A Time to Kill
Edited by Denny Roy,
Grant P. Skabelund, and Ray C. Hillam

Chapter 5
Over There

[p.139]David L. Gardner,1 Army communications, Vietnam

It was October 1971 when I first flew over the Republic of South Vietnam, and I was not prepared for what I saw. The entire landscape was thoroughly pock-marked with craters—the result of constant bombing. Having never been exposed to war or its effects, I was not sure what to expect, but the true reality of where I was now set in. I thought, “This can’t be true. I am really here.”

That first night I lay awake. We had giant fans in our hooch to try to keep the heat and the flies off of us. I [p. 140]don’t think I slept more than forty-five minutes with all of the B-52 bombing going on only fifteen miles away. The bombs would shake my hooch, and there were helicopters and planes flying over all night long.

J. Tom Kallunki, infantryman and Army press officer, Vietnam

I frankly had read a lot of books about war and seen a lot of movies and enjoyed them. I always enjoyed the World War II movies. But there’s no glory in war, not a bit. I got some ribbons and all of that kind of stuff that they give you in the military. But there’s absolutely no glory at all in war.

You narrow down your perspective to the things that are really important in life. I probably did the most meaningful scripture reading, praying, and everything else during that period of time, because your life is very uncomplicated. I know that’s why many soldiers, even though the threat was there that they could get killed, extended their tours in Vietnam: because it was an uncomplicated life.

George L. Adams, Army wheeled-vehicle mechanic, Vietnam

The times that were extremely hard for most of us in Vietnam were holidays. Christmas, New Year’s, Thanksgiving—I think those were the hardest days I had while I was in Vietnam. Those are the times normally spent with family and loved ones doing things that are fun. There was no slow down for Christmas, New Year’s, or Thanksgiving. As a matter of fact, there was more of a threat of an attack during those times because the Vietnamese knew that an awful lot of our people would tend to be inebriated during those times. We frequently experienced rocket attacks on holidays. One night during one of those situations, we had rockets land right in our containment area. One rocket landed about 150 feet away from the hooch I slept in and totally destroyed two two-and-one-half ton trucks. Another rocket hit a hooch of marines and killed three of them.

[p. 141]Kirk T. Waldron, Air Force pilot, Vietnam

When I left for Vietnam, I had a small tape recorder and I saw that my wife had one. It wasn’t the cassette type; it was the old reel type. We could send tapes home for regular postage, and it didn’t cost much to do it, so I sent two or three tapes home each week. We had an arrangement about family home evening. We scheduled specific lessons or topics on certain dates, and I’d tape a contribution for that lesson and then send it in the mail. Although the kids didn’t have their dad physically present, they had his voice and could say, “Yes, that’s my dad. I remember what he looks like, and now he’s talking to me.”

Robert M. Detweiler, Air Force pilot, Vietnam

I was in Vietnam when Jane Fonda went to North Vietnam, and they published the pictures of her sitting on one of the anti-aircraft gun mounts with all of the soldiers around her smiling. I tell you, that really had an effect on the guys. They were so mad they would’ve gladly shot Jane Fonda. You would’ve had to draw straws to see who would get to shoot her.

Kim Farnworth, Marine Special Forces, Vietnam

In the particular group I was in, the survival rate wasn’t too high. In fact, there were eighteen of us that went over there together in early 1965; there were six of us left when our discharge date came up. So you get hardened; you don’t allow yourself to get close to anyone. All of these young recruits would come over and they were scared. They wanted to get close, they wanted to show pictures. I didn’t want to see it. I didn’t want to know you. Just do your job and stay out of my face.

Wayne A. Warr, Army infantryman, Vietnam

To experience stress as a group binds that group very closely together, so we were real tight. Racial boundaries broke down in that environment completely because [p. 142]we were us and they were them. I think I enjoyed the cohesiveness and the friendship. It isn’t something we carried any further. For instance, when someone left the unit he was forgotten. If someone was killed or wounded he was forgotten, but those who stayed were very close and you could depend on each other. I liked that. I enjoyed that aspect.

Chris Velasquez, Navy combat photographer, Vietnam

I remember I came into Cam Ranh Bay after being in the field for eleven months, and I started to go to the club. All I could think of was a big thick steak. I told one of the guys and he said, “When do you want to go?”

I said, “Tonight.”

He said, “Not tonight—it’s black night.”

I said, “What do you mean black night?”

He said, “Sunday and Monday are for Latinos, Tuesday and Wednesday are for the blacks, Thursday and Friday are for the Anglos, and Saturday is an open day.” That was really quite disheartening. My own guys were isolating themselves.

Wayne A. Warr, Army infantryman, Vietnam

For me to carry everything I needed, or that they said I needed, would weigh about 130 pounds. We carried about eighty or so pounds of our own equipment and then we’d add to that mortar rounds and claymore mines. The mortar round weighed about twelve pounds, and sometimes we had two mortar rounds and extra ammunition. I carried four hundred rounds in ammo pouches around my body and then carried another four hundred to six hundred rounds in my rucksack. All that adds up to a lot of weight. If anything, we had so much that it was a physical ordeal just to transport your own equipment. It was a hindrance because most of the time you really didn’t need it. When you did need it, you were glad to have it, but you might go for a month, sometimes two months, and never [p. 143]use it; never need to fire a round, just walk, carry it, dig, sleep, cover your hole, load it up on your back, and walk again.

David L. Evans, Army infantryman, World War II

The cold was the worst enemy of all. There was just no way to get away from it. If you went into a house, you still couldn’t build a fire. There was nothing to burn to begin with, and the minute Germans saw smoke coming out of a chimney they just leveled the house. So we froze all day and then tried to find some place out of the wind at night so that we could get warm.

Many of our men had trench foot and could hardly walk. What would happen was that your feet would get wet and if you could change your socks into dry socks every day, you were okay. But if you didn’t have any change of socks and, of course, there was no way of changing your boots, your feet would just stay wet and cold the whole time and finally they’d just start to rot. Sometimes gangrene would set in and guys would lose their feet completely.

I kept a pair of socks in my pocket, another pair of socks tucked inside my shirt, and then every night I took off the one pair and played musical socks with them, so I always had some dry ones. It was mostly the guys in the rifle companies who, for one reason or another, would end up giving a jacket to somebody else with their socks in it and forget about it. Then they’d put on an overcoat and suddenly realize they didn’t have a change of socks. Also, a lot of them didn’t believe anybody. They were told what could happen if they didn’t keep changing the socks and they waited until it did happen and realized it was true.

Danny L. foote, Marine artillery, Vietnam

It would get really wet from time to time, and whole villages would flood out. This was real hard on the Vietnamese, and, not being acclimated to that, it affected us even more. Our skin would start to rot and fall off. There were [p. 144]several times where I went for six months at a time where various parts of my body felt like they were rotting off. There wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it; I just had to live with it.

Grant Warren, Air Force rescue, Vietnam

I hated the heat, the stench. In the little towns in Thailand, they ran the sewer system underneath the sidewalks. They had rotten papaya all over. It’s hot all of the time. In the winter it would still be eighty-five to ninety-five degrees—in the middle of the winter! It was really funny; the Thais used to wear sweaters and it would be eighty-five degrees. We’d say, “Why do you have that sweater on, Coup?”

“It cold, it winter.”

“Really, all right, gotcha.”

Martin B. Hickman, Army infantryman, World War II

If I remember correctly, we didn’t have a shower from the ninth of November until the twenty-first of January. As a result we began to develop what are called scabies, which are infestations of the hair follicles, so that you have these little scabs, particularly on the legs. What saved us is that we were cold all of the time, so the body stench wasn’t so bad. But the feeling of being dirty and the incrustation and scabies on the legs were constant. When we finally got a shower it was in a barn-like affair, and the water was only lukewarm, but it felt like a luxury to get soap and water and wash away that three-month accumulation of crud.

During an attack just after Thanksgiving, our task was to take a village, a strong point. We marched towards the point of attack all day long through the woods, through these ravines. It was raining all day; we were wet and miserable. About four o’clock in the afternoon, and of course this is in winter in Europe and it’s dark at that time, we hit the village and were driven back. We dug in and waited for daylight to renew our attack; we dug in on the side of a hill.

[p. 145]Our first foxhole was mistakenly dug in at the bottom of a rock face, and the water just drained down the face of the rock and into our hole. We got out and dug a new one. We threw our ammo and mortar bags in the bottom and sat on them all night. I was in the hole with a kid named Burntz. I put my head on his shoulder, and he put his on mine, and there we were all night with our raincoats pulled over us.

We woke up in the morning and we were just miserable: cold, wet, tired, so discouraged, despondent. We climbed up to the top of the hill waiting for daylight to come to renew the attack; while we were there some C-rations2 were brought up. We took the wooden boxes and broke them up, and despite the fact that we were on the front lines we made a fire out of them. I put my hands down by the fire from that box and we began to get warm. I could feel the warmth, and my combat boots drying out; the warm feeling started in my thighs, as I stood close to the fire, and spread through my whole body. There was a remarkable lift and change in spirit that came with the spread of warmth. My attitude and feeling changed. I said to myself, “I’m not going to just lie down and die. I’m willing to give it one more try.”

David R. Lyon, Army artillery, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam

It was a painful experience seeing, as the winter wore on, blood in the snow from the feet of people who had tried to return to caches of food they’d left in the ground. Having been unable to survive otherwise, they risked going between the combative forces to get food for their families.

[p. 146]Michael R. Johnson, Marine infantryman, Vietnam

The days at times were just endless. You just became a zombie. You might be up all day, sleep for an hour maybe during a night ambush, come back in, run a day patrol, come back that night, run an ambush, and maybe sleep the next morning for three hours before breakfast.

All that time there was no fighting. You were just constantly walking in the heat, getting wet, leeches would be sucking on you and mosquitos eating you alive, but you’d have nothing to show for it. There would be nothing to release the tension and that curiosity about “Where in the heck are these people that we are fighting?” It was kind of a weird place.

If it rained every hour for sixteen days or something, you were out in it all the time. Your skin is one constant puckered up, wrinkled, split-open mess. You have sores all over your arms from the cuts on the elephant grass. You are just a walking, festering sore all the time. You sort of hypnotize yourself with thoughts of home. I used to sing Christmas carols. I didn’t care when it was. I’d just sing Christmas carols in my head and walk along eating my chocolate. I used to trade my cigarettes for other people’s chocolate and just eat all the chocolate they had.

We’d come off patrols at four or five in the afternoon shot, just worn out. We’d maybe lie down for an hour, get up and eat supper, which wasn’t much, and then go on watch on the perimeter of the compound on the hill. Then there were these big bunkers you’d have to spend a night in every once in a while. You’d have to watch in a bunker all night long after coming in from a day patrol. You’d lie all night long in this bunker trying to keep the rats and the leeches and the cockroaches off you and then trying to stay awake to guard the perimeter. You’d become very bored, and yet there was always that underlying tension: “When is something going to happen,” and, “Will I be awake when it happens?”

[p. 147]George E. Morse, Army Special Forces, Vietnam

When I was in the base camp, I first saw how poor the people in Vietnam were. We were fairly close to the landfill. The garbage would be taken out to the landfill and dumped. There were hundreds of kids there. They looked just like flies. The kids were fighting each other for the food we’d thrown away off our plates. That really touched me. I just had to turn away. I thought, “My hell, here I’ve been feeling sorry for myself, but at least in America I could go do something to earn money and be respectable, yet look at those poor kids. I wonder where their parents are.”

I learned that some of their parents had been killed. Those kids were just trying to survive. I was really sick. I couldn’t understand why we had so much and these kids were being left to starve to death. It used to just aggravate me because there was really nothing I could do. When I went into a South Vietnamese city, I’d see people living in cardboard boxes or under pieces of tin, picking ants or some other kind of bugs off the ground and eating them.

Timothy Hoyt Bowers-Irons, chaplain, World War II and Korea

I remember at the depot, they had a big wire fence built around the garbage cans because the local people would come in and scavenge them. One of the cooks told me about this and I went myself to see it. We’d all go out to this big wash or depression and the GIs would take these fifty-gallon gas drums with the top cut out and put the slop in there. I must say this for the cooks; they tried to help. They put the clean food in one and the gunk and garbage in another. It was all against the law, but they tried to help the Italian people get it and then they’d just dump it out, and these Italians—I’ve seen them—would take a gallon bucket in each hand and just walk up and hold it up, getting those two buckets full of garbage while the stuff ran all over them, stuff like that. I don’t blame the GIs for trying to help. I did everything to encourage it, although it was strictly against army regulations. What are you going [p. 148]to do? People are starving. They weren’t getting it for their hogs and their dogs. They were getting it for themselves. So it’s true, they were our enemies and they quit when things got tough. But they were still human beings.

Here again, there’s one thing I have to say about the American soldier. He may have been immoral a lot of times and not perfect in many ways, but the vast majority of them would come through and try to help out. They tried to be humanitarian and help. I mean they weren’t pious about it or religious about it or anything. Some of them may have been. By and large, though, if you tell them there’s a bad deal and you needed some help, they’d come to the rescue. So I had a good feeling about our American soldiers. Some of them were the scum of the earth, of course, as they are in every army, but most of them meant well and did pretty well.

Hyde L. Taylor, Army Airborne, Vietnam

The civilian communities are just pawns. I always felt bad for the poor guy who only had his rice crop every year to live for. He didn’t have a whole lot to look forward to except his rice crop. As soon as the kids were old enough to wade in the rice paddy, they’d plant rice. Their whole life centered around that. Then all of a sudden a war breaks out in their rice paddy and two or three of his family are killed. He isn’t a communist. He isn’t anything. He’s just there. He doesn’t care about politics. He doesn’t care about religion. He doesn’t care about a whole lot of things. He just cares about surviving. Then all of a sudden he loses half of his family and the rice paddy in a war in which he has no idea of what’s going on. That’s injustice.

David R. Lyon, Army artillery, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam

I remember the uncertainty of the natives. They had little paper flags and they weren’t quite sure who was coming or who was going in the ebb and flow of combat. You can imagine how taxing it would be for a farmer who only [p. 149]wanted to survive to know whether to put out a flag for North Korea or South Korea, for the United States, for the United Nations, or in later cases when the Chinese came in, for China. I’ve seen little paper flags of all of those nations fluttering from farm houses as the farmers nervously watched the ebb and flow of people going back and forth in their area. They didn’t want to appear to be hostile to the wrong forces or supportive of the wrong forces at the wrong moment.

Ray T. Matheny, Army Air Forces flight engineer and gunner, World War II

After our plane was shot down and I parachuted out, it was a relief to be on the ground, even if it was ice. I lay there wondering why I was alive and why most of the other crew members had to die. While I was still in a numb state, a boy about ten years old came running up to me saying,

“Venga can me, venga can me.”

At first I couldn’t understand, and then I repeated his words, “ven conmigo.” It was Italian and I was repeating Spanish. The Spanish street of my boyhood in Watts, California, came through clearly: “Come with me.” “He’s trying to help me,” I thought.

I struggled out of the water and sat on the ice. I motioned for the Italian boy to help with my parachute harness as my hands were still without feeling and felt like stubs. The boy was afraid to come close enough to help. I struggled. It was so frustrating for me. My brain was commanding my hands to unlatch the buckles of the parachute harness, but the hands only responded by making clumsy motions towards them, then glanced off the cold metal without grasping.

Minutes passed and the boy kept calling to me to hurry, but I gave up and lay down on the ice. I was thankful the wind wasn’t blowing.

The boy uttered something and scampered off. A few minutes later a farmer, tall and worn and about sixty [p. 150]years old, came cautiously toward me. I sat up and it soon became obvious to him that I was harmless.

The farmer got me to my feet. I made motions about the harness but he didn’t know what to do. Finally my hands started to work. Painfully I pulled the buckle and was free of the parachute harness. The farmer then motioned me to come with him. I took a step and fell. The old farmer helped me up and put his arm around my back and under my left shoulder. I put my right arm across his back and hung on to his shoulder.

My right leg wouldn’t bear any weight. I’d hobbled with the farmer a few hundred yards when we came to a farm house. The roof of the house and grounds were littered with pieces of my airplane. Two teenage girls were outside the house. I made the old man stop and I pulled a comb out of my left top pocket and combed my hair. I felt improper in front of these girls and had to look better. They were pointing to the airplane debris on the roof and to me saying, “Kaput, kaput.” I didn’t understand German at the time but the meaning was clear.

The old German and I were met by a small group of people from the village. The villagers were mostly women, small children, and a few old men. A young man came riding a bicycle. He was designated as spokesman by the group. In barely existent English he told me that he was a school teacher. He kept asking me something that sounded like, “Where are your ears?”

A terrible fear went through me as I thought, “Good Lord, I lost my ears.” I quickly touched my ears but no blood was on my fingers.

Finally after several tries I heard, “What are your years?”

I responded that I was eighteen. I must have looked sixteen and hardly a warrior. The school teacher asked if I needed medical aid and pointed to the gash on my forehead that had left a small stream of blood running down my face. By that time I was feeling better and able to stand [p. 151]on my own. I said that I was only bruised and cut and would be all right.

Everyone was so friendly that I couldn’t believe this was the enemy. I asked if this was Denmark, thinking that our track took us on a more northerly course than planned. The young school teacher said in a friendly way, “Nein, hier ist Deutschland.” I was disappointed to say the least.

I was taken to a farm house next to the road about in the center of the village. There I was turned over to an Italian non-commissioned officer. He took me inside and pushed a chair next to a cast-iron pot-bellied stove. I sat down and absorbed the welcome heat from the stove.

The Italian wore an Italian army uniform that was in need of replacement rather than repair. We talked much throughout the afternoon in Italian and Spanish. He was wounded in the hip in Africa and disabled. The Germans used broken down men like him and also young boys to help in farm communities.

The farm house was spacious and comfortable. The little pot-bellied stove warmed a sitting room that joined the dining room. The German family was friendly toward me, offering a woolen blanket, a cloth to stop the bleeding of my forehead, and food. I couldn’t take the mid-day meal. It was just too soon after the trauma of the morning. The children, a boy about seven and a girl about eight, played Old Maid with special cards for the game. They spoke to me, as did their mother, a pleasant looking woman. The family Christmas tree was still up with sparse decorations mostly made of colored paper. Photographs of men in military uniforms explained their absence.

In about two hours the Italian non-com took me outside to meet Arnold Nelsen, the right waist-gunner. It was he whose parachute I’d seen below drifting to the north. His right shoulder was displaced at a funny angle and he was in much pain.

“How did you get out of that spinning bomber?” I asked.

[p. 152]He replied, “The centrifugal force was so great that the ball turret was torn from its mount, leaving a big hole. I crawled out the hole.”

I felt stunned and could hardly talk.

Arnold was in poor shape and the Germans took him to another house to await transport to a hospital. He was taken away in less than an hour and I never saw him again.

The Italian and I passed the afternoon hours talking and going over my “escape” kit. The kit was small enough to fit in my upper left flight suit pocket. It contained silk maps of Germany and France, twenty-seven thousand francs, seventeen thousand Reichsmarks, a D-bar of concentrated hard chocolate, pep pills, and a small hack saw. The Italian soldier was totally unsympathetic with Hitler and “his” war. I burned the maps in the stove, knowing that I wasn’t going to find my way to Denmark, and to the legendary escape ship. I was hurt and could hardly walk in my clumsy flight boots and flight suit. Escape at that moment wasn’t even a remote possibility.

How ironic it was that on my last leave in the States I’d seen a movie with Errol Flynn playing the role of a pilot shot down over Germany. He’d escaped, of course, had blown up an ammunition train, and had made all of the connections underground, making it back to England in high adventure. To try to escape in the dead of winter dressed in strange clothes using this little “escape” kit seemed ludicrous.

I offered the Italian the Reichsmarks, but he was afraid to take them. I ate the D-bar and put the hack saw blade in a pencil slot in my flight suit. The Italian made no motion to remove it.

Supper was served about 6:00 p.m. and I was invited by the young mother to sit at the table. The Italian wasn’t invited and excused himself to go outside and smoke a cigarette I’d given him. The little family was polite to me, passing the boiled potatoes, carrots, and cabbage, indicating that [p. 153]I should take all that I wanted. There was heavy dark bread and butter. The meal was topped off by a slice of carrot cake for everyone. I refused the ersatz coffee.

So this is the enemy I’ve so carefully been taught to hate, I thought. I felt confused. The enemy looked so different from the air. Flying at twenty-five thousand feet, the enemy was impersonal, or if personified he was Hitler, shouting and waving his arms in a frenzy of madness. Sometimes the enemy was conjured as long rows of uniformed men without faces, their legs swinging stiffly in unison and arms stretched out in a salute to an idol. The enemy had been painted for me as ruthless, monocled beasts without passions, feelings, families, occupations, or religion. They were cast as automatons never doing good, only evil. They all looked alike and carried the symbol of death in their faces.

Suddenly the enemy had faces worn by toil and exposure, faces of love and concern, faces of compassion even for a stranger, even for the enemy—and faces of fear. The father of the children, the husband of their mother, the brother, the uncle—all were in uniform. Were these the men behind the engines in Me-109s, did they man the anti-aircraft batteries? “Who was the enemy?” I asked myself. I was to find the answer to this during the next year and a half.

Timothy Hoyt Bowers-Irons, chaplain, World War II and Korea

Just after I got my commission in Italy, I had a couple of days, so I just walked around Naples. I met this bright-eyed little guy, somewhat dilapidated in appearance, but wide awake. I don’t think he would’ve been more than eight or nine years old. Of course, this was when the war was still hot. He said, “Hey soldier, you want a drink? You want to eat? You want a woman?” I said, “Heavens, no!”

He said,”‘What’s the matter?” I said, “Well, I just don’t want one.” Of course, this sounds simpler than it was because his English was very GI, broken and obscene. Here I [p. 154]am, a young chaplain receiving this kind of proposal. Then he told me about how beautiful his mother was. I guess it’s true that when a man finds a woman with a couple of kids, she’s apt to go to considerable lengths to keep them fed. This wasn’t uncommon at all. Little boys would pimp for their mothers and for their sisters. This is one of the things that’s tragic about war.

Grant Warren, Air Force rescue, Vietnam

I saw all of these people living in poverty and filth and in total disregard for any kind of a conscience. Fathers selling their daughters for prostitution. Nine-, ten-, and eleven-year-old kids selling marijuana cigarettes soaked in opium outside the main gate of the base. No sense of conscience. There was poverty, stench, sewer systems in the streets. We were there saying as a nation that we were trying to protect those people’s freedom. Frankly, I didn’t see any freedom. All I saw was poverty, waste, sickness, prostitution, drug soliciting, and all of that. I began to wonder after that.

David L. Evans, Army infantryman, World War II

The Germans had a mail plane that kept trying to fly in, and we’d shoot it down every time it came over. They really wanted to get their mail, so they finally convinced us that it was just mail in the plane. We made them a deal that if they’d let us hook up to their electric generators, we’d let their plane through. That worked out, so we had lights and they got their mail.

Lincoln R. Whitaker, Army infantryman, World War II

Routinely, as a matter of survival, you always had to be on the alert for airplanes that might come over your positions. We had an airplane every night that would come over and drop one bomb. We called him “Bed Check [p. 155]Charlie.” He’d come at eleven o’clock every night. You could set your clock by him. When we’d hear old “Bed Check Charlie” coming, we’d hit the holes and try to stay down. We really didn’t have too many people wounded as a result of that particular airplane.

George L. Adams, Army wheeled-vehicle mechanic, Vietnam

I was sitting on perimeter guard one afternoon and as I was watching out over the area that I was to cover, I could see some helicopters flying in low. There were three of them in formation. They were the old-style helicopters that the South Vietnamese were using. There was something hanging below one of the helicopters, but I couldn’t tell what it was. As they flew across the fields and the trees, the object would occasionally hit something that was sticking up and bounce off of it. I was having trouble determining what it was. When they got up almost to my area, I could see that it was a Vietnamese woman. The South Vietnamese soldiers must have had her up in the helicopter to question her about being a North Vietnamese sympathizer. They evidently got the information they wanted out of her and had pushed her out of the helicopter with a rope around her neck and hung her. They let her hang below the helicopter to bounce against whatever she happened to hit where everyone could see her as a warning, as if to say, “This is what we do to sympathizers.” When I saw her it gave me some really deep thoughts and concerns: “Why are we here? If this is the type of people we are fighting to protect, why are we here?”

David R. Lyon, Army artillery, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam

The South Korean police who were endeavoring to maintain control of the populace and keep them out of harm’s way when we were making our way north were guilty of such excesses of cruelty as are difficult for someone having grown up in our culture to comprehend. It’s an accepted practice in such an environment that you try to get information about where people are and what they may have seen that will be of value to protect your forces and to pro-[p.156]vide them with such advantages. That intelligence, when assessed, can make your judgments better.

In one instance of cruelty on the part of the Republic of Korea (ROK) police, they, with the assistance of a Korean interpreter and an American intelligence officer, were asking some of the people as they crossed in a particular area what they’d seen and where. The frightened people were saying nothing. They didn’t know anything; they hadn’t seen anything. This was an acceptable position for them to take. The ROK policemen, embarrassed by the fact that none of the people were saying anything, took a stick about three inches in diameter and about six or seven feet long and with it broke the back of one of the peasants. In his spasm of anguish, with his back broken, the ROK policeman was still saying, “What did you see?” The man was saying, “Tell me what you wanted me to see.” He’d give any answer that was wanted.

In another instance the ROK policeman gouged out an eyeball of one of the peasants passing by because they didn’t seem to be responsive to questions that were being asked. It’s painful to realize that many people who are innocent get caught up in the grinding machine of war and are innocently ground into pain, suffering, and death.

Robert M. Detweiler, Air Force pilot, Vietnam

I flew a group of marines down to Hué during the Tet offensive. The North Vietnamese had held that city for a matter of weeks and then they were finally beaten out and forced to retreat back home. But while they held the city, they’d gathered up all of the people who could read, any elected official, nurse, doctor, even firemen, and shot every one of them. There were about nine hundred of the local Vietnamese executed just in that area around the base.

Lincoln R. Whitaker, Army infantryman, World War II

On several occasions we found that Russian soldiers had crossed the river and gone into German homes and [p. 157]taken young boys out and cut their hands off and raped and mutilated the women.

This was quite a chore to protect against. At that point we felt that more than anything, we were protecting the Germans from the Russian soldiers, who were very adamant about the German people because they’d suffered tremendous losses in Leningrad and Stalingrad at the hands of the Germans. They were out to get even with the Germans because of the atrocities that had been committed upon them. So we had this element to contend with, too.

Robert G. Cary, Army infantryman, Vietnam

I think there was a lot of hate by the Americans for the Vietnamese. The South Vietnamese looked exactly like the North Vietnamese, so the Americans didn’t know who was guilty and often treated them all the same. Sometimes I think the Americans would go into villages and ransack them just to be mean. If they wanted something, they’d take it.

I’ve also seen Americans mutilate bodies. Vietnamese wear gold rings and have gold in their teeth, and I’ve seen Americans pry the gold out of their teeth and cut off fingers to get rings from bodies that had been swollen. For me, it was hard enough to kill, let alone mutilate someone.

E. Leroy Gunnell, Air Force pilot, Vietnam

The South Vietnamese I met I grew to love. They were a very fine people—very family-oriented, concerned about the same things I was concerned about—and I just had to assume the North Vietnamese were a lot the same way but had come under a different ideology. So I had no particular hatred or ill feeling toward them. It was a political conflict that we were caught in over there. And because the governments were engaging in war, we were there to support the government we belonged to.

[p. 158]Danny L. Foote, Marine artillery, Vietnam

I think the worst thing was working with Vietnamese and knowing Vietnamese who had an honest desire and a dream for their country, and then leaving them in the lurch, not being able to do any more for them. I feel we never finished what we wanted to accomplish over there; I feel the war is still not over. The absolute worst part for me was seeing the frustration in the eyes of the Vietnamese. The people I became close to had a look in their eyes that said, “Don’t desert me.”

I had to look back and somehow communicate, “I don’t want to, but I’ve got no control over the situation.” I would’ve given my life over there—I would’ve done anything.

When I first got there, people were saying to me that the Vietnamese customs and a lot of their habits were extremely offensive, and so initially I thought, “Boy, I’m in the land of yo-yos.” But as I got to know them and got to know why they did what they did and began to know them as a people that were striving to eke out a life just like we are, they became individuals and they became real people. And it became really frustrating when things went to pieces.

Wayne A. Warr, Army infantryman, Vietnam

I always felt, and so did most of us, that had the enemy been as well equipped as we were, they would’ve whipped us easily, because they were well disciplined, they were very well trained, and they had a cause and we did not. We were there because we were told to be there. We didn’t really understand all the reasons why. It wasn’t our country. We didn’t have anything at stake there; they did. So it was a little terrifying at times to see how fanatical they really were and how serious they were about the business of fighting. Their whole attitude about life was so much different than ours was. We’d go to great lengths to avoid having one of our soldiers killed or wounded, but they wouldn’t [p. 159]do that. It was nothing for them to sacrifice a great many soldiers to achieve an objective.

Michael R. Johnson, Marine infantryman, Vietnam

You never saw them, that was what was so frustrating. They attacked at night, never in the daytime. If it was daytime contact, how would you know they weren’t regular Vietnamese? How do you know the people in the rice paddies didn’t shoot you? They’d lay down their rifles under the water and pick up their hoes and go back to working in the rice. Just like, “We didn’t do it. What do you bug us for?”

You develop a hate, a hatred of the things they could do to their own people, for one thing. The tortures they use, the things they’d do to the people in the villages who had collaborated with the marines or who had helped us in any way at all seemed so cruel to us. And yet to them, it was just life—it just had to be done and they did it. So the Oriental mind, I think, is a little different in regard to respect for life from what I learned.

You hate the enemy, you want to see them, you want to have a chance to kill them. You want to have a chance to kill them or hurt them bad, and you are never given that chance, so everything builds up in you. That’s why I think some guys go crazy—when they do find people to shoot at, when they do make the decision to shoot, whether it’s right or wrong, once they turn it loose, it’s been building up for so long they shoot people, dogs, cows, horses, pigs, everything. I mean they’d go to a village and wipe out everything that walked. They didn’t care how big it was, how small it was, whether it was a person or an animal, anything would do, and it was partly because of the frustration you felt for so long.

Wayne A. Warr, Army infantryman, Vietnam

Since the Viet Cong and the South Vietnamese essentially were the same—they were the same race, and they [p. 160]wore the same clothing—if they weren’t carrying weapons you had to treat them as non-hostiles, and when they produced weapons you had to treat them as hostiles. So you could pass a group of people, and if they made no overt move against you, you didn’t make any against them. And then you might get past them and they’d start shooting at the rear security of your unit.

Chris Velasquez, Navy combat photographer, Vietnam

On more than one occasion I saw teenage girls and boys with AK-47s. A lot of the sappers [military engineers] were teenagers. Sometimes the kids would go to the forward positions, where the machine guns are, and throw a hand grenade inside the bunker. A lot of GIs would think twice before shooting a kid, and that was their mistake.

I remember one particular base camp we were in where unusual things were happening. We’d hear an explosion at night, and the next morning we’d find a guy on watch dead. That happened two different nights. So the third night they put a sergeant out there, and at about midnight we heard the heavy report of a .50-caliber machine gun firing off a few rounds. The sergeant had challenged somebody, I guess, and they didn’t answer, so he’d let go with the machine gun. Someone set off flares, but we couldn’t see anything. The next morning we found a thirteen-year-old girl almost cut in two by the .50-caliber. In her hand was a grenade.

George E. Morse, Army Special Forces, Vietnam

We received some replacements that were South Vietnamese troops. We took them on a patrol with us. The fourteen of us who were Americans and the Vietnamese were doing a pretty good job. Then all of a sudden some of the Vietnamese turned and killed their own people along with six or seven of the men in my team. I don’t know if they were actually North Vietnamese or what. Up until then, I never hated the Vietnamese people. I just had a job to do; [p. 161]the North Vietnamese were communists and the South Vietnamese were our allies. I never trusted them after that.

Kirk T. Waldron, Air Force pilot, Vietnam

There was a lot of frustration in that conflict. Vietnam is a very narrow and small country and to think that with all of the vast assembled might of the U.S. war machine, we could be held at bay by sometimes primitive weapons and forces that certainly weren’t as large as ours for the most part, and whose weaponry wasn’t nearly as sophisticated as ours. We controlled the air, which was one of the great keys to our successes, but still we were held at bay. You sometimes felt angry, like the politicians didn’t understand what was going on, or didn’t care. One just wondered why we couldn’t use our power to do what we’d been trained to do and eliminate the limiting, self-imposed constraints on how we fought. Our military leaders weren’t authorized to employ tactics and weapons in the way they were trained to win the war. To this day I maintain that if a war is worth entering, it’s worth winning! It’s very demoralizing to have the ability and means to win but to not be allowed to use it.

The fact is, America entered that conflict with noble intentions: to support democracy, to help a beleaguered nation, to halt the spread of communism, and we should’ve gone in there to win, there’s no other way in my mind. If that meant using the B-52s earlier, fine, so be it. If that meant mining Hai Phong Harbor, we should’ve done it. If that meant attacking the heart and center of Hanoi, then we should’ve done it, and we should’ve done it years earlier. Instead, we shed our best blood, wasted resources, and lost national resolve with a crippling manacle of congressional restrictions and limitations. We felt frustration and anger at times because of the price we paid and the hippy- and Jane Fonda-type opposition to our efforts. We saw such opposition as tolerated treason.

[p. 162]Lynn Packer, Army broadcaster, Vietnam

There were murders going on in Vietnam in which Americans were killing each other. Most of them were committed with booby-trap hand grenades; it was called fragging. I heard there were the types of fragging where you are out on the battlefield, somebody wants you to do something that you are afraid to do or something you believe was wrong, so somebody would just lob a grenade at them. And there were people who weren’t engaged in combat at all, that is, if you had a sergeant who you hated for some reason, you might frag him. This was going on all over Vietnam. Usually there would be a warning; the warning would be a smoke grenade lobbed into their sleeping quarters or hooked to the door. It’s a sign you are doing something someone doesn’t like and you had better change it or next time you’ll be killed or seriously injured.

In Vietnam, if you felt like saluting, you did, and if you didn’t, you didn’t. The guy knew he’d better not make a big deal out of it or he’d get fragged.

Chris Velasquez, Navy combat photographer, Vietnam

Some of those guys would frag anyone they didn’t like. Since Charlie used our weapons, when we were in a fire fight anyone could shoot anyone and no one would know the difference. If anyone tried to investigate, they couldn’t prove anything. I saw a guy get fragged one time. It was during a battle. I turned around and the guy was just lowering his weapon when the lieutenant went down. It was incredible to me, and I looked at him like I couldn’t believe what he’d just done. We just looked at each other for a minute. I switched my movie camera over to my left shoulder and took out my .38 pistol, which was down by my side, and I just started to walk away—keeping my eyes on him the whole time. I was thinking, “If he starts coming towards me I’m going to unload my weapon on him.” But he didn’t do any-[p. 163]thing, and I didn’t either. I got myself transferred out of that unit right away. I didn’t want anything to do with that.

Howard A. Christy, Marine infantryman, Vietnam

This emphasis on My Lai massacre kinds of things, fragging your officers, and being all doped up on drugs and murdering civilians and so on, that’s what you hear now. Well, I can tell you that for every time anything like that happened, there were times when we’d go in and give these people everything we had. We’d give them our food, we’d show love and concern for them, we’d protect them, and we truly had a heartfelt desire for them to live and be happy. And I think that if that kind of approach imbued the entire effort from the word go across the board, we would’ve won that war. Because love will always conquer viciousness. The Viet Cong were trying to win the conflict through terrorism. Boy, the best way to combat terrorism is with kindness and generosity and love, and we found that happening all the time, and the people would tell us that.

Danny L. Foote, Marine artillery, Vietnam

From the time you got over there, it seemed like you were in a cesspool of drugs. Drugs were available to you, and alcohol was available to you—whatever you wanted was available to you. Many times I’d be the only individual on the whole hill that wasn’t at that particular point in time partaking of either drugs or alcohol, so I’d just have to go and sit and be by myself. I can remember a Christmas where I just had to go hide because everybody was either stoned or drunk, and if we got overrun, everybody would be killed, so I went and dug a hole and hid the whole night. It was a lonely experience.

David L. Evans, Army infantryman, World War II

The first time I really became aware of how callous I was getting was moving along the road when the Germans were retreating pretty fast in front of us—this was on our [p. 164]way to the Saar River just before we got there. They went up over the ridge and we were following after them. We took a break to stop to have something to eat, so I had Krations in a box. There was no place to sit down and eat. We looked around for some rocks or fallen trees or something that we could sit on. There wasn’t anything there except a couple of German bodies. They’d been snowed on and the snow had been blown off, and so I just went over and sat down on one of them and used that for my bench and ate my dinner and felt no qualms at all.

Lincoln R. Whitaker, Army infantryman, World War II

While we were guarding the Elbe River, the Russians were moving from Berlin towards us. We met the Russians on the opposite side of this river. The German prisoners were coming across the river in anything they could find. They wanted to surrender to us rather than to the Russians, because they knew they’d get better treatment from us than they’d get from the Russians.

That was a mass exodus. There were a lot of German men crossing that river. It was a very swift river and very treacherous. We saw them put bath tubs into the river on the opposite bank and try to float across the river. Of course the bathtub would sink and they’d drown because they couldn’t swim in the river. The current was too heavy with clothes on. We saw an awful lot of men who we just couldn’t help and who died in that river.

George E. Morse, Army Special Forces, Vietnam

I had a couple offriends. One got shot right through the throat at the same time I was shot through the chest. We went to a medevac hospital and then to Yokohama, Japan. I still had my stomach open so it could be drained out. There were big wire sutures down through—I could see where they’d put the stomach itself back together. My buddy couldn’t talk through his mouth. He had an electronic thing that he’d put onto his neck to talk with. It didn’t [p. 165]sound like a voice, but you could tell what he was saying. He’d come over and bother me, saying, “Come on, Sergeant, let’s go. We are going down to the NCO [non-commissioned officer] club.”

I said, “What are we going down there for?”

He said, “We are going to get us a drink.”

I said, “Hell, I can’t even get out of this bed. I’ve got tubes all over me. I’d really like to go down there with you, but I can’t.”

I don’t know how he did it. He had crutches. His foot was half gone, but I guess he got a wheelchair and went down to the club. He came back, and I guess he’d had more than his fair share. He came wheeling back in a wheelchair and up to my bed. He grabbed a hold of the IV bottle and shook me. He said, “Okay, are you ready to party?” He took the IV tube off the bottle and set it down. He had a bottle of what I think was vodka. He couldn’t find the cork so he turned the lights on to see what he was doing. He hated to see men not have a drink with him.

The nurse just went nuts. She came in there, and then a doctor. She told the doctor, “They’re crazy. One is going to kill the other. Court-martial them.” They put my buddy into bed, where he went to sleep, and it was all over.

The next day I said, “Do you realize what you did last night?” He said, “No. I went over to the NCO club. Didn’t I bring you back something to drink?” I said, “Yes. You tried to kill me. You were going to plug that bottle into my IV.” He just said, “Ah.”

Neil Workman, Marine radio operator, World War II

We had a tank commander who was an “old-time” marine. He found a couple of Japanese bodies and cut their heads off. He put the heads in a five-gallon gasoline supply can and boiled them for several hours until all of the flesh came off. Then he buried them in the ground for a couple [p. 166]of days to get rid of the odor. Then he mounted the two skulls on top of his tank, right over the lights. Then he painted crossbones below it. Everybody thought that was great. I couldn’t do that.

A lot of our men also started to collect teeth. The story went around that all Japanese had gold in their teeth, so they’d find a body and knock the teeth out to see if there was any gold in them. It was a way to show how tough they were. One guy on another island wanted to do something different, so he started to collect ears. He went around slicing the ears off the dead bodies on that island. He then strung them on a string just like a necklace. He had a string of ears that went all the way around the inside of his tent.

Chris Velasquez, Navy combat photographer, Vietnam

A lot of guys took trophies. They considered ears trophies. Ifthey killed somebody, they’d go out and cut an ear off so they could prove it to somebody. A lot ofmarines and army boys did that. I saw one guy who had thirty ears on a string.

Hyde L. Taylor, Army Airborne, Vietnam

About the atrocities of the American soldier, I’ve been asked many times about those kinds of things. I’ve never seen any. Maybe I was in a very professional unit. I’ve never seen or even heard mention of anything that would be anywhere in that line.

In fact, once we fought a battle for three days that was terribly bloody. The unit that suffered the most casualties, one particular platoon that was kind of caught in the middle of the thing, had many dead and probably 35 percent wounded. After it was over there was a large number of prisoners, I’d say close to ninety or one hundred. There were a lot of prisoners and a lot of weapons. It was a big unit.

It just so happened that when they sent those prisoners back to be evacuated, the heavily hit platoon ended [p. 167]up guarding those prisoners. A lot of people said, “Somebody better get down there. They’ll kill them all. They just lost their friends.” I went down to see what was going on. It was handled as professionally as anything I’ve ever seen. In fact, they were even tending to the wounded. I don’t know about those stories; I can’t relate to that. I’ve never seen anything like that before.

I saw it on the other side and I saw a lot of it. I’ve been in villages, Montagnard villages way up in the mountains, where I know the North Vietnamese went through and recruited guides and took the head man of the village and cut off his head and stuck it on a pole to show the people that they meant business and that they better send the guides with them.

Ron Fernstedt, Marine infantryman, Vietnam

Before missions I’d go off by myself and have a word of prayer. My men would always check to see if I’d made commo [communication] with the Lord. After awhile, a couple of men asked if they could join me while I prayed, and then finally it became our custom to kneel in prayer before and after each mission.

It was sort of fun being the “Mad Mormon.” I’ve had every rank from private to colonel sitting on the edge of my foxhole reading a Book of Mormon. A lot of men were looking for something over there, and there were many opportunities to talk about the church.

Once on Hill 54 we had a young marine who claimed he was LDS. When a couple of my men caught him coming out of the local whorehouse, they beat him up. He couldn’t understand that. The men I knew respected us for our beliefs.

David L. Gardner, Army communications, Vietnam

I had the opportunity of teaching the missionary discussions all over again. I was down at the Saigon branch every Wednesday for youth activities and every Sunday, al-[p. 168]most, for church services. I had the opportunity of working with a lot of fellow LDS military people and getting to know all of the Vietnamese who had been baptized or were going to be baptized.

A friend of mine, Captain Monte Lorrigan, and I spent many hours together. He was in the presidency of the church’s mission to Vietnam and later became president of the Sunday school in our branch on Tan Son Nhut Air Force base. We decided that we knew who had cut our orders to Vietnam and that being there was a great opportunity for us to strengthen our faith in our Heavenly Father. Vietnam was one of the greatest spiritual experiences of my life.

Grant Warren, Air force rescue, Vietnam

The LDS church in Vietnam was great. It was like going from hell to heaven. You generally found an air-conditioned hooch, or the base chapel that was air-conditioned.

We’d meet there. You would meet all sorts of guys. You would meet marines and special forces army guys and navy guys. Most of the navy guys were CBs (Construction Battalion). All sorts of B-52 pilots, fighter pilots, chopper pilots, and administrative guys, civilians working for the CIA, I think. We’d all come to church and some of them would prop their M-16s in the back of the base chapel and take off their helmets, and we all became Mormons, and we passed the sacrament.

There were a lot of tears shed, let me tell you, a lot of tears. You would see combat pilots who had shot down fifteen MiGs come in there and bawl. I remember this one marine first lieutenant came in with a Browning sawed off shot gun (that’s what he carried in the field), put it in the back, and came up and started taking the sacrament and just sobbed. Even today thinking about it makes me feel funny.

The contrast was so great. You just wanted to stay forever. Guys could never leave. All rank was dropped. We [p. 169]had full-bird colonels come in there who were members of the church. There would be some PFC (private first class, E-3) conducting the meeting. We’d call him President So-and-so and ask, “How are you doing?”

Some non-Mormon guys would come in there and it would blow them away. Here’s this full bird colonel talking to the PFC and saying, “How are you doing, President?” They just couldn’t understand that at all. They’d say,”What, uh? That’s sir.”

“Not here, he isn’t.”

Clyde Everett Weeks, Jr., Marine infantryman, World War II

I had one interesting experience after our return to Maui. We were getting ready to return to combat. We went back to Honolulu for about two weeks getting new supplies and getting equipped, things to use to go to Guadalcanal. I had occasion to go to church one Sunday. Not knowing the time the services started, I went to the chapel and saw the sign saying that services started at 10:00 a.m.

I got there early. As I sat there waiting for the meeting to start, I noticed the people starting to come in. It didn’t take me long to realize that the service I was in was going to be a Japanese meeting, and all the people in the meeting were Japanese. The meeting started, and it was conducted in Japanese. So here I found myself, just having returned from combat against the Japanese, who were the brothers and sisters and relatives, I’m sure, of some of these same church members with whom I was sharing this sacrament meeting experience in Honolulu.

As the meeting progressed it came time for the members to share their testimonies. As they did, of course, they did it in Japanese. It was a very strange experience for me, realizing that here I was, the only Caucasian person in this meeting, and yet all these people were members of the same church that I belonged to. They shared the same testimony of the gospel that I had. Although they might have been re-[p. 170]lated to those with whom I’d engaged in combat just a few days earlier, they were really not part of this war. They were not my enemies. And so, for a seventeen-year-old boy in a marine corps uniform in a chapel full of Japanese speaking the Japanese language, I realized that the place I found myself this Sunday had a great deal to teach me, insofar as the feelings I had against Japan and Germany.

Neil Worklnan, Marine radio operator, World War II

While I was in the hospital, I got active in the LDS branch. There I met a guy who, like me, had lost a leg. I started talking church to him. I took him out to church with me. The day that we got discharged from the marines, we went to church and the next day I baptized him. That was the only time in the history of the church where a one-legged soldier baptized another one-legged soldier. It made good copy!

John A. Duff, Army helicopter pilot, Vietnam

After I joined the unit and they first understood that I was Mormon and that I didn’t drink or smoke or carry on with women or anything like that, I was respected and left alone. I must say that most of the enlisted people wanted to fly in my ships or my unit. In fact, I had people coming all the time wanting to come into my platoon, because they knew the next morning when they flew with me that I was sober and that my pilots were sober and that they didn’t have to worry about the pilots that they were flying with being hung over and making a dumb mistake and getting them killed that day.

Neil Workman, Marine radio operator, World War II

When I got overseas, I started gambling, playing cards. There was nothing else to do. We got into a poker game one night on New Caledonia and I won a good amount of money. The next day somebody else who was LDS talked me into going to church at the LDS branch there.

[p.171]We were on leave and there wasn’t anything else to do, so we went to church. This branch didn’t have any hymn books, and that money I’d won was burning a hole in my pocket. So I donated it all to that branch to buy hymn books.

Timothy Hoyt Bowers-Irons, chaplain, World War II and Korea

On Corsica I heard about this boy. He was army air forces, but he was in the stockade. I went down to see him. That’s the lightest stockade I’ve ever seen. The boy, being LDS, didn’t smoke, and so he got to trading his cigarettes off and found there was a ready market. Then some of his buddies started giving him their cigarettes. He’d sell them and trade them and then, I guess, some of the other people with a little higher rank learned about it, and so he got kind of a thriving little market going. He’d take a couple of barracks bags full of stuff and hitch-hike into some of those little towns up in the mountains where they were short of stuff and make a good deal. I guess several of the officers in the outfit were involved in this. Anyway, he was picked up with two barracks bags full of government loot, and, of course, he was court-martialed, but he was court-martialed by his own outfit and so they gave him, I’m not sure, thirty to sixty days in the stockade. The “stockade” consisted of a fairly nice small house with one strand of barbed wire around it.

When I showed up he wasn’t suffering very much, but he did wonder if the church would accept as a donation one-tenth of his money. I said, “Well, how much do you have?”

He says, “Well, I’m not sure, but I think I have in my bank account in the States around thirty thousand dollars.”

I said, “Well, that poses kind of a tender question. Is it honestly gotten money?”

He said, “Well, most of it’s honestly got. It’s true I sold my cigarettes, but I didn’t smoke them. That’s where it came from. This expansion of business has only just been recently. Most of it I got through fairly honest dealings.”

[p. 172]I considered the problem, and I didn’t know who to tell him to turn all the money back to because the people who gave it to him had gotten value received and I was afraid if he tried to turn it back to the government, he’d go to jail, and I couldn’t really see him spending too much time in jai. He wasn’t any worse or any better than anyone else. So I said, “Well, I suggest you stop this black marketing, and when you get home you think it over and if you feel like it, you can send in an anonymous contribution to the church. If you want to send it all to them, fine, or you can give it to the Red Cross. I don’t think you ought to make too much out of it because it may confirm you in being dishonest.”

He was very repentant.

I don’t know what happened. It kind of tickled me. There he was in that stockade, in a better house than I lived in, with one strand of barbed wire around it. I asked a couple of the officers about it afterward. I said, “You boys must have sure been mad at him.”

Albert E. Haines, Army infantryman, World War II

We were pulled back from the Hurtgen Forest and went into a rest area. It was down by Verviers, Belgium. We were given our three-day passes. This is sort of an interlude, I suppose, where “Mormonism” comes into being. What do you do when you are taken off the line and you go out for recreation? Talk about painting the town red, that’s what our regiment did.

The very toughest platoon leader I knew buddied with me. He sought me out and we did the town together. We had cider or something light. We heard the troops yelling, singing, drinking, and carousing, and we joined in the singing. I remember a woman singing “Roses of Picardy” in a room so filled with smoke that my eyes hurt now just thinking about it.

Then we walked the streets and reminisced. He was a rough hombre, well educated but tough. He was cold-[p.173]blooded; at least that’s how I viewed him in a combat situation. It was interesting to have that association at that particular time. We then went back to our little hotel that they leased for us.

The next day, at his initiative, we went out on the street again. He said, “You know what would feel good?” I had the wrong idea of what he was thinking about getting me into. He turned into a place where there were some women. I thought, “I’m in trouble now.” It turned out to be a beauty parlor. What he wanted was a manicure. So I had one, too, and that was probably the highlight of those three days in Belgium.

W. Howard Riley3 Navy artillery and radio operator, World War II

One time our commanding officer came to us and said there was a dance and that he wanted some sailors to go. There were a bunch of young cadet nurses. I was one of them assigned to go to the dance. So I went and danced with a young lady, a very nice young lady. After the dance, she slipped out with me, which she wasn’t supposed to do. She spent the night with me out on a park bench. She expected me to take her to a motel. She expected a lot more than she got.

Spencer J. Palmer, chaplain, Korea

Above others, the soldier whom I think of as a hero during my tour of duty in the Far East was an army private from Idaho named Bueller, a Mormon. He’s my symbol of brave men, though he never knew it at the time.

Private Bueller’s troopship landed at Sasebo, Japan, [p. 174]in early March 1954, and as often happens in the military pipeline, he became separated for a time from other Latter-day Saints. I know that he felt at this time like he was merely a number on some shipping roster, one among the milling thousands.

I seriously doubt that he knew there was an LDS chaplain at Sasebo—or that I’d seen him and a swaggering group of soldiers heading out for town.

I was a little troubled about Bueller. I suspected he’d been taught right, but this was his first night in an Oriental town. He was young. He certainly wasn’t with boys of his own faith. Moreover, the attitudes of most GIs at the reception center weren’t conducive to morality; they’d been herded, restricted, and stifled at ports and in troopships for weeks. They’d just been paid and had money to burn. With the high yen-dollar exchange rate, they could literally live like kings the few days they were there. And besides, this was a curious new life and they were away from home with an entirely uncertain future. Surely this was the time, if ever, for a red-blooded man to have a fling.

Sasebo was a natural place for that breed of thinking. At night it was a city for suckers and dupes—one of dark streets, free-flowing beer, nude or half-nude cabaret shows, and endless trinket shops with second-rate merchandise. But the cheapest and easiest merchandise in town was the women. Prostitutes beckoned on every sidewalk. They were dressed in tight western clothes, powdered, daubed, and perfumed. Some were good-looking in pale light, and they proved tempting to lonesome men.

As soon as I could get free at camp I went into Sasebo to find Private Bueller. I searched for Bueller’s crowd. When I couldn’t spot them, I feared lest he’d surrendered to the grovelling tide or the jeers of his buddies. Then I saw him—an individual soldier standing by himself on a corner, straight and solitaire. He seemed so removed from the noisy confusion and debauchery around him that I couldn’t have been more delighted.

[p. 175]When I asked what had happened to them, he simply explained that they’d found some women and he decided not to go along. In fact, his buddies had beaten him up when they found they couldn’t convince him to join the crowd. That was all. But the words measured the courage of the man. I was proud of him.

Notes:

[p.139]1. David L. Gardner was born 27 December 1945 in Fillmore, Utah. Gardner graduated from Boise (Idaho) High School, earned an associate’s degree in interpersonal communications from Boise Junior College (now Boise State University), and attended Brigham Young University for a year before leaving for Vietnam at the age of twenty-six. He and his wife had a four-month-old daughter at the time. Gardner was the founding chairman of the Vietnam Era Veterans Memorial Committee for the state of Utah. The Utah Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in October 1989 in Salt Lake City. Gardner, a human services specialist, is currently employed by Mountainlands Association of Governments in Provo, Utah.

2. Combat rations, usually canned meals for use in the field. Sometimes called K-rations.

3. W. Howard Riley was born 18 April 1926 in Woods Cross, Utah. Before joining the U.S. Navy, he attended Davis High School in Kaysville, Utah. Riley was single when he joined the navy. Since his World War II experience, Riley has been a linotype operator, a fruit farmer (his present occupation), and mayor of Payson, Utah.