By DAVID PETERS
For Rantoul Press
As a Vietnam veteran, I have found the articles (that have appeared in The News-Gazette) on Vietnam memories to be very interesting. As with any endeavor, no two experiences are ever the same. This is especially true in war time. I often feel that many people think that everyone is constantly engaged in combat.
The truth is that in Vietnam, less than 20 percent of the personnel were in direct combat situations. The rest of the personnel were serving as support for those doing the actual fighting.
And so it was with me.
My father was a wounded World War II veteran. He was very patriotic, so I never really doubted that I would one day serve in the military. I graduated from high school in 1964 and began working at the General Electric plant in Bloomington as an apprentice tool and die maker. Because this was considered to be a critical skill, I was awarded a deferment from military service.
However, upon graduation from the program, I decided that I would enlist in the Army. I was a supporter of the war, plus I just wanted to get away and do something different. I enlisted in January 1968. This was actually the high point of the war, but due to a number of events, it was also the beginning of the end of the American involvement.
After basic training, I was sent to Aberdeen Proving Grounds, where I received additional machinist training. I then spent the next year and a half at various bases on the East Coast.
I actually wanted to go to Vietnam but was unable to get orders due to the downsizing of the military involvement. However, after receiving advance machinist training, my whole graduating class was sent to Vietnam in October 1969.
I was assigned to a helicopter company at Vinh Long and then later to a fixed wing (OV-1 Mohawk) company at Can Tho. Both units were in the Mekong Delta. Things were actually pretty quiet at both bases because most of the Viet Cong had been eliminated, plus it was a long way from North Vietnam.
This is not to say that things were not happening though. We were mortared, aircraft was shot up, and people died. But overall it could have been much worse. I was never shot at, nor did I shoot at anyone.
Probably the hardest part was working 10-hour days, seven days a week. You were basically military 24 hours a day.
I looked forward to coming home, but I also found a strange fascination with what I was doing. The country was very exotic, and I enjoyed getting to know the Vietnamese. I also felt that I was doing something important, although I knew that things were winding down.
I returned to the U.S. in October 1970 and received a three-month early-out. My parents did not know that I was coming home when I did, so they were gone that day. I walked home 2 miles from the bus station, and that was the end of my military career.
I went back to my old job, bored them with my Vietnam experiences, and it seemed like nothing had changed. I can honestly say that I missed the Army and Vietnam.
Several months later, I went back to the recruiter and told him I wanted to re-enlist. We set up a date, and I was prepared to go back in. However, I had also started attending Illinois State University and, after a while, decided that maybe that was a better choice than the military. Since I met my wife there, I’m sure it was.
As I said at the start, everyone has different experiences. I have the upmost respect for those who experienced combat and other difficult situations. My outlook would have probably been much different if I had experienced that.
I have always considered my military experience to have been a turning point that helped to shape the rest of my life. I also consider Vietnam to be one of the high points of my life. It could have been a lot different, but thankfully it wasn’t.
David Peters lives in Fisher.