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Background Image US soldiers in front of supply convoy trucks in Vietnam

The Haunts of War

By Alvin Matzke, Veteran of the Vietnam War

One day I got a letter in mid-April to report for active duty deployment on May 13, 1968.  Reality finally set in, I was going to war in a land I knew nothing about or why.  The “call up” was President Johnson’s 500,000 troop build-up against the North Vietnam assault on the South Vietnamese as known as the TET Offense.

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The North Vietnamese (V.C. – Viet Cong) were good at many things. They dug tunnels that were miles and miles long.  These tunnels housed their supplies, mortar, weapons, ammo for every weapon, hospitals, etc. They were then able to create surprise attacks anywhere.  Example…one day in the Mess Hall (eating place) a soldier pulled out an eating tray only to detonate a booby trap and killed himself plus wounded several other soldiers.  All this inside the U.S. base camp which was to be a safe place.  To explain this happening, there was a lot of civilians allowed onto the main base to do various jobs, fill sand bags, collect garbage, etc.  Thus, one of the Vietnamese who worked in the Mess Hall rigged this device.  

Another time the engineers’ division was ordered to clean the division base perimeter another three hundred yards of trees and jungle for security reasons only to have one of these bull dozers caved into one of these tunnels which was at the entrance to the 25thDivision Headquarters, the only in or out of this base.  Several times while I was stationed at this massive base our planes and helicopters were blown up at night and the whole base would be on Red Alert which means all personnel were to go to the nearest guard post for possible action.  

I didn’t understand how the V.C. could get by the guard post or towers.  The official report was the guards (U.S. soldiers) went to sleep and the V.C. cut their throats.  But in reality. the rank and file guy claimed tunnel holes were found near these air pads. 

Knowing now from my experiences, the war was never to be won and was a horrible time for many and our county.  War is big business and many people profit from war.  One just example when we (our country) would go to Saigon to get supplies from Ocean Parts, monster carrier ships were loaded with ship containers which were mostly, but not all, marked K-LINE (you still see a few on our highways in U.S. today).  I asked fellow soldiers who in the hell owns K-LINE as we unloaded a container full of tires for our trucks, and one guy says, “You don’t know, (LADY BIRD JOHNSON), the President’s wife.”

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When you are young (up-teens and 20’s) you are bold and very ignorant of what the real world is about. As I and a few other Vietnam Veterans have stated –I didn’t hate anyone on foreign soil. But when dumped in a foreign land, put a rifle in your hand, run a truck or aircraft to operate for unknown reasons, it becomes reality of fight or be killed. For many of the ground infantry soldiers, it was beyond hell.  The sound of gun fire, bombing, rain, sweltering heat, blood and death is beyond comprehension for the average American to understand, but become a living nightmare for many who survived and made it home only to a hostile and divided country. Those memories LAST FOREVER, or I could not write these words down in the year of 2018, remember I was in Vietnam in 1968-1969.

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"Those memories LAST FOREVER"

[After discharge in in August of 1969], as I sat at home one morning, eating breakfast with my wife and two young children, on came CBS news showing places being overrun by the North Vietnam Army where I had lived and supported my fellow troops to defend this very area, and that made my stomach just ache. WHY in the HELL were we there??? WHAT did we gain??  WHAT did we LOSE??

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My only feelings are the V.A., U.S. Government can never repay me and my fellow Vietnam veterans .  The scars never heal, they never die.  They will just disappear like everything else that happened in Vietnam.

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Kansas Stories of the Vietnam War is sponsored by Humanities Kansas in partnership with the Library of Congress. 

 

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