Vietnam War

Explore the Oral Histories from Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County area Veterans who served in the Vietnam War

  • Wagner, Richard and Adele

    Richard Wegner was born on December 13, 1924 in Blissfield, Michigan. He attended Blissfield High School and enlisted in the Army at the end of his senior year after taking a class in aircraft identification. He left home for Fort Custer near Kalamazoo on July 9, 1943. After passing the necessary tests to join the Air Corps, he was sent down south to Miami Beach for ten weeks basic training. In October of 1943, Richard attended the Air Force College Training Department at Michigan State University. In April of 1944, he was sent to San Antonio, Texas and was trained as a bombardier-navigator for eight weeks. From there, he received flight training in San Angelo, Texas. Richard was assigned as a bombardier/assistant navigator/nose gunner in a B-24. After getting married while on commissioning leave, he was sent to Westover Field Airbase near Springfield, Massachusetts where he became acquainted with his crew and did large amounts of flying and bombing practice. After VE Day, Richard's crew was taken off shipping orders to Europe and was sent to Boise, Idaho. After rendezvousing at the Golding Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California, Richard's crew flew to New Guinea where they spent ten weeks. After they arrived at Clark Airbase in the Philippines, the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and the second on Nagasaki. Richard remembers seeing the Japanese delegation in their white planes at le Shima on their way to the signing of the peace treaty in Tokyo Bay.
  • Wagner, Richard Donald

    Richard Wegner was born on December 13, 1924 in Blissfield, Michigan. He attended Blissfield High School and enlisted in the Army at the end of his senior year after taking a class in aircraft identification. He left home for Fort Custer near Kalamazoo on July 9, 1943. After passing the necessary tests to join the Air Corps, he was sent down south to Miami Beach for ten weeks basic training. In October of 1943, Richard attended the Air Force College Training Department at Michigan State University. In April of 1944, he was sent to San Antonio, Texas and was trained as a bombardier-navigator for eight weeks. From there, he received flight training in San Angelo, Texas. Richard was assigned as a bombardier/assistant navigator/nose gunner in a B-24. After getting married while on commissioning leave, he was sent to Westover Field Airbase near Springfield, Massachusetts where he became acquainted with his crew and did large amounts of flying and bombing practice. After VE Day, Richard's crew was taken off shipping orders to Europe and was sent to Boise, Idaho. After rendezvousing at the Golding Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California, Richard's crew flew to New Guinea where they spent ten weeks. After they arrived at Clark Airbase in the Philippines, the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and the second on Nagasaki. Richard remembers seeing the Japanese delegation in their white planes at le Shima on their way to the signing of the peace treaty in Tokyo Bay.
  • Shaw, James Stanley

    James Shaw was born in Detroit and grew up near the six mile/Telegraph area. He went to Redford High. After graduation, James went into engineering at a Southfield company, where he was a draftsman for two years. He was drafted, and on September 16, 1966 he shipped out. James recalls basic training being as bad as it sounds, but he says it was a neat experience. The food wasn’t very good. His drill instructor was Sergeant Davis. Basic training really turned people into fighting machines. Upon completion, he went on to advanced training for 6-8 weeks. His training was in artillery, which he says was much more interesting and less demanding. He also had an interest in helicopters and he worked with them in “air mobile.” His flight to Vietnam took 42 hours. They landed in Cameron Bay where it was incredibly hot (105 degrees). He went up to An Khe and the landing zone that was located in the middle of a rice paddy on top of a hill. The villagers nearby helped them with day-to-day tasks. He lived in an underground bunker with no electricity for seven months. They survived on B rations (canned food) which weren’t tasty but soldiers persevered. Everyday life was difficult, even simple things were hard. There was no hot water, and no bathrooms with about 100 people on the landing zone, which was under surveillance. James was ready to fly the day after he arrived. His job was a gun observer for the helicopter. James would be given coordinates and he would survey the area, and assess damage etc. On the first day out, his unit was under fire and James used a machine gun to stop it. He got two hits on his first day out. He was bothered by having killed someone, even though he realized that’s what they were there to do. They flew 9-12 hours a day, seven days a week, and did not keep track of days because they melded together. It was a very busy job even at night when James had guard duty after an exhausting day. One incident he recalls includes Major Sorensen, and Pilot Quin in the Yang Province mountains. They were flying with two scout ships into a valley about 60 feet off the ground, surveying a hostile area. They heard fire and were hit. It happened so fast, the next thing they knew they were headed toward the ground, and without control of the ship. They went down flat, hit on the skits, and broke the rotor blades. They unbuckled and ran out of the helicopter where they were shot at. They ran to the cover of large rocks and kept the machine gun with them. Their wing ship fired on the enemy and called for back-up. Within five- or six-minutes other gunships were there and took out the enemy fire. They were rescued by one of the gunships and flown back to base camp. The entire ordeal lasted no longer than 10 minutes. No one was injured. James mounted a grenade launcher on his machine gun to more effectively fight back against the system of holes/tunnels the NVA used. In mountain ranges, which were hotspots, they would call in B-52 bombers, which were silent due to their flight altitude. The whole sky would light up as they bombed. The A Shau valley was a thick jungle, and one day they went scouting after a B-52 bombing, and found nothing left but dirt. The damage was about a mile wide, and three miles long. James was bitten by a centipede, and he still recalls it as the most pain he’s ever felt. Out on a mission near a rice paddy outside of another base (LZ English) he saw movement. It was about 50 NVA soldiers in full gear. They started firing and made many hovering circles while continuing steady fire. A wing ship joined in and called for more gunships. His ship’s crew was uninjured and they managed to take out many of the NVA. They discovered later that there were hundreds more NVA in surrounding paddies, and the fight turned into an all-night battle with flares going up all night long, like daylight. It was constant fire as they shelled the whole area and the path from which the NVA came in the mountains. The US troops wiped out an entire NVA regiment that night, and some were captured. James was very shaken after that. It was his last mission as a gunner. He had logged 1200 hours of combat by this point. He said he could not fly anymore, and he became a helicopter mechanic. He was already a sergeant. He worked as a mechanic for two months to keep the helicopters in working order. He was sent home in February of 1968.
  • Schumann, Dennis Wayne

    Dennis was drafted after his first year in college. He trained at Fort Knox, before being sent to Vietnam. He was assigned to a Light Infantry Battalion. Their duties consisted of patrolling to engage the enemy. Coppers flew them to their destinations whether it took a few days or a month. Dennis reported feeling frustrated because they would clear out an area, only to have the enemy return the next day. Dennis described the time he was wounded. A bullet passed completely through his shoulder and he was also hit in the hip and the stomach. He was sent to a field hospital, a base hospital, and eventually to Japan. There he was given the choice of returning to his Unit, which would have shortened his time be three months, or going home. He chose home. He returned to Fort Knox where he started his military service. After returning to Ann Arbor, he went back to his job at Jacobson’s from where he retired. Since he was only 50, he took a job at the local lumber company where he stayed for eight years. Dennis and his wife have two children and four grandchildren. A letter to the editor of the local newspaper is how we found this Veteran. He had suggested that the 4th of July parade be led by a true war hero, his buddy Gary Bowen who grew up with Dennis, was drafted and trained with Dennis, and served gallantly in Vietnam.
  • Pereira, Paulo Jaurez

    Paulo Pereira was born in Passos, Minas Gerais, Brazil. He received a scholarship to go to school where he learned English. After school, he traveled to Italy where he met Americans who, in 1964, convinced him to go to the United States. In order to get a permanent resident visa to live in the U.S. he needed a job. Paulo made a connection with the foreign student advisor at the University of San Francisco. He got a job because he knew Spanish and Portuguese. However, part of his permanent visa meant that he could be drafted after living for six months in America. Paulo's job was to teach Portuguese at a Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. Eventually, he was drafted into the Armed Forces. He was sent to Oakland, California for induction. In February 1967, Paulo was ordered to Georgia. A recruiter offered him the choice of his duty if he promised to stay an extra year in the service, increasing the term to three years. He agreed and chose to pursue chemical, biological, and nuclear warfare. He was approached to apply as an officer, but forgot about it. Paulo then got orders to go to Vietnam. Paulo chose to visit his family in Brazil before going to Vietnam. He decided to inform them of his tour in Vietnam after he was three months in. He then returned to Fort Hood, Texas. Upon arrival, he was promoted to Lieutenant. His orders to go to Vietnam were cancelled by President Nixon, and so Paulo missed the Tet Offensive. He was ordered to restart training with a year of service and was sent to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Consequently, his salary went up considerably. Paulo was assigned to the Signal Corps and learned about communications. He also chose to undergo airborne training. He was given new orders to Vietnam as a tactical communications officer attached to an artillery unit. After arriving north of Saigon, a colonel recognized his ability to speak Portuguese. His orders were changed and he joined a group of Portuguese speaking officers in headquarters. Paulo became a part of a one-star general's staff and was in charge of communications. Eventually, Paulo was sent to Saigon to replace a lieutenant. There, he learned about the country and the war from the local people and became fascinated with the ideological struggle against Communism. For rest and recreation, he went to Japan. While in an Army hospital for minor health issues, Kris Kristofferson visited the facility. After about a year in Vietnam, he was sent home. Because of laws at the time, Paulo had to lose his Brazilian citizenship in order to become an American citizen. In order to work in his native country, he had to get a permanent visa. Paulo worked as an English teacher in Brazil for five years. He married an American woman and moved back to the United States. He began studying the flaws in Communism and was hired as an interpreter to go around South American governments to promote the "don't fall for Communism" ideology. He is grateful for his service in Vietnam mainly for how he learned about Communism. He lost contact with his fellow soldiers. He also used the GI Bill to get a Master's Degree in linguistics.
  • McCrumb, Vance Lee

    Vance joined the service right after high school. He was always fascinated with airplanes. After basic he volunteered for K-9 duty. He had to go through Air Police training and then Sentry Dog School. He was assigned to guarding B-52s in Oklahoma before being sent to Vietnam. In Vietnam, Vance patrolled the perimeter of the base with his dog, Dutch. He and Dutch went through training together. Dogs were trained to detect intruders and also Booby Traps. Sentry duty lasted all night and they were responsible for the integrity of the base. Handlers would alert the Air Police when an intruder was detected. Although Vance's unit received a Presidential Citation and an Outstanding Unit Award with the V device for Valor, he was most proud of the Good Conduct Medal. In the Air Force, a person needed good conduct for three years, which he admits was difficult. Vance had a difficult time transferring Dutch to another handler. "Not a day goes by that I don't think of Dutch." After Vietnam, Vance was again sent to Oklahoma to guard armed aircraft. Upon discharge, Vance returned to Michigan and eventually retired as a Supervisor at AT&T. Vance is married and has two children and eight grandchildren. After his retirement from AT&T, he took a job at Milan Precision. Vance is very active in the community and in Vietnam organizations.
  • Lynn, David Ervin

    David enlisted in the U.S. Navy in July of 1969. Since he was a college graduate, he was the oldest recruit in his class. After some specialty training, he was assigned to the Carrier U.S. Saratoga. David visited many countries, including Spain, Portugal, and Italy before traveling to the China Sea. Here it was his job was to maintain the jets that were bombing North Vietnam. David’s ship was usually far out at sea, but occasionally it moved inward where he could see land. He described that as a tense time. "If we could see them, they could see us." Upon being discharged from the Navy, David took an engineering job at Honeywell. When Honeywell downsized and moved south, David took a job with a local aircraft company. David now lives in Ypsilanti, Michigan with his second wife.
  • Lillie, Gary L.

    Gary Lillie was born in Detroit, Michigan on May 5, 1941. He grew up in a mixed ethnic neighborhood. He completed his high school education in Detroit, but remarked that his school has been run down since he attended. He joined the Navy reserves prior to joining the Sea Bees. He was the third of four boys. He heard a great deal about the military experiences of his uncles who were in many major battles during World War II. Gary enlisted in the Sea Bees after basic training and volunteered for Vietnam. He tells the story of his CO changing the location of their camp moving six miles to the west. The next day they discovered that the original site was attacked and nothing remained. Gary was involved in setting up numerous camp sites for the Marines while he was in Vietnam. Although his Unit experienced many overhead attacks, his Unit did not experience any casualties. When he returned to Michigan, he had lots of problems that led to heavy drinking. It wasn't until 1989 that he sobered up. Gary worked as a carpenter when he first returned home but eventually ended up in real estate. Gary is active in the Vietnam Veterans group. In the early years after returning, he was shocked by the hostility people had towards Vietnam veterans. He is thankful those feelings are not present today.
  • Lane, Roger W.

    Roger Lane was born in a small town (population approximately 1,000) in Almont, Michigan. Roger was born on February 16, 1945. When he was very young, his family moved to Ann Arbor. His father was an architect. Roger went to school in Ann Arbor through high school. He graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Forestry. After graduating, he took a job in Washington. He was eventually drafted and assigned to a Military Police unit. Soon after his training, he was sent to Vietnam and assigned to a CID unit. Roger usually did not get involved in escorting raids, but he did mention two situations. The first involved a Captain who was running a black-market operation. Another involved a Sergeant who ran a scheme in which he was receiving large sums of money through an NCO Club operation. Murder and suicides were the most frequent incidents he would investigate. After the video-taping stopped, Roger mentioned an incident where a GI was refused entrance into an NCO movie. He returned to his tent, got an assault rifle, returned to the theater and shot and killed 20 servicemen. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in Leavenworth. After discharge, Roger returned to Ann Arbor and eventually retired from Detroit Edison. He was divorced after about 20 years of marriage. He occasionally speaks at local schools, relating his service experiences.
  • Hammond, Dave

    Dave Hammond served in the United States Marine Corps during the Vietnam War.
  • Dempich, Kenneth L.

    Kenneth was born in Dearborn, Michigan, on July 11, 1945, and grew up in Lincoln Park, Michigan. After finishing high school, he worked in a supermarket. Kenneth was drafted in 1965, and after basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky and advanced training at Fort Lewis, Washington, Kenneth was shipped to Vietnam. His division went as a unit. The trip took 29 days, and at times the weather was very rough, with there even being a typhoon. The division's first location was Tuy Hoa, where they spent four months. They were then sent to Pleiku, near the Cambodian border. Kenneth described having experienced heavy fighting in both locations. He received his first Purple Heart on May 1, 1967 because of shrapnel, and his second exactly one month later. "Friendly Fire" caused deafness when an artillery shell exploded near his location. Although Kenneth served near and next to soldiers who were exposed to Agent Orange, he has been found to have not had any symptoms to this day. Kenneth returned to his supermarket job after his military service, but he eventually went to school to study accounting. His specialty was payroll, and he ended up working for several different companies. Because of his multiple injuries, he retired in 2001. Since his retirement, Kenneth has been a volunteer at local schools. He was married for 39 years, divorcing in 2010. Kenneth talked a great deal about his "blood brother," with whom he pledged to "trade" blood if or when needed. His unit has a reunion every two years. This year, the reunion will be in Tennessee, and in 2012 the reunion will be in Washington, D.C. He is looking forward to visiting Washington, D.C., since he has never had the opportunity to visit the various military memorials there.
  • Cothorn, Martha Ann Flowers

    Martha Cothorn was born in a small coal mining town in West Virginia (Besoco). When the mines closed, her family moved to the Detroit area. Her father took a job as a crane operator for Jones and Lockland. After attending grammar and high school in Highland Park, she undertook her nursing training at Hillard, in New Orleans. Martha joined the Army Reserves and received her final two years through the Government, in exchange for three years of active service. Martha's basic training took place at Fort Sam Houston, in Texas. Within nine months of entering active service, she was assigned to the 67th Evacuation Hospital, in Qui Nhon, Vietnam. Eventually, she became Head Nurse in the Medical and Psychiatric Units. The Evacuation Hospital would receive patients directly from the field and attempt to patch them up. Patients would either be returned to their unit or transferred to the Field Hospital in Saigon. Typical patients had hepatitis, malaria, or PTSD. Suicides were not unusual. Martha met her husband in Vietnam. She was eventually transferred to Fort Devens, where she got married. She went into the Reserves after her marriage because her husband, who was in the Diplomatic Service, was assigned to Laos. Southern Cal University had a branch in Seoul, and she was able to get her master’s degree from that unit. Martha spent 30 years in active and reserve service. When she returned to civilian life, she worked at the VA Hospitals in Detroit and Ann Arbor. She has two adult children, both of whom graduated from college and live in other towns. Martha joined the Vietnam Veterans of America when she was in Washington. When she settled in Ann Arbor, she joined the local unit of VVA Post 310, and is currently the president, the first female president of it. Martha has many awards, including the highest non-combat medal, and the Bronze Star. She currently lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
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