bhs tower II
Stories From the Vietnam Experience

High School

The Vietnam war was just heating up when I graduated from college in 1964. I continued on with a post-baccalaureate year in college, started a job, and got engaged with the intention of getting married in fall of 1965. We didn't advance the wedding date so it would come before the marriage exemption expiring in August of '65, and found a draft notice awaiting me when we returned from our honeymoon. Few of my classmates actually served during the Vietnam war, most getting exemptions for college, marriage, failure to pass the physical, getting in the National Guard or Reserve, or alternative service such as in Vista or the Peace Corps. I opted for the Army (2-year committment) and Officer Candidate School (an extra year, but as an officer I would have a little control over what happened to me if sent to Vietnam - which I was).

War time remembrances are poignant, what with separation from families, spouses, and friends, travels to exotic lands including horrifying combat experiences, all underscored by popular music of the time (Ballad of the Green Berets by Barry Sadler, Homeward Bound by Simon and Garfunkle, Where Have all the Flowers Gone by Peter, Paul, and Mary). Just as relevant are the stories of protest, the marches, draft card burnings, and other stories of resistance to what was an ill-advised war.

Stories:

5-29-2016: I was drafted right out of college, was trained as an infantry lieutenant, served in Vietnam and was lucky enough to make it back in one piece. I immediately entered graduate school, and a graduate school friend with a low lottery number received his notice to report for a draft physical. The night before he was to report, he smashed his right foot with a cinder block hard enough to break it. He figured that would ensure a 4-F status and he wouldn't be drafted. But the physical never got to his broken foot: the draft doctor noted a severe case of psoriasis that rendered him unfit for service. He basically broke his foot for nothing. I think he still walks with a slight limp, some 45 years later.

4-25-2016: I had a rough-and-tumble platoon sergeant when I was in the field in Vietnam as a rifle platoon leader. He was always blowing up things, sometmes just tossing sticks of C-4 (white plastic explosive) into streams to see how many fish he could stun. He had a complicated marriage and was in the middle of a long-distance divorce (not uncommon). But one day after we swept through a small village, I came upon him with a young Vietnamese girl of maybe 5 or so, combing her long black hair while she sat on his lap. The looks of peace and tranquility on both their faces was in stark contrast to the typical mien. One of my best memories of Vietnam.

4-2-2016: For weeks our company had failed to pull off a successful ambush.  We would dig our foxholes on line, set up the L-shaped killing zone, and sit back and wait for the hapless VC to trot down the trail we were ambushing.  Never happened.  Then the “brass” had an inspiration.  Figuring that the VC could not count, they developed a cuckoo scheme for setting up an ambush: a company of three platoons of men would mill around on the selected ambush site and at random intervals a soldier from one of the platoons would sink down and stay in place.  After a half hour of milling and dropping, a platoon’s worth of soldiers (25 or so men) would be “secretly” emplaced along the ambush route.  My sergeant was beside himself when I informed him that we were the platoon being secreted.  Over his vehement misgivings, we went along with the plan. 

All went well until about dusk, when my sergeant reported that there were sounds of digging along our flank, accompanied by the smell of marijuana.  We had been found out, and a counter ambush was being set up by the VC.  When I radioed this information to the battalion headquarters, I was told to hold our position and give them our coordinates—suppressive 105mm howitzer fire would be used to wipe out the VC (who, by our estimates, were less than 50 yards away).  I had a whispered conference with my sergeant and we decided the only way to save the day and our troops was to silently and slowly gather them up and sneak away.  This we did, relocating to a slight depression 500 meters away, at which point I dutifully radioed our previous location to the artillery boys, who proceeded to pulverize the area.  Come dawn we went back to the devastated ambush site and found many blood trails where dead VC had been dragged away by the survivors.  We also noted several large 105mm craters in what had been our ambush line.

That was the day the men became “mine.”  It was also the day I began a lifetime of distrust of "I know it all" brass, and developed an enduring empathy for the “little people.”  Thereafter our “search and destroy” missions became “search and avoid” exercises as my main interest lay in bringing all my boys back home alive.

These remembrances will be incorporated with others into the novel (Follow me) about the Vietnam experience in the 60s.

To learn about the novels in the series (high school, college, Vietnam, Woodstock, Reunions) click on this link stories-we-can-tell.

To buy Reunions as an e-book, click on e-book for Kindle readers and tablets.  To buy Reunions as a paperback, click on Amazon. If you like to buy/order books from Barnes & Noble or Books-a-Million, you can order the book from them by providing the title (Reunions), author name (Caradoc) and ISBN number (1490405356).

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Thanks for your stories. David deCalesta, writing as David S. Caradoc

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