I enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1966, because it was likely I would be drafted and I didn't want to serve in the Army. I enlisted with no dreams of glory; rather enlistment seemed the most honorable course open to me. I could go to Canada, return to another college and avoid the draft as long as I could, or I could go because it was a lawful request by my country to do so. I chose the latter course.
After boot camp I was assigned to the attack aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga (CVA 14). I made two Far East cruises (to Vietnam) aboard the Ticonderoga, for a total of 16 months in the Vietnam area of operations. I requested a change of duty station and received orders to Swift boat training in Coronado, California. I felt at that time I could do more for the war effort than I was accomplishing aboard the Ticonderoga.
I was in Swift training from October, 1968 through January, 1969. While in Swift training I became aware how serious the river war had gotten for Swift boats. With the advent of Operation SEALORDS in October of 1968 the boats had gone further into the interior rivers and canals of the Mekong Delta. The crews were experiencing a 75% casualty rate (that is, they had a three in four chance of being killed or wounded). Again, the only honorable course open to me seemed to be to complete my training and report for duty in Vietnam.
We reported for duty at Cat Lo the first of February and were immediately assigned PCF 56. Our O in C was Bill Franke, and our core enlisted crew consisted of Tony Gisclair (Boatswain's Mate), and two Gunner's Mates, Gary Alexander and Ed "Tex" Stokes and me (the Radarman and Leading Petty Officer). These were fine men, very courageous, who somehow found the courage each day, many times after vicious firefights the day before, to go into the rivers and canals the next day, and the next, and on through twelve months. Our crew was posted to Cat Lo (Coastal Division 13), then An Thoi (Coastal Division 11), then to Cat Lo again (the enlisted crew) until we left Vietnam. I am VERY proud to have served with these men. We served honorably in Vietnam. We never participated in, observed, or knew of what Mr. Kerry called “atrocities” committed by Americans in our area of operations. His comments were a lie, and I believe he knew it.
We came home to vicious rhetoric by the radical anti-war left. Many were spit on by their fellow Americans, and some threw their medals away because they believed America had turned their backs on them. Although the radical anti-war left was a minority, they received a disproportionate amount of media attention.
The vast majority of Vietnam veterans I know had the same experience I did. When I returned in 1970 to go to the University of Montana, sometimes violent protests were occurring around us. A few of our real colleagues did the radicals. I’ll never know why. In the intervening years, psychologists have written about peoples’ to seek attention no matter what it takes. That’s as good an explanation as to why they would spread lies about their service, and atrocities they had supposedly witnessed. A Naval investigation requested by Senator Mark Hatfield discovered that some of the most prominent "witnesses" to atrocities had never even been to Vietnam. Meanwhile, many of us who had served honorably were trying to adjust to difficult circumstances, college or new jobs, families and children. We did so mostly on our own and were largely successful in returning to productive civilian life. We had, after all, been through the crucible of war.
For myself, I received a BA and MA from the University of Montana, then entered the banking industry. I spent the next 25 years working to provide affordable housing. That’s the official name, but I just thought I was working with developers and builders to provide thousands of housing units and loans for working families. I also worked hard for my community, serving as chairman of the City-County Planning Board, chairman of Play Ball Missoula (a project to bring minor league baseball to our community), chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee of the Chamber of Commerce, captain for United Way and the University of Montana Excellence Fund. I was in Kiwanis and Rotary. I was the treasurer and steering committee member of the Montana Vietnam Veteran's Memorial, on the steering committee of the Montana State Korean Memorial and one of the founder's and first treasurer of the Swift Boat Sailor's Association. I am a life member of the American Legion, VFW and Military Order of the Purple Heart. From my experience I believe my community involvement is the rule rather than the exception with Vietnam veterans.
One of the saddest things about our service is we were denied honor for it for so long. I went 25 years before I spent any time with my brothers who had served with me on Swift boats. I have met with Bill Franke twice (in 34 years), but have yet to see face-to-face Tony Gisclair, Ed Stokes and Gary Alexander. That is one of the tragedies of Vietnam.
I retired from banking as Senior Vice President of First Security Bank of Missoula in 1999. My wife, Terry, had retired from her position as a Paralegal before that, to spend time with her mother who was seriously ill. Retirement allowed us to spend quality time with her father (a World War II veteran) until his death in 2002.
We have had a wonderful retirement, able to spend time with family and friends, and be together after long work careers. Last year we read "The Purpose Driven Life" together, and realized that there is more to life than focus on self or material goods. We have been blessed but realized we weren't through contributing. In fact, if we don't use our abilities for good, there is no purpose to living a long life.
I have joined with my fellow Swift sailors to seek the truth about John Kerry, his service and his documented lies about our service when he returned. To do so takes me out of my comfort zone; I have little to gain and much to lose. But part of the purpose of life is to stand up for what you believe, and to seek the truth, particularly as it relates to those who would lead us. I cannot sit on the sidelines, and I will not.
Last Updated Tuesday, July 20 2004 @ 09:03 PM PDT