Spec 4, U.S. Army
Belleville, Michigan was my home town. I was the eldest of five children and graduated in the class of 1964 from Belleville High. Six weeks later I turned 18, and two weeks after that I began working on an assembly line at the Rawsonville Ford Motor Company plant. I thought I was making great money. I had a new 1965 Chevy Impala. I liked racing it and loved dating ladies. I thought I had it made. Uncle Sam had other ideas. He wrecked my everything.
The Vietnam War was building up fast and they needed soldiers to fill increased quotas. I was drafted and entered the Army in February 1966. I belonged to the government for two years.
I made it through Basic Training and was mentally and physically psyched up. Then I had seven weeks of radio school and I became proficient with Morse Code, then I was sent to another post for eleven weeks of teletype training. That meant more Morse Code, many hours of typing classes and AM radio equipment instructions. Of the 48 in our class, 16 of us got orders to go to Vietnam.
After a two-week leave back home, I left for Vietnam from Fort Dix, New Jersey. We flew there on a C-141, the biggest plane I had ever seen. The 20-hour flight was grueling. Our seating was on a most uncomfortable lawn chair type webbing. There were no windows in the plane and virtually no sound deadening. What the heck, we were going to Nam, why make it comfortable!
As a teletype operator with orders for a signal unit, I expected my tour not to be too bad. Teletype units needed air conditioning to work properly. However, things changed at the 90th Replacement Center in Saigon. There was apparently a much greater need for voice radio operators for infantry units, which was my basic Military Occupation Specialty (MOS). Standing in formation my name was called out to go to the 1st Airmobile Cavalry Division. I remembered from watching TV back home that the 1st Cav had many soldiers killed in some big battles before I entered the Army. So, I knew this could prove to be a most interesting experience.
I was assigned to the 2nd Battalion 7th Cavalry Regiment Headquarters Company. My job was battalion radio operator. I handled voice messages from rifle companies to battalion officers. Our group of radio operators handled radio messages about needing anything from supplies, Medevac, artillery support, support personnel, kill counts, etc. During times of enemy contact, the radio messages at times came fast and furious, often with coordinates (specific geographic location), which required total accuracy. There were times when we flew out with the rifle companies with our radios and longer-range antennas. We set up in the landing zone and were the infantry unit’s communications back to the battalion base camp. Sometimes they were day operations and other times we were out on a relay site for weeks at a time.
Remember, I was twenty years old doing these highly responsible life-and-death tasks, but I did fine. My training just took over.
At least half the time we ate 20-year old C-rations, which were canned food items. They came 12 box meals per case. Each meal box had a different ‘entrée’ in a can. They also contained biscuits or crackers in cans and some had cans of fruit. Each box also contained toilet paper, pack of four cigarettes, matches, a P38 can opener, instant coffee, heat tablets for cooking and more. The prize was getting the box with the peaches and the one with the pound cake. There was just one of each per case. It was not gourmet, but you got used to eating them. It beat having nothing to eat.
I completed my two-year obligation and went back to work at Ford Motor Company. And about six months later I began a part-time pre-engineering curriculum at Eastern Michigan University. Soon after starting my classes, I had a liberal arts instructor who at the end of class one day suggested that we all go to the Diag at University of Michigan and join in the anti-war demonstration. We had people still dying while doing the hard work their nation asked them to do in Vietnam. So, why would I want to demonstrate against them? That did not compute with me and I certainly did not attend. That let me know that I might be better off not telling anyone I had served in Vietnam. We were just not allowed to feel good about our service in Vietnam by the media and a significant portion of Americans. That cut deep and helped cause many Vietnam Veterans, after doing what their nation asked them to do, to commit suicide.
A couple years after starting college, at Ford Motor Company I went from an hourly position to a salaried technician and eventually worked my way up to being an engineering supervisor. I retired from Ford Motor Company with 32-years seniority in 1997.
I am a proud Vietnam Veteran. And charter member of the Washtenaw County Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 310. I am also a charter member of the Veterans Honor Guard of Washtenaw County, which performs about 150 military funerals per year.
I have great pride for my service and the service of all my brother and sister Veterans. Personally, I believe my long-term work for Veterans is the result of survivor guilt. You see, I made it home from a war zone with no injuries, and I do not return there each night in bad dreams as do some of my Vietnam brothers and sisters. Thanks be to God.