Vietnam Veterans Interviews
March 12, 2008
Transcribed by Ruth Ann Montgomery
Present: Wayne Hatlevig, Larry Elmer, John Eberhardt, Tom McCaslin, Gordon R. Ringhand, David Erpenbach, Don
Zhe, Lon Zhe, Tom O’Brien, Phil Kress, John Petterson, Dean Devlin, Glenn Clark, David Burrow, James Allen, Alan
Hurst, William Maves, John Ehle, Gina Duwe, Ruth Ann Montgomery,
Interviews began at 9:35:
John Ehle: I’ve always known that Gordie Ringhand had a lot of insight, and he said there would be 15, and low and
behold there are. Gordie and David planned, and we should talk about the way the day is going to go.
We have people here from the Janesville Gazette. Gina Duwe represented the Janesville Gazette, John Ehle, The
Capital Times. Ruth Ann is here as the Evansville Historian. Thanks to the Gazette for all the support they have
afforded us. Some two years ago we did the WW II veterans here in Evansville, and it was very gratifying. The Gazette’
s coverage as well as the Review’s coverage of that event was extraordinary. It gave them their due and an opportunity
to talk about their experiences serving our country. That’s the intent of today. It is to give you a chance to tell about
some of the things that you experienced, up to 41, 42, and 43 years ago and that’s why we’re all here. The results of
today will be submitted to the Veterans’ History Project, which is connected to the Library of Congress. The Library of
Congress puts it in a permanent archive so there will be an official record of what happens here today. So in that we
are capturing history and that’s our intent. Gordie, do you have anything to say for an opener?
Gordon R. Ringhand: Well, after we get done with this we will celebrate my 61st birthday. (laughter)
John Ehle: Shall we sing happy birthday now?
John Petterson: I never thought he’d live that long.
? Neither did he.
Gordon R. Ringhand: I thought it would only be appropriate that we could do that on this day. We’re all glad that
everyone showed up today. It’s kind of nice that we did have such a nice turnout, and I wish that we did have some
more. It’s one of the sadder facts that some of the ones that are deceased should be here also, but they are not.
John Ehle: Would you like to mention those names?
Gordon R. Ringhand: Well, it could go on. I have kind a visual memory of a lot of them. There was Scott Sperry, Roger
Bollerud, Kenny Dienberg, Ronnie Krause, Bo Crull, Lyle Mielke, Reinhard Mielke, Ron Silverthorn, Mel Inabnit and
Miles Best. These are people that went to school in Evansville. Probably there are some we will omit that we don’t
know that are deceased. There are probably some in the community that we don’t know through just not knowing
people. These are people that we did know in the community that have passed away since we were discharged from
the service, and that lived here in the area. They may have been lost because of the Vietnam War, diabetic reasons,
cancer, etc. We are here to muster things out and maybe move on, because we may not all be here next time, if we
ever have another.
John Ehle: We’ve lost two of the World War II guys since May 2006. You all know this. Anything can happen, so today is
an opportunity. Dave Erpenbach are you the commander of this post? Is that the title? Would you like to greet your
David Erpenbach: I’m David Erpenbach, Commander of the VFW Post 6905 here in Evansville, at the present time,
until the next elections come up, next month or the month following. I want to thank everybody for coming today and
one of the reasons is that John has been talking for years about getting this together and this going. I talked to him
about getting this going now so that maybe we could get something in the paper around April 29th. April 30th is the
date that the last troops left Vietnam. The last helicopter lifted off from the American Embassy at 7:53 in the morning.
They were all Marines on board that helicopter, and they were the last Americans left there.
John Ehle: It was 35 years ago.
David Erpenbach: So it is a date that forced us to get this meeting going. The first American was killed July 8, 1959
and the last one was April 29, 1975, dates of first and last soldiers killed in Vietnam. That’s the span of time when we
lost a lot of people. I just want to thank everyone for showing up, and we’ll get on with the meeting.
John Ehle: I sent an agenda, and it is a kind of a loosely stacked agenda. What we found in the past is that being
prescriptive when there are many points of view, and many different experiences. What we found in the past is just
having some general introductions and going around the table. We’ll put Wayne on the spot, and we’ll talk a little about
how he got in the service and where he did his training. We’ll get everyone kind of warmed up. The stories start to
come out if we kind of let things go the way they go naturally.
Wayne Hatlevig: I’m Wayne Hatlevig, as most of you know, because I came from Evansville and graduated with
Gordie [Ringhand.] I was working at Pruden’s when him and another guy, Jerry Zweifel, another one of our friends said
they were going to come down and talk me into joining the service. All three of us enlisted and signed up. It was ok.
We had a good time in Florida where we were stationed for a time. I think I was the first to go to Vietnam. I think Jerry
went to Germany. Gordie came after I did. I met him on an R & R in Taiwan. It was ok. I mean we had our times. But I
mean there was a lot of times when I was there when I wished I wasn’t there. But I didn’t decide to rush to Canada or
anything else. I made it home. I was fine. Except sometimes you get scared because of the artillery and stuff like this.
I guess I wouldn’t give up that experience. Because I think it grew me up a lot. You don’t know much about life when
you’re 17-18 years old. But you know what life is when you’re in a combat zone. I think it made me more responsible.
So on to the next man.
Larry Elmer. I’m Larry Elmer, and I got into the army with a little more prestigious guy than Gordie Ringhand.
(laughter) I got a letter from the President of the United States, and I was drafted. I took AIT training with the 41st
Infantry out of Fort Hood, Texas. From there I went to Vietnam, and I was in Vietnam in ‘66-‘67. I belonged to a special
liaison group, and we landed with the Korean White Horse Division at Ninh Hoa in 1966 and basically spent that time
with them. So, I not only had a language barrier with the Vietnamese, I had to contend with the Korean language too.
Tom McCaslin: My name is Tom McCaslin. In 1969, I was drafted with Al Hurst. We went to Fort Campbell, Kentucky
together. Where he went after that I don’t know, and I don’t care. I ended up in NCO school at Fort Benning. Went to
Vietnam in 1970 and was there until September 4, 1970. I got wounded and sent home. My fondest memory was
coming home. When you first went to Vietnam, the first thing was the heat, rain, and smell. It never got out of the
system. It just stayed there. I try not to think about Vietnam because it doesn’t help. I was a grunt over there. I was
supposed to be in mortars. I ended up being in 11 Bravo, which is an infantryman. No training in infantry, just in
mortars. So they kind of like took a cook and put them in infantry. So, I’m lucky enough to be here with you guys.
Next. Gordie, happy birthday.
Gordon Ringhand: Yeh, we’ll celebrate that later. Like I said, Wayne Hatlevig and I went in service in 1965 in August.
Well, we were all 4-A anyway, so what are you going to do. At that time, well, you either go to work at General Motors,
work down at Pruden’s or something. Sooner or later you’re going to be inducted into the military, one way or another.
We thought the easier route out was to sign up. Wayne and I both ended up in Vietnam. Jerry Zweifel went somewhere
else. In a way, I was kind of fortunate, where I went in Vietnam, because I was in an advisory effort of the 23rd Infantry,
which was a military advisory group. I didn’t spend much time with an American outfit. So it’s a whole different ball game
than being with an American outfit. I did get to go all over the country and have opportunities to see different things
and do different things, from doing visual reconnaissance flights to throwing out “cyops” literatures. You name it we
done it. I had a vast variety of stuff to do. The only thing bad, is like the rest of us, I almost went through the Tet
offensive, where all the towns and villages were under siege during Jan 30, 1968 to Feb 5, 1968. During which time all
the major cities and capital cities came under combat pressure. Like the village I lived in, a town called Bambi Tu It, a
village of 60,000, which you think is a very large community, but in essence they were all jammed in pretty tightly into
one little area. During the Tet Offensive, 25% of the town was burned down. You can imagine the mass exit during one
week’s time over 15,000 people leaving. Otherwise we’re still here and hope to be here for another 25 years. The
ones that are gone and deceased are the ones we should worry about. End of conversation. John.
John Eberhardt: John Eberhardt. I passed my draft physical in the summer of 1968, and I was very convinced at that
time that it wasn’t a matter of if, it was going to be a question of when, I would get drafted. My friends were all either
enlisting or being drafted, so I went to the draft board and asked them what I could do. Because, I was convinced also
that I did not want to serve 4 to 6 years in the military. I wanted to get it over with and get out. They said that I could
volunteer, which I did in November 1968, and I was drafted in February 1969. At the induction station, myself and four
or five other people were picked out of a line. Our Army service numbers were taken away and we were issued Marine
Corp service numbers, and we became Marines. That’s not as bad as it might sound, for those of you who don’t know.
After training in Marine Corp Recruit Depot, San Diego and Camp Pendleton in California. Sent to Vietnam at the end
of July 1969. I should back step a little bit. At that time there were very profound issues of conscience regarding the
war in Vietnam. It wasn’t a new thing anymore. It had been going on for a long time. My personal reason for even going
into the military was that I have a choice as to whether to serve, many countries you don’t. I chose to serve. I chose to
serve the minimum time I had to, but I did my job. I was a radio operator and rifleman in Vietnam. Served with the First
Regiment, First Battalion, First Green Division. Spent 10 months in the bush sleeping on the ground, spent every major
holiday that year sleeping out in the bush. I prefer to remember the good times, because there are many and I miss the
people I served with to this very day.
David Erpenbach: My name is David Erpenbach, and I grew up in Evansville. I avoided the service for three years by
going to school. But I partied too much and had to sit out a semester. Before I could get back into school and get my
deferment, I got a letter from my Friends and Neighbors inviting me to go to Milwaukee and take a physical and get on a
plane and fly to Fort Campbell, Kentucky and take basic training. From there I went to Fort Gordon, Georgia for 12
weeks and learned how to be a radio relay operator. After that I went to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and we formed a
new signal company there. In October, we shipped out and went to Vietnam. I stayed with my company when we got
there for two weeks and moved on to a different company and stayed there for two months and then moved on to south
of Pleiku on top of a big hill called Dragon Mountain with about 100 other soldiers. There were different radio relay
companies up and a TV station for that part of Vietnam. The U. S. Broadcast Station was also up on top of the hill. It
seemed like it would have been a good place to attack more often, but we only got attacked once. I never saw any
combat, and I’m fortunate of that. The luck of the draw. Whoever knows what you are going to get. I consider myself
lucky that I didn’t have to experience the other things. I came home Oct. 23, 1969 thru Fort Lewis Washington; was let
out of the service at that time and discharged; given a uniform; flew home from Seattle to Chicago. I’d been awake for
about two days, and I was afraid I was going to fall asleep on the plane, and I’d miss Chicago and end up in New York.
So, I stood up the whole flight from Seattle to Chicago. Once I got to Chicago, as soon as I got off the plane, the first
bathroom I came to I took my uniform off. It was not a happy time to be coming home. You weren’t very welcomed by
anybody in the states at that time. So that was a sad experience of that. So I guess those are some of my memories
and part of what I did.
Phil Kress: My name is Phil Kress and thanks for inviting me here today. I didn’t grow up in Evansville, but I’ve been
here since 1970, right after I came back from Vietnam. I was in the US Army, and I did a two year enlistment like some
of the previous stories. I figured I was going to be drafted and probably go to Vietnam. So I decided to pick my date
when I was going to enter and took the two year enlistment in the Army. I was in Fort Campbell for basic training and
Fort Ord, California for infantry training and did a piece in Fort Benning for non-commissioned officers training. Got
mono just before the Ranger week, the last week of training, so didn’t finish. But had a glorious one month medical
leave. Then went back, of course, to the Army, and they sent me to Vietnam. I ended up in the Central Highlands with
the 4th Infantry Division and spent my year backpacking in the Central Highlands. I did get to spend some of my
holidays, like Thanksgiving, having a great hot Thanksgiving turkey dinner in the large base camp. I was usually out in
the field. Came back in September 1970. Nancy and I had been engaged; Nancy Huseth, most of you probably know
her. We got married in November, and I continued on with my life.
James Allen. I don’t know where to start. I was 24 years old and got drafted. Three of us were 24 years old in the
whole battalion, and we also couldn’t swim, so you know where we went. We went to boat school, and I still can’t swim.
We got to Vietnam and finally found our base camp. We were told there weren’t any boats there, and it took them three
days, because I refused to get on a helicopter. We found these boats, and they had 32 of them. They were 61
footers. We just hauled supplies. I went back and forth across the China Sea about 40 times. . I crossed the China
Sea about 40 times. That’s about all I did over there, a lot of fooling around. .
John Petterson: John Petterson, the reason that Gordon and Wayne went in was because they didn’t want me to come
along. They felt sorry for me. (laughter) I got drafted. I waited for them to come and get me. We went to Fort Leonard
Wood and put our time in there. I wound up going to Fort Belfour, Virginia, for 51L20, that’s refrigeration, air
conditioning. They told me I was going to Okinawa. So I went down and got all my shots. Next morning we fall out, and I’
m not going to Okinawa, I’m going to Vietnam. Got back down and get a whole bunch more shots; can’t carry your
duffle bag because it’s too heavy and your arms are sore. After that I went to Vietnam and went to Saigon, and I was
stationed 5 miles south of Saigon on the Saigon River. I wound up working on trucks with refrigeration units on them
and hauling food up north. So, I got tired of being a grease monkey and volunteered. They tell you to never
volunteer. I volunteered. I rode shotgun on semi’s for the last seven months I was there. I got out and came back, and
I went to Fort Benning, Georgia for four months and had a nice time down there.
Dean Devlin. I’m Dean Devlin. I graduated from high school in 1968 and went in the service in 1968, right away. I
volunteered draft, too, but I picked my time to go. I went in with Miles Best and Terry Higginbotham and both of them
gentlemen are deceased. For basic training, I went to Fort Campbell, Kentucky. From Fort Campbell, Kentucky, I went
to Fort Lewis, Washington for infantry training, 11B10. Right from there I went to Vietnam. Once I got over to Vietnam, I
did something you weren’t supposed to do. I volunteered for something. So, I got into the combat engineers. I spent a
month beating the bush, and then I got in the combat engineers. I was all over Vietnam, because we were building
roads and repairing bridges that had been blown up. I extended 63 days so I could get a five-month early out, out of
Al Hurst: My name is Al Hurst. I’m also a draftee. Shortly after I was in, I was offered schooling, if I’d volunteer for
another year. Well, that was the last time I volunteered for anything. I went to schooling. There was 102 of us and 100
of them were going to Germany. Of course, you know you don’t volunteer for nothing. So they asked for 2 volunteers
to go to Vietnam. Nobody volunteered, and so I was sitting in the back row with another guy, and they volunteered me
to go to there, to Vietnam. I get over there and found out where they were shipping us to. They called my name.
Hurst, you’re going up north to the Airborne Division. Boy, I’m jumping up and down waving my arms: “I’m not
Airborne.” “You are now.” So, I spent my year up there; but it was not in combat, so I can’t complain there. I was glad I
did the time, but I was also glad, like the rest of us, that we got it over with.
Lon Zhe: My name is Lon Zhe. I joined the Navy in 1965, right out of high school with a buddy of mine that is now
deceased, Ken Dienberg, under the buddy plan. Typical as any military is, we were together six days. We were
supposed to be guaranteed two years. I signed up for six years to go to the nuclear propulsion program. You had to
go to boot camp and from there you had to go do surface ship. So I went to a destroyer out of Norfolk, Virginia for six
months. I got my first promotion and went back to school. One of the best things I remember was that they found out I
was colorblind. They kicked me out of the nuclear program. So I went down from six years to four years. So I felt pretty
good about that, except that the first thing they did was sent me on a ship to Vietnam. One of the things I remember
most is I got blood poisoning aboard ship. They took me by helicopter to a hospital ship. I spent 16 days on a hospital
ship. Instead of sending me back to my ship, they said: “We don’t know where it is.” So they sent me to Dung Ha. So
what is this stupid sailor doing with white hats in Dung Ha, but selling all those white hats to the dumb ass Marines that
want to buy them. I couldn’t believe how much money I got for all those stupid white hats. Finally, I convinced the
helicopter pilot. I took and bribed him. He flew all over and finally found my ship. I got within about 15 feet from the
ship, and they kicked me and my sea bag out. They didn’t even land. My sea bag split all over the ship. It was some
interesting times. I got out in 1969 and came home. Ken Dienberg, who went with me, was supposed to be under the
buddy plan, he became a lifer and stayed in.
Tom O’Brien: My name is Tom O’Brien. I grew up on a farm south of Evansville. I went to high school in Evansville. I
enlisted in the U. S. Navy in 1964 and went to electronics training school down in Great Lakes, Illinois. After electronics
training school, I went to crypto school and then got posted overseas to the U.S.S. Pine Island which was a sea plane
tender. I flew from San Francisco on a military air transport. I could tell how things were going to go, because they
couldn’t get the doors on the plane shut. So they took side snips and cut the cables. That’s the way we left. We island
hopped around to the Philippines. We got over there. I had an opportunity to ride the U.S.S. Enterprise for a couple of
weeks, while it was doing bombing runs to North Vietnam. I was assigned to just wait my time out until they got me to the
sea plane tender. In the aft catapult room, it was pretty exciting. They kept saying “Heads up” and hung 1000 pound
bombs on a phantom. Those ships would hit down, and I kept expecting any moment those bombs would come down
and blow the back end of the ship off. I got lucky there. On the sea plane tender, we set in Cam Ranh Bay for six
months on our coffee grounds. It was either the Viet Cong or the NVA would shell the Air Force base every night. I
would sit on the deck and watch that. It was kind of like a fireworks show. The ship would go to general quarters, and it
fired off a round of shots from its 5-inch 38s. All the electronics on this ship would short out in General Quarters, and
then we’d all go back and repair everything. From there I spent the second tour over there on aircraft carrier, the U.S.
S. Bennington. My reason for going in the Navy was so I could get an education and use the GI Bill. I was successful in
doing that, after I got back.
Don Zhe. My name is Don Zhe, and I also graduated from Evansville, in 1967, with several of my classmates here. I
decided that I was originally going to join the Navy when I was a senior in high school. But the Navy had said that the
quotas were filled of the middle class. They had openings for above average and below average, but not the middle.
So, they said, in the meantime, you could be drafted, and there’s nothing we can do to stop you. So, I decided to do
the next best thing and enlist in the United States Marine Corp. I thought that if I was going to Vietnam, I was going as a
highly trained Marine. It was a little less than six months later that I was landing there. That first night, we got hit 65
times. I am a little bit scared, wondering what happened to this highly trained individual that was going to go. I ended
up being a relay radio operator over there. I ended up extending six months, and so I ended up putting in 19 months
Glen Clark: I’m Glen Clark and I graduated from high school in 1965 in Lake Crystal, Minn. I went to trade school in
Bloomer, Minnesota and graduated as a draftsman. I got a job working for the Boeing Aircraft in the SST. I was such a
good draftsman I got drafted by my friends and neighbors. I came within two of being a Marine, but I didn’t have that
luck. I went to Fort Campbell, Kentucky for basic, and somewhere in the morning, they pulled me out of formation one
morning and sent me down to the middle of the fort. They went through their selection process. “Anyone over six foot
five or under five foot two get up and leave. Anyone over 200 pounds or under 100 pounds get up and leave. Anyone
that’s had any kind of an arrest record other than a minor traffic get up and leave.” There were half of dozen of us left
in the room. They went to the, “You too can be a helicopter pilot.” I thought about it for a few seconds. I thought well,
shoot, you know I’ve been drafted. There’s a war going on. I’m going to be over there. Would I rather be crawling
through the jungle or flying over the top? I thought I’d rather be flying over the top. I put up my hand, and I volunteered
for flight school. Then, I had several other tests. I passed the tests and the physicals. That was the last I heard of
them. I graduated from AIT, and they sent me out to Fort Lewis, Washington, to make a mortar man out of me. I was
half way through there. I was in a midterm inspection. We had an In Ranks inspection outside, and then we fell into the
barracks, and we were standing beside our bunks, while the Lieutenant and the Sergeant were upstairs kicking stuff
over with the people upstairs. The clerk comes in and asked “Clark. Is there a Clark in here?” “Ya” “Put in 2 of your
sheets and pillow cases and report to the orderly room.” I packed everything up and they sent me down to Fort
Walters, Texas. I got in down there too late to get in the class, so I had to set around for two weeks waiting for the next
class to start. Long story, short, after 9 months, I graduated from flight school, and they shipped me over to Vietnam. I
was stationed in Binh Wong, and I extended six months for an early out. I came back in Dec. 1970. I flew all 3 corp, all
of 3 corp. I did everything I guess as far as flying. We play ash and trash. Some days you were a taxi, some days a
bus, some days combat assault. You didn’t know what you were going to be doing. I flew at a time when they were
going through aircraft at a pretty good rate. The longest I flew. They had a 27 hour period from the time I left the fort in
the morning ‘til I got back to the base the next day. In the 27 hour day, I flew 23 of those hours. I had a change of crew,
but they didn’t have aircraft commanders. They were short of aircraft commanders, so they left me in the aircraft. I
guess they needed somebody to buy the aircraft if something happened to it. That’s insane. We were flying, and we
did a lot of night combat assaults. That’s one of the things I still have nightmares about. There were flares, the bullets,
the noise and everything else. It’s almost a sensory overload. But it was part of life, and you felt like you were part of
the aircraft. You’d get up in the morning and strap the aircraft on your back. That aircraft became an extension of you.
Like I said, I had 2,000 hours of combat flight time, or 1,941 hours I think, or something like that. I came home, all in
one piece. I belong to the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association. So I get together, once a year, over the 4th of July,
with some friends that I flew with, that I served with in Vietnam. They are some very near and dear friends. They are like
brothers or better than brothers to me. Maybe I should mention, when I was in Vietnam, at one possible time there
could have been four of us over there, myself and my two brothers. I had another brother in the Army that was a
helicopter pilot. I had two brothers in the Navy. One was stationed in Japan, and he came in detachments for six weeks
up in Da Nang, working on aircraft. I had another brother that was flying ECM planes, electronic counter measures. He
was out of Guam, and he was flying over Vietnam. So at any one time there could have been four of us in or over
Vietnam environment. I spent a year and a half over there. It’s kind of hard to sort out stories. I had a lot of good times
and a lot of bad times. You get emotions and adrenaline involved in it, and it burns into your mind. There’s a lot of
things you don’t know how to talk about it. I find that when I talk to students or something like that, you don’t have a
common language, for God’s sake. You can’t explain about how bad the country smelled. You stepped off the plane,
and it was like stepping into a frickin’ sewer. I still remember to this day, stepping off there and taking a deep breath
after being in the plane for hours. That clammy, sticky weather, just stuck to you. It smelled like a cesspool. You’re
thinking “Oh my God, I’m going to have to spend a year in this thing.” But you did it. I could go on for hours, but I better
David Burrow: I’m David Burrow. I moved to Evansville 32 years ago. That’s when I started working at Baker
Manufacturing. I’m originally from Lake Mills. I got drafted in April of 1968. They needed four people for the Marine
Corps, so I was picked for the Marine Corps. My boot camp was in San Diego. Then, I went to ITR infantry training in
Camp Pendleton. Then I went to my MOS school. That was a cook. Then I got my orders to go to Vietnam. I left in
December 1968 to go to over to Vietnam. When I was going over there, my brother was coming back from Vietnam. He
was in the Army with the engineering company. I landed in Da Nang, and I went about 20 miles southwest of Da Nang.
The most troubled part, when I was over there, the first month, when I was over there, we had incoming about
everyday. My first base, we turned over to the South Vietnam Army. Then we moved to the Sand Dunes. There was
sand all around our base. The last base, we moved to Hill 39 with a tank company. While I was in Vietnam, the cooks
wanted to re-up. I was the only one who re-upped for another two years for a different MOS. They said I was going to
burn Camp Lejeune down, because my new MOS was to be a welder. (laughter) I’m doing that today. Then I came
back. I spent two years at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Bill Maves: Well, I’m not going to tell you that I enlisted to avoid the draft, because I didn’t. I didn’t want to enlist in the
Marine Corps, which I did. I wanted to join the Coast Guard. I went down to Janesville, and they said they didn’t have a
Coast Guard recruiter here. They have a Navy guy here. I thought, that’s alright, I like boats. I’d join the Navy, but that
recruiter was out to lunch with the Army guy. There was a guy named Ritick. He was a staff sergeant, and he said you
can sit here and wait until they get back. That’s how I got in the Marine Corps. My grandfather was in the Marine
Corps, and he was at Bella Wood? My dad was in the Marine Corps and was at Guadalcanal. That’s all I heard was
Marine Corps. I didn’t really want to join, but I did. I enlisted in 1966 and go In-Country in Vietnam September 5, 1967.
Like Gordie says, timing is every thing, and some guys have all the bad luck. I got my feet wet right away in some
operations there. Then we went up to Khe Sanh for the siege. That was Vietnam’s’ longest battle, and I was up there
77 days. I survived that. Came back down for a little R & R at Camp Carroll. They hadn’t had an incoming round
during the Tet. It was a pretty quiet area. Their focus was someplace else until we got there, the first night. Then they
started getting it. The unit I was with just seemed to draw fire. We spent some time there, and then we went to Con
Tien and got in on that beautiful little piece of real estate there, worked up the DMZ. I was RTO, like John over there. I
worked with air ground liaison, helicopters and fixed wing, mostly helicopters, mostly medi-vacs and mostly re-supply.
That was the bad news. The good news was that I worked with some fixed wing, and we put some hurt on the bad guys
there with some big bombs. But mostly we hauled our guys out. So that was bad. I spent a 15-month tour over there. I
was extended 3 months for the convenience of the Marine Corps. I was on a hospital ward of the LPH, which was a
converted carrier to helicopters. They pulled off station when I was there and went to Subic Bay in the Philippines,
which was a nice break for me, for awhile. I got to cross the Equator. We ran into a typhoon and got to see some
sailors get sea sick. That was fun. (laughter) I got the experience there. So, I got back to stateside in mid-69, and I
actually thought about…. I liked the military while I was there. At that particular time, there was a lot of racial tension,
and we didn’t have that when I was a grunt unit in Vietnam. You didn’t have it. Everybody was the same, you had to
rely on. The racial tension when I got stateside duty was new to me, and I couldn’t take it. You had to have two or three
guys the same color to walk to the club. That just wasn’t for me. So, I was out of the service for about ten years. I
ended up going back in and spent time in National Guard and retired in 2006. I ended up with a total of 30.3 years of
service in the military and was activated in 2003 and 2004. In 2004, I was sent to Iraq and spent Christmas Eve 2004
and left in Dec. 2005. Probably the biggest highlight there was hauling armor in support of the Second Battle of
Fallujah. So, I got to add to the family tree there and keep Grandpa’s and Dad’s resume alive there. So, we got all the
big four. I live outside Evansville. I was originally from Edgerton. The kids went to school here and graduated from
school here. I know a lot of these guys. My wife works here. I’m retired and glad of it. End of story.
John Ehle: I forwarded to Gordie, the agenda and this is where we can kind of diverge a little bit. We started out with
some general information and some of you got more specific. Al, this is where we look for volunteers. (laughter) So the
microphones are open.
Don Zhe: I had an interesting experience. I forgot about it. I was telling some of the guys last night. We were filling
sand bags in Da Nang one day. The guy next to me, he hit something metal with his shovel. He was digging it up, and
he dug it up. He dug up a World War II German metal helmet that was solid rust, nothing left on the inside but a bullet
hole right through the center. I thought that was kind of interesting. I’d forgot about that until we started talking.
John Ehle: Where was that, Don?
Don Zhe: In Da Nang. In Vietnam. I didn’t know they had German soldiers over there. Maybe if we’d dug further there
might have been a body below it. I just thought that was an interesting story.
Lon Zhe: One of the things that I thought was kind of interesting: Don was in the Marine Corp. He kind of fibbed a little
about why he went in the Marine Corp. He went there, because I was in the Navy, and he was going to do something
that I didn’t do. One of the things, we were always trying to get together over there, because he was a radio relay
operator, and we were fighting off the coast of Viet Nam. So we planned to get together in Hong Kong one time. The
ship was going to pull in, and Don flew in there for R & R. Of course, wouldn’t you know it they have a big, bad storm
coming. So we had to sit out in the ocean for a little bit, and when we were pulling into port, Don’s plane was going back
to Vietnam, and we were pulling in for R & R. So we got pretty close together. The other time was, we pulled into Da
Nang Harbor, and we were firing from the harbor, flying over the mountain where he was doing his radio relay
operating. So we were pretty close together most of the time.
Don Zhe: How come it took so long for letters to get back and forth. (laughter)
Bill Maves: It was free anyway. (laughter)
Gordon Ringhand: Well, as you can see, John, most of us had a different experience all the way around, you know.
The Army, Navy, Marines, I guess we don’t have somebody here for the Air Force at the present time. They went, I
guess in the Air Force.
Larry Elmer: In the Air Force there was fighters. I didn’t even know where they came from. You’d see the jets come in.
Gordon Ringhand: A lot of them were those Navy guys, off the ships.
Glen Clark: In Ben Hoa they had fighter planes.
Bill Maves: I was stationed about six miles from Ben Hoa.
Dave Erpenbach. I guess as I said before, I never saw combat, but I sat up on top this hill. The one thing that I
remember most about being up there. Well, one of my duties up there was defecation destruction technician. Which
everybody knows what that is. You get a 55-pound barrel, cut it in half, and it sets up at the outhouse. You take diesel
fuel and put in there, light it on fire, and you get to stir it. (laughter) Then you put the barrel back under the hole, and
the next day you get to go burn some more. That wasn’t my MOS, but that’s what I got to do, part of it. We
sandbagged a lot. All the time, sand bagged around everything we had. We had a 40-foot tower up on top of this hill,
and that’s where we would spend our free time was up on top of the tower. You could take a portable stereo up there
and sit up there and listen to music, and watch the sky. Listen to the helicopters fly over. You got to learn the sound
of every helicopter. It’s amazing that each one has a different sound. So you would know what was going to be
coming. You’d hear them in the distance. Even though I never saw combat, to this day, when I hear a helicopter, I
always have to turn, and stop, and look and see where it’s coming from. At times it’s really gotten to me. Like I say,
even if I didn’t see combat, that noise and the time spent there, knowing what they were doing. It still had an effect on
me years after when I came home. One of the other things that really got to me over there was we lived in Quonset
huts and they were divided into rooms. A lot of guys weren’t real careful with their food. We had a little kitchen in the
back. You could go back there and make snacks and stuff. We had a mess hall up on top of the hill. There were
always rats running around, and they were big rats. You could lay at night and hear these rats running across the
floor. We had dogs. You’d get a German Shepard or some other type of dog that was a good rat dog. You might be
lying in your bed and all of sudden and you’d be bouncing around. That dog would be underneath there and have a rat
in the corner or something. I always remember that. One night I was laying there, with the rats, laying there, awake,
and I could hear a thump on the floor. And then you could hear a click, the light clicking. I went down the hall to see
what was going on. One of the other guys in our unit had laid a piece of cheese out in the middle of the floor. He had a
machete, and he’d lay in bed with the light off, and he’d wait until he’d think a rat was there. Then he’d wham that
machete down, click the light on, to see if he got anything. That was his entertainment. (laughter) I guess my biggest
fear was rats. Then I came home, and I went to visit my sister in Missouri, and lo and behold I was sitting in the chair,
and I didn’t know her kids had a pet hamster. They came around behind me and wanted me to see their hamster, and
threw it in my lap. I think I probably jumped from Missouri to Wisconsin. That was some more of my experiences there.
Glen Clark: That reminds me that every morning you’d get up and take off in the morning, just at day break. You’d be
heading out, going some place, flying down south to Saigon or wherever you were going in formation. You’d see the
smoke coming up from all these little compounds, all these little villages. I went back in ’95.
John Petterson: That’s where the smell came from.
Glen Clark: That’s where the smell came from. Vietnam didn’t smell near as bad the last time I went back there. That
smell of diesel, burning diesel, and burning s…. It’s where the smell came from.
Jim Allen: Does anybody here read Vietnamese? I got a flag here that we captured when we were burning the river
banks, but I don’t know what it says. We had a flame thrower in our boat. We burned the river banks all the way from
Dong Tan which is in the middle of the Mekong and went to Cambodia on one side and came back the other. We were
gone three months. Here’s pictures of them if they want to see them. Pass them down.
Gordon Ringhand: That’s one thing, everybody’s got some pictures. You almost have to sit down with somebody to
explain what you took pictures of. Like I showed Glen some of where I was at, mortar attacks and pictures of smoke
runs. You’d never be able to tell anybody. You’d see smoke down in the jungle, and you wonder what he did that for.
Well you marked it for bomb strikes and stuff like that. But if you look at the picture, what the heck, it looks like you got
a fire down there. There was things that take on a whole new meaning unless you were there to explain it to people.
Everybody’s seen it. Dean had some where they blew up some convoys and pictures like that. The whole country was
a whole different life style. Most people today don’t realize there wasn’t the running water in a lot of places. The toilet
facilities wasn’t existing. Even at the time when we went there, most of the people in the United States had some
television. They had something else going on. They had the running water, had the toilets and everything else. All of
sudden you’re subject to going back into the things we were in the 1800s here. That’s how far things are. Like I said,
people don’t realize how the life style changed from living in a community where everything was good and all of a
sudden, a year later you’re 10,500 miles away from home. You’re taking on a whole new lifestyle, which was consistent
of their life forever. It probably still goes on in the outskirts of many of the large cities. They are third world countries,
and they are not going to change their ways. It’s always going to be the same.
Johnny Petterson: I almost got myself in trouble once too. We were in a compound where all we had was concertina
wire around, one strand, you know. They put me out on about 100 yards out, at night, on guard duty. I wasn’t an
infantry man or anything, but I was out there. There was always two guys there. Well, he gets sick and goes back. So
they made me stay there by myself. So you hear this “poosh, poosh, poosh.” You think, “Geez, what is it?” You can’t
see nothing. You put your hand up and you can’t even see your hand. So I got a little nervous. I jumped up and
grabbed the 50 and cocked her and let her rip. I never stopped until the box was empty. By that time they were coming
out with a jeep with a light about that big, and that guy is hollering: “What in the hell you doing?” What in the hell you
doing?” and I said, “I don’t know, but I don’t hear it no more.” (laughter) They shined a light out there and here was a
water buffalo with about fifty or sixty holes in it.
Dean Devlin: What did that cost you?
John Petterson: They were going to make me pay for it, but I got out with it, because I was out there by myself and I
wasn’t supposed to be. So I kind of got away with that deal.
Dean Devlin: One thing I noticed when all of us guys came back we got a bad rap from the press. Everyone will say
that we were baby killers and all that. It was almost embarrassing to be a service guy. Some guys didn’t want it known
that you were a service guy, because they had all the protestors. It’s changed now and these guys coming back are
getting a good welcome, and I think that’s a good thing.
John Petterson: I don’t think they are still not getting what they deserve.
Wayne Hatlevig: We were in Long Bihn, and I was out a couple of times with another different group from Australia, and
boy, are them guys drinkers. Anyway, we’d be going out in the field with them. We’d get a few shots at us. We’d get
out of a truck and go in a ditch and fire upon these guys. I guess one, or more than once, but the scariest one was I
were in a guard tower. We had these high, 10 foot high guard towers. I was on guard duty and in the background we
had a big ammo dump with pads for ammunition and stuff like that. I had some binoculars and I was looking over that
way. I saw these little zappers coming in, the guys coming in the compound. There was two guys in a jeep. They come
on the pads and boom, everything was gone. That scared me right out the tower there, damn near. There was nothing
left. They detonated bombs or whatever they had, and they blew up this ammo dump. It scared the living crap right out
of me. In the TET offensive we had a village right across from us, and they called it widows’ village. They had come
from the field up behind in the village. We had to have a tank company come up and help us, because we were just a
map making unit. They were in the front of the gate, but we were in our bunkers. I mean, it was totally hell that night. I
think that was one of the biggest times I was scared. We didn’t do much combat there. You could see the helicopters
come in. You could see them flip their tracers on. The next day we went over across, because they totally destroyed
this village and it was just kids, you know, 12, 13, 14 years old. You know what life is like when you go through that, and
you come home and you’re glad you are home.
John Ehle: Thank you Wayne. Anybody have a special story?
Jim Allen: I hunted and fished before I got drafted. John will know what I’m talking about. Some of these people, maybe
they’ve never seen an M79. I don’t know. You could get a grenade round for it or a canister round. The canister
round had nine quarter-inch ball bearings. We’d be going down the river and there would be a flock of ducks over
there on the bank. I’d thrown a grenade in. “Thump.” I’d shoot that over the top of the ducks, behind them, so they
would fly over the river. Then I’d throw canister rounds in, and I’d shoot the ducks as they come by. There’s only one
problem, there’s nothing left of them. (laughter)
Tom McCaslin: Duck Soup
Alan Hurst: I got one on Johnny and his water buffalo. I had kind of a similar deal. The first patrol that I was out, FNG
you know. We’d just going through a wide open, dry area, close to a rice paddy. Here’s a little kid herding his buffalo
around, you know. All he’s got is a stick. I’ve heard stories that a water buffalo knows who the new guy is. So it was me,
and here he come. They told me, I think it was $75 you have to pay, if you shot one of them, which is more than we
made in a month. Here that baby was coming at me. I locked and loaded and the Sergeant screaming at me “Don’t you
Shoot,” and everything. I had other choice words that I was saying back. That thing got about five feet from me and
halted. At the same time I took off and tried to jump the vegetation fence, you know those thorny buggers. I got about
half way through that. Rifle stuck in the dirt. I kind of picked myself up after I realized it wasn’t chasing me anymore.
Everybody was rolling around on the ground and having a good time at my expense. Needless to say, it took me quite
a few months to get even.
? Tell about the Baby Ruth.
Tom McCaslin: This guy was stealing food. He was stealing candy. Not stealing, he bought it and wasn’t supposed to
have it. So, somebody squealed on him. It wasn’t me. He had it stuck in his sock. This was in basic training, and so
he had to get up in front of everybody and chew off a piece of Baby Ruth and say “I am a Baby Ruth.” Take another
bite. “I am a Baby Ruth.” He was quite embarrassed.
? Ten pushups for each bite. (laughter)
Larry Elmer: One of the hardest blows I ever took was when I went for R & R to Japan, and I was supposed to be
resting. I was sitting, having dinner, and I got knocked off of my chair. Somebody came up from behind and smacked
me in the side of the head. It was Johnny Petterson. Now for two guys from a small community like this, to be over
there at the same time, to take R & R at the same time, at the time, if you had been in Tokyo, there was rows and rows
of hotels. To be in the same hotel and to meet, was quite a coincidence.
Johnny Petterson: Plus we were 40 miles north of Tokyo. We rode the monorail up there. I knew he was in the service,
but I had no clue that he was in Vietnam or anything. I was sitting there. I think we were in the hotel for about two days
before I ran into him. We were eating supper at a night club on the top. We went up there and I was with this buddy of
mine from Illinois and Larry comes walking in. Of course it’s dark in there and he’s way over there. I said “Geez, there’
s a guy from my home down.” He said, “Oh, come on.” I said, “No, I’m not kidding you.” He said, “Let’s go over there.” I
said, “Aw, it can’t be him.” The more I looked at him walking, I said: “I know it’s him.” He said, “How do you know.” I said,
“There isn’t anybody that walks like Larry Elmer.” (laughter) So I got up and we went over there and the closer I got to
him, I knew it was him. He went to take a bite of that steak, and I nailed him. (laughter) He said “I’ll knock…..” you know,
and I said, “You’ve never been able to do that.” (laughter) He got up and we hugged, and we got drunk. For about
three days we never took a sober breath, I don’t think. But we had a good time.
Bill Maves: Those things happen. I know John can appreciate it. At that time in Edgerton where I come from, there
wasn’t 4,000 people. There wasn’t that many. We were in the worst place in the world that anyone would want to be. It
was coincidence. I was at a place called Dak To which about a klick down the road from the DMZ at Con Tien. It was
pounded everyday, and luckily I was there with a guy from Edgerton. We went there with a wrecker. I was not on official
duty, I was just riding along with my buddy, Dewey Miller from Edgerton . We pulled in there and Ding Miller, Dave
Sorenson and Dale Wilke were all at Dak To. There was five of us at Dak To from Edgerton, a half klick from DMZ, and
all we did was sit in the bunker and b.s. because you didn’t want to go outside anyway. Nobody wanted to see any of
the other guys, you know. Two of the guys were stationed there and one of the guys was coming through from the
north and us two were just screwing off there, but five guys from Edgerton.
Larry Elmer: When we were there we couldn’t leave our hotel room, because the Japanese were protesting against
Vietnam War. So our R & R was spent in the hotel.
Lon Zhe: On the same token, on the ship I was on. I was on a heavy cruiser. We had 1200 people, and there were
three of us from Evansville on the same ship. Norm Spersrud’s brother. I don’t remember what his first name is and
Wickersham One was one of the Spersruds, I don’t know who it was. Norm was in our class and Tony Wickersham. My
uncle’s boy was also there. One of the Spersruds, I don’t remember his name.
Gordon Ringhand: We can highlight that. Wayne Hatlevig and I joined the army together. We were walking down the
street, and I took him under my wing.
John Petterson: That was a broken wing.
Wayne Hatlevig: You called you’re girlfriend. I called my mother and the first thing out of her mouth was, you’re drunk,
aren’t you. We had a good time.
Gordon Ringhand: She’s never forgiven me for what I did to you.
Wayne Hatlevig: No she hasn’t either. We had a good time.
John Petterson: I remember calling home when we were all over there. I said [to the clerk], “What are we doing.” She
said “Go up to your room and wait and I’ll try to get a line.” I said, “How long is that going to be?” “Well, I don’t know. It
could be 15 minutes or it could be an hour.” I said, “Geez, we got to get some beer if we’re going back up there.” So
we went back up to the room, and it was about ten minutes the phone range. I got to call home for 13 minutes. It cost
me $23 bucks.
? It was nice to call home.
John Petterson: It was three o’clock in the morning, here. John, you know my sister, Susie, and she answers the
phone. She’s trying to hang up. And I’m hollering, “Don’t hang up, don’t hang up.” Because, she thought it was it was
a crank call at three o’clock in the morning.
Glen Clark: I refused to accept charges for a call from my brother. It was after I got back, and my brother was still over
there. He was going to call home to talk to the folks. I was living at home, and Mom and Dad were both at work. They
said “Will you accept a collect call from Gerald Clark.” I thought, “He wants to talk to Mom and Dad, and I saw him. I
know what’s going on over there.” I said “No,” and he has never forgiven me either for that. It seemed like a good
thing at the time, but....
John Petterson: I’ll take that back. It wasn’t 13 minutes it was 3 minutes for $23. They had a timer going on you.
Somebody’s going like this, down to two. Bang, and it was over with. Those three minutes went by in the heart beat. I
spent more time telling my sister to get somebody up, you know.
John Ehle: How was it for you guys in terms of communicating with home? Phone calls are one thing.
Glen Clark: Mail was free.
John Petterson: You could write letters home. Everything was free, or if you wanted to send stuff. This call was from
when I was in Tokyo, it wasn’t from Vietnam. It was from Tokyo.
Dean Devlin: You write “Free” where the stamp was.
Lon Zhe: One of the saddest times I ever saw was on the ship that I was on. They were bringing some mail from the
helicopter, and they dropped it in the ocean. There it went. We never did get it.
John Petterson: I remember they used to send you cookies. People sent you cookies and you’re thinking “Ah man,
cookies from home” and you open it, and they’re green. I don’t think we’ll be eating them babies tonight.
Don Zhe: We ate a bag of ours one time, and it had a crushed end on it and we didn’t think anything of it. We must
have ate two thirds of it before we found a dead mouse.
Philip Kress: Here’s a sample envelope here. Like Dean said, you might write “Free” up here. So I wrote on here,
“Freedom from Cambodia.” This is a letter I sent in the Cambodian incursion in the spring of 1970, when our battalion
and many battalions went over to the Ho Chi Minh Trail. So one of the things you asked about mail. We got mail when
we got re-supplied. So it might be once a week or one time I remember getting three boxes at one time. Because, it
had been three weeks before we had any mail, before the helicopter could get to us. So it just depends. I think the
mail was pretty good. So, it just depends. I think the mail was pretty good, but if you’re not in contact with people out in
the field, then you don’t get your mail. But it worked pretty good.
John Petterson: The average letters that I kind of kept track of, it was 5 to 7 days, I guess, a week late.
Dean Devlin: Phil you made a point there that you were in Cambodia. I was also in Cambodia at the end of my tour.
We weren’t supposed to be there. Everybody says we weren’t supposed to be there, but we were there.
Philip Kress: This one, we were supposed to be there. We heard it on the news, actually, over the radio in the base
camp. It was a major effort to try and control the Ho Chi Minh Trail for a couple of weeks and that’s probably what
happened. The Ho Chi Minh Trail was huge. You could literally drive a bus and half ton down that thing. I’m not sure
they have any of those there, but they had carts. This place had farm fields and under the rain forest canopy it had
open air classrooms and buildings. We found clothing for families, like children’s and women’s clothing, bags of
supplies like peanuts and rice and all kinds of stuff like that. It was an amazing kind of place. Every so often there
would be a bunker, built into the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It was a fortified, safe place for them.
Bill Maves: You know the old saying, if you’re born to hang, you’re never going to drown. You know, I have mixed
feelings on the phone calls. At that time, that was a pilot program. They had the MARS station and they would patch
through, thru the operators, your phone call. You could actually call from just about anywhere in country, I think. We
were up in Con Tien, for about three months stint up there, running patrols and ambushes and stuff. The guy that I
worked with was from a small town up by where Gordie has his cabin, up there in Michigan. His name was Terry
Picciano. He had signed up to get on that MARS station to make that call. He had the patience of a saint. He kept with
it, kept with it. The day came and his name came up to get on that call. He knew it the day before and he said, “Bill
would you cover me for the MARS call.” There was a patrol going out and they needed an RTO air-ground guy and we
both had the same job. So I said, “Sure Terry, get your call made.” So I went out with a different company. It ended up
to be uneventful. The next day I was slated, and he had made his call, so he took my spot. They walked into an
ambush. The first guy they tagged was the radio operator and that was Terry. He took the…you know, it killed him. I
always wondered if he wouldn’t have made that call, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you. That’s the way
fate worked, you know.
Dave Erpenbach: Being a radio relay operator, I used to patch calls through from different places. I’d patch them to
the MARS radios too and we’d almost have to listen through sometimes, but we would patch these calls through for
guys to call home. That’s was one of the things that I remember about running the radios that we had.
Don Zhe: We did the same thing when I was radio relay for the Marine Corps. They’d patch calls through us that would
be going home. They are really interesting, because the mother and dads paid for say… Evansville to California and
then it was free from California to Vietnam. You’d have to spend a couple of minutes trying to tell your folks that they’d
have to use “over” and this and that. Then you’d talk back, and they’d have a few minutes to make sure you didn’t spill
the beans on something, and wipe out your conversation. You had to keep it pretty clean. The dads knew how to
operate it, but the mothers always had a hard time.
James Allen: When we were patrolling the river banks, they told us, “You can go to Cambodia, but don’t go in.” You
don’t tell 60 guys you can’t do that. Because we loaded the zippo up and we went into the first village that we found, but
it didn’t look the same when we left. We burned it to the ground. So I think they were glad to see us go, I don’t know.
Dave Erpenbach. Back to the mail situation. Also, besides sending letters, I had a small portable tape recorder, and I
would record my letter home, and then I would send it for free. My parents would then record over at home, and then
they would send it back to me. And as I was going through things, when we came up with this, I found five small reel to
reel audio tapes, that I now have, with no tape player, and I wonder what’s said on those tapes. I’ve been trying to find
some way to listen to those tapes. My parents are both dead now, and it would be interesting to hear their voices
again. It was another way of sending mail then, too, was with the audio. Also another thing with mail, you tried to get
anything you could get, because if you got something in the mail, you felt like getting something from home. Being from
Evansville, most everybody got the Review. So you could read about what was going on. John’s parents owned the
Leader, which was the advertising paper here in Evansville. I had my mother make sure that they sent the Leader
over. I always claimed that I could learn more about what was going on in Evansville by reading who had what for sale,
because it was still such a small town then. You sort of knew what everybody had, and so if somebody had a car up for
sale, you could tell who had a car for sale. You could keep track of what was going on just by reading the “for sale” and
“wanted” ads in the paper. I thought that was something different.
John Ehle: Did anyone have a sense of how the war was being portrayed in the media or were you pretty much isolated
John Petterson I thought we were. I never knew anything, except for what the Stars and Stripes had. They didn’t tell
you the regular things that were going on. I didn’t know anything until you got back to the state.
Bill Maves: Stars and Stripes. It was filtered
John Petterson: We didn’t know the regular things that were going on.
John Ehle: Was that a radio program?
Bill Maves: It was a military paper.
John Petterson: They only told the good stuff. I didn’t know anything, until you got back to the states.
Dean Devlin: You had the radio station with Hanoi Hannah. She was cutting down the United States all the time, and all
you guys are bad guys, you know.
Larry Elmer: That movie “Hello Vietnam.” What was that guy’s name?
? Robin Williams
Larry Elmer: “Good Morning, Vietnam.” I can remember listening to that station.
John Eberhardt: I listened to Armed Forces Vietnam Radio all the time.
Larry Elmer: A lot of that was very filtered too. That movie was pretty accurate.
Bill Maves: They filtered all the stuff. I was there when Martin Luther King got shot and then Kennedy. They filtered a
lot of that immediately, because of the Black troops. They found out.
John Ehle: Did that throw gas on that fire, do you think?
Bill Maves: It festered it up. They turned on… they went into their own groups. You almost thought you were going to
have a civil war amongst yourselves. The Blacks were there and the Whites were here and ok, a White guy killed a
leader for the Black people. Here we are in Vietnam, and it seemed like there were a lot more Black people killed in
combat than there were White people. They felt they were discriminated against. They were sent into combat more
than White people were.
John Ehle: Did they think they were over represented?
Gordon Ringhand: They were put into the infantry more, like say, than support groups.
John Eberhardt: Lower education levels and lower income levels.
Larry Elmer: That war, the majority of people were lower education levels. Not that we’re dummies here, but people
that went to college, regardless of how smart they were, or how much money they had, was exempt from the draft.
Alan Hurst: It’s a lot different today, because today they can pick and choose who they want in the service anyway.
Whereas, back when we went in, they would take anybody.
Bill Maves: That’s because of the draft. Now it’s all volunteer.
Dean Devlin: They are more picky about personnel without a high school education today than they were then.
Bill Maves: Right, they are more picky today than they were then. There’s a lot of fallacies about the Vietnam War.
One of the fallacies is that the Blacks suffered more casualties and in reality they did not. The Whites were the
highest. The Blacks were less and the minorities, the Asians and Indians were less. That was one of the fallacies, that
Blacks suffered more casualties, but indeed they didn’t.
Larry Elmer: They killed more Whites there than Blacks.
Dave Erpenbach: In the unit I was in we had a Black captain. I was an E-4 doing the job of the E-5. I could have gone
down and gotten promoted or taken the test to get a promotion, but the Black Captain told me there was no need for
me, (since I was drafted and I was getting out of the service in five months). There was no need for me to go down and
take the sergeant test. We’ve got these other guys, the other Black guys that were in the unit, that would be in the
service a lot longer. It only made sense to him that they would get the promotion. So the longer that they were in the
service, it was easier to get a promotion over in Vietnam. They’d get the promotion, and they’d get the pay raise. That’
s what happened, but I still had to pull the E-5 rank job and be in control of things.
John Ehle: Larry, you mentioned something during the break, and this is taking the conversation in a little different
direction. Agent Orange is something that we’ve all thought about, discussed, read about, and would you like to share
Larry Elmer: I know a lot of you probably know that I am kind of an advocate of Agent Orange [exposure rating and
compensation.] I’m rated for exposure to Agent Orange, through I’ve got Diabetes 2. Well, I was examined by the
doctors, and they said, without a doubt, it’s because of Agent Orange exposure, with the lesions on my legs and that
type of diabetes. I read a lot about it, and we have mentioned here about several individuals that have passed away
from cancers, just in this community, in this age group, that was in Vietnam. There is a pamphlet there. I met with a
national service officer, Dave Barker, in Ohio. He wrote this conclusion about Agent Orange. It’s very interesting and I’
d suggest, any of you, read it. I know Don, through getting back with me and stuff, you were rated too with exposure to
Don Zhe: I carried symptoms for years and years. Down deep I figured in 20 years I was dead. Twenty years came,
and I was still there, so I figured that was good news. It was almost a relief to find out that wasn’t true. Our kids, too.
John Petterson: We were in probably the highest rated area of Vietnam, too.
Larry Elmer: In that pamphlet it explains things. Anyone ever use WeedBe Gone? That is like one part to one hundred
parts of what they call DDT or poison. The mixture in Agent Orange was 30 to 40 parts to 100 parts. That’s how much
stronger that is. It also shows the areas where it was spread. At this time there are several cancers. There is Diabetes
2 and there is birth defects that are now accepted for getting compensation because of Agent Orange.
John Petterson: The birth defects are only for women that were in Vietnam. If they have babies, they can be
compensated. Men cannot. I’ve went down that road.
Larry Elmer: This Dave Barker, he addresses this too. He says, “Do not give up on this.”
John Petterson: I’m fighting with them right now.
Larry Elmer: Once again I want to say, not even including Agent Orange. Any benefits that you’re going to get out of
the VA, it’s just like the military, you’ve got to use the chain of command. In Rock County it starts with the Rock County
VA Service Office. That’s what they are paid for. You go there, and they know the forms that you have to fill out. They’
ll take care of you. Then if it comes back rejected, then you take other avenues, like, you know, high ranking officials,
officers, Congressmen and things like that. My advice is, please, if you do have an idea that you got something
wrong. You know, cancer or anything, and you want to file a claim, go to the Rock County Service Officer. I’ve been
down there. I’ve taken a couple of people down there and they’ve come through with no problems.
Bill Maves: The government is starting to cover their tracks better. When that Agent Orange thing came into focus
years ago and a lot of veterans were affected. The volume of veterans, you had millions of troops that were in Vietnam,
and then in 1991 you had the Gulf War Syndrome. The effects, whether real or imaged, that were claimed there. As
we speak, in Iraq now, I know that in my job over there, hauling armor back and forth, when we left country we had to
sign a waiver; not a waiver per se, but a statement of acknowledgment that we were exposed to depleted uranium. All
your battle tanks, that’s what they have in their shells is depleted uranium. That’s what makes them armor penetrating.
We hauled a lot of armor that was either destroyed by tank or a tank itself that had been destroyed. So then you get,
you know, so we had to sign. It’s in my record book. It’s probably a good thing, because later you start going. I always
said, I can’t be here for too long. I’ve got Agent Orange in the first one and depleted uranium in the second one. You
want to make sure you are on the registry, because someday, maybe someday your family will benefit.
John Petterson: The thing of it is now Bill, I just saw it on TV the other day about Agent Orange. The thing going on
about Agent Orange, and they think they will add another one, hypertension to it. The next thing is that the Vietnamese
people have now sued Dow and are in the process of Monsanto too, for all their kids over there.
Larry Elmer: Some judge threw it out.
John Petterson: Oh, did he? I saw it on the news
Larry Elmer: The thing of it is, I noticed I’ve got peripheral neuropathy in the legs and hands too, and that’s nerve
damage. I didn’t start to notice, probably until the early 1980s. It seemed like it was getting harder to get around.
When you are starting to sleep or something, there’s pain shooting through your legs. I guess that’s another problem I’
ve got, my train of thought. I lost my train of thought. (laughter)
Don Zhe: That Agent Orange is difficult to deal with when it comes to your kids. You can deal with something yourself,
but when you have the realization that you might have caused. What you did to yourself, you signed up for it, but when
it comes to your kids.
Bill Maves: How’d you’d like to be Zumwalt. He’s the one that ordered it, and his kid died from it.
Larry Elmer. What I was going to say. When I got back, there’s a lot of people, especially those that were never in
Vietnam service, that look down their nose at it. Like us veterans, are trying to get something we haven’t got coming
and damn it, we do have it coming. Six guys in this community passed away from cancer and most likely it’s related to
John Ehle. One of the stories, for lack of a better term, that I’ve been thinking of and pursuing recently is the death of
Bo Crull and a friend of mine from Albany, Mel Anabnet. I think that I told it to Dean today. Mel and Bo were both class
of ’64. They were both farm kids. Both were distance runners. Both of them went to Platteville. Both of them ran track
and cross country over there. Both of them flunked out and both of them got drafted. Bo did a 1-2-3 Marine, and Mel
was Army infantry. They both survived Vietnam; came home; went to work; raised their families and both died of
cancer. Bo had brain cancer and Mel had bone cancer. I think they died within months of each other in the mid-80s.
They didn’t make it to 50. That has always kind of haunted me how lock step, these guys that were the same age and
had so many similar paths in life. I never thought it was a coincidence.
John Petterson: I’m still fighting it, but it feels like it’s a losing battle.
Gordon Ringhand: Just like everybody else that’s in this room, if you haven’t gone to the VA, you should even file and
try to get in. It’s an ongoing battle in life. A lot of us done that quite a few years ago and got enlisted into the VA
system. It’s like Larry said, diabetes is a high cause. I constantly take out letters and give it to people who were in
Vietnam, and have them file for what they have rightfully coming to them, whether its for Diabetes 2 or whatever it might
be for something else. There’s a lot of people in the area that don’t step up to the plate. I’ve got individuals that I went
out there and six months and gave them an envelope. They don’t fill out the forms and they say, “Aw, I’ll fill it out later. I
asked, “Have you filled it out?” And he said “No.” He told me personally that he is diabetic, too. So he’s shrugging his
obligation to notify the community that he had problems also.
Larry Elmer: You don’t have to be heavy combat. Basically, it was usually the more headquartered units. They
sprayed that stuff around places like Saigon, and those headquarter units to knock down the foliage. So, you could be
a clerk typist inside the perimeter, and you are exposed to Agent Orange. It’s as simple as that, probably more exposed
than some of the guys that was right out in the trenches. I mentioned that I was with the Koreans. We landed the
Koreans up at Ninh Hoa. Now I guess there is a real problem with the Koreans, same illnesses that we are getting here,
cancers, Diabetes 2. I seen them use Agent Orange when I was with the Koreans. They’d come down through with the,
I think they are C123’s, and that stuff just floats. It seemed to me like it was going every place except where it was
suppose to go.
Don Zhe: It goes dormant too, and the tanks come through after monsoon season and dig it back up. It can lay there
dormant waiting for you to get there.
Bill Maves: Well, walking through it, walking into those defoliated areas. They always sent troops in there. I know
when there were the B-52 strikes, they’d want assessment and here a lot of them, like Larry says, were around the fire
bases. All they were doing was trying to cut down the brush and everything, the places where they’d sneak up on you
from. That’s what they use it for. As an 18,19, 20 year old kid, you do what you’re told and walk out through there.
You don’t know what’s going to be happening to you thirty years later. You don’t. You’re just a kid.
Glen Clark: I sprayed something. I don’t know if it was Agent Orange or what it was. Around a fire support base
around where they knocked all the trees down and where the grass and brush grows. It was exciting. You’d start out
and they had propellers and they put the booms out the back, and they had a little propeller that would run the pump.
You had to be doing 60 knots, or 60 miles an hour to run the propeller fast enough to run the pump. So you’d start out
going around. You’d have to be low enough, be five feet off the ground. You’d go around the little fire support base,
and it was really fun the first couple times around; and then you get a little further out, and you had trees you had to be
dodging. It got old before it got done. That’s probably one of the reasons I don’t have children, too. It was a factor in
my decision not to have children.
John Eberhardt: It was not only a matter of being sprayed either, because I don’t know how many times we’d be on
operations for a week or ten days. You’re two klicks off the road they don’t bring you a tank of water every time your
canteen is empty. You fill the canteen out of a bomb crater or a creek, or whatever. You put your purification tablets in,
your Kool-Aid in, and you drink it. It’s a latent type thing. You can be exposed years after you’ve been deployed.
Larry Elmer: There’s a couple of different types of defoliant. There’s Agent White and Agent Blue. The way they get
their name is that how they were stored. The Agent Orange was stored in orange barrels and white barrels, for Agent
White, and I used to see a lot of those orange barrels sitting out at the air strips and wondered what they were. I found
out later what it was.
John Petterson: Ya, but they told you there was nothing wrong with it.
Gordon Ringhand: Bill brought the high point out. You’re 18, 19, 20 years old and you’re military trained. You start out
and a person says, “You do this, and you do that.” That’s the end of the conversation. You do this; you do that. You
do what you’re told, and you’re brought up that way in the military.
Larry Elmer: Other than Jim Allen, I guess we were 18, 19, 20, 21 years old. We were just young kids. The worst thing
I ever saw in my life was the brakemen here when I was a kid, fell down on the tracks here, and he got his ankle cut off
or something. I came down here on my bicycle and seen that and I couldn’t sleep for about two night after. We were all
just kids, basically.
Gordon Ringhand: If you don’t believe that, just take a look at the pictures of us.
Glenn Clark: I had my 22 and 23rd birthdays in Vietnam.
Jim Allen: I had my 25 and 26th.
? I had my 18th and 19th.
John Eberhardt: You know, in Bill’s situation, where he’s been in Iraq recently, all the people there are 25 years his
Bill Maves: And the military itself, it’s changed a lot. Now it’s the Y generation and now you have to have a lot more
answers now. There’s a lot more that goes on for every mission. They actually now, for every mission you have, you
have to have a safety briefing for every mission. You guys, in your wildest dreams, when we were over there, could
never imagine that. “You’re going on patrol today and here’s your safety briefing. Don’t get shot, or whatever.”
(laughter) They actually do that. There is what they call a risk factor. As a commander or leader, platoon sergeant, or
platoon leader or Lieutenant, or whatever you are, you have to give that briefing. You want to say its kind of a farce,
but it’s a fact of today’s military. I always included in every one of them; I’m always told them, my guys always knew
that, “I’m never going to ask you to do something that I wouldn’t do. And I’m going to do it first, because I’d rather do it
than have you do it anyway.” And that’s what I did, but the VA, like Larry was saying, now the VA is going to be
swamped in the next few years. Because, I don’t know if you know it, the suicide rate, in the all volunteer force, is the
highest ever. There is a lot of stress factors in the type of combat now by troops over in Southwest Asia. Whereas, I
think, that no matter where you were in Vietnam, whether you were, like Dave was saying, he had a little Quonset hut. I
know John, being a grunt like me, someone took a photograph that’s in a lot of magazines, up at Khe Sahn, and a guy
had a little sign next to his hole there: “Home is Where You Dig It.” You lived in the trenches and in the mud, and in
the bush, under a poncho, whatever. Now they don’t have that little cluster, that little fire base. I mean, they have
bases. But once they leave that base, or if they are running out of Kuwait, once they cross that border, with the type of
hazard that’s there, you never know when you’re going to say the last words to this guy. If you’re in a Humvee or you’re
in a vehicle, that’s where the danger is now. Sure you still get the rockets and you still get the mortars dropped in on
the bases. That’s tramatic enough. In fact you’ll see, if you read last month’s issue of the VFW magazine, there are a
tremendous amount of women that have been killed in Southwest Asia and the State of Wisconsin has taken a pretty
big hit, too. I think there are at least half a dozen from the State of Wisconsin, starting with Michelle Weber? That
unkown…you know, I’ve been there and I can tell you first hand that the guys, once they cross the wire, once you cross
the line of departure, the DMZ, you just don’t know. We started out over there with crude devices that they were
throwing at us, the washer and dryer timers triggering your IUDs. You know, any fool can look down the road at night
and say, “Oh, here comes a coalition force convoy. I’ve already drove that and they’re four or five minutes away, so I
can set that for five minutes and I’m gong to hit the middle somewhere.” If you are the unlucky guy that it gets
detonated by, by that simple timer. By the time we left, they had gone to laser technology. They went from washer and
dryer timers. Then they went to garage door openers. Then they went to cell phone and now they have laser
technology. You don’t have much chance. They are not using generic ordnance, they are using shaped charges. You
are coming down the road in a Humvee and they don’t want you. They want a fuel tanker and they turn that laser off.
Then the tanker comes by, Boom. You never know. They are using triggered strikes. These kids now, getting back on
track here, the VA now, there are a tremendous amount of people out there, veterans that are coming back that have
some problems. I keep in touch with some of my guys and I can tell you first hand that I’ve got some guys that have
problems with adapting back. It’s the unknown that does it. They don’t have their little sanctuary. They have their
sanctuary, but when they go out they get vaporized. Probably the only good thing that happened, and it wasn’t a good
thing, was that Woodward, the newsman, that got hit over there. That threw a lot of focus on the VA and the treatment
of these guys with the TB, (the tramatic brain injuries) and stuff like that. Here’s a high personality guy that got hit and
that put a lot of pressure on the VA. They are going to be swamped. Larry hit the nail on the head there, with the
general public saying, “well, these guys are sand bagging. These guys are claiming something.” But there’s a lot of
suicide. Take these soldiers that are on their second, third, fourth tours and they have their whole life in front of them
and they are capping themselves at a tremendous rate.
Clark: Do they do anything about re-acclimating people back into the world?
Bill Maves: They do. It falls in the military crack, just the same as it did years ago. It’s better than it was when you folks
came from Vietnam. I came from Vietnam. I left country through Okinawa. In the process of two days. I flew into the
Janesville airport and hitchhiked home. I called and nobody happened to be home. Some guy picked me up and took
me home and sea bag and dropped me off. I thought, “Gees, I hope the house ain’t locked. I left and was back in a
matter of three days. Now they have what they have what they call de-mob. Now they have de-mob station and you are
looking at about two weeks. They have the clinical psychologist. They have the doctors and you have the physical, but
it’s incomplete. It’s a great effort but it’s not doing the job.
Glen Clark: Everyone wants to get out of there and get home.
Bill Maves: They are not going to admit to something. A lot of young kids are asked, “How are you doing, Are you
sleeping well at night.” They say they are ok and then they get home and then you are looking at the other end of the
spectrum, those type of things, either suicides. I’ve got two or three guys that are out of work, that had a job for years,
out of work now, and that have got some issues.
Dean Devlin: I’d like to ask you a question. Were you in Vietnam and both of them. We probably shouldn’t have been
in Vietnam Do you think we should be there now?
Bill Maves: Well, a lot of people ask me that. Of course when you’re in the military, you always give the same answer,
because you’re a military guy. You do what the Commander In Chief decides is best. But to answer your question,
honestly, there are a lot of striking similarities between the two. I’ve made that statements to some people in
confidentiality. I’d had to be on the losing side twice and I think I am.
John Petterson: I’d like to say one thing to everybody: Welcome home. [Clapping]:
Gordon Ringhand: It’s a true issue that most of us never forget any experience we had in Vietnam. Every day you
probably like John you had asked there, if you still have memories and it’s a time in your life that you will remember
every day of your life. It will never going away. It will always be there.
Bill Maves: I don’t think there is anybody here that like David said that doesn’t hear a helicopter and it brings it back, or
you smell diesel fuel or they play taps, you know.
Dave Erpenbach: I was telling Dean, I consider myself, I call myself a survivor. For whatever reason I got drafted and I
got in to what I did. I never had to see combat and all this and that. But I had friends that had to and friends that died.
A friend that I ran track with in Lakes Mills was killed over there. He could have avoided the Army very easily because
he was a star athlete and an honor student at Lake Mills and going to the U. W. But he signed up to join the Army
because he thought that was the right thing to do. And he died in a military personnel carrier that got hit. He died of
burns in Japan. I always felt guilty. Why was it him, or why was it somebody else and why did I get such a lucky break
when other guys were out doing something else. Then I came to the realization that it was not anything that I did. It was
not anything anybody else did. It was just the way the chips fell. I had a job to do. I went into the service and I was
trained to do this job. I went over there and did my job and thankfully for me I didn’t have to see a lot of things. I did my
job and I came home. For a long time I felt guilty about not having done other things. But I’ve been able to come to
peace with myself for that.
Dean Devlin: You served your country.
James Allen: I never drank water in Vietnam.
Bill Maves: Now we know. That opens up a whole new can of worms.
James Allen: Twice a week in Ban Wan in the middle of the Megong. We kept this big boat and twick a week we’d cross
the China Sea and pick up 48 pallets of beer and soda. Well, low and behold not all of it made it back. Three pallets
of beer that never made it back.
Glen Clark: That is one of the things I did come back from Vietnam with a real drinking problem. It kind of scares me
when I think about how we handled our beer or drink over in Vietnam. I know that we would go out and get drunker
than skunks and then get up in the morning and go out and fly. I know a story of a friend that was doing that. He was
hauling a colonel or a major or something around and stopped and he was flying low and he stopped right in the middle
of Highway 1 right out in the middle of nowhere. Set it down. He got out and got out and pucked about three times and
wiped his chin off and then got back in. He stopped in a POL and the passengers all got out and stand in a little group
off at the side. The crew chief get out walks over and he thinks he’s coming over to say something and he pukes all
over the place. Wipes off and then says, “Let’s go.”
Dave Erpenbach: I might have been the only here that was in an area where there were probably drugs were used.
Marijuana was readily available. You could go down town and get speed, little capsules and knock the top off that. If
you had to stay awake, you could make your 12 hour night shift real easy. Guys would be down, pulling guard duty on
the perimeter and have to have a little speed to stay awake and a little marijuana soaked in opium to take the edge off.
Then you’d be down there shooting.
? Did it help your aim any?”
Dave Erpenbach: I don’t know. The guys went up in the tower and if anybody came up the steps you could always just
throw it off the edge and never have anything there.
Photo taken March 12, 2008, at the VFW - Evansville
by John Ehle