"We hit a trip wire, and I heard a handle of a grenade fling off next to me; I knew right away what it was, so I tried to get down as the concussion knocked me down...."
What was the time frame for your military service? I was drafted into the Army in June 1968 and went through basic training at Fort Campbell Ky., then to Fort Lewis, Wash. for infantry training. In December our whole company went to Vietnam and was then split up. I was assigned to the 5th Division, 11th Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion, ‘A’ company, 2nd platoon, 1st squad; ‘ground pounders’. We were part of ‘I’ Corps in Quang Tri province, we worked within or alongside of the Marine Corps’ 1st Division. What was your first impression of Vietnam when you got off the plane? First off, I threw up from the stench; it was like something burning and musty odor like an old shirt that laid in a damp basement for about five years. How-ever, I did get acclimated to it. When was your first contact with enemy? After about a week of getting acclimated to the area by doing short recons looking for bunker complexes, our squad of six guys had to go after an NVA soldier running up a hill trail. I was carrying my M60 machine gun, third in line behind the point man. We hit a trip wire, and I heard a handle of a grenade fling off next to me. I knew right away what it was, so I tried to get down as the concussion knocked me down. I couldn’t hear a thing afterward, I was down low enough so the shrapnel did not hit me, but two of the guys ahead of me and the one behind me got hit. I had to administer aid to one of the guys who had a sucking chest wound; the shrapnel hit him in the chest and went out his back. I just thought; you know, this is nuts. All the guys lived.
We had been in a number of small skirmishes after that incident, but operation ‘Montana Mauler’ was our first major fire fight in the hills west of LZ Sharon late in March 1969. They brought in Huey helicopters and dropped I think our entire battalion off in a hot LZ near the demilitarized zone to assist the Marines, I think near the Ashau valley. My company went in first, and that fire fight lasted 10 days. I was medi-vac’d out after eight days after getting hit with mortar shrapnel and suffering heat stroke. At times they could not resupply us with food and water because of the intensity of fire, and that is what caused my heat stroke. I think our battalion went in with about 520 guys and came out with maybe 280. The first day there, we immediately got into foxholes that were already there and started shooting continuously. I had my machine gun on its bipod above the trench and my hands on the gun above my head; you didn’t dare stick your head above the hole. That night, I remember shooting so many shells through that gun that the barrel glowed and I could see the gas operated plug moving back and forth in the cylinder. We had five machine guns in our platoon. The barrels were ruined, but at that point we weren’t concerned about accuracy; it was just get as much lead out there as you could and try to pin the enemy down. Even the battleship USS New Jersey was sending its 16-inch rounds over our heads, you could hear them just scream going over us. F-4 Phantom jets were dropping 100 and 500 pounders and napalm bombs. During the last two days they had the B-52s do saturation bombing and the ground would just shake. I don’t think I really slept the whole time there other than times when there would be a short lull in the shooting. In May or June we were on a platoon size operation eight to 10 kilometers from Khe Sanh airbase. One night we set up in a perimeter and had four tanks and two dusters with us. That night the enemy hit us around four in the morning. We had trip flares and claymores set up around us and hand grenades on the edge of the foxholes. We knew they were coming, because we could smell the stuff they where smoking, it had a sweet smell and gave them a high, I think that is what gave them their courage; I don’t know. They ran into our trip flares and then we set off the claymores which were wired to our little plunger type generators to trigger the detonators. The next morning we had about 20 dead NVA just in front of our position; there were eight positions altogether. We lost one guy. The intense part of this fire fight lasted about 25 minutes. Another time we were walking from Highway 1 and then followed Route 9 heading west. The NVA up on a hill on the left side and some of our tanks were on the right side shooting at them with their 50 caliber machine guns, I don’t know why they did not use their big guns. Anyway, we got caught in the crossfire. The new kid in front of me got hit, I got him to a foxhole as he was screaming and yelling. I told him to calm down, you’re not going to bleed to death. I left him there with his rifle and went to talk to Lt. Collins, relating how the kid was going crazy. All of sudden I heard a shot over where I left him. I ran over there and said what did you do? He said I just shot that guy, he was coming up that hill here. It was an NVA soldier with an AK-47. We uncovered several bunkers in that operation filled with 100 pound bags of rice and AK-47s, ammo, mortar tubes, etc. Coming back from that operation we were riding tanks, and we hit a land mine. All of us on the right side of tank were blown off and landed on the other side of the tank. I was knocked out and my shoulder was messed up, but I was determined not to get medi-vac’d out cause then you just sit around and do nothing. I hear a lot about guys who did not report wounds, just so they could get back in the action. Those guys became a family. Your being gone, may have caused one of those kids to get killed, and so the six guys in my squad became like brothers. Another time we assaulted a hill. The NVA were up there and had pinned down a squad of Marines who were on top of a lower hill. Our planes napalmed and dropped a few bombs first; then Lt. Collins said the only way we are going to get those guys out is to assault the hill. I told him; “you’re a fruitcake.” I had seen that kind of stuff in John Wayne movies but didn’t think that really happens. There were 22 of us who went up there, one of our guys was killed. I don’t recall the wounded numbers. We usually did not report wounds; you just didn’t want to leave your unit. The camaraderie was just phenomenal. My thoughts were on how to protect my buddies. We actually did get the Marines out of there. Altogether during my time over there, I was in a total of 13 fire fights and numerous small skirmishes. In October, Lt. Collins figured I had gotten beat up enough. So he got me a postal clerk job, which I held for two months before I got shipped home. What were the worst examples of carnage that you saw? The results of bombs on the NVA soldiers, especially napalm bombs. Have you ever roasted marshmallows and let it burn so it forms that crust on the outside? When the napalm hit them, they froze in the position they were actually in, whether running or laying down. The stench of burning flesh, combined with the rotting part under the crust is unforgettable. Did you think about the Lord very much during your tour? Oh yeah, a lot. You prayed a lot; human nature I guess. In time of need you go to him. I was a somewhat religious kid before I went in. My family was religious. I served Mass six times a week, getting up at six in the morning. There are times when felt I should have never come back from there; many times when I should have been killed and wasn’t –I’m a believer. I think he had something better for me than to be put in a box and be shipped home in a plastic bag. Where there any chaplains or religious services in your area? The whole time there, I went to a Communion service only twice, there was no Mass. Did you carry anything religious like a Bible or cross? I had a cross/scapular medal. When I got home in late December 1969, I went to sleep on a Thursday night and was supposed to be at an appointment the next morning. When my mom woke me up and told me the time, I said I’m going to be late for the appointment. She said you missed your appointment two days ago; this is Sunday morning. I then went to college at Mankato State. There were war protestors set up in the main area, so I stood off to the side and watched and they invited me to join them. I said I can’t do that. When I think of all the guys I knew who died over there, I can’t say that they were wrong in what they did. Now that I am older and have less to do, I find that I have to be dead tired in order to go asleep at night, otherwise, all these images come back at me.