San Antonio, Texas
I volunteered to serve in Vietnam and was 19 years old when I was in country. I served in the military from 1970 to 1972 and was in Vietnam in 1971. My father (a career senior NCO) also served in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968 in the army and was stationed in Da Nang. We had one family member (first cousin) 2nd Lt George Gutierrez (Texas A&M graduate-Corp of Cadets) born in the Rio Grande Valley city of Harlingen killed in action in September of 1965 in the Ia Drang Valley. He was a co-pilot whose helicopter was shot down approximately two months before The Battle of Ia Drang Valley or The Battle of Operation LZ X-Ray.
I served in Battery “B” 4/60th Arty, First Field Force as a crew chief on a M-42 Duster. My MOS 16F40 was a dual role. I also trained on M-35/M-55 Quad 50 gun truck. Most crew chiefs were graduates of NCOCS school at Ft.Bliss and were referred to as “shake-n-bakes”. This was due to the fast track promotion received upon graduation to NCO Sgt E-5. Top ten percent graduated as Staff Sgt E-6. I served in the II Corp area of the Central Highland. Our battery HQ was in Plieku, however our unit was assigned to remote fire bases in Dak To near the border or Laos and Cambodia. I also served in the Kon Tum area. Our duties included convoy escort and firebase perimeter defense for a field artillery 175mm M107 self propelled gun. I try not to dwell on the bad times I had in Vietnam i.e., convoy ambushes; snipers, mortar and rocket attacks. No major campaigns that I can recall just the constant threat in remote fire support bases of attacks or ambush while protect ing a tactical convoy. I can remember many a “mad-minute”. This meant that if you had not fired any weapons at your disposal (mainly small arms) for two or three days, at your fire support base, you were authorized to open fire into the “bush” to exercise your weapon assigned to you (everyone at once for a minute or two). As a crew chief I had a M16 which I stored in the crew chief’s hatch along with an M79 grenade launcher. There was also a M60 mounted on the track that we would exercise. “Mad-Minute” time served to ensure all small arms were combat ready and as a stress reliever. I also have found memories of having a “stand down” after 30 days in the field we would return to our battery HQ for a mini-R&R for two or three days. At this time we had mess hall meals; sleep in a bunk; hot showers, cold beer, maybe a grilled steak if we were lucky and music courtesy of the radio from AFN-Vietnam. As the crew chief I was responsi ble for a crew that was properly trained and knew how to perform their role during a direct or indirect fire missions. There were some crew members that were assigned to Duster and Quad units that were not formerly trained in the weapon system. They may have been trained in another combat arm MOS; i.e. mortar crew, infantry rifleman, tanker etc. Their training in Nam was OJT. Fortunately those in my crew who learned by OJT were able to adapt and served with distinction. The Duster weapon platform were twin 40mm automatic cannons that were used by the Navy on some of their ships and the Coast Guard during WWII. The guns were then adapted to be mounted on a M41 light tank near the end of the Korean War. So much 40mm ammo was produced during WWII, that we were still using it in Nam. This system’s primary role was air defense and secondary role direct fire or indirect fire. During Vietnam it was never used for air defense. It’s secondary role became it’s primar y role and was a formidable weapon against ground attacks.
The sound of a Huey helicopter brings back mixed memories of life and death. The smell of mildew and “nuoc mam” fish sauce is not a pleasant memory.
I did not complete a full tour of duty due to a convoy accident which I still think about. Not sure way the track driver lost control and collided into a bridge entrance support. Could have been from fear of a possible ambush during the convoy as we were protecting the rear when all heck broke out. I was “Medivac” from the convoy by Huey (dust-off) to a field hospital in Plieku. I never saw my crew again until a few of them attended a 2010 NDQSA Association reunion . Unfortunately what few personal belongings I had mostly all my photos were lost. Better the photos, than my life. My tour ended that day and I eventually ended up at Ft. Sam’s Beach Pavilion in San Antonio for treatment and rehab. After my recovery I was reassigned to Ft. Bliss, served another six months of active duty and was offered an early out if I agreed to serve one year in the Texas National Guard (which I did). The near death experience I had in Vietnam affected any future opportunities ,I was considering before I was injured. Some of my military training prepared me to transition successfully for the most part into the civilian job market. Leadership training and discipline from the NCOS school contributed to my success in the business management field. I will always remember the words of some of my military cadre, to always “remain cautious and alert” when in harms way. Also try to remain reasonably calm under fire, as “panic kills”. Unfortunately some of my service connected injuries complicated by Agent Orange exposure has forced me to retire before what most of us cons ider “normal” retirement age.
There was no formal homecoming for me nor any other Vietnam veteran. I am glad to see that we are finally being recognized for our service in a war that divided the country. The American military was not defeated on the battlefield, jungles, skies or waterways of Vietnam. In my opinion the war was lost by in effective political leadership in Washington D.C.
Welcome home brothers and sisters who served our great nation with their Vietnam service (both in country and out of country).
I would also like to salute the thousands of Vietnam veterans who challenged the VA for improvement for veteran’s benefits including healthcare.
My prayers and thoughts for all who made the ultimate sacrifice along with families of those who are still missing in action.
Thank you, to all who have worked on the Texas Capitol Vietnam Veterans Project.