Before Vietnam

By David Lucier

It was the spring of 1968, it was April, and training had been suspended.

I leaned up against the truck’s deep-treaded tire smoking a Winston from a soft pack. It was a big ol’ deuce and a half…more diesel and grease than truck. The light spring breeze kicked up a dust devil in the parking lot. Exhaling a swirl of white smoke, I started running a jingle through my head: “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.” Hmmm…like a cigarette should.”

What “should” we be doing…a bunch of college dropouts at Fort Bragg thinking we were faster, smarter and a whole lot deadlier than the law allowed? The third brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division had already left for something called the “Tet Offensive.” The night they got their orders, they flowed into our barracks to use the phones to call home and say they were headed back to “the Nam.” They wore their Combat Badges over their jump wings, overseas unit designations read like the paratroopers Who’s Who of combat operations in Southeast Asia: the 82nd, the 101st, the 173rd, and the 1st Air Cav. They had already seen Quang Tri Province, the Ashau Valley, Hill 875, Dak To and Bong Son. They were white and black and hardly any of them older than 20.

Those of us left at Fort Bragg were going through Special Forces training and for only the second time in Army history, training had been suspended.

The Reverend Martin Luther King had been assassinated in Memphis. The country was burning and we were being assembled to ship out to Detroit if the looting and killing there continued to escalate. Our riot training consisted of a three brief orders: You will lock and load your weapons only when you are specifically ordered to do so; you will fire your weapon only when you are specifically ordered to do so; you will not wear anything which identifies you as a member of the United States Army Special Forces Training Group. We were reduced to looking like army recruits: baseball caps, name tag, and rank…no combat badges, no jump wings, no Ranger tabs, and no unit designations. If asked by anyone, we were just here to do a job. Any other questions needed to be directed elsewhere.

Fashion was one thing. Self-defense was quite another. If we were going to be stripped of our identities, we weren’t going to be stripped of our ability to defend ourselves. The rationale was that it was better to walk into a court martial than to be carried to your grave.

Mutual defense pacts with roommates and buddies were hastily negotiated: “You watch my back, I’ll watch yours.” You stay alert and I’ll stay alert.” “Screw those orders, you lock and load and I’ll lock and load.” “Pity the poor bastard who tries his luck with you and me; we’ll show ’em what running outta’ luck really means.”

Bravado soon gave way to troublesome questions. Is this what we’d signed up to do? Vietnam was the mission; Communism was the target. But this was America. I’d never seen Detroit. Never wanted to go there. And now my first mission might be to the Motown to shoot Americans? 

America was burning, her leaders were being killed, campuses were in chaos, and families and communities were being divided. Standing there smoking, staring up at the Carolina Blue sky I couldn’t reconcile the pure spring day and with the idea that the country was burning…burning all the way down to the ground: its urban city centers and the heart and souls of its citizens.

It was beginning to look all very complicated and all very confusing…just a few short months before I went to Vietnam in the Fall of 1968.

David Lucier entered the U.S. Army from St. Louis, MO in 1967 at the age of 19.  He successfully completed basic training; advance airborne infantry training, parachute training, and Special Forces training at which time he was awarded and authorized to wear the Green Beret. In late 1968, Lucier volunteered and was assigned to a Special Forces A-Team which was involved in special operations throughout Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Lucier was highly decorated for both valor and meritorious service.

Upon separation from service, he attended ASU and graduated with honors in 1974.  After a career in telecommunication finance and real estate, and shortly after 9-11-01, Lucier went to work for the Department of Defense as a Security Contractor in Iraq from 2003 to 2005 and worked for the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force–Afghanistan in 2008.

Lucier is a member of several Veterans’ organizations including the Special Operations Association, the Special Forces Association, the Mike Force Association, the Vietnam Veterans of America, the American Legion, and the VFW, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), among others.

In 2009, Lucier was inducted into the Arizona Veterans Hall of Fame. It is the highest honor awarded by the Governor to a Veteran of the State of Arizona and in 2010 co founded the Arizona State University Alumni Association–Veterans Chapter which was a part of a comprehensive Veterans supportive initiative at ASU. Further, in 2012, Lucier founded the Arizona Veterans & Military Leadership Alliance, a Veterans advocacy group.