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Interview with Frederick McElderry [9/29/2003]

Ellen L. George:

Today is Monday, September the 29th, 2003 and this is the beginning of an interview with veteran Frederick McElderry at the VA Chicago Health Care Health Facility, Lakeside Medical Center at 333 East Huron in Chicago, Illinois, where he has been a patient. Frederick is 57 years old, having been born on February 13th, 1946. He presently resides at 3812 Sterling Road in Downers Grove, Illinois, 60515. My name is Ellen George and I'm a volunteer at Lakeside Medical Center and I'll be the interviewer. Frederick, could you state for the recording what war era and branch of service you served in and also what was your rank.

Frederick McElderry:

I'm a Vietnam veteran. I served in the United States Navy. I rose to rank of an E3 seaman. I began my experience when I was 19 years old, one day before my 19th birthday. I enlisted February 12th. My birthday is February 13th. I went through basic training in San Diego, California. Then I was assigned to a U.S. destroyer, the USS BRUSH, DD-745 out of Long Beach, California. We stayed in port for approximately three months and then our first deployment was to Vietnam. Our attack force, which consisted of destroyers and carriers, headed to Vietnam 1965.

I served six months aboard the USS BRUSH in the Tonkin Gulf performing shore bombardment and any other assignments that were dispatched to us at that time. During my duty aboard ship, at which time we would do shore bombardment, I was a canister person who handled the loading of the canister in the gun, preparing it for detonation. This assignment was performed approximately every other day for about approximately a month.

When I was not loading the gun I was a cook apprentice aboard ship. I was just an apprentice. Okay. I wasn't a full cook. We stayed in Vietnam for approximately six months in the Tonkin Gulf area, at which time we were dispatched back to the United States, having completed our six-month deployment in the Middle East -- not the Middle East, but the Pacific.

We returned to the United States in late '65 and we went into dry dock to have the ship completely refurbished. While we were in dry dock, approximately two months later after entering dry dock, a sailor came to me from clerical duty to tell me that I was going to Vietnam. I was in the galley cooking that day and three fellows were assigned off of our ship back to Vietnam. They were creating new types of logistical operations and they needed manpower and they started collecting individuals.

Initially I thought he was kidding me, but I realized when I saw my orders, "McElderry, you're going to Da Nang, Vietnam." Approximately a week later I was given my orders from the ship to report to Coronado, California, or the Coronado, California Amphibious Base, Amphibious Naval Base, right outside of San Diego, took a short leave and headed towards Coronado, California.

We arrived. We were put in a barracks and told very little initially. A few days later our petty officer, supervisor, came in to report to us what we were going to go through. This was going to be escape, evasion and survival training. "You will learn to perform each one of those duties, and maybe you'll make it back from Nam or maybe you won't."

So we were very frightened and very scared, but it's something that you bury inside of yourself. Okay. It's not abnormal to be afraid of going to war. So the next day we started our training with the Third Marine Division at Camp Pendleton. We were taken out to a Marine facility, bivouacked, and we slept in bivouacs for approximately a week and we went through the various tasks and obstacles that the Marines would teach us.

For instance, we were assigned -- went to a shooting range and we performed shooting every weapon that was used in Vietnam so we would know how to use these weapons when we got there. Whatever weapon was handed to you, you would know how to use it because you had already been trained. You were pretrained. So I got to throw a grenade, which I never thought I'd have to do in the Navy since grenades usually are in the Army or the Marines.

So I was asked to performed throwing a grenades, should I have to carry grenades in Nam. I really felt a deep sense of anxiety which I think contributed to my vulnerability to the human being because I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know the final outcome. So then we shot rifles, the various rifles they are using. The M-14s was the rifle of choice at that time. We shot shotguns, machine guns, .30 caliber, .50 caliber. This was performed for a couple of days.

Then we were sent out to another site on the Marine base there at Camp Pendleton that was a mock jungle and it was set up to be aware and understand the mechanics of booby traps, of what to look for when you're in a situation that a trap might exist. And there are punji sticks, I recall one of the weapons of choice of the Vietcong. Others were designed a string -- tie a string to a piece of very heavy wood, a log, with sharp sticks hammered into each side of it. If it hit you it's going to go right through you. These were assigned to certain areas in the jungle.

Once again, not knowing where I was going to be, I had no idea what my job would be when I got to Vietnam. Given the training, I thought the worst was going to happen so -- but it's not something you think about. You don't allow it to stop you from doing your task. Because I want you to know that I always wanted to be a sailor. I never regretted being or joining the United States Navy, okay, and I would certainly rejoin the Navy again.

But, anyway, so after two days of training, approximately, I think, we came back and we learned how to break our rifles down just like the Marines would and put them back together. And as the old sergeant would say, "The only bullet you got to worry about is the one with your name on it." And we did that for a day and we got this training.

This went on for about a week, as I say, I think. They put us on the bus and brought us back to the Navy amphibious base there, Coronado. We weren't quite through with our training yet. Then we were assembled one day in an auditorium. This is approximately now getting near about the 10th day and there was -- people always think Navy guys are a little on the soft side. They got tough guys, too, and this tough petty officer came in and he exhibited booby traps.

"For instance, if I hand you a box of cigars, a little child, when you open a cigar it's going to blow up in your face." And I can remember him telling me, "Don't ever trust anyone Vietnam. You may end up dead. That can of C-rations that you're eating, that can can be made into a bomb. If I cause you to lose your hand, that's good enough. I may not kill you, but I will maim you or injure you for life. Therefore, I have won because I am the enemy and I am a terrorist. Okay. I am a Vietcong guerrilla fighter. I am a guerrilla fighter. A guerrilla does not fight conventional methods, within conventional methods."

So he taught us, explained standing on the stage -- I can still remember him -- taught us to watch -- what to look for. Once again, I can still remember him, "Don't trust anyone in Vietnam," and I think that has always contributed to my distrust of people, okay, because you may get hurt, you know.

That -- you're always feel that, you may not think it, but you might get hurt. So I finished the training after approximately ten days and I thought I was going to be shipped out immediately. You never know what the Navy is going to do, military. You just do as you're told. And so I was packed and ready to go to Da Nang, Vietnam would be my landing point.

But, lo and behold, I went to the clerical officer to get my orders and he says, "Mac, you got two weeks leave before you ship out." So here I was in San Diego, California, with very little money and ready to go to Vietnam, but I got two weeks leave. So I call my mother. She sent me a little money and I got on a bus in San Diego and I rode a bus, one of the few times I ever -- only time I ever did, from San Diego, California, to Nashville, Tennessee. That's where my mother -- that's where I'm originally from and that's why I had joined the Navy. I'm technically not an Illinois veteran but a Nashville, Tennessee veteran. So I got home and I had met a pretty little redhead in Nashville that I wanted to marry, so I couldn't wait to see her, but in the back of my mind I always felt a great deal of anxiety because I knew I was leaving and I didn't know what the future was going to be. I guess maybe my family thought, "Gee, he's not coming back."

I'm a pessimist, you know. I didn't know. So I stayed home for two weeks, visited. I left, came north, said good-bye to my sister, got -- took the plane from O'Hare to Travis Air Force Base. And while I was in -- actually, I'm trying to think of the place there. I think they closed it up. Treasure Island they called it, in California. I did five days of training on cargo handling or more training on how to use derricks and cranes and things of that nature that they were using in Vietnam. Because one of the things that was confusing about Vietnam was the fact that you may have to shoot rifles and fight, but you also -- when you're not doing that you're being -- have a job. You would be loading cargo or whatever.

In my case it would be cargo. I would be working what now I realize is what is known as logistics. So did five days of training in that and was to report to Travis Air Force Base in California for shipment to Vietnam. So the day came I was leaving for Vietnam, and I'm basically probably an atheist, but it was one of the few times I ever went to the chapel and prayed because I was scared. I didn't have anyone to share my feelings with, my fear.

I was going alone. I wasn't assigned with anyone. I was alone. So -- like most things in life, I've done it alone. So I set there all day, Travis Air Force Base. It was raining, dreary, depressed day. I guess I was probably depressed. And we shipped out that night. About 8:00 they called us, all the boys, "Okay. The plane's outside. You're going on a C130 Hercules."

So probably 200 of us marched aboard this plane, sitting in a seat backwards. You couldn't see out, like a piece of cargo. We took off into the night and it was quite a flight. It's about an 18-hour flight. So one of my escapes was sleep, so I went to sleep. I must have slept ten hours. So then I woke up, we were out over the ocean. Okay. And we made one stop in Guam for refueling. They did give us a TV dinner. It was all we got. And then we stopped in Clark Air Force Base, which now I think is closed, but we stopped to fuel up there and we got off the plane, let us stretch a little bit. The seats were really cramped.

And we flew out of Clark Air Force Base on to Vietnam. We landed in Vietnam probably about dark, about 8:00 at night there in Da Nang, Vietnam. So I was to report to the Navy activity support group. The guy told me where to report. And this is 8:00 at night. I was very tired, very sleepy. Everything was shut down for the night.

So I get to the place, to the office at the support activities building. The guy said, "Well, I got nothing for you tonight." He said, "I'll give you a cot and a blanket. There's a warehouse building down the street about a block. Go sleep in it tonight and come back in the morning." So I did so, went and slept for the night, reported the next day, and he said, "Well, what do you want to do? It shows you were a cook aboard a ship. Do you want to be a cook?"

Well, I was a pretty cocky guy then. I said, "I didn't come to Vietnam to cook." The warrior side kicked in. So he says, "Okay." He says, "I'll put you on an LCM-8 landing craft." LCM-8 landing craft stands for landing craft mobile, LCM, landing craft, M stands for mobile, eight. It's a four-man boat, flat bottom, no keel, has two engines, 427 engines in it, I think, same you'd find in a bus. Very powerful boat. Takes a low draft, okay, doesn't need a lot of water. It's a river boat. It's great for rivers. It's not much for the open sea.

So he assigned me to this unit which is a logistics unit, Naval Support Activity. So I went over and reported to the building, which was what is known as an ATL, I think. It's actually a barracks on water, stationary, but it's actually on the water and the Navy guys live on it. You can cook on it and it's got facilities, cafeteria, everything. So I reported and the first thing the guy says, "Go wash the bilges, the bilges out," okay, where all the grease is at.

I don't think he liked me, or he wanted to see how tough I was. "So you go do that for a day." He said, "Report here back tomorrow. I'll see what I'm going to do with you, McElderry." So he was a tough SOB. So I reported the next day. He says, "All right. I've got a boat outside over here," and he tell me our location, No. 427 -- 413 -- yeah, yeah, 427 -- 357. Get my numbers right on my boat. "Got a boat over here, 357." He says, "Find it and report to it, Coxman"--the coxman in the Navy is the guy who drives the boat--"He'll be waiting for you."

So I go over and meet. There the guys are. There will be four of us on this boat. So we got the pole up, put the flag up. Got to have the American flag flying. Got it all painted, fixed up. You can put a roof on it. These boats have nothing. It's just a boat. You got to put a roof on. You got to build everything. I was a seaman so it was my job. So we have a seaman and a coxman, the guy who drives it, and I could drive it, for that matter, unless we're in a tense situation and he would take over.

And we have an engineer who takes care of the engine and he has a helper, an assistant. So we got it all hooked up and our first assignment was to go pick up some cargo around Da Nang. We stayed around Da Nang for about three months. A guy comes to us one day and he says, "Mac, you guys go over and get your .50 caliber machine gun put on your boat." I figured, well, this is where we're going to war now because in Da Nang in the harbor it's pretty safe.

You just work, work 12 hours. In war you work from sunup to sundown. There's no eight -- no eight hours, okay, in a war. You work until you're tired. I've fallen asleep quite a few times. So we went over to the mechanic shack, armament shack, and they mounted a .50 caliber machine gun on the back of it and then they told us to go over to the armory and get our rifles. They issued us M-14s and all the ammo we could handle and we were going down to a place south of Da Nang called Chu Lai.

We was probably, gee, I don't know specifically, I'd say maybe 50 miles down the coast, which meant we had to go out into the ocean this boat ain't made for, but we'll do it anyway. And we'll go south and then we'll cut into a river. This is all jungle. All you see is jungle all the way down the coast and you look for the hole and that's where the river channel is at. And you go in there and there's Marines in there.

Okay. So we went down and we found the place. And they had set up a camp there and we hung around there for a couple days, said, "You guys go down here in the jungle. There is a river about ten miles down, further down, beyond Chu Lai. We want you guys to go there and you stay with the Third Marine Division and you bring them back and forth across the river and you haul anything that they got, prisoners or whatever." Okay. And this is down in the jungles. Okay. It's the real deal. So went down, we found the channel, and we pulled in and the Marines were camped right on the bank.

They had a little camp set up, a little prisoner of war area, barbed wire for prisoners they bring back, Vietcong. And we slept on the boat on the steel deck. Many a night I just slept right on the steel deck. Or we could sleep in what's known as a bilge, but those are bilges and we took the tops off them and slept because they are brutally hot at night. Getting on them is very, very hot, very wet.

So we stayed with the Third Marine Division there and we would haul Marines back and forth across this river, up this river, wherever they needed to go. And then at night, which was very black and very dark and very scary, we'd pull our boat up on the bank and we'd bank it. Okay. And we'd hold there for the night. Okay.

Of course we always had a guard on every four hours with our gun. This is the real deal. A snake in the water or something, I mean, you know, you hear something move, you get a little -- you're paranoid because you don't know what it is. And you remember what that guy told you in that training, "Don't trust anyone," okay. And this affects my -- has always affected my vulnerability in my personality.

So we were Marines. We hauled prisoners of war. Okay. And they brought us back some prisoners. Okay. They always have little gooks loaded, because the Marines, they don't play. Okay. They are a rough bunch. So then my first experience of death, they call us one day and they says, "A helicopter has crashed out in the sea right at the mouth of the river, a Chinook. We had a bunch of Marines on it. They were going on assignment. We figured they were going to wash up inside the channel up on the river bank somewhere, so be on the lookout."

So we stayed in one specific position right at the channel of the river, the mouth of the river close to the bay until we get a call, "Okay. Do whatever you need to do." In the military lots of times it's wait a long time and then go. Okay. So -- but your job is very vital to the overall operation. So just because you sit maybe for five or six hours and do nothing, okay, you might start working for a couple of hours, those couple hours are vital to the overall operation. You have to keep the big picture in mind and analyze it.

Of course I didn't know that then when at 19 years old I didn't analyze things like that. But it's vital. Maybe you might work only two hours, but it's vital to the overall operation of what you're doing. And we had a radio so they could call us. So, sure enough, somebody spotted a body on the river bank. So we went over and it was a dead Marine that washed up. If you ever seen a body in the water for about a day, it's filled up with water. It's not a pretty sight. So got a poncho and covered it up, put it on the boat on the -- we have a ramp. We dropped the ramp. You can carry anything. You can carry a tank on this. You can carry cargo, whatever, bodies, whatever. We dropped the ramp and we rolled this dead Marine up upon the ramp. Smelled terrible, stench.

And we took him back up to where the Marines were at and they came and got him. So that was my first experience with death. Then one night we were there and the moon was lit. It was a clear night. And all of a sudden they -- I mean you -- your -- you're -- you're edgy. You're very edgy when you're darkness like that at night in the jungle. And all of a sudden a fire fight starts in the Marine camp. Well, we went to general quarters, as you would say. Coxman jumped up, grabbed the .50 caliber and started firing in the woods. I started firing my M-14. I don't know what I was firing at, but they were -- the Cong was in the jungle there somewhere on the edge.

You have to understand, they like to harass you. They'll harass you at three or 4:00 in the morning. Okay. So finally we had a Marine with us, radioman. He hollers, "Okay, all right, kill the fire, kill the fire." Okay. It could have been nothing. It could have been a sniper, it could have been an animal, but you don't know that. Okay. So it's very confusing. It was very, very confusing. I was a very confused lad when I came out of Vietnam.

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

I was very confused. Not really confused now, but, anyway, I got off the track. So that was Chu Lai. So then we would have stayed in Chu Lai probably quite a long time, but we bent the rudder on our boat, which is a very common occurrence on these kind of boats and you're dealing in shallow water and the sand shifts and -- underneath the water and you -- where there's clear water and clear sailing, tomorrow it could be a sand bar there.

If you hit a sand bar it's going to bend the propeller. Just think about it. It won't go through the sand. So we bent our propeller. We were there for about, I don't know, a month, and we bent our propeller, so we had to get a tug boat. We got a tug boat, went out the ocean, threw a line to them. They were very nice guys. These are Americans. Okay. They weren't military. This was a private tug boat. It's like the Corps of Engineers. Okay. They are not really military. They are not soldiers, but they are doing work, okay, whatever. They dredge out a lot of the rivers. You have to dredge out. You got to dig all that sand out so you got water so boats can get through there, have a propeller, use of their propeller.

So they came, picked us up, and they were real nice to us. They said, "Come on aboard." So we rode the tug back to our location headquarters. They gave us hot meals, which was great. All I ate was C-rations down there. I went in the Navy to not eat C-rations. Dad gum, that's all I ate. It was pretty doggone good. I always liked the beans and franks was good. You get a little heat tablet. It's all changed today. It's all different. You had a little heat tablet, just a little round tablet, and you set it on fire. You light it and it will burn, so maybe like maybe ten minutes, okay, if it ain't raining. If it's raining it puts it out. And you put your can over it, hold your can over it. Real boy scout living, right?

So talking about eating and, anyway, they gave us a nice hot lunch over, real plates, glass plates. I mean, wow, that's really something, right? Makes you think of home. So got back, got our propeller fixed, and we stayed there for about another week, okay, and we didn't go back to Chu Lai.

We didn't go back down there. And they said, "You guys are going back to Da Nang." And you kind of do whatever your assignment is. I mean, there's -- the top echelon is giving orders. "Okay. You're assigned to this boat," and you know where all your boats are at. Somebody is dispatching somewhere, and so, "Boat 357, come on back to Da Nang."

So we went back to Da Nang. And I figured they take the three -- the .50 caliber machine gun off of it, but they didn't. They said, "You guys just put a cover over it and you guys just work around here in the harbor. And you go over to this ship and pick up this cargo, ammunitions." Might be beer, might be ammunitions. No telling what it is. Okay.

"Take it over to the pier here and the truck will pick it up. Forklift will come aboard and pick it up." It was easy duty as far as that was concerned. It was fairly safe because once you tie up to a ship, it's the crew on the ships job to load your boat. You don't have to do any of the loading. Once they load it, all you -- it's sort of like a truck where I drive the truck; that's all I do. Once you load my boat, I take it to that pier over there. I stop, I tie up, drop the ramp, let the forklift guy unload it. I don't have to unload it. I don't touch the freight. So we did that for about a month.

They came to us. They say, "You guys are going up to Dong Ha." So going out again. Okay. So we headed -- I think they were, like, five boats. I think there were, yeah, three or five. They loaded us up with ammunitions, projectiles. They said, "You guys going. You got your rifles, M-14s." And so we headed up to Dong Ha, which is right beneath the DMZ zone, way up north. So we got up there and we find a channel to get in the river. They told us there is a river up there. So we got up there.

Once again we're out in the wilderness living on the sand right on the edge of the beach. Jungle's a hundred feet from us, jungle all around us. And so we got up there and we moving amtracks. Amtracks are like personnel carriers for Marines called an Amtrack, and we would haul them across the river. Amtracks couldn't go in the water so they would put us on the -- we would put them on our boat one at a time, take them across the other side of the river and then drop them off. That's the way you have to think about Vietnam. That's how you got stuff moved around.

A little bit easier in Iraq. It's all sand. I mean it's all open. Here you got to -- how are we going to get these people across this river? Well, that's where you might sit for five or six hours and do nothing, but those -- maybe that tough two hours' worth of work, three hours' worth of work is very vital to the overall operation of wherever those Marines are going ultimately.

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

So that's why they call it logistics. Okay. It's really -- that's what the logic of what you got to do to get your objective met. So I -- once again, while we were there I got my experience of death. They had a fire fight one night right on the other side of the river with the Marines, really intense. We were watching a movie one night. A fire fight can erupt at any moment. It just -- it happens. It's not something -- it ain't planned. It's not something that you going to -- I think it's going to occur. You don't know when it is.

When shots are fired, shots are fired. Okay. It's just like COP, "Shots are fired." And all of a sudden it broke. They are having a fire fight. Okay. And we had a mortar team set up on our side. The boat was right on the bank, on the bank of the river and we had a mortar team set up and they started calling out, "Ordnance," and they are shooting mortars on the other side of the river.

Maybe we're, like, we're talking 300 feet from where we're at. Okay. We grabbed our rifles so we cold shoot over. So that lasted about a half an hour, and those guys -- I know it seems -- it seems very strange and confusing. One minute he can be shooting mortars, boom, boom, okay, and this is like watching the movie. You can just turn it out, turn it off, turn your kill off, and let's go back to watching the movie.

Yeah, that's the way you do it. It's strange. It was very strange. So I brought back a couple of dead Vietcong and I got to see what a dead Vietcong was like with their brains blown out, shoveled out like a pack of potatoes, bag of potatoes, two of them lying on top of each other. Marines don't play, boy. That's war. That's what you're exposed to.

I tell you what that does to you emotionally. It -- I don't want to use the word "hardened," but it creates a flat affect in one, okay, that you don't have any great depth of feeling about those kinds of things because you can't afford that luxury. Okay. You kind of got to be tough or even more than tough. You got to be hard. I made the distinction between tough and being hard. You got to be hard when you're in those kind of experiences. I never felt anything in Vietnam. I was told the entire time I was emotionally flat, aloof, distant the entire time.

Ellen L. George:

Otherwise it would affect you personally.

Frederick McElderry:

Otherwise it would affect my performance and my ability to survive. And I was trained, okay. There is a lot of truth to you train this guy to act like an animal, he's going to act like an animal when he comes home. You don't turn this stuff off. You keep thinking you turn it off. You don't turn it off. So what do you do? You give them a pill. Okay. Well, that kills it. Well, I guess, but you don't turn this stuff off. You can't. It's always with you. Okay. Because you have to presuppose the type of individual you're sending there to begin with, okay?

There's only so much raw individuals -- there's only so much a man can take or, for that matter, a woman, too. There's only so much they can take, okay, until there is a breaking point. And I think personally -- I'm 50 percent PTSD, I think I'm closer to 80 percent. I think because I've had many jobs in life and I've wandered, okay, I think it contributed, Vietnam -- my Vietnam experience deeply contributed to the vulnerabilities of a 19-year old.

And there's two schools of thought on it; you were vulnerable before you went there, or Vietnam made you vulnerable. Well, I think Vietnam for me aggravated my vulnerabilities that already existed in me. Okay. All right. So, all right, so let's get back to Vietnam. So we were in Dong Ha and I see these dead Vietcong, a couple dead Vietcong in there. So we were there for about, about a month. So we're getting on and off and I got to ride a boxcar, C130 boxcar, the Navy -- or with the Air Force, and I went flew back to Dong Ha, got some of the (?E-dunk?).

You couldn't get that out in the jungle, get some candy and whatever. And one of the things that always raised my, my heart was when I would get letters from my girlfriend and I would get like four or five letters at one time. Oh, she doesn't know how important that was to me.

Okay. And so then we left Dong Ha, went back to the Da Nang. We were only in Da Nang for about a month and they said, "Okay. You guys are going out again. You're going to Wei." Okay. So at this point I'd been in Vietnam for about six months. Okay.

Ellen L. George:

Is this the first time or the. . .

Frederick McElderry:

Second time.

Ellen L. George:

Second time.

Frederick McElderry:

This is my year there. Did one year, twelve months. So they loaded our boat and they say, "You guys go up north to find the channel," and they give us this map, tell us where to find the channel to get into Wei. There would be -- the camp was called Tam Mai. It's a Marine camp, a fuel base where they have fuel, jet fuel. There is a tanker out on the ocean pumping fuel to these bladders. Okay. And this bladder, "We're going to put one on this boat, our boat and you guys are going to be a bladder boat, a fuel boat, two of you. There will be two boats and they are going to be bringing this construction. We're going to build this frame and we'll put a bladder right in the middle of it, a big rubber bladder, tough rubber bladder. And we're going to fill it up with 1500 gallons of jet fuel, which would send -- blow you all the way back to your mama if it ever blows up. Okay. You wouldn't stand a chance in hell if it ever blew up. And you're going to carry it up river to Wei. This is the logistics of what we were doing of this operation.

"There will be a fuel truck, a gasoline truck, trailer truck, tanker waiting at the ramp place, a specific place location, with a huge five-inch hose. He's going to hook up to your bladder and draw all that fuel out into his tank truck. Okay. And then he takes it to Phu Bai Air Base," which I don't know how far -- number of miles out, which is a Marine airport for -- combat airport, Phu Bai Air Base. They were flying -- Marines were flying.

And they always said the Marines and it was a Marine truck, so I think it was a Marine operation. I don't think it was an Air Force base. Okay. I don't think there was Air Force operations. I think it was Marine operations, but Marines air operations. They were doing combat mission. So, that was our assignment. And there were two boats and we'd do two runs a day. That's all we had to do. Once again, you have to look at the importance of what you were doing to the overall vitalness of the operation. It may not seem like important, but it is vitally important.

Ellen L. George:

Well, you were bringing supplies.

Frederick McElderry:

Supplies. You ain't got JP-4, which is jet fuel, you ain't going nowhere. So we would do this twice a day. So I got to Tam Mai and we were -- the bladder was put on our boat and this frame with all the hoses and everything we needed and we were officially a fuel boat. And we'd put -- they'd put a radio on it and they have a communications center back in the area there in the camp.

The guy sits in the shack. It's all coming in all blocked and there's lots of sandbags and all around it and he does all the communications for that camp. We put a couple of mortars in there and blow up -- all those tank -- all those fuel bladders are full of fuel, full of gas. That stuff ignites just instantly (indicating) and it's basically all Marines. And I looked like a Marine. I dressed like a Marine. I had Marine bars, okay.

While I was in Da Nang -- and they were asking, "Maybe do you have a unique experience about Vietnam?" And I was thinking the other night and I was just telling my friend. I says, "You know, I don't know if I have any unique experience," but the only thing, I was listening to this guy at the AARP meeting and he was talking about the guy -- he was a black guy and he went to this white house and the husband didn't like him and the wife did and she invited him in.

And I thought the only thing that I thought was unique, Ms. George, would be the fact that a black guy worked on our boat. He was a coxman for about three weeks, right? He comes aboard once and he looks at me, he says, "Mac, you're a hell of a seaman. I'm going to have you promoted to E3. I'll put the paperwork in tomorrow," and a black guy promoted me from E2 to E3, and in 1965 or '66, okay. I never forget that. I never thought about it.

I always thought I -- do your job. I'll get out of this Navy. I'm going to get back and see that pretty little girl in Nashville, Tennessee. And he says, "Mac, you're a good seaman. You know your job." He says, "I'm putting the paperwork in." So I became an E3 so I got a little more money. Plus you get 55 dollars combat pay, which I sent to my mother to save for me. And for being in combat, being in Vietnam, period, you got 55 dollars every month. So anyway, so we get up to Tam Mai, fuel base, step back up to what we were talking about, and we would do two trips a day and put a radio on our boat. Our code name was Tampax, okay?

Ellen L. George:

Yeah.

Frederick McElderry:

Because the Vietcong would never figure out what a Tampax is. And if I hollered out, "Tampax, Tampax, go up the river," all right, the radio dispatcher would know who I was referring to, which boat that was. That would be 357. Tampax would be boat 357 carrying this fuel. I would ride shotgun on the front. Okay. I had my -- by the way, they switched from M-14s to M-16s at this point.

Later in the war they shifted to M-16. It was a more powerful rifle. So they issued us M-16s. I had a flack jacket and helmet, okay, plenty of ammunitions. All right. We had our .50 caliber on the boat. And I would always ride -- somebody had to ride shotgun on the front because this cute little Vietnamese gooks swimming around in the water when you're coming up the river, they maybe put a grenade in the water under you, okay?

So think back to what that petty officer was telling you in Coronado, California. "When you open that box you're going to lose your hand. Okay. She hands you a piece of candy, it may blow up in your face. That little -- that woman, that innocent looking woman swimming in the water, okay, is going to kill you, okay, so you don't trust anyone."

So occasionally, out of ignorance on their part, I think, they'd be swimming in front of the boat, which I would spray with my M-16 and that'd scare them and they'd get out of the way, okay, and we'd go on speeding by. And, once again, we had to deal with sandbars and shifting and the mud and the sand and all so, you know, it's a real job getting up the river. We'd go up twice a day and then at dark sometimes we'd get our last run at 5:00. We'd get up there and it would get dark. Okay. You don't go down the river, because this river goes right through the jungle. Okay.

It's not through the city, okay, it's through a jungle. Okay. An excellent place to be ambushed, excellent. I'm surprised to this day that we never were ambushed, okay, but we never were ambushed. It would be a perfect place to knock four guys off and knock out a fuel boat if they wanted to knock out just a -- once again, you want to disrupt the operation, some segment of it. If I can disrupt -- from a Vietcong sense, if I can disrupt a certain segment of the overall operation, I've met my objective.

They never bothered us so -- but I did lose three friends there. I'll get to that in a minute. So we would get up to Wei. We would unload our fuel at this Marine tank truck who was waiting for us. Remember two black guys. I always liked them. They were cool guys. The same two guys always worked. They were Marines. And we took about -- it would take about an hour to get all this fuel off the boat, transport it from the boat to the tank truck. So at night if we got our last trip at say 4:30, 5:00, by the time we got up there and got the fuel off, it would be dark.

It might be 7:00, 7:30. Call them on the radio, "This is Tampax. We're going to be staying in Wei that night." Okay. So we would stay in Wei. You anchor, throw an anchor in and you just find it -- get it to hook in the bottom of the water and that will hold you there. You move around, you'll float around, but you don't float away.

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

And we'd sleep on the boat, you know.

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

We had no food. We'd get C-rations. Once again, I lived like a Marine. They had a tent back at camp that they would eat, but it would shut down at 5:00. Well, hell, we never get back by 5:00 so we said screw it, we'll just eat C-rations.

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

We had an Igloo and we'd get us a few cans of beer, which, you know, I guess maybe the commander, if he wanted to be a hardass about it he'd say -- well, that's kind of -- that's breaking military code of justice having alcohol aboard a United States vessel, but -- because technically it is a United States vessel.

So what? We're the law. At a certain point in war you become powerful within yourself in the sense that you're your own boss. Okay. You do what you want as long as you don't get too broke -- I mean, it's like the claiming crossbones on your boat. If you want to, that's cool. Okay. The Navy might not like it, but if you want the skull and crossbones --

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

-- okay, all right, you fix your boat up. It's yours, baby. It's all yours. I mean, you're going to live on it. You're going to do it. It's your -- you're going to drive it. It's all yours. Okay. We kept our pretty squared away. We didn't put any crossbones. Occasionally we want a couple cold ones. Nobody ever got drunk or anything. There were never any fights. You work together. And when you're four in that close --

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

-- you work very close together. You're very close together. We never had -- I mean, if we had a bickering or an argument or something, we'd work it out and go on.

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum, um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

So we would stay in Wei for the night. Okay. And it would be pitch black out there and all these little sampans, I guess you'd call them, boats floating around, and the girls would come out and want to give us sex. Okay.

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

And you could get it for C-rations. Okay. So, once again, I was only about 20 years old. So then the next morning we'd head back to camp, okay, back down the river, as they say. We'd load up, start our day. So we did this for -- at this point I was probably about six, seven months into Vietnam, so I have about three months left.

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

And I did -- after six months you could get an R and R, rest and relaxation, and they had specific points that you could go to. And I chose Hong Kong, so I went to Hong Kong.

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

And they give you five days. Of course you got money that you never need. See, you don't need money when you're living on the river. Everything you need is at your disposal. You get all the C-rations you want free. Just holler at the guy, he'll give you a box of them. You see what I'm saying?

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

You want Cokes or anything, grab them off the pallet there, grab 50 cans or whatever you want. Store them up back there, you know. We got plenty of everything. So you got to know how to find what you need. Okay. It's not like you go to a store. If you want that -- now, like when I was down in Chu Lai, I'd get a ride with the Marine tank.

Okay. A tank platoon might be going into town. "Hey, you mind if I ride with you?" Whoever the tank commander is, "Yeah, come on, man, you can ride with me." And he can take you in and you can get candy and stuff like that, but even that you could get out in the shipping because we were around so much stuff that was being shipped. So that's how you get it. You're like a rat. You got to be able to, "Who do I have to get what?" So you really don't need any money per se.

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

So we'd saved -- I went to Hong Kong. I spent five days there, chased all the women, enjoy it. Typical 19, 20-year-old. Got to call my girlfriend. Of course I was cheating on her. That's terrible, but anyway, so war breaks and tears apart interpersonal relationships.

Ellen L. George:

Oh, yeah.

Frederick McElderry:

Okay. It destroys them. I know a lot of women who cheated on their men. I know a lot of men who cheated on -- okay. And, sorry, I'm sorry it happened, but it tears us apart. See, it destroys the interpersonal structures. Okay. War ain't pretty. Okay. It ain't good, but it's something you have to do.

But, anyway, so I won't get into my deep philosophies now, but this war did change me. And I'm much more well-read now. I'm a graduate of Loyola University. I didn't end up in the penitentiary yet. I went to college. But, anyway, so I'm getting off track. So I stayed there and went to Hong Kong for five days.

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

Got back to Wei, the boat's waiting. And we had a shack, bivouac-like shack that -- we called it a beer tent. Okay. And we'd be there every night drinking a beer. And we were after -- like, there is a tremendous camaraderie, a emotional camaraderie that develops through the men and with the men, okay, because you're together as one. You're like fighter pilots. You go as a team. It's like a team who's on a plane and he's the pilot, but every man is equal. And he ain't God. He just drives it. I take care of it. We're together. We're one. I count on you to do your job perfectly. I'll do my job perfectly.

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

We are one, okay. So going to the beer shack we would always be with guys who were like us.

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

And we had this one sandy-haired blonde- headed kid. His name was Forest and we called in Frosty O. He was a dream, oh, boy, and him and my -- I guess my -- I guess you could say my boss, his name was Sullivan, and another bosun mate went into town one day. They were going into -- into Wei. Okay. They were parked a way that were secure, "secure" meaning nobody can kill you, so you could buy stuff in stores.

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

Their Jeep was ambushed and they were all three killed just like that (snapping fingers) see. So once again, death is just there (snapping fingers). You don't think about it, but it happens (snapping fingers). Okay.

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

It's over. It's gone, but it's not something you think about. So we had a memorial for them, you know --

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

-- in the sand. Man, he was an awesome dude. The guy loved me. We used to talk all the frigging time. He had college. I had an eighth grade education then.

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

He had college. And my wife, my ex-wife had sent me a Dear John letter. She broke up with me at the end of that tour. I think she thought I was never coming back. She found somebody else and I was really heartbroken, you know. And he said, "Nah, you'll get her back, Mac. You'll get her back." They were always supportive of each other.

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

"Oh, you'll get her back when you get back to the States. You'll get her back." So, anyway, so, yes, it's not pretty.

Ellen L. George:

Yeah, I can imagine.

Frederick McElderry:

So -- and I've thought about all this stuff through the years.

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

And I've read about Vietnam. I went through a period in the 19 -- in the '80s when I read all these books on Vietnam from Art Wald (ph), you know, and Halperstein I think was his name. He wrote on Vietnam. And, I mean, a couple years now, but he's still a good writer. He just wrote a lot on Vietnam.

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

And I read all of these books about Vietnam. But, anyway, so back to Vietnam. So then things went along there and my tour is just about up. Okay. So far, so good.

Ellen L. George:

(Laughing.)

Frederick McElderry:

So the guy calls us to the office one day, "Mac, you're going back to" -- "the boat's staying here." This is about November.

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

October, about October. He said, "The boat's staying here. You're going back to Da Nang. You're going to be touring out. You're going to be shipping back to the States here pretty soon and the boat's staying here." Okay. So I packed my bags, said adios to the guys, and you break it like that emotionally. It's over. Okay.

Ellen L. George:

So you never from that point on ever kept in contact with anybody?

Frederick McElderry:

Never. Never. Still remember Michael Horton. He was the engineer apprentice. He was my equal, my counterpart.

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

I was a seaman apprentice or a seaman and he was an engineer apprentice. Okay. He was just Michael Horton. We got lost in the South China Sea one night at Chu Lai. I was pretty scared. I was afraid we were going to be capsized. Okay. This is not a keel boat. It rides like a cork, okay.

Ellen L. George:

(Laughing.)

Frederick McElderry:

He's holding on to that side, I'm holding on to this side, and the boat's -- somebody really working that wheel and I'm trying to keep the propellers right in line. We made it. We made it. All right. But anyway, so around November I did 12 months and they said, "Mac, you're going back." So I hopped a boat. It was a bigger boat, next boat larger than the one I was on. You go and you get a ride on it. It's not like a bus, just say, "Hey, captain, who's in charge here? Captain, mind if I ride back to Da Nang with you?" "Come on board," you know. So you're not doing nothing. I mean, you don't have to work. You're not assigned to that boat so I can go to sleep. "You mind if I take a rack now?" "Take a rack over and get some shuteye." The trip back takes about eight hours. Took us all day to get back to Da Nang.

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

So got back to Da Nang and it's time to start shipping out, you know. So go over to the billet building they call it, billet. And I got all my stuff with me and I've turned in my rifle and everything. They said, "Okay, you got about three weeks and you'll be shipping back to the States." They said, "You know, just hang out and go to the (?E-dunk?)." They kind of lighten up on you --

Ellen L. George:

Oh, yeah.

Frederick McElderry:

-- when you got about three weeks, meaning they don't -- you don't have to do anything. Okay. You just kind of hang out.

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

And go over -- you (?E-dunk?), go have a few beers, okay, and stuff. And we used to go to the Air Force, the M Club, because they had belly dancers and they always had the best in the M Club. Air Force goes first class wherever you go, baby. The Navy is second, but I always say the Air Force has the best accommodations. So we would always -- me and another buddy -- here's a unique experience.

Maybe this would be good. We would set it up. He'd tell the sergeant at arms, who guards that you're not supposed to go in there if you're Navy, only Air Force, we'd tell him, "Listen, there's somebody wants you right around this corner." He'd go out there. While he was down there I'd sneak in and he'd follow me and we'd get lost in the crowd. This place would be crowded. It's a bar. It's a very fancy joint. I mean wood and stone bar, I mean it's a really nice club. And we'd get in this club, this Air Force club. Okay. And so anyway, we do that.

Yeah, I mean, you do these things. You break the rules. You sneak, you know, whatever. So three weeks are up, time to leave, and I met this guy, Henderson. He had worked up there with me in Wei at the fuel point. And he was would say, "Mac, we're leaving," and we broke down and cried. Okay. We shook hands. Really, really first time I've ever seen a man shed tears. I never seen a man shed tears before. Okay. And it really breaks you up. And I'm a very sensitive guy. I hold my feelings in a lot. Okay. And so, well, we're on our way.

So he left out the day before me, and then the next day I was shipping out to the United States. And the bus comes and gets you, takes you out to the airport, Da Nang airport, a huge airport, and you get on this plane. We flew Continental Airlines back. And I hadn't seen an American woman in a year.

END OF PART 1, DISK 1. BEGINNING OF DISK 2, PART 2 (SR03) REF.

Frederick McElderry:

And we flew back. We stopped in Okinawa I think for a fuel stop. And once we left there, San Bernardino is the next -- is the air base in San Bernardino, California. That's where we stopped. That's where we arrived first in the United States.

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

And we arrived and I remember the first thing I did was call my mom. And I remember the line was busy so I told the operator. I said, "Operator, I just got back from Vietnam. Could you break in on the phone call and so tell her her son's calling?" "Oh, no problem." So she broke in the line and said her son's calling. So I called my mom, "I'm home in one piece." Okay. They are just like, "whew," we're great. I felt like an emotionally just give up and do nothing ever again. I was depressed, okay, deeply depressed. And it started showing up after I got married. I would have darkness. I can remember seeing darkness. Okay. I was depressed. I can remember having a hard time getting out of bed. Okay. I still think I'm depressed, but I just didn't know. Back in Nam it was what was known as covert depression and I think I'm a little depressed. I'm moody. I'm irritable.

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

You didn't really know me, but my girlfriend, she understands me. She ain't afraid of me, so that's all that really matters. So, anyway, so they shipped us to Long Beach, California from Santa Barbara. We landed there. So we went up to Long Beach to a terminal termination, dark. And it just was Vietnam guys coming back from Vietnam, all Navy. So we had all just come back from Vietnam and we were going to be discharged. Okay. And this was December. Okay. And in '67 I got out December the 14th.

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

1967. So I got out basically a couple months early. And I was gone until February the 12th, I would have done actually three years. I was only on a three-year enlistment. Most guys did a four-year, but if you went in before your 19th birthday, they would give you three years. They had a little deal for you. So that's how I got three years rather than four years. I went in on the 12th of February and my birthday was the 13th. So technically I signed into the Navy, I signed the papers the day before my 19th birthday.

Ellen L. George:

Now, for all what you did, did you ever get any medals or citation?

Frederick McElderry:

Yes. I didn't know I had gotten any citations until much later I went and got my personnel file and found the letter that you have, that you xeroxed a copy, showing that I -- a thank you from General Westmoreland. And I -- also I got a letter from the Navy stating that I was highly recommended for re-enlistment. And if you look at my paperwork it will say "highly recommended for re-enlistment" or "recommended for re-enlistment" because I was a good sailor.

So my last duty station was Martin Air -- Naval Air Base in Memphis, Tennessee. What they were doing, they were discharging people at the closest point at which they had enlisted. Well, the closest point to the Navy air base for me would have been Memphis. There is a Navy base in Memphis, okay, an air, air (inaudible). So they sent me to Memphis, Tennessee and only going to be there maybe a couple weeks. And they are going to call you into the office and try to get you to re-enlist and talk to you.

And I was so depressed and I want to get back and get my girlfriend who left me. I was going to get her back. That was a mistake. But anyway. . . So he called me in, he says, "McElderry, you're an excellent sailor." He said, "You did very, very well." And I didn't have any education. I only had an 8th grade education. I didn't even finish high school. I was so confused. I was so confused. So I said, "No, I don't want to. I want to go home. I want to go home to Nashville."

He said, "Okay. I mean, I'll discharge you out." I said, "Okay. You can discharge me." ________ actually it was going to be December the 14th. "You'll be discharged on the 14th." So the 14th comes and we go over to the office and we sign the papers, the termination papers. That's it. "You're out. You're a free man. You're no longer part of the United States Navy." Got on the bus, got any money coming. I had about 70 bucks coming of pay. Okay. Pay you money, bus station is downtown. You know, you can get a ride to downtown Memphis, got on a bus and headed back to Nashville. And then there's no one in Nashville ever helped me, never called me, never came to my home or anything to say, "Mac, hey, do you need anything?"

You know, which makes me have a lot of resentment about the southern hillbillies. I'm one of 'em. My mother was a southern. My father was a southern, but I feel resentful that Nashville never did a damn thing for me.

Ellen L. George:

Did you ever go back to school or did you go back to a job?

Frederick McElderry:

Got my wife back, okay, got married. She said, "Go to school." I went back to school, La Salle Extension University in Chicago. Okay. If you look historically back you'll find it. I don't know if it's even in business anymore. They had correspondence courses, okay, that you could send to you and you do the course work and send it to them. They'll give you a grade. You keep doing that until you get enough courses, you can graduate from high school. It takes a couple years.

I went back to school. I worked on it. I improved my reading and my writing and I still -- in the back of my mind I was confused what I was going to do. Okay. I went back and became a emergency medical technician. Okay. That's what I did before I went to Vietnam. I delivered babies. Okay. I delivered a baby. I've seen a lot of dead people, okay, trying to save their lives. So I went back to doing that kind of work because I felt like I was contributing something. I felt like I was making a contribution. It's very meaningful work.

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

What I wanted to be in life was a fireman, a national fireman. I grew up around a fire station. That's a whole 'nother story. So I went back and got my high school diploma through La Salle Extension University out of Chicago. I was living in Nashville, (?my mother's line?) _______ and I was depressed. I'd get up, man, there'd still be dark clouds at night. I thought, man, there's something wrong with me, but I had never heard anything about PTSD. So I graduated from high school and my wife and I used to fuss and fight. And probably -- I'm a very moody person. I was -- just mood shift. I was worse then than I am now. I'm pretty good, actually. You'd like me if you knew me. You know, I don't like credit.

Ellen L. George:

Did you ever join a veterans organization?

Frederick McElderry:

No, because they all want to know how much money you got. And I put -- I pay more taxes and they got one of these organizations out here in the '80s, post '80s, down in Downer's Grove. They are very macho. My girlfriend is an ex-veteran, World War II. Okay. She says, "I hear they are very macho." They are too rough for me. Okay.

Ellen L. George:

Not _______.

Frederick McElderry:

Anyway, so, yeah, I thought about it, but I never did. And then I feel like, gee, I'm a Tennessee veteran. You ought to go -- I went home to Nashville eventually anyway so maybe I should join there. I went there recently because I got this award, PTSD award, and suckers act like they didn't give a damn about me, "So screw you."

So, anyway, by the way, going to the clinic October the 2nd, highest _______. That's good. So anyway, okay, let's not get off the track here too much. So I went and got my high school diploma. And I was only there a year, about 11 months. And I packed my bags. I had combat pay so I bought myself a 427 Ford, okay. Sharp car, four on the floor, whole bit, bucket seats. Me and my wife got back together. And find out I think we were hot for each other. We should have never gotten married, but I think we definitely got back together, but she wanted to be a virgin and I -- trust me, I never invaded, never encroached on a woman, okay, whatever her wishes are.

So she wanted to get a divorce. Okay. So I packed my car. I had bought a brand-new Chevy Nova and I came up to Chicago. I have two sisters live up there. And I went to college in Du Page. I lived in Du Page County. And I started doing well in the course. I was very confused wandering through life, didn't know what I was going to do. And I got an Associate of Arts degree in human services in COD.

Then I'm really feeling, you know, kind of cocky. I thought let's go on and get more education. So where you want to go? So I met a lady, she said, "Well, you can go to Loyola if you want in Chicago." So I did. I always -- I've never thought, Miss George, that I was good enough for anything.

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

Okay. That's the way I've always felt. And so I came here and met with the director of the program. She said, "Yeah, you can get in this program." So I got my bachelor's degree in social work and I was a social worker for about five years.

I worked in drug addiction _______ I cannot stand. No, no, it ain't me. I don't have a drug problem, for one thing. Drugs for me, I probably smoked six or seven joints in my entire life and that was way back then. I haven't even smoked a joint in 40 -- 20 years. Okay. I'm not into drugs, and alcohol is really not much.

Ellen L. George:

How would you say that -- how has your service and experience affected your life?

Frederick McElderry:

Well, I think it affected me in a negative way because I think it contributed to my PTSD. I think it's contributed to my moodiness. I think it's contributed to my inability to maintain a job for any -- just consistent period of time. Okay. The longest period of time I ever held a job was probably a year, two and a half years, two and a half years, and I've had probably -- and I'll use that the United States government tax income rating, Social Security --

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

-- they have 39 jobs listed. That's how many jobs I've had in my life, 39 jobs. Okay. So that right there, that pattern right there -- every job, I mean, I'm using the federal government. "We'll use Social Security. We'll use your tax income, IRS, the Social Security. We'll cash out your Social Security on these jobs. How many jobs you got listed here? 39 of them."

I went and got my own. You can get your own file on that, all your jobs. I would get about 427, but the problem with my pension is they'll take it away. Well, I think they should give me both, but it don't work that way. She says, "If we give you 427 of Social Security, they take 427 out of your VA pension." They should get both. I said, "Why don't you let me go back to work and make another 500 a month and let me keep the 807 I got and then I could have enough to live on. I don't have enough to live on."

She said, "No, no, honey, you can't do that. If you go out and make 500 a month, we'll take 500 out of an 807 and keep it." And I talked to the VA already, but I don't cheat, see. Then I said, "Why don't you just give me a hundred percent disability, which would be about two 807, about sixteen hundred dollars a month and then I could have enough to live?" See, so I'm kind of between it's good on one side, it's bad on the other. Okay.

Ellen L. George:

Yes. Did your military experience influence your thinking about war or about the military in general?

Frederick McElderry:

Oh, yes. Oh, yes, but as far as the Navy was concerned and the military, I've always had a positive attitude about it. I've never regretted joining the Navy. I regret going to Vietnam. Okay. If it wasn't for the Vietnam war experience, being in the Navy was a decent life.

I might have stayed in the Navy and done 20 years and got a decent pension, right? It's not a bad life. You're a single guy. I do like the ladies, I'll tell you that. I probably would have got -- you could have -- I could have done 20 or 30 years, okay, and rose through most of the ranks, okay, but I was so screwed up inside myself.

Okay. What you see on the outside of someone is not necessarily what's going on on the inside. Okay. So you can't take what you see on the outside too literally. Okay.

Ellen L. George:

Yes.

Frederick McElderry:

Because it doesn't necessarily reflect what's going on on the inside. Okay. But the Navy, the military life and the Navy life is not a bad life at all, not at all. I knew guys in there who done 20, 30 years and they like it. They are (?got all these awards?), but I didn't want to go to Vietnam and one of the things in the back of my mind, I knew I will eventually probably go to Vietnam again. You got to remember, I was on a three-year enlist, Miss George. I did two tours. I did almost my entire three years, okay, that's 36 months, okay, overseas. I did about 18 months. Okay. That's over half --

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

-- of three years enlistment overseas either in -- on a ship in the Tonkin Gulf or in country.

Ellen L. George:

Is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered in this interview?

Frederick McElderry:

Well, just that I want you to be able to get to the depth and sensitivity and feeling of what my experience was like --

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

-- so you can know how it has affected me negatively. Okay.

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

And how I feel like I've been cheated. I ain't high on the -- pardon me, I'm not high on the government anymore, okay, at all, okay. I'm really not. But I don't feel that -- but every veterans feels that -- I don't feel I've really gotten my fair share, okay, for having served and given my all and all to this, to the war in Vietnam. Okay. And I know this gets very, very hot and political and all, but I don't really feel -- I gave my -- I gave 100 percent of myself to that Vietnam experience.

I've gotten very little in return for it. Finally I got my -- 40 years later get PTSD. Okay. And then they say, "Well" -- and here I think I had -- somebody should have grabbed me by the collar, in fact 1968 when I got out back there in Nashville and said, "You know, I think you need some counselling, maybe you are" -- I never heard of PTSD then. You didn't have PTSD. You call it shellshocked in World War II, right?

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

It was almost like shake it off and forget it. They said, "Well, I thought you'd be okay." "Well, you got bad judgment. You don't know if I'm going to be okay, you know. What's okay, you know?" I got a life to live. I was only 23 years old then. Okay. I was 23, 24 years old, but I do, one thing, appreciate the fact that my wife took -- a Nam vet, she helped me.

She encouraged me to go to school, and I do appreciate the people who encouraged me to continue in my education and helped me, meaning helped me in the way of being emotionally supportive of me to get my education and I didn't end up in a penitentiary or I didn't end up on State Street a drug addict.

Ellen L. George:

Um-hum.

Frederick McElderry:

Okay. I haven't drank myself to death. Okay. A psychologist that evaluated me for PTSD, she thinks I have a borderline personality. That's her opinion. She may be totally wrong. I do think I have PTSD, okay, and some depression, but those two factors. But, yeah, as far as military life was not bad. It is not bad. And the Navy is a very good branch of service.

You have to have the brains to get in. I mean, I was never confident in myself, but obviously you must have been pretty bright to get in the Navy. The Army will take anything. The old idea of Army will take anything, but you got to have smarts to get in the Navy. You got to keep yourself squared away because you're living close quarters aboard ship. It's not like you're outside. It's -- so you got to keep everything squared away.

Ellen L. George:

Frederick, on behalf of the Veterans History Project I would like to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for sharing some very difficult experiences. Thank you so much.

Frederick McElderry:

You're quite welcome, Ms. George. Thank you very, very much. [END OF INTERVIEW]

 
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  October 26, 2011
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