The Library of Congress Veterans History Project Home 
Experiencing War: Stories from the Veterans History Project
Home » Text Transcript

Interview with Richard DeLeon [October 30, 2002]

Cathleen McLoughlin:

October 30, 2002. This is the beginning of the interview with Richard DeLeon at the Donnell Library, Media Center on 53rd Street in New York City. Mr. DeLeon is 58 years old. Having been born on--

Richard DeLeon:

November 9.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

November 9, 1944. My name is Cathleen McLoughlin and I'll be the interviewer. Richard DeLeon is a Vietnam Veteran. And now what branch of the service did you serve in?

Richard DeLeon:

U.S. Army.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

And what was your rank?

Richard DeLeon:

Specialist Fourth Class.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

And where did you serve?

Richard DeLeon:

Tayninh Province, South Vietnam.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Now, were you drafted or did you enlist?

Richard DeLeon:

I was drafted.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

And you specified you'd like to tell us two stories and maybe you could start with telling us how you entered the service.

Richard DeLeon:

Well, I was--

Cathleen McLoughlin:

According to your experience.

Richard DeLeon:

--I was drafted myself.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Where were you living at the time?

Richard DeLeon:

New York City.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

And why did you pick the branch of the service that you joined?

Richard DeLeon:

Well, when you're drafted--

Cathleen McLoughlin:

You don't have a choice.

Richard DeLeon:

You don't have a choice.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

And do you recall your first days in the service? What did you feel like and tell us about boot camp or the training experiences.

Richard DeLeon:

Well, it's just the same typical--you've seen it in a dozen Hollywood movies. Boot camp is boot camp and they are trying to instill in you the basics about what you're going to experience but, to tell you the truth, it's all pretty useless because the only thing it really accomplishes is it indoctrinates you into the army, into obeying orders and that's basically all it's suppose to do. It can't teach you how to fight because nothing is going to teach you how to do that until you're in it so--but they pretend like they're going to do that. Basically they are just trying to make you conform.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Right. So, you think they work on your ego?

Richard DeLeon:

Well, they destroy your ego.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

All right.

Richard DeLeon:

And they rebuild it.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

And do you remember your instructors?

Richard DeLeon:

Sure.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

And how would you describe them?

Richard DeLeon:

Nice guys doing their job.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Were there any that stood out? Some people have bad stories about their instructors.

Richard DeLeon:

Nah. That they were tough but they were okay.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

All right, and how did you get through it?

Richard DeLeon:

Not with flying colors. It was--but I got through.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

All right and then perhaps you'd tell us your experiences once you're inducted.

Richard DeLeon:

Over there?

Cathleen McLoughlin:

You said you wanted to tell us about two experiences.

Richard DeLeon:

Yeah, all right, I'll tell you about two experiences. There were several others but I'll just give you two so that, for the record, you'll get an idea about what it was like. I don't know if it was this way with every division but with the First Cav, it was pretty much this way. At that time the First Cavalry was established in Third Corps South Vietnam, which is a mountainous area, it's called the highlands, the central highlands. Mountainous country with jungle at the bottoms, thick brush up on top and the thing that made it tough is you have to go up and down with a pack on your back, 70 pounds for me. I was a medic, platoon medic. And, for one thing, you'd lose a lot of weight and it's exhausting but once you get used to it, you became sort of part of the family. It's a family of a hundred men. I don't know how to explain it. It's a brotherhood. Well, they assigned us one time to be airlifted in an ambush one of the trails of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The Ho Chi Minh Trail is not one trail, it's many trails. Maybe a hundred. Nobody knows.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Uh-huh.

Richard DeLeon:

And these are trails which have carpeting on the bottom, trees slung together over it or above so that they are limiting aerial reconnaissance and mostly at night the Vietnamese would go down these trails to bring in men, supplies and so forth. So--

Cathleen McLoughlin:

When you say carpeting, do you mean--

Richard DeLeon:

It was kind of a weaving kind of thing so that bicycles could go on them easily because many of these bicycles were full of two hundred pounds' worth of supplies and stuff and they wanted to make it as easy as possible. You knew that when you found that trail had this carpeting on the bottom, that it was well used and it was a major supply route. So, we were flown in right next to this trail, it was called the Jolley Trail, it was named after a colonel who had spotted it from a helicopter. Colonel Jolley. Not because we were going to be happy.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Right.

Richard DeLeon:

And I'll never forget when I went in on the first wave, we jumped out of the helicopters. We couldn't land because there were plants that were too high, so, we had to jump out from about four or five feet as the helicopter hovered and all of the plants were marijuana plants growing naturally, I assume. And I'll never forget, instead of fanning out like the guys are supposed to do, they were ripping out plants and shoving them in their knapsacks. Well, we finally got our shit together and then we moved off to the trail. After we got the second wave in, the next platoon, so that we could back each other up. And the captain decided he was going to send--split up the company. He was going to send 40 men to the right, we would ambush it on one side, and 60 men would go to the left and ambush it on the other side. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon and I'll never forget as we were walking down--which is in retrospect a no-no, you never walk down the trail--I heard someone hiccup or not hiccup, cough, to my left. And I knew it wasn't the man in front of me and I knew it wasn't the man behind me but, of course, you don't believe what you don't want to believe. So, we walked down about a hundred yards and we turned off to the right, started to make our camp, 40 men. With me was the captain, the artillery officer, and about 38 men.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

What would a camp consist of? Did you have tents?

Richard DeLeon:

No. No. There is no tents. Camp consists of--you do have an air mattress. You have to dig foxholes surrounding your position. Some of the grunts have to go out and put up trip flares as an early warning system in case you're going to get attacked. And your camp consists of--well, you just--where you sleep is you blow up your air mattress and if you think it's going to rain, you can put two poncho liners together, tie them to trees and you and a buddy can sleep next to each other. That's the limit of what a tent could be. But we didn't even have a chance to do that because as the sun was going--I remember I was eating my freeze dried food that I had just heated up and I was sitting there when I heard something land with a thud. It turned out to be a Chinese Communist potato grenade. These are grenades that are--have a stick sticking out of them and they are held by the hand and then just thrown. And so I instinctively knew what it was and everybody dived, I dived down, it exploded with a huge roar. One of its pieces got me in the ankle. I started to crawl toward my foxhole because the first thing we had done was dig our foxholes.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Uh-huh.

Richard DeLeon:

As I was coming, everything opened up, machine gun fire came over our heads and B40 rockets started to come in.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Now, the B40 rockets--

Richard DeLeon:

Those are rocket-propelled grenades.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Where were they coming from? From these guys who were hiccupping or coughing?

Richard DeLeon:

Yes. Probably they saw us come in and then they set up an ambush. So, in other words, we are supposed to ambush them and they are ambushing us. The other 60 men--as the sun is going down--are in their own perimeter about two hundred yards away, three hundred yards away, and they can't really do anything. So, they had to listen to all of this. We had a 50 caliber machine gun with us. And, to be honest, we lost it. The man who was covering the 50 caliber got so afraid that he defecated in his pants and was shaking. I was trying to crawl to my foxhole and my own --the radio operator who was with the artillery officer almost shot me because he thought--he was so scared he thought I was a--I hate to say it--but a gook. I yelled at him and screamed and put up my hand, no. And he caught himself and didn't shoot me with an M16. So, I made it to my foxhole. My captain was next to me. Then a B40 rocket went off right near us. It wounded him in the finger and me in the leg and he couldn't really function. So, I said, captain, give me the radio. I have to call for air support or something. And he couldn't talk to me. So, I grabbed it from his hand and the rest of the evening I spent going around using up all my medical bandages. None of the men was killed but 35 out of the 40 men were wounded. And because of that attrition rate, the battalion decided they were going to have to take the company out because under army rules, if you have 30 percent casualties, you must be extricated. They wanted to do it that night. I said, no. They wanted the battalion surgeon in a helicopter, two medevacs, they were going to come out but it was dark already. And they were going to try and take us out that night and I said, that's going to be the dumbest idea. I said to them, I could keep these men alive. There is all just shrapnel wounds. There weren't any real bullet wounds because unwittingly these Vietnamese had warned us with the grenades that we were under attack, so, everybody hit the ground.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Uh-huh.

Richard DeLeon:

And generally speaking you don't get shot unless you're standing up.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Uh-huh.

Richard DeLeon:

So, most of those bullets went harmless. It was the grenades and rockets thatdid all of the damage. But they had achieved their purpose and they really knocked out us as a fighting force. And I said to them in the helicopters that I could keep them alive until the morning, don't bring them in because I was terribly afraid that one of them would get shot down. Cathleen McLoughlin:: Yes.

Richard DeLeon:

And then that would have been a worse mess than--

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Right.

Richard DeLeon:

--anything.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

How could the helicopters get the guys from the ground if the helicopters--they couldn't land because you couldn't land to get there?

Richard DeLeon:

There was a slight clearing nearby.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Okay.

Richard DeLeon:

And they could have possibly got in there but, of course, that's like clearing would have been a target.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Uh-huh.

Richard DeLeon:

So, I talked them out of it and actually one of the medevac helicopter pilots thanked me because he didn't want to come in either.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Right.

Richard DeLeon:

The next morning the other 60 men from our company came through, came in on us and, of course, they saw us all wounded there, so then they came in and took the whole company out and they put another company in. I spent two weeks, three weeks, in the rear convalescing during which it might be interesting for you people to know that they were trying out a new technique as far as wounds were concerned and I was one of the people they tried it out on. In Korea the technique of bandaging a wound was to sew it up immediately to try and prevent infection from coming in.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Uh-huh.

Richard DeLeon:

Well, unfortunately, that didn't work so well because they had such a high percentage of infections. So, this new technique was to leave the wound open for a certain period of days to allow air and oxygen--which is a bacterial killer--to come in and then once infectionwas noticed not to have happened, then they would sew it up. And I remember being there and having my leg exposed and this doctor was showing Vietnamese medics this new technique. Okay, so, three weeks go by. In the interim, my company had been reassigned and at the end of three weekswas in three days of contact--which means combat--with North Vietnamese on a bunker complex deepinside a bamboo jungle. By the time now I was told that I had to go back out.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Tell me what a bunker--

Richard DeLeon:

Complex. The North Vietnamese used to live in underground--I don't know how you would call it--bunkers. They were just rooms or they were underneath the ground entered by asmall hole at the top that was fortified so they could stick their heads up and stick a gun out but be protected. Some of these things could withstand bombs from aircraft. They were very welldesigned, basic, crude--

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Uh-huh.

Richard DeLeon:

--but effective.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Right.

Richard DeLeon:

Well, by the time I was supposed to go back out, it was a Sunday and the reason I mentioned it was a Sunday, I knew that because there was a padre there going to go out and say mass. Now, the company was in a very thickly-wooded bamboo jungle. Now, this is not the bamboo that you normally see. This bamboo, each stalk, it's a kind of grass but the stalks were like six inches in diameter.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Uh-huh.

Richard DeLeon:

And this stuff is so hard you can't cut it with a knife, you can't break it with a machete. And the boys were having a hard time because they had overtaken the bunker complex and pushed the North Vietnamese out in those three days. So, they now occupied this bunker complex but to get supplies, they had to try and make a clearing for the helicopter.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Uh-huh.

Richard DeLeon:

So, they tried burning it away, setting fires to burn these bamboo, anything that they could.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Uh-huh.

Richard DeLeon:

And the best that they could do was make a very small clearing but a helicopter couldn't possibly land, it has to hover. And I'll never forget that I was out at the helicopter pad waiting to take off and there were seven young boys, FNG's we used to call them.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

What's that stand for?

Richard DeLeon:

It stood for fucking new guys.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Okay.

Richard DeLeon:

It's what veterans called replacements--

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Uh-huh.

Richard DeLeon:

--recruits. It's not an endearing term because veterans always felt that a new guy was the best chance of getting you killed because he didn't know what he was doing.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Uh-huh.

Richard DeLeon:

Not only could he get himself killed but get you with him.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Right.

Richard DeLeon:

So, the first thing you told the FNG's was shut up, I don't want to hear your face and just keep your eyes open, your ears open and learn and just maybe you're going to make it. In addition there was a priest, like I said, a padre, and a lot of supplies that were goingto have to go out. Well, the helicopter, we only used one helicopter, had gone out already onceor twice and it was eight o'clock in the morning. And I asked when he came back I said, what's it like? How is it? He said, well, right now they're not in contact. I spoke to the pilot andhe said, you'll probably be going out on the next lift. So, I said, okay. I said, what about the FNG's? He says, no, they are going last. We got to get all of the supplies out first. Supposedly even the FNG's weren't that important. It was more to get the supplies, the food, the water, the ammo, maybe even me. So, I climbed on with the padre and I guess we were the fourth flight out and I remember circling around and you couldn't see anything except trees, jungle, green, everywhere, they had to light--they had to set off a smoke grenade. We had those for the helicopters. And then they would--you would tell them, I see yellow smoke. They would never--

Cathleen McLoughlin:

The guys on the ground would?

Richard DeLeon:

They would not tell you what color smoke it was.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Uh-huh.

Richard DeLeon:

You had to identify the smoke. In this case it was yellow smoke. And then they would say, that's a rog, okay, this way you knew that you weren't being lured in because the Vietnamese had confiscated smoke grenades also and they always listened in on our radios.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

So, the guys on the ground would communicate to you?

Richard DeLeon:

Of course.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

The color of the smoke?

Richard DeLeon:

Well, we would communicate to them, I see yellow.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

I see. Okay. Confirmation?

Richard DeLeon:

And then they would confirm.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Yes.

Richard DeLeon:

That's a roger, that's yellow smoke.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Right.

Richard DeLeon:

And so we'd come in, we'd circle and then we had to come down straight but we had to be at least eight feet off the ground.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Uh-huh.

Richard DeLeon:

Well, luckily, I didn't have a pack on me, so, the drop eight feet just had to make sure you didn't break your legs or anything or twist an ankle. The padre was, to say the least, frightened.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Uh-huh.

Richard DeLeon:

I helped him, I said, padre, you'll be all right. We both jumped out. We made it, as we hit the ground. He went off to say mass. It must have been the quickest mass in history. And I went off to see my platoon. And when I joined them, they were so happy to see me and they said, doc, what are you doing here? And, you know, the same old pleasantries and hugging and all this kind of stuff and it was like being home, not the home you want to be in but it was home.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Right.

Richard DeLeon:

And they introduced me to my new lieutenant, who had just come in, very nice man, wore a baseball cap. He was a ranger, army ranger, and I had respect for that. These men had a lot of training. And he had that baseball cap and he was bending on his knees and saying, doc, glad to meet you. And I said, I'm glad to meet you, LT, and I said, how is my boys? And hesaid, I think we are all going to be fine. Well, one other part of the story is that one of thefirst trips of the helicopter, because they were eight feet above the ground, they have to throwall of the ammo off.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Uh-huh.

Richard DeLeon:

Now, the grenades came in crates and one of the crates which held the grenades upon impact with the ground opened up. Now, there were, let's say there were, 30 grenades in the crate.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Uh-huh.

Richard DeLeon:

The men were frantically trying to find them all. They found every one except one.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Uh-huh.

Richard DeLeon:

The reason why we were worried was because there were still fire smoldering from where they had tried to burn away the bamboo and the problem with bamboo is once you get it lit, it doesn't go out. It's a slow burner. I don't know why the LT, this new LT, went back there, but he found the grenade because the grenade found him. It blew up just at the time he was there. Suddenly they called me and said, doc, your LT has been hit. I went and I found him. Ihad just met him. He had a big hole in his head and he was dead. He had died instantly, probably mercifully. So now the helicopter is coming back in and I put two people up into it. I put the padre--who was by now trembling, shaking like--I couldn't even console him because now he had seen--

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Right.

Richard DeLeon:

--what happened to that LT. We wrapped up the LT and put him on--we had to lift him up because, like I said, the helicopter couldn't land and the padre and the LT went out. I remember going back and sitting back by a tree thinking to myself--I don't know what I was thinking. I was just saying, what a mess. Well then there came about four o'clock in the afternoon, all of the supplies had been delivered and now it was going to make its last delivery, the FNG's, and I still think back about those boys. They didn't even look like they had ever shaven. They had these clean uniforms on and they looked exactly like that. Such boys. I don't know ifin any other sequence I would have ever thought of them being such boys but they looked so scared. They never spoke. They were on that pad, all of them knowing they were going out but they never spoke. The helicopter took off. It was coming in. I remember looking at it through the trees. I could see it as it was, the rotor was going and the heli was coming in. It had those seven boys, two door gunners and a pilot and a co-pilot. And then I heard the 30 caliber machine guns open up, I heard the engine sputter and then it immediately fell into the trees. Crashed. We immediately sent down a platoon to surround the helicopter, my platoon, and a firefight brokeout. The grunts around the helicopter said they could actually see the gooks and some of the men were standing up and firing at them. And I seem to hear a 51 caliber Russian machine gun shooting at us. It almost sounds like a kind of a cannon. It's got a boom, boom, boom, kind of a--it doesn't sound like a regular machine gun. The helicopter was all smashed up like an accordion.One of the door gunners, young black man, had jumped out just before it crashed and he broke hisleg but he saved himself. There was only one other man alive inside. He was at the very rear of the helicopter. His arm was broken, his bone was sticking out, he seemed in shock. Bleeding everywhere. Dave Nava--the man in the photo--and I went into the helicopter. He was the sergeant of the platoon. One of the bravest men I ever met. There was a gasoline or actually it's aircraft, aircraft petrol, aircraft fuel, which is very highly flammable, and puts out intense heat, it was pouring all over all of the guys and of course they're dead but it was pouring all over the helicopter and we were trying to extricate this man in the back, Dave and I, but his leg was stuck to the side of the helicopter. It had somehow merged with a bolt or something and we couldn't get him out. And I said to Dave, I said, Dave, we are under fire, there's fuel all overus, we are going to go up in a second. He said to me, doc, you can go but I'm not leaving untilthis guy is out. I don't think I ever admired anybody more in my whole life. I said, all right, let's try it again. I said, Dave, I think I'm going to have to take his leg off. It's the only way we are going to get him out. He's stuck fast. For some reason Dave hated the idea of mehaving to take his leg off. He said, let me try again. I don't know how he did it but he got him loose, put him on his back and together we came out of that helicopter. We brought him up. Itried to cover that bone that was sticking out of his arm. I'll call it a compound fracture. And we gave him intravenous. Another medic came up to help me. And then we called in a medevac to get him out because I knew he was in shock. He kept fighting us all of the way. His face was already black and blue. Poor kid. But at least I think he survived. I knew the war was overfor him. And then they told me, well, doc, you got to go back down there, you got to get these guys out of the helicopter and you got to wrap them up because we don't leave bodies. The platoon was still surrounding the helicopter, the firefight had died down, the gooks had known what they had done and they got their objectives accomplished. I went down and funny thing was, none of the guys would come with me. It's like they didn't want to look. And I remember going up to the pilot first and I lifted up his face and the whole left side of his face was crawling with maggots. Thousands of maggots. I took my knife out and I began scraping away the maggots, screaming at them. I think, I think, I started to cry. I said, you leave that man alone. I rememberI had to try and get his body out and he was stuck by the leg and I took my knife out. Now it didn't matter. I cut away his flesh that was stuck to the bolt so I could get him into a body--we didn't have body bags in those days. We had to put two poncho liners together and that made it. I got him out there and I blacked out. I don't remember anything any more. I had to get eight more men out of there. The next thing I remember, they were all lying there wrapped in the shrouds, the poncho liners put together lying all there waiting for the helicopter to come in andtake them out, send them back home. These boys never ever saw a stick of combat. The next thingI knew that I really recall is sitting around with my platoon, nobody said anything, and then wewaited for the order to saddle up and heading out. We were going to go on another mission, justanother day in the sun. I remember getting up and going out but I can tell you this: I can never, I can never, forget that. What do I think about war? Callous. Unfeeling. Definitely nondiscriminating. It doesn't care who it chooses or when. There is no choice. You could prepare for it all you want but it's like a hungry dragon that has no conscience. It takes what it wants and it moves on.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

It seems like the Vietnamese were doing all the damage.

Richard DeLeon:

In this instance it must. There was another time when we ambushed them one night and we killed 11 of them and I heard them crying all night. Because you don't go out at night to check them out. You wait 'til the dawn. We had hit them coming from both ways, that killed eight of them coming from one way. They were all stacked up too because the lead man was killed and they all came together and then we just killed them all and three men from the other side we hit them with claymore mines. Some men lost their faces. Some men were trying to crawl. We had 11 confirmed dead, all lying there. We might have killed others. There were blood trails going everywhere. Men trying to crawl with their wounds and trying to get away from the killing zone. I remember how the little helicopters came around the next morning and they are all so gleeful because we had done a good job. I went out and I saw the eight men stacked together. Iheard them crying all night. It's a moment you don't forget. And they know they are going to die. They are going to bleed to death. Well, they had, that morning. So much for conflicts and wars and so forth.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Well, I had a question about your training. How were you trained to be amedic?

Richard DeLeon:

The training school for medics is Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. Andyou don't volunteer for it except some guys who were conscientious objectors, they automaticallybecome medics but if they don't have enough of those, they assign people. I was one of those they assigned and you go through eight weeks of--well, how can you learn about medicine in eight weeks? But basically it's about lifesaving techniques. And they screen you. They show you very bloody films. Some guys would pass out looking at the films. Well, then you're automatically taken out. And then if you make it through that, you're a combat medic. You do have a choice if you were assigned to Vietnam. Not the ones who were assigned to Germany --three out of the fourclasses went to Germany, which I was surprised at. I thought three out of four would go to Vietnam but evidently we had such a presence in Germany that three out of four were there anyway.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

And this was in what year?

Richard DeLeon:

1969.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Uh-huh.

Richard DeLeon:

Early 1969. And you could choose whether you were going to be a hospital medic or a combat medic. Well, at least they ask you. I don't know if you could choose but they did ask you. And I was going to be damned if I had gone through all this and I wasn't going to see what the grunts were doing and what the war was all about. I wasn't about to go to Vietnam and not know what it was about and I wasn't going to spend it in a hospital doing bedpans and wiping down guys who had been in the jungle and then shot up. So, I opted for the combat medic. I don't regret any moment. Just knowing those men is one of the most proud and memorable things that I've ever done or ever will do.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Now, you were there for how long?

Richard DeLeon:

Thirteen months.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

And have you kept in touch with some of those people?

Richard DeLeon:

Yes. Funny story, about ten years ago, I had been going to a Vietnam Veterans Association meeting and I happen to look through one of the dictionaries they had--not dictionaries, the phone--like a phone book.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Right. Directory?

Richard DeLeon:

Directory. And I saw a man's name that I remembered from another time--in which I haven't told you about. That we were ambushed and the bullets were going right over our heads. I could actually see the bullets. I remember trying to dig a hole with my nose and he wasright next to me and he had put his--he was a six foot six man but lying prone, of course we arethe same size. He put his pack in front of his face and a bullet went right into his pack and it was the hot chocolate that we had that came in packets that stopped the bullet and he found the bullet when he was trying to make his hot chocolate the next morning. I said, you better put that thing in a necklace around you because you're one lucky man, that thing would have gone through your head. It was an AK47 bullet. I called him up and I said, hello, is this Glenn Denton(ph)? He said, it sure is. He said, how are you doing, doc? I couldn't believe it. It had been 15 years. I said, you remember me? He said, I'll never forget you, doc. When I went down toNorth Carolina and he came down to see me and he changed a great deal. He's bald now. And he was a foreman for an electrical--he was one of those linemen that goes up there and does the lines and we hugged each other and we kissed and we recounted old times. So, I do keep in touch with him. He calls me every once in a while, when are you coming down? He misses me and I miss him. Well, like I say, it's a brotherhood. Sometimes I think they mean more than wives. You can change your wife but you can't change these brothers. That's it.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

I have some questions here.

Richard DeLeon:

Sure.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Some of these seem so absurd when I'm thinking about your experiences that are so moving. Now, when you took these photographs, for instance, this was near the site that these battles took place, I take it, or not?

Richard DeLeon:

Same area. I mean, I don't know when it was. It was probably--these were taken when we were getting the supplies. I'm glad I got one with Dave. He was the one in the helicopter and he, like I say, he had six Silver Stars. But the one thing he wanted--he wasn't so proud of the six Silver Stars. I put him in for a Distinguished Service Cross. He didn't get it, they gave him a Silver Star. I thought he should have gotten a Distinguished Service Cross and Igot a Silver Star from being in that helicopter but--

Cathleen McLoughlin:

What is--tell me about the Silver Star.

Richard DeLeon:

Well, a Silver Star--the way the awards work is that up to a Bronze Star, you can get a Bronze Star or army commendation for meritorious service or for valor. So, up until the Bronze Star, you--if you have it for valor, you have to put a V on it, V for valor.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Uh-huh.

Richard DeLeon:

Which means you got it in combat because every man came back from Vietnam witha Bronze Star for meritorious service for just having been there but it's not a valorous award. Cathleen McLoughlin:: Uh-huh.

Richard DeLeon:

Silver Star, Distinguished Service Cross, in the army and Medal of Honor can only be given for combat, valor. So, you don't have to put a V for valor. He had six. But whathe wanted was a battlefield commission. Instead he got malaria and he died about 15 years ago. The malaria killed him. I know because I had a private detective find out what happened to him.He died in Brooklyn of malaria. A sad end for a very, very brave man. And a very tender and sensitive man. I'll never forget one time we went to Saigon and we both got a couple of hookers. That's what grunts do. And the next morning we were going back to our base and he told me how much he liked her and she was a married woman. He said, doc, I really like her. I said, Dave, snap out of it. He said--there were almost tears in his eyes. I couldn't believe that a man whoused to assassinate all of the prisoners--we never took prisoners. The First Calvary never tookprisoners--which was unfortunate and I gave up trying to save them. The men would taunt them and then shoot them. And Dave was famous for that and I thought to myself, gee, a man like this who could just assassinate people in cold blood and yet he fell in love with a married hooker. Isaid, life will always be such a wonder to me. Every time you think you can figure it out, it surprises you.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Yeah.

Richard DeLeon:

Yeah, well, that's Dave.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

And now tell me a little bit more about life, like not in--did you have any time outside the battlefield?

Richard DeLeon:

Oh, sure. Every company--in a battalion, you have four companies, line companies, Alpha Company, A Company; Brava Company, which is B Company; Charlie Company, which is C Company; and Delta, which is D Company. And, of course, sometimes you have a heavy weapons company, which is a small company of about 50 men and that's Echo, E Company. And those are the fighting units of a battalion and the battalion is centered around a fire base. When they are done cleaning up the area surrounding them, say a radius of 15, 20 miles, after they think that they've killed enough gooks and they've--that the enemy had such a good idea of where you are that they are staying clear of that, then we pick up and we make a fire base in another place. Well, somebody has to protect the fire base. On the fire base you have artillery men, cooks, not to mention the medic station, and so somebody has to protect it. So, there is always one line company which occupies the perimeter of the fire base and protects everybody inside. But for them it's Rand R because they are out of the jungle. They don't have to be walking all day from sunup to sundown carrying their pack on their backs, ambushing or getting ambushed. So, to them it's a holiday for one week and then you spend three weeks of the month out in the bush and then you do it all over again.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Now, the fire base, what kind of--how did you live there?

Richard DeLeon:

You lived out there on the berm by the--well, you slept out in the open, you slept on top of the bunker that you had built with sandbags and so forth. You create this littlething and there is barbed wire surrounding the whole thing and somebody always has to be awake at night on each bunker and you get hot food. They have a mess hall--it's not a mess hall. It'sjust a place, a tent really, where you could go and get at least hot cooked meals.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

And you took that sunup to sundown. What was the temperature?

Richard DeLeon:

Hot. We didn't bathe for weeks. You wouldn't have a bath for three weeks. I'll never forget one time I was out in the jungle, and I said, Jesus, I smell a dog around here.There must be a dog. You know that canine smell? If you've ever had a dog, you know what I wastalking about. And then I realized it was me. Yeah.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

There are so many questions to ask. Now, did you get mail? Were you in touch with your family?

Richard DeLeon:

Mail was the only saving grace that every man had. We desperately wanted those helicopters to come in and it wasn't only because--there were a lot of things you wanted, water, they'd bring out fresh water, they'd bring out your ammo, of course, and food. We'd fight over the food like a bunch of animals, especially if it's freeze dried. The C rations were terrible. They were the same C rations they served in World War II. I mean, they never changed the menu on this stuff and--but the freeze dried was something new and especially the spaghetti and meatballs. When they opened this blanket up--they put it down in a blanket and opened it up and there they were and the guys were standing like a bunch of crows and you ought to see these handsgoing and they'd only give you four spaghetti and meatballs. Oh, gees, I wouldn't--I just nevergot spaghetti and meatballs. I'm a medic. I mean, I can't lower myself to go in there with these guys. These grunts are going over there scratching each other's arms and everything trying to get at the right stuff. I said, why can't they just send out a whole blanket full of spaghetti and meatballs, you know, that would make sense but, then, again, this is the U.S. Army so-- But the other thing that you waited for, every man did, was mail call. Because the mail sack would come out and, God, you wanted that. For a moment in time, you'd cherish them, you'd go off by yourself, go by a tree, anywhere. Hopefully it was a woman who had been writing you. And just for a moment you were out of there, you were home again. Yeah, mail call. Some guys used to save the letters so they could read them like eight at a time. Sort of like little boys when theyare going to hide the cookies. They were, after all, little boys hiding their cookies. Little boys who were killing machines and then they'd come home and the whole world expects--expected them to just come into the populace, blend in, merge, become Americans again when people didn't even give a shit what the hell they had seen. And a lot of them dropped out, a lot of them couldn't make it. See the problem--and I want to say this for the Library of Congress--what's happened with every war is we spend millions and millions of dollars training these guys to go over anddo the job. The problem with the army and the marines and all of the armed forces is that they think that their duty is just to kill people. There is nothing that's really spent on rehabilitating these men when they come home. You spend all this money making a killer and you don't spend any money making him a human being again. I had to go--and I was suicidal. I went to a psychiatrist for an entire year. My boss on Wall Street paid for it. And then I put myself in an outreach center, which finally the government had some brains and opened up these psychiatric centers at the outreach clinics. And I put myself in for two years and they took the violence out of me. I was a very violent man. Now I'm not. I'm a pussy cat. Thank God for the outreach center, the psychiatric thing, which the government paid for. But I think they are going through a lot of this with these Desert Storm guys and they are going to see with Iraq again. They've got to have a program and it's going to cost a lot of money but after you train a guy to go out there and become an animal and then you want him to come back and just fit right in, it's not goingto happen.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Now, were you there during the time of the Calley incident?

Richard DeLeon:

No. I don't remember if--I think that was after but I'm not sure. And, for the record, we never, we never, killed any civilians. We really didn't see any civilians. We didn't do much with villages. The only other incident I might tell you about is the Phoenix Program. It was a CIA program of assassination and the CIA was assassinating maybe 60 thousand peoplethat were the Viet Cong infrastructure. One night we were given a mission to surround the village and we marched all night and got there by sunup. When the sun came up, the villagers came out and saw a ring of a hundred men around them, all Americans, didn't know what was going to happen and then a helicopter came in, some men got out, came back with two men, took off again and I'm sure they assassinated those men. They would go in and take away these Viet Cong. There used to be a village chief and there would be a political Communist.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Like a hierarcy?

Richard DeLeon:

Yeah. Well, they eliminated them. So, this is why, by the time 1970 came along or '73, when the North Vietnamese made that offensive and the American troops were out, therewas no Viet Cong infrastructure of South Vietnamese Communist who were going to take over the country and that's why the North Vietnamese--who actually enjoyed the fact that we had eliminated their rivals--came down and just took it over. So, South Vietnam is still run by North Vietnamese people. We helped them do it.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Did the soldiers feel that they were fighting for America?

Richard DeLeon:

No. We did in the beginning but as time went on, we were constantly--we knew about the protests at home and a lot of us would say, you know, if the people at home don't evenwant this shit, what the fuck are we doing here? And some of us then didn't want to start killing them any more. We were hoping that we wouldn't have any contact. When we hit it, we'd do our job, we'd kill them if we had to but--and they'd kill us--but we really didn't have our heart in it any more because we didn't feel like we were accomplishing anything. America didn't want it. The people didn't want it. We could tell that from the letters from home. We didn't reallyappreciate the protesters, the college kids and all this. We resented them. In fact, we resented everybody in America. Because we didn't think that they sympathized with us. After all, we hadn't decided to do this. We were made to do it. It wasn't our fault that this thing wasn't turning out to be a Cinderella War. And so we resented America for a long time when we came home.I think that's why I was so violent. I didn't like anybody. I would fight at the drop of a hat, anywhere, at any time. I could have hurt people. That's why I put myself in the outreach clinic and they did a good job, these young psychiatrists that were learning, they were doing this as an internship. Boy, I think they learned a lot just dealing with us.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Did your experiences--how--did that connect at all to what you did when you came home, I mean, your work?

Richard DeLeon:

No. No. And, as a matter of fact, it hurt me even more because sometimes at work on Wall Street--Wall Street was full of so many--I don't know, Yuppie kids, spoiled, rich kids, kids that had been able to go to college and get their degrees and wanted to make all this kind of money. They had no idea that there had been a war and if they did, they felt they were so smart that they had been able to get out of it by going to college and then, even when they would find out that I was there, they'd say, Oh, yeah, um, and then they'd just go onto somethingelse. I realized that if I don't just reflect and remember and honor the boys who were there with me, nobody is going to. They live in my heart. They live in my memory and not in anybody else's.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Did you feel that in memorial did justice--

Richard DeLeon:

Oh, yeah, absolutely. And I love Mayor Koch. I marched in that parade when he gave us the Vietnam Parade and actually I had respect for Donald Trump. He helped pay for it.He put up a million dollars for the memorial down on Wall Street. Yeah. I'll never forget he came there at seven o'clock in the morning. We were all there getting ready to go across the Brooklyn Bridge. And he was there with his suit on, Mr.--The Donald, but shaking every man's hand.I never knew why he did that. I would have never thought he would have cared. That just goes to show you, you don't know about people. The people you think that are going to care don't and the people you don't think that will, do. The irony of war.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Do you have any questions? So that--we don't have to ask you, did this service experience affect your life? You told us that.

Richard DeLeon:

I don't think you have to ask that.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Right and--

Richard DeLeon:

In a way it made my life. I would never be the same again. It made me a man,a tortured man, a wounded man, but a man nonetheless and when I finally got over it, I think I'm a better man for it. It's a shame that a man has to become a man through something like that but sometimes I think no matter how--which way--what road you take to get there, as long as you get there and you're alive.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

So that you've come out of it with some--

Richard DeLeon:

I think so.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

--enriched life?

Richard DeLeon:

Oh, yeah. I think so.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

You tell a powerful story. Have you ever written it?

Richard DeLeon:

No. For some reason I'm trying to be a writer. I'm going to writing classes and everything and, it's amazing that the only thing I don't write about is that war. I don't know why.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Because you tell such a powerful story.

Richard DeLeon:

I can't seem to put it down on paper. Maybe I will. I don't know.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

And I guess I want to ask you about representations of the Vietnam War. What you felt about the way it was presented to people. Films--

Richard DeLeon:

Well, I think that's a whole topic in itself. I think the first real movie that I ever thought was true to the whole thing was Platoon by--

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Oliver Stone.

Richard DeLeon:

Oliver Stone. Most of the others are just imaginative exercises by men who are trying to portray what they think happened like Apocalypse Now and all that kind of stuff but Platoon--and I think people are going beyond it now. I think we've--the America public has really learned its lesson from that and I think the American public in 30 years grew up too.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Uh-huh.

Richard DeLeon:

I think that's why they're a little bit afraid of Iraq. They won't talk about it but I think that they're a little apprehensive. They don't want to have another generation of guys coming back that are--excuse the French--all fucked up and which is what's going to happen if it turns out not exactly as the generals plan and it becomes somehow nasty.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Uh-huh. Just to round this out--I don't know what you could say after the stories because they were so powerful. When you came back to the United States, what was your immediate experience? You flew back from--where did you fly back from?

Richard DeLeon:

All right, that's a pretty good story. We came back to San Francisco and theyspent an entire day, we had to stay overnight because they were going to give us a brand-new suit of--uniform, tailored, tailor made. I mean, I was a hundred 65 pounds, if you could believe it. I'm two hundred 40 now. And I was trim, I was lean, a lean, mean machine. And I looked, I think I looked, handsome. I looked this, I looked that, and I remember getting mad at Glenn, whowas that radio operator I told you about with the bullet in his pack. I got mad at him because I said, let's go out and have a few beers and get a little screwed up before we go back. And hesaid, no, I've got to go home, Dad's waiting for me and I got mad at him and I yelled at him andhe told me about that recently when I went down to North Carolina. I hadn't remembered it. He said, do you remember when you got so mad at me in San Francisco? So, I went out on my own and I went to a bar in the San Francisco Airport. And I sat down with my uniform and all my medals on--I didn't have medals, they were ribbons and I sat there waiting for a beer and waiting fora beer and waiting for a beer. They never came over to serve me. And I looked around and the waitress would take care of everybody around me. The place was crowded. I couldn't get served.I finally got up, stood there and I spit, you people are not worth one ounce, one drop, of those men's blood and I walked out. My mother wanted to have a big banner on 74th Street. I said, don't you dare or you'll never see me again. I want to come in as incognito as I went out. I took off my uniform. I said, I'll never put that on again. I hated America. I hated Americans. I hated everything. This was what was coming back by the hundreds of thousands. Men just like me. Resentful. Bitter. Heart broken. And all they could think about in the Pentagon, well, what about the next war?

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Now, when you came from San Francisco, where did you--how did you get there?

Richard DeLeon:

I went to New York. They paid for the flight. They were so generous, yeah, they just paid for the flight and come to New York and--

Cathleen McLoughlin:

So, there is not a ceremony when you leave?

Richard DeLeon:

No.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

You were given a piece of paper?

Richard DeLeon:

There was no ceremony. As a matter of fact, they didn't want any ceremonies. The American public was so against the war, you were lucky if they didn't spit at you. I was ready for somebody to spit at me. I was going to tear their head off. They must have seen it in my eyes because I looked at everyone, go ahead, say something, do something, give me an excuse. They'd probably look in my eyes and just walk away but they knew they hated me. They thought wewere all criminals, baby killers, drug addicts, insane men. Well, they were right there. Most of us were insane when we came back.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

So, it's taken you a long time to get beyond that?

Richard DeLeon:

A lifetime. I'm probably still working on it. This interview is just closure. There is only one thing else I have to do. Two of the medics that I trained for platoon medics down in Vietnam were killed there. And in my house in North Carolina I've already planted a weeping willow ten years ago. It's now nice and getting pretty big and I'm going to put up a plaque for those two boys so at least somebody remembers them. Dedicate it to them. A bronze plague. We put it in front of the tree. And then I'm going to contact their folks and tell them that, yes, there is a plaque for your son. You can--well, that's it. I think that will be closure and then I'll go on with my life. I'll be 60 years old by then.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Was there anything you'd like to add that we haven't covered?

Richard DeLeon:

I think we did it all.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Because I think it's--

Richard DeLeon:

Is it on?

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Yes. It's on now. I still think it's part of the story.

Richard DeLeon:

What's your first name again?

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Cathleen.

Richard DeLeon:

I was just saying to Cathleen about the First Cavalry Reunion that I went to Orlando, Florida where I got to meet the general and the correspondent who wrote the book, "We were Soldiers Once and Young," and they're diehard First Cav, Seventh Cavalry fans. Hal Moore wasthe commanding colonel at the time. He's now a retired lieutenant general but he was the colonel at the time of the Ia Drang fiasco where two hundred and 50 men died in two battalions in two days. And I was telling him about that. I sort of, through them, asked them, do you think I could get to meet the men from the battalion, the survivors who had their own room and pretty muchtheir own say about everything and--

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Where is the room?

Richard DeLeon:

Well, it was one of the rooms in the hotel.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Oh, I see what you mean.

Richard DeLeon:

Yeah. And I went in there and there were about 30 men and their wives were alldoing their bartending and so forth and I started helping myself to a couple of vodkas wonderingwhat I was going to say to men who had been there four years before me and had really made me seem small by comparison to what they'd been through. And I got up and I said to them, I just want to say that I'm not Seventh Cavalry, I'm 12th Cavalry and I'm four years later but I just wantto tell you I think you're the best band of bad ass motherfuckers that ever lived and I'm proud to be just standing in the room with you. They got me so drunk that they had to carry me to my room, gently put me on the bed, made sure I was okay, practically undressed me and then went on their way. Men that were in that are really nice guys. I don't think the world knows that. Menwho have been through this have seen the devil and they can't be that far from God. Ryan brought me back to the reality of it. That man in the very beginning with his family trailing behind,he's the real thing. I mean, he's going back to a memory which haunts him, which is really his reason for living. I mean, everything else pales after something like that and we tend to just go through the motions. Most of us veterans have to just kick ourselves in the ass to get moving. That's why--the reasons so many of them drop out and give up because it's hard to duplicate anexperience like that, to make it as genuine and as meaningful, even in its own way, its wrong way but nothing that you do after that--not even marriage sometimes--can equate with the ferocity,the feeling, the intensity, of that moment in time where you were really stark naked, bare bones, facing yourself. The challenge of facing yourself. And I don't think you could ever forget that. I don't even think a wife or even a daughter can know exactly who you really are. I don'tthink most men know until they're put into that situation where, hey, there's no other place to go, it's just you now. What are you going to do?

Cathleen McLoughlin:

I was going to ask you about the drug situation.

Richard DeLeon:

Drugs were heavy. Not with the troops in the field, believe it or not, there were no men in the field who took heavy drugs. There was a little bit of marijuana. In fact, it was Dave Nava's platoon that was the marijuana smokers. They were the potheads and I didn't like it because I didn't like the feeling that I had if I got into a situation with the fear and having to function. Marijuana is okay as a--I'm not saying I didn't smoke marijuana but there is a time and a place for everything and it has its place and the battlefield is not one of them but these guys seemed to function well. They had the most kills of any platoon of the company. Of course that was Dave and--but there was no heroin or anything out there in the bush. All of that drug-taking--believe it or not, and it's ironic--was in the rear. If a guy was lucky enough to get a rear job doing anything in a fire base or even back at battalion headquarters or something like that, the boredom that would set in, the complete difference in the aftershock of his experience caused him very often to go into drugs. They were no women. There was just maybe he could have a little music. They used to play all that stuff that was--you hear it in Apocalypse Now, the soundtrack and all they said--there was a lot of that kind of music and--but the boredom and the aftershock of his experiences caused a lot of men to get addicted to drugs. Ironically if you stayed out in the bush, some grunts had to stay out the entire tour, 11 months or so,and then they'd go home and actually save them. Maybe it would make them more available to be killed by the enemy but in a kind of a way they would be saved from themselves and the drug addictions which came hand and hand with being in the rear. Everybody who got addicted was in the rear doing boring jobs, just counting time until they could go home and by the time they got home, they were drug-out messes and then they definitely had hit them together with their psychological problems, there was no way they were going to get out. I remember when I went to that outreach clinic so many of the guys that were in there--it helped me but I wasn't drug addicted and some of these guys were so burned out brain wise, drug wise, that there is no help for them. The best psychiatrist in the world wasn't going to help them. You might as well just write them off, lost generation.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Did you find--did you ever go to the veterans' hospitals? Did you--

Richard DeLeon:

Oh, sure. I've gone to them. They're horrible. I had to have a deviated septum done and went to the veterans' hospital on 23rd. You don't want to go there. I had to staythere overnight. I said, I want to see that doctor in the morning. Get me outta here. And thehelp is so terrible, the orderlies there, the nurse orderlies--the doctors are great because they are all volunteers and they all come from--in that particular hospital they came from--

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Bellvue.

Richard DeLeon:

Bellvue.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

And NYU.

Richard DeLeon:

Yes. How did you know that?

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Because I had to take my uncle there many times.

Richard DeLeon:

Yeah. But the orderly--I remember I'm lying in the bed and I'm just coming outof anesthetic and I asked this orderly, a female black woman--how else could you be a black woman but a female--and I'm asking her if she could move my bed closer so I could reach a kleenex tissue and she said, I ain't here to do things for you. What are you making me move this for? It's on wheels. And I said, I'd do it myself if I could move. I had to practically beg her to do it. I mean, this is not what--the kind of treatment that veterans deserve.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Uh-huh.

Richard DeLeon:

And I think that whole Veterans Administration needs an overhaul, especially its hospital system. They ought to throw all those people out and get people in there who reallysincerely want to do their job and help veterans and show them some respect. It's appalling. Idon't think I'd ever go to a veteran's hospital again.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Did you encounter any medical situation in Vietnam or did you ever have to go--

Richard DeLeon:

Just the wound, just when I was wounded.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Just the wound but you didn't go to a hospital--

Richard DeLeon:

No.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

--or any base?

Richard DeLeon:

I visited one because I knew some medics that were attached to a hospital and I went in there and I saw the wards but--

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Was it different?

Richard DeLeon:

No. It was pretty well done over there.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Uh-huh.

Richard DeLeon:

I'll tell you the truth, some of the hospitals over there were a hell of a lot better than the ones here. And why? I don't know. You figure it out.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Were there racial issues?

Richard DeLeon:

Big time.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

In Vietnam?

Richard DeLeon:

Big time. Fought all the time, black and white. In fact, it's an ironic thing. I was with one of my sergeants one time and the black guys used to wait for the white guys to come out of the EMC club, enlisted men's club, and then they would just start beating them andbeat you senseless and then throw you in a trench. It happened all the time. The black kids had been so affected by a lot of the correspondence in those days, don't forget that was the days of Black Power, the days of--

Cathleen McLoughlin:

The '60's.

Richard DeLeon:

--Black Liberation Army, whatever the hell that was, and the FBI was wiping out but by that time Eldridge Cleaver and everything had told all these black kids they were fighting a white man's war. Well, in a sense we had the same problem because we felt we were fighting a white man's war but so they took it out on us and they had this solidarity thing where they would all--to this day I don't like to talk to black people because of that experience. I hate them. And I don't sympathize with any black causes because of that experience and so they were trying to beat up me and my sergeant. I remember lying on my back and they were trying to get close to me and I kept trying to kick at them. They were beating up the sergeant and all of a sudden black guys came walking down the road from my own platoon. Well, one thing about even black guys over there, you don't mess with doc from your platoon. So, they came over and they brokeit up. Picked me up. Patted me on the back. Hey, doc, how are you doing? Because we had to go out the next day back in the jungle and I'm the one that's going to patch them up.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

So, there wasn't--there was danger in anonymity. When they knew you, it was different?

Richard DeLeon:

Oh, sure, because I was theirs. But if I hadn't been, they would have walked right by and allowed it to go on. Yeah, I think, though, that the black and white problems in Vietnam were only a mirror of what was going on in this country. It just was--don't forget, all these boys, none of them were college educated except for the officers and they didn't really have much they were looking forward to when they went home. They had a lot of resentments and herethey were being killed and wounded and nobody seemed to give a shit. I really can't blame half of them. It's sort of a thing like you don't really like what you see but you understand what you see.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Uh-huh.

Richard DeLeon:

You just hope it doesn't happen any more.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

It sounds like everything got intensified--

Richard DeLeon:

Yeah.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

--in that kind of environment?

Richard DeLeon:

It was sort of a microcosm of America and putting all these guys together intensified everything and if you throw in the element of danger and death--

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Uh-huh.

Richard DeLeon:

--and it sort of makes it explode. I think in this country we sort of hide everything and we--you could always escape in this country, you could go out to your little suburb and you could go into your little home and hide behind your job and go to classes and do all this stuff but over there you couldn't do that, you're in there with them mixed up.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Everything was very real?

Richard DeLeon:

Yes. And it's there and you're going to face it and it's going to come out. The frustration and the stress is going to make it come out. Fights were often. They were common.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

When you come back to the United States, do you feel that lack of sense of reality, that things were not like you think you expected?

Richard DeLeon:

Yeah. Yeah. It's that we couldn't communicate.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Uh-huh.

Richard DeLeon:

It's like the--we knew that there was something wrong but we didn't have the ability, the talent, to communicate this back to the people at home that, hey, you got a problem here because American people were still putting their head in the sand. Believing the same old crap that they had been telling themselves for years and years. They were just pissed off that this war had been going on that long. They sort of blamed us for it. Why didn't you kick their asses in three years? Why did it have to take ten? Like it was our fault. Well, shit, if we would have spent any more money and dropped any more bombs, then we probably would have eliminated half the population of the world. I mean, we did everything we could.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

How did you feel about McNamara when he wrote his book that in retrospect--

Richard DeLeon:

The one that I think is--oh, if I had probably been sitting next to him, I'd punch him. He's an asshole. A pompous, overeducated bastard who experimented with our lives probably for something that he knew was going to lose anyway but didn't want to lose any face. So probably that war went on another six years and didn't have to and another 30 thousand men are not here. Yeah, I would probably punch him. I would knock him right off the seat right now and I wouldn't help him up.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

I heard a story once, I just want to ask you to comment on this, that the Russians who fought in Afghanistan met guys that fought in Vietnam, and even though they didn't speak the same language, they could communicate.

Richard DeLeon:

Like brothers. You just have to look in each other's eyes and you see it.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

So, it's the experience that comes across?

Richard DeLeon:

Yeah, it's the pain, a similar pain. Regret. Hurt. It's pain and hurt to such an extent words can't explain it, probably why I can't write about it. It's hard to explain something. You either know it or you don't. And once you know it, there's no point in writing about it. So, it's self-explanatory. It's done.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Somebody else could deal with the reality?

Richard DeLeon:

That's why people in English literature are there to write the books.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

Well, it's a fantastic story and I just think it's on the record.

Richard DeLeon:

Thank you for having me. You really did me a service. I'm glad somebody cares. It's about time.

Cathleen McLoughlin:

It's amazing.

 
Home » Text Transcript
  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
  Legal | External Link Disclaimer Need Help?   
Contact Us