Key's first experiences in the Vietnam War

SR 2860
Tape 1 Side 1
This is on roll 2860 of Vietnam Project Project No. T876,
15th of 7, 81. Tones at minus eight, 50 cycle plus, 25 frames a second.
One, Take One.
What I'd like to um do, first of all, is I want you to tell me how you actually headed out to Vietnam, you know, how did you come to be in the army, and what did you think you were going to Vietnam to do?
Ah, okay. Well first of all after high school, I, uhm, was thinking of joining the Marine Corps, because I had a scholarship to college but I had a busted knee so I figured I couldn't make it, being poor, couldn't afford to pay tuition so I say I'm a join the Marines. My mother said no, I had a sister here in Boston so she said why don't you go to Boston and see how things work out. So I came to Boston, a month later I was drafted. So I found myself back in Alabama and so what I decided to do after talking to a few guys was to volunteer for the draft for two years, so that way they say volunteer for the draft you only have to do two years opposed to doing the three years when they draft you, right.
So I goes in, I do's, I I goes in to have the two years. So then doing basic, the guy talks to me about taking another year, if I take another year I won't have to go to Vietnam. So I didn't want to go to Vietnam because right then in this community I stayed in which was small two or three guys from my high school that I went to school with had been killed in Vietnam. So you know I didn't want no part of Vietnam, okay.
So anyway after coming to Boston, after being drafted, I volunteered for the draft they talk me into taking another year. I ended up ah, I ended up going to Vietnam after they told me I wasn't going to Vietnam. My orders came down from ART it said Vietnam, and also thank God I don't, I don't know but my reflection is that even though I said I didn't want to go to Vietnam I hoped the orders were to Germany and everything but it was a funny thing like if you didn't get orders for Vietnam it was like you know it wasn't a thing that was recognized, you know.
So anyway I ended up in Vietnam, you know. So I ended up doing two years. I ended up doing twenty-one months in Vietnam. You know, first two was twelve months and I ended up going back, so I guess that's how I ended up in Vietnam.
I wonder if you could just compact that for me just a little bit. I wonder if you could just say something about you you were going to volunteer, you thought about volunteering then you got drafted. Would you just compact that story there to sort of a minute of so to that.
Well see, what I did I volun—volunteered for the draft, which meant you volunteer for the draft you receive you do two years, okay. Now at the same time I volunteered for the draft I still had the opportunity to go to school.
Alright, I tried to change that and go on to Normal University of Alabama, you know because my coach had told me okay be at football practice. I decided I would try it to go on this knee anyway. So when I got down there, okay and after I had gotten sworn in and had to go into the service.
Then during basic, you know everybody had this interview and everything and actually what it were, it was to try to get guys to you know enlist in more time especially if you had two years. So uhm, the sergeant he had told me you know like if I ah take another year that I would have the opportunity to get the type of technical training that I wanted, what area field I wanted to go into that if I take another year also it would assure that I would not go to Vietnam I would probably be assigned to Germany or some other you know some other place right.
So I took the year thinking that an extra year I would not be going to Vietnam. Anyway I ended up as a ammunition stores technic, and they sent me to a hospital for ART which was a training of how you stored ammunition, various types of ammunition and ah from there I received my orders and my orders said Vietnam.
Let's move, let's move on to there. What was your first impressions when you arrived?
Well you see, it it my first impression arriving in Vietnam. First I must say this. When we was coming in to ah 95th evac. to uhm, it's a funny thing happened, we always liked saying okay hey we's now we is going down with Vietnam.
Uhm, all of a sudden the uhm, we was we was riding a 747 all at once this guy hit it we started climbing straight up, what had happened the Vietnamese had just hit the airport with about eight rounds of mortar, and I remember like looking around me, I wasn't I wasn't scared but a lot of the guys around me they were really going through a lot of changes. But anyways what happened they escorted us in, we came here we got off the plane man, running to bunkers you know like this, so that was kind of frightening, you know your in Vietnam now, this is the way it's going to be.
So we got off the plane running to the bunkers, then I remember like this smell in the air was like red like it was a whole distinct smell, you know something that you can't but your hands on but it just like a dusty like and the smell was different and you had to you had to ride from the airport to name a replacement, this way you be assigned in country, and the thing that go to me the most were like you was on these buses and here you had these string wires you know to keep anybody from throwing ah grenades or whatever through the window, and you're riding through all these little cities and the sound is distant because it it you know the Vietnamese language and the music is totally different, this is the first time that you here these sounds ah. The area that we was coming through it was like old buildings that have been bombed out, you see young children.
Just run out of film.
Sounds good.
Take one, clapstick
You've just arrived in Vietnam, you got on a bus. Tell me about the bus ride? What was the bus ride like? What did you see?
Ah, uhm, I seen you know like, first you get on the bus, there's five or six buses everybody rushed onto the buses and then you know the buses take off, it goes down through you know [incomprehensible] not [incomprehensible] you see people here like buildings burned out, blown up you know wrecked, fragmentation building a lot of shanty town. See this is a whole different thing, you can imagine like coming from America, man going into a country and the first thing you see is bombed out buildings or see children like begging, different people with the different type of Vietnamese, you know hats and dress.
Then you see like a guy, two or three guys maybe sitting out with a leg blown off or an arm blown off, you know like that, children begging, you know you see other guys other American soldiers like in jeeps or in trucks and you see the kids you know like begging and ah it was just a suffering thing. So it took us like maybe about fifteen or twenty minutes then at the same time guys saying you know like hey we might eb hit you know like up up to here while you got to watch out for booby traps, the roads may be booby trapped. But I think the thing that stays in my mind more so than anything is the conditions. The shanty towns, the ah, the blown up buildings you know like that people with limbs you know deformed. I think that what got to me most than anything you know like I remember that. I remember that extremely clear.
What was it like actually being there, did you ever go out to any combat missions or were you on the base all the time. What was your actual day like? If there was a day, what was an ordinary day like here in Vietnam?
A normal day, it depends, it depends on what was happening. First of all I was in support command. I was fortunate in this instance that at first I was stationed at Cam Ranh Bay.
A normal day depends on what was happening in a sense that how much work that we had. For instance like doing the Tet Offenses like we might work four, five or two weeks straight shipping ammo up north. Occasionally, we would get incoming rounds coming in occasionally or we would be shelled at from the or across the bay from the existing mountains over there. Not too heavy, uh Cam Ranh Bay was pretty much secured. You know like that, but you know like a day part of the problem that we had wasn't so much from the Vietnamese at that point.

Racism in relation to the war

But like when you first came in country we received ah it was a lot of ah tension, you know, not so much between black and white but between the administration and certain blacks, you know not say certain blacks but blacks that they define as being trouble-makers.
And guys really wasn't trouble-makers these guys somewhat became political conscience of what was happening in Vietnam. A lot of these guys felt that we didn't have any business being in Vietnam.
Uhm, personally myself like when I came in I received orientation the orientation were that okay your here to do a year they tell you what to do, who to associate with, who not to associate with, you do your time and you go on back home. So I'm I ain't thinking nothing of it but I found that the guys who they say was you know like trouble-makers you know like ah was some of the guys that when I got into the combat they would hit me to what was happening and you got to watch out for this, you got to you know carry yourself in this regard in order to get out of here, you know.
Now part of the problem were being in support unit was it was during height of the black conscience movement, so there was a lot of antagonism in a sense that the thing that was happening to Dr. King having been recently assassinated. Ah some of the imagining things that was happening down in Selma, Alabama, the black deaths would be you know turned constantly be coming in to Vietnam going home so different information was coming in, different moves of what was happening back in America.
That was effecting us to a certain extent at that time like ah blacks had began to wear what we define as afros, began to take more of a culture conscience and that created a problem. In a sense the recollection was that you had to keep a close crop haircut you know like that right. Blacks had began to wear what we consider being power bands, the black band that we symbolic to unit. Unit was a problem lot of guys received, would receive article 15s stating they don't want you to wear 'em.
Uhm, the work itself, it wasn't too bad, it was hard work and it was hot, and you had to get used to that. You was warned to stay out of the villages lot of times you know guys would ah stean off you go into the villages. I I remember myself personally I received a article 15.
Stop a minute. Stop a minute.
Take one. Clapstick.
What did you hear about news at home on subject of the blacks at home? How did this effect you over there?
Well it it affected me in two or three different ways. Naturally I was from ah Alabama. So a lot of these a lot of these during the '68 you know like a lot of movement was occurring in the southern part of the country, right.
Now growing up in Alabama I mean I didn't have the sense of political conscience, all I knew is that I was share a sharecropper that you know like I went through high school, got out of high school and find myself in Vietnam.
Uhm, being in Vietnam when I began to become conscious from some of the older guys who was there more so of what was happened back in back in the world as we called it you know.
Lot of the guys felt that we shouldn't you know like risk our life or put our life on the line when there was a war back in America when we wasn't free, you know like when ah dogs were being turned onto our peoples, young children were being bombed in churches and in ah it was very confusing in a sense that I had never personally, myself been aware in a I mean I was aware of certain things that were happening but as far as being conscious, political conscious or the implication, so as far as morale is concerned most blacks still was very supportive, and ah most blacks was very supportive of the ah system what they had to do.
You had a few brothers who was just say hey look man I don't want nothing to do with this, send me to jail, send me home o whatever, but I don't think that I should be over here in Vietnam you know fighting these peoples' war when my peoples is not free back at home you know ah at that particular time there was a lot of blacks that was being you know killed, that were being sent out.
The Black Panther Party, I think had a lot of influence upon a lot of brothers you know like that because ah the way that when Fred Hampton, Mark Clark was assassinated in Chicago now that was one of the things that really got to a lot of blacks you know.
And the whole the whole environment that was happening back in other words the situation that was occurring back in back in America, it affected it forced blacks to come more together, It created a lot of antagonist between white and blacks because in our eyes we feel that that was the same you know people the same structure that was supporting the oppression of our peoples back in America.
Ah, how it affected me is that personally, I had become began to become aware. See even at that stage coming from the south if you called me black you had a fight, okay. So the transformation had began to occur in me in the fact that I were black, that I was proud of it, that ah actually we were African peoples you know that we had a ah glorious heritage. It began a little more yourself besides looking at yourself through Tarzan. You know and being told that ah everything black is negative.
So that's the type of transformation that have because I was in a Huntsville when Dr. King was assassinated, and even at that time I wasn't actually aware of the implication of struggle.
I was aware of the fact that Dr. King had been shot and that had moved me. You know like that I had became somewhat frustrated because they had used some of the guys off of our post to go into Huntsville in case of a riot and they would not allow in a the a blacks, you know because they say the emotion was too high, you know that ah in other words it came down things where they could trust.
But being in Vietnam itself and looking at the situation that was occurring back in America and talking to various brothers who was coming to Vietnam, it had a very drastic effect. It didn't make me bitter in reference to the system, it did, it just made me more confused than anything else.
Did you consciously think to yourself, what am I doing here? If you asked that question of yourself, how did you answer it?
Yes, that question was was araised in my mind ah....
Could you raise the question yourself?
Ah in reference to ah in reference to me being in Vietnam and ah how it affect me being in Vietnam fighting a war when there was injustice being perpetrated against my peoples back in America, I had began to become aware, number one that the war in a sense was unjust. That it wasn't a war of national liberation for the Vietnamese peoples or against to keep communism from spreading as I have been taught.
Now, as as I became conscious of these things a transformation began to occur within me. Not in a sense that I wasn't willing to fulfill my responsibility in service, but I just found myself isolating myself from ah the ah white you know soldiers and things that blacks would began to associate among ourselfs more so, we began to have political education classes, we began to come together to sit down to talk about you know so many problems that we was confronted with. Uhm, our our commitment that we should you know like when we go back there we should be concerned about joining the struggle to try to eradicate some of the conditions uhm...
You know it it it it it its kind a difficult you know like now you know like on a personal emotional level. You know they say you know definite how it affected me because I'm saying this era that I have became begane become conscious. I was transformed in the first five months that I was in Vietnam. From being unaware you know totally of ah various...
(mumbling in background)
I know I'm not doing to well. Laughing
Four take one Clapstick
You were telling me about how news of home effected you and effected what you were doing, that it raised your consciousness as a black person. Now, I wonder if you can tell me how this effected your dealing with the whites and with other soldiers? Were you aware, more aware of differences? I mean did you feel? How did this effect you?
Well personally, uhm, it depended upon in a large sense, like naturally I had began to develop a somewhat antagonistic feeling towards Caucasian in general. But naturally, I had came from a southern environment, a lot of racism, you know, on an institutional personal level, I became aware of the fact that through sharecropping went through a thing where you likened got out debt or you just did get out debt, or still had nothing to show. So that's the unconscious of my mind, and I'm becomin aware of a lot of other things, you know. And uhm, as far as on a personal level you have found, find, some white soldiers, you know guys who was okay. You know, they didn't exercise racism. Then you found some who had what you would define as being a pupis racist. You know, they didn't like blacks and that was that.
Well, you know I became aware no problem, you don't dig us, well hey, we don't dig you. You know, uhm, but you would always find exception. You know you find some white guys that was cool, you'd find some black guys who we would define as being Uncle Tom...
You know, that they would hang around like a white officer, they'd hang around with the white guys, everything the blacks would be in to, that they would go and tell the man, you know. That was their preference maybe they were trying to become white. That's how we used to refer to them. But basically, we just, a lot us chose to, this is base's support unit, most, we just kind of chose to stay to ourselves, you know, like that. And it was at times they was very antagonistic, some fights may occur, but usually if a white guy, you know, if you cool, you was cool.
You know what I'm sayin? I mean, if you decide you want to relate to blacks, there was nobody to bother you, black nor white because it wasn't allowed. One of the things that I found is I don't think that blacks so much from my personal experience, dislike the whites so much, I think what was happening is that we basically disliked what was happenin back in the world, uh, a numerous amount of brothers was bein wrote up for Article 15 or for trumped up charges. A lot of brothers were being busted, a lot of brothers that wasn't being promoted, a lot of brothers who were catching the shit detail jobs. And uh, we felt that it was unjust the way it was coming down, a lot of the brothers was being harrassed for the simple fact that we chose, like in a sense, to, to, to, to, ah associate among ourselves.
I guess maybe the administration seen this somewhat as a threat. And the fact that given the phenomenal that was occurring back here in the world and being a lot of the brothers we were getting together and we were like a lot of time take grievance you know to the ah commanding officer or to the ah battalion commander in reference to some of the thing that we would like to see changed there were some of the things that we would like to see changed, you know to be allowed to do. Number one, we would like to be allowed to wear afros. I mean we would go by regulation system and have no big afro, but we would like to do these thing that wat was establish a sense of pride within us.
Now, some white guy was open to this. Some white sergeants, enlisted officers or whatever was open to this but then you have some that were really seriously antagonized. And, you know they just had a problem. You had on both, both races.
Did you feel you were, you were part and parcel of a unified thing or did you really feel you very submi—your place the way you make it sound to me is basically you seem to be concerned with doing your time rather than being part of the sort of unified sort of struggle or fight. Why would that be so?
Well, the sense that I was married and had a family and the sense that I definitely want to survive and return back to my family and also I found myself, you know, in a, in a leadership position. I had a responsibility in the sense that I had well, this fighting thing because I was a...actually I had got busted when I got there supposedly from missing bed-check, which it was simply because I chose to associate with the ones they defined as being the troublemakers, but anyway, I had a responsibility of running ammunition storage dump with thirty-two pass storing everything from small arm to hawk missiles.
And within my platoon, they had given me all the so-called troublemakers. The guys seriously not troublemakers. They had a problem in dealing with ah deciding because of their attitude towards them. I could get the guys to work and work very effectively because I would work with them. I would never disrespect them. You know, like that, ah, and I never had any problem with them.
So, in a sense, the here I am with E2 wearing hard stripes. Okay. And, ah, doing the job. Even got a commemoration now from the colonel a couple of times in reference to how how effective we was doing the job. And, ahm, that aspect had influence. Being the same time, I'm being told hey look man you could be 60 before you get out of here, and the thing that really got to me when one brother came in from Saigon and after I had been a [incomprehensible] for about five months there getting paid for E2 and doing a responsibility of a buck sergeant, I began to, you know, I began to talk to the ah first sergeant about it.
You know like that right. and, well, what happened they said it would be promote me back to ah back to E3, you know, but I wanted to the hard strupes in a sense. But, being a, what happened was that once Tet Offense was over with and there wasn't a requirement to ship so much incoming ammunition 'fore a storing and shipping it up-country, things slowed down. So, when things slowed down then the officers they wanted the guys to do a lot of shit detail, which wasn't necessary. These guys after all busted their ass to get that ammunition up up up of the country because they realized how important it was. Combat would go out taking ammunition up, the guy who was a volunteer knowing that they were going to be hit.
But, they still volunteer to get enough, get it up country, because it had ... That's the type of commitment and attitude that guys in the support unit because they recognized that, look, their comrade was out in the field. Their comrade depended on getting that ammo.
Now, that was during a time when like the morale was more high. It was more high than the second tour when I was there. But, I found that ah after, you know, like when things slowed down a little and ahm I went and I talked to the ahm the first sergeant about, you know, I had a family, about getting paid for the work that I was doing. Ah.
Then it became a problem, you know, and I, things happened fast because I would defend a guy. If a guy got Article 15 I want to know why he got Article 15. You know, if a guy was harassed, I wanted to know why he was harassed. So, the thing about it....
End of SR #2860

Mama-sans on the bases

Brother Key
SR #2861
T-876 July 15, 1981. Tone minus 8, 50 cycle, full strength. All frames the same.
Five take. Clap sticks.
Did you...did you ever identify with the Vietnamese? Did you ever feel you were...? You know, tell me about it.
The Vietnamese people in themselves personally I found they was beautiful peoples. Ah. It was in, being support unit what would happen I think it was across the bay, Bay Lo, Bay Luc, I think it were that the Vietnamese used to come also from the village which was like in a concentration camp. The fact that you had barbed wired fences. And, that's the thing I could never understand. You know peoples in their own country being forced into in a sense like a prison. It looked like Walpole with the barbed wire fences all around and they can come out when they get...
But, anyway, it was this one mama-san. We call it mama-san. That means...You know, this is a lady. She worked on the base. She was a very knowledgeable lady. Very decent. Another one I knew was Sao and um, San. I became very good fiends of them. This young lady San. I think she was a mixture of Vietnamese and French, and she had lost all she was the only child, she had los three brothers in the war.
Ah. She was staying with some relatives. She was working. She said she was forced to work in the sense that her cousin, they was in Saigon in school, you know, it was fortunate to come from a family. Ahm. What really got to me and I guess the first experience that when this, this young lady, I mean, you know, you stereotype about the peoples an who we define as being gooks but a gook is a foreigner. We really were the gooks, and the attitude were before I knew better, I used to call them gooks too. You know, like that right.
But ah when I met this one young lady names Sao who I was talking about in ah I found how good she was in algebra. I mean this tripped me out. You know, a Vietnamese and this woman didn't know anything about algebra as far as I'm concerned at that time. You know. This girl San. Like I was kind of drawn to her because she was my baby-san, you know, since her responsibility, she'd wash my clothes, and things like this.
And, ahm, what moved me so much about her the fact that she had lost three brothers in that war and she still didn't have no oth—the people... they.... she personally herself, she didn't care too much about America, but the fact that she had a job then she wasn't going to do anything to jeopardize the job. She wasn't no VC or nothing like this. She was, there was no ah street girl, you know, like most of the lot of girls, prostitute.
Her and Sao and this old mama-san, I mean they was decent people's man. You know like they was coming there to work, to make a living and that's what they was doing, you know. They would get whatever they could get and would take it home. But, I had ahm... Sao she could speak English. She could speak good English. So, I had the opportunity really to ah you know really kind of see how they felt. I used to look at them and a lot of times they used to listed at various Vietnamese songs and I used to ask them what, what was he saying. They used to tell me about she's singing a song about how, you know, how her boyfriend, her husband, you know, went off to war and he don't got killed and ah she left, you know, with the children and how she gonna survive in this land and ah...
I found them, that was the transformation began to occur in me because like I had looked at all Vietnamese when I first come to Vietnam with suspicion, you know, as being communists, but, you know, after seeing the peoples, you know, and working with them, you know, you become somewhat close. A lot of them worked in the kitchen, some of them helped prepare the food, you know, like that. So, you had in a sense kind of, kid of trust them. Ahm. There was a barrier in the sense that certain things... We still was Americans. And, the, the, what they would...
Sorry. Six. Take one. Clap sticks.
Tell me some more about the women in the kitchen and the women who worked on the base, what they, what they meant to you?
Well, I, you know, I, I'm the type where I just like peoples. You know, and once I see that there is no resentment towards me, I'm usually, very protective, you know, of peoples. I don't care where you come from. And, the fact that they were Vietnamese intrigued me because it was different, cause it was different peoples, it was a different life style. I have always had a, a very deep emotional feeling about peoples, you know, that you see that is poor.
But one of the things that really, that really, really, stuck o me was the unit that existed, you know, between the mama-sans, you know, like that... I mean the ones, you know who would like work. They would always look out for each other, man. You know, had, had, had that sense of ah concern and care and plus the fact they also would look out for a lot of us guys.
You know, like if certain that they had, or knew about something that was happening, then they would let us know. Or, if they see one of our friends, you know, like using drugs or doing something that could harm themselves, they would tell them, say, hey, you know, ah you know soul brother, you know, he do number ten. You know, no good, no good. You know, like they do number ten. You know, you ah...So, you know, we know, we ah would talk to you know so when people, at least that showed us that they cared, you know, somewhat. And, in a sense, it was like after know, some of the mama-sans had been working down on their job for like say three, four, five years.
So, they knew what was happening. You know like that and the could tell when a guy first come in from country. You know, he may be a little uptight. He no gonna like that or whatever and mama-san had a way ah of, you know, being able to co, co, relate to the guy. Kind of, you know, chill him out.
You know, like that right, whereas he could ahm you know kind of begin to, you know, understand. You know, like some things you did, some things there, what I liked was the discipline. These three Vietnamese womens, in particular... the numerous amount of guys that tried to get to them, you know, far as sex was concerned. They played that pure.
And, that was one fo the things I really liked it, because see, the, the stereo precept in reference to Vietnamese, all of them as being, you know, whores, you know. They had a tremendous high percentage of prostitute because that was a way of life. It was nothing for baby san to say you wanna bang, bang. You know that means sexual intercourse for a pack of cigarettes. You know like that, right. Ah. Because that was their survival. That was their way of life, you know. They received a lot of, you know, food and things, you know, through working. Naturally, they were eating it. When they would go home they would have a bag of you know oranges and apples or whatever. A lot of the GI's would give em a lot of, a lot of stuff.
There was one thing that was extremely moving to me. This young lady named San. The second time I seen her she had gotten married. But, anyway, I remember my birthday, my second birthday in Vietnam, she had given me some assorted cheese and it, it, it, it tripped me out so I dropped it. And, I was embarrassed. You know, like that nearby, that was standing there heard me, and she was very moved about it, you know. And, it wasn't a thing whereas, you know, like a lot of the Vietnamese who tried to get close to a Vie, towards the vets, because a lot of them seeing a way out. They all want to go to American. They all talked about America.
They all had heard stories about America. It was like ah, like the way, you know growing up in the south, the way we used to like hear about the north. You know, like, that, right.

Reflections on a meeting with N.L.F. soldiers

Ahm. But, the peoples themselves. Now, I had one experience... like we was over in a, a, I went across the bay. In a, Ben Hai. I think that what it were. And ah me and a friend of mines we, we just, we really didn't have any business over there, but we decide we were going over there one night, and stay in the village, right. So, we had one of them buhist baby-san that worked across the bay. they would come here on the truck or on the boats, right. So, we had one of them on the night and we were going to spend, we were going to spend the day. This is between ah Cam Ranh Bay and Da Nang. So, we was going to spend Ben Hai. Things were... we were going to spend the night over there.
So, ah, we was in the baby-san hut so we sitting there me and the partner, and we smoking some mari, kind of high and all at once she come, she say, VC, VC come, VC come. So, amen, you know (chuckles). Me and my partners we virtually took off. She said no sweat, no sweat. You know, she said no sweat, no sweat. You know she said no sweat, no sweat. No, O talk VC. I tell them you number one, you know. So, anyway. They comes in and she say something, the talking in Vietnamese. They only thing that I could about understand she say he number one. Everything's cool. You know, if they go for it and you say number ten, you better watch out.
You know, because number ten means you, you, you bad news. You know, number one means you're okay, you know. So, they run down some Vietnamese, so they come back in there. She says, she come back and she told the Vietname, the VC they want to eat. You know, so, phew, they come in, they come in and they' eyeing us. So, at the time she said VC come, we didn't make no attempt to get out weapons. In fact. we got rid of the weapons.
We remove, we removed the weapons, to aw, when the woman called we moved over over to the other side of the room, you know. She said no sweat, you know. So, they comes in and one stands over by the door. The other one comes in. She bring the rice and stuff, like the other, this guy, you know, he's talking, she stares for about a good and a half. Man I'm about to do something in my clothes, you know. I'm saying, you gotta be taken off. But, ahm, after that, you know then the guy, you know, he speak English. You know, you know, he asked us, you know. Ah. What's all brothe do. You know, fight the enemy, Vietnamese, you know, you know, ain't no enemy, you know. And, I think that experience there virtually scared the H out of me, the S out of me.
That experience, I think, stuck in my head more so, to the poin that the second time I went back to Vietnam, I would not carry a weapon, you know, because, you know, like the guy, he say, we sit there with a guy who probably had opium on it, smoking on it, cause, I had, occasionally I would smoke a joint. I had just started smoking, you know. Ah. I was smoking a joint.
And ahm, you know, I don't know. That just had a very... at one point I'm thinking about I, I was gone, you know, and another point, I couldn't believe it. You know, sitting here talking to actual... you know. VC's they look just like any other (chuckle). You know the Vietnamese, they ain't no different, you know, like that, right. And, ah, after that experience, I, it, just a total change came over me, man. You know, just, I just changed. I just couldn't see it, you know, ahm.
I have been growing in political conscience in a sense that, you know, in a sense that the war was unjust. That actually the Vietnamese after being colonized and dominated for over 100 years by the French...and in the Ge—during the Geneva Convention, America intervened into Vietnam. That, the people's had a just struggle, you know, like that...And, once you become conscious of these things, what do you do? I mean you no longer can, you know, seriously pick up your gun and say that's a VC, you know, because of the indoctrination that you have received, and you think nothing of him. He's the enemy.
But, you begin to see peoples in a different light. You no longer, you begin to look at your own country, because of the reality of the impression that is being perpetrated on you as a people, the dogs being turned loose on you, your people, and you see kids being blown away in churches. You see the Vietnamese have a legitimate reason to struggle. You know, after this is their country, you know. So...
I had began to become conscious th—I mean still faithful to the system, you know. I'm, I'm American soldier. I had occupational responsibility, you know. But, I'm saying that once you began to experience these things, you know, you go through this. There's a transformation that begins to come over you, you know.
And, that would reinforce with the, ah, you know, the fact that, you know, being harassed, the fact that, you know...wearing the unity bands, and you couldn't wear afros, and a lot af guys was being harassed and I had also become aware of LBJ who's the third ma, ah, ah, third, Lyndon, LBJ was the jail in Saigon. It was named after Lyndon Baines Johnson. I mean come off it, you know, you... So, then there was at tremendous amount of ah of Hispanics, Blacks, few whites and also was incarcerated, you know, like that.

The drug market in Vietnam

Take you back. You were talking about ah having to smoke, and you were talking about pot. I wonder if you can tell me what was the, what was the drug problem? One—some of the vets that we spoke to for example, said that in fact the women working on the base were, in fact, peddling lots of drugs to the, women were offering, what was the, how did, how did, how did the drug system work and how widespread was it and what was [incomprehensible] and what was happening to that?
The drug, the drug system itself was very widespread. I mean, you know, come on. If, you know, herb, marijuana, it grew in Vietnam. They had a lot of peers the would call ah number tens number one. They were French-made peers. I don't know whether they're made in Vietnam. I think they're made in France. Ah. They had a plant that they called fat mama liquid speed. Ahm. You would say speed, downers, marijuana. Marijuana most of all. they had opium, they had heroin, they had ah cocaine. Anything you wanted. The drug scene. Ah, a lot of guys used drugs.
I was fortunate myself. I came from a drug free environment with the exception of alcohol, and so it was a no, no. It took me about five months before I even hit ah, you know, before I even began to smoke a joint. That's basically all I did. But, drugs were easy accessible to a lot of...A lot of guys used a tremendous amount of drugs. Ah. Part of the problem was that like those downers... Guys would take those downers and they would like drink that speed, and once they got that, and that ain't really, they didn't care. You know, like, they'd right, just as soon as hit an officer or, you know, anybody. I mean what, it's easy to say they used drugs. Drugs were easy accessible to you. You could go down in the village. Everybody sellin herb.
Some were mama-san, baby-san, were bring drugs across, not too many, were bringing across. You know, very few, because they knew, especially one who been working there four or five years. They knew that was their lifeline. If they lost their job, then they could forget it.
But, you had some baby-san who would, you know, on, they wouldn't actually [incomprehensible] a prostitute, but then, you always could go down in the village. Or, you always go down on the corner. You know like that. So, it's far as access to drugs was concerned, it wasn't any problem developing access to drugs.
Just ran out.
Take one. Clap sticks.
Okay. How prevalent was, was the drug market? Was it, was it well-organized? Was it just South Vietnamese run? Was there American connection or what? How did the system operate? Could you see that money was being made from drugs?
Oh, a tremendous amount of money was being made from drugs. And, not only drugs, there were a lot of money being made, you know, from black market through the sale of drugs. Ah. I, I, I personally, I knew there was a tremendous amount of marijuana more so than anything were being shipped through the post office back into this country.
You would hear various stories, you know, like ah well, I think is a matter of fact, a record that a lot of the bodies that were shipped back to this country, a lot of herb was shipped, you know, by them means. No only were herbs shipped back, weapons and everything else was shipped to this country.
But, I think ah as far as the drug traffic concerned, a tremendous of it, somebody was constantly organizing. And, I think it reached it from the highest echelon, you know, on down, because a lot of peoples will tell you you'd probably be able to find various people who was really in a commanding position that maybe would tell you, you know, that they made a tremendous amount of money. As far as drugs was concerned, it was a, be, far as the drug traffic's concerned, from what I understand, there was some organized, for the Vietnamese having an access to the drug and the American being able to dump it or have access to get it here to this country.
I know that ahm...I know from Southeast Asia, a tremendous heroin was shipped into this country. Now, when I was in school, and I had this, this ah ah ah ah crime and delinquency class, in that class I was taught that, at that time, that it was the American CIA that shipped the more heroin to this country from Southeast Asia, and that would came in. Mostly it was ear-marked for the black community for the black community, minority community.
So, I'm saying, you know, as far as I know and understand, a tremendous amount of drugs is accessible. There was a very high use of drugs. Lot of guys made money off of drugs. And, you know, they would turn them over. They would send drugs here to the country.
Ah. The guys would send greenback back converted over. Get whatever was, whatever there was, the value had been going up. You could take $100, get $160 or you my be able to get $180. Change it over, you know. Send it out in money, use of drugs. Repeat the same process. That was very widespread.


What about fraggings on this, about the drug... can you, were you aware of fraggings taking place on your... Could you tell me about that?
It's two, two incidents, it's two incidents particularly that I know about. One, the second tour. The first tour I didn't run into any incidents where being in Cam Ranh Bay somewhat secure where there was a fragging internal.
In Da Nang I was stationed right in the middle of a Marine compound and ah as far as fragging is concerned, yes. One experience that we experience the fact that there is this place like a theater. Like down in the middle of the compound. Like, at one point...This is a fact that this lieutenant, he was a marine, about, about 150 yards up where the, where the ah gun was sitting there, he shot three or four rounds in, and on the brother that were sitting out there. This is a fact. The guy was court-martialed.
And, ah, another experience, one thing I experienced up in Phu Bai, you know, like that and the day before ah I went up to see some friends, the day before I got the tension was high because two brothers had been fragged by a white guy...
Now, there was a tremendous amount of supposedly fragging, you hear story, allegations, you know, about, you know guys being fragged. I remember one time I was, a brother told me that I could believe him, because he say he was dead. That they booby-trapped this CO. You know, in a hut. And, at first when they came out, he blowed it away. they had to bring a chop man and cut a hole in the tent and take him out through the roof. I knew this incident where this one brother like here because so oppressed he just gave everything up. You know. He was stationed out on Hill 11 and he just shot is way out of there. they, they, I, I, I don't know whether right now whether they killed him or whether he end up doing big time, you know. Then I've been in Quang Tri, there was some fragging occurred up here. In fact it hit the news. I think it even made it back here, about this [incomprehensible] that was fragged. This was along in the '70. There was...
You sound as if by this time people really are fighting against each other?
Oh, yes, definitely. I mean, there's more, so there's more antagonist between, you know, internal, in-house men as anything. In fact, things kind of had slowed down somewhat. I mean you don't see a guy who's being killed because where I was stationed at, I mean, you know Hill 11 and the others on Hill 21 around the hill guys were being blown away all day. That was a marine. The chopper is coming in, taking them out and coming in. But, it was a lot of antagonist backing support. Now, what I understand is that like out in the fields where guys survival would depend upon they're working together. This here was a different reality, but also it was told to me that it was nothing, you know, for guys to go out and to be ambushed, and kind of find out they're being ambushed by say either white or black or some antagonist conflict that occur, but in in in the support unit where I was in there was a tremendous amount of ah...For instance, like, like, at one point there was ah there was this dance and they had brought in some ah they had brought in, I think, there was Australian, some some broads from Australia. No, Philippine and the Philippian being a little on the dark side and [incomprehensible], which got over to the service club, and so the brother had a tendency to say, ya, right on. So, when the brother said ride on, the white guys said, oh, down.
So, automatically that was enough to start a fight. Big brute started it. In fact. I think it was a, it was same thing around that battalion. Any white guy that got caught doing this, you know, like hey, you get Article 15 whatever because of the tension that was created. and, and it didn't take too much of really anything. Like for instance if white guys were four or five of them together they, you know, they might get rocks thrown at you sometimes. It depends.

Race relations among soldiers

But, you see. This is not to say that everybody was like that. That's an exception to the rule. Some, some blacks that hey look didn't have no problem as far as race relations concerned. There were some whites didn't have no problem as far as race relations concerned. But then there were both blacks and whites that was very antagonistic, you know, for, because at the same time you must understand during the height of the black conscious movement during that era from America, a lot of brothers were being, you know, trained coming over. A lot of them began to get into more a nationalistic, you know, praising and saying, you know, we are African peoples. Ah. A lot of the influence mis, ah misunderstanding in reference to the teaching of the honorable Ab. the Elijah Muhammad, May the bless, May the Peace and Blessings of our Lord be upon him.
Ah. That the white man literally was the devil. Some people never really understood, you know, the essence of what one is saying in reference to what it means by one being a devil. And, they took it literally for his teaching to say the white race... So, naturally, having a narrower view. Okay. That within itself served to separate to a certain extent.
Okay. But. like I'm saying is this is my own personal experience, look if white guy he didn’t have no problem with me, if he didn’t have no problem with the rest of my brother and everything, I didn't have no problem with him.
If he say, if he say hey look man, you know, I in't got no problem with you fighting coup well then I ain't going to bother him. If he chose to associate with us,... now, the problem were if a black associated with a white you had a problem with the blacks. If ah, if ah if a white associated with blacks then he had a problem with whites.
So in other words, it worked both ways. The fact that a white guy associated with us, we had to insure that white guys did not jump him. If he associated with black people, nobody, black don't bother him. This is a funny thing because I guess the psychology that is if you associate with blacks, then he's okay.
And, he's not. ah, you know, what I'm saying. He's not a racist or he's no-hate blacks, you know, whatever. And another thing that caused a lot of strains among the racists was the fact that in Vietnam you find what we call the unity shake where we would do that. You might have seen it somewhere. It was like a ripple thing that was widespread. Brothers always would give, you know, it was ups and down or whatever. This separated the races because in a sense it put us in a different inner perspective.
The second tour I found that we had to more with organization for our survival. You know, far as political implication. The impression that was coming down on us. You know, like they, we had to begin to try to organize, to, you know, ease some of that racism that was coming, the institutionalized racism that was coming down. A very high percentage of our brothers was being incarcerated and we was becoming conscious of this. A lot of brothers was AWOL. A tremendous amount of brothers would go on to Hong Kong, was going to Switzerland, whatever. They wasn't coming back home. A tremendous amount of brothers was staying down in the village and, I knew this for a fact. AWOL. Couldn't come back.
End of SR #2861