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A Place where I can spout off about anything . . . and often do 

Army stories

The pictures below are from 1967 and 1968 when I spent a year doing the best job in Vietnam, sending other GIs home. My job involved working in an office allocating seats on flights back to the US for those who had spent their year. Actually I would allocate a few more seats than I needed, and anyone who could show up a few days early got to go home early. I even signed my own ticket home. . . probably not legal according to government regulations, but it gave me great pleasure. Just for the record, I stayed a few extra days past the required year because I was aware that if you had less than 3 months left in your 2 year draft obligation you were allowed to go home for good, a secret I let the returnees know about. Like I said, it was the best job in Vietnam.

The pictures would have you think I had no unpleasant experiences there, but my first impression involved leaving the mess hall on my first morning in country and seeing a young Vietnamese woman sitting on top of the pile of discarded food, picking out the good stuff to bring home to her family. I spent a good part of the rest of the day filling sandbags in the hot sun and I don’t know to this day which event caused me to spend the rest of the day sick to my stomach. I came to discover that working for the U. S. armed forces was considered a pretty good job, as jobs go. Later, I would find myself “guarding” a dozen or so women as they cut grass with hand tools around the company area. These women never really accomplished much because hardly any grass grew there, but the U. S. Government must have believed that by giving out meaningless jobs we would win over the “hearts and minds” of the people. I always wondered how many of these women worked for the U. S. by day and aided the Viet Cong by night. One of the mammasons had a daughter who worked in the mess hall and the mammason used to tell me that she wanted me to marry her babyson and bring her to America. I think she meant it. She liked by name, Young, because it sounded oriental to her. I don’t think babyson was over 14 years old.

Even though I worked in an office I wasn’t totally safe from enemy fire. The very first time I had overnight guard duty I was assigned to the lookout tower you can see in the photos below. I hadn’t been looking out at the view of the flat terrain for more than a few minutes when I heard a bullet whiz by my head. It didn’t happen often, but once in a while the enemy would try to pick off one of us. That same week the Army newspaper did a story about how we strapped our typewriters to our backs and went out on regular patrols. In fact we would do a short patrol every day but they were pretty much just a walk around the flat area of the base perimeter and I can’t once remember engaging the enemy. I got shot at only a few more times during my year, but it was usually from a distance and truth be known it was unlikely that I would have ever been hit.

You’ll notice several of the pictures show a Jeep trailer. We would fill it with ice and beer and barbecue steaks about once a week. Also there is a picture of Connie Frances singing on the nearby Bob Hope Stage. Another picture shows my viewpoint of the Bob Hope Christmas Show, an event I was lucky enough to attend. We drew names from a hat and only a few from the Administration Company were able to take the 50 mile trip to where he was appearing that year. The only thing more welcome than the Bob Hope Show was the occasional opportunity to place a phone call home, relayed through ham radio stations here in the States. I am a ham radio operator myself. See WWW.W8THY.TOMYOUNG.US .

The year I was there was a turning point in public opinion regarding the conduct of the United States and our reason for being in Vietnam. I was at the top of the watchtower you can see in the photo album the night the Tet offensive began, and I saw Saigon, about 20 miles away, light up as the Viet Cong and North Vietnam armies attacked. A short time later they attacked Bien Hoa, in the other direction. The chatter on the two way radio indicated fierce fighting at both locations. For the next week or two our unit was on red, then yellow, then “gray”, then “modified gray” alert as we waited our turn to be attacked, but except for a few mortar shells lobbed at the helicopter area we never really sustained a serious threat. By the time I came back to the US a few months later, the same people who were more than happy to send us there were scorning and avoiding us. It took many years before the pain of this rejection by our fellow citizens became tolerable. It still haunts me today, as I suspect it haunts other Vietnam veterans. An indication of our expectation was apparent as the chartered airliner landed at Travis Air Force Base in California. The flight attendant made an announcement that we were about to land, and then waited a moment for a response. There was absolute silence, except for the sound of the aircraft engines. She actually made some comment about her expectation that we should be cheering or something, but as before, there was absolute silence as we looked at each other knowing that the landing of that aircraft in no way signaled the end of the war for any of us. It was only the opening of another chapter.

For the next several years I pondered my feelings about the whole experience. I really had a hard time letting go of the idea that my Government could have made a mistake in judgment and wasted over 58,000 American lives. You would have had to go through the whole Army experience to appreciate the level of intimidation one feels when even the thought of questioning the authority of those who forced us to participate in this needless and deadly war was hard to accomplish. If nothing else, it has made me much more inclined to think things through and be my own person.

I really wish George W. Bush had gone to Vietnam. Of all the people alive today he should have experienced what we GIs did. Perhaps if he had he wouldn’t have rushed into Iraq with the idea that it would all be over in a few days, and that we could then all go home and everything would be OK. The world is more complicated than that, and the leader of the free world should be a little more enlightened than he is. By the way, I’m so thrilled to see that the American people are responding to the homecoming of the Iraq War GIs with more respect than we were shown. They deserve the admiration and respect we Viet Nam GI’s never got. They didn’t ask for the war. . . it was thrust upon them. I do hope that as time passes each of them gets the opportunity to reflect on the big picture. Also, if you are listening George, no one should ever have to go back again and again. We Vietnam Vets only had to endure a year (or more in the case of a few who had the inclination to volunteer). Here’s how I see the Iraq War: No matter how long we stay, the country will fall apart and have a Civil War. If we leave tomorrow that will happen, and if we stay 100 years and then leave it will still happen. You really should have seen this coming, George. You are after all the leader of the free world.

P.S. to the above paragraph: It was written months before the media used the term civil war in reference to the Iraq war. 7/06

I thought I would add this comment today, 11/11/06, since this is Veterans day. If you have read the rest of this site you know that I work in the broadcast industry. Like many other industries we have staff on duty holiday or not, and to top it all, I am a member of a union, so adhering to the contract I work holidays unless they happen to fall on a scheduled day off as today (Saturday) is. I know that a contract is a contract but I have to say that it really makes me wonder why there has never been a law that would give vets the day off before those who have not served. I can’t go to the bank, library, or post office on this holiday, but I only get 2 out of 7 off. One way we could honor our vets is to give them the day off before giving it to others. Also, I am flying my flag today, but I don’t see another one on the street. There are plenty of OSU flags (I live in Ohio) but no US flags. I guess they were all worn from being flown from the tops of cars following “9/11”.

I hope you enjoy the slides. If you went home from the First Infantry Division from June of 67 to June of 68 you probably saw me, and if you still have your ticket home, check the name and signature. . . it just might be mine.

Vietnam Slide Show (Open in new window)