William M. Barner III
I was born on New Year’s Day 1943 in Birmingham, Alabama, and my Sister was born on Christmas Day 1937. Our parents hand milked about 1,000 milk goats twice a day. They rotated the ones that could be milked with about another 1,000 that were going through the process of having more kids and then they would become the ones to be milked.
In 1947 we moved to Foley, Alabama and our family became dirt farmers. I played organized sports from the age of 12 through 18. I was never in anything like the Boy Scouts. I thought that I was dumb, even though both of our parents were very intelligent. Our Father was Valedictorian of his High School Class and our Mother earned a Scholarship to a Woman’s College. Neither attended College.
I moved to Fort Worth, Texas a few days after graduating from High School in 1961. I attended Arlington State College, and then Texas Christian University and then Texas Wesleyan College and I only received passing grades in the subjects that I liked. I spent 1 day in ROTC and I realized that I did not want to be in the Military. I met my wife to be that first summer and the rest is History. We married on 04.09.1966. I received my Draft Notice on 09.06.1966. I was inducted on 10.21.1966. A bus load of us were transported from Dallas to Fort Polk, Louisiana for Basic Training. From the moment that we got there, to the moment that we left there – we were constantly being shouted at with the phrase “You are going to Viet Nam and You will Die”. I did not have any interest in either. I had just married the girl of my dreams and I had a very good job at the General Motors Buick, Oldsmobile and Pontiac Assembly Plant in Arlington, Texas.
Early in Basic Training we were all tested for our mental and physical attributes. I was told that I was intelligent… very intelligent. So, I took the tests for Officers Candidate Schools. Fort Sill, Oklahoma was only a few hours from my wife, so I failed every test, with the exception of Artillery Officer Candidate School at Fort Sill.
I arrived at Fort Sill in early January 1967. From the moment that I got there to the moment that I left there, I constantly said that “I was not going to Viet Nam and I was not going to Die”. I failed every examination and I did everything wrong. Finally, I was kicked out of OCS Preparatory School. However, I was kept there several more months to help prepare others for OCS. That made no sense to me, but… I was still close to my wife. I received my orders for Viet Nam and was sent to Oakland, California in early August 1967. The night before I was flown to Viet Nam, I walked out of a gate and stood at the edge of San Francisco Bay. I stood there and cried. I went back in. I arrived in Viet Nam on 08.15.1967.
My first night In-Country (Viet Nam) I was terrified and I cried. That was the last time that I cried, until my brain was being evaluated in the Tampa (FL) VA Traumatic Brain Injury Hospital in 2008. In Viet Nam, I quickly lost concern for my well-being and I became “afraid” for the kids that were coming in to replace us. They were going to die. On any given day in 1967 and 1968 the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment had about 4,000 of us In-Country. About 400 of us were in Artillery and about 40 of us were in Fire Direction Control. There were only 8 of us that did what I did, sometimes 20 hours consecutive. I did not realize at the time, but the Tests in Basic Training put me right where I was best suited – to kill and destroy, hours at a time, and give all other events of our lives equal feelings. ALL of my feelings turned into Anger and my Anger has “held me in its miserable grip” every day of my life since then. What a Horrible way to exist…
My first shift as a Fire Direction Control Specialist, for a Battery of six 155 mm (about 6 inches) Howitzers, I worked beside a guy rotating out. I said that “I hope that I can
learn to do all of this”. He said that he did not care if I learned how to or not, he was going home in 5 days. After he left, I was put in control of 2 guys on our Area Maps, and the 3 of us calculated (by hand and by Brain) where over 20,000 rounds landed. I had never passed any tests for this position. My first day in control we killed one of our own. I do not know what it is like to kill a person that you can see and/or feel, but I do know what it is like to kill humans and destroy country-side, for over 300 days of my life.
There were 8 of us that received the call for Fire Support and the actual firing of the Howitzer. The Gun had not been properly positioned. Even though the 3 of us, on shift, in Fire Direction Control were not responsible for the positioning of the Gun – we were part of the killing of one of our own. The crew on the gun were dispersed throughout the Battery and we got one that could not read or write. Now, we had 2 of the 3 of us responsible for where the rounds landed that not were not educated for that level of responsibility.
In short order we stopped using Willie Peter (WP – White Phosphorus) rounds to bracket (1 long and 1 short) before firing HE rounds (High Explosive Rounds weighing 102 pounds each) and destroying most everything within 50 meters from where they landed. We did this to save our lives, because the VC (Viet Cong) and the NVA (North Vietnam Army) would disappear during a “Bracketing “process. We had a Major role in the (1968) Tet Counter Offensive. In the following 4 months of Tet, we moved closer and closer to Cambodia, while over firing 32,000 HE rounds.
All of my Emotions turned into Anger in Viet Nam. I had constant uncontrollable pains in my head for 40 years. We gave up our ability to hear in order to be sure that we heard, even a whisper, for Fire Support. I have been with 13 others of us (VNCV – Viet Nam Combat Veterans) bi-monthly for 3 years now. They have taught me to not be ashamed of what we did. We saved their lives and they saved ours. I had not thought that I did what we did to save the lives of over 1,000 of us within a 13 mile radius of our Fire Support Bases. I have always thought that the Veterans, of our World War II, had feelings of unity and Patriotism that I have never felt. I did not do what we did for America and/or any of the “reasons” for why we were there. 39, of the 1,000 of us, were killed during our time of responsibility. 39 are not many, unless you are the family of those 39 Troopers. We died for a “Lost Cause” … I still do not fear death, but I have always wanted to die for a Good Cause – not a lost cause…
I went to Viet Nam and I died. I first asked the VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) for Health Care in January of 2006. Since that time, the VA has diagnosed me as having Ischemic Heart Disease (IHD), Severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), mild Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), Post Concussive Syndrome (PCS), (uncontrollable) Headaches, Bilateral Hearing Loss, Tinnitus, Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS), Erectile Dysfunction (ED), Anxiety and Depression (with all of my other medical problems, that was not too hard to understand). I am twice as likely of having Alzheimer’s disease and/or Dementia as the Average Person. I take 21 prescribed pills per day, in order to co- exist with other human beings.
There were 3 of us on each shift in Fire Direction Control. One to receive the request for Fire Support and to make the final calculations for Firing and conveying that information to the Guns. Two of us on “Charts” (detailed topographical Maps of the part of the World that we were in) divided in 3,600 increments as opposed to 360 degrees. The six of us calculated where over 40,000 155 mm (6″) HE (High Explosive) rounds, weighing 102 pounds each (over 4,000,000 pounds total) were to land. The six of us worked together for about 11 of our 12 months In-Country. At this writing, we are all still alive and we keep in touch with each other. All 6 of us are still married to our one and only wife. Our wives are the reason that we are still married to each of them, and their lives have also been altered by our being in the Viet Nam War. It has not been easy – not easy at all.
bill barner … Allons