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This section of the website enables you to interview people who were involved in the Vietnam War. Read through the biographies and find people that you would like to interview for your project. Send your questions by using the email facility at the end of each biography.

Interviews

Sergeant Paul Mahar: I was born on the 24th of June, 1947 in Geneva, York. I am a transplanted city kid. I was raised in New York City and New Jersey. I now live in northern Idaho and have since 1979.

I've had many different occupations in my more than thirty years of working. I've worked with plastic injection molding and woodworking machines. I was also a pre-school teacher many years ago, which I truly enjoyed.

I served in Vietnam from November 1966 to December 1967 with Alpha and Delta Companies of the second battalion twenty-seventh infantry (Wolfhounds) of the 25th Division. I was stationed in Cu Chi, about twenty miles north of Saigon or what is now known as Ho Chi Minh City.

I was featured in People Magazine (21st March, 1994) and interviewed by Tom Brokaw for 'Now With Tom Brokaw' in August of the same year. I achieved "15 minutes of fame" because I served in Vietnam in the place of another man without the benefit of military training. (You can find the People Magazine article in the Pathfinder section of People Magazine on the Internet.) I was a combat veteran for my entire service in Vietnam. I entered more than twenty tunnels, lucky enough to have never met anything alive other than a chicken which, to say it mildly, almost scared me to death.

I've lost good friends in Vietnam, many of whom I still think about today I look at the Vietnam War as a noble cause which failed for many reasons - one is the politcal climate - many people thought that the US had no business in Vietnam, thus negating the will to achieve goals that were never fully defined. It was difficult for Americans back home to support a cause when sons and daughters came home "disabled" without having an understanding of why we were there in first place. The United States was in a lot of internal turmoil during the late sixties and early seventies. I reached the rank of Sergeant (E-5) in Vietnam and am proud of my service. EMail pmahar@email.msn.com

 

Major Nick Romaine: I was born in Los Angeles, California in 1940. I enlisted in the United States Army at the age of 19. After four years I applied for and was accepted to Officer Candidate School. After completing the training I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Infantry, and was assigned to the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Lewis, Washington. I performed numerous duties as an Infantry Officer. When I was a senior 1st Lieutenant I was given command of an Infantry Company. When we left the United States in 1966, aboard a ship, we had 185 soldiers assigned to my Company. There were 33 of my men that were killed in Vietnam by the end of our year and all but one were wounded at least once. All Company Commanders were rotated frequently so all would have a chance to be a commander in combat. When I left my Company I was able to continue serving with my Battalion where my primary duties were to coordinate and request airstrikes of high performance fighter aircraft and bombing runs of B-52 bombers and numerous other types of aircraft. Most of the soldiers that were in my Company had been drafted. Since we trained together and deployed together we had a very good unit. We knew each other well which was a plus when we got into battle. The bad thing about this was when one of ours was killed we lost a little of ourselves. It was like a piece of our heart was tore out. Those of us that returned suffer from a condition called PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Most of us returned to the United States at different times, due to being wounded and when we were released from the hospital and discharged from the Army we scattered to the four winds. We have been trying to locate each other ever since and we now have 72 of us in touch with each other. Our First Sergeant by the way, was awarded the Medal of Honor. Our nations highest award for bravery.

I returned to the United States in 1967 and taught Infantry subjects at the Army Intelligence School. In 1970 I returned to Vietnam where I was assigned as a Senior Battalion Advisor to a Vietnamese Ranger Battalion (Army Rangers are kind of like Commandos). Myself and my Sergeant were the only Americans in this unit. My Sergeant was killed during one operation and it was about six weeks before a replacement was sent to me. I didn't see another American the entire time, although I did talk to them on the radio. We were often in contact with the enemy and it was a very stressful year. I was able to survive physically and came home and got out of the Army after fourteen years of service. I completed another nine years in the reserves and am now retired. Email capof33_@_aol.com

 

Petty Officer Joseph T. Miller: I was born in Chicago, Illinois, on December 22, 1942. He was raised in a working-class family and brought up Catholic. Upon graduation from high school in 1960, Joe worked in a warehouse for a while until he decided to enlist in the U.S. Navy in April 1961, not long after his eighteenth birthday.

During basic training at Great Lakes Naval Training Center from April through June of 1961, Joe was selected to work in the intelligence field. He was eventually sent to learn Chinese-Mandarin in Monterey, California, a course of study he completed in May 1963. By this time, Joe had advanced to E-4, a Petty Officer Third Class. Joe was posted to the Naval Security Group Detachment just outside Taipei, Taiwan, where he was assigned traffic analysis duties for the National Security Agency.

While on Taiwan, Joe met and fell in love with a Taiwanese woman. This was not acceptable for one who carried a "Top Secret Crypto" security clearance, so Joe was removed from intelligence work as a "security risk" and sent aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga in June 1964. While he was posted on board the Ticonderoga, the "incidents" in the Gulf of Tonkin took place (July 31-August 5, 1964).

Since Joe knew some of the intelligence workers who were temporarily assigned to the USS Maddox as part of this spy operation against northern Vietnam, he was appalled when the President told the American people the lie that the Maddox was on a "routine patrol" in "international waters." This began Joe's turn against the U.S. war in Vietnam.

Joe's antiwar attitudes increased over his remaining four years in the U.S. Navy, so that by the time he was discharged in February 1968 (as an E-5, Petty Officer Second Class), he had determined to become actively involved in the protest movement against the war. Joe joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW) in 1970, having been a part of other antiwar organizations before then. Joe continues to be a member of VVAW, and he currently serves as one of the four National Co-Coordinators of that organization.

Miller holds a BA in Political Science, an MA in Asian Studies, and a PhD in Political Science, all obtained after he left the service. He currently serves as the Undergraduate Academic Advisor for all Political Science majors at the University of Illinois, and he teaches courses in political theory, international relations, American government, and a course on the politics of the Vietnam War.
Email jtmiller@uiuc.edu

 

T/Sgt. Dan Decker: I joined the Air Force in October 1966, basic at Lackland AFB, TX, tech school as an Inertial Navigation Systems Specialist at Keesler AFB, Miss. My first operational duty was at Seymour Johnson AFB, NC, with the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing working on F-4D fighter-bombers. In January 1968 we were sent TDY to Kunsan AB, Korea, in response to the capture of the USS Pueblo. After six months of boring holes in the Korean sky and rattling the American sabers, the 4th returned home, relieved by a National Guard outfit from Florida flying F-100 aircraft.

In January 1970, I was reassigned to Udorn RTAFB, Thailand, with the 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing. The 432nd flew RF-4Cs of the 11th and 14th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadrons , F-4Ds of the 13th and 555th Tactical Fighter Squadrons, and C-130Es of the7th Airborne Command and Control Squadron. The bases in Thailand were kept secret for many years by our government at the request of the Thai government and because we weren't supposed to be there according to treaty, but they were finally acknowledged later in the war. My orders said I was going to Top Secret; I had no idea where that was. The bases in Laos and Cambodia were never acknowledged to exist by our government, but they were there, and they contributed significantly to keeping the number of names on the Wall to only 58,000.

An astoundingcharacteristic of Vietnam War veterans who did not serve in-country is a feeling of guilt and inadequacy. I'm a member of the Thailand-Laos-Cambodia Brotherhood, an organization of Vietnam veterans. Together we have come to realize the importance of our service in Thailand and the other countries of Indochina. Our missions against the Ho Chi Minh Trail saved untold thousands of American lives in South Vietnam. The attempt to repatriate our POWs at Son Tay was launched from my base while I was there. The flight line, by some miracle, became even busier than normal and held even more planes during the raid. I was working in Maintenance Debriefing at that time and so was able to talk with all of the pilots as they came back.

I remained in the Air Force following Vietnam until I finally retired in 1986. I worked on a large number of aircraft, including F(RF)-4C/D/E, C-130s, KC-135A/R, B-52G/H, B-1B, A-10A, CH(HH)-53C/E, and others. It was an exciting and very rewarding career. Following my retirement as a T/Sgt, I went back to college and graduated with a BA in Composite Social Studies in 1989 and an MA in History in 1996.  I taught high school social studies in Texas for 15 years, have retired as a public school teacher, and now I teach college classes in U.S. Government and Texas Government for Austin Community College in Fredericksburg, Texas. Email ddecker@chancefac.net

 

Sergeant Robert Wheatley: I was born in Indianapolis, Indiana on March 12, 1946. I was one of those referred to as a "Baby Boomer". My father, like many other young men his age, had gone off to fight in World War II. I was born in the years following his return after the war was won - along with the millions of others born in the post war baby boom. Dad had been stationed in England with the 8th Air Force as a machine gunner on a B-24 bomber. I always felt a great deal of pride that he had served in that war, and I always knew, when and if my time came, I would follow in his footsteps. I wasn't "Gung Ho" about it. In fact, I hoped that time would never come. But it did, it was my duty as a man and as an American to step up to the task.

Just as I finished high school in 1964, my time indeed arrived. I had graduated in May that year and got a job at a fast food place. I was just kind of marking time, until I decided where I wanted to go with my life. I had applied and been accepted to Butler University in Indianapolis, but I wasn't ready to jump into college right away, not knowing what field I wanted to enter. About that time, the troop buildup in Vietnam began to increase at a rapid pace. America was committing to something much larger than just an advisory role in Vietnam - we had committed to send in ground combat troops - by the hundreds of thousands. I had several choices I could make. I could go ahead and enroll in college and be protected by a college deferment. I could wait and do nothing. Or I could enlist. Actually, there was another option - to leave the country. I'd heard reports of some leaving to live in Canada in order to evade the draft. But that was a non starter for me. I wouldn't even begin to consider it. I was an American, by God! And I would fulfill my obligation, just as my father had in his own time.

I could see that if I did nothing, the choice would be made for me. I would likely be drafted, probably to end up in the infantry. Because my father had been in the Army Air Corps, I made the choice to enlist in the Air Force. The Air Force enlistment was longer than the draft - four years, compared to two years for the draft. Even at that, I figured I had a better chance of surviving the war in the Air Force. And besides, I could learn a trade or skill there that I might be able to put to good use in civilian life after my enlistment was up. I signed on the dotted line and was inducted, along with a friend from high school, on November 29th, 1964.

We went through basic training together at Lackland Air Force base, outside of San Antonio, Texas. After the six weeks of basic was done, my friend and I parted, never to meet again, until we both had completed our 4 year enlistments. He had been chosen for aircraft mechanic school. But because I had scored well on the language aptitude test when we went through basic, and because the Air Force was in dire need of interpreters at the time, I was selected for training in Chinese Mandarin. Why Chinese? The Chinese and the Soviet Communists were supplying massive amounts military arms to the North Vietnamese, and people were needed who could listen in on the Chinese radio communications and translate them for intelligence. The job required Top Secret Security clearance. In 1965, I attended the Defense Language Institute at the Presidio of Monterey in Monterey, California. It was ten months of the most intensive schooling imaginable. We were taught by native Chinese instructors, and we were required to speak only Chinese for the duration of the school, except where it was necessary to communicate with non Chinese speakers. By the time we left, we were fluent in Mandarin and had working knowledge of 8 other Chinese dialects.

After language school, I spent a one year tour on Okinawa, at a small radio listening post at a place called Onna Point. I had been lucky enough not to have drawn an assignment in Southeast Asia! That year on Okinawa was a relatively safe one, although being on a small island in the middle of the vastness of the East China Sea for that long really made me yearn for and appreciate the States. After 12 months of the 13 month tour was up, I received orders curtailing my stay there for reassignment to Detachment 4 of the 6922 Security Wing. The last year of my enlistment would be in Southeast Asia after all. Detachment 4 was someplace in up country Thailand, near the border with Laos. With the assignment came promotion to Sergeant and the duties of an NCO. I would be a shift supervisor with responsibility for about 15 men in the Chinese Voice Intercept section. And I would spend that year listening in on Chinese military air transports, carrying supplies from Beijing, the Chinese Communist capital into Hanoi, North Vietnam's capital city.

Most of the US operations in Thailand were kept secret for a number of reasons. And many people, even Vietnam veterans were unaware of what was going on there. Few people back in the States were aware we even had bases in Thailand, much less in Laos or Cambodia. Because of that, vets who served in Thailand are looked upon by some as counterfeit war veterans. But the operations out of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia helped save the lives of untold thousands of our troops in Vietnam. Many thousands of bombing and combat support missions were flown out of Thailand, and they played a major part in the war. Without them, there would undoubtedly be many more names listed on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC today.

Although Thailand was relatively safe duty, compared to Vietnam, there were incidents, even there, of guerrilla ambush in the countryside and sapper attacks on our air bases. The Udorn Air Base, just down the road from us was hit by sappers in July that year. Two Thai perimeter guards were killed in the attack, and at least two Americans were wounded, one of them fatally, by a satchel charge detonated by one of the sappers. Among the raiders killed was a North Vietnamese Army officer, a Captain. And one NVA troop was captured alive. It was obvious the North Vietnamese were directly aiding the Communist insurgents in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, as well as the Viet Cong in South Vietnam.

I had spent 10 months in Thailand when I received orders curtailing my tour there. I would get to go home and return to civilian life six weeks early! Oddly enough, I was torn when it came time leave. I had come to love Thailand and its people, and I hated to leave, as much as I had longed to go home when I first arrived. That was a phenomenon experienced by many Vietnam vets, and it was one totally unexpected. It made the returning home as difficult as the leaving home had been.

I have always been proud of my service, in spite of the war's unpopularity and in spite of it's outcome. I consider it a privilege to have served. I still believe we had a noble purpose in being there - to save the people of Southeast Asia from an onslaught of Communism. It was just badly mismanaged. Whatever anyone says about America's involvement there, the way the war was managed, or the war's tragic outcome, it does not diminish that noble purpose for me. Email rewheatl@cnz.com
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Sergeant Keith Rohring: I served with the United States Air Force from January 1964 to November 1967 - when I was discharged 60 days early to go back to college in January 1968. I enlisted from Buffalo, New York, and returned there in late 1967, upon discharge from the USAF. I currently live in Albuquerque, New Mexico since 1997.

I served at a place hard on the Mekong River named Nakhon Phanom (aka NKP, AKA Naked Fanny)450 miles North and East of Bangkok. The base was a jumping off point for clandestine operations in Laos and Cambodia - I am by no means well versed on those topics.

The NKP base was also a "radio beacon" for B-52 flights to and from U-Tapao in Thailand and Anderson AFB on Guam in the Pacific. It provided triangulation with "Cricket" an airborne C-111 or C-121 that flew circles somewhat South and East of NKP - most aircraft (20 plus years before GPS - folks) - could "figure out" where they were by using old long lost manual calculation methods.

NKP also had a complement of Search and Rescue units - when I was there the helicopters were much less organized and generally "on loan" from organized units at other American bases. Proximity to the Ho Chi Minh Trail meant NKP was the best base to stage propeller driven (slow movers) attack aircraft - such as A-26's and A-1E's. It was also the most convenient place to fly light Cessna type aircraft called FAC's (Forward Air Controllers) in units like the OV-1 and OV-2 Bird Dogs, and later the OV-10's - twin engine, much larger, and bad weather flyable aircraft.

My job was to perform various accounting, payroll, and finance disbursement activities. This included clearing land for housing on the base as it's population exploded during the months I was there. I also made numerous money runs to Bangkok to pick up Thai Baht to pay Thai workers, and American Dollars to pay Americans - military and "others". We did NOT use MPC (Military Payment Certificates) as were used in most other countries - including South Vietnam. I performed Petroleum, Oil and Lubricant Inventories until I trained someone else to do it. I cleared hundreds and hundreds of acres of land - using Thai laborers to do the work. I paid them three cents an hour for a laborer, five cents for a team leader (20 folks) and ten cents an hour to "no show" cousins of the Province Chief.

I would be willing to discuss any and all of these activities, as well as a number of "incidents" associated with near miss aircraft crashes - which haunt me still today. . . There was also a Live Tiger Incident ! There were 122 mm rockets blowing up the runway at DaNang while we were taxiing to depart to Saigon. There was the Nui Ba Den (Black Virgin Mountain) anti aircraft fire incidents. Aircraft with cracked fuselages; flying through treetops in a C-130. And more, much more.

My brother Kevin M Rohring, age 19, Private, USMC, with 2nd squad, Charlie Company, 3rd Platoon, 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment, 1st Marine Division, was KIA in Vietnam March 27, 1967 - he arrived "in country" as I left South East Asia in November 1966. I returned form my permanent duty station in Tokyo Japan to Buffalo, NY to bury my younger brother, then returned to Japan to complete the last 9 months of my 4 year USAF enlistment. Kevin's name is on Panel 17 East at "The Wall" - AKA the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington DC. I have spoken with and maintain contact with some of Kevin's USMC mates.

I have a philosophy about the Vietnam War. It has changed over the decades. I suffer PTSD to a great degree - manifesting it's ugliness as anger and rage, a non-violent display of verbal anger as a symptom. I am trying to work my way out of that anger - but have just started. Email KRohring@aol.com

 

Lieutenant D. Shackman: I was born in August of 1944 in a small farming community in south eastern Kansas. My formative years were spent working on farms and in local business. My fantasy from age 6 was to be a soldier. I envied the boys whose fathers were called back to service in Korea or were veterans of WW2. As soon as I completed high school, at age 17, I entered the service. Part of the reason was my desire to be a soldier and part was to escape the boredom of a small farming town. I was initially trained as a Light Weapons Infantryman. I hated the life. It was shining boots and wearing heavily starched uniforms just to get them dirty and wet running around and practicing formations. When the opportunity arose to get out of this life I jumped at it. I had never heard of Vietnam but there were openings for my MOS (Military Occupational Specialty). Volunteers were wanted and off I went. I spent the first 8 months working with what we called Ruff Puffs, of Regional Force/Popular Force units. These were part time soldiers that were being trained to protect their homes and communities. I believe the equivalent in England is the Home Guard. I became upset with the assignment because the soldiers didn't want to fight. I had no choice but to stay, the United States did not have large units of soldiers in Vietnam at this time. I was wounded and spent the rest of my enlistment in the hospital.

I entered college and graduated in 3 years. I also received a commission and re-entered the army as a Second Lieutenant. Instead of being infantry, I was now field artillery. I was posted back to Vietnam with the 1st Air Cavalry Division in 1969. Completing this tour, I was trained in ballistic missiles and went to Germany where I served for 3 years. In 1973 the army had a RIF (Reduction in Force). Since I was one of too many captains I was released from active duty. From 1974 to 1992 I worked as a photographer with a large corporation in the aerospace field. Again I was caught in a down size when peace broke out around the world. Since 1993 I have been involved in automobile sales. I stayed with the reserve components and retired from the army in 1992. I am proud of my service in Vietnam. I did my job as I saw it, I saw pain and suffering on both sides. I did nothing during the time I spent there of which I am ashamed. Email DSHACKMAN@aol.com

 

Navy Corpsman: Michael Lerp: I was born in Baltimore Maryland. In 1966 I joined the United States Navy. After completing "bootcamp" I attended the USN Naval Hospital Corps School in Great Lakes IL. In July of 1969 after serving at a number of duty stations I was sent to the Field Medical Service School in Camp Pendleton California. This is where Navy Corpsman learned about Marine Corp tactics and advanced field first aid. The United States Marine Corp doesn't have it's own Doctors, Nurses, Dental Technicians, Clergy or Corpsman. As part of the Navy the Marines have utilized Navy personnel to fill these assignments throughout it's history.

Among completion of this eight week school I was assigned to the 2nd Platoon of Golf Company 2nd Battalion 26th Marines. Being 21 years of age at the time I was among the oldest members of my platoon. My platoon mates were of an average age of 18 years and at first this was somewhat worrisome to me because I was to depend on these young people to guide me through a tour of duty. My platoon averaged between 50 and 60 Marines and along with one other Corpsman my job was to look after the wounded, to care for the sick and enforce sanitary procedures. I went on patrols with the Marines, slept where they slept, ate what they ate and in general lived under conditions that were totally oppose of those of other Navy personnel.

The wounded: It was my duty to perform first aid to the Marines that were injured by either enemy action or accidents. Furthermore it was my duty to determine the seriousness of their injuries and make the decision to as to whether or not they were sent to a hospital for treatment. I carried a "Unit One" which was the pack that contained medications, bandages, intravenous solutions and other equipment. This pack weighted about twenty pounds. On many occasions I performed first aid under fire. The toughest thing for me to do was to determine who would be treated first and who was to be treated last if more than one Marine was wounded. Our rule of thumb was to first treat the people who had life threatening wounds, but had a chance of survival after being treated. Treatment was then given to those with minor injuries and lastly to treat those who had little chance of living. This was the hardest part of my job.

The sick: We had more people getting sick than wounded. Malaria, fevers, infections and so forth were common. My job was to determine who among the sick were to been seen by a Medical Doctor. While I did not agree with the reasoning of the US Government's involvement in Vietnam I before going to Vietnam, I went over there to tend to the sick and wounded. Navy Corpsman were officially non-combatants, but after gaining experience in the field I stood watch on ambushes, learned to fire the M-60 machine gun and the M79 grenade launcher. Although I was assigned to carry a 45 cal. pistol, I carried an M16 rifle. I did all that I could to make sure "My Marines" made it through their tour. In return the Marines did all that they could to protect me and make my life easier.

In 1970 I was wounded and assigned to the 1st Medical Marine Hospital in DaNang and then taken to the United States for further treatment. Many of the Marines I served with were killed, and to see death come to these young people is a burden I'll carry for the rest of my life. To this day friends tell me that I left a little bit of me in Vietnam. To this I agree, to loose good friends is to loose part of one's self.
Email MLerp@email.msn.com.

 

Corporal Mike Toliver: I was born 1 Oct. 1949, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA. Being born and raised in an area of few people and lots of wild spaces led me to develop an interest in nature early, manifested in an interest in butterflies which I have to this day. I was a pretty ordinary student growing up, and in fact really hated high school. When I graduated from high school in 1967, I had no desire to attend college, which is what my parents wanted me to do. Instead, I had a vague desire to join the military and "do my part".

When I turned 18, in Oct. of 1967, I decided I would join the U. S. Marine Corps, in part because I felt I had something to "prove". So, in December of 1967, I joined. On 5 January 1968 I reported to boot camp at San Diego, California. After basic training, infantry training and training as a radio operator (my military specialty), I was sent to Vietnam on 25 June 1968. There I joined the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. We operated around Da Nang in northern South Vietnam. The area we were in was mostly sandy coastal plain, with rice paddies and small villages dotting the landscape. Mostly, we patrolled the area searching for the enemy. Our greatest hazard was booby traps, especially hand grenades with the fuses removed (so they'd explode instantly), attached to thin, nearly invisible trip wires. We also ran across the occasional land mine in the road, and occasional artillery rounds and aircraft bombs rigged to explode when someone stepped on them or tripped a trip wire. Once in awhile, we'd make contact with the enemy and a fire fight would result. My part in these was generally to be available to the commanding officers to allow them to communicate with various parts of their command. Only occasionally did I actually get involved in the shooting.

I served my 13 months (marines had 13 month tours, all other services only had 12 month tours) without any injury to myself, and only occasionally to anyone I knew. I briefly considered extending to finish out my enlistment in Vietnam, because I didn't want to put up with a bunch of Mickey Mouse back in the States. However, I decide it was probably better to put up with some spit and polish for 6 months than to risk getting blown up for 4 months. So, I left Vietnam on 19 July 1969, right about the time the US astronauts were walking on the moon. I had a brief leave at home (very strange) then I finished my enlistment at Santa Ana Helicopter base in California, getting released from active duty 10 Dec. 1969.

In January, 1970, I started college at the University of New Mexico. In May of 1970, National Guard troops killed 4 students at Kent State in Ohio, and our campus went nuts - the New Mexico National Guard was called in and bayoneted 11 students and the State Police came on campus and arrested over 100 students. Pretty weird for a combat vet. After that I finished my biology degree, went on to the University of Illinois to study insects, got my Master's and Ph.D. at U. Illinois, met my future wife there and got a job teaching biology at Eureka College (President Reagan's alma mater). Since then, I've settled in to the academic life, had a daughter (who is nine now). Every year I re-live Vietnam when I give a lecture on the war in our Western Civilization & Culture course (which all students at Eureka have to take). In fact, I re-live some aspect of 'Nam nearly every day of my life. Email miketol@mtco.com.

 

Earl Martin: I spent about six years in Vietnam. (1966-60, 73-75, and 1993.) During that time I was not in military service, but served as a conscientious objecter and worked with Vietnamese farmers in relief, and
in clearing fields of unexploded munitions. When the revolutionary forces took over in 1975, I stayed in country for another four months. I wrote a book about that experience entitled Reaching the Other Side (Crown Publishers).

We lived near My Lai in the province of Quang Ngai. I visited My Lai various times during the war and again at their 25th anniversary on March 16, 1993. It was quite moving. I was asked to address the gathered crowd of farmers and students in Vietnamese. A moment to be remembered. Email Patearl@aol.com

 

John C. Ratliff: I was in college in the years, 1964-66, when I decided to enlist in the US Air Force rather than be drafted. I was taking fairly difficult course work, and not maintaining the grades I needed to be exempt from the draft. In January 1967 I enlisted in the USAF, and went to Basic Training.

During Basic Training, volunteers were requested to join an elite group known as "Pararescue." I had heard of this group, as I had been in a Search and Rescue Explorer Scout post (part of the Boy Scouts of America). So I volunteered and went through the intensive 8-month training. This training included:

Preconditioning training (running and swimming); Parachute Jump School at Ft. Benning, Georgia; U.S. Navy Underwater Swimmers' School in Key West, Florida; Survival School in Washington State; Medical School in Texas; Mountain Climbing School in Georgia; Jungle Survival School in Panama; Pararescue Transition School in Florida.

I served first in Okinawa and Korea, then in Bermuda and finally in Florida. I had several interesting missions during that time; our missionwas to rescue people from accident scenes, especially from aircraft crashes. I also was a part of the world-wide rescue force for Apollo 13.

My enlistment was just about up when I decided that I had not seen everything, and extended my enlistment to go to DoNang, Vietnam. I then almost immediately worked to get out of Vietnam on an "early out" forreturning to school. I served in the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron in DaNang between October 21 1970 and June 9, 1971. I had a couple of missions while there, including one in which we pulled two pilots out of the mountains about 45 miles from Hanoi.

I graduated from Oregon State University in 1975, married a gal I met there from Hong Kong in 1977, taught for a year at Oregon Institute of Technology, then was a training officer, and for 18 years and a month worked for a state-owned insurance company (workers's compensation insurance) before being fired about a year and a half ago. I've been trying to get a job since (without success), and now am setting up a consulting company and contemplating the future. I think that some of my Vietnam experience contributed to my termination, as I would not bend when I felt that deep principals were involved (things like keeping commitments, honesty, providing only true figures to upper management).

I have since found a position, and for over 3 years have worked as Senior Environmental Health and Safety Engineer with Etec Systems, An Applied Materials Company. We have now moved to the Portland, Oregon area. This is one story that is having a happy ending. If one looks long and hard enough, there are employers out there who will hire a person who has been fired.

My advise to your students is to keep with their values, and don't compromise their ideals or their moral code. It worked for me in Vietnam, and it worked again finding this position.

My wife is a hospital pharmacist, and we have two boys, now 22 and 20 years old and enjoying college at two different universities. Both are doing very well, in mechanical engineering and computer science. One is going to Oregon State University, the other is a Junior in High School. I look forward to communicating with people who are interested in the Vietnam War.
Email j.ratliff5@verizon.net

 

 

Lieutenant Gerald Ney: Gerald Alan Ney, born February 18, 1945 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the first of 2 boys & 2 girls; while father stationed at radar installation near Victorville, California in the Mojave Desert. Ancestry is German, Swiss, English, French, Dutch & Scotch. Twelve years of School Sisters of Notre Dame in grade school & high school. Confirmation name: "George". Was cub scout, boy scout, altar boy & newspaper boy (5 years, 10 months). Played accordion 2nd through 8th grades & French Horn in high school band and university orchestra. Add in glasses, corduroy pants, love of classical music, good grades, poor athlete, and being a "good kid" during high school, I wasn't just a square, but a cube.

In November '62, Kennedy called up the Wisconsin National Guard for the Berlin crisis. Fast approaching draft age, this was a wake up call. By the time I entered the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee [UWM], I figured we were going to get into a war someplace soon (probably Germany and/or Cuba), and that it would be better to go in as an officer than a private. When US Army ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) made its pitch to the freshman males, I signed up. At the beginning of my junior year, I signed a contract, in exchange for a stipend for books, by which Uncle Sam owned my bod. Dropping out of school after that would have meant immediate induction into the Army as a private.

Meanwhile joined Alpha Phi Omega National service Fraternity, Newman Student Association (Catholic students' group named after John Henry Cardinal Newman of UK), International Club, Pershing Rifles (a military fraternity fielding drill teams), Scabbard & Blade Honorary Military Fraternity & Gamma Theta Upsilon Honorary Geography Fraternity. Or as my dad put it: "Can the Vice-Chancellor spare two hours to cut the grass this Saturday?". Switched majors from Meteorology to Geography after some disastrous encounters with calculus.

Attended ROTC summer camp at Fort Riley, Ks. in JUL & AUG 1966. A bit flabby and overweight, with a tendency to deliberately try and see all angles in tactical situations that demanded quick decisions, I came out 296th of 297 (297 was sent home). Graduated mainly on the strength of taking whatever they dished out and coming back for more.

In April '67, if my memory serves me, was part of the honor guard for the first UWM grad killed in Vietnam. Watching the young widow, the six of us made a pact not to get married till after we went to Vietnam. As far as I know all did so. In May '67, the presentation, of the US flag to that same widow at the ROTC Chancellor's Review, was used as the signal to start the first major antiwar demonstration at UWM. As student election commissioner was one of about a dozen ROTC
cadets singled out to have daisies placed in their rifles. Unlike later years' demonstrations there was no trouble.

Upon graduation with a BS in Geography, commissioned a 2Lt in Army Military Intelligence (6/4/67). Active duty at Fort Benning, 11/26/67 for Infantry Officer's Basic ("to get an appreciation of the problems of the infantry officer") followed 2/15/68 by Aerial Surveillance Officer's Course at Fort Holabird in Baltimore, Maryland. Five months later, after 30 days leave, arrived at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam and assigned as OIC (officer in charge) of the aerial imagery section of the 172nd MI (Military Intelligence) Co., 173rd airborne brigade at LZ English, Binh Dinh Province, II Corps. Spent the next year in that job, with trips to Saigon & Qui Nhon for training classes, and one to Bao Lac on detached duty for 19 days in February '69. Spent much of off-duty time on court-martial duty.

Flew 39 hand-held photo missions, using an Asahi Pentax 35mm w/200mm lens in anything available to fly. Fortunate to have only been shot at once by the enemy on these versus twice by our own 105mm howitzers. Of course there was the routine dozen nightly mortar shells for several days at a stretch and the occasional perimeter probes. Still I didn't have a bad year compared to many others.

After Vietnam, stationed at Fort Carson, Co. from August '69 to July '71, working first in the same job, then as S-2 (Staff Intelligence Officer) successively in an Infantry Battalion and a Field Artillery Group, then as a supply officer. Met my wife through a folk Mass group in Colorado Springs and got married 6 weeks before separating from the service. Found my Geography degree and experience as an officer meant zero on the job market.

Thanks to the supply officer position, eventually landed a job with the Navy as an inventory manager at the Aviation Supply Office (now renamed Navy Inventory Control Point {NAVICP} - Philadelphia); which I've worked for since October '72. All years since in Philly, except SEPT '77 to JUN '79 at NAS (Naval Air Station) Alameda, California as a field representative.

Married now 26 years, with 2 boys 25 & 24 and a girl 19. Didn't become active in veterans' affairs till 1985. Wasn't burying myself in the woodwork like many Vietnam Vets, but was just bound up in keeping my family's heads above water. Currently and a life member of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), Association of the 173rd Airborne Brigade & Vietnam Helicopter CrewMembers of America (VHCMA). Also a member of Catholic War Veterans (CWV). Past president of my VVA & 173rd chapters, VVA state council delegate & chapter education committee chairman (go into schools & teach on the war), 173rd delegate to United Veterans Council [assistant chaplain] & to Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. EMail gerald_ney@icpphil.navy.mil

 

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