I was released from the Oakland Army Center about 2:00 pm on August 31, 1969 - my birthday. I was twenty-eight years old and a veteran.
I had survived six months in the war zone and returned home none too much the worse for wear. I spent the entire time, with the exception of the first few days, as the barber for the Commanding General of the 25th Infantry Division and his staff, which included scores of colonels and majors. The General's name was Lt. Gen. Ellis B. Williamson and he had a couple of one star Generals working for him but I can't remember their names.
I worked an 8-5 schedule with Sunday afternoons off, which I usually spent at church or off on some combat mission for fun.
I had many friends, most of whose names I've forgotten, but there was Ronnie Watson, the Chicago cop, in the 9th Chem. Det., and Foster Zebuth, my pinochle partner. Bruce Pixley was a long time friend from the Guard, Dave Anderson was also from the Guard. He had left a pregnant wife at home with his first child. He lied to her the whole time he was in Vietnam that he was a clerk and away from the fighting, when in reality he had three armored personnel carriers shot out from under him and was in the thick of the fighting almost every day. I ran across him one day in Northridge several years after we got back and he seemed all right.
Pix came home in December and went back to work for the General Telephone Company and promoted to supervisor, remarried and settled down in Camarillo with his wife and kids.
I acquired an AK-47 Chinese assault rifle while I was in Vietnam, from a weapon's cache. It was still full of the preservative used to store it. I tried to think of a way to smuggle it home without getting caught since Leavenworth isn't a favorable vacation spot to an older married man. I finally hit on shipping it home with my tape recorder. I disassembled the rifle and wired it underneath my recorder so that it didn't show on the sides. Dave had found an Army 45 out in the field and I slipped that inside the tape recorder to boot. When I presented my hold baggage to the inspectors it was close to closing time and they were in a hurry. They pulled the recorder of the Lt. right in front of me out of the box and scared me half to death. But they were in a hurry with me and just looked down the sides and closed it back up. The AK-47 arrived home in good shape and I didn't have to go to jail after all. I've since sold it to someone and miss it terribly. It was a true war souvenir, even though I didn't find it originally.
I still have the tape recorder that I bought in Vietnam, even though it is now outmoded by the newer cassette machines.
To say that I enjoyed my time in Vietnam would be stretching the truth to the absolute max. I will say that, given the alternatives of fleeing to Canada, deserting and facing criminal charges, or going to Vietnam, I made the wisest choice. I had a young wife and two babies at home and a jail term would have been unacceptable. I think the fear of the unknown was the worst part of having to go. Once I arrived in Vietnam, the war was less of a hassle than the horrible training we received at Fort Lewis. It was almost a relief to go to Vietnam to escape the harassment of the officers at Fort Lewis who obviously hated the National Guard, and especially our unit because of its lawsuit against the Government for illegally changing our contracts.
I must honestly say that the good Lord continued to watch over me as I went to Vietnam and put me in the right place at the right time in many instances. I still firmly believe that I have a great mission to accomplish in this life and have been guided towards that goal in many small but sure ways. Maybe someday I'll find out just what it is that I'm to do here, but until then I'll just keep following the guiding light that shines in front of me and protects me.