Also like you, I have lived all over the place, but I currently live in PA about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh.
Thank you for the work you are doing with, and for, Vietnam vets.
Jesse (J. F.) Gump
Going to Vietnam
Before I was drafted into the Army, I had completed a rigorous electronics course in Pittsburgh, PA, received a 1st Class FCC license with a radar endorsement, had six months of computer science training by Honeywell, and four months of experience repairing and maintaining mainframe computers at government installations in Washington, DC. I thought I was the perfect candidate for computer operations at any government or military facility. But I was a draftee and, in the military’s infinite wisdom, they sent me to Advanced Infantry Training (AIT) at Fort Polk, LA. To say I was shocked by my military assignment would be an understatement.
My thirty day leave before deployment to Vietnam was one of the most stressful periods of my life. My mother had moved to Florida when I started my electronics training in Pittsburgh. By the time I got out of AIT, she was living in Overland Park, KS. I came down with the flu in my last week of AIT and was sick during most of my visit with my mother.
I don’t recall the exact date I arrived in Vietnam, but I’m sure my DD-214 has it listed. I only know it was December of 1967. After spending a couple of weeks filling sandbags at Bien Hoa (near Saigon), I was transferred north to Da Nang. There my MOS was switched from straight infantry to field illumination. A short time later, I was sent to Qui Nhon and then Tuy Hoa, where I stayed a week or so before being assigned to the Korean 9th ROK Infantry in Ninh Hoa. My first few weeks in Vietnam are a total blur.
To the best of my recollection I wasn’t given any indoctrination to “living with the Koreans”. That’s probably because no one knew anything about where I was being sent, or because they simply didn’t care. In either case, I was dumped in Ninh Hoa with the Korean infantry. I arrived in Ninh Hoa a couple of weeks before the Tet Offensive in 1968. The mortars and an unsuccessful VC attack on our perimeter were my official, though belated, welcome to Vietnam.
My life in Vietnam was completely different from anything I had ever experienced. Not only was I living in a war zone where people wanted to kill me, but I was stationed with Koreans who looked suspiciously like the Viet Cong. The heat and the odors of Vietnam were alien to my previous life in the US. There was constant firing by a Korean artillery unit not far from my quarters and, when it was quiet, it was as disconcerting as when it was firing. I learned to tell the difference from out-going rounds, out-going duds, and incoming mortar fire.
Being in field illumination, most of my work was at night. I got to watch the frequent firefights between the Korean troops and the VC/NVA. Daytime sleeping in Vietnam was difficult at best. The heat was the worst. I bought a fan which helped some, but not much. I spent most of my time in Vietnam on less than five hours sleep per day and that wasn’t uninterrupted sleep. By the time I rotated back to the States I was physically and mentally exhausted.
[Tomorrow: "Coming Home from Vietnam", also by Jesse Gump]