"Sharing can be a way of healing. Grief and loss can isolate,
anger even alienate. Shared with others, emotions unite
as we see we aren't alone. We realize others weep with us."
~Susan Wittig Albert

Through our writing, we walk out of the darkness into the light
together, one small step at a time, recording history, educating
America, and we are healing.
~CJ/Todd Dierdorff

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Jesse Gump: Going to Vietnam

This article today comes from a friend that I know from the Vietnam Veterans group I belong to on LinkedIn, Jesse Gump.

Welcome to Memoirs, Jesse.  Thank you for your thoughts, your service, and Welcome Home.

Dear CJ, 
Recently, I saw your posts on Veterans Watchdog and your request for memoirs from Vietnam vets. I am a Vietnam vet and I have some stories to tell.  

Like you, I am an author. My novels are set in Thailand and were written while working on a long term construction project in the late 1990s J. F. Gump Novels

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
by Jesse (J. F.) Gump

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.

After Kansas, I went to Pennsylvania to visit my sister and my girlfriend (now my wife). Everywhere I went, people treated me as if I would never return from Vietnam. One person even wished me to die in Vietnam. It was crazy. I went to Vietnam knowing I wouldn’t come home alive. Clearly I didn’t die, but at the time, I was convinced my return trip would be in a body-bag.

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]

“I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. The something I ought to do, I can do, and by the grace of God, I will.” ~Everett Hale

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