Vietnam Stories

VIETNAM: Personal reflections – stories to be told.
Two stories from the collection.

By Joseph Hardy

Artillery in Vietnam

SGT Max Cones (gunner) fires an M107, 175mm self-propelled gun, Btry C, 1st Bn, 83rd Arty, 54th Arty Group, Vietnam, 1968. U.S. Army photo.

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At the urging of an old friend, Joseph Hardy recently wrote a collection of his Vietnam memories. As a 1st Lieutenant, his tour was split into equal halves: First as a Team Leader of a Civil Affairs team, later as a Platoon Leader of a Construction Engineer battalion in the Mekong Delta. One theme of his writing is that you didn’t have to be in the infantry to see combat.

Story 1: My only war “wound”

Behind our hotel/billet in Phan Thiet was a basketball court, and after dinner the competition could get a little intense. No one had sneakers, so we played in our jungle boots, which provided a lot more traction than is desirable for basketball. I took a pass and tried to pivot, but (unfortunately) my ankle pivoted, and my boot did not. The result was a severely sprained ankle and trip to the field hospital where I was x-rayed and awarded a toe-to-knee cast that I wore for several weeks.

I was feeling both pain and considerable self pity until I learned that another member of our MACV (Military Assistance Team Vietnam) team had lost his right foot to a land mine the same day I sprained my ankle. He had been riding in the right front seat of a Jeep that hit a mine. He and his driver were saved by the sandbagged floor, but he had been dangling his foot off the side of the Jeep, and the explosion took his foot off at the ankle.

I had been down the same road just the day before, as had a few others – but either the mine hadn’t been planted yet, or he was unfortunate enough that his Jeep triggered the mine that had been missed by other vehicles. To this day I cannot ride in a golf cart without having both feet on the floor.

Story 2: Living in contradiction

Serving in a war zone presents us with a strange and interesting contradiction. There is a very real possibility that we may kill someone, or that we may be killed – for a cause. A cause, we are told, that is greater than any of our individual lives.

I have several good friends who saw lots of combat, and I have great respect for each of them. They served as infantry, armor, artillery, engineers, and pilots. On any given day they could be put in harm’s way as they literally went out looking for trouble – often finding it. In Vietnam, even those of us who did not have a designated combat “job’’ were often called to that duty. It was a reality of being in a combat zone, and human life was being taken in the course of our personal defense, or in defense of others. Living with that ­reality generates a constant level of tension, and I never settled down to a true sense of calm.

One such contradiction occurred for me when I was in my “Peace Corps-like’’  job in Phan Thiet. All the junior officers (lieutenants and captains) were required to serve as “Tactical Operations Center (TOC) Duty Officer” on a rotating basis. The job of the duty officer was to spend an overnight in the TOC every few weeks, and approve requests from combat units that wanted to fire artillery into designated areas. Actual confirmation of combat “kills’’ was getting a lot of emphasis at that time to ensure that body counts were accurate. A few weeks after I had given one such approval I received notice that I had been awarded the Gallantry Cross medal by the Republic of South Vietnam – for killing three Viet Cong with the artillery firing I had approved.

I did not consider approving the artillery fire that resulted in the deaths of those three men a particularly courageous act on my part, so I did not list the award on future résumés. But it surprised me when the deaths of those three men came back to haunt me more than 15 years later. At the time, I had no ­trouble justifying the artillery-request approval. We were at war with a ruthless enemy, and killing those three men may have kept them from killing soldiers on our side.

It was not until I became a Christian that the taking of those human lives became a major “guilt issue’’ for me – an issue that prayer and study ultimately resolved. Reading the book of Romans, in the Bible, I was reminded of two things that freed me from that guilt. Romans 13 reminded me that I had been in Vietnam under orders of the U.S. government, and that the order I issued was in response to orders from my government. And Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.’’ Freedom and forgiveness were finally mine. And peace.

 

Joe HardyJoseph Hardy is retired, after a long career in money management. Living in Tucson, Arizona, he and his wife escape the summer heat in Maine.