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tv   Oral Histories Vietnam War Veteran Milton Jones  CSPAN  April 19, 2021 1:57pm-3:28pm EDT

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c-span3. every weekend, documenting america's story. funding for american history tv comes from these companies, who support c-span3 as a public service. next, milton jones recalls his experiences as a u.s. marine during the vietnam war. he talks about his initial reluctance to serve in vietnam and his lone journey to meet his unit in caseson. >> tell us a little bit about your upbringing. >> preacher's kid. huge family. great time as a kid. i kind of began to realize that
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we were poor by the time i started into junior high school. i never understood or knew what that meant because we were always happy. we had -- at the time i was coming along -- i was the seventh of what at that point was eight children. seven of my mom's plus my older brother of my dad's. and at that time, six of us were still in the house. shotgun house. okay? i learned many years later what shotgun house meant. but nonetheless, there was a front room which served as the living room and my mom and dad's bedroom. and then there was the kids' room. and there were three girls over in the one bed and three guys,
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three boys on the other side. and i can remember in the kitchen you went out the back door to go into the kitchen. and of course we had no power, no electricity. i -- i can remember maybe fourth gradish coming home from school one day and i could see the wires coming from the power pole into the house. i mean, this was like, it doesn't get any better than this. you know? no more using lamps, kerosene lamps to read. i was a voracious reader all along and really had a great childhood. as i began to become a teen and really got into high school years, i kind of realized that little guy, book worm, preacher's kid -- nobody really wanted to hang out with me or whatever.
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and so i -- it occurred to me that i -- i needed to, i guess, develop some street credits. and before very long, the streets had me as opposed to me developing credits. i may well have been, but it was -- it was not good, not pretty. my dad and i grew apart. or at least i grew away from my dad. and it was kind of rough during those years. thankfully, we had great community support, great teachers, counsellors. my sunday school and church. and so on the strength of these people, honestly, and my family, somehow or other, i ended up receiving a couple of early
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entrance scholarships to college because i -- by the end, i wasn't even present for high school by my junior year. but i ended up receiving scholarships, which to me were basically just the actual letters, they were always good for a drink or two if i could sneak into a bar. i had no interest in actually going to college at the time and was in no way ready. of course my dad, he finally lowered the hammer, says, boy, you are either going to go to school or get out of here. so i ended up at payne college in augusta. my hometown alma mater. i had a scholarship to payne, which is in augusta. and i had a scholarship to a full four-year, full tuition scholarship to more house signed by dr. mays, who was at that time president. i never even responded.
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in any event, after my first semester and early into my second semester of college, i realized that although i was academically sound, i in no way needed to be there, and i realized i was wasting a bunch of my time, a whole lot of other people's time, and with what was going on in the rest of my life which at that point i -- here i was just -- just turning 17. and i was now an expectant dad of a 15-year-old expectant mother at the time. i was really kind of in trouble with the police or at least the group i ran with were in trouble with the police. and i realized later on that they were -- the guys were actually shielding me from -- they wouldn't tell me when they were really going to go and
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could something bad because they kind of said -- duck was my nickname. duck kind of has a chance of getting out. and they literally -- i mean looking back, it was just over powering to realize that they were kind of sheparding and protecting me from myself, if you will. nonetheless. this all kind of came upon me early into my second semester of college. and to this day, i can only say that the lord dead me directly to the marine corps recruiter. i had no -- no reason and no relationship that would have indicated even a conversation with a marine recruiter. at that time, my nearest brother was in the air force, had been in air force a couple of years at that time and i thought the
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world of him. and my oldest brother had been in the army. knew no one in the marine corps. and lo and behold, bang, i'm at the marine corps recruiter. well, i learned there that you are only 17, so you are going to have to have parental consent. and i take the forms down. and of course notary was -- the forms have to be notarized. notary was kind of a foreign concept to us. either that, or you come down to sign it. and my mom was kind of -- gee, you are so young. my dad said, gimme them papers. signed them. let's go. so, boom, i'm in the marine corps. and this was march -- sometime in march, i guess, february or march. and april 2nd i'm at paris
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island in boot camp. and i immediately conclude that everybody down there has got to be crazy. and i'm the only sane one here. so my mission in life is to hold on to my sanity somehow or other. so -- now, mind you, i never traveled or anything like that. a big trip for me was taking a school bus trip when i was in junior high down to albany state college. that was a really big trip, you know? otherwise, i only travelled -- if you want to call it that -- that i had done was working as a driver's helper on long haul trucks delivering cookies from the cookie plant in our community. murray's cookies was like hollering distance from our
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house. the company would let youngsters go along as quote driver's helpers where you help unload the truck when they get where they are going. by virtue of that i had been through several towns and cities mostly around the southeast. otherwise, never been any place. so, for me, boot camp was kind of a game. it was -- it was, you know, remember, milton, you have got to hold onto your sanity. and these guys here, in the smokey the bearcats are crazy as hell. you have just kind of you know, go with the flow. but, remember, you have got to get out of here still sane. and after boot camp -- during boot camp, actually, i guess i had concluded that i wanted to be a long haul truck driver. these were guys that i kind of knew from murray's cookies.
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they were -- they were one of the very, very few, if not the only ones we knew at the time where they were actually black over-the-road truck drivers. that was a job that you didn't get back then. matter of fact in augusta, georgia at that time a black man couldn't even get a job with the city sanitation department on a garbage truck. you know, because that was a fairly good-paying job, and it had benefits. and our parents said, you know, boy, whatever you do, you find yourself a good-paying job with a company that's got benefits. period. but anyway, the drivers at murray's cookies were kind of my heroes. they were young black men who drove these big, powerful diesel trucks. and murray's is that time, '62ish, '63ish had a brand-new
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fleet of white 3000 desells. and fixed up. i concluded that i should be a truck driver. besides, big guy, hey, big truck, you know, power! marine corps had other ideas. and they just about dragged me kicking and screaming off to electronics -- communication electronics school out in san diego. great deal. so i go from paris island boot camp to infantry training in camp lejeune, camp geiger, north carolina. and then to san diego. and i'm at san diego for the next year in basic electronic school, electronic telephone, teletype repair school. in between that and my next assignment, which was
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cryptography repair school back at the naval shipyards in virginia. while waiting there in san diego i ended up being one of the students, if you will, who helped test the syllabus for marine tactical data system, which is a far-controlled battlefield command information system, if you will. battle hard -- or at least hardened for battlefield use. so i had gotten -- by the time i finished school in san diego and then another seven weeks over in norfolk, i'm -- it's at that time a year and a half i am into the marine corps, between basic training, infantry training, technical schools, et cetera. and so i'm a year and a half into the marine corps, and then off to marine corps air station
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butford, south carolina. 110 miles away from home. doesn't get better than that. i am turning 19. san diego was just -- oh, it was great. you know, i never -- i never been any place. so i am out here in san diego. it's just beautiful. great town. matter of fact, many years later -- i never went back to -- hadn't gone back to san diego since that time. so 2005 or '06 it was, i was taking my wife off to hawaii on a trip because i had been -- she had sacrificed a lot while i had been working on the road. so we were going to stop offt on the west coast, wherever was going to be the cheapist ticket, which was l.a., of course.
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my daughter, the younger one, says, dad, you have got too much of your youth tied up in san diego. you all got to go to san diego. and to make sure you do, we -- she and her sister, had bought us tickets for harbor tour, tickets for the midway museum out there. she says, you have got to go back to san diego, which was great. but san diego was great for me as a kid, 17 and 18. place like san diego, for me, that's a huge city at that time. just tremendously enjoyed it. so san diego marine corps communication electronics school battalion was, in a sense, kind of my college experience, if you will. looking back on it. so i enjoyed that. went over to norfolk. had my time there. did the kw-7 cryptography repair
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course over there, and spent a little time at marine barracks. funny story. may not be funny. but we are on the naval base, the norfolk naval shipyards at portsmouth. and there are five of us, five, maybe six of us, who came over from san diego going to this naval school. and you know, we were -- by that time we considered ourselves pretty salty marines. we were loosy goosy. and we didn't really fully understand the reporting structure. there is a marine barracks on every naval station for the most part. and we were formally assigned to the marine barracks. but in school we didn't realize it. we just thought hey we are hanging out with the navy and they are loosy goosy. we go around the base, bowling
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alley, club, whatever. and we were not properly bloused as our trousers should be. or, you know, maybe our shirts are out of our pants. and there was this first sergeant, marine first sergeant there on the base. we would see him periodically. every time we would see him this guy would just be -- you could -- it was almost as if he would explode. periodically he would come over and say marine you need to square away your uniform. we would laugh. little did we know that we were his once we finished school. so we finished school. it's coming up on thanksgiving, 1965. and we now have to actually report to the marine barracks. and he's sitting there in his office. he could see us as we are coming in. the joy that was on his face was
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immeasurable. the man had us on every picky detail that you could think of. they had a base housing there for married officers and married ncos. so they had trash pick up. well, they had a big wagon that was pulled by a big tractor. he assigned us, one or two of us to wax -- wash, wax, and polish the tractor while the other three or four of us pulled the wagon around to pick up leaves. one detail like that after another. it was kind of a lesson well earned and well learned there. but we go from there -- i go -- i never see any of my five -- matter of fact, i never was stationed with any of the -- out of the four schools, 15-week
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schools, 16-week schools, seven-week, seven-we can. never saw anyone else except one guy and he was not in my class that i later saw in vietnam. and another fellow who i just learned about recently who was not in my class, but we hung out together in san diego. he played host to me when i first came into vietnam when i was trying to work my way up to my base. i never saw any of these people again. so i go to marine corps air station buford. and great, i'm with marine air wing. at that time, marine air wing 31 was stationed there, along with marine air wing 32. each of which had three flying squadrons. and at that time, about four -- three or four of the total six flying squadrons were f-4b
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phantom jets. probably a couple of a-4 sky hawk jet squadrons. and then the other squadron was an f-8 crusader squadron. anyway, at the time, the structure was that each of the marine air groups would have three flying squadrons and a headquarters and maintenance squadron, and an airbase squadron. and i was in the airbase squadron. marine airbase squadron 31. they no longer have that designation. it has been subsumed into a different type of structure. but marine corps -- by the way, while i was in san diego, i kind of came to a realization that, gee, you know, i -- i miss my dad. and i realized how right he was. and gee. so i wrote him a long letter.
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and we reconciled. i was the one who needed the reconciliation. he was right where he was. and it was just a -- and we became so very close from there. so when i came home on leave from san diego, and then later on getting ready to go off to norfolk, he and my uncle john brings me to the airport in augusta. small airport. and he is so proud. i am walking -- i am there in my uniform and he and my uncle are walking behind me saying, that's my boy! he's been all over the country. he's been studying all sorts of stuff. i'm totally embarrassed. you know. >> it had to make you feel good, though. >> absolutely. absolutely. and during that leave there in '65 between san diego and norfolk, we just became so close
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that from that point on, every time we parted, we parted literally with a kiss on the lips. butbowled over at his pride in me. it just lifted me up. anyway, buford. marine corps air station buford, and the marine corps in general -- that's why i thought about my dad. i was about to say the marine corps in general provided the kind of structure that i needed and always knew in the corps in that organization at that time in my life exactly where you fit into the scheme of things. okay? yeah. >> exactly what my role is. and so, as i applied that to my assignment in buford being part of the airbase squadron where part of our role was, whenever
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and if ever we went ashore in any sort of operation, amphibious landing or otherwise, as we went ashore, my squadron, with a variety of skills -- our job was to get an airbase up and operational as quickly as possible. my specific role there was to make sure that security communications were up and running as quickly as possible. and at that time, that meant typically telephone and teletype and cryptography. >> okay. >> so great assignment there then in buford. this reminds me, by the way, when i mention security communications, i, while in san diego, had to have a national agency check in order to get a security clearance in order to
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operate in my specialty. and i kind of realized at that time that oh, i was advised, if you will, by command that i wasn't going to be able to get my security clearance. and the reason was that i was listed as a card-carrying dues paying member of a communist front organization on the attorney general's list. >> really? >> and i'm kind of -- so turns out that my junior high school was directly across the street from what at that time was probably the largest black church, african-american church, in augusta, georgia, tabernacle baptist. this is -- i was at that school from '59ishes, '60th, because we did eighth, ninth, and tenth
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grade there, through 1963. mass meetings, civil rights marches, et cetera, emitted from there. well, 14-year-old kid, you come out of class, big sign "freedom now" mass meeting. you walk across the street. come into church. they have got a registration list of people, attendee list, i signed the list that made me a member. >> good gosh. >> somewhere in these meetings the pan got passed around and i probably took the remainder of my 50 cent or 257 cent lunch money and threw hit the the pan. that made me dues paying. >> yeah. yeah. >> it turns out the meeting was being conducted by the -- i forget which name it was originally and then it later got changed to. i believe it was originally
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called the national negro labor council. that organization, like so many other civil rights organizations, was infiltrated by the fbi. and whether they were or not is probably immaterial because they were posted as a communist front organization. so since i'm 14, i would not have known it but for the fact that i was denied my clearance. and of course i -- i appealed, if you will. i guess that would be the appropriate term. and lo and behold, eventually my communist sympathies were waived by some general back on the east coast. i was in san diego at the time. >> god. >> however, to operate in the full range of my occupational
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specialty, i really needed a top secret crypto clearance. because apparently suspect because of my communist tendencies, apparently, i only got the secret crypto. i didn't get the top secret crypto. the thing that occurred to me, though, many, many years later, is how many other people who walked into that meeting with me and other such meetings had on their record someplace or other something like that. and so they are going through life, and they apply for this educational program or apply for this job or whatever, and are turned down or -- and they have no idea of -- >> why.
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>> exactly. and they have got this quote black mark on their record that they are totally unaware of. >> yeah. >> but that came about while i was in san diego. san diego was an exciting place. i also applied for an enlisted appointment to the naval academy awards -- to the naval academy while i was out there. you have to go through review boards. which i did, the review boards in my organization and all the way up to -- i forget what the naval district is up on the wekds. probably 11th. but i went through review boards all the way up to the naval district level and came through all of them with flying colors. lo and behold, there in very fine print in the naval blue book of medicine and surgery,
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one of the many -- among the many reasons one could be disqualified from an officer appointment was a disorder which i had had at 11 called nephritis. it is an inflammation aft of the kidneys. i had this thing when i was 11 years old, it kepd kept me out of school for six weeks. i had to have an eye tin rant teacher. never recurrences from that point or since. but of course there is this little fine print. my view was that, hey, it just wasn't time in their minds for young black by from augusta, georgia, to be at annapolis. and that would have been 1965 also. so i trudged on and did what i do, just kinds of roll with it
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and kept on. >> at this point vietnam was getting more active every year. we were sending more troops. >> yes, vietnam got active early that year. the first organized units were sent over, and they were marines out of camp pendleton. and they staged -- i forget which regiment -- i will get the regiment wrong, but they staged out of several areas in southern california. some staged out of long beach. some staged out of camp pendleton directly, oceanside, and san diego. and this started in about early spring of, or even late winter of 19 65, early part of the year. at that time, if you remember
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the gomer pyle tv show, my barracks is literally at the side of the flag pole that they showed in the opening and the closing of that show. the barracks there. lots of things would happen out on that huge parade deck. troops coming and going would parade there who weren't based in san diego but needed to use the facility. we noticed things were picking up and troops were going over to vietnam. and i am thinking, hmm, that's not someplace where i want to go. maybe i ought to try and see if i can work my way back east and maybe just kind of -- >> get away from night yeah. and so -- that's partially why i was so long there in san diego. i had quite a few weeks if not a month or two over between my last class and the time i went over to -- i had several months as a matter of fact, from the
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time i went back and caught my class on the east coast. now i am back east. i am at buford. i am 110 miles from home. i am in this fascinating world of airpower, and understanding how marine air ground task force teams work together. during that year, i went afloat as part of a marine expeditionary bring grade that was operate -- we operated in the atlantic and the caribbean area. and back then, the island of villegas puerto rico was being used as a live firing range. they just shut it town ten, 11 years ago. i didn't know but people lived on the island. they had signs up, u.s. reservation, danger, do not
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enter. but there were other people living on other areas on the island. our brigade, we were doing joint exercises and just go down there and literally blow the island away is what you did at the time. being i was on board the "uss pocono" is cht command ship, agc-16 was with the command ship for that particular amphibious ready group, as we went down there. this is exciting. we had -- while we were at buford, for operational readiness, we kept a detachment down at what was then the naval air station roosevelt, rose, puerto rico. wee so we periodically had to go down there. down to puerto rico. hey, man. when we went afloat with the
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expeditionary brigade, after we finished the exercises then we took liberty. so we ended up in aruba, netherland antilles, we ended up in jamaica and st. thomas, virgin islands. >> good travel. >> great travel. i am 19 years old? i guess. yeah, just turned 19. and i'm a professional, an experienced professional in my field. i know what i'm doing. and i have got a broad array of skills. it's just -- this is great. life is good. and so somewhere along the way that summer, life is good, and i get these orders. the orders basically read -- they all kind of said about the same thing, report to the officer in charge.
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fleet marine forces west pac, western pacific. we get orders to west pac. oh, damn. >> you knew what that meant? >> yes, yes. actually, i had to report to camp pendleton to get ready and to do some predeployment training at camp pendleton. >> so when did you take off for your deployment in vietnam? >> we left on board an old rust bucket named the "general leroy l. tinge" was the name of the ship. it was probably one of those world war ii liberty ships that was repurposed and the merchant marines were operating the darn thing. so we took off -- i wanted to think it was in november. my records now say it was
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december. >> of what year? >> of 1966. >> okay. >> we arrived on okinawa i do know of like christmas eve of '66. now i am in buford -- by the way, while i'm in boot camp i started writing the lady who is now my bride of 47 years. we have known each other since we were 3 and 2 respectively. and we grew up in the same community, same sunday school in church. and then they moved when i was about 12. and she must have been 11 at the time. so we saw each other maybe once a year. she would come home to visit relatives. and i would see her like at the holiday time and that's it. so last time i had seen her was 1963, holiday season. so now i go in the marine corps. you are in boot camp, you need
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to hear from somebody. i am writing letters. i am writing letters. she's by the end probably a junior or senior in high school. she could care less. she's out doing whatever young ladies do when they are in high school. and so eventually i write her like an eight or ten or 12 page emissel and include in it a stamped self-addressed return envelope. and she finally answers. so we strike up a relationship through the mails, actually. all the time i'm in boot camp in south carolina and then north carolina and then san diego and norfolk and then back in south carolina at marine corps air station buford. it has been a couple of years. in 1966 i go down to miami and visit here. they lived in miami. i go down to miami and visit her a couple of times.
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we became serious through the mails. and i guess technically, we got engaged through the mails. when i sent her a couple of -- couple of friendship rings. no. i sent her a friendship ring and a birth stone -- yeah, a birthstone ring. and i let the jewelry salesman -- he saw me come. hey, hey marine, he says. he says -- he sells me a ring. and i say, well, you know, i like this friendship ring, but her birthday is in december also. he says, tell you what, you send her both of them and tell her to send you back the one she doesn't want. >> what a salesman! >> meantime, i won't send you a bill until she sends the other one back. >> really? >> of course i'm not too swift with women.
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okay? at the time. i send her both of them. she keeps both of them! in any case, we had been communicating. so i go down that year to visit her a couple of times. and i'm sure i even got a picture. i brought a copy of it with me. we went out. her parents treated us to a night out on the town because hey, i am a marine, i have got no money. but we went out and i had my uniform on, which at that time bought some respect. >> yeah. >> and so i go and visit her. i get my orders october to west pac in '66. i know i am going to vietnam. i go to miami to visit her.
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during which time her baby sister is born. i go to visit her. we talk about marriage, et cetera. we couldn't make it happen but we actually did go and we exchanged bands. >> yeah. >> and so i come back to home, augusta, visit my parents because frankly, i had no -- no desire at all to go to vietnam. >> yeah. >> but, hey, i'm a marine, i do what the big green machine wants me to do. i go out to camp pendleton. and we train out there for several weeks. we board the ship either late november or early december. we are at sea for roughly a month. and i show up on okinawa just at christmastime. okinawa was great. as i look back, though, most things are great for me, or i don't remember them. >> that's a great attitude. that's good. >> but i'm on okinawa, and i'm
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at camp henson on okinawa. and i'm with an organization called provisional service battalion. now, when i get there -- i'm on ship. and it's an old clunker. and we are out there doing nothing. and i realize -- i'm kind of saying to myself, and to others, because i met my classmate, my junior high and high school classmate on the ship. neither one of us having known the other was in the corps. and we had both been this the corps a couple of years at the time. bumped into him on the ship, saw him then. never saw him again until after we were both out. had a reunion with him and some other friends at home in augusta earlier this summer. anyway. as i am telling him and other people, man, i -- i have got to figure out a way to get off this
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ship before it gets to vietnam. i'm just being candid. i really did not want to go to vietnam. so i met this captain. i think the guy was in a card game, but i heard him talking with somebody else about -- he says he knew somebody who was in this outfit on okinawa. and he was going there. i'm hmm, would be good to know this. turned out, he was the brig warden while we were on ship. i guess that was a temporary duty he was assigned. we had a dozen or show troops who were over the hill as the ship was sailing, or fighting the night before. shore patrol picks them up, they go to the brig. i go to work on this guy, chat with him, ask him about the prison. they are just over the hill or either fighting.
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they are just in the can until we get where we are going. i said what do they do? he said i take them out for pt and maybe on work detail. i said, hmm, do you need some help? so i ended up going to work for him as the assistant brig warden. i would march these guys out to work details and that kind of a thing, which is good, because we were starving on the ship. periodically we got to clean the crews' mess. they were eating like kings. roast duck. whatever. anyway, i got close to him and i learned about this organization. i may have ended up there naturally anyway, but this provisional service battalion on okinawa. and i go there. turns out the organization was -- we were part of a larger
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organization called the in. >>th marine amphibious bring grade. the ninth mab, as it was called was responsible for all the troops' marine assets in the western pacific that were not in the country of vietnam. and then of course all of the troops that were in country, then they regarded to the three maf, the third marine amphibious force that was in country. part of the responsibility of the ninth marine amphibious brigade was to outfit the -- the landing forces battalions, which were the 26 marines that i ultimately ended up with but i didn't know that at the time. they operated out of camp suave
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on okinawa. our outfit, providingal service battalion provided material, equipment, and maintenance support for -- and other types of support for these floating about nall ons which were called special landing forces. and they would go out on seventh fleet missions. and they would actually land them in vietnam. and they may be ashore a day or weeks or more. so once they went ashore, basically they just got kind of chopped up, chewed up. eventually what was left of them would pull out, go onto r & r and then their terms would be up or their tours would be up. meantime they are outfitting a replacement set of battalions, there were two of these battalions, a and b, so they would both be with different
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amphibious ready groups out in the -- with the seventh fleet. anyway, our job was to continually, for the next set that were going to afloat. they collectively called meese regimented landing team 26, rlt 26. so we were constantly outfitting the next group to go ashore. and, if need be, repairing and replacing and refurbishing some of the equipment that might have been salvaged from the last group that went in. so there was a lot of work. but it was -- it was great work. it was meaningful work. and okinawa was just a great time. great time for partying. great time for work. great time for extra assignments. and just -- i could have stayed there. but i eventually -- >> you went to vietnam from
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there. >> yes, yes. >> talk about that. when you found out you were going, and what your feelings were, and then what you did once you got there. >> i was doing a great job on okinawa. i guess that's probably when i first kind of understood what later became the term work aholism. i worked. i did my regular assignment. i took an extra job, couple of nights a week working in the inlested club that was finally referred to as the animal pit because 95% of all marines going to and coming from vietnam stopped off at a transient area right adjacent to the animal pit. we closed that thing up just about every other night with an old western-style brawl going on in there. i am working at the animal pit part-time. i take on extra assignments as
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trainings which is out of my bailiwick. i get recognition for that. i take on an assign men as scorer for the interservice baseball league. i am doing my stuff. i am doing great. i finally got promoted to corporal. i was still a lance corporal e 3, hadn't made any bank state side. i finally made corporal and i go to an interservice school with army, air force, and marines in it. and i ended up coming out first in the class, plus i had done all of these other extra duty things and had been recognized for it. and so i end up being awarded a meritorious mast, and then subsequently a meritorious promotion to sergeant with only
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three months timing grade as corporal. i am jubilant. but i didn't realize that along with that promotion came a chit for vietnam. i says, oh, damn! so, okay, i have got to go. >> you went. >> yeah, i went. i board a continental airlines charter. i'm probably one of -- if not the only, one of very few people on the plane who are sitting there with full gear on. flak jacket. i have got my helmet under my sleeve. i have got everything except for weapon. people are looking at me, who is this character? i'm just sitting there. i'm dumb and numb, actually. i'm -- i don't want to go here.
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but here i am. and so we land in vietnam. actually, probably within hours after we land, inside a little incoming into the airfield. not much but enough to cause people to go driving into bunkers and things. and i felt good about myself. i had on my gear. >> you were prepared. >> exact loochlt i report in. i find now as i talked with people at reunion recently, this is typical. and i think it was probably one of the terrible things about the whole vietnam experience, is that people went -- went to war individually, not as a unit. and so i come in. i report to the marine nco, whoever, there. and guy looks at my orders and say oh, you are up at khe sanh.
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where is that? about as far north as you want to go. how do you get there in probably get a rough rider. ding, ding, ding. i'm not swift but i know that i don't want to be on a convoy going up someplace way up into indian country, as it was called. i am thinking and trying to figure out, okay, i know i don't want to get on a rough rider. so you are kind of left to your own devices to get to your unit. you have got to find them and get to them. so i'm kind of bumping around asking people here, where are you -- where are you headed in i am heading back to the world. i'm getting out of here. where are you going? i am going to fuba. i final leap talked to a guy. he says i'm going to fuba, but i know some people up there. this chopper goes to khe sanh
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from there. get yourself to fubai. sure enough, i get on a chopper with him and we get to fubai. which is right outside the old imperial capital. we get there. lo and behold here is my neighbor, next door neighbor who i knew from letters home that he joined the corps. didn't know anything else about him. apparently several -- several being as many as half dozen guys from my community joined the corps after i joined the corps. and so here's richard. richard jordan. he's there. and here's john kelly, who is -- who i met and we spent a lot of time together in san diego while we were in tech school there. he was a radio technician. and i was teletype and telephone and crypto.
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they basically hosted me. i mean, they were living like kings in fubai. anyway, i stay there for several days. and you know, they take good care of me, make sure i know where the good chow is and whatever. and then i manage to board a chopper to dang ha into khe sanh. i get to khe sanh. things are quiet at the time. i knew with what is now called the first battle of khe sanh. also called the hill fights. hill 881 north and south. hill 861, and hill 1015, although much weren't happening there. all of these were hills that we
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had seen coming over the wire as we were back on okinawa that -- this was all hot. i never realized until i got to khe sanh that these hills were really -- here's khe hills were all hills higher altitude, surrounding casson. and so now i'm kind of putting two and two together. it was bad up there the last several months. quiet now, the questioner i should say, and it kind of stayed quieter while i was there. now according to my fitness reports, i did a marvelous job of keeping equipment running and i was the electronics maintenance chief in my role there. >> so you were in charge of
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maintenance and repair of the electronic equipment? >> yes. >> specifically communications oriented electronics equipment and related test equipment and there were other technicians there, some working on radio, some working on other devices, but apparently, because i have no real knowledge of this, apparently i was the and i thought i was the electronics maintenance chief or nco in charge and my fitness reports that i got this year kind of confirms that write up of my professionalism and keeping the equipment running and message traffic open in casson in spite of the conditions, the lack of available parts and support, et cetera.
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so i worked our equipment was in a bunker or our work bench area, and as i recall it we were right at the command center, the combat operations center, and that we were right across a what i would call generously a parade ground between there and the chow hall and then the airstrip was out beyond and of the few memories i have, are the cbs out always maintaining or repairing, because the air strip would get blown up, and they're out there, these guys, i mean, they're being shot at as they are out there relaying the airstrip all the time, just a constant theme. i recall the airstrip was closed
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at some point while we were there. the rats, horrible. big rat size. i mean these rats you would stamp your foot at them, want a piece of me. it was that type of thing. actually, we would shoot the rats, but the martin yard people, no, don't shoot them. they would actually use their cross bo bows, their standard arms, and they would shoot the rat with an arrow and take that guy home. >> yeah. >> i remember the brute as we call them, martin yards
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variously, just a really, really both simple and almost pure people, very, very nice people, to be around and you just automatically had a sense of loyalty. they periodically, some worked on the base, others would come in with -- because there were any number of them what do you want to call them, dark types of units operating out of casson, kind of the weird guys, et cetera, and most of these units had indigenous people work with them because they had, you know, they would disappear off some place or other for x number of weeks, days, weeks. >> nobody knew where they were? >> exactly.
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they were gone over into laos or north vietnam or wherever. but -- and the -- they were hey, we kind of live here, but you got the sense that they really didn't consider themselves vietnamese or anybody. they considered themselves martinyards. who just happened to be -- >> typically friends of the americans. >> yes they were. they absolutely were. so i remember that. i should remember and people tell me about it and i see the names, i should remember in october when c-130 crashed and burned, i've got the names from the wall of probably five of those crewmen died there, only
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one say of six crewmen survive and that was the captain, the commander of the craft, because casson was a major resupply issue even when i was there, the road was cut shortly after i got there, the -- the highway where convoys with would have come in, the north vietnamese had basically taken over and cut that road so you couldn't come in anymore through it. all of the supply and evac was done through air. and i can remember them trying various -- i guess they were testing, i remember i first was introduced or at least became aware of low altitude parachute ejection, where they would come
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across the runway, you know, that high, and basically use a chute to jerk the cargo out while the plane never stopped and kept going. i remember thanksgiving of '67, which was just a couple days or so after my birthday. i had my 21st birthday there at khe sanh. i don't remember that, but i remember thanksgiving we had fresh eggs that morning and we had real, real turkey in the chow hall. i understand the chow hall got completely blown away. but we had real food, and all of this through air drops. it was amazing. i remember colonel lowndes,
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david lowndes who was our -- he was our commander. he was also -- he was a cowboy. he was a john wayne with a big red mustache all over the place. just -- the guy was, hey, john wayne. i'm just going out there and doing whatever. so i remember him -- i remember nothing of my shop. i can see a work bench and some maybe test equipment, a few people with no faces. i have no idea who i worked with. i now learned from my records that my communications officer was a major john, i believe it is, shepherd. i'm sure i had another senior nco there.
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no idea who he would have been and other techs -- other communications people in the area. i do remember communications traffic regarding the buildup of enemy troops around the base. i remember that. i remember communications traffic about censors, which i later learned what they were called in the mcnamara line. i didn't know that term at the time. i was aware of traffic about ceps -- sensors that had been placed -- we were way up in what was then south vietnam, kind of near enough laos that you could see there, and then just a short hop from the demilitarized zone. so these sensors were placed
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throughout the demilitarized zone with the intent of being about to detect movement of substantial movements of troops. of course, i also remember on more than one occasion, a parentally some rocks were not only setting off the sensors there, but started up quite a few skirmishes around our perimeter there. they'd throw things or they're out walking around. you've got troops there. you've got americans who tend to be kind of messy with their garbage. hey, good eating around here for the rock apes. so they'd come up and start a small battle there. i just don't remember any specifics. i was reading just last night
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about the one c-130, and i was surely there october 15th. an i was in eyesight, both where i slept and my shop where i worked and the chow hall which was there at the time all were within eyesight, line of sight of the airstrip, and i have no memory of that. >> have you ever figured out yourself or have somebody tell you why you don't remember some of that? >> no. no on the latter. i kind of think i've figured it out myself, or at least i -- this is my theory, is that i'm -- i compartmentalize pretty effectively, and if we had to go do something else right now, i could kind of put this into
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suspended mode while we went off and did the other. and i think personally that that was something that maybe i wasn't prepared to deal with, and i put it in a compartment, but i think the compartment became sealed, so to speak, once i got home. i mentioned earlier, once i left khe sanh and eventually made it back here, the first thing happened, after the transpacific flight i land, we land, several of us. again, traveling individually. i don't know these guys. several of us get off the plane, again another continental airlines charter with flight attendants, the whole kit and kaboodle. we land at travis air force base, we get off the plane, we're so thankful to be back in
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the world, the good old u.s. of a. we kiss the runway. kneel down, kiss the runway, i'm home, back in the world, everything is going to be great. a few hours later after processing out, we walk off the base, a long comes a hippy bus, they throw crap, feces out on us, call us all sorts of names. it's like, how can i fit this experience into the feelings that i was just expressing. and i couldn't. as we traveled -- as i traveled, because after that point, i was with two, three other marines who we were trying to find a pay match to get some money because we partied on okinawa and we were broke naturally, and so we make it
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over to treasure island the naval station at the time and get some pay and then i'm on my own. i'm headed home. i realize that maybe something is wrong with me because if i'm in an airport and i sat on a bench, all of a sudden, people would just kind of got up and vanished. so i get back. i've got 2 1/2 months, 3 months actually, roughly, left in the corps and i'm reporting back into my old union marine air base squadron 31 and i've got leave, so i come home. we immediately marry, within a week after i return home. a few days later, here is khe sanh emblazoned on the front pages on the 6:00 news, in magazines, "time" magazine, wherever.
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and this is to the question of the compartmentalization and also to feelings in general. i'm looking at this stuff, and my first i guess impulse is, man, thank god i'm out of there. i'm back in the world. i'm not dealing with that. and so then, kind of the next thought was, i wonder if anybody heard me thinking that, because i'm supposed to be back there with the troops, with my brothers. did anybody -- does anybody know how i'm feeling about getting out of there and what a cowardly thought that they would think of me if they knew i was kind of
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rejoicing about being out of there. this thing was just constantly in the news. meantime, i'm trying to get situated for a civilian career -- career wasn't even the thought, a job, a civilian job. while i was at khe sanh, i came across an old magazine, "ebony magazine" that happened to have one of these little coupon ads, recruiting ad. people with whatever skills, electronic maintenance skills, complete this. and i sent the thing back in to ibm. it turns out it was ibm atlanta. literally i got a response from them while i was in khe sanh,
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and we found the letter, i don't know, 15, 20 years ago and i kept it. i kept the letter. it was folded up in my pocket. got spots of khe sanh mud on it, red mud. i kept the letter. i'm thinking this is my ticket when i get back. sure enough, this would have been say october of '67 when i communicated with them, september or october, they answered in october if i'm not mistaken. actually, the letter dates two, three days before this c-130 crash that i talked about where the crew was killed. i have no memory of the c-130 crash. i do have -- and i have the letter as evidence of the memory of the communicating with ibm. so i'm trying to i guess rationalize what the heck is
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happening here, because i had been essentially out of the primary society during a period of its biggest change, if you will, and out of the country 1965, voting rights act, all of this, so i'm trying to fit all of this into my head. meantime, here's this never-ending barrage of information about khe sanh. khe sanh, the marines. and i don't remember it at this point, but i read -- i have an old "time" magazine from 19 -- february of 1968. so i'm a month home at the time.
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and even the magazine article talks about how they continue to show the flaming crashed c-130 aircraft out there. and it wasn't the only one that crashed because several crashed and burned out there. i vaguely remember the carcass of an aircraft out there, but i don't remember -- so i think to the question of why -- i think of that kind of a self-preservation, get this locked off somewhere so i could operate. meantime, this is first quarter of '68. i'm trying to prepare myself to get this job.
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my bride, she had no clue of whether or not i was going to be able to be the provider that i needed to be. i think she just believed in me. but thankfully, i went ahead and contacted ibm. she and i drove to atlanta because there was little or no -- augusta was too small to have any significant resources there. at khe sanh, i guess the biggest thing for me was maybe this didn't happen. maybe whatever -- i do remember multiple occasions of making it
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to a bunker during relatively infrequent incoming. we would take in rockets, a little mortar, a little artillery here and there while i was there. now, as soon as i left, they were sustaining incoming at the rate of like 1,000, 1,500 rounds a day coming into the base. so i'm reading this and i'm seeing this. i think it was just more -- it was an overload psychologically, and i just kind of pushed it off. so i got back here. i didn't really -- with the experiences that i was having and realizing that it was not in vogue to be even associated with the military, and the thought of being in vietnam, you definitely didn't want anybody to know that, so i think that also kind of
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contributed to my -- to this thing being kind of locked away or at least no memories. >> wow. >> because i have no real memories there. >> then once you got back, you settled down and started working, i assume? >> yeah. it's interesting. i got that letter from ibm and i was holding on to that thing like this is my ticket. so i come back. we're living in augusta, which is hometown for me. i'm stationed at buford, south carolina, 110 miles away. i take a couple days off and we drive over to atlanta. and i come in to the ibm office. mind you, i don't have a -- i don't make an appointment until i get here. so we come into the ibm office and i had my uniform on.
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i come into the office and i ask for the same -- i called in, asked for the gentleman who authored the letter to me. of course he shuttled me off to the appropriate person. i asked for this fellow, mr. lovett, bill lovett, and he wasn't around. so i kind of stood around. and in those days, '68, most offices kind of had kind of a glass front area. had kind of a big, imposing reception desk where the receptionist would kind of look over you and then a door to the back office which was also glass. so you've got this vietnam guy
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out here in the lobby. so they tell me, you know, well, we're going to see if we can't get an appointment for you, and if you'd like to call back -- no, you don't understand. i need to see somebody today. so one guy comes out. he actually takes me back and interviews me, and he's got favorable words, good to have you here, good interview. i'm sure we'll be in touch, you know, patted me on the back. i ain't going anywhere. i mean i'm spit-shined. my barracks hat on. that boy is shining, my shoes, i'm squared away. so he goes off into the back, i'm still around. i can see people kind of coming and looking out the windows. is that crazy guy still out there? so the guy comes back out again.
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i have a couple of interviews. finally, i tell him, i says, you don't understand, i need to know if i got the job. he said, this is highly unusual. our practice is to let you know by letter what our next steps are. i said, you don't understand. i'm getting out of the corps in a month or two. i've got a brand new wife. i need to know if i got the job. he vanishes off again. meantime, i think this is becoming kind of a soap opera in the back because other people are coming along, let me see if that guy is out there. so he finally comes back and says this is highly irregular. i'm not authorized to tell you what the salary might be, but i can say that you will be getting an offer. i didn't hear anything else. doesn't matter to me what the salary is going to be. i don't have an appreciation for
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civilian money anyway. boom, go out of there. sure enough, the next week or however long, i get a letter from ibm with an author to go to work -- i'm getting out on april fools' day of '68 and they want me to start up april 2nd. so i call them and ask for a little bit of time to get moved. i started on april 8th. and actually, going to ibm, essentially i traded my marine corps uniform for an ibm dark suit with white shirt. you could wear any color shirt you wanted to, as long as it's white, a drab tie. i traded my marine corps uniform for the ibm uniform. i traded my hard metal marine corps tool kit for a nice,
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disguised like a briefcase, ibm tool kit. i came to an organization, ibm, of the '60s which was very regimented, very hierarchical in its organizational structure. i knew exactly where i fit in the organization, what my role is, what my contributions could be, et cetera. had a great time with ibm. stayed there 33 years. >> you were used to a structure in the marines. you were going to another structure. >> it was like pea in a pod. boom. a natural fit for me with ibm. i stayed there 33 years, actually a couple months shy of 33 years. i retired about 15 years ago. >> that's a credit to you for your persistence. a lot of people would have walked out of that office and waited for a call. >> hey, i had a new bride.
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>> that makes you persistent. >> yeah. >> tell us a little bit before we finish about your family. >> wonderful family, wonderful support structure. my immediate family, my wife and our two daughters, and i mentioned my daughter norma, my older daughter, barbara, my wife, we go back to 3 and 2 years old, respectively. we have monica and marsha, our two daughters. they're both young professional women doing their thing. the older has been in the law firm marketing business. she works for a major law firm and has been with law firms for many years.
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and the younger is a counselor who happens to now be, for the last several years, probably five years ago, doing -- working as a contract family -- military family life consultant. so she's been working with the various military units on the stress, both the service member and their families. so she kind of -- we always kind of -- i always felt she's looking into my mind from the beginning. she kind of helps to manage me. but she -- kind of an aside, her first couple years doing this, she'd do an assignment a few months, and then off doing her regular practice. she's working with the army, and then she's working with the air force. she did several, four or five of
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these rotations. i'm kind of sitting back there saying to myself, gee, i know that's her business, but sure would be nice if she really had a stint with the marine corps because that way she'd see how it's really done. >> everybody should have one -- >> yeah! so sure enough, she's now probably in her third year or third cycle anyway of working with the marine corps. she works right now with marine corps recruiting station atlanta, and i think she's hooked. >> i know they think the world of you. >> they're a blessing to me. we have wonderful friends and wonderful family as far as my siblings, and there are still eight of us left alive. >> you're a lucky man. >> yeah. so there are plenty of
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subsequent generations. norma has my three grandsons. our other girls have no children. >> that's wonderful. i want to ask sue, before we get much further, if you have any questions that you'd like to ask. >> no, i think i'm good. this has been fabulous, really. >> one thing we want to do, also, before we finish is give you a chance to say anything you want to say over and above what you said. you don't have to, but if there's something you want to get on the record, something you left out or a message you want to give, feel free to do it. >> i would just kind of -- i've alluded to it along the way. my experience as a veteran, if you will, having immediately upon my return, and then actually getting out of the corps, i spent years -- i think
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i mentioned to you, i wouldn't have been caught with anything like this. i got rid of everything that i had that was military related. i think i've got one field jacket. all of the old uniforms, anything -- it was like travel incognito. don't let anybody know. not that they wouldn't have known anyway, but i hid the fact that i was a veteran, and it was that way for years. after i got out, i then started in school at night at georgia state, and i just kind of -- i didn't get too close to anybody because of the atmosphere toward the military. and i went that way until the
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mid '80s. so i'm talking over 15 years, and i'm reading an article about the moving wall, and this was the vietnam memorial i guess had just been introduced at the time, and i'm reading an article about a moving version, miniature version in atlanta,
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and i was compelled to -- i picked up the phone, called home and told barbara that, gee, let's keep the girls out of school, whatever day this thing is here, i want to go see it. and it was when i went down there -- it was -- herd park or whatever it is, at five points in atlanta, i went down and it was like boom, an awakening or whatever. i think it was such a potent moment even for our girls that monica, when she went off to college, her birthday gift -- a birthday gift from her to me, it's a print of a businessman standing at the wall with his briefcase down, standing with his hand against the wall and there are comrades, if you will, fallen comrades trying to reach from the wall. it's a print of a businessman with his hand against the wall and they are comrades, if you will, fallen comrades, trying to reach from within the wall and so she must have been middle school age when this experience at the moving wall happened, so it had to have been impactful for her, but for me, it was -- it was just like things just
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opened up. i just -- i mean i -- i was in tears. even then though i never really was -- i hadn't reached the point where i wanted to talk about the military or -- and certainly not publicly acknowledge that i had something to do with the military. so probably about the time i'm retiring from ibm, 2000, 2001, actually january 2001 i retired, i began to within the last 15-year period have more and more interest in and so now i've been trying to put together my experience and it's been cathartic for me to try to rebuild my time on okinawa and
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in vietnam. >> you've got an amazing story and you're an amazing person. i mean, growing up, you didn't have the opportunities that some people had back then, but you made your opportunities both with the trucking company when you were unloading it as a teenager, all the way to hanging around the office at ibm. you served in one of the more dangerous theaters of vietnam during a dangerous period, and your family obviously loves you and respects you for a lot of reasons. we want to thank you for doing this and particularly thank you for your service. >> well, thank you. thank you for the opportunity. >> thank you for your service and for coming. weeknights this month we're featuring "american history tv" programs as a preview of what's available every weekend on c-span3. tonight an evening of programs from the university of mary washington's great lives lecture series. first, we look at the military career of general douglas macarthur, from his 1903 west point graduation to being relieved of command by president
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harry truman during the korean war. watch tonight beginning at 8:00 p.m. eastern. enjoy "american history tv" every weekend on c-span3. >> "american history tv" on c-span three, every weekend documents america's story. funding for american history tvs comes from these companies who support c-span 3 as a public service. next, virginia lee dornheggen recounts her time as a u.s. army nurse during the vietnam war. she describes injuries she treated, the night the hospital came under fire and the impact the job had on her life. this interview is from the veterans history project and was conducted by the atlanta history center's kenan research center. >> i was born and raised in a small town called tt


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