Friday, September 29, 2017

Reflections on "The Wall"

I wrote the following after a visit to the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in 1988.
On December 13, 1969 a scared young man got off of a plane at Bien Hoa Air Force Base in Vietnam. Thirteen and a half months later on February 1, 1971, that same young man – older and wiser – returned home to McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. In those months, a lot happened that took years to accept. The real acceptance of that experience started on July 28, 1988, over 17 years later. That’s when I visited the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial (“The Wall”) for the first time.
My experience in ‘Nam was different than most, I wasn’t out in the boonies carrying a rifle, nor was I totally a “REMF” at a rear base camp. I was a “71M20” Chaplain Assistant. That meant I was the Chaplain’s bodyguard, driver, secretary, chapel organist and chapel builder. In addition, I visited our wounded at the evacuation hospitals and assisted in memorial services.
That may not sound like much to you. I didn’t see actual combat – instead, I saw the aftermath. I haven’t talked much about it except to other Vietnam veterans – we’ve had a propensity to keep our feelings to ourselves. At the most, we’ll discuss it with other Vietnam veterans. Recently, with the building of “The Wall” and some of the programs on TV we’ve started to let our feelings come to the surface. They call itt “Delayed Stress Syndrome” or something like that.
In the meantime, we’ve kept to ourselves. I have a very close friend in Des Moines who saw a lot of combat. We’ve spent several nights just talking. Occasionally he will have a flashback. Our mutual friends know that’s the time to leave us alone. I know I’m one of the few men who understand what he’s going through.
When I visited “The Wall”, my first thoughts were that I wished he could have been there with me to share our feelings and, yes, cry on each other’s shoulders. The memorial invokes those feelings, It is truly a moving experience.
As you approach the memorial, it's almost like entering the sacred ground. Signs request “N Smoking”, “No Food”, “No Running”.
A brochure published by the Parks and History Association fittingly describes the memorial “Like a roll call of time, the memorial lists casualties by date of loss, starting at the vertex. The first name, Dale R. Buis is inscribed under the date 1959 on panel 1E. Names continue eastward to panel 70E, reaching May 1968 at the end of the east wing. The sequence continues at the walls opposite end on panel W70 as if the memorial has circled underground and surfaced again At the vertex, the toll ends with Richard Vande Geer at the bottom of panel W1 above the date 1975. End meets beginning; the circle is complete.”
On my visit to the memorial, I noted an envelope sitting against one of the panels. A soldier’s name had been copied from the memorial. Written on the envelope was “Dear Dad, I’m sorry I never got to know you. Love, …
It is a memorial not only to those who lost their lives but all who served. This is best described by the inscription at the base of the memorial’s flagpole “The flag affirms the principles of freedom for which they fought and their pride in having served under difficult circumstances…”
Anyone visiting Washington DC, whatever their political stance during the Vietnam war, should visit the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. Take in the wall with the veteran standing beside you, tears in his eyes and try to understand the necessary healing of the nation that is taking place. We the Vietnam Veterans, do not expect the general public will ever fully understand what we went through. We only ask that you accept that we served our country as have other veterans.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Jeep Driving in Vietnam

Taking a break from the serious section of the subject of Vietnam, here are some observations of jeep drivers in that country during the war.
After an exhaustive survey of jeep drivers in Vietnam, we have compiled an amazing mountain of facts and myths about driving in Vietnam.

Here is but a sample of the nuggets of wisdom drawn from that vast legion of the most professional jeep drivers in the world.

  1. If you forget to unlock the chain on the steering wheel, there is a good chance you won’t make the first turn.

  1. If you are driving your First Sergeant around and you run out of gas, he is likely to get mad.

  1. If you put it in reverse, floor it, and pop the clutch, you will lay a patch.

  1. If Top sees you do this, you will likely be taking the ankle express from now on.

  1. During the monsoons, it will rain when the canvas top is down.

  1. During the monsoons, it will rain when the canvas top is up.

  1. During the monsoons, you are going to get wet.

  1. MPs can appear from nowhere.

  1. MPs will not go away if you ignore them.

  1.  You should always give tanks the right-of-way.  Courtesy pays.

  1. If you are constantly driving on the left side of the road and you are not in Australia, you are going to be surprised one of these days.

  1. If you signal for a left turn in Saigon, there is a good chance you will lose your wristwatch.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Chaplain Assistant – Religion

I need to take a break to talk about the job of
Chaplain Assistant. This chapter may help explain my attitude towards organized religion. It delves into life events that steered me to that Army MOS (Military Occupation Specialty).

My mom took my sister and me to Sunday School (and later Church) almost every Sunday. On the other side, dad belonged to the “C & E” club – Christmas and Easter. Both my sister and I were confirmed into the Lutheran Church.

As for what I remember, my dad was not confirmed into any church until he went to class at our Lutheran Church. At the end of the class, he was confirmed. My dad was never one to wear his religion on his sleeve. He lived by the “Golden Rule”. My dad was an honest, hard-working farmer and businessman. Watching the sunrise was his affirmation that there was a higher power.

My dad did support some church functions. For several years, mom, dad, sister, me, grandmother, and some of my grandmother's catering crew cooked breakfast after Easter Sunrise Service. Still, the land was my dad's church”.

When it came to time to settle into college life, I started attending the campus Lutheran “congregation”. There was a young, opinionated pastor. This was in the late 60s and the height of Viet Nam. The pastor was preaching against the war. I had not formed a solid opinion about the war – but felt that such sermons did not belong. I stopped attending campus church.

This takes me to the week before my military induction. In one week, I had been drafted. Resigned my job. Moved from Cincinnati back to Wisconsin. My maternal grandfather had died and I attended his funeral. The next morning, boarded a bus to the induction center.

To say that I was a lost/confused 21 year-old as far as my religion was an understatement. I was not keen on killing people. Nor was I a conscience objector. When the Chaplain made is talk recruiting chaplain assistants – I was all ears. This seemed to be nearly the perfect job for me. I could serve my country and my fellow soldiers. The job would be to help the guys and not shoot the “enemy”.

The Army Chaplain Assistant is a “jack-of-all-trades”. Whatever it took – we did it for the Chaplain. Chaplains could carry a weapon if he wished, but not required – I was his body guard. It was up to me to maintain the Chaplain's jeep and drive him wherever he went. We were his clerk and typist, filed daily reports, typed and duplicated chapel bulletins.

We typed a “next-of-kin” letter for fallen soldiers. Served as acolytes for chapel services. Some of us even played organ for services. We built chapels. I served as base movie projectionist. We set up chapel services and memorial services.

We were paired up with a chaplain with our same basic denomination – divided into Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish. However, we were trained how to set up for and assist the Chaplain of any denomination.

The first chaplain I worked with was was for just 2 weeks as his assistant was leave. For the next 9 months, I worked with the my assigned Chaplain. If did not take much time to find out I had problems working with him. He was North American Baptist from Seattle, Washington. He was always right – just ask him. He did not know how to give compliments – they were always back-handed.

Tuesday afternoon until Thursday mid-day, my chaplain and I were at BMB as duty chaplain and assistant. While at BMB, my chaplain would select hymns and the title of his sermon for our Sunday chapel service. Saturdays were were generally traveling to one of the other bases for services. That left me Thursday afternoon and Fridays to type and duplicate the chapel bulletin. Also try practice playing the hymns.

I made a big mistake when I told my chaplain that I had played the accordion when younger. He took that I could play the organ for chapel service. I tried it, making an effort, if I knew the hymns. The problems were when he selected hymns I never heard of. If I was lucky and knew the hymn, I might get a back-handed compliment – like “I see you finally practiced before service this week”. Adding insult to injury – once I was out of the Army, I was told that chapel organists got PAID in Viet Nam.

I did one item of defiance that irked him. I grew a mustache. He despised any facial hair. As long as I kept my mustache within Army regulations – there was nothing he could do about it. I still have the mustache!

My Chaplain and I drove the roads of Viet Nam un-escorted. The only think we had was my M-16 rifle. Thanks to my friends with the “Rat Patrol” (gun jeeps). I squirrel some smoke grenades and fragmentation grenades in the back of my jeep. I don't know if the Chaplain knew I had them, but I felt a little better with them.

I asked the Chaplain if we could carry a radio in the back of the jeep. It made sense for me as we are out by ourselves. He said it was not authorized and that it made us stand out (like some high officer). By this, I knew that in Nam – if there was a will, there was a way. I told the Chaplain I was sure someone could scrounge up a radio that I could have in the back of the jeep. It would not show – just used to emergencies. But, he said “NO”.

My bunk space was with Echo Company – Rat Patrol, snipers, and mortars. They were my best friends in Nam. They gave me the nickname of “Preach”. Later, I found out like there were a lot of just chaplain assistants called “Preach” just like medics called “Doc”.

The Rat Patrol offered me to ride with them when they escorted an infantry company out to where they will be patrolling. I figured it would be great – a way to see and understand what some of my hootch-mates did. Besides, I was caught up that day and it would be only a couple hours. But did I ever catch hell from the Chaplain.

One day, the Chaplain decided we should drive out to where there was a little temporary fire base to hold chapel services. Directions to the base included a 7 or 8 mile drive on a dirt road. Topping that off, there had been reports of enemy sniper fire in the area. We were to wait for a gun jeep to escort in to the firebase. Chaplain waited less than 30 minutes past the appointed rendezvous time when he decided we would head in un-escorted. His reasoning “If the Lord watches over me in the freeways of Seattle, He will watch over me here”. I had not option but to drive him into the area. I drove like a NASCAR driver. Thankfully. I grew up driving a jeep on the farm. I knew how the vehicle handled. Was more than a little scared. The Chaplain did not say anything – just held on.

After chapel service, we were to wait, again for escort. There was a fire mission just as we finished service. The base was a flurry of activity. The Chaplain said they were busy to escort us, so we would just drive back to the pavement and Battalion fire base. I drove like a bat-out-of-hell on the way back to the pavement, shaving 1 minute off out driving time on the way back. After all, I knew the road!

I felt bad for the guys out at the fire base. I was able to get into the PX (Post Exchange) every week during our 2 nights at Brigade Main Base. I became almost a satellite PX for them. I kept a list of what the guys wanted from the PX. Picked then up for them and brought them back to the fire base. I did not take any profit – what the PX price is what I charged the guys. There were some things at I just stocked up or tossed into the jeep because I need they would want some. Popular items were film, snacks, and condoms. Never told that Chaplain what all I was hauling back in the jeep.

A big part of the day I spent at BMB was visiting our Battalions troops sick or injured in the 2 Evacuation Hospitals at Long Bimh Post. It was a day a week for me while with the 199th. During my service with IIFFV, one of the two assigned chaplain assistants went every day at the hospitals. I got to detest visiting the hospital. When I was out of the Army – you really had to be a good friend or close family member before I would visit you in the hospital.

Right or wrong – while on the 199th, I was like the “gate-keeper”. The guys in the unit (including NCOs and Officers) did not like my Chaplain. The guys would tell me some of their problem, looking for guidance the questions they had – is this a problem for the Company Commander or the Chaplain.

If one of the battalion's companies were back at BMB for “Stand-Down” and it happened to be that I was at BMB, I was always invited to party with them.

About 8 months in country, the recon platoon invited me out on a patrol with them. I took that a great vote of confidence – that they felt so comfortable with me. I asked the Chaplain. What a mistake that was. He forbid me doing it and said that the only way he would allow me into the field was if I changed my MOS and gave up my Chaplain Assistant job. Well – I was not born yesterday!

During this time, I was called up to my E-5 promotion board. I felt I preformed well in from of the board. Was able to answer their questions. One surprised me. Being assigned to an Infantry brigade, I was surprised when one of the review board officers asked me about a vestment color for a particular part of the church year. Luckily, I nailed it. Did not make it the first month, but the next month. With 11 months and 8 days on active duty, I was promoted to SP5-E5. I make particular note of this because the Chaplain still did not appreciate my work.

Two months later when we were both going to other units – he told me that it was a good thing because otherwise he would have put me in for a disciplinary Article 15. Years later, I learned that he had left a negative oral report for my future Chaplain. He was given the option to take me or change m MOS (without telling me or allowing any rebuttal). Hell of a nice guy!

My final Chaplain – Major with IIFFV-Arty (Second Field Force Viet Nam – Artillery) was a joy to work with. Each week the chaplain went into Saigon to visit a missionary couple. The other assistant and I alternated weeks driving. There were 2 of us assistants in the office. The other was SP4-E4 – so I had rank on him. We shared our work load. The only time I recall pulling rank on him was Christmas 1970. It was my second Christmas in country and advised our chaplain that I would be over at Long Binh Post to watch the Bob Hope Show. As such, the other assistant would cover the office.

Fast Forward 40 years. A section of our government has been taken over by the Evangelical “Christians”. They remind me of a chaplain I served with in Viet Nam. His religion was “his way or the highway”. They think they are always right – how dare anyone challenge them. And, what about separate of church and state. Its OK to mix politics and faith if its an Evangelical Christian – but no other religion allowed.

Like my dad, I try to live by the Golden Rule. I believe that any reward I have coming in any afterlife, I earned by keeping true to my personal values. I detest others trying to inject their religion on to my values.

We Didn't Belong

Watching "The Viet Nam war", I want to add thoughts I published several years ago. Infantry unit chaplain assistants did not “belong”. We were not field troops and we were not REFMs. Even with Echo Company reunions, I still have this feeling – though they do their best to make me part of their group. They have conversations at the reunions talking about this or that place, the conditions or the firefight. Here were my thoughts.
"In Vietnam, I was a Chaplain Assistant with the 199th Light Infantry Brigade. I was trained as a Chaplain Assistant with MOS 71M20. Our job was being a jack-of-all-trades for the Chaplain. We were his driver, acolyte, clerk, jeep mechanic, handyman, and bodyguard, among other things.
Being with the 199th LIB, we were on the TOE of Brigade HHC. This should classify us as REMFs – the rear support personnel. The thing is, we spent most of our time out at the Fire Support Bases with the infantry battalions.
Recently I’ve been in contact with another Chaplain Assistant that was with the 199th at the same time. It was surprising to hear how much of our thoughts, feelings, and experiences were the same. I began to wonder why.
We got back to Brigade Main Base for 2 nights a week, when our Chaplain was on duty there. During that time we spent a lot of time visiting the wounded at the 2 evac hospitals. We saw very little of our fellow Chaplain Assistants – except during these visits to BMB – and then only those that happened to be in at the same time. We were never at BMB long enough to develop any friendships with the support personnel. We didn’t really “belong” to this group – we were field guys.
Back to the FSB. We lived with the grunts, rat patrol, snipers, and recon. Our closest friends were 11B, 11E, etc. For some strange reason, these guys adopted us. But we never felt we really “belonged” to their group. We lived with them, drank with them, partied with them. We laughed and cried with them. We were invited to their stand down parties. But we could not “belong” because we didn’t share the field/combat experience.
Some of us ended up going out with the troops one way or another. My Chaplain wasn’t happy when he found out I went with the rat patrol when they escorted the infantry for troop insertion. Recon was willing to take me along on a short patrol – but the Chaplain put a stop to that. Others were able to spend more time in the boonies – yet we still didn’t feel that we “belonged”. (see right)
 We visited the sick and wounded. We set up the Field Cross for memorial services. We suffered survivor guilt to varying degrees. And mostly we kept it all to ourselves. After all, it was our job to assist the Chaplain helping the troops. Hell, I don’t think our Chaplains had any idea what we were feeling.
I moved on to HHB II Field Force Vietnam Artillery in the fall of 1970. IIFFV was a REMF group, but my roots were in the field. I wore my boonie hat with pride. Ball caps were required at IIFFV unless you came from a field unit. So, while I made some good friends, I still didn’t really “belong”.
When we got back to the “world”, it was difficult for all Vietnam Vets. The country did not accept and understand us. We no longer “belonged” to their social group.
Each of us handled this in our own way. I finished my college degree and used work to suppress the thoughts for over 30 years. Now, with retirement, the war in Iraq and some other catalysts I probably don’t recognize, the feelings have come to the front. And I still don’t feel that I really “belong”.
SP5 Tom “Preach” Winfield
71M20 Vietnam"

Sunday, September 17, 2017

It's a Boot Thing

When I moved from Iowa to New Mexico, I left most of my boots.  Over the year and a half since I moved, I found how much I miss my boots.  Slowly, I have added to my collection.

As you can see, most at cowboy boots.  With them, I have invested in snap-fastened western shirts, cowboy hats, and some nice belts.

The pride of my non-western boots is the 16" loggers.  You may notice there are no rubber boots in the collection.  The weather here in the Albuquerque area is not very conducive to rubber boots.  But I am thinking of adding some rubber boots to the collection.

Yes, I do have 2 pair of sneakers that I brought with me, but seldom wear them.  Picked up a pair of cleats at a local surplus store.  I love my boots.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Heading Home

Visited with Betinna  and John at Panera (coffee & cinnamon roll for breakfast). Had an uneventfully drive to Dodge City.  Had some rain between York, NE and the Kansas line.  Checked into my motel.  Found out my favorite sports bar was also NOT opened on Sundays (had been last year).  Decided to check out a new place, not too far from my motel.  Had a good bacon cheeseburger & fries at "I Don't Care" family restaurant.  I was there for happy hour - 2 pints of beer for $4.  Good food and friendly folks at the bar.

On to home in the morning.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Radio & Race

Saturday morning it was time to see my friends in the Council Bluffs ham radio club. Met them at Super Saver for breakfast.  Besides the nornal locals, a former member, now in Missouri, was also visiting.  Great visit.  The 2 hours did not be enough time for catch up.

From there, Over to Panera for a visit with Bettina and John.

I had seen on Facebook that there was a high school mountain bike race at Tranquility Park.  Drove over there to see some of my friends in the race/trails days.  By the time I was done with that, I was thirsty, hungry, and tired.  Stopped my the Abblebees near my motel for a brew and order of onion rings.  Crashed into bed.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Easy Day

I basically got every thing that I came to Iowa to accomplish.  Rested most of the day.  Picked up a couple souvenirs for a friend in SE New Mexico.  Bought a couple things for myself while I was there. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Panera, Bank, & Visiting

WOW, I did not take the time to get a photo today.  Started the day with coffee and Bagel at Panera Bread.  It was my normal Thursday morning, so visit with lots of my friends there. 

From there, it was downtown Omaha to the bank for the safe deposit box key drilled.  That was done easily.  From there it was Barnes & Noble for a couple magazines and books.

Next stop was Ralston to see my Omaha dentist.  Dropped off a calendar and a short visit.  On back to Council Bluffs and the Trails Center.Finally, the back branch for check the value of my old savings bonds.

Skipped dinner, not hungry.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Finances and Friends

The first stop on Wednesday was the Jennie Edmundson Hospital Cardiac Rehab unit.  Thanks to Mike, Kay, and Jan, I was on my recovery from the heart valve replacement.

From there, it was on to the bank for a meeting with my financial advisor.  Reviewed my investments and made plans.  Made appointment for the next morning to have the safe deposit box lock drilled (over the years, I had lost both keys).

Rested in the room for the afternoon.  Met with friends for dinner at Jonsey's for TexMex food.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

On into Council Bluffs

On the way into Omaha, I stopped by the outlet mall and picked up a couple more pairs of Levis (2 sized smaller that a year ago).  Then to Extreme Wheels bike shop to visit with Zack and Bill.  Had a nice visit. 

Checked into my motel and relaxed from the drive.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Trip to Iowa

Since the early Summer, I have been planning at trip to Iowa.  In addition of visiting friends, I needed to close my safe deposit box.  The original plan went by the wayside when plans were the same week of Buffet's big annual meeting (could not get a reasonably priced room).  Then it was my Army Reunion trip and them the heat and humidity of the Iowa Summer.

Finally made reservations for just after Labor Day.  Actually, left home on Labor Day.  As the sun came up, it was obvious there was a haze in the sky from the California forest fires.  Overnighted in Dodge City.  Stopped there to pick up some souvenirs. My favorite place for food was closed that day (and the next day when came back).