With Arrival of Moving Vietnam Wall in Taylor Mill, Local Vets Remember their Time in the War
In the late 1960s, young American men awaited notice from the United States government that they would be needed for the military effort in Vietnam. Any male who was not enrolled in college after high school was almost guaranteed to receive a letter from Uncle Sam inviting him to report for a physical. Still needing more soldiers, but wanting the process to ensure fairness, the government reinstituted a lottery in 1969 under President Richard Nixon, and those with low numbers knew they would be drafted unless they enlisted first. Even those with college exemptions and families were not safe.
"I felt like it was only a matter of time," said Paul Meyers, who received his summons when he was 19. "I was going to enlist, but I got my letter in June, 1969, and I was to report on September 4. I was playing semi-pro baseball, and I had had a few tryouts scheduled for pro teams later in September. The morning of my induction I was to report to the draft board, located beside Glenn Schmidt's bowling alley. My parents drove me down there. From there I went to the Federal building in Cincinnati to be sworn in, then to the airport to fly to Ft. Benning, Georgia, for eight weeks of basic training."
Because Meyers, who had four younger brothers, was sure the Army was going to send him to Vietnam, his strategy was to find a way to get the most training he could possibly get, figuring that he was going to need every resource just to survive.The Army sent him to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, where he received 8 more weeks of Advanced Individual Training, or AIT, for artillery, where he fired every Howitzer they possessed. He then signed papers to go to Vietnam and stayed for advanced combat training, where he passed all the tests with flying colors and emerged as a sergeant in the Army. With as much training as he could muster, he felt that he had a fighting chance to be one of the lucky ones that would come home after his year in Vietnam.
At 19 and 20, Meyers said that he didn't really believe anything bad could happen; he would be OK.
In August of 1970, Meyers landed in Bien Hoa, which he said was where 99 percent of the soldiers landed, so they could be split up and sent to different places in Vietnam. He said the Americal Division was where he was grouped with other soldiers and sent to Chu Lai, in the central highlands, about three quarters of the way up the country. From there Meyers was sent to Duc Pho, about 25 miles south of Chu Lai. Then he went to the Song Ve river valley, about 15 to 20 miles northwest of Duc Pho.
"It was hot, and humid, but dry, not the rainy season," Meyers remembered. "We were sent out into the bush, and we stayed there, sleeping, eating, everything. You never knew when the mortars were coming in. We tried to keep track of the days but after about two weeks we just gave up. We were out in the jungle and the land 24/7. There was no time. Every day was like a Monday."
In this picture, Paul Meyers (in glasses) is in Landing Zone Bronco in March of 1971, having just returned from the DMZ. With him are Sergeant Carleton Jenning, Corporal Darcy and PFC Ira Anderson.
And every day was dangerous. They fought the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army. Meyers said they were never in a place where agent orange was actively sprayed, but they were there after places were sprayed because, as he said, everything was dead or dying.
About every week supplies came out, along with fresh pants. They were not allowed to wear deodorant because the enemy could smell that, so the American soldiers had to smell like the natives. They wore jungle boots, which were basically combat boots with mesh sides so they wouldn't be so hot. Meyers said it was too hot for socks. Soldiers were issued SP packs, which contained paper and a pencil, cigarettes, candy bars and sometimes c-rations. When they went to villages, sometimes they would try to talk to the kids. Meyers said they didn't understand, but they did eat the candy bars they gave them.
"We were at LZ (landing zone) Snoopy, at one point, which was about 25 miles north of LZ Liz and we knew the enemy was all over, and during the nights we could only sleep in shifts, two hours at a time," Meyers said. "When you were out on patrol, you found yourself talking to youself, giving yourself pep talks, promising yourself you would get your time in and go home."
Christmastime came and Bob Hope and his entourage came to entertain the troops at Chu Lai. Meyers said his unit was about 30 miles away, out in the bush, but the Colonel wanted all his troops represented, so the commanding officer told Meyers's unit to draw straws or something and come up with one person who could go to the show. The guys talked it over and decided they wanted a unit to come out and replace them, just for a day, so they could go to the show. That wasn't an option, and since the unit decided that they should all go or no one would go, no one went. The commanding officer was in some trouble over the decision, but Meyers said he thought it showed the bond of trust with the unit, and how well they worked together.
Paul Meyers in Vietnam
Part of the Ho Chi Minh trail was in Cambodia and Laos, and while Meyers said they weren't supposed to go into either Cambodia or Laos, at one point his unit was sent to help other units from the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, the south Vietnamese, who were stuck in Laos, pinned down and unable to break free because the enemy had them surrounded. This was during the Lam Song 719 offensive. Meyers said they were part of the team effort that were eventually able to help free the unit. Meyers related how the Viet Cong knew how to hide in the jungles, and they would snipe at the Americans, picking them off.
At one point Meyers had the opportunity to re-enlist, with a $10,000 bonus and another stripe, but he was told he would have to spend another year in Vietnam.
About a month before he was to come home, Meyers decided to mail his bush hat back home. The only way the troops knew what was going on in the states was mail, and whenever the mail truck traveled, there had to be a rifle guard of about seven soldiers to protect the truck on its journey. Meyers and his good friend, Ken, volunteered to be part of the guard so they could mail some things. Meyers was riding in the back of the truck on the way back, while Ken was in the front. Suddenly they were hit, and the blast blew Meyers out of the back of the truck. Despite the blood running down into his eyes, he got up and ran to the front of the truck, pulling desperately on the door to try and get to Ken. Then he passed out.
"I never knew what hit us. I don't know to this day," said Meyers. "Ken was killed. He was supposed to go home the week before me." He paused. "I had two broken ribs, a concussion, and my ankle was hurt. Three of us were wounded and we were dusted off, which is to say, we were loaded onto a helicopter and taken to the hospital."
Meyers said they had to turn in all their jungle clothes except for one set that they flew to Ft. Lewis in. He got a steak dinner and came home the same day, August 17, 1971, in his dress uniform. He said no one really noticed him when he got home, other than his family and his girlfriend, whom he married, and the two had three sons and a daughter. He related how afterward he would have some nightmares, and wake up in a sweat. He tried returning to baseball, but his ankle injury was bad enough that he would not be able to pick up his career again. Meyers said despite his experiences he would have supported his children joining the military if that was what they wanted to do, although none of them did.
"I grew up a lot," Meyers said of his time in Vietnam. "i was never as trusting again. I think we could've won (the war) in a short time, but there was too much politics involved. I was absolutely lucky to have come home. Everybody who came home was lucky."
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