Rank: Petty Officer Third Class, E-4 (later First Class, E-6)
Rating: Engineman, (later a SeaBee construction mechanic)
Active duty time: Four years (1968-72)
Tours: Vietnam, twice
Ships: Attack/amphibious transport USS Paul Revere (“By Sea To Land”)
Highest award: National Defense Service Medal
Other awards: Vietnam Service Medal (twice)
Joined up: July 1968
Military family: Father, Army, WWII
Profession: Retired vehicle fleet manager, General Services Administration
Coffee shop: Little Randy’s in Kennewick
What was it like, being on board?
When I got the word I was going to an ammunition ship, I thought, “Well, this is probably going to be interesting. Probably not too much at all.” By the time I got off my first tour, I thought, “I gotta go do this a second time? Lord have mercy!”
What was the hardest thing to deal with?
At sea, the biggest thing you suffer from is sleep deprivation. We usually were short on crew, because back then, the Vietnam War was so unpopular that no one was joining up. So we went out short crew members. So we’d be standing watches four hours on and eight off. Then we’d have to work all day, then go through general quarters drills. ... After a while, you kinda start acting like a bunch of zombies. You train so well in what you do, it’s automatic. There’s no stress in doing what you need to do to get the job done. But when you get off the ship after that operation, you go on liberty, sit down in the enlistment club and have a beer, you sit there and just look off into space, because you’re so tired.
What did you do, once you were fully out?
I was hired by the federal government, to work for the General Services Administration as a mechanic. I joined them in late 1972, and I retired from them in 2011. And I converted my four years of active service toward my retirement. I was getting paychecks every two weeks from the time I was 19, until I retired in 2011. Forty-three years of federal service. I’m going to stay retired until I die.
What do you get from your work with veterans organizations?
It means a lot to me, because I’m helping the very people I serve. The people who were in the service before myself. ... A lot of our veterans who weren’t in actual combat, need to realize what these guys are going through. A lot of these folks never really experienced PTSD. I had it for two years, at least after I got out, because of the sleep deprivation. I had to completely retrain the way I thought, when I got off active duty. And it wasn’t easy.
Because you couldn’t fit into civilian life otherwise?
Yeah. You would be looked at as an outcast. If you were to act as if you were on a ship, back in civilian life, they probably would have thought you were some kind of psycho. The service has its own way of living. First of all, it’s not a democratic society. It’s an autocratic society. You’re living under a different set of rules, and you’re always working in a chain of command. You don’t just go up to your CEO boss with a problem; you go through your chain of command.
Military personnel, coming out of that environment, are taught that the day starts this way, every day, and it’s gonna stay that way until the end of the day. It doesn’t change. It has to be that way. It’s like a play. Curtains roll up, whether you like it or not. You better be there. In the civilian world, that’s not quite the same.
What do you say to a high schooler considering the service?
When you go into the military, you go in with your eyes open. You know it’s going to be a tough haul. But you can make it easier on yourself. First of all, you go and find out from a recruiter, what kinda occupation you can get that you can use as a civilian. Don’t go in there and just tell them, you want to be a ground pounder, because that’s where they’ll put ya.
Secondly, when you get out, you got veterans benefits. If you get injured, you got VA benefits for the hospital. You have educational benefits on top of it. Other benefits are, if you’re honorably discharged, you can join fraternal organizations, where you can have further camaraderie with people with the same kind of service you did. I belong to American Legion and Combat Veterans International. There are guys coming back from the field that need our help, to integrate themselves back into society.
Compiled by Jake Dorsey, Tri-City Herald