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Interview with Chuck Creel [12/13/2003]

Chuck Creel:

Well good morning, my name is Chuck Creel, and uh, I'm from Roxboro, North Carolina. And today is December thirteenth of the year thousand three. And, I am here with Justin and Erik, uh, this morning on an interview about Vietnam.

Interviewer Gilmer:

Alright, where were you born and raised?

Chuck Creel:

I was born in San Diego, California in, on September 12, 1945. My dad was a native Floridian, who was serving in the Navy in San Diego. And my mother was an immigrant from Canada, uh, she comes from, from uh, Saskatchewan area of Canada.

Interviewer Hoffman:

What was your family background and educational background?

Chuck Creel:

My family background, my dad, just to give you an overview, of the education of my family, my dad never completed school. He went to approximately the seventh or eighth grade and then dropped out of school after that. My mother, from what knowledge I have about her education, she did complete high school. My personal education, I started off and lived in California until age thirteen; from that point we moved to Florida, South Georgia, Alabama. I completed high school in nineteen sixty seven. After I completed high school is when I joined the military, during the military, I attended school at a couple of places, at Southern Colorado State in Pueblo Colorado. Also while I was in Vietnam I took college courses with the University of Maryland, Far East division. And then after coming back to the United States and working for a short period of time, I graduated from the University of North Alabama in nineteen seventy seven, I graduated with a degree in professional biology and chemistry. I graduated from John C. Calhoun community college, with a, to get my registered nurse, back in nineteen seventy nine. After that I attended anesthesia school in the southern part of Alabama, and graduated from anesthesia school in nineteen eighty two.

Interviewer Gilmer:

How did you first become involved in the military?

Chuck Creel:

First became involved in the military more or less in an indirect method, with my dad being in the Navy and having some sort of interest with that. Then during my time in high school Vietnam war was starting and during that time the draft was very active people who were graduating from high school were being drafted, and I decided I wanted a little more choice in my life, that maybe I would volunteer to go into the military, and my father and I were on a trip up to Columbus, Georgia, where Fort Benning is at, and as we were driving down the road I saw a recruiting sign and I asked my Dad to stop and I went into the armed forces recruiting office. And there just happened to be an Air Force recruiter there and I had an uncle who was a major who used to fly the B-52 strataforces, and I was always intrigued because he was always flying that aircraft. And so, while I was in that office I joined the military and when I went back out and saw my dad, he said, "Did you get some good information", I said, I did I joined, and my dad was quite shocked that I had joined the military.

Interviewer Gilmer:

So you joined with the Air Force, were you planning on specifically becoming a pilot or did you have other things?

Chuck Creel:

That's a great question, my dad was a naval photographer and one of the things I decided I wanted to do was get into photography. Well after joining the military they gave you three choices on a wish list on which you might want to do, I had scored exceptionally well on one of the examinations in electronics so electronics was one of the things, was probably my first choice, my second choice was in photography, then they had a general category that, that they, didn't have too many other choices and so medic was one of, was my last choice and which in tum turned out to be what the military put me in.

Interviewer Hoffman:

Tell me about you boot camp and training experience.

Chuck Creel:

Training experiences started off on a boot camp in Texas, in San Antonio, at the Air Force basic training camp, and I found boot camp relatively easy. And the reason I found it I used to spend a whole lot of time in the woods as a kid in my later years, in the tenth and eleventh grade, hunting, fishing, and I also like to run cross country. And so, those were some of the things in survival training and camping that, that I acquired while I was in the Air Force and, that I that I really enjoyed. Later in my military career we got into weapons and so I learned how to use M16, and also grenade launchers and later on in my military career I continued on with the, with the special forces unit that I later joined and learned repelling and since then I became a scuba instructor and so there were several other activities I was in.

Interviewer Hoffman:

When you got to Vietnam, where were you stationed?

Chuck Creel:

When I went to Vietnam it was kind of an unusual story I volunteered for Vietnam, I was stationed at the Air Force Academy prior to going there. And, after I volunteered and was sent into Vietnam they first sent us into Cam Ron Bay as a dispersement place to send in to the different, what they called at that time APO places, or your stations in Vietnam. When I got there they gave me an APO number that was basically non-existent, and so they didn't know what to do with me and when I reported to the office to the sergeant that was at the desk tell me me that they didn't know what to do with me and told me to take a couple of days off and come back. Well I did just that, I took off a couple of days, and didn't show back up like he anticipated I would. I got into a little trouble for that and then they signed me into an APO number that placed me at Phan Rang, South Vietnam which is fifteen miles southwest of Cam Ron Bay, and also about approximately a hundred twenty miles north of Saigon, just to give you a general location.

Interviewer Gilmer:

What was your specific job assignment in Vietnam?

Chuck Creel:

Specific job assignment in Vietnam, I was sent there as a, as a military medic, and I was stationed as Phan Rang, and at Phan Rang we had a small dispensary. And this dispensary was to give support to the, to the Air Force and also to the Army, and we had a small inpatient bed population; we could keep approximately thirteen wounded or thirteen ill individuals within the clinic. From there we were also a stabilization center that when the medivac brought people immediately out of the field they flew directly to us to stabilize the soldiers so they could further the flight up into Cam Ron Bay for further medical intervention.

Interviewer Hoffman:

So how, how were impressions when you first arrived of Vietnam?

Chuck Creel:

When I first got to Vietnam I was a little bit afraid we flew from, from Seattle, and we flew into Anchorage Alaska, and Anchorage Alaska was extremely cold in January, there were several feet of snow on the ground, from there we flew to Yukoda, Japan. And I had never really been out of the country other then going to Mexico and so Yukoda Japan was interesting but it was just a quick stop over. From there we flew into Cam Ron, Cam Ron was extremely hot when we first got there, and so the uniform they had us in immediately had to be peeled off and tried to get some clothes that were more suitable for the environment. It was very busy, when I got there. Initially like I say I was afraid, I was scared, didn't know what to expect, fear of the unknown. And from that point they loaded me on a small aircraft I believe it was a C130, and flew me from Cam Ron Bay down to Phan Rang. When I got to Phan Rang I reported to the dispensary I was at and basically nobody cared that I was there.

Interviewer Gilmer:

How long, how long did it take you to adjust to the daily routine, and especially the weather?

Chuck Creel:

The weather was kind of a variable as far as the routine and the adjustment with that simply because they had their monsoon seasons where there was a lot of rain and a lot of excessive heat and which wasn't bad. The general adjustment period, what it was I would supposed to be doing I don't know if! ever got adjusted to a quote routine. It seemed like we had certain aspects of our daily things that may have been routine but after that simply because we were in a war environment there was never a quote set routine.

Interviewer Hoffman:

Did you see combat?

Chuck Creel:

I did, I saw combat on a few occasions and most of those were not related to the dispensary I did have the occasion to go out on medivacs with the army and I also befriended an army captain who was, who was a physician and go to some of the montagnard villages and go out on patrol with the army. And so it was during those times that, that, I saw combat and at the same time we received a certain amount of incoming rockets and those type of things we were surrounded, there was a small mountain called Newosidhtgaldhs that was in our airbase but the surrounding mountains, the Viet Cong used to set up rockets and these rockets were basically propped up with bamboo poles and the ignition devices in the rockets were in a small can and the can was filled with water, and what would happen is as the sun would come up it would evaporate the water out of the can and therefore make the electrical connection to detonate the rocket or to set the rocket off and the rocket then would launch, usually about midday, one o-c1ock in the afternoon you could anticipate at that particular time you'd get hit with rockets. We'd send in air strikes in the mountain to try to not find VC, simply because they were long gone by that time but what we looking for was secondary explosions so other rockets that may have been set up were destroyed prior to them taking off.

Interviewer Gilmer:

Can you describe me what it's like when rockets are being shot off. Are you hiding in a bunker or you ... ?

Chuck Creel:

Well that's also interesting because of the, [chuckle], because ofthe environment I didn't drink a whole lot prior to going to Vietnam, and I don't drink now, but we used to spend our days, a lot of days at night working, I worked a lot of night shifts and those types ofthings. And so during the day time we used to get us some beer for breakfast and sit on top of the bunkers where we could, we could actually see fighting and those kind of things going on even from the bunkers that was within the peripheral area. And if the, if the rockets started to come in basically what we would do, we would indeed run into the bunkers but there was not without hazard at going into the bunkers. There was some poisonness snakes in Vietnam that liked cool areas so in tum these snakes at a lot of times would inhabit the bunkers along with us. And so we had, we had, some individuals that as they were running into the bunkers would either get bit up on the side of the cheek or on the leg or those kind of things so, so from that point that was, that was hazardous. Bunkers were not always the safe zone.

Interviewer Gilmer:

Have you had any say, close calls with rockets landing near by em ...

Chuck Creel:

I did on occasion I had one of the buildings, we lived in a place called a hooch which was just a small building that either several soldiers or few soldiers lived in, and around the hooch was packed with sandbags up to a certain height on the building for protection, and on occasion the building next -door to where I would be totally destroyed, and sometimes with no injury, but entire building, you'd, you'd hear the explosions knowing the rockets coming in and you walk out and the building would be gone.

Interviewer Gilmer:

Do you have any reaction nowadays to loud noises or some veterans react now because ...

Chuck Creel:

That's true and I never had, I find myself probably very keenly aware of my environment, in probably all aspects of everything that I do even to this day I'm aware of my environment I'm still a pretty light sleeper at home. It would be hard for you even to this day to try to invade my residence at night, the chances are excellent that I would probably be in your face before you know it. [laughter]

Interviewer Hoffman:

Have you, did you have any dreams or nightmares about Vietnam when you came home, was there an adjustment period?

Chuck Creel:

There has been a certain amount of adjustment period when I first, when I first got home from Vietnam, I found myself very detached in fact prior to leaving for Vietnam I was in a relationship with an air force captain and we had been dating for a couple years which was kind of like in the forbidden zone at that particular time with an enlisted officer. And prior to leaving for Vietnam I dissolved the relationship because I knew there was a high probability I wouldn't come back from Vietnam and wait go back to the main part of the question again, I don't want to lose track .

Interviewer Hoffman:

Did you have dreams?

Chuck Creel:

Oh dreams ok sorry. [chuckles]. And the dreams not so much coming back but almost a hardening, of, of relationships and feeling close just simply because of the trauma of the victims and everything that I saw. As far as dreams over the year, I found that over the next few years as some of the few Vietnam movies came out, Apocalypse Now, and those kind of things, I initially tried to see some of those videos in fact I, movies, in fact I got out and walked out during some of those because they had such an emotional impact. Since that time on several occasions I've tried to, I've since then watched the movies. There are certain aspects of those movies especially if it involves children or wounded that brings back an emotion within me that, that I still have to this day. I don't regret that emotion, it makes me feel like I'm still human. [laughter].

Interviewer Gilmer:

How often were you positioned with the unit, like how often would you go on patrols with your unit, was that a large part of your Vietnam experience.

Chuck Creel:

Basically a lot of my duty was at the dispensary so a lot, a lot the immediate war wounded and a lot of the immediate casualties were brought to our facility. And with that we also had our standard, what we called sick call, where we had the individuals that were in that support unit whether it be pilots, whether it be mechanics, motor pool, cooks, anybody in the armed forces, would come into our clinic for the typical head colds and those type of things. Then again weekly I tried to get out away from that environment and so I did a lot of volunteer work outside of the facility to be able to get into those types of things to get out on patrol. At night we had a perimeter set up around the airbase and we had to respond typically to a lot of engagements around the perimeter with people with active engagement with the Viet Congo That we would go out on perimeter and get in the middle of some sort of defensive action where we were having to give first aid to the, to the soldiers that were on perimeter.

Interviewer Hoffman:

Did you mostly encounter Viet Cong, or a mixture of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese or, how was that?

Chuck Creel:

Most of that I did encounter some Viet Cong that they brought in that they had captured. As far as head to head combat and me trying to deal with Viet Cong was for my fellow soldiers and so a lot of times when I was in confrontations my primary goal was to the soldiers that needed me. So as far as me having actual having to kill the Viet Cong, my primary responsibility was giving aid to my own soldiers.

Interviewer Gilmer:

How many casualties did you see, was there a lot of casualties in your unit?

Chuck Creel:

Quite of few casualties and specifically speaking with my unit and the immediate guys that I knew, my unit basically was all the soldiers, we also dealt with Australians and with Koreans and so I would administer aid to both Koreans and Australians. And with my guys yes, I guess yes is the answer to that question. I did see everything from small injuries in being a simple bullet wound to the leg, to seeing people with multi, extremity amputations, to seeing people disfigured and disrupted by the war so far that they were beyond identification, to people who were had total body third degree burns, to people who would come in and grab hold of you screaming, and wanting to know what their life was going to be after that point, people who had arms missing, legs missing, and other parts.

Interviewer Hoffman:

As a medic, what was your procedure in helping a wounded soldier?

Chuck Creel:

The number one procedure in helping was to get to that soldier, to that individual, and I guess that's one of the things that, that I found myself frustrated with was being able to get from point A to point B. It seems like even though it immediately happened in your vicinity is getting there fast enough, so time factor was one of the biggest factors. As soon as you get there, I guess the one big thing was, was overall assessment of the individuals and what was going on and to do most of the lifesaving measures as far as control hemorrhage was one of the big things. And that was one ofthe primary things simply because we had a very limited supply of blood and blood products where I was at. And so control hemorrhage was a big thing and also airway management as far as individual breathing was the two primary concerns initially. You needed to tune the individual out as far as not respond to his emotion, not respond to the emotion of other people around you simply because you needed to say so concentrated on your work. But at the same time trying to protect yourself and trying to keep yourself safe where you were giving, giving aid to them and getting them to safety was a primary thing.

Interviewer Hoffman:

Emotionally how did you react to the soldiers that were injured?

Chuck Creel:

I acted detached, I tried not to become emotional that was one of the reasons I mentioned earlier I broke off the relationship prior to leaving the United States; I was bound and determined to keep that emotional separation away.

Interviewer Gilmer:

Did you ever have trouble getting to some people that were really like, were you ever under heavy fire and you know like it was hard to get to them, or did you ever have to worry about getting shot?

Chuck Creel:

Getting shot was, was an almost everyday occurrence. And so you took a certain amount of precaution and, not being able to get to individuals there were, there were individuals that we were not able to get to simply because of that and because of the aftermath of the situation, those individuals died. And the time factor, the one positive thing that I can say about, about Vietnam was that basically whenever you were shot I know for our facility in particular, were you were injured that we could have you at a major medical facility within about thirty minutes. And so that, that was good, if we can get to you we can get you help.

Interviewer Gilmer:

How did you deal with the stress?

Chuck Creel:

How did I deal with the stress? Let's see during Vietnam we tried to deal with stress through some other activities, other activities would be anything from where we had a small bar that, that just the medical staff had that was called the three fifteenth mash bar. It was a very small building surrounded by sandbags, and a lot of us would get together and talk and drink beer. Lot of the individual were into drugs and so them to go out and smoke a joint or to maybe even go as far as doing a little heroin to help release their stress. That was probably one of my, my first contacts with the real drug world even though the hippies were kind of the thing in the States then. And also I found in dealing with the stress of helping other individuals and so I got actively involved in, in working with a Mac-v team and helping working with some of the orphanages, working with the Catholic and Buddhist orphanages. And also going to montagnard villages and helping with some of the village people.

Interviewer Gilmer:

How did, how did, the soldiers get drugs?

Chuck Creel:

Usually from the hooch maids, we had, we had girls that that came on to the different compounds in the daytime that would either do your washing, shine your boots, or provide other services [chuckle] for the Gl's that went from everything from sexual favors to, to you name it. And there were usually, not all hooch maids would bring drugs on board or to the, to the compounds but that was usually the source, was from some of the Vietnamese women.

Interviewer Gilmer:

Were you ever awarded any medals [inaudible]?

Chuck Creel:

Yes we got a, as a particular unit we got an outstanding unit citation, we got a presidential outstanding unit citation, the Vietnamese government awarded my unit the Vietnamese cross of gallantry. Personally in my first couple of years in my military service because of some of the things, some of the organizations I had provided for my particular unit I received the Air Force Commendation Medal for military service. I was involved in a incident in Vietnam where I was able to save a ten year old boy at that particular time from a mine field. And I got the Airman's medal for valor and for heroism, in Vietnam.

Interviewer Hoffman:

Can you describe this kid who stepped on a mine?

Chuck Creel:

(para)Yeah this was late one night it was about, about twenty three thirty five, which is about daytime eleven thirty pm [chuckle], to give you an idea on time. And it was my night on duty at the dispensary and we received a call from, from the Bravo part of the perimeter and, and basically we had Alpha Bravo Charlie, the perimeter around our compound had various number designations so as you looked on the surrounding map for the area you were able to tell which direction you need to go in or how to find that particular area. When I got called out there me and one other medic went out in what we called a cracker box, and our cracker box was our field ambulance that was painted aD, or dark green so you could, it was difficult to see it at night in camouflage. And we went out to the Bravo place and as you got out there we had high intensity lights that were shining through the barbed wire and we could see an individual laying in the middle of the field that basically was not moving a whole lot at first. And it was reported to me as soon as I got to this individual not knowing who this individual was had, had stepped on a mine. And we could look through some of our, either our binoculars or our night vision equipment that we had, we had what called starlight scope then. And we could see that it was relatively small child. And basically we did not provide aid to whoever came through there, but because of my desire to want to help individuals I, I left the compound.(end para) (para)Went out through the main gate with one other soldier and we hiked through several areas by night in order to enter the outside perimeter. So basically what happened, we came up with this small child was between us and the compound so we had, one of the disadvantages for us is we were looking into intense bright lights, well looking into the bight lights like that which made it an additional hazard we lost our night vision so we were unable to see what was around us. The soldier who went with me that helped me I had him more or less watch my back or guard me, we had our M16's with us and then when I assessed the situation the small child was out in the middle of the mind field, and so I went through the first perimeter wire and went through the mind field to get to the kid and he, and the child kept yelling "no no no no no!" Not to come back [inaudible] "Dung lai dung lai" which means stop. And when I, he was holding his leg with his hand, and his leg was amputated from the explosions and he was hemorrhaging. And so when I got to him the first thing that I did was I had the aid bag with me was to basically put a low extremity tourniquet to control some of the hemorrhage. He had other wounds from the shrapnel, he had abdominal wounds, arm wounds and those kind of things, and I picked him up and I guess the one thing that I remember is how tight this little child held to me. And he grabbed me around the neck he squeeze me really tight and I could feel, a combination of things. I could feel the blood from the amputation from him you know running through my clothes and, and knew that if I didn't immediately get him help this child was gonna die.(end para) (para)I carried the child back through the minefield. I carried the child back through the surrounding woods and got us back to the main gate. And from the main gate they had, my fellow medic had, had the cracker box waiting for him. We loaded up the cracker box; we took him back to our dispensary. We started IV's, we stabilized him as much as we could and then we evacked him out and took him to a hospital in Phan Rang. And Phan Rang was about fifteen miles from the base. And so at that time we got into a Vietnamese hospital. The Vietnamese hospital continued with his care and I was notified a couple days later that the child died of heroin withdrawal. And so this kid was addicted to drugs, you know, at ten years old.(end para)

Interviewer Hoffman:

Did you hear of other similar types of things happening?

Chuck Creel:

(para)We did. In fact I got oh, there was very similar incidence that happened like that, I, in fact, what I, got back to the dispensary where I was working the base commander was there and a few other things and I got higWy reprimanded and I was told at that time that I would probably be court-martialed for that incident. And, and then I was restricted from that kind of behavior again and I guess their big thing was trying to personally protect me. There was another incident that happened like that, a few weeks later. And this was during the daytime so it was not under the cover of night so again I took the cracker box and was going back out to perimeter well my immediate sergeant that was over me called me on the radio and asked who was in the cracker box. And basically how you see the war stories where they turn off the radio "I'm sorry I can't hear you", I tried that with my sergeant and turned off my radio and not made contact and continued out there, soon to be intercepted and retained by the military police. [chuckle] So the military police got me and I asked the military police to take me out there so I could see what was going on, the MP's took me to the area. They called in the medivac helicopter and lowered a medic down on a rope and picked the child up out of the field using a rope. And it was a very similar incidence to that.(end para) (para)I never did hear from that incidence as far as a court marshal, I got back home to the United States, I was discharged from the military and was at home and I got a letter from the department of defense stated that I was to report in uniform to Maxwell Air Force base in Montgomery Alabama for an awards and declarations ceremony. Because of my hostile feelings at that time when I got home I refused to go and I wrote a nasty letter back to the United States government stating that all of the guys that were killed in Vietnam and the people who I gave aid to needed recognition for what they did and I did not want any recognition for acts that I did in Vietnam. Got a very nice letter back from somebody and they told me to take and with their gratification receive, or my gratitude, at a later date but then them giving me the medals and they sent them to me and I simply gave them to my mom and my dad at that time and told them that I didn't want to have anything to do with it. In the letter it stated to give it to them and it said that years down the road you might want to get those out and look at them. So my parents retained those for a number of years prior to me ever getting them out and realizing what happened.(end para)

Interviewer Gilmer:

How do you feel about those medals now?

Chuck Creel:

Mixed emotions, I guess I have mixed emotions and in the point that I'd be thankful that the military recognized me in the fact of what I felt I was trying to do good job and so it was like a pat on the back. As far as it bringing a limelight to me in what I'm doing I'd prefer not to be in the spotlight with those kind of things and from that since it makes me feel uncomfortable. It's more of a personal thing then it is anything else.

Interviewer Gilmer:

Going back, you mentioned that you worked in some Buddhist monasteries and orphanages. Can you just describe that in more detail and how you got involved in that?

Chuck Creel:

(para)I did I got involved with the, with the orphanages through the military assistance commander Mac-v. And I befriended one of the army sergeants and he asked me if I'd be interested in giving aid to some of the local, and teaching some of the local people. And so I said yes. And so he put me in touch basically and initially with, with a Catholic orphanage. And so this orphanage basically you had to understand was not a real big compound there but it was just a small building and when you go into the building there is cribs with several homeless children. Homeless being in that they were either children that were born because of an American father who were rejected by the Vietnamese people. They were either children who had medical needs but were not attended to. The nuns provided what care they could and in tum what happened is we would try to make weekly visits initially we would provide the medical care. And we would give the Vietnamese nuns instructions and give them medications on how to treat these children through the interpreter that I had with me Ho- Thai-Luc.(end para) (para)And we would come down the next week later and some of the children that we were previously treating wouldn't be there anymore and we would ask the nun what happened to the children and she would tell that during that week those children died. Or we would see those children and we would notice the children getting worse as far as their health status and we would ask them "did you give them the prescribed medication as we had directed" and they would say no. What they would do is the medications that we would give they would hoard or hold those medications and they said if the Americans withdraw from Vietnam we will not have medications available to us. And so they were keeping those medications so they would have them at a later date. So we would try to treat the children with a one time large dose of medication which basically didn't do very well with the children. And like I say a lot of the children died. And from that point not to interrupt you but from that point I got involved in the Buddhist orphanage after that so I, so I worked in several other orphanages. And then from that point also working with the Mac-v team went out in the surrounding montagnard villages and intervene with some ofthe local village people as far as providing medical care to them. And that was, that was in what little off time we may have had.(end para)

Interviewer Gilmer:

So do you think you really helped the people? How did you feel how effective was you know going out to the villages?

Chuck Creel:

I think that it had a good positive impact. As far as us being able to treat and cure people I don't think there was a whole lot of people we were able to cure from a lot of like the bubonic plague and those type of things. But I think that as far as a humanitarian and public relations view with the people I think we were able to with our presence in Vietnam give some positive presence as far as what we were there able to help and willing to help. We were not there just to destroy their country.

Interviewer Gilmer:

What were these villages like? Can you describe them?

Chuck Creel:

The villages were basically grass huts and grass huts being dirt floors. All the cooking outside was done on firewood. As far as the substances that they were eating rice was their main, was their main diet and fish was two of the biggest things.

Interviewer Hoffman:

How did you stay in touch with your family?

Chuck Creel:

That's a good question. That's, that's a great question. Letting writing was probably one of the biggest things but letter writing at its best was slow. My mother is an excellent person as far as correspondence so she frequently wrote me. All of the letters that I wrote during my stay in Vietnam she still has in her possession; I was home during the thanksgiving period. And also there was a thing called MARS that was a radio link to the United States. And through MARS what we could do is have somebody radio the United States and if they made contact with somebody's residence or somebody's place in the United States. So that made it free as far as cost from Southeast Asia to the United States. And then you paid for the long distance call from that point of contact within the United States to your home. And I was only; I only personally ever made one MARS call while I was there. And the reason for that was my family wasn't real well to do and they were concerned about the cost of the call. And so after I made that one phone call I never again returned a call to my family.

Interviewer Hoffman:

What was the food at your base camp like?

Chuck Creel:

Food at base camp wasn't ever bad. It was never great either. I had left from the Air Force Academy and the slogan at our mess hall at the Academy was that "the men who passed through these doors eat better than anybody else in the armed forces in the world". And that indeed was true, the air force academy was the elite of the elite and the food was outstanding and to go from there to eating C rations and eating the stuff that they served wasn't the greatest food in the world, but then again through basic training and those type of things I liked C rations so I ate a lot of them. Anything else anybody else didn't eat, I would. [chuckle]

Interviewer Gilmer:

When you were out on patrol or at base camp, did you ever run short on supplies; were you ever in any danger of. .. ?

Chuck Creel:

Supplies was, was a difficult thing supplies not only as far as basic supplies, as far as weapons or ammunition no. And the reason for that we had the FIOO's which was a fighter group that was with us and so we were well supplied as far as that. The amount of supplies we ran out of was the typical everyday thing if you had an ambulance break down or we had a motor pool there was problems getting parts to fix things. Parts to fix helicopters, parts to fix like say basic ambulances and those kind of things. So from that standpoint of view having things repaired or fixed was difficult.

Interviewer Gilmer:

What did you do during R and R?

Chuck Creel:

To tell you the truth I didn't get an R and R, yeah most, most soldiers, most soldiers got an R and R and when it came up to the opportunity to get an R and R because of the amount of things going on at that particular and the non availability of other medics and my work with the Catholic and Buddhist orphanages I did not go. Now a lot of friends did go to Sydney, Australia, some of my friends went to Hawaii. At that time I was also involved with a relationship with a Vietnamese girl and so during that time we spent time together what time we could. And we also continued with our work outside of the airbase and in the villages and in the orphanages.

Interviewer Hoffman:

Can you tell us about this girl?

Chuck Creel:

Yeah I sure can. We called her Lucy, and we got Lucy from, from her Vietnamese name which was Ho-Tai-Luc. The last part of her name was spelled "L-U-C" and we simply added a Y on it. Lucy was the one of the administrative people who worked for my commanding officer and she was, was also the interpreter. And Lucy and I met through the contact working at the dispensary and it was very restricted on time that Lucy and I could have with one another. And so we had little stolen moments when we would run off together and try to find some private time. Which was, which was very limited because there were so many restricted areas where we were. And so, we used to find time together in some of the clinic exam rooms and time together maybe in my hooch. Or there was even a, a airbase theater and every once in a while I'd talk to my commanding officer to see if he would give her a little time off for her and I could run off to the movie theater together so we could have a little ... time together in the dark. [chuckle]

Interviewer Gilmer:

Were the relationship common among the officers with the Vietnamese girls?

Chuck Creel:

There were a lot of relationships like this that were very similar they, sometimes what we would call the hooch maids, the girls that would, that would attend to our needs as far as washing clothes, shining boots, straitening up our bunk. They, we had a certain amount of those maids who were assigned to each hooch and they seemed to bond with a lot of the, with the GI's that were there. One of the biggest problems was with sexually transmitted diseases and also with pregnancy. A lot of these hooch maids wound up pregnant by their GI counterpart. And or the GI, and the reason I know this is simply because I was a medic it was my job to treat gonorrhea and syphilis. And they would get the sexually transmitted disease they would come to see me in the clinic and as a requirement as part of the clinic I would require that they bring their girlfriend or their hooch maid or maids with them so we could also appropriately treat them. So we tried to treat, and we kept a log book of all of the girls who had sexually transmitted diseases, I kept a personal log book in the clinic so I could look at repeat offenders and those kind of things and try to treat as many people as we could.

Interviewer Hoffman:

Where there any concerns that some of these hooch maids might release information to the Viet Cong or the ...

Chuck Creel:

That was, that was a big concern of mine especially with, not that we were doing anything top secret, we didn't have a lot of classified information. And so from those areas personally I did not run into that, we had what we called the OSI, or office of special investigation, which is very similar to the civilian FBI. And so on a couple of times I had encounters with the OSI inquiring to different things that happened and so yes there was that possibility.

Interviewer Gilmer:

How, how was your relationship with Lucy as your time in Vietnam drew short?

Chuck Creel:

The, Lucy was even at a point that... Change of audio tape

Interviewer Gilmer:

How was your relationship with Lucy affected as your time in Vietnam drew short?

Chuck Creel:

(para)As my time in Vietnam drew short, because of the time factor Lucy and I started becoming really close. And even to the point of me wanting to bring Lucy back to the United States as my wife, and or one of my major considerations was not to return back to the United States but to be discharged from the military and live in Vietnam. And as our conversations went on Lucy assured me that because I was an American and if resided in Vietnam that, that the VC or the Viet Cong would kill me. And so I put myself at great risk of life by staying. I had applied through my commander to even extend into Vietnam and not come back to the United States but to be put in for an extension, he denied my extension and told me that I would return back to the United States. And when I talked to Lucy about coming back, Lucy told me because of the, what she perceived as the US perception of the Vietnamese that she would not be accepted into the United States and that concerned her and also to the fact that, that she would never be able to see her family again. And she told me basically that I would always have a place in her heart that that would never change because of distance and or time.(end para) (para)And even to this day I periodically think about Lucy. The morning that I left Vietnam I asked her if she would come down and say goodbye to me and she informed me that no that when we left the previous day that that would be the last time that she would ever see me. And I was at the airport or down at the, the airstrip, in Phan Rang, and I was sitting out on the back of the airstrip and looking at the sun as the sun was coming up that morning and there was a Buddhist temple that was between myself and the sunshine and you know it was a warm sunny morning to look at the sunrise and have certain amount of peace knowing that I was returning back to the United States at that point. And missing Lucy I became emotional and then I heard her voice and Lucy changed her and decided to come and say goodbye to me. And so Lucy and I had a few moments together, a last hug, last kiss, last few words and from that point I never was able to see her again.(end para)

Interviewer Gilmer:

Do you know many people who chose to stay in Vietnam because of relationships, do you know if any of that was happening?

Chuck Creel:

I had some friends that I later had relationships with that were, that were ex military Vietnam vets that I met in my early college days that had Vietnamese wives, they were also medics in Vietnam. I did not personally know them while I was Vietnam but I did, I did meet several individuals who brought their Vietnamese wives home. And the people that I kept up with over the years, those relationships since then dissolved. And so even after them having children they usually wind up in divorce.

Interviewer Hoffman:

What did you think your fellow soldiers?

Chuck Creel:

Think of my fellow soldiers ... they're a bunch of brave men. I mean that's I guess that's the big thing. My fellow soldiers I, I didn't develop a whole lot of personal friends while I was in Vietnam simply because I wanted to keep the emotional attachment, I do have one friend whose name is John, and John was a Navaho Indian from Tahose, New Mexico. And I recently discovered his middle initial and social security number so I hope to, I hope remake contact after the thirty plus years withjohn. I feel sorry for the Vietnam vets who came back home and never did anything with their life. I have a tendency to be a little bit irritated with street people that I see "Vietnam vet, need home, need help". Sometimes I feel like stopping and telling them to get ajob.

Interviewer Hoffman:

Do you have any opinions of your officers of your unit, one way or the other?

Chuck Creel:

I had a lot of positive encouragement from the officers in my unit in that, that I was trying to get into college. I was, one of the people most likely not to succeed in my graduation class when I got out of high school and because of my stint with the Air Force Academy working at the Academy and seeing these highly motivated individuals going to school and doing those type of things. And that also started classes at southern Colorado state and from there taking classes in sociology at the University of Maryland Far East division. I received some encouragement from my officers and staff to encourage my education and to make my motivation, my goal to try to get back home. And like I mentioned my commanding officer forbid me to stay in Vietnam and had me, and had me sent back. And basically I'm thankful to them. And I do plan in the very near future recontacting some of those individuals.

Interviewer Hoffman:

Were there any racial problems in your unit?

Chuck Creel:

Racial problems, yes and no. Some individuals didn't have a problem with race. They were, me being from Alabama and growing up during the time where black power was now becoming strong and Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. I had, I had a background from the white side but not knowing black individuals. And we were known as chucks in Vietnam and that made it difficult because name was Chuck. And we knew them as bloods or brothers. And they had a certain ritual with daps, with a handshake that they did and some of the individuals that I knew would fly the confederate flags or those type of things. Blacks in turn would have a solid black flag that they would be flying on some of their patrol vehicles. And during my time there we had, we had one incident where we had a black individual who was trying to come through perimeter one night, or got caught on perimeter wire who was challenged. And did not halt, was again challenged. And the command was given to take out the individual on the wire and it turned out to be one of our own individual soldiers, one of our guys who was also black which again caused some problems with racial overtones. Military police at Phan Rang were having a party one night and apparently some of the black individuals were irritated because they were not invited to the party who were also affiliated with the unit. And got mad and they came to the party and proceeded to frag the party, or throw grenades into the middle of the party. And my being a medic I attended to several of the injured and trauma victims in that, in that party. And it makes you scared; I mean we're supposed to be fighting with each other, not against each other. So we more or less had a war within a war. And, and it was hard. And I had a couple of black friends that I made acquaintances with in Vietnam. I have not kept up with them and so from that standpoint there was some tension between blacks and whites.

Interviewer Gilmer:

What about suicide and you know was there a problem with people ... ?

Chuck Creel:

Yes we did run into suicide or what they classified as highly suspected suicide. And especially with individuals who received "dear john" letters from home. It was dear Harry, dear John, dear whoever. That you know since you've been gone I'm now with your best friend or I've met somebody else. And you know they file for divorce but you're in a war zone you can't go back home. And and so you're stuck with that emotional stress, sometimes that was your only motivating factor for living was your family and you wanted to get back home to your wife, to your children. And when those relationships dissolved like that it caused a whole lot of undue stress besides the stress at being at war. During Christmas time, during Christmas, and new years there was some individuals that I had contact with that killed themselves with their M16's over the holidays.

Interviewer Gilmer:

What about self inflicted injuries?

Chuck Creel:

Everyone once in a while we would see the rare individual who would, who would quote was cleaning their weapon doing whatever and who would accidentally shoot themselves in the foot. And basically those individuals wound up being evacked out to Cam Ron Bay, for dispersement. That was that they flew them to Japan for rehab and then back. I lost contact with them after that.

Interviewer Gilmer:

How did people feel about that, I mean how did people towards people who would try to get out of the war by ... ?

Chuck Creel:

Well one of the things that would be, that was hard to prove because they were not going to readily admit what had happened so it was a high suspect on our part. Because of the injury because of where the injury occurred and those type of things is what happens. So it was always suspected by us but one of those things that was never readily proved or witnessed.

Interviewer Hoffman:

What was it like and how were you received when you got back home?

Chuck Creel:

When I came back home it was kind of, lonesome I guess you could say at first. I was given the option to be sent to another military installation upon return back to the United States where they also gave me the option to be discharged from the military. And so my first choice was to be discharged from the military, and so I was immediately discharged when I flew in Spokecam, Washington at Lacord Air Force base. I was discharged within a couple of days after that. There was no welcome by the military per say, there was highly, there was a suspected smuggling of drugs on the aircraft I was on. And so they put all of us in quarantine until they could inspect the aircraft and inspect luggage. So we spend a considerable number of hours quarantined, not even allowed to go the bathroom in Lacord. From that point, the relationship I had dissolved with the Air Force captain I decided to stop by and see her on the way home. And so I flew from, from Lacord to the place that she was leaving to see her briefly and when I got home there was not a real big welcome at home. And so from that standpoint of view I guess it was, it was different even after starting college we were, the Vietnam vets were not a welcome sight on campus.

Interviewer Hoffman:

Did you join a veteran's organization?

Chuck Creel:

I did not. Shortly after that I rejoined the military in a guard unit and joined the Army Special Forces, and worked as a Special Forces medic.

Interviewer Gilmer:

Do fell as if you were changed by the war, most people are but how do you think you were?

Chuck Creel:

Definitely changed and, I find it intriguing to look back over my life. When I look over the point that, that China was taken over by communism in nineteen forty nine and I think that in the class, I kind of showed you that slide. And I think I didn't, I didn't relate real well to the class and the reason for me showing that, it was like Vietnam was being set up for me. And then in nineteen forty nine the Chinese were there and then as time goes on and the US became more involved with it and now its Ho-Chi-Min and they went through that scenario and then in nineteen sixty five getting us more geared up in Vietnam it was almost like if you believe in fate, that it was my fate to go to Vietnam. And through that yes it did have an emotional lifetime impact on me, in that the military brought me into medicine and that, that they're responsible for me continuing my education and I'm thankful for that. And as I look through the rest of my life and the things that have happened once I got over that initial impact of Vietnam, I currently still work, and I hadn't mentioned earlier I worked as, as a nursenesitists here at a local hospital. And I still continue that work even outside of the United States in South America, so yes it has and still to this day I have a real heart for children. And I have a real heart for wounded soldiers; I'm currently working with some Iraqi injured soldiers, on my job. And so I still see the injury due to war, and I, and I think I'm more sympathetic and more understanding now then I've ever been. So it's been a good positive thing.

Interviewer Hoffman:

Do you attend reunions?

Chuck Creel:

I do not.

Interviewer Gilmer:

You mentioned when you came to class you told about a particular experience in a hospital when you finally, like you had been emotionally detached ...

Chuck Creel:

I did. I mentioned that, and what that involved, it involved a, a unexpected death, of a, of a girl's father. And the, he had died of a, of a heart attack and at that time I basically didn't display emotion. And I had him tucked off into the back room of the emergency room, she came up and asked if Mr. so-and-so was there and I said yes. She said, well can I see him. And I said well you know he's died and she identified herself as the daughter and she asked to see him. And I said sure fine, I mean I really didn't care one way or another you know being not emotional, detached, and so I walk around with her around to the back part of the emergency room. There was a curtain drawn, prior to entering that room. And she stopped at the curtain, she stopped and she straightened her hair up, she straightened her clothes up, she took in a big breathe and she blew it out and it kind of, kind of struck me that she was worried about her appearance when it was only her and I and her deceased father there. And when she opened up the curtain, or I opened up the curtain and she entered and she went up and her father was lying on his bed and she went up and she put a big smile on her face and she reached and she took her dad's hand. She was holding his hand, and she started talking with him, and saying how much she loved him and, I guess part of the big encouragement thing is how he became a real emotional impact or a, a strong figure in her life, that she thanked him for all of the sacrifices that he had made. And the things that she did, that he did for her. And from that point I broke down emotionally and I probably cried more for their relationship and what they had done then she was actually crying. And so at that point like I, like I was almost human again.

Interviewer Hoffman:

Do you wish to return to Vietnam?

Chuck Creel:

Recently, recently being within the last five or six years been entertaining that thought when I heard that US individuals were going back to Vietnam, I have a certain curiosity about wanting to go back there and see some of those places. Now that I'm a father with two children, one thirteen I would fear probably the possibility of injury to the point I couldn't currently provide for my children so that's probably the only reluctance in being able to do that.

Interviewer Hoffman:

Can you tell us a bit about your work in South America?

Chuck Creel:

Currently I have, I met a group of individuals over the internet and it's a, it's a foundation and we work out of Jupiter, Florida. And I volunteered, there were twenty individuals who wanted to provide anesthesia services for this organization and because of my experience in third world countries being Southeast Asia and my military experience I was chosen above and beyond the other individuals who applied. And I currently work in Cochabumba, Bolivia, and we provide medical for underprivileged children and adults of all the outlying communities. And so we do work in the mountains in the villages and also work in a small town called Socama outside Coachabomba. And we provide medical specialties in all areas, everything form neurological to general surgical to internal medicine to providing hearing aids and those type of things for individuals. This will be my fifth and or sixth year of returning back so each year I go and this year I'm planning on taking my two children to Bolivia with me so they can see how third world country people live.

Interviewer Gilmer:

Overall would you say that the war had a positive or negative experience.

Chuck Creel:

I think, that's a great question, and I think that the all in all, the experience in Vietnam had a very positive effect on my life, when you get past the emotion. I think that in, in war that war doesn't necessarily have to do with the commanders. I think war doesn't necessarily have to do entirely with the country that you're in. I don't think that war has to do entirely with us fighting for the United States. I think there is a certain amount of war that's fought within the individual. And that's probably the hardest war that you fight because you're fighting a war of emotion. You're fighting a war of memories; you're fighting a war of everyday life. And with those war memories being in tune to that, once the war was over in Vietnam the war didn't stop for many veterans. And simply because that war is over our life continues and not that it disrupts your life and indeed in some individuals it did disrupt their life where they were never able to quite put it together again. But I have to say that as a majority probably eighty fire percent of my life has been positive secondary to my experience in Vietnam.

Interviewer Hoffman:

Is there anything you'd like to add?

Chuck Creel:

(para)That's a good question; I wish I had time to think about this one. The things not covered, I only briefly mentioned is probably, is probably drugs. I hated to see a lot of individuals in the drug scene. I have military friends who I know that they got involved in drugs and to this day they have never got their life strait. They, they have jumped from job to job and that's the rare individuals that you see that it totally disrupted their life. As far as other individuals I do see people who are physically handicapped, secondary to the Vietnam War. I feel like maybe we should have done more for those individuals who had their life disrupted and who never got their life right simply because of that. And I know that's a great expense and a great burden, but that's part of the expenses and the burden of war.(end para) (para)And currently the United States is involved in the military skirmish in Iraq. I have some very very close friends who I served with in the military back in the seventies who with the special forces who are now special forces in Iraq. So some of my friends are currently there. And I also have a couple of young boys who grew up with my girls and one of them has just finished from the Nimitz from Iraq. But I also have another; his brother is on his way to Iraq in just a month or two. And they're informing him that once he gets to Iraq, that, that he will be at great risk at the loss of his life. And he now has a young son who is less than a year old. And so he'll be leaving his son and his wife to go to Iraq indefinitely. And I think the impact in that war has on family and friends is great. And for that, that's sad.(end para) (para)And I guess the to cap this off I guess the one thing that, that I would say to a lot of individuals, that I would say to you as young men, and I would say to soldiers or anybody else in life that you need to have a purpose for your life and you need to have a purpose driven life. And me reflected back over the years in my purpose and my life is over the years I became a Christian. And my purpose in my life is to tell people about Jesus Christ and what Jesus Christ did for us. We can die for our country, but Jesus Christ died for man. And for us to realize that, and to be able to reach out to other individuals about the good word of Jesus Christ and what he can do for you in your everyday life. It's not that you don't want to pursue your career in mathematics, or medicine, or in whatever it might be. That those are great and those are wonderful but as long as you maintain the focus for what might happen to you for eternity that's going to be the number one thing.(end para)

Interviewer Hoffman:

Well thank you for sitting down with us.

Chuck Creel:

Thanks, and I thank the school, and I think both Erik and Justin for the chance to share my Vietnam experience with you.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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