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Interview with Kenneth Rodgers [September 5, 2002]

Larry Ordner:

Ken, thanks so much for coming in and doing this. Appreciate your being part of this program. Well, tell me now, you were 17 years old in 1968, and you decided to enlist. What were you -- what were you doing -- where were you living at the time, first of all?

Kenneth Rodgers:

We were living in Burlington, New Jersey. My parents were -- we moved -- well, we -- we moved from Michigan to New Jersey because my parents worked for Army munition plants, and at that time period, you know, we had to going where my parents had the most work to get, and we wound up in New Jersey.

Larry Ordner:

And that was a period some of those -- those facilities were closing --

Kenneth Rodgers:

Right.

Larry Ordner:

-- I believe, too, and being restructured.

Kenneth Rodgers:

Right, at that time period, so we had to go for -- well, until my parents retired. When I went in the military, they semi-retired and moved back to Kentucky.

Larry Ordner:

So -- so at age 17, you decide to enlist. You -- you really I guess were anticipating being drafted, right?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Well, Vietnam had been going on for so long and everybody in my class that was older than me went -- you know, they were all getting drafted, all of us, even in high school.

Larry Ordner:

Yeah. Were -- were you in high school there, Ken?

Kenneth Rodgers:

I was in high school during this time frame, at 17, and I had an uncle who was a Marine Corps recruiter and another one who was already in the Army, and they were talking to me about going on getting in college, the same way my parents was, but I was hard-headed and wouldn't listen, and I had colleges talking to me about playing ball with -- on the college teams, and I just messed around, like an idiot, and wound up, you know, so I just went ahead and went -- went down and joined the Army.

Larry Ordner:

Were your parents supportive of your decision?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Not really.

Larry Ordner:

What did your mother say, for example? What was her reaction?

Kenneth Rodgers:

My mother was really torn about it, because she knew that eventually I'd probably wind up in Nam, and then being -- at that time period, I was the sole-surviving son, so --

Larry Ordner:

That --

Kenneth Rodgers:

-- I could have -- I could have actuality got out of the military because they were working for the government and I was the sole-surviving son at that -- at that -- at that time.

Larry Ordner:

Yeah. Was it -- age 17, how -- how did you make that decision to go? What did you --

Kenneth Rodgers:

I was --

Larry Ordner:

-- base your decision on, do you think?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Well, I just got kind of tired of doing the same old things over and over, and I knew eventually they was going to get me, so I just went ahead and -- and volunteered for the thing.

Larry Ordner:

Well, where did you go to enlist, do you recall?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Yeah. I enlisted -- we were home on -- in the summer, and I went ahead and enlisted in Mayfield, Kentucky at the post office.

Larry Ordner:

And then were you shipped off to boot camp -- or basic training, rather?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Well, they sent me to basic training. I was one of the last ones at --

Larry Ordner:

Where was that at?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Fort Campbell.

Larry Ordner:

Oh.

Kenneth Rodgers:

I was the last one -- one of the last ones to go through their training cycle there, and from there, I got put back at Fort Dix, which I was already -- where my parents -- outside of where -- you know, where I grew up, more or less.

Larry Ordner:

So did you -- did you complete basic at -- at Campbell?

Kenneth Rodgers:

I completed basic at Campbell.

Larry Ordner:

Well, tell me about basic. How rigorous was that for you?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Basic then?

Larry Ordner:

Yeah.

Kenneth Rodgers:

It was -- it was strenuous.

Larry Ordner:

Do you think it was more strenuous, considering the fact of Vietnam? Was -- was it --

Kenneth Rodgers:

No.

Larry Ordner:

Did you feel like it was more of a -- was it more of a -- I don't know how to say that. Was there more gravity put into basic training, I guess, more seriousness?

Kenneth Rodgers:

It was more harder than what they go through now.

Larry Ordner:

Really?

Kenneth Rodgers:

It was more -- stayed focus. Now it's more -- you've got to stay focused on your technical. Everything's so technical now where they got air sensors and all this stuff on tanks and they've got, oh, let's see, lasers on their weapons nowadays, they've got the new breathing apparatuses that goes around their helmets. So technology just has done a miracle for our -- our men and women in armed forces now.

Larry Ordner:

When you think back at that time in basic training, are -- are there some instances that just pop in your mind where you think back, even maybe a couple -- some people that pop in your mind more --

Kenneth Rodgers:

Oh, yes.

Larry Ordner:

-- readily than others?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Oh, yes.

Larry Ordner:

Tell me about some of those instances.

Kenneth Rodgers:

I remember -- well, back then, a drill sergeant could be a drill sergeant. If you did it wrong, he'd come over and put his foot in your hind end. Nowadays -- you know, I guess the drill sergeants got over- -- some of them got overboard and -- you know, but nowadays they can't -- they can't lay a hand on you and, you know, they can only discipline you by taking money away from you. There was a line, you know, "Drop and give me 50," or, "Drop and give me, you know, a hundred," or they're going to put you on KP or, you know --

Larry Ordner:

What -- what --

Kenneth Rodgers:

-- back then it was -- it was -- to me, I can laugh at it now because it's a thing in the past. It was a -- harder and it -- the motivation was a lot harder than what it is now. Now it's mostly -- I have a son now that's in the Marine Corps. He's serving in -- in Japan. He's Air Fire Rescue, and he's sitting on needles and pins now waiting to -- thinking he's going to go to Iraq, but I hope not, because if I -- if it comes down to it, I would go back instead of him, because -- but anyway, you know, the technology is so much advanced now for what they've got.

Larry Ordner:

Yeah. When you -- what would you -- how would you characterize some of the -- some of the activities that you went through in basic? I know that some of them were probably very repetitive in nature and -- but --

Kenneth Rodgers:

Well, we had a -- more low crawling where -- I mean, low crawling is where they make you go down -- it's like a physical exercise, and you go down through a mat on your elbows, and you've got to keep your hind end close to the ground, and back then, I thought, "Well, that's just a type of punishment," before actually, after I got to thinking about it after I got out of boot camp, they were teaching me to keep my butt down in case I got into a fire fight and everything, you know, how to cover up and how to protect myself. So it did -- it balances itself out.

Larry Ordner:

Were some of the guys in your -- your unit I suppose is what I want to say. Were they -- did some of them have more trouble than others --

Kenneth Rodgers:

Yeah, yes, sir --

Larry Ordner:

-- in boot?

Kenneth Rodgers:

-- they did. It was -- I was -- I consider myself Italian, halfway decent shape, not -- you know, just getting out of high school, but there were older fellows that had been school teachers and professional ballplayers, and, you know, they just couldn't really cope with the military --

Larry Ordner:

Yeah. And you were just a kid --

Kenneth Rodgers:

-- military life.

Larry Ordner:

And you were just a kid coming in there really. Very young.

Kenneth Rodgers:

Yeah. But I'm glad that -- you know, some of the -- the drill sergeants and platoon leaders, they take inter- -- they took interest enough to pull my aside and to chew my rear end out and make me finish my education. As I say, I quit high school to go in. My senior year, I just got tired of it, but I had -- you know, I -- I'm glad that I had a few men that had cared enough to say, "You're going to finish, get your GED."

Larry Ordner:

And then they -- they even started that on you back in boot camp, right?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Yes, sir.

Larry Ordner:

Is that right? Well, that's very, very good for them to do that.

Kenneth Rodgers:

Because they -- they told me back then that, "You're not going to get anywhere without that diploma or some kind of diploma. You know, the Army's not going to get you a job when you get out, you know? And you can't be stupid all your life, so you need the education."

Larry Ordner:

Well, after -- after basic, where did you go, Ken?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Fort Dix, New Jersey.

Larry Ordner:

And was that some advanced training?

Kenneth Rodgers:

It was my individual advanced training.

Larry Ordner:

Did you have an opportunity to -- I guess you took some testing, probably some aptitude testing, I suppose?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Right.

Larry Ordner:

What -- did you have any decision-making role in -- in what you were going to be doing?

Kenneth Rodgers:

No, not really. By the time I got to New Jersey, they already decided that I was going to be on 81-millimeter mortars and four-deuce mortars.

Larry Ordner:

So you -- they had a need, and you were going to fill it?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Exactly.

Larry Ordner:

What was that training like? Had you been around anything like that before ever?

Kenneth Rodgers:

No, no, I've never been -- I've seen in pictures, you know, and -- and, you know, back then, they used to -- you know, '69, '68, the early '70s, how they would show the guys getting killed in Nam, they would show background pictures of these guys with mortars, and that's where I -- I kind of figured out how the --

Larry Ordner:

Was that -- did that give you kind of a dose of reality when you started using that stuff and training with it?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Yeah. It made me -- of course I -- I had deer-hunted and hunted and fished and -- most of my life, but being -- getting in the heavy artillery and -- and mortars and that kind of stuff, it was, you know, like opening a brand-new book. I had to, you know, really concentrate. You didn't just say, "Well, you know, this is an 81-millimeter mortar, and we need so many people on the gun," and --

Larry Ordner:

Yeah.

Kenneth Rodgers:

-- everybody had a function and they -- you couldn't -- you had to do it in timing.

Larry Ordner:

Were your par- -- parents I guess familiar with that -- with that kind of armament, were they not?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Well, my father was. He was a Korea -- he was a Korean War veteran and he was familiar with that, and he was kind of -- he was in tanks, but he didn't know exactly what the infantry -- he just knew the infantry covered tanks.

Larry Ordner:

How long did that period of training last, Ken, at --

Kenneth Rodgers:

Let's see. It was -- back then, it was -- I think it was six to eight weeks for basic training and about the same for --

Larry Ordner:

So --

Kenneth Rodgers:

-- AIT.

Larry Ordner:

-- that's pretty rapid, isn't it, to do --

Kenneth Rodgers:

Pretty fast.

Larry Ordner:

-- to be -- to be molded into a soldier. What -- at that point, then, how soon were you deployed?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Let's see. When I finished AIT, I was sent to Korea. It was that quick.

Larry Ordner:

Did you have any idea what your role was going to be there? In other words, was that kind of a holding --

Kenneth Rodgers:

When I -- when I get -- when I got into Korea?

Larry Ordner:

Yeah. Was that kind of a holding station to a degree, or what were you doing in Korea?

Kenneth Rodgers:

No. When I got into Korea, they -- I had my orders cut, and it said I was going to be an 81-millimeter loader. You know, you've got -- you've got a gunner and a loader, you know, on the 81, and then you've got a loader, a gunner and a bandolier guy on the four-deuce.

Larry Ordner:

I guess what I don't understand: Why were you sent to Korea, do you think?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Gosh, I don't know. I was -- at that -- like I said, at that time, I was sole-surviving son, and I was kind of hoping for Germany and some of the other glorious places to --

Larry Ordner:

There was a huge buildup in Germany, wasn't there, huge number of troops there.

Kenneth Rodgers:

During that time frame, you know, I guess there was maybe more people there, so that's where I got sent.

Larry Ordner:

How soon after -- your time in Korea, how long were you there?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Okay. I was in Korea for about six months -- six or eight months, and the 82nd Airborne come through, and they were gathering up volunteers and different people with different jobs to make a -- to make a trip through to Nam. They were supposed to went to -- to make a sweep through Nam and come back, but when we got to Nam, it was an altogether different story.

Larry Ordner:

Well, tell me now: It was -- roughly six months after Korea, you were -- you were deployed to Vietnam, is that right?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Correct.

Larry Ordner:

I take it you flew in, right?

Kenneth Rodgers:

We flew in.

Larry Ordner:

What was your first perception when you got off that plane there?

Kenneth Rodgers:

The same way it was in Korea. "God, what did I get myself into?"

Larry Ordner:

Some -- some guys have told me that they remember two things when they got off the plane.

Kenneth Rodgers:

The heat.

Larry Ordner:

And?

Kenneth Rodgers:

The mosquitos and --

Larry Ordner:

The smell is what I've heard over --

Kenneth Rodgers:

The sm- --

Larry Ordner:

-- and over.

Kenneth Rodgers:

Yeah, the stench.

Larry Ordner:

The stench is exactly what they've said. They said it's just indescribable, but they can smell it yet today.

Kenneth Rodgers:

Oh, yeah.

Larry Ordner:

And I bet you soon -- you very quickly saw sights you never, ever dreamed you'd be seeing.

Kenneth Rodgers:

Well, that's true. I guess if it hadn't been for the military, there's places that I never would have seen in my whole life. I'd still be, you know, probably a professor or something. I don't know. I probably would have had other education.

Larry Ordner:

When you -- when you left -- when you -- after you arrived, did you -- did you board a bus and go someplace or --

Kenneth Rodgers:

They put us on a -- the back of a deuce-and-a-half and they carried us down to a holding place there.

Larry Ordner:

And I bet some of those sights are very familiar to you, what you --

Kenneth Rodgers:

Yeah, I still got them back in my head every time I see these Vietnam movies, which I don't watch very often, any kind of war movie, but at this time frame, you know, it was a -- like -- it was like a fairy tale. You know, "How did I get here? Why am I here?" You know, different --

Larry Ordner:

It was those same scenes you'd been seeing on the -- on the evening news --

Kenneth Rodgers:

Right.

Larry Ordner:

-- suddenly real life.

Kenneth Rodgers:

Come to reality.

Larry Ordner:

How soon a -- how soon were you there, Ken, that you were actually put in a combat situation?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Oh, I'm going to say less than a week or maybe a week.

Larry Ordner:

Really. Did you feel prepared to go into combat?

Kenneth Rodgers:

No, no.

Larry Ordner:

I just can't imagine how anybody could have felt that way.

Kenneth Rodgers:

Being that at that time -- let me think how I could put this. The blacks was for the blacks, the whites was for the whites, the Mexicans was for the Mexicans, but when it came time to be united, we united for that time period to go out into a fire fight or out on patrol or something, but when we was back -- back in compound -- I mean, we spoke and there was a lot of disturbance between all of us, but we all got together and, you know -- and made it, so I'm kind of glad of that.

Larry Ordner:

How -- how would you assess the -- your -- your leadership over there?

Kenneth Rodgers:

The leadership at that time? Weak. If it wasn't for some of the older guys that maybe been over there two or three times -- I was fortunate enough to have a -- a staff sergeant that he had been -- it was his second hitch over there, and he was from Tennessee, and some of the other guys, you know, they had -- from Alabama and, you know, Mississippi and everything, well, we all kind of -- when I say, "clicked," we kind of looked out for each other. But they never were close. You never got close to anybody, because you knew at that time frame -- frame that this guy's either going to get killed and you're going to wish you hadn't got close to him or he's going to go home. One way or the other, he's going home, you know --

Larry Ordner:

How would -- how --

Kenneth Rodgers:

-- in a body bag or -- he's going home.

Larry Ordner:

And then how -- how did you think of it then that maybe other people were thinking that about you? Did -- how -- how did you cope over there? How did you stay focused enough? How -- how did you keep your sanity?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Well, I got a lot of letters from home and duty boxes, and at that time, I -- I didn't know what marijuana was, and I got turned on to marijuana, and -- you know, so it kind of balanced itself out.

Larry Ordner:

Yeah.

Kenneth Rodgers:

Not that I was hooked on drugs, but, you know, I could -- you know, I was taking it or leave it, because I -- I was brought up in a good Christian family, and I wasn't used to the drinking and the -- the pot-smoking and all this other stuff, so I guess you might say I lost my Christianity for a time frame over there.

Larry Ordner:

But that -- that was certainly very much part of it.

Kenneth Rodgers:

Which it never was, and any man that went over there that says that he didn't -- come back and he says he wasn't scared, he's a damn liar, and I'll call it to his face. Pardon my language.

Larry Ordner:

Okay.

Kenneth Rodgers:

Because there was not a time over there that you didn't think about it. Even though you may look relaxed and you was laid back and all this kind of stuff, there was not a -- never a time that you didn't think about it. And as far as our leaders, we had some pretty good leaders. Some of them was more gung ho than others. When I say, "gung ho," they were going to come over and they wanted to change everything around where they wanted you to have polished shoes and a starched uniform, but you couldn't do that in the jungle. You know, you -- you couldn't go out there smelling like a rose 'cause this guy up a tree is going to smell you. So we went kind of grubby. I mean, it's not that we didn't have showers and, you know, outhouses and that kind of stuff. It's just --

Larry Ordner:

Well, how did you measure progress over there, progress of the war?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Well, we took over --

Larry Ordner:

It was a very -- it was slow going, wasn't it?

Kenneth Rodgers:

We took over a village seven or eight times, that one village, so that -- you know, we'd take it, have it for a couple weeks and get called back to regroup and --

Larry Ordner:

Why was that? I hear that over and over and over.

Kenneth Rodgers:

I have no idea. Now, that comes from congressmen and senators.

Larry Ordner:

I do hear that over and over and the frustration of that, you know?

Kenneth Rodgers:

And we never knew exactly who we were fighting. You know, they might have been there washing their clothes or something during the day or on -- or out on the compound, and at nighttime, they'd be dressed in black, you know, coming back across the fence at us a different way. You -- you just never did -- could never tell, so that's another reason you didn't get very close to the -- to the people. I'm not saying that all of them was like that, because -- about the same way in -- in Korea, also.

Larry Ordner:

Yeah.

Kenneth Rodgers:

You just didn't want to get too close to them because you never knew if they was going to come in and put a bomb under your bed or somebody else is going to put a bomb under your bed.

Larry Ordner:

How intense were the combat situations that you faced, Ken?

Kenneth Rodgers:

You couldn't drive a ten-penny nail up my hind end, or you'd break out into cold sweats. When you see a guy in front of you and know that you have to kill him or be killed, I mean, it's just --

Larry Ordner:

We're talking that close?

Kenneth Rodgers:

That close.

Larry Ordner:

Looking at them in the eyes?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Just about. You know, pretty close. Enough where you're in rifle range from each other.

Larry Ordner:

Good heavens.

Kenneth Rodgers:

And I never got into any of the hand-to-hand combat, but some of the guys had that had been there where they had -- physically had to go into hand-to-hand combat. And the Red Chinese, they wasn't no help. They came in bee swarms. It wasn't like Charlie. Charlie was like maybe a little platoon would hit here and hit there, but the North Vietnamese and the North Koreans and the North -- Red China, when they came through, they came in in swarms. They came through in regiments, not just platoon size. They came in and just took out everything. They didn't care who was standing.

Larry Ordner:

How long of a time period were you in a real fierce period of combat? How long did that period of time last, would you say?

Kenneth Rodgers:

The longest I think is when we had to go help the -- we were about three or four clicks from Hamburger Hill, and it took it seemed like forever to get there, but when we got there, it seemed like it took us forever to get that hill, because we had to more or less fight what there was on the bottom and then we had to get ones -- the snipers and everything going up the hill.

Larry Ordner:

Now, tell me about the terrain and -- and -- just the terrain and the conditions that you were fighting in and what a -- what a difficult task that was.

Kenneth Rodgers:

The terrain. During the summer, it was hot. It was about a -- I would say 110. You could fry an egg, and I had seen it done where somebody just got an egg from the mess hall and just cracked it, laid it on a rock, and it just fried that quick, but after a while, you'd kind of get used to that, but then you'd have to watch for malaria and you've got to watch for heat stroke. Just different things, you know? The -- then you've got the -- the resident critters going around -- going up and the leeches that you had to cut off your legs, and I have still got scars on my legs from those things. And during rainy season, it rained it seemed like forever, but it -- it was only about six or seven months that it just constant rained day in and day out, all day, all night, and when you're in a fox hole and you're trying to bail out water and at nighttime, it's not very much fun.

Larry Ordner:

Could you ever get a good night's sleep over there?

Kenneth Rodgers:

No, sir. I don't -- I have -- oh, let's see, PTSD. I have also sleep apnea. I have a lot of lung problems, internal and stomach problems. I'm hard of hearing, but I guess that's part of being a career soldier. You've got to take what, you know, comes to you, because we didn't -- they never had -- they never gave us any -- issued ear plugs the whole time we was in Nam. I mean, they said we had them, but nobody knew where to get them, and we was afraid to put them in our ears, because the least little crack or you're on -- you're out on patrol and you hear the -- the least little sound that -- where you're already there in position, you hear another sound, you know...

Larry Ordner:

Ken, you were in -- let's see. When you -- when you left the military, were you -- was the Vietnam conflict still going on initially --

Kenneth Rodgers:

Yes.

Larry Ordner:

-- when you -- when you left?

Kenneth Rodgers:

When I -- when I got out of the --

Larry Ordner:

What were the conditions that you finally got to leave there?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Let's see. I had got hit, and they sent me to Japan and recuperated, and they gave me a choice, either go back to Nam and finish up my hitch or go back to Korea, so they -- I took Korea, and that was the worst mistake I made, because then they put me up on the DMZ zone in Korea at 50 below zero inside of an old bunker that's been there for no telling how long, and --

Larry Ordner:

Which was worse, Korea or Vietnam?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Well --

Larry Ordner:

I guess -- I guess it's hard to compare the two in some ways, but in others --

Kenneth Rodgers:

Korea is just a little bit bitter -- not a whole lot, just a little bit -- as far as being a third-world country. And I happened to be fortunate enough to make history there, too. I was over there when the USS Pueblo was captured.

Larry Ordner:

Yeah. We'll -- we'll get into that. Do you think that -- that -- you mentioned like when you would capture these villages. Do you think people -- did they understand that was going on over there? Did the villagers grasp --

Kenneth Rodgers:

In Nam?

Larry Ordner:

Yeah. Did they -- did they have an understanding --

Kenneth Rodgers:

No, no, they had -- they had no understanding. They were really, really -- we say poverty stricken over here? These people were -- really were poverty stricken. They may have a -- a cupful of rice to feed six people, and they would cook, but everybody was welcome to eat, you know, the good villagers. Like the Montagnards and everything, they always had -- made sure that we ate, because we was always coming through there, and they liked Americans, but there was other villagers that was a lot worse shape where we might take the village one week and have to give it up, and here comes the North Vietnamese in, and they're taking it this week and just back and forth, so they were torn. You know, they -- they were torn people.

Larry Ordner:

What were some of the --

Kenneth Rodgers:

You know, their -- their families were getting slaughtered, their animals was getting slaughtered, their crops destroyed.

Larry Ordner:

Were there some -- some incidents -- Ken, I don't mean to pry, but were there some things that you just thought were wrong that -- that you encountered?

Kenneth Rodgers:

The way we handled the people. You know, we treated everybody over there as enemy, and not everybody, you know -- I had a lot of time to think about this. Not everybody over there was the enemy. You know, like I said, those poor farmers, they was caught in the middle. They didn't want any trouble from either side. They -- they was just caught there, and I kind of feel sorry now at some of the things I had to do, but I was ordered to do it as a soldier, and I had to do it. You know, burn their house, you know, tie them up, destroy their crops. You know, I still -- that still bothers me some today.

Larry Ordner:

I'm sure it does.

Kenneth Rodgers:

And have to shoot a man because he's got a weapon and they found a weapon inside of his -- inside his old grass hut. You know, that's just -- and some of the things that they did to us we retaliated and did back to them, you know, like cutting ears off and fingers and --

Larry Ordner:

And all of that was -- that was --

Kenneth Rodgers:

Part of war.

Larry Ordner:

-- part of it, but that was the reality of that situation, now, wasn't it?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Yes, sir.

Larry Ordner:

Was it -- you got to become a civilian again for a while, right?

Kenneth Rodgers:

I decided to -- to get out of the military. I just had to --

Larry Ordner:

But was Vietnam -- did that do it, do you think? Did that --

Kenneth Rodgers:

That -- that -- between that and Korea, that just kind of -- let's see. I was feeling something inside. I -- it's hard to explain. I kind of -- I had a -- I had an emptiness, but I didn't know what the emptiness was, so I thought maybe if I got out of the military and come back home and tried to, you know, go back to college and get a job, you know, have a family -- the American dream, you know, have a family and all this stuff, but it -- I got back home, and all my friends was just more or less graduating, and they're still doing the same old stuff that they were doing when we were in high school, and I couldn't click with them anymore because more or less I'd done growed -- I had growed out of their stages, and I was too young still to -- I got home at -- let's see. I was just about 19 -- well, I was 19.

Larry Ordner:

And too young to vote at that time.

Kenneth Rodgers:

I was too young to vote. You know, I had people -- and when I left, I -- the hippy scene was just starting. When I got back, the hippy scene was going full blast, and I couldn't cope with that, you know, and -- and I just couldn't -- you know, here I was supposed to be old enough to go kill and -- and do the things I want to, but when I get home, I'm still just a kid, you know? They didn't recognize me as a veteran, they didn't recognize me as nothing, you know? And if you did something wrong on a job, I -- I worked a lot of -- of course I was -- I had -- I didn't have any training, so I had to go to construction, so I went to construction for a while and picked up a few things, and -- and the people there, they didn't -- some of them really didn't understand, you know? "Why did you want to go over there and kill babies," you know. I didn't kill no babies, you know?

Larry Ordner:

Were you actually -- were you confronted with those kind of questions?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Oh, yes; yes, sir. I've even been in, you know, some good fisticuffs because people would call me names and -- or come over and spit on me for no reason, just because I said, you know, I was -- you know, I was in Nam. And I had a lot of people turn their backs on me. That -- that's cool, too. I had a job to do, and I told everybody, I said, "I was no different. Not a -- no different from any other soldier that had been in. I had orders to do. I had to take my orders or suffer the consequences." So, you know, until I got to the point that nothing was going right, I was --

Larry Ordner:

That was a --

Kenneth Rodgers:

-- I had a bad marriage, so I said, "The hell with it," you know?

Larry Ordner:

That was -- I was going to ask you what it was like to return to civilian life, but you were never a civilian; you were always a kid before -- before you left, weren't you?

Kenneth Rodgers:

I was a kid before I left, and then -- now, my parents, now, my family, they treated me with more respect, you know?

Larry Ordner:

Yeah.

Kenneth Rodgers:

And the ones that knew me knew had -- I was having problems and, you know, still sleeping and crying out at night and -- and this kind of stuff, but it was still just kind of a -- there was something still missing, and I couldn't -- I just couldn't get my life together no matter how I tried, you know? I tried and tried and tried. I talked to counselors. I had tried to go and see doctors at the VA and was put in the hospital for a little short period of time there talking to psychiatrists, but it was nothing there that really clicked. So I decided -- well, after my wife left me that -- I just said, "Well, it's time for me to do something different." So I went back into the military, and then I had to more or less grasp onto the military life again to get started up again.

Larry Ordner:

Was that a tough decision, to go back in the military?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Yeah, it was, because I went -- when I went down to talk to a recruiter --

Larry Ordner:

Now, what year was that, roughly? That was '77, right?

Kenneth Rodgers:

In '77.

Larry Ordner:

From '77 -- let's see. Well, the war was over officially, wasn't it?

Kenneth Rodgers:

It -- Nam ended in '74.

Larry Ordner:

Yeah. Were there still peace-keeping forces in place?

Kenneth Rodgers:

No. Every -- we had pulled --

Larry Ordner:

Pulled totally out.

Kenneth Rodgers:

-- completely out.

Larry Ordner:

Okay. I couldn't remember what year exactly. I guess -- that had to be an awfully difficult decision, to go back in. Why -- why -- why do you think you -- you went back into the military? Did you think that that was a -- did you kind of view it as --

Kenneth Rodgers:

I guess it was my way of going back and coping with reality.

Larry Ordner:

Oh.

Kenneth Rodgers:

I could relate to everything that was going on in the military and not everything that was in civilian life.

Larry Ordner:

How --

Kenneth Rodgers:

Although I had -- I -- being stationed stateside, I had to learn how to cope with both of them real quick.

Larry Ordner:

How had the military changed by that time?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Let's see. By the time I got back in, it was just total chaos. We had -- we -- what -- what we call -- what we called reverse rank. You had the enlisted doing the officers' work, you had the officers doing en- -- getting into enlisted business, you know? It just wasn't -- it didn't seem right.

Larry Ordner:

So it was still kind of an un- -- unrecognizable Army --

Kenneth Rodgers:

Right.

Larry Ordner:

-- to a degree, right?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Right. And then finally, I don't know, somebody came up with an idea where every- -- we'd kind of back off and regroup, and everybody started getting more training. I think computers were introduced, and we had to learn computers and all this kind of stuff.

Larry Ordner:

So when you went in, what -- what was your role, Ken, when you -- when you got back in the military generally?

Kenneth Rodgers:

What was my role?

Larry Ordner:

Now, were you -- you -- were you actually in active service, then, active duty?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Yes.

Larry Ordner:

Okay.

Kenneth Rodgers:

I went into active duty then.

Larry Ordner:

Okay.

Kenneth Rodgers:

I got trained on --

Larry Ordner:

Where were you at? Where were you stationed?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Oh, where was it? Fort Benning, Georgia.

Larry Ordner:

Hmm.

Kenneth Rodgers:

And then after a while, you know, they came around and said, "Well, the ones that's got time in can go into the reserves," so I thought, "Well, okay. I can't do the military thing and I can't do the home -- the home thing, so let's try the reserves." So I went -- I -- I signed up for the Army Reserves that way.

Larry Ordner:

What did you do in your other life at that time, Ken?

Kenneth Rodgers:

When I was on --

Larry Ordner:

Because you were --

Kenneth Rodgers:

-- at Benning at that time?

Larry Ordner:

When -- when you were in the reserves.

Kenneth Rodgers:

Okay. When I was in the reserves, I had been trained -- retrained when I went back in on small weapons repair and radios -- radio repairman, and at that time period, the National Guard and Army Reserves were really hurting for more people because most of them that was in there was draft dodgers, and I hate saying that, but they were, you know? They had -- I'd never seen a guy who had long hair and a wig. You know, remember back -- back then, if you was in the military, you could have a wig and cover all that stuff up under, and that was kind of weird seeing guys do that, but after we had a -- a change over and the ones that -- that really got serious about the reserves and everything, they got to working a lot better.

Larry Ordner:

Did you get -- did you stay stateside during that --

Kenneth Rodgers:

I stayed --

Larry Ordner:

-- time?

Kenneth Rodgers:

I stayed stateside until, what was it, '95, and the Army Reserves was wanting volunteers. There were certain ones -- certain units was going over to Desert Storm and all this kind of stuff.

Larry Ordner:

Yeah. Now, tell me about your role in Desert Storm and how that came about. Where were you at the time when that --

Kenneth Rodgers:

At that time, I was a captain in the reserves in armored. I had changed branches again and got armored, and that's -- I retired as an armored captain. But we had to go -- that was a -- a big thing, too, and everything this time was done by the steps. It wasn't nothing, like you say, haphazardly like it was in Nam and these other wars. We did it by the book. We had to have a certain way to get our -- had a certain time period to get our weapons -- (coughs) pardon me. We had -- at that time I was at Knox, so we had a certain time period to get our weapons to Knox, our tanks loaded on boxcars -- on flatcars, and the worst part there was sitting and waiting after we got there. Of course while we were waiting, we -- we had to be -- go through all these simulators and get retrained for the environment.

Larry Ordner:

But there --

Kenneth Rodgers:

Desert training --

Larry Ordner:

All of it.

Kenneth Rodgers:

-- and that kind of -- and that kind of good stuff.

Larry Ordner:

Yeah. So -- but -- but the -- the approach of that war was vastly different than what you had previously?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Right. It was a piece -- a piece of cake from what I had seen in the past.

Larry Ordner:

Did the -- how much --

Kenneth Rodgers:

I'm not saying that there wasn't some hardships over there.

Larry Ordner:

Yeah. How much of it was -- was due to leadership, do you think? Did that have -- was that -- did that play a significant role, would you say?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Our leadership? Yes, sir.

Larry Ordner:

Do you think there was a much -- I -- I guess I have the perception there was a much clearer focus here of what the mission was and that you were going to --

Kenneth Rodgers:

They --

Larry Ordner:

-- have leeway to do your job.

Kenneth Rodgers:

They told us before we went and we knew what to do when we got over there, and that's the way it was played, and Schwarzkopf and the officers under him, his staff, kept it that way.

Larry Ordner:

How was your confidence level at that time going in there?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Well, I'm like anybody else, you know? I was thinking, "Well, here I am 40-something years old, and I'm waiting. What am I doing over here, you know? Am I going to get killed this time, you know? What's the Lord's purpose for me here?" But it -- it worked out. It was -- the worst part was the heat and the -- having to drink so much water and the anticipation of trying -- if we had to move forward, but we didn't -- my unit didn't have to move very much. You know, we -- we had to do a lot of training out there, but when we was into a -- a little skirmish or something, it lasted less than three minutes, because the Iraqis -- for one incident I can tell you, there was a T-62 Russian tank and about a 1948 model pulled up. He didn't have a chance -- I mean, they pulled -- there was a platoon of them pulled up, and they didn't have a chance against Abrams. One guy fired from their tank, one guy fired from ours. Our guy blew the turret off of them -- didn't kill anybody, just blew their turret off, and the rest of them got out. Every -- the whole regiment got out. You know, I don't know what they were saying, but they had their hands up. And, of course, being Americans, we carried them back and interrogated them and fed them and probably turned them back loose to do the same thing. I don't know.

Larry Ordner:

When you were in the -- that era of Desert Storm, being in your 40s at that time -- right?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Yeah, I was in my 40s.

Larry Ordner:

-- did you kind of look at some of those -- the younger kids and kind of think of yourself back in your Vietnam days?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Oh, yes, several times --

Larry Ordner:

I bet you did.

Kenneth Rodgers:

-- and being the company commander, you know, I had to do discipline that I didn't want to really do, you know, like taking their money away and that kind of stuff for misbehavior, and they knew what to do, so a lot of times I didn't -- off the record, I didn't do it. I'd just give them a good butt-chewing and let them go on and kept an eye on them and followed up to make sure they weren't continuously doing it.

Larry Ordner:

Yeah.

Kenneth Rodgers:

And if they'd continuously do it, I had to take more extreme measures.

Larry Ordner:

Well, I think you -- you could probably put yourself in their role for (inaudible) --

Kenneth Rodgers:

Oh, yes, sir. No, sir.

Larry Ordner:

Well, Ken, you -- you had a -- a remarkable time while you were in, didn't you? When you think of -- of the era that you spanned from -- from -- gosh, from Vietnam to Desert Storm.

Kenneth Rodgers:

It's a long time.

Larry Ordner:

That's a long time, and a lot happened during that time. A lot has happened even since then.

Kenneth Rodgers:

I've made a lot of history; I've seen a lot of history.

Larry Ordner:

You sure did. Is there any way you can put into words what being in the military during that era was like for you and maybe even just what was -- what being in the military meant to you, what you were part of?

Kenneth Rodgers:

At that time, I considered the military more my family, because I knew during -- well, after went in -- back in in '77 and the concept started changing where everybody knew what their jobs were, it just got -- I'm not saying it got any easier -- because of the technology, I was constantly having to go to school to stay ahead of my people who I could come back and teach them, see? But other than that -- you know, if somebody told me back in '68 when I went in I was going to make a career of it, I would told them they was probably lying to me, but things happened and it worked out. And I'm not in the best of health nowadays because of some of the stuff, but if I had it to do over again, I think I would do it again, you know, but maybe in different circumstances.

Larry Ordner:

What would you --

Kenneth Rodgers:

I might have furthered my education and then went in.

Larry Ordner:

Well, I'm just curious. What would you tell somebody who might hear your words even 50 years from now? What would you want them to know about Vietnam and that era? What would you pass along?

Kenneth Rodgers:

Hmm. That to --

Larry Ordner:

What would you want them to know to set history straight in their minds? What's important that they know?

Kenneth Rodgers:

That it was a -- a bloody endless war, that -- that our people here could have been more supportive when we got home, where they was not supportive at all. The only ones that was really supportive was the ones that had somebody over there or had got killed. Other than that, you know, it was like the rest of the Americans had turned their -- their backs on us. And even today, we're not really recognized. You know, the -- you hear Vietnam this and Vietnam that, but they're not really recognizing -- you know, we got the Vietnam Wall now that recognizes some of us, and now they're kicking up about the Korean War and World War II not having a wall and all this stuff. But as far as the war itself, I wished a thousand times that I had listened to my parents and never went. I could never, ever tell anybody to do some of the things that we had to do to survive over there because we were Americans and we were the aggressors. So I don't know what else to tell you --

Larry Ordner:

Well --

Kenneth Rodgers:

-- about that.

Larry Ordner:

-- I appreciate your comments. Well, thanks for coming in and doing this.

Kenneth Rodgers:

You were going to ask me about --

Larry Ordner:

Oh, yes. Tell me -- you were going to comment on the Pueblo. I'm sorry.

Kenneth Rodgers:

The Pueblo.

Larry Ordner:

Tell -- tell us about that incident, because again possibly a person listening to this is going to have some context of the Pueblo and -- and that era and -- and how that happened. Can you maybe tell that sorry and your connection to it?

Kenneth Rodgers:

I can only tell you what I have experienced during that time frame. About two weeks be- -- prior before the Des- -- the Pueblo was captured, we had -- a couple trucks was ambushed, and my captain then called us all together, and he said there was -- he just had a gut feeling that -- that us being up on the DMZ zone, we'd be more prepared and more alert. So the night that the stuff happened, we started -- we never did do any pot firing. I mean, just -- every once in a while you'd get -- maybe hear a ricochet, but for -- and everybody said the Korean War was over. Those people over there were still fighting. They never had really got over it. But the night that the Des- -- that the Pueblo was captured, we was constantly bombarded by these loud speakers, 24 days, 7 days a week, and they had what they called Propaganda Village, which was -- it looked like a little housing community that was built over in North Korea, and you could see it, but the only difference was it had an army hammer and sickle flying through it, a Communist flag, but the night that this came down, we was getting into more -- our patrol had called back and said they had run into one of their patrols coming in closer to us, and it was about 30 minutes later that we had -- more fire came through to -- live fire, but at that time, we couldn't fire back. We had to take the fire and just get down and cover our butts. Then all at once, the loudspeaker came across. She said, "Come on over, GI." She said, "You can join your comrades. You can have money, you can have pleasure, you can have women, you can have anything you want. Just come over. We have just captured the USS Pueblo." And I was asking this African-American guy -- he was from Chattanooga. He was in the bunker with me that night. He -- I took the first watch and he was wrapped up on the cot, and I said, "What's the Pueblo?" He said, "I have no idea." And we no sooner said that, our platoon sergeant come in. He told us unzip the .50-cal, lock and load all our weapons and get prepared. So that night, we got into a fire fight. Now, people don't believe that we had a fire fight up there on that night the Pueblo got captured, but it actually happened. They were coming straight up the hill at us. Now, if I hit anybody, I don't know, because I just made -- you know, the flares went up, and we -- we were told to shoot only when the flares was up and back off when it wasn't. And we found out later that the Pueblo was no more than just like a little old mail tugboat and it had maybe seven or eight people on it, four or five M16s and three or four .45s against a -- a battle cruiser from North Korea, and they had no chance. So the captain, even though some people say that he was a coward, no, he wasn't a coward.

Larry Ordner:

That's Lloyd Bucher wasn't it, I believe?

Kenneth Rodgers:

I don't remember the captain's name, but he did exactly -- you know, what are you going to do? You're out on it. You had -- so he surrendered, and it's just luckily that the United States went --

(RECORDING INTERRUPTED)

(RESUMING)

Kenneth Rodgers:

You know, you just got me wound up now.

Larry Ordner:

Well --

Larry Ordner:

I know. There's other guys waiting there.

Kenneth Rodgers:

Well, I'll -- I'll get you to a -- some senator to review it, and I'll do my best to get that particular request taken care of.

Larry Ordner:

Yeah. Tell him to say, "Best wishes, Kenny Rogers" (laughing).

Kenneth Rodgers:

(Inaudible.)

Larry Ordner:

And I can show it off around in Fordsville.

Kenneth Rodgers:

I -- I will do that. I'll do that.

Larry Ordner:

I thank you, sir.

Kenneth Rodgers:

Well, thanks. It was an honor to meet you.

Larry Ordner:

You, too. Good luck to you.

Kenneth Rodgers:

Thank you, sir. You know, I -- I forgot one thing... (RECORDING ENDED.)

 
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  October 26, 2011
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