the next day. They would come down the hallways when you were supposedly [in] “time-off”- there was no time off, but you were done with everything- and they’d start picking on people, trying to find someone. [They’d] have you drop as they say and say, “Give me 50 more push-ups.” For instance, one time I remember you could hear them messing with the people on the first floor- I was at the far end of the second floor- and they came up and messed with a bunch of these people. He comes, and he’s standing over me- you didn’t want to do anything, because if you twitched wrong, they would have you do 50 push-ups. I just sat there, and I was spit-shining one shoe. I wasn’t even going to put that down and pick up the other shoe, because they might say, “That’s not good enough. Give me 50 push-ups.” So I wasn’t switching the shoe, I wasn’t adding more spit, nothing. Just round and round and round on the toe of that shoe, and he stood over me for about 3 minutes, which just felt like forever. Since I didn’t do anything at all different, he finally said, “Nice job.” Of course, I laughed or chuckled, and that was it. Push-ups. {Laughs}

Where exactly did you go during the war?

We flew into the big airbase outside of Saigon, Cam Ranh bay. I expected to get off the airplane and be handed a little rifle, from the news, and the media, and everything we saw- and you didn’t. That felt odd, and scary, all at the same time. They had you pull guard duty for a few days, new people, until they assigned you to different places in the country. They gave you unloaded weapons- that didn’t feel good. Later on, you presume that you were some interior position, and you weren’t really near where anything would happen, but you didn’t know that. You got powered eggs, which was like green, so you thought of Green Eggs and Ham, from Doctor Suess. Then you’d get assigned to a unit- I think it was within a week or so. Then I was flown up to Chu Lai, in Southern I core. They gave us another week to 10 days of training there, and acclimate; they give you familiarity with that area. I was assigned to the 198th Light Infantry Brigade, in a divisional base camp out of landzone- so everything was LZ Gator. DLM told me about LZ Bayonet. I don’t know how close that was to me now, but there was the 198th, and the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. There might have been another, but I remember those two, because the numbers were so close together. The basecamp that brigade was all in was LZ Gator, and three companies would be out at a time, helping headquarters keep the perimeter. If you ever heard of Lieutenant Calley, who did the Mỹ Lai massacre- he was in the 196th– the group that was South of us. I was aware that we were in the same area just North of that operational area. 

What was the weather like?

{Laughs} There was part of the year where all day long it was hot, and dry, and humid, and it would build up through the day, and then at 5 o’clock it would rain for half an hour, and it wouldn’t be quite as humid, and cool off, and it’d start over for the next day. 110, 115°, high humidity- I remember that was near the beginning of my tour, which would’ve been April/May/June. Then, the monsoon season; when you would make jokes, or sayings about it, “The rain would’ve never hit the ground in that country, because it all went sideways, except for it ran into a building or tree.” It [was] blowing that hard, for sometimes days at a time. There was no rain gear like now- Columbia jackets, waterproof boots- no nothing. Every time you could, you would take off your boots, and your socks, and let your feet air out, so you wouldn’t get what we would call ‘jungle rot’. Sometimes, the monsoons felt cold- it wasn’t cold cold, but when you were literally cold, and drenched to the bone 24/7, it felt cold. We said if it ever snowed, and we got American regular winter gear, we’d win the war, because they’d all freeze to death in their silk pajamas and sandals. In-house jokes. It’s a weird coping mechanism, the type of humor. It’s not the same you would use in normal circumstances at home. 

What was your job or assignment there? Did it change over time?

First, just regular 10B- which is regular infantry- and then at various times, I was the platoon sergeant’s RTO, the platoon lieutenant’s RTO, and then with the company, commander’s RTO. He had a group to communicate with each of the platoons or squads. Then, if you got injured or sick, or on leave, they might replace you. You were either back down a notch, or back in infantry. [There] was no real protocol- you just did what they said. 

Did you see any combat at these locations?

Oh, yeah. On TV, the news anchors and the people against the war believed and convinced the American public that we were losing the war. The North Vietnamese army came down in conjunction with the Viet Kong in the South, [and] basically organized attacks all over the [whole] of South Vietnam. We beat them back, and beat them so badly, even though the TV and the newscasters didn’t show it, that it took them years to rebuild. The North Vietnamese basically stayed in the North to rebuild, and the Viet Kong were pretty much wiped out, because they’d used them as the front attack force- their sappers, which is trying to creep in and throw satchels of explosives. They lost so many of those [that] they were in their rebuilding phase by the time I got there in June of ’69- so I saw combat, yes. There were big pitch battles, but a lot less then there had been. 

Tell me about any specific memories or experiences that stand out.

One is looking back over time, and saying, “Why did I say that at the time?” Obviously, you get that when you get over there, and you see things happening, and it goes to a deeper level, emotionally, and then a deeper level. I would say that maybe people with more combat would say that it goes more, but at least four different levels of realizing same thought, different level. For instance, the first time [was] when we were out in Chu Lai. I wasn’t even assigned to the 198th yet, and I was thinking, “Maybe if I sign up and ‘enlist’ for a third year, I can get out and be in the supply company,” or something like that. Or, “I have one year of college- maybe I can do headquarters work.” Then rockets came in off the hillside mountains, and killed people right there in Chu Lai, at their division basecamp. You weren’t in a combat, so to speak, situation. And I thought, “Okay- glad I didn’t sign up for another year.” They also tell you, if you sign up, you have infantry training and they’ll send you right back to the country for another year. That was the first time. Then, when I got to the division basecamp at LZ Gator, my particular company was already out in the field, in the jungle. They had come down off high rides into a valley, and found an NVA basecamp hospital. If it was an NVA basecamp military, they would’ve all been wiped out. Since it had some guards and some troops, it was a basecamp hospital, with tunnels and stuff, [and] they got pinned down. They were there for over a week, but they didn’t have the military forces to wipe them out. They were getting hand grenades rolled down on them at night, and fire; they were communicating back to LZ Gator what was going on, asking for artillery. It was such a deep ravine that they couldn’t really fire artillery into it. They sent two more companies to relieve them, and try to break them out of there. Sometimes more of the army- at least in my experience, then the Marines- were not as gung-ho. They were [just] trying to survive their year and go home, because they were drafted. It’s not like today’s volunteer army, which is a lot better- militarily, and motivationally. It’s more like a team. They’re more geared to that, because they joined. Everybody’s trying to survive their 365 days and go home. I can’t say it is, but we believe that the two companies were moving slowly to get there, because they didn’t want to get involved. They were hoping my company would solve it on their own. So I’m hearing that chatter on the communications back at LZ Gator, because I haven’t joined them yet. Finally, they get there and break that up. The next day, they’re going to fly me, several other new guys that now have come in, some people coming back off of leave, or out of the hospital from injuries, [to bring resupplies of] ammunition, food, etc., in. We’re flying in, and I’m in one helicopter- there are multiple helicopters- and this first helicopter goes down. We’re not all going down together, because it’s too narrow, too deep of a ravine, so we’re up there kind of circling, and seeing the rocket-gun ships firing rockets around them. [Our guys are] popping yellow and purple smoke grenades to identify our own position so they don’t shoot them, and [they] drop the goods and let the people off. I see the helicopter that went down first pull out, and it didn’t seem like it was down enough. The new guy- you could tell by his bright, new, clean fatigues, and probably the wide-eyed look in his eyes- I’m sitting right behind the pilot, and I say, “What’s going on down there?” “Oh, a couple guys got wounded on the helicopter before it could touch down. They’re taking them to the hospital.” I said, “Are we gonna go down there?” “Oh, in a few minutes.” So we’re circling along the rear, they’re firing more rockets back and forth all over the hillside, and we go what seemed to be far away. We go down to treetop level, and come right up. My imagination was going wild; nobody’s talking- everybody’s [in] their own fearful thoughts. It looks like you can almost touch the trees. I’m thinking, “What if we come around a corner and hit a tree that’s sticking up? What if we crash or get shot down and I’m the only one that survives? I’m not in contact with this group yet.” I’m thinking about this and that, and all the sudden we come around this corner into the valley, and two of the rocket gun ships are coming this way, firing rockets, and we’re going between them. They go like this [gestures separation with hands] because they’re going so fast, and our helicopters goes [up] to slow down, so it can start coming down. The pilot had given us instructions [that] as soon as we start[ed] coming down, start shoving out the ammunition and the food- everything- so that when we get down long enough, you could jump out. Because it’s triple-canopy jungle, you’d basically never touch the ground. You’d get close, because they’d blown it up with military rockets, or bombs from B52’s, or artillery. You’d get so close to the ground, and then the theory was that you’re supposed to throw your backpack out, and then jump and land on it, so you don’t shish kabob yourself on a broken-off tree limb. You do that, because that’s what you do. So we’re starting to come down, we’re shoving stuff out; you could never even put it all in a film, what your sensory is perceiving- your eyes and the sounds and the noises and the smells. We’re coming down, and we’re shoving out boxes of ammunition; our guys are in foxholes, trying to dodge those, but not uncover themselves, because they could weigh 60, 80 pounds. You don’t want those falling from 30, 40 feet in the air and hitting you. The same with food, because we were still using C rations- we weren’t using the freeze dried stuff yet. We were still using up the leftover C rations from the Korean war. They had big boxes with the individual milk cartons you’d take to school- those had gotten damp, sitting on the helicopter, so the boxes fell apart, and they were falling down like gigantic snowflakes. People were trying to catch those. You’d get down low enough- not low enough to land, but getting close- and our pilot pulls out. I go, “Why’d we pull out?” As he’s pulling out, and getting higher, he goes, “We were getting shot at.” Did you realize you were being shot at? I didn’t, because of all the noise, and the looking, and the rotor blades, but they can probably see the flashes, and they have the door gunners telling them, “You’re getting fire from this direction.” We pulled out, and went back to the base. That was not day one in the country, but day one of trying to join your unit that you haven’t even met up with yet. The next day, we came out and landed without incident. [You] jumped out, and everybody’s kind of joking with you- the new guy. Nobody really wants to associate with you. Why do you think that is? That is because the 365- “I’m here to survive, and I’ve been here three months, so I’m somewhat experienced, and I’ll hook up with you, because you’ve been here three months, and we’re friends because we trust each other to know what’s going on, and to protect us, and not to do anything stupid to get us killed.” The new guy doesn’t know that yet. Yes, he’s with us, but he’s not quite part of us yet. You gotta prove yourself. Do you think you did? Yes, eventually. {Laughs} I wasn’t goofy, I wasn’t back-talky, I wasn’t any of that, from my hometown upbringing, sports history, and coaches. I was cooperative, and quiet, and did what I was told. It wasn’t too hard, really. You had to see people going into the military at that time- they would go to the judge, and the judge would tell them, “Go to jail or go to the military.” They would choose to go to the military. Some of those people, I met in basic training, and I would say, “Maybe you made the wrong decision.” Those people would have bad attitudes lots of the time- people wouldn’t like them, the trainers wouldn’t like them, the staff wouldn’t like them. Day two we landed, and it was near evening. [We] jumped out, joined a unit, [and] stayed the night in a cover. It was a hospital basecamp; it didn’t have a lot of deep-protection bunkers, but it had been searched by our guys before, so the camouflage was just a big square hole in the ground that was probably six or seven feet deep. [We] found taffy candy wrapper stuck in the wall from the North Vietnamese being there- in French writing. [It had] an Eiffel power picture- saved that for a long time. The next morning, that other two companies that had brought us relief was in the area, and we all started moving out of our positions. In basic training, they’d told us, “You’ll know what an AK-47 sounds like.” We’d say, “What’s it sound like?” They’d say, “Well, it’s different than a AR-15, or M-16. You’ll know.” All the sudden, you hear this kack-kack-kack-kack, and it’s echoing all around, because you’re down in this deep ravine. You have no idea where it’s coming from, and you get on the ground. One of the inside jokes was, “You get as low as you can, and the buttons on your clothes are getting in the way of getting lower.” Everybody starts making sure that you don’t fire on your own people, because we were still just coming out of our general perimeter, into single-file, to move down the trails. Somebody had taken fire, and through communications and radio, [we found that it] had been the relief company that had come to help our unit. People had gotten hit and wounded, and then they’d gone up to try and help them, and those people had gotten wounded [because] they couldn’t see where the fire was coming from. They called in an airstrike, so everybody sits tight and waits. If I was my age now, I would’ve died of a heart attack when that plane came. There’d been enough fire going on that I could see up through the trees when I heard it coming; when I look up through the trees, I can see it drop its bomb. It’s behind you, so it looks like it’s going to come down and land right on you. You just [covers head with arms], and then the plane goes by, of course. It’s semi-quiet, and you hear it go end over end- whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh- you’re hoping it doesn’t hit some tall tree right above you. I’m looking around the tree I’m sitting and hiding behind, and luckily some experienced guy goes, “Uh, you’d better get behind the tree.” I duck behind the tree, and it hits-  full limbs, boulders, [and] rocks come flying back the other direction. We wait awhile, and then they don’t want to send anymore of their own people up to check on their people, so they decide our company, that had been down there, is going to go up and check on these guys, rescue them, and see if the sniper or whoever is still there. They choose our platoon out of our company, which is 1/4th, and then they choose our squad- 10 out of the 40- to go up and check on these guys. Some may be playing dead, because they don’t want to get shot if the sniper’s still there; some may be dead, or wounded. I go up with our squad sergeant to get the first person. You don’t know if you’re looking for a bunker, a tree- whether [the sniper] is there, whether they’ve left- and the first guy we come to, we grab him by the foot and pull him back to where other people are before we flip him over, and see that he’s dead. Shot right through the neck. We put him in a camouflage poncho, and then just start hauling him down the trail to his unit. People start doing the same with the others; I think there were 2 or 3 dead, 2 or 3 wounded, until they could find some spot for a helicopter to come take them out. That was day two and a half, out in the field. And you were there for a full year? A full year, but by the time I got out in the field, and had to wait for training, it’d been almost a month, and then five a half to six months, I was with artillery, because I’d been there the longest. I’d been there the longest after five and a half months, approximately. [Because of the rotation], my sergeant said, “Would you like to go be on an artillery base?” I said, “I don’t know.” He had pretty good information- he said that one was up North, further than us, where the North Vietnamese fire back at you with artillery- that wouldn’t be so great- and then one’s here and one’s here. You choose to play the odds. You could stay with the thing you know, and the people you know. I said, “Two out of three could be better, because you’re on a base- you’d have some protection.” So, yes. I got what turned out to be the best of the three; it wasn’t the North, and it was on a little base that used to belong to the French in what used to be French- Indochina. They were there after the Japanese in the defeat in WWII, and they moved back in and tried to make it a colony again. That’s when the war erupted there, with Ho Chi Minh, with support from the Chinese. When the French left in ’54, it was never declared a war. 

Can you tell me more about the jungle?

They had what we called ‘wait-a-minute’ vines. The wait-a-minute vines could catch your backpack, your antenna, your rifle- anything. They were just fine, and you’d say, “Wait a minute,” because you’d have to untangle yourself.  You would have the antenna up- it was old fashioned, not like modern stuff- that took up a lot of weight. That was one benefit from being fit from track and cross-country. It was 25 pounds, before adding ammunition, food, water. We called it a Prick 25. People would get paranoid, or feel that, “Well, they’ll shoot the radio guy first if you get an ambush, so then they can’t communicate.” Or, they’ll try and shoot the officer first, because then you’d loose your command. So, unless they wanted to talk, I’d take the antenna and fold it down your shoulder strap. The jungle, where we were, it wasn’t an option to hack your way through, and go off-trail. You had to be careful for landmines, and ambushes. It wasn’t on the low-line country, where you could choose a route. You never saw an ounce of daylight. [The trees] were so thick, and layers of vines, that not one speck of actual daylight got through. It was like dusk as dusk could be, right before dark, all day long. That was as bright as it got. When it started to rain, even if it was the heavy monsoon season, if there was a break in the rain, and you were dry, and you heard it raining up there, you would have time [for] everybody to stop, take off their backpacks, take out their ponchos, put it on, put your backpack on, and keep moving down the trail before the rain, no matter how heavy it was, could work its way through [before] dripping on you. 

What were the most trying and difficult moments of service?

That first time when I didn’t get there, [and] the day and a half later, to pull out the first killed person that I had to work with. Probably when I was already in the hospital, later on, with dysentery. They don’t believe your sick, lots of the time, because people are trying to get out. You hear the occasional story of someone shooting themselves in the foot, or pretending to be sick when they aren’t, so when I’m saying, “I got a fever, I’m throwing up my food,”- so what? I’m already probably 10 pounds under my running weight, so I’m probably 125 or lighter. You’re throwing up, and you can’t eat anything. By the time they believed me, we’d gotten out of the jungle, in a more open area. Since I’d carried the radio for the platoon sergeant, they were more apt to believe me. I don’t know if they took my temperature, but I know when I got to the hospital, it was 105°. They let me go to the hospital, and you could go into the mess hall and eat, but you’d feel like you were going to throw up. I’d only eat a bite or two, but they were still military, so they wouldn’t let you take your food back to your sick bed. You’d only eat a bite or two, feel like you were going to throw up, go back to your bed, and then if the water that they had by your bedside was too cold, or too warm, I’d throw that up. It had to be perfectly warmed for it to stay down. While I was in the hospital with that, a third of my company got killed or wounded. That doesn’t mean 120, because we were never full strength. Because of the rotation, most of the time our squad of 10 was 7. That would make a platoon about 28, instead of 40. Out of the whole company, [30-40 men were killed.] You’d hear helicopters at night, but you’d feel safe, because you’re in the hospital. You’d say, “Wow, somebody must’ve hit some action,” for them to be medevacing them out at night, and not waiting for daylight. If there was light injuries, they would wait until the day time. I wake up in the morning, and I’m looking at these people, and it’s people I know. You start saying, “Do you know what happened to so-and-so?” There’d been monsoon rains, and we’d come out of the jungle, so it was rice paddies and hedgerows. What feels comfortable to us when we’re civilians is to be up against that hedgerows. You’re supposed to be on the outside of the hedgerow, facing across the next open area, so you can see what’s coming at you, but they got lazy and didn’t do that. It was raining, and they didn’t set up the trip flares or the claymore mines, and most of them probably didn’t even dig foxholes because of the rain. In the middle of the night, they start getting attacked, but they think it’s the mortar rounds, because they can’t quite hear all the noise, because of the rain. They’re landing right in their perimeter, but no one’s firing back until someone steps inside the perimeter with an automatic AK-47. Everybody finally figures out and decides to fire back into the bushes, because they were on the other side of the hedgerows throwing over grenades.

[There was an] interrogation- it’s funny only because of the good outcome- it was getting to the end of the day, and we were leaving, and we found a tunnel. We didn’t have an assigned tunnel rat, but the guy says, “I want to go down and look.” He takes a pistol, and a flashlight. He’s looking in there, they’re talking about how he’s gonna do it, my group standing around- I’m a little farther back- and all the sudden, they’re jumping back. A round was fired out of the tunnel. He’s jumping back, and they throw a hand grenade down there. Afterwards, he picks up his helmet, and there’s a bullet hole from the inside out. He was jumping back, and his helmet [flew back]. 

The [Vietnamese] kids were always asking for cigarettes, because they could sell them. They never believed you, because they knew that every person who got a C ration got some cigarettes. I would just give them away, because I didn’t smoke. They think you’re not going to give them to them. They did know some English- ‘cigarette’, ‘GI’- and then if you said no- ‘you lie, GI’. They always, for some reason, liked the menthols- they didn’t like regular cigarettes. 

We were walking down the jungle trail in that dusk atmosphere, and there was a slight curve in the trail. One guy- we had him as our point man, and [it was] his second tour, which was rare, so we really trusted him. He was training a new point guy- the first two were out in front of him; the new guy learning, the second tour guy teaching, our platoon sergeant, and I was carrying the radio, so I was probably fourth or fifth [in line]. The new guy stops dead in his tracks, turns, looks at the experienced guy, and goes, “Hey, who are they?” Now, if it was a bad situation, the experienced guy would’ve had to shoot right through him, and kill or wound him to protect us, and get the bad guys. By the time him stopping, and him spacing up a couple of strides, he was able to knock him out of the way and open up on automatic fire. That first guy never lived that down- that military humor. “Hey, who are they?” Wherever he went, he’d get it all the time- “Hey, who are they?” [And] it’d been some of us, in camp or something. He heard that the rest of his tour. 

Another time when I did get wounded was [when] we were coming out of the jungle again, into a small village. One of the few times I saw elephant grass- taller than you. Most of the more rural villages would store their grain in shacks, or huts, away from the village, because of the mice and vermin. That would save them having so much of the pests in the village- they’d get it and eat it in the village. We were just coming out of the elephant grass and took M79 grenade launch fire- they’d get them from us or the South Vietnamese in battle sometimes. We’d call them blooper guns, because you could fire them straight up to about 50 yards. They’d fire, and they’d go bloop! You’d wait to hear where they’d hit. Everybody falls on the ground, and then you had to figure out where it was coming from, and attack that position. It was coming from those outlying things, so I was with one group that threw hand grenades at one. It’s not John Wayne and European theater- if you went up against a building and waited for your hand grenade to explode, you’d be dead, because it comes through the straw. You have to run a few steps back, and since they were jungle grenades, they’re not 7-10 seconds, like WWII, for long- distance throwing. They’re close in- range throwing, so they may only be 4 seconds. I took only a couple steps, because I had been in actual combat myself and had to drag that other guy out. It was probably one of our own hand grenades, or their fire- probably one of our hand grenades- that I got wounded by. What happened? I took a few steps away, jumped down and faced it, because as soon as it goes off, you’re supposed to jump up and run in, ready to shoot, or shoot as you go in. I was down, facing it, like this [covers head with hands], and even though I was face-down on the ground, it still hit [my] hand. Did it go through? It’s still there. It didn’t do any major damage, although you get injured sometimes and you don’t know, or the pain doesn’t hit- it goes off, and I go and grab my rifle, cradle it to go in, and then I realize my hand is [spurting blood]. As soon as I went to cradle my rifle, it was spraying at me. You still go in and check it out, and then you go medic. It was near-evening, so they didn’t take me until the next day, because it wasn’t a serious thing. They gave me a shot, and sewed it up, and the doctor or nurse comes in and says, “Go back to your unit.” I said, “Except for my arm being swollen to twice its size from the elbow down.” That’s how poorly they checked you. They go, “Whoops, just a minute,” and go and get this doctor, who says, “What’s the matter, chief?” They’re callous, too, because they have to be. They’re looking at this like a baby crying over a stubbed toe. They’re dealing with body parts, and putting people back together. I said, “Well, she’s trying to send me back to my unit, and my arm’s swollen up to twice its size, and it’s throbbing.” “Oh, yeah, just a minute.” He goes and gets a needle and jams it in there to kill the pain and starts pulling the stitches out before that shot takes effect. By then, I’m yelling, and he says, “That shouldn’t hurt.” [I said], “The way you’re doing it, it does!” With a few other words. What that did was get me out of going back for three more weeks, because they had to let it heal over before they could sew it back up, because of the infection. That’s how I got the Purple Heart handed to me, in the hospital, because I was still here.

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“This picture was part of what got me [a Purple Heart], because I had a letter to my mom, and that picture. I was trying to convince my parents I wasn’t hurt, because I am left handed and I was writing with my right hand. They weren’t too convinced, so I had somebody take [this] picture.”

Can you tell me more about that?

I was not ashamed, because it was war combat, it wasn’t anything I was trying to do, but I was probably more like, “I don’t know if I want a Purple Heart.” I didn’t care when I went home- it was combat, and we were shot at, but it was probably an American hand grenade that wounded me. That happens a lot. I just let it go, and when it wasn’t on my permanent record, who cares? In college, and when I wanted to work at the post office for money, you got extra points for being a veteran who had a Purple Heart. I put it on the application, and they said, “Well, you don’t have a Purple Heart on your permanent record.” So I sent in a request, and it was pre-computer and everything, and it took almost a year to get it to me. By then, I’d even moved, because college, and [they] said, “We don’t have a record of that.” Okay. You’re 20-something now, you’ll never need it anyway. I was here in my late 40’s or early 50’s, when I had nerve damage, and I couldn’t do construction or a lot of yard work- it would go numb, and start [being] painful- I did my own sheetrock job, and a whole house for a friend, and it was so painful [that] when I came back, I couldn’t hold a pencil. I thought, “I may have to retire.” But, with therapy, and over time, and watching how much work I do, it’s subsided. I still have to of course watch it, that’s when I got the 10% disability. Did you use resources from the Veteran’s Hospital when this happened? I went to regular, because I knew it was that hand, but I hadn’t had any real trouble. I knew that for years, at college, [with] the big, heavy, wide lab doors- I would forget once in a while, and push it to go open with the palm of my hand, and even though it was over a year later, it would hurt internally, because of the scar tissue, and whatever else. I knew that, but that was rare, and it was only if you were slamming something. 

What were the best memories of service?

It was funny, because nobody got hurt; we had that big landing zone, and they said the sniper was inside the perimeter for a week, and no one could find him. He would shoot at us when we went to mess hall, and he never hit anybody, so it became a big joke. We said, “Eventually, he’ll leave, because he’ll run out of ammunition.” We figured that’s what happened. He didn’t come back. 

What were your friends and family’s reaction to the war?

My own brother was a conscientious objector, but he respected my choice. My dad was proud, because he had gone into WWII, [even though] he never saw combat. He finished all of his training, and he had orders from Tennessee, where he was training, to go to Florida. They had a bunch of old ships they’d just wiped the top of, and made flat, so they could practice their landing and takeoffs for a week or so. Then they would’ve been shipped, because we were all ready to attack mainland Japan. Then they dropped the bomb. That’s how close he was to being in on that. He had plenty of friends, of course, that were involved, and that’s as close as they got. He was some proud. My soon-to-be wife got engaged before we went but I said, “No, I won’t marry you until I come back, and we decide that’s okay.” 

How did you stay in touch with them?

Letters, all the time. My mom saved them all. 

What was the food like?

I know it was only 10 or 11 years after, but it was weird to see 1950’s on [the C rations]. People would get tired of them, because there weren’t that many choices, and people would’ve thrown them away, because they didn’t like it. All of the sudden, you’re in the jungle, and you can’t get resupply, so people never begrudged you- I didn’t do it very often- they would sell you a [tiny] thing of peanut butter for 10, 20 bucks. Because they could, and what use is it if you’re going to die tomorrow, and you were hungry, and they were willing to give it to you, for a price. And, they carried it. That was the roundabout justification. It was like that was the market economy, and everyone was happy. 

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

I’m sure there- I got my first pair of glasses there, and I was walking down a general trail, and noticed I kept just looking down at the trail, but I wasn’t the point man, looking for land mines or anything, or trip wires. It was fuzzy down the trail, and I thought, “It might be a good time to have good eyesight.” At 19, I got my first pair of glasses. A little anxiety there, but there would be anxiety off and on, if you knew you were coming to some danger. Every time you when out, every time you woke up, every time you got nudged by somebody in the middle of the night- your time in the pitch dark. You can’t see anything, not even hear, and yet you’re supposed to be pulling guard duty out in the middle of the jungle somewhere, waiting to hear a noise that you shouldn’t hear. Yes, there was plenty of anxiety, but I don’t know if it was my Christian roots- I’d hate to die and find out if I’m going to heaven then. Then, I didn’t think about it much- you were just minute-by-minute survival- that’s all you thought about. Did you feel that your religion, or morals, caused you any distress? No, which was good. I think part of why I didn’t have PTSD. Later on, when my first wife left after 22 years, I went to the vet center, which at the time was out by the Grotto, off of Sandy, and then got regular counseling. I said, “If I’m ever going to have another relationship, or possibly get back with my first wife, I want to find out my part. I don’t want to just blame it on her.” It was shocking, because I was a practicing Christian at the time, so I didn’t expect to divorce at all, especially with her past, and her dad being, short of all that other explanation earlier, wacko. She said, “If you’re ever going to divorce me, I want to know first.” I thought that wasn’t a question, because my parents were together, and were Christian, so I thought, “Sure. I guess so. But I don’t think that way.” When she left, and was cheating, that was a shock, and then I had to face my Christian friends, and a pretty conservative church- how they are going to feel about me divorcing, even though I don’t want it. I didn’t expect it, and I’ve been married 23 years- all my adult life. We got married 12 days before I was 21. There, they kicked me out after three times and said, “You don’t have any PTSD, get out of here.” In the military way. I said, “Well, you don’t know, but that’s the highlight of my life right here, with everything else going on.” Then, your visitation with kids was limited, even if you wanted to see them, you didn’t get to see them everyday. Two were in high school- one was getting out, and ready to go to college. Two were younger, because there’s 12 years difference between the oldest and youngest. One was 6 or 7, the other was 18, 19. I went to regular counseling, and the part that associates with what you’re saying is with the regular counselor- I went to a Christian counselor, a lady- it’s interesting, because I had had a man counselor earlier, for smaller issues. I would go to counseling, and I would say, “Okay, he’s ready for us to come as a couple,” and she’d say, “I’m too busy.” She would go to counseling herself, maybe for some issues she was dealing with herself while we were still married, but I was never invited to be part of that. We never went together as a couple, and when she wanted a divorce, that was it. You find out you can’t change somebody else’s mind. It didn’t compute, because my parents had been married, I had been married my whole adult life- I was thinking we had bought the last house we were going to buy, and it was on a big enough chunk of property that we might flagline it and build a new single-story home. These were the plans we were making, and [then] it was over. In the counseling, what we came up with in conclusion to that, was relating to all this. She says, “Okay, you come out, 18, you begin to live as an adult, you went through the 50s, were a lot of families, not just yours, was strict- you did want parents say, you don’t question, you didn’t have family meetings, you didn’t have discussions, you just did. Then, you start to grow as an adult, because you’re going out on your own. Well, you go from that to right into the military, to a war zone, to coming back, and [within] three months of getting out you’re married, college, work, moving on with your life- you never developed. It’s like the war puts an emotional cap on it. You stay 18, or 19, and you never grow emotionally. Super little.” When I started dealing with my kids, I would overreact to some stuff- looking back, at the time I couldn’t see it. I would overreact in one situation with a kid, and then another time, I might react like they would- they would use curse words. You’d met someone that was in a different platoon, and you’d see them when you were on basecamp, and you’d say, “Oh, I thought you were the guy that got your whole platoon killed by now. Why are you alive?” You would underreact one time, and overreact the next; [it was] not a balance, and [you could] never work it out. I promised after divorce, when I was getting that counseling, and got the good news that I didn’t have PTSD, that I wouldn’t date, or marry, for about two years, at least, until I was done with counseling. Are you married now? 23 years this Christmas. It’s better than the beginning, and a really neat lady. I wish I would’ve [worked it out with my first wife] for my kid’s sake, because it effects every Christmas- even if you’re getting together with your kids. It’s always there in everything- birthdays, Christmases. There’s always celebrations with a tinge of this. I can’t blame it all on the war, because I don’t know how I would’ve developed; all I know is what happened, and what probably caused it to result in where I was, 20 some years later. This is one year in Vietnam, and then I think about all these veterans from Iraq, and Afghanistan, multiple tours, and they join, so they aren’t done after a year, and heavier combat, and multiple times in heavier combat. How they can function. I feel, and I worry about them. I’m concerned about them. 

 

Do you remember anybody specifically?

[There was a guy] named Grover Green from Texas. We got to be pretty good friends, and it was interesting, because I grew up in nice white suburbia. He [said], “After the war, why don’t you come visit me in Texas, you can stay with me and my family.” I invited him the same to Southern California, and he could not believe that he would be welcome in a white family’s home, no matter what I said. I told him that my dad was a minister, and now a teacher- nothing. He could not believe the concept. Did segregation play a part of your childhood? No. Not until college, [when] you start learning more. I was always in white suburbia. I couldn’t understand his feelings about that, and he couldn’t understand that I would even invite him. 

Did you keep in touch with anybody? If so, for how long?

For a few years. There was a guy I was at Fort Benning with, and he had a ‘G’ last name- alphabetical. He went to Vietnam, and I went to a separate area. We both survived, and were able to keep in touch, and our first two children were born within a month of each other. When I got out of college, my first wife and I, and our first child, who was approaching one year- we traveled the country for 6 months, and we went back to them. They were from Pennsylvania, and we saw them. Somehow, we lost touch after that, but that was the one I kept in touch with the longest. I was his best man- his soon-to-be wife told her parents she was going with friends to Florida for spring break, [but she] came to Fort Benning, Georgia, [and] got married. I took all the pictures- one roll of Instamatic camera photos. That’s their only wedding photos- she brought a friend, and of course, she had to pay the price when she went home. They got married before he went. 

Why, or when, did your service end?

Because of the one year, and I actually got an early out, because I had pre-training, an extra two months of training before I went, which most people don’t, basic training, advanced infantry training, a little bit of leave inbetween, and then if you were infantry, right to Vietnam. When you were done with your year tour, you had about 8 months left out of your two years. All these people were coming home- bad attitudes now. “I survived. What are you doing to do- you can’t send me to Vietnam.” What does the military do with all these people? President Nixon, or whoever in his administration, came up with [that] if you extend- it was hard to get people to extend even one day- and you come home with less than six months left to serve, you can get out early. Well, because I went to Fort Benning, Georgia, and had two months of extra training upfront, when I was ready to come home from Vietnam, I had five and a half months left, and got out. I’m glad I wasn’t in infantry until the last day- that would be harder, to readjust, but I spent the last 4, 5, 6 months on that artillery base, where we only got shot at twice, and it wasn’t ever under major attack. I had that to semi-wind down, and then come home, process out up at Washington, and then I was home the next day, talking to my fianceé, buying a brand new Volkswagen for $4,200, and making wedding plans for the end of summer, because I got out in June to go back to school in September. 

 

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

I got out in June; we got married on Labor day; went back to school a couple weeks later at Fullerton, where I’d had my freshman year; graduated; became liberal for a short time, with all the training and schooling and generation going on, with my nice parents, and religious background- I said I was a hippie, minus the drugs. I took one puff on one marijuana cigarette and about half choked to death. I figured, “If it’s gonna be this hard to get high, forget it.” I never tried any of the hard stuff. I got married, [but] I wanted to wait until I got out of school, because I was going to teach like my dad and older brother; it was a four year degree- in California, you had to have a fifth year. I didn’t want to do it, I wanted to take some time off, so we sold everything we owned- I think that’s part of the overboard one way, overboard the other way- and my wife agreed, although later she said she didn’t. We wrote hand letters, because typing wasn’t cool to write to comunes- we wrote letters to over 100 different comunes, narrowed it down to 15 across the country to visit, because they needed qualified teachers. Nobody was used to homeschooling, because at that time, home school wasn’t big, and there wasn’t any other private schools except the Catholic schools, and a few Lutheran schools. The better comunes were seeking more qualified teachers, so the State would not bother them. I went around and visited 15 around the whole country, and that’s where I said Christianity came back into my life. I thought I knew what I was doing- I’d planned this all out, my wife and I sold everything we owned, except what fit into our pickup truck- no storage. [We] traveled around the country during the gas crisis of ’73, when you could only get gas depending on your license plate number. None of them were good; some were so unruly that they couldn’t make a decision. I got a letter that caught up to us that we hadn’t had before, because we let my wife’s mom know our general itinerary, and she could send a letter to the comune, because there’s no cell phones, no easy way of communicating. We went to a comune in Northern Idaho, up in the panhandle, and there was a Christian couple there. Both my wife and I had Christian backgrounds, and we were frustrated, because none of the comunes had worked, and we were trying this one, and [it] wasn’t looking all that great. We went to church in Spokane- all the way from the panhandle- about an hour drive, I think. It was like a church I’d never been to- the Jesus people. The church is more upbeat, and more normal, than the standard, traditional churches I’d grown up in. The guy would be up there on Wednesday night in a Hawaiian shirt with guitars, and music. I thought, “This [is] different than [what] I [am] used to.” Through a process, I ended up leaving the comune 3 months later, dropping my wife and daughter off at her parent’s house in Nevada, and because I wanted to go investigate these two churches that were somewhat associated to that one in Spokane, and both were in Southern California. I thought, “I’ll go to school and get my fifth year, and maybe my Master’s, so I can teach.” I went to one church and talked to some people there, and they said, “Well, we have a theology school, and it sounds like you’re the type of person we want there.” I didn’t go to the second one. You mentioned you had kids. Four daughters. Eight or nine [grandchildren]- I only say that because we have one due later this month. My [second] wife had two daughters, so I helped raise six daughters- and I still have hair. 

What was your job or career after the war?

I went to school for teaching, and then when I came back and talked to those people at that big church that had a theology school- my dad had been a minister, and then went to teaching- I thought, “I’m going to go the other direction. I’ve got my four- year degree, and I’m going to get my Master’s in theology, and maybe become a pastor for these churches.” One of the big turning points for me to come back to Christianity was [that] I thought, “People let you down, but Christ doesn’t let you down. You’re always going to let each other down, whether you’re seeking forgiveness from your parents, your family, your friends. What do you do with that if you don’t have a way to forgive each other, and somehow let it go?” I got that from some of my education courses, but a lot from my theology school, when I went there, because they had pastoral counseling, education history- everything. When I finished there, I’d combined the two, and I got hired- that’s how I got to Oregon. A group of Mennonites- which is a peace church, which is interesting for a Vietnam veteran- they hired me to come help them start a private school in the coast range, inland from Newport. I taught there a year, and I had a Master’s degree, and that was the first and only time I lived off food stamps. I was so anxious to go do something, finally, with both degrees. It was a one room schoolhouse, and I had everybody 2nd through 9th grade. That was the oldest kid- 15 kids. I had to individualized teach them- that’s where you learned how a one room schoolhouse operates, because you need the older kids to help you with the younger. There was a kindergarten-first grade teacher that had 7 or 8 kids- my oldest was in that class. They offered me $400 a month in housing, and I was making $400 a month in California at Safeway. That was union wages, at the time. I thought, “Who needs $1,600? They are going to give me housing and $400.” I said, “That’s not enough,” and they said, “Well, make it enough.” That’s another thing, after Vietnam; either you’re too strict, too careful, [even if] you’re not truly psychologically paranoid- everything is too important, and you can’t make mistakes, or it could cost you, or you don’t care, because you survived Vietnam, so who cares. I was so anxious to get that job, and they told me not to do that- and they said, “Make it enough.” I got $500 a month in housing, [but] my youngest daughter, who was 3 at the time, got giardia, which is a bad disease from well water, because it wasn’t a good well- we were on food stamps, so I kept the commitment to make it through one year, and left. I went to Lincoln City with another church, and that’s where I learned construction, and I was the assistant pastor without pay- they offered me some, and I said, “When the church is big enough,”- because it was a ground-up church- “if you make enough and you get your full salary, then you can start paying me some.” I was there 5 years, and it grew, but not that much, and so I applied for a private school teaching job in Portland, and that’s how I got to this area. It was 400 kids total, and so I taught 5th and 6th grade, and started cross-country programs from scratch. I updated my credentials- you have to take classes to keep your credentials- and I switched on a bad year. I thought, “Maybe I want to retire someday,” so I switched, and I was going to teach public school. It was the year Measure 5 started, which first limited our property taxes, which pays for our schools, so nobody was hiring. I [did] a whole year of substitute teaching middle school, if you can imagine how much fun that was. I was leading a Bible study at another person’s home, and he said, “Well, I work at the [federal government], and there’s a full-time temporary job, if you want stability.” I had my four kids by then, and I was doing substitute teaching, and repairing drywall for a construction company. That was too hard on me, and my family, and the company, so I took the sured thing, and after two months, they said, “We’ll put you on permanent if you promise not to go back to teaching for at least two years.” And that was in December of ’91. Because it’s government, and they count military time as if I started in May of 1990. So 2020, I will retire with 30 years. Get your college degree- it makes a difference. That’s why they hired me as well- not because I had any classes, or anything like that- it’s because I had a degree.

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

Still affects it, and I still see it with as we’re much more organized, better military. I don’t see much difference, because we’re not there to win wars. Like WWII- I grew up in that era with my parents, and all those relatives- winning a real war. Gaining ground, war’s over. Vietnam was not like that, Korea was barely like that- it started out like that, if you know the Korean war history. Everywhere since is to help, or knock somebody out, like Saddam Hussein, or semi-leave, like Obama in Iraq, the second time. Now, we’re still there, and upping troop levels in Afghanistan for 15, 16 years. It’s frustrating to see that, and the people that have to go to that. I don’t like that. I’m not smart enough, or have the intel, to decide if it’s necessary, but I don’t like it on behalf of the military people. 

 

How has living in Portland now shaped your veteran experience?

No, other than the divorce happened while I was living here- I got the counseling here. I wasn’t in some small town somewhere, so that helped, and I got a good counselor. I met my second wife here- in fact, the counseling pastor at our church knew us both, and sat us beside each other on purpose. He’s done it for three couples. {Laughs}

How did your service affect your life?

It made a difference, because my present wife and I talk about it- we would prefer to [have had] both our first marriages work out. We see the effect on our kids, and how it’s effected them- and it has effected all six of them, and therefore it effects the grandkids. You can’t go back and fix it. You’d like to, but you can’t. Whether that would’ve happened with my first wife, apart from the military, I can’t go back and say. I don’t know, but I know it had some effect on all that. It’s not good. 

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“This is on the artillery base called LZ Snoopy that I got assigned to after being an infantry. They’re planning artillery missions for later that night and daytime.”

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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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