Harrowing Stories About Vietnam from the Vets Who Lived It

The Vietnam War began on November 1, 1955 and ended with the fall of Saigon on April 3, 1975. The rise of communism was sweeping Asia and Ho Chi Minh in North Vietnam led Vietnam’s military forces. America was set on a path to prevent the spread of communism and would lend support and troops to the Vietnamese anti-communist resistance in South Vietnam.

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What followed was one of the most bloody wars in history. It was fought not just in Vietnam but also Laos and Cambodia and in the end, it was all for nothing. The communists won. These are the oftentimes tragic and horrifying stories of some of those involved in that war. Grisly tales of deployment, stories about desperate draft-dodging and struggles with PTSD that haunted veterans for decades after the war officially ended.

Heads on Spikes

One of Benito R. Garcia Jr.’s earliest impressions of Vietnam was also one of the worst on this list. “The first time I saw a dead American, there were three of them – their heads were up on stakes,” he recalled. Garcia went on to endure three tours of duty in Vietnam. They left him with 150% disability paid by the VA. He suffers from PTSD, diabetes, erectile dysfunction and brain damage.

Heads on Spikes

Source: Jeffrey Wolin

Despite his sacrifices for his country, he returned to be treated disgracefully by his fellow countrymen and found himself forced into a life of crime. It took going to jail for bank robbery for him to turn his life around using a degree he gained while in prison.

Napalm Injuries that Wouldn’t Heal

Navy Corpsman Mike recalls the time when he was working in a nursing ward in Hue, Vietnam. He spent a whole day trying to help a Vietnamese girl who had been burned with napalm. Every time the girl had been given a skin graft, the graft began to fail and sepsis would set in.

Napalm Injuries that Wouldn’t Heal

Mike spent his time bathing her wounds and he found that leaving soap suds on the wounds prevented them from becoming reinfected. The girl lived thanks to Mike’s work. On his return to the United States, Mark ended up living homeless for years because of his PTSD from events like these.

One of the True Heroes of the War

Leonard L. Alvarado, originally from Bakersfield, California, was one of the true heroes of the Vietnam war and was awarded a posthumous Medal of Valor in 2014.

His comrades remember the day, August 12, 1969, that he distinguished himself in battle – in the Phuoc Long Province of Vietnam – by disrupting an enemy attack and in the process saving many other lives.

One of the True Heroes of the War

Source: US Army

They say he was “repeatedly thrown to the ground by exploding satchel charges, [but] continued advancing and firing, silencing several emplacements, including one enemy machine-gun position.” Leonard L. Alvardo, sadly, left behind a wife and a young daughter.

Rock Star Rocks out of Responsibility

Ted Nugent may love guns but he didn’t love the idea of being sent to fight and die for his country. He told High Times back in 1977 that he’d quit bathing for a month before he went to his draft physical examination.

Rock Star Rocks out of Responsibility

Source: Daily Stormer

He also claimed that he deliberately crapped in his pants to ensure they were full of feces and to top it all off he says he lied to the recruiting sergeant and claimed to have done a line of crystal meth the night before too. Nugent was eventually classified 4-F and that meant his ploy had worked and he avoided having to serve in Vietnam.

Did He or Didn’t He?

David Cline’s war ended a scant 5 months after it had begun. He started his tour in August of 1967. His war finished in a Vietnamese village called Bo Tuc. In the middle of the night, a Vietnamese soldier attacked his foxhole.

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Source: Jeffrey Wolin

David saw the muzzle of the AK-47 and pointed his own weapon in the direction it came from. David was shot in the knee and was unable to determine what his own actions had caused, he spent the whole night lying on the floor chewing painkillers and keeping quiet. The next morning, he was told that the Vietnamese soldier he’d shot at that night had been killed by his bullets.

Life Goes on Amazingly

Dennis Joyner was 20 when he was drafted for Vietnam. He was already married and had a son and while he was studying at college when he was called up – he had already used up his student deferment.

Life Goes on Amazingly

Source: American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial

He was on patrol in the Mekong Delta when he stepped on a landmine. His war was over from that moment. Dennis lost both legs and one of his arms and became a triple amputee. He chose to live life in a wheelchair rather than be fitted with prosthetics. His hard work as an accounting administrator would lead to him being named, “The Handicapped American of the Year” by President Ronald Reagan.

Friendly Fire in Vietnam

John Linnemeier’s tale is, perhaps, more tragic than most. In July 1969, he was at base camp and went to inspect an Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicle (ACAV) when the guy stationed there, another American, opened fire on him.

Friendly Fire in Vietnam

Source: Jeffrey Wolin

He was hit in the chest by several rounds and when he came to, he was in incredible pain. He was positive that he would die. They saved his life in a field hospital, where he was scolded for using bad language while they treated him. He returned to Vietnam 20 years later and found that he fell in love with the country where he was so cruelly injured all those years before.

Marine has his Tour Cut Short

Roberto “Bobby” Barrera had always wanted to join the Marine Corp. He went to college, at his father’s urging, but two years later he gave up his draft deferment and enlisted as a marine. Six weeks into his first tour of duty, Roberto was assigned to an intelligence mission. He sat in the third amtrac of a convoy of five vehicles.

Marine has his Tour Cut Short

Source: The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial

A 500 lb bomb exploded directly beneath his amtrac. He suffered a number of burn injuries and also lost his right hand and left arm. Today, he dedicates his life helping spread a message of hope to other disabled war veterans.

Fleeing to Canada

Bill King dodged the draft until he returned to his parents’ home in Indiana in 1968. There he found the FBI waiting to arrest him. He struck a deal with the FBI, if he agreed to enter the military – they would drop the charges. So he spent 10 months in training at two U.S. military bases.

Fleeing to Canada

Source: JCTV News

He still couldn’t face the thought of fighting and the night before he was due to begin his tour of Vietnam – he fled to Canada along with 40,000 other Americans trying to avoid the war. Canada treated draft dodgers as immigrants rather than refugees and many, including Bill, stayed in the country after the war finished.

Assaulting the Enemy

Sergeant Jesus S. Doran upon, “learning that two seriously wounded troopers lay helplessly pinned down under harassing fire, he assaulted the suppressive enemy positions, firing deadly bursts on the run. Mounting a log, he fired directly into the enemy’s foxholes and eliminated four of them and several others as they fled. He then continued to pour effective fire on the disorganized and fleeing enemy.”

Assaulting the Enemy

Source: Valor 24

He survived the war and would later be awarded the Medal of Honor. He went on to work as a corrections officer in California where he was well liked for his mentorship and educational work.

No More Grenades

Greg Miller was assigned to walk point (first in line, the most exposed position) from the moment he arrived in Vietnam. He walked point every day in the mountains and jungles of Vietnam for over 7 months. Then his platoon got into a firefight with the North Vietnamese Army. Both sides were hurling grenades at each other when Greg ran out of grenades.

No More Grenades

Source: Jeffrey Wolin

An enemy grenade landed by his feet and when he came to after the explosion, he was terrified that he had lost his legs. Fortunately, he hadn’t. Instead, his legs were riddled with shrapnel, even today after medical treatment there are still four pieces of metal embedded in his legs. His injuries saw that his war ended that day and he was rotated home.

The Missionary Position

Mitt Romney went on to run (and lose) against Barack Obama in the United States presidential race. He also ran when the time came to serve his country. Instead of heading to Vietnam to fight, Mitt headed to France to become a Mormon Missionary.

The Missionary Position

Source: Mitt Romney

Apparently, he wasn’t a very successful missionary as he recounts being regularly rebuffed throughout his time in France and can only claim two converts during the two-year period he was in France. However, those he worked alongside said that he did work hard as a missionary and that the experience may have helped him develop the humility necessary to tackle life’s big challenges.

Flying to Defoliate

George Boone was a pilot in the Vietnam War. His job was part of “Operation Ranch Hand” which was to spray the Vietnamese jungle with the toxic defoliant “Agent Orange.” He says that his plane was hit by enemy fire on over 35 flying missions and that he was always scared but that he never thought of leaving, it was his job and his responsibility.

Flying to Defoliate

Source: Jeffrey Wolin

Agent Orange has been blamed for the illnesses of over 3 million people in Vietnam and as many as 1 million Vietnamese people suffer permanent disabilities due to exposure to the compound. Defoliation also disrupted the Vietnamese eco-system.

Killed in Action

Felix Conde-Falcon’s actions were beyond brave as a platoon leader near Ap Tan Hoa, Vietnam. He would receive a posthumous Medal of Honor for, “carrying a machine-gun, he single-handedly assaulted the nearest fortification, killing the enemy inside before running out of ammunition.

Killed in Action

Source: US Army

After returning fire on three men, he used an M-16 rifle and concentrated on the next bunker. Within 10 meters of his goal, he was shot by an unseen assailant and soon died of his wounds.” His leadership under fire may have been some small comfort to the wife and children that survived him.

Punching his Way Clear of the Draft

Muhammad Ali, the most famous boxer of all-time, was convicted for draft dodging. He never saw himself as a draft dodger but rather as a conscientious objector. This didn’t stop a court, on April 28, 1967, from not only convicting him of draft dodging and sentencing him to 5 years in prison but also stripping him of his heavyweight title.

Punching his Way Clear of the Draft

Source: Muslim Vibe

Ali never served 5 years in jail. The sentence was overturned on appeal, However, it says something that his belief and conviction were so strong that he was prepared to pay with his freedom to avoid fighting. Something that many other draft dodgers were not prepared to do.

Still Struggling

Rick Nye was just fine when he returned from Vietnam. He was completely OK for another 40 years too. Then he found himself suffering from PTSD. He says that anything from a sight to a sound to a smell can trigger an episode of PTSD.

Still Struggling

Source: Daily Herald

He now finds it difficult to cope in crowded situations. He feels a sense of futility at what he participated in Vietnam. He finds it hard to feel safe and secure in any situation. He’s slowly coming to terms with his PTSD and the traumas of the war, by writing down his memories and frustrations.

Dying on Home Soil

Andrew Brannan, in 1991, was diagnosed as 100% disabled as a result of PTSD from his Vietnam war experiences. He was regularly distressed and unable to articulate his experiences.

Dying on Home Soil

Source: Linkis

In 1998, still suffering from PTSD and also diagnosed as bipolar, Andrew lost his temper with a deputy sheriff in Georgia and shot and killed him. At the time, Andrew’s mental issues had him living in a shack in the woods without electricity or running water. A doctor compared the shack to a “bunker in Vietnam” and the officers who investigated the case found a network of tunnels dug beneath it. In 2015, Andrew was executed for the crime of murder in Jackson, Georgia.

Telling True Tales

Larry says of a New Year’s firefight, “I will never forget this. I know I didn’t dream it. I haven’t imagined it. The sun came up and the smoke cleared and the dew burned off. There was meat all over everything. All around the perimeter it was meat. And the wood line, which was maybe fifteen or twenty meters away looked like ruined drapes. It was a mess.”

Telling True Tales

Source: Jeffrey Wolin

He says it was his time in Vietnam that inspired him to go on and become a writer. His focus is stories of Vietnam and he has won the National Book Award for Fiction for one of his novels.

A Hair-Trigger Temperament

Sam Luna was injured in Vietnam on July 31, 1968, and shipped back Stateside. But it took Sam another 35 years to realize that he was suffering from PTSD. It was in 2004 when he was diagnosed, after approaching his local Veterans Affairs office after thinking about something his wife had said about his hair-trigger temper.

A Hair-Trigger Temperament

Source: Stripes

When he retired, he started to think more and more about the war and dredge up forgotten memories. He said it was like he’d left a black box on the mantelpiece and when he was done working, it was there waiting for him.

The Saddest Story of All

R. Michael Rosensweig’s story may be the must disturbing of them all, “War just leaves scars that will never heal up in your head because of the overall trauma.”

The Saddest Story of All

Source: Jeffrey Wolin

“The first person I ever had to kill was an eight-year-old boy. We were escorting the 101st Airborne in the A Shau Valley. A little boy ran out of the village with a grenade in his hand heading straight for a truckload of GI’s-kind of hard to balance that one out. The grenade was in his hand. We tried to get him to stop. We didn’t have a choice.”