A Vietnam Discussion
I find discussing Vietnam with other Vietnam Vets interesting. There are a lot of factors that makes our memories different. here are some that I have noted.
Location - Vietnam is a tall country that varies from one end to the other. In the northern part, the mountains are there on the edge of most places and it tends to be a lot cooler. Most of the people that fought up there were Marines and I didn't get to meet many of them. The II Corps of the second most northerly part was the Central Highlands. Lots of mountains and some plains down near Pleiku. I swear that early one morning in the time nearing Christmas 1968, I saw what looked like snow way up in the mountains. It didn't stick but we all wore a rain jacket with a poncho liner lining. To me, it was too cold to take a shower outside in the rain during the monsoon season. The area from the Central Highlands and south of there for about 50 miles was our III Corps Area and mostly smaller rolling hills and jungle. I spent about 6 weeks in that area and it was triple canopy jungle for the most part. The south end of Vietnam was the delta of the Mekong river. The guys there fought the enemy, the jungle rot and fungus. They were brought back into base camps more often and fought having terminal athletes' foot and crotch rot. Many of the guys describe that part a lot like the swamps of Louisiana south of New Orleans. I understand that the majority of the rice grown in Vietnam was grown in III and IV corps. There was some grown in the Central Highlands but not as much as down south.
Kind of Unit You were assigned to. What you did dictated the kind of life you had. The Infantry mostly carried their rations, ammo and sleeping gear with them and where they stopped was where they slept. Some of the units in the Delta were in a fairly permanent base at night and taken out on daily operations. The Field Artillery were strategically placed around the country to allow them to fire for the Infantry and each other. In the Highlands, they were placed on mountain top fire bases and we lived in bunkers. The helicopter units had a lot more permanent housing and were located near airports and runways. The troops slept in tents a lot but they also had some of the amenities like clubs and shower points. The higher the headquarters, the more like Stateside were their facilities. The Air Force base near Artillery Hill in Pleiku even had a hamburger drive in and ice cream shop. Their PX's were always stocked with nice items that our smaller PX's didn't have. One headquarters in Ban Me Touit was located in the Bungalow, a hotel that Teddy Roosevelt stayed in when he went there to hunt tigers. needless to say I wasn't admitted there but I did buy booze at the Class VI store.
Mission - In all of Vietnam, there were probably less than half of the 500,000 men (1968) involved in directly meeting and greeting the enemy and killing him. Most of the rest were involved in supporting those activities. It was my personal experience that a hell of a lot more booze was consumed by the rear echelon guys. On the other hand, marijuana was available pretty much everywhere and a lot of us just didn't go looking every time we smelled burning rope. One soldier that I did talk about marijuana use was also the point man of a rifle company. He said that when he was high, things that weren't natural just glowed and he never walked us into an ambush or booby trap.
Rank - RHIP. Rank has its Privileges. I don't think i ever saw anyone over the rank of Captain that didn't sleep in a bunker or better. A lot of the unit commanders that lived in cantonment areas had small houses and most had a shower unit so they could take a daily shower. Take that to the lowest rank and the lowest level and you had grunts out in the field that slept under a poncho to stop the rain and went weeks without getting to see a hot shower. We did manage to find a "blue Line" or river with water in it and wash off the real stink. Unless you were in the mountains, the water wasn't fit to drink even with Iodine tablets.
Age - A lot of the lower rank soldiers were Baby Boomers and we listened to war stories told by our dad's. We spent our lives playing games and competitive sports. I was ready for the Military and found it easy. Some of the older guys were more in the conventional wisdom of the Military and had a tough time adjusting to guerilla warfare. Those that came after me and were younger had a tough time adjusting to the fact that they had an enemy that wanted to kill them and a lot of higher rank soldiers that didn't like them.
My Combat time in the Military started right as I turned 20 and it was in the 60's. I find it interesting the number of soldiers that talk about the high times they had before the service, while in the service and when they got out. The most stable of us, if there are any, were the ones that didn't do the hard drugs and returned to jobs, wives and college campuses. If you haven't heard, I am an alcoholic and I don't blame the Military for much of that. I like a lot of my friends am currently sober due to getting smarter and starting to fight the effects of getting old. I come from a family of large livers. Yes, not long livers, large.
I for one can discuss the times in Vietnam with about anyone. One of my best friends hung his uniform up in the closet when he got home and has never talked about it. I am pretty sure that I saw a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart on his uniform the one time I did see it. Perhaps one day he and I will feel comfortable enough to talk about our experiences.
When you put the above factors and multiply the ages, races, home States and family income status in the mix, you can clearly see that there are probably no two guys that saw the same war and came out the same. God Bless our Servicemen and Women and may they all find the peace in their world that we all fought for.