Sunday, August 27, 2006
This is not a war story. While I was in the Vietnam war, I want this to be more about Vietnam the country, contrasting what it was like for me in 1968 versus when I spent three weeks there in 1999.
The point of the second trip was to create what I think of as “color memories” to replace the “black and white” war memories I had held in the intervening 30 plus years. As all who have visited Vietnam will attest, it is a beautiful country as are its people and it deserves to be remembered for that beauty rather than the ugliness of more than 25 years of war against the French and later the Americans.
I also went back hoping to find what happened to a young girl who became my friend and probably saved my life one day in Quang Tri. An almost hopeless quest with more chance of finding the proverbial needle in a haystack but something I needed to attempt nonetheless.
Was I successful?
Yes and no just as with most things in life.
We were four (also pictured is Dave in the center who got to Vietnam a few months after the rest of us) adventurous Southern California boys who, as all like us in the mid to late 60’s, were confronted by the reality of the Vietnam War. Basically the choices were go to college full time with a draft deferment, get drafted without a deferment or enlist. We chose the latter and within less than 6 months of our first day in the Army, found ourselves in Vietnam.
We enlisted under the “buddy” plan guaranteeing we would stay together through basic training, which for us, was at Ft. Bliss Texas (a misnomer if there ever was one.) After basic we all went to artillery school at Ft. Sill Oklahoma. Once that was complete we volunteered for Vietnam however that is not as noble as it might first seem. In 1967 if you were in one of Army’s combat arms (infantry, armor, artillery) you were almost certain to go to Vietnam.
We were assigned to the 199th Light Infantry which at the time (December 1967) was operating near Saigon. However when we got in country, all our orders were changed to B Battery, 2nd Battalion/19th Airborne Artillery, 1st Calvary Division, then located mid country in An Khe. The battery had been overrun a few months before suffering 50% casualties and needed replacements immediately. What are the odds? Four of us from the same city and schools, friends since 6th grade, now all together in a unit in Vietnam with less than 30 guys total.
We were happy to stay together however that later became a double edge sword when Steve was killed 6 months to the day we arrived. That day we all grew up immediately and the war and being in the Army ceased to be an adventure. Now it was brutally real.