Introduction I was drafted on May 17th, 1966 out of Roodhouse, IL, a small farming community in central Illinois.
One brother was already serving in Vietnam and unknown at the time; a third brother would be drafted following me to also serve in Vietnam. I was employed by Caterpillar Inc in Peoria, IL at the time so upon receiving my draft notice, like many others I went on a Military Leave of Absence to serve my country. I departed Peoria, returned to our farm to drop off whatever I owned at the time (which was very little), parked my '56 Desoto at the farm and my dad took me to Roodhouse to board a bus, full of other local draftees. Off to St Louis we went for induction into the Army followed by 10 days in Ft Leonard Wood MO undergoing testing, shots, 24 hour harassment, uniforms, etc. Like cattle or, a random number, we then boarded a bus and landed in at Custer Hill, Fort Riley, Kansas to address the Army's need to fill up the ranks of the 9th Infantry Division, planned to deploy to South Vietnam in 1967.
Interesting times to say the least. We completed 3 months of basic training followed by 3 additional months of training at the squad to Battalion level while at Ft Riley. Permitted to spend
Christmas at home in 1966, I purchased a diamond engagement ring and proposed to my gal Jennifer, still my wife 41 years later. Looking back… Jennifer was one of the primary reasons for making it home from
Nam. She gave me hope, promise and a purpose, critical to a 19-year-old farm boy away from home and all the while knowing… I would soon to be half way around the world wondering if I would ever make it back
Leaving Jennifer behind, I returned to Ft Riley where we packed up everything for our unit, loaded onto a train for Oakland, CA only to then board a ship for a 19 day ride to Nam.
I lost 30 pounds in those 19 days due to seasickness, essentially eating nothing prepared by human hands (Navy Cooks) and daily Physical Training to stay in shape. Twelve months, two purple hearts and a Bronze Star later, I returned home, married Jennifer and then returned to Ft Leonard Wood, MO as a Drill Instructor to train new draftees for Viet Nam.
Upon my discharge on May 17, 1968 I returned home finding the old Desoto had bit the dust but I had a new wife and the job I had left at Cat was waiting for me.
So with my new wife, a '66 Corvair and a few pieces of clothing in a suitcase, we began our next venture in life, returning to normalcy and attempting to find the purpose and mainstream of life. As I write this introduction exactly 41 years later,,, I say again, those were interesting times. Losing friends at 19 years old and witnessing frequent deaths at random caused me to appreciate many of the smaller things in life. Simple things we often take for granted suddenly became very important and are cherished to this day. Looking back, the Viet Nam experience enabled me to see things clearly and appreciate what many take for granted. Simple things such as love, family, relationships, helping someone in need and knowing what freedom really means and the importance of such.
Needless to say, I found my purpose in life through a family, a great deal of normalcy, comfort and pride.
Did NAM caused this I don't know? Would I have found it without the NAM experience? Well, not sure of that either? However, I have learned to realize we are a sum of our experiences, such experiences do make a difference and… glad to this day I was able to serve my country.