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Vietnam: A Life Experience 

 

I interviewed a man named Terry Jackson who is a friend of the family. Terry Jackson was excited and willing to share his story. He enlisted for the Vietnam war when he was only eighteen years old and was there from 1966 to 1967.


The Vietnam War was fought from 1959 to 1975. It was a military struggle involving the North and South Vietnamese armies, the National Liberation Front, and the United States. Vietnam struggled for its independence from France in the First Indochina War. It was fought from 1946 to 1954. As a result of this war, Vietnam was divided into North and South Vietnam.
South Vietnam was ruled by the Vietnamese people who had collaborated with the French during the First Indochina War. North Vietnam was under control of the Vietnamese Communists who had opposed France. They had dreams of a unified Vietnam under Communist rule.


The main reason for the United States involvement in the Vietnam War was the fear of Communism. The U.S. was scared that if Vietnam became a Communist country then the rest of Southeast Asia would fall to Communism. This theory was called the "domino theory." The United Stated aided the South Vietnamese government in the Vietnam War. United States' troops were sent into South Vietnam in 1965.


The United States failed to achieve its goal when Vietnam was reunified under Communist control in 1975. In the year 1976 the country officially became the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

 Terry Jackson was in the one hundred and first airborne division. They operated out of South Vietnam in a city called Fanrang but traveled all over South Vietnam for combat. Terry Jackson had two combat jumps and thirty-four total jumps. He remembers that one of the worst areas was in a providence called Kom-tum. A platoon of thirty men would sometimes have to go out for thirty to thirty-five days at a time. While out for that length of time, they would have to do things like "beat-the-bush." Terry remembers one time when they camped right next to the enemy's camp. He said, "When setting up a camp, you'd have a perimeter and you would have to stay inside that perimeter at all times unless you needed to use the bathroom." Late one night one of the men from his platoon went outside of the perimeter to use the bathroom and he came upon one of the Vietnamese and killed him. Then another man had to go out of the perimeter and he too saw an enemy and shot him. As they found out, the Vietnamese and Terry's platoon had made camps right next to each other. To be able to get out alive, the platoon had to call in air strikes. They had to release a colored smoke for the men to see so that they did not get hit by the air strikes.


Other times Terry Jackson and his platoon were sent on search and destroy missions. They would set up what they called a dark and then put trick flares in front of each position. There were four men on each position and they each took an hour's watch. On Terry's watch it was raining and he could not see a thing. He heard something coming up the hill and waited for it to hit the trick flare. As he waited for it to hit the flare, he became more and more nervous. When it never hit the flare, he began to get worried. All of the sudden something grabbed his foot. It turned out to be a monkey that grabbed him. The monkey had scared him just about as bad as he had scared the monkey.


Terry Jackson said that this was not a very popular war. There were no parades or celebrations when they got back. The only people that knew they were gone were their families. He felt that they could have won the war if the politicians would have let them. Sometimes they were ordered not to fire and were not allowed to do certain things, or in other words they were held back. Once they were even dropped in the wrong area. Terry said, "I wish that we had had a strong president to support the military." He said that the president backed out and went to Russia to protest the war instead of backing them as he should have.

 

 

 It was the little things that made the war so awful. Things like leeches, "elephant grass," jungle rot, and other diseases were feared. When they first arrived in Vietnam, they were given a shot to protect from certain diseases. They also had to take a pill every day to protect against malaria. Sometimes soldiers would want to leave so bad that they would quit taking their pill so that they would get malaria and get to go in. Jungle rot was very bad. If a soldier had an open cut or something, then it almost always immediately go infected and it was called jungle rot. Many very serious sexually transmitted diseases were contracted while in Vietnam. Vietnamese women would follow the men's platoons and make a camp around the men's base camp. Terry said that theses women would provide "entertainment." The men then would most often contract a sexually transmitted disease. The men would then have to be taken in and treated for these diseases. Some Vietnamese people were friendly like the women but other were actually enemies undercover. Terry Jackson recalls one time that they had brought in Vietnamese people to give hair cuts. All day the man had cut hair and acted friendly, but then at the end of the day the man walked over to a trash can they were depositing hair in and threw a bomb in it. The bomb took out several people. Terry said, "You could not tell the good people from the bad people." Another thing that made the war awful was the long time periods without baths and clean clothes. Sometimes they would have to go thirty-five days in the same clothes without being able to take a bath or anything.

 

Terry Jackson recalls how on holidays they would sometimes receive what they called Fire Flights. Fire Flights were a group of helicopters who would bring in certain things on holidays. One Thanksgiving they received canned milk, oranges, bananas, and a hot plate of food. The Fire Flights would often have to make two trips to deliver everything. Terry remembers that one holiday they could only receive the first drop because by the second go around, they were under heavy attack.

 

In this jungle war there were often many booby traps. Terry recalls that he actually slept on one all night long. He laid down and went to sleep on what to sleep on what is called a Bouncing Betty, and in the morning when he got up, he realized what he had slept on all night. He was lucky because the Bouncing Betty did not go off when he sat up. Terry also recalls a time he sat on a bunch of grenades and they also did not go off. Another very serious type of booby trap was what they called "Pungy-pits." The Vietnamese would dig holes in the ground and then put spikes sticking up from the bottom and then cover the top of the pit. Soldiers would then walk across and fall in, hurting themselves very badly. Not only were the spikes very sharp but they were also coated with something to cause infection very quickly.

 

 Terry Jackson and his platoon were the only ones, to his knowledge, that received Death Cards. They were small cards that read, "Compliments of the Strike Force Widow Makers." The men would place these cards on the bodies of those whom they killed. The people who read the cards on the bodies would become terrified of them.


Terry's reaction during the war was "to stay alive." He said, "You've got to go on and you can't dwell." He also said, "It doesn't really hit you until you get back home." Terry explained that everyone copes differently. Some people could not cope at all and eventually went insane. He said, "They would go nuts." People who couldn't cope would cut of the heads off chickens and drink their blood, and others would cut the heads off dead bodies and do things to them. Terry recalls one man cutting off a head and sticking it on a spike in the ground. The person then knocked out two of the dead person's teeth and put a cigarette in the hole and closed the death person's mouth so that it held the cigarette. Terry Jackson said that he felt totally changed after the war. He said, "After the war, things like bills don't matter too much anymore." When asked who he turned to for emotional and physical support, he said that he turned toward God. He said, "You do not keep friends long so the only thing you could always depend on was God."


The interview went easier than I thought it would. I thought that it would be harder than it actually turned out to be. I learned many interesting facts about the Vietnam War that I didn't know before. I learned many things about Terry Jackson that I had never known. Overall, I rate this interview as positive because I learned many interesting things that will benefit me for now on.

 History of the Vietnam War

 

The History Place- The Vietnam War

 

Battlefield: Vietnam

 

Characteristics of the Vietnam War

 

Encarta- Vietnam War-

 All pictures courtesy of Terry Jackson

 Created by: Christy G.

kittykat378@hotmail.com