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Interview with William Phillips [10/4/2006]

Eileen M. Hurst:

Today is October 4th, 2006. I'm interviewing William Phillips, Vietnam vet, at the Newington VA Hospital in Connecticut. Interviewer is Eileen Hurst from Central Connecticut State University. No one else is in attendance at the interview. Bill, for the record, would you state your full name, your date of birth, and your current address.

William Phillips:

William Phillips, 1/9/45. Current address is 287 West Street, Rocky Hill.

Eileen M. Hurst:

And that's in Connecticut?

William Phillips:

Connecticut.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Which war did you serve in, and what was your rank?

William Phillips:

Vietnam, Staff Sergeant E-6.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Bill, were you drafted or did you enlist?

William Phillips:

I enlisted.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Where were you living at the time?

William Phillips:

Lowell, Massachusetts.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Do you remember the year?

William Phillips:

1963.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Do you remember the date?

William Phillips:

February 18th. I was 18.

Eileen M. Hurst:

That was a memorable thing. You were 18 years old.

William Phillips:

I was 18 years, one month, nine days old.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Why did you enlist?

William Phillips:

I wanted a career in the military.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Had you always wanted a career in the military?

William Phillips:

Yes.

Eileen M. Hurst:

So that had been the goal all along?

William Phillips:

That was pretty much of a goal.

Eileen M. Hurst:

So had you graduated from high school --

William Phillips:

Yes.

Eileen M. Hurst:

-- already?

William Phillips:

Yes.

Eileen M. Hurst:

What branch of the service did you say you joined?

William Phillips:

The Army.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Why did you pick the Army?

William Phillips:

It seemed to be the most military of all the services.

Eileen M. Hurst:

You recall your first days in service?

William Phillips:

Basic training.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Well, first of all, where were you inducted?

William Phillips:

Boston. It would have been Boston Naval Shipyard.

Eileen M. Hurst:

And how long did you stay there?

William Phillips:

Oh, a matter of a day.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Okay. Just for the induction?

William Phillips:

That was just induction, that's all.

Eileen M. Hurst:

And then they sent you immediately to basic training?

William Phillips:

They sent me off to Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Now, what was that like?

William Phillips:

It was interesting. It was the first time I had been away from, you know, home for quite some time. You got to meet a lot of different people, different races, different religions, very interesting. It was a very varied group. Everything from your basic white Anglo-Saxon Protestant to what I'm sure was a voodoo doctor from Jamaica.

Eileen M. Hurst:

How long was basic training?

William Phillips:

Twelve weeks.

Eileen M. Hurst:

What kinds of things did you do in basic training?

William Phillips:

Oh, basic military skills, patrolling tactics, close-order drill, physical training, Army terms, terminology.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Was it both in the field and classroom --

William Phillips:

Both.

Eileen M. Hurst:

-- instruction? Do you remember any of your instructors?

William Phillips:

I can't think of any names, no. But I can picture them.

Eileen M. Hurst:

You can?

William Phillips:

I can definitely picture them.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Do you have any memorable experiences from basic training?

William Phillips:

Probably the gas chamber is probably the most memorable event of basic training.

Eileen M. Hurst:

What was that?

William Phillips:

We were all put in -- well, out in the field. The whole company was lined up and we were told to take -- to keep our gas mask off until we get hit with the tear gas, and they said, "Don't run." Well, about the time that gas hit everybody, everybody took off. Everybody was off running through the woods, and we had guys knocked out from running into trees. But it made -- it made a -- a lasting impression on me. And whenever I went to the field in Vietnam, I made sure everybody was carrying at least one tear gas grenade. It made a definite impression on this boy.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Well, did you run?

William Phillips:

Oh, I did. Yes, I did. I was -- I was --

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did you have your mask --

William Phillips:

-- had it on, took it back off, put it back on. I was probably leading the pack of the runners.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Any other memorable experiences from basic?

William Phillips:

I think it was the -- to tell you the truth, it was the first time I had ever had any involvement with black people. My high school, Lowell, was a very big school. It would have 2 to 300 graduating class. And the whole time I was there, I think there were four blacks in the school and two of them were related. And I remember going -- I do remember going to Fort Jackson and seeing the biggest billboard I've ever seen, saying welcome to the home of the KKK. And that was my first -- first impression at all of any bigotry, but didn't find it in basic.

Eileen M. Hurst:

No? After your 12 weeks in basic, did you have graduation?

William Phillips:

Yes.

Eileen M. Hurst:

And what was that ceremony like?

William Phillips:

It was just a marching by a reviewing stand on the way to a bus taking you to your next base.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Now, at that point, do you have any rank or no?

William Phillips:

No. I think I might have been a private E-2 at the time.

Eileen M. Hurst:

After graduation from basic, where did you go?

William Phillips:

I went to Fort Gordon, Georgia, for advanced infantry school.

Eileen M. Hurst:

For how long?

William Phillips:

Let me think. I believe that was another 12 weeks.

Eileen M. Hurst:

And what was that like?

William Phillips:

Well, it was the company that I was in -- was all airborne volunteers, all people who were going to jump school, except for one poor guy. I remember his name, Otero(ph). He was Puerto Rican, about four foot nothing and he found out about halfway through -- halfway through the school that everybody was going to jump school, and he was not going to jump school. He had never signed up for it, never volunteered for it, and I remember him running to the first sergeant to make damn sure that he wasn't -- he wasn't sent off to any jump school. Matter of fact, the reason he was in the Army was his wife had turned him in for something or other and it was a choice of being in the Army or being deported or whatever.

Eileen M. Hurst:

But everybody --

William Phillips:

That was memorable. Everybody was a volunteer.

Eileen M. Hurst:

You volunteered for jump school?

William Phillips:

Yes.

Eileen M. Hurst:

You wanted to be airborne?

William Phillips:

Yes.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Now, advanced infantry training, is that different than jump school?

William Phillips:

Oh, yeah, it's -- everybody would go -- not everybody was going to the infantry -- would go to advanced infantry training and it was just basic patrol tactics or in my case, I was trained as a mortarman. That's MOS 11 C.

Eileen M. Hurst:

And what does a mortarman do?

William Phillips:

Well, I don't know if you know what a mortar is. You learn how to set up and operate mortars. It was interesting. It was very interesting. I've got to say it was.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did you get to choose that or did they just --

William Phillips:

I was told that's what I was -- I was going to do.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Oh, so that became your specialty?

William Phillips:

Right.

Eileen M. Hurst:

What other things did they teach you in advanced infantry training?

William Phillips:

Again, basic patrol tactics, communications, map reading, always close-order drill, medical training, first-aid type stuff. That's, you know, military customs and courtesies.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Do you have any memorable experiences from your advanced infantry training?

William Phillips:

Yes. As a matter of fact, the company I was in was extremely small. I don't know if -- I think it was because it was before high school graduation and there were only -- I think 20 people in my platoon and maybe a hundred in the entire company and that's less than half of what a normal company would be. So we got to be a fairly tight group of people and everybody knew everybody else even if you weren't in the same platoon. I remember -- I remember specifically my drill instructor was extremely sharp, always with starched fatigues. It impressed me.

Eileen M. Hurst:

After advanced infantry training, where did you go?

William Phillips:

I went to jump school at Fort Benning.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Bend?

William Phillips:

Benning.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Benning, where was that?

William Phillips:

Fort Benning, Georgia.

Eileen M. Hurst:

How long did that last?

William Phillips:

Jump school itself is only three weeks, and I was there for about -- waiting for the school and whatever, maybe four, five weeks.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Was that strictly in the field, practicing jumping?

William Phillips:

It was a lot of physical training, ground school, then tower week, where you jump out of a tower and you're suspended on cables, just teaching you how to exit an aircraft. And they take you up in a great big, big tower and drop you with an already open parachute so you can get used to guiding the parachute. And then the last week -- the third week is jump week, where you make five parachute jumps and get your -- get your wings.

Eileen M. Hurst:

And you got your wings?

William Phillips:

And I got my wings. And I happen to know, I didn't know him, but it turns out one of the drill instructors was from Lowell. I didn't know him and I can't remember his name, but he managed to get me to go to the ranger school, which was right there at Benning.

Eileen M. Hurst:

So you immediately went from jump school --

William Phillips:

So I immediately went from jump school to ranger school.

Eileen M. Hurst:

And how long --

William Phillips:

Which was very unusual. That was -- it was either 12 or 16 weeks. I can't remember. I vividly remember the last two weeks, but I'm not real sure exactly how long it was.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Now, when you went to jump school, did the whole company that you were with in advanced infantry training?

William Phillips:

Everybody -- well, we all -- all went at the same time, not really so much as a unit. And during jump school -- we'd be separated into different companies in jump school because there were other people coming from different places going.

Eileen M. Hurst:

So what was ranger school like?

William Phillips:

The best training I ever got.

Eileen M. Hurst:

You still wanted a career in the military?

William Phillips:

Oh, yeah.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Was the best training you ever got?

William Phillips:

And it was brutal. A lot of physical training.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Like what?

William Phillips:

Oh, calisthenics for an hour or two every single day. You make a mistake and you're doing, you know, you're pushing the earth away from you. You're doing push-ups or running around the building carrying, you know, a backpack full of sand bags, things like that. They kept you -- kept you going and very, very physically strenuous. And mentally it was tough too. You didn't get an awful lot of sleep. You did have a lot of classroom work. A lot of it was map reading, intelligence gathering, photo reconnaissance-type things and then in your last -- last two weeks, they take you and drop you in the middle of the Everglades and your -- you have specific -- you're in a maybe -- let me think -- might have been eight-man team and everybody takes a turn at being the team leader and you have specific objectives to reach during the -- during the two weeks and they lie to you. They tell you you're going to get food if you -- well, they don't really lie. They'll tell you you're going to get food if you successfully ambush a convoy. They'll throw off a C-ration case to you. Well, they do that, but inside the case would be one packet for eight guys to eat. The average weight loss was like 16 pounds in the last two weeks and it was hot. You were always wet. You were always tired, but every day they changed the instructor, you know, a new, fresh instructor come in. So they were fresh, but we were beat, but -- and after that two weeks, guys would come out of the field and first thing they'd hit is the vending machines and just wipe them out, just any kind of sustenance. I mean to the point of being sick, eating to the point of being sick, you know. Your stomach is about that big by the time the two weeks is over.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Wow.

William Phillips:

But the training was outstanding, a lot of survival training, how to live off the land.

Eileen M. Hurst:

So I take it you survived and became a ranger.

William Phillips:

I survived and became a ranger.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Now, what's your rank when you're a ranger? Does it go up?

William Phillips:

When I came out of there, I was an E-5. Anyone who graduated -- any enlisted man who graduated in the top, I think it was five percent of the class, was automatically promoted to Sergeant E-5 so...

Eileen M. Hurst:

So that's a sergeant E-5?

William Phillips:

Right, three stripes.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Do you know what year or month this was?

William Phillips:

Oh, I can't give you months. That would have been '64, the very beginning of '64. As a matter of fact, because I know I went special warfares -- the special warfare school, graduated from that in '60 -- about mid-'65 and that was about a year and a half, so it would have been early '64.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Where did you go after ranger school?

William Phillips:

I went to the special warfare school at Fort Bragg.

Eileen M. Hurst:

And where is that?

William Phillips:

North Carolina.

Eileen M. Hurst:

How long were you there?

William Phillips:

Eight -- about 18 months and that was all Special Forces.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Eighteen months?

William Phillips:

Right. That was all Special Forces training.

Eileen M. Hurst:

And what was that like?

William Phillips:

A lot of classroom. Matter of fact, I'd say probably 85 percent of special warfare school is classroom work, and I was being trained as a communication specialist.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Your choice or theirs?

William Phillips:

My choice.

Eileen M. Hurst:

So what kinds of things did they teach you?

William Phillips:

Use and repair of various radios, various field radios, again map reading, strong emphasis on intelligence gathering, patrol tactics, and how to actually -- most of it was how to teach. People don't understand that Special Forces are teachers, they're not -- not rambos. That's the commando-type operations are -- are very, very small part of Special Forces. Having said that, that's what SOG is, the special operations group. But generally, the basic Special Forces are teachers. We have 12-man teams, two communication specialists, two weapon specialists, two medics, two intelligence, two engineers, and two officers. And your idea is to be with indigenous forces just like -- Afghanistan is a perfect example. Those guys, Special Forces, in Afghanistan are teaching the Afghans how to fight counter -- counter gorilla war and that's -- that was the original idea of Special Forces. And most of the Special Forces in Vietnam did that from A camps.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did you know back when you were in the special warfare school that you were being groomed for Vietnam? Did you know --

William Phillips:

Oh, yeah, absolutely. I volunteered for it. I mean, it was -- all of us did. You just knew that was where you were going without even volunteering. The only volunteering I did was for SOG, the special operations group. That's where I wanted to go.

Eileen M. Hurst:

How big was your class in Special Forces?

William Phillips:

It's kind of hard to say because depending on what you were being trained for -- intelligence or medics, medics took almost two and a half years to train. Me, it took a year in communications; weapons would be about a year; intelligence, not quite a year. So you really weren't in a one specific group. You would have guys graduating months before you did or months afterwards. I'd say in any given month that there was a graduation. There might be oh, 30, 50 -- 30, 50 guys per month graduating, not many.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Do you have any memorable experiences from your Special Forces training?

William Phillips:

Again, the last part of it. Well, actually through the whole thing is the camaraderie of the guys who were there. In the intelligence, you definitely had people who were more well educated than the average soldier by a couple of years. Definite sense of a -- a sense of duty. Again, general cohesiveness. The one thing I do remember was the last two weeks of what's called a FTX, field-training exercise. You're parachuted into part of North Carolina, and you've got to link up with different people. And anyway, on my jump, I had all of the communications equipment with me, from my reserve chute down to my ankles was equipment. And fortunately, I was the first one out the door, so I didn't have to walk it from the back of the plane up to the door to get out. I just grabbed hold and leaped. And I remember when I turned it loose and hit the ground, there was nobody real close to me to help me carry this thing and it weighed -- it had to be a hundred pounds worth of stuff. So that until I ran into somebody within half an hour or so to help me carry this stuff, it was -- I was lugging it through the cow field. We jumped in a cow pasture, and you know what's in a cow pasture aside from the cows. And I remember dragging that through the cow pasture and it was a -- it was a pretty nasty bag by the time I finished with it.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Where did you go after special warfare school?

William Phillips:

I went to the Third Special Forces group right there at Bragg, and I was only there for a month or so before I got orders to Vietnam.

Eileen M. Hurst:

What did you do you in that one month that you were there?

William Phillips:

Actually -- not an awful lot. A third of the time was kind of a holding group for people who were -- people who were obviously going to get orders to go somewhere, either to Vietnam or to one of the operational groups, so it was just a --

Eileen M. Hurst:

So you were basically waiting --

William Phillips:

Basically waiting.

Eileen M. Hurst:

-- to get orders to go to Vietnam?

William Phillips:

It was a wait and see operation.

Eileen M. Hurst:

When you got your orders to Vietnam, you knew that you were going to be a communication specialist at that point?

William Phillips:

I knew that's what I was trained as, but I didn't know how that was going to work when I went to SOG because SOG is different from what normal Special Forces was doing in Vietnam.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Okay. Had you already volunteered for SOG?

William Phillips:

Yeah. So that's the only way you went to SOG is to volunteer for it.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Okay. So you knew you were going to be in a SOG unit somewhere?

William Phillips:

Right.

Eileen M. Hurst:

But you didn't know specifically --

William Phillips:

Specifically where, I didn't know. There were three places where there was SOG, in North, Central, and South Vietnam. And the -- SOG is your main unit and that's broken down into command and control north, command and control central, command and control south, innocuous names because we didn't want the press knowing what we were doing. As a matter of fact, SOG, special operations group, was renamed shortly after it was formed to the studies and observations group with the idea that being a nice innocuous thing and nobody will question that, but if it's special operations group, somebody's going to be asking what special operations, and all our operations were cross-border operations in Laos, Cambodia, North Vietnam, Thailand.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did you know that prior to going to Vietnam?

William Phillips:

Yeah. Yeah, I knew.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Do you remember your first impression on arriving in Vietnam?

William Phillips:

Hot.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Do you remember the -- so what year do you think that was? '64?

William Phillips:

No, that was beginning '65, about mid-'65.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Where did you land?

William Phillips:

Saigon. Flew from Washington, Washington state, to -- well, actually went to Hawaii and then, I think it was -- no, went to the Philippines. Yeah. Went from Washington to Hawaii to the Philippines and then to Vietnam, the first time, anyway.

Eileen M. Hurst:

So your first impression was hot?

William Phillips:

Hot.

Eileen M. Hurst:

What else?

William Phillips:

I was kind of -- for some reason I seemed to be impressed with the fact that everything was in color. I don't know if for some reason -- maybe the news' accounts that I had seen were black and white, but everything was very, very colorful for some reason, just that struck me. I -- I don't know. I expected everything to be OD green, I guess.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Where did you stay once you landed?

William Phillips:

Oh, I was sent immediately up to Nha Trang. That's Fifth Special Forces headquarters.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Where was that?

William Phillips:

Nha Trang, N-h-a- T-r-a-n-g. Don't ever use that in a spelling bee because I'm not real sure if that's exactly right.

Eileen M. Hurst:

I'll check it. How long were you there? Was that your home base then?

William Phillips:

No. No. That was home base for the conventional Special Forces troops. That's where headquarters for Special Forces was. Fifth Special Forces was the Special Forces group that was assigned to Vietnam. Let's see. We had about -- we had about two weeks if I remember of -- kind of indoctrination out on one of the islands there off the coast of Nha Trang getting you use to patrol tactics in -- in a jungle and mountains, classes on Vietnamese culture. Again, a fair amount of classroom type stuff. We, unlike conventional troops, we weren't thrown into a front line unit. You were trained in basics of how to deal with the populous and that was something indigenous to Special Forces. Where we worked with the people, not against them. Then you'll note there's a big difference between the way conventional troops treated the population and the way they were treated by Special Forces, a vast difference.

Eileen M. Hurst:

After your two weeks there, where did you go?

William Phillips:

Then I went to -- sent up to Da Nang, that's command and control north, usually referred to as CCN. I was only there for a couple of days and I was sent to Phu Bai, P-h-u- B-a-i, and that was one of the forward operating bases. Well, matter of fact, it was FOB one. Forward operating bases are usual referred to as FOB one, two, three.

Eileen M. Hurst:

And how long were you there?

William Phillips:

I spent a year there.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Oh, okay. So this was -- this was your home base?

William Phillips:

That was the home.

Eileen M. Hurst:

What was your job or your duties at that forward operating base?

William Phillips:

I became part of a reconnaissance team.

Eileen M. Hurst:

And what would you do?

William Phillips:

We ran operations in Laos for the most part and southern North Vietnam reconnaissance operations, finding the enemy, seeing what his strength was, tapping his phone lines, sometimes sabotaging his equipment. It was -- it was a world unto itself. I -- you'd only be in the field with at most -- you were really heavy if you took 12 people to the field, that was a lot. Usually it would be six or eight. There's the idea was to go, not get caught, not get seen, not get found, and stay for, you know, days at a time watching for a very, very allusive and a very professional enemy. They were very -- what's the word I want to use? I can't think of it, but they made use of the camouflage and the jungle that you wouldn't believe. They were absolutely masters.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Now, how would you get to these -- when you're going on a mission, would you go by foot or drop you in?

William Phillips:

Helicopter.

Eileen M. Hurst:

So you jumped in by helicopter, your small team?

William Phillips:

Right.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Wherever you were assigned, you jumped into Laos?

William Phillips:

We didn't parachute in. It was all --

Eileen M. Hurst:

You landed?

William Phillips:

It was all -- all you'd get down, repel in, depending if you had a real small landing zone or helicopter can't get in, but he can drop ropes and you can just repel right in.

Eileen M. Hurst:

So they will drop you, leave you there?

William Phillips:

Then they take off.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Typically how long would you stay in one place?

William Phillips:

In '65, '66 you could be on the ground for two weeks.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Just your team?

William Phillips:

Just us. And at the time, '65, '66, you could actually even get resupplied and stay on the ground. By '68, '69 you were a hero if you were on the ground 24 hours. And it was -- though there was some 80,000 North Vietnamese assigned to do nothing but work on and secure the Ho Chi Minh Trail and that's what we were looking at. That's what we were trying to find. So -- and they had every possible LZ. They had what we call a trail watchers and that's all they did was sit by an LZ all day long and wait and see if a SOG team landed there. And if it did, they'd either follow it or they'd run off to the wherever the main camp was and you'd wind up with, you know, depending on some situations, as many as 600 people trying to find you. But because you were so small -- you were in danger because you were so small, but because you were so small it was easy to hide. You could hide in places that people wouldn't look. They'd expect that nobody could be in there, but that's where we were. But it changed drastically in the years between '65 and '68, '69, '70.

Eileen M. Hurst:

So for your first year there, is that what you did the entire year? How long would you -- before you came back from one of these missions --

William Phillips:

Come back from one target and you'd be on stand down for a week, 10 days before you get another one.

Eileen M. Hurst:

So you were pretty regularly --

William Phillips:

You were regularly going to the field. You were definitely regularly going to the field. Missions would come out of -- out of Saigon. They'd want to know what's going on in a specific area. They'd have some intelligence that says there's a base camp at -- in -- at target at MA 14. All the targets were given code names like that. They were 10 kilometer square areas, and they were called targets. And they were given things like Oscar eight, Sierra five, Vishal(ph) eight, things like that.

Eileen M. Hurst:

And then you would go there, your small team? Your specific job was to do what?

William Phillips:

At first I was the radio operator, which didn't require -- just because -- I didn't get that job because I was a communication specialist. I got it because I was the new guy on the block, so I got to carry the radio, which was fine. And then after six or seven missions, if there was need, you get bumped up to either a reconnaissance team leader or an assistant team leader. There were three Americans on each team, the rest were all indigenous Montagnards, Chinese Nungs, or Vietnamese.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Do you remember any of your team members?

William Phillips:

0h, yeah. The Americans, no, not really. It's been so many years. I've forgotten names. I can picture faces, but the names aren't there.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Approximately how many missions would you say you went on in that first year?

William Phillips:

Probably 10, 14, 15 roughly. That's a rough guess.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Were there any memorable experiences from any of those missions?

William Phillips:

Some of them were pretty hot. They were a lot of -- if you did get found, you were in serious trouble.

Eileen M. Hurst:

So even as early as '65? When was this? '65?

William Phillips:

You'd get caught. Oh, yeah. Just couldn't help -- like I said, there were 80,000 people whose sole objective was to guard the Ho Chi Minh Trail and to keep it -- to keep roads camouflaged, repair bomb damage. They were like -- like ants.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Can you remember any specific incidents?

William Phillips:

I'd say I remember when at least once when everybody on the team wound up in a ambush and everybody was hit and couldn't move or --

Eileen M. Hurst:

Do you know where you were?

William Phillips:

Oh, I know. Could I show you on map exactly where they were? Probably. I could come pretty close if it was a topographical map. I could tell you.

Eileen M. Hurst:

And were you surprised?

William Phillips:

Oh, yeah. You were always surprised when you get caught. The one thing we did was -- it's kind of hard to explain. We had what was called -- the prairie fire was Laos. It was the code word for Laos. A prairie fire emergency was something that a team declared if they were really in a jam, a lot all wounded, if they were surrounded or couldn't move. When you did that, every aircraft that had any fuel capable of getting to -- came to you. And I'm talking -- it could be --could be 50, 75 aircraft and they were all governed by covey. Covey is a piper cub. He's a forward air controller and he controls all these people and he's your link to the outside world. You talk to him, he'll spot exactly where you are, and he'll call air strikes all around your position. So you had an awful lot -- an awful lot of power. I mean, as a buck sergeant, I commanded more aircraft than a general in a division, commanded them in a sense that I could call for them. But they would do everything they could do to get you out. However, if they couldn't get you out, at the time you were written off as -- well, they couldn't get bodies, so you were written off as missing in action in Vietnam. At the time we were telling everybody we had no combat soldiers in Laos or Cambodia, but we weren't strictly combat soldiers. It was reconnaissance, but they'd write you off. At first, at '65, '66 we used old American weapons from World War II, your uniform had nothing, no patches, nothing on it. You were sterile, no dog tags, none of that. So they could, you know, plausibly deny that you were there.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Were there times when you had to call in for help to get taken out?

William Phillips:

Oh, many times.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Were there times that they couldn't get you out?

William Phillips:

No, because I'm here. But there were times when they knew where you were and you could be in a running fire fight for days, running, hiding, fighting, especially during the rainy season. You'd get put in a hole in the clouds and as soon as you get put in, all the clouds close in and you're in a very mountainous area. Sometimes you couldn't even see the top of these mountains, these hills, and it was all -- the jungle was just as -- just as thick as could be, like with triple canopy -- triple canopy jungle that, you know, the sunlight can't even get through them.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Wow.

William Phillips:

You want to take a break for a minute? We good?

Eileen M. Hurst:

All right. So after your first year, when you were going out on these missions and coming back to your forward operation base, and then your tour was over, what did you do?

William Phillips:

Once that was over, I was sent to the Eighth Special Forces in Panama.

Eileen M. Hurst:

And how long did you stay there?

William Phillips:

About a year.

Eileen M. Hurst:

And what were your duties there?

William Phillips:

There was the normal Special Forces operations. We'd -- the time I spent in Panama was -- the whole year I might have been there for, you know, a total of six weeks. We were gone all the time into South America into different countries in South America working with various indigenous forces there. Some of that's probably still classified. I don't know. But, you know, the -- it's kind of like all the world knows you're doing things there, but, you know...

Eileen M. Hurst:

Don't know exactly?

William Phillips:

You don't know exactly where. And Special Forces is in every country in the world, the friendly unfriendly, there's somebody is -- is there watching and seeing.

Eileen M. Hurst:

That was drastically different than Vietnam. How did that compare for you?

William Phillips:

There's still some danger involved. Everybody wasn't -- wasn't friendly. You would definitely run into some unfriendlies. When you're working with people from Brazil or where have you, but it wasn't -- not as intense as Vietnam certainly.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Now, how long would you be in the field before you'd go back?

William Phillips:

Oh, you'd be out for months. You'd be working with people three, four, five months. That's well -- that's normal. That's -- that's what was -- that's what you were trained for.

Eileen M. Hurst:

After your year in Panama, where did you go?

William Phillips:

I went back -- back to Vietnam.

Eileen M. Hurst:

You volunteered for that?

William Phillips:

Yes.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Do you remember the year?

William Phillips:

That would have been the very end. Matter of fact, like December of '67.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did you go back to the same base that you were at the first time?

William Phillips:

Went right back. It all --

Eileen M. Hurst:

Exactly the same place?

William Phillips:

Same thing.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Same routine?

William Phillips:

Same routine. Well, it was a little bit different. Shortly after I got there -- because in February of '68 was the Tet Offensive and that -- that shook things up a little bit.

Eileen M. Hurst:

I bet. What difference did you see between your first tour and your second tour?

William Phillips:

The difficulty of staying on the ground. We couldn't -- your average stay would be three or four days where before you were 10, 12, 14 days.

Eileen M. Hurst:

In your second tour, were those all new people there the first time?

William Phillips:

Oh, yeah there were some Americans from the first time. Some of the guys that stayed, some of them had come back and gone into another group and then returned. SOG started in 1962 and was dissolved in 1971, I think. And during those -- during that time there was only maybe 2500 people rotating through SOG, so there weren't many at all.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Were you typical of a SOG person, in volunteering to go back?

William Phillips:

Oh, yeah, yeah. I don't know anybody who was in SOG who would volunteer to go to a regular Special Forces unit. They all, as far as I remember, everybody would come back to SOG. You just -- it kind of got in the blood. But the amount of -- by the time '68 rolled around and especially right before the Tet Offensive, the amount of equipment coming down Ho Chi Minh Trail, I mean, trucks, tanks -- they refused to believe they had tanks coming down. We'd tell them there are tanks coming down here and they'd just write it off as that's crap. There's no way they could get tanks down there because these people didn't realize what that trail was like. They're picturing a dirt path. Well, that's not the way it was. There was roads, literally roads, built through the jungle that you couldn't see from the air that trucks and tanks would roll down. Well, they believed there were tanks there when -- remember when Kason was going on? Right next to that or right close to it a couple of kilometers away was the Special Forces camp, Lang Vei. Those guys got pushed out of there when a tank rolled up on top of a communications bunker. So they -- that's when they believed. Yeah, these guys saw tanks out there. We told you so.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did the Ho Chi Minh Trail evolve as the war --

William Phillips:

0h, yeah.

Eileen M. Hurst:

-- lengthened?

William Phillips:

Oh, it was a piece of -- it was an engineering model. It was just absolutely incredible. I remember crossing one road three or four times before I realized that it was a road. It was so well camouflaged. They'd do -- they'd tie tops of trees together so that you couldn't see the road from above from an aircraft. And when a -- the trucks were coming by they'd have long poles that would push the branches out of the way for the trucks to come by and as soon as the trucks were by, let the branches back down, and you couldn't see that road. It was impossible see it from the air. Even as I said, just walking -- walking across the damn road, you know, three or four times before I realized, hey, this is a road. You kick some piece of camouflage and realize it's not a bush. It's just kind of stuck in the ground. It was pretty amazing.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Now, all this time that you're spending with your little team out in the -- is really survival in the jungle. All that training that you had back in special warfare school and advanced infantry training, did that all kick in --

William Phillips:

Oh, yeah especially the ranger training. There's no doubt about it that I think that training saved my bacon a few times.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did you feel well prepared?

William Phillips:

Yes. Yeah. As I'm sure the average infantry man who was sent there probably went through basic, maybe he went through advanced infantry school, and got sent right to Vietnam was pretty much ill-prepared for the kind -- the kind of war that was being fought. Where I was never thrown to the wolves, so to speak. I had, as I said, indoctrination for a couple of weeks after I first got there to Vietnam. And was told how -- I was told about the people. The average infantry man wasn't getting that and that's where we started loosing an awful lot of the support of the people. When we sent conventional forces there, they mistreated the people, you know. You've seen the pictures. They'd burn a village. But that's, you know, that's what they did. That's what they were trained to do. Where we were more interested in having the people on our side.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Now, that's your second tour; right?

William Phillips:

Right.

Eileen M. Hurst:

You already told me you went back three times.

William Phillips:

Went back a third time.

Eileen M. Hurst:

So after the second year was over, where did you go? Did you go home?

William Phillips:

Where did I go?

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did you stay or reenlist?

William Phillips:

I think I stayed. Yeah. I took 30-day leave, came home, and went back and stayed for about six more months. That would have run me till 1970, mid-'70, I guess. I've blotted a lot of this out. The dates and times I'm just not really very good at.

Eileen M. Hurst:

That's okay. Now, when you went back for the third time, did you go to the exact same place again?

William Phillips:

Oh, yeah. Well, I stayed actually --

Eileen M. Hurst:

So you just took leave --

William Phillips:

I took a leave and I extended my tour.

Eileen M. Hurst:

So you went back and did more of the same, exact same thing?

William Phillips:

Same thing.

Eileen M. Hurst:

By then the war was pretty hot. What -- you said the Special Forces, the SOG units, had more interaction with the general populous. Can you relate anything about your interaction with the --

William Phillips:

Our teams were supposed to be three Americans and nine or 12 indigenous forces, Montagnards for the most part, Vietnamese, or Chinese Nungs. And now, of course, most of them don't speak English, so you're working through an interpreter and you got very, very close, very much attached to your people, very much so. Matter of fact, I'll give you a thing I wrote about that. I forgot about that. Your interaction with, especially the Montagnards, the hill tribes people, you're very close, and they were extraordinarily loyal to you. They -- many's a time they could easily have taken off through the woods and left me, but that thought just never occurred to them.

Eileen M. Hurst:

You must have been a pretty cohesive team and you must have had great trust in each other?

William Phillips:

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Were you usually with the same team --

William Phillips:

Yes. No. No. For your tour you'd be with the same team. You may have different people coming into the team because if someone's wounded, you know, or with a serious wound -- well, obviously they're out for months. You still need the bodies, so you'd have other people coming in. Usually, I think, in a year -- out of nine indigenous people on the team, I'd probably go through 15 -- 15 people total because, you know, people coming -- coming in.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Now, was there a team leader or was it --

William Phillips:

Yes. You had what was teams. Americans were the - one-0 is the team leader. The one-one, he's the assistant team leader. And the one-two, he's the radio operator.

Eileen M. Hurst:

And those are the three Americans?

William Phillips:

Those are the three Americans and by '68 you didn't have enough Americans to go around for three, so you'd have two and sometimes, you know, just one. But even with just one guy out there you still had trust in the team. You can communicate. The whole time that you were in -- out in the field -- I don't know. You wouldn't -- I don't think you'd say 10 words to each other. Number one for quiet and two it just wasn't necessary. You could do everything with hand signals and everybody knew how to patrol. These guys had been at war for all their lives, you know, since they were kids. So, you know, they knew -- they knew the jungle. So you'd rely heavily on them.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Now, was your job the entire time -- you were over the radio?

William Phillips:

No, no. After six or seven missions, I became the reconnaissance team leader, the one-0.

Eileen M. Hurst:

You remained that?

William Phillips:

I remained. Whenever I went back, I'd be a team leader, yeah.

Eileen M. Hurst:

So by now, are you still planning on a career in the military?

William Phillips:

It was changing a little bit towards the very end. I had gotten engaged and got married in '71.

Eileen M. Hurst:

When did you fit that in?

William Phillips:

Shortly thereafter, I came back for the very last time, the 30-day leave.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Oh.

William Phillips:

And I decided not to stay because if I stayed, well, obviously I'd have been gone all over the world. The only -- there was only one base in the -- at the time in the United States where you had Special Forces, that was Fort Bragg. Now, they're in Washington, Kentucky. I think there's some in Colorado. I'm not sure. I think there's a group in Colorado.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Were there many casualties in your unit?

William Phillips:

SOG took about a 130 percent casualties. Meaning that everybody, on paper, everyone in SOG was wounded at least once. Out of the 2500 people who went through SOG there were 500 KIAs. That's -- what's that -- 20 percent killed in action. And on paper everybody was wounded. I was wounded four, five times.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Okay. Can you tell me about that?

William Phillips:

Which wasn't all that unusual. There were guys with more. I know guys with, you know, 8, 10, 12 purple hearts. For me it was mostly broken bones and shrapnel. Once I got shot in the shoulder but I was a shrapnel magnet. If a grenade -- if a grenade went off in Laos, the shrapnel hit me.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Really? Can you describe just at least one of those situations?

William Phillips:

One. Actually we walked into an ambush and the first thing they hit us with was a couple of grenades that were their grenades, not captured American grenades. And their grenades weren't nearly as powerful as ours, and they weren't designed to inflict the damage that ours would. Everybody on the team at the time got hit. Three of the guys were hit very badly. The Vietnamese team leader got shot through both femurs. Both femurs were broke. The point man, a young fellow, Hung -- Hunga,(ph) got hit in the chest. An American got hit in the eyes. He couldn't see anything. What else did we have? And all I got out of it was shrapnel. But during the fire fight I kept pulling magazines out of my pouch and couldn't use them because they had been shot through. And I actually had one grenade that was shot through. So, you know, I'm carrying like 600 rounds worth of ammo and 300 rounds worth of it is no good because it's been shot out.

Eileen M. Hurst:

So that must have been one of the instances where you called in help?

William Phillips:

Oh, yeah. We definitely -- covey, covey, help me, help me. Definitely called for covey support.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Right. So then you had a shrapnel wound. Where -- did you have to go to the hospital?

William Phillips:

No. We went to -- it was -- went to what's called charlie medevac. Once we were vacced out of there, once we got a ride out, the first place they take you if you had wounded was to charlie medevac. And that was -- well, you've seen MASH. MASH was elegant compared to charlie medevac. It was a bunker in the ground with seven or eight tables on it and that was an immediate first aid station. They do, you know, real meatball-type surgery, sew you up and ship you out. If you had serious wounds, ship you out to one of the field hospitals.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Now, where was that located?

William Phillips:

I'm trying to remember. It was not too, too far from -- it wasn't too far from Kason. I don't really remember exactly where it was, but it was very close to the border. It was up in -- well, up in Quang Tri, up in the northern part of South Vietnam. It was probably the furtherist[sic] -- the northern most medical facility. As I said, you just go there, get patched up and get sent right to one of the field hospitals within -- within an hour you were -- you were on your way to a hospital somewhere, and our medics would take care of us anyway. A Special Forces medic, the 18 months of training that he goes through is incredibly intense.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Got to take a second here to change the tape.

William Phillips:

Okay. I'll tell you what...

Eileen M. Hurst:

Bill, did you receive any medals or citations?

William Phillips:

Yes.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Can you tell me what they were?

William Phillips:

The Purple Hearts, Bronze Star, and the Army commendation medal of valor.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Purple Hearts, plural? How many did you receive?

William Phillips:

Five -- five.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Wow. How did you get them?

William Phillips:

By being a shrapnel magnet partly. Most of them were broken bones and shrapnel, with one -- one bullet wound in the shoulder.

Eileen M. Hurst:

I'm going to ask you some questions about daily life. And since you had such a variety of experiences, it's going to be probably a little bit different I'm sure.

William Phillips:

Shoot.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Daily life in Vietnam is different than Panama. How did you stay in touch with your family?

William Phillips:

Letters.

Eileen M. Hurst:

So wherever you were the mail got through?

William Phillips:

Yeah. The mail got to you, yep.

Eileen M. Hurst:

There was no -- never any problem with mail?

William Phillips:

No.

Eileen M. Hurst:

And what was the food like?

William Phillips:

When you were in a base camp it was pretty good food. You had -- especially for us when we were at FOB one, Phu Bai. It was only, geez, there must have been all of 30 of us, that's 30 Americans. That was it. So our food was pretty good. We had cooks. Non-Special Forces guys who would cook and take care of administrative type stuff. None of us -- nobody in Special Forces was trained how to type. That's about the only thing they don't teach you how to do.

Eileen M. Hurst:

So you had your own cook and your own dining hall --

William Phillips:

Yep. And you also had the club. Got to have a club.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Oh?

William Phillips:

I don't care if you got two guys, one of you's running the club.

Eileen M. Hurst:

So what was your club like?

William Phillips:

It was basic. A basic bar is what it was. And you can always get hamburgers or hot dogs, you know, stuff like that there.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Well, how big was your base?

William Phillips:

Maybe -- Phu Bai was maybe a hundred, 200 yards by 500 yards, I guess. It wasn't big.

Eileen M. Hurst:

How many buildings would you say?

William Phillips:

Ten -- 10, 15.

Eileen M. Hurst:

When you were in base, did you have regular barracks to sleep in?

William Phillips:

We had taken over an old French post is what it was. So you had individual rooms set up very much like a motel so -- and I don't know what French used them for, but we used them for individual rooms. You had one or two guys in a room. Was nothing -- nothing fancy, far from it. But, you know, bunk, mosquito netting. You didn't spend an awful lot of time there. When you weren't in the field you were training. You were training with the team or hanging out in the club.

Eileen M. Hurst:

As a team leader, was it your job to provide the leadership for your group and to train them?

William Phillips:

Yeah. It was all up to me to do that. There was no -- team leaders were -- team leaders would guard and you'd do everything.

Eileen M. Hurst:

You couldn't come back from the field and take it easy and let somebody else do the training?

William Phillips:

No. You trained -- you worked as a team, you know. You slept pretty closely together as a team. The indigenous members of the team, the Vietnamese, Montagnards, whatever, they had their own quarters and their own -- their messing facilities, especially the Montagnards because their diet was totally, totally different from what the lower Vietnamese were eating.

Eileen M. Hurst:

So the food, when you were in base, was pretty good?

William Phillips:

It was pretty good, yeah.

Eileen M. Hurst:

What did you eat when you were in the field?

William Phillips:

We had two kinds of rations, take what's called LRRPs.

Eileen M. Hurst:

LRRPs?

William Phillips:

LRRPs, L-R-R-P, that's long-range reconnaissance patrol rations, yeah, L-R-R-P. And they were -- they were very much like what the Army gets now in MREs, meals ready to eat. It's dehydrated food. You just add water and in its own packet. It's always cold of course, but it wasn't bad. It wasn't bad at all. I've got the taste buds of a goat, so anything to me is fine. You wouldn't take C-rations because you'd be leaving cans behind and you'd have to make noise opening up the the can and the other type of rations we were called indig rations. Indigenous rations were rice, fish or some kind of meat with like some kind of seasoning and for the most part we'd take -- I always took the indig rations to the field, bag of rice and you can pre-make it. Again, you add water to it. It's all dehydrated stuff. I'd -- that worked out fine for me. Food wasn't a big problem.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did you always have plenty of other supplies that you needed?

William Phillips:

0h, yes. We had -- we wanted for nothing.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Always had enough ammunition?

William Phillips:

Always. In '65, '66, I'd go the field with, you know, 300 rounds. By the time '68, '69, rolls around, I'm going to the field with 600 rounds.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did you feel pressure or stress on the job?

William Phillips:

Oh, yeah.

Eileen M. Hurst:

How did you handle that?

William Phillips:

Well, a couple of ways really. You know, when you were back on stand down you'd -- you do a fair amount of drinking. And you kind of go to the field as much as possible because if you didn't you kind of lost your edge for going. So you -- even though your team may be on stand down for two or three weeks you may go out strap hanging. That's they call it. That's going out with a another team just to -- kind of just to keep your nerve up. If you -- if you stopped going, you started thinking about -- holy shit, what am I, you know, this happened the last time. You'd start worrying too much about what could happen out there.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did you often do that, go out with another team?

William Phillips:

Sure. Oh, yeah. And we had what was called hatchet forces where the recon teams were designed to be put in the field without being caught and without -- you didn't -- recon team didn't go to ambush the enemy, the hatchet forces, which were platoon and company size. That's what they did. They went out -- they were looking for trouble. They were looking to attack and every once in a while, a recon team would go with them and act as the point for that -- for that hatchet force. That happened -- I did that six, seven times, I guess.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Was there anything that you did special for good luck?

William Phillips:

No, I wasn't particularly superstitious. Except out of difference to the indigenous population, we'd never go to the field with an odd number of people. The Orientals are very superstitious and -- like seven, you never go to the field with seven people. That one number in particular is, I don't know, a bad omen, but would always go with an even number of people.

Eileen M. Hurst:

What did you do for entertainment?

William Phillips:

Entertainment?

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did you have any --

William Phillips:

Yeah, we had movies back in base camp. You'd have movies, sure. And the Vietnamese loved the movies.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Even if they were in English?

William Phillips:

They couldn't understand a word or give them a western oh, that's -- they used to call themselves cowboys. That's, you know, they'd love -- oh, hell, yeah. Their whole idea of the United States was John Wayne in a western. That was the -- they figured that's what it was like in the States.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did you have any other kinds of entertainment?

William Phillips:

We wouldn't have them, but usually there was a USO show. Somebody would have one not too far away from us. In Phu Bai, was base camp for 101st, and there was a field hospital within a mile of us, so sometimes they'd have a USO show and we'd definitely go to that.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did you get to see any USO shows?

William Phillips:

No, I just --

Eileen M. Hurst:

In all that time?

William Phillips:

They weren't out there all the time.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Yeah?

William Phillips:

It just happened that I was either on my way out or just on my way back from a target somewhere.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Any other forms of entertainment?

William Phillips:

No, no.

Eileen M. Hurst:

You were just having so much fun --

William Phillips:

We were having so much fun going to the field.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did you have leave at all while you were in --

William Phillips:

Yeah. One of the things we used to be able to do while on stand down -- you can take in-country R and R going down to whatever the closest air force base and hop on plane going to like Nha Trang was the -- Nha Trang at one point or still is called the Paris of the Orient. It's right on the beach. It's got beautiful, beautiful beaches, beautiful water. You could take a couple of days, get out to Nha Trang or -- Saigon never attracted me. It was just too -- Saigon was just one big, noisy, dusty, dirty city, and it was hot down there, so I never thought about going down there, but I'd go to Nha Trang every once in a while.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Were your leaves only the short R and R leaves?

William Phillips:

Yeah. I took one leave in -- let's see, around -- it was in '68. I went to Japan for that was a seven-day R and R.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Do you recall any particularly humorous or unusual events?

William Phillips:

Nothing really. I remember one time -- it's humorous in a macabre sense, but one of the things that we used to have to do was we try to get a prisoner. And the easiest way to do that was either wound somebody or another way is -- we had an M-79 grenade launcher. I don't know if you've ever seen it. It's got a great big shell anyway. One of the shells that comes with that is a tear gas shell about that long in plastic and it's got tear-gas powder in it. And this one time we saw a North Vietnamese leaning against a tree. He's about oh, 20, 30 yards away from us, I guess. And I wanted him as a prisoner. I told the M-79 guy to hit the tree right over his head. That would cover this guy in tear gas powder. My M 79 guy could put a round, you know, he could hit a watermelon at 200 yards with this thing. Well, the round goes out very slowly. Slow enough you can see it going and I watched that damn round go and hit this guy square in the head. And his head just kind of went -- it kind of like expanded in its own skin. It killed the guy and that's what I wanted to do with my M 79 guy is -- I wanted to kill him for doing that. We could have had this guy and every time you got a prisoner, you'd get an out of country R and R, go to Thailand or Taiwan. I wanted to smack him. He knew what he was doing. He just didn't feel like lugging this guy around.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did you visit any other places while you were in the service?

William Phillips:

A lot of places in South America, Ethiopia. Well, they weren't visits, they were assignments, but you -- you got to see a side of countries that most people wouldn't see, you know, not the -- certainly not the tourist places. The places we were were not touristy.

Eileen M. Hurst:

What did you think of your fellow officers and fellow soldiers?

William Phillips:

Extremely dedicated, professional, courageous.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did you keep a diary at all?

William Phillips:

No.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Do you have any photographs?

William Phillips:

I had tons of photographs and I watched the last -- would have been within three days of my leaving for the last time. I had a trunk load of it, of paperwork and photographs, film, and I watched the Chinook helicopter take off and I watched the Chinook helicopter crash and burned up everything I had. And I had a ton of stuff. I had pictures of the NBA in Laos, pictures of the guys. I had all kinds of stuff. I couldn't believe it.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did you form any close friendships while you were in the service?

William Phillips:

Oh, yeah.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did you maintain any of those friendships afterwards?

William Phillips:

No, no. Everybody was kind of scattered to the four winds. This one guy, Mike Crumcheck,(ph) he's up in -- he's a cop. Where is he? Ohio. I have contact with him every once in a while. Email type stuff.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Was he one of your team members?

William Phillips:

No, no. He was in a different team. We had gone out once together, but he was on a different team.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did different teams get together?

William Phillips:

0h, yeah. We all lived, you know, we all lived together. When you were back in base camp all the indig would get together, the guys, the Americans would be together.

Eileen M. Hurst:

So you all knew each other?

William Phillips:

Everybody knew everybody. Yeah. I'll tell you an interesting -- two interesting people who were there with me. One was Freddie Irons. He was an Oklahoma Indian worth about $20 million oil money. The day he was born he got a million dollars. Every year on his birthday until he was 21 he got a million dollars. And I guess when he was 21, he had an option of either taking like a 50 million buyout or continue to get a million dollars every year on his birthday. Now -- and he volunteered for the Army, for airborne, for Special Forces, for SOG, for SOG recon, and he's -- he didn't have to. He was an American Indian. He couldn't even be drafted. And the other person was, John Walton, Walmart son. And John did the same thing. He was only worth, I think, he was only worth about $11 billion when I knew him and He just got killed about a year and a half ago in a hang-gliding accident. And then he was worth about $22 billion. He was like the -- the next heir for the -- for the Walmart empire. And both of these guys, you know, multimillionaires. Just gives you a little idea of diversity of people in SOG in Special Forces too.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Now, when your third tour ended and you were leaving Vietnam to come home, do you remember that?

William Phillips:

Oh, yeah.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Could you describe what that was like.

William Phillips:

Yeah. It was bitter sweet. I knew I was leaving for the last time. I was missing the people.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Was that going to be the end of your military service as well as leaving --

William Phillips:

I had about six months left the last time I came Back and was sent to the 10th Special Forces at Fort Devens in Massachusetts.

Eileen M. Hurst:

That's where you served your last -

William Phillips:

That's -- my last six months was there.

Eileen M. Hurst:

What did you do while you were there?

William Phillips:

Got married, which was the prime reason I left -- left the military.

Eileen M. Hurst:

What did you do for a job while you were at Fort Devens?

William Phillips:

I was communication specialist for one of the, you know, one of the A teams.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Not going out in the field -- it had to be a lot different.

William Phillips:

Oh, we went out to the field. As a matter of fact, we spent almost two months in Greenland.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Doing what?

William Phillips:

Field training exercise, winter survival kind of thing. And for the entire seven years I was in the military, I was always in a tropical or subtropic zone. So what do they do for my last six months, send me to Greenland. I had the best tan in the place.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Do you recall the last day in service?

William Phillips:

Yeah, vaguely.

Eileen M. Hurst:

So you were discharged from Fort Devens?

William Phillips:

Fort Devens.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Do you remember the month and year?

William Phillips:

I don't remember what month it was. I think it was February of '71, I think.

Eileen M. Hurst:

What did you do in the days and weeks immediately after your discharge?

William Phillips:

I went to work for a friend of mine who ran a construction outfit. I worked him for about six months and then I went to -- went to school.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did you go to school on the GI Bill?

William Phillips:

Yeah.

Eileen M. Hurst:

What kind of school?

William Phillips:

Westfield State in Westfield, Massachusetts.

Eileen M. Hurst:

What did you go to school for?

William Phillips:

History.

Eileen M. Hurst:

You were a history major or did you want to teach history?

William Phillips:

Well, I thought I was going to be both, but I was just a history major.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did you go back to your home town, Lowell?

William Phillips:

No. No, matter of fact, I moved to the western part of the state out, you know, in the Westfield area.

Eileen M. Hurst:

What did you do after going to Westfield?

William Phillips:

I went to work for what's called the General Adjustment Bureau, the adjusting company.

Eileen M. Hurst:

And how long did you work with them?

William Phillips:

Three or four years.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Then what did you do?

William Phillips:

Then I became a policeman in East Lyme, Connecticut.

Eileen M. Hurst:

And how long did you do that?

William Phillips:

About 10 years.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Then what did you do?

William Phillips:

Then I moved down south, lived down there -- down in South Carolina for five or six years, loved it down there. I loved it and I hated it. I lived first -- first right on a lake -- Lake Marion. You ever drive down into Florida?

Eileen M. Hurst:

No.

William Phillips:

Never driven down 95 to Florida? Anyway, there's a big lake you'll cross in South Carolina. I used to live on that lake. I loved it, crazy about it. And then I let a girlfriend talk me into selling the house and moving to Beaufort. That's on the coast right near Hilton Head. Hated it. Hated everything about it. Hated everything from the dirt up including the people. Couldn't stand it. And anyway, things happened there and I wound up in -- after I left South Carolina, I wound up in a VA hospital in Johnson City, Tennessee. And after that, I came up to where I am now at the VA --

Eileen M. Hurst:

In Connecticut.

William Phillips:

Connecticut.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Did you join any veteran's organizations?

William Phillips:

No. At the time that I came back, you know, you couldn't join the VFW. They didn't consider that a war, didn't consider Vietnam a war. That -- I think a lot of veterans coming back from Vietnam found that to be true.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Have you attended any reunions?

William Phillips:

Yes.

Eileen M. Hurst:

How many?

William Phillips:

Just one. We had a -- three years ago a SOG reunion. They have one every year in Las Vegas.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Is it always in Las Vegas?

William Phillips:

It's always in Las Vegas.

Eileen M. Hurst:

And you went to one of them?

William Phillips:

I went to one.

Eileen M. Hurst:

What's that like?

William Phillips:

It was interesting seeing some of these guys, you know, over-weight, bald, old, you know, and I'm picturing, you know, 20, 21 year old guys. We've gotten thicker and thinner.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Do they have a reunion every year?

William Phillips:

Yeah. Everybody doesn't go to the reunion every year, but every year we have a reunion in October. Yeah, October.

Eileen M. Hurst:

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

William Phillips:

Yes.

Eileen M. Hurst:

In what way?

William Phillips:

Positively. It's definitely -- the time I spent in Vietnam is very defining. The entire time in the military was.

Eileen M. Hurst:

How did your service in your military experiences affect your life?

William Phillips:

Well, the PTSD really got to me. I started drinking a lot after I got out, started having nightmares. But, of course, at the time that I got out, nobody knew anything about PTSD. It was 10 years later before anybody even coined the term.

Eileen M. Hurst:

Is there anything else that you'd like to add that we haven't covered, Bill, in this interview? Any other stories, incidents --

William Phillips:

No, I don't think so. I think we've done well.

Eileen M. Hurst:

I'd like to thank you for the interview. I'd like to thank you for your service.

William Phillips:

No problem. It was my pleasure.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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