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Letters from Readers -- April 2007 Vietnam Magazine

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: February 21, 2007 
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Rear Echelon Serviceman
I admire Larry Wood's honesty ("Perspectives," December 2006) on how he felt about not doing his part in combat. The point is, he was called to duty by his country and he answered the call. Many who were called burned their draft cards and ran to Canada or Europe.

I was a career soldier, and served in Vietnam from 1967-68 including the Tet Offensive. I was assigned to a South Vietnamese Popular Forces infantry company as an intelligence adviser. When I went on operations with them, I never knew if I would be coming back; you see, we had VC in our own company.

Even if Wood didn't care for his military occupation speciality (MOS), he can always look back and say, "I served my country in Vietnam and did my job." Those who ran out will always have the guilt of not serving their country when called to do so.

Command Sgt. Maj. W.C. Garrett Jr.
U.S. Army (ret.)
League City, Texas

Vietnam Magazine brings back a lot of memories, and Larry Wood's article was an example of this. I was in Vietnam in the same situation he was, but I don't feel as if I didn't give much. We all served our time, and it didn't matter if our job was burning sh— or whatever; we served.

I was there for 20 months, June 1970 to February 1972. My first MOS was 67N20—aircraft maintenance. After 12 months I was put in charge of the motor pool. We were mortared a few times, and we lost men and aircraft. We all had to face that, no matter what our job was. I just wanted to let Larry know that he is not alone. I stay in touch with lots of my old buddies from the D 3l-5 and C 3-17 Air Cav. It helps.

Stan Strack
El Paso, Texas

I would like to tell Mr. Wood to be proud of his service. I am a disabled combat vet from that war. I gleefully joined in on all the talk about REMFs, but if I had been offered a rear echelon post I would have taken it in a minute.

The really sad part is that there was still a need for Mr. Wood's services three years after my dustoff.

Barry J. Orner
Johnstown, Pa.

Larry Wood's story really hit home with me, as my experience was similar. I was drafted in May 1969 here in Milwaukee, had Basic at Fort Campbell and Military Police advanced infantry training at Fort Campbell, where I turned 20. Since I, like Mr. Wood, had civilian typing experience, I was assigned as a company clerk to the nearby 2nd Civil Affairs Company, which was part of II Field Force, adjacent to Long Binh.

I figured out in short order how fortunate I was to wind up in a "rear" position. Over the years I have felt almost too lucky to have had such a safe experience, when more than 58,000 fellow veterans paid the ultimate price, and hundreds of thousands more were wounded, many having their lives changed completely. Only after my first visit to the Wall in Washington, D.C., in 1991 did I finally say to myself, I did what was asked (and more) of me, and can be proud of my service. I hope others feel likewise. God bless America.

Ed Thompson
Milwaukee, Wis.

Larry Wood's story was a carbon copy of my tour of duty—one that I, too, pondered for many years afterward. Did I serve with honor? A profound "yes."

Late one night I began thinking about this once again and realized that there was no front line. The entire country was the front line. There was no rear echelon. The entire country was dangerous. I worked "safely" in a restricted compound in I Corps surrounded by the 3rd Marine Division. I was trained on the 81mm mortar by a Marine captain even though I was an assigned "spook" to the 8th Radio Research Field Station in Phu Bai. Our area received a lot of action in late 1967 and early '68, and I lived in a trench the last month in country to avoid being "dicked away" before leaving. Our compound was hit and fired upon several times, but I never fired a shot from my M-14 and fired only luminaries from the mortar. Was I considered "rear echelon"? Probably. Guilt? Yes—until I realized that from "KP Kapi­tan" to Green Beret, no job was any less in the big picture of Vietnam than another.

To Larry Wood, I would say: You did what was asked of you. You did what you were trained for. We gave all that we could give at the time. We may not have been the greatest generation, but we were the greatest of our generation. Welcome home.

Lee (Stoney) Burke
Ira, Texas

Counting the Days
Regarding Mark DePue's article on the one-year tour of duty (December 2006), I am convinced that the one-year tour was a great positive decision, especially as the war progressed. In World War II and Korea, one was sent to the front to serve "until the war ended"—no time limit. In Vietnam, the GI knew he had 365 days. The first 15 were spent acclimatizing and orienting. Arriving at one's unit, there were another two weeks doing the same: 11 months to go! In those combat units, by and large the average trooper was in the boonies only four to six months, and then rotated back to base camp. (I know one could be zapped there also, as some were.) At anywhere from the 10th to the 12th month, most units tried to get their "short timers" out of the field to some useful rear-echelon job until DEROS (date of estimated return from overseas). This state of affairs quickly became known to every incoming serviceman, and sustained and encouraged him in his duties. I feel it was a real life saver in the Vietnam War.

Wesley Grimes Byerly, M.D.
Hickory, N.C.

Before reading Mark DePue's article, I did not know how the one-year tour was decided for the Vietnam War.

I was assigned to the MACV J-2 [intelligence] in January 1966 to create a unit to automate the intelligence. I quickly completed my mission and stayed on to August 1970.

Sometime in early 1967, I learned I had been in-country for more than a year when reassignment orders were sent to me with extension papers. I cannot remember where I was being reassigned in CONUS [continental United States], but I signed the extension papers and went back to work. A month or so later, a senior officer confronted me and chewed me out for not taking an R&R! I ended up going to Hong Kong in the wintertime. I was not thinking.

When I signed my extension papers, so did another NCO, and several of my junior enlisted men extended their tours to within 60-90 days of their discharge dates. They preferred to stay and work with their comrades and for the men in the field, rather than pick up cigarette butts at a fort somewhere in CONUS until their discharge date. This gave me time to go to a replacement depot and look over a few hundred personnel files of men with above-average test scores.

I learned to look for men who had only one address on file (which made it easier to complete a background check), as well as some computer, math or musical instrument experience. The reason for computer experience is obvious, and I found that math and/or musical backgrounds gave me men who could be quickly trained to program and query large intelligence databases, since both fields required them to follow the rules and come to a logical conclusion. During my interviews, I told them they would owe me a minimum of 12 hours per day and work 6 1⁄2 days a week. The half day off was to get a haircut, laundry, boots, etc., squared away. They did not need to look "sharp," but they did have to look clean, neat and professional.

A small core of NCOs kept extending their tours, one extension after another, as did I. They became a solid core of experience. And almost all of my enlistees and draftees extended at least another six months. This allowed me to keep finding replacements and having overlap time, and for my unit to operate at very high efficiency.
I tried to have each new man take a helicopter ride out to a firebase or remote unit to see who they were supporting. After that, they were very happy to be assigned to me and not in harm's way every day!

Believe it or not, my men and I came under investigation because someone saw all of the extensions and assumed we were up to no good. They thought we were mixed up in the black market, MPC [Military Pay Certificate] manipulation, drugs, etc. What they learned was that we had background updates every six months and the men actually stayed to contribute to the war effort.

Young military intelligence officers and enlisted analysts had so much to learn about their area of responsibility that once they got it, they almost had their orders to go home—and then their replacements needed extensive training. After the war, I thought about many aspects of my six years in-country, including length of the tour. I really think those of us in headquarters, largely out of harm's way, should have had an 18-month tour.

Master Sgt. Howard A. Daniel III
U.S. Army (ret.)
Deltaville, Va.

A War Reporter Returns to Vietnam
Although I enjoyed Michael Putzel's story (December 2006) about his return visit to Vietnam, where he had been an AP correspondent for three years during the war, I do have a concern. As with other stories from tourists and journalists, Putzel's account left me with the uncomfortable feeling that he had bought into the standard Communist line—pounded into the Vietnamese from birth—that Americans were "invaders" in South Vietnam, and that the heroic North Vietnamese (who never acknowledged there were two countries) went south to help their brothers repel the invaders and to "reunite" the country. I've talked with tourists who come back with glowing reports about the dog and pony shows the Vietnamese put on for them, and stories of the museums with their "evil Americans" exhibits.

Scott Anderson
Green Valley, Ariz.

I enjoyed Michael Putzel's article. However, I think he's mistaken when he says that the old metal airstrip at Khe Sanh was carted off "long ago to be used as boat hulls or building walls by imaginative scavengers." According to the official USMC Vietnam history for 1968, the same Navy Seabee unit that upgraded the airstrip in 1967 ripped it up in July 1968 when the base was being demolished, and then abandoned.

Peter Brush
Nashville, Tenn.

Aero Rifle Platoons
Eli Renshaw's story about the Blues ("Fighting Forces," December 2006) brought back fond memories. I was an M-60 gunner with D Troop, 1-1 Cavalry, which was assigned to the 123rd Aviation Battlion. We did recon for the Americal. Twice we flew missions to Cam Duc with six Cobras loaded for bear. They used to peel off like fighters and strafe the old base and surrounding area. They told us that the NVA was using the airstrip at night. I'll always remember that base.

Bill Foster
East Palestine, Ohio

Very interesting article by Eli Renshaw, and I must say it's easier to let my children read and get meaning from this than to try and relate just what "Daddy did in the war." The only thing I saw missing from the description of our normal gear were the 6- to 8-foot rope (for making "Swiss Seats"), Snap "D" carabiner and leather gloves, all used for rappelling at any given time.

Thanks for the great article, Eli. I personally think you described the majority of us to a "T," as I was one of those (and dang proud of it), on that flight line at Phu Bai. I'm one of the "Blues Brothers," and we (Slicks, Scouts, and Snakes) are "out front."

Pat Stanley
Sulphur, La.

"Shake and Bake" Officers
Tim Long's article about Fire Support Base Thunder (October 2006) compels me to write. Sergeant Larry Knippel and Don Stockton were fellow classmates of mine in class 9-69 11E40 at the Noncommissioned Officer Candidate School at Fort Knox, Ky. I roomed with Larry Knippel for two months, from mid-April to mid-June of 1969, during on-the-job training in C Company, 1-66th Armor, Second Armored Division, at Fort Hood, Texas. Larry invited me to spend some time at his folks' home, and since we both had to report to Oakland at the same time I took him up on his offer. I witnessed Larry saying what would be his final goodbye to his parents, reassuring them he would be all right. On my last day in country, on my first tour, I was informed that he had been killed.

It wasn't until I purchased a computer in 2000 that I gleaned some details from no-quarter.org and the 2-34th Armor's Web site about his death, along with fellow classmate Jim Roland on Friday, March 13, 1970, a week after Larry's 20th birthday. When I came across Larry and Don Stockton's names and read about their exploits on that night, I was emotionally floored to say the least, but not the least bit surprised by their conduct during the firefight. I would have expected nothing less from these two "shake 'n' bake" classmates.

Charles M. Torno
A/2-1 Armored Cavalry, 7/69 to 9/70;
G Troop 11th ACR, 9/70 to 3/71
Lebanon, Maine

Send letters to: Vietnam Editor, Weider History Group, 741 Miller Drive SE, Suite D-2, Leesburg, VA 20175; or e-mail to Vietnam@ weiderhistorygroup.com. Please include your name, address and daytime telephone number. Letters may be edited.



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