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Nirek On March - 31 - 2014
Army ROTC cadets on a field training exercise

Army ROTC cadets on a field training exercise (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Early days.

I was in the office on a rainy September 1967  day. I worked for the State of Vermont Forest and Parks getting $35 a week for my forty hours work. I got a call from a recruiting Sgt. at work! He said  “Why don’t you join the Army boy?” My response was “No thanks, I’ll take my chances with the draft.” That was the wrong thing to say to a recruiting Sgt., only two weeks later I got my first draft notice in the mail. “Report to your draft board, Balboa Panama Canal Zone.”  I panicked ! How was I going to get to the CZ on $35 a week?

I went to the draft board in Montpelier Vermont. Asked how I was going to get there? They took some info and threw the draft notice in their waste basket. I thought “thank you” and left. The next week I got my second draft notice, “report to your new draft board, Montpelier Vermont”! Damn!

Lets go back in time to my Junior year of high school. I turned 18 in Dec. of that year and signed for the draft like many other Army brats. They always filled their quota with volunteers for the draft.  All Army brats who wanted to get away from the family or use the GI bill to go to college after serving.

Dad was a career soldier, First Sargent stationed at Fort Clayton, Panama, Canal Zone. I had spent the first three years of high school at Balboa High School.  I had been in the Jr. ROTC program all three years. (we will see later that this was some of my training) I was always the old guy in school because I didn’t start school until I was six. This may be the place to say that I went to 13 different schools and Balboa High was my longest stint. The US Army also had jungle training in Panama for guys going to Vietnam. I got to do some of that training with the ROTC. I also at age 17 was made the youngest assistant scout master for the boy scout troop at Fort Clayton. We took a 7 day hike across the isthmus of Panama, 117 miles up one river and down another, from the Pacific to the Atlantic. We were supplied by the army choppers. It was mostly jungle and river terrain.

English: Fort Clayton, Panama, showing the 534...

Training is the key to my survival. I had those three years of JROTC (Junior Reserved Officer Training Corp). BHS was a big school with several buildings like a college campus.  I was on the drill team and qualified expert with the M14 rifle.

After the receiving  second draft notice I did as told and reported to the draft board. They gave me a bus ticket to Manchester NH for a physical. I passed. Damn! A week later I was on a plane to somewhere near fort Dix, NJ. then a bus to Dix.

You have probably seen the movie “Stripes” where the bus stops at the training center and a Drill Sgt gets on the bus and starts yelling to get off the bus and line up. Well that is the way it was. Having had the experience in ROTC I knew how to impress the DS.  Also I was older than most if not all the draftees. I got off and lined up helping the other guys to line up the way we used to. (Two things impress a DS, one is moving when told to quickly, and the other is saying yes Drill Sargent loudly when given an order.) I knew this and stood out to the DS immediately. First thing he asked was if anyone had any prior experience or ROTC. I allowed as how I had three years JROTC. I went from $35 a week to $99 a month for pay. Kinda big cut in pay, huh?

I went through 6 weeks of basic training and was promoted to E2 and sent to Advanced Infantry Training for another 6 weeks. Upon completion I was promoted to E3 and the same day E4  Corporal and before I could sew the stripes on I was made an acting Sargent and sent to Drill Sargent school.  All this because when given an order I complied instantly and with a loud “yes Drill Sargent”. The ROTC didn’t hurt either. I want to explain why it is so important to act quickly when given an order. It comes into play in combat. When in combat someone shouts “incoming”,  you cannot stop and think ” now that means that a mortar is on the way, guess I better get cover”.  No by the time you go through that process you are dead.  So they train you to move fast  and hit the ground taking cover wherever possible.

Drill Sargent school was another 6 weeks and then it was off to “Riot Control Training”, another part of my training.  Next they gave me orders to report to a Basic Training company and I was given a platoon to train.  One cycle and half another as a Drill Sargent. It was interesting seeing young guys learn how to become a soldier. Lots of stories could be told,  but not here and now.

Orders came down to report to the Sixth Armored Cavalry at Fort Meade Maryland. I had to help  train that outfit in riot control. At the end of training I was assigned to Air Cav Troop with the Sixth.

April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King was killed in Memphis, Tennessee.  A sad day in our history.

There was rioting in Washington D.C.  We were dispatched to disperse the rioters. (This is what  I’m proud of) We dispersed them without hurting a single person. Part of the Riot Control Training was the psychology of a riot.  It seems that there are instigators who get people all fired up and rioting.  Then they quietly slip away. The way to disperse rioters   in D.C. was  classic.  The streets are laid out in grid form. We formed a giant arrow of soldiers with fixed bayonets, a column of more soldiers following. When we got to an intersection the guys behind formed the “double echelon” (arrow) going down each street left and right.  After a few intersections there were small groups of 2-4 people and they just left the area.  My training was nearly complete, but not quite.

We were sent to Camp A.P. Hill in Virginia for live firing exercises.  Live fire means that there are bullets flying over your head while you crawl from point A to point B.  Then we got to shoot M60 and 50 caliber machine guns at targets.  Every fifth round was a tracer round and we started a forest fire.  They had us stop firing and go help put the fire out. (comedy of errors)

Did a little flying in Huey’s and that was the best part of all my training.  January 1969 I got orders to Vietnam.  Joined the 25th Infantry, 2nd of the 27th Company D (Wolfhounds) . I got to use my leave time at home.   Landed at Long Binh  Air Base. Stepped off the plane into a wall of heat!

There are two seasons in Vietnam, HOT and dry and HOT and wet.

Got to Cu Chi which was the headquarters of the 25th Infantry. They told me to go into a bunker and stay there as the Tet Offensive was started.  I didn’t even have a weapon yet. Talk about being scared shitless!

That was a bad night with no way to fight and lots of action right there on the base. This is a good time to tell you about the Tunnels of Cu Chi. The Vietnamese had been fighting for many years.  Before we got there, the French were there for many years.  The Viet Cong had a network of tunnels and could pop up almost anywhere in Cu Chi.  We knew they had some tunnels but never knew the extent of the network until after the War ended. ( for a good read I recommend The Tunnels of Cu Chi by Tom Mangold and John Penycate)

I finally got issued a M16 and was sent out to a fire base called Jackson. We generally stayed with a fire base for a couple weeks. (a circular area with bunkers around  the perimeter and concertina wire out in front of them.)  We had claymore  mines (curved shape charges with over 700 ball bearings designed to explode out like a shotgun)  facing out.  FB Jackson was near the rubber plantation.  Straight lines of rubber trees.  Lots of safe places behind trees but step out between them and you are a sitting duck.  Hard place to fight .

From the fire base we would go out on a mission. It could be a search and destroy sweep, or an Eagle Flight, or an ambush. Search and destroy missions were just as it sounds. We had a VC  (Viet Cong) sympathizing village to go into and search for VC or weapons or large stores of food and materials.  I only did a few of those and I felt bad about invading someones home.

Eagle Flights  were my favorites even though I was pushed out from 30 feet and pulled a ham string. It was a hot LZ (landing zone) meaning we were taking fire as we were landing. The door gunner was scared and started pushing us out so his pilot could de de mau (get the hell out of there) Still had to walk back 9 klicks. (kilometers). I loved flying!  We sat on the floor with our legs hanging out.  The Huey’s had their doors removed so they could carry extra men.  Nine choppers would carry two platoons out nine klicks and drop us off to walk back trying to draw fire. (stupid way to fight a war) I was on enough Eagle flights to qualify for the Air Medal but sadly did not get it.

We got shot down once. Had a fuel line hit. The pilot auto rotated down and we had a hard landing.  Cracked the windshield and broke a skid.  We circled the chopper until another Huey came and hooked onto ours and flew off with it.  Kinda cool to see one Huey slung under another.

Ambushes were tough. We were sent out at dusk and set up near a trail.  Had to stay awake all night to listen and watch with a Starlite Scope. (night vision scope). Fighting at night was serious shit.  If we got into a fire fight we would call in gunships and the night would be lit up like day time with flares.

We spent two weeks on river boats sitting all day in the sun and listening to radio AFRN (Armed Forces Radio Network).  Just as dusk came the boat would pull over to the river bank and drop us off to set up an ambush.  Anything moving on the river after ten o’clock at night was fair game.  I don’t remember  any visits.

We had another two week riding on tanks.  Until one of them hit a land mine and lost a track.  We formed a perimeter around it and a big Chinook came with mechanics and a new track.  After the tank was fixed a general ordered me to walk in front of the tank so it would not hit any more mines. He didn’t give me any equipment to locate them.  Just my eyes. Lucky me,  there were no more where I walked. (wonder why I have little respect for generals?)

Many of our sweeps were through rice paddies.  In fact some of our ambushes were too.  I would be in the rice paddy with only my head out of the water trying to be the smallest target possible.  (Dad gave me the best advise, keep your head down).  We trudged through all kinds of terrain  from rice paddies to jungle to rubber plantations to bomb craters.  It was so hot  that we would take turns swimming across some craters full of water to cool off.

At one time or another I walked point, flank, or in the column carrying an M60 machine gun (maybe 30-35 pounds).  I walked point more than flank.  Point is the lead guy watching for booby traps.  Flank is walking off to the right or left twenty yards or so.

Hedge rows were marked with broken English saying “this area is booby trapped , GI stay out.” Funny thing is when the generals heard about that they sent us through to find the traps.  What kind of intellect did that general have?  The first guy to go in set off a trap and was killed.  We pulled back and the CO ( Commanding Officer) called in a helicopter gun ship with 20 millimeter machine gun.  That gun cut the trees down and set off all the traps,  secondary explosions were going off.  The sign was true.  The kid who volunteered to go in was only 18 and had just gotten a “Dear John letter from home”.  Wonder why the CO didn;t call that gunship in instead of sending the kid?

Agent Orange was used everywhere we went to defoliate the trees and (give me and hundreds of us diabetes years later). Napalm was never used in Vietnam.  But I saw it used and I saw the aftermath, too.

Fire base Diamond.  We left one fire base early one morning on choppers.  They took us up near the Cambodian boarder.  A “sky crane” (really big helicopter that could carry heavy loads) came in with a D9 bulldozer.  A smaller chopper brought the operator and he dozed a big circle to loosen the ground for us.  He drove back under the sky crane and we hitched it up and flew away.  We went to work filling sand bags and building bunkers.  Placing concertina wire, putting steel pieces across the top of the bunker and covering it with sand bags.  Chain link fence was used in front of the bunker and called an RPG screen.  RPG is rocket propelled grenade.  About twenty feet in front of the bunker it was supposed to make the RPG explode before it got to the bunker.

That first night we would not have completed building.  So we were sure to have a ground attack.  * of us were sent outside the perimeter to set up a LP (listening post).  We  set out claymores at each end of the dry ditch were chose to have our site.  We had an M60 machine gun, a duper ( M79 grenade launcher),  and 6 m16’s.  Using the starlight  scope we could see the enemy and hear them before they got to us.  We also had a PRC 25 radio and could communicate with the CO, and artillery, and mortar men.

There were two other LP’s left and right of us.  About 1 AM I could see dozens of men coming towards us.  When they got close to us we opened fire and set off the claymores.  The main force went around us and hit the other LP’s.  We called in artillery, mortars, and gunships.  Even talked to a jet jockey.  He asked if we had a strobe light.  We did, he was able to ID us, I told him about fifty yards north of us was a machine gun shooting at him.  He dropped napalm on it and the shooting stopped.  The mortars were sending flares up and it was like mid day.  We were supposed  to have a path into the perimeter but never got in.

In the morning we had to do a body count.  Body counts were so important for the ” chickenhawks” so they could keep the war going. We counted about 50 and the CO told his ” superior” it was 100, that guy added some to the number and the report on the news was even higher.

We left FB Diamond a couple weeks later and built FB Diamond II.  The first two or three nights we could count on a ground attack each FB we built.

I have to laugh when I see movies with the soldiers wearing ruck sacks.  I was there 10 months and never saw a ruck sack.  We carried everything we needed in a spare pair of socks tied together and slung over the shoulder.  This way if we were ambushed we could drop them and fight.  We did have flack jackets issued but they were so heavy and HOT they got lost quickly.  Did I mention that it was HOT in Vietnam?

I did get an R&R (Rest and Relaxation) I went to Japan.  Yokohama and I made the Ohio Bar my home base.  The Japanese people were so nice to us.  Friendly and they tried to speak English to us as much as possible.  It was a 5 day R&R but I was gone two weeks.  The CO said guys come back when their money runs out.  I made mine last as long as possible. Didn’t get in trouble for it either.  I heard that they let infantry guys stay longer if they wanted.

I got an eight day early out.  That means my orders to return  home and ETS (end term of service).  Got to fly to MACV headquarters to get copies of my orders.  They used mimeograph machines back then.  I needed about twenty copies to give to different people along the way. Got a Currier flight there and back in a LOCH chopper.  (looks a little like a bumblebee) Fast and flies at treetop level to evade gun fire.

Landed at Oakland AF base and mustered out of the service.  Bought my plane tickets in uniform for the discount and threw the uniform away for good.  Went to Disneyland to put the war behind me.  Had a blast with two girls from Detroit (they worked for NCR ) we went to Knots Berry Farm as well then departed.

Got to Montpelier 5 days before my folks expected.  Total surprise for them.  Had a good reception from family and friends but the public , not so much.

There is a lot more I could tell you and I am willing to answer questions.  Nothing you ask is a stupid question. Anything is fair to ask.

Written by Nirek

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

45 Responses so far.

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  1. MurphTheSurf3 says:

    I just realized that I left my reply to your fine narrative in my drafting folder….duhhhhh1

    sometimes the simple power of a clean, clear narrative is undeniable in its power.

    you capture the experience of the VAST MAJORITY of those who spent time “in country.”

    it’s not “Go Tell the Spartans”, or “Apocalypse Now”, or “Platoon” or “Born on the Fourth of July”…… which frame a very narrow and generally hyperbolic set of experiences.

    Yours is the enduring memory of nearly every person who “served”, doing his or her best, in a very difficult place at a very difficult time.

    I read your account twice and posted the link to my “Political List Serv”

    I sincerely thank you for this.

    • Nirek says:

      Thanks Murph.
      I guess I write the way I talk. My son is the writer in the family. My memories are both vivid and faded. Some are like they happened yesterday and others like they happened to someone else some other time.

      • MurphTheSurf3 says:

        Well, your son may be the writer but you did a very good imitation of one here, my friend. Again, I thank you for a simple, clear and very real narrative. You made it real for me too.

  2. Nirek says:

    I should have included this in the post.

  3. Nirek says:

    This video shows an eagle flight and our choppers.

    This one shows the horrors of war and some of what we went through and what harm we did.
    If you don’t want to watch it I don’t blame you.

    • kesmarn says:

      Nirek, for some reason the videos are not showing up on my computer. It could well be a problem on my end of the system. I’ll try to figure it out because I’d really be interested in seeing them.

      • Nirek says:

        Kes, I got them from “youtube” and put the v in to get the picture. Should work just like the weekend music thread that I like so much, thanks KT!

  4. Aquarius 1027 says:

    Thank you, Nirek, for telling about your experiences. I was out of town when this posted, after I returned the first thing I wanted to do was to read your article. -- I was sixteen when you went to Viet Nam. I still remember the body counts on the evening news, every day after day -- and thinking of the sheer stupidity of war that so many had to die. In high school, I wrote letters to the soldiers who did not have any mail. The letters I received back touched my heart in so many ways -- as does your article. My cousin was drafted in 1967 as well and served in Viet Nam; he made it out of there to return home. We have talked a few times over the years. My Dad had served in the 96th infantry division, 383rd regiment in Okinawa during WWII, a few times he told of some experiences. He had just started a few college courses when he was drafted. He was a PFC and then became a sergeant when many in his squad were killed. One experience I especially remember is that he was in the farthest right position of the first row of men off of the LST (landing ship tank)onto the beaches. There were 14,009 US soldiers killed in Okinawa. Incredible that he survived to return -- or I would not be here writing to you. Later, my Dad was able to finish college with the help of the GI bill.
    I was in the Air Force ROTC for two years in college. I planned to join to pay for college but in my junior year when I would have enlisted to become a flight nurse -- Nixon rescinded the benefits for nurses but kept them for pilots. As a retired critical care nurse, I have seen far too much of the results of mankind’s ability to inflict harm. -- I am so grateful that you came back. Many do not realize or refuse to accept the realities of war. -- In particular, I dislike those politicians who bask in their so-called victories yet deny assistance to veterans in the name of political agendas.
    Nirek, your article is excellent! -- It should be published for all to read, perhaps even expanded into a book. A tremendous thank you for all that you have given in your military service. From the lyrics of my number one favorite oldie, Aquarius, may there be a time when . .
    “peace will guide the planets and love will steer the stars”

    • kesmarn says:

      Hope you don’t mind if I barge in here to say what a wonderful comment this is, Aquarius.

      I’m a retired RN as well, and I have the same reaction to politicians who talk the talk but would never dream of walking the walk themselves (and wouldn’t encourage their children to either). Then, to add insult to injury by denying benefits to veterans? Well, they have no right to call themselves patriots, that’s for sure.

      Hope to hear much more from you! :-)

      • Aquarius 1027 says:

        Hi, Kesmarn! -- Nice to meet you! And thank you, it is good to share our experiences. There are not that many WWII veterans left, my Dad passed back in 2004. He talked more in his later years.
        It is criminal for the right wing to deny help to veterans. As you said, they do not walk the walk. I remember at one time during the Iraq War, there was a report on a TV station and at that time . . there was only ONE member of Congress with a son or daughter serving in the military.
        Interesting that you are also a retired nurse -- more to share! Looking forward to talking with you again. :)

    • Nirek says:

      Aquarius, thanks very much for the excellent post. You should write a post about your experience. My wife is also a retired RN and I feel from what she did and relayed to me that nurses are some of the best people on the earth.

      Nixon was wrong to rescind benefits for nurses. You nurses work hard and get little reward. Like other women working hard and only paid .77 on the dollar that men are paid. That too is wrong!

      Your words are very kind to me. I am not special, just did my job to the best of my ability. I was lucky, I got shot at a whole lot but was missed a whole lot too.

      To me peace is what we have to strive for.

      • Aquarius 1027 says:

        You’re welcome! And thank you, Nirek, for your very kind words as well. I had only a small indirect part in the war. You are the one who had to be put directly in harm’s way. Luck was most definitely there for both you and my Dad and others. -- Yet the effects of war can indeed go far beyond the actual battles. Although he never sought help, my Dad probably had some PTSD. It was not as well understood back then.

        And yes, Nixon was very wrong to take away the benefits for nurses. They did not care as much then about the education of women except when needed during time of war. And of course, back then nursing was a traditionally acceptable career for women. Now -- many in the right wing do not care about education except to spout extremist views and increase corporative profits.

        There is much I could share of my experiences as a young woman in the early 70s as compared to the experiences of young women today! As well as sharing about the current political issues that are tossed around this nation like scattered leaves in the wind.

        As to the pay differences, when this became a political agenda -- I was totally disgusted by the right wing’s so-called excuses for denying pay equality. For me, I started working when the pay difference was .74 on the dollar for men. After 31 years in my career, that difference had improved by three pennies!! We are l-o-n-g overdue for the enactment of pay equality.

        Completely agree with you . . equality and peace for all.

  5. Dbos says:

    Plain and simple the real story of how American youth of the 60’s lived and died; in and out of the service . Thanks for this real piece of history. RIP Major Butch Carr US ARMY Green Beret MIA cambodia my friend, cousin and hero .

    • Nirek says:

      Dbos, there were over 50,000 killed in action in the Vietnam war. I for one will never forget them (35 of my fellow soldiers included).

      You are welcome. I thank you for reading it.☮

  6. AdLib says:

    Wow Nirek, fantastic recounting and storytelling of these adventures in your life. I wanted to keep reading more!

    It’s fascinating how you were set on this track early on and thanks to it, so well prepared for what would be coming your way.

    Early on after you had to report for duty (and after you brilliance at establishing yourself so well with the Drill Sargent), were there periods where you felt overwhelmed by what was going on or was the immediacy of needing to do all that you did keeping you focused just on the duties and tasks at hand?

    Having to diffuse and dispel the riots in DC after the assassination of MLK, I doubt it felt like it at the time but you were an actor in a critical moment in the nation’s history. Very impressive how you and your fellow soldiers handled that explosive situation without harming any people.

    The Tunnels of Cu Chi are legendary and as fascinating as they are, the threat they posed to our soldiers and the war was severe. Thanks for the reference, I am very interested in reading more about them.

    You’ve described before how a general’s solution to tanks being blown up by mines…was to have you walk in front of them! I thought it was outrageous and absurd but in greater context, it’s downright cold blooded and insane! And of course so damn dangerous!

    Nirek, I was addicted as I read the whole post and a bit in awe at all that you went through. You described everything so vividly and fully, just a damn great piece of writing! Not to mention quite an amazing life to be living through!

    My first question would be, what was it like for you when you came home to so much anti-military sentiment and was it difficult to transition back into civilian life after the life and death intensity of war?

    My second question is, what can I offer to convince you to write more about your experiences?

    Just amazing, Nirek. Thank you so much for all that you risked and faced on behalf of all of us and for writing this enlightening and fascinating post!

    • Nirek says:

      Ad, I can’t think of a nicer thing to say than you wanted to keep reading. I often feel the same when reading others stories.

      Thanks again.☮

    • Nirek says:

      Ad, I have always marveled at your writing ability, so your comment means a lot to me. Thank you.
      It was difficult and easy at the same time returning home. My family and friends made it easy. I was against the war and wanted our guys home so had to temper my anti-war protesting. I did try to befriend other returning vets.

      Ad, it is kinda draining writing about that part of my life. I doubt anyone would read about the rest which is quite boring.

      Thanks for the very kind words, Ad.

  7. Kalima says:

    Hello Nirek, and thank you for sharing your experience here with us. It is an amazing story but I’m sorry that young people ever have to go through this.

    My own father rarely spoke about the war he fought in, especially the landing on Gold Beach in Normandy on D-Day.

    What he did say was that war was wrong, he had seen some terrible things, and that he did what he had to do. The only thing he shared was that they had captured two German soldiers, they looked no older than 15, were scared to death, and that my father shared his cigarettes with them in the trenches.

    Later as I became older, I didn’t ask him about it again.

    So thank you again for your firsthand account that gives a wonderful perspective of what it was like to be a draftee, and actually go to fight.

    Well done Nirek for so many things.


  8. kesmarn says:

    Nirek, I’m so glad you followed through on your plan to publish something about your military experiences. This is truly a fascinating and informative read. Amazingly I did not have a close friend or family member who went to Viet Nam. My one cousin who was in the army ended up in Germany. And the other male cousin of draft age had accidentally amputated his right index finger as a little kid in a childhood mishap when it got caught in between the chain and gear of a bicycle. It turned out that there was a silver lining to that childhood tragedy, because that was his trigger finger. It kept him out of the military.

    You were genuinely right in the thick of things — in truly high-risk situations. (Guess I don’t have to tell you that!) And it seems that it was almost without let-up. I admire your attitude so much. Almost anyone can get through a hair-raising experience on adrenaline — once. But the hard part is going back in there the next day and doing it all over again!

    Any general who would use a human being as a walking mine-detector is unfit for command as far as I can see. Thank God, you didn’t find any mines the hard way. But no thanks to that general!

    The story of evacuating those green berets was amazing. The military and this country owes you a debt of gratitude for helping to get those guys out — both the living and the dead. Talk about grace under fire. Literal fire!

    I do have a question, if you don’t mind. Did the subject ever come up among you and your comrades of the validity of the war itself? Did people openly (or even not so openly) ever question “the mission”? Not only the wisdom of day-in-day-out decisions (like the general with the mines), but the overall wisdom of even being there? It must have been awfully hard to sustain morale in such dreadful conditions when/if there was a basic question as to how these people had become “the enemy.” And yet — there it was. Somebody was shooting at you. It’s pretty hard not to take that personally.

    Also one thing I’ve noticed is that once a person is put into a situation in which there’s a real probability that he/she will not come out of it alive (but actually does) — that is a life-changing experience. You are never quite the same person again. (Not necessarily in a bad way.) But it seems to make people feel a bit “different” as well — as though they’ve gone to an emotional place that not everyone has been to. Does that make sense? Or sound at all familiar?

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts, and like many others, I would love to read anything else that you’d care to write on the subject.

    Bless you for your service, Nirek!

    • Nirek says:

      Kes, thanks for the kind words.
      You asked a good question (no question is a bad one). Yes most of us who were drafted were just doing our duty and planed to get out as soon as possible. We saw first hand the corruption in the form of the “black market”. South Vietnamese soldiers would ask us to buy something for them from the PX. (only time I had a chance was the day before R&R) They wanted an electric fan and a small fridge (we had MACV cards and could buy one each per year). They would give us the money to buy the item and give us ten dollars for the trouble. Ten bucks was a lot back then.

      Also saw the Vietnamese unloading supply ships. They took one of the items for themselves for every two for us. Then they would come out in the field and sell the stuff to us.

      I feel that if not for my Dad making me talk about my experience and sharing his with me, I might have crawled into a bottle and died at a younger age. Dad had a lot of wisdom. I don’t suffer from PTSD but I know guys who do.

  9. funksands says:

    Nirek, I’m really glad you wrote and published this. Much of your time there is obviously still very vivid in your mind. My father failed his physical (they mis-measured hime as too tall) and didn’t go, and I personally know only 1 or 2 other people who served in Vietnam, and they don’t talk about it much.

    Couple of questions:

    1) How have your recollections changed over time? Are there things that happened while you were there that you think about differently now than maybe you did 20 years ago?

    2) What was it like for you when you came home? You very briefly touched on the “public” when you returned home, but is there anything else you care to mention?

    I can’t even imagine what this must have been like for infantry that served there, but I really appreciate you giving your take and perspective.

    • Nirek says:

      Thanks Funk.
      The memories have not changed over time. I was against the war before I was drafted. Might have gone to Canada but for my Dad and his good record in WWII and Korea.

      When I came home my family was very supportive. The public not so much. I was given a one year membership to the VFW. I went to their bar and got a beer, the guy next to me said “who are you?” I told him I was just back from Vietnam. He was a Korean war vet. He told me “Vietnam? That’s not a real war”. I never set foot in the place again.☮

  10. monicaangela says:

    This is one of the most interesting recounts of the war by someone who was actually there I have heard recently. Your accounts of what actually transpired during that time are exactly what I have heard from many, many veterans that fought that war under those terrible conditions.

    Thank you for your service Nirek. I am sorry to hear of the disabilities you incurred because of it, i.e., diabetes. Sorry you had to witness first hand and remember how inhumane some men can be to other men, i.e, the General. The incident involving the soldier who probably depressed because of that dear John letter, I’m sure, is one of many who volunteered to give up their lives. Thank you for telling his story. We have to remember these guys were really just babies, yourself included at the time. I am unable to understand how a person person can be trained like this and then because of the rank he acquires can more or less learn to consider another human being little more than collateral to be used at their disposal in order to reach some unknown objective.

    I realize you had to cut your story short, and that there is much more that you could tell to enlighten the public regarding the actual down to earth day to day life of soldiers lower than officer rank but at an NCO, (non commissioned officer) rank or below must face.

    Were you able to qualify for assistance with your diabetes, did the military consider it related to duty? Once again, thank you for your service, and when you have time I’d enjoy reading more about your experience. Have you ever thought of writing a book? I believe your account of the war in more detail would be a wonderful read.

    • Nirek says:

      Monica, thank you.
      The VA has accepted that anyone who was “boots on the ground” in Vietnam and contracts diabetes and some other disease will receive compensation. It is late onset type two diabetes. I do get some money each month.

      I am proud that I served but not so much that we invaded a country and demolished and defoliated it. The people of Vietnam were doing exactly what I would do if America were invaded. Fight ! ☮

      • monicaangela says:

        I’m happy to hear the VA is taking care of your problem with diabetes. One thing you have to remember is the fact that you did not volunteer to go into that war and from what I can recall regarding the misinformation leading up to that war, many Americans as in the more recent Iraq war were lied to.

        Once you have been drafted into service for your country, your job becomes train to the best of your ability, follow orders, and do as you are told. Just as the Vietnamese fought for their country, I believe you and all of the other draftees and enlistees believed at the time you were doing the same. I hope you are not feeling guilt for your part in the war.

        Many times in life we do things we later regret having done or in this case having had to do, but a life without these incidents would not be a life, this is a part of living. I’m happy you lived to tell the story, and I hope sometime in the near future you will write more on the topic.

        • Nirek says:

          Monica, the country was pock marked from the thousands of 500 and 1000 pound bombs our planes dropped. Some of the bigger craters were big and deep enough to hide a tank in. You could step back a little and not see it. You would know there was a hole in the ground but you could not see inside. Then when the rain came they filled with mucky water.
          I’m sure the Vietnamese people have diabetes from their exposure as well.

  11. M Cubed says:

    Heck of a tale, Nirek--thank you so much for sharing with us. I was just a young girl in 1968, and so my memories of Vietnam were of the little blue men and the little red men that would appear on the TV next to the anchor when he read the casualty numbers for the day. I really appreciate your putting meaning into those little blue and red men for us. I could tell there was nothing glamorous about your war. I don’t really have any questions right now--just very moved by your candor. Thanks again.

  12. Just read your story Nirek! Well done my friend, and a great read. Man, the Army sure bounced you around before sending you to Vietnam. Sounds like you got some interesting (and valuable) training.

    I have to tell you that it’s been great to be able to read such a personal account of your time in Vietnam. As I’ve said before, I knew many combat vets that I met in several stays at VA hospitals, and very few of them would ever talk about their combat experiences. As I’ve said, I can understand why. I think it’s great that you can relate your experiences now.

    I was in the Marines, but never had to go “in country.” I went to Parris Island in February of 1973, after Nixon’s Vietnamization program began. That’s why I was never sent there. Although I’m very glad I never got orders for Nam, to this day, I wonder how well I would have handled it. What you and many other guys went through was definitely some rough stuff. I guess that’s why vets called it
    “the shit.” I thought 13 weeks in Marine boot was tough! I wasn’t getting shot at or had to trudge through live mine fields though.

    Thank you sincerely for telling your amazing story. You have much to be proud of my friend, and I have the utmost respect for you and what you did and all your buddies too. Peace! Enjoy your slice of Heaven in Vermont! You earned it my friend.

    • Nirek says:

      KT, you are too kind.
      We did what Uncle Sam asked. No body said we had to like it. You served too. I have never had any bad vibs about those who didn’t have to go to Nam. Hell, I don’t have a problem with guys who went to Canada.

      The only people I have a problem with are those who talk war but will not and did not serve. You know the “chickenhawks” like cheney.☮

  13. NirekJunior says:

    This is but one of the many reasons I’m proud to be your son! You served your country and did what you had to do -- learned from the experience -- and you are willing to share things that often must be difficult to bring up. You have always been and continue to be an example to me (and my sister, and your grandchildren, etc). Love you dad!

  14. NoManIsAnIsland says:

    You’re most welcome Nirek, my friend, for my words and interest. And
    I thank you for telling about the relief of the Green Berets and the
    ultimate sacrifice, including the death of Capt. Kotrick, paid to get them out!

    Capt. Kotrick has been gone for many years now, but I’m sure you and
    everyone else who knew him will remember him for the rest of your days.

    I hope all who read your “Life of a Draftee” will also read about the ambush — it’s a most poignant and telling addition to the main story!


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