With three trucks ahead of him on a convoy to deliver road-building materials, the enemy was taking over the road and shooting at Samuel Williams and his fellow soldiers.
“One truck went to go around on the right and he hit a mine. The next truck went to go around on the left, and he hit a mine. It was three trucks lined up in front of me, and I was next,” he said.
The soldiers were near the Cambodian border.
Williams stopped to tie the wheel up to the truck so the soldiers could continue driving to their destination.
Suddenly, while unloading, the helicopter over Williams’ head was struck and came crashing down.
"I had three trucks in front of me stop, and a helicopter on the side. They were shooting and everything,” he said.
He remembers seeing a jeep ride by with wounded and dead soldiers on its hood.
“We had infantry out there. Some of everything was coming down,” Williams said.
He began to get frightened that night would fall before he and his soldiers could make it out safely.
“Finally, we got out before dark!” he said. “That was one of those times where you think you might not make it.”
Williams is a 69-year-old Vietnam War veteran from Cope. After being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1965 at age 19, he served in Vietnam for a year as a Specialist 4.
Williams was a combat engineer who operated five-ton dump trucks in the Company B 1st Engineer Battalion. He completed basic training at Fort Jackson.
Some of Williams’ best memories during his stint in Vietnam were receiving letters from his girlfriend, who is now his wife, returning from the field to his home base and being with friends who were also truck drivers.
A far greater number of memories are bad.
“Some of them were so bad, you don’t even want to talk about it,” he said.
Williams recalls receiving orders from a sergeant to blow up a tunnel. “We couldn’t take nothing but a .45, a flashlight and a 10-pound explosion charge,” he said.
The tunnel’s entrance was so narrow that Williams had to hold his hands over his head to get inside.
“Once we got in there, it was a little larger,” he said. “I was too tall to stand up. The best way was to crawl, so I could take the 10-pound explosion charge, set it and wrap the debt cord around it.”
Williams said being inside the tunnel was very scary because he could barely see.
"We had the flashlight, but every time you go around a corner, you don’t know what to expect or what you might see on the other side,” he said. “The way the walls looked, I thought they were going to cave in.”
After Williams set up the explosives, he got back on the Chinook and got up in the air. “We set it off, and we saw the tunnel blow up. I’m glad nobody was in there,” he said.
He also remembers a day when he and some fellow soldiers got in a truck to go retrieve mail.
"We had to go through an artillery unit. On the way coming back, the artillery unit got hit with mortar rounds,” he said.
Williams and the rest of the soldiers had to jump off the truck to try to find a bunker.
Four men were hit by the mortar rounds, and their dead bodies were in the same area where Williams was standing.
Williams said this was another time when he thought he wasn’t going to make it out of Vietnam alive.
He was injured once. While he was fixing a truck tire in the mortar pool, something exploded.
“I thought it was the truck tire that might’ve blown up. I might’ve put too much air in it,” Williams said.
Because of the explosion, Williams’ eyes were filled with rocks, temporarily blinding him. He spent three days in a hospital in Long Binh with his eyes patched shut.
“I couldn’t see. Then when I took the patches off my eyes, the sunlight was so bright, I still couldn’t see,” he said.
When Williams returned to the mortar pool, the tire was still in place. He was never able to determine what exploded.
Thinking about home and trusting in the Lord often kept Williams going in Vietnam.
“The home training that my parents taught me kicked in. I was a churchgoing person. I had to go to church every Sunday,” he said.
Adjusting to the civilian life again wasn’t the easiest for Williams. “I was in trouble with the law. I was drinking and in a lot of fights,” he said.
Williams later found out that he had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. “It was rough for a long time,” he said. He is currently being treated for PTSD.
He dislikes being around large crowds of people, has nightmares, occasional night sweats, becomes quick tempered sometimes and doesn’t like any sort of banging noises that resemble the sound of a gun.
“Sometimes it brings back memories of the war. Some things you can’t put behind. I try to go forward,” he said.
Williams said he never understood what the war was about and never gave it too much thought.
“I just did what I had to do. I didn’t want to go, but I had to go. I just prayed and asked the Lord to go with me,” he said.
Williams was discharged in 1967 and appreciates being called in the Army. “It was rough, but I appreciate it. I’m thankful that I was able to go and make it back home safe,” he said.
He earned 2 Bronze Service Stars, a National Defense Service Medal, a Vietnam Service Medal and a several other awards.
Williams lives in Cope with his wife, Ruth. They have been married for 47 years and have three children and two grandchildren.