Just A Little Walk In The Woods

with the Delta Raiders

Company D, 2nd Battalion, 501st Infantry, 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile)

The information on this page is here for students, or anyone interested in knowing what it was like to be in the Infantry in Vietnam. Most Veterans are reluctant to talk about their experiences during war, and I do not go into great detail here either, but I feel that it's important for our kids to have at least a little understanding of what it was like. They must not be allowed to glorify war without knowing what it's like in real life. It is our history on a personal level.. the kind of information that you cannot get from a text book or a movie.

Over the past several years I have answered many questions about my tour of duty in Vietnam. I have listed the most often asked questions with my answers and thoughts below. I hope they are of help.

I was drafted into the United States Army when I was 20 years old. I took Basic Training and Advanced Infantry Training at Fort Polk, LA, and then went to Non Commissioned Officer Candidate School (NCOCS) at Ft. Benning, GA.  After that I went to Fort Ord, CA to help train new recruits before going to Vietnam.  I served in Vietnam from April of 1970 till February of 1971 with Company D, 2nd Battalion, 501st Infantry, 101st Airborne Division (D, 2/501), the "Delta Raiders".

Where were you stationed in Vietnam?  The base camp or rear area for our unit was at a place called Phu Bai. It was near the old Imperial City of Hue in Northern I Corps, near the DMZ. Most of the time we were out in the jungle on operations. Our AO (area of operations) was in the triple canopy mountains near the Ashau Valley.

What did you do in Vietnam?  I was a rifleman and squad leader in the Infantry. We were taken into the jungle mountains with the mission of keeping the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) as far away from the South Vietnamese civilian populated areas as possible. We were sent to locate and engage the enemy.

What were your living conditions?  We lived in the jungle and slept on the ground. At night the company would make a circle with everyone facing out. There would be about 4 men in each fighting position with at least one being awake at all times. We would take turns on guard duty for an hour at a time all night long. We were re supplied about once a week, so had to carry at least 5 days worth of rations in our back packs (rucksack). When you add 5 or 6 canteens of water, ammunition for our weapons, hand grenades, and our personal supplies it came to somewhere between 60 and 80 pounds. Most of the time we operated in the mountains and had to haul all that weight up and down them. During the dry season there was 100 degree heat. During the Monsoon season it would rain 24 hours a day for about 3 months straight. When we weren't wet from the rain we were wet from sweating. There was no way to bathe every day, or even get clean clothes, so our living conditions were very bad.

What kind of food did you eat? What was it like?  We were given C-Rations to eat. Each box contained one meal. Sometimes we could heat it up with heat tabs or C4 (Composition 4) explosives, but most of the time we ate it cold. It wasn't very tasty but we got used to it after awhile. The biggest complaint was the lack of variety and the weight. C-Rations came in cans and was heavy. We sometimes got packages from home with Kool-Aid, Ketchup, mustard, Jiffy-Pop popcorn and other goodies. That stuff was shared with those in your squad and didn't last long. On rare occasions they would fly us out a hot meal in the field. That was nice, but they didn't do it often.

How were you transported around Vietnam?  When going from one large base camp to another we were transported by C140 cargo planes or Chinook helicopters. When going from Phu Bai to Camp Evans (or Evans to Phu Bai) we rode in the back of cattle trucks. When going from a base camp or rear area to the jungle, or from one mission in the jungle to another, we were transported by helicopter.

What was a typical day like?  A typical day would start just before day break. We would go out and retrieve the trip flares, claymore mines, and MA's (mechanical ambush's) that we had set up the night before. Then we would clean our weapons, eat breakfast and pack our rucksacks. Shortly after it got light we'd start walking and searching for signs of the enemy. Sometimes we'd be told to walk to an area suspected of having enemy activity in it.. other times we would just walk up and down the mountains and hunt for them. We'd stop every couple hours for a short break and for lunch around noon. If we didn't find anything and were not attacked, we would stop for supper just before dark. After dark we'd move away from where we had eaten and set up our NDP (night defensive position). That is when we'd make our circle and face out. The next morning we would do it all over again. If we were attacked during the night, or if we got into a firefight while searching for the NVA during the day, we would call in supporting fire and medivacs for the wounded or killed if they were needed.

What did you like about Vietnam?  It was a beautiful country. I served in the mountains of Northern I Corps. There was triple canopy jungle, mountain streams, and fantastic waterfalls. Sometimes, when it was quiet, you could almost imagine yourself on a camping trip.. sometimes it was even hard to believe there was a war going on at all.

What didn't you like about Vietnam?  The killing, watching my friends die, the NVA, finding a tunnel, the night time, the heat, crossing an open field, walking point, walking drag, being on a trail, cutting trail, the leeches (some as big as night crawlers), wait-a-minute vines, monsoon season, C-Rations, humping one beautiful mountain after another, being on a firebase, not having a firebase nearby, finding a bunker, digging a bunker, not having a bunker, red ants, snakes, ringworm, jungle rot, LZ's, PZ's, combat assaults, red smoke, incoming, being dirty, being wet all the time, being away from my family....

How did you feel when you killed people? If you didn't kill anyone how did it feel to watch others kill others?  I honestly don't know if I killed anyone or not. I was never in the situation where I was the only one shooting back. I did see many people killed though. When it happens you really don't have time to feel much of anything. You're too busy reacting from the Military training and instinct of survival. Later, after the firefight is over, you simply feel empty. You're glad that it wasn't you who was killed, but feel guilty for feeling that way. Later, after coming home, when you have too much time to think, then it hits you hard.

Can you tell me about the thousand yard stare?  It's hard to explain. You almost have to see it. Then you don't really see it, you feel it.. It's not a stare really.. It's an empty look.. it's an I don't care because I've seen it all kind of look.. a living dead look.. not sad or mad, not happy or bad, just empty, just don't care.. you can't hurt me no more.. like your looking through someone. And it feels much worse than it looks. Here is a quote that I have used in our newsletter.. "Look at an infantryman's eyes, and you can tell how much war he has seen" - Bill Mauldin, "Up Front" (1945).

Did you enjoy being away from your family? Why/Why not?  No, I did not enjoy being away from my family. Mostly because I wasn't sure I'd ever get to see them again.

What kinds of human tragedies did you see in Vietnam?  I saw a lot of human tragedies in Vietnam. Many friends were killed and we killed a lot of the North Vietnamese in return. There were people begging for food along the roads as we drove by. But the tragedy that comes back to haunt me the most has to do with Vietnamese school kids. When being trucked through Hue on our way to the chopper pad at Camp Evans we'd pass a grade school. The playground was surrounded by sand bags and barbed wire. There were bunkers and South Vietnamese soldiers guarding the children with machine guns as they played the same sort of games that I had played when I was in school not too long before being drafted. It was so sad for us to see, but the children accepted it as an everyday part of their lives. That's just the way it was for them.

What was the most tragic thing that happened to you in Vietnam?  Hill 805... We were sent on a mission to take and hold Hill 805 near Firebase Ripcord. There were 11 men from our company killed and 56 wounded during the time that we held that hill... then we just left.. just walked off the hill.. it wasn't important anymore.

Do you regret Vietnam? If so Why?  I do not regret going to Vietnam but do regret how the war was being fought. Our mission, the soldiers mission, was to protect the South Vietnamese civilians. I have no idea what the politicians' mission was.

How did it effect you when you came home?  Shortly after coming home my first wife left me. I felt terrible! I wondered why I was allowed to walk off that hill without a scratch just to come home to nothing when some of those who were killed had loving wives & children waiting for them. I would have traded places with any one of them in a heartbeat. I had nothing, and they lost everything.

Does it have effect on your family today?  That's kind of a hard question to answer. I guess we just take it for granted. It is certainly a part of our lives, especially since we go to company reunions every other year. My kids have friends who are the kids of the guys I served with in Vietnam. I went to my oldest sons High School class and spoke with them when they were studying Vietnam a few years ago. My youngest sons help sort the bi-monthly newsletter that I edit for our Vietnam Veterans Association. It is very much a part of our every day life. It's not a bad part of our lives I don't think. I've been open and honest with my family about what it was like for me in Vietnam. They have seen me cry about those who were lost, and they've watched me be reunited for the first time in 20 some years with those we've located from my company who survived. I really don't know how it has effected my family. I guess I'm just their Dad.. who just happens to be a Vietnam Vet.

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