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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
Interview with Warren Cawley
Dr. J. Pleasants
Interview with Warren Cawley
MT Okay, my name is Morgan Thurston I'm here interviewing Warren Cawley, um a
Vietnam veteran and I'm going to ask you um what led you up to the point that you
joined the armed services
WC Okay, uhh, where to begin? I quit school right after my junior year and I went
into a trade school type program offered by one of the companies on the island I
worked, uhh island I lived (cough) to be an auto mechanic, and uhh, with the intention
of going to work for the company, and that just didn't seem to be where I wanted to go
so in '69 I just joined the service. One of my friends had joined the army and I couldn't
see doing that so uhh, joined the airforce. It was one way to get out of where I was.
MT Umm, could you tell me about the air force base you were stationed at in
WC Okay, uh stationed in Danang Republic of South Vietnam in 1971. Uh closest to
the DMZ of all the airforce bases. It uh it was a closed base we were only allowed
downtown once the one-year I was there. It uh, although we could go from the base to
the beach as long as we were on a military vehicle the whole way back and forth we
couldn't stop in town. It uh was an F-4 base it's a tactical airforce base we had F-4
fighters as well as those helicopters and things of that nature. It uh was a fairly decent
base uh barracks started out as opened bay barracks and everybody was allowed to
build their own room some rooms were bigger than others some were shaped different
and uh rooms were pretty good, had your own refrigerator, hot plate, uh fan, stereo,
mamasan she'd come in clean up for ya it uh wasn't bad living for the most part.
MT So everyday life was pretty normal or abnormal?
WC Uhh, (sigh) probably normal for the most part, we knew, you knew where you
were it's not like you didn't know where you were it uh, so you always had that over
your shoulder occasionally you'd get shot at, going to and from work and uh you'd hear
shots more than getting shot at I guess I never heard a bullet come whizzing by my
head or anything. Uhh been attacked a few times, but for the most part it was get up go
to work in the morning get off at lunch go back to work get off at five and uhh that'd be
pretty much it for the day (cough).
MT Umm on the base was there any distinction amongst veterans and new enlistees
WC The only differences were basically people who were in the service for retirement
purposes were called "lifers" uh they were in there for 20, 25, or 30 years and then you
had the people who were either just one step ahead of the draft were in just for the four
years and then they were gonna get out and it's like children and their parents it uh,
the lifers usually had 15 20 years already in and they couldn't understand the young
people the uh music style it hasn't changed over the years it's all pretty much the same
I guess. It uhh, different most of the lifers drank uh most of the new people coming' in
used drugs so there was that distinction as well. It uh, but they tolerated each other.
MT Umm how 'bout the officers and the regulars I guess the regulars or uh the
officers were the lifetime enlistees?
WC No not necessarily uh, there was a distinction a class distinction between
officers and the enlisted personnel aside from they had more privileges of coarse uh
most of your 2nd luitennents which were 90 day wonders as we called 'em uh went to
school for ninety days usually a college graduate and uh boom after 90 days in officer
training school the were officers didn't mean they were qualified just they were and you
could pick 'em out I mean spit shined boots uh pearl handled pistols ascot the whole
thing I mean they just thought they were something' hot and of coarse there's no ******
at all so...
MT Did your sergeants get more respect?
WC Yeah, sar ee uh the senior NCO's got more respect than the officers did and for
the most part nothing under than a full bird colonel warranted any kind of respect at all
unless they showed it. It was uh usually the first and second lieutenants they thought
they were God, after that ya get your captains and your majors they start to get smart
you have to be in for a while to get smart I guess and uh they didn't push as hard as
the first and second lieutenants. We didn't go around you hear a lot of stories in the
army what the army would do to the second lieutenants and uh airforce wasn't quite
that way just uh blow em off and be on our way.
MT uh how strict were the military regulations on things like uh hair length,
uniform weapons inspections and what not?
WC Well we never had any weapons inspections to speak of umm we had a area
where all the weapons were kept and uh once in a while they'd issue you a card like an
id card and if you wanted to bring it out and check out your weapon you show 'em your
card they'd hand you a weapon has a number corresponding number, uh most times
you went picked up you weapon cause you wanted have pictures taken with your rifle
that was pretty much it never fired it. Never fired it the whole year I was there umm
uniforms heh that was a little different it uh I'd go to work with cut off fatigue shirt cut
off fatigue pants combat boots sweatband the uh shop chief for the most part ****** as
long as you came in did your job didn't particularly care now if they had big wigs
visiting then of coarse they wanted everyone to look up and up but for the most part
they let it slide it uh which for the most part was pretty good
MT Um what was the overall feeling towards the war in Vietnam amongst the
servicemen that you came in contact with
WC Ahhh, none of 'em wanted to be there it uh most of the people in the airforce at
the time joined the airforce so they didn't get drafted to the army, or the marines umm,
they didn't think the war was right but their main concern was they didn't want to be
there, they didn't care what the Vietnamese people did with each other as long as they
didn't have to be there to do it. But other than that it just you're here for a year you'll
tolerate it and go home, and uh they uh I mean there were some people like myself I
volunteered to go and uh for adventure and uh I wasn't to concerned I think the airforce
wasn't gonna get shot at or anything so if your gonna be in the military the airforce is
the way to go it's lot safer than the rest of 'em, sept for maybe the navy but
MT were there any questionable procedures for jobs at the base when you where
WC uh, when they they came around one time and wanted volunteers to stand
guard out on the perimeter to supplement the security police of the army so a lot of
people volunteered and then they were told after they got there that they couldn't load
their weapons and if they saw the enemy coming towards then they couldn't shoot 'em
they had to call in and get permission before they could even load their weapon. The
enemy could be ten feet away setting' up uh a mortar and you couldn't shoot 'em until
you got permission and uh that uh changed a lot of peoples thinking' right off the bat no
sense in bein' there if you can't do something' about it. There were some that fired off
their weapon just so they'd be pulled off the post real quick, they didn't want to send
crazy people out there (clears throat) the uh there was always the questions you ask
why are they doin' this why are they doin' that our squadron commander he invited his
wife and daughter up to Danang for Christmas which I always thought was kinda
strange and then he came around said no obscene pictures on the walls visible and I
always thought that was kinda strange cause the wife and daughter had no right or
reason to be there and uh he was infringing on my personal at that time I didn't think it
was uh I didn't think it was right but uh...
MT Uh, so that kinda bothered you?
WC Yeah, it uh I mean some things like they had us play war games, they uh would
all stand in line, which I always thought that was stupid, they had this whole squadron
standing in line with id card in hand and you'd go up and get your weapon and uh any,
anybody knew where the gun room was so it wouldn't take much for uh VC to lob in a
mortar and wipe out a whole squadron at any given time I thought that was stupid but
they'd take us out and they'd sit us in sandbag bunkers facing the runway uh to my
knowledge the uh Vietnamese did not have a airforce and so we weren't really why we
were guarding facing the runway is beyond me what we shoot 'em when they landed
there's nobody watching our back it just little weird things that just made no sense at all
MT Uh, even though you weren't in the thick of the fighting how dangerous or
threatening was it on the base, and how did the Vietnamese army appear to you from a
WC well, I don't think I really saw the Vietnamese army, uh when I was downtown
you saw people that looked what might have been in uniforms but you never knew for
sure. Umm as for dangerous, we did get hit, I don't wanna say a regular occasion but
regularly, there were uh stories of uh children with satchel charges strapped to their
chest running around I never saw one I never saw the aftermath of anything just rumors
more than anything like you were always on your toes cause you never knew for sure
uh mamasans would come in and they had bunkers outside the barracks where in case
of a rocket attack you'd run in to the bunker and there were times that you find cause it
usually happened at night so people just run in and it'd be razor blades in the sand,
piano wire neck high for the first couple coming through coarse you never really knew
who did it. Uhh you'd hear stories of mamasans pacing off different areas you just see
'em walking off counting and they'd be escorted off but you never you never knew for
sure so you always had this in the back of your head you know did they pace off my
barracks tonight? They know where I am? They gonna blow me up?
MT was there any instances in which you were in any direct physical harm?
WC well uh yeah. July, the night of July fourth goin in to July fifth I was layin in the
bunk after celebrating and you could hear the uh rockets comin in the alarm was
supposed to go off uh before the rockets actually hit of coarse they never did and I was
layin and could hear whoompf second one was closer third one hit the barracks umm it
did not explode they said the motor went off but the explo, the warhead did not it
landed in the room next to me it uh nobody died in our barracks although people did
get hurt pretty bad uh the next the fourth one that hit four five people died hit two more
barracks farther down it uh some died directly because of the hit some cause of the fire
the barracks burned they uh pulled the people out in the room next to me and a lot of
shrapnel cuts but uh other than that nothing uh terminal. It was uh didn't sleep real
well after that for a while it was one of those things you know you're what what was
that but you know you uh get over it after a while.
MT did you sleep pretty well on normal occasions?
WC normally I did and I always thought that was kinda strange I slept very good
when I was over there and umm I don't know why I guess I figured if I was gonna go I
was gonna go s'nothin I could do might as well enjoy yourself sleeping but uh always
went to sleep to music, there was always music on set either the radio or stereo on and
just go to sleep and it'd be running the next morning but yeah I uh slept real good for the
MT After leaving uh Vietnam how were you received back in the United States? Was
there any anti-war protests or sentiment?
WC UGGHHH, not directly no I uh landed in Seattle-Tacoma in '72 in February of
"72 and there were protesters at the airport and we flew back commercial but nothing
like you see in the movies I mean nobody come up and spit at me err call me any names
or anything else it was more just get out now don't do it again don't fight but uh
nothing physical nothing directly in my face or nothing like that, uh for the most part it
was they didn't care, they didn't want to know or they supported you 100% and uh so
you just sorta went about your merry way
MT Uhm do you believe that the United States was in Vietnam for good reasons um
did we make good decisions about the war before? During? After?
WC That's a good one. Ahh, I don't think we should have been there. I don't think we
did it right when we were there. And they should've once they realized we weren't gonna
fight to win they should've pulled everybody out and be done with it. Uh they chose not
to do that and for that I hold the government responsible. It uh Nixon could've pulled us
out in '69, could've pulled us out in '72 and he kept draggin it on and draggin it on with
no intention of winning the war, and uh that should've been either all or none either
commit it 100% or get everybody out, a lot of good people died cause of that and uh se'
la vie. I think it was wrong I don't think we should have been there.
MT Did any of your good or close friends die in Vietnam?
WC Nope, uh to my knowledge, right now everybody that I know that went came
back, everybody that I know that went came back came back whole uh, there was one
who's a little questionable when he went and a little questionable when he came back
so... but for the most part I don't know anyone who died related to Vietnam. So I feel
very good about that how they are now I have no idea.
MT What do you think the major cause for the loss of the Vietnam war would be?
WC Hmm, lack of fighting it. It uhh you see it in the movies all the time it uh run
over there and die then you come back and get run back over again and die again I
mean that was a lot like the way I understand it to be again I wasn't there in the middle
of it but if you wanted to win you fight the war and uh they didn't want to win. They
had no intention of winning.
MT Uhh most vets have a pretty difficult time talking about their time in Vietnam
with people who weren't other soldiers or veterans of the war is it difficult for you to?
WC Not really, um I was older than the average soldier that went. The average
soldier was between 18 and 19 I was 21 when I went I was also in the airforce uh the
guys in the army did things that three months ago they never even thought of doing.
Uhh so I can understand where they're coming from you take any kid that was in the
army, at 18 the biggest thing in his life was cruisin' down the street in his car with his
girlfriend and maybe either scoring' some illegal drugs or an illegal beer, had a job, and
three months later he's got a rifle and he's killing' people, uh they weren't ready for that.
It uhh there were some that got off on it there's no question about it but I think for the
most part they were just not ready they were not trained to be ready our country does
not believe in showing the horrors of the war and they were just not ready for it. I mean
it's true today too, I mean 9-11 right there's a lot of film footage of people jumping out of
the windows well never see it we as an American people can't handle it so oh yeah they
died but they don't want us to see how they died the rest of the world knows how they
died they jumped out of an air, they jumped out of a window but uh our government
doesn't want us to know and I think that has a lot of effect on when you send somebody
to go fight a war they ain't ready for it the movies don't show you I admit our movies
getting' a little more violent uh back then John Wayne you never saw blood and it uh
they just weren't ready.
MT was John Wayne a big influence on your generation?
WC uhh, John Wayne complex it uh lot of people I mean we grew up with Roy
Rogers, Gene Autry, John Wayne, uh Zoro, I mean all these were the good guys and
they always won, and we just it never crossed your mind you wouldn't win. Granted
some people might get wounded but they never died and that's what was in how we
were raised and you get over there and the guy standing next to you's getting his head
blown off that's a shocker yeah I mean didn't happen like that in the movies, eh they
were just not ready for it. Uhh some of them like I said the John Wayne thing they gung
ho all the way they were out there they were in the bushes they liked killing people
some of 'em when they came back couldn't turn it off. That's where a lot of you hear
about them living in the woods by themselves, because that's the only place they feel
comfortable uh but of coarse you got the movies glorifying the negative side of it which
isn't uh fair to the majority but you do have a crazy occasional wacko out there
(laughing) I mean it happens you know, unfortunately he's been trained to do
something whereas the average wacko doesn't have a clue.
MT Umm have you ever been to the Vietnam memorial in Washington DC and if you
did visit it how did it make you feel?
WC Uhh, no Ive never been to the one in Washington, but when I was living in
Bangor uh they had a mobile one they'd set up, and I went looked at that and it was
emotional, I mean granted there wasn't any names I I you could look at names and
there must be a hundred people with the same name you may know one so you don't
know so you don't know if it's that person or not but like I said as far as I know
everybody came back that I know, but it's an awful lot of people and you figured yeah
the average age is nineteen I mean it just chewpf if never even had a chance to live and
uh it's really sad.
MT Uhh could you tell us a little bit about your job duties while you were at the
WC okay I was a jet mechanic I was uh in house I worked on the F-4 phantom uh
unless they were totally blown out uh we would repair the engines right there and send
'em back to the flight line crew to install back again. Uh for six months I was in charge
of the uh afterburners making sure the afterburners worked replacing any bad panels
patch up if they had holes in 'em from bullets or otherwise, it wasn't a bad job it was a
dirty job but it uh we had a guy we had a lot of strange people in the shop and a very
lenient shop chief he didn't care what we did on our time as long as we'd come in and
go to work. We had one guy come in and he was just falling' asleep he crawled up in an
afterburner, I mean jet engine's twelve feet long you got a cover on the front to keep
objects from falling inside wipin' out the motor and you had a cover on the back well he
climbed up in the afterburner in back and pulled the cover back up and went to sleep.
So he's Z'n out and one of the lead men heard 'em, called the shop chief and you could
hear him snorin' in there I mean your in a big metal container echoing they took the uh
un hooked the trailer the motor was sitting' on pushed it up against the wall, set the
brakes. He stayed there all night, you could hear him screaming' the next morning' he
never hid in the afterburner again, and that's all they was done to him, he wasn't
reprimanded he wasn't in trouble and uh he just never did that again. So like I say the
shop itself wasn't bad the I enjoyed the temperature the weather uh coming' from the
Caribbean the weather was fine. Umm there's a lot umm there's... it was a weird place
Vietnam and there's one thing that sticks out they have a plant and we were just sitting'
out in the grass one day at lunch time it got real **** and like a Mombassa tree, you
touch the leaves it closes up, and I thought that was fab I mean here's a plant that
obviously has a brain I mean you touch it the leaves fold up so you cant hurt it, so we
sat around all day long chtoop (gesturing) that'll tell you where our minds were. But
umm but the shop itself wasn't bad we had everything we needed to do the job, which
was really nice whether it was tools or parts we never ran out of parts, it uhh the
machine shop was right down so it was it was pleasant working conditions for the most
MT Umm how close were the people that you worked with, as a unit?
WC Uhh, pretty close I mean in the group in the whole squadron, ahh I couldn't tell
you how many people were in a squadron, we uhh the shop would hang together and
another shop different groups depending on what you were in too. Uhh I was in to
motorcycles and hot cars so people say thought process always hung together. We had
uh there were six of us and we watched five card stud one night with Marlon Brando
and as they started dying he kept turning' the chairs up at the table, if you ever seen the
movie you know it's a cowboy and I mean cause we used to go out in the evening go out
get something' to drink so we started this one routine where and as everybody left we'd
flip their chair up until it's just three of us left then I left and I'm sure they did it after I
did but it was kinda weird cause we'd do it just like the movie you know they'd leave
and the chair would be the glass would be there and just flip the chair up haha it
MT Can you umm describe the feeling of landing in Danang knowing that you were
going to fight or that you were going to a war zone that you were...
WC Well we we were we flew commercial or excuse me we flew military going over 21
hours on a C-130, 135 excuse me, sitting in a troop seat, very uncomfortable. Officers
got regular chairs we got these little canvas things so we were glad to get off the plane
the heat was good, I mean you opened the door and whoosh uh you got the heat it you
knew where you were and you knew all of a sudden great idea, I mean you could
probably get hit by a car back home but now you could be shot at. We were lucky, like
you see in the movies new people getting off and the bodies getting on I never saw any
of that so that might have made a difference right off the bat too you see body bags
bein' loaded up but it uh I volunteered to go so I wanted to be there I was looking at it
as an adventure and uh hoped at that point it was a safe one but still an adventure.
MT The um, night that your barracks got bombed were you in your room?
WC yeah, I had just bout getting' ready to go to bed, and we just celebrated the forth
of July, and it like I say I wasn't asleep, but I was headin' that way and you hear the
woompf woompf, and it was funny cause we had bunk beds my roommate, I don't know
where he was I want to say he was working nights so I was on the bottom bunk
anyways and between the bunk and the entertainment center probably five feet wide I
had 35, 40 pound speakers hangin' on the wall and when I came... don't want to say
came to cause I don't think I was knocked out but when I came to my senses I was on
the floor there was nothing hanging on the walls and I was looking around and didn't
know how it didn't hit me cause it just came shoomp but it uh I didn't get hurt a little
MT Were you ever wounded?
WC No not at all it uh ha I saw people... people do things for every conceivable
reason I guess. We were coming back from work one afternoon and got a rocket attack,
nothing close I mean you could hear the explosion, see the smoke, but it wasn't in our
immediate... so couple hit the ditch, well this one guy hit the ditch, cut himself open
and a few weeks later they're having an assembly for all the people that were issued
purple hearts and what not and he's standing' up hear getting' a purple heart. Now he
wasn't wounded in battle he got a cut for hitting' the ditch but that was acceptable and
to me I always thought that was... de-valued the purple heart to me a purple heart is
when you get wounded in battle, my old man got one umm he (Vietnam Vet) did not get
wounded in battle, although technically he was in a war zone, a rocket went off he got...
but I just didn't see it that way I thought it was kind of foolish.
MT Umm could you tell us of any odd practices amongst the men um coming or
going when they were leaving Vietnam or coming to Vietnam was there hazing or
anything like that?
WC Leaving your last day in the shop usually by the end of the day they had a ritual
if you will, that uhh... an engine container is what it was a big metal container full of
water and you would be chased down and dumped in the water. It was pretty fun it
went through everybody it didn't matter if you were an officer as long as you were in the
shop uhh sergeant, airmen didn't make any difference. And everybody looked forward to
dumping certain people uh there were some people you didn't like and you made sure
you got a hold of him and he was goin' in didn't matter if it was head first or not. Not
everybody did get along with everybody but uh (clears throat) and we would have a
party once every couple of months uh like a goin' away party for people who were
getting ready to leave and beer barbecue, it uh on company time if you will which was
pretty good I mean uh I don't know if all squadrons, all shops operated that way ours
was pretty good for the most part pretty loose. Umm but they went out of their way to
let you know they appreciated you anyway and that was pretty good I enjoyed that. Um
there were like I said a lot of alcoholics and lot of dug people both of which were very
easy to get and uh at the most part it didn't seem to interfere with the job at least from
my point of view I mean I knew what everybody was doing but they'd come in do their
job and work so that was fine what they did on their own time didn't bother me in the
least. Wasn't like I was counting on 'em to keep the enemy from getting to me. I enjoyed
myself the year I was there; I enjoyed being in the airforce, up until my last base. At
that point I considered making it a career cause, it was 73 when I was gonna be
discharged there wasn't a lot of work we were just goin through our first fuel crisis uh
there was a lot of word about people getting laid off so yeah the military wasn't a bad
way of life just the airforce, now the army... we used to see soldiers army guys coming in
they'd be in groups of four and five, and they'd be filthy, and I mean they were loaded
too, grenades, handguns, rifles, machine guns you name it they had it all. And they
always had this strange look on their face. So it didn't matter if we were standing in line
to get into the club or something, everybody just sorta get out of their way, let them go
first. Partially out of respect and partially because they had a gun and we didn't
hahahaha so if they wanted the front of the line they were gonna take it one way or the
other. But they were constantly moving back and forth and uh I had a good respect for
'em cause they were doin' something I didn't want to do. I was lucky enough to have had
a choice a lot of 'em didn't a lot of em were drafted and this was what they got stuck
with. You hear a lot of people today yeah I was in the army I was this I was that very
few of 'em actually went to Vietnam, when you get right down to it of all the people that
were in the service from '64 to 73 very few actually in Vietnam. Although nobody else is
gonna call someone else a liar and umm a lot of 'em never left New Jersey. But Vietnam
was a beautiful country and uh I would go back.
MT Did you have any good vacation time while you were there?
WC Yeah we went to... had one week R and R seven days, they'd fly you anywhere
you wanted to go they had choices and uh first choice was Australia, Sydney Australia.
We were gonna me and a buddy of mine said ooh lets go to Australia and then we
started looking in to it, but it was one day flying over there and one day flying back so
there's two days out of seven you loose. So we were well lets go someplace close we
didn't want to go to Thailand and didn't particularly want to go to the Philippines so we
went to Taiwan and we were there for seven days, and it was really funny, now I've lived
in the Caribbean so I've been outside the mainstream country you know America but
this place was totally different. Everything was built for smaller people. The cars of
coarse the Datsuns and Toyotas those were family cars overseas here they're two people
cars, the busses all the seats were smaller, not that I was a big guy, and I wasn't I only
weighed about 160, 170 pounds but uh things were a lot smaller. You'd see the ads in
commercials Coca-Cola in in foreign language like Chinese or Taiwanese it it was just
different the conversion rate if I remember correctly was forty to one, forty of their
dollars to every one of ours, and I went over there with $500, American and my buddy
Jack and I we were gonna go we were gonna have fun money we were gonna blow it all
we didn't plan to come back with any, and we saw things I'm pretty sure nobody else
ever saw and it uh was quite interesting. Went to a jade mine and actually pulled jade I
saw this jade Buddha it must have weighed about a ton big solid green aww it was
gorgeous ice cold if you touched it it was cold I wanted it, I figured if I had that once I
got back to the States I'd never be broke I'd just chip a piece off and sell you know. I
forget how much it was, it wasn't too outrageous amount of money, not that I had it but
if I had that it'd be my retirement, but I bought a lot ofjade rings cufflinks that kind of
thing. I had a suit tailor made uh my sense of style was a little off it was a double
breasted pin stripe suit three shirts, the suit three shirts, and two ties I think came to
sixty dollars which I thought was fantastic I mean the suit fit fine, I never owned a suit
in my life, actually I never even wore the suit I wore the shirts a couple of times but I
never wore the suit, never went anyplace I had to wear a suit but I had a jacket made a
suede jacket I couldn't buy one cause nothing was made big enough for.., but it was a
very friendly country Taiwan people were very friendly. When we went places we had
escorts and they took us different places I guess I never saw a whole lot of GI's so we
went to places that weren't frequented, and it was really interesting, uh it was a fun
seven days. I came back broke
MT How was it coming back? To the War
WC Well you knew you were coming back so there was nothing you could do about it
wasn't like you could run away. We had a good run actually we were glad to get back so
we could rest, cause we didn't do a whole lot of sleeping' did a lot of drinking and just
havin' a good time. Cause we figured we could go back and get blown up so you might
as well enjoy it as you can you know. It uh we had one guy in the barracks the night we
got hit they had a policy, that if you'd extend your tour six months you'd get a thirty
day vacation go wherever you wanted to go, and so he extended I mean like I said we
didn't feel like we were in a whole lot of danger so he had taken his thirty days and went
home and he came back the day we got hit. And his room looked like shit he didn't get
hurt didn't get a scratch but he was a little nervous from then on out, you know it was I
came back to this! It was like a warning you know he went down to the moved down to
the first floor you know his room had sandbags in it he was just he wasn't thinking he
was lucky, for the longest time he flackvest, we were all issued flackvest and it happens
but whoa, I'm a little too heavy, too hot but he had his on hehehe. It was kinda funny
you understood why, I mean if it had been my room I probably would've... I mean if I'd
just come back I would've acted similar but you didn't really make fun of him but the
situation was funny. I sorta felt bad for the guy. But it was weird it uh you get to see a
lot of real people what people were really like there wasn't a whole lot to do uhh so you
had people who drank, people who did drugs, some people spent all their money on
stereo equipment, some people all on cameras, some people just gambled it all away. I
mean get paid once a month they'd be broke by the first week, you make $6-700 pwew
it's gone it's what everybody did to take care of their down time some people bought
cars, they had a policy, that you could go buy a car, and you could pick it out order it,
pay for it while you were there, and it would be sitting there waiting for you at the
dealership closest to you house when you came back. It was pretty good I mean you
figure this is 71, '72 I mean hemi-'cudas, mustangs I mean some of the cars were
outrageous at the time of coarse nobody knew there'd be no gas for 'em, but uh so
people bought cars motorcycles, some people just saved it, coarse a lot of people had
families so a lot of it went back to the house. Every once in a while you'd know that
somebody got a bad letter, cause they were just crazy, cause there's... you get a dear
John letter there's nothing you could do, you can't call, uh you can't go home, they
don't let you go home, you just had to deal with it when you got home, if you were only
there(Vietnam) a month got eleven months to go... it played it's toll. I wasn't married,
engaged, no steady girlfriend at the time when I left, so I didn't have that emotion
playing on my head. You could see it on the other people, people with babies weren't
there for their children, it played with their head a little bit.
MT what did the people do that ran out of money?
WC Well they were in trouble, usually your food was free, so you didn't have to... I
mean you rent was free your food was free, uh you had to do your own laundry at that
point unless you had a really good mamasan I used to lend money out, umm I'd make
money on it, it depended what they needed it for if uh somebody come up and it was the
end of the month and payday was two days away and he wanted to buy a stereo, I'd
charge him 25% that wasn't legal but I'd get all my money back. If they come up cause
they sent their money home, and they just needed a few bucks to get them through the
end of the month then might charge them 1%, but it depended on the circumstances.
Uh we had one guy and he used to gamble, a lot, and he used to win on a fairly regular
basis. I'd lend him money when he needed it and uh he always paid me back, so the
more I loaned him the more he paid me back the lower the interest rate went, cause he
was a pretty sure thing. Time came for him to go home and he came up to me and said
look I owe you sixty dollars I don't have the money and if you tell squadron commander,
I can't leave till I pay you. I wasn't gonna keep anybody there for sixty dollars, so I said
here's my address send me the money when you get home, I never saw the money,
really I don't think I expected to, but I uh took his word that he would send it to me I
expected him to live up to his word but, I had made enough off him from the interest, it
wasn't like I lost anything. There were a few people I just let slide cause I just, it wasn't
worth it you know nickel and dime stuff then you'd see people just drop their whole
checks in a card game and to me foolish people had to pay more, a guy that can't wait
two days to buy a stereo is gonna pay more than a guy that just needs %10 to hold him
over for cigarettes and beer so...
MT Did you pay your mamasan in American currency or what?
WC Oh no no no no, we were not allowed American currency uh we had uh, MPC I
think it was called, military pay something or other funny money so I paid my mamasan
cigarettes I didn't smoke and we were allotted two cartons a week or something like that
and uh I'd usually sell one and give one to her for doin' my laundry polish my shoes,
keep my little room clean. She uhh didn't speak a whole lot of English, coarse I didn't
speak Vietnamese, but uh it was pretty good. She did tell me her husband was an
officer in the North Vietnamese army I don't know if she said that just to shake me up
or if it was true, didn't matter she kept my room was clean my close were clean. There
were a couple of things I needed and couldn't get on base she got from the black
market, some of it I still have actually which is kinda strange.
MT Was there a lot of distrust in relationships with Vietnamese people you came in
WC Umm, actually I didn't come in contact with a lot of 'em uh, mamasan usually
two or three that worked in the barracks umm, but yeah you didn't trust 'em at all. It
was cause well you couldn't tell who was a good guy and a bad guy it wasn't like
cowboys and indians. Indians were the bad guys so they say umm you couldn't tell from
one minute to the next if they were good or bad, so yeah you had a tendency to keep
'em at arms reach say, okay I got my eye on you yeah you are doin a good job alright I'm
watching you but I never had any reason to not trust my mamasan except for the fact of
where we were and she said her husband was hahaha so okay but uh I never had to
lock things up cause she was there I never had anything stolen, uhh some did you
know they'd have things stolen from their room things would disappear, and uh
sometimes uniforms would disappear you know take 'em out wash five sets and only
four would come back stuff like that
MT Amongst the people at the base how was diversity amongst the Americans? Was
it a diverse setting
WC (sighs) Well there was a.. everybody was represented. There was a definite
separation between the races. You'd walk into the NCO club and blacks were on one
side whites were on the other. Uh the only time you would actually see a mixture for the
most part is when the Army came in, and they hung together, black, white it didn't
make any difference but as far as the airforce was concerned they pretty much
separated although you worked with these people all day long, they might live in the
room across from you, you talk in the hallway, you go out and it's pshew separated.
Hispanics tended to go either way. There was racial trouble in Vietnam, at least in
Danang uh not with me personally, but people in the barracks there could be trouble
they'd have to call the SP's in and the squadron commander would get involved, try to
separate, nothing deadly, nobody got killed over it but there was trouble. There was a
lot of trouble in the States at the time too and I think that had a lot to do with it.
MT The anti-war movement, back in the states, do you feel that affected the
outcome of the war, do you think that that influenced the politicians a great deal or do
you think it was kinda just people...
WC Well the anti-war movement the only thing I really know about them is what I
watched on t.v. cable t.v. when they showed the riots and the way things were going
down at different colleges, umm yeah I think they made an impact, but I think basically
the government was realizing they were gonna have to either win or get out, and people
were getting tired of it and so they pulled them out. You know Kent State had an awful
lot to do with that that I believe that at that point the president should have been held
accountable, especially for Kent State, it was his paranoia that started the whole thing.
So yeah I think they had a part in it, more and more veterans were coming back and
protesting I mean even here in Gainesville when you had the Gainesville seven or eight,
I was here at the time I remember when they had a big camp out there by the airport
and I go okay, I'm not an agitator, I'm not in the front lines waving a flag, but I thought
they had a legal right to do what they were doing. I don't think they had a right to go
and be violent regardless of their cause but I think them uh the Democratic convention
in '68, and more and more veterans were showing up in the small towns, that and the
body bags umm Country Joe and the Fish, with his anti war song, be the first one on
your block to have your boy come home in a box, when it started hitting the small towns
is when people started realizing, I mean here is a great promise football player could've
went on to college, here he comes home in a box, for what? Families started
questioning, and when the families started questioning the government had to start
looking at it I think that had a lot to do with it.
MT Did music have a big influence on the war anti war?
WC well I don't think there was any pro-war music, I really don't I could be wrong.
MT Patriotic maybe?
WC I didn't hear any, that's not to say there wasn't any, I was into folk music for the
most part, during the '60's which turned into protest music by the late '60's early '70's.
most of your big rock stars were doing protest songs. I know in 71, I was in Vietnam
when Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin both died, people felt that it was a government
plot, I mean Janis was an alcoholic, yet they say she died of an overdose of drugs, she
didn't do drugs she drank, she was a bourbon drinker. Jimi, he was doing drugs all
along all of a sudden he gets 98% pure stuff. Their music, they had a big following,
umm part of me still says yeah the government probably had something to do with it,
just don't trust the government.
MT Because of the Vietnam war?
WC That too, I mean even now it's even worse now than it ever was then, umm, even
the state building here in Florida, the sunshine state, everything's supposed to be
opened, now they're trying to close up everything, uh no I think the government is
trying to pull something tricky, but there was a lot of protest music, and it was getting
bigger the protest movement with woodstock in '69, uh Monterey, it was happening and
it was happening in places the government didn't expect, again the small towns in the
heartland, uh Montana, southern Texas, things were happening and this is where our
base is, you know the government was saying, we're strong right here, they weren't it
wasn't happening the way they were expecting it to happen. So the music, protesters,
the parents, I think that's what ended it the government realized they didn't have a
choice anymore and had to pull out.
MT Um would you go back to Vietnam?
WC Ah, in a heartbeat, like I said it was a beautiful country, what I saw of it, one
day, I think it was opened up for three days downtown they said it was safe enough for
us to go downtown, so good friend and I went downtown, and uh what we saw didn't fit,
what we were lead to believe about Vietnam. I mean Vietnam was all jungle, and there
were rice paddies and little straw huts, I mean there were some gorgeous buildings, uh
temples, uh churches, stores I mean they had bars I mean it was like any town USA,
except they spoke funny and had funny language on the walls. Saw an awful lot of
swastikas on the buildings, and uh I was told they were religious symbols long before
Hitler claimed them for his own, which I thought was strange, you could see a lot of
history, French history, the French had been there for what seemed like forever. But
umm Vietnam, what I saw of it was very nice, and yeah I wouldn't mind goin back. I
didn't enjoy the Vietnamese food, I don't today, uh, did eat water buffalo didn't
particularly care for it it was kinda gray, I ate what they said was monkey, didn't taste
too bad till they told me what it was. We had a break room, that was in the shop and it
had one of those little hot dog rotisserie things, well the Vietnamese eat rice bugs, looks
like a humangus locust, grasshopper type thing, and they just bit their heads off and
sucked their insides out, live, we used to have a mamasan that kept our break room,
coffee and all that, and the shop chief came in and there were four five rice bugs in with
the hot dogs, she left the hot dog rotisserie thing left, and we had a GI rotating in there
every few weeks keeping the coffee, keeping it clean, he just lost his cookies there that
was kinda bad, which was kinda weird cause I don't drink coffee either, so I don't know
if it's good or bad, so how do you make it okay four bags of this a few gallons of that
okay boom, there's coffee, I only lasted a week. It was a nice country, what I saw of it
and I'm sure now it's good and bad, real nice in some places probably horrible in others
it's still a third world country I know that, sanitation was bad, another thing they used
to eat beetle nut, some kind of a nut thing I guess, and when they spit it spit red so it
looked like you were spitting blood, which turned their teeth black, shiny black, and it
was really weird cause you'd see this mamasan, and she'd smile and she had black
teeth. It was really funny, but I never tried that either, it was nice.
MT Overall it was a pretty normal working experience?
WC Normal that's... it wasn't bad. Like I said I wasn't truckin through the jungle
with a rifle getting shot at, it was pretty much straight 8-5 job, with a little excitement
thrown in from time to time. Pretty much the airforce overall, whole base was the same
way, everybody had their job to do and the same job you do in the states you do there
whereas the army would have a different job if they were in the states, there, they're out
in the boonies. Had a friend of mine show up which was really weird, he showed up one
day in the shop, he's in the army and we'd go out together on the island, and I'm working
away and I hear my name called out, looked up and there he was standing there, where'd
you come from? But he was stationed in Danang, at the army camp down the road and
he had heard I was there so he come looking for me. Hey, how could you be here? So we,
I'd catch a ride down to see him and so on if he'd snag a decent ride he'd come down
and see me. Which made it interesting knowing somebody from home, talk with, he's
******* so to speak, I mean you never expect to see people right out of the blue like that,
boom there he was.
MT At night could you hear operation rolling thunder, or anything like that?
WC Well, you could see the gun ships working out at night, they had uh what they
called freedom hill, where the marines were stationed. And we could sit out on the
balcony and see the gun ships see the tracers comin down and we'd see tracers goin
back, and we'd say okay there's somebody out there in the woods shooting at it. Uh at
night when the F-4's would take off, beautiful sight, it'd be pitch black and all your
seein' is the afterburner, looks like a rocket, taking off, and at the end of the runway
you'd see tracers goin up trying to shoot the plane down. They were that close, we'd sit
there and watch tracers go up tracers come down, ******* but I never saw a plane get
hit, I never saw one go down, but it made for an interesting light show, everybody sitting
around drinking doin whatever and watching, boom, boom, boom, yeah yeah yeah, hit "m
again! but nobody really wanted to go over there at night either, they had a PX over on
the hill and you could go over there and buy stuff, hmm, those bushes sure are movin a
lot... everyone starts pushin it you know tempting fate so to speak. They had a couple of
squadrons on the base and they were operated differently, our squadron was a more
moralistic squadron if you would, where as the other squadron anything went, they had
strippers in their clubs, they had.. we used to go over there a lot, our squadron leader
did not believe in strippers, naked pictures, all the girls that worked in our club were
fully dressed, the other side of the base over at 20th TAS anything went. It was quite
educational hahahaha to say the least, it was like two different worlds, I mean their
barracks were different it was more like McHale's navy, versus the real navy, us being
the real navy and them being McHale's navy they were a lot looser over there than we
were, and we were allowed to anywhere on the base you wanted to go you go our club
there club didn't make any difference so they had a lot more people in their club than
we did in ours, but if you wanted to eat you'd go to ours cause there's nobody in there
and uh the girls that worked the club you know you'd tip 'em after you get your food,
but after a while they get to know you and soon as you come in the doors you know
they got your drink, they knew what you wanted to eat so they already got your food, so
that was pretty good, you like tippin 'em well, of coarse I forget what the difference was
money wise but it was astronomical one of our dollars was like a thousand of their
dollars or something like that I mean just un real, tip 'em a couple of dollars and they're
all real happy you know, just a couple of bucks no big deal.
MT Were they Vietnamese women?
WC Yes all Vietnamese.
MT Did you ever fear ground up glass in you drinks?
WC Nope never did, umm I don't really even recall anybody even talking about that.
The Vietnamese, in the clubs they had Vietnamese cooks, in the chow hall of coarse
they had American cooks, but no I never worried about the food, except when I was
eating that monkey thing, I don't know if it was monkey I was eating but once they said
it was monkey that was it. Won't eat that no more, not enough ketchup and mustard to
smother it. But for the most part I can't say the uh, Vietnamese treated me badly, cause
I didn't see it uh I never had anything taken from my room, now weather they actually
liked us or not I can't answer that I don't know, but they put on a good front if they
didn't it was interesting to say the least
MT Were you able to visit China Beach at all?
WC Yes it uh we had to catch a military vehicle you couldn't walk, and uh you'd go
down to the beach, beautiful white sand, nice clear water, very few people went
swimming though lot of sharks. You'd see the helicopters out there shooting, shooting
sharks of coarse it made it even worse, now there's blood all in the water but you know
uh, normally we'd catch a ride in an army truck, headin off base eighty deuce and a
half or a jeep or something a buddy and I picked up a ride on what I call a rat patrol
jeep, there was a t.v. series back in the '50's took place in the Sahara desert world war
2, Romell and all that, they were jeeps with .50 caliber machine guns mounted on 'em
well that's what these reminded me of had a couple of .60's mounted on these and we'd
just ride through town in the jeep it could be fun nothing to stop you from being shot at
but you stand out by the gate and thumb out usually stop and where you goin' to the
beach alright long as your back before dark, they didn't want any travelling after dark,
but the beach is nice our off time I don't remember if I had 1 or 2 days off a week, so we
weren't working all the time, we'd all get together it'd be 8 or 9 of us and we'd all hop on
a truck go to the beach hang out there and get all sunburned then come back. It was
basically an un-eventful life, for us given we were in Vietnam and could get shot at or
shelled at any moment, that didn't weigh heavily on your head, you lived for today, go to
the beach today could be dead tomorrow, that's pretty much what a lot of people came
back with is you live for today, cause it definitely could end tomorrow or tonight and uh
still live that way for the most part although I'm planning my retirement now so that's
long term, it was an experience I'm glad I had, and yeah, I'd do it again.
MT Well I'd like to thank you for doing the interview and I guess that's all, thank
WC No problem.