Paul A. Scipione finds it hard to forget the events of 1968 and beyond

I remember. How could I ever forget?

A small country half a world away. A war that dragged on nearly nine years. It seemed right to most of us when the first American battalion landed at DaNang. The statistics that President Johnson and General Westmoreland gave us each month seemed to prove we were winning. How could guerillas in black pajamas and sandals beat more than 500,000 American and allied troops with superior weapons?

Then came Tet 68 and hand-to-hand fighting in Hue and other cities. We fought hard, destroyed the VC and beat the NVA back, but that wasn't the way reporters made it look back home. President Johnson announced that he would forego another term as president to try to extricate us from Vietnam. Then came the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy and riots in the streets of Chicago during the Democrat Convention.

So many things happened so fast in 1968. Linda and I graduated from SUNY Geneseo and got married six days later. We paid for our own wedding and were broke, but who cared. We had each other and teaching contracts for the fall. But the Pentagon had other ideas. So I took action before the draft board got me. I drove to Rochester and took the test for Navy OCS and did well. By late summer I was at the top of the waiting list, but the draft board in Lockport wouldn’t wait. So I found myself in Army Basic at Fort Dix, stabbing at old tires with a bayonet as we screamed "Kill, kill, kill!"

Then the Army sent me to Ft. Gordon, GA for Infantry AIT, followed by Ft. Benning where they paid you an extra $35 a month if you'd jump out of a C-119 five times.

A couple drill sergeants thought I was officer material and soon I found myself in the 92nd Company of Infantry OCS at Benning, learning how to lead 18-year-olds into battle against NVA regulars. Feeling very uncomfortable about having that responsibility, I quit OCS and got a desk job running the Peer Evaluation Ratings program at Benning. I rented a trailer and Linda and I were together again in Georgia.

But by summer 1969 nearly 40,000 Americans had died in Nam. The Pentagon was desperate to send more warm bodies across the big pond, especially guys like me, an infantry sergeant with an MOS of 11-Charlie (mortars). So just one month after leaving OCS for the coveted desk job, the Army stunned me with orders for Nam. I had only three weeks to move Linda back to western New York to find a new apartment and job. We listened to Peter, Paul and Mary sing "Leavin' On A Jet Plane" and wouldn't let go of each other, 24 hours a day. It was not a happy time for young couples in America.

Several hundred other Nam-bound GIs and I were sequestered in old wooden barracks at Fort Dix and forced to wear jungle fatigues. It was in the middle of a hot night when the cattle cars came to haul us over to McGuire Air Force Base to a chartered DC-8 for the 22-hour flight to Nam.

Our first stop was Anchorage, Alaska. I worried about the great expense of calling Linda collect. Don't worry how much it costs! I told myself as I dialed, knowing this might be my last call home for a long time. Maybe forever. When we got to our next stop at Yokota Airbase in Japan, we were kept under armed guard by fellow American troops. The Pentagon seemed paranoid we might try to escape.

I remember . . . landing at Bien Hoa. The heat and smell were overpowering. A computer somewhere assigned me to the 101st Airborne Division. They sewed Screaming Eagles onto my fatigues. I was only days from the bush and whatever that would bring. I prayed for a miracle and for once in my life it really happened. A senior NCO took me aside and offered me an enviable administrative job in base camp. You better believe I grabbed it!

I remember . . . running the division personnel transportation office at Bien Hoa for several comfortable months. It was sunny and warm and Saigon was just 20 miles away. The only bad part was getting rocketed or mortared by the NVA every other night. But then the Army moved us 450 miles north to godforsaken Phu Bai, just six miles south of Hue and less than 30 minutes by chopper from Hamburger Hill, Khe Sanh and the DMZ. No more sun or warmth. The monsoons dumped more than 50 inches of rain on us in just a single week. Day was just as dark as night. There were enemy probes of our perimeter at night and then came Tet. All that we thought about was survival and getting back to "The World," neither of which seemed likely.

I remember . . . being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I woke up amid dozens of other scared GI patients at 85th Evac Hospital at Phu Bai. It didn't hurt much — until the morphine wore off. There wasn't anything we wouldn't do to get morphine.

After a few days the docs said they'd have to medevac me to a bigger Army hospital in Japan to try to save my right kidney, ureter and bladder. The next morning I hung in a stretcher inside a C-141 jet transport, one of 50 GI patients on the medevac flight to Yokota. I remember the fear on that plane. Dying at 30,000 feet in a cold, sterile cocoon, where screams were silenced by the big jet engines. Dying alone, without family or friends, at some unknown cross-hatch on the aeronautical charts.

I remember spending two months in the 249th Army Hospital at Camp Drake, Asaka, Japan. The 600 beds never seemed empty, a direct barometer of how the war was going. All day and night we'd hear the wail of the siren on the water tower as another medevac chopper arrived from Yokota. The wards got so jammed that less severe cases were shunted to the corridors and we had to share wheelchairs and gurneys.

The surgeons were finally able to put me back together again, artificial parts and all, and I began the journey home with other discharged hospital patients on a charter flight from Yokota. When we landed at Travis Air Force Base in California it was under the cover of darkness, just like when I had been flown to Vietnam. Someone in the Pentagon didn't want Americans to see how many of us were going, or what shape we were in when we came back. I wanted to kiss American soil, but it was too painful to bend down. They bused us over to the Oakland Army Depot. There were no bands and no parades, just a free steak dinner. Army clerks took our files and told us to catch a few hours of sleep.

The next morning the Army gave us our honorable discharges, but forced us to listen to a lecture about joining the reserves or national guard before finally letting us escape. We headed for the airport, worried about reports that our fellow citizens might spit at us in uniform or scream that we were baby killers. Eight hours later I stepped off the plane in Buffalo, a civilian, and Linda and I had to be pried apart to let the other passengers out. Home. Normalcy. But nightmares too. Nearly 15,000 more GIs would die in Nam.

I remember . . . April 1975. Watching Vietnamese hang from the last plane out of DaNang as the NVA quickly overran South Vietnam. Hue fell and I felt sick knowing that my former bases at Phu Bai and Camp Eagle were in enemy hands. We Nam vets felt like such losers and our fellow citizens did nothing to either honor or comfort us.

What I remember most, though, are the nearly 2,000 Americans still missing in Southeast Asia and the seven names on the wall in Washington who were friends of mine. Fred Cadille, KIA on 12-05-65 (Panel 3E, Line 125); Norm Mayer, KIA on 3-11-67 (16E, 62); Tom Jackson, KIA on 5-21-69 (24W, 67); Jim McConnyhead, KIA on 6-13-69 (22W, 42); Peter Pulaski, KIA on 1-4-70 (15W, 126); Floyd Moye, KIA on 3-10-70 (13W, 105); and Danny Cowan, KIA on 10-22-71 (2W, 47).

I remember. How could I ever forget. Not just on Veterans Day, but every day.

A consumer psychologist, Dr. Paul A. Scipione’s first career was as a senior market research executive at Young & Rubicam Advertising (New York) and Response Analysis Corporation (Princeton). His second career was teaching MR (Montclair State University, retired 2004; and SUNY Geneseo, retired 2015). He now writes full time from his home in Canandaigua. He is the author of 10 books and dozens of features articles and short stories. His 2015 book, "A Nation of Numbers ,"is the definitive history of the MR business. His author website and blog are at: