What did You Do in the War Grandpa
by Cliff westwood
What did you do in the war Daddy?
I was going through my computer cleaning out some of the junk that had accumulated over the last 10 years or so, when I came across this document I had written for my granddaughter Campbell's homework assignment. Her class was studying the Vietnam War and her assignment was to interview someone who had served there. So she gave me a list of questions and I answered them the best of my ability at the time. I'm sure there are many things I forgot, and many of the Dates, Times, & Locations aren't exactly right but close enough. So I thought I would send this along to you guys of the 35th Infantry Regiment or anyone else who may have interest. Feel the free to use this as a guide for any of you who also may have grandchildren that have a similar homework assignment. Or that old question; "What Did You Do during the War Daddy?"
Cliff Westwood Bravo 2/35 Vietnam 67/68
PS: Please excuse any misspelled words etc.
(being dyslexic I'm not the world's greatest speller or proofreader)
I hope this will help out with your assignment.
First, a little back ground about me.
This past March marked 46 years since I rotated home from Vietnam. Weather it was nostalgia or just curiosity. For 43 years, I do not belong to any military related organizations such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, or any other Vietnam related organizations. However about three years ago I joined the VFW, and the 35th Infantry Association, and because of Agent Orange I am under the health care system of the Veterans Administration.
I was just a guy who spent his two years in active service for the United States, and after leaving put that part of my life behind, got married, raised two daughters and lead a pretty normal life.
1. Where you in the army, navy, etc. or were you drafted?.
I was drafted into the Army Oct.11, 1966 at the ripe old age of 19. After graduating high school of that year I spent my summer working as apprentice brick layer. I as most from my graduating class knew we would be drafted within two to eight months after leaving school. I was surprised that I didn't receive my draft notice before I did on Oct. 1st. 1966 Reporting to the Federal Building, at 6 a.m. we spent the day taking physical and written tests, testing for color blindness etc. By 7:30 that evening we were on a train heading for Fort Gordon Georgia. At Fort Gordon I did my basic train, and then home for Christmas holidays. After that I was on my way to Fort Jackson South Carolina. Here I did my advanced training as an infantry soldier, after completing this training; it was home again for 10 days. On March 17 (my birthday) I left for San Francisco to be processed and sent to Vietnam. By March 21st after flying to Alaska and then down along the Russian coast to Japan for a two hour stop while they re-fueled, we arrived in Vietnam. It's amazing I still remember my very first impression, which was after they opened the door of the Boeing 707 and stepping out, the heat and humidity reminded me of sticking my head in my mothers dryer, it was hot and it was humid. I'm not sure where I landed in Vietnam but I think it was Cam Rahn Bay, from their I was sent to Pleiku in the central high lands, home of the 4th & 3/25th Infantry Divisions. After a few more days of processing etc. I was sent to the 3rd brigade of the 25th infantry division it was in Vietnam's I-core, in Quang Nai province, South of Quang Nai City along highway #1, near a the town of Duc
Pho. From there I was assigned to company B of the 2nd of the 35th infantry battalion.
The morning after arriving at Duc Pho the company Sgt. for bravo company rear echelon woke me and the other three soldiers I had been traveling with at 5:30 a.m. He told us to get our gear together we were going to join our company in the field. After breakfast the sergeant took the four of us to a weighting Chinook helicopter with about 30 other green soldiers from various companies.
Like children going to school for the first time, as we loaded aboard the cargo master of the helicopter ask where to, the Sgt. reply was bravo 2/35. The cargo master than filled out a cargo tagged with the letters B 2/35 and tied it to our pacts, as far as he was concerned we were just cargo. The helicopter took off and we flew for about one hour making stops along the way at various companies in the field, each time we landed the cargo master would point to two or three soldiers check their tags and say you're here, good luck. Finally it was our turn, the helicopter landed on some hill in the middle of nowhere, he pointed to the four of us, checked are tags, said your here, and good luck. With that the ramp at the back of the helicopter lowered, and we with the other cargo were off loaded. Less then a minute after the Chinook touched down it was off again, I turned to watch it leave the ramp was still closing as it took to the air and everything became very quiet. I thought to my self, 12 days ago I was shoveling snow from my mother's sidewalk, in South West Pennsylvania, now I'm 12000 miles away and it must be 80 degrees already and its not even 10 o'clock. I was now with my new family, Bravo Co.2nd of the 35th infantry, 25th infantry division, and only 358 days to go.
2. How did you feel when you found out you had to go to war?
Campbell; to understand my answer on this one you'll half to try and understand the times.
I was born shortly after the end of World War II, in the 50s we grew up watching John Wane war movies etc. The American soldier was always the good guys and never lost. As a kid growing up, my friends and I often played army, sometimes maybe as many as 12 or 14 on each side. A 40 acre woods behind my house made a perfect back drop for war games for 10 to 14 year olds. Add the Communist perceived, (true or not true) threat to take over the world, some of our fears as a 17 and 18 yr. old was that the war would be over before we had our chance. Now understand not all my friends felt the same way, maybe they were a little more tune in on the real world. A number went to college and were deferred, and my best friend Chuck decided he wanted no part and moved to Canada, while his older brother joined the Air Force and became a B-52 pilot in Vietnam.
Also you must realize at that time we as Americans didn't question are government as we do today, so with this in mind hears my answer.
Basically I think I was eager to do my part as an American to help stop communism wherever I could. You must realize that a 19-yr. old thinks he is invincibly and the glory of war is what separates men and boys. Sure there's a chance you might be killed or wounded but there's also a good chance of being killed in a car accident or severely injured on the job. Now hears a little country called Vietnam, and supposedly they have a government modeled after ours and the big bad communists are trying to take over. When I was drafted and toward the end of my advanced infantry training, a questionnaire was passed out, one of the questions was, where would you like to be sent. I, as may others did, filled it Vietnam, it was going to be an adventure.
Now the real question is, having 20-20 hindsight would I still serve in Vietnam?
Yes, but with less enthusiasm, what we did was and still is important. Countries to have freedoms such as we have must be defended against those who would rather have complete power to them selves.
3. What was everyday life like in Vietnam during the war?
In a word; BORING!!
Let me think a little here, let's pick an average day, say mid August. At that time the company was working the area east of highway # 1 a little north of Duc Pho between the highway and the beach. We really enjoyed this territory; it was basically flat, rice patties and no hills. The beach ran north and south along the South China Sea, and its white sand stretched as far as the eye can see in either direction.
We enjoyed setting up their, with its wide open field of fire and view it made it difficult for the other team (VC or NVA) to seek up or get to close while we were bedded down for the night. Also the sand made it much safer against mortar attacks, the mortar round would bury itself in the sand before exploding making it less effective. But more important, we had the opportunity to go swimming, also being near the ocean, and I guess; because of the salty air there were no insects. (Sometimes it's the little things)
We would set up in a huge semi circle with a series of foxholes about 25 feet apart, with our backs to the South China Sea. Their were three men assigned to each fox whole and one person was awake at all times, (supposedly) this wasn't always the case, quite often someone would nod off, and intern would not wake the next person to stand guard.) In the center of the circle the company commander, a captain, he would set up their with his command party of about 15 people.
The command party consisted of the captain, the captains radio operators, two each, one radio he could talk with his platoon leaders and the other radio was tuned in to the battalion headquarters. Then there was the Forward Observer for the artillery, usually a lieutenant, his responsibilities was to call and direct artillery if needed, some times we received artillery support from as far away as 25 miles and they would land within a few feet of the target. The forward observer also had his own radio operator; they were not part of our company but were from an artillery battery. Usually they were with the company 4 to 6 months, then return to their unit. There was the company's first sergeant and 8 or 10 riflemen as the command security.
And the head medic, company usually had four medics, one with each platoon and the head medic would walk with us. Are head medic at this time was a CO (conscientious objector) which meant, for religious reasons he did not believe in war or the taking of life. He would not participate in any military type action or even carry a weapon. His courage and belief in God were beyond approach, I remember one time when we were crossing an open field, and the point man was hit by sniper fire, from the tree line at the far end of the feel, and was down. Without hesitation this medic ran out into the open feel, and laid his body over the down soldier to protect him from further injury. You could actually see were the snipers bullets were kicking up the dust around them, before the rest of the company had a chance to return fire and suppress the snipers advantage. This whole action probably lasted less than 45 seconds or so. Although the down soldier was hit, his wounds were not life threatening and he was dusted-off (medical helicopter out) and recovered from his wounds, and finished his tour working in the rear area.
By this time I was carrying the company radio for the Capt. This was a job I liked, even though the radio weight about 25 pounds, I knew what was going on with the company. But before I carried the radio, I was a rifleman in the first platoon. Each platoon should have had about 48 members but usually only 30 or 35, sometimes as few as 20. Broken down into four squads of 10 men and their squad leader, plus the platoon leader, usually a second lieutenant his radio operator, the platoon Sgt. and a medic.
There were three squats of riflemen and one squad had two M-60 machine guns. The machine gun squad had to fire teams, consisting of 5 men, a machine gunner, he carried an operated the machine gun, the feeder, he carried ammunition and is responsibility was to feed ammo into the gun. Then there were the ammo bearers they carried about 400 rounds each of ammunition for the machine gun and provided close in security for the gun and gunner.
The rifle squad had a squad leader and two fire teams of five riflemen whom carried the M-16 rifle. Accept for one men in the squad who carried a M-79 grenade launcher, this could shoot a 5lb. exploding projectile about 200 yards. When I was a rifleman I carried my M-16 and approximately 1800 rounds of ammunition plus a law-rocket launcher. The riflemen were at the bottom of the company hierarchy, the ones who went first walking point, checked out tunnels when we found them etc.
The other advantage of working this area is, we traveled light, this means that each morning when we broke camp all non essential items, sleeping gear, personal items etc. Anything we did not need for the day was put into cargo swings and helicopters back to a rear area, for the day. But when we work the mountain areas and the helicopters could not get into our area each night we had to carry everything we owned on our back.
The average dress for the soldier in the field was, are jungle fatigues shirt and pants, sometimes camouflage type but usually just OD green, the shirt and pants had large pockets, with extra pockets on the pants legs. We would wear these for a week or 10 days, them they would send out laundry bags with clean fatigues. Sometimes the clean clothes fit, but usually not, and on occasion, but not often we would receive new fatigues. Our boots were what they called jungle boots, leather on the bottom and green material sides, they had thick cleated rubber soul with a steel plate indebted in the rubber and to holds to let water out. We usually didn't were underwear or socks but sometimes did have T-shirts. To finish off our attire was the helmet liner and steel pot with a camouflage covering. Every once in a while, someone in the rear thought it would be a good idea if we wore flak jackets. These weight about 20 pounds with steel plates in them to protect against shrapnel. The only problem was many of us would suffer from dehydration and heat exhaustion. One day we lost about 20 men to dehydration; this meant they would be in the hospital for three to five days. The next day the flak jackets were gone.
Next was the business end, this was the web belt; it was a wide belt with hold in it to attach different items. Things like the canteen, ammunition pouches with at least 20 magazines for the M-16 and usually more plus ammo in boxes bayonet or jungle knife and other various tools of the trade. Wide suspenders supported the web belt to these other implements were attached, hand grenades, as least two or three smoke grenades, first aid kit, and anything that one could attach. We also usually had an empty clay more bad, which we carried C-ration, toiletries, and soda or beer if we had them. In addition various people carried other items, such as a Law Rocket, clay more mine etc. This was when we were traveling light, if we were in full gear, we would have our pacts which included more clay more mines, for night security, are sleeping gear, air mattress, poncho, poncho liner, entrenching tool other tools, and other personal items. All the comforts of home, the only problem was we had to carry them on our back.
Running parallel to the beach was a stand of pine trees planet in perfect rose, these were probably planted by the French as a win break to protect the rice patties that lay beyond. This pine tree stand was around 800 or so feet deep and the trees were 100 to 150 feet high. One of the unusual things about this stand of trees there was no pine needles or dead fall. The local villages would come out and rate them up to use for their cooking fires. But seldom did we see any trees that were cut down, it seemed as only when a tree was blown over or knock down by a tank or something was it removed by the locals. After the pine trees their was a huge ditch about 30 feet across and 20 feet deep, everyone thought it was a tank trap but I'm not sure it seemed to have been there for quite some time. But it did play havoc with tanks, they had a hard time crossing except for several locations, which were often mind. Occasionally we would see old concrete bunkers build by the Japanese during World War II.
After crossing the ditch, or tank trap, usually there were rows of some type of short tree, everyone called them mango trees but I'm no farmer so I really don't know what they were. Whatever they were it seemed like they were no longer attended, maybe there just wasn't enough farmer's left to plant rice and attend the orchards. Once we worked are way through the mango growths the landscape would open up to a sea of green rice patties. The rice fields were divided into sections several acres each divided by dikes, different sections were in different stages of development some had rice growing other sections were dry. These farmers had an ingenious irrigation system, which would move water from one patty to another. Sometimes we would come across a farmer and his water buffalo plowing a field preparing it for planting. If we pass there a few days later the whole family would be out knee deep in water and mud planting rice, one stock at a time. Children from 4 or 5 to people who look like they were in their 80s, bent over all day, this must have been back breaking work.
Looking beyond the rice patties maybe a mile, or a mile and a half or so, you could see highway # 1, and beyond that was the remains of the old railroad the French build many years before. Further back beyond the railroad, there were more patties, after that the landscape begin climbing to high foothills, with the jungle mountains in the distance. Sometimes if we were not to far up or down the coast, we could see our battalion forward firebase, situated in the foothills. This was LZ-Liz (LZ stance for landing zone) home of the 2nd/ 35th infantry, know as the cacti blue. This unit has a long history dating back to the Indian and Mexican wars. (It's still is in existence today based in Hawaii)
Are day started around 6 a.m. First things first, take care of nature's call them fill your canteen cup with water to make instant coffee. We usually heated are water with a piece of C-4 explosive, this is a very stable explosive and you can burn small chunks of it for cooking, but be careful with it. Once it's burning don't try and step on it to put out, it will blow your foot off. Next we would wash and shave, or when on the beach take a quick morning dip, this woke one up. By 6:30 or 6:45 a helicopter would bring us a hot breakfast, usually scrambled eggs, bacon, ham, toast, etc. and fresh coffee. Also they would deliver drinking water for the day and C-rations for lunch. Sometimes the label on the C-box had a date, older then me. I think once we had C's dated 1943, but usually in the fifties, near the end of my tour the dates were in the sixties. After breakfast we would checked are equipment, and bring in the clay more minds that had been put out for the night.
Next decide what we need for the day and pack the rest into our back packs and get it down to the cargo sling to be taken back to the rear area for the day. Around 7:45 or so the helicopter would return to drop off any additional supplies we need, ammo etc. and pick up the containers from breakfast and are pacts. Part of my job was to bring in the helicopters; this was done by me waiting for their call on the radio. After making contact with me I would throw of a smoke grenade, they were usually red, blue, green, and yellow. I would tell the helicopter pilot smoked out, please identified. The helicopter pilot then would identify what color smoke I had put out, by saying I identify yellow or I identify blue and green. I would then tell him if he was correct or not by saying you have confirmed the correct colors. This was done because on occasion the other team was listening in and would put out there own smoke, trying to draw a helicopter into an ambush.
While all this was going on the captain was having his morning meeting with his platoon leaders. Sometimes we work an area as a company, other times each platoon would work different areas, and the company headquarters group would be somewhere in the middle with our rifle support team. Usually we were ready to move out by 8:30, depending on what time the helicopters came back for final pick up. Normally we didn't go straight into the pine tree stand; we would walk up or down the beach for some distance before turning in. The reason for this was if we made a habit of entering the pine stand by direct means the VC would have all night to set booby traps.
After hiking up the beach we would begin to turn in to the pine stand, by this time the company was spread out with more than the normal 15 meters between each man. The open beach which gave us the advantage at night, now gave the other team the advantage, we had to cross the open beach. Usually nothing happened but on occasion we would receive small arms fire from the pine trees. Went this happened we would return fire and the forward observer would drop in a few rounds of artillery. But I'm sure by the time whoever was taking pot shots at us was long gone. I think they would shoot 5 or 6 rounds and then run like hell, they knew what was coming. But on the other hand it usually slowed the company movement down, while we checked things out. This was probably the sniper's intent. After crossing the beach and through the pine stand we would cross the ditch and begin working the mango growth looking for tunnels. The VC would operate at night, terrorize the villagers and set booby traps; training etc. on occasion when they felt strong enough they would attack a company that was bedded down for the night, or shoot a few mortar rounds off. They would dig tunnels to hold up in during the day, our main function in this area was to find these tunnels and destroy them. Most of the tunnels we found were in and around the mango growth, occasionally we would find some in the pine stand. The tunnels had an opening about 18 inches square with a flower box type lid, once they were in the tunnel someone would close the lid and camouflage the top.
We would use sticks to probe the ground looking for the lids, some days we would find one or two. Other times we wouldn't find anything, but one day the company found 6 large tunnels with a large cash of weapons and ammunition, including AK-47s, mortar tubes and 160 mortar rounds. Unfortunately we didn't find them all at day, and we must have made someone mad at us, that night we received 24, 81mm mortar rounds. No one was hit but it sure does interrupt ones sleep, for the rest of the night our artillery battery would drop a few rounds into the pine stand near us every 15 or 20 minutes.
When we found what we thought was a lid usually we'd drop a hand grenade or a percussion grenade on it. Because sometimes they would have dummy hold and the lids were booby trapped, on more than one occasion we received a secondary explosion. After the lid was blown off we would throw in a couple of CS grenades, (they're something like tear gas), and on occasion someone would throw them back out. When this happened we would throw a few more in and try to cover the opening with something so they couldn't throw it back out. Usually if there was anyone in the tunnel they would come out, the CS is pretty mean stuff. After the CS cleared and we thought everyone was out that was coming out, we would throw a few hand grenades in to make sure. Next someone had to go in and check it out, I did this twice, and I sure wouldn't want to do it again. Fortunately for me both times I was first in there was no one there, they were empty. Unusually if there were VC in the tunnels there were only three or four, some times maybe five or six, are Sister Company, Charlie Company captured 20 in one. The VC were an equal opportunity employer, we captured as many women as we did men.
The whole went down 4 or 5 feet then turned 90 degrees and traveled 6 to 8 ft. opening into the room 6 or 8 ft. wide and about 10 ft. long and 4 or 5ft. high. Usually there was only one room, but occasionally we found some that were a real complex with as many as six rooms and multiple entrances. After the tunnel and room were checked out for weapons, supplies, and papers, maps etc. we would use TNT to blow it up. But I think they were digging then as fast as we could destroy them.
One thing we did when we first went into an area was fined a clearing large enough for a helicopter to set down. This was done in case we needed additional supplies or if we needed a Dust-Off. Toward the end of the day, 3:30 p.m. or so we would haul everything we had captured, weapons, papers, prisoners, etc. to the LZ for extraction. After the helicopter left we would do an informal role call to make sure that someone had not found a cozy spot under a tree and had fallen asleep. It was always in bad taste to leave someone behind. After that we would begin our hike back toward the beach for the night,
Usually we made it back by 4:30, and begin setting up our positions for the night. Once the fox hold were dug and the clay moors were out, one person from each position could go swimming, a second person could go and socialize with other members of the company. But there was always someone at each position; it was up to the three men of that position to decide who would do what and when. Between 5, and 5:30 a helicopter would arrive with our sleeping gear and a hot dinner, also any thing else we would need for the night, star light scope, 50-caliber machine gun etc. and best of all, mail it was always great to receive mail from home. After dinner most of the time we set around discussing the day's events, writing letters home and just relaxing. Sometimes someone would get a game of football, or volleyball going, but usually just set around talking about home. By 10 everyone was starting to bed down for the night, to men at each position with sleep while the third men would stand, (or sit) guard.
By midnight everything was still, and quiet with the surf breaking in the background. The air was fresh and clean, sometimes I would just lay back and watch the stars, there were billions of them. On nights when the moon was in full, one could sit back and read letters from home by moonlight. If I didn't know better, I could have imagined that I was on vacation, on some tropical island.
On occasion however, sometimes we would do night ambushes. This wasn't the favor thing for us but it's something we had to do. After dark usually just one platoon would leave the company formation and head back into the mango growth to set up along one of the many trails. The platoon would travel vary light and quiet to a predetermined position, then digging in about 25 feet back from a trail, set up fields of fire and put out clay mines. The country was under martial law and civilians were not permitted out after dark, so heavens help to anyone who happened to come waltzing down the trail.
This is pretty much how are day went, day in and day out, usually not making contact, and when we did it was usually hit and run. An extended contact was considered half-hour to 45 minutes or so, and on occasion the shit really hit the fan but that was rare.
4. Overall how did you feel about being in Vietnam?
I think everyone went through three phases while in the field.
1. When you first arrive to the company your scared, not sure what's expected of you and, you think the boogiemen is out there to get you. This lasts about two months.
2. After that complacency sets in, you feel like you have been there all your life and that you will be there forever. Your not quite as cautious and your starting to get a I don't give a damn attitude. You don't know what day or date is and sometimes you're not even sure what month it is. (Many guys would even stop writing home, and the captain would receive a letter from their parents.) This was probably Clinical Depression, not being a psychiatrist I really don't know. But I think we were in the field far too long. While I was there, our battalion set a record for a combat unit in the field. We were in a combat situation longer then any other unit in the history of the U.S. army (I don't know how long a period of time that was but we received a presidential unit citation for this accomplishmentth. Big deal) this lasted about 8 months.
3. After that comes the, I'm getting short attitude. You start to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and you realize in less then 6 or 8 weeks you'll be on the 7-O-quick home. And you really don't want to be killed or wounded now. You know you still have a job to do, and whatever your job is, as you are probably better at it then anyone else in the company, because now you have the experience. You're really not afraid but you become very cautious in your actions. This really sinks in, if someone, who has less time to go then you, goes down.
I hope this is a little help for you, sorry it got kind of long, but this became a trip down memory lane for me. After starting I realize that I remember more than I thought I had, so for this I thank you. You now know more about my Vietnam experiences than, my wife does or children do, I have never really discuss Vietnam with anyone in any detailed. If there is any other questions you have, feel free to ask them, and I'll try to give you a straight up and honest answer.