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Interview with Barry L. Romo [4/7/2001]

Cesar Ruvalcaba:

I work in North Side, Chicago. Today's date is April 7, 2001. And I'm interviewing Mr. Barry Romo, whose birthday is 7/24/47. Address is 3935 North Marshfield, Chicago, Illinois, 60613. He's a veteran of the Vietnam War, branch service of the Army. The highest rank is first lieutenant. And me, I'm the interviewer; my name is Cesar Ruvalcaba.

Cesar Ruvalcaba:

Question number one, what was going on in your life one to three months before you enlisted, or were you drafted?

Barry L. Romo:

Before I enlisted, I'd graduated from high school that June, and I was working as a box boy at Safeway and was attending a couple of classes at the local community college. And wrestling, I guess, up in high school. So wrestling on the college wrestling team, that's mostly why I was going to school and getting ready to go to Vietnam. And then from high school, I knew I was gonna go. There was no doubt I was gonna go in the military. And so we talked about what branch of the service we would join and decided we wanted to spend Christmas at home, so we went to the recruiter and got our tickets for Los Angeles from San Bernadino, and three of us had hopped on a bus right after New Years and drove up to -- to -- to Los Angeles and enlisted in the Army on a buddy system.

Cesar Ruvalcaba:

Um-hum. How did you feel when -- when it happened?

Barry L. Romo:

When I joined?

Cesar Ruvalcaba:

When -- yes.

Barry L. Romo:

Well, I was happy. I wanted to join. I wanted to go into military. I wanted to go to Vietnam, kill communists. I was a socially liberal immigrationist and thought all people should -- should be equal, especially black people and at the same time was a dedicated anticommunist after 12 yours of Catholic school in the 50's in McCarthy. I was a little afraid because I was a little hard of hearing, and they made me go take the hearing test in a special booth. And my friends that I was enlisting with were goin' oh, my God, he's not gonna be able to enlist -- and like it really mattered; they were takin' anybody at this point, but they redid my hearing and I was real happy. And I watched the draftees 'cause at that time they started to draft in the Marine Corps and so they had a Marine sergeant and a Army sergeant, and they would fight over the draftees. The Marine had won all the big guys, and then they would line 'em up like in Roman days and count down, I think, every 10th man or every eighth man. And that guy was going to the Marine Corps and the other guys were going to the Army.

Cesar Ruvalcaba:

What was your reaction -- what was the reaction of your family, your friends, and girlfriend?

Barry L. Romo:

I didn't have a girlfriend at the time. I had some friends who were girls, but not girlfriend. My family was leery about it. My brother who was a World War II vet was sort of proud and happy. My mother was real worried, but she was like real anticommunist too. My father was a World War II vet as well. And my father was a meat cutter. And he went to the second World War at the age of 44, and he sat me on his lap. He was 66 years old, and he cried and he told me not to go. And I said, but, Dad, you fought in the second World War. Look how old you were and Harold fought too. I'm just doin' what you guys did. And he said -- he said, no -- he said I fought people that were -- that were putting human beings into ovens. He said, you're just gonna -- gonna be fighting some poor farmers.

Cesar Ruvalcaba:

Did you accept the government's reasons for sending you to fight?

Barry L. Romo:

I absolutely accepted, but I thought Goldwater was right in 1964, so I thought it should be even more combat, not less so I accepted all of the -- the lies that the government and media told me.

Cesar Ruvalcaba:

What were some of the lies that they told you __+?

Barry L. Romo:

Well, they told us that North Vietnam and South Vietnam were legitimately separate countries, not the fact that North Vietnam and South -- there's only one Vietnam and one Vietnamese people. They told us that it was the Vietnamese who broke the international agreements when, in fact, it was the United States who broke every rule in the Geneva Convention from the placing and arming of foreign troops to not supporting a -- an election which would have elected Ho Chi Minh rather than Ziem or Bao Dai and the fact that the people wanted to stay. I was also under the bizarre fantasy that Vietnam was like half Catholic. And I went to Catholic school, and I thought all my brother and sister Catholics were -- were bein' oppressed, and I didn't realize they were only 10 percent of the population. And so that -- that was some of the things.

Cesar Ruvalcaba:

How did you accept that foreign country you were sent to?

Barry L. Romo:

How did I what?

Cesar Ruvalcaba:

Accept it.

Barry L. Romo:

How did I accept it. I wanted to go. I thought I knew what was going on there so -- I mean, I thought the people were human beings. I didn't have a racist attitude towards -- 'cause they were Asian and I thought I was going there to help 'em.

Cesar Ruvalcaba:

Were you excited or scared to go?

Barry L. Romo:

I was excited and scared. I mean, I'd been through basic training and advanced infantry training and infantry officer candidate school, and I knew I was goin' to Vietnam when I went to OCS in Fort Benning, Georgia. And I got my orders to go to Vietnam on the exact date you could cause you had to have four months command time, and I had that, and so I went home and -- and I was scared 'cause I was a 19-year-old second lieutenant. And, you know, was a teenager, barely out of high school, and -- and I was scared that I would get people killed, and I was afraid of that. Wasn't afraid about dying, actually sort of thought I was gonna die. And I was excited about going, and that's what all the training was about, so. I remember my hand shaking when I signed for -- for the tickets to fly up to -- to Oakland from -- from the LA Airport.

Cesar Ruvalcaba:

What did you see when you arrived in Vietnam?

Barry L. Romo:

We flew into the airport outside of Saigon, and it was incredibly hot -- this was July, so it was the hottest month of the year. And there was like, I think, 120 or so, but my hometown that day was 122, so I'd grown up in heat. San Bernadino is right before the desert. And I loved the heat, so that didn't really bother me. Humidity bothered me but not -- not the heat. We got off the plane, and we went over to buses and the buses all had chicken wire and wire on them, and so I'm thinkin' I thought I came here to save the people and all of a sudden you're told, hey, you can't trust anybody. And so we drove from the airport to a replacement station where they processed you and decided what unit you were gonna go to. I started seein' classmates from officer candidate school 'cause we'd all graduated at the same time, and we all went overseas at the same time. And they were sending people either to the Ninth Division which was in the delta or the 196th Light Infantry Brigade, which was up in I Corps. And I told them I'd like to go to the 196 'cause I figured that was mountains, and I'm only five-six and a half, five-seven. And the thought of deep rice patties and stuff didn't -- didn't excite me. I said, yeah mountains are better. Jungle's better. So I was lucked out; they sent me to the 196th and so that's what I saw. The only Vietnamese I ran into were people who were bartenders or were cleaning the barracks or were giving you haircuts.

Cesar Ruvalcaba:

How did you feel about having to shoot, kill, or take hostages of Vietnamese soldiers?

Barry L. Romo:

When I first got into country, I believed in the war. And I remember some people at a road block after I was made a infantry platoon leader, and we were out in an area, and we were (?all con?) operationally controlled by an armored unit that was working in conjunction with Republic of Korea troops. And I remember that some people at -- at a road block were -- were really messing with the Vietnamese civilians and more than was necessary.

Now, I looked like I was about 12 years old, and of course, I never wore my rank. I carried it in my pocket, 'cause I didn't -- I didn't want the Viet Cong or the North Vietnamese to know who I was. My men knew who I was, and that was all that was important. And so they would -- they said (well) who the fuck are you, you know, and I pulled my rank out, and I said, well, I'm slightly the -- you know, more rank than you. And you know, we're here to help these people. You're slappin' 'em around and pouring their food on the ground and everything else.

And after three weeks of combat and stuff I didn't care anymore. The most important thing to me that developed was getting my men home alive, which also I wanted to do all the time, but I didn't have a sense of mission except lasting 365 days and getting my men home, because what became apparent was that the ARVN wouldn't fight. The rock Marines were the most brutal people in the world, brutal to the point of just genocidal madness and going into village and slaughtering people, killing children, and things. And we weren't doing the people any good. We weren't treating them with respect. And the only people that were fighting was the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong, and so you could see the ARVN don't fight, our allies -- the reason we're here.

The Viet Cong and North Vietnamese do, and you start to develop a respect for your enemy and total disrespect for your ally and you discover the only people that are there that like you are the prostitutes and the drug pushers, and when you go into a village people look at the ground. Mostly they don't smile. They don't look you in the face and if you, you know, one of your men may have stepped on a mine today outside the village and they didn't tell you or you may have been mortared that night, and they didn't tell you.

And you start -- you know, why am I six thousand miles away from home here to protect you and then you find out they're only -- 10 percent of the population's Catholic, all of a sudden, everyone's Buddhist, and it starts -- it starts to grade on you.

The first person I killed was a North Vietnamese regular infantry officer; I think a lieutenant, and a brand new set of fatigues on. And one of my men shot him. And he grabbed his stomach and we were -- we were following up on his unit and we were real close to them, and we were shooting them and they were shooting back at us and we couldn't -- we couldn't wait there because we didn't know how big the North Vietnamese unit was. And so we hollered and -- and paid Vietnamese for him to -- to bring his hands from underneath his chest 'cause we didn't know whether he had a hand grenade or what underneath him, and if he would've showed us his hands we would've let him live. And we hollered a bunch of times and he wouldn't do it, so I killed him and then we -- we threw a hook on him, pulled him over and he was just holding his guts in. He wasn't -- he didn't have a weapon or anything, and he took his papers off him and I saw he was an officer and you could tell by his clothes that he had just come down; they were just fresh fatigues, fresh helmet, and everything else.

And, you know, at night when you try to sleep you have to reconcile the fact that you, you know, killed a human being and that's important -- I think is how racist you were. I mean, the Germans in the second Second World War didn't feel bad about killing Jews; they only felt bad about their own -- their own friends dying. And this guy was a human being. He had a family. He had pictures of his family. And I also think I related to him; he was a lieutenant and so was I. Another time we shot a young man in a R and R area for the Viet Cong and the guy jumped up.

We were -- we were search and destroying, which they don't call it anymore. And we were on patrol, and we walked upon him and surprised him and he jumped up and we blew the top of his head off. And his brains sitting in his skull like a ball in a tea cup, and he had an automatic reaction but he -- he wasn't alive and so I shot him till his brain fell out so that he would die, and I couldn't shoot him for some strange -- so I lifted him up to see if he could quote be helped and I knew his brain would fall out and it didn't and he was dead but we couldn't have stayed there and we couldn't have just let him suffer like that.

And I killed four other people. I tell people I got a medal for saving eight or nine people's lives but when I can't go to sleep at night, it's not because I see the combat I was in when I saved those guys' life, and it's not even their wounds. I mean, what I see is the faces of the people I killed and so that's what you have to -- to remember. Killing may be acceptable when you're defending your house or your family, but it's certainly not acceptable for some politician's reasons.

Cesar Ruvalcaba:

What kind of relationship did you have with your fellow -- battle buddies?

Barry L. Romo:

I had a great relationship. In fact, the officers didn't like the relationship I had with my men. My men didn't call me sir. They called me L.T. or lieutenant or they called me two-six, because I was the platoon leader of the second platoon. Six is a connotated leadership position so if you were Alpha 6 you would have been the company commander; if you were Fire 6, you would have been the battalion commander; and if you were two-six, you would have been the platoon leaders, second platoon.

And so my men called me two -- most of them called me two-six; some of them called me L. T. Nobody call me sir. No one saluted me. One guy tried to salute me one time. And -- or he did salute me. He was new in the company, and I saluted him back like three times and called him major real loud, and he got all scared and he said what'd you do that for? I said what'd you do that to me for? I said I was makin' sure you were gonna get shot before me. 'Cause they don't care about lieutenant, but they'd -- they'd like a major.

I was younger than most of my men. I was a teenager. I liked rock and roll. I didn't like country western music. I liked the Chambers Brothers. I liked the Rolling Stones and The Beatles. I liked rhythm and blues. And the other goddamn officers were, you know, 10, 12, 15, 20 years older than me, mostly West Point my combat commander was West Point, not platoon leaders. Platoon leaders -- the other -- I had -- I worked with a lot of people I'd gone to OCS with.

The first platoon leader was Lieutenant Archer (Leta) from New Mexico, a Mexican Apache lieutenant __. But when I got my officer's efficiency report, I had really good things bravery and, you know, knows how to read a map and, you know, can call an artillery and has good bearing and all this sort of shit, but my -- the one criticism was runs this platoon like a fraternity, and they thought they were making me feel bad and I they thanked them.

Cesar Ruvalcaba:

What was going on in the country at the time, like you were saying, about the music and who was the president of social, polit -- politician -- events, things that were going on countrywise while being in the Vietnam War?

Barry L. Romo:

Politically Johnson was president, and he was lying left and right. And we -- I didn't care about politics. I was in the field. I cared -- I did like music and people would mail me tapes, not cassette tapes. These are little tiny reel to reels. They didn't have -- I don't know about -- at least I don't think they had cassettes back then. But it's about the size of these little cassette tep -- tape that you're taping with me now except it would be reel to reel.

My family would send me tapes, you know, voice tapes and -- and -- and so I liked that, and -- but I really didn't care about politics. I didn't care about people demonstrating. I thought I was in Vietnam for the constitutional right of people to speak if they wanted to and that was their right. I didn't feel bad 'cause there was hippies. In fact, I, you know, would have liked to have grown my hair long, and and when we were in the field, our hair got long. I got pictures of me with really long hair 'cause if you don't come back for six weeks and you're 19 years old, your hair grows.

So Johnson was president. I do remember there was an election in South Vietnam like between Thieu and Ky, I believe. And that was the only -- that was -- I saw more ARVN at that time and "white mice," which was national police than I had seen anytime before, and so they had -- they had that election. I was in Vietnam for -- in my area, there was a Christmas offensive in which a lot of people got killed, and I was in Vietnam for the Tet Offensive, which I think was the turning point of the war. I was in the country for Martin Luther King getting shot, and I remember talking to my black members of my platoon about it.

I remember one African American guy came up and -- and said, you know, listen Romo, I have nothing against you. I'm not goin' out anymore. This isn't my country. And I said, look, they're gonna -- they're gonna put you in jail. They're really gonna mess you over. And he didn't have a bit of anger in him, you know. He wasn't callin' me no dirty whitey. He wasn't -- you know, it wasn't goddamn, you know, white this or that. There was no anger. It was just -- it was just you know what, they killed Martin Luther King. This ain't my country, and I'm not gonna kill any yellow people for white people.

And -- and he walked off. I called the company commander up. And he said, we'll send him to (over) to base camp and he said send him to -- or firebase, not a base, just -- just a firebase. And he said send him up and they sent him to him, and then they sent him to battalion headquarters. I don't know -- I don't know what happened to him. People -- people say that, oh, black people didn't mind the Confederate flag people were flying. And the only people that say that are people that didn't actually -- didn't have -- the -- the -- the respect of the black people so they would tell 'em what they really thought. And that was a time when -- when black people were being slaughtered all across the South just for the right to vote, and the flag that was flying was -- was the Confederate flag and black people knew that even those white people didn't know.

Cesar Ruvalcaba:

Name a specific event that happened in Vietnam that changed your life.

Barry L. Romo:

There are so many.

Cesar Ruvalcaba:

Wanna --

Barry L. Romo:

I'ma tell you two.

Cesar Ruvalcaba:

Okay.

Barry L. Romo:

I'ma tell you two that's. We used to pay the Vietnamese to -- to bring back unexploded rounds. We dropped more -- more tonnage than everybody in the world in the second World War, and seven to 11 percent of them were duds, which means that the -- the detonator didn't go off but all the explosive was good. The Viet Cong and North Vietnamese would come get the five-hundred-pound bombs or unexploded shit, and they'd saw 'em in half and they'd take the stuff out and they'd make mines and hand grenades and claim our mines to blow us up.

And we would pay the Vietnamese 120 piasters to bring back unexploded rounds because of -- of forced relocation, because of -- of the bombings, because of search and destroy missions. I mean, I think, you know, a quarter of the population had to be refugees, and people that didn't want to be prostitutes and people that didn't wanna wash G.I.'s clothes would go out and find unexploded rounds and bring 'em back for a buck.

And I was a acting battalionist who -- liaison officer at the time, and I had my own helicopter, and I'd actually on occasion would pay Vietnamese money when their families would be killed by accident, consolary payment. And one day at Tam Ky firebase, I was just getting in a helicopter to fly around to reconnoiter the area. I never saw anything -- it's like -- I thought it was neat to fly around for an hour, and so I would do that almost everyday. And so I'm getting ready to take off, and there was an explosion on the other side of this firebase and this firebase was gigantic. It had a couple of artillery areas and it had a -- it had a giant (libits) to refill helicopters. It was really a big base, bigger than most firebases I'd -- I had been on.

And a thing over the radio said that there were civilian casualties on the other side of the base, and we should go over there to help 'em. And so we flew to the other side of the base and there had been -- by talking to G.I.s that were there, there had been three or four Vietnamese children somewhere -- preteen -- and they were bringing back a 105 white phosphorus round that wasn't exploded. And just as they were coming into the base they jarred it and the detonator went off and two or three of the children just ceased to exist. There was nothing left of them, you know -- they -- just nothing left and there was one little girl left alive. And she -- her face was totally untouched and from the neck down -- she's somewhere between 10 and 13 years old. And from the neck down she was just burned and her clothes had burned off and so she had the -- the white phosphorus and her burnt clothes and her burnt skin and she was bleeding and she was in shock and I -- I threw a poncho around her and threw her -- or didn't throw her -- carried her into the -- into the helicopter, and set her down on the floor of the helicopter, and I put the poncho around her so she wouldn't stick to the floor because of the blood and the wounds and the burns.

And we flew to Chu Lai to the Navy -- naval medical station there. And I jumped out with her in my arms. The pilot landed -- great pilot. And I jumped out with this little girl my arms, and she was just whimpering. And the doctor looked at her and said we don't treat Vietnamese nationals here, and here was this little girl and supposedly we were in Vietnam fighting for their future. And unlike MASH and Radar, they didn't take this Vietnamese girl, and they told me I had to go to Catholic military -- missionary hospital at Tam Ky, so I carried her back to the helicopter, and the pilot knew where it was. We flew to -- I think it was a German missionary Catholic hospital -- orphanage, I think.

And as we were flying there, she started coming out of the shock. And she started screaming and thrashing around, and I had to hold her to the floor of the helicopter. And we got there and I jumped out and I put her in a nun's arms -- I think she was a nun. And they carried her into the hospital and that was it. I don't know whether she lived; I don't know whether she died. But I do know that we were supposedly going to Vietnam to fight for Vietnamese to have a better life. And I do know that this little girl was injured bringing back a 105 round that could have blown up (?an?) Americans and I do know it was America's -- we were the cause of those wounds, and America wouldn't deal with that little girl's wounds and that affected me.

And then several months later I was walking down a trail -- I transferred from the 196th to the 11th Infantry Brigade and my neph -- I -- my nephew was drafted. He was one month younger than me. And my nephew was very slow and shouldn't have been sent to Vietnam. And all the people that was in his unit at Fort Lewis before he went to Vietnam including -- well, it's a long story so I won't say it. But including people who I met after the war and the brother of one of my -- my nephew's comrades in that unit; Mary, my niece Mary, my nephew's sister. And they sent a letter to the -- to the base commander saying that my nephew shouldn't be sent as an infantry into Vietnam that he would die.

And they all knew they were goin' to Vietnam, 'cause they were being sent to the 196th and they -- they -- all the sergeants even signed the letter and one officer in the company signed the letter and the general said fuck you, and my nephew was sent to Vietnam. And he wrote me letters asking if he could help -- and I could help him get out of the field. And I said, look, I'm a first lieutenant; I'm a dime a dozen. There's nothin' I can do, but I will talk to the Catholic chaplain, 'cause I still took communion and I still -- I still did all that good Catholic stuff. Chaplain didn't help him at all. And so I left the 196th and I went down to the 11th, which was still the Americal Division. And as I was coming down this hill, I only had like 45 days left in country and I got a -- a message over the radio saying to report to the helipad at the small firebase. And I thought I was getting a rear area job 'cause I had been in the field the whole time. And I got there and the battalion XO held up a sign major saying your nephew Bob has been killed. Your brother requests that you be a body escort. Do you wanna be the escort?

And so I jumped in the helicopter. And I felt like throwing my rifle out. I felt like I should die, and he -- he should've lived. I felt guilty for none of the things I could've done for him or should've done for him. And I couldn't understand why he had died.

And I brought his body back home to -- that's how I left Vietnam. I brought his body back home to California, and I picked it up and put it on a train in Oakland. And we went from Oakland to Sacramento, from Sacramento back down to Los Angeles. And I not only brought his body back from Vietnam, I travelled -- travelled by rail with white gloves on. I'd salute whenever the train stopped. And the two things got to me. The fact that little children's lives weren't important and American G.I.'s lives weren't important. And I didn't need a speech from Kissinger, and I didn't need no patriotic flag waving, and John Wayne to tell me the truth of combat or to tell me the truth about the government keeping faith with its own -- it's own people, so

Cesar Ruvalcaba:

Did you make any friends other than American soldiers when you were in Vietnam?

Barry L. Romo:

Yes. We had soldiers that would be assigned to us as interpreters or as we called Kit Carson Scouts, which were Chieu Hois. They were -- they were people that had been Viet Cong and North Vietnamese and had changed sides, and then America paid 'em money to lead American patrols to try to find -- and I never -- I only became friends with one, and that was a staff sergeant, Vietnamese Army staff Sergeant, that was a translator for us. Real nice guy. I think he was a Catholic if I remember. Don't remember his name, don't remember ever asking him about his family, don't remember -- don't remember -- I remember, you know, just talking to him and then (being) with my unit and that's all.

Cesar Ruvalcaba:

Okay. Was there ever a situation where you thought you would die?

Barry L. Romo:

Oh, plenty of times. Plenty of times.

Cesar Ruvalcaba:

Can you name one or two peak -- peak times when you were sure __ this was it?

Barry L. Romo:

They flew us into an area. I was told to report to battalion headquarters. And they said that a infantry unit platoon had been -- come under real heavy fire, and they thought that there was battalion North Vietnamese regulars in this really jungled area with steep ravines. And they were gonna fly us out to reinforce them, and -- but they only had four helicopters, so I could only take 19 men with me, 20 men. And I made sure that the sergeants like checked everybody's pack 'cause this was gonna be heavy.

And we were makin' sure that people were getting extra machine guns 'cause the other 10 men weren't going from my platoon. And I took -- I think I took most of my squad leaders, the smaller squad, the best people. And we flew out and we got to this area where there's supposed to be six to eight hundred North Vietnamese regulars and, you know, I'm thinking about what's going on and all of a sudden I'm realizing that they're using us to -- as bait and then once they attack -- 'cause otherwise you would send a lot of troops out. And so I got out there, and the platoon that had come under attack the night before all climbed into helicopters and left. And I thought there was gonna at least be 40 of us.

And there ended up being just -- and so none of us, I don't think, slept that night, and we were -- we were putting slabs of C4 on the other sides of -- of -- of tree stumps and -- and there was big rocks in that 'cause it was a water ravine. We were on this place where we had good fields of fire. I got a good place for us. And, you know, stickin' 'em there and didn't have enough Claymores and jammin' rocks into 'em. And we were expecting to come under attack, and nobody attacked us. And I thought this is it.

And so I took my men -- I was ordered to move out. I couldn't stay in that position. I was ordered to move and go on a search and destroy mission through triple-canopy jungle. And so we were crossing from one end of this ravine to the other where there was water and rice patties along the side of it. And when we got in the middle of it, they fuckin' opened up on us. And all my men went to fuckin' ground. And we were caught in the open. And they had the high ground, and I stood up and I started kicking people in the butts to make 'em charge forward 'cause charging back would keep us in -- in fire longer.

And so I made people charge, and we fuckin' made it to the -- to the line, and I thought I was dead then, and we got into the -- into the jungle and it was so thick and my brigade commander, Colonel (Jona) was flying over head, and it was so thick he couldn't see us, and we were scared shitless, every man was scared shitless. I mean, we should have all died. God knows why these were the worst shots in the North Vietnamese Army.

God, I hope they were all smokin' dope and drinkin' the night before. I don't know. But -- so we're followin' and things are falling from trees like they wilt, and we're all goin' to ground again and people are really uptight. And my colonel says, well, pop smoke; and so I pop smoke, and it was so thick that it -- the smoke couldn't get through the jungle. And he said -- he said -- he says, well, are you -- are you probing with -- he says do you see the enemy? Do you see the enemy? I said nope, I don't see anybody. And he goes, well, they've gotta be there.

He goes, I want you to probe with bamboo sticks and bayonets. I said, you know, I can't, fighter 69, whatever his call sign was. I said look I got 20 men here. We just, you know, got shot up and I can't see anything. It's triple-canopy jungle, and I basically said he was crazy. Really pissed off. He said pop two flares this time and two smoke grenades this time. And he said I want you to divide your men up, have half your men probing with bamboo sticks and bayonets for spider holes and tunnels, and so I popped the two smokes. Now, with two a little bit finally made it through. And he goes, okay. I see your smoke. Gave me some coordinates.

And he said, I want you to probe with the bayonets in that for a kilometer in every direction with 19 men. So I said, yes, sir. I'm beginning to probe. And I kept my men altogether, and we didn't probe. And I put 'em all in a real tight circle, all of us facing out in a perimeter. And he'd call and say how's it goin'. I'd say it's goin' real good, haven't found anything. And God bless the North Vietnamese. They didn't attack us and, God, then we pulled out of that area at dusk so they wouldn't see us and we had to spend one more night in the area and then I walked the men -- walked the men out of that mountain the next morning, four o'clock in the morning. So anyway that's -- that's -- that's one time I thought -- I thought I -- I -- I was always more afraid -- not afraid but I -- about mortars and rockets 'cause they would blow up all around you. And I was real angry they would make us get -- I was a.battalionist too one time, and I was in a bunker with this large firebase.

And I'd -- I would be in a bunker 'cause I didn't have a -- I (?would pull?) talk duty which meant I would be in battalion headquarters listening to all the 25 radios that were there rather than being out on the line like I used to be as an infantry platoon leader, and if I wasn't on duty they would want me to run around. And I had known from being an infantry platoon leader that you don't run around when you get mortared and rocketed. And they were like, you know, we're gonna court martial you if you don't stand up and run around. (?And I go well,?) go court martial me. And I thought, you know, I'm gonna die from this more than I am from -- from the Viet Cong getting shot or something like this. It's like these -- these stupid(?wars?). These stupid people in the (?rear?) area so that's -- yeah. That's all.

Cesar Ruvalcaba:

Okay. Was there ever a situation where you saw so many soldiers dying to the left and right of you?

Barry L. Romo:

Yes. Yes. We were in the far end of the Que Son Valley in I Corps, west of the Tam Ky, and we were in a area that was really Viet Cong and North Vietnamese, and we had found just tons of rice, and all the rice would either be destroyed or sent home. And we were going on -- on constant search and destroy missions. And the area was like rice patties surrounded by hills covered with forest, not mountains but hills.

And, you know, they'd obviously reclaimed the land to be farmers there. And they were prosperous except for us destroying everything. We never took into account how much rice they needed themselves to live. We would take everything that they had, just like robbers, like barbarians. And we took everything that this one village had and -- and we shot a bunch of Viet Cong. I think they were village defense forces; they were trying to defend the food.

And the next day we were -- we were like following the lip of the -- of the mount -- of the hills with the carved out areas that were rice patty land 'cause that was the safest thing to do. And we came under fire. We were in a company formation this time, and when my squads got separated and was takin' the full grunt of the firing by the North Vietnamese or the Viet Cong, and the artillery that the company commander was calling in, the support artillery, he -- he was calling in -- instead of hitting the top of a hill was cresting over the hill and hitting my unit as well, so they were being hit by friendly fire, and they were being hit by North Vietnamese or Viet Cong bullets.

And when I found out that they had been separated, I grabbed my RTO, and I ran through friendly and enemy fire to get to them, and I had a couple of people that were killed. My platoon sergeant at that time was just pulverized by friendly fire. His body had been thrown couple hundred feet. Every single man had injury that would take him out of the field. There was nine or 10 people. And they were able to stop the artillery fire -- some of the artillery fire they were able to stop. And there was still friendly fire coming in. They'd also been shot at by helicopters and when they -- when we popped smoke, the helicopters thought it was the Viet Cong popping smoke (?but we were?). And I went to every man that was alive or to see if they were alive or not. I didn't -- I didn't move anybody. And I -- like I said everybody was either dead or severely wounded. And I called for MedEvac and the MedEvac wouldn't land; it wouldn't land. And they said it was too hot an area. And I said, oh yeah?

And so I walked out in the center of the rice patty, and I held my weapon above my head and I said, guide in on me. And I'm not leaving here until you pick up my men, and my RTO on the radio stayed it beside me and I don't know what he said to him. The helicopter started landing, and they landed on me. And they were heroes. They landed in an incredibly heavy area, and we didn't have any men. Everybody was wounded. And the machine gunners jumped off the helicopters. These weren't MedEvac slicks. These were gun ships or troop ships that were firing in support and they jumped out and they pulled people's bodies on the -- on the helicopters and -- but they took the wounded first, and we had dead bodies still.

And a helicopter -- I think with a 50 caliber on it -- landed, a gigantic helicopter. I mean a gigantic gun -- I'm positive it was a 50. And he landed and they even took my dead sergeant's body. And I didn't leave the rice patty till everybody was --

[side one tape ends]

Cesar Ruvalcaba:

This is side two of the interview from the -- I'm speakin' from the North of Chicago. Today's date is April 7, 2001. I'm interviewing Mr. Barry Romo, whose birth date is 7/27 -- excuse me, 7/24/1947. His address is 3935 North Marshfield, Chicago, Illinois, 60613. He fought in the Vietnam War. He was in the Army, and his highest rank was first lieutenant. My name is Cesar Ruvalcaba.

Cesar Ruvalcaba:

How did -- how did you feel about the Vietnam citizens caught in between the Americans and the Vietnam -- in the war of Vietnam?

Barry L. Romo:

I felt sorry for them. It didn't seem like they were getting anything out of the war. The only people that seemed to be getting anything were the corporations and the brass and -- and the gangsters that were running the sideline government, and everybody else seemed to be getting the low end of the stick. I really felt sorry for the Vietnamese.

Cesar Ruvalcaba:

Was there ever a time where (?you'd rather thought you had rather __ been?) dead after you found out that the government had lied to you?

Barry L. Romo:

No. Just the opposite. I got real angry and became politically active. I'd been politically active in small civil rights stuff before I went in the service. I was a Republican but back then they actually had -- and I worked on open housing and there was a gigantic movement that I came back to, and so when I was able to admit the war was wrong, it was almost liberating in a certain sense to be able to say all the stuff I saw is wrong. And I'm gonna tell people that it's wrong.

And I didn't get spit on by the anti-war movement. I got beat by the police. I have -- you know, I have no -- I have no motives. My teeth are a mess because of police batons, not because of hippies' spit. My mother, you know, who had Huntington's chorea disease and was crazy had a police agent on her, and I know that from the FBI reports. Maybe a person in my family and who were -- who were reporting. All these people who cry and oh, I came back from Vietnam, and I got spit on. I wonder if they ever went through basic training. I mean that was -- that was eight weeks of being shit on, not spit on, and -- and AIT and Vietnam was so much worse than both of that put together and yet, oh my God, somebody called me a baby killer. And that was like the worst thing that ever happened to them.

I mean, you know, having a policeman playing like my mouth was a plunger and -- and -- and his baton was trying to clean a toilet was a lot heavier than spit, and that didn't stop me from being politically active. I've always had two things: And that was to get back at them for what they did to my nephew and what they did to me. And unfortunately for a lot of Vietnam vets it ain't that way.

I get too many friends that have killed themselves. I get too many friends that are drug addicts and alcoholics 'cause they can't deal with it and some of 'em -- some of 'em go the quick way, you know, and -- and get in an automobile accident at 100 miles an hour with themselves in the car, and some of them go slow with heroin and some of them go slower with -- with -- with alcohol. And so I was luck -- I was lucky.

Cesar Ruvalcaba:

How has this event shaped your life from when you were first 19 to your present age?

Barry L. Romo:

First off, my parents shaped my life. When the military got hold of me, they changed what my parents had taught me. And the government changed what my parents had taught to love my fellow man, to be nice to people, to turn the other cheek, to help people that are downtrodden, to not abuse people. And the military took me away from that, and my life has been getting back to what my parents taught me and I'm -- I'm getting close. I'm not to where my father was at when I went to Vietnam. My father was just a sweet man who never -- never hit his kids. I'm a Mexican American from a very poor and agricultural family. And lots of people beat their kids and I know it. And my father, you know, I don't think he even ever unbuckled his belt. I think he threatened to unbuckle his belt was the worse thing he ever did in his life and -- and he was a sweet man. And as I've got older, that's what I want my epithet to be and so, you know, that's it.

Cesar Ruvalcaba:

Looking back to the -- looking back do you blame yourself for your involvements in this war?

Barry L. Romo:

Unfortunately yes. And I -- and -- I -- I tell people they shouldn't blame themselves and -- and I still blame myself. And I went through therapy, and I went through the movement, and I went through North Vietnam. And I've met Vietnamese who have said don't blame yourself. I had one Vietnamese in 1972 say to me it wasn't my fault that it was the government that took my precious idealism and turned it on its head and made me use what I thought was right and wrong to do bad to the Vietnamese and I shouldn't -- I shouldn't put that burden of guilt on my back but I also feel I should've been stronger and that I should've stood up and -- and so yes, yes I think there's still guilt (feelings).

Cesar Ruvalcaba:

If there was a war again, would you go? Why or why not?

Barry L. Romo:

No. I wouldn't go because this country ain't right. It's not right internally; it's not right externally. If there was a war like the Civil War, okay, yeah, we're fightin' to free slaves; if there's a war like the second World War -- my God, the Nazis and the fascist Japanese. I mean this - this -- but this wasn't any other wars we fought in history. This wasn't - wasn't us fighting the Spaniards and then afterwards slaughtering a million Filipinos who only wanted to be independent like we wanted to be independent.

This -- this, you know, World War I was what? There was -- what was the big difference between Germany and France and -- and England? You know, the only thing was was their language. It wasn't the fact that they didn't all have colonies. Wasn't the fact they didn't all have kings and queens except France but, you know, they had emperors and dictators in between. And so, I mean, millions of people's lives (?were nothing?). Only in those kind of extreme cases. And -- and it's not that I'm afraid to fight. I was in North Vietnam while the U.S. was bombing so I faced bombing. I -- I was in the Philippines in -- in -- in Davao where the New People's Army is and where death squads were. And I just got back from Colombia where death squads and -- and a military that -- that we're supporting just like in Vietnam, and so it isn't that I'm afraid of combat, but I -- no, they ain't gettin' me no more.

I have a recurring nightmare that me and my friends in VVAW are all old and are called back to the service to our same exact ranks and so I'm like 53 and I'm a platoon leader again. And one of my friends who's -- who's in VVAW, he's a Grenada vet and he was a ranger 82nd Airborne. And he's there as a sergeant and my friends who are Spec 4s are there. And they're all like how they are now with fat bodies and balding hair, and -- and -- well, except Tim, he's still -- goddamn rangers always stay in shape.

But we're there and we're being sent, and there's -- we can't get out of it. And it's just like Vietnam, being sent overseas and -- and I -- and it's all the bullshit and it's all the sweat and it's all the fear. And I have it and when I was 40 I would have it and I would be 40, and now that I'm 53, we just all keep aging in it, and it's all the same dream of just -- just -- just tireder bodies.

Cesar Ruvalcaba:

What one goal would you like to accomplish before you pass away?

Barry L. Romo:

I don't have one goal. I have a lifestyle. I have a thing that says people touch each other through -- even though you're taping this -- people touch each other through human contact. And the most important way to change people and to alert people is -- is by talking to them, is by sharing experiences, is by realizing that we don't know all the truth and that -- you know, we -- we just have more experiences and we might not interpret that truth correctly and -- and so I guess what I would want to be is the pebble in the pond. I would want to be a person that -- that -- that makes a small ripple and if that ripple touches other people intellectually and spiritually.

Cesar Ruvalcaba:

In closing is there anything you would like to -- you would like to say?

Barry L. Romo:

It just amazes me the -- the revisionism that's goin' on now about the war. The truth that was known in 19 -- the 1960s and the 1970s and the dirty tricks seem to be whitewashed and made to go away. And it bothers me when G.I.'s blood like my nephew's blood was used as -- as eyewash to make people not see the truth. You know, oh, if you talk about the Vietnam War being wrong then all those people that died there and all those people that were POWs, you're -- you're putting a stain on their memory. And it bothers me that -- that people that died there that I saw died -- that my nephew gets used to promote future wars and -- and that's what bothers me. And no matter how many books get written, Vietnam wasn't -- not a noble cause; and Vietnam was not a mistake; Vietnam was planned. The only thing that wasn't planned was us losing. Nothing. The only thing noble about it was those of us that -- that stood up and said the war was wrong and fought against it, and that was a noble cause, but nothing else.

Cesar Ruvalcaba:

How do you feel having the government holding your life and your family's life in their hands after this experience?

Barry L. Romo:

It's a scary thing. You know, the government's supposed to be of, by, and for the people, but -- but you learn it's not. You learn that your life really isn't worth much, and you learn that there are very few heroes in the government bureaucracy. I never had an agent come up to me and say hey, what I'm doin' is wrong. You look at my FBI files and when I was gonna go to North Vietnam, they sent letters from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles to the field office 'cause I had been arrested leafletting a mall -- a crime -- against the war and they were gonna go to the judge to see if he could have me thrown in jail, not because I had done anything wrong since I had leafletted the Riverside Mall, but because they didn't want me to go to Vietnam, and they didn't want me to go to Vietnam not because I was gonna give up secrets but because they were afraid of the Vietnam vet in Hanoi sayin' what I saw from that side, and that's a scary thing.

And that's beyond incompetence and that's beyond just makin' mistakes; that's conscious decisions. Sometimes people think that what we do overseas stays there; it doesn't. Every bad thing that Americans do overseas, the people -- people bring it back -- [sound fades briefly from technical issues from recorder]--abuse children in Vietnam, you abuse children here; if you rape children in the Philippines, you rape children here; if -- if -- if you abuse prostitutes in Korea -- you don't come back here and all of a sudden become a good boy scout leader, or maybe you do.

And so people have to realize that when we train people to be torturers, when you train people not to respect people's rights overseas all of that stuff comes back to us, and what -- and not just in what we do but in what higher ranking people do and think they can get away with when they come back to this place. And so you have it at the small level, the guy who -- who was a child molester in the Philippines and was a, you know, a cheap chief gun remade or something, and now is a boy scout leader molesting people or the guy who was -- was a intelligence officer torturing people coming back and now heading up something here in the United States.

So it's a scary -- it's a scary situation. And I don't believe everybody in the bureaucracy is a big bully. And all this -- there's a lot of really nice people, you know, but there's also a lot of scary people. And the main reason people keep jobs after a while is for retirement, so they don't get laid off.

Cesar Ruvalcaba:

How would you feel if your son decided he wanted to go fight a war?

Barry L. Romo:

I would sit him on my lap, and I would cry like my father did and tell him not to go or her, 'cause unfortunately nowadays women can go too; although, both my kids say they won't go. I'm adamant about that. But I would try to be a loving father and lose that night's sleep and stay in contact with 'em. I have friends who I've told not to go in the military and who are gone. And right now I get e-mails from 'em, and it's -- and it's strange 'cause they still have a progressive streak to them and they still don't like the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War, and yet they like what they're doing in the military. And I don't understand that contradiction but bless 'em for it.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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