Rank: Private 1st class (E-3), later sergeant (E-5) in Army Reserve
Occupation: Powderman, M107 175mm self-propelled artillery
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Time in: 2 years, 7 months active duty (16 years total)
Deployments: 3 tours, Vietnam (1968-70)
Unit: 3rd Battalion, 18th Field Artillery Regiment, 23rd Infantry Division (“Steel Professionals”)
Highest award: Army Commendation Medal (twice)
Other awards: Vietnam Service Medal, Expert Marksman Badge, M14 rifle; Sharpshooter Badge, M16 rifle
Family: Wife, 5 kids, 23 grandchildren, 3 great-grandchildren
Military family: Uncle was an Army tank driver during World War II. Daughter served eight years in the Air Force. Son went into the Army
Profession: Ironworker, disc jockey, drill sergeant
Coffee shop: Home brew
What made you want to volunteer for the service?
A lot of members of my family, older members, were military. That’s probably why.
Did you feel like it was expected of you? Because of your family?
More on a personal level, for yourself. It’s a hell of a task. ... If you can survive that, you can survive just about anything that comes along. That’s kinda deep, and I don’t believe I was consciously thinking that, but I knew I had a job to do.
What was the hardest experience you went through?
Getting out was an experience in itself. It wasn’t a good time to be in the Army, or any other branch of the armed services. The public didn’t give a damn what kind of uniform you were wearing. You could be wearing a Coast Guard uniform, you got a problem. They didn’t distinguish between uniforms.
Do you feel like you had a harder time over here than you had over there?
Over there, you had a mission. You had your military bearing, your training, everything comes into play. But when you come back now, you start to change, your demeanor starts to change. We were warned what was going to happen. I wasn’t the first to come back and experience the issues we were having, here on the home front. You expect it, but you didn’t really know how to react to it.
I was accosted by several ... I would have to say they were probably college students, but maybe they weren’t. Maybe they were just young people. Flying out of Boeing Field, I was coming home. Twenty-four hours prior to that, I was ducking bullets and trying to stay alive. There was no such thing as a debriefing. Nothing. Within a matter of hours, we had been measured for a uniform, our orders were typed up, printed up, got us in line to get some chow, ran us through making sure we were in one piece, make sure your eyes work, your fingers work. Then, “Alright, get the hell out of here!” That’s how you got out of the military at that time.
How did you adapt?
Difficultly. I spent the first 10 years afterward trying to hide in the bottom of a bottle. Got pretty good at it. Lost my first wife through divorce. I didn’t even begin to settle in a responsible existence until I met my second wife in 1982. ... I worked iron for a time. I had almost every job you could possibly think of. I went up to radio school in Spokane. Everything in my life — there was no structure.
Is that why you looped back to try and get back in?
I think so. The structure. The camaraderie. Everything about it. Not all guys are that way.
Do you feel like the civilian population tries to understand their veterans better now?
Absolutely. Yeah, it’s better now. It was their attitude, not what they do, like the big ticker-tape parades and such. ... You don’t want to go over and serve in a combat area and experience what’s going to happen to you, and come to find out that the very people who are supposed to be supporting you can’t stand to look at you. And you’re one of them!
So when someone says to you, ‘thank you for your service,’ that’s OK with you?
It’s difficult to understand how I’m to respond. Saying “thank you” or “you’re welcome” seems kinda empty. There should be a more emotional response, but you’re not used to it. I don’t know a Vietnam vet that’s not taken by surprise.
What did you give up to volunteer? What did you sacrifice?
Maybe the possibility of a career. But I don’t know what I would’ve been or what I would’ve done. It’s an unknown. That experience changes you so bad, your own mother’s not going to recognize who you are. You are not the same person you were when you left. ... But it’s hard to say. You’d be able to put a definitive answer to that if you were in college, and you were headed for a degree for a particular line of work. Or you were something well-established in something before you went in. Me, I didn’t have nothing.
Considering what age you went in, and your experience — do you really feel like you could sit down with a high schooler and say, “You should look at joining the service”?
Oh heck yeah. I’ve tried to talk to a lot of kids about the service. There’s nothing wrong with it — in fact, I think it should be mandatory. They should reinstate the draft and these kids should spend at least two years in the service of their country. And by God, learn something. Quit floating around out there doing nothing. ... Every service offers something for you to take with you. It’s all there, if you want it.
Compiled by Jake Dorsey, Tri-City Herald