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anger even alienate. Shared with others, emotions unite
as we see we aren't alone. We realize others weep with us."
~Susan Wittig Albert

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Friday, June 6, 2014

Life Prepared Me for Vietnam

Michael Lansford

by Michael Lansford

Things I learned during my whole life as I grew up are what I told you amazingly trained me for Vietnam, even before the war existed.

When I was a child my Dad was a Pipeliner. We followed the lines wherever they went, living in a small trailer until I was ten. We moved all over from Texas, to New Mexico, to Colorado, and Arizona. The hard part about all that was, I never stayed in one school long enough to have friends, as I knew we wouldn't be there long.  One year I went to six different schools. The only home I knew was our trailer, so to speak.

Now this part is not meant to disrespect my parents, but they drank constantly. Naturally, alcohol brought out the mean side of it all and I was the only outlet. I spent many a night in a booth in a bar, the back seat of car, on the floor, and at times home alone. I was too young to know anything else. In all fairness to my parents, I was angry at all they did, for many years later in life. Then my Aunt explained why, that it was an illness.

Then I learned from my grandmother after dad died, and it became very clear, what all he faced in the Pacific in the war. Drinking probably was his only outlet for all that happened to him and no one ever knew about it. After seeing documentaries about the Pacific, I understood it all. I had been wrong to judge.

Anyway, we moved to a ranch up in the left corner of New Mexico for about 4-5 years. I was left there while my family followed the pipelines farther away. I was in second grade. The people who owned it came out there in 1917 and fenced off 6000 acres. Their name was Schmidt, I think.

Everything was like in the cowboy days, no creature comforts. Every day you worked to survive, planting crops, raising cattle and horses, always prepared for winter and anything that may happen. 

The school I went to was so far in the mountains that the only way to get there was by horse. There were two rooms at the school. Each room had six rows and each row was a grade.  For me it was the great cowboy adventure. 

We lived by the Navajo Reservation and the native Americans there took a liking to me. They taught me how to track, hunt, survive, and how to live off the land.  I even got to stay with them lots of times. They taught me so much, which paid dividends when I grew up and went off to war. I became one of them, even knowing I was part Cherokee. They taught me how to shoot with one shot.  If you missed, you didn't eat.  Ammo wasn't very handy out there. 

The place I lived was officially called Ohito, (or Ojito), New Mexico.  The closest neighbor was 17 miles away. If we went anywhere, it was on horseback or we hitched up the wagon. If you got hurt, you had to be able to fix yourself -- stop the bleeding, stitch up wounds, and there was no anesthetic around. 

I remember one time coming home from school on the paint I rode and a bad storm was coming in, and I mean bad.  Up in the mountains, you just didn't get caught out in bad weather.  I used all I was taught to survive, and I was only seven years old at the time. 

I found an overhang in a mountain pass and built a little shelter for me and my horse to keep the snow out. We were there for three days and nights. I had to dig out of the snow.

The best thing was the horse I had. As the old rancher always told me, if I ever got lost or something happened, just let the reigns hang down and he would find his way home -- just don't let go of the reigns, because he won't stop for you. It worked. As hard as it all was, it prepared me for my life later on. 

Well, as I grew older, my parents took me down to the beach where my Aunt lived and they left me there, so I could have some stability in my life, instead of always being on the move.  I was ten by then. I felt resentment for a long time, thinking I was left behind and unloved.

But I learned many years later that my Aunt adopted me, so just in case something happened to me, I could be taken care of. Knowing that made a difference as all I ever knew growing up was rejection and being left alone and left behind.

At the beach, the principal crop was rice. There were rice fields everywhere. I walked most of them, worked some, hunted in them all for our winter food, ducks and geese. We trapped around all the ponds for the pelts: muskrat, nutria and even a few mink.  I started working when I was ten. Whatever it took to live, we did. 

So my best guess is, when the military found out I lived in rice fields and how I grew up, I was the perfect draftee for where I ended up. I remember one of my guys commenting that when he got home he never ever wanted to see a rice field again.

I told him where I was from and that going home wouldn't be much different for me, pertaining to rice fields. The only things missing were the yellow crop dusters. Mainly, it taught me more about how to get through the rice fields and survive, all just things that as I look back, prepared me for what was to come. 

In regards to my Father, he was a great man and well respected by his peers. There was nothing he wouldn't do for people that worked under him. Their needs came first. Even after I moved to where I ended up, we kept in touch mainly during the summer. 

I worked for him on pipelines whenever they were in Texas. He put me at the bottom of everything and I still remember his words were, "Whenever you move up to a better job, you will remember where you came from and appreciate what you have."  I still live that to this day. 

Knowing now how hard his life had been in the Pacific, he knew in order for me to survive, he needed to make things tougher on me.  He knew I would learn to deal with all that would be coming down the road. 

Growing up, no matter what I did, someone always reminded me I would never succeed, or be successful, never amount to anything, you name it, I got it.  But it all made me stronger and more determined not to fail at anything I did.  Failure was not an option. 

In my life, all I wanted was to be equal to everyone, not better. I guess that's why most of my life I gave off the impression I was standoffish, aloof, self centered, reserved, not always friendly, just quiet. People just didn't know where I had come from and I wouldn't explain, mainly because my life was and is not a 'poor me' story. The harder it was, the stronger I became. It was the feeling of being bulletproof, if you will. 

Somehow through it all, when I got to Vietnam, I found things there weren't much different from how I grew up, except being shot at constantly, but that too made me stronger, colder, and more numb to everything that happened. There was no time to mourn, reflect, or anything. If you let your guard down, for me it was a sign of weakness and it would probably get you hurt, or worse -- get everyone else hurt. I wouldn't allow that to happen. These were lessons I learned long ago.

Over the years, some still saw me as withdrawn, reserved, and aloof.  I was even called a snob. If they only knew where I came from, it may have helped, but I couldn't explain to anyone for fear of more rejection, or being called names. Back then, if you were from a broken home, you were pretty low class.

So, growing up, I had already been trained to be alone, live alone, survive, deal with hardship and it served me well in Vietnam, because we lived all of that 24/7. I adapted easier than most, due to the fact that I lived it my whole life. It was the same lifestyle, I was just older and in another part of the world. Lots of my people were always amazed at how calm and direct I became under fire.  Hell, I'd been there already, long ago.  

You can see I had a pretty busy life growing up.  I am truly blessed to have had Guardian Angels watching over me since I was born -- another debt I can never repay. Now you have a basic idea as to how I was prepared for war long ago. Through it all, I am very proud and blessed to have had my real parents and my adoptive ones. Most have less that that.  

In his own way, my Dad somehow knew some day I may have to go off to war, so he prepared me as best he could. He  made me earn everything I had and became. He was hard core through and through, but it also helped save my life years later. Hopefully you have a better knowledge of the world I came from as a child and a Vet.

Other Articles by Michael Lansford:

Remembering The Wall
"Leavings at The Wall"

“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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  1. Replies
    1. Michael LansfordJune 8, 2014 at 10:07 AM

      Thanks for the support my friend. Means a lot.

  2. From the group Vietnam Veterans at LinkedIn:

    "Thank Michael for sharing his life with us. I have lived in the mountains of New Mexico and it is still very much as he describes it.

    But what touches me most is his life story being shared with us, and the strength of character I see him sharing with us in himself.
    By Robert Marzullo

  3. [This is a comment from the Vietnam Veterans Group at LinkedIn]

    Life did not prepare me for Nam. Nam prepared me for Nam.

    Lots of patrols and ambush setups. You learn on the fly. You sleep with one eye open. You learn to listen and look for movement in the bush. You learn to be decisive and not hesitate. Hesitation can kill you.

    Death all around has a habit of changing you into a callous person at times. I often wonder
    what type of person I would have been without The Nam.
    By Steve Rogers

    1. Michael LansfordJune 8, 2014 at 10:13 AM

      True enough. Nam taught us very early on that things in the world couldn't. For me growing up how I did, learning survival, shooting, tracking, being alone, etc gave me a head start if you will on what was to come. We each had things in our lives that in even a small way prepared us for what we endured. We are all different but had the same cause & elements we dealt with. I too sometimes wonder how our lives would have turned out not having war. & how lives lost might have made an impact on our country in many ways. We will never know what might have been concerning us all.

    2. I concur to the extent that,
      LIFE did not prepare me for NAM.

      Being only 19 at the time,
      NAM prepared me for LIFE!

    3. True enough. In my case Life really did prepare me for Nam & Nam also prepared me for life. Guess they go hand in hand. Without each I probably wouldn't exist in either place.


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