Roger Schroeder, 70, served in the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1971 in Germany and Vietnam.
It was 1969, a very exiting year. Woodstock, war protest, draft dodgers, my first job, man on the moon, 500,000 troops in a place called Vietnam.
I received my draft notice to report to the Lima Post Office on Aug. 5 of that year. I remember Dad dropping me off in front of that building where three Greyhound buses sat idling, with a good luck wish and the clothes on my back. There was a roll call where several people did not show up. And from out of the crowd you would hear someone mumble “Canada” and then some laughter.
We took a bus to Columbus to be sworn in, where we found out a couple of people were on a program to avoid prison by joining the Army. At 19 years old, it felt like the end of my world.
We were put on a plane and flown to South Carolina where we spent a couple of days testing. We learned what our future in the military would be. For most of us, including me, it would be light weapons infantry.
They were preparing our bodies as well as our minds for our military future. When we marched, we would always sing cadence. Some of the most popular songs were about “late at night when you’re sleeping Charlie Cong comes a creeping” or “C130 coming down the strip airborne daddy going to take a little trip” or a man named Jody taking your Cadillac and your girlfriend away from you back home. Our targets at the firing range would sometimes be silhouettes of short people wearing Vietnamese cone-shaped hats.
After some training in the states, I was one of the few sent to Germany. Life was good, and I saw a lot of Europe on the weekends for about five months. From there it was 10 days home and off to South Vietnam.
I was assigned to the 23rd Infantry Division, Americal in Chu Lai where we spent about one fourth our time on a hill named San Juan and the rest of our time in the jungle or rice paddies. When you see movies and documentaries of troops jumping off helicopters, wading through rice paddies in single file or cutting through jungle, you are seeing our typical day.
I never really knew what our mission was or if we really even had one. We moved almost every day usually less than a mile and always to a different place. There were 21 of us in our platoon, and we all had very specific responsibilities. There was an officer, medic, radio operator, machine gunner, demo man, point man, tunnel man, etc. To make everything work safely required the ultimate level of teamwork.
We made lots of mistakes and luck was usually with us. But when things went wrong, we paid a price. We were young and grew wise quickly. We never repeated a mistake twice.
It’s been 50 years now and I’ve forgotten lots of the names but I remember some of the nicknames, like names of cities or states or like Mom or New Meat, LT, Doc or Smiley. I will never forget the names of two friends — John Wagner and James Markley — who were killed there, may they rest in peace. We really became a tight group. We knew everything about everyone. I do miss that. We had lots of time to sit and talk and the conversations usually ended up being about home, food, our future and, of course, women. If you had less than 100 days left in country you were considered a short timer, a somewhat respected and envied status.
Nights were the most dangerous. As we moved nearly every day, we never really knew the lay of the land. We always tried to remember what everything looked like before sunset. We would try to set up for the evening in a fairly small circle and set up land mines on any entryways. There was always the fear of being overrun. That circle would be held at any cost. Guard duty at night was lonely, prayer helped and sometimes your imagination played tricks on you. Sunrise was always a welcome sight.
I left Vietnam as a sergeant after about 11 months. Back again in the states there was lots of pressure to sign up for more time in the Army but most people, including me, had little interest. There was some valuable experience and discipline learned in those two years. Everyone was a stranger at first, but we all had the military in common and some of us became lifelong friends. You did not want to be a loner.
After some years as a truck mechanic, I took some adult education courses at Vantage Vocational School and was able to pass the postal service test for electronic work. Being a veteran and wounded in Vietnam placed me ahead of some other candidates. The postal service was very friendly to veterans. Many veterans worked there. It was almost like old times again.
In the summer of 1971, I met the love of my life at a local church festival, although I didn’t know it at the time. Oops — I dated her girlfriend first. Life can be funny like that. Eventually Sharon and I met again and were wed in December 1973. We have three wonderful children and their spouses. Like the song goes: “Life’s been good to me so far.”