"MY MOST VIVID MEMORIES OF VIETNAM" - FROM THE SOLDIERS
A RIFLE COVERED IN BLOOD
On my first day in Vietnam, a corporal handed me my M-16 and rounds of ammo. When I put the magazine into the M-16, I
saw the rifle was covered in dried blood. I glanced at the other Marines to see if they too had bloody weapons. They did.
I realized training was over and I was in a place where I could die.
A few months later, I was medevaced to the hospital in Da Nang. My helmet, flak jacket and M-16 were added to the piles
of gear. A plane loaded with fresh Marines would soon be arriving. - Craig A. Tschetter, Brookings, S.D.
WAY TO KEEP 'KOOL'
I was in the Seabees and went to Vietnam to build. We lived in a small hut at Camp Huskin, near Da Nang. Experienced in
refrigeration, that was where I shined. I was required to make ice for the battalion, but I made so much I traded it for beer,
pop, steaks and watermelons.
Many of the goodies were used for parties, while others were for the men running the icehouse. The best was when we made
a 6-foot popsicle. We used 11 packages of Kool-Aid in 33 gallons of water with a 2-by-4 for the stick. We took it to Trung
Nghia. You wouldn't believe the reaction of the kids and adults who tasted it. Most had never felt anything that cold, and
it tasted good, too. We were a big hit that day. My grandchildren ask me, "What did you do in Vietnam, Grandpa?"
I tell them, "I made 100-pound popsicles." - Jerals E. Hirschmand, Grand Island, Nebraska.
We were constantly hot, sweaty, tired, thirsty, dirty and wet. The mosquitoes were the size of butterflies. At night we
prepared for the worst as fear set in. Temperatures would drop from 112 degrees to 85 degrees, and we'd shiver in our poncho
liners. When the sun came up, we knew we'd survived another day. We were young, like little boys. Each of us carried enough
munitions and weaponry to blow up a village. Our senses of smell, vision and hearing became acute. Death and fear surrounded
The sad part is that we became accustomed to this lifestyle. Family, friends and home were just a distant memory. Never
before or since have I experienced such love, caring and sharing of young men for one another. Some came home to ponder and
deal with their Vietnam experience. Soome didn't. You wouldn't understand unless you were there. - John T. Senka, Montour
A GOODBY REMEMBERED
The traffic light turned green, and I told Dad I was going to Vietnam. he pulled over and looked to his left. I heard
him sigh and saw his chest heave. He gripped the wheel tightly until his knuckles turned white. He turned and looked at me
with a big tear running down his cheek. He told me to drive because "these damned new glasses" bothered him. We
started to make the switch, and when we locked eyes, we embraced and cried together right there on a busy street. At that
moment, we didn't hear or care what was going on around us.
My father died a while back, but I'll cherish that moment until I see him again. - Ronald s. Muti, Maynard, Mass.
One of the sobering tasks we faced in the 542nd Medical Company was taking garbage to a nearby Vietnamese dump.
Elderly people with children or grandchildren, along with perhaps a stray kid or two who had no family, lived at the dump
in cardboard containers sometimes draped with tarp or plastic to provide shelter from the monsoon rains. The kids ranged from
infants to those old enough to climb on the trucks to scavenge whatever they could from the mess-hall trash and other waste
tossed by the Americans.
The routine of the day called for driving the truck into the garbage compound and standing back. Swarms of kids would
jump onboard with makeshift buckets and clean every bit of leftover food they could find. They used buckets to scoop out liquid
from the barrels, which were filled with dirty water, grease, floating pieces of food, soap, cigarette butts - anything thrown
away from the day's activities. Adults who were able to climb were part of the action as well. It was survival of the fittest.
They took their "pots of gold" back to their shelters to eat what was in easy reach or boil the concoction into
some sort of soup. For a time, we tried keeping everyone back for security reasons, but it became an impossible chore. It
was easier to let them swarm aboard. We didn't have to touch the stuff. _ Larry Hager, Avenel, N.J.
COURAGE UNDER FIRE
On Jan. 14, 1969, I was on the flight deck of the USS Enterprise, in the V-4 division fuels crew, on my way back to WESTPAC,
when a major fire quickly swept the entire aft part of the flight deck, engulfing 15 aircraft.
The crew fought with whatever they could lay their hands on to hold back the tide of burning fuel. Eighteen times the
ship rocked and reeled under terrific hammer blows of exploding 500-pound bombs and rockets.
Assault after assault was mounted while entire hose teams were repeatedly torn to pieces and horribly burned. Through
the entire course of exploding weapons our men stayed in the fight. It was simply the most terrible and magnificent thing
I've ever seen. - Michael J. Carlin, West Grove, Pa.
CIRCUMSTANCES AND FATE
As a photographer for the Criminal Investigation Detachment in Saigon, I had a variety of assignments. I remember being
summoned to the morgue to photograph the autopsy of a body pulled from the Saigon River. For the first time, I saw how badly
the elements can change a body. The head mortician, who noticed my disbelief, told me that after 24 hours in the jungle, you
wouldn't recognize your own brother.
While taking pictures, I heard someone say, "Here comes the wagon." Dozens of dark-colored body bags were placed
on operating tables. A terrible scene unfolded. The young blood of Americans all shot up. The morticians scrambled over the
bodies, trying to identify them and checking dog tags, boots and belts for names. One surprise was their dark color. When
the morticians removed the boots, the skin was white. One body had no face, but it looked like he was breathing. I was told
what I was seeing were masses of maggots moving.
What separated the soldiers on the tables and myself were just circumstances and fate. I was a combat photographer who
could have been called to the front at any time. I was lucky. I did not suffer physical wounds, but some internal wounds surface
when I see or hear anything other than respect and honor for those who lost their lives in Vietnam. - Fred W. Elwell, Bath,
SNAKES, SHOTS, SNIPERS
I remember baths from two steel pots of water: one to wash and one to rinse.
I remember huge snakes and scorpions and spiders as big as your fist. I remember turning my boots over and shaking them
I remember the malaria shots and underestimating our weight, as dosage was administered by it.
I remember the first time I saw myself in a mirror and not recognizing the man with the dark tan and sun blisters.
I remember nights so dark you could not see your hand in front of your face. I remember sniper fire, incoming mortar rounds
and being afraid.
I remember 24-hour passes and day trips to Saigon where pretty girls offered to "love me long time."
I remember mail call and the disappointment of not hearing my name called.
I remember the USO and milkshakes made from condensed milk.
I remember my laundry coming back pressed and folded but just as dirty as when it went out.
I remember "mystery meat" sandwiches wrapped in our discarded teletype paper.
I remember rats as big as woodchucks back home in upstate New York.
I remember no marching band waiting for us when we came home. - Gary J. Relf, Cazenovia, N.Y.
I kept beating the jungles, digging foxholes, going across swamps. Leeches were all over me. I took a cigarette lighter
and burned them off. My feet were so raw I could pick the flesh off my heel, blood gushing out. I had ringworm sores all over
me, including in my hair. I had to wait two days before I could get a shower and medicine for the ringworm. Daily we had so
many Americans killed, like flies laying on Vietnam soil. Many were medevaced with no arms and legs, from mines. I was so
scared I wouldn't make it back.
I suvived the war, and in 1969 I went home. When I arrived at our small house, it was 11 p.m. My mom and dad heard the
knock on the door. They hugged me and cried, "You came back to us."
I said, "God brought me home." - Calvin Rhymer, Knoxville, Tenn.
DEATH OF A SOLDIER
A medic stooped to examine Eddie's wound. "Leave him alone," I barked. "He knows." We were alone on
the jungle floor. The battle had been short and fierce, far more costly to the enemy than us in numbers. Yet the cost to us
could not be measured in numbers. This was a friend I held, one who counted on his platoon to help him. I felt the bitter
pain of having let him down. I hated everything: the enemy, the jungle, the feeling of Eddie dying in my arms, even Eddie
of getting hit. I cradled him in my arms and wept quietly as his blood soaked my fatigues.
Eddie spoke of home. "You'll be the one to tell them, Sarge, won't you?"
"Sure, Eddie, I will," I lied.
How could he ask such a stupid thing? He knew the procedure. I couldn't make an overseas phone call to tell some boy's
parents that a Viet Cong mortar round had torn open their son's chest. They would receive the standard telegram. A pleading
look in his eyes brought me back. "Sure, Eddie, I'll tell them."
Blood began to trickle from the corner of Eddie's mouth. I was transfixed, frozen in the solemnity of the moment. His
eyes fluttered shut; his smile relaxed. I lifted his head from my lap and laid it down in the mud.
I'll mourn for you, Eddie. But that will have to wait. First I have a job to do, Eddie. I have to kill as many of the
enemy as I can. You understand, don't you, Eddie? I hope you do, because I don't. - Charles Sweetman, Delavan, Wis.
THE FREEDOM FLIGHT
November 1968 - 13 months later. The plane had just landed at Ben Hoa. They opened the doors. I heard the low rumbling
noise. The noise rapidly became louder and louder. It was us - me - clapping, stomping, jumping, hollering, screaming at the
top of our lungs. We were cheering because they had come to replace us. It was our plane - our freedom bird back to the world!
- Ronald E. Jones, Denton, Texas
An empty chair sits at my mother's kitchen table. The chair belongs to my brother, Larry, who has been missing since April
When I received the telephone call about my brother, my mother tearfully repeated over and over, "He's only missing,
not dead." We thought he would be found, but he wasn't.
Birthdays and holidays are difficult. One year, my 7-year old daughter wanted my family to celebrate my brother's birthday
by each person describing a special event or trait of my brother. I told several stories about how Larry was my protective
big brother. My daughter said, "Now you are his big sister." She menat that I was to take the lead in doing everything
possible to protect Larry and bring him home.
All these years, my family and I have tried to do that very thing. However, 29 years later, the chair is still empty at
my mother's kitchen table. - Barbara White, Huntsville, Ala.
I had been in Vietnam just over six months when I heard that Bob Hope's Christmas show was coming to the central highlands
of Vietnam. I traded my day off for my buddy's day off, which was New Year's Day. I worked all night and went to where the
show was going to be that evening. I fell asleep, and when I awoke more than 40,000 troops were watching as the show opened.
Bob Hope put on a great show, and as it ended he and the cast and all 40,000 troops sang "Silent Night" in a pouring
rain. It was great. - Jeff Martin, Hagerstown, Md.
I served in Vietnam between April 1968 and April 1969. As an airmobile combat engineer, my hardest task was burying the
dead after a nighttime firefight. I alone buried more than 1,600 Viet Cong, 263 at one time. Still today I think of all the
wives, mothers and children whose loved ones never came home. As far as I knew, we never knew one from the other, just a number
count. I know war is he**. - William R. Armstrong, derry, N.H.
ANOTHER DAY IN 'NAM
As we walk, I feel something crawling up my leg and I stop to pick it off. The point man holds up his hand, signaling
to stop. Movement up ahead; we dive for the ground, getting ready for action. Thousands of things race through my mind. Are
we going to engage? Are we going to let them pass? The sound of gunfire echoes through the jungle. We open with everything
we have. I can hear the popping of bullets all around me. Bark is falling off trees. Leaves and small sticks are flying from
bullets and concussion. Will a bullet find me today? Where will it hit? Will I be killed instantly or lay here and suffer?
My heart is pumping so hard it feels like it is going to jump out of my chest.
Then it's over, and it is deathly quiet. The enemy is gone. Like a ghost, he has disappeared. We take a head count and
check for casualties. The adrenaline is wearing off now and suddenly I feel very tired.
As we begin to move out, the 80-pound rucksack feels like 180 pounds. I can't wait until we stop and eat and get rid of
some of this weight.
We get to our primary objective and find nothing there. I'm so tired, dirty, wet and homesick.
We settle in for the night and put out trip flares and claymores. Nighttime falls, and it is very dark. I go over the
day's activities in my mind and try not to think of home as it only makes being here more unbearable. But I give in to my
inner thoughts and try to picture my family's faces in my mind. I worry about how my mother will feel if something happens
to me. I think how proud my dad is that I'm over here. I drift off to sleep, the end of another day. - William M. Haynes,
MESSAGE OF FREEDOM
I was born in a small village on the island of Malta, and I came to America as a young man. I loved my country so much
that I served her faithfully in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. During Vietnam, I was stationed on an ammunition
ship that ran from Wilmington, M.C., to Da Nang, Qui Nhon, Cam Ranh Bay and Saigon. On one of our missions to Cam Ranh Bay,
I went to a Vietnamese high school and asked the principal if I could speak to some of the students. I told them that Americans
would help any country that wanted a democratic government and the freedom that comes with it. I have many memories from my
50 years of service, but the few moments spent with those children are the most precious. - Joseph Borda, Pomona, Calif.
A HIGH PRICE
After my last Vietnam tour, I was assigned to Boston as a recruiting officer. Blind to what was happening in the country,
I was not ready for what I would go through. Thousands of protesters chose the city as an international stage to spread their
message. As an American, I knew they had the right to voice their opinions. but when they got up close and personal, my problems
Because of the uniform I wore and what I represented, I was targeted from the start. My recruiting station was a block
from Boston Common, where most demonstrations took place. It was victim to several bombing attempts. My family and I went
through living he** at the hands of these people. We were spit on, harassed, threatened and stalked. I had urine thrown on
me and was called a baby-killer. Finally I relocated my family to Maine because I feared for their lives. I spent the next
few years living at Boston Army Base and commuting to Maine on Sundays to be with them.
The price I paid and still pay for being a Vietnam veteran is overwhelming. Maybe someday we will be remembered for the
sacrifices we made. - Richard B. Monroe, Chattanooga, Tenn.
The end product of
That outhouse ornate,
Mixed, stirred and lit
By luckless roster numbers
Picked by cruel fate,
Oh sarge, put me on point,
Take all my money,
But please, don't make me
Burn that honey. - Randy Cribbs, St. Augustine, Fla.
GRUNTS IN THE DELTA
I'm not big on cliches, but you had to be there - and I mean you really had to be there. I arrived in July during the
monsoons. Water, mud, rain, heat, swamps, mosquitoes, snakes and leeches were the environmental enemies. The Viet Cong and
booby traps were the other enemies. Surviving the elements was a form of combat itself. Coupled with the fighting, it took
its toll on the human spirit quickly. We lived in the field most of the time, so everything you owned you carried on your
back. You had a small waterproof ammo can to keep writing paper, letters, valuables and smokes dry. We would secure a location
for what we called a "day area." Here we would rest; clean weapons; get mail; have hot meals flown in; dry clothes,
boots and feet; shower if a stream or well was close; and prepare ourselves for the next patrol, sweep or ambush. Sometimes
two to three weeks would go between clean uniforms. They'd bring out a big stack of jungle fatigues, and it was luck of the
draw on the size and condition of what you got.
I recall being on watch at an ambush site with huge mosquitoes buzzing around my face and ears. I was drenched, cold,
filthy and tired. I wanted to scream as if insane. We had both enemy and friendly fire zinging over our heads. The next morning,
we got to dry ground and had to strip and deleech one another. No part of your anatomy - and I mean no part - would escape
a leech's attachment. I got jungle rot on my feet. They became so swelled I could not walk. I had to go to the rear for a
few days to heal. Existence was so miserable that some guys quit taking their malaria pills in hopes of contracting it to
get out of the field. I had to go along with the medic as he distributed the pills to make sure the guys actually swallowed
Booby traps were the norm. They were everywhere and could be made out of anything. You stayed off the trails, you touched
nothing. You left absolutely nothing behind for the enemy to use, including trash. - Stuart A. Simonson, Whittemore, Iowa
'I NEEDED THAT'
Years ago. I accepted an invitation to speak at a local middle school's Veterans Day program. When I arrived, the principal
was at the microphone, telling the story behind a four-star Blue Star Service Banner he inherited from his grandmother. He
proudly described how his father and three uncles served in World War II. The principal then said, "I'm a Vietnam veteran."
His expression changed, and his shoulders slumped. In a sober tone, he told the students that Vietnam was the first war America
lost. While he was proud of his service, the principal could not help but sound dispirited. He then introduced me. I went
to the microphone and said I had something to say to him. I informed the principal and the students that America never lost
a battle in Vietnam, and that if the war was lost, it was because of plicticians, not our soldiers. Second, I told them to
look at the big picture: Vietnam was just a battle in the Cold War, and America won the Cold War. The principal jumped to
his feet, crying, and embraced me. "I needed that," he whispered in my ear. The students gave a standing ovation.
It was perhaps the most moving thing I've seen. - John A. Brieden III, Brenham, Texas