The Times and Democrat began the print and online series, “Vietnam: They Served With Honor,” on Aug. 16.
The stories based on interviews with local veterans of the Vietnam War concluded Tuesday, with today’s Veterans Day edition featuring a look back at the 25 people profiled. The series also featured photos from the war and video interviews with each veteran.
Four businesses joined The T&D as sponsors for the series: Dukes-Harley Funeral Home in Orangeburg; Fogle’s Inc., which operates Piggly Wiggly stores in Orangeburg, Neeses, Denmark and Columbia; Morningside of Orangeburg, and Orangeburg-based Cox Industries.
The entire series can be revisited online at TheTandD.com.
Cole Haywood, 68, of Orangeburg served in Vietnam from 1969-70. He went to the war ranked as an E5 sergeant, serving as a squad leader. In January 1970, Haywood was field promoted to an E6 staff sergeant.
During the war, he spent up to 26 days at a time in the field. The Purple Heart recipient was wounded during a search-and-destroy mission in Cambodia.
Haywood said serving in the Vietnam War helped him realize some of the major miracles God has performed in his life.
“People tell stories of Vietnam, but they just don’t know. It had to have been a miracle because of how those rounds went off around me,” he said.
Haywood said he doesn't regret a single moment he spent in Vietnam.
"They needed our help. I think it was well worthwhile for helping them out. Regardless of who didn't win, we accomplished a lot. Vietnam is not a full communist country.”
David Franklin of Orangeburg was a 20-year-old squad leader in 1969, anxious to get out of Vietnam.
There were many bad days, said Franklin, who made a decision soon after arriving in Vietnam on his 20th birthday, Jan. 13, 1969: “My main objective was to get out of there.”
He did so in January 1970 after taking on the engineering job and making rank quickly as an E5 squad leader, a position unusual for someone of his age and short span of service.
“I volunteered for the engineers … which I believe saved my life.”
Franklin returned home to Orangeburg to embark on a civilian life, working for 16 years with the South Carolina Regional Housing Authority.
Those hard days continued back home, with three marriages, a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder in 2010 and kidney cancer in 2012. Franklin, now 66, retired in 2013 and today remains cancer-free. But he has a new Vietnam War mission. With time on his hands, Franklin researched the Veterans Administration’s own information about the impact of Agent Orange on Vietnam veterans, finding that kidney cancer is prevalent.
Franklin is battling the VA over his case, saying Vietnam veterans are not getting treatment equal to veterans of modern-day wars.
“We didn’t ask to be sprayed with Agent Orange. I’ve got a lot of friends who are dead now,” he said.
Wayne Carter, 64, of Bamberg, served in B Company, 1st Platoon, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Army Airborne Brigade as a specialist fourth class.
He arrived in Vietnam on Dec. 21, 1969. It would be his first Christmas away from home.
Carter was the point man on the day that proved the scariest of the war for him.
"I was trailing an enemy. … He got away and in the excitement, I tripped a booby trap that had been set (a hand grenade in a can with a trip wire)," he said. He tumbled about 100 feet down a hill, taking the majority of the shrapnel in his chest and shattering his rib cage. He was also wounded in the legs, ear, chin and buttocks.
Five weeks after Carter was wounded, his best friend Billy Farrell was killed.
"He was a true hillbilly … salt-of-the-earth guy, and he was only 18 when he died," he said.
"I’ve been to D.C. to see his name on the Wall as well as the (names of) other members of my platoon. I’ve been twice to D.C. and to the Traveling Wall, and every time it’s difficult," Carter said. "I have looked up all 23 names of those that were in my company during the time that I served that were killed in combat."
Carter said he learned to deal with his emotions, "compartmentalizing" them.
"I was affected by the war but I’d keep it to myself. I’m a loner. I’m friends with everybody, but I don’t have that many friends, if that makes sense … I don’t let people get close to me," he said. "I dealt with the emotion; it never bothered me."
At least, not until he experienced the death of a number of his family members. "So I started seeing the body count rack up, and it just emotionally got the best of me for a while."
His assessment of the Vietnam War? "We won the battles and lost the war. … I'm immensely proud of my service," Carter said.
Carter retired in 2008 after 25 years in retail logistics working with major companies, including Target, Walmart and CVS.
Julius Sistrunk of Orangeburg is a 67-year-old veteran and Orangeburg native. He was drafted into the U.S. Army on Nov. 19, 1966, and completed basic training at Fort Jackson in Columbia. Sistrunk served in Vietnam from July 1968 to July 1969 as an E5 sergeant. During the war, he was in Danang, Hue and Fubi.
“My experience was a good one. It let me know how much I appreciate America,” he said.
While serving, Sistrunk was a part of the first Airborne 101 Division supported by 1st Calvary. He was an aviation mechanic who fixed helicopters.
During the war, Sistrunk said, he felt like the soldiers "were doing the right thing."
“Now, the war is senseless to me. The war was fought in vain. The war, to me, was unwinnable,” he said.
“The same thing that we were fighting to keep from happening, which was the North taking over the South, and after Nixon brought the war to an end in 1973, then they went on for about another two years and they came together. They reconciled themselves and came together.
“When I look back on it, I think, ‘Why?’ ”
He thanks God for his service in the Vietnam War.
“Being able to come home without any broken limbs, without any nightmares, post-traumatic stress, being in that type of environment and was able to survive, I have a positive outlook from that perspective,” he said. “Many people don’t realize that war is nothing to play with. We have people that have never been the same.”
Albert Shuler Jr.
Albert Shuler Jr., 69, served in D Company, 3rd Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, as a specialist fourth class. He was a member of a reconnaissance platoon conducting search-and-recovery missions.
Shuler’s entire division was overrun by the North Vietnamese army on March 26, 1968. The enemy had circled around his platoon’s perimeter, firing everything from mortars and rockets to flame throwers and automatic weapons. Shuler survived a direct hit on his bunker, which was struck by a 122 MM rocket launcher.
He spent 11 months in the combat zone, surviving six ambushes and a firefight. He credits the stringent Advanced Infantry Training he received at Fort Polk, Louisiana, with equipping him for the harsh conditions in Vietnam, where he served from 1967 to 1968.
Shuler is the recipient of three Purple Hearts, the Army Commendation Medal, the Air Medal and two Bronze Star medals, including one with an authorized “V” for valor.
Following the war, he had problems sleeping and suffered the effects of back and head injuries he sustained during the war.
He worked 21 years at the former Utica Tool in Orangeburg and spent 17 years in the U.S. Army National Guard.
He has mixed emotions about the Vietnam War.
“I thought we was making a little progress, but I think it was a waste of time after I got out. It was a lot of lives lost for no reason. … That’s when I thought we was just losing lives, especially brothers. There were a lot of brothers. After we got out, we felt we didn’t accomplish nothing. A lot of brothers died for no good reason because the country ended up getting taken back anyway,” Shuler said.
William J. Strickland
“Weird dreams. I dream every night,” 75-year-old William J. Strickland of Orangeburg says of how service in Vietnam has affected his life. “You pull the cover off or you kick it on the floor and you’ll wake up and you’ll be hollering."
Strickland, originally from Columbus County, North Carolina, has suffered from post traumatic stress disorder for more than 40 years.
He joined the Army National Guard in 1958 at age 26. He attended Officer’s Candidate School in 1965-66, then served in Vietnam for 12 months as a second lieutenant. It was his first duty station.
As platoon leader of the 62nd Transportation Company in Long Binh, Strickland was responsible for taking cargo to fire bases.
“The day I went to Long Binh, I said, ‘I’ll never leave this place alive.’ From what I could see, I figured they were going to carry me home in a box,” Strickland said. “You go down a road and you could get blown up. I’ve seen trucks with drums of fuel on them and they get blown up and it blows up the road.”
Strickland has lived in Orangeburg since February 1977, having served in the U.S. Army for 23 years. He retired July 1, 1981.
While serving, he earned the National Defense Service Ribbon, Vietnam Service Medal, two Bronze Stars, the Silver Service Star and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry.
While still coping with PTSD, Strickland said he has learned to control it.
“I don’t like sitting in the spotlight. If I go somewhere to eat, I want the corner where I can see everybody coming in and know which way is out.”
Sidney Livingston, 69, served in the 457th Tactical Air Command of the U.S. Air Force as an E-4 Senior Airman. After landing in Vietnam in October 1967, he stayed a year while stationed at the air base in Cam Ranh Bay in the province of Khanh Hoa, Vietnam. With pride and sadness, he recalled his duties, including hauling the bodies of soldiers killed in action, or KIAs.
“We hauled anything you could think of, but the only thing I didn’t really like to haul was the KIAs, or bodies. We hauled a good many body bags,” the Woodford resident said.
“We supplied the Army with food and ammunition. During Christmas of ’67, all we did was haul beer and Slim Jims. I ate so many Slim Jims that I didn’t want one for years after I got home,” Livingston said, laughing.
He served during the brutal Tet Offensive, which some 70,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces launched on Jan. 31, 1968.
“That’s when they had the big push down South. We were supposed to be the safest base over there, but they blew up the fuel depot over there on Cam Ranh Bay. We had an Army base, Navy base and an Air Force base right there. It was a big, sprawled-out place, but I think they got into every place during that Tet Offensive in February of ’68,” Livingston said.
His current assessment of the war has not changed much from his initial one.
“It was a lot of money wasted and a lot of lives lost for nothing. You take Hamburger Hill, in particular. We flew in support and then, when they finally got possession of it, they up and left and gave it back. It was just a political war. I don’t know who made the decisions of what to do over there, but I think there was a lot of them made that weren’t necessary.”
On Sept. 11, 2001, Isaac W. Lee of Eutawville watched as a second plane slammed into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York.
"When they said America was at war, I snapped," Lee says.
"We as Americans do not know how blessed we are," Lee says, saying Vietnam was "well worth it" if war can be kept off American soil.
At 72 years old, he says with conviction: "If I have to go in another war to keep from fighting on American soil, I'd go without a second thought.”
Isaac was drafted, serving in the war from August 1967 to August 1968, seeing action in the Tet Offensive in which North Vietnam attacked on the Tet holiday. In that year's time, he earned the Bronze Star and the Silver Star, coming home with the rank of staff sergeant E6.
Lee's squad was on point near the small village of Xom Doi Bay Ti. The seven-member squad came under attack with heavy fire from the village. Lee dragged a wounded soldier with the radio and all the equipment toward safety. He received the Silver Star for bravery, facing heavy enemy fire as he maneuvered to the rear and brought a medical aidman to the casualty's position. The aidman needed a stretcher, which Lee secured by again passing through enemy fire.
He received the Silver Star in a special ceremony in Orangeburg in 1972. At the time Lee was in the Army Reserve, serving for 20 years after leaving active duty. In the civilian world, he worked for General Electric as a welder and as a security officer at the Naval Weapons Station in Charleston.
“I tell you what, looking at what happened over there and what is going on today, America is a blessed country," said Lee, who cited a particular purpose in telling his Vietnam story.
"So people would know what it takes to keep the freedom Americans enjoy."
71-year-old Orangeburg native Bobby Mack, who attained the rank of E4 (corporal), served in 1967 with the 3rd Marine Division Delta 19 Reinforcements in the Vietnam War.
"A lot happened. I can tell you about it, but you wouldn’t believe it. You have to have been there to see it," he says. "Just like we’re sitting here right now, one of my friends got his head blown off. We were sitting there eating on top of a bunker ... a rocket came in ... some of his brains fell into my food ... "
The Purple Heart recipient remembers his worst day of the war was also the day Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed.
"We fought all day long. We (B Company) were going up to take one hill and F Company was going up to take another hill. We were security for them, and by the time they got just about up there, the enemy started shooting and then we started shooting," he says. "F Company lost 170 men that day; the newspaper said 40. We had a newspaper guy with us and he got shot too. He was killed. He was coming up behind me. I looked back and he was hit."
Reflecting on his service in Vietnam, he notes, "I thought I was doing something great. We had heard about people calling us 'baby killers,' but I didn’t believe it until I got back home and they (some Americans) treated me like nothing," he says.
"It hurts. I felt like I was over there serving my country. When I got back, I realized we were in a war over there that we weren’t supposed to be in. … If I knew the war would end like it did, I would never have gone. I feel like me being over there didn’t mean anything."
Before entering the military, U.S. Army Private First Class Jerry Irick attended Orangeburg High School, where he was a standout fullback on the football team, and graduated in 1966. He received a football scholarship to play for the Georgia Institute of Technology but gave up the opportunity to serve in Vietnam.
At 19, he entered the United States Army in September 1966 as a private in Company A, 27th Engineer Battalion (Combat).
Upon his return, Irick discovered he had been promoted to Specialist 5 and that he had been awarded the Purple Heart. He also received the Bronze Star, Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal and Vietnam Campaign Medal.
"I did not know it was going to be as bad as it was over there," Irick said. "It was rough over there."
There were moments Irick said he wishes he could forget, like coming upon villages bombed by American planes.
"The Viet Cong would leave, but they would leave the kids there and the kids would be dead," he said. "You would go behind these buildings and you would find these kids out there dead and these women back there dead.
“It seemed like they would go back there and throw them on a pile. I just could not believe they would do stuff like that."
Irick said the war is one the United States should never have fought.
"It was a waste of money and a waste of lives," he said. "Vietnam did things to you. It messed with your mind."
Herman Williams is a 69-year-old Vietnam War veteran from Denmark. At 21, Williams was drafted into the Army. He completed basic training at Fort Jackson and then served as a gunner on a tanker as a Sergeant E5 in the Vietnam War.
During Williams’ 10-month stint in 1967, he began to think that he wouldn’t make it out of Vietnam alive.
When asked about his best memories in Vietnam, Williams said, “I didn’t have none. That wasn’t a good time.”
Williams’ wife, Mary, said after he returned to the States, he wouldn’t talk to any of his family that much about what he experienced in Vietnam.
Mary said Williams can’t tolerate the sound of anything similar to a gun after coming home and adjusting to civilian life was difficult. “His sister once said, ‘Herman went to war, but Herman didn’t come back.’ ”
Williams said the Vietnam War was senseless.
“We lost the war, but we tried to win. A lot of us didn’t make it back,” he said.
Bowman resident Phil Herzog, now 78, arrived in Vietnam in June 1964 after first being stationed at Sampson Air Force Base in Geneva, New York, in 1955.
"I volunteered to go over there," he said. "I said, 'I will go, boss. Send me!'"
Herzog ended up in Cam Ranh Bay in South Vietnam, where he was stationed at the command post and served as a loadmaster on the C7, directing aircraft to different locations for pick-up and drop-off of soldiers and supplies.
The United States Air Force E8 senior first sergeant was wounded when enemy fire pierced his C7 aircraft while flying over South Vietnam. Shortly before leaving Vietnam in July 1965, Herzog received the Purple Heart.
Herzog said the Vietnam War was one the United States should never have fought.
"I don't think we should have been there -- not after all I have seen, with what we did and with all the bombings ... the way we treated the Vietnamese and the way they treated us. If I had to do it all over again, I would not go. But at the time, I felt the obligation to go.
"I can rest easy about what I have done," Herzog said. "I was doing my job."
On June 10, 1968, Tillman Abell was on a mission deep in the Mekong Delta when he felt something on his foot.
“You know Chuck Norris would always back up and see the trip wire, but I didn’t. I thought it was a vine. I kicked. I heard something p-s-s-s and I thought ‘Oh oh.’ ”
Grenade fragments struck his left lung, tore open his left knee and put a couple pieces of metal in his left arm. That experience ended his stay in Vietnam, Abell said. By the time he recovered from his injuries, his tour was up.
Abell joined the U.S. Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps while at Wofford College and entered the Army as a second lieutenant in the Ninth Infantry Division, Third Battalion Platoon.
In Vietnam, he was a platoon leader and part of a mobile riverine unit stationed on a Navy ship. They traveled in small boats down rivers in the Mekong Delta to locate the enemy.
Abell’s platoon was part of the effort to run the Viet Cong out of Saigon during the Tet Offensive, when the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong launched an offensive on cities all over South Vietnam. Abell’s platoon was in the field 18 days during the offensive, when the Viet Cong would go through villages and kill everyone there, from children to nurses, he said.
Abell, who retired from teaching history at Edisto High School, says he supported the war when he went in, but at age 70, he’s come to think it was wrong. Like many veterans, Abell said he has had some horrible memories and nightmares, but he’s dealt with them by staying busy with his family, students and church.
“Being busy is the best therapy in the world.”
Samuel Williams, a 69-year-old Vietnam War veteran from Cope, was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1965 at age 19 and served in Vietnam for a year as a Specialist 4.
He was a combat engineer who operated five-ton dump trucks in the Company B 1st Engineer Battalion. He completed basic training at Fort Jackson.
Most of his Vietnam memories are bad, including a day when he and other soldiers went to retrieve mail and saw an artillery unit get hit with mortar rounds. 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.
Adjusting to civilian life again wasn’t easy and he was later diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. He dislikes being around large crowds, 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 earned two Bronze Service Stars, a National Defense Service Medal, a Vietnam Service Medal and a several other awards.
Sgt. John Rivenbark and the rest of his platoon were given orders to attack a village in Vietnam. During the battle, Rivenbark was shot in the leg with an AK-47.
“When I fell down on the ground, I tried to crawl back to safety and either a mortar round or a booby trap hit, and I got blown up."
Rivenbark’s legs were so swollen he couldn’t move. Eventually, a first sergeant came to his rescue, threw him over his shoulder, got him back to safety and flew him away in a helicopter.
Rivenbark, 70, is originally from Columbia. He served in the Marine Corps from 1964-1968 and was assigned to a Weapons platoon during the Vietnam War. He operated machine guns and fired rockets and mortars at the tender age of 22 from 1967-1968.
Rivenbark spent most of his time in Da Nang, Vietnam, during the war. He said hardly any of his Vietnam experience was enjoyable.
“I always thought we were fighting for the freedom of them (South Vietnamese), but their government was just as dictatorial as anybody else’s," the St. Matthews resident said. "Their military was just as abusive toward the people caught in the middle. You could see the anger and the hate just coming from the way they looked at you.”
He said he “would love to go back to Vietnam with the Bible as my weapon and love in my heart instead of hate because the Vietnamese are amazing people."
Col. Joseph Jenkins’ company -- E Company, 3rd Battalion, 60th Infantry -- was engaged in an operation that was a part of the Mobile Wolverine Force. A mix-up with the gunships and the coordination on the ground led to the gunships hitting the company, instantly killing five soldiers.
“I looked at them, and I can remember 'til this day, thinking how many lives were going to be ruined. How many families’ lives would never be the same -- looking at these five kids. They were nothing but kids,” the Orangeburg resident said. “I was in prolonged contact with them. I never, ever forgot that.”
Jenkins, 72, graduated from South Carolina State University. While attending the university, he joined the ROTC and was commissioned. In 1967, he went to Vietnam at the age of 24. He volunteered to serve as an infantryman during two tours in Vietnam.
During the Vietnam War, Jenkins earned the rank of captain and says “I had the privilege of leading American soldiers in battle. I never felt more necessary than I did those two years.”
During his second tour, he broke his hip, neck and back while training for a night jump for a classified mission. After the accident, he transferred to the Military Police Corps and became a military policeman in 1974. He retired after 24 years in the U.S. Army.
As a result of fighting in the Vietnam War, Jenkins suffers from PTSD. “I’m not sure that I cope with it very well. I’m a loner. I’m just alone with my thoughts,” he said.
"If I had to do it all over again, I would do it the same exact way," he said. "I would’ve marched to the cannon."
As an inexperienced 20-year-old Specialist 4, Marion “Marty” Green was totally unprepared for the reality of Vietnam. He had no fear at all “of what I was going to or what I was getting into” until he arrived in November 1970 at Binh Wahr airport, where the runway was being bombed by the enemy.
“That’s when it hit me that this here was not Memorex," Green said. “It was live, and that’s when fear hit me. I said, 'I am not going to make it out of here.’ ”
Green was stationed in the small South Vietnamese town of Long Binh. As an MP, his experiences were very different from those of the average soldier. He said he didn’t have it nearly as bad as other soldiers because he wasn’t out in the jungle, getting shot at all the time. But as an MP, he had to deal with American soldiers as well as the enemy and local civilians, and also patrolled the streets of Long Binh.
Like all the American soldiers, the MPs faced the problem of not knowing who or where the enemy was, he said. A barber, who was shot to death crossing into the compound one night, turned out to be a lieutenant in the North Vietnamese army.
“I’m sure I sat down with the enemy many times, and I just didn’t know it,” he said.
Forty-five years after leaving Vietnam, Green says he thinks the war was a waste of time and young American lives. Approximately 58,700 American soldiers died, he said.
“That’s a lot of people to lose, and we didn’t gain anything,” he said. “The North Vietnamese won anyway and took over the South.”
Heyward Marshall ‘Bubba’ O’Cain
A native of Orangeburg, Heyward Marshall “Bubba” O’Cain served as a Specialist 5 with the 1st Cavalry Division during the Vietnam War.
Now 68, he was drafted at 20 to serve in Vietnam for two years, serving as a cook in the U.S. Army 1st Cavalry Infantry Division in 1968-1969.
“When I went to cook, I didn’t have any idea that 1st Cav was an infantry unit. But I was assigned to them, so it was a job. You had to -- everybody did their job,” he said.
While serving in Vietnam, O’Cain volunteered for numerous missions.
“I volunteered because it was a job. You didn’t think about the outcome. You just did your job,” he said. “It was kind of like I’d drop my frying pan and go to killing and go to fighting."
O'Cain had the opportunity to receive two Purple Hearts, but he said he declined them because he felt he hadn’t earned them.
“When you see boys getting their arms and legs blown off and you just have a minor cut -- you say, 'Well, I’m getting a Purple Heart and he’s got his arm blown off and I’m not hurt. I can still do my job.' It didn’t seem right,” he said.
After the war, O’Cain was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.
“Seems like 45 years later, I have a hard time sleeping still. I sleep in periods, like I’m still pulling guard duty,” he said.
Looking back, O’Cain said he thinks the war was senseless.
“Now, with all the fellows that got killed over there, I don’t see any purpose in it at all. I don’t think it accomplished much," he said. O'Cain said most people don't realize what servicemen went through in Vietnam.
O’Cain earned a Bronze Star during his service in the Vietnam War.
“You were walking around like a zombie with no sleep for Lord knows how long,” Terry Benton said. And then the enemy would start shooting at you, only to quickly disappear.
It was a world away from the farm country around Cordova where Benton grew up and went to Edisto High School. Following graduation in 1967, Benton volunteered to join the Marines in August. By January 1968, he was in Vietnam.
“I wanted to go. I don’t know why,” he said. “I thought it was the right thing to do.”
The hardest part was not being able to identify the enemy. A Vietnamese peddler might show up out of nowhere in the bush, sell you a hot Coca-Cola for $7 and disappear. He’d “go back and tell the Viet Cong where the position was and that night you’d probably get hit,” Benton said.
In Hue City, the Marines didn’t have a problem figuring out who the enemy was.
“They said everything’s open game in Hue City. The whole city was occupied by North Vietnamese,” he said.
The Battle of Hue lasted from January until March 1968, with Marines engaging in house-to-house combat.
Benton was injured when he was blown out of his foxhole. He was medivaced out, eventually recovering from surgery at the Philadelphia Naval Hospital, and later volunteered to go back to Vietnam as a sergeant with the Second Recon Battalion.
Benton thought going to war was the right thing to do at the time, but now sees it as a waste of time, a waste of lives.
“What did we accomplish? Not a damned thing other than getting 58,000 people killed.”
U.S. Army Specialist Perry W. Smith, now 66, served in the U.S. Army 630th Engineer Company Light Equipment Division.
He survived his experience in Vietnam as a Specialist E5 from 1969 to 1970. He saw action with the engineering company along the DMZ (demilitarized zone) in northern Vietnam.
Smith entered the war at age 20 shortly after graduating from Orangeburg High School.
"You left the streets from riding around and having a good time to being in a war zone in three to four months," he said. "Once you got into Vietnam, you found out it was a whole different ballgame. You just wanted to survive and get home."
After the war, Smith was ravaged by nightmares. Today, he continues to struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder. He said, “As long as you kept your mind off of it (the war), you did not worry about it. But sometimes it would catch up with you at night when you were trying to sleep."
While proud to serve, Smith said the war was "a waste of time."
Smith does, however, fondly remember the late Cpl. James T. Smoak of Cordova, who served in Kia, Vietnam, in November 1969. Smoak, 20, was killed in Chu Lai.
Smith purchased a marker at the Orangeburg Veterans Memorial Park for Smoak and visits the marker on the anniversary of his friend's death, as well as on Veterans Day. He places a U.S. flag at the marker on each visit with a note attached for Smoak and all those who served that reads, "You will not be forgotten."
Vietnam War veteran James Louis Weldon, 66, was a sergeant with the transportation component of the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
Weldon, who was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, volunteered to join the U.S. Army in 1967 at the age of 18. He served with the 82nd Airborne Brigade as a "sky soldier" before heading to Vietnam.
He said he was shot at countless times during the Vietnam War but never hit.
“One thing with the Vietnamese, you don’t know who’s who. They could be your enemy at night and your friend by day,” Weldon said.
Today, Weldon said he believes none of the soldiers should have been in Vietnam.
“Vietnam was a war that we couldn’t win. It’s hard to win a war on other people’s soil. These people know where to go, what to do and where to hide. They know everything,” he said.
During the war, Weldon damaged nerves in his feet from a bad parachute jump and was diagnosed with PTSD shortly after returning home.
Weldon earned a U.S. Defense Medal, a Campaign Medal and a Bronze Star Medal for his service. Today he and his wife live in Denmark.
Nathan Robinson, a 69-year-old Orangeburg resident, recalls his experiences while serving two tours of duty in the Vietnam War. His first lasted from March 7 to Dec. 15, 1967, when he served with the 199th Light Infantry Brigade as a specialist fourth class. His second tour was from Feb. 10 to Oct. 15, 1968.
“My main motto was that if I’m going to be captured, I’m gonna have two grenades on my side. And when the enemy come at me, I’m gonna let them go," Robinson said. "It was as simple as that because you don’t want to be captured by a North Vietnamese, Chinese or Viet Cong. We’d be tortured to death."
The infantry soldier recalled his first tour of duty as a member of an assault unit that became adept at jumping in and out of helicopters to avoid enemy fire. He said he was in 104 assault missions and never got wounded.
Including his service in Vietnam, Robinson spent approximately 21 years in the U.S. Army. His assessment of the war is largely positive, and he said he does not consider his service a waste of time because it was what they had to do “to protect the free people of South Vietnam.”
Robinson received an Army Letter of Commendation; the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry; the Silver Star Medal; the National Defense Service Medal; the Combat Infantry Badge; the Good Conduct Medal; three Meritorious Service Medals; and the Army Expert Shooting Badges for his prowess in the use of M60 and M16 assault weapons.
Jim Myers, 71, of didn't wait to be drafted – he joined the Air Force on April 19, 1966.
"I flipped a coin between the Air Force and the Navy, and the Air Force won," he said. "I figured I had a better chance of surviving in the Air Force than in the Army or the Marines."
He completed basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, and was assigned to heavy equipment operator/civil engineering. He spent two years at Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, Louisiana, before receiving orders to go to Vietnam (1968-69), where he served with the 819th Red Horse Squadron (Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers). The squadron was responsible for all the construction projects at the base, including building a military hospital and a jet engine test pad.
Myers, who attained the rank of staff sergeant (E5), is commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2779 in Orangeburg.
He noted that less than 1 percent of Americans serve in the military.
"If it wasn't for your veterans, you wouldn't be here," he said. "You and I couldn't sit here and talk like we're talking. We wouldn't have the freedoms we have. If it wasn't for the veterans, there wouldn't be a United States."
Eugene S. Rivers
Eugene S. Rivers, a resident of Eutawville, is now 69.
Rivers, who joined the Army when he was 20 and living in New York, said, “I just really wanted to be part of something. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.”
He completed basic training at Fort Jackson, took a one-year Army assignment in Germany, then went to Vietnam, where he was part of the 1st Cavalry Division.
After returning home, Rivers began to have symptoms of hypertension at age 29 and learned that exposure to the chemical defoliant Agent Orange was compromising his health.
Rivers is currently undergoing treatment for prostate cancer.
“I’m blessed,” Rivers said. “I just want people to know that I’m blessed.
"For the most part, I'm glad to be a veteran. I served my country and more than anything, this means a lot to me."
Fred Axson, served as a specialist 4 at Fire Base Jack in Vietnam from August 1968 to August 1969.
During his tour of duty, Axson received the Bronze Star twice and an Army Commendation Medal.
He said the 10-day battle of Hamburger Hill was probably the worst experience he had in Vietnam. The hill was very steep and covered with an enemy that was hidden because the Viet Cong had dug miles of tunnels.
“The United States finally took the hill and then they turned around and gave it back. I never could understand that,” Axson said. “I never could.”
The painful memories of the war still stick in his mind, he said.
Men dying in front of him, bouts with malaria, sleeping in water-filled foxholes, tunnels that allowed the Viet Cong to pop up out the ground, shoot Americans and disappear before your eyes -- these memories are still part of his life 45 years after he came home from the war, Axson said.
Many Vietnam vets have come to believe the war was a mistake, but Axson’s not among them.
“I thought I was doing the right thing then and I still do,” he said. “If we hadn’t gone over there, who knows what might have happened.”