In 1968, Americans were asking, "Do you know the way to San
Jose?" as Diane Warwicke serenading this great land of ours
with her songs. I never made it to San Jose, but Uncle Sam
showed me the way to Fort Ord, California.
If the truth were known, I didn't join the US Army to become
John Wayne or to kill Viet Cong. I came from a God fearing,
church going Southern Baptist family. My older brothers
had already served in the armed forces (Navy, Army, and Air
Force). So it was kind of expected that I would do
the same thing. Enlistment in the US Army was only three years.
The Air Force and Navy were four year tours of duty. And,
the Marines was out-- of the question for me. So, I
selected the US Army.
day I enlisted was 29 January 1968. While my mother was crying,
my father gave me twenty bucks and a shaving case kit. He
told me that I would need them both. I kissed my mother and
shook my father's hand and said good-bye, and God Bless. Then
I turned away and walked through the main post office's doors.
I had no idea that, "mommies little baby boy would
soon become a MEAT HEAD and MAGGOT!" I became all that, then
some, despite my amazement.
Just a few hours after I raised my hand, I found myself on
a Greyhound Bus headed for Fort Ord. It was along and fearful
ride for me. There wasn't much sound or talking going on for
that eight-hour's bus trip. The Vietnam War was going on very
strong at this time. This was the first time that I had been
on-my-own in my life, and my mind was working overtime. I
think that the fear of the unknown for the next three years
kept materializing in and out of my head during that bus ride.
I am sure that every new GI (Meat Head) was reflecting on
the same channel that I was tuned in on.
For the next eight weeks, my time was taking up with learning
to be a good maggot, running with a full pack, kissing the
dirt, counting in a system Dewey-Decimal never dreamt of:
"Up One, Two, Three, Four." Drilling, with training tacked
onto it, was the mainstay. Oh yes, I learned a new name, "JODY."
It seemed my girl's pledge of eternal love lasted until this
guy named Jody showed up. He had my girl at home, and I could
only image what they were doing together. Just turned 18,
and even thought of going to see the Chaplin...but he came
to us instead. To hear his inspirational words of loving support
[send the children out of the room], click here
(120K), and here
I learned new songs that never made the top-ten lists
of Dick Clark's show. Songs like: I WANT TO BE AN AIRBORNE
RANGER, or the FORT ORD SPECIAL. If Dick Clark had heard
these songs, they would have been a MISS not a HIT on
his Hits Parade. I think that my DI's only knew one
proclamation about my future and that was, "Do you want
to come home in a Pine Box, Meathead?" All I wanted
to do was finish Boot Camp with the least amount of
problems possible, so that my father would be proud
of his number four son. Somehow, like my brothers before
me, I went from a Meathead Maggot to Private Poss
of the US Army.
The philosophy that I learned in Boot Camp was very
simple: Never volunteer for anything. I retained that
philosophy until the day I was
See A Larger Image... Click On Image
BCT Platoon 2
Fort Ord, Calif.
11 Feb 1968
I never understood why anyone would volunteer. Volunteer to
go somewhere they are getting shot at--or even reenlist
to go there. I knew that Vietnam could be where I might end
up sometime within the next three years. But I still wouldn't
volunteer to be sent there. However, the opportunity of going
to Vietnam never came my way. Instead, I spent most of my Army
life in Germany. I became a DI for the Non-Commission Officer
Academy in Bad Tolz, Germany.
later, my niece's husband Chuck came home from the Gulf War
and all of our family was there to welcoming him home. To
my amazement, one of my brothers (a Vietnam Combat Veteran)
stood up and said, "I would like all of the Veterans up here
for a picture. He motions to my other brother (a Vietnam Combat
Veteran), and to Chuck a Gulf War Veteran. While they were
standing, my brother made a speech about serving under wartime
in the military. As I was watching and listening to him speak
and I experienced a feeling of non-recognition for not being
a veteran of the Vietnam War. I wanted to tell him that I
wore the same dog tags that they did.
I used to think that I missed-out on Vietnam, but I know now
that was not true. I don't have any war stories about taking
Hill XYZ, or I saw my best friend's head blown off his shoulders.
I can tell you how I escaped from a French whorehouse, or
when I fell into a barrel filled with German Farwline bosoms.
Oh yes, when I came out of that barrel, I wasn't sucking my
And like all GIs, I spent many lonely Christmas Eves and Days-Off
in some lonely place thinking of home, family, and loved one's.
I did my share of KP, and walking a Cold War post--but most
of all, I served my country proud of the uniform. It never
crossed my mind to go to Canada like the cowards were doing.
I just served our country in uniform as men and women of my
family have since the Revolutionary War.
Instead of having red-mud on my boots, I had spit and polish.
Instead of a steel pot helmet, I wore a Smoky Bear hat. I
believe that I contributed to the war effort in Vietnam by
making sure that our Non-Commission Officers were all ready
to lead our troops into combat.
Not all soldier's posts can be in a combat zone. There are
many other duties stations that are just as important for
the outcome of any war. So to all of those Combat Veterans,
I would like you to remember those non-Combat Veterans who
served just as honorably as you served.
Larry: I sort of remember our brother Jerry calling us up
for that photo and thinking that it was not fair because we
were all veterans of the larger Cold War--which we won under
President Reagan, by the way.
Serving the country during the Vietnam era was a challenge,
regardless of where one served. Some Vietvets today only consider
those serving In-Country to be Vietnam Veterans. I believe
those serving in direct support of the war, like the Air Force
men and women in Guam, are also Vietvets. But the question,
if there is a question, is what or why do Vietvets
(or of any war) feel different? Notice I said, "different"
and not "better."
I do not know what it was like to serve in the hell of WWII
Germany, or peacetime Cold-War Germany. I do know what it
is like to stand before The Wall in DC carved with 58,000
names of those men and women killed-in-action in Vietnam.
I know what it is like to write a letter to a friend's family
after he was--yes, blown-away. And to touch his cold
granite-etched name, knowing his 19 year old body is long
since dust in a nearby cemetery.
So, what does it come down too? Vietnam Veterans are more
inclined to have memories of sucking chest wounds rather
than barrels full of nude-women and sucking more than a thumb.
And yes, horrible things did happen, I remember things like
three flatbed trucks racing through Danang's main gate with
bodies of Vietnamese in tangled piles . . . and standing post
staring at the blood-trails with flies gorging for several
more hours. Does that make us better, or different
than non-war-vets? It just makes us what we are: Veterans
of the Vietnam War, and proud of those who served with us.
[Readers: In 1968 the War was indeed raging. A peace time
Army would not have accepted my brother Larry's enlistment.
But in 1968, 98.6 got you in and a letter from your Congressman
kept you out (right Bill?),
so they accepted Larry's enlistment, collapsed lung and all.
I have on occasion wondered if an Army doctor had made a notation
not to send him to a combat zone because of that. I also know
that policy was not to send two brothers to Vietnam at the
same time, and brother Jerry was In-Country while Larry was
in Germany.] Don Poss
Subject: Vietnam Era Vets and We Wore The Same Dogtags
From : Tom Johnston
Organization: VVA 512
Yes, we all did wear the same dog tags. Those of us who are
non combat vets can take a stand with pride, that we also
served. Me, U.S.Navy 59-63. Electricians Mate 2 (E-5), after
boot camp and E.M. school then the rest of my four years were
spent on an ammo ship with the most time spent in WESTPAC
ferrying all kinds of munitions from the Philippines to our
task forces off the coast of Nam. For many years I denied
the fact that I was a Vet of that era, then I turned around
and went on a self imposed guilt trip that really took me
down, I COULD HAVE DONE MORE. Now I hold my brothers all in
high esteem, for each combat vet, there are an uncountable
force of support personal, and we all did a job that doesn't
sit well with any of us, but we did it. Thanks to you for
doing your job, and from the bottom of my heart let me say
WELCOME HOME ! Tom Johnston VVA 512 (This is the first
time I have ever contacted anyone in this way.)
Response: Thanks Tom. My little grunt-brother, Larry, wrote
We Wore The Same Dogtags. I have received a lot of positive
feedback on it. You're right, of course . . . what is it:
10 support for every combat vet? and probably an equal number
of support also in-country? Don Poss
Dear Brother Larry: I just read your story on your brother
Don's website, and I must respond:
I call you "Brother", because that's what you are, having
served your time in the "Big Green". Do not feel any less
a hero for not having seen combat. There is nothing heroic
about having been a VietNam COMBAT Veteran, per se. There
is no heroism in survival. That's what was foremost in the
minds of the vast majority of us who spent time in that vermin-infested
Hellhole - simply "SURVIVE AND GET THE HELL HOME!"
True, there were many medals
for "heroism" awarded to people who saved the lives of others
at the risk (and TOO many times the sacrifice) of their own
, but those individuals never considered themselves Heroes.
Heroism is in the eye of the beholder, or in the eye of the
recipient of an extraordinary deed. All that any Medal-Winner
ever did was react to a situation in the manner in which he
had been trained (by people like yourself), automatically
and without thought of the consequences.
I enlisted in the US Army in
September 1967. Upon experiencing the same fun things you
did in boot camp, I developed the same attitude toward Volunteerism.
I never "Volunteered" to go to Nam, but in a sense we ALL
did - yourself included. By raising our right hands and swearing
before the symbol of our country, we all volunteered to go
and do anything the Government deemed necessary. Call it "The
Luck of the Draw" or whatever. I'll say this: I never could
understand the mentality that compells one to volunteer for
Combat Duty; to actually WANT to be able to have the opportunity
to kill another human being indicates to me some sort of serious
basic defect in the human psyche. I suppose that I had more
than my share of those experiences, but to this day I cannot
muster up even the smallest shred of pride in having taken
another human life.
The pride, my friend, comes
from knowing that you raised your arm to the square, took
an oath, and upheld it no matter what. The pride comes from
knowing that you took a chance that damned few had the guts
to take. To put one's self a notch above another who "Wore
the Same DogTags" simply because you saw combat and he did
not, is WRONG. That's what we were ALL trained for. People
like you trained the leaders that saw to it that I made it
home alive. To those who never had to take a human life in
order to save his own or that of a buddy, I say "THANK GOD
- GOOD FOR YOU!" I wish to this day that I had never had the
experience. Every VietCong, NVA, and ChiCom soldier that fought
for his life in that War and lost, had someone at home whose
heart was ripped out when they never came back, and that fact
haunts me to this day. I SURVIVED: That is all I EVER wanted
We are ALL Brothers, who wore
the same dogtags. We all took the same oath: Me, You, your
brother Don, your neice's husband the Desert Storm Vet, your
own brother who (unconsciously) snubbed you at the family
gathering, even my own son who served in the US Navy on a
supply ship in the Pacific 5 years ago in "Peacetime". I put
that word in quotation marks, because I feel that there is
no such thing as "Peacetime" any more. We all take the same
chance along with The Oath - just some of us are UNFORTUNATE
enough to find ourselves having to use our training to survive.
God Bless you, Brother Larry
Poss, and God Bless all my Fellow Americans, male AND female,
who raise their arms and swear by our flag to "defend our
way of life against all enemies, foreign and domestic . .
We all STILL "Wear the Same DogTags"!
Robert A. Galloway, RA 18814353
D Co., 19th Combat Engineer Battalion
SSG Ret., Idaho National Guard 1971-1989 (and Damned Proud
of that, too.)