I’m Michael Harless, a Vietnam veteran.

I was almost nineteen when I entered the service. I lived in Tazewell county and had been out of school for almost one full year. I neither cared to go into the armed services nor did I particularly support the war.

I was sent to Fort Bragg, North Carolina for basic training. Most of the recruits were sent from the east coast. I made all kinds of friends. This was the first time I had been away from home for a long period of time, but I wasn’t very homesick. In basic training, I was trained to be a helicopter crew chief and a helicopter mechanic. After basic training I was sent to Fort Ustus, Virginia where I took basic helicopter repair for AIDED. It was about a thirteen months before I was shipped to Vietnam.
I was transported by an airplaine, though I didn’t want to go. The trip was nice, but I knew my destination, so I couldn’t enjoy it, We landed in Danann, Vietnam. When I first set foot on the grond, there were rocket attacks going on. The air was hot and humid, guns were going of all around me, airplanes were taking off. I was then assigned to the D Troop First Calvary second platoon. For an entire six months I drove a water truck for the company for drinking, cooking, and taking baths. After this time, I began my job as a helicopter crew chief. I lived in a one story barrack where the rooms were petitioned off and a sandbag bunker surrounding it,

The food they gave us was, for the most part, decent. I was usually the last one in the mess hall because I had worked at night and so I usually had a good supper.
The Vienamese were poor and didn’t have of anything because the North Vietnamese and the U.S. had taken everyhing they had. The people of South Vietnam were very friendly to the soldiers.

One day we went up on the mountain inside the base. On the hill were two radio towers. We were just messing around up there and a bunch of orangutans came out of the woods. We told this man to stop messing with the orangutan because we were afraid it would tear him up, but he said it wouldn’t and that he was meaner and a lot bigger than that monkey. We tried to tell him that he would have to write home to his mother and tell him he’d been beat up by a monkey. Then, all of the sudden, the orangutan grabbed him and wooled him all around on the ground. He finally got away from him and ran away as fast as he could.

My helicopater was called the Huey Gun ship. The scarriest moment for me was one night on guard duty. There had been a rocket attack that day and we were told that as long as you were able to hear the rockets whistle through the air, you wouldn’t have to worry about it. All of the sudden, I heard a rocket coming towards me and then the whistling stopped. So I ran behtnd the resettlement, which is two walls to protect the helicopters. I laid there against the wall when the rocket hit the ground. It was only about fifty yards away from me.

I was trained to use M-16, grenade launchers, pistols, and all other hand guns. But no matter how many weapons I was trained to use, it didn’t make fighing them any easier. They would jump on top of you, shoot at you for about two or three minutes and just leave. You couldn’t see them and you would just be shooting at the air. They were too hard to track down.

A typical day in Vietnam was anything but typical. We got out of bed at 5:00 in the morning and take off in my helicopter at 7:00. I had just enough time to get up, take a shower, sometimes eat, and get to my helicopter. We had to be at the flight line at 6:00 to make sure our helicopter was functioning correctly. Everytime a pilot came back with a helicopter I had to check it over to make sure it was ready to take off again. This could go on as late as 11:00 at night or later.

The weather was hot and humid. It would get so hot and then it would rain. You could almost set your clock by the rains when the monsoon season came.
I can understand how the Americans felt the way they did if they opposed the war, tbut they were wrong in calling us baby killers. We were doing what the government said to do when we entered the war. I was in the draft and if they tell you to go, yoForu had to go. There was no choice. It was either you go to the war or you went to jail. If a child walks up to you with five pounds of explosives tied to his waist, you either let him come over and kill you and himself, or you kill him. It was what we were told to do and what we had to do to survive. I don’t know any guys that killed kids, but it’s not something you would forget. But when a child comes up to you with a grenade in his hand or a bomb tied to his middle, you had to do something. All of the soldiers opposed the reasons we were in Vietnam.

The trip back was a huge relief. I felt safe for the first time in so long. I knew I was coming home and that there wouldn’t be anyone else trying to kill me. Coming home was like being born again. Everything was different. I didn’t realize how much things change after you leave the United States. When I got home I went and visited all of my friends, though it took a while to get used to civilian life again. I was used to waking up everytime I heard the smallest noise. There were very few nights that I didn’t wake up.
The memories of the gunshots haunted me for 10 or 15 years. For the first six months after I came home you didn’t touch me after I fell asleep. I would hurt you without even knowing it. That’s because they drilled the idea into your head that if someone came up to you in the middle of the night and grabbed you, you’d better kill them or they would kill you, so it was a reaction I acquired in the war. Instead of trying to wake someone up with your hands, you would kick their bedpost, scream at them, or throw something at them. You would never touch them.

In one way, I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything. In another way, I would in a heartbeat. I just don’t know what my life would be like if I hadn’t been in Vietnam.