Veterans' Voices: Vietnam War

25 July 2018 By Zach Waddle 0 Comments

CONTENT WARNINGThis post deals with difficult subjects such as suicide, combat, sexual assault, and other traumatic events. I strongly urge ANY veteran to use the available resources that the VA provides. Visit the nearest VA, call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, or visit the Veterans Crisis Line website -- there are people who want to help! For more information, please visit the Veteran and Military Center’s Psychological Counseling page on the WSU website.

The Vietnam War began on November 1, 1955 and lasted until April 30, 1975. Like the Korean War, the conflict in Vietnam took place during the Cold War which spanned almost the entire latter half of the 20th century. The United States would come to a peace agreement with North Vietnam in 1973, but the war continued regardless for another two years. Veterans returning from Vietnam were often met with backlash from people who didn’t support our military’s involvement in the conflict. Like many veterans, some of our interviewees experienced Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as well as physical injuries from their war experiences. These brave veterans served their country and its people, and have come to share their stories with Veterans’ Voices. I am grateful for the opportunity to share those stories here.

Air Force Veterans Discuss PTSD in the Vietnam, Post-9/11 Era

Greg Meriwether, David Morse, Will Davis

An interview between two Air Force veterans examined PTSD and how our understanding of it has changed over the years. Social worker and Vietnam veteran Greg Meriwether explained to David Morse, veteran of the post-9/11 military, how Vietnam veterans didn’t know what they were dealing with because PTSD wasn’t even recognized as a mental illness. “There’s so many people coming in now that don’t understand how trauma works. They don’t understand what war does to folks,”  he explained. “Now we really understand that we need to educate people before they go, and when they come back, and in between.”

Two Generations of Marine Corps Veterans Discuss Race in the Military

Jay Blunt, Jeremy Dobbins, Will Davis

Marine Corps veterans Jay Blunt and Jeremy Dobbins discussed race in the military in the first of two interviews with Blunt. At just over four minutes, this brief discussion explored how racism and prejudice are dealt with in the military.

Jay Blunt

Jeremy Dobbins, Jeniffer Seavey

Jay Blunt’s long career began with enlisting in the Marine Corps for four years, followed by an additional 16 years in the Navy. He discussed how difficult it was coming back from Vietnam. “Nobody knew what the heck you were talking about when you got home,"  he explained."You were the most lost person because no one was there to help you.”  Feeling lost after returning home, he decided to return to the service. He offered a great insight into the hardships that veterans face.

Terry Bogan

David Berry

Terry Bogan and two of his three brothers served during Vietnam. Bogan joined the Army in 1965; two of his brothers served in the Navy, and the third served in the Air Force. Working for the Army Security Agency, Bogan’s job dealt with military intelligence for which top-secret clearance was required. He shared memories of his work while in Cambodia, Thailand, and Taiwan.

Alexander Cwiekalo

David Berry

When Alexander Cwiekalo enlisted as a stenographer in the Air Force in 1966, he didn’t plan to make it a career, but 29 years, 6 months, and 18 days later he retired after having achieved the highest enlisted rank. During a career that began during the Vietnam War and stretched past the Gulf War, Cwiekalo would meet his wife, Roberta, during their time at the stenography training school.

Roberta Cwiekalo

David Berry

Air Force veteran Roberta Cwiekalo discussed basic training and teaching the airmen in her flight how to hula dance. While becoming a stenographer at Fort Benjamin Harrison, she met her husband, fellow airman Alexander Cwiekalo. She eventually was required to leave the service after becoming pregnant, as was policy at that time. She also talked about not being allowed to fire weapons during her training. However, both policies would change by the time her daughters joined the military. She went on to continue her service by working in a civilian federal position.

William Nicholson

David Morse

Faced with the ultimatum to either quit skipping school or join the service, William Nicholson chose the latter and began his enlistment in the Navy in 1964. He was stationed in Pensacola, Florida, serving as a hospital corpsman. After training at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, he travelled to San Francisco prior to his deployment to Vietnam, where he witnessed a fellow servicemember being accosted while downtown. Nicholson then recalled his combat experience in Vietnam and the leg injury he sustained during a firefight. He shared the painful memory of a Marine attempting suicide and how it still haunts him to this day.

George Downing

David Berry

After joining the Navy in 1963, George Downing had the opportunity to train and work with the Navy Seals. He explained that he was unable to discuss his duty at length but shared a story of loading ammunition while aboard a ship. During his service, he spent time in Vietnam, the Philippines, and Pakistan.

Richard Bidlack

David Berry, Jeniffer Seavey

Dick Bidlack joined the Air Force in 1953 and served until 1973. He began as a ground radar operator before becoming an aviation cadet, and a commissioned officer six months later. He became a fighter pilot, but would fly an unarmed reconnaissance plane for three years in Vietnam. Bidlack joked, “Dad wouldn’t let me drive a three-thousand-dollar tractor, but the Air Force let me fly a thirty-million-dollar fighter.”  He discussed members of his squadron getting shot down with some becoming prisoners of war for up to seven years.

Dan Ray Van Fossen

Jeniffer Seavey

Dan Ray Van Fossen was drafted into the Army in 1970. Serving three tours of duty in Vietnam, he extended his time there as he didn’t want to deal with returning home from deployment. Upon returning home, he experienced the backlash from the public firsthand. He discussed the hardships of suffering from alcoholism and PTSD, as well as the terrifying experience of walking into the VA to get help for the first time. He described how helpful it has been for him to volunteer at the VA.

Wolfgang Grossman

Jeniffer Seavey

Wolfgang Grossman immigrated to the United States from East Germany. He decided to join the Army after helping a US soldier distribute blankets while at a refugee camp. He described working in Vietnam as an avionics technician. In discussing bombing missions, he discussed watching the explosions in the distance and waiting for the planes to return from their missions. He also explained how exposure to Agent Orange has impacted his life.

William Goforth

Adrian Hill

William Goforth was drafted into the Army and shipped out for basic training on his birthday. He shared a dark story about his uncle who was a Civil War veteran. Goforth trained as a generator operator, but when he arrived in Vietnam, he applied to be a helicopter door gunner. He eventually returned to his duty as a generator operator but would also take on the role of vehicle operator once he arrived on LZ Hawk Hill. He recalled the difficult experience of assisting casualties. Be sure to check out the pictures that Goforth has shared!

Francis Alfter

David Morse

After being drafted into the Air Force in 1969, Frank Alfter served as a commissioned officer until 2002. Before discussing his own career, Alfter shared the story of his father being captured as a POW in Germany. His career began as a weapons mechanic, though his aim was to be a crew chief. With his brother stationed at Cam Rahn Bay in Vietnam, Alfter was sent to Thailand as it was not considered a combat zone. He succeeded in becoming a commissioned officer after taking night courses.

Edward Garrett

Adrian Hill, Seth Gordon

Edward Garrett’s military career began when he was drafted into the Army in 1966. He would leave the Army in 1971 and join the Marines the very next year, where he continued to serve until 1976. His Army career began in transportation, where he worked as both a driver and mechanic in Vietnam."The way they stored the bodies was in the mess hall in the freezer," Garrett explained. "It was the only place to keep them.”  He spoke of trying to transport fuel and other supplies while both dodging fire and keeping an eye out for mines.

Michael Jackson

Adrian Hill

Serving as a pilot in the Air Force, Michael Jackson’s career as a commissioned officer stretched from 1968 to 1991. Coming from a military family, his father was a WWII veteran and most of his brothers served in the Air Force. He discussed returning to Officer Training School as a Flight Training Officer later in his career. He described a phone call with his mom that helped him pull through a difficult time during his training. Jackson shared stories of his combat experience in Vietnam, such as the accident that led to him receiving a Purple Heart.

David Fuchs

David Morse

After being drafted into the Army, David Fuchs worked in radio communications assembling steel towers and antennas. He shared a funny story of how his last name caused him a little trouble while in basic training. While training in his specialty, Fuchs rescued a fellow soldier who suffered a panic attack after realizing how high he’d climbed. Always willing to perform his duty, Fuchs would go on to earn a promotion in Vietnam for his work ethic.

James Mitchell Jr.

Adrian Hill, John Brown

Air Force veteran James Mitchell Jr. is the son of a Marine veteran, with two brothers who also served in the Air Force. He recalled how he felt performing aerospace recovery operations in Vietnam. “Crap happened to the other guy,"  he said."It didn’t happen to you; you were indestructible.”  He worked as a helicopter mechanic, and later became an aircrew member flying combat rescue missions. Mitchell discussed his passion for saving lives and shared some of his experiences. He went on to retire in 1992 after having served in Vietnam, the Cold War, and Desert Storm.

Paul Griffith

Adrian Hill

As an officer in the Army, Paul Griffith served as Battery Executive Officer in the Pershing Missile Unit at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Receiving orders for Korea, Griffith asked instead to be sent to Vietnam instead. There he served as Battalion Motor Officer, often convoying ammunition to other firing batteries. He described the confusing process of speaking to family back home while in Vietnam through the use of the MARS short-wave radio system.

Dennis Crouch

Adrian Hill

In 1962, Dennis Crouch became a commissioned officer in the Air Force. With uncles in the Navy and Marines, Crouch felt compelled to serve in the military. He described witnessing an unfortunate accident during pilot training that led to the death of a friend whose wedding he had attended just five days prior. He explained that this situation steeled him for his eventual deployment to Vietnam. He discussed flying the Ho Chi Minh Trail and performing reconnaissance work. He shared his “Big Sky Theory” which helped him while on missions.

Louis Martin

Eric Wiete, Adrian Hill

The son of a WWI veteran, Louis Martin decided to go with his brother to enlist in the Air Force in 1954. Working as a mechanic on propeller-driven aircraft, he and his brother would part ways after basic training. He eventually had a daughter and grandson who went on to serve in the military. In transporting people, Martin had the opportunity to fly with former President Lyndon Johnson. While in Vietnam, his duties included the transportation of deceased servicemembers. He discussed other missions he participated in while in Vietnam, such as supporting ground troops and delivering livestock.

Thomas Carskadon

Adrian Hill

Thomas Carskadon enlisted in the Navy as a jet mechanic in 1968. He boarded a ship bound for Vietnam out of San Diego just five days before his daughter was born, and he wouldn’t have the chance to meet her until seven months later. Using a portable tape recorder, Carskadon was able to communicate through recordings with his family back home which was how his father and grandfather had communicated while his grandfather was in Vietnam. While deployed, he would also travel to the Philippines, Japan, and Hong Kong.  

Russell Seel

Adrian Hill

Russell Seel’s long Air Force career began in 1958. He shared the story of an injury he sustained while in basic training. In Vietnam, he ran into his basic training instructor who still remembered him from training nearly seven years prior. He began his career as an administrative clerk, but eventually transitioned into the special duty of first sergeant. He discussed his time in Vietnam and the politics that were a part of the war.

William Rickert

Adrian Hill, Eric Wiete

Bill Rickert was drafted into the Army in 1969 while in graduate school. As his brother was flying missions in Vietnam, Rickert was sent to Alaska where he would work in the personnel company for the 172nd Infantry Brigade. He recalled enjoying his work, but not wanting to make it a career. He described the long trip from Alaska to Washington during his discharge from the Army.

Anna Foster

David Berry, Jeniffer Seavey

Anna Foster enlisted in the Air Force in 1963 before becoming a commissioned officer. While discussing her job in personnel, she joked, “I flew a desk.” She explained the important and often underappreciated role of support personnel in the military. She recalled also spending time in Turkey and Germany. When arriving to a duty station, it is common to receive a sponsor designated to help you become familiar with the area. Upon arriving for her assignment at Randolph AFB, Texas, she discussed her sponsor, the squadron commander of the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS). She also described her work post-Air Force.

Stanley Schmeig

Terry Ramirez

Drafted into the Army in 1964, Stan Schmeig began his duty in artillery before being placed in data processing. He spoke highly of his time in Germany, and how he enjoyed both his work and off-duty time. Schmeig shared stories of how JFK half-dollar coins helped him while in Germany. He later met a German woman online who had worked for the Army during his time there, and the two became friends.

Curtis Richardson

Jonathan Granata, Ashlie Hawes

Drafted into the Army in 1965, Curtis Richardson experienced firsthand the difference of treatment towards draftees compared to enlistees, although he had tried to enlist prior to being drafted. He also spoke of his experience with war protestors during that era. Richardson also briefly discussed being stabbed several times shortly after being drafted. He worked in maintenance during his six years in the service before returning to Ohio to care for his sick uncle.

Herbert Dregalla Jr.

Adrian Hill

While working towards his master’s degree, Herb Dregalla Jr. enlisted in the Army in 1969 to serve in the United States Military Academy Band. Having previously been a clarinet major in college, he joined the West Point Band after an audition that tasked him with playing his clarinet for an hour. He left the military in 1972, accepting a job as an instrumental music teacher.

Eva Lazear

Jeniffer Seavey

Eva Lazear's enlistment in the Marine Corps began in 1968. Born in Australia, Lazear was the child of two Hungarian refugees who met in Germany. Her family cam to America after her father had been sponsored by his brother. Both of her brothers also came to serve, one in the Marine Corps and the other in the Coast Guard. She recalled difficult times from basic training before beginning her duty as a payroll clerk. She discussed how despite being first in her class, she was not allowed to choose which duty station she preferred, while her male peers were given a choice. Turned down when volunteering to go to Vietnam, Lazear was instead stationed in Okinawa, Japan.

Jimmie Sistrunk

Adrian Hill, David Morse

Jimmie Sistrunk served as an Army paratrooper following his enlistment in 1962. His strong work ethic earned him the role of squad leader while in training. He described his experience in parachute school, sharing a story about a fellow soldier. While stationed in Germany, Sistrunk had the opportunity to take part in parachute jumps in different European countries in honor of the parachute jumps made during WWII. He discussed his life after the military as well as taking gifts to the VA.

Chuck Worm

Eric Wiete

In 1962, Chuck Worm and a friend decided to enlist in the Air Force. He began serving as an assistant crew chief, working in aircraft maintenance. While in Guam on his first of two assignments there, Worm took on different roles such as flight line expediter, flight chief, and recovery chief. He discussed the different operations he participated in and the different aircraft he encountered during his 26-year career.

Erlis Morse

David Morse

Erlis Morse served in the Air Force with his youngest brother, while his two older brothers served in the Navy and Army. Joining in 1952, Morse described the state of the country prior to the Civil Rights movement. Initially working in automotive maintenance, he later found himself working in field maintenance. He described enjoying this position as it allowed him to paint the aircrafts. He also worked in traffic management while in Vietnam. He also shared the story of how he met his wife while In England. He is being interviewed by his grandson, David, who is an Air Force veteran.

I will be discussing interviews from veterans of the Gulf War next.

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