American official involvement with Vietnam began in August 1950 and ended in May 1975. Broken down, 812,160,000 seconds of commitment fell between those dates. My 32,672,800 seconds began in mid-August 1968 and ended in late August 1969. In this book, I’ve written stories about how I, and the men in my battery, filled those seconds. Most of those seconds did not involve direct combat, as our primary job as a fire support base was to support units in the field with indirect fire. That was our role in the war, our part in the combat.
First, I think it will be helpful to provide a little history to the nature of this particular war. After Japan surrendered in August 1945, the British Army, under the command of Major-General Sir Douglas David Gracey, disarmed the Japanese soldiers stationed in Vietnam who then needed to be transported to Japan. Civil unrest by the Vietnamese (who later became known as the Viet Minh) stopped his efforts, as they were ambushing his soldiers, rioting and causing other havoc. His job was then changed from getting POW Japanese soldiers home to rearming them and using them, along with Nepalese soldiers, to curtail the violence — all so the country could be returned to France as a colony. Sounds crazy — right? But that confusion was the start of a maelstrom of confusion that spun faster and faster as down we went into more involvement in Vietnam.
Five years later, in August 1950, General Francis Brink opened the first US Army headquarters, and our open involvement, 812,160,000 seconds, in Vietnam began. Two years later, Brink was found dead at his desk in the Pentagon from three self-inflicted gunshot wounds to the chest. But that is highly debatable, and, like so much about Vietnam, facts are often hard to decipher, much less find.
The seconds of my tour sixteen years later ticked slowly onward, but the confusion evident from the start did not go away. In fact, Vietnam was more confusing to me after I returned than when I began, a state of mind I have found to be true among other Vietnam vets. Please allow me to make the following disclaimers before you start reading — all the opinions expressed are mine, and the book will be posted as the chapters are written, with no specific order or long-term timeline. What you will see is a work in progress. Pictures that relate to and help explain subjects covered in the text will be included.
The subject of my book is the “other side of combat,” the day-to-day struggles — everything from constant repetitive actions and living in a hole to our versions of “laugh or cry” humor around the insanity of the life we found ourselves in. Within some, you may find observations about the war, from the frustration of not being able to give our waste products to the desperate Vietnamese living near us and the health issues we sustained due to the climate and nature of Vietnam, along with other “realities” inherent to war. To this day, I can see fly-covered Vietnamese women and children in our base camp dump, trying to immediately consume our discarded food, both on the ground and as it dropped down around them. Well over forty years later, I cannot forget watching the legs of a soldier who had just befriended me blown off in a convoy attack. Sadness, humor, compassion and frustration — a.k.a. the war in Vietnam.
I hope these stories covering day-to-day living and surviving in a fire support base will provide a different “look,” another aspect to the war. My tour does not represent the tour of duty others served and could not, as Vietnam was an evolving mess as time marched on and because the work of each soldier varied so widely. The millions of seconds each soldier lived during his or her tour are unique, and I salute, appreciate and respect their time and service.