Stories of Service

June 15, 2017
Local Stories of Service typographical graphic

Told below are stories from local men, women, children, American and Vietnamese, that served during the Vietnam War. These first-person experiences give a brief insight into the war then and the war now that forever remains in their memories. Click on a name to read their experience.

Larry Reid
Christina Simmons
John Runski
Vernon W. Avery
T. Minh Tran
Robert MacLeod
Harrison Davis
James Brock Kitchen
Fred Glenn
Gene Chapman
George Pardner
Murphy “Murph” Archibald

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“Within my first five days of being in Vietnam–a centipede (not sure if they bit or stung)–got me on the forearm. The shape of his body stayed on my arm for about two weeks.

The Corpsman (medical personnel) told me that my body was still in good condition–but if I had been in Vietnam six months or more, the bite probably would have killed me–it was my introduction to the insect species of southeast Asia.

Staff Sergeant Larry R. Reid

– Larry R. Reid, Staff Sargent (E-6)
Tour of Vietnam 1967-68 in infantry and artillery on a 105 Howitzer

My third week there we were overrun by the Vietcong. They got in our perimeter about two in the morning–we didn’t get them all out until about daylight. And it sure was nice to hear “Puff the Magic Dragon” (the C-130 planes with the machine guns) come to help secure our position.

In early 1968, we were up on the DMZ helping with the siege of Khe Sanh, called “Operation Pegasus,” we received a taste of our own medicine. We were receiving artillery rounds from the North Vietnamese. Just about everybody in the unit were saying prayers day and night hoping we would make it back home. Two of our members were killed. I thanked the Lord for letting me come back home.

(post historical note: later learned that this operation kept many Marines to the north at DMZ. The Vietcong used that to start the “Tet Offensive” in the south)

We had a guy in our unit and he would hang around with the black guys, He had told us, every time he got a letter from his mama, she would always say, “Your daddy says he will be glad when you get back home so you can join the Club (“club” being the KKK). He said he didn’t know how he was going to explain to his daddy that black guys saved his life and he had bBlack friends now.

We used to shoot at night what we called “harassment and interdiction fire” in the direction of the paths the Vietcong would use trying to deter them from overrunning our unit. Early the next morning by daylight, there would be women, Vietnamese families, coming to our gate carrying babies and children who had received artillery fire from us that night before. The children were wounded, maimed or deceased…this impacted me and still does whenever I hear children cry.”

– Larry R. Reid, Staff Sargent (E-6)
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“I enlisted in the United States Air Force in July, 1974. By this time, the Viet Nam War was winding down. Prior to my enlistment, I was unaware of the trickle down effect that it had on my life.

Christina Simmons

Christina Simmons

I would hear about boys getting drafted and about some that did everything in their power to avoid serving in the military. There were deferments for men with wives and children, students and people with medical problems.  The people in the Air Force were volunteers. Most Airmen joined to escape being drafted into the Army or the Marines.  The Air Force wasn’t a combat organization.

Not only was there a war going on in Viet Nam, the country was fighting several battles of its own; this was the time of the Black Power movement and the feminist movement. I was caught up in a three-way battle being black, female and having a high mechanical aptitude was a blessing but also a curse.

Just a few years prior to my enlistment, in order to become a WAF (Woman in the Air Force) you had to pass a written and physical exam and your recruiter had to submit a photograph with your application. So we still had few of those beauty queens on active duty in 1974. Also, during that time, women who enlisted in the military were labeled as either promiscuous or gay.

Now, we had black women with huge afros and could lift the required 70 pounds. That allowed us to be placed into jobs that had been previously dominated by men. My flight, W123, was composed of just as many black girls as white. There seemed to be more country girls than city girls. Most of the girls were going into non-traditional jobs (whether they wanted to or not). There was only one male in my Jet Engine Mechanic class!

There was no talk of war and we were isolated. No tv or radio for a few weeks. Nixon had resigned and replaced about four days before we found out.

One of the saddest things about that time was the way that members of the military were disrespected. A lot of people though that this was an unjust war. Black men, especially, questioned their mandated commitment to fight a foreign enemy of color when the real enemy was at home. I was reluctant to wear my uniform too far from the base because of stories of being spat on or harassed.

When the war ended, I don’t remember any kind of celebration. Nothing significant happened.

It was over and life went on.”

– Christina Simmons
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“I served from February 1967 to February 1968.

John Runski

John Runski

I sent letters to my folks and my fiancé. We also communicated by Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS) shortwave radio which was really neat at the time.

I think about it and I get a little emotional about what happened… on my way home, I got caught in the Tet Offensive. That delayed me a few days. I felt a lot of love when I returned because I got married two weeks later.

I’m not sure I ever understood why I was there. I thought I did, but there is so much behind it, so much politics, so many things went on that I’m hoping this Ken Burns series straightens it out for me. I’m hoping it informs me and gives me some peace of mind.

We went on with our lives but I’ve bumped into a number of veterans who aren’t healthy right now. We got struck with Agent Orange, I’m sure you know what that is. Some of my friends are crippled right now because of that. I’m lucky, I’m standing here at all.

War is not fun. It’s difficult to talk about.”

– John Runski
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On April 7, 1969 I arrived in Vietnam. I was assigned to the 4th Infantry Division Replacement Detachment, Pleiku.

Vernon W. Avery

Vernon W. Avery

My first hot meal was so juicy, that it all ran together. The bread was so crunchy, and later I realized it was filled with tiny black bugs. A short time later I was assigned to the 1st Battalion 22nd Infantry Division as a combat medic, serving on firebase no-slack. I moved to the head medic position.

I went on many patrols and received my Combat Medical Badge. On Nov. 14, 1969, while on patrol I was wounded in action. I was awarded the Purple Heart Medal while in the hospital at Qui Nhon.

Other things I remember was while we were on patrols…how we walked thru rice patties, how there would be water leeches, how our socks and boots were soaked but we left them on our feet for fear we might have conflict from the enemy.

Also I remember the ground leeches and how we covered our heads at night with poncho liners because of the many mosquitoes. I remember drinking muddy water from the rice patties also. These are just a few of the better memories I have from Vietnam.”

– Vernon W. Avery
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I am not a victim.

T Minh Tran as an adult revisiting an old house in Vietnam

T Minh Tran as an adult revisiting an old house in Vietnam

I crawled out from under the bed to find part of the roof of our house was missing.
The four walls were filled with bullet holes.
Many of my childhood playmates, who’s innocent were robbed and did not survived the Tet Offensive.
I am not a victim.

I am not a victim.
I received my 15th birthday present from the government, a Garand M-1 rifle.
Our assignment was to guard one of the posts within the city limit.
Our order was to shoot at anything that moved after curfew.
We did, and in return we were greeted with flying bullets from AK47, which produced a sound one cannot erase from memory.
I am not a victim.

I am not a victim.
I held the lifeless body of my teacher, who blood dyed my starch white school uniform crimson.
I can still hear him whispers in his dying breath, “They found me.”
I am not a victim.

I am not a victim.
We zigzagged on the tarmac of Tan Son Nhut Airport with incoming artilleries.
We packed the C130 cargo plane with people.
As the plane took off, I was pinned in the darkness at the back of the plane.
I could hardly breathe, but all I could think of was that I just lost my country.
I am not a victim.

I am not a victim.
We moved from refugee camp to refugee camp, where daily diet consisted of flake of white fish and rice.
But our worry was toward my 6 month old nephew.
I am not a victim.

I had been called a Cong, a Charlie, a Chang, even a Jap.
Those words are too petty for me.
I had been denied of opportunities because of the color of my skin, the way I look and the way I talk.
But I made and will continue create my own opportunities.
I had lived, am living and will live in many interest times.
Whether it’s a curse or a blessing, it is up to me to control my destiny.

– T. Minh Tran, is a refugee who barely escaped during the fall of Saigon at the age of 15, old enough to have scars from the war.
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“The Coast Guard was in the Department of Treasury at that point and then it went to Department of Defense. I was in a little village called Cat Lo and we had nine 82 footers.

Robert MacLeod

Robert MacLeod

I’m hoping this film (“The Vietnam War”) explains to the American people what Vietnam was all about. The movies and films that have been out for the past 20 years are indicative of a war that was nasty and some of the things we went through. The film should comfort a lot of people. This should help a lot of guys still dealing with PTSD.

I had the opportunity to go to Washington, DC, to Coast Guard headquarters for recognition of our service in Vietnam. That was the first time I received any positive recognition in all of the 50 years. Now that America is recognizing what we did and we are getting some praise, we feel wonderful, we feel warmer about it.

I am my father’s son. He’s World War II. My older cousins were Korean War vets, and I am a Vietnam vet. We’ve all had our difficulties, but organizations like PBS and others help us through some of the difficulties that we may still have.

I would do it again tomorrow morning. We were not there just for the war part, I was part of building a Catholic church in Cat Lo. I was in the village doing Red Cross work. It was not just the shooting and killing, it was humanitarian stuff too.

There are several fellows I miss today, tremendously miss them. There is nothing we can do about that now but pray, mourn and support each other.”

– Robert MacLeod
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“I arrived in the Republic of Vietnam in 1969 assigned to the 196th light infantry brigade.

I was 20 years old with my whole life in front of me.

Harrison Davis

Harrison Davis (left)

While engaging with the enemy under hostile fire on February 18, 1970, I was wounded for the first time and sent to the rear area to recover. After a partial recovery shortly thereafter, I returned to the battlefield once again. On May 16, 1970 I was wounded a second time engaging with the enemy.

After a short recuperation, I returned to the battlefield to engage with the North Vietnamese regular Army near the DMZ and was wounded a third time.

I received a total of three purple hearts, a bronze star and a commendation medal for all my engagements.

At the conclusion of my combat duty assignment in Vietnam, I was assigned to headquarters Americal division as an aid for A.E. Milloy, commanding major general of the of the Americal division.”

– Harrison Davis
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“I served 1968 to 1969.

James Brock Kitchen

James Brock Kitchen

I have grandkids, they don’t know anything about Vietnam. They may have heard of Vietnam, but they are basically disinterested, not invested in it. For years, I wouldn’t put on any camouflage, utilities or wear anything—hats that said Marine Corps—or any kind of stuff like that. I went for years and years and never talked about it, wouldn’t acknowledge it or anything else. In the last five to seven years, I have come around a little bit and accepted it.

You think you could be safe on a base, but when you start hearing whistles and sirens going off, the first thing you want to do is head for a bunker. I dove into a bunker one time and felt a sharp sting. I grabbed my arm and said, ‘Okay, Purple Heart. Going home.’ I had actually jumped in and my arm landed on someone’s cigarette butt and burnt my arm. So it was a big joke and everybody had a big laugh out of it.

There are still questions that a lot of us vets have about why we were there. Why did friends die? I suffer from PTSD, and so it brings back a lot of memories, but at the same time when you start thinking about friends you lost, it makes you want to try and live a better life because they can’t. So, we try to look at it like that.

I’ll never go back. I’ve had friends that went back to Vietnam. Even my daughter went to Vietnam and I told her some places to go visit. But I wouldn’t go back.”

–James Brock Kitchen
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“I served in Vietnam from August 1965 until August 1966 as a Helicopter Door Gunner. We were the original door gunners called Shotgunners. We trained in Hawaii with the 25th Division.

Sgt. Fred Glenn

Sgt. Fred Glenn

I was with the Thunderbirds 118th Assault Helicopter Unit 2nd Platoon in Vietnam. (One of our helicopters, Blue Tail 6, is on display at the VFW in Salisbury, NC).

One day as we were coming out of a hot LZ (landing Zone) my ship (helicopter), Blue Tail 8, was shot down. The pilot sent out a May Day call and our Gun Ships came and started to fly cover around us until they could get us out.

On February 18, 1966 our helicopter came upon a helicopter crash near Saigon that had five or six bodies on it. I found out years later that two of the bodies were the first women nurses killed in Vietnam (2nd Lieutenant Carol Drazba and 2nd Lieutenant Elizabeth Jones)

When I got back to the “States” after my tour of duty in Vietnam, I went to Drill Sargent School and became a Drill Sargent at Ft. Bragg, N.C.”

– Sgt. Fred Glenn
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“April of 1969 to May of 1970, Tong Chong base in Saigon.

Gene Chapman

Gene Chapman

I don’t know if I have any great memories. I volunteered. In Vietnam, I was rather frightened. They gave out the assignments in my unit; I was going to Vietnam.

I was in a communications support unit. I can remember all of my 12 months over there. It was exciting, scary at times, but we lived. My only injury was to my foot when I had a bad dream and I kicked up and hit rafters.

Most of our generations, the last two or three, have never heard of Vietnam. They never heard of Korea. I’m a substitute school teacher and I ask children, ‘Do you remember Pearl Harbor?’ They have never heard of Pearl Harbor. We’re so focused on math, science and language arts, I don’t think there’s enough attention paid to the history of the United States.

We need to learn about the past so we don’t repeat things that have happened. I think that’s a critical point that a lot of people need to think about. Even in our current situation right now with North Korea, do we make that critical mistake of causing a war when it’s not necessary?”

– Gene Chapman
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From the Old Reliable News, 29 November 1967
Reporter’s first reaction “something big happening” by SP5 Mike Renshaw, Staff Writer

As we began to dig our foxholes a 9th Division helicopter touched down with the final resupply of ammunition for the night.

The smell of freshly turned earth filled the Mekong Delta clearing as the helicopter lifted off and hovered momentarily over this 3rd Brigade fire support base.

Private First Class George Pardner

Private First Class George Pardner

Specialist Four John Moses, 31, Jackson, Miss., a clerk in the personnel section of the 5th Mechanized Battalion, 60th Infantry, and I were debating about the size of our foxhole as the helicopter disappeared into the darkening Vietnam sky.

Moses looked up and threw a shovel full of dirt from the hole. Sweat streaked down his face. “I don’t like this place one bit,” he said staring into the jungle surrounding the fire base.

West of Fire Base Cudgel flowed one of the many tidal rivers that wind through the western part of Dinh Tuong Province.  On the south, a smaller canal borders the camp.

By midnight the rising Delta water table had filled the foxhole with six inches of water and forced us to find sleeping quarters above ground.

About two hours later, the sound of explosions and people dashing for cover awakened me.  I pulled the blanket from my face just in time to see a tracer ricochet in front of me.

Something big was happening.

Machine gun fire was coming in low and heavy. I started to low-crawl to the foxhole, but didn’t dare climb over the parapet we had built around the pit.

For twenty minutes I hugged the ground.

Private First Class George Pardner, 19, a grenadier with the Recon Platoon 5/60th recalled the details of the clash: “Our platoon had dug foxholes on the west side of the river and everything was quiet until bout 2 a.m.  That’s when they hit us with everything.

“Man, they were close,” Pardner of Rochester, New York, continued. “They were no more than 25 meters from our positions and were trying to throw grenades on us.

We kept tossing grenades back at them and firing. I set off a claymore mine and we could hear them screaming and running all over the place.”

You could hear them talking. That’s how close they were.”

– Submitted by Elizabeth Pardner, widow of George Pardner who died in 1983
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“I served from November of 1968 through January of 1970.

Murphy "Murph" Archibald

Murphy “Murph” Archibald

In Vietnam, I saw a group of people working harder than I had ever seen a group of people work.

I think it’s really critical to understand Vietnam and to understand any future significant actions we take as a country. We should understand it’s all gray. It’s not black and white. It’s not slogans, it’s not bumper stickers. It’s just—you have to really understand what went on.

I have 900 books on the Vietnam War and I’m still trying to understand what happened there and what happened to the people who were there. You’ve got to get underneath what was going on before the Vietnam War.

I think the thing that bothers me most about Vietnam is that there was a failure to recognize a distinction between the warriors and the war. What particularly concerns me is that so many people ended up shunning Vietnam veterans. It was the first uncensored war. War is always horrible. They’re always full of innumerable tragedies.

– Murphy “Murph” Archibald
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