SUMMARY: How would you describe your best day of the war? Vietnam veterans reflect on their best days in Vietnam.
TEASER — Walt Griffin: The best time was just being with the guys. And, ya know, I think I almost miss those times, because there’s nothing like being with somebody that you don’t know whether you’re going to be with the next day, or the next week or whatever.
INTRO — Kent C. Williamson: Asking Vietnam Veterans what their best day in Vietnam was like is almost like asking someone about their favorite day in Hell. Perhaps the horrific memories are so overwhelming that it’s difficult to recall the bright spots. With losing friends and being immersed in a culture of war, you can imagine that any fun and laughter gets washed away by the gravity of it all. But as you’ll hear in today’s episode, there were some good memories to go along with the bad. In fact, most everyone we talked to for this episode was able to recall some good memory in the midst of it all.
Welcome to the By War & By God Podcast, I’m your host Kent Williamson. This podcast is a companion series to the award winning documentary film By War & By God. This show is a place where we can go deeper into the stories of these brave souls than the film allows. Over this season, we will hear the amazing accounts of people who’s lives were forever changed by the Vietnam war. You’ll hear stories of heroism, and stories of tragedy… stories of reconciliation, and you’ll learn about a magnetic force that tugged and pulled and eventually drew these soldiers, medics, machine gunners and crewman back to Vietnam to serve some of the poorest of the poor of that beautiful land.
In this episode, My Best Day in Vietnam, they’ll tell us exactly that. In the midst of war & bloodshed there were some bright spots, some good memories. But before we hear about these best days, I need to tell you about Big Heaven Cafe. Big Heaven Cafe is a simple web store with a few films to buy, including the documentary By War & By God. So if you haven’t yet seen the film, or if you need to pick up a copy for a friend, an uncle, a Vietnam veteran that you know, please click your way to Big Heaven Cafe dot com. That’s Big Heaven Cafe dot com and use the coupon code “podcast” to save five glorious bucks on the film. Oh, and remember… 20% of all sales of By War & By God from Big Heaven Cafe go to Vets With A Mission, the nonprofit that since 1989 has taken nearly 1400, that’s 1400, Vietnam Veterans back to Vietnam. Why? For healing and reconciliation. Alright, let’s get on with today’s episode…
Kent C. Williamson: What was your best day in Vietnam?
Bob Peragallo: Wow. I don’t think I had, I, I, I couldn’t give you a best day. That’s a difficult question to answer.
Kent C. Williamson: This is Bob Peragallo.
Bob Peragallo: I guess… my mother sent me a rum cake once. And we were sitting up on, on a hill it was called Hill Twenty Two. And it was miserable, it was hot, we had suffered a lot of WIA and KIA…
DROP IN —Kent C. Williamson: WIA and KIA stand for Wounded In Action and Killed in Action. KIA also implies that the person was killed on the battlefield whereas DOW, or Died of Wounds, refers to someone who survived long enough to reach a medical facility but then succumbed to their injuries. Members of the United States Military who are WIA, KIA, and DOW would typically be awarded the Purple Heart for their sacrifice. In 2009, National Geographic magazine estimated that during the Vietnam war, nearly 352,000 Americans received the Purple Heart.
Bob Peragallo: We had suffered a lot of WIA and KIA, and it was just a miserable situation. It was after a major operation. And they finally got mail to us, and I opened up my package and it was a rum cake from my mother. And it was in a big can, and I remember opening up that can, and the rum just poured out. It was more than I could handle, cause I, I was pretty young and not used to really being a serious drinker. So at that time I was a machine gunner and my gun team and I, we devoured that rum cake and we were the happiest three guys on that hill. So if you say about… I was about as I could get was that day.
Cal Dunham: My best day in Vietnam was probably my last day in Vietnam, when I knew I was going, what we referred to as, “back to the world.”
Kent C. Williamson: Cal Dunham tells about his experience.
Cal Dunham: Because I was in an Infantry unit out in the jungles, I didn’t have what I would call “good days.”
Kent C. Williamson: Tell me about your best day in Vietnam.
Steve Scott: China Beach R & R
DROP IN —Kent C. Williamson: China Beach was the in country R&R spot for the marines. R&R is military speak for rest and recuperation. Some called it rest and relaxation, rest and recreation, or even just “rock and roll”. Soldiers who served in hostile fire or imminent danger areas could be eligible for R&R leave which typically lasted 3 to 7 days and gave soldiers a break from combat. In earlier wars, some would use the slang term B&B which stood for Booze & Broads. By the time of the Vietnam War, another slang term had crept into the vernacular… I & I for intercourse & intoxication.
This is Corporal Steve Scott…
Steve Scott: My Best day in Vietnam…
Kent C. Williamson: Tell me about the R&R if that was the best.
Steve Scott: No, it wasn’t the best. I can’t particularly pick out a moment that I would say was a highlight, was a wonderful thing. As you know, your tour over there is a lot of boredom, a lot of craziness. And then, you know, periods of intense combat and terror. I think I always felt lucky being a small guy and never being an athlete or anything, of being a small guy keeping up with the big dogs. So I always felt that that kind of gave me a persona, if you will. So I can’t pick out a moment. I think, if anything, I spent a short time with a CAP unit, Combined Action Platoon… twelve marines, living in the village… and I got contact with some of the Vietnamese people. With the regular rifle company you just sweep and clear, search and destroy. But with the CAP unit, I got a feeling for the people. So I can say that was one of the things that I’ve carried on over the years, some of my motivation for what I do now.
DROP IN —Kent C. Williamson: We’ll learn more about what Steve Scott and these other Veterans are doing now in a future episode.
Kent C. Williamson: What’s your best memory of your time in Vietnam as a soldier?
Walt Griffin: The best memory was making all these friendships and camaraderie.
Kent C. Williamson: This is Walt Griffin…
Walt Griffin: Back in the rear we goofed around and had a good time. And then when we got down to business, we got serious and went out on our patrols or perimeter watch or whatever we did. The best time was just being with the guys. And, ya know, I think I almost miss those times, because there’s nothing like being with somebody that you don’t know whether you’re going to be with the next day, or the next week or whatever. And you do get close relationships, but you don’t get as close as they did early in the war. Because I went over as a replacement, so I was the new guy. And that was hard… people sort of shunned you at first because new guys were supposedly bad luck out in the field. So, but after, you get into the groove and you’re with good guys that came over within a month of you, you have to be friends with them. And then that was really good, so it was really good.
Kent C. Williamson: Tell me about your best day in country when you were serving in Vietnam…
Phil Carney: Oh, my best day in country, and it was just 1 day, because it turned out not to be as good as I thought it was going to be.
Kent C. Williamson: This is Phil Carney…
Phil Carney: I was reassigned. I think I had about 4 months left in my tour, so it was really late in my tour. Only had about 4 months left, so I was a short timer. And I was reassigned. Me and my best friend were reassigned to a different unit. And we were reassigned to first MPs, First MP Battalion, and we were reassigned to an MP unit.
DROP IN —Kent C. Williamson: MP stands for Military Police. The Marine Corps Military Police help keep order and law. They maintain area security posts, perform intelligence operations, act as resettlement and interment officers, as well as support for mobility operations.
Phil Carney: And we were reassigned to an MP unit. And so we thought “Man, what a gravy job, this is gonna to be so good. We get to be in an MP unit now.” And we got to drive around in Jeeps, in Da Nang, and police the area. And we had all this power, it was a real power trip, but it turned out to be horrible. Because it was really a dangerous job, and we didn’t know it. But that was my best day, I can remember just thinking “Man, we finally got a break you know? They’ve assigned us to this really great MP unit, this is going to be so easy and so sweet.” And it wasn’t, but that was a good day man, I remember we were celebrating and just feeling like “Man, we’ve been handed such a nice easy assignment.” It was my best day.
BREAK — Kent C. Williamson: What was your best day in Vietnam like? We would love to hear your story? Or maybe you have a family member who served and you’d like to ask them that question. Record it for us, we’d love to hear it, or if you prefer typing… we’d love to read it, too. Either way, send it to me at Kent at By War AND By God dot com that’s Kent… KENT at By War AND By God dot com. I’ll look forward to learning about your experiences and we might even put some of them into a future episode.
Now back to the show…
Pat Cameron: My best day in ‘Nam, during the war…
Kent C. Williamson: This is Pat Cameron…
Pat Cameron: …would be probably in the evening when I could have a few drinks. I mean I, you could still… you could drink a little bit of the frustration or the, what was going on, through cocktails. And they had a nice bar area for the guys that were there in the night. So I think it, plus I got a chance to talk to a lot of people. Got a chance to talk to some of the other corpsmen, talk to some of the other Marines. So I think the evening time was the best and usually I, it was when we were getting ready to leave. When we had finished up, we didn’t have anything else pending. I think we felt good about what we did. And we were heading back to Japan, which was pretty much vacation from what we just left. That was probably the best time while I was there.
Roger Helle: My best day in Vietnam probably had to be the day that, in my second tour, I did two tours back to back.
Kent C. Williamson: This is Roger Helle…
Roger Helle: We had been overrun the night before on a little fire base on the DMZ, and when dawn came after the enemy withdrew and we were gathering our wounded and dead… I heard somebody call my name. And told me to get on a helicopter, and 48 hours later I was back in my living room back home in America. And that probably had to be the best day because I didn’t know that that day would ever come.
Chuck Ward: My best day in Vietnam, I think, like a lot of Veterans, they might say it was the day you left.
Kent C. Williamson: This is Chuck Ward…
Chuck Ward: For me, I was on an aircraft carrier most of the time, so I actually left Vietnam 3 times. The first time I left Vietnam on an aircraft carrier going back to the States. The second time I left Vietnam, I was on a carrier, and I went back to the States. But the 3rd time, I was on the carrier and then I was sent to the airbase there at Da Nang. So when I left Vietnam the 3rd time, two things happened. Aircraft carriers have an escalator in them, where the air crews and the pilots go up to the flight deck to man their aircraft. No one’s allowed to go on that escalator unless you’re an officer or an aircrew of some kind. And you know, there’s a tradition in the navy where you hear the bells being rung on a ship. Well there’s a lot of reasons for doing that. Well one of them is when an admiral’s on board the ship, or the captain is aboard the ship, and he leaves it, they ring the bell. And it’s a big deal. Well that day when I left, it was very emotional for me. I’d been with the same unit for 3 tours. I felt in a way that I was abandoning them. I was leaving, how were they gonna win the war without me? All the new guys were so young, so inexperienced. And so, it was a very emotional day in the ready room. A lot of hugs, and I remember I cried a lot. I just couldn’t believe it, I was so surprised about that. But, we said goodbye and I went to leave, and one of the officers said, “Walk with me.” And they took me to the escalator. And they had me ride the escalator to the flight deck. And when I got off the flight deck and walked out to the aircraft, the bolsters mate blew his whistle. There was one bell, and the loudspeaker, I guess, the bolsens mate up there on the bridge said, “Petty Officer Ward departing.” I still get very emotional about that. So, I was really a mess in the aircraft. Then we launched and went to Da Nang. And then, several months later, I left Da Nang and it was a great feeling to leave Vietnam. And I said, like most Vets I would imagine, “I will never come back to this place.” When that plane took off and the wheels were off that runway, I said, “I’ll never come back to this place.” I learned never say never to the Lord.
CLOSE & CREDITS — Kent C. Williamson: Thanks for listening to this episode of the By War & By God Podcast from Paladin Pictures. Next week it gets a little tougher when we’ll hear about their worst days in Vietnam. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast so you won’t miss an episode. You can learn more about By War & By God at By War And By God dot com. Don’t forget to use the coupon code “podcast” at Big Heaven Cafe dot com to save those 5 glorious bucks on your copy of the film. If you have an Amazon Prime account you can watch the film right now for FREE. Yes, you heard that right… for free… of course if you’re driving, I recommend that you wait until you get home.
You can find me on Facebook. Look for Kent C. Williamson and while you’re facebooking go ahead and search for By War & By God and like us. If you like email, please send your comments to Kent@ByWarAndByGod.com.
Special thanks to USMilitary dot com for their insight into the role of the Marine Corps Military Police Officer.
The By War & By God Podcast is written and produced by me, Kent C. Williamson, with Sound Design and Finishing by Ashby Wratchford. Our Audio Engineer for today’s show is Steve Carpenter. The By War & By God theme music was composed by Will Musser.
Special thanks to the Paladin Team which includes Leslie Wood, Steve Carpenter, Dan Fellows, Steve Lessick, and Ashby Wratchford. Thanks also to my brother Brad who helped make By War & By God and who helped record the interviews you heard in this episode.
Paladin Pictures is committed to the creation of redemptive entertainment and thought provoking cultural critique. Learn more about us at Paladin Pictures dot com. That’s Paladin P A L A D I N Pictures dot com.
By War & by God is produced at the Paladin studio in the amazingly wonderful, beautiful little town of Charlottesville, Virginia.
And of course, thank you to our Veterans… those who returned… and especially those who didn’t. Like my wife’s Uncle Floyd. Thank you!
EPISODE 02: My Best Day In Vietnam
PLAYERS: Bob Peragallo, Cal Dunham, Roger Helle, Steve Scott, Walt Griffin, Phil Carney, Pat Cameron, Chuck Ward, and your host Kent C. Williamson
Big Heaven Cafe: Save $5 on the DVD of By War & By God with the coupon code “Podcast”
The Walking Dead: See a bonus clip from the DVD where Bob Peragallo talks about the “Lost Patrol”