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North resident and Vietnam U.S. Army veteran the Rev. Wallace Gleaton reflects and talks about his military service often with his fellow Vietnam and military comrades.

He needs to. It serves him well to do so.

"We talk it out," says the 71-year-old Gleaton, who currently serves as the commander of the S.C. Veterans Group of North. "Talk to each, love each other, hug each other and share stories with each other. It gets us through it."

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"We tell our stories," he said. "I find one of the biggest things is where I can talk it out with somebody. I can cry it out, too."

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The group, which consists of about 14 men strong, meets weekly. The group also does a number of community events such as parades. These too also are therapeutic, Gleaton said.

"Just to see people waving their hand and thank you for your service and all," Gleaton said. "I know for myself as a Vietnam veteran when I came back from Vietnam I had it bad."

"I was spit on; I was talked about," he said. "I didn't get this welcome home. I had to do what I had to do. I was called baby killer and this and that and the other. There was so much going on that time we were over there. Through it all we made it; we made it."

Through the support of his wife of 48 years, Denolis, three daughters, veteran comrades and his faith in God, Gleaton continues to make it.

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Born in rural Orangeburg County Feb. 24, 1948, Gleaton had just graduated from Dover High School in North when he got a letter from Uncle Sam informing him he was drafted.

"I knew what was happening," Gleaton said. "The war was going on. I said to myself, 'Okay, I have to make the best of this. I wanted to stay home and get married."

Saying goodbye to his fiancee, Denolis, Gleaton was transported to Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina and then was transferred to Fort Polk in Louisiana for training.

He was then sent to California and in May 1968 was sent to Long Binh in the southeast region of Vietnam as part of the U.S. Army's 378 Maintenance Support Group. The group supplied the U.S. Army's infantry and other units in the field.

Specialist E-4 Gleaton vividly recalls his time spent with the 378th.

"The enemy is going to say if we can cut off the supply line we are cutting off supplies to the infantrymen," he said. "They hit us pretty hard at times."

"At our compound we stayed alert at times," he said. "It was kind of hard to sleep. It was hard to sleep."

"I spent a lot of times in my clothes with my weapon,: Gleaton said, fighting back tears. "We didn't know whether we were going to make it. We had mortar attacks coming in."

"We just had to gather ourselves," he said. "You had your weapon and you lay down and you try to sleep. You get a little bit of sleep and all of a sudden we hear the sirens going off. That was a warning sign that you have to get up and go to the bunker."

"It would be like scrap metal flying around," Gleaton said. "If we could make it up in there I can remember we were just kind of staying close. There was a lot of praying going on."

The men — about seven — would stay huddled in the bunker until the sirens would stop and then they would go out and "try to get some more sleep."

"We waited for the next day to get up and go to our little jobs and do whatever we had to do to keep things going," he said.

The supply unit was a frequent target especially since the unit was close to a helipad and flight equipment.

"I do believe the Viet Cong knew these things were very valuable for our troops in the field," Gleaton said. "Whatever they could hit to destroy, that is what they would do."

"We could hear it all around," he said. "It was like boom! Exploding all around."

While the compound would get hit, Gleaton said his unit never lost anybody during the attacks.

But he said death came to two men in the unit — one through suicide and another in a military convoy via a roadside bomb.

In addition to the Viet Cong, the 378th also had to contend with the Vietnam weather.

"It was terrible, terrible, especially during the monsoon season," he said. "It would rain and rain, rain. You were thinking it would not even stop raining."

"You get used to it and you learned how to adjust to it but when it is hot, it is hot," Gleaton said. "We really did not have a lot of air conditioning. We had big fans."

The difficult time in Vietnam was interspersed with days made brighter through letters Gleaton would regularly receive from his beloved Denolis back home.

"It was awesome. I got letters every week," he said. "You live for mail call."

"You are standing up there and the mail guy is calling out," Gleaton said. "Some of the guys are saying I didn't get a letter today. When you get that letter and you look, you say, 'Wow! It took a while for them to get there. We had a lot to talk about.'"

Not all of his buddies received happy letters though. Some were Dear John letters ending a love once had.

"I can't imagine what that would be like," Gleaton said. "I couldn't imagine why someone would do something like that. You are already in an area that you don't know what is going on and you are going to write me and tell me I am sorry but I have somebody else."

Gleaton said prayer — through military chaplains and literature — was also a support.

"I would read a lot," he said. "I had these little testaments. I tried to keep that God in you. That is what my parents told me. I had a lot of church people write me and tell me, "Hey, we support you."

The hardest part was Christmas and Thanksgiving.

"Holidays it was rough, man," Gleaton said. "They tried to do things over there like turkey but it ain't like it was at home."

Gift boxes would also come from home said Gleaton.

The men would share with those who did not get gifts and would encourage those who did not receive.

"It was the camaraderie we had," he said. "Even in that bunker. We had our weapons and everything on. Sometime we would hold hands and you would hear people praying out loud. God please, God please."

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Following his tour of duty in Vietnam, Gleaton was sent back to the states in 1969, where he served out the remainder of his military service at Fort Carson in Colorado with an artillery unit.

After Fort Carson, Gleaton joined the 360th Reserve Center in Columbia with the U.S. Army Reserve. He was there for approximately three years.

There he helped work on logistics and maintenance equipment and other machinery before being discharged as a specialist E-5.

Though 50 years have passed since his service in Vietnam, Gleaton says the experience is still fresh.

"I will never forget them," Gleaton says, pointing to a patch on his uniform commemorating the 58,479 soldiers who died in Vietnam. "I can't."

Gleaton says he often wonders 'why me?' when thinking about his friends who did not return.

"I made it back, so God, why didn't he come back?" Gleaton said. "We asked 'why' but then say, 'why not'? He says in his word that I rain on the just and unjust."

Continued support from family, prayer and other comrades has been sustaining.

Just recently, Gleaton, who is an ordained minister, buried one of his military comrades with the fallen's wife, Sophia, in attendance.

"It was amazing to see how many fellas were there," Gleaton said, fighting back tears. "The camaraderie. They stood up and I know my brother was lying there."

Gleaton said an ovation for their comrade followed.

After the funeral, it was realized that flowers were not provided for the service.

"I looked at Sophia and when all these veterans just stood up, she just smiled," Gleaton said. "She smiled and that smile was worth more than any flower. It was that support of brothers and sisters."

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Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.

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