An Interview with David Keister, A Vietnam Vet
John got his wish, to live and die for his country. He had always dreamed of saving someone's life, and then he could die satisfied. My father told me that many of the men thought the same way John did. When I asked my father why he went into the war and didn't just hide out in Canada, he said that he had his pride to defend. He wasn't going to run away from an opportunity to fight for his country.
He, too, had the dream of fighting for his country, but he didn't think it would be that soon when the time came to leave. I asked him if it was hard leaving his wife and two children. He said that it was very hard to leave his children behind, because he wasn't sure if he would ever get back. As it turned out, his wife filed for divorce while he was fighting a war for his country.
The hardest thing for him to deal with, when he came home "after serving his time," was the fact that most of his friends had not come back. Also, while he was in Vietnam, he watched as most of his friends and comrades were killed and then brought back to the tents in body bags. Along with the feeling of not knowing what would happen next or if tomorrow he could say thank you to God for sparing his life one more day, he developed his motto of taking one day at a time. To this day this is his motto.
My father received a purple heart for his efforts. However, he has a plate of metal in his knee. He also told me that he was hit with a gas bomb and went back out on the field and fought again, not resting until the night. Sometimes he would go for what seemed like days without water.
"When I got home, I couldn't believe all the people who had died for their country and how many flags were flying to show support for those at war. I saw the many protests on the streets outside of federal buildings, colleges, and high schools. People everywhere were protesting their views of the issues that were bothering them, like how many people were dying, and how many were coming home wounded, mentally ill, or scarred emotionally for life."
When I asked my father about the men who fled to Canada, he said that their actions disgusted him. "I don't know how some of these people could ruin their pride, just because of fear."
When I asked him if at any point he was afraid, he replied, "I was frightened when I had to leave my family and when I was training in Cambodia. I was scared when we were being bombed and when I was dehydrated. I thought I would never get to see my children grow up, that I would never see my wife. I was frightened when I saw the many people leaving in boxes; and when I was coming home, who would be there to greet me--my children, my ex, who?? Who was going to be there to help me through the aftermath of the war? I was not just scarred through that time...I was petrified. I always will be."
Now I know some of what my father went through. I know the true meaning of the war, and I know that this is not something I would want to have to go through. I guess that I can't stop what has happened, and I can't stop what is to come; but, being more educated of this horror, which never leaves my father's mind, I can say that I will try my hardest to make sure that no one I know has to go through this agony.
My father will carry these horrifying images in his mind for the rest of his life. He is frightened inside and still has nightmares; but he says that if he were told to fight again, he would! That still confuses me, but I guess he thinks that a little more horror won't kill him.
copyright © 1996 by Amy Keister, all rights reserved
By Greg Mather
The city of Saigon was swelled by visitors from the countryside. There were celebrations and even fireworks. I was drinking with my buddies enjoying the celebration. I was wishing I was home with my family and friends, but celebrating is still better than fighting.
Little did we know that thousands of communist Guerrillas had slipped into Saigon weeks before, dressed in ordinary clothing. The Guerrillas were mingling with crowds of Vietnamese traveling to the city for the holiday. Hell, I probably partied with a few of them myself.
Explosives, rockets, and automatic rifles were smuggled into the city in carts of farm produce. The Vietnamese brought weapons into Saigon right under the eyes of the American soldiers. They were going to attack the U.S. Embassy. The embassy was completed only a few weeks before at a cost of several million dollars.
At 2:45 in the morning, while we were still partying, some of the Guerrillas fired on two guards and then entered the grounds, shutting the embassy gate behind them. The Guerrillas blasted a hole in the embassy wall with plastic explosive and climbed through it. There was a brief exchange of gunfire; two guards and several of the Guerrillas fell dead.
The Americans inside the embassy hastily assembled a force to repel the attackers, who were keeping up a steady stream of automatic rifle and rocket fire. By morning all of the Guerrillas, who had attacked the embassy, were dead. Five Americans had also been killed.
At this point nobody knew what was going on. Some of us who were celebrating didn't even hear about this until the next day. I can still remember celebrating when the American soldier next to me screamed for help as a bullet ripped through his lungs. The attack on the embassy was only a small part of the battle now raging in and around Saigon.
Not since the Battle of the Bulge in WW2 had American forces received such a shock. I was one of the lucky ones; I survived.
Author's note: This is a work of fiction based on facts from "The Tet Offensive" by Charles Wills, published by Silver Burdett Press in Englewood Cliffs, NJ; 1989.
copyright © 1996 by Greg Mather, all rights reserved
By Glen Premo
What do I think about it? I would have to say Confusion, Death, Wrongful Death, Propaganda and a War that took so much from everyone in our Country.
I was fortunate enough to be raised by an awesome Vietnam veteran, Edward Michael Trzeciak. Everything I learned about Vietnam, I learned from him. I have heard different stories about Vietnam, but I chose to believe him. He was there. He saw the bloodshed of many soldiers; some were his close friends.
And, all for what? I don't think anyone can answer that question.
This war took a major toll on Ed. He once told me about a horrible event that he feels is his fault......
"TREE!!! FIND OUT WHERE THOSE DAMN REINFORCEMENTS ARE!!!!"
Ed and his men where receiving heavy Vietcong fire. "SIR I CAN'T GET TO THE RADIO I'LL GET SHOT," Ed said as he fired his M-16 rifle into the jungle.
All of a sudden someone was calling over the radio. "HOLD YOUR FIRE, HOLD YOUR FIRE! DAMN IT HOLD YOUR FIRE!"
The sounds of gunfire diminished...
Come to find out, the reinforcements had arrived on the wrong side, and the point man was shot and killed by friendly fire.
To this day, Ed thinks that if he would have called and found out where they were, that man would not have been killed. The guilt that Ed feels is so severe...when he told me about it, he broke down in tears. So did I because it's almost like I can feel his pain. I hate to see that. I love that guy so much; he is so important to me. He took care of me ever since I was a little baby, and I was not even his responsibility.
Now he attends his veterans' meetings and gets together with old war buddies. He talks to me about the war. He once told me, "Glen, we won the battle; but we lost the war."
The Vietnamese suffered more casualties than the United States, but we did not achieve in keeping the south a free country. Ed feels that one of the major reasons why we lost the war was lack of support from our country. He said the soldiers would watch TV and see protesters with signs that said "Baby Killers," and then they would spit on returning soldiers.
This was definitely not good for our troops' morale. To this day, Ed still does not like the "hippies." That may offend some people, but neither he nor I care. I feel that our men were seriously undersupported. I only wish I was alive then to make a little difference. I definitely would have supported them. People got so tied up with protesting the politics, they forgot about the hundreds of thousands of men in Vietnam fighting and dying over there. I agree the reason we were there was unclear, but I would have stood side by side with the men.
Every now and then Ed takes me to Washington D.C., and we visit the wall. That is such an emotional place. Ed always has a list of names he looks up. When he finds them, he runs his finger across the name and stands there. While he does this, I stand there silently; and I know he has all he can do not to break down and cry. Sometimes I think he wants his name to be up there next to all his friends. After these thoughts, my heart breaks. It's almost like I pick up his pain and feel it. It's a terrible thing.
I would like to dedicate this paper to my favorite person in the world, whose influence and teachings made me the man I am today. My best friend:
copyright © 1996 by Glen Premo, all rights reserved
December 13, 1996
During the Vietnam War, Randy Putnam was a teacher working in Saigon for the Air Force. He taught South Vietnamese Air Force pilots English so they could go to the United States and be trained to fight in the U.S. Air Force. He worked with his students eight hours a day for six months. The following are excerpts from things he said in an interview with me.
One of the things that I remember the most about Vietnam was not so much the war part of it, but the impact of the war. The leader of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh, died; and I remember asking my students, who were about 25-30 years old, what they thought about that. I had thought they would be really glad their enemy was dead. Instead, they responded with great sadness. They viewed Ho Chi Minh as our country views Abraham Lincoln in many respects, especially as Blacks in the South during the Civil War would see him. Frankly, what was going on in their mind was a civil war, where they were fighting their own people with a different set of ideas. Ho Chi Minh was viewed by both sides as a hero in Vietnam.
The other thing I was really surprised about was what one of my students said. He said I had to realize that families in Vietnam were still brothers and sisters. One would be living in North Vietnam, the other would be living in South Vietnam. When you think about our own Civil War, there were families divided between the North and South. When they told me that, I realized the United States really shouldn't be in that country. I knew if we ever withdrew, it would only be a matter of time before that country would basically come together.
Our school was blown up by the V.C. just about the time I was getting ready to go home. Some people were injured and a couple of civilians were killed by the explosion. It was very difficult, but many of us thought and still feel to this day that some of the students were probably Viet Cong sympathizers or even members of the Viet Cong.
The V.C. were basically underground in the South and ran throughout the villages. The South Vietnamese troops were mainly from the cities or were villagers who had been drafted against their will into the Army. So, you had a combination of a reluctant army made up of peasants fighting against basically local boys who were in the villages but on the communist side. If it had not been for the foreign countries interfering, the Communist Government would have overthrown the corrupt, so-called "democratic" government of South Vietnam without the huge death toll.
Randy told me that, in Vietnam, teachers were looked upon with great respect. He was invited over to his students' houses and was able to see the war from his students' point of view. He became friends with his students only to see them shipped off to fight. To this day, Randy is grateful for his experiences in Vietnam. Unfortunately, he has never heard from any of his students. He can only hope they survived.
Kelly Van Schaick
copyright © 1996 by Kelly Van Schaick, all rights reserved
I asked my father about how his family was affected when his brother was drafted to go to war. The initial emotion they felt was obviously being very worried about what would happen to him. They remember seeing and hearing about people dying all the time. Everybody was not happy that we were in Vietnam; and, at the time my father's brother was going to war, neither were my father's parents. They didn't want their son to be a part of the war. He knew it was his job to go and fight for America.
After my father's brother came home, he had a very good story that he told my father. He was a point man for his rifle platoon. They were stationed in Merony Delta. A night firefight had gone on all night and a lot of his platoon was dying or injured. One of the wounded soldiers was still under fire, and his life was in obvious danger; so my uncle put his own life at risk to try to rescue that man. He got the man out of danger and later received the Bronze Star with V, which stands for valor. That was my uncle's shining moment in his tour of duty in Vietnam.
I asked my father about his own feelings about the war, the draft, and Nixon. I asked, "What were your feelings when you heard Nixon was sending more troops to Vietnam?" I also asked him if he was worried about dying in the war. He replied that he volunteered for service in the Army but did not care much about dying yet.
"But after I was in the Army for about a year and saw the realities of war and Vietnam, dying started to make me a little nervous. I first heard that Nixon was sending more troops to Vietnam in 1972. I was at Fort Benning in Georgia and was training K-9s for use in Vietnam as scout dogs. It made me very uneasy to hear they were sending more troops, because I figured I would probably be sent next. I got very lucky and was sent to Korea."
I asked my father if he thought he would be drafted and have to go to war. He said he joined the Army because he figured if he joined, he would have more say about where he was going to serve and possibly not have to go to Vietnam. At that point, he really didn't have an opinion about the war. All he knew was people were being killed, and he didn't want to be there.
As the time went by, I started to understand that my dad did not serve in Vietnam; but the war was still a big influence on his life. I asked about his feelings on the government at the time of war and if he thought we should have been in Vietnam. My dad took a few seconds to think and then said, "The government took the North Vietnamese Army way too lightly, and there should have been more bombing in the North. The bombing was working great, but they stopped because of all the pressure coming from home. I understand we were killing some innocent people, but there were also many bad people dying that wanted to kill us."
My father continued, "At the time I was in the service, in 1971, I thought we were doing the right thing. Now, after all these years, I've learned a lot about the war; and one thing I really believe is that there was only a small minority of people in South Vietnam that actually wanted us there. This was the main reason it was so difficult to win this war. The enemy wasn't just the North Vietnam Army but consisted of a very large proportion of the South Vietnamese people who didn't want us. Most of these people didn't have uniforms and were very difficult to find."
The final thing I asked my father was if drugs were a major problem there. The answer was simply, "Yes."
I asked him to expain a little, and he told me that when people were nervous, which was most of the time, they drank or smoked or did drugs to help kill the boredom. When people were not fighting, they were doing absolutely nothing; and drugs took their minds off all the terrible things around them.
copyright © 1996 by Andy Ferrara, all rights reserved
By Kerri Tessitore
On December 12, 1996, I interviewed Richard Di Caprio, a Vietnam vet. Mr. Di Caprio seemed uncomfortable about the interview at first. He switched his leg movements constantly, played with a toothpick, and got up a couple times and walked around the house. As the interview went on, he was very brief in answering the questions but did his best on all the details he remembered.
Mr. Di Caprio was drafted early in January 1966. He had no choice about the matter. After graduating from high school, he was classified as 1A--top of the list--to go without any circumstances or accept the penalty of going to jail.
When he arrived in Vietnam, the only expectation he faced was to eventually go home. He also was scared about the war, over all, and was afraid of being shot or killed. He never really overcame any of these fears while in Vietnam. Mr. Di Caprio was in Vietnam for twelve months to the day and was sent home in July.
From 1966 to July 1967, he served on the United States Army as a helicopter mechanic. When he was in Vietnam, thoughts went through his mind of people who didn't serve or came up with excuses for not fighting for their country. Mr. Di Caprio thought that outlook was unfair. He was very angry and disappointed that men didn't want to serve their country. When the time came to start fighting, Mr. Di Caprio thought the United States was fighting a losing battle. Nothing was resolved between the two countries.
The Vietnam country itself was beautiful. However, the area where he was fighting was a jungle where it was hot and humid. The villages near him had a stench from the sewer that made him sick to his stomach, and he never got used to the smell as the time progressed. When he wasn't fighting, he wrote letters to his family and girlfriend to kill time, updating them on what things were important to tell them; but he kept his distance on the war.
For fun and to keep his mind off of fighting, Mr. Di Caprio tossed the football back and forth with his friends, boxed, and had a pet parakeet that sat on his shoulder. Being in Vietnam and thinking of all the things that could be going on back home, Mr. Di Caprio heard on the news that there were protests going on about the war. He felt that having the protests was a big disgrace to the United States.
At the end of his time in the war, Mr. Di Caprio arrived home to the United States with a large amount of people waiting for the soldiers to get off the plane. As he took steps into the crowd, he felt spit on his face and heard protesters in the background as he tried to get through the crowd.
After he came home to his family and girlfriend, Mr. Di Caprio suffered through many nightmares. He had these nightmares for six to eight months. These nightmares were about friends that were killed in Vietnam and the ammo dumps being blown up. To help him overcome these nightmares, he drank more then he would have normally.
After being in the Vietnam War, Mr. Di Caprio has many different feeling and aspects on the war. He feels that it was a pleasure to fight for his country. On the other hand, he wishes that the war wasn't long lasting and that there was a reason to fight in Vietnam.
After being in Vietnam and fighting against the Vietnamese people, he developed prejudice due to the situation. At first when the question came up, Mr. Di Caprio wanted to pass and go on. He knows that it's wrong to feel prejudice and that's why he didn't want to answer the question.
Mr. Di Caprio feels that war wasn't right due to the fact that the servers didn't know what they were fighting for...there seemed to be no meaning to the war, and Vietnam had no assets to help gain anything for the United States. After stating this opinion on the war, he feels that he would go and fight again only if the circumstances were different and there was a purpose to be there and something to gain.
He talked about all the movies that are shown about Vietnam. He feels that some are true to life in Vietnam; but, on the other hand, some are untrue and don't tell or show the real life of war in the Vietnam.
His overall memory of being in Vietnam is the helicopter flying, the guns shooting, little children begging for food, people picking through the garbage, and urinating on the sides of the roads. These memories will stand in his mind throughout his life, and he will never forget those days in Vietnam.
The last question that I asked Mr. Di Caprio was if he'd let his sons go to war. He had a pausing answer. He felt that if there was another war that came around like the Vietnam war, he would tell them to go somewhere else outside the United States. He also feels that the United States isn't prepared for chemical warfare like there was in Vietnam with Agent Orange. Overall he wouldn't want his sons to go. But if his sons went over his word, he would be proud and accept their wishes.
copyright © 1996 by Kerri Tessitore, all rights reserved
By David McDonald
My main goal, like many of the brave men that were there, was to get out alive. I had been on many patrols before, but it wasn't until two months of waiting before I got in my first firefight.
It was the day before Thanksgiving, and we were in a cemetery. The cemetery was a great place for an ambush because the graves were raised above the ground, so they were out of the water; and the tombs and mounds of dirt made great cover. My lieutenant, Naputi, said to hold fire until he shot first. He waited very patiently and then slowly squeezed the trigger that would surprise the enemy. But instead the action slammed shut and a loud click echoed across the cemetery out into the rice paddies. He had forgotten to put a round in the chamber.
The Vietnamese knew we were there. They shot many times at us. I noticed that my machine gunner wasn't firing, and I immediately reacted. I ran over to the gunner. He had been hit. On the way over, I ran past a moaning man, and I said to him, "Hang on, I'll get you the medic."
He replied, "I am the medic."
I then proceeded to fire the machine gun, round after round. I sent bullets in all directions. I didn't realize that my barrel was starting to glow from the extreme heat and was letting my enemy know exactly where I was. The enemy began to retreat, however, and I was awarded a Bronze Medal.
Another sad moment that I remember is when my friend was killed by a booby trap. We were out on a patrol and found a booby trap. This particular kind is where one is set up and six smaller ones are set in a six-foot circle around it. He was disarming the trap like he had done hundreds of times when another member of my troop stepped on an adjacent one. The mine blew off his leg, and shrapnel hit my friend in the neck and split his aorta. It killed him within a matter of minutes. Some excess shrapnel hit me in my face, and I now have two scars that will never let me forget that horrible experience.
Now looking back on the war, it is very scary considering that if you asked every troop if they could find Vietnam on a map, 90 percent couldn't even do that; and they were fighting there. I really didn't think of much while I was fighting. Everything just became a reaction. You would do things that you didn't know you were capable of doing. Basically you would use your "fight or flight" instincts. I can honestly say that I have never been so scared in my whole life. My muscles would tighten up and knots would form in my stomach. All your instincts came from training. There is nothing that can compare to going to war. Nothing in the whole world.
There were many things that leave me questioning why they happened or what made them happen. After my friend was killed, I was stationed with six of my men the following night when three Vietnamese men came walking by. I wanted to kill them so bad to get back at them for what they had done to my friend. I had the pin on the grenade pulled; and for some reason, I have no clue why, I let them live. Ten minutes later about fifty to sixty men came up the same trail. We killed them; but if I had killed the first three like I wanted to so bad, I would not be here today.
A soldier named Potter told everyone that he was not going to fight anymore. He was forced to and was killed that very night. I spoke with the medic after that, and he said that it wasn't the bullet that killed him, that he had seen many more serious wounds that people lived through. He did not know what killed Potter. Call it whatever you want, but I say that he knew that he was going to be killed that day.
There were many young kids that went into the war thinking that this was going to be a little gunfight, just like every young boy did when he was little. In this one instance a young man wanted to walk point; and a few men down the line, a man stepped on a booby trap and blew his leg off, sending his boot past this kid's face. I could see it in his eyes; that very moment he became scared for the first time in his life. From then on, he knew that this was no toy gunfight, that he really could get killed in this war.
Another fear I had when I was there was of snakes. I can remember my sergeant saying, "There are 101 different kinds of snakes. Ninety-nine are poisonous, and the other two strangle ya ta death."
One of the things that I will never forget is the smell of death. Of all the scents in the world, that would have to be the worst. I would instantly become sick when I would smell that.
When I returned home, I was ignored for the most part. But I would like to say that I have no hard feelings for the people that found ways out of the war because they were sticking up for their beliefs. There is nothing wrong with sticking to your beliefs. I also do not have any animosity towards the Vietnamese; they were just pawns of the war.
copyright © 1996 by David McDonald, all rights reserved
By Helen Greenough
"Any teachers who would give an assignment like this are either an _(expletive deleted)_, looking to cause pain or have fathers who won't talk about Vietnam."
"Fred" got really nervous when I asked him about Vietnam. He enlisted in 1969, around the age of 20. "Fred" had known memorable experiences of Vietnam. His expectation of the war was to bring freedom to the Country. He was born and raised in Canada but came to America to fight in Vietnam.
I asked him how he felt about the people who did not serve. He said they were smart...they didn't have to come back to the American people's outrage. He coped with the war over years by wiping it out of his mind; but yet, he thought it was right to go fight. He said when he came back, he couldn't find a job. He applied many places; but when he said he served in Vietnam, his applications weren't even looked at.
"Fred" was in Vietnam for one year and actually was frightened for fifty-two weeks. Up to this day, he still has nightmares about it . One nightmare was that the Vietnamese were coming to kill him in his bedroom. Then he said he wiped it out of his mind. When he wasn't fighting he was drinking. He was upset "and wanted to man the m-50" which meant he wanted to kill them all. His family was very supportive.
"Fred" becomes very emotional when seeing a movie that deals with Vietnam. The most he remembers about the war was sadness.
As the interview went on, he started to get very upset and emotional. I had asked him if he had ever gone to the wall; he said, "No." He also said he could never go due to all the people that he had known. He then said he speaks from experience--he saw 24 hits all under the age of 18 years--he said the mission was to find large numbers of Vietcong.
copyright © 1996 by Helen Greenough, all rights reserved
By Karen Sgambati
The bracketed paragraphs are Karen's reactions.
Subjt: Re: Interview help?
Date: 96-12-11 18:41:23 EST
From: Haveco 1
To: Karen 0726Q
I was drafted in October 1967. I was a college student before that, but I screwed that up. My only reason for going to school was to avoid the draft and that wasn't a good enough reason. I was asked to leave school in April; and by the middle of May, I had my 1A draft card (1A means "come and get me").
I took the Army physical in July; I got my draft notice in August; I sold my car in September; and I reported to the draft board on October 12, 1967. The next day, I was in Fort Leonard Wood with a shaved head. I was scared and bewildered. The experience was so much different than anything else I'd ever been through before that. I was just sort of numb.
[It all happened so quickly...there wasn't anytime to say goodbye to family and friends...I guess they didn't want them to have time to think about what they were getting into...too much free time made them think too much....]
I was in the Army from Oct. 1967 to May 1969. I was in the first group of men that were sent over when President Johnson decided to get serious about building up the troop strength in Vietnam. I got to Vietnam just after the Tet offensive and right before the less publicized May offensive.
[A year and a half out of your life...19 months; 586 days; 14,064 hours...imagine all that was lost due to the war....]
I was in Vietnam for 13 months, 6 days, 4 hours, and 20 minutes. I was in the Delta in Vietnam. It was all rice paddies and water. We went to war in boats. There were no tunnels in the delta because they would be underwater. We would go out on 3-5 day missions, and then we would stand down for a day to let our feet dry out. On almost every mission, we made contact with the enemy. Sometimes it got pretty heavy.
In the heat of the battle, you think about staying alive and doing your job right. You don't want to let your buddies down, and you don't want to look stupid or too scared. I never overcame fear...I used it to make the right choices. The saying was "don't be too John Wayne," meaning what works in movies doesn't work in real life.
[The enemy...I wonder what it was like to shoot someone...to not know if, at the end of each day, you would still be alive....]
When I was in Vietnam, I didn't hear a lot about the protests back here. The Army filtered out most of that, and most of my friends who wrote to me avoided the subject also. I was aware of Jane Fonda's visit to North Vietnam, though; and it was a real kick in the teeth. It was treason as far as I could see it, and I still can't look at her without seeing her sitting on an anti-aircraft gun and laughing like it was the best day of her life. The press had a field day with that.
[I wonder how it felt to find out the country you were off fighting for hated you...didn't want you in Vietnam...and protested the war, while you were off fighting for your life daily....]
When I got back, I had to spend some time in the airport in San Francisco waiting for a plane home to Chicago. Frisco was the center of antiwar activity and flower children, who didn't see anything wrong with treating us returning GIs like the war was our fault. I had a woman call me a murderer. Other guys were spit on. We were, in general, treated poorly.
There were no brass bands or parades or even signs saying welcome home. My answer to this was to stay drunk for as long as I could. Then, as I sobered up, I decided to deny that I was even there. I couldn't hang with my friends anymore because they didn't treat me the same as before. They didn't want to talk about the war either. Only a small group of college buddies came through for me, and I love them for it. Mostly, I just made new friends.
[Nobody understood what the Vietnam veterans had been through...all they saw was the killing and destruction the war brought with it...they didn't think about how the veterans gave up their lives to defend them....]
You ask me if I thought the war was right. No it wasn't. I didn't see that at the time; but the facts remain that, right or wrong, it was my duty to serve my country; and it was against the law to avoid the draft. Arguments have been made on both sides of this issue, but the choice for me was simple.
Would I do it again? Yes. I still feel that it is everyone's duty to serve their country in some way. I am proud to be a veteran, and I don't feel that I have anything to be ashamed about. I couldn't feel this way if I had ducked my responsibility.
What do I remember most about the war? The smell and the sounds. People's faces have blurred, and I've forgotten most of the names; but the smell of gunpowder and napalm and the sound of chopper blades are still vivid in my mind.
I've been told that a smell can be the most powerful trigger for memories. I found that to be true when I was in Niagara Falls on my honeymoon. We were walking through a gift shop on the Canadian side when I smelled some incense that I'd smelled five years earlier in Vietnam. The smell made me feel warm and comfortable because it was burnt in family alters in their homes. For an instant, I was there. I bought what I thought was a lifetime supply of the stuff. It's all long gone, but I could smell it now and be back there again.
[Funny how things remain stuck in your memory...things you'll never forget....]
copyright © 1996 by Karen Sgambati, all rights reserved
Everyone was scared. The man on TV picked the first box. He read the birthday without any emotions. It was just a birthday for him. But one of the guys in the room, who had the birthday that was picked, looked like he would faint. I never spoke very much with that guy, but I felt bad for him.
On the other side, I was glad that it was not my birthday number. I was number eighty-seven. This was a small number, although it does not sound like it. I knew that I had to go into the military. I felt strange. I could not believe it. I never thought that the war could affect me.
Some people said that I would have to fight there all the time and that I would have to eat the meat of the dead bodies. I was not sure if I could believe them or not. The only thing I believed was that I would not sleep at night because the bombs and helicopters were so loud.
The first thing I saw when I arrived was the beautiful land...the fields, the seas, and the jungle. I did not see the bombs, the helicopters, nor the enemy. That night I could hear the birds. It was a beautiful night. I could see the moon, the stars, and then--I thought I could hear bombs, guns, and people who were screaming, far, far away. But it was just a dream.
The next morning, I woke up and had the feeling of fear in me, in my bones. I could not get up. This had been my first night. After this night, I was scared about everything.
We walked through the jungle. It was not as easy as I had thought. My backpack was heavy, and the weather was sultry and hot--hotter than any summer that I had known. There were many insects, which bothered me constantly. Even though we didn't have much water, we weren't allowed to drink it because the insects would be drawn to us.
We walked for hours until we found the enemy. We heard a crack, and everyone knew that this was the enemy. We could not see them, but we shot in our surroundings until we could see them. I heard people falling from the trees screaming. We won, but I did not feel like it.
I was confused. I killed people. They hadn't done anything to me, but I killed them. I couldn't think about it this way. I had to think that I fought for my country, my family!
We didn't fight that much. Most of the time we walked through the jungle and looked. We walked through the jungle, and there were no leaves at the trees. The others said they sprayed something called Agent Orange. It destroyed the plants and destroyed the foliage. After this, we could see the enemy earlier, and we didn't have so many losses.
After quite a while, I didn't feel bad about what I did. It was just normal. I had to do this or I would get killed. The first time I thought about it again was when I heard about the protests at home against the war. I was afraid that everyone would hate me. I didn't want to go back. I came back two years later, after I was wounded in my leg. When I came home, my family and my friends treated me warmly.
A few years later, I heard about Agent Orange. I knew a lot of people who had tumors or other diseases caused by Agent Orange. The government didn't believe the vets for a long time. We (vets) fought for our rights. And even today the government doesn't really believe us, although they know that we are right.
During the war, they sprayed Agent Orange with helicopters into the jungle. They didn't care what kind of people were down in the jungle--the enemy or only a U.S. soldier.
We didn't have a shower every day. The Agent Orange stuff had enough time to get through our skin until we could wash it up. I was lucky. I was in one of the last groups. They sprayed the stuff in front of me. I never touched it.
Five years ago, I went to the Vietnam Memorial Wall. I wasn't sure if I really wanted to go. I didn't want to see the names of people I knew; but I went there, and I saw a lot of names that I knew. They made me cry. But I also didn't see as many names as I expected. This made me a little bit happier because I realized that they made it home. I saw people crying, old and young people. Everyone there was thinking about someone. There was a sad silence.
I hope that the wall is a good deterrent for people who think that war is a lot of fun. Because it is not. War is the worst and most frightening thing that people have conceived.
copyright © by Leonie Hoffmann, all rights reserved
By Brian Milne
The war in Vietnam was beginning to escalate; so, when I told my family, they weren't too happy. They did support me, though; and I don't think that I could have made it through without their love and that support. I spent 13 weeks in basic training, IRC, and gunner school. Then it was off to Vietnam.
I can still see the explosions and the gunfire on the mountain as the plane flew over it. I hadn't even been in Vietnam a half hour, and already I'd seen firing. I was so sick, I almost got sick.
When I got off the plane, I met up with my platoon. It wasn't long before we were out in the boonies. We would spend a month or so out there, coming back for a day or two, and then heading back out. Many times, when we were out there, we went weeks without seeing any action. During those times, we went out on patrols and set up ambushes; but nothing happened. We also had some fun. When it got slow, we played cards and talked; it wasn't so bad.
When we finally saw action, it was a relief. You would finally know where the enemy was instead of having to stay still, praying a sniper didn't hit you or that you wouldn't step on a mine. I would get really scared when the shots first were fired, then I realized I didn't do any good doing nothing. When I was in boot camp, I was taught to fight for Country, God, Corps. When you really fought,then I though, you didn't give a damn about those things. You fought for yourself and the guys fighting with you. You fought so that your friend didn't die trying to save your life.
I served 13 months in Vietnam. When I returned, I was asked to stay in the service...not to go back to Nam but to just be a Marine. I couldn't do it. I wanted out. It's not that I was messed up or anything; in fact, I would say I had an easier time then others readjusting. I just wanted it all to be over.
The thing that did bother me, when I returned, was the race riots. I guess because I had fought beside Blacks over in Nam, it was different for me. Many of my friends hated Blacks for no real reason. In battle, you fought for the man that stood next to you, no matter what color his skin was.
When I got back, I still had a battle to fight; but it was with the hatred in my own country.
copyright © 1996 by Brian Milne, all rights reserved
By Kate Anderson
I didn't encounter the enemy until I went on patrol because most of the bases were secure. I was a medic in the infantry, 4th division; so I wasn't in that many battles. But I did stop counting firefights after 11 or 12; I was in about 18 altogether. Most of the time I was fighting, all I could think about was saving my ass and people yelling, "Doc, Doc, I'm hit Doc!"
Most of the people you couldn't get to. We had to triage, which is treat the worst first.
One of the things that I remember most about wartime is my buddies. When it came down to the fighting, they were right there beside you. They would live with you and die with you. We also smoked a lot of pot. It was very cheap. We would smoke to make us feel good. You never knew if you were going to die, so why not die with a high? We did everything together--showered, ate, slept, and fought together. Then they got shot and maimed; that's why I don't want any buddies today.
Another memory is when we were pinned down by Charlie, and they were ready to overrun us. The captain called in napalm. When the planes came in and dropped it, Charlie was so close even we could feel the effects of the napalm. The hair on our arms burnt right off, but none of us really got hurt from it.
I feel the Vietnamese weren't as wrong as society made them out to be. It was their war, not ours. We were meddling with an issue that was none of our business. We were just an obstacle to get by. I don't have any negativity towards them. It wasn't their fault because they were listening to their government, just like we were.
I would not do it again if I was asked to. If it was a war where we knew we were defending our country, on our soil, then that would be a different story. I feel the war was a war of the people who had money because they made money off the war. I think it was B.S. The U.S. Government was killing innocent, young people for no substantial reason. If I had known then that they let people slide who went to Canada, I would have definitely gone. Uncle Sam really screwed us over.
Because of Vietnam, I now suffer from nightmares related to PTSD...post traumatic stress disorder. I dream of Vietnam. I can still see my friends dying, can see blood and guys saying "Doc, Doc, Doc." Maybe if I had gotten there early enough, I could have saved them.
When I first got back I got married; but my flashbacks and memories effected me so bad that my wife thought it was weird, and we got a divorce. I would wake up at night sweating profusely. I would walk around the house and be tired in the morning from lack of sleep. That effected my work at my job.
I would run away from all my problems, and I did a lot of traveling...like to Texas, Florida, then to Vegas. I took drugs, drank, and ran the streets all because I was running from this problem. My parents were glad I went in the military; but when I got home, they knew something was wrong. I couldn't even go to a club. I would get to the door; then my head would start shaking because I didn't know what was behind that door.
Now I am seeing a shrink and am learning to face my problems and fears. I haven't had a joint since 1981; and maybe, on occasions, I get a bottle of champagne with orange juice. It takes me a month to finish that bottle.
I have resolved most of my fears, but one thing that I still have trouble doing is getting close to someone. I don't know if I'll ever be able to have and keep a buddy again.
copyright © 1996 by Kate Anderson, all rights reserved
Born on the 28th of April, 1949
"What does she know," I thought.
A year later, though (I was in college), my idea changed. I thought (like my mom did) that it was not good. With a few other people, we protested against the war in front of the cafeteria. People passed by spitting and throwing things at us because a lot of people still thought the war was good. They thought, "We should stop the communists. We should draw the line right here because if we don't, if we allow communism in Vietnam, it will go to other countries, too, and finally take over the world."
(This was called the "domino effect.") Another thing was that the government said we were winning the war.
Somewhere in 1968/69 when more and more people were drafted, we were sitting around the radio with a lot of college students, listening to the lottery. Every now and then, I heard somebody crying "Oh my God" or something like that; and then we knew another person had a problem and could be drafted. I decided not to go if I had to. I'd rather go to Canada and never return or go to jail. Fortunately, I had a high number. My friend Mark's number was even higher. Another friend had number two, but later I heard that he had had a good reason not to go.
In '68 I remember, after the Vietcong succeeded in the Tet Offense, in which they attacked a lot of towns at the same time, the newsman Walter Cronkite told the world that in his opinion, we were losing the war. The government was lying. This changed the ideas of many people, including myself; and the protests got bigger.
I went to protests and peace marches, smaller and bigger ones. Once, in a peace march in '69 in New Haven, Connecticut, where I went to school, they threw tear gas for some reason. It was burning in my eyes and on my skin, and I got sick as a dog. I hope never to experience that again.
In a protest in Kent State, Ohio, four kids got shot by The National Guard. The country was getting nuts; we were now even killing our own people because of the war. A student strike was the result. Nobody went to school anymore for the last couple of months of the school year. I was in the last grade of college, and didn't go either. I hadn't done the last final report yet; but the teacher finally let me pass, looking at how I did before.
The thing I most remember is the excitement and the exhilarating feeling which was there all the time. All the time, we knew that that war was still going on there. I think also that we did something good when we protested the war. Finally, the protests shortened the war. Without them, the government would have been going on and on with putting people into it, so we really saved lives.
I still think the war was bad, like many people do, especially because we were wrong to be there. We lost it, and communism did not take over the world. We even have a good trade with Vietnam. So all those thousands of young guys, who could have had a life, got killed or screwed up their heads for absolutely no single reason at all...for nothing.
One way the war changed my thoughts and ideas is that I lost trust in government a little. The government, on the other side, got scared of people losing their trust. They are scared to have a war because last time in Vietnam, it turned out that they didn't really know what they were doing. In the Persian Gulf, for example, the U.S. got there; but we didn't really do anything. We didn't go in and kick them out. I think it will take some time before the government gets back their self-trust and the trust from the U.S. citizens again.
copyright © 1996 by Jonne DeJong, all rights reserved