Life on and off San Juan Hill

From Roger Schroeder, of Columbus Grove

Roger Schroeder

Roger Schroeder

I was drafted in August 1969 into the Army for two years. I spent about three months in Erlanger, Germany and about 11 months in Duc Pho, South Vietnam. My unit in Vietnam was Americal, 11th Brigade, 4/21 Infantry, Delta Company. I am 69 years old.

My name is Roger Schroeder. I was born a baby boomer in 1950 on tax day and am now 69 years old. I spent my childhood on a small farm in Columbus Grove. I graduated high school and spent a year at a trade school in Tennessee. I was drafted into the Army in 1969.

The Army was very new to me and intimidating. I was never asked to do something. I was told. There was never any kind of thanks for my efforts. The first few days we all had our heads shaved, gave up all our clothes and received uniforms. We were also issued dog tags with information such as name, religion and blood type. We also did lots of testing. The wages would not end up being very good. I earned about $3,000 in my two years.

We received about eight weeks of training in the U.S. and several of us including myself were sent to Germany. The stay in Germany was short lived and I was then transferred to Vietnam three months later.

Vietnam was tropical and appeared very peaceful from the airport landing strip. But from looking around more closely, things were going to be much different. After some in-country travel, I ended up at my final station in Duc Pho something south of Da Nang. There was one paved two-lane road running through Duc Pho.

We were issued boots made mostly of canvas with drain holes along the sides. It was said that there were steel plates in the soles. I think our uniforms were sized small, medium and large with lots of drawstrings for adjustments. We wore no underwear but always wore socks.

I was assigned to a light infantry unit on San Juan Hill. The time spent there was great, hot food, alcohol, clean clothes, music, bunkers with mattresses and some security. San Juan Hill was very tall. The time spent off the hill was not as good.

When we were off the hill, the typical rifleman carried about 40 pounds of gear mostly in a backpack. The rest of it was carried in the oversized pockets of our uniforms. We would be resupplied by helicopter about every three days when possible.

The 40 pounds that we carried in our backpacks included an M16 rifle with 200 rounds of ammunition, two hand grenades, one belt of machine gun ammo, two smoke grenades, a foldable shovel and a poncho liner when doubled as half of a small tent when snapped together. If you were real lucky you could get an air mattress that held air, but then again more weight.

When it came to food and water, you had to use some good judgment. You could pack as much food and water as you wanted, but you had to carry it. The food was all in metal cans. Typical meals were spaghetti, corned beef, beans and wieners, ham and eggs, etc. We carried about a half gallon of water along with tablets to treat additional water from the streams as needed. We usually burned and destroyed anything we couldn’t use.

In a platoon there were about 21 soldiers. There was a machine gunner, demolitions man, medic radio man and an officer. The load of ammunition was spread out equally. We usually traveled on trails, which was not recommended because of mines. Cutting new trails was very hard in the heat. We were all mostly around 18 to 20 years old. We were lazy but very careful.

Resupply day was always something we looked forward to. Helicopters were always brought in by using different colors of smoke for security. New canned rations, water, mail, ammo and assorted sizes of clean uniforms. Also an opportunity to rotate out sick and injured people. This all happened in seconds.

Even in Vietnam you received two weeks of vacation. Lots of soldiers never took theirs, but I couldn’t wait to get out. I spent a week in Australia. While in Australia I rented a hotel, clothes and shoes for a week. The people all spoke English, listened to American music and watched American movies. They ate the same food as we did, and they looked like us. It was almost like being back home. I think they even liked us.

When my vacation was over I went back to Vietnam for a couple more months, and in July 1971 our unit was withdrawn from Vietnam. It happened very quickly, never even a rumor, and there were always plenty of rumors. I had the choice of finishing my time in Vietnam or leaving the country in about three days. I chose the latter. It was a simple check in the proper box, and I was gone.

Not all our platoon came home. Jack W. and Jimmy M. were killed in action. Another four were wounded seriously enough to be sent home, never to return. I think of our two lost friends all the time but especially on Veterans Day.

We spent about 13 hours on a Flying Tigers airliner to get back to Seattle and a steak dinner. In the next 24 hours we were given some medical tests, some advice and warning about what to expect back home and an airline ticket back to Ohio.

My Vietnam unit (Americal) was not overly disciplined and I only remember about two haircuts in my 11 months there. So when I got home I got my hair trimmed up a bit, had a great tan, blue jeans and T-shirt. I blended right back into “the world,” as we used to call it.

A year later, I met the love of my life, Sharon, and 46 years later we are still happily together, with three great children and four great grandchildren.

Roger Schroeder Schroeder

From Roger Schroeder, of Columbus Grove

Post navigation