A 19-year-old Ohio native described to his parents the journey from home to the war in Vietnam

On Oct. 26, 1965, I walked into the offices of Draft Board No. 40 in Dayton, Ohio, and volunteered for the draft, which meant that someone else would not be drafted. I was 19 and lived just outside of Dayton in the village of Farmersville. After U.S. Army basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, I went to Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort Ord, California, for advanced individual training.

My first assignment was New York City’s Armed Forces Examination and Entrance Station at 39 Whitehall St. in Manhattan. Six months later, I was sent to an examination and entrance station in Cincinnati. In both places there were daily anti-war protests. After seeing so many American men and women entering the military, I volunteered to extend the two-year commitment required of a “draftee” an additional year to serve in Vietnam.

I got my orders for Vietnam in October 1967 and went to jungle warfare training at Fort Knox. Due to a shortage of rifles, I used a tree branch for three days. Right after I arrived in Vietnam, I wrote my first letter home.

1 Nov 67
Dear Mom & Dad,

Well how are things going back home? I am OK and got eight letters from mail call. I left Dayton and arrived at Chicago 0820 hours. I checked in at Northwestern Airlines and we departed 1015 hours. I sat beside a fellow Army soldier from Detroit, who was already late for duty, due to his brother’s wedding. We flew over the Dakotas and the Western states. I saw the Black Hills and the forests of Oregon and Washington states. We flew right over Seattle and the Boeing aircraft plant and landed in Seattle 1230 hours.

We did not go to Fort Lewis right away, so we grabbed our duffel bags and bused to the Seattle bus station. We put our bags in lockers and took off sightseeing. Most of the places were closed on Sunday. We went out to where the world’s fair was and the Seattle tower that takes a cable car up for dining 200 feet up. We went down to the waterfront and watched the fishing boats heading up to Alaska. The whitecaps sure were rolling. We went back to the bus station, picked up our bags, bought a $1.50 bus ticket for Fort Lewis 35 miles down the road.

We arrived at Fort Lewis and right across from the bus stop was a sign “Welcome To Vietnam Bound Troops.” After checking in, we filled out more forms. We turned in our military-issued raincoats, one pair of boots, and all but one set of fatigues [to make room for jungle fatigues and boots that would be supplied]. The packed cornstarch box [for jungle rot] busted and was a mess in my duffel bag. I got on a shuttle bus to receive four more shots. Then, I caught another shuttle to supply and was issued four sets of jungle fatigues, one pair of jungle boots, five sets of OD [olive drab] T-shirts and boxer shorts, three towels, five OD handkerchiefs. After an orientation, we were assigned barracks with no linens.

We got up at 0530 for breakfast and stood formation. The NCOIC [noncommissioned officer in charge] called out names of troops leaving that day for Vietnam. The rest of us not called were put on detail and KP and moved to different staging barracks as a group. Tuesday morning, I walked to the bulletin board and my name was listed on Vietnam Outbound for Wednesday. So once again, we moved into another barracks to process for an early flight, but were delayed until 1500 hours. We were bused out to McChord Air Force Base and boarded a Northwestern flight with 200 fellow soldiers. Just as we were boarding, another plane from Vietnam landed and the veterans came tearing off the plane raising Cain and happy to be back on USA soil.

We boarded in alphabetic order, and I was the last soldier sitting on the first row behind the cabin. Our first stop was Anchorage, Alaska, and all of a sudden we saw blue lights, snow and ice everywhere. We landed for fuel and were only allowed in the terminal for 30 minutes. We departed for Tokyo, Japan, in the dark and were served one meal of fried chicken and sides.

It sure was a long quiet ride and nobody had much to say. After 10 hours flying, we touched down at Tokyo. We were not allowed to leave the plane, because Customs often had problems. After refueling, we took off for an eight-hour flight to Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam. As we left Tokyo, there were lights as far as you could see and thousands of junk boats in the bay. We were served another meal of Swiss steak and sides from Japanese stewardesses. It was still dark outside and somewhere we had passed the international date line.

We landed in Cam Ranh Bay at 0100 hours Friday morning. Actual total flying time was 21 hours. U.S. Army MPs came on the plane after landing and directed us to run off the plane due to small-arms fire nearby to awaiting U.S. Army buses. We drove a few miles to the U.S. Army processing station. It was hot, raining and we could feel the heat immediately. We filled out more forms and exchanged our U.S. dollars into MPC [military payment certificates]. Our duffel bags were searched and we were issued a pillow and case.

We all stayed up for 0530 breakfast. Cam Ranh Bay had the whitest sand and boardwalks everywhere. After formation, we had a big orientation and the NCOIC stated most of us would get our orders changed. He said all the information needed at Long Binh [U.S. Army headquarters in South Vietnam, about 20 miles northeast of Saigon, and the center for arriving troops] is your name, MOS [military occupational specialty] and your serial number. This information would be processed through an IBM machine that will decide your reporting locations and units. While waiting on new orders, we pulled duty along the CRB beach. Sampan boats were out in the bay, with clear blue water and miles of pure white sand.

My new orders came out on the roster for Qui Nhon [on the coast in central South Vietnam.] I boarded a C-47 aircraft and we flew right along the South China Sea coast north. After arriving, we went to another processing center, waiting for further replacement orders. In the afternoon, the NCOIC called off names for different locations and my new orders were for duty station Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 45th General Support Group, 1st Logistical Command, Camp Schmidt, Pleiku, Vietnam 96318.

That’s about all for now, Mom & Dad,

Love Always, Gary PS I will write soon

I was assigned to the battalion logistics staff and promoted to specialist 5 in January 1968. I volunteered in February 1968 for the Pleiku Sub-Area Command recon, I Field Force at Artillery Hill, 52nd Field Artillery batteries. I received my orders for home on Sept. 14, 1968—two days before my 22nd birthday. I served two years, 10 months and 19 days in the U.S. Army. I joined the Air Force Reserve on Aug. 8, 1983, and after four deployments to the Middle East retired on Sept. 15, 2006, as a senior master sergeant, 87th Aerial Port Squadron, 445th Airlift Wing, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton. I live in Farmersville. V

This article appeared in the  October 2021 issue of Vietnam magazine. For more stories from Vietnam magazine, subscribe and visit us on Facebook: