Friday, December 7, 2012

Tommy Rowe's Vietnam

TOMMY ROWE (raw uncorrected transcription from taped interview)

"Your mother was a nice girl I knew. She wasn't any saint."

A. I was born and raised in Quincy Massachusetts about twelve miles southeast of Boston. In a middle class family. My father was an electrical cost estimator for nuclear submarines. I joined the Army right out of high school -- I joined the Navy Reserve when I was a junior in high school. Then to get out of the Navy Reserve because I feared Kennedy was going to get us into a war, so I went down and joined the Army. Just went in as a buck private in May of '61.

I went to basic and then to Fort Devons, Mass. and was in the Army Security Agency, ASA. I went through two schools and I was in the second class and they walked in -- and all the classes were classified. They said "We have a classified assignment." So the guy who was Number One standing in the class at that time, they pulled him out to take the assignment. And so he went off to wherever he went. He ended up going to the Philippines for a while, and then going to Vietnam. And by the time he got to Vietnam I was already there.

They had pulled my assignment to Korea and myself and two other guys out of that class, two were going to Korea and one to Germany and they pulled our assignments and gave us new clothes and sent us to Vietnam. I got there on the 13th of January 1962 at 10:31 in the morning, on the first airplane that went to Vietnam other than advisers on a permanent station basis.

Q. Was there any preparation for it?


Q. Nobody talked to you about the culture, the language, the issues? What was your job?

I was a direction finder, plotter and evaluator. Try to figure out where transmitters were. We didn't do it for the Vietnamese troops in the field, we did it for the Army Security Agency which was part of the National Security Agency. We just located targets.

Q. How old were you, and what did you think of the country?

Nineteen years old. The day I got my assignment was the day Tom Davis was killed in Vietnam. James Thomas Davis was the first American serviceman killed in action in Vietnam and they turned Davis' station over to the communists in '73. You know when they talk about Davis Station in books. Camp Davis was named after Tom Davis. He was from Tennessee.

Q. What about the people, the culture

Well I was nervous the first month. A little jittery, but after I calmed down everything got really nice. It was really lovely in Saigon in '62. It was clean, just fabulous. Cheap. I was making sixty-five bucks a month and I was living well.

Q. Where were you living.

I lived in Tan Son Nhut.

There were no curfews. I never got out of Saigon in '62 because we had travel restrictions on us because of the classified nature of the work that we were doing.

Q. Did you like the Vietnamese, the culture?

I felt good. I'd been a little guy all my life, a real runt. And I got over there and felt I was a big guy now, they were all so little. I really liked it. I was going to stay but there was this company commander there who gave us a lot of crap and so I went to Okinawa.

Q. You were there for a year?

Yeah, a year.

Q. Did you draw any conclusions about the enemy, or the cause? Did you think Vietnamese society was in trouble?

Not at this time.

Q. Were you sad to leave?

No. It didn't matter. I think I was happy I was leaving just because I was a GI and anytime you're leaving someplace you are always happy when you are a GI. I went to Okinawa, spent a year and a half there, went back to Massachusetts and stayed for ten months. Joined the Army again in February 25th of 1965.

Q. So you were gone when Diem was assassinated?

I was on Okinawa. I was there in '62 when they bombed the palace and Madam Nhu fell down the stairs and broke her arm.

Q. What did you think of that?

I was laying on my cot. My friend comes in and says, "Tom wake up. They're attacking Saigon, Tom." I said, "Oh, yeah." I woke up. It was in the morning and I had been working night shift. It was about 9:30 in the morning. I heard the explosions and said, "All right," and went back to sleep.

Q. Why did you reenlist?

I tried to go to school and it didn't work out. So I went back in as a PFC. I had come out as a Spec 4. I should have made Spec 5 the month I got out. I was going to re-enlist and I got all this pressure from my family. So I got out and went back and vegetated for ten months.

I went back to Vietnam in '66. It took me a year and a half to get back. When I got out of the army I was cleared for top secret crypto and worked in classified MOS. When I went back in my MOS had been consolidated with four others and I was no longer qualified because I wasn't code qualified. I could at that point take and receive Morse, but it was not in my records that I could do it so they reclassified me and they put me in public information. So I worked in that for a year and a half. Then I went back in '66.

Q. How had the situation changed?

When I went back, initially I went to Cu Chi. I was in the 25th Infantry Division and I was worked out of the First Battalion Mechanized Fifth Infantry. I went out and got blown up in armored personnel carriers and had them shoot at me and all that stuff for about three months. Then I made Spec 5 and they gave me a new job as press liaison representative in Saigon.

So I went to Saigon, this was December '66, or November '66. It had been four years. Before I was there January '62 to December '62.

Q. Now what were the changes?

It was filthy. They had been cutting down the trees along the boulevards. I just couldn't believe they'd destroyed this beautiful city, the Americans had. It was just awful. In '62 it was clean, lovely, and in '66 it was just filthy and was expensive.

I used to be able to go out for the entire evening, have dinner and drink all night long and get laid and everything else and do it all for five bucks. In 1966 when I got back it was five bucks just to get down town. It was just awful what they had done.

Q. Do you think the Vietnamese were demoralized by the Americans?

Yes. I think so. I think a lot of bad things about American society and American culture were brought over.

Q. Were you upset by it? Or were you too young?

Yeah. I was twenty-four years old and I --

Q. How about the cause at that time? Did you change your mind after being at Cu Chi about the war?

I thought the war was winnable. I didn't think that they were doing it right. I thought they were fighting a defensive war and I don't think you can fight a defensive war, you have to fight an offensive war. We never invaded North Vietnam.

Q. Much dissatisfaction of American troops that you met?

No, not unusually. It was a bummer when somebody got killed and we knew him. That was the bad part, but I had met a lot of guys out in the field. This guy who was a buck sergeant I met doing an interview with him, they had just given him a medal of some kind, and I said to him, "What did you do before?" and he says, "Oh, I was an accountant, a CPA." I said, "What are you doing here? Why aren't you working in finance?k" He says, "Because they put me here."

Q. How long did you stay this time?

I extended five months to the end of my enlistment. I left on the 29th of January 1968, the day the Tet Offensive started.

Q. Tell me about the relationship with the woman, tell me about meeting her.

I met Le Ngoc Lan??? and she went by "Tuyet", that means "snow". I met her in December '66 in Saigon. She was working in a -- not like a bar like they had in downtown Saigon. It was a bar restaurant kind of place where you could get food. And she had only been working there about a week. She would have been 18 then.

Q. Love at first sight?

Pretty much.

Q. How did you approach, was it just like meeting an American girl?

Yeah. I was looking for a girlfriend and she was very pretty. Spoke English. I guess about six weeks later we got a place.

Q. Did you get married?

Not officially, legally. We moved in together, rented an apartment. I was renting an apartment from this Vietnamese major and after about a month he thought we were too noisy, so he evicted us. He was really nervous, jumpy. So we got another place. It was at 118 C Nguyen Du. Nguyen Du It was a four story building and had three, six apartments on each floor. There were some other GIs living in the apartments there. A friend of mine who was the first liaison from the 9th Infantry Division showed it to me.

So went over there and moved in. Bought myself a refrigerator.

Q. No problem paying for it?

No. It was a hundred and forty a month, I think. Which was very high. It was really very high, but after two months I was getting extra pay for being in Saigon and then I told my boss that Owen was getting TDY pay at twenty-eight dollars a day and so he set it up and put me on temporary duty to the Joint U.S. Public Affairs Office in JUSPAO ctr191??.

Q. You were happy there?

That was 1967. In April of 67 a rocket landed on April 10th, in the bunker that I built in Cu Chi and killed three of my friends and wounded eleven others. I went back to Washington and placed some flowers at the Wall in April on that day, right where their names are. This was the 20th anniversary of that.

Q. Obviously your tour of duty is going to be up and you are living with this woman. Were you in love at the time? What did you foresee down the line?

I was trying -- then she got pregnant. And we were trying to figure out what I needed to do to get married, and it was just unbelievable what they wanted. Just incredible. I think that there was a very racist attitude on the part of the American government towards the Vietnamese. They had the overriding idea to save our boys from marrying these women or something. They wanted copies of her birth certificate, certified. She was born in Ha Dong, twenty miles from Hanoi. And there weren't any. And there was all kinds of other documents saying that she was a good person and all different things. It was just impossible to get it done. I was very jumpy and nervous about her situation.

My enlistment was coming up and when those guys got killed, one guy, Red Wecer was the most seriously hurt. The spun him open all the way down and took shrapnel out and laid his colon on his side and he was just still of shrapnel. Still is. Must have another thousand pieces of shrapnel in him. Adrian E. Wecer. He went by Red. Anyway, he says to me -- he's laying there with his guts hanging out -- he says, "Tommy, you got to promise me, you got to get out of the Army." So what do I say? I said, "All right, Red. I promise you I'll get out of the Army." Biggest mistake I ever made in my whole life.

Q. Did he die?

No. So I got out of the Army. I shouldn't have. I should have reenlisted. They offered a E6 slot in Vung Tau. I would have had a promotion and gone to Vung Tau and been able to get the paperwork and everything done. But I didn't.

So I went back to the United States. Didn't even know about the Tet Offensive until I got here. I promised Tuyet that I would come back and gave her a lot of money, paid for the hospital bills, the baby, everything. Very tearful good-bye, both of us.

Q. But you couldn't get married? Eventually you couldn't get the papers to get married?

It was virtually impossible. I don't see how anybody could do it.

Q. So you got back to the United States. Did you stay in touch by mail or telephone?

By mail. I had a friend Mike Halloran, and I wrote through Mike to her and sent her money to live on.

Q. What were you doing back here?

I was trying to get back. I wrote to the State Department. The State Department wrote back and said, "We suggest that you forget about it." I couldn't believe it. I got a letter from some woman in the State Department. I wrote to the State Department and said "I want to find out about going to Vietnam and how to get my daughter out." And she wrote back and said, "We suggest you just forget about her."

Q. What did you think of that? Did you ever think of just forgetting about her?

Of course not.

Q. What happened then? What did you think about with the Tet Offensive? Did you know she survived that?


Q. Did you know a baby had been born?

Yes. Her name is Le Thi Mong Trinh.

Q. Did you get pictures of her sent to you?

Yeah. I got pictures of the baby, of her and the baby.

Q. What happened, did you get back?

I was frantic. I was trying to sort things out. I went back to Massachusetts and got myself a passport and then flew out here and stayed out here for a couple of weeks. I was trying to go through the Vietnamese consulate in San Francisco. And all they give you is a 7-day visa to get in. That's all they would issue.

I was extremely conservative and very naive at this time of my life, and when they said you can only have a 7 day and you need 20 days to get married, you got to file and do things like that, I said I can't do this. I didn't realize that I could have gone over there and just extended it. But I didn't realize that.

Anyway, I was out here for a couple of weeks and then I flew back to Massachusetts and I went and talked to the Army to see if I could join the Army. They said, well, they were going to drop you a rank. A couple of months before they were offering me a promotion. Now they were going to drop me a rank. And then I went and talked to the Air Force and the Air Force said they would make me a staff sergeant. I said Okay and joined the Air Force to go to Vietnam.

I got in the Air Force and the first thing I did was put down I wanted to go to Vietnam. And then I went down and talked to the people at the military personnel center in San Antonio. They had sent me to Austin, Texas at Bergstrom Air Force Base, and I wrote letters to congressmen. My mother was calling my congressman, writing letters to my senator. I got a letter from one of Kennedy's aides saying this here really isn't any of Kennedy's affair. And I wrote a letter -- his fingers must have been burning -- I said "what the hell do you mean it's not his affair? What do you think his constituents put him in office for? When I've got a problem of an international nature."

Q. Did they respond to that one?

I got a personal letter from Kennedy saying "I will do everything within my power to help you." He didn't do a god damn thing.

So I went to all these and still nothing, you know. And I'd joined in May and this is like November still fighting trying to find an assignment to Vietnam. So I sat down and wrote the President. I wrote a three-page letter. "Dear Mr. President: I'm sorry to bring this to your attention, but I can't get the Air Force to send me to Vietnam to get my baby." and all the stuff I'd gone through. And a week later I sat down and wrote the Chief of Staff of the Air Force and I said, "I just wrote the President and told him the Air Force won't send me to Vietnam to get my baby. Now either send me or let me out."

I got a letter from a Colonel -- a legislative liaison or something -- you are going next month as requested. And then I got another letter from some Colonel in the Chief of Staff's office saying you are going next month as requested. Same exact letter, two different colonels, two different places.

In January, I walked into the Personnel Office and said, "Do you have my assignment?" and they said, "No." I said, "Here, it says I'm going to Vietnam." They said, "Well, we'll just extend this." I said, "No you won't. I'm going this month. You're not going to extend this." So where did they send me? Da Nang. They send me to Da Nang. So I go to Da Nang and I'm there for two days trying to figure out how the hell I'm going to get to Saigon. This was in January or first of February of '69. In walks Lieutenant Colonel Charles Franks, the chief of media liaison, the Seventh Air Force Headquarters on a temporary duty visit.

I've got a year and a half of experience in Saigon in media liaison. So I go in and talk to the captain who was there who was the Deputy I O and I talk to him and told him the story, I got a kid down there. The next day my colonel, Bicknall K. Beckwith, walks out and walks past me to some guy and says, do you know how to cut TDY orders? And the guy says yeah, and he says, "Cut TDY orders, I'm sending him to Saigon immediately." Okay, thank you very much.

So I went to Saigon and I never went back, because Charlie Franks down there said, "No, we're going to keep him." And I stayed in media liaison in Seventh Air Force.

Q. Did Tuyet still have the apartment?

No, she had another place where her and another girl were living.

Q. Was she working?


Q. What about when you saw the baby?

On the 8th of February, 1969 I walked in.

Q. Did she know you were coming?

I was sending postcards from everywhere. As I left, I went to the post office and bought a whole bunch of postcards and sent them to Mike Halloran and as I got off the airplane in San Francisco, I dropped one in the mailbox. I dropped one in from Sacramento, then from Alaska, and all the way along. I'm on my way, I'm on my way. I'm getting there. So I remember Tuyet's sister was there and they had a little house in Jardin. That's where I went because I knew I could find Tuyet Phu, the sister. And I remember it was the eighth of February, and there was this grubby little pink baby with red hair sitting there on the dirt floor with nothing on except a dirty t-shirt with holes in it. Sores around her mouth and head.

The sister picked her up and ???Handed her to me??? ctr 389?? and she wailed and I said, "I'll get you out of this, I promise." It's the first thing I ever said to my daughter. "I'll get you out of here."

In Vietnam, because of the heat, little kids all get this cradle cap and it get infected. You'll see Vietnamese kids with little bald spots the size of a nickel or dime all over their head, and it's from this stuff that they get.

Q. When did you start calling her Samantha?

After she came to the United States. There I called her Trinh (like "chin").

Q. What about Tuyet, did you have good relationship with her still?

Yeah, we got back together and got another apartment and went along for about three months until about May. Then she decided she didn't want to go to America. That was one of the problems earlier too. She didn't want to go in '67, because she had lost four brothers in the war. The only living relative she had in the world was that sister.

Q. You couldn't bring the sister with you?

The sister had ten kids. It was a lot of them. They were running around all over the place.

Q. And a husband?

And a husband, yeah.

Q. So what decisions were you making at the time?

When Tuyet and I broke up, I can remember her walking away. She says, "I'm going to move out." And I said, "Look, I don't want you to go. But I can't stop you. But if you do go you can't have the baby." And she stopped and spun around, "What?" And I said, "You can't have the baby. I can do more for the baby than you could ever do." And so she agreed.

So my friend Mike Halloran had a friend that was Chief of Police of Saigon, and he took us and showed us a place where I could keep the baby. I walked into this little Catholic orphanage down on one of the tributaries off the Saigon river. I don't know the name. It was just awful, filthy. I can remember this little boy came over to me and wanted me to pick him up, put up his hands. And he was covered with sores. I was afraid to touch him. I said, "I can't put my baby in there. No way."

So he said his parents could take care of the baby for a while until I found somebody. They were old, really old, hundreds of years old. They took the baby for a couple of months and then Mrs. Nui???, my secretary at 7th Air Force knew Xuan who was the secretary for the base commander. We called her "Swannie". Swannie's mother took Samantha in and took care of her. They had a little house, and she had a bunch of little kids. But it was a nice house, clean, good family, and I'd go down and give them some money every month, fifty bucks or so every month, to take care of Samantha. And anything they'd need.

In the meantime I'm going to the embassy trying to find somebody to tell me how to get Samantha out. They said there's this woman you should contact named Rosemary Taylor. So I said, "Okay." And I go up and see Rosemary Taylor. And she says, Yeah, she knew. They'd told her about me. I was trying to figure how to get an adoption and other legal things. And she says, "I found out something here. They have this SLAR affiliation and all you have to do is have two witnesses. So my friend Frank Bradley who was living at the house with Xuan, renting a room there, and Rosemary and I went down to the Office of Records in Saigon at the end of Hai Ba Trung Street. They thought we were there to get married.

We had to sit there. Finally she said, I can't stand around, so she jumped up and walked back into the back and started talking to somebody in French. And they said, "Oh, okay. So they come out and filled out the paper work and changed the birth certificate. Put my name on it, put her name on it, "Samantha Marion Rowe", changed her name and entered my name and we did the whole birth certificate.

Then armed with my birth certificate, stamps all over it, I started sending copies of the the birth certificate to senators and congressmen and the embassy and everybody. I wanted her to have citizenship conferred upon her. They came up and showed me a section of U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act where it said U.S. citizenship can be conferred upon a child born to a single parent overseas, provided that the legitimization takes place during the child's minority. They didn't recognize filiation as legitimation. Two words caused all the problems.

Now it is a common day practice. Every state in the union, filiation is a legitimate child. But they didn't recognize it at that time.

Q. "Filiation"?

Just being the father, stating that you are the father.

Q. When was you tour of duty going to be up?

I extended and then I extended again. It was a one year tour.

Then I got a Vietnamese passport for Samantha and got an exit visa and couldn't get an entrance visa into the United States. They wanted her to come in on a non-preference visa. They give out one a year. Literally.

So Rosemary did this. She got the passport and the exit visas and everything. I went with her. She went in and got the passport stamped at this table and went down the hall like going to the other end of the building and saw somebody else and got it stamped and went to somplace else and got a stamp and then went back where we had started, the next desk over and got it stamped. I don't know how she ever figured it out. I'd never have been able to do it. If it wasn't for Rosemary Taylor I doubt I would have ever been able to get her out of there until the Fall when I would have just picked her up and put her on a plane.

Q. Were you seeing Tuyet at this time at all or not?

She would come to Tan Son Nhut, call me at the office, and then I would go down to the gate to see her and then go get the baby and bring the baby out to see her at the gate and spend some time with her and then I'd take the baby back. I'd never let her know where the baby was after she left.

Q. Were you afraid she'd steal her?

Yeah. She says, You can't have her.

Q. Was she melancholy, sad?

Yeah, last time I saw her she was.

Q. When did you get the chance to leave?

Everything came together all at one time. In June of '70, I had applied initially in May of '69. It was over a year. The entrance visa came through. The exit visa had expired so I had to go back and get the exit visa again. And then while I was getting that I went in to find out about transportation and I walked into the transportation office at Tan Son Nhut and the master sergeant was there, and he says, "Thursday afternoon." I said "I want to find out about getting space available transportation for my daughter to the United States." And he says, "Can't be done." I said, "What do you mean? There's got to be something that can be done." He says, "No dependents are allowed over here so you can't have dependents able to get transportation back. It can't be done." He says, "You got to get a waiver from the Chief of Staff of the Air Force."

I said, "Okay how do I do that?" He says, "It's going to take you six months." I said, "I don't have six months, the visa is only good for a week and I've got to get it done now."

He gives me this letter and I went back to the office and had Mrs. Nguyen??? type it up. I took and signed it. It had Samantha's name, my serial number, my name and basic information about who we were, and I took it into my colonel and my colonel signed it and I took it down to my squadron commander who was a lieutenant colonel. He couldn't bounce it back because my colonel had already signed it. Then I walked over to Xuan's office to my base commander and had the base commander sign it.

In the meantime the major who worked for Dave Sholstrom went over to transportation at Seventh Air Force and had it greased there. So it was cleared.

We got a phone call every night from PACAF??? They do a situation report on tape, and afterward they say, "Is there anything we can do for you?" They always say this. So I say, "Yes there is. Get Colonel _ _ _ to go over to Transportation at PAC ?? and grease this our request through. It's vitally important and I told them how important. The next day my colonel, Clay Liser, who was the director of information for the 7th Air Force -- he's the party that was at a going away party and went over and called the director of information for the Air Force, Major General _ _ _ in Washington, and told him the situation. And Saturday morning I had a priority message from the Chief of Staff, approved transportation, and I walked into the sergeant who said it couldn't be done. And I said, "There's my approval from the Chief of Staff." And he says, "Ahhhh." I walked over and got special orders cut after I got approval from him and went down that Saturday afternoon the ninth of June to Tan Son Nhut and put my name on the list. And then I went down on Sunday morning and got Samantha, and came out and stood in the middle of Tan Son Nhut and shook, this was really big. Dave Scholstrom took the passport and exit visas and cash and got everything done. He stood in lines and got everything done, got all the money changed. And Jim Kerr took the baby and put her on counter and got her ice cream and I stood in the middle of the airport and shook. I couldn't function. That was the biggest day of my life. Absolutely the biggest day of my life ever.

They called my name. I picked up the baby and they said come back here. They took me in a back room behind the counter and I wondered what I was doing back there. They didn't tell me. There was some guy with a broken leg. He had a cast on his leg. And there was a general and there was a colonel and a couple other people. And they put us on a bus and took us out and put us on the airplane. They were putting us on early before all the troops.

(((End of side A.))) ((Begin Side B.)))

. . . There was a chaplain that was sitting there next to us. She was a little nervous at first. We flew into Tokyo. About half an hour before we flew into Tokyo she fell asleep. They came on and said you have to get off the airplane. They were refueling and it's required that we get off the airplane. She just went to sleep. So I picked her up, put her head on my shoulder and I walked around the Tokyo airport for an hour and a half with her sound asleep in my arms. Got back on the plane, still asleep, and slept all the way to Alaska. We got into Alaska, walked in, and they said, "Anybody that needs to go through Immigration." Gave them all my paperwork, opened it up, gave it to her, she made out a little green card with Samantha's picture on it and gave it back to me. And said, "That's it."

So I shook Samantha, and I said, "We did it." Then we flew down to Sacramento into Travis. And I called my aunt who lives here and she met me in San Francisco at the bus terminal. We took a bus from Travis to San Francisco and she drove up and met us there. The baby was twenty-eight months old and spoke Vietnamese.

On the plane we had an interesting story about having to go to the bathroom. She said, "DI DIE". And I said, Okay, and took her up, put her on the pot -- nothing. She'd never been in a bathroom like that. She didn't know what to do. Third time I took her she dropped a turd. And she was shocked. I can remember seeing that shock on her face.

Q. Did Tuyet know when you were leaving?


Q. What was your contact with her when you got back here?


Q. You never heard from her again?

I got back. And after I brought Samantha back, I went back to Vietnam and spent three more months there. I left in October.

Q. Did you see Tuyet at that time?

No. The last time I saw here was in March, '70. She said that she wouldn't be back. So I went back, and left there on October the 4th of 1970 and came back here. And I talked to an attorney here in Massachusetts and went into court and adopted her legally through the Massachusetts court system. I just went into the judge's office and the judge says, "Oh, you're a good man Mr. Rowe, that's just what I would have done."

Then a couple years later my father died in June 14th of 1973 and I went back to the funeral. And my girlfriend wrote me a Dear John letter while I was back there. I think it was the rottenest thing anybody ever did to me in my life. I went back to Puerto Rico where I was stationed. Samantha was with me in Puerto Rico. Then she stayed with my sister because I knew I was getting an assignment out of there and I knew I was only going back to get my bags packed and leave, pack up the furniture and everything.

I was probably in the lowest emotionally depressed state I have ever been in my life. I sat down and wrote a letter to Tuyet and I sent it to her sister's address. And then I got transferred to Foxdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, and I was there about a week and a guy walked in and handed me a special delivery letter, registered special delivery. I read it. She was very sick. So we corresponded for a while. She said she needed an operation. So I sent her some money for an operation, about six hundred dollars. She said she had uterine cancer. Then we corresponded and she went to the embassy a couple times to find out if she could come to the states, and I couldn't figure out how to get her here. This was '74. I sent her the money in October of '73 and around February or March she was trying to come.

Then she wrote and said it hadn't worked and she was sick and needed more money and she was having a tough time. I don't know how true all of that was. I had no way of verifying. Couldn't call her on the phone.

Q. In '75 were you still corresponding?

No, we stopped in '74, June or July.

Q. When did you get out of the Air Force?

That was in June or July of '74, and when Saigon fell which was about nine months later or so we wrote to the address that I had to get out of the country. And then when the refugees started coming in I wrote the State Department and had her name put on the list and said that this woman is the mother of a United States citizen because by that time I'd gotten Samantha her citizenship in August of '74. I was still in the Air Force. I re-enlisted in the Air Force in Puerto Rico in '72. I got promoted, got a good assignment, and everything else.

They went through the lists and all these other people that I knew, Mrs. Nguyen and Swannie and all the different other people, I didn't know their names. Swannie was just Swannie. And Ma, her mother who took care of Samantha. I don't know what happened to them. It bothers me a lot.

Q. What were you thinking, watching on television.

I was very very upset about the whole situation. Because I'd been there.

Q. Did you think of going back at that time to find her?

I didn't see any way that I could.

Q. Do you remember watching the collapse on tv the final days?


Q. Samantha with you?

I don't remember that I watched it that much. I was still hung up on what had happened. I think we made two major major mistakes in Vietnam. The first one was we went there and the second was we left. And I don't think we should have gone there. I think we should have supported them, but I don't think we should have sent our own troops in. And once they pulled out, Kissinger sold out the whole country for Nixon's political expediency.

Q. Have you ever met any of the people that you knew there here in the U.S.?

None. Not only have I not met any of them that I knew, I've not met anybody that knew any of them.

Q. Did you go to the Vietnam Memorial?

Yeah. Once.

Q. What did you think of it?

It was smaller than I thought. Everybody talked about how big it is. It was smaller than I thought. Powerful. I think was a tribute. There's a lot of people on there that -- Charlie Pulliam was on there, he was decapitated by an elevator in a hotel in Saigon, got drunk, stuck his head in to see where the elevator was and it came down and cut his head off. His name's on there. The first six or seven people on the list were killed in non-combat situation. The first guy was killed in an automobile accident, jeep accident.

Q. You weren't overwhelmed or anything?

I thought I would be, but I wasn't. I didn't get emotional or anything. I got my friends names and went and touched everybody's name that I could. Jimmy Edwards and Dave Fisher's names were too high.

Q. Did Samantha go with you?


Q. Has she ever seen it?


Q, War movies. What did you think of Platoon.

I haven't seen Platoon.

Q. How about the media portrayal are you upset about any of that?

Yeah. I saw Ellerbee talking about 1968, and all she was doing was rehashing the wrong information that was passed out back then. It was disgraceful. I was appalled. I was thinking about writing Roone Arledge.

Q. What about Samantha?

I took Samantha to Tet at the fairgrounds two years ago. And we walked around. It was funny. I saw a lot of Amerasian children and this Vietnamese started talking to me in Vietnamese and she says, "We're selling this booklet. It's only two dollars." It's in Vietnamese. I said, "We don't speak Vietnamese." She was just shocked that we didn't.

Q. Do you ever wonder what happened to Tuyet?


Q. Do you ever want to go back to Vietnam?

Yes. If I can.

Q. You can. Call me at home, I'll give you the address of an organization that's taking groups over.

I want to go back and I want to go to where her sister's house is and find out -- that's the root over there where I can try to find her sister. I think Tuyet's dead. I really do. She was really sick there at the end when we stopped corresponding.

Q. You still have strong feelings about her.

Oh yeah. She's the mother of my daughter.

Q. Do you still have strong feelings about Vietnam?

Oh, yeah.

Q. A big part of your life?

Big. Big part. I got to see an awful lot of growing up there. The tragedy of Vietnam, all the people that I knew that were killed over there. Leroy Pick my boss in 25th Infantry Division, the public information officer and after about six months in Vietnam, he was standing there talking to the commanding general and he says, you know, I'm an infantry officer, I'd like to have some combat time, it's good for my career. The commanding general says to Leroy, "You can have any company you want in the division. Just pick it." He says, "I want to have a Wolfhound company. I want to run wolfhounds. Twenty-seventh Infantry. Wolfhound is the name of the 27th infantry. It's their logo.
So he took command of one of the companies there in the beginning of July and on October 31st of '67 he won the Congressional Medal of Honor. First black officer in the history of the U.S. Army to win it. He was splattered all over the place that day. They hit him with a rocket.

In '67 I turned twenty-five. In '62 I was nineteen when I went there.

Q. Do you want to take Samantha back with you?

No. Samantha's not going to go into Vietnam as long as the communists are in power.

Q. Is she curious about it?

Yes. She is. She seems to be deifying her mother, putting her into a saintly position. And I said, "Samantha, your mother was a nice girl I knew. She wasn't any saint."

(((((End of interview at ctr 208, side B.)))

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