Close call in a bunker in Vietnam

From Bruce Fent, of Rockford

Bruce and Karla Fent

Bruce and Karla Fent

Bruce Fent, holding a grenade launcher in a bunker.

Bruce Fent, holding a grenade launcher in a bunker.

My name is Bruce Fent. I was born Nov. 11, 1946. I was from rural Mendon area. I grew up on a livestock farm with my father and mother and a brother and sister. They had started a Boy Scout troop and I wanted to join, but my dad told me it was for kids in town and you were needed on the farm.

I got my first shotgun on my 10th birthday and always enjoyed hunting small game as well as raccoon hunting with a hound dog.

I had rheumatic fever when I was in grade school and had to take the summer off to recover and had to take high doses of penicillin thereafter.

In high school I was always a little mischievous. I always had fun in school but never believed in studying too hard. I took a typing course and thought I would never use that skill.

After graduation in 1964, I went to Hobart Welding School for 16 weeks. I got one of my first welding jobs on cranes at Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton. After a year of welding, there was a clerk job come up for bid but you had to type 30 words per minute. I passed the typing test and stayed on that job until I was drafted into the Army.

When I turned 21, I got my notice to take my GI physical. I ever gave the Vietnam War much thought because of my rheumatic fever and didn’t think they would take me. Surprisingly, I passed and was supposed to take basic training in January at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. My dad and mom begged me to join the Coast Guard, Air Force, etc., but being bullheaded I told them I’d take my chances and thought I might end up in a clerical type job with my experience at BLH.

I was 6’1” and weighed 210 pounds and thought I was pretty tough. After Army boot camp and they got done belittling and degrading you, you felt like nothing. We were issued general clothing. I just loved the boxer shorts, ha!

Each soldier had a foot locker to store your clothing. You would have to roll your socks and everything had its place. The drill sergeants would come through and dump your foot locker and bunk bed. Mainly harassment. This all went on for about three weeks and they would throw the garbage cane on our fresh buffed floors and we would have to do it all over again. I did enough push ups and low crawls to last me a lifetime. When I did finish basic training I had lost 35 pounds.

The next schooling was Advanced Individual Training. When I got my orders for Fort Polk, Louisiana, my heart dropped. It was an infantry training camp. Now this was serious business, and I tried to learn all I could. Most of the instructors were former Vietnam veterans and they had stories to make you a believer. We didn’t get that much harassment in AIT.

After a short leave, I was headed to Vietnam. My parents drove me to Chicago to get on the plane. We hugged and kissed, and the last thing my mother told me was don’t bring home any Vietnam girl and no tattoos.

Fast forward after many reception stations and thousands of miles, I was in Vietnam June 1968.

I was assigned to the Americal 98th Division 1st of the 52nd Infantry Brigade Charlie Company in Chu Lai, Vietnam.

I would carry an M-16 rifle, two hand grenades, a Claymore mine, trip flares, two rounds of M-60 ammo for the machine gunner, and a rucksack that held all your clothes, C-rations and etc.

My first two months were not that bad. We would get sniper fire and hitting a few boobytraps. A few were injured but no one got killed.

Our mission was to find the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army. We would burn grass villages that they used as a stronghold. One of our missions was to find and dig up two NVA nurses that a former U.S. Army company raped and killed.

We found them in a former base camp in the mountains. What we didn’t know, the VC had boobytrapped the whole area. When we found them, their toes were sticking out of the ground. They gave us gas masks to use because it was really nasty. We had to put them in a body bag and put them on a helicopter to use as evidence against the other company. While waiting for them to send a helicopter to get us out, it was getting dusk and a GI got his foot blown off after hitting a boobytrap and we saw several more boobytraps so we really had to be careful getting to the helicopter.

Around the first of August they made me point man for our squad. I didn’t like it but made the best of it.

On Aug. 23, 1968, the picture with me holding my M-79 grenade launcher. Our base camp was rocketed at 3 a.m. Our bunker at LZ Buff was one of two that were hit.

When I came to, I could hear screaming and see trip flares going off. I thought my legs were blown off. I was afraid to look down because I was numb. My pants were shredded and all bloody but I still had my legs. I grabbed my M-79 and fired directly at a VC that nearly got to our bunker. He was so close that it didn’t arm itself and the VC ran out of the perimeter. Another VC had killed two of my buddies in the next bunker. The VC was in our perimeter to our back and by the time we saw him I tried to shoot a shotgun round from my M-79 and it didn’t fire. A dud.

I had two other GIs on my bunker but their legs were wounded and they couldn’t set up. The one GI had his M-16 beside him and the VC got close enough to throw a grenade but luckily hit inside the sandbag enclosure you see in the picture. If you didn’t believe in miracles, you should after this. I directed the GI to shoot at the VC. He was laying down when he shot at him. He was shooting over the top of him and told him to shoot lower and finally hit him. He rolled with 5 feet of our bunker.

I was airlifted out on the third helicopter for the wounded. It was a Quonset type hospital with about 20 to 25 wounded on both sides of the aisle. I had surgery late that morning for shrapnel in my abdomen. I still have that shrapnel to this day in my chest. I woke up in a bed with white sheets, the first in three months. I was leaving the country but had to go to Brooke General Hospital in San Antonio, Texas, to have my eardrum grafted. I received a Purple Heart for injuries.

I spent the rest of my time at Fort Hood, Texas, as an MP.

I did get a three month early out to help my dad get the crops harvested.

I spent 13 years at BLH Clark Equip. making cranes, two years at Super Coach making buses and 33 years at General Dynamics making tanks.

I have been married to my wonderful wife, Karla Nevergall Fent, for 48 years. We have four children and five grandchildren.

War comes at a cost. Freedom isn’t free and thousands were injured and died. We were not welcomed home.

Bruce and Karla Fent and Karla Fent
Bruce Fent, holding a grenade launcher in a bunker. Fent, holding a grenade launcher in a bunker.

From Bruce Fent, of Rockford

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