"War is no pleasure."

Among the first to enter Vietnam, my grandfather was a soldier of the Iron Rakkasans. He conducted 99 jumps, often under fire from enemy forces, and provided communications to his brigade and battalion. He also ordered air strikes. During his service, he was shot through his right leg. He never fully regained use, and has spent his life walking with the assistance of a brace.

Like many people who served in Vietnam, my grandfather has carried immeasurable guilt throughout his life. He's never spoken ill of his service to his country, except for his deployment to Detroit, Michigan during the 1965 riots in which he said, "That ain't...that really ain't pleasant duty, because here...that's American soldiers going after American citizens really. It's one of them things." However, he was recently hospitalized, and in periods of lucidity, he has said his Alzheimer's and pain are punishment for what he did in Vietnam. When asked why, he would only say, "War is no pleasure."

The following is a combination of his own words, photos in our family's possession, and images of the ephemera that made up his life after the war taken by me.

To David E. Holt
With appreciation
Lyndon B. Johnson

The following audio and excerpts contain first hand descriptions of events preceding and including the Vietnam war. These descriptions include encounters involving violence, death, and murder that may be triggering to certain audiences.

Please be advised.

A full transcript of the audio can be found here.

"'s where you jump out of airplanes."

I spent about twelve and a half years in the military. I joined up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and I was shipped to Fort Carson, Colorado, the next day. I stayed at Fort Carson, Colorado for about three days, and I was shipped to Fort Hood, Texas. I went through armored training and advanced infantry training at Fort Hood. I was there about four and a half months. And then, they talked me into joining the airborne unit, and I was stationed at Fort Campbell for years...for about six or seven years...and that's where I met my wife, when I was stationed at Fort Campbell. I was assigned to the 187th Airborne Battle Group, and anybody that don't know what airborne is, it's where you jump out of airplanes.

I was there at Fort Campbell for about six years. I got involved, and people don't really know how close we come to goin' to war that time, but the Cuba crisis. We were packed up and we flew out, and I can't tell you right now where we were at, but we slept under the airplanes. We had a mission to goin to Cuba and take an airbase. They figured, at least nine of the planes out of ten would get shot down. Other words, the odds were very close that we weren't gonna get there...very few of us. But they called the blockade off, and we picked up the next day and flew out. And, to this day, I don't know where we were at. We slept under the planes. We were at some airbase, but they never said they...we never moved. That's where we went. We knew we were going somewhere when they started handing us grenades and ammunition.

Been married, I don't know, four or five years and I came down on orders to go to Okinawa to a 173rd Airborne Brigade. It's this unit right here. They started that brigade up in Okinawa and they took a lot of sergeants. I was a sergeant at the time out of our unit up here at the 187th. They sent a lot of us out of our company over there to start this brigade.

I wrote her and told her, “Come to Okinawa, we ain't doin' nothin'!” Well, finally she came...she was supposed to fly...I met the airplane, and there was no Bernice! I didn't know where she was at! I went back to company. They'd done give me a weeks leave, you know, for when she got there. I said, “Well, she didn't show up! I hadn't heard from her.” They contacted me about a day later and they said, “She's comin by ship.” Well...I waited twenty one days, and she showed up.

Now, I told her we weren't doing anything over there, come on over, and she did. She no more than got there, and we started going to jungle warfare. Went to the Philippines. Made a jump into Taiwan over there which is...Chian Kai-shek's...I don't remember just what their army was, but they were the Chinese Republican Army. Well not too long after that, we did a lot of other jungle warfare training, and I was always in the signals corps assigned to the infantry unit. In other words, I carried a radio on my back all the time when we were in the field, and I stayed with the company commander. And then all of a sudden we came down...and I mean it was quick...they said you're going to Vietnam. Everybody in the unit said, “Where in the devil is Vietnam?!” We had never heard of it. 

“My God. We can't fly through that!”

We were the first Army combat unit that went into Vietnam. We were the only Army combat unit in Vietnam at that time. The very first, and they'll let you know the paratroopers are the tip of the spear. They're the first to go, normally. I hadn't been in Vietnam probably twenty minutes. I got to the company, and the company got alerted to go on a mission...right then. Well I dropped my bags and one of my radio operators give me his radio and then he got another one, because I talked to aircraft, plus I talked to battalion and brigade all the time. We flew out, and to be real honest I didn't know a helicopter could go that high, but they got up there...I mean...and I'm sittin' in the door with my feet hanging out on the rudder because I couldn't get in and sit in the regular seats because I had a radio on my back, and that antenna we had was too high so I had to sit out there...and she don't even know this...I mean there's nothing holdin' me in. I could have fell out any time. If that helicopter had of went like that....and there was no parachute on me!

Anyway, we flew in, and I...I said to the company commander who was sitting right behind me...I said, “My God. We can't fly through that!” The whole sky just turned red with tracer bullets coming up. Nobody got hit, no helicopters got hit. We had some gunships that were in front of us, and I was sittin' there where I could see all this goin' on in front of me, and I said, “Lordy...I don't know if I'm gonna even make it through this.” And we landed, and what the mission was a real quick mission because helicopters were receiving a lot of fire from this valley and there was a little village just inside the jungles. We hit the ground and the platoons spread out like that. I stayed with the company commander. And I'm gonna tell you right now I had a guardian angel. There ain't no doubt in my mind.

Brigade got a communications check with me to make sure they could hear me. So I stopped, and I was talkin' to them for a second, and the company commander walked off. He was about thirty or forty yards from me. By the time I turned around, I didn't know he had walked off. See, so I stayed just about arms distance...two of em...cause getting calls from brigade, battalion, and some...I never talked to the company. I had another radio operator that talked with the company all the time. He was on a different frequency. Bout the time I turned around, the company commander hit the ground, and I seen this dirt fly out and I said, “Lordy.” I said, “I had to have a guardian angel or I'd have been standin' right there!” Well what it was, a mortar round came in that hit him, and knocked him down, and got a piece of shrapnel right through his arm right here, 'cause I helped pull it out.  

"Somebody's shootin' at me"

We were walkin' on the edge of a rice field, and there was jungle on both sides of it. I was walkin' along the company commander was probably ten foot in front of me. I heard this, I thought it was a snap like a bullwhip pop, and then it dawned on me. I said, “Somebody's shootin' at me.” It went was so close it went right past my head. He was shootin' for my head, there's no doubt, cause I had...he seen that radio on my back. That put me as a target. And that was...kind of makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up when you realize somebody's out there actually shootin' at you...some sniper.

"I put myself on that stretcher"

Supposed to leave the 20th of September, 1965. The 19th of September, I got shot. We were on a mission over there in War Zone D, and I got...a sniper got me crossing a rice patty. I didn't really know what happened. It was a shock wave from the bullet, when the bullet hit...I thought I stepped on a mine or something, because I got hit here above the knee on the right leg. It felt like a shockwave going through my body right in the top of my head. Knocked me out. They said I crawled probably twenty, forty yards getting that radio to the company commander. I don't even remember. Didn't know it at that time. When I finally came to, a medic was workin on my leg. A helicopter landed right beside me. Came in a picked me up. The medic run out there with the stretcher and grabbed my leg. I kicked him with my other leg, I don't mind tellin' ya. I knocked him down. I put myself on that stretcher. There's a nerve...what they call the peroneal nerve. It wasn't cut, but all the fibers were blown out. I'd never had such pain when he grabbed that leg and that broken bone rubbed that....and I did...I kicked him and put myself on that stretcher.

To David E. Holt
With great admiration
Your grandson

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