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Posted on Jul 18, 2006 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like

Memories of Vietnam

By Stephane Moutin-Luyat

Captain J.D. Coleman, the Division Public Affairs officer came up and talked to me for a while. I knew him from Benning where he had supervised the mortar instruction during the "train and retain" phase of our preparations for the Air Assault tests. I did not know it, but Captain Coleman was actually interviewing me and the article he wrote was published in the Army Times.

I think that our moral was high. This was early in the war, the first year, in fact, that US troop units had been committed to combat. We were aware of the growing anti-war sentiment at home but it to, was embryonic. Nothing like it would be later on. I don’t think it was a distraction or that it had any impact on our performance.

What was your impression of the ARVN? I’m not sure you had many contacts with them, as the Cav operated in remote areas where the ARVN didn’t go, but I’m curious to know what you guys thought of the army of the country you were fighting for.

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We did not think much of the ARVN and yes, you are right, we did not have much contact with them. We were conditioned to think we were the best. And that was it.

In fact, the ARVN was, in most respects a competent and capable military force. A couple of examples: When the NVA attacked the Plei Me Special Forces camp their intent was to draw out the ARVN from Pleiku and then ambush and destroy the relief column. But the outnumbered ARVN force fought it’s way through the ambush and relieved the camp. Most pundits thought the South would fall to the North rather quickly after the US withdrawal. But it did not happen that way. The South put up a creditable defense. A defense that only broke after the US declined to provide further military supplies, and ammunition in particular.

Throughout the war there was a general, world wide consensus that the North under Ho Chi Minh was the legitimate government of all Viet Nam. This was based on the assumption that most Vietnamese were allegient to Ho Chi Minh and his government. And, of course, Ho Chi Minh had credentials. He had been a leader in the resistance against the Japanese and he had defeated the French and forced their withdrawal.

That may have been true in the North. But in the South it was not necessarily so. And this is evidenced by the ARVN. We tend to think of it as an inconsequential force primarily because it did not get much attention in the Western press. In fact, it was a force of significant size. And like most wartime armies, manned through conscription.

If you accept as fact that most South Vietnamese were politically aligned with or at least sympathetic to the North you have to explain the existence of the ARVN. Why would a young South Vietnamese man report for conscription when he could just as easily slipped away in the night to become a porter on the Ho Chi Minh Trail or dig the Tunnels of Chu Chi. The two simply do not jive. My answer to the riddle is simple. Most South Vietnamese did not want to live in a communist country. And they were willing to fight and die for that belief.

So, yes, I do think we were fighting in Viet Nam for the right reasons. I don’t think my understanding was as keen then as it is now. But none the less I remain a true believer.

Can you tell us how your first tour ended? You rotated back in June 1966 if I’m correct, do you recall your last weeks? where you still in the field when it happened? and what was your feelings when you left?

Since the Cav had gone over as a unit they set up a 60 day personnel "change out" rotation plan.

One C141 Starlifter was scheduled each day. It brought in replacements and carried out the old hands. I don’t know about the other units but each infantry company had one seat on the Starlifter each day.

We received credit for the 30 days we spent at sea coming over. So the rotation started at the end of my tenth month in country. I went out on the 5th airplane. After I left there was only one original member of the unit left, Ernie Hill, the Company Clerk.

I was in my tent packing my stuff when the new Bn XO, a major that I did not know, came through looking for stragglers. The Battalion was in contact South, along the coast. I told him I was going home in the morning. He left me alone.

We flew by chopper to the airfield at Pleiku and slept in a tent next to the runway. It was a long night. When the Starlifter came in we watched as a pallet of fresh, plump duffel bags was unloaded from the rear and replaced by our sad lot of stuff. Then the new troops in their fresh jungle fatigues came off and we boarded. The engines never shut down and the whole process only took a few minutes.

We landed for fuel at Clark AFB in the Philippines (I would later work at Clark for two years as a civilian, a much nicer experience). It was blazing hot and the Air Police would not let us leave the vicinity of the aircraft. So we sought shade under the wings. We were in our mama san washed and starched kakis and if we had any semblance of military appearance it soon dissolved in our sweat.

From Clark we flew to Yakoda AFB in Japan. It was raining and we got soaking wet going to a hangar where we were again "chaperoned" by Air Police. I don’t know what they expected. No one was going to mess up and miss the flight home. The hanger had a small exchange snack bar and I got a milk shake.

We flew non-stop from Yakoda to Travis AFB, California. I had orders for Ft Lewis Washington and 30 days of leave enroute. As I was leaving the baggage area there was a PA announcement directing "all returning NCOs" to report to a room number for further processing. Being the good NCO that I was I complied.

When I entered the room a short, rotund infantry Lieutenant Colonel put his arm around my shoulder and said "Son, how would you like to be the Army recruiter in your home town." I should have said "No" and run. But I said "You can not do that" to which he replied "Will you give me 24 hours to prove that I can?" And the hook was in. He turned me over to a Sergeant Major who drove me and several others to a hotel in Oakland for the night. In the morning, the Sergeant Major met us a breakfast and gave us our amended orders. And yes, I was going to the Alhambra Army Recruiting Station, the one at which I had started my Army journey six years before, the one two miles or less from my family home.

All photos copyright by their authors – reuse not allowed without permission.

Special thanks to:
Aloha Ronnie (http://www.lzxray.com/guyer_collection.htm)
Joe Galloway (http://www.realcities.com/mld/krwashington/news/special_packages/galloway/)
Steve Moore (http://www.lzxray.com/)
Wallace Craig (http://www.weweresoldiers.net/)
Jim Henthorn (http://www.nexus.net/~911gfx/sea-ao.html)

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3 Comments

  1. Armchair General staff cannot respond here. Please read
    disclaimer just above this text box before posting.
    i was with the 1/7 hhc still don’t know where i was . my job was
    bring amo on an army mule , i wes every where i was there
    68/69 i was discharg on dec 2 /1969 i had return to states in nov
    69 i brought many wonded & dead back i hated my job gil

  2. I’m searching for more info on my dad, Gaston P. Ruiz. He was a LRP in E
    company, 20th infantry. In country between 65/66-69.
    Thanks!

  3. looking for info on my uncle pfc charles e frederick, 1/7 . k.i.a. 1/31/66 during operation masher. he recieved a bronze star posthumosly and was originaly listed as m. i. a.

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