GARY CARROLL NARRATIVE
My name is Gary Carroll and I was drafted into the war when I was 21 years old. I was assigned to Headquarters in Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam. Before I was drafted I worked at Klopman Mills in Dublin. I was not happy about going to war and I really didn’t support it. I mean you always seen it on the television and the people were always saying "60 more Americans were killed today" and we always had about a thousand of them we were killing at the same period of time. It just sounded false and untrue.
I went to Fort Dix, New Jersey for my basic training and I had a drill sergeant named Kolchins. And he was a pretty nice guy just as long as you did what you were told. It was tough at times because you felt stupid; but just as long as you had the mentality to just go along with it things weren’t too bad. There were a few people from Virginia and Maryland but most of the people in basic training were from New Jersey and New York. I really didn’t have a lot of friends there that I can remember, since I was only there for seven or eight weeks total. You went from place to place and didn’t have a lot of time to make friends. I didn’t really get too homesick in basic because it was a great adventure to be able to be in the same room with people from all over the country.
I wound up scoring good on the computer-programming test so I was moved to Fort McPherson, Georgia to have more training in the field of computer operations.. I was in the states for 11 months after I was drafted before I was shipped to Vietnam. I wasn’t really all that excited about going to Vietnam; I actually counted the days before I got to go home. I flew over there on Tiger Airlines. It was like riding in a boxcar that flew, it wasn’t very nice. We went from Atlanta to Fort Lewis then from Fort Lewis to Fairbanks, Alaska then to Tokyo, Japan and from there we flew into Cam Ranh Bay. The only thing I remember about getting off the plane was how bad the smell was. I knew I was in another world just by looking around and seeing the standard of living and the way of life was totally different.
I was in the 443rd headquarters company and I can’t really remember much about my unit assignment other than that. I started off working in a computer section when I got there and then they made us take a whole bunch more tests. And somehow or another I wound up with secret clearance; they made me a courier. Basically what I would do is take data processing materials, which look like big ‘ol rolls of film, and fly them from Cam Ranh to Saigon and they would give me another and then I’d fly to Long Bien, Da Nang and then somewhere else. I’d just make one big circle. But I’d rather be doing that than being out using an M16. So I guess I was lucky.
The food there was horrible everything was either dried or canned, it just wasn’t good at all. I worked with a few Vietnamese soldiers while escorting civilians back to where they lived off base. There were a lot of civilians mainly young men and young women. And some rode the bus home. But the thing I remember most about the Vietnamese people was how pretty they were when they were young, I mean the young ladies. They were very pretty from the ages of 18 to 20 or 30 but after that they just aged very quickly after that. I guess it was because of poor nutrition or something like that, because of the poor standard of living. I mean anyone beyond 30 looked to be 50 or so, to our standards.
For recreation we used to smoke a lot of pot, well at least a lot of us did, and a lot others drank a lot of booze. We used to play volleyball. We would play "the heads" versus "the juicers." What would happen was one team would get drunk and the other team would get stoned, and we would try to play volleyball. You must understand that was the only way to blow off a little steam, and you’ve got to be able to relax. But I was never really out in the field in combat. But every once in a while I would have to walk the perimeter and check for any breaches.
There weren’t really any problems on base but I have two memories that especially stick out in my mind. We had these little towers we had to stay in during guard duty. And we would trade, you know, "you take my shift and I’ll take your shift" you know stuff like that. And procedure was if you saw someone coming through the perimeter you were to radio in and abandon the tower and go to a safe place. I traded duty with a guy and it turns out he stayed alert because someone cut through the wire and lobbed a satchel charge into the tower and blew it up. He had been alert and had followed procedure and was okay. Since it was so easy to not be alert, I’ve always wondered if I had been there, would I have seen the guy coming?
And I remember being in the barracks, and our entire defense was from the Navy in Cam Ranh Bay. And sometimes the North Vietnamese would climb up the mountain and shoot rockets at our barracks; their aim wasn’t very good. Most of the rockets fell harmlessly and they’d shoot 4 or 5 of them and hightail it out of there. And it was great fun for us to go out and watch the gun boats figure out where the rockets had come from and watch them just blow up the whole side of the mountain. Once, the barracks two further down the line from mine took a direct hit and it probably killed about 50 or so GI’s.
"Fragging" wasn’t very popular in my company but it happened, and I didn’t know about it until I got home and people wrote me letters and told me about this real unpopular lieutenant that insisted on haircuts and spit shines. He wasn’t the most liked person and after I came home someone lobbed a grenade into his tent or barrack and killed him.
We worked 7 days a week most of the time but every once I a while we would get a day off. But most of the time we worked 7 days a week 12 hours a day. But this wasn’t when I was flying but when I worked on base. All you got was enough time to eat lunch and eat supper and then after 12 hours another GI would come in a relieve you of your duty. It was pretty consistent and there wasn’t a lot of time for rest.
I don’t really recall that much of any unusual sickness. But I do remember that you had diarrhea a lot and that was probably from the food. There were jokes about having diarrhea all of the time. One of the most unpopular jobs if you got in trouble was there were outside johns that had 55 gallon drums to catch the waste. These drums had to be emptied and burned regularly. If you got into trouble you got the job of taking out the drums and burn the waste. And that kept us in line because we didn’t want to have to burn that stuff. But I was always good and didn’t have to do that. The smell of burning diesel fuel and human waste was everywhere. Another thing I’ll never forget.
The bugs that I remember most were the mosquitoes. They weren’t too bad during the day but at night they were very bad. I mean you had your screened windows and all and your individual mosquito net around your bed at night so they were never really that big of a problem to me. The snakes weren’t bad because there were no grass or live trees around because they had sprayed Agent Orange all around and all the plant life was dead.
We had a USO show that I recall while I was there, and it was a bunch of Vietnamese strippers. And that was it. I went to Saigon quite a few times while I was in Vietnam. It was a huge city but the whole thing was a slum. That’s the best way I can think to describe it. If there were nice parts, I never got to see them. I was mostly there to deliver a tape. And I would usually stay a night or two waiting for them to get me another tape ready to take to someone else.
The people in Vietnam absolutely hated us. They didn’t want us there. You weren’t safe from the civilian population at any time. But I didn’t really witness any crime because I was well-protected by the MP’s and stuff. There just didn’t seem to be any form of law that applied to that society. I really wasn’t in a whole lot of danger compared to the infantry. You would hear a big explosion and everyone would go and huddle up in the big bunker outside and huddle in a corner and smoke your cigarettes and wait for the siren to go back to your bunk.
There was a lot of drug and alcohol abuse in Vietnam and that was the biggest problem, next to the enemy of course, Americans faced. But I’m sure you see that anywhere that you have a war. I mean there was also the danger of being at war, but most of the men I was with were there against their will anyway. So what else can you do to take your mind off the war? We did do our jobs, please don’t get the wrong idea, we just weren’t happy.
You didn’t hear a lot about people who opposed the war while you were over there. Before I went over there I was stupid and didn’t pay much attention to what was going on politically. And all of the news that you heard while you were over there was so censored and filtered you didn’t hear a lot about what was really going on at home. But I remember coming home and people asking stuff like how many babies you killed, and nobody would give you a job because they thought you were a druggie. I became an anti-war activist, so-to-speak, and I was very much so against the war. To this day, I cringe when I think of our young men and women being sent to war to help build some politican’s self-esteem.
I was very excited to be coming home and the flight was a whole lot better coming back. But even whenever you passed through the airports people treated you like you were dirt. We flew into Alaska and there were people everywhere, then we flew into Ft. Lewis, Washington, which was a base, so there weren’t any protestors. Then we flew into Chicago and people there made you feel like you were tiny and worthless. Couldn’t get service or at least got very slow service at the airport restaurants, etc. Then we flew into Roanoke and we didn’t have any problems there.
Nobody ever said, "Thank You" to me for the time I was in the army. Well, not for 35 years, anyway. Recently war veterans were honored at the Hollybrook Community Center during a Veteran’s Day Dance. The audience actually got up and applauded the veterans who were present. Things sure are different today. It felt real good for the people to recognize me and what I’d done.
I think the first thing I did when I got home was got drunk. And I remember all we talked about in Vietnam was a Big Mac so I’m sure I wasn’t long before I ate one or two of those when I got home. It took me somewhere around 15 years, which might be a slight exaggeration, to get used to civilized life if I’m not mistaken. I couldn’t get a job, so I started school on GI bill, so I would have a little monthly income. And my GI bill was $325 a tuition was $75 a month, which was a quarter of my pay already. I took some real bad part time jobs just to live. I cleaned bathrooms at a YMCA for awhile. That’s the worse job I’ve ever had.
I don’t think that my time I spent in Vietnam was worthwhile; I think it was a waste of a whole year. I am proud that I was able to honorably serve my country and got an honorable discharge. But as far as what I did for my country I’m not proud of that. I believe that we failed in every aspect of the war that you can measure. I say this because there were 55,000 GI’s that died and I don’t know how much money spent and we accomplished nothing at all. And I’m not sure how many people were injured and had visible scars and emotional scars, and that’s a high price to pay for what little we got done.
It’s hard for me to say what we should learn as a nation. But I certainly think we should be more careful where we send our young men and young women. It’s truly a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.(Other veteran’s present at the interview say "Amen") I think there are all kinds of parallels to the war in Iraq, because our men are not accepted by the locals. And I do believe that even if our goal is accomplished soon after we leave the government will collapse and go right back to the way they were before we even started. I mean there are people dying over there and I’m not even sure what for.
But I must say that I learned a lot. I learned that there’s a great big world out there and there’s a lot of different people in it. I’d never really gone to far out of Virginia, even very far out of Bland County before the Army. And if I gained anything it’s that I had a lot more confidence in myself and my ability to do things after I’d served. I mean, civilian life and problems seemed real insignificant after being in a war zone.
Would I do it again? Well, I guess if you get a letter that says "Greetings from the president……" I guess you don’t have much of a choice. I don’t want anyone to think I don’t support our troops because I do. I’m behind anybody that serves anywhere. I think that our government puts people in harms way without a lot of forethought sometimes. And always leaves them there way too long.
Apple quicktime will be needed to view the videos of the veterans. It can be downloaded for the mac or
Rich Man's War, Poor Man's Fight.
Our Nation's Failure