When I was deployed to Afghanistan I loved hearing about how my Uncle Wes had been to Vietnam. I didn’t know very much about his story, but he gave me small peeks of what it was like to be deployed during Vietnam through his letters. When I began to work on this series, I really wanted to hear his story for this series.
But I didn’t realize how much hurt was buried from the events that happened during his deployment to Vietnam. I have loved working with him to share his story. And have learned so much about the Vietnam War and hope that sharing his story will help honor those who served and those who lost their lives serving. Thank you for sharing your story Wes.
Rank during deployment:
How old were you when you were in Vietnam?
Current rank/current job if you have left the military:
I am retired
Where did you deploy to?
How long were you in Vietnam?
How did you end up serving in the Army (i.e. were you drafted or volunteered)?
I was a draftee and served two years.
What was it like to serve in the military during the Vietnam War? I know that soldiers were not treated the same way as they are today.
That’s a tough question because I haven’t talked to anyone recently who is currently serving and has been through a modern version of basic training. All I can say for certain is that at Fort Ord we were treated as something less than human. After basic training things weren’t nearly as bad.
What was you or your team’s mission?
To provide artillery support for infantry units and to disrupt enemy troop movements. We spent most of our time deployed along the border next to where the Laos and Cambodian borders meet with Vietnam. Disrupting the flow of troops and supplies down the Ho Chi Minh trail was our prime objective.
What was your job?
I was a gunner in a 105 MM Howitzer battery, although I did volunteer for other assignments that included providing security for civil affairs teams that interacted with Montagnard tribes people. While on that detail I helped relocate several villages that were in so-called “unsafe zones” to more secure areas. That was all part of a relocation program known as Edap Enang…
What cultural differences do you remember between the country you went to and the United States?
The Montagnards lived in grass/bamboo huts and lived on rice and other things they caught in small bamboo traps placed in local streams. They also did slash and burn farming to raise other food crops. I hope I don’t sound as if I’m criticizing them in any way because that isn’t my intention. They were just trying to survive.
What landscape differences do you remember between the country you went to and the United States?
I grew up in the central San Joaquin Valley of California (flat, hot and dry) and wound up in the central highlands of Vietnam (Mountainous, humid & wet, wet, wet!).
Were there any particular foods that you ate while overseas that was different from the United States?
All I ate was either C-rations or mess hall chow when it was available. Occasionally hot food would be choppered out to us in Mermite containers which was a real treat. But even in base camp (Camp Enari) the cooks served dehydrated eggs and crap like that.
There is no way I would have eaten the stuff the Montagnards prepared. Occasionally I was able to snag some LRRP (Long Range Patrol) rations that were much better than C rations…
What was the hardest thing you faced with the cultural difference in the country you were deployed to?
Most of the people I dealt with were Montagnard tribesmen and they lived a very primitive existence. If you gave anything of value to them, they would take it into town the next day and sell it. So when the civil affairs people gave them a bar of soap, for instance, they would cut it into three or four pieces first. It took me several years of reflecting on it to understand how desperate those people really were.
Did you have any regular frustrating situations or a frustrating situation you can share about?
The frustrating situations were an ongoing, everyday experience. Probably the most frustrating was being ordered to pack up and relocate the battery one day. We were near roads and could use trucks to move instead of choppers for a change. A small bulldozer was flown in to bulldoze everything after we left so Charlie couldn’t use any of it. We had only gone a couple of miles when we were ordered back to the position we had just left to provide fire support for an infantry unit that was under attack.
We had to dig everything out and rebuild the firebase we had just left! I took a rough count once and determined that we filled 20,000 sandbags every time the battery was deployed to a new position.
The way wars are fought today are so different than the past. I can’t imagine what it was like to experience combat every day. When I was deployed I loved the care packages you sent. Did you receive care packages?
I received packages from my mom. She was great about that. Other than that I only received one package from a family in Coos Bay Oregon at Christmas 1967.
Do you have anything you received in a care package that was of value or you remember. (You sent me the pearl while I was overseas and said someone had sent it to you.)
I’ve always been a John Steinbeck fan and that book “The Pearl” really meant something to me. I received it from a family in Coos Bay, Oregon. I’m sure I still have it here somewhere, probably in one of the many boxes I have that still need to be unpacked. Some of the items in the care package were in a little red cloth bag and I still have it also.
Technology has changed so much, how did you communicate with family back home? Was there a way to get letters back and forth?
Although mail delivery was somewhat erratic, depending on our location, getting and receiving mail was possible.
What is the one thing you remember most from your deployment?
The chaos, noise and fear and that I made it home in one piece without any bullet holes in me. I have said many times over the years that I feel blessed to have made it home at all.
Is there a memory or story from your deployment you want to share?
When I came home from Vietnam in March 1968, I was greeted with dirty looks or indifference. I went into a bar in the San Francisco airport to have a beer while waiting for my flight to Fresno and people actually moved away from me when I sat down. After all that was sacrificed by our troops I really hope that none of our military personnel ever have to experience anything like that ever again.
What question do you get when people find out you deployed?
These days I don’t get questions, I get discounts at various businesses which makes me feel really good!
Thank you so much for be willing to share your story.
This is Day 9 of 31 Days of Deployment Stories. Click here to see the whole series. Yesterday I shared Combat and other stories from across the globe. Tomorrow I will share my second Spouse Spotlight: What You learn about yourself during your husband’s deployment.