Jack G. Hand Jr.
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Interview with Jack G. Hand Jr.
Date of Interview: 3 March 2005; Florida
Interviewer: Guy Farmer III
Transcriber: Guy Farmer III
F: When did you join the military?
H: I was actually an ROTC Cadet at Davidson. I graduated and was commissioned a Second
Lieutenant and then I went to law school. So I guess I was officially commissioned in the
Summer of 1963, but I didn't go on active duty until 1966.
F: Until 1966? What branch of the military did you serve in?
H: I was in the Army.
F: In the army? And you said you were in ROTC...
F: Then you went to law school at UVA? And you were married in law school, right?
H: I was.
F: When you graduated from law school and had to go to Vietnam, was there a resentment
that you had for your classmates who were going to start practicing law and you had to
H: No, because most of them were afraid they were going to get drafted, and I was fortunate
to have already been commissioned and I pretty well knew what the situation was going
to be. And, in fact, I did subsequently encounter some of them who had been drafted.
F: And, how old were you when you went to Vietnam?
H: I guess I must have been 25.
F: And you were already married and you didn't have any children?
Jack G. Hand Jr.
F: What were your feelings about the war in Vietnam before you arrived there?
H: I would say, I was what I would call a moderate hawk when I went. I had bought into, to
a large degree, the containment theory that seemed to be big in those days. Dean Rusk,
who was the Secretary of State, was pushing hard for containment during that time and I
had pretty well bought into that. I subsequently changed dramatically on that point.
F: When exactly did you arrive in Vietnam?
H: I arrived in Vietnam in April of 1967. I don't remember the exact day, but I think about
H: I was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division in Cu Chi, which is up northwest of Saigon.
F: When you flew in there to land, when you first got out and your feet were first on the
ground in Vietnam, was it a whole new feeling? Were you scared?
H: Oh certainly. More than scared, you were certainly very apprehensive about it. First of
all, even though I had been assigned to the 25th Infantry Division, I knew that they could
reassign me anywhere, so I was apprehensive about where I might end up. A lot of
people with my particular military occupational specialty were going to Saigon, which is
what everybody would like to do because it was a city and there was a lot more going on
there. But my orders from the very beginning had me assigned to the 25th Infantry
F: Which was in what city?
Jack G. Hand Jr.
H: Cu Chi, which is I'd say about 25 miles north of Saigon. It's where the 25th Infantry
Division was set up to more or less be a blocking force between the Cambodian border
F: What was your rank?
H: I went as a First Lieutenant and I was subsequently promoted to Captain.
F: How long had you been there until you were promoted?
H: Probably in June of 1967 maybe July of 1967 I was promoted to Captain.
F: Was it the time and the work you put in is there any circumstance that led to your
H: No. That is pretty automatic. During the Vietnam Era, the rule was that you were
commissioned to Second Lieutenant and 18 months later you automatically became (I
think it was 18 months), you became a First Lieutenant and then I guess a couple years
after that you were promoted to Captain, unless you screwed up badly. They needed a lot
of junior officers obviously.
F: What was your job exactly in Vietnam?
H: Well, interestingly enough, I was trained as a Photo Imagery Interpreter when I went to
Vietnam. When I got there in the 25th Division, it quickly dawned on me that they
needed one officer and about two warrant officers in the Photo Imagery Interpretation
Section of what we called the Military Intelligence Detachment there, and in fact, they
had four officers and about three new warrant officers and we were all standing around
with our hands in our pockets. So I went to the Detachment Commander and told him
that as long as I was going to be there, I wanted to do something instead of just be
standing around. He had a problem with his Commander or Detachment Leader of his
Jack G. Hand Jr.
Prisoner Interrogation Section, so he said, You are a lawyer, and I said, yeah, I got out of
law school, and he said, Fine, I'm going to put you in my Prisoner Interrogation Section.
From shortly after I got there until just a month before I left, I headed the Section on
Prisoner Interrogation of the 25th Infantry Division.
It was an interesting assignment. Much more interesting than it would have been
to stay with the Photo Imagery Interpretation Section. The last month I was in Vietnam,
they lost all of their officers from the Photo Interpretation Section, they all rotated home,
and they didn't have anybody with an MOS and I had to go back over there and my
replacement had already arrived at the Prisoner Interrogation Section, so I did spend my
last month there.
F: I imagine that a lot of people who got sent to Vietnam or went to Vietnam what they
were doing as their job in the military wasn't what they'd been trained at at home. So
you must have...
H: That's fairly typical in the military.
F: You must have felt pretty at home doing something that had to do with law?
H: Well, it really didn't have much to do with law, but at least there was some logical reason
to put me there.
F: I see.
H: He had had a problem the officer who headed that section had a drinking problem and
an attitude problem and so shortly after I joined that section, he just sort of checked out
and the other officers and enlisted men basically trained me in my job because he didn't
stick around long enough to effectively train me.
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F: I've heard a lot about that and I'm going to go ahead and ask about that now since you
said he had a drinking problem. I know that a lot of Australian combat groups didn't go
in with Americans because they said Americans were smoking weed and drinking booze
all the time. And when you see it in the movies, it's probably over-exaggerated or under-
exaggerated, I don't know, I wasn't there. Was there a lot of drinking was it a problem
H: I don't think of it as so much of a problem. There was a lot of drinking, but at that time
in the Army, drinking was not particularly frowned upon and so a lot of the officers and
men too were pretty heavy drinkers, but in Vietnam I didn't see that much of it. After I
left I, understand that the weed became a big problem. The first time I even became
aware of it was just shortly before I left we held a shakedown of all the people in the
Military Intelligence Detachment of their foot lockers and all because we were instructed
to look for marijuana where most of us had never seen marijuana and didn't know what it
looked like, didn't know what it smelled like. We didn't really know what we were
looking for. That really became a problem after I left.
F: Were you ever in any combat situations in Vietnam?
H: Well, any Infantry base camp gets shelled and mortared a fair amount. We also I was
in the field a few times out visiting Infantry units. In January (in fact it was January 1, if
memory serves me correctly) of 1968, we were up at a place called Dau Tieng. Our
whole Division group had moved forward most of it. And, the North Vietnamese tried
to overrun this base camp we had out in what we called War Zone C. And like at 5:00
a.m. in the morning they came and got me and said we need all of your Interrogators and
Interpreters up at this place and I flew with them and we went up in helicopters there
Jack G. Hand Jr.
was still some firing going on when we got there but basically it was mostly cleanup at
that point. But, they were still firing some mortars and artillery was being fired and all
that sort of thing. In terms of ever being shot at personally by somebody with a rifle I
don't know. We did have sniper fire sometimes at Dau Tieng. It would go overhead, you
could hear it cracking through the woods, but I think those were mostly "to whom it may
concern." Either that or they were terribly lousy shots. But we got a lot of rocket and
mortar fire yeah, that kind of thing.
F: Did you ever have to fire your weapon.
F: I imagine you made a lot of friends though that were in your unit. Were any of your
friends injured or even killed while they were in Vietnam?
H: Yes. Including one friend from Davidson, a man named Ken Kelly, who was killed while
I was there, whom I had grown up with and gone to high school with and gone to
Davidson with. During the Tet Offensive, he was shot down in a helicopter. He was also
an Intelligence Officer, and he was leaving apparently a South Vietnamese base camp
when he was shot down. Then there was a young man that I had gotten to know very
well. He had originally been in the Photo Interpretation Section when I first went there
and he was from High Point, North Carolina, and a big basketball fan and I was a big
basketball fan and he and I got to know each other pretty well. He was an enlisted person
and he subsequently went with the Headquarters Company and he was killed during a
rocket attack on our base camp in Dau Tieng.
F: Those are pretty hard to get over, I imagine?
Jack G. Hand Jr.
H: Well that one and the Ken Kelly thing were both very personal to me. Some of the guys I
knew, I got to know, had also been killed. In the Prisoner Interpretation Section we
frequently would have people come in to get information from us from the field, from
Infantry units, and I got to know a number of those people fairly well because they would
come in on a regular basis, and several of them were killed while I was there.
F: In the days following your friend's death, did you question why you all were even in this
H: It actually started long before then after I had been there for three or four months.
F: So, the grief I imagine you must have felt when your friends passed away, were you bitter
because you felt like you were it was for no real cause or did you feel like they gave
their life for their Country and for freedom?
H: Well, I guess you would say I was bitter and that probably is a good word because I felt
like we were being put there and put in an untenable situation. It felt like I began to
feel like that was an un-winnable war as we were fighting it. I personally got to
interrogate some Vietnamese, had to read every interrogation report that was put out by
my section, and the feeling I came to is by and large that vast majority of the Vietnamese
people didn't care one way or the other about the politics of the thing they just wanted
to be left alone. We were the outsiders. We were disrupting their lives. I just felt that
the war had become basically un-winnable because most of the people didn't care and
many of them that were brought to us were just poor farmers who had gotten picked up
somewhere on a sweep. They didn't know who their province governor was much less
who was in power in Saigon, didn't care, just wanted to go back farming in their normal
life. I just began to feel that this was a war that was not winnable and that were not
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winning the hearts and minds of people and that we were losing a lot of awfully good
people, and I resented that. And sort of my attitude switched from, Oh, we're going to
win this war and what I'm doing is important because it would get information to help us
win it, to, I want to get information to try to save as many American lives as I can until
we can get out of here. I mean that was ...
F: I see. When you wake up in the morning to start your day, how do you go about your day
doing your tasks when you feel like you're fighting an unjust war? But you did just
answer to keep your comrades alive.
H: Yeah. It became all encompassing to me to just try to save you know, to get the
information that would save American lives. And it wasn't that I felt that the war was so
unjust, I mean I certainly didn't have any respect for the North Vietnamese because they
did a lot of terrible things to the Vietnamese people, or the Vietcong and they did a lot of
terrible things. It's just that I felt it was a pointless war. I mean, after awhile it just
became a pointless war. I got fairly close with a Vietnamese Lieutenant, a man named
Lieutenant Tam. Of course, Ho Chi Min was the great enemy as far as we were
concerned, but he explained to me that to all Vietnamese, both North and South, Ho Chi
Min was actually a hero because he had driven the French out. And I began to see that
we really were the outsiders and even though we were trying to do good things, when
you're the outsiders, people just distrust you. That's the way I'd put it.
F: What cultural differences existed between Americans and South Vietnamese and did you
find these very difficult circumstances?
H: It's night and day. I mean, most of the people now I was in a basically rural farming
kind of area. And most of the Vietnamese were poor peasants in that area just trying to
Jack G. Hand Jr.
scratch a living out of farming. They were uneducated, not knowledgeable about their
history or what was going on, just enormous cultural differences. And we were
completely we got no cultural training at all before we went to Vietnam and had no
background on the history of Vietnam or any of those things and Lieutenant Tam, again
my Vietnamese friend, was able to fill me in on a lot that. He told me that Vietnam, and
this turned out to be true when I checked, had been at war constantly during his entire
life. I think he was born in 1939 and at that point they were fighting the Japanese. When
the Japanese were finally defeated, they were fighting the French. And now here he was
involved in a war against the North Vietnamese. So, I mean, all his life he had been in a
F: Were you there to win the war or to just do your time and get home when you first got
H: When I first got there I perceived, you know, that I was there to help win the war. As I
say, I was a moderate hawk at that point because I felt that Communism needed to be
contained. Well, one of the other things I discovered the concern was that the Chinese
were backing the Vietnamese, supposedly. Well it turned out that most of the aid to the
Vietnamese was coming from the Russians. The Chinese and the Vietnamese had been
enemies for centuries. They had no great love for the Chinese although there is a sizeable
Chinese ethnic group in Vietnam and facts subsequent again Lieutenant Tam trained
me on all this that the Chinese were really not a threat because the Vietnamese didn't
trust them and had been at war with them over the centuries so there was nothing to
contain because China stood between Russia and us.
F: A misunderstanding, really.
Jack G. Hand Jr.
H: Really. I mean, again, we were not trained culturally at all and I think that was a mistake.
I think we needed some training in that area before we went, but it was a matter of the
training. Typical training for an Intelligence Officer at the time I went on active duty was
you went to nine weeks of Infantry Officer's Basic Course at Fort Benning, Georgia,
because you had to be Infantry qualified. It was then called Combat Platoon Leaders
Course, and then we went to Fort Holabird to train, which was at that time the
Intelligence School, and then we went to Vietnam. I mean, then when you were through
there, you went home. It was a strange situation.
F: Were the facts accurately reported at home, such as casualties on both sides and troupe
reinforcement. I think history has shown us that it wasn't, but did you all know that we
were being told, we were being lied to so much by the press?
H: I think that probably the U.S. casualties were pretty accurate. What was inaccurate was
the famous body count. And I can tell you an incident about that. I mentioned Dau
Tieng a couple of times. During, in December of 1967 a substantial portion of our
Division moved from Cu Chi northeast to a place called Dau Tieng where our third
brigade was headquartered. It was on the edge of the Michelin Rubber Plantation just
south of this War Zone C. During the past several dry seasons, both the First Division to
our east, and the 25th Division moved up to the edge of War Zone C and had operations
in War Zone C which was a jungle area where the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese had
base camps. We were at Dau Tieng we had a congressional group that was going to
come through on a fact-finding mission and one of the sections of any Military
Intelligence Detachment at that time was called Order of Battle. They accumulated let
me back up. The Military Intelligence Detachment at that time basically consisted of an
Jack G. Hand Jr.
Order of Battle Section which analyzed all the material that was given to them by the
other Sections and tried to get some sort of estimate of troops trained and that sort of
thing. We had a Photo Imagery Interpretation Section which would gather information
from aerial photographs, you had the Prisoner Interrogation Section which, of course,
gathered it from prisoners and other persons, and then you had a Counter Intelligence
Section which had agents that they ran, supposedly, and also tried to do counter terrorism
kinds of things. I had a good friend, in fact, who headed the Order of Battle Section.
And the Division G2 sent one of his people (G2 was the intelligence part of the Division)
down and said, we've got all these congressmen coming and we want you to do an
analysis for us of the number of North Vietnamese infiltrating into our area of operations
every month and the number killed and the idea, of course, is to show that we are killing
more than are coming in. And my friend absolutely refused. He said: first of all, I can't
tell you how many are coming in. Second of all, I can't tell you how many are really
being killed because commanders tended to greatly enhance the number of KIA's. And
he said, third of all it wouldn't make any sense at all, so it was irrelevant, so he got in a
little trouble about that. But like I was, he was a reservist and he didn't really care. But
no, the enemy KIA's we felt were often inflated from what we could see and find out, but
there was an accurate count on U.S. losses. I mean, that was reported accurately as far as
F: Now, you were in Vietnam at the time of the Tet Offensive.
F: Were you there were you at Cu Chi?
H: We were actually at Dau Tieng when it started.
Jack G. Hand Jr.
F: And now, it's been reported that like the troops and our government and army were very
confident that nothing would happen on the Tet because it was New Year.
H: It was the historic Chinese New Year and it was a big event. In fact, we had released all
of our interpreters in Prisoner Interrogation we worked almost strictly through
interpreters. I had one man who a Sergeant who spoke some Vietnamese. But
everything else was done through interpreters. We had released all of our interpreters to
go home for the holiday.
F: So there wasn't a sneaking suspicion in the back of your head like they might come in on
H: Well, just before maybe even the day before we began to get some reports that
something was afoot. We didn't know what, but we felt like some big operation was
coming up. And I'll never forget the morning that it started I don't remember the date
but they came into our tent as I mentioned I was in the same tent at Dau Tieng with
the head of the OB Section and they said we've got something happening. We needed to
come down to our operating center. So we all went down we were operating out of a
large tent sort of down this hill from our sleeping tent. And, we went down there and we
were told that there were some of our units that they couldn't even make contact with -
there was some kind of big offensive going on and some of the units just weren't even
trying to do radio contact. As it developed, we began to learn more and more about what
was going on during the course of that day and, of course, the following days.
F: How do you think they were able to mobilize from the North down South?
H: They had been mobilizing, it was pretty clear at that point, for a substantial period of
time. It was a well-planned operation and they managed to keep it secret, which was the
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big surprise. I mean, it was a big surprise! As it turned out, and this is not talked about a
whole lot and it really should be more widely known, as it turned out the Tet was a
wonderful military victory for the United States, when all was said and done, because it
was the first time we had gotten the Vietnamese out in the open in open warfare where
we could put the substantial casualties on them that we did all over the country. But it
was such a shock because everybody had been told the country was pretty well pacified, I
mean in the United States what the heck, it was such a shock in the United States that it
just became the turning point of the war.
F: While you were there, were you aware of the change in public support [in the U.S] after
the Tet Offensive?
H: To some degree because you always knew people coming into your unit and they would
tell you what was going on in the United States.
But, we also they (the North Vietnamese) were able to stockpile a lot of people
because things like this would happen. We captured one of our units captured, a really
not very smart peasant soldier who told us he was from a particular unit and we reported
it to Saigon because we had no history of this unit. This was probably four months
before Tet. Saigon came back and told us we were crazy, there was no such unit.
Several weeks later, another one got captured. We reported it to Saigon and they said
that unit doesn't exist. Well, when the Tet Offensive broke out, that non-existent unit
was on the runway at Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base. I mean, they had been building that
unit obviously, out to the west of Saigon, and you know, maybe if better interrogation
had been done on some of these guys, and the facts had been checked, we might have
known they were stockpiling units. Another thing that happened, we had a program
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called the People Sniffer Program. This may seem strange, but we would fly they had
created a piece of equipment that would pick up human smells from a low-flying
helicopter. And we were on the edge of the Michelin Plantation in Dau Tieng. A day or
two before the Tet Offensive kicked off, the officer flying the People Sniffer mission got
this huge reading like there was a giant group of people moving through the Michelin
Plantation. The Division Commander and others in charge said no way that's a false
reading, that's just way off the charts. They discounted it. Well, there was a huge group
of people moving through the Michelin Plantation. It's just one of those things. You
know, it seemed unlikely and so they ignored it.
F: Okay. How was your everyday life changed after the Tet Offensive?
H: I was constantly trying to gather information because we were being brought prisoners
constantly or information constantly or whatever. Just trying to figure out what was
going on and who was where. Not too long after the Tet kicked off, we left Dau Tieng
and went back to Cu Chi. Cu Chi had been pinned down by mortar and rocket fire while
they (the North Vietnamese) were moving towards Saigon, because their big goal in our
area was to take Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base, which was the big air base out of Saigon.
This is where the headquarters of the whole U.S. operation in South Vietnam was
located, where General Westmoreland's headquarters was located, and they had tried to
overrun it. So we moved back to Cu Chi which was closer to Saigon and operated out of
there and one thing that changed was we were mortared and rocketed almost every night
there for quite awhile. I know, a couple years ago, in looking through some
correspondence I had written to my wife, I reported one night we had been mortared four
times during the night or rocketed four times during the night.
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F: Was there a period there after the Tet, you were talking about, when you were being
mortared, whether you thought this could be it I could be dying, I could die tonight?
H: Oh, you thought that anytime you were rocketed or mortared. That actually was not the
closest I ever had one come to me. Back in November of 1967 I had one probably land
30 feet from me. Fortunately, it fell on the other side of a low sandbag wall and while I
could feel the heat from it, all the shrapnel was apparently caught by the wall so it didn't
come to me.
F: Like, besides feeling lucky...
F: ...and, how does that make you that's never happened to me before how does that
make you feel I mean somebody just shot a mortar out back to you and it almost killed
H: It starts to get the adrenalin going. I don't know, there is something you know, there's
a famous Mark Twain quote something to the effect that, there's nothing as exhilarating
as being shot at and missed. Well, sort of that's true. I knew exactly what he meant!
F: Your feelings about Vietnam before the Tet Offensive how did they change after the
H: I don't think [they changed] substantially after the Tet Offensive. They may have been
intensified somewhat, but I had already come to the conclusion that, you know, this was
not a war we should be involved in. We needed to be out of there.
F: By then, did you just want to be out of there too? If someone had a first class ticket just
for you, would you have taken it and gone?
Jack G. Hand Jr.
H: Probably, although I don't know that I would have wanted to leave before my term was
up. I mean, you know, if somebody else had to come, I don't know that I would want to
do that, although everybody joked about getting the lucky wound or the "million dollar
would" where you would be wounded a little bit bad enough that they had to send you
home, but not bad enough where it would permanently affect you.
F: So, it's almost like you wouldn't wish that upon anybody else?
H: Yeah, exactly. I probably would have, I mean everybody who survived feels some guilt
at having survived when some good people didn't. I particularly felt that in connection
with, I mentioned Ken Kelly, who I had gone through high school and Davidson with.
He was, Ken was an extremely bright, capable guy. He had been the President of our
Student Body at Lee High School. He was a very good student at Davidson and actively
involved in a number of things a high profile guy. He went to Yale Law School, had
graduated from Yale. Most of the people who had gone to high school with me felt that
someday Ken would probably the Governor of the State of Florida. Of course, he was
killed. I mean, those kinds of things make you feel funny feel bad about the situation.
F: Did you recognize any major policy changes from Johnson and his advisors after the Tet
H: I was trying to think I don't know that we noticed any changes from Johnson. One of
the things that occurred, and I can't remember this may have even actually occurred
before the Tet Offensive I think it became the feeling that this war was going to end at
some point, that we weren't just going to keep doing this the same way we did. I was
told by a friend who visited us involving the briefing before our Division General, that a
Captain who had let his people engage in close combat was told that the official policy of
Jack G. Hand Jr.
the Division was if you had contact with Vietnamese after that, that rather than try to
engage them in close combat, you would drop back and call for artillery because we
would suffer less casualties. So apparently and whether this was an order that came
down from on high or whether our General just felt this way they were clearly trying to
minimize U.S. casualties at that point. Again, that's anecdotal and hearsay, but that's
what my friend came back and told me. He said they told us that we were not to engage
in close combat if we can avoid it, but to drop back and call artillery and air strikes
F: Did you almost feel that you had a two-year tour?
H: One year.
F: Oh, one year tour. Did you feel kind of a sense of relief after the Tet Offensive happened
and back home people's opinions were changing?
H: That really didn't enter into it. I mean we were primarily involved in what we were
doing. We had no other than maybe occasional guys coming in, we didn't know what
was happening back home. We knew there were some protests. That was reported. But
this was the days before the internet and everything. I would get letters from my wife
pretty regularly, but I don't know that that was reported. I may have, for awhile, taken
the New York Times which would eventually get to me and that would have obviously
reported that. But, by and large, we were too preoccupied with what we were doing to be
concerned about what was happening. You know, trying to do the job you were sent
there to do.
Jack G. Hand Jr.
F: Kind of getting off what we've been talking about, were there any African Americans in
your company, and if so, how were they treated and how did they treat you? Did they
stick together or were they...?
H: Actually, we had only two that I remember. One was a Lieutenant who was assigned I
mentioned Dau Tieng was our third brigade base camp. They were the only group that
was away from Cu Chi. He was the Intelligence Officer up there. And he was treated
very well. I mean, he was a great guy, everybody really liked him. Actually we had
three. I had an interpreter well he wasn't that I guess he came from some other
section, who was our Military Intelligence Detachment First Sergeant. He was in charge
of that and he was certainly well treated, a well-respected guy. Just before I left, we had
a young guy come in and he was not in the Prisoner of War Interrogation Section, he was
in one of the other sections. He was protesting the war, protesting because he was black,
protesting everything else. So I would say two out of the three African Americans who
were there were just accepted as part of the group, got along great, highly respected I
think in all cases. The third guy was a real problem.
F: Today in Iraq we see that women have integrated into the world of the military, the
American military. What role did women play in the war in Vietnam?
H: The only women in our Division, who were military, were the nurses that I can
remember. The nurses at the hospitals. We had a number of those. I think by and large
they were certainly well respected and well liked because of the job they did. We also,
interestingly enough, and this is not talked about a lot in history the way it should be, the
Red Cross with every Division had a group of women who were affectionately known as
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the Donut Dollies who got out among the troops. They would go out to guys and
basically do coffee and do donuts, just try to cheer up the guys, do song and dance
routines, that sort of thing and you never hear them talked about. I think they were a real
morale lifter for the most part. Because it was the most contact most of us had with
American women at all while in Vietnam.
F: Now, you did have times while you were over there, I'm sure, that you weren't working -
you went into the city or had some off time?
H: Not very often.
F: What did you do on your off time if you could go somewhere or stay?
H: Well, we were in a base camp. You didn't sometimes you could go to Saigon. I had to
send somebody to Saigon several times a month. My Lieutenants loved to go to Saigon.
F: Why do you think they loved to go to Saigon?
H: Wine, women and song. They would enjoy themselves while they were there and they
were all young and not married and so they always wanted to go to Saigon. I only went if
none of them would go, because you had to go by jeep or helicopter. I flew to Saigon a
few times on helicopters when I had to and I had to get something there in particular, but
other than that, generally one of the Lieutenants went, but it was for wine, women and
song. Some of the people would occasionally go into there was a little village in Cu
Chi it was actually the District Headquarters. And again, they would go in and mingle
with the women there in the village, including, I guess, a fair number of prostitutes, yeah.
F: Do you stay in contact with any of your buddies from Vietnam?
H: No, I don't and I'm sorry. There's was one guy in particular over there that I keep
swearing I'm going to run him down but I don't have an easy way I've joined the 25th
Jack G. Hand Jr.
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Infantry Association, which is sort of an alumni group if you will. But I haven't been
able to find any of them through that. I'm apparently the only one who was there at that
time who's joined the Association from my particular Detachment. But there's a guy that
I got to know very well, in fact, he was my first commander when I first got there, who I
think I have a way of finding, so I've been intending to do that if he is still alive.
F: Do you think that the war in Iraq we're repeating ourselves?
H: I see a lot of similarities and I've got a good friend that I grew up with who was an
Infantry Officer in Vietnam. He and I still fish together some and we're both seeing a lot
of things happen that we saw there. It's obviously become a guerilla war, which it was in
Vietnam for the most part, although there was some major unit activity. I mentioned the
attack on a fire support base in War Zone C, which was a full-scale attack, but generally a
lot of it was, you know, the same kinds of things. They would fire mortars and rockets,
they would set off bombs on convoys, they do ambushes, so a lot of guerilla tactics. And
the worst part is they seem to be in for the long haul and they'll keep snipping away for
years and years and years and try to wear down the resolve to stay there. It's like, once
again, we've hit the tar baby and we can't let go and that's kind of the situation I see us
being in in Iraq, except I consider Iraq more dangerous simply because if we pull out, the
whole Middle East could become unstable, whereas I think that we finally came to the
conclusion that that was not true in Vietnam.
F: One other question. Did you get any ribbons, awards, or medals.
H: I was awarded the Bronze Star, yes.
F: Do you still have it?
Jack G. Hand Jr.
H: I still have the certificate. In fact I've got it in my office in there. I don't know where the
actual medal is though. I think it's probably hidden away in my closet somewhere at
home, but I don't know.
F: Are you proud of what you did in Vietnam?
H: Yeah. I really am. I'm not sure that proud is the right word. I'm glad I did it because it
was sort of the significant historical event of my lifetime, and sort of a crowning thing
and I was there, I was a part of it, I got to see it first hand. I think I did a good job there.
I have pride in that. It was a bad war; it was one I hoped we had learned a lot of lessons
from, but I wonder if we did. I think after the First Gulf War in 1991 or whenever it was,
I thought we had learned the lessons. They went about it entirely differently. This war
really does bother me because this Iraq war, the current one we're in, because of the way
it's been conducted and the fact that these poor guys are stuck there and they are going
through a lot of the same things we went through.
F: And one more thing about Westmoreland General Westmoreland. My Dad used to take
me to autograph shows Mickey Mantle, all these guys, and I think I was 10 and Pete
Rose came and my Dad wouldn't take me. I didn't understand why and now I do. That's
not the same thing as Westmoreland, but know after the Tet Offensive, Westmoreland
wanted to send 20,00 more troops there and Johnson said no.
Well, if you were sitting in the bar with your two sons and General Westmoreland
walked in, would you introduce him to your sons and tell him who you are and you
served or would you just let him walk by and ignore him?
H: Yes and no. I felt like he made some bad decisions, and I'll give you an example.
Thanksgiving time, November of 1967, I was going on R&R to meet my wife. I flew out
Jack G. Hand Jr.
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from Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base and the night before I was sitting in a bar in the
Officers' Club at Thompson Newt and I guess Westmoreland came on the TV and said
that certain areas of Vietnam had been pacified. And he mentioned parts of our area of
operations as one of them and Boi Loi woods which were next to Cu Chi and he said that
the roadways were free to ride without convoy on certain roads. But we all went into
hysterical laughter and were saying, you know, He can ride it without a convoy, we're
not going to ride it without a convoy because it wasn't pacified despite what he was
saying. But by the same token I feel like he was largely mislead by the officers down the
line. I think things were being reported to him which simply were not true and he was
accepting them at face value. Many career officers during that era, in my observation,
were there primarily to enhance their careers. I know one officer kept saying, well it's
not much of a war, but it's only war we've got. Well, a lot of people died from that not
much of a war. They were there to serve their tour to try to enhance their career and they
were going to put themselves in the most positive light that they could. Consequently, I
think, more optimistic reports were being reported up the channels than the facts justified,
and I think just General Westmoreland was mislead by a lot of his subordinates and I
don't know how to say that subtly. Yes, I was angry that he, I think, mislead the
American people and he certainly said things we thought were ridiculous from time to
time, but I think he was mislead and I think that was one of the great tragedies of the war.
And I don't know how he could have avoided that. And I don't know whether the same
thing is going in Iraq right now. I worry about that, although a lot of the reports I read -
where they get unofficial quotes from officers and all it sounds like they're being more
candid about the problems than some of our officers were. But nobody wanted to report
Jack G. Hand Jr.
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they were having difficulties in their area of operations because they figured they were
there for a year and they were either going to make or break their careers at that point.
F: Have you been back to Vietnam since?
H: No, and I really want to go.
F: You do?
H: This 25th Division Association I mentioned a few minutes ago, has a company that runs
tours to our area where we were once a year and the first year they ran it, I was planning
on going but my wife said, no, that's during your younger son's graduation from high
school and you're not going and I thought that was reasonable. And I just haven't
worked out a time to go back since, but they run it once a year and I do plan on going
F: One of the things we've heard a lot about in all the history classes I've taken, veterans
have a lot of problems with sleeping and nightmares and post-war stress, have you
experienced any of that?
H: No. And, and a lot of the Infantry guys let me try to draw this differential. The guys in
the Infantry lead an entirely different life. They went through hell every day. They were
subject to snipers, to booby traps, to ambushes. The rest of us, we may have gotten
rocketed or mortared a lot, but we didn't go through what those guys went through by a
long shot. There was a big gap between what they went through and what we went
through and I can never express enough respect for the guys that were out there in the
field. I made an interesting observation one day. I was traveling by jeep out of our base
camp somewhere and there was an Infantry Company sweeping the fields right outside
our base camp to make sure nobody was there that wasn't supposed to be there. And I
Jack G. Hand Jr.
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looked at that company and I said to the guy I was with: Did you notice that everybody in
that company is short and everybody in that company is young? That literally sort of-
you didn't want to be tall because you were a target, and the young are the ones who
survived and that's basically who was in the Infantry companies. Most of them were,
you know, kids 19 to 23-24 years old was the typical Infantry man. It just really struck
me that day. You know, I knew that objectively, but that day it sort of really struck me.
F: What date did you return home?
H: April 20th, I believe, of 1968.
F: Were you well received by obviously by your family but the public as a veteran at
H: Yeah, I don't remember having any backlash. I was in San Francisco, interestingly
enough, for a week right after I got back. We flew into Oakland Air Force Base and I
met my wife there and I probably wasn't paying a whole lot of attention to what was
going on around. We were there a week and then I spent late May, June and most of July
in Rye, New York. My wife was teaching still and so we lived with her parents she had
been living with her parents while I was gone and she was teaching up in Connecticut, so
we had to stay there. I was interviewing forjobs and I don't remember anybody there -
there were some people who opposed the war and I had some interesting conversations
with them, some of their friends. But I don't remember seeing any reports or anything of
that nature or any demonstrations. Actually, I guess the first demonstrations I actually
saw were after I came back to Jacksonville.
H: Yeah. I actually participated in one.
Jack G. Hand Jr.
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H: Well, what it was at the time that Kent State and Jackson State occurred, there was a big
demonstration here in opposition to Kent State and Jackson State and my wife and I
participated in that one.
F: So, it was an anti-war rally? Did you wear your...
H: ... It was partly anti-war and partly anti-what had happened at those two places where the
National Guard killed some students and that sort of thing.
F: Right. Did you wear your uniform?
H: No. I was out of the military then. Haven't put it on since.
F: You still have it, though?
F: That sums up my questions unless there's anything you'd like to add?
H: No. I think it's an interesting assignment because I guess people in your generation
really it's ancient history. I mean...
F: ...It almost is ... I feel like so many people have been lied to about so much of it and
facts, and being a history student, I mean, I'm scared sort of. I mean, the possibilities of
[TAPE DISTORTION] continues here:
H: I was saying that while I was in Vietnam in the 25th Division we had a lot of Vietnamese
civilians that came on our base camp every day. Did their various menial tours or
worked in the kitchens, they did that sort of thing. And we always joked that they were
actually doing damage assessment from the rocket and mortar attacks and I think
probably some of them were. We assumed that they were in constant communication
Jack G. Hand Jr.
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with Viet Cong and Vietnamese because the fact that I began to finally accept it was we
were the outsiders, we were the foreigners, and think they began to dislike us because we
were occupying their country, a lot of them. And I think they probably were, many of
them giving information to the Vietnamese and Viet Cong and North Vietnamese.
F: Can you almost blame them?
H: No, not really. I mean, you know. Because not intentionally, but a lot of civilians were
killed and wounded by our air strikes. One strange event that happened demonstrates
that. Some of our Photo Imagery Interpretation people flew in small aircraft and called
artillery fire because they were trained to look at the ground from sky. And one of them
came back one day, he had actually been one of my teachers at Fort Holabird when I was
taking Photo Imagery Interpretation. He came back and the man was unbelievably
distraught. He was calling artillery fire for the Division and some shell went where it
wasn't supposed to and hit a school and he was a father, he had children, he was just
distraught. Well, it subsequently turned out the school was empty at that time, nobody
was hurt, but that kind of thing happened. I remember one day we got a report that they
had shot five enemy soldiers or five Viet Cong in a field. There were certain areas that
were known as free fire zones. And anything that was seen in those areas was fair game.
And some of our helicopter gun ships had seen five people in one of these free fire zones,
fired on them and they were bringing them in. I sent my interrogators down to the
hospital and they came back and said, sir, they were five kids (12-13 years old). They
didn't know they weren't supposed to be there. Fortunately, none of them was killed, but
they were wounded and I subsequently that day, or the following day, got a call from a
friend of mine who worked in Saigon at the headquarters U.S. headquarters up there -
Jack G. Hand Jr.
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he said, I understand you all got five Viet Cong yesterday? I said, Jeff, they were 12 and
13 year old kids, just in the wrong place playing and they got shot as a result of it. And,
that kind of thing happened often enough, totally unintentional. I mean, you know, you
can't tell from a fast-moving helicopter that they are kids. We probably made five more
Viet Cong right there, plus their families. And that kind of thing happened and you
would see kids without arms and legs who stepped on mines or got hit by shrapnel. It
just, you had to understand that people probably over a period of time really did begin to
be opposed to us, a lot of them, even if they weren't in the beginning. And I see that
same thing happening. I saw in the paper yesterday that at a checkpoint a car didn't stop
and they opened fire on it and two adults were killed and six kids were in the car with
them. They were civilians. I mean, you know, those things just happen in a combat
zone. It's totally unintentional. You don't artillery doesn't always go where you intend
for it. Bombs don't always go where you intend for them to. And if somebody is coming
at you and you don't know what their intentions are, you're going to shoot first and ask
questions later, like happened yesterday. Innocent people get killed. And it's a sad
commentary and they're saying you're the bad guy.
F: Yeah, pretty much. Well, that about concludes it. I really appreciate the interview.
H: Oh, you're quite welcome.
F: I learned a lot.
H: Tell Dr. Pleasants that I remember him from Davidson...
F: ...I will...
H: ... it's some interesting project he's running. I'm glad he's doing that.
Jack G. Hand Jr.
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H: He will remember Ken Kelly, I'm sure. There's actually a scholarship at Davidson
named for Ken Kelly.