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Interview with Steven L. Bobb [4/23/2003]

Marta Brooks:

... to identify yourself for the students to identify. So, my name is Marta Brooks, and I'm here with Steve Bobb, a Viet Nam vet. And we are at Kanita Lodge. Today is April 24, 2002 -- or 2003, and we are going to do an interview for the Library of Congress Veteran's Project. Steve, can you give me -- first of all, could you spell your name, please, your full name?

Steven L. Bobb:

My name is Steven L. Bobb. First name S-T-E-V-E-N. Middle name Lee. Last name Bobb, B-O-B-B. And I'm Senior. And, like I said, I was raised in Grand Ronde where I'm, it's where everybody is related to everybody. Every other house is your aunt, your uncle, your grandparents, your cousin, or whatever. It's not that way now, but in the 50's, in the 60's when we was growing up that's kind of the way it was. And a lot of us that grew up together during the Viet Nam conflict, I think with a lot of families, there was lots of military background. I had an uncle who was killed in Normandy with the 82nd Airborne, and I remember a Purple Heart being on my grandparents' wall. They had the flag that the families hang in the windows with the star on it when you have somebody who's off at wartime. I remember that flag as a child. My brothers were in the Air Force. My cousins in the Navy and the Army. And it was just a matter of time, I think during my period of time growing up it was understood that sooner or later males of the family was going to go in the military. It was just a matter of what branch.

Marta Brooks:

What tribe do you belong to with the Grand Ronde tribe?

Steven L. Bobb:

There's five recognized tribes with the Grand Ronde tribe. Umpqua plus a few others, ____ other ones but Umpqua mainly.

Marta Brooks:

As a tribal member, did you have to serve in the war?

Steven L. Bobb:

The thing about native Americans is like they do not have to, to go in the military because of treaties that were signed a hundred years ago with United States, to not bear arms. So, we don't have to, as Americans and part of this country, it is something, you know, most native Americans just voluntarily do. I wasn't drafted into the military. I joined. And I joined the Marine Corps, because nobody in my family had been in the Marine Corps and because I wanted to be one of the few good men. (Laughing from the audience.) Little did I know what I was in for when I got to Boot Camp. You hear all the horror stories about make you or break you in Boot Camp, and, boy, they're not kidding.

Marta Brooks:

So, could we back up just a second? You joined on your own, and do you remember the date that you went into the military?

Steven L. Bobb:

I joined, I signed the papers in December 1968. That's when I signed the papers. And I went for my physical. And they found a growth in one of my ribs that I had to have removed, a little chunk of my rib removed. It was, it wasn't anything but just a growth, but they had to get it out. So when I went into Boot Camp in March '69 I still had a very large cut on my back and not, not all my skin was healed up and grown back together. So jogging nine miles a day was pretty, pretty rough on the old back, because it wasn't attached yet.

Marta Brooks:

Where did you go to Boot Camp?

Steven L. Bobb:

San Diego. There's only two Marine Corps recruiting stations, what they call them. There's one Parris Island, South Carolina, and San Diego, it's the only two Boot Camps in the Marine Corps. And they just basically split it, split the states down the middle. And the ones from that half go to South Carolina, and the ones from this half go to San Diego.

Marta Brooks:

And can you describe Boot Camp experience? That you remember.

Steven L. Bobb:

Yeah. Going to the Marine Corps Boot Camp, I think it's an experience that most young men, I think, probably should do. Just because it tends to be an attitude changer real fast. You think you know everything, you think you know, at that age kids have a tendency to think they're bad asses, they know everything, you know, don't tell me what to do. But you'll get a rude awakening real fast in Marine Corps Boot camp, guarantee you. It's 24 hours a day. No talking. No going to the bathroom without permission. And a pretty rigorous physical and mental _____. But the mental part is so that when you are in combat or in a combat situation, when somebody gives you an order, you don't hesitate. And that is, the mental part of it is what they want. They grasp that right from the beginning. So there's no talking and no going to the bathroom without permission. And their trick is, they have a bathroom with three pots and three urinals on the wall and 80 guys and five minutes to go. Now, you ought to try that on for size a few times. You wanna see pushing, fighting kicks, gouging, it's pretty bad. But food-wise you're fed fairly well, because there's always a sign above the mess hall that says "take all you want but eat all you take". And anybody who looks overweight they're going to be put on a diet, whether they want to or not. Anybody who has motivational problems is going to be put in a platoon that is going to motivate you real fast. You don't want to go to any of them platoons, you want to keep your mouth shout, do what you're told to do, and just go day to day and get it over with and get out of there. So that's basically how I handled it, I just kept my mouth shut. Tried to, I got in a few, a bit a trouble every now and again.

Marta Brooks:

Would you like to share that, or what kind of trouble?

Steven L. Bobb:

Well, there's, the rules and regulations are so tight. And one of them, it seems kind of funny now at this point, but is your, what they call your cover, your hat, but the Marine Corps calls it a cover. You never go outside without it on your head, and you never go inside without taking it off. It seems pretty routine. But I had forgot that one time, and I went outside in the smoking formation. Not that I was a smoker but it was just something to break, just to do something different. So people who weren't smoking go out, you know, some free time to go out and you stand and you smoke your cigarette real fast. But there's no talking, so nobody could tell me that I went outside without my cover on my head. So our DI, is what they call them in the Marine Corps, drill instructors, he's walking, they always walk up to see where your hands _____+ so they always walk, and he got in front of me and he hit me right in the solar plexus so hard it knocked me completely backwards, through the dust, and I couldn't get my air. And I really didn't even know what I had even done at that point. So, I went, he sent me back in the hooch, and I remember him coming in there and I took a beating for about twenty minutes, I think. That's kicking, knocking me on the floor, knocking me down repeatedly. Anybody that's ever seen any movies that shows Marine Corps Boot Camp and Full Metal Jacket is pretty close, other than there's not enough hitting. Yeah, because there's a lot of hitting, a lot of kicking you and stuff like that on the floor. So, that, you know, I never went outside again without my cover on my head.

Marta Brooks:

___, so were you trained then, after you were released from Boot Camp, then you went into training?

Steven L. Bobb:

Yeah, you go to Camp Pendleton where you do infantry training, basic infantry training. And then from there you're given your MOS, which is what is your job, it's a number designation that they give you, whether it be infantry or engineers or whatever, they're going to send you to training. They sent me to Quantico, Virginia. Quantico, Virginia is where all the Marine Corps formal training is at, to be an ammo tech, that is somebody that works in an ammo dump with munitions and ordinances. You learn about fuses and all the small arms, everything up to five-hundred-pound bombs, that sort of thing like that. So, that's where I went after infantry training.

Marta Brooks:

Okay.

Steven L. Bobb:

Was to Quantico, Virginia.

Marta Brooks:

When were you shipped to, shipped out and where did you leave from?

Steven L. Bobb:

I left, they give me leave after infantry training, I went home for 20 days, I believe it was. Went to Quantico. And after formal training -- Quantico, Virginia, is where the Sea Bees take training and, of course, the FBI school is located there. But after Quantico I was given a permanent duty station which was Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. And I really wanted to be at Camp Pendleton on the West Coast, being from Oregon, I was married then, I had a kid on the way, and I really wanted to be on this side of the United States, but wound up in North Carolina. And the thing about that period of time, 1969, was it was shortly after the Martin Luther King thing, and there was, even on all military bases there was some real bad racial tension that went on, through my entire military career including Viet Nam was pretty, heated racially-wise. So, I didn't really want to be in North Carolina, but that's where I wound up. And I had my wife come over because it was going to be a permanent duty station. She was seven months pregnant. She got there. And the day she pulled in there I got orders for Viet Nam. But my CO, beings we had a kid on the way, they didn't want to put her back on the plane seven months pregnant, so they kept me there until after my son was born and six weeks after is when they sent me out, when they figured he was old enough to travel. We shipped out of there on December 21st, 1969. And on Christmastime around military bases you can't buy a plane out of there. Not anywhere. So we had to ride a Trailways bus all the way from, 30 miles from the Atlantic Coast to 30 miles from the Pacific Coast.

Marta Brooks:

How long did it take you, how many days?

Steven L. Bobb:

About four days. We pulled into Salem on Christmas Eve Day. With a six-week-old son. And actually he took the trip a whole lot better than I did. (Laughing from the audience.)

Marta Brooks:

So then where did you go?

Steven L. Bobb:

That's, after another short leave, 20 some odd days, I went to Camp Pendleton where they do a little training to get you prepared to go to Viet Nam. And that was, oh, roughly 20 some odd days, I think, something like that.

Marta Brooks:

Could you talk about that training to prepare you? How did it prepare you?

Steven L. Bobb:

A lot of it was the booby trap thing, because Viet Nam, of course, there was lots of booby traps and punchy sticks and trip wires and that sort of stuff like that and how to look for it, that sort of thing. How to do house-to-house combat, which you've seen on TV where they figured that, and in Iraq they would have to do that same thing. So you learn stuff like that. And just basic things just to get, just to get you prepared. And after the end of the 20 days, I remember we was getting, just before we was getting ready to get on that plane to head over, a lot of the guys who, you know, were big bad guys, when it came down to that day that they're going to leave and fly over there, they have a tendency to come apart real fast. Because reality, I think, starts sinking in, that, you know, you're leaving a safe place and going to a not so safe place. So it was kind of a mindset.

Marta Brooks:

Do you remember what you were thinking? You just had a baby.

Steven L. Bobb:

Oh, yeah, yeah, I was, I was scared. I was scared. I remember when I left Portland, when I went to get on that plane, if you'll excuse me for a second. (Pause) I remember looking down that tunnel one last time to see my wife and son because I didn't think I'd see them again. I would say I was pretty scared, because all the reality, I think, starts sinking in. It's just really just going through training, and you don't think about much more than that until the day you actually leave and it kind of hits you.

Marta Brooks:

So where did you land once you got to --

Steven L. Bobb:

They fly you into, we flew over the globe, over the North Pole, went to Alaska, down over Tokyo, and down into Okinawa. And in Okinawa they stopped there, issue you all your jungle fatigues, everything you're going to need, leave all your state-side stuff there, you don't pack your sea bag and all your state-side clothing, stuff like that, you leave that for the entire year that you're gone. They load you up and off to Viet Nam you go.

Marta Brooks:

So where did you land in Viet Nam as a munitions person?

Steven L. Bobb:

We flew into Danang Air Base. The Marine Corps, there is -- Viet Nam was broke up, I believe, into four sections. And the top section by the DMZ, I believe, was I, what they call I-Corps. And that's where all the Marines are, up north. The Army and stuff was down south, down the south part, up south Viet Nam. We flew into Danang on a regular airline, all air-conditioned and everything. And I'm sure as Jerry remembers, when you get off that plane and you're in Viet Nam, have a hundred and some degree temperature hit you right in the face. And if anybody has ever been to a landfill and that smell that hits you in the face when you're in a landfill? That's the way Viet Nam smells. So you get off that plane in that heat and that odor and you're thinking I gotta a whole year I'm going to spend here? So, that, yeah, that's quite an impact on you. They gathered us up from there. Separated the ones that was going here, going there. They sent me over to a place called Red Beach, to where the big logistic supply area was at, on the outside of Danang. And from there they send you to where you're going to be. So I spent a night there. And the thing that they leave out of a lot of Viet Nam stuff, including all the movies, and there's probably a reason for it, is, and it happened here just in Iraq where one of our own people rolled a frag grenade into a tent, that in Viet Nam was almost an every-week occurrence. People fighting with each other, racial things, arguments, everybody is packing a weapon, everybody's packing, you know, explosives of some kind, it's pretty easy to do. So a lot of that happened quite a bit over there like that. And I remember the night that I got to Red Beach, we had an incident where some guys had thrown, they were -- we always have clubs where the NCO's go, staff NCO, officers, you all got separate clubs where you all go when you have time off, and they had thrown some frag grenades over the top of this wall and killed about four or five of their own people on the night that I got there. From there they sent me out and -- before I get too far ahead of myself, I did bring some pictures of Viet Nam. I would like to send this picture around here. That's me on the right and some of my friends, and I think what I get from this picture --

Marta Brooks:

Three of your friends, could you tell us their names?

Steven L. Bobb:

Okay. This is, on the far left is Norman Devorak (ph), he's from Texas. This is George Trippe, he's from Michigan. And Robert Martin was from Churchtown, Pennsylvania. And what I get from that picture is that we was just basically kids. I was 20 years old in that picture there, so, really you, you don't even know anything yet. And Robert Martin -- when you're over in a situation like that, you always have a tendency to pair up with a friend, with a buddy. And he watches out for you, you watch out for him, and whenever you don't see each other, you start looking for each other. You're kind of covering everybody's butt that way. And this is a picture of me and him together. And he is my other half.

Marta Brooks:

I'm going to stop this for just one second.

Steven L. Bobb:

Okay. (Pause.)

Marta Brooks:

Can you describe again the first night when you got to Viet Nam and the experience that you had with grenades?

Steven L. Bobb:

They sent us up to the logistic part of, outside of Danang, Red Beach, where there was a fragging on that night, that was either racially motivated or something like that. But that happened, it seems like on a, quite a regular basis, a lot of it racial. But from out of Red Beach they ship you off to where you're permanently going to be at. And that's when I left there, and on my second night they sent me over to Ammo Company, which handled the big ammo dump and about Freedom Hill, Hill 327 on the outside of Danang. And the second night that I was in-country I was on guard duty. I wasn't quite ready for that, but everybody coming in-country knew you was required to do 30 days on guard duty. And as it turned out I wound up on guard duty for four and a half months.

Marta Brooks:

So, can you tell me what that would be like --

Steven L. Bobb:

Well, on the second night I was in-country, pretty rattled, pretty scared, pretty nervous. I was in a 35-foot metal tower with a night scope. And a night scope is an M-14 with what they call a starlight scope on the top of it. It's a pretty big scope so that you can see out in the night.

Marta Brooks:

So you said about two feet?

Steven L. Bobb:

The scope?

Marta Brooks:

The scope.

Steven L. Bobb:

Well, yeah, probably --

Marta Brooks:

About two feet?

Steven L. Bobb:

-- yeah, it was pretty big. And that's where I was at. Now, on night watch you was on two hours and off two hours. Now, I remember being new in-country, being scared, and to have to sleep like that was, it was just not working real well. So you're pretty nervous. And I brought some pictures of just the Danang countryside that I had, I went through some of the stuff that I had, it kind of gives you an idea of just what the countryside looks like and what the ville looks like. As a matter of fact this shot of the ville down here is probably about a quarter of a mile from where the tower was that I was in, which would have been off to the left over here.

Marta Brooks:

Can you just describe the photo that you just passed out?

Steven L. Bobb:

This one?

Marta Brooks:

Uh-huh.

Steven L. Bobb:

Yeah, that's the ville, what everybody called Dog Patch back then, all villes were called Dog Patch, it seemed like no matter where you was at but --

Marta Brooks:

And ville is a village?

Steven L. Bobb:

Yeah, that's on the outside, outskirts of Danang, the city of Danang, probably five miles maybe, maybe a little bit more as the crow flies, I suppose. But I never was actually physically in the city of Danang, which is kind of more like a city, I guess, I don't have any idea because I was never down there. But this is the, what you call the suburbs, I guess, you know.

Marta Brooks:

So, it looks like small living spaces, kind of a pedestrian area, where people are walking and then a road, a paved --

Steven L. Bobb:

Yeah.

Marta Brooks:

-- it looks like a paved road?

Steven L. Bobb:

Yeah. And off to the back is where the big dump was where I was on security duty in the tower.

Marta Brooks:

Why did they call it a dump? What does that mean, that's a munitions dump?

Steven L. Bobb:

Ammo dump, yeah, that's just where you keep all the munitions, yeah. Everything from small arms to smoke grenades, hand grenades, five-hundred-pound bombs, everything from A to Z is kept there. And the interesting part about the dump is it's never really, they don't really bother it or attack it because half the time it's supplying them just as much as it's supplying us. Because Hill 327 is completely riddled with tunnels, the entire place. So they're getting munitions in and out of there, supplying themselves.

Marta Brooks:

They're, who do you mean they're --

Steven L. Bobb:

Well, either the VC or the regular army. Probably more the VC or the rebel fighting forces, they're just out and about everywhere. But, yeah, it's completely riddled with tunnels, so it was ____+ but this, this is right out in the paddies just right out from my tower there. So my second night in-country, I'm on watch in Viet Nam. Kind of scary. And if anybody's ever seen the movie "Platoon", and when he's out in the rain in the monsoon, with the mosquitos, the mosquitos over there are pretty big.

Marta Brooks:

So, you just showed four inches. Are they --

Steven L. Bobb:

No, no, it's like, you know, a fisherman they go like this, okay. No, the mosquitos are a pretty darn good size, you know. And you're dripping wet, even though it might be two a.m. in the morning, because it's 80, 90 degrees out and a hundred percent humidity, you're dripping wet the entire time, sweating clear down your arm pits, that sort of thing like that. So mosquitos are just having a heyday and they're eating you alive. And they portrayed that really well in the movie "Platoon" because he wakes up and he's got all these big giant welts on him. And that's exactly what you do, except for they burn really, really bad. And you're itching them, and you're pouring water on them and everything just to, just to get them to calm down. But, yeah, so that movie shows that fairly good. And about, I suppose I had probably been there about a month on guard duty, on guard duty, when you're what they call a newbie in-country, when you're a new guy in-country, you know, everybody else has a tendency not to tell you anything. Which also they portray in the movie "Platoon". If you will notice they, you know, they always holler at that one guy, the black guy, telling him to get up here, you know, and calling him a newbie and everything else like that. And they have a tendency not to tell you anything that's going on, because they already know you're scared, they already know you're nervous, and on the backside of where our little area was at, there was an army 175 battery, which is an artillery battery. And about three o'clock in the morning, they have a tendency to go off. Well, they're pretty darn loud. And you're laying in bed, you're finally crashed out, and them things start going off. And, of course, you're jumping up running around grabbing everything, trying to head out to the bunkers, where everybody is laughing, getting a pretty good laugh out of it because they have a tendency not to tell you what's going on. So that's, you know, I was real thankful for that, and that's, you know, they're getting a pretty good laugh out of the whole thing, you know.

Marta Brooks:

What time was your watch? I mean, how --

Steven L. Bobb:

Oh, it started like at, from seven 'til seven.

Marta Brooks:

Seven --

Steven L. Bobb:

Yeah --

Marta Brooks:

-- p.m.?

Steven L. Bobb:

-- in the evening.

Marta Brooks:

Until seven a.m.?

Steven L. Bobb:

Yeah.

Marta Brooks:

And you have to stay awake the whole time?

Steven L. Bobb:

You're on two, off two. But about the time you're getting to sleep they're waking you back up. So that's pretty hard to do. And I did wind up going to sleep on guard duty, which is a no-no. Falling asleep on guard duty is definitely a no-no. And the third time that you get caught on sleep on guard duty you're going to the in-country brig, which is something nobody wants to do. The in-country brig is just on the backside of Hill 327, not a --

Marta Brooks:

Did you go there?

Steven L. Bobb:

Oh no, no, no, no. (Laughing in audience.) No, uh-huh, you don't want to go to a Marine Corps brig even state-side, let alone in-country, yeah. So, going to sleep on guard duty -- but you're fresh in-country, you're not used to everything, you're sleeping, you know, two hours on, two hours off, you're nervous, you're scared, you know. Probably about the second week I just blacked out. Just blacked out. Didn't even know it. And I get, I was in a metal tower, and I could hear this (making a ping sound), you know, and I woke up, and I thought, oh, man, what's going on? So I peeked like this here over the top, and there was a sergeant from Texas I remember, and he's standing like this, looking up at me. And I was in pretty big trouble, I wound up filling sandbags for two weeks for two hours right in front of the operations building in our area, which is not fun after you've been awake all night, and then you go and you eat chow and you have to fill sandbags for punishment for two hours a day for two weeks, right where everybody is at, you know, you can't stop and take a leak or anything like that because they're watching what you do. So I didn't do that again neither.

Marta Brooks:

So, what time of year is this? Do you remember the dates in terms of -- you said you were there four months.

Steven L. Bobb:

This is probably, this is probably late January, early February of 1970.

Marta Brooks:

Okay.

Steven L. Bobb:

And, of course, when you're approaching, February is the Tet season, which is, if anybody has watched any movies or anything about Viet Nam, 1968, the Tet season, that's like their New Year, it's like a big celebration, you know, and there's always a big offensive, is what they think anyway, especially after the '68 incident. So you're a little rattled about that because that's up and coming, you know, and you think that you're just going to be overrun by everybody inside, you know. And a little bit, but not too terribly bad, so that was, you know, being fresh in-country, and then having that coming at you at the same time, you know, it was a little nerve-wracking but...

Marta Brooks:

What did you feel was your greatest danger at that point? You're on watch, you're with a group of men, Marines, trained, psychologically tired --

Steven L. Bobb:

Oh, yeah.

Marta Brooks:

-- nervous --

Steven L. Bobb:

Yeah.

Marta Brooks:

-- what did you feel was your biggest challenge or threat at that time?

Steven L. Bobb:

Well, I suppose in the early parts just getting through every day. And what I have here is some more pictures which is, the interesting part about these pictures here was my first time I went out on patrol. What was going on here was they, they said, the local farmers, they got information from the local farmers that there was a build-up of arms. So we had to go out and do the basic snoop-and-poop sort of thing. And these pictures right here, my friend, my other half, he was in front of me and he turned around and he took these pictures of me, we're on patrol, and this is probably about five minutes before we was ambushed from the backside. That's kind of far away but that is me.

Marta Brooks:

Can you describe that moment to the --

Steven L. Bobb:

The ambush?

Marta Brooks:

Uh-huh.

Steven L. Bobb:

That is kind of a surreal moment, I guess, in one's life, to know that somebody is actually trying to kill you. And I don't think that you, that hits you until it actually happens. I had rounds fly up beside my feet. And if, anybody that's been in any kind of an accident, you have that slow motion feeling where time stands still sort of deal, and it's like, click, click, click, click, like that almost. I remember trying to move and not being able to move and having the sense that that next round was going to come right through the back of my head. I remember having that sense really, really, really bad then. Nobody was hit. The rounds went up pretty close to us. They figured it was just some harassment from a tree line that was off, and who knows who it was, it could have been local, just the punks in the village, you know, you don't know. It isn't like we ever seen anybody, you know, you just get these sporadic things from the tree line, you know, and it makes you run and jump, that sort of thing, that's about it for us. Because actually being an ammo tech I had relatively good duty. It's just that the nature of where you're at, trouble just seems to find you from time to time, not that you're out looking for it, it just tends to find you. So that, that was a pretty surreal moment in my life. And I remember, it's kind of funny that if you ever hear anybody ever talk about being scared, they always say it's scared the blank out of you, you ever heard that term? Well, that's not really how it goes. The actual truth is, is that you're not gonna go for two weeks. Yeah, and I mean, literally two weeks. You think you're going to explode. And usually you're either embarrassed or too scared to tell anybody. You don't, you just kind of try to deal with it on your own, but your body is in such shock that, you know, and when you do finally actually go, it's like, well, cement blocks. So that was not a fun time, but... So that term is actually backwards. (Laughing.) So if anybody ever says that to you, and if they've ever been that scared, it's not right.

Marta Brooks:

So when you were in doing your job you said you weren't that threatened but the trouble found you, did you actually see combat?

Steven L. Bobb:

Not where we seen people actually charging us, no, we always had alerts, you know, that sort of thing like that. And the information coming down that we was going to be hit, that sort of thing like that, you know, never really developed, you always get the sporadic rocket attacks, that sort of thing like that. Which kind of scares you a little bit, you know, you hear them coming and that sort of deal like that. I was out on night patrol, came in, had went to the guard shack, got a pint of chocolate milk, and was sitting in my rack Indian-style... (END OF SIDE ONE, TAPE ONE) (BEGIN SIDE TWO, TAPE ONE)

Marta Brooks:

You're sitting in bed, you were drinking?

Steven L. Bobb:

Yeah, I was drinking this chocolate milk, and I remember hearing this noise coming, it sounded louder and louder and louder and louder, like it was coming right through the back door sort of thing. And I jumped up, I remember throwing my milk in the air, I hit that, fell on the floor, and I went up over the top of this thing, landed out in to where this was a bulk fuel area where they keep all the fuel for all the equipment, that sort of thing, great big giant bladders. So it went clear out and hit over there. But that noise sounded like it was going to come right through the back door, I remember, when I jumped up. So you, you get things like that. But one of the hairiest things I got into is I, I was always picked for a night patrol, four-man night patrol. And I always figured it was because my last name begin with a B, and they must have went in alphabetical order. Because every duty that came down the line, I was one of them going on it, it seems like every time. But the first night that I went on a four-man night patrol, and it was a corporal that was the patrol leader and he was two years younger than me. I was 20. He was 18. So, that in itself has a tendency to make you a little nervous when you're going out into an unsecured area, you know, at midnight. And I, in my fatigues I had four hand grenades in this side and four pop-up flares in this side. Pop-up flares being what they illuminate the night with. You pull, they're a little aluminum tube, you pull them out, you have a little parachute that comes out, phosphorous like that, that lights up the area. So I was packing them in that, on this side, and the grenades on this side. And I remember them clanging as I was walking, walking to, in the middle of the night through this little bitty trail. So you're a little nervous. I remember sweat running down my armpits really bad, and this clanging noise, which seemed really, really loud. It probably wasn't, but it just sounded like it was just making all kinds of noise. So you're just completely scared out of your mind, and actually thinking what am I doing here, is this real or is this, you know, am I dreaming and I'm going to wake up any second, you know, and I'm going to be at home in my bed? You know, it's real. And we'd come up on this pagoda area, which is like a cemetery where you have this little bitty run-down buildings. And we sat down. And this patrol leader told me, he said, he gives me this, and he says it was about forty yards, he wants me to go check out this pagoda by myself. You know, I'm, you're serious now? Yeah, so that, that was a little, kind of shook me up a little bit. So I kind of headed out and I got about halfway down there, and I thought I'm just gonna wait here and I'm gonna go back and I'll say, hey, it's okay. That's what I thought I'd do, but you start, you thinking about doing that, and it's like, no, no, no, no, I can't do that, you know. So you sneak over there, and it's in the middle of the night, all this brush, you don't know what's out there. And the doorway was kind of off to the side, I mean, almost a regulation John Wayne movie sort of thing, I've got my back against the wall like this here, you know, I'm just shaking, completely nervous and rattling and making all kinds of noise. And the door way is right here. And I just turned and I jumped in that doorway real quick and looked in there, it was just really crazy. There wasn't nothing in there, but boy, I'll tell you, you know, you're just about ready to pass out. That was one of my night patrols. Another night patrol with the same corporal, there's this big tree line, he tells me to go down this side and he'll go down this side. So I go down this one side to get to the other end. There's nobody there. So, here you are out in the middle of the dark, walking on the paddies, you can't holler out and say, hey, where you are, you know. So there you are, standing in the middle of the night in some unsecured area in Viet Nam by yourself. So there's perimeter lights way, way off in the distance. And then, of course, they're reflected in the rice paddies, that sort of thing like that. So I can see three guys walking way over there, but you still don't know if it's them, you know. You can't holler at them, you know, or anything. So you kind of sneak up and sneak up and sneak up, creep up until the, you finally see who it is, you know. And I guarantee, if you ever thought you was gonna to kiss a guy full on the mouth, that was then. (Laughing from audience.) That's, oh boy, I can tell you you're glad to see them, you're clear out there by yourself in the middle of nowhere. Yeah, not fun. Not fun. So, night patrols was always, was always, you know, pretty entertaining. I finally did get smart and started packing the radio, but packing the radio is another 25 pounds on your back. But you're always with somebody, or he's at least reasonably close, if you're packing that radio they don't get too far away. A lot of things you have to worry about is people who have a tendency to be gung-ho sort of. And you have that. Sometimes they can be more dangerous to you than good, sometimes. They either, whatever their motivation might be, I'm not really sure, you know. Recognition, whatever, but sometimes they can be more harm to you than good, sometimes, so you always have to be careful of guys like that, you know, being in your outfit.

Marta Brooks:

Did you stay in the same place? You said you were there and on guard duty for four months, but did you stay at the same munitions?

Steven L. Bobb:

No, no, there was two big ammo dumps in the northern part of Viet Nam outside of Danang, ASP-1 and ASP-2. That's ammo supply point. And that's where everybody comes in, all your allies, Australians, the Koreans, everybody, they will come in and they'll be there at the same place. And there's two locations. And after that they shipped us out to ASP-2 which is a little farther out yet. And, let's see where I'm at with my pictures here. But, yeah, ASP-1, I think I was there until about July or August, maybe, of 1970. And then they shipped us out to ASP-2, which was a little smaller outfit, not so many people there. But a lot of duty where we had to go out into some really, some really hairy conditions then. Now, one day patrol where we had to go look for a 18-year-old, what they call a booby trap specialist, who was just waiting through a lot of our guys, and, with booby traps and that sort of thing like that. So they sent a bunch of us out on a day patrol to look for an 18-year-old kid, took a Viet Namese interpreter with us. And, of course, you get out, you get out in the ville and out in the bush and stuff like that, and they pretty much have a tendency to clam up because they're not going to spill the beans, on one of their own I suppose, I'm not really sure. But they don't want to -- I could see where they wouldn't want to get one of their people in trouble, you know, or be left out hanging if they give information sort of. So definitely they're not going to do that. But while we was out on this patrol, and this, again, to get the gist of Viet Nam, it's a hundred degrees plus. You have a canteen of water. A hundred percent humidity. Dripping wet. And we was approaching these guys that was out in the rice paddies, and this one took off in a sprint from us. So right away a bunch of other guys chase him down. He doesn't have the proper papers because everybody is supposed to have ID and paper, that sort of thing like that. He didn't have one. They figured him to be a VC suspect. And four of us was picked to take him back nine miles to an ARVN area. And, again, like I say, I got picked for everything. I'm on the four-man march back to the ARVN compound. And the hairy thing about this is that there's four guys taking one of their countrymen, sort of, as you can imagine, you know, imagine this, back to an area, he's on his hands and knees praying the entire time, in tears because he knows what he's in for when he gets back to that ARVN base, because ARVN, they don't deal with them real well. And we was always told the way they got information out of them, whether they did or not, I'm not sure, but they take them up in choppers and hold them out the door and tell them to talk. Well, it's a long fall, you know, and I thought, well, what if you don't even know anything but, you know, the results are the same. So he knew what he was in for. So this guy is in tears pleading for his life the entire way back. But we walked to this one ville, and here you are walking, walking this guy, he's handcuffed behind his back, I'm tailing Charlie, everybody is kind of, they kind of filter out as you're going through the ville, kind of watching you, so that tends to make you a little nervous because there's only four of you, you know, out in the middle of no man's land with one of their people. Not a good situation to be in. But we got him back to this area, and this guy took a picture of me with a Polaroid camera. And this is the actual picture, and I happened to put the date on it. And it's June 4, 1970. This is a blowed-up picture of it, the ARVN soldier standing in the back there. Yeah. If you'll notice, there's not a clip in my rifle there. And the reason for that is when you get into secured areas you had to, you're not supposed to have a weapon loaded, cocked and loaded. So, that's the reason why you don't see any clip in the, in the rifle.

Marta Brooks:

So what happened with this guy --

Steven L. Bobb:

To him?

Marta Brooks:

Uh-huh.

Steven L. Bobb:

Well, I'm not sure, you know, because we left. We had to hike it back another nine miles to catch up with our people. So, I mean, everybody had a pretty good idea what happened to him, you know, but we didn't hang around to hear about it, you know. He was, he was pretty bummed out over the whole thing, as you can imagine.

Marta Brooks:

When did you feel, Steve, like your life was most in danger?

Steven L. Bobb:

When it was most in danger? You know, I suppose the time that, that I was fired at the first time I think, it was pretty much in the wide open. I was fired at a few different times, but I think under a little different situation like I was on a night post and had rounds come right straight at me, tracer rounds, but it was in the dark and I was on a road post and, you know, I think that they just kind of shot in the general area that they -- like during the daytime they was good for figuring out positions, you know, and then at night I don't think they could see exactly where I was at, but it was still pretty hairy to have tracer rounds come near, you know, right directly at you, that sort of thing like that. But as far as having my life in danger, I think it was probably that time that the rounds came right by my feet, because that was pretty close, you know, that was a situation where I couldn't, I couldn't move, you know, kind of, it kind of stymied me. And that was the first time, so that was probably the worse time I guess.

Marta Brooks:

You said that you became friends, that you really took care of each other and developed a lot of friendships. Can you describe those, or experiences with your friends?

Steven L. Bobb:

Well, other than, like I said, you always pick out, I mean, you always pair up. And you guys kind of watch out for each other, you know. And you become really, really tight. And of course you share all your family stories, your family history, where you came from, what you did, that sort of thing like that. I was friends before I got to Viet Nam in Boot Camp with a kid whose dad was in the movie business. And I'm still friends with him today. Two of my sons went down to help him work a movie, they was with him for a while, but they're out of it and he's retired and everything now, even though he's the same age as I am. And this here is kind of an interesting picture. This is me and my friend Rob and what's, it seems like a pretty mellow picture other than there is an M-16 machine gun standing right there in the corner.

Marta Brooks:

So you are playing guitar?

Steven L. Bobb:

Kind of, yeah, it kind of reminds you of where you're at, yeah. Even though it seems like a moment of peace sort of.

Marta Brooks:

And do you want to describe these? These are interesting, also.

Steven L. Bobb:

Okay. Yeah, these...

Marta Brooks:

This looks like fields, you want to do this one first?

Steven L. Bobb:

Well, this was on our way.

Marta Brooks:

A jungle and a tractor.

Steven L. Bobb:

Yeah, this is a, well, it's a forklift, is what it is. Okay. I don't want to leave anything out, because it seems like there was something else. But -- oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Accidents. Now, during the Iraqi thing here, I'm sure a lot of you watching TV noticed that there was lots of accidents. And under conditions where there's live rounds, lots of explosives, sometimes chaos, that accidents are going to happen. And surely in Iraq they did. Quite repeatedly. It seemed like every day there was something new on TV about somebody being killed by our own people, accidentally run over by trucks, you know, run into the back of rigs in sandstorms. Friendly fire, all that kind of, stuff like that. Under those conditions they're gonna happen. So I was witness to pretty bad accidents, and it, it can be pretty tough to talk about now. But this kid came in-country, pretty young, kind of gung-ho, was there maybe, I don't even think a month. The ammo dump -- let me have some water. The ammo dump in 1968 blew up. So there was lots of scattered munitions all around that hadn't been picked up. And we was told from the get-go, repeatedly, over and over and over, don't touch anything on the ground. But there was a lot of blowed-out holes, sort of, like mortar rounds but no explosive or anything, it was just a shell. There was all the powder explosives, everything was gone out of it. And this young kid, he was younger than I was, came in-county, was on guard duty. It was in the evening. We was high up on Hill 327. And even though our towers were kind of close, as the crow knows sort of thing, because it was steep, it was actually quite a ways apart. But I could see him real easy. And he was on the tower right below me. The truck had just dropped us off. And he went down, and he was on -- when you're on the field like that you have the little phones that you ring and it's all connected to the phones, they're all connected together. So we first get out there, we're all just chattering on the phones before, before nightfall. And they had just dropped us off in the trucks, and he'd said that he had this mortar round and he dropped it and he was going to go pick it up. He was in a short wooden tower, well, probably maybe 20, 25 feet tower, I suppose, with a bunker sort of thing up on the top. And he said I'm going to go down and pick that up, he said I'll be right back. And I was watching him. And, like I said, the towers, even though they was actually far away, it was pretty close on that hillside. And he went down and he picked that, picked that thing up. And I'm looking at him, and I'm just talking on the phone like this here, and he picked that up, what turned out to be an unexploded RA rocket. A ?RA? rocket is, if you've seen any of the movies they look like little miniature bazookas, you pull them out like this here and put them (making explosion sound) like that, it was one of those rounds. And he went down, he picked it up, and he was packing it in his hand. And about halfway up that ladder, that thing went off. And I was, I remember staring, I was staring right at him when that exploded, poof, like that, and a big fire ball went up. And I was stunned, and I just stared down there. And, of course, on the phone everybody wants to know what that is, because you don't know if it's incoming or where that came from. So there is a lot of excitement on the phone. And I was just, just blindly staring down there at that fire ball as it went up. And when it went away and the dust started to settle, I could see this guy flopping on the ground pretty sporadically, in convulsions. And that was the first time that I heard that loud shrill, scream from a guy mortally wounded. And that was, that was pretty hairy. And I kept trying to get everybody off the phone so I could call down to operations to get somebody up there. And I finally got everybody off the phone, and I called down there. And I told them what had happened, and they said, well, you've gotta get down there and see if there was something you can do. And I didn't want to go down there. But I figured I had to. So I got down off my ladder, I went, I started running down the hill, and I was running, like, really, really fast. And as I got closer and closer and closer and closer, I started to slow down and slow down and slow down. And where the road came up like this here was ______+ stuff like that. And as I got closer and was kind of walking to that hill, I could see his knees in the air and the smell of burnt flesh, which would make you gag really bad. And I got within about 20 feet of him, and that's as close as I could get. And I'd never seen anything like that in my entire life. He was completely blowed to pieces. The meat was completely gone off his bones. There was no blood, other than his face and his chest. His entire crotch was gone. His hands were blown off. And it was just a mess. And I remember the bones in his legs, because his knees were about this here, and there was no blood because he was burned, I guess, so terribly bad. And I just stood there and stared at him because I didn't think he was alive, and he kept asking, he started to ask for help. And I thought I was just going to pass out and fall on the ground. So, I remember that as being not a good deal. I thought, well, how do they handle writing home to this kid's parents, he's been in-country one month, and tell them that he was, he accidentally picked up a rocket in his hand and it went off? I certainly wouldn't want to be in that position to do that. But that was pretty ugly, and it was my first experience with, I remember that shrill, that scream coming out of him. And the thing with having to witness stuff like that under them conditions is from, you, when you wake up every morning, that same scenario will pass through your mind over and over and over again. Every morning you wake up that same scenario passes through your mind. And it's something that veterans that have been in them situations have to deal with every day, and the psychological effect on a lot of them can't be good, which is probably why there's lots of alcoholism and drug abuse and, of course, suicides, after the Viet Nam conflict especially. Because dealing with stuff like that, it's just pretty hard to do. So, and that was just an accident. And I see these things in Iraq and these accidents taking place, and it has to be pretty hard for a commander to write home to a kid's parents and tell them that something like that happened. So that was, it was not good. And to this very day I still, I still hear that, I hear that noise. Every morning. But anyway, they moved us off to ASP-2, which turned out to be a little hairier place yet. Working in the ammo dump I wasn't on guard duty anymore. I was past the point at that point, they finally took me off guard duty. So you get routine patrols, night patrol, day patrols, that sort of thing like that. Never ran into too much trouble, you know, getting in some hairy conflicts where it's not too terribly bad, just scares you to death, but nothing really bad. So people, like I say, my duty in Viet Nam was actually, was actually not too bad compared to people who had to deal with just trying to stay alive every day, day after day after day after day. I could see where it could definitely physically, mentally break them down real bad. It was pretty hard to deal with. We had to, we had to go out to take care of what they call grade three ammo. That is ammo that's been recycled, recycled, recycled, reconditioned to the point where it can't be used anymore, so they take it out and they destroy it. So four days in a row they sent us over right to the Laotian border to get rid of grade three ammo. Two hundred and fifty tons of everything from small arms to five-hundred-pound bombs. They come in and they dig big trenches, lay everything in there, put plastic explosives down there, you get back and touch it off. Four days straight, even I begin to wonder, you know, you're taking the same route, you know, every day. That's going to start looking pretty good to somebody. And on the fourth day there was a set-up waiting for us. But we had an infantry unit, an engineer unit, and engineers are who look for mines and stuff like that, they set mines in the roads, they're the ones that go out and look for, clear the way for you. But on the fourth day in the area where we was blowing all this stuff up they was waiting for us. It was on a side hill. The infantry group seen them. They told us they was there. They had the place booby-trapped. They did have a round go off, but they took care of everything else. They called in the Phantoms, and the two Viet Nam, that's a real skinny area up through the middle there, and the Phantoms were there, the Phantoms are the Air Force aircraft, Marine Corps aircraft, whatever, come out of Danang Air Base, took them about five minutes, seen them coming like this here, they come right up that hillside, you can see the bombs fall off the bottom, completely just burnt that entire hillside down to nothing. They told us, oh, just go ahead and do what you're doing, they just completely wiped out that entire hillside, all this. Within about two minutes it was all over they sent them home. You know, probably ten minutes later the pilots are probably sitting down in the club having a beer, I'm sure. So that was pretty interesting to watch. But, you know, four days in a row of going that same direction, I thought, you know, it just seemed pretty scary to me to do that. But I have some pictures of the actual explosions going off. We got back approximately two miles, and when that first explosion went off on that first day, I've never anything like this, it was so big that the clouds went like this in the sky. You know, and I thought, oh, man, what have we done here? But, anyway, this is that explosion going off, or one of them, I think that's the last day. This is me on a forklift unloading pallets of ammo, out towards the ocean where you can see the roads in the jungle there. There's a funny story about that explosion. I mean, it's funny now. But when we went into that area, everybody goes in and tells all the local village people to move out because of what was about to happen. So they're just taking their time, taking their time, they're on their little mopeds, on their little bikes and stuff like that, you know, just kind of stroking along. And when them explosions went off, we got back about two miles and we was standing, we just wanted to watch it, we was all waiting, when that explosion went off, I've never seen anything like this before. Birds, snakes, bugs, chickens, dogs, every living thing just come flying by you at one whack when them explosions started to go off. Everything. Birds, snakes, bugs, you name it. Just, phew, right by you, just like that. Pretty hairy. And then the convection wave comes, and that hits you, it's a pretty heavy-duty wave when they're blowing that kind of ammo. Almost knocks you down. So that was kind of an experience.

Marta Brooks:

We've got about ten minutes left. Do you want to share about Bob Hope, seeing Bob Hope?

Steven L. Bobb:

Okay. One of the highlights of being in Viet Nam, was that I got a ticket, the only -- so many tickets go out to every little outfit and only so many people could go to the Bob Hope Show in 1970, December 1970. I lucked out because nobody else wanted to go. And my partner got to go, so the two of us went to the Bob Hope show. And it was at Freedom Hill. We got there about seven o'clock in the morning, and they didn't show up until eleven, that's when they came in. So we're out there sitting in the heat. And this is the picture from where I was sitting at the Bob Hope Show. And this is a picture, this is kind of dramatic, I turned around and I took a picture of the hillside, of the men standing on the hillside. So that was fun.

Unidentified Speaker:

What year was it?

Steven L. Bobb:

1970, December 1970. There are times when you're in Viet Nam where you're either, you might be sitting on post, things are quiet, pretty calm, you can almost forget where you're at, you know. And it kind of, reality kind of has to sink in every now and again to, you kind of snap out of it, you realize that you're actually in a bad place. But that was at least a highlight, I think, you know, if there is any highlights to be had in Viet Nam, it was going to the Bob hope show.

Marta Brooks:

We're almost to the end of our interview tape, but there is lots more to say, but can you talk about the day that you got home and were released? Do you remember that?

Steven L. Bobb:

Well, there was, the Marine Corps was the first outfits to start moving out of Viet Nam. And in 1970, they moved part of us back to an area they call Med Three. Med three is, if anybody has seen MASH, that's what it is. An area where they bring in the wounded and the dying. So, they moved part of our outfit back to that, which was just out side of the backside of Hill 327. And I remember the choppers coming in 24 hours a day. Around the clock. And the thing I remember most is them choppers coming through there even over the noise of them blades, and the blades make a lot of noise, that pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop, because you could hear the guys screaming on the choppers coming in. And they flew in and they threw out the pieces and the bodies of the ones who were dying -- or dead to get out the ones who were still alive. And that part was pretty hard to deal with. How them guys did that day to day, day after day, to go out and pick up them guys and bring them back and have to listen to that every day, bringing guys in like that, I wouldn't want to be one of those. But I remember the body pieces laying out in the yard and the bags and people with heads gone, arms gone, boots. And the smell, pretty bad. And the part I remember quite clearly every day was watching grown men die while screaming for their mothers (break in tape..) ...knowingly kill another human being. And I don't have to wake up with that every day, too.

Marta Brooks:

Thank you.

[END OF INTERVIEW]

 
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  October 26, 2011
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