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"We would talk later about how we would shake, just physically shake, but we wanted to shake by ourselves." (Video Interview, 19:00)

   Gary L. Villereal
Image of Gary L. Villereal
Gary Villereal, Bu Dop Special Forces Camp, III Corp, South Vietnam [December 1969]
War: Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Branch: Army
Unit: 1st Cavalry Division; II Field Forces
Service Location: North Carolina; Oklahoma; III Corps, Vietnam; Phouc Vinh, Vietnam; Tan Son Nhut, Vietnam; Fire Support Base Buttons, Vietnam; Special Forces Camp Bu Dop, Vietnam; Song Be, Vietnam; Phuoc Luu, Vietnam; Duc Hue, Vietnam
Rank: Specialist Five
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A year out of high school in his native Michigan, Gary Villereal was living in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury District in 1968 when he received his draft notice. He returned to Michigan and entered the Army, shipping out to Vietnam in May 1969. Despite a disabled foot, he persevered during training, even when offered a discharge by a medic. Eventually assigned to an isolated Special Forces camp on the Cambodian border, Villereal was knocked unconscious during a mortar attack, losing his hearing for a couple of days. This time, there was no getting out, as only the most gravely injured could be evacuated.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (7 clips)
»Complete Interview  
Download: video (52 min.)
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 Video (Interview Excerpts) (7 items)
Memories of basic training; drill sergeant decked the biggest recruit to get them to come to attention; DIs befriended their own men but picked on men from other platoons; he had a bad foot, was offered a discharge, but determined to stay on. (03:40) Arrival in country, strongest initial impression was of the men who had been there the longest: they were filthy and they didn't seem to acknowledge anyone else. (01:08) His initial duties as a lead mortar radar operator; his first real combat situation: seeing a woman with a rifle pointed at him, not wanting to return fire; rules were that anyone in the wire surrounding their camp was in a free fire zone; a US soldier was found dead one morning in the wire, shot by a fellow GI. (03:16)
Assigned to unit assigned to Special Forces camp Bu Dop; up to that point, he was not acclimated to Vietnam; under fire near Cambodian border; befriended by a black soldier who gave Villereal Delicious apples for his men and looked out for them. (04:18) Christmas cease fire broken by enemy; mortar fire killed a good friend; that event was a turning point for his attitude toward the war; grieving over his loss; getting angry with one of his men for getting wounded; knocked out by a mortar, losing his hearing; medics restricting evacuations. (04:58) No one outside of his unit was important to him; shutting down after several friends were killed; when a newbie was slightly injured and overreacted to his wound, Villereal and his men didn't want to have anything to do with him. (02:09)
Lessons from the war: don't take anything for granted, nothing is insurmountable; he got a PhD. in spite of his barely graduating from high school; Vietnam vets are misunderstood, especially when it comes to suicidal thoughts. (02:59)  
  
 
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  October 26, 2011
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