In the Nam, did you ever just sit back and wonder, “Why me?” My guest this week questioned his role in a war where many of the civilians around him wanted him dead and most people back home didn’t support what he was doing. His worst week in-country was the same week as the historic festival at Woodstock, he fought for his life while others partied. Read what he had to say.
by Preston Ingalls
War is terrifying for all those involved…combatants…civilians, etc. Vietnam was even more challenging than other wars. Mostly because we didn’t have the support of the folks we were supposed to be protecting.
The farmer in the rice patty during the day, maybe a sapper cutting barbed wire and trying to enter our perimeter at night.
That cute teenage girl serving Coke at the stand alongside the road may be loading a mortar tube as a ‘Co Cong’ that evening and zeroing in or our position.
That mamasan with betel nut stained teeth waving to you alongside the road as your APC drives by may be providing barrels of rice to a VC unit after sunset.
Then, we knew the support from the home-front was wavering and floundering by the day. Between the sit-ins, college draft card burnings, massive war protests, and overall anti-war movement, you begin to doubt the sincerity of the intent and purpose for our being there.
Then there was the known corruption of the Saigon government. It was a carousel of governments after Diem’s assassination a few weeks before Kennedy’s assassination.
It was common for wealthy Vietnamese families to bribe their son’s way out of combat roles leaving the poor peasants to shoulder the burden. But we shared similar burdens in the States as the “well to do” avoided sending their kids to war by keeping them in college with student deferments.
The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war. Douglas MacArthur
During the week of August 15–18 1969, I was with the 1st Battalion, 50th Infantry (Mech) attached to the 173rd Airborne. The company’s base was LZ North English with the battalion residing at LZ Uplift, and our Area of Operations (AO) covered a large area of Highway QL1 running north and south; our main responsibility was to provide road and bridge security along that stretch of road.
That particular week was a terrifying one for us as we dealt with multiple engagements/contacts. It started with an assault on our position at Sniper’s Island, which was almost overrun; several bridge probes by the enemy; an assault on our perimeter at the hamlet of Tam Quan; and a lost track which was blown up by a mine – two of my buddies died and one sustained severe wounds. It was a horrible, and devastating week.
A Woodstock Comparison
Why do I recall that week in particular? Because it was the same week that over 500,000 of my peers were mesmerized in a drug-induced coma while listening to music at The Woodstock Concert. We both suffered in the rain that week – theirs during a passing storm, ours in the Monsoon rains.
While the Woodstock teenagers wondered about with blankets dragging in the mud looking for something to eat with a serious case of munchies; we were huddled under ponchos trying to eat our lunch and prevent the rainwater from ruining our C-rations.
While the Woodstockers sat on a hill, impatiently waiting for the next musical act to start; we sat atop our APC staring into the blackness of night through a Starlight scope for movement on the perimeter.
My peer at Woodstock suddenly heard the twang of a guitar through the remote speakers and he grinned in anticipation; my buddy on the next APC suddenly heard the sound of barbed wire being clipped in front of his position – his heart stopped.
The 19-year-old stoned Woodstocker flashed a peace sign to another concertgoer who toked on a joint nearby; my brother in arms giving patrol signals to those of us behind him to suddenly stop because he luckily spotted a tripwire to a boobytrap.
A Woodstocker woke up on day two, soaked in urine because of him ‘tripping’ all night after taking a tab of LSD he had gotten from a cool dude from California; my buddy goes to a tree on the edge of the perimeter to take a leak and sees an enemy soldier behind another tree which causes him to piss himself before he can unsling his rifle.
A 21-year old Woodstocker is popping a pill that a 15-year old girl gave him telling him, “it will make you feel groovy, man”; my 21-year old fellow soldier is taking his weekly large orange anti-malaria pill, (cloroquine-primiequine-phosphate) to ward off the effects of malaria – severe diarrhea is a side effect.
My Woodstock peer was lying on the ground chilling with the sound of Jimi Hendrix buzzing in the air; my Vietnam buddy is hugging the ground with the sound of bullets piercing the berm of the rice patty he is hiding behind.
While they were entertained, we were fighting for our lives.
I know that both groups complained about the freakin’ mud, politicians and the war.
Different perspectives for different young adults.
They were clinging to every note…we were clinging to every moment.
Thank you, brother, for another fine piece.
Preston Ingalls has contributed two earlier articles that were published on this website. Click on the following links to check them out:
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