Tim Wyatt is interviewed by his daughter, Vicki. (rghs 87)
Vicki: Where were you and how old were you when you went into the service?
Tim: I was going to Bluefield State College and I was 20 years old.
Vicki: What were you doing when you went in?
Tim: Going to college and working on a civil engineering degree, I was going to transfer to VMI. I was working at Acme grocery store in Bluefield, I was a utility clerk and cashier. I was working at nights, at the Daily Telegraph at the mail room.
Vicki: How did you feel about going into the armed services at this time?
Tim: It was alright, it was my duty. I didn't like the idea of being drafted out of college, they changed the rules that they could take you out of school. I didn't like that.
Vicki: Did you support the war in Vietnam?
Tim: Yes, when I got drafted there were about 40 of us in uniform out of my family at that time. We had a big family and it had a lot of boys in it.
Vicki: Where did you go for basic training?
Tim: Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Vicki: Who was your drill sergeant?
Tim: I can't remember, I got a picture of him.
Vicki: Was he a nice man?
Tim: For a drill sergeant, he was, but a drill sergeant wasn't supposed to be nice, they were called something else.
Vicki: Were there recruits from all over the country there?
Tim: Our company was made up of a lot of guys from this area, and southern West Virginia. There were four companies in our training. One was from Detroit, one was from New England, and there was one just scattered of everybody. There were 100 of us in one room.
Vicki: Did you make any friends?
Tim: I know most of the local guys I had went in with. I didn't make any lasting friends.
Vicki: Were you homesick at all?
Tim: No, it was easier there than it was at home. Everything was regulated and you will be there at this certain time and this and that. You will do this and you will do that. I didn't have to work at nights, I actually got to sleep. I was in pretty good shape.
Vicki: What were you trained to do?
Tim: Basic training they just get you into physical shape. They make you do everything the army way.
Vicki: Where did you go after basic?
Tim: Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
Vicki: What did you do?
Tim: They trained me as a 12 alpha 10 combat engineer, and light weapons expert too.
Vicki: How long was it before you were shipped to Vietnam?
Tim: I landed in Vietnam in January 2nd or 3rd.
Vicki: How did you feel about it?
Tim: It was my duty, but they pushed us through the regular training cycle, because they needed guys real bad. We didn't get any time off, I got to come home a week for Christmas. We finished our training and that went fast. Then I had to fly to San Francisco to report in.
Vicki: How did you get there?
Tim: I went to Mercer County airport and climbed on this little bird and went to Cincinnati and climbed on a big bird and then went to San Francisco.
Vicki: What was the trip like?
Tim: A lot different then a commercial flight, they packed in about 400 of us on a plane that was stripped down, that was just raw seats. When I went over in uniform we carried our packs and weapons with us and our duffel bags were just stored in or sent to us on a military flight later.
Vicki: Where did you land in Vietnam?
Tim: Thom San USA Air Force and Army base.
Vicki: Do you remember what it was like when you first set feet on Vietnamese soil?
Tim: Hot, steamy, and stinky. We got there in the middle of the night and it was still over 100 degrees.
Vicki: What did it smell like?
Vicki: What did it sound like?
Tim: Kind of noisy, all the fighters taking off in the middle of the night. Planes coming in and going out. They brought special armored buses to come and get us and take us to the replacement center. We could still see the shot out and bombed out buildings and tents from the year before when they actually broke into the base.
Vicki: Did you feel like you were a long way from home?
Tim: No, I kept busy. I didn't get that feeling till it was about time to go home.
Vicki: What unit were you assigned to?
Tim: They sent me to the 168 combat engineers, attached to the 82 Air Borne, in the 1st infantry.
Vicki: Where were you located?
Tim: Our main base was out of Lai Khe Vietnam. On highway 13. As crow fliies you really weren't that far from Saigon. We were sent out different places to work, on bases, roads, up around the Cambodian border.
Vicki: Who was your commanding officer?
Tim: I don't remember. I had a Leut. Carter the first time I was out there, but he got hurt in a accident when we hit a land mine.
Vicki: What was your job?
Tim: To drive a jeep for Leut. Carter. We got hurt when we hit that land mine and I went to the Co. headquarters till I healed up. After that I got with the combat engineers again and we took out old mines, set new mines, laid out fortifications, strung barbed wire, worked on the road every once and a while, put a pipe in or something like that. We went on patrols.
Vicki: Where were your fellow soldiers from?
Tim: Everywhere and anywhere we even had them from other countries. Some of them signed up to come to the military so they would become American citizens.
Vicki: Where did you live?
Tim: When I first got there they were moving to LiKay from another base. We slept in the back of the trucks and on the ground, we slept in trucks to keep the rain and snakes and stuff off of you. Then we built bunkers and thats while we were there, we slept in bunkers. Till the rainy season came in, and then we woke up in 3 feet of water. Then we had to put some platforms and tents above ground.
Vicki: What was the food like?
Tim: We ate real good, one of the first things we built while we were there was a underground store room, for the mess hall. We hooked up generators to get electricity. All the electricity we generated ourselves by little generators. We ate good, everybody was always telling them we didn't, but we ate good. We never got like home or anything like that, some days if the generator was down or we got hit or something like that, when the lines were destroyed we ate C-rations out of cans. The C-rations we got out of our base camp. The cooks were surprisingly good, they baked their own bread and everything. We had some old timers that knew how to do it though.
Vicki: Where were the cooks from?
Tim: I have no idea, probably everywhere. Most guys were making a life and stuff of being in the army.
Vicki: Were you in the country or in the city?
Tim: There wasn't a city there, it was us. The military was there and the base. Our main base was the main base as the first infantry. So it was pretty good size there, but we were out in far bases and other small bases.
Vicki: Did you work with South Vietnamese soldiers at all?
Tim: Yes, a little bit. Maybe 20 percent of the time.
Vicki: What were they like?
Tim: Little tiny guys. Some of them were tough, some were just like us, they could care less if they were there, they would rather be back home.
Vicki: Did you make any friends in the South Vietnamese army?
Tim: I made a few, but I was with them such a short period of time, I just went out to show them how to do things, and then we were gone. I didn't really meet any of the South Vietnamese soldiers, till my second time in Vietnam. This was my first time there. All of 69 I was there then I came back home and I came back again in November of 70. I got home, to the real world that's what we called it, in June 4, 1971. The second time I was over there which wasn't near as bad. It wasn't floors spit polished, it was, you just did your job. We had more South Vietnamese to help us there. When I was there the second time it was easier because I knew my way around. I was a scrounger, I broke my legs the second time and I thought I was going to come home but they just put me in braces and stuff. They kept me over there and gave me a desk job, for about 4 or 5 weeks and then they took the cast off. One didn't heal up right so they put a cast back on it. And even with my broken leg I was still out scrounging and stuff.
Vicki: How did you break your leg?
Tim: Helicopter crash.
Vicki: What were the people like?
Tim: I got along with them, after you got to where you could understand them, and they could understand you. They lived a lot poorer then we did, they didn't expect much, they worked real hard trying to stay alive. I guess they were just used to a rough life. We think that's lousy and that's the way they lived. They ate different than we did, they liked to eat with us and they liked our food. They normally ate stuff me and you wouldn't eat. They would eat dogs and rattle snake and everything else.
Vicki: Were they friendly?
Tim: For the most part, some of them were unfriendly, but I can understand it easily, after somebody tore your house down, and blow your bridge up. and all this and that, they tell them you're trying to save them. Monks didn't like us. They were about peace with people.
Vicki: What did you and your buddies do for recreation?
Tim: Set around and play cards and argue with each other and fight and rassle.
Vicki: What did you do for relaxation?
Tim: Set around and play cards and argue with each other and fight and rassle.
Vicki: Do you remember any funny stories from your experience in Vietnam?
Tim: We couldn't get enough water, just enough to drink, and they gave us plenty of pop and other stuff. The only time we got lots of water is when we were working out in the field, they kept us watered and stuff. We had to put iodine tablets in it to kill bacteria and stuff. One time we went three weeks without taking a shower. When we came back in we just threw our clothes in a pile and burnt them. They were so stiff and dirty. We only had a couple gallons per guy. We got lucky when it rained, we had a tent and some of the guys went and held the tent up and the others got under the corner, it rained so hard that we could shower in it. We took turns with the corners up.
Vicki: Were you in combat?
Tim: A few times.
Vicki: Did you go out on patrols?
Vicki: Were there any mines or booby traps?
Tim: That was one of my jobs is when we found them to set them off. If somebody found one they would call us and we would set them off. We took them out of all the places.
Vicki: What was combat like?
Tim: Days and days and hours and hours of boredom, and seconds of pure terror.
Vicki: Were you wounded?
Tim: I was hurt but I wasn't wounded, I got a concussion blast. Hurt my legs and stuff but I really wasn't wounded. I never got shot or anything like that.
Vicki: Any of your buddies hurt?
Vicki: What happened to them?
Tim: Some shot, some hit with rocket fragments, and some hit mines, and some died and some didn't. Some got loaded up and sent home and got patted on the head and got told you got the million dollar wound, you're going home.
Vicki: What weapons were you trained to use?
Tim: I was trained to use anything made in the Canadian border and the U.S. I was trained to use a lot of communists weapons to. I was in the light weapons specialists category. I used the M14 and a lot of weapons used in World War II there were a lot of them floating around. M16 force, a caliber pistol, m79 grenade launcher, 2.5, 3.7, and a tank gun. The smallest 82, m60 machine gun, m50 machine gun, and a 3 caliber machine gun. I trained on all these and was a sharp shooter expert on all of them.
Vicki: Did you ever drive a tank?
Tim: Yes, when I got sent back to the U.S. the first time they sent me down to Fort Benning, sent me to a track school, 3c charlie they didn't need what I was trained at, all that is, is a track mechanic. I got a letter from the sergeant I was at Fort Cellar Oklahoma. The outfits they had there were artillery and I didn't want that. I drove a tank, when I was at Fort Benning, for training and when I came home they put me in the National Guard at Bluefield and I drove an Army tank in an army unit. They put me on an main tank breaker and M60 bridge launcher. A tank with a bridge on it.
Vicki: How did the communists fight?
Tim: They did very good.
Vicki: What weapons did they use?
Tim: They had weapons made by the Chinese, Russians, and Cheks. Romanians the sks, aka 47, pg launcher, they had everything we had because they would take them away from the South Vietnamese and our troops when they killed them.
Vicki: Describe a typical day in Vietnam.
Tim: Up at 4:30 or 5. Check on the guys that were on guard duty. Make sure everything is ok, and find out where we were going to work that day if we were going to work. If we were at the base camp, we had a loose congregation, and they told us what was going to happen that day. Then we would eat. Only so many at a time would eat in case it got bombed, not everyone would be killed. We had a free time while everyone was eating, to write home or something like that. Then we would go to work and work from day light to dark. If it was push job and they needed us we would work straight through. There's no hours in the military. You may be on guard duty all day or night and if your in the field your on guard duty 24 hours a day. You take turns doing what you have to do and there is always a couple of you behind trees watching. Watching the other guys back.
Vicki: Did you live in a tent?
Vicki: What was the weather like?
Tim: It never got below 65 or 70. We thought that was cold. That was during the dry season. Dry and hot. Humid. Then you go to the rainy season and it rained so hard, you couldn't see your hand in front of your face. Rained day and night never stopped.
Vicki: What were the bugs like?
Tim: Big and ferocious.
Vicki: Were there snakes?
Tim: There were all kinds of snakes. We came in one day and we had tents and scrounged up plywood and stuff to build us a floor on top of sand bags and sides up where we stole wood here and borrowed it there and put sides up about three or four feet. Somebody finally found some bags and we had no mattresses. Just old metal beds with a spring on them, we set those up and everybody put their sleeping bags on them and used it. We walked into the tent and we were talking and somebody said "Oh my god, look at that." We looked back and between two of the beds a big black cobra raised up and was looking around. Everyone was standing there with a weapon on and all five of us opened up at one time. We emptied a whole magazine of shells on it. I shot about three times with my shot gun. Pieces of lead were flying around, everybody ran over there and it raised up and we hadn't hit it. We ran over top each other trying to get out of the tent. And reloading their gun. The snake crawled out the back of the tent and our monkey named Joe, saw it and grabbed its tail and was beating it up against the tree.
Vicki: Where did you get your monkey?
Tim: Somebody traded for it, and I hated it. It was dirty. It wasn't nothing compared to cats and dogs. I was talking about never having any water. Part of the Italian's jobs were to produce clean water. There were these trucks that were like a filtering plant. When they were running which was very seldom, because they were unbalanced. They ran water, though we ran it we were the last ones to get it. The other guys got it before us. One day the truck rolled in and we had a shower house built for all of us. We filled the tanks up with water. When everybody saw them coming they took off running and they were taking their clothes off while they were running. The guy was still pumping the water in the top, a couple were helping him. A guy ran up to the door with about twenty guys behind him. He stopped dead and we thought he was just waiting for the water to get in there. We were trying to push him in there. Its funny to see guys with no clothes on with just a gun in their hand. He wouldn't budge. They finally got smart and went through the door on the other side. And they stopped dead. They started hollering SNAKE! SNAKE! There was a big snake in there. He raised up through the floor boards through the green water and got disturbed. He was staring at them. The guy in front it scared him so bad he couldn't say anything. This Mamasom came up and grabbed him by the head and hit him up against a tree. She said number 10 but number one chop chop. They had him for lunch.
Vicki: Did you have enough food?
Tim: Most the time. Except when you were in the field it couldn't get to you sometimes.
Vicki: Was the mail service good?
Tim: We could get mail when we couldn't get food or ammunition.
Vicki: Did the USO serve you?
Tim: They weren't around where we were because it was to dangerous. A couple timees when I was at the bigger bases scrounging around for supplies. There were some USO places there. We'd sneak and go in there before we came back. We had to get out fast, you couldn't travel by yourself.
Vicki: Did any big Hollywood stars come and entertain the troops while you were there?
Tim: I got to see Bob Hope. They told us Bob Hope could come up to our base, we had a short runway and it wasn't very wide. He was coming in on a small carrier they had. They needed more room to land. They announced if they could get it cleared off they could come in. We were the engineers we just didn't have enough man power. I looked around and there was medics and lieutenants cutting and moving trees and made a mess they got it cleared. We cleared it in 35 minutes big enough for their plane to come in and set down. They had us a short show, we were getting hit by rockets. So they stopped it early and got them out of there. It was so far away I could barely tell it was Bob Hope.
Vicki: Did you ever go to Saigon?
Tim: I rode through it few times, I went there one time the second time I was there. An officer wanted me to go with him. I didn't get to see the town or anything.
Vicki: Did you feel like people liked Americans?
Vicki: Was there a lot of crime?
Tim: There was, but it wasn't like it is here. They stole to live. We would get mad but understood.
Vicki: Did you feel in danger all the time?
Tim: No. Just the first two months and the last two. The first two months I didn't know what to expect and the last two I was afraid something would happen and I wouldn't get to go home.
Vicki: What were some of the problems American G.I.s faced in Vietnam?
Tim: We weren't smart enough speak their language. A lot of the guys got superior and that was bad. Drugs were rampant and easy to get. Most the guys weren't mature enough to know how to act and say no, and they thought they had something to prove.
Vicki: What about the morale?
Tim: Everybody grumbled but they did their job. You have the right to grumble when your in the military. The morale was really high the first time I was there, the second time it wasn't as high.
Vicki: Did you know of any fragging incidents?
Tim: Yes, the guy that did it, didn't pull the pin, he just scared the guy. They knew who did it and they beat the devil out of him, he was a nut case. They sent him home.
Vicki: Were there any alcohol problems?
Vicki: Were there any drug problems?
Vicki: Did you feel like out troops were well led?
Tim: They were well led in the lower ranks. We started getting in the majors they weren't. They weren't there to win and when everybody found out they were mad. None at the White House and government and that's why we lost. And its all their fault, everything they said is a bunch of baloney. They caused us to lose that war.
Vicki: How did you feel about Americans back home who oppose the war?
Tim: They had the right to do so. That they wanted us home. They should have supported us while we were over there and help us fight. I don't like Jane Fonda. She was a traitor. She supported Vietnam.
Vicki: Were there any soldiers who opposed the war?
Tim: Yes, but by that time, it was useless, nobody wants to kill. Every body thought they wanted us to. The ones that opposed all war opposed all war and were pessimists, and they mostly fought anyway. I only saw one that really lived up to his word and never shot anyone.
Vicki: Were you glad to come home?
Vicki: What was your trip back like?
Tim: They piled up on another plane. The first time I came back we went to Japan and Alaska then San Francisco. The second time we went to Japan the southern route. The pilot wouldn't set down in Hawaii, he said he was taking us home. We went through San Francisco, we got shots, and they paid us and everything. I went to the airport and went home. It was real nice to come home in a summer uniform and land in snow in Charleston.
Vicki: How did you feel when you arrived home?
Tim: All keyed up. Hadn't sleeped and it was a different day.
Vicki: What did you do when you first got home?
Tim: I answered the phone cause nobody was home. It was the prinicpal. My brother got in trouble.
Vicki: Did you go get him?
Tim: I went to get my keys, and I hadn't drove in a while and I saw the dust on my car. And I went to get him, his eyes bugged out when he saw me and said we are in trouble now.
Vicki: Did it take a while to get used to civilian life?
Tim: No, I was a civilian at heart. I slept with my eyes open for a few months. When I came home my mother stood in the door way. She said you're staying here with the family tonight. Yes, mam and I went to bed. The next night I got to go out and find my friends and I had just bought a brand new Camaro the first time I came back. And I went back and my dad said nobody will drive it. I wanted someone to drive it to keep the dust off of it. I got in the car and it was dusty and I went to the Bluefield drive in and parked under a light and found some of my friends. I was talking to them, and he said they did a good job on your car and the other one poked him, and said shut up. They let the cat out of the bag. My sister took it with her girlfriend and had an accident, and took out one side of it with the mountain and the other side with the guard rule. After they got that fixed my brother took it to school one day and was showing off, and ran under the back of a tractor trailer. It smelled like it just got it out of the body shop. Everything in it had been fixed except the ceiling. I wasn't too happy about that.
Vicki: Looking back on your experience how do you feel?
Tim: I was mad about my car. I wasted three years of my life. I wouldn't give it back, but I wouldn't go through it again. I spent all that time and got sold out by the President pulling us out before we won. I feel betrayed.
Vicki: Did we fail in Vietnam as a nation?
Tim: Yes, because of out poor leadership.
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