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Nirek On February - 8 - 2015

 

U.S. Marines move through the ruins of the ham...

U.S. Marines move through the ruins of the hamlet of Dai Do after several days of intense fighting during the Tet Offensive (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I see many guys who look a lot like myself on the news and out in the real world. We have a certain look.  Many of us have grown beards and wear our hair long (in my case, in protest of war and military action). Many of the veterans of the latest wars seem to keep the shaved head and face. I wonder why? I have had my beard since I got out of the army except for a summer when my daughter got married. At any rate veterans have a look. We tend to have the “thousand yard stare”. We have scars from our experiences inside as well as outside. Many don’t talk about the war.  We all think about it though. Some deny there is any problem. Some admit that there is. And some can’t live with what happened. The Veterans administration has made improvements and now recognizes PTS as a real illness. They treat guys for it now. When I got out in November 1969  PTS was not considered an illness. Too many Veterans are homeless, even one is too many. Too many veterans are commiting suicide! My brother’s brother in law did about five years ago. To me it is unacceptable for Veterans to suffer. We spent TRILLIONS of our tax dollars on the wars and we have an obligation to care for all our Veterans.

President Obama has tried to get more money to the Veterans Administration to take care of all our Veterans.

On a personal note, I have type two diabetes from exposure to Agent Orange (the chemical not the speaker). We are hurt inside from the experiences of war.

Guys in Vietnam (I talk from experience about Nam) saw buddies wounded or killed. Many of us helped get them on choppers to get medical help. Most of us had to shoot enemy soldiers. Believe me that is not easy for some of us. I know it haunts me. It goes against human nature to kill other human beings. Oh, there are some people who like killing, no doubt. But I think most folks do not enjoy taking life from another human.

While in Vietnam I had many different kinds of experiences. Upon arrival the day the Tet offensive for 1969 (the second Tet offensive) I was lead to a bunker and told to stay there. I didn’t have a weapon yet. Cu Chi was where I was and the VC came into the base through tunnels. Talk about a long night!

Another experience was in the rubber plantations (the French company Michelin ) Rubber trees planted in straight rows. Those rows made great shooting lanes. You could step into the lane and get shot or shoot at the enemy or step back and have good cover. I was only there about a week.

We spent two weeks on river boats. All day basking in the sun while going up and down the river. At night the boats would drop us along the river bank to set up an  ambush.  Anything on the river after 10 PM we would open fire. Those two weeks were fairly quiet. We never had to open fire on anyone.

Another two week period we rode on tanks (yes we climbed on and held on for dear life). I may have told this story before. The tank hit a land mine and many of us were thrown off. Lucky nobody was hurt. The tank tread was damaged. We formed a perimeter around the tank and choppers brought mechanics and parts for repairs. A general flew in and gave me a direct order to walk in front of the tank to find any land mines. He didn’t give me any equipment. Just my eyes. Being a good soldier, I did the job and the tank didn’t hit any more mines.  That general caused me to lose respect for generals.

Many eagle flights were enjoyed by me. I loved flying on choppers. One time we had a hot LZ (landing zone taking fire). We had a door gunner who was afraid and started pushing us out from thirty feet up. I landed in a rice paddy and pulled a ham string. After the fire fight ended we had to walk back about 10 clicks (6 miles).

There were two missions I hated. Setting an ambush along a known VC trail. Every time we got into fire fights. The other was moving the Fire Base. The good part was flying out to the new FB.  A sky crane chopper would fly in with a D9 bulldozer. The dozer would drive around in a circle to loosen the soil so we could dig. The sky crane was a huge chopper  that never really landed but dropped the dozer and hovered there until the dozer drove under it and we hitched it up again. Then the long day of filling sand bags and building bunkers. Putting concertina wire out and an RPG screen in front of the bunker. PRG = rocket propelled grenade and the screen was just chainlink fence. We put it out anout fifty feet in front to make the RPG explode before it got to the bunker. We also put out claymore mines in front of each bunker. Then night falls and we still have not finished all our work. Eight of us are sent out on LP (listening post) We have an M60 machine gun and a grenade launcher (dupper) and seven M16 rifles. Also a starlite scope (night vision scope) and a radio. I was on LP four FB’s in a row. Every time we were over run by a ground attack by the NVA (enhanced by Chinese).  One of thos LP’s was where a guy was shooting at me and I shot back and saw him die. (this haunts me even today) I know I was justified but it still bothers me.

We went on lots of missions called sweeps. We would walk out to the jungle and try to draw fire. We were susseccful many times. Got ambushed at least a half dozen times.

These memories have a way of festering if I don’t deal with them. My grandson has helped me cope lately. Asking questions and just being a wonderful 11 year old boy. His interest in my life as a draftee has given me purpose. I gave him the collection of medals my father put together in a case. I mailed everything to Dad from Nam.

If you have questions about my experience, please ask. No question is a dumb question. That is what I have told two different high school classes when I spoke with them. Some of their questions were thoughtful and intelligent. You could hear a pin drop when they were listening respectfully. I would go to any school and talk to the kids if asked.

Thanks for reading this story. Everything I have written is true.

Part one of the life of a draftee is below.

http://planetpov.com/2014/03/31/life-of-a-draftee/

 

 

Written by Nirek

Proud progressive Vietnam Vet against WAR! Can't stomach chickenhawks.

13 Responses so far.

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  1. Aquarius 1027 says:

    Hi, Nirek -- Thank you for continuing to share your story in Part Two. Sorry to be so late in responding. Your words still touch my heart as they did in Part One. I told you then of my almost disbelief as a sixteen year old that there were so many killed -- and having it reported on the TV each and every day. I could not even fully acknowledge that my cousin who was over there at that time was in such danger. He was just away for a while.

    Yet that does not even compare to the realities of the Viet Nam war that you experienced and endured. That part where you had to walk and look for land mines was incredible. I know you had mentioned before that there was luck involved with your return to home -- you were indeed very lucky that day.

    And I agree with you that veterans should have every assistance that is needed after returning from war. When assistance for veterans is delayed or denied it is a disgrace to this nation. As a nurse, it is hard for me to comprehend that someone would not provide help for all of those inside and outside scars. My entire career was dedicated to helping others heal. I cried when I found out that the GOP in Congress did not pass that Veteran’s Jobs bill, such frustration and anger against a deliberate disregard for veterans.

    It is highly commendable that you are willing to discuss and answer questions about your experiences in Viet Nam. Not that many could do this. And it is significant that your story be told so others will know the true cost of war. Just like the old saying from that time, Nirek -- make love, not war.

    Peace, my friend.

    • Nirek says:

      Aquarious, it is comments like yours that help me heal my inner wounds. Thank you for the kind words. I have to agree that it is a disgrace that the GOP blocks progress for veterans benefits and help.

      Peace plus love equal happiness.

  2. Sin Loy, my friend. Nothing has really changed. None of what you did is something you should ever beat yourself up for. I would have done exactly as you did. Self preservation is the utmost human instinct.

    I would imagine that in your given circumstance, it truly was a basic human instinct. Survival. There should never be a reason for feeling guilty or as if you committed some sort of sin.

    • Nirek says:

      Thank you, KT. That is kind of the point of my being a draftee. I did not have a choice. Other than going to Canada. But I really didn’t even have that as a choice, because I could not disgrace my Dad. He was a career soldier and veteran of WWII and Korea.

      Peace

  3. Kalima says:

    Thank you for this, Nirek.

    I will draw a comparison if I may? I believe you said you were 24 years old when you were sent to Vietnam by your government, my father was the same age when he was sent to Gold Beach in Normandy on D Day. He knew what he was fighting for. Did you know why you were fighting so far away from home?

    I think that history books are very important, but nothing could ever serve us better than a first hand account from those who were there and actually fought in these wars.

    That it haunts you is not surprising. That you choose to share it with us here is very much appreciated.

    All I would hope for is that through sharing, you will understand that none of this was your fault. It was a government who decided it was something worth fighting for, although I don’t understand why. We have to learn to forgive ourselves for our past, if we don’t, we can never move forward.

    I wish you peace of mind, a way to forgive yourself for circumstances you had no control over.

    Peace dear Nirek, and enjoy every minute for the rest of your life.

    You rock my world, Nirek.

    Michael Jackson -- earth Song


    Peace gentle soul.

    • Nirek says:

      Kalima, thank you so much for the very kind words. You have become such a good friend. You and Kes seem to know how to make me feel like a better man. I have worked on forgiving myself with the help of my grandson and son and others.

      I never have found a good reason for the “Vietnam conflict”, there are lots of fabricated stories that were supposed to justify it. None to my liking. We were told to fight them there so they wouldn’t come to America and fight here. Bull$hit!Also that they would spread communisum to neighboring countries. More Bull$hit!

      Peace will overcome some day.

      • Kalima says:

        That it is very kind of you, Nirek and it warms my heart, but it’s easy giving support to a person like you who only has good intentions in his soul.

        Take care.

        Peace always.

  4. kesmarn says:

    Nirek, I don’t even know the words to thank you for this second chapter of the Story of a Draftee. But thank you. For some reason, over the last year or two, I’ve become really focused on studying the wars of the twentieth century. I think that if we could come to fully understand how we got into those wars, how they were conducted and how they affected the people who fought them, we’d be able to apply that knowledge to the prevention of future misery for the country and the people who serve in the military.

    I do have a few questions.

    You mentioned you were there during the Tet offensive. Was it your impression that this was a complete surprise — both to the South Vietnamese army and the US military leaders? Also, did you have South Vietnamese soldiers attached in any way to your unit while you were there? If so (or if you had a chance to talk to them) did you have the feeling that they were on board with “the mission,” or were they more or less blindly following orders or confused as to what was going on?

    Another somewhat “technical” question: When you were patrolling, did you have any sort of body armor or bullet-proof vest of any kind? In the film I’m seeing — in documentaries like “Vietnam in HD” — it doesn’t look as though there’s anything like that. The soldiers seem to be so vulnerable — basically wearing shirts and pants, it appears!

    Also, when you were there, were you aware of any of the tremendous controversy that surrounded the war back here in the States? Was there news of demonstrations and protests? Were there discussions of the “what are we doing here?” variety among the troops there? Or was that topic off limits?

    I recently was talking with some Korean war vets and they seemed to feel that the war experience was extremely intense and life-changing at the time. And then, when they entered their careers and were raising their families, the whole thing was more or less put on the back burner. But later, they found that once they retired, they returned in their memories to those days and began to sort through all those experiences and try to find the meaning in them. If it’s not too personal to ask — have you found this to be the case as well?

    Again — thanks so much for sharing this deeply personal and intense experience with us. One that the vast majority of us will never fully comprehend, as we haven’t walked that proverbial mile in your combat boots. Reading this is the closest we’ll ever some to being there. I’m wishing no one ever had to be there at any time! But as you know, the more history we know, the less likely we are to have to repeat it.

    • Nirek says:

      Kes, I was thinking about the “news” sources we had in Vietnam. We had AFVN on radio, Armed Forces Vietnam (radio network). And Stars and Stripes news paper. Always very late getting out to us. And of course letters from home. The radio and paper were slanted in favor of the war effort. They reported the “body counts” from our fire fights. Those were always inflated! We were sent out to count the dead enemy after a fight. We did an accurate count, our CO would add a few to the count we gave him because he felt they may have taken some while they withdrew.He would send that number to his “superior” (I hate that word) and the count in the paper or “news” on the radio was always at least double what we actually counted.

      My dad was a retired 1st Sgt. and got the Stars and Stripes in the mail. One of the articles he cut out and save for me said we killed 198 in a certain battle. I don’t remember any count we made that was that high. Not even triple digits.My guess is that the “superiors” grossly inflated those numbers to keep the folks back home misinformed.

      Kes, thanks so much for the questions. I my opinion there are no wrong questions that you could ask. Feel free to ask anything.

      Peace

      • kesmarn says:

        Thanks again, Nirek. That certainly confirms a suspicion I had long ago that those numbers must have been inflated. They were so high — week after week — that people back here had to begin wonder how many military-age males would have been left to fight for the North!

        And I can see that it would have been hard to get timely or unbiased news in the situation in which you found yourself. If you don’t mind another question — was your mail censored at all?

        Thanks again for your patience in answering all my questions.

    • Nirek says:

      Thanks Kes.
      You ask good questions. I’ll try to answer them.
      The Tet was a surprise in 1968, I got there for the second Tet Offensive in 1969. I don’t think it was as big of a surprise the second time around.
      The only Vietnamese we had with us was a “Chu Hoi” (a captured enemy soldier who gave up and turned to help us. I believe that is the meaning of Chu Hoi = give up or surrender.) As I remember our “Chu Hoi”, he was a former Viet Cong from South Vietnam. He seemed to be very friendly and we used him as a guide and translator.

      We had available vests that weighed a ton and made us too hot. Very few guys wore them. They didn’t even say they were “bullet proof”. They were thick and heavy. Yes pants and shirt and sometimes no shirt.

      We got some news from home in the form of letters and new guys coming in as replacements told us about the protesters. Many of us draftees would have protested if we had not been drafted. I know I was against the war in Vietnam. We had little time to discuss news from back in the “world” as we called America. No body told us we couldn’t discuss it though.

      Kes, I never thought about it, but I did get into my family and work and didn’t dwell on the war experiences. Not until I retired and had time to think of the past. Not that I didn’t think about it at all, I just threw myself into the job and family. I like the “back burner” way of saying how I treated it.

      I too wish we had learned from our history. We could have avoided the Iraq and Afghanistan wars if we had heeded the lesson of Vietnam.

      Peace

  5. Nirek says:

    I just found this on you tube. It shows how we were duped into Vietnam and what we had to deal with.



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