Terrain - Vietnam reminds me a lot of California in a lot of ways. Down south the land was flat and swampy in Vietnam. The further north you went there, the hillier it became and in a lot of ways more moderate in the climate. There were a lot of days that I spent outside all day in the rain and wasn't the least bit cold. Up on a mountain top LZ, there were days that it was too cold to get out in the rain and wash up. Most of us would rig some kind of a poncho roof that put water into our helmet and we would do our best to wash up. Out with an Infantry Company, the streams were our wash tubs. Put out a perimeter guard and take turns soaking everything in that cool clear water. I'll bet down south no one would get into that muddy water to try to get clean.
People - For a lot of reasons, most of the young Americans didn't try to establish a lot of Vietnamese friends. Hell, if you were like me, and sent all over the place, there wasn't a lot of time to establish close Vietnamese friends. Most of the time the Vietnamese were the enemy and anytime after dark they had better not be coming around. I ate C-rats a lot and hot meals no more that once every three days. I can count on one hand the times I ate the food of the people there. There were a lot of guys that would go into a village and eat grilled meats off a stick. I never acquired a taste for mystery meats. I did my job and counted the days until I could get the hell out of there. A friend of mine was an advisor and lived with the Vietnamese in a village. He loved the people and spoke their language. Most of the phrases I learned were pieces of french like DI Di for go away and La Di for come here. For some reason if you were OK, you were number 1 if you were bad Number 10. Declare they were VC and you would always get a the feedback, "I no VC GI, VC number 10"
Job - What you did in Vietnam determined where you went and who you were with. As an Artillery Forward Observer for a significant part of my time in Vietnam, I spent it out with the boys in the mud, the blood and no beer. As the new guy pretty much in every new unit, I didn't establish close ties with anyone except for the recon team I brought with me. There was a continual period of adjustment with each commander until they found out that I could read a map and knew what the hell I was doing most of the time. In almost every unit there would be a time where the commander would ask where I thought we were on a map. A lot of times I would call for a marking round of WP at a certain grid and plot a direction to that point. It didn't take many times for me to tell the CPT that the round would appear along an azimuth and sure enough there it was. There were a lot of guys that were in rear areas for their tour and I'm sure that they had a lot more interaction with the local populace. me, not so much. I met a bunch of GI's and for the most part loved the times when we would sit around and BS with each other. It was always funny to hear the guys from New Yark try to talk with one of those Cajuns. It was like they almost spoke a different language. Hell, I had a friend that was a sea bee and spent almost his entire time in Vietnam driving a water truck around a base filling the showers for the officers. In the dry season he also would wet down the roads around a flight line to help control the dust. If you wanted real hell, there were guys that were in rear areas and their job was to daily empty the shitters and burn the diesel and shit that accumulated there. One of my pictures of what looks like a really bad day in combat was just the perimeter shrouded in shit smoke. Looked bad, smelled worse.
Attitude - There were days when I was like a tourist in a strange country and wanted to capture as much as I could with my camera. There were a lot of days that after a mortar attack or an ambush I would turn dark in my thoughts and wanted nothing more that to kill the som'bitches that hurt my friends. One thing I hated was those few times where I didn't have a map and a radio to contact a fire base to throw artillery rounds near me and on them. Those times were few considering the length of time I spent there. In fact, most of my time in Vietnam was some of the most boring times with periods of intense action. Almost everything I did was loud and I'm sure that my partial deafness was the result of that. Get up on of a mountain top LZ and fire howitzers night and day and see how much you can hear in the end.
I am sure that if you got a hundred guys from that war together you would find that there are a hundred different thoughts about what they did and where they were. My dad said that in his war and in the Navy, if he had a bed, it was dry. Me, not so much.
One thing I can guarantee is that if you were there, you remember it. That politician that misspoke is an asshole and worse a Lawyer so he should know right from illegal. I hear that there is a saying, "Once a marine, always a Marine." There is just a line you should not cross in your war stories and claim to be something you are not.