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Monday, May 02, 2005

“One Man’s Vietnam”

"One Man's Vietnam"

by Brad Veis
   Grade 12, Fairfield High School

It would come to be called one of the longest, bloodiest and most controversial wars of the modern age. By the time it was over 58,000 Americans would give their lives to this jungle war and another 304,000 would be wounded. And no one who came back from Vietnam would be left unscarred by the time spent there.
John Anderson was one who was called to serve his country, in Vietnam. After running out of money in college and receiving his draft notice, he decided it was time to sign up. The army was calling his name and soon would be his home for the next few years.
In 1966 while working as a commercial artist John received his draft notice. Not wanting to be drafted, he enlisted in the army for a term of three years. While going through basic training, the Special Forces sparked his interest. Wanting to serve with the best and be the best, he went in search of one of the “Special”. After locating a recruiter he inquired about the requirements and found out that he was one chevron short. To even be considered for the Special Forces he needed to hold the rank of Sergeant E-5. The recruiter, however, could see John’s determination and, just for the sake of curiosity, let him take the written test. John received a score that ranked up with the highest the army had ever seen. The recruiter put the test on file and told John that when he met the requirements for selection, the test would be submitted.
After completing Army Boot Camp, while in Army AIT Jump School, John again went in search of the Special Forces recruiter. He finally found who he was looking for and realized it was the same recruiter who months earlier had given him the written test. John was now allowed to sign up because he had already passed the written test and now held the rank of Sergeant E-5.  John then went up in front of a review board that consisted of officers and enlisted men alike. He passed the interview and then went on to the next phase.
For the next few months John was stationed at Ft. Bragg, Georgia and Ft. Benning, North Carolina where he would receive the best training the United States Military and the world had to offer. He completed courses in high altitude low opening parachuting, better known as HALO jumping, and guerilla warfare, these schools tested physical strength as well as mental sharpness. When he finished his training he was placed on an A team and allowed to pick a “job”. John chose to become light weapons specialist. For the next seventeen weeks he was trained with every small arm the ever produced. He learned not just how to shoot them but how to take them apart, fix them, and which interchanged parts among weapons of different makes and models. Along with that responsibility he had to make sure that everyone on his team knew how to use these weapons properly.
At the end of training, only the best men were left: guys with backgrounds as varied, as the inevitable tasks that they all knew awaited them in Vietnam. Even though their backgrounds were different, they all had one thing in common: they wanted to be where they were. They were the best soldiers the United States had to offer. Hopefully, their training would arm them for the hell they were about to be thrust into.

From Ft. Benning, John boarded a plane, flew to San Francisco, and eventually ended up at an Army terminal in Oakland. After a two-day stay at the barracks he was moved to a huge holding area for troops destined for Vietnam. Inside, the building was a small town. The perimeter of the enclosure was made up of a PX, various stores, and movie theatres. The center was a large barracks that contained hundreds and hundreds of bunk beds. The men inside were allowed to do anything they pleased, except leave. At the front gate, MP’s stood guard, preventing the awaiting soldiers from fleeing their fates.
Finally John’s plane was called. The guards opened the door and the men were ushered out and put on a plane to Vietnam. The flight took the better part of eighteen hours, stopping in Hawaii and Okinawa before eventually touching down in Saigon, South Vietnam.  From Saigon, John and three other guys caught a plane that took them to Latrang, South Vietnam where, the Fifth Special Forces Group Headquarters was located.  Upon arrival John was greeted as a brother by the men already there, and he began to prepare himself for the challenge at hand.
John was put with the 3rd Mobile Strike Force, where he and the eleven other guys on his team were faced with the most challenging job a soldier could have: training and leading into combat Chinese and Cambodian mercenaries. They controlled and organized a daunting number of over one hundred mercenaries.  Though they far outnumbered the Americans, the mercenaries respected their American leaders and fought alongside them without much incident. A handful of South Vietnamese also fought with them.
John and the mercenaries fought all over South East Asia. Their area of operations included North and South Vietnam, the DMZ, Laos and Cambodia. Their work ranged from rescuing POWs, search and destroy, and top secret missions that to this day remain classified within the walls of the CIA and the minds of the men who carried them out. One particularly unique mission was to catch a person, rumored to be Russian and aiding the North. This man was never caught, never be caught and his existence could never be proven.
He and his team were on call 24/7 and, with just moment’s notice could fly anywhere they were needed. For John, combat was exactly what he expected it to be and exactly the opposite of what he expected it to be. No day was normal, and ordinary was a word that only existed in, what seemed for some, a past life. Though combat life was tough and uncertain, John’s training helped him survive and carry on from one day to the next. Armed only with his Car-15, 9mm pistol and a few fragmentation grenades, he was expected to find the enemy, kill him, and return to base alive.  However, on some missions he was required to go to places that nobody knew about, carrying nothing that was American or that could be used to identify him. The United States was prepared to disavow any knowledge of his actions and turn away if he were killed or recovered by the enemy. This idea may be unthinkable for some; John never gave it a second thought. He was prepared and knew the stakes ahead of time.
Large numbers of casualties fell within his unit. On some missions as many as 120 men set out into the jungle, only a handful would return alive. By a stroke of luck John was only wounded when a B-40 rocket exploded on a trail in front of him. The blast killed his radio operator and peppered John with small pieces of shrapnel. Unknown to him at the time, the large piece of shrapnel that tore through the body of his radio operator got caught in the radio and saved John from being another casualty to the war.
For the wounds he received during his time in Vietnam we was awarded Purple Hearts. John also received medals for his bravery in the face of uncertain danger that ranged from Bronze Stars with v-devices to the Soldier’s Medal, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge.
On the 23 of May 1969, John began his trip home. Flying on a Branent Yellow Bird from Vietnam, he arrived at McCord Air Force Base. From there he hopped on a bus to Ft. Lewis where he was processed out, fed a steak dinner, and sent on his way.  He got his old job back as a commercial artist but then moved on to construction, concrete finishing, and carpentry. John now lives and works in Montana where he lives with wife, two turtles and his dog. During the hunting season he guides for an outfitter and in the off time he works as taxidermist. 

Veteran's Data

Name of Veteran: John Anderson
Date of Birth: 7/14/46  Place of Birth: 
Date of Induction:   Branch of Service: Army, Special Forces  Rank at Discharge: 
Location of Interview: Mr. Anderson's Home
Interviewed by: Brad Veis

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