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Notes From the Boonies

By Paul Wisovaty

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Paul Wisovaty.
Photo by Rick Danzl of The News-Gazette.

Jeff Machota called me recently. Seems he got a call from Paul Wood, a reporter for the Champaign, Illinois News-Gazette, looking for a Vietnam veteran to interview for his weekly "Those Who Served" column. Paul has been writing these columns for a couple of years, and they're pretty interesting. They include vets from WWII all the way to the present, and it's a way of giving each of them a chance to tell their own story, as they see it, about their own war. Nothing wrong with that.

The reason that Paul called Jeff is that he was hoping to find a Vietnam vet who actually opposed the war. Apparently his calls to local American Legion and VFW posts came up empty, and I'm guessing that he may have been wondering if there really were any of "us." Yes, said Jeff, there are. And he gave me his phone number. And the following is what happened.

I went up to the News-Gazette office a week ago to meet with Paul, and we had a very good time. It turns out that we both went to the University of Illinois about the same time, both majored in history, and actually studied under three of the same professors. Fifteen minutes into the "interview," we decided it was time to talk about Vietnam.

So here's how Paul introduced his column: "No fanfare for soldiers on the streets in Vietnam." Wasn't that the truth? As I served in a field armored cavalry squadron, we didn't have a lot of contact with civilians. As a matter of fact, the only contact we had with them was when our tanks and armored personnel carriers rolled through a small village. As we moved a lot, this happened a lot. And—as I remember it fifty years later—every single experience of doing that was the same: old men, women and children lined up along the road, just staring at us. No smiles, no waves. As Paul put it in his column, it wasn't close to our liberation of Paris in 1944. No flowers, no young ladies jumping up on our tanks with bottles of wine. Nothing. It was fifty years ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday (to the extent that someone 72 years old can remember anything).

Let's look at the other side of the coin. My last week in country was spent at Bearcat, our 9th Infantry Division base camp. I mean no disrespect to the men who served there, and quite realize that the following may be a bit of a generalization, but it seemed that these guys worked a 9-to-5 job changing flat tires or pounding typewriters, then changed into civilian clothes and headed out for the bar (or whatever activity, you know, met their needs at the time). I did some bar time myself that week, and noticed immediately how happy the bartenders and waitresses were to see me! All I heard was "Gl number 1, VC number 10!' and the like. Boy was this different from the field.

Eventually I figured it out: I had just given this lady a very generous tip. Of course it was going to be Gl number 1, VC number 10. I was paying her to tell me how much she appreciated my being there to save her from Ho Chi Minh. And for a while I was even buying it!

I guess my point is this. If I had spent all my time in Nam at Bearcat, or any similar base camp, I probably would have come home believing that I was on the right side. That we belonged there. That we really had God on our side.

Paul's inteview can be found at http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2018-08-20/those-who-served-no-fanfare-soldiers-the-streets-vietnam.html

Paul Wisovaty is a member of VVAW. He lives in Tuscola, Illinois. He was in Vietnam with the US Army 9th Division in 1968.

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