Tour of Duty: Vietnam, 1967-68
Note: Randy Stafford and I were fellow percussionists in the Seymour High band. Several months ago, when I was writing about Vietnam for a client, I asked him about his experience there. He’s agreed to have his response be our first guest post in November’s “where I’ve traveled and what I’ve learned” series. Thanks, Randy. C.
I spent 11 months and 24 days in Vietnam and saw all the horrors any war could possibly bring. I flew out of Bien Hoa air base on the afternoon of 12 November 68 and arrived in Oakland on 12 November 68. Remember, we lose a day crossing the IDL. The plane I was on was all Army and 90% of us were getting out of the service. Others went on to duty stations elsewhere in the states. It took 20 hours to process us out and get us on planes at Frisco International bound for our homes. So we had 20 hours to deprogram, so we could be a positive, responsible piece of society when we returned home. Before you ask the answer is no we didn’t have any psych evaluations in Oakland before they turned us loose. This was something we had to do mentally on our own that would be unheard of today.
In answer to your question. The last 40 years have flown by and my thoughts of Viet Nam have been daily. I was on Google Earth a while back and found my old base camp position and was surprised to see “urban sprawl” has taken it over and there is a soccer complex built off our east perimeter where there used to be large ant hills which “Charlie” would hide behind and lob mortars in on us in the early morning hours. I was very happy to see this and my mind wondered if the war had anything to do with their becoming more of a player in the 21st Century. I do not consider Viet Nam a 3rd world country now. When I got over there in Nov. ’67 they were plowing rice paddies with single-bottom wooden plows and water buffalo. Rural areas were very primitive, but urban areas–such as Saigon, Bien Hoa and Long Bien–had just enough of the French influence from the early-mid 50’s to be interesting. Especially how the young girls dressed.
The sacrifices made still bother me. There are eight names on the Viet Nam Memorial wall that meant a lot to me. Terry (Leazer), Albert (Crouch), and Dennis (Levis) I’ve thought of 10,000 times in the last 40 years. They have been instrumental in my life’s motto: Never resent growing old, as many have been denied that privilege. I’ve wondered many times what contributions they would have made to society.
I guess to sum up, we tried as hard as we could to put it all behind us as quickly as possible and for the most part we had succeeded. Then 9-11 came. All of a sudden the Viet Nam veteran who had basically been forgotten about was now a national hero, because we were at war and ALL veterans were heroes. Once again, this was something we didn’t receive when we came home and weren’t prepared to receive on 9-11. The flood of memories came back with a vengeance when well wishers would come up and thank us for our service. I was saddened 2400 people had to die on 9-11 for Viet Nam veterans to get the thank-you’s that were denied them when they returned.
Chronologically, 43 years have passed since I returned from Viet Nam, but the strong memories make it seem like 43 days. After this much time, I know my cross to bear is never having the memories fade of the things I saw and the people that died that I knew. There were a lot of good men on both sides who lost their lives so Viet Nam could one day prosper.