Stories of Service: Alan Abrams
By Alan Abrams
I was a history major in college and have an excellent recall of events while in Vietnam.
While in Nam, we were supposed to go to the rear to see Bob Hope, but orders were changed and they felt it was more important for us to seek and destroy the enemy. In April ’68 we were taken back to the rear for steaks, beer, a cot to sleep on and cold showers. The last night in the rear we waited for the Korean girls band to show up. By the time they showed up, many beers had been consumed. They sang 2 songs that had many of us hardened vets in tears, “Green Green Grass of Home” and “Detroit City”. It was astonishing to see so so many tears including my own, which made me realize how much “home” was in everybody’s thoughts. We wondered when we would ever get home. I then went on a 5 day R&R to Taiwan. I again missed a lot of action when I was gone, but I brought back a bottle of whiskey to share with my squad.
While I wasn’t there during the Mai Lai massacre, we heard stories of it. At the time the rear commanders demanded body counts and didn’t care how they got them. For the most part, the guys in my outfit behaved respectably when we entered villages. You would never see young men – only women, children and old men. We would go in by day and the Viet Cong would go in by night. Villagers could not win and were severely punished by helping us. Like in any war, there are a few bad apples, but the brutality occurred on both sides.
I did my basic at Fort Leonard Wood and Air at Fort Polk. Unfortunately, when we went to Vietnam, we were grossly unprepared for what awaited us and got a lot of on the job training. I was a squad leader and had 6 people under me. What was ironic for me was, while in field, we had no fire zones where we had to get permission to fire our weapons. And we had free fire zones where we could fire at will. It was dangerous to be near radio men because they were in constant danger of being shot at first. Officers only had to be in the field for 6 months but they were at risk because they were always by radio. Every so often we would get a hot meal flown in with a change of clothes, and most important of all, mail. We would get care package and notes from high school and college kids, and letters from home that raised our spirits. We would often talk about getting back to the world. We talked about our home and how great it would be.
It is so rough to be far away from home in a life and death situation 24/7. We constantly got new recruits to replace those who were killed or wounded. I was the only one to get injured when I walked point. When I was shot by a sniper on May 4, 1968, I was fully conscious and saw my life slipping away. I prayed very hard and recited the 23rd Psalm to myself. The first chopper that came for me got shot at and never landed. The second one got me out, and I started on my journey to recovery.
I have some opinions on the war. Vietnam was a beautiful, but very poor country. It had an oppressive regime in the North and a corrupt regime in the South. The people were caught in the middle. Many people were conscripted into the Army against their will and were told to fight or die. I have no animosity against the enemy. They had families just like we did. The reason so many GIs had trouble adjusting was because we were not psychology prepared for what awaited us and we didn’t get the help we needed when we got home. It is so sad that so many lives were lost in a war that we were not permitted to win. It had to be so hard for families to see the news every night with all the casualties reported. I’m so sorry for all the lives lost to Agent Orange.
I am so grateful and respect all the people that comment on this site. We honor vets on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, but what about the other 363 days a year? Veterans need jobs, good health care and respect. They shouldn’t have to wait a long time to see doctors and have their claims settled. Congress should get off their butts and instead of trying to take benefits away, improve benefits. Some say veterans’ entitlements are a waste, but we earned them with our lives at risk.
A little update. I am retired and single. At my sun city in Mesquite we raised a lot of money to build a Veteran’s Center in town. I served with the 196th light Infantry Brigade D/2/1 from Dec. 1 ,1967, until I was wounded May 4, 1968. If this accounts helps at least one person, I will feel good. I love my fellow vets and only wish the best for them. If anyone wants to correspond my email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Good health and happiness to all.
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