By Michael Herrera


2. How were you recruited?

I turned 18 in 1966 and had to register for the draft. I knew that I would end up in Vietnam. So a week before my 18th birthday, I started to check out recruiting offices starting with the Air Force. After investigating all the branches of service, I chose the Army. I enlisted for three years and was given a guarantee to become a medic. I also took an airborne physical. I enlisted on January 20, 1967.

3. What was basic training like for you?

It was difficult for me, psychologically, because I simply was not ready to go in. However, physically, it was no challenge. In fact, it was kind of disappointing. I ran track and cross-country in high school and was in terrific shape when I went in.

4. Where did you go for tech school?

I went to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, to become a field medic. Then I went on to Fort Benning, Georgia to become airborne qualified.

5. What was your job in the war?

I was a medic technically, but I was also a rifleman and a radio telephone operator as well.

6. What was your first duty station?

The 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Later I would get reassigned to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

10. When did you go to Vietnam?

I left for Vietnam 16 December 1967, from Fort Campbell, and arrived on 18 December 1967.

12. What was your first impression of Vietnam?

It was not what I expected to be. I thought for sure that the C-141 that took us over there would be coming in fast and low. And that we would have to hit the ground and then run for cover. I imagined Bien Hoa Air Base to be a dirt airstrip in the middle of the jungle with snipers shooting at us. It wasnít like that at all.

We landed at 0330 hours in the morning. I got in my Jeep and waited for the rear door to drop. As it was dropping I peered to see what was there. There were lights as far as the eye could see. Then after the ramps were placed, I drove off and parked on the side of the tarmac. I was able to look all around and saw lights in every direction going off into the horizon. I had no idea that Bien Hoa was so huge. Then a jet took off suddenly; it emitted a beautiful blue flame as it screamed by. I looked over to a friend of mine who had also driven off in his vehicle. We were awestruck at the sight of that jet knowing that the pilot was off on a mission.

14. Was the war different from what you expected?

Yes. I expected it to be all fighting in the jungle, all the time. Because that was all I ever saw in the news. Going along with the last question, about first impressions, later in the day we were in a convoy going to Saigon and then to Cu Chi. As we were heading south to Saigon, we were on a modern highway that had four lanes going in both directions. The traffic was going at a fast clip. It kind of reminded me of L.A. freeways. I mean military and civilian vehicles were zipping in and out just like back in the states. Along the side of the highway, GIs were casually sauntering along thumbing a ride into Saigon while wearing their civvies; they werenít carrying weapons either! I came to Vietnam fully expecting to see war, which eventually I did, but instead everything seemed so laid back. Once we were in Saigon the atmosphere seemed festive.

16. How long did you serve?

I served in Vietnam 19 months. I arrived in December 1967 and left in August 1969.

18. Did you receive any medals?

I received the combat medical badge and the Bronze Star both for service during Tet and beyond. I also received assorted medals as well.

19. During the war were you informed on what was happening in the outside world?

Pretty much. I was able to get a hold of Time, Newsweek, or Life Magazine. But they did not fully cover the war and left out vital information I thought. In fact, I felt that they deliberately left out vital information in order to promote their political views. For example, the enemy suffered 70% losses during the Tet Offensive. However, the main stream media portrayed it as a "defeat" for the US Military.

NN. What was a typical day like for you?

That is kind of tough to answer. It depended on where I was at the time. I was several places throughout both tours of duty. I will say this though, that the last four months of my second tour were the most stable. I was working at a medical clinic at Phuoc Vinh with the First Cav. Our routine consisted of taking care of guys coming in on sick call and also taking care of mass casualties coming in from the field. We did this day in and day out.

20. What did you do when you werenít fighting?

Again, that depended on where I was at the time. When I was at Phuoc Vinh, I used to go into town and sit in a bar. I mainly drank sodas. I had a girlfriend--sort of, she would sit with me and we would swap spit for awhile. Then she would go back to work. A year earlier when I was with the 101st, we would sneak off the LZ and go to the river and swim around and drink sodas along the bank of the river with the children of the village. We had to be creative in order to amuse ourselves in other ways back then.

21. What was your life like after the war?

Do you mean immediately after the war? It was disappointing. I was not welcome and a lot of people treated me with contempt for having gone over to Vietnam. I went to school for a little bit, worked a few jobs, then went back into the Army. I received more technical training and got out. Then I became a Licensed Vocational Nurse and worked for many years at various hospitals.

22. How do you feel about the outcome of the War?

I felt angry, frustrated, and helpless. The war never should have lasted as long as it did nor ended the way that it did. We did not suffer a military defeat, as many people believe. What we had was a political default.

23. If you had it do again, would you go again?

I would do it again in a heartbeat.

13. What, if anything, do you feel you gained from your time in Vietnam?

The satisfaction of knowing that I saved a lot of lives and made a difference in the quality of lives of the people we were sent over to help. Just being in the Army afforded me an opportunity to achieve goals that I couldnít achieve otherwise.

31. Did you experience any anti-war propaganda?

Letís just say I experienced a lot of peoplesí attitudes. I had only been in the Army for a week when many of us had to go to Fort Bliss for basic training. As we were filing into San Francisco International Airport, a tall, lanky hippie-type was sauntering on in to our right. When he saw us filing in he made it a point to give each of us a dirty look. If it wasnít for the fact that I was in a military formation, I would have stepped out and demanded to know what the hell his problem was.




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