(Although it may be stretching the concept of neighbors to include David from Des Moines, he was in the Intelligence Service in Vietnam in the early years of the war. David is quoted in the Causes of War section, giving his perspective gained from a degree in history. David is currently the Executive Director of the Iowa United Methodist Foundation.)

I served in the U.S. military from January 1966, to October 1968, one full year in Vietnam from September 1966 through August 1967. I was with the 4th Military Intelligence Detachment of the 4th Infantry Division, which went to Vietnam during the Johnson Adminis­tration, built up to approximately 500,000 troop level. I graduated from college in August 1965, and took a temporary job with the Sheriff's Department in Polk County, Florida, because I intended to pursue a career in Law Enforcement with the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation).

Pat and I had been married 1 1/2 years and were eager to get on with our lives, but the indications were I would shortly be drafted. During my last interview with the FBI in Tampa, Florida, the Inspector in charge said, "We would like to have you with us but you have a small problem." My first thought was, "There must be a Communist in my family!" But he explained, "You are going to be drafted in a few weeks, and I can only protect you once you have become a special agent. Even if you are in training, the military can take you. My recommendation is that you go to your draft board and tell them you would like to be in Military Intelligence. That will help us with your training when you are back from the service."

I went directly from that interview to a recruiter in Lakeland, Florida and signed up for three years in the military. My basic training was at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and I remember it being cold that winter in Georgia. I believe I completed my basic training in six weeks, after which I was sent to Ft. Holabird in Baltimore, Maryland. It was a very small Army base, at that time training only for Military Intelligence service. First I was trained in Intelligence Analysis, then I was asked to stay for training in Interrogation Techniques and recruitment of agents.

I had a leave before being sent to Ft. Louis, Washington, to join the 4th Infantry Division, 4th MI Detachment. A small group of us had pretty much been together since Basic Training and we agreed among ourselves that we would go to Vietnam together, take care of each other, and come back together. Fate intervened. One day there was a call for volunteers to go to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, to be trained in the Vietnamese language. We all looked at each other, and when we left the meeting we said, "No, we're not doing that. We are going to stick together."

A few hours later we overheard a conversation that shed new light on our plans. We had been told we would be flown to Vietnam and that conversation indicated those plans had been changed. Instead we would be dumped on a troop ship like everybody else. That didn't sound appealing, and we all agreed we didn't want to do that, so we all volunteered to go to the Defense Language Institute. I think there was a limited number — six or seven — who would be accepted. Some of us would not be included, so we all said good luck to one another and let them pick.

Supposedly they picked according to test scores we had taken earlier, and I was selected. I spent 12 weeks in Monterey, California, in a beautiful spot up on a hill overlooking the bay. The Institute was very interesting. We went to school starting at 7:00 in the morning, broke for lunch, and got out of school at 5:00 at night. These were the old days when tape recorders were in vogue, and they were issued to us. During our evenings, we were expected to listen to several hours of tapes, preparing for the next day's lesson, when we would get up with a partner and talk in the language of the country not English. All the instructors were native linguists, not American PhDs. The Institute used native linguists so we would be trained in the language of the civilization, and would be speaking the language the people speak. Those who happened to be of a color or ethnic variety that fit into the population of the country would definitely be going under cover. Unfortunately, as a Caucasian going to Vietnam, there was no hiding who we were. Our success would just be a matter of how well we spoke the language and got along with the people. It was a one-year course which we completed in 12 weeks, after which we were put on a plane and flown to Vietnam.

Fortunately for us, the fellows who were there before us had been through the hardships of living in pup tents in the rainy season. By the time we got there, we had GP (General Purpose) medium and GP large tents. Even though on bare ground, our cots were inside the tents. It was probably six months before we had a wood floor. From those of us who had newly arrived, a couple were selected to go to forward stations — Battalions. I was selected to stay at Division, and my duty in Division Interrogation was mostly performed there. For quite a long time, we did not tell anybody we spoke the language. We simply sat in on interrogations to listen and see if the interpreters were giving accurate information back in their interpretations. In essence, we were undercover at that post. It was interesting to see the look of surprise on the interpreters' faces when they realized that we all spoke and understood what they had been saying all this time. It made for some fascinating reactions.

The guys who had been there while we were in language school helped by giving us briefings. It was probably six weeks before we started interrogations, which was interesting work. Usually when an interrogation began, it continued until finished. Two or three days later, we may have realized we had worked 72 hours, but we kept going until it was done. Sometimes it lasted 30 minutes. That was fine, too, but we got into some lengthy interrogations. The Vietnamese weren't trained in security and their own people scared them so badly that they cooperated with us due to their fear, They had been told that we would torture, maim, and kill them, which we did not do. The group I was with followed the Geneva Convention rules but the prisoners were so frightened they would do whatever they could to cooperate.

I had good success there and as people started rotating, they asked me to take charge of a Battalion Team, so I went out with the 2nd Battalion, which was in the central highlands. The base camp was near the Cambodian border. Division headquarters were located near Pleiku. This duty meant that we walked with the Infantry people, sometimes we would fly into their locations, and we sometimes got prisoners right on the spot where they were captured. We were also recruiting agents. We were quite successful in recruiting Montagnard because they had fought with the French and did not like the Communists at all. They had done a lot of the French labor, scouting, etc. They were very good for our purposes because they knew the area, and they could describe it to us well enough that we could look on a map and locate it. We did that on a number of occasions and got very close to our targets just by having these men define them. Combining their vision and studying maps, even though it took hours, it worked.

I had a call to go back to Division near Pleiku, and head up the team there, as people were rotating out and new people were coming in. I served at Division for the rest of my tour, which was a very interesting position from which to watch the war progress over the year. As far as I know and have been able to find out, I was the first person to predict the Tet Offensive of '68. I predicted it in August 1967, because we saw these units coming in. We also had some people who surrendered. They gave us titles of new units and pretty much told us what they had come there for. So as early as August of '67, we knew they were amassing troops to do this.

Vietnam was a different war than the U.S. had fought in Korea or WWI or WWII, where military forces would amass across for each other and try to overrun and take over in large groups. In Vietnam, for the most part, there were much smaller units making quick attacks, trying to hit, injure, kill, then leave the area, not necessarily trying to take territory. At any point, as many people learned, in a town, in the jungle, you could be attacked by male, female, even little children were recruited to carry grenades and toss them into groups of soldiers. There was no clear line indicating where the enemy was. They may be behind you, in front of you, or on either side.

I am sure all of us felt the same insecurities because we did not know where the enemy was. Any time you put on a helmet, carried a rifle, and went into the jungle, you wanted to be with people you felt you could trust to protect you as you would protect them. I didn't lay awake at night and shake with fear. I was in situations where I felt that fear, but it wasn't like there was an enemy soldier 300 yards away waiting for you to stick your head up out of a foxhole and shoot you. That might be the case, but you didn't know that because you didn't know where the line was or who was out there. You just went along and did your job, trying to stay with a good group of solid people, and if something happened you felt they were going to protect you. Two of our military intelligence people were wounded when I was at Battalion. They recovered, but to be quite honest, it was their fault. They got careless.

With the feeling that the Tet Offensive was coming and my married status being no small factor, I wanted to get home. I turned down an offer to stay for a longer period. I returned to the United States and was assigned to Ft. George G. Meade, Maryland, where we were commissioned to create a new military intelligence school, because they were not training enough military intelligence people to get the job done in Vietnam. So we came back and started the MIS (Military Intelligence School). I taught map reading and interrogation techniques for several classes. I should have been there until January '69, but I was offered a teaching job in Polk County, Florida and asked for an early release from the military. I believe it was on October 14 when I turned in my paper work. I know I served two years, nine months, and three days.

There are such different perspectives on the Vietnam experience. So much of what we veterans brought back in our memories and impressions of our experience in the service depends on the time we were there. It is also affected by the unit in which we served, and the discipline that was exercised in those units. In Military Intelligence, we were told we would follow Geneva Convention at all times or we would run the risk of being prosecuted, and I would say that the vast majority of the time, Geneva Conventions were followed with the prisoners of war. There was no torture in any unit I was with. My perception is that as a division, we did a lot of work in the communities there. I am aware of having built two orphanages and we gave assistance to the Catholic sisters who ran them.

I wouldn't say drug usage didn't exist in 1966 and '67, but I would say there was far less than has been portrayed by some of the movies. I can speak for the Intelligence Detachment and say that none used drugs, and as people came in on rotation, if we detected a drug user, he was advised that he should ask for drug treatment or get out of the unit immediately because he was a hazard to all of us. He took our advice and got out quickly so I saw very little drug use other than alcohol. Alcohol was prevalent, and if you could get it in some areas, it beat drinking the water. So at times and in certain places, there was alcohol usage almost as water, but that doesn't mean everybody was out of their minds, drunk. I do think drug usage became much more prevalent by U.S. troops from 1970 and forward to the end of the war.

One group deserves a lot of commendation — the doctors and nurses. If a wounded person was put on a helicopter, evacuated to one of the small medical units, chances of survival were 85 to 90%. That was the highest in any war. This says (1) we were able to get people off the battlefield, and (2) we were able to get them very good medical help, which saved many, many lives. That was not only the case with American lives but enemy lives as well, because they also were evacuated and treated at the same hospitals. The dedication of these doctors and nurses to saving lives was evident in the way they gave of themselves. When large numbers of wounded were brought in by helicopters, they worked for hours and hours in surgery and triage. I saw instances when nurses would get off their 12 hour shift, then go sit at a bedside to talk and hold the hand of a soldier, some of whom were not even conscious. The ladies and men "in white" deserve a great deal of credit.

On a less positive note, there were snakes. Vietnam is a jungle, and yes, there were lots of snakes — bamboo vipers and cobras. We had a cobra approximately nine feet long in our tent. Fortunately nobody but the cobra got hurt. We had bamboo vipers in the tent a couple of times, and our biggest fear was that as we took shelter in a bunker, we would run onto one. Many times at night, unless the shelters was close, we would sit back and wait for others to go into the bunkers to see what they might encounter, and we would go in a little later than the first group. I actually don't know of many people who were injured but a lot of us got scared by them a number of times.

As to the quality of our service people: I look at it like any large group hiring. You will get some people who are good and some not so good. We ran into that in my unit, and when we found some who were less competent, they were immediately transferred or given discharges. Again, my perspective may be different than others because, at least at the time I was there, Military Intelligence required a college degree. That was dropped later because they had trouble finding enough people. But the military is a make-up of society in general.

Much was made of people evading the draft, avoiding fighting in the war as though this were different. If you look at history, there were draft-dodgers in every war back to the American Revolutionary War and for sure during the Civil War in this country, which some in the south called "The War of Northern Aggression." It may have happened in larger numbers in the Vietnam conflict. That could have been partially because it was not perceived as a war that was a threat to our nation. It was probably a little more acceptable to avoid going, and the draft boards created some rules in which they acknowledged it doesn't take everybody to fight a war as it did in WWII. In that one they basically took everybody older men up to 35, I believe. They drafted people who were in college, and married people who had children.

From my perspective, because of the politics of Vietnam, it was decided people would not be taken out of college, people with children would not be forced to go, with the result that there were probably people who went to college who might not have gone to college, people who had children who perhaps weren't ready and shouldn't have had children.

Another factor was more media coverage. We were in the electronic age, which was not the case in WWII and Korea. There were probably more protests and it is my opinion that some of those who led protests committed treason and should have been prosecuted for encouraging people to avoid the draft. Some, of course, went to Canada but everybody has to do what their conscience tells them.

As to whether we should have been there or not, everybody has their perspective. I believe if you are free, you should help others to be free. Vietnam had been split between the Communist and free governments, and obviously the North was infiltrating their own soldiers and recruiting people from South Vietnam to create a revolution. Therefore a Communist nation was trying to take over a free nation. I believe we, as the most powerful nation in the world, have a responsibility to help others maintain their freedom.

I believe the war was not fought properly. Not everyone would agree with my methods but mine are the same as General Sherman's in the Civil War, if you make war hell, it will end. Therefore, I believe we should have started bombing earlier, more often, strategic targets in Cambodia, Laos, and North Vietnam. We tried to play at war and lost a lot of people we didn't need to lose. It eventually led to a breakdown in the military and discord in this country. We ended up pulling out, leaving the South Vietnamese to the mercy of the North Vietnamese and it is now a country that is together as a Communist nation. I am anti-Communist and I don't think the existence of any communist country is good.

I think with war it is necessary to look at the historical perspective and what was happening at the time the wars occurred. The reason for WWI may have been an ambitious German monarchy, but you also must look at what led into that and what was the historical perspective of additional causes. Just as in WWII, there was Hitler who promised the Germans to get back for them what they had lost in WWI, so you have to put WWII in perspective — what each side was expecting, what people in Germany wanted, what people in France and other nations wanted, and how those things came into conflict at that time.

We basically fought two world wars against the Germans, and then the cold war came. At least West Germany we protected greatly, and Germany has since been a strong ally of the U.S. Regarding France, we've gone in and emancipated them twice. When it came to Iraq, they chose not to support the United States. So everything has to be put into the historical perspective at the time — the causes, the issues, and generally it is not one cause or one issue. Many times it is the previous war that leads to the next one. For instance, Hitler coming to power in 1939 and promising the Germans they would get back territory etc. they had lost in the Treaty of Versailles after WWI. WWII divided nations into Communist and free, in 1954 North and South Vietnam being one of the issues. Again, the Korean War was probably the result of WWII, and the decision, "Let's split the country into two." Somebody decided it should be unified so we had a war. It is still not unified and you still have two armies sitting across the demilitarized zone with weapons loaded and staring at each other. Who knows where the next will be, but it is probably going to be a result of a previous war. That is my perspective.




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Last Revised April 13, 2015