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Thursday, April 28, 2005

Stories of Earl Anderson

Earl Anderson

by Brian Mitchell
   Grade 12, Fairfield High School

As I walked through the door at Earl Anderson’s house, I was immediately greeted with smiles and hospitable comments.  My first thoughts were, “This surely could not be a man who has been in situations of conflict and lived in terrible conditions over in Vietnam, could it?” When we sat down at his dining room table, he showed pictures and shared recollections that immediately proved me wrong. 
The moving thing about Earl was that he seemed to have learned from the mistakes that he had made in his life, and the biggest obstacles he had to overcome were habits that he had started in Vietnam.  As the interview progressed, he kept coming back to the fact that God had protected him while he was in Vietnam.  It was amazing to me that a person that had endured so much was still able to recognize the feeling of God’s presence. 
After a few minutes, Earl was comfortable enough to open up and tell his story, so we began the tape.  He started out by telling me how he had gotten himself into a predicament where he had to sign up for the draft.  It was just after his eighteenth birthday when he enlisted, and as I reflected on this, I got a lump in my throat.  I just turned eighteen, and I can’t even imagine going to a foreign country and fighting for my life.  Through this alone, Earl showed his true courage, valor, and pride for his country by enlisting at such a young age. 
He began his journey to Vietnam by attending basic training and advanced infantry training in Fort Louise, Washington.  Although there was very little sunlight in Fort Louise at that time of year, his training continued.  The training was vigorous and he shared how his “Band of Brothers” helped him through it all.
Mr. Anderson was deployed on July 4th, 1970, and traveled to Alaska before boarding a direct flight to Benewah, Vietnam.  He expressed the fear that he had as he stepped off the plane and was immediately surrounded by gunfire.  The sounds of machine guns drowned out any sense of security he possessed, and his mind was immediately bombarded with sights of red balls of fire lighting up the sky.
The day after Earl arrived in Vietnam, a group of recruiters came to the unit he was in and asked if anyone wanted to join the Rangers.  With little hesitation he decided to join, thinking that it would make the time go faster.  Training started and he immediately realized how out-of-shape he was.  The next morning he woke up and was so stiff, he could barely even move.  The humorous thing about the whole situation was that he had to hobble out of bed in order to tell the sergeant he was not going to be able to continue with his training. He was returned to his original platoon to fulfilled his mission there. 
The next story he relayed to me was about when he first discovered elephant grass.  He was flying over the Vietnam landscape when the helicopter started to hover over the ground.  The cockpit manager opened the door and told him to get ready to jump.  His sergeant jumped out and Earl followed soon thereafter.  After a few seconds, he was still falling.  The grass was so tall that it took him a number of seconds to fall to the ground.  When he finally did land, it was on top of his sergeant, and they lay in grass that was several feet tall and surrounded them for miles around.  As he started to walk into the field, he realized what his true job was.  He had to carry the ammunition until the next new recruit arrived, and he was praying for that day from that moment on.  The troops encountered tall grass, jungle surroundings, and water-sledged rice patties which were all filled with animals, insects, and foot-long leaches.  He recollected that the leaches would simply eat right through a man’s boots if he didn’t recognize their presence in time.  He stated, “It was one of the worst experiences, but it’s all part of the deal.” Now that is the attitude of a true American.
Mr. Anderson was awarded a number of medals and citations, including the bronze star, two Vietnam medals, and a medal for flying in a certain number of helicopter missions.  He himself was not awarded a Purple Heart, but he had many acquaintances who received one. 
Earl went on to express the strength that contact with his family gave him in this time of trial.  He wrote numerous letters and even got to call his family a few times.  At one time, during his R&R;, he was traveling through Australia, and he decided to call his father at home in Joplin, Montana.  He spoke for only a brief while, but the price of the call single handedly amounted to a small fortune. 
According to Earl, the feedback from the United States was very limited, and the only real form of information that the troops received was from the radio.  This was actually a good thing for the troops because it prevented them from hearing about the protests and riots against what they were working so hard for.  Earl said that if it were not for God watching over him and all of the people back home praying for him, he wouldn’t have been able to handle everything. 
While in Vietnam, Mr. Anderson was able to take many pictures of his journey.  One stop on his journey was along a huge river laden with moss-packed boulders, rotting tree limbs, and vast amounts of white water cascading down extravagant waterfalls.  The conditions while over in Vietnam were anything but clean, so when the troops got the chance to bathe they took it. While the soldiers were refreshing themselves in the river, Earl slipped, and if he hadn’t caught onto a branch of a nearby tree, he would have been swept away by the violent river. Luckily for Earl, he slipped in at just the right place at just the right time, and his life was spared because of it. 
The most amazing story of when Mr. Anderson was over in Vietnam was his physical weight.  When he left for Vietnam, he was 190 pounds, and when he returned, he weighed only 167 pounds.  This was due to two things.  One reason was that he was under great stress while overseas.  Also, the food that they were served, call C rations, dated back to World War II.  Oftentimes Earl wouldn’t eat because the rations were so grotesque.  Finally the army came up with a new form of non-perishable food called LURP’s.  They were comparable to the dried foods often used for camping today.  Cooking these became a challenge because the fuel they were originally using to cook the food was taken away from them.  The army stated they were over-using the product, and it was costing them too much money. 
The experience of interviewing a man who has had so many challenges in his life and was still able to keep his sanity has impacted my life in many ways.  It has shown me that no matter what situation you are put in, you must overcome obstacles, and your life will be stronger because of it. 

_______________________________
Veteran's Data

Name of Veteran: Earl Anderson
Date of Birth: 7/20/50  Place of Birth: Joplin, MT
Date of Induction: July 4th, 1969  Branch of Service: Army  Rank at Discharge: Spec 4
Location of Interview: Choteau, Montana
Interviewed by: Brian Mitchell

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