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Interview with Walter James Dexter [1/10/2011]

David Brusseau:

Today is January 10, 2011. This is the start of an interview with Mr. Walter James Dexter at the RSVP offices of Catholic Services of Macomb located at 26238 Ryan Road, Warren, Michigan. Mr. Dexter is 63 years old. He was born May 4, 1947. Mr. Dexter currently resides at 13651 Northend Street, Oak Park, Michigan. My name is Dave Brusseau. I will be the interviewer, and Gary Miglio will be the videographer.

David Brusseau:

Mr. Dexter, would you state for the record the branch of service that you served.

Walter James Dexter:

U.S. Army.

David Brusseau:

If you don't mind, we'll go back to your high school days when we can get the introduction of how you got into the service and perhaps a little bit about your family at that time.

Walter James Dexter:

I'm from Cincinnati, Ohio, and I was 17 years old when I joined the Army. I didn't finish high school at that time. I dropped out in the eleventh grade, and things were kind of tough in the family at the time. I was looking for something different, so I decided I was going to join the Army. Of course, a lot of the family members were trying to talk me out of it, because they were trying to tell me that there is a war over there and you can get killed and that kind of stuff. I was just ready for the challenge, I guess, even though I was 17 years old. My mother had to co-sign for me to go in. And she co-signed and I joined the Army and that's how I got in.

David Brusseau:

What on earth would give you the feeling you needed to go into the service at that particular time at the height of the Vietnam War with all this negativity going on? Can you share that with us?

Walter James Dexter:

Yes, I can. You know, to be honest with you what happened was that I had an incident with my father's car. I wrecked it and what happened he didn't have any insurance and every time I sat at the table he would always be hounding me about getting a job, getting his car, things like that. So, what happened was I just got tired. I said, well, if I don't get a job, he's going to kill be probably for his car. Or if I go to Vietnam, I could get killed, so I'll take my chances in Vietnam.

David Brusseau:

Do you think you were well versed in what was going on over there?

Walter James Dexter:

Not really. I didn't know a lot about it. The only thing I knew about Vietnam was what I had seen on TV and, of course, at that time they had protesters that were protesting the Vietnam War. Basically the negative things that you would see in the newspaper and on TV about the Vietnam War, but as far as me having knowledge about what was going on, no. I really had no idea.

David Brusseau:

OK. What did you feel about school at that time? You say you dropped out. You didn't like it? You weren't doing well? Or a combination.

Walter James Dexter:

Well, I liked school, but I used to love to play basketball. I played basketball in junior high school. In high school, I played basketball the first year, but then they changed the way of doing business, you had to keep a certain grade level up in order to continue to play in basketball. So my grade level didn't meet the challenge, so what happened was I just go distraught. I couldn't play basketball anymore and that was my life at the time, basketball and baseball. So I got discouraged and basically just wanted to do something different.

David Brusseau:

That's a pretty heavy basketball orientation in Cincinnati.

Walter James Dexter:

Yes.

David Brusseau:

Just heavy, and it's on the kids' minds all the time around that neck of the woods. They've got some storied basketball history in Cincinnati.

Walter James Dexter:

Yes, yes they do.

David Brusseau:

What made you choose the Army?

Walter James Dexter:

I guess because I had two brothers that went to the military. One brother was in the U.S. Marine Corps, but then I had another brother in the U.S. Army. And the one in the U.S. Army, when he came home, I guess I spent more time with him than my older brother. He was much older than I was. But the one that was in the U.S. Army, I spent time with him. Basically just falling behind him because he went to the Army, so I decided to do the same thing.

David Brusseau:

What did he think about what you were doing?

Walter James Dexter:

He didn't. He was one in the family that tried to talk me out of it by telling me, hey, did you see TV? They had this many vets got killed in Vietnam and you sure that's what you really want to do? He was one that really tried to ... he was in during peacetime and he really didn't have any experience about war or anything.

David Brusseau:

So how big was your family?

Walter James Dexter:

I got four sisters, four brothers, including myself. I have one sister in Huntsville, Alabama, older sister. I have another older brother that's in Nashville, Tennessee, and I have two other sisters in Cincinnati. Two other brothers in Cincinnati. So there are eight of us all together.

David Brusseau:

Four sisters and four brothers, including yourself. And where were you?

Walter James Dexter:

I was in the middle.

David Brusseau:

God bless your mother. What did she think about this?

Walter James Dexter:

She was the one that actually signed for me to go in, but it was hard convincing her of signing because she was another one that didn't' really want me to go. But I just kept begging her basically, Mom, please sign. So finally, she discussed it with my father and finally she decided to go ahead and sign.

David Brusseau:

Now who had gone in before you already?

Walter James Dexter:

I had a brother in the U.S. Marine Corps, Eugene. I had another brother ahead of me. He's 67 years old. He was in the U.S. Army.

David Brusseau:

So this wasn't new. She had already gone through this.

Walter James Dexter:

Yes, except that they were in there during peacetime basically. There was no war going on.

David Brusseau:

OK, you get out. Where do you go first? Boot camp?

Walter James Dexter:

Yes, we had basic training at Ford Campbell, Kentucky. That was in '66. It was kind of funny. You go out one door, you're in Kentucky, the other door you're in Tennessee. It was Fort Campbell, Kentucky. We had basic training there.

David Brusseau:

What did you think about that?

Walter James Dexter:

Basic training was very different. Because I wasn't used to getting hollered at, number one. The drill sergeant was a hollerer. I don't think he could ever talk. Because every time he opened his mouth, he hollered. That was something hard to get used to because I never really got hollered at like that at home. But then it was something that, after awhile, you get used to. It was different. We had basic training and we had to go through obstacle course. We all went through the same thing. Had to climb over a wall with a rope, come down, crawl up under a fence, with your body down. Things like that we had to train.

David Brusseau:

Anyone shooting at you?

Walter James Dexter:

No, not during basic training. Not like that. I went through that through AIT. I had advanced infantry training at Fort Polk, Louisiana.

David Brusseau:

Fort Polk is the debarkation to Vietnam

Walter James Dexter:

Yes, right, exactly.

David Brusseau:

So, if you go there right after boot, you could count on it. You're visiting soon.

Walter James Dexter:

Right, you know where you're going ... soon, very soon.

David Brusseau:

What else can you tell us? How long was boot?

Walter James Dexter:

Boot camp, I vaguely ... 1 know it was something like eight weeks.

David Brusseau:

Yes, some were six, but. ..

Walter James Dexter:

Yes, six to eight weeks. Something like that.

David Brusseau:

Did it get any better after you were there awhile?

Walter James Dexter:

Actually, it did, because, that being my first time away from home and being around other people. I was brought up to respect. .. 1 was brought up in the church. My father was a deacon in the church. My mother was pianist in the church. I sang in the choir, and I just had the mentality of respecting everybody. So regardless of how strange it was, how much they hollered, the respect was still there. It was something I knew I had to do. I figured this is the government, the Army told them what to do and I respected that. That's why I didn't' have too much of a hard time there.

David Brusseau:

Well, there's a purpose behind all the shouting and shock.

Walter James Dexter:

To discipline.

David Brusseau:

Right. At first the breakdown and then the rebuilding. They just mold you into what they want.

Walter James Dexter:

That's true, but basic carries you all the way through life, really. I could say personally.

David Brusseau:

I suspect someone like you for whom it is a shock, but something that you won't forget.

Walter James Dexter:

No, never.

David Brusseau:

Any other things that went on at boot that are worthy of discussion here?

Walter James Dexter:

Well, I can recall, once I had to learn that when you're in the Army, you never volunteer for anything. I found that out.

David Brusseau:

How long did it take you to learn that? (laughs)

Walter James Dexter:

It took me about three weeks. We were in formation and the drill sergeant, the guy that hollered all the time. He hollered and said, "Does anybody got a driver's license?" My thought was, maybe I can get a job driving a Jeep or something. So I raised my hand and said, "Sir, I have a driver's license." He said, "Step over here, soldier." I felt pretty good about it. And then all of a sudden, he said, "You see that field out there?" I looked out there, it was a big, wide field. He said, "I want you to drive that lawn mower. I want you to cut that grass." It wasn't a power lawn mower; it was a push lawn mower. So the guys started laughing and stuff. It was hot that day, too, in Kentucky. It was hot, and I pushed that lawn mower and cut that grass. I said, you know what? This is a lesson. I'm never going to volunteer for anything.

David Brusseau:

And they say it just like he did to make you feel just like you felt. But there was a lot of learning going on.

Walter James Dexter:

Right, there was a lot of learning.

David Brusseau:

What's the other one? Never complain, never volunteer. There is another one. And I remember this. Somebody told me, fortunately, before I wanted to be a hero. So I was lucky. You don't realize how many times that comes up. So you're not alone. When is your first opportunity for liberty or a pass?

Walter James Dexter:

Actually in basic training, I think I got a three-day pass. There was a little town called, it was in Kentucky. I can't think of the name of it. But we didn't really do much because we didn't know anybody in the town, so we basically went out and had a couple beers, got a room. It was really nothing fantastic.

David Brusseau:

So you didn't really get a chance to go home until the end of basic?

Walter James Dexter:

Yes, right.

David Brusseau:

And you're talking six, eight weeks-probably the longest you've ever been away from home.

Walter James Dexter:

That's true. That's exactly true.

David Brusseau:

Were you able to write home during that time?

Walter James Dexter:

Yes, I did write, but there really wasn't a whole lot to write about at basic training. At that time, I really didn't know a lot. I didn't have any idea ahead of time what we were going to do. So I just basically wrote and ask questions about what everybody else was doing. I just never talked too much about what I was doing.

David Brusseau:

On the other side of the line, it was your mom trying to figure out is he still alive, too.

Walter James Dexter:

Right, right.

David Brusseau:

At the end of basic, they put you through a plethora of testing to find out what you got that they need. How did that turn out?

Walter James Dexter:

Well, actually my mindset was I just knew that I was going to Vietnam because really we were basically told when we got there maybe two percent might have went somewhere elseeengineer or something. But basically I would say 96 percent of the ones who went to basic training with me ended up in Vietnam. So regardless on what you did, you were going to end up in Vietnam.

David Brusseau:

And your first assignment probably gave you all the evidence you needed when you got to Fort Polk.

Walter James Dexter:

Yes, at Fort Polk, we had extensive AIT training. It was sort of like a simulation of Vietnam. They had the terrain, the jungle, the mosquitoes.

David Brusseau:

Where was this?

Walter James Dexter:

Fort Polk, Louisiana. We went through that and then from there we shipped out and went to Vietnam.

David Brusseau:

How long were you there?

Walter James Dexter:

At Fort Polk, we were there about four weeks.

David Brusseau:

That's all?

Walter James Dexter:

Yes, that's all ... four weeks.

David Brusseau:

What was it like when you came home at the end of basic? How did you feel about. ..

Walter James Dexter:

When I came home from basic, I already knew I was going to Vietnam. My friends would say, you going to Vietnam? They said well, did you get drafted? I said, no, I was 17 I joined. And they would say, why did you join? I didn't really have an answer. People ask me these questions, I didn't have an answer at that time. I was 17 then. It wasn't political then, because you didn't know that much about politics. Only thing that you knew is that.. .. you couldn't say at that time that you were going to fight for your country because nobody really into that. I was just getting away and being on my own and doing a job, growing up. I didn't involved with the political side of it. Of course, I heard more political side of it when I got out than I did when I was even over there. When I was over there, we didn't hear too much except for the leaflets that they dropped trying to brainwash us.

David Brusseau:

Yes, they didn't believe you needed to know that.

Walter James Dexter:

Right.

David Brusseau:

Which is probably the politics behind the Stars and Stripes to keep it. .. tell them what we think they need to know, not what they need to know.

Walter James Dexter:

Right.

David Brusseau:

What do you feeling, you come back, or do you go direct from home ...

Walter James Dexter:

From Cincinnati and then I left and went to California and that's when we de rolled from California. We left there on a plane, it was, I can't think of the name of the plane. But when you sit in it, you sit backwards. It was kind of odd going over there. The plane is going this way, but you're seated in the opposite direction. I never been in anything like that before. It was really odd.

David Brusseau:

So what did you feel like?

Walter James Dexter:

Like it wasn't real. At that time I felt, oh well, I'm going to Vietnam. It's like a play or something. I know it's crazy, it sounds crazy. But it didn't seem like I was really going to be fighting, that everything we went through for the training and basic wasn't real. It was real, but the enemy wasn't real. I went to AIT, it was real, but it wasn't real. You had simulation. It always felt like everything was going to be simulated.

David Brusseau:

Were you scared?

Walter James Dexter:

I wasn't scared at that time. I wasn't scared until we actually landed, and then I start looking around and hearing stories. That's when I got scared.

David Brusseau:

Had you developed some friends at this point?

Walter James Dexter:

Yes, but I got tired of being called Cherry. Cherry was somebody who hadn't seen action yet. So I didn't have a name. My name was Cherry. Hey, Cherry, because I was new over there. Haven't seen no action. Didn't have a CIB. So my name was Cherry. So after awhile you get brainwashed. Your mind is saying, wow I'm getting tired of being called Cherry. I can't wait to ... 1 hate to say I can't wait to kill somebody, or wait until I get into a firefight, so I could not become a Cherry anymore. It's funny how you become a product of your environment. It wasn't really me, but I got tired of being called a Cherry.

David Brusseau:

So where did you land when you came in?

Walter James Dexter:

We landed in Pleiku, that first year I was with the 25th Infantry Division. We landed at base camp in Pleiku. That's where we landed. That's the southern part of Vietnam. It's base camp and ...

David Brusseau:

Are you familiar with Chu Lai?

Walter James Dexter:

Yes, Chu Lai, On Kay, Bien Hoa all that. I think that the First Cavalry was in Chu Lai, I think. The First Cavalry Division.

David Brusseau:

So how long did it take you to get acclimated, and then how long it take you to outlive the Cherry?

Walter James Dexter:

Well, actually about four, maybe five days. We were in base camp about three or four days. My first mission, which I'll never forget, was a search and destroy mission that we had. In other words, we were not supposed to take any prisoners or anything like that and search and destroy anything that we found as far as compounds or bunkers or weapons-destroy them. That was my first mission. It was a three-day search and destroy mission.

David Brusseau:

So did they helicopter you to a location, say goodbye, be back in three days?

Walter James Dexter:

Yes, to the location, right. And then we weren't supposed to receive any food supplies for three days because they didn't want the helicopters flying in to bring supplies, so we were equipped with three days of food supplies, three days ammunition, three days of C-rations.

David Brusseau:

How big a group are we talking about?

Walter James Dexter:

They broke us down into to platoons. A company was about, it was hard to say, it was like, maybe 50, 50-some troops. But platoon was like around maybe 14. I was part of a platoon.

David Brusseau:

And you had specified area you were supposed to ...

Walter James Dexter:

Right, exactly. And later, as a matter of fact, on the first mission, I can remember that some of the villagers that were Vietcong ... over there you had three, a lot of people don't realize we had three elements of people who we were fighting against. A lot of people think it's just one, but it was three. We had the Vietcong. The Vietcong were more or less like militants. They wore black pajamas and they weren't organized. They were just mad; they didn't like Americans or something like that. They maybe snipered at you, set booby traps, things like that. Then you had the NVA, the North Vietnamese Army and they were organized and prepared, more equipped, things of that nature. Then, believe it or not, you had your (unintelligible) soldiers. Your (unintelligible) soldiers were Chinese. You didn't know, they never talked about it, but the Chinese were actually fighting with the NVA over there. And they were bigger, cause when we had a firefight, we did a body count. A lot of times we look down we see somebody we think is American. You look down at somebody big, but he's wearing a Vietnamese outfit and you realize, he's not Vietnamese. Most Vietnamese, when you do a body count, are small, you know. We see somebody that big, and I realize this guy is Chinese. They were actually Chinese fighting with the NV A. A lot of people never talked about that. I don't know why. Government never talked about that, but it was Chinese that was fighting with them.

David Brusseau:

Were these Chinese part of the Chinese Army, or were they just. ..

Walter James Dexter:

Some say they were interpreters. Some say they were even special forces. Today, I don't really know.

David Brusseau:

No, I didn't know that what you just told me. So that surprised me.

Walter James Dexter:

They never talked about that.

David Brusseau:

What you feel when you say you didn't know anything, most of us didn't either. And most of us probably still don't because that was not something talked about for obvious reasons. So, what's the next stage now? You were Cherry. You're now through that.

Walter James Dexter:

Then we had other CAs, we did combat assaults that we did over there. A combat assault is a CA is when you got the helicopter driver, you got the gunner, you got three troops on the right door, you got three troops on the left door. The combat assault, CA, is when you go into a hot area. Helicopter comes down and wants to hit the ground, we get off. And most of the time they had to clear the area for the helicopter, called a landing zone. Make an LZ, landing zone.

David Brusseau:

Who would do the clearing?

Walter James Dexter:

The engineers that was over there.

David Brusseau:

I mean physically clearing the area.

Walter James Dexter:

Sometimes engineers, sometimes we did it. Unless we were making a CA, then the area was already cleared. We were going through the air, we would have maneuvers. We would take our machetes and we get C4. We would blow an area out for the helicopter.

David Brusseau:

Were you aware of whether that area was occupied?

Walter James Dexter:

No, we knew that it wasn't occupied.

David Brusseau:

How did you know that?

Walter James Dexter:

I guess, they had LRRPS that went out there ahead that had already canvassed the area and knew what was there.

David Brusseau:

What did you call them?

Walter James Dexter:

LRRPS.

David Brusseau:

What's that?

Walter James Dexter:

LRRPS were like, they went ahead of the units. I don't know what it stand for, but we called them LRRPS. They went ahead of the unit and kind of swept the area to find out what's there and what wasn't there.

David Brusseau:

OK, now tell me how you're feeling

Walter James Dexter:

Now, this is actually the first time I had an opportunity to even talk about it. But I think it changed me in a way that I don't complain about things where the average person may complain about because it's like, I used to complain about not having no shoes on my feet until I looked around and seen a man with no feet. So regardless of what your situation is, it's not bad. I don't care, it's just not bad because there is always somebody that's in worse shape. I don't think that I would have learned that concept if I hadn't been in the military because when you're in the jungle you do without a lot of things. We don't have refrigerators out there. We don't have electricity. When we drink water, we get it from a creek. Sometimes you see mosquitoes going into your water. We had purification tablets that we put into the water to purify the water, but you can see bugs going in there. It's nothing, but when you come home everything is so much different that, how can you complain about anything? Even today, how can you complain about anything?

David Brusseau:

That's an interesting analogy. You've gone through your first exercise. Have you seen death yet?

Walter James Dexter:

In Vietnam?

David Brusseau:

Yes.

Walter James Dexter:

Yes, the first firefight that we seen, we seen death. We had went to this village and what happened was ... You never forget your first firefight. At the time we didn't know that the villagers were actually Vietcong, but they were trained to be farmers with the rice. And we went through there and we was in this village and the lieutenant was questioning some of the VCs. They were VCs but at that time we thought they were villagers. He said are you VC? And they said no. No VC. So anyway there was a little kid standing by the doorway with his thumb in his mouth he looked at the lieutenant look here. And he was just like this here ...

David Brusseau:

Oh my God (laughs).

Walter James Dexter:

Of course, he couldn't see because he had his back turned. And then what happened, we put our weapons, it was like eight of them, so we pat them up and then we were under sniper fire. Actually the Vietcong was there stealing the rice, I think, from the farmers. They were stealing the rice from them. That's what they were there for. So we were getting snipered at. They were in trees and that was my first firefight. So we just started shooting back.

David Brusseau:

What did you do with the ones that you captured?

Walter James Dexter:

When we started fighting, they was already tied up. So they were just laying there. But we were getting sniper fire from around the building and the trees. They were up in the trees snipering at us. So that's what happened. Anyway that was the first time that we were actually seeing someone that we were shooting at. A lot of other firefight we had, we followed them through the tracers. We didn't see them because it was night time. So we saw the tracers and we knew where they were at, but we couldn't seen them in the jungle. You fired at the tracer. That was my first firefight.

David Brusseau:

What was the exercise with the sniper fire? Was there any attempt to suppress it?

Walter James Dexter:

Yes, they left, they ran. Their distance, they really weren't close, but they were close enough to maneuver, so they ran. It was kind of hard to call in ... normally the 25th was good at calling in air support, but it was kind hard calling air support because we were too close. We couldn't call the air support because they would have fired probably on some of us. So they ran away, and then the ones that were already tied up came back. We killed maybe two or three, and there would maybe eight or nine of them. About seven got away, and we killed two. We had no casualties that day.

David Brusseau:

So you brought them back to be questioned, interrogated?

Walter James Dexter:

Yes, right. We interrogated them. They went back into base camp. We put them on a helicopter and they took them back to base camp, and I never saw them anymore. I'm not saying that they did anything with them, but I don't know what they did with them after.

David Brusseau:

So you never found out whether any capture led to any additional evidence, information that would be useful. How important was interrogating these Vietcong? And, frankly, how much did they really know themselves?

Walter James Dexter:

A lot of times, they'll have maybe maps on them where they might have other elements where the other company is located, which is helpful. Maps on them. Or they might have information about you. You know, you find out what they know about you. They might have something.

David Brusseau:

OK. So how'd you feel about that trip? The first firefight?

Walter James Dexter:

It was unusual because it seemed like it was still at that time it seemed like a dream, like it wasn't really real. It just seemed like it was, like I was still in training basically. At that first firefight, we didn't lose anybody and at that point, it seemed like it was a game. I was what, 18 years old.

David Brusseau:

It would seem that sometime, somewhere along the line you come to the conclusion that you're there and you're responsible for you. Cause there isn't anybody around here whose going to do much to save me. I'm responsible.

Walter James Dexter:

Right, exactly.

David Brusseau:

Man, I got aboard ship and I saw some of the people aboard ship. I got to be taking are of me. These people aren't going to be doing it.

Walter James Dexter:

Right, exactly. But you know actually the second firefight we had. It was really wild. We were making a CA--we were making a combat assault--and I remember getting out of the helicopter, and what happened was my strap got caught when we were trying to jump out. I had all this equipment on-I wasn't a big person at the time, my weight was maybe 155 pounds. I was small. I had all this stuff on me, you know. So I was fixing to jump out the helicopter and my strap got caught in some kind of loop and everybody else had jumped off. And I got ready to jump and I couldn't get loose. And the helicopter had already landed and it was starting to go back up and I was telling him to go back down. I finally got loose. I just jumped out and my back was all messed up. It was sprung. My leg was sprung. It was like a bad feeling. At that time, I didn't know we were under fire at the time. Because the helicopter with the blades going, you couldn't really hear anything. But when I seen everybody else and I started seeing dust come up from some of the other guys that already got out, they were crawling. I just followed behind them and did the .same thing. I said, hey look, we must be under fire because I saw the dust shooting up. So we started crawling and I had my head down and I was crawling, and I'm thinking that. .. we had a steel pot with a helmet liner ... 1 thought I hit a branch, because I had my head down, and my steel pot came off my head. I just reached back and got my steel pot and put it back on my head. I just kept crawling. It was like at night and we really couldn't see where they were, but we knew we were getting fired upon. They called in the air support, the howitzers and they had the planes come in and spray where they were at. And then we did a body count that morning and it was just terrible. We lost and a friend of my named James Lindsay, he was from Florida. He got shot and he was maybe 20 meters to the side of me. He got shot in his butt. He hollered, "Medic, medic medic!" He was a good friend of mine. And I crawled over there to help him and pulled him back behind this tree. So that day we lost maybe like seven or eight in our company that day. What happened, I was sitting under the tree. We were eating C-rations and I had my steel pot sitting in front of me and, so one of the other guys said, "Hey Dex, how'd you get that hole in your steel pot?" I was like, whoa, I picked up my steel pot and looked at it and a hole, a bullet had went through my steel pot and creased my helmet liner and went out. I didn't even know it.

David Brusseau:

When you lost your helmet.

Walter James Dexter:

Yes, I'm think because with the noise and everything, I'm thinking I might have hit a branch because I had my head down and there was a lot of brush there where they had trees down. So my mind was like I hit a branch and it came off. I just picked it up and put it on my head. So come to find out that I actually got shot in my head. Bullet went through my steel pot and creased my helmet liner. And it's the funniest thing, they had some representative from, it's called Sepia Maaazine, they just happened to be over there. But they actually put that article in the paper. That was in 1967, Sepia Maaazine. My family seen it, but I never seen it. I was still over there during that time. Actually got shot and a bullet went through my steel pot.

David Brusseau:

Now how do you feel?

Walter James Dexter:

At that time, then I knew it was real. That brought reality in. This is real here. And that's when I really started getting scared. I'd never fool with drugs over there, but they had a lot of troops that were indulging in marijuana, heroin.

David Brusseau:

Where did they get that?

Walter James Dexter:

In the villages, they had it. It was plentiful over there. Just plentiful. They called it consol, that's what they called it over there, consol. They were selling, big bags of consol, like $5, $8 for a big bag like this. It being so plentiful and so cheap, a lot of troops were getting caught up on that.

David Brusseau:

You're responsible for your life, why would you want to put yourself in further danger? Maybe stress, maybe trying to get away from ...

Walter James Dexter:

Trying to get away from reality. Reality of it and a lot of them, it just made them feel good because it wasn't a good feeling to see death, to see someone that you care about laid out. Then maybe three or four days later, we had another firefight, but we were going to the Can Tho Province, like mountains. It was close to the, what's that border? It was close to the Cambodian border. We weren't supposed to cross into Cambodia. I remember it was close to the Cambodian border. That was like a neutralized country. NVA weren't supposed to be there, and we weren't supposed to be there. I think the NVA were still sneaking over there some kind of way. A friend of mine named Major and his best friend was name Minor, we were going up to Can Tho. We were going up there to get on level ground. And we were helping each other up the hill and everybody was extended their hand reaching out to the next person to get up. Major was right behind Minor, and Major instead of him sticking his arm out, he stuck his M16 out for Major to grab hold of and what Minor did, he thought he had the M16 on lock, but it wasn't locked. So when Minor pulled, right in front of my face, he got a 6-round burst in his chest, and it killed him. And that did it. I was like, from then on out, it was like cold blooded. Then you get angry because you say, hey you know, you want to get back so bad for what happened so it gets personal then, you know.

David Brusseau:

And that stage you're probably better prepared to take care of yourself because you're angry, rather than scared half to death.

Walter James Dexter:

Right, exactly. And then you just become immune. Things that happen, you just deal with it, whatever happens. We had a lieutenant that came from OCS. He was fresh out of OCS, officer candidate school. He had a bad habit of kicking things, you know. So we told him, we said, that's not a good idea on a trail. You know, on a trail, sometimes the Vietcong will booby trap stuff, you know. But he just wouldn't listen. He just had a bad habit, he would just kick it. One particular day, I forgot what was in the trail, there was something left out there in the trail and he kicked it. It was booby trapped and it blew half his body up. That was a terrible thing to see. He was hollering and screaming and screaming and screaming, screaming. They called the medic and that's the first time in my life I ever seen what that medicine that they shot him with, what was that medicine they had? His whole torso was actually almost missing. I know his right leg was missing and part of his other leg. So you see nothing but flesh up here. They gave him whatever the medicine was, the medic shot him with it. We were standing over him and all of sudden about two minutes later, he just started laughing, laughing. I just couldn't believe a person can be messed up like that and start laughing. I kept saying whatever medicine they gave him ... morphine. They gave him morphine. He just started laughing.

David Brusseau:

Well, it puts you on a high and you don't feel the pain.

Walter James Dexter:

That's my first time ever experiencing anything like that.

David Brusseau:

Was there anything they could do for him?

Walter James Dexter:

No, he died. They sent him to the rear, and we found out that he did die. He did die. Then what happened after about maybe six months, I came down with malaria. I ended up at Cameron Bay. They have a hospital called Cameron Bay. I ended up at Cameron Bay. They had three different types of malaria. They had vivax malaria. They had falciparum malaria and then they had black malaria. If you got black malaria, you wasn't never coming back. Falciparum was treatable and vivax was treatable. But I had the virus. I had the vivax malaria. So I got shipped to Cameron Bay Hospital. I spent 30 days there. Actually, it was supposed to have been 30 days there, but I spent 40 days, like 10 days longer than I was supposed. It wasn't nobody's fault but my own. I stopped taking, we had malaria tablets that we were taking that were to prevent the troops from getting malaria in the jungle. And what made me stop taking them was I seen other guys stop taking them, they would get malaria. And they would come back telling all these fantastic stories about Cameron Bay being in the rear. About it's beautiful, you know, I'm not taking my either. So I stopped taking the malaria tablets and I came down with vivax malaria. I went to Cameron Bay for 40 days. Really, it was supposed to be 30, but I'm young at the time, and I wanted to stay as long as I could. They would take your temperature. Your symptoms was, you ran a fever, eat and stomach pains. Those were some of the basic symptoms. And your fever was the main thing. So once your fever went down, they would release you and send you back to your unit. But what I was doing, I know it wasn't right, but when I was in the hospital, when the doctor come by, I would take the thermometer out of my mouth and I would take the thermometer I would rub it on my pajamas. It was wrong, I know. I rub my pajamas and by the time he come back round, my temperature was still there. So I stayed a little longer. One particular day, about 10 days, they decided to take the thermometer and put it in my rectum and it gave the right reading and they shipped me back. I shouldn't have told that. My wife said, "Don't tell that. Don't tell that." But that's true.

David Brusseau:

So what you're feeling now about going back? You finally get checked out of the hospital, and what do you feel about going back?

Walter James Dexter:

Oh, going back to my unit. I went back; they wasn't in the field. They were at base camp. They was in Play Cu at the time. I went back to the base camp and we stayed in base camp for about. .. and then I got to learn about the mortars, about the M 60 mm mortars. At base camp they had the mortar platoon that was there. I got to fool around that. They taught me about the coordinates, elevation. You're probably a vet yourself, right?

David Brusseau:

Yes.

Walter James Dexter:

Well, you probably know what I'm talking about, right?

David Brusseau:

Yes.

Walter James Dexter:

They taught us all about the elevation and I got interested in that. And sometimes I would, when they found out that I knew something about it, and sometimes I stayed back and worked with the mortar platoon. Sometimes the mortar platoon stay in the rear, and sometimes the mortar platoon went with the company out there in the field.

David Brusseau:

Typically in a mortar operation, you're not hand to hand type stuff. It's from a distance and the bad part of it is you've got to be damn accurate or you end up blowing up your own people.

Walter James Dexter:

Right, true. That is so true.

David Brusseau:

And there takes some smarts to operate the elevation and all that other kind of stuff. That's no place for a dummy.

Walter James Dexter:

No, you're right, you're right. One mistake and you could wipe out your whole platoon.

David Brusseau:

So how much longer did you have to be there after you came back from the hospital?

Walter James Dexter:

We were in base camp, Play Cu for about maybe a week. Then we moved out and we went on patrol. Because you know, when we go on these missions a lot of time you don't find out what the mission is about until it is all over with or you are there. But ahead of time, they don't tell you anything. We were going on patrol. So I remember at one point we had to walk in this what was a lake, because they didn't want us to leave tracks for the VC or the NVA to find us. So we had to walk in this lake. The water was like up to here, so we had our weapons up here and our equipment up here walking through the water. I wasn't really a big person at that time, like I said earlier. We were walking through the water and I was walking point that day because we all took turns walking point. Point man is you had to walk in front of the element, I guess if there was a Cong our there, you was going to get hit first. They didn't want everybody together. It took me awhile to realize what was the reason for a point man. Anyway, I was walking point that day so I had a weapon up here.

David Brusseau:

Well, you're looking for stuff, none of it good.

Walter James Dexter:

Yes, right. I remember I was walking and I had slipped on this green slimy rock or something. I went backwards and I couldn't pull myself up. It was a nightmare. I'm down there under water and I'm trying to pull myself up and nothing was happening. I couldn't move or anything. It just seemed like you're down there so long. I was smart enough to know that if I breathe, I'm going to die. It got to the point where I just couldn't hold my breath anymore. I said, I just know I'm going to die. I knew that was the end of it. Just about the time I get ready to breathe, someone grabbed me on the back of my collar and pulled me up. And I was breathing and it was like a miracle. A guy named, I still remember his name, we called him...I can't think of his name. But he saved me. That was a terrifying experience to almost drown over there.

David Brusseau:

All else going on, your son died because he drown falling backwards. Good grief.

Walter James Dexter:

Yes, that was terrible. It was terrible. But then again, the thoughts in my mind, why am I over here? Why am lover here? I could get killed. I had my girlfriend, actually it was my fiance. She wrote me a letter and sometimes we had our mailed dropped off in the field. She had wrote me a letter. Her birthday was, I forgot when it was, but and she asked me how come I didn't send her anything for her birthday. I was like, I couldn't believe it. She's thinking about her birthday. So I wrote her back and I said out here there's no CVS, no drugstore, Perrys or nothing like that. I couldn't send you anything. I was like, she's got to be out of her mind.

David Brusseau:

Well, she's living in her own world. She didn't know. It seems so out of context but, on one hand you could understand her na'ivete on one hand, but on another you're wondering whether you going to get pulled out of the murky water and there seems to be more things much more important than your stupid birthday.

Walter James Dexter:

Yes, right. It's amazing, really amazing.

David Brusseau:

If you ever had the chance to talk like this to some of the people back home ... that's probably not a good idea anyhow. How much longer did you have to stay?

Walter James Dexter:

When I started getting short, during that time when you had 30 days left to go, they would send you in the rear to get your things together and everything. To the base camp and get your stuff together and they send you to the rear. I was looking forward for the 30 days. So once I got to 30 days they were fixing to go on another three-day ambush. I told the captain, I said captain, I'm short. I get 30 days, that would put me over. He said don't worry, after three days, we'll send the chopper it to pick you up. And I was like, no, I said I really don't want to go because you're watching all these guys leaving and going to the rear once they get to 30 and now I got to stay over. Captain, I said I want to stay. So he says well, you're going to have to go because if you refuse to go, you're going to get court martialed. I was like man, I was short and now I got to worry about getting court martialed for refusing a direct order. They were getting ready to move out and there was the Vietnamese kid, his name was Tu, he came to help fill sandbags at base camp to put in bunkers and stuff. So he said, you leave? I said, yes, were going to-I forgot what area we was going in-he looked at me and he said, woo, he say bookoo VC. He says bookoo VC. Bookoo mean a lot, he's telling there's a lot of VCs in that area that we were going. Naturally I'm getting paranoid now, so I went back to the captain and I said, captain look, I said, Tu just said there's bookoo VCs there. I'm short, I just don't what to go. He said, you going to listen to a little Vietnamese kid? I said, well, look he knows more about this country than I do and you do. Sir, I'm not going. I'm not going. I figure 30 day I'm going in the rear. He said ok, you know if you refuse a direct order, you're going to be court martialed. I said I guess I'll be court martialed. So they left, they sent a helicopter in. They picked me up, took me back to the base camp. It was an underground communication area where they had a brigade of NVA to protect the communication thing. We lost half our company, and I was in the rear. I was in the rear waiting to get court martialed. Of course, I never got court martialed. My time was up. The only thing strange was that I had my footlocker that I had there ... you get R and R and I had went to Hong Kong and we had a seven-day leave and I went to Hong Kong. You get a seven day leave and then you get R and R, rest and recuperation. I had two.

David Brusseau:

How long were those?

Walter James Dexter:

Like, three days. When I came back to the rear, I had went to Hong Kong and I bought some suits from Lee and James Company. They were silk suits. They were real nice, real cheap, but really nice. I got back, all my stuff was gone. I had pictures that I had taken and all my cameras, everything. My footlocker was empty. So I can't say if a GI had done it. At that time maybe the government had done it. Maybe they didn't want certain pictures to get back or something. Still to this day I have no idea. I have no idea.

David Brusseau:

So where do you go from here? You're in the rear, what's the process to get back to the U.S.?

Walter James Dexter:

Well, they process you. Another thing was, I went back on temporary records because they said my records were destroyed. Then again, maybe when I had malaria, maybe they didn't want me to come back and maybe apply for disability for the malaria that I had. I thought it was just me, but I found out a lot of them came back with temporary records. They said they were destroyed. We got back to California, they made up some temporary records. Once I got out of the military, I sent for my original records and they had everything in there where I was at, what I did, the awards I got. But didn't have anything in there that I had been in the hospital. Didn't have anything in there about that, nothing.

David Brusseau:

Well, if that happens, there's no record for what may later become a problem that you need to file.

Walter James Dexter:

Exactly, no record. And then, I had 18 more months to do. So I was assigned to Germany to spend 18 months in Germany. After I get to Germany, I was with a tank unit. They were in process of training to go to Vietnam, and I had just left Vietnam. It was a big adjustment for me because you're leaving the jungle, the heat into a cold climate that was ... cold. They were training with temperatures of like 3 or 4 or 5 degrees below zero. That was a big difference. I just couldn't really adjust. I didn't make a good soldier in Germany because, for one reason, the lieutenant that was over us in Germany, he hasn't been, but he was training. He sort of looked at me as being ... 1 was the only one in my troop in Germany that already had Vietnam experience. So he was looking at me cross-eyed because he just didn't have the respect that he felt he should have had because of me being around. I really think he was trying to get rid of me some kind of way. And I felt it because he was over-doing different things. All the other people in the troop were getting passes and going to Sweden and Copenhagen and places like that, and I didn't get any. I was a corporal. People kept telling me man, Dex, just be cool. They said you're going to make sergeant. But at that point, I didn't like the weather. It was more of a garrison over there. You get up in the morning, you spit shine your boots and stuff. You're walking in the jungles, blood all over your shoes, leaves, it was just a big change for me. I did have a 3D-day leave before I went over there. So I didn't click too well. I got in trouble. What happened, was in formation ... and that was during the time when Dr. King had gotten killed. There were a lot of protests within the Army about that and a lot of people were rebelling and stuff. But it wasn't so much about that, but I was just getting tired. So one particular day, I was in formation in Germany, that's why I didn't last long over there. They were saluting the flag. So everybody had their steel pots on their weapons. There was no live ammunition in the weapons. We had the steel pot on the weapons, and that particular day I just decided that I'm tired. I'm just tired. I didn't take my steel pot off. I had my back turned and one of the officers came up behind me, took the back of his hand and he knocked the steel pot off the back of my head and hit me hard from the back. It was like out cold, back of my head. Things got to flash in my mind about Vietnam. I'm thinking about the people that I loved that I lost. For some reason, he looked like a Vietcong. Of course, I attacked him. I got in trouble. They took six months of my pay, busted down to Private E1 for disrespect, assault on an officer. So they took two-thirds pay for six months and took my rank from me, which was corporal down to Private E1. So while I was in, it was called Old Coleman Barracks in Nuremberg. I was there for two weeks, we were building pallets in jail. The officer from the liaison office came to visit me. He said, Dexter, I looked at your records and he said, I don't know what happened, but you were a good soldier in Vietnam. So apparently you didn't' fit in too good here. I was like, I don't know what to say. He said, I'll tell you what we'll do. We'll give you a choice, either you can spend your six months here, Old Coleman Barracks, or I can give you orders to go back to Vietnam and give you a 30-day leave to go home and then go back to Vietnam. So I got to thinking, I said well, send me back. Send me back. I went home for 30 days and got shipped out and that's the second tour of duty, I was in the 101 st Airborne Division. Never jumped out of a plane in my life, but they put me in the 101 st Airborne Division. They weren't doing jumps over there at the time anyway. They had lost so many men over there that they needed replacements. I guess they were trying to kill me-a good way to get rid of me. But I made it.

David Brusseau:

So how do you assess all that? It's pretty apparent you can tell what your attitude was. This was a difficult adjustment to make. And there's always down time. Many soldiers that come back dreadfully from combat like this have an awful difficult time adjusting to the civilized world, particularly those that spent time in the kind of terrain and the kind of activity that you were involved in. The body, the mind probably more than the body can't make those ...

Walter James Dexter:

To be honest with you, I had a little difficult time when I came back home. But it seemed like the people that I grew up with, I knew, they were just different. I guess I was just ahead of my time because I had been through so much. They were like, younger and the things that they were talking about doing, just didn't appeal to me. Things like hey, there's a party over here. You want to go? At that time ... 1 was just more sheltered. They were smoking weed. They were using cocaine and stuff. That wasn't part of me. I just stayed away, stayed on my own basically. Then my brother, he was involved, which really helped me. He was involved with ... do you remember Glen W. Turner, Dare to be Great? He formed a corporation. It was a self-motivation corporation.

David Brusseau:

What was the name of it again?

Walter James Dexter:

Dare to be Great. Glen W. Turner, self motivator. He was the founder of it. My brother was heavily involved in it. I had come home and I got a job at Proctor and Gamble. It was kind of a physical job. I worked in the Ivory department where we had to poke soap powder on the belts so the soap powder come through, but we had to wear these masks. I didn't really like the job. It paid good money at P and G. But my brother come along, hey, join Dare to be Great and be rich. You could go this. And so I went to a couple of meetings, they called Gold Tour meetings, where they had all these people around with money on them. Saying go, go, go, and they were driving Cadillacs. Not realizing that, a lot of them drive Cadillacs but they really couldn't afford it. But that was the name of the thing as far as fake it 'til you make it, basically. So I got tied up with that. My brother got me into it and I quit the job at Proctor and Gamble. What I did learn from it was self motivation as far as believing in yourself. It got me reading positive books. Normally, I never read books like Think and Grow Rich, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Maaic of Believina, positive books. And that, even though the organization didn't last. It folded up because he was selling unregistered securities or something, but I was trained to be an area director. It was new to me. It was something different. And they taught me how to put on the first part of the meeting and stuff. Between Dare to be Great and the concept of the positive thinking helped me-helped me through life.

David Brusseau:

Whatever happened to getting busted down to Private? Was that ever reversed?

Walter James Dexter:

No, it wasn't reversed there. But when I went back to Vietnam. I was in the 101 5t Airborne Division. That second tour of duty, it wasn't as bad as the first. Because by me spending a year over there already, I had the respect and I got away with a lot of stuff. You know, stuff I didn't want to do, I didn't do it, and nobody bothered me. I just got away with a lot of stuff. They'd tell me to do something, I'd say, no you do it. Ok whatever. But I got away with it because I was the only one over there at the time that had been over there the first time already. The second tour of duty wasn't that bad for me.

David Brusseau:

How about your rank, did you ever get that back?

Walter James Dexter:

Yes, I got my rank back. I got my rank back. I made corporal, but it seemed like to try to make sergeant. I just never did the stuff. I was always just a for real kind of person. I never went out of my way to do things to please a person because I wanted something out of them. It seemed like the people who were going for the rank, they were doing things that I couldn't do. You know, I'm not going to bring the captain coffee unless he asks me. Just to do it because I want something out of him. I stayed a corporal. I just never made sergeant because my mind was just on going there, doing my time and getting out. Because I seen a lot of people killed with stripes. You get buried with them, it doesn't make any difference.

David Brusseau:

They don't mean a whole lot anyhow because you don't wear them when you're on ...

Walter James Dexter:

No, you don't. The second year, it wasn't bad. I went to Cameron Bay a couple times. Bob Hope came to Cameron Bay and had the usa show. I saw that. That was pretty interesting.

David Brusseau:

How close did you get?

Walter James Dexter:

Real close. They had a bandstand. The stage was like from that wall maybe four or five feet back. That close.

David Brusseau:

Did you get to go up and dance with the dancers?

Walter James Dexter:

No, I didn't do that. That was good. Then by me having a little experience with the mortar, I spent more time on the mortar platoon. On my records, it said I had experience with mortars, so that's why my second tour of duty wasn't as bad.

David Brusseau:

Did this require that you re-enlist for another term?

Walter James Dexter:

You know, it was funny. You mention that. I got a copy of my records, maybe about ten years ago. I was a veterans rep at Chrysler. I retired from Chrysler. I was co-chairman of the Veterans Committee there. So I had sent for my records. I didn't even know, because I had that court martial, they had barred me from re-enlisting. All this time I didn't even know. That's interesting. I guess because of the court martial. I didn't plan on going in anyway, but. It was just something how you find out stuff years later.

David Brusseau:

Was there any relief of the pressure and the stress when you got home? Or was it just creating some new stress because you had rehab into civilian life, so to speak?

Walter James Dexter:

Some things you remember, and some things you really want to forget. I don't want to sit up here and tell you exactly everything that I went through because we would be sitting here for five days. Some was good. Some was bad. I can remember a friend of mine had said, come on Walter, you come back from Vietnam, he said I wantto buy you .... 1 didn't have that many clothes, because the clothes I had were old fashioned. And I had my military stuff. He said, I'm going to get you some clothes. I said, well, that's pretty good of him, pretty nice. So we went down to this, it was called Shillito's at the time. We down to Shillito's and he had a credit card and he was buying stuff for himself. I was looking at the racks. And he said, you like that? Go ahead and get it. I thought good friend. Didn't know it was a stolen credit card. I didn't know it was a stolen credit card. I had no clue. I got this stuff laying on top of the counter and the next thing I know, the store people came and they arrested him. They didn't arrest me because he had the credit card. I was like shocked. I didn't know. The funny thing is I never went to court for that, never heard anything else about it. But when I was in Huntsville, Alabama. Me and my family moved down there for three or four years. I had applied for a CCW down there because I was going to do security work down there. They declined me because you got on your record back in 1969 possession of stolen credit card. They put on my record I was with him. That was something, after all them years, it was still on my record.

David Brusseau:

Were you able to get it expunged?

Walter James Dexter:

Yes, I did. I went down there one day and explained. First they wanted me to go to court and everything for it. But they realized during that time, but I ended up getting it expunged. I had to get a clearance because I worked at the Super Bowl here when the Super Bowl came here, with a security company. I worked at the Super Bowl, armed security. It was interesting. You never know, you just never know the stuff that's on your record until you really check.

David Brusseau:

When you came back, what was your plan, or how did you get yourself located with Chrysler?

Walter James Dexter:

When I de-enrolled from Cincinnati after the Dare to be Great thing came about, I decided I was looking for, after the Proctor and Gamble thing, I was trying to find another job. I did get one job at Cincinnati Mill and Machine. My father worked there. It was where they made tools and stuff, but it was so loud. My dad said you going to quit a good job like that? I said, I can't take it. It was just loud. When you talked to somebody, you had to holler. I said this is not for me. My brother said that he was planning on dropping my cousin off in Detroit and said you want to ride down with us. I said I may as well. I'm not working right now. When we came to Detroit, there was just something about Detroit that, it was different. Cincinnati is the kind of city that you see someone driving a Cadillac or Lincoln or something, they step down in a suit. You know, a doctor or a lawyer. I never seen so many people in Detroit, they step out of big cars wearing blue jeans and gym shoes. The Big Three was going strong then. That was something new to me because Cincinnati was a conservative city that I come from. And since I'm like that, it was like wow. So I said, you know what. I think I'm going to stay. My brother left. I stayed. I didn't know anybody. I gave blood at the blood bank just enough to get something to eat. My first job here in Detroit was at a shoe store and they had a sign they wanted experienced salesman. I seen this sign. I never sold shoes before, but I told them that I'd be willing to work on probation, not pay me anything, just to prove I could sell. But I knew they couldn't work me for nothing. They had to pay me. I guess that impressed them. They hired me selling shoes. That's the first job I had when I got here. I sold shoes at Butler Shoe Store downtown. I didn't know anybody. Then from there they cut back, they were moving or something. I went through the paper and I found advertisement about truck driving. I drove trucks, like small trucks, not semis. So I seen an advertisement in the paper that said truck driver wanted. It was a company called Fine Metal Company. They were near that market. I didn't know it was a semi. So I walked in there and told the guy I'm here for the job. So he said you driven a semi before? I needed a job so bad, I just lied to him. I said yes, I have experience. I had no experience driving a semi. But I thought I could learn like anything else. I was always a challenger. So what he did he said ok. He trusted me, so he hired me. So they had a bunch of metal to be taken to Romulus or somewhere out there. He said you know how to get there? I said, I know how to get there. I didn't know anything about how to get there. I figure I can always ask somebody. I got the semi. There was a gas station right there on Paquette and Woolworth and I pulled up in the gas station and the overhead thing was down. I didn't pay any attention. I drove up and knocked that whole side of the ... wood came down. Just got the job. I said, oh may, I messed up. So I called the company and told him I had a little incident. But he walked, he ran down there and kept hollering. What are you doing? What are you doing? I said, hey man, I didn't see it. He said, you told me you can drive. He said I don't need you. I don't know what made me look at him and say, what day do I get paid? He looked like I was crazy. I think he wanted to kill me. So much for that. From there I met some other veterans along the way and they were saying that Chrysler was hiring. So I went and put an application at the employment office at Chrysler. I got hired at Chrysler. It's a funny thing how I got the first job at Chrysler. I had my Army jacket on and I had my First Airborne patch on this side and had my 25th Infantry patch on the side and the supervisor that was putting us on job sites. He came around, he was putting people on sites and stuff and he looked over there and he said, you was in the 25th? I said, yes. He said, what brigade? I said Second Brigade. He said, I was in the First Brigade. He said, you stand here and look out. OK, whatever. He was walking everybody else around, putting them on the line. He came back to me and said, this is going to be your job, right here. I said, what job is that? He said you're going to be tool crib operator. I said, what I do? He said, just issue out the coveralls when the painters come around in the afternoon-I worked afternoon shift. You issue out the coveralls and that's going to be your job. I said, well, what else do I do? He said, that's up to you. I said, huh? He walked away. I had the job for like 12 years at Chrysler. That's what got me a start. I was a tool crib operator. All I did was issue out coveralls. Once everybody started up, I went down and picked up coveralls from the tool room and put them in there for the next day. There was a lot of people that was trying to take my job at the time because they felt like I didn't have enough seniority and how did he get this job. But what happened was, now I can talk about this since I'm not there anymore. The supervisor liked me because I got a good relationship with the main tool room guys. Because anytime you had to get something from the tool room, you had to fill out a requisition. But since I knew the guys, they just give me whatever I needed. Whenever he operated under cost, he got a bonus check because he didn't have to sign his name to a requisition. I just go down there and get ten more pair of gloves or ten pair of coveralls. So people want to take my job, he said, no way. So that's how I kept that job so long.

David Brusseau:

You said you retired.

Walter James Dexter:

Yes, I retired from Chrysler on disability. I had a couple of incidents on the job at Chrysler. Prior to joining the Veterans Committee. I was co-chairman of the Veterans Committee for about nine years. There were five of us. I was the only real vet that was on the committee. The rest of them wasn't really a vet. But the chairman, he wasn't a veteran actually. It was kind of hard working under him. So we did various things helping various groups, organizations regional level, company level. We put out literature that we learned from the VA to help some of the other veterans there.

David Brusseau:

Do you have any pictures you want to share with us?

Walter James Dexter:

I sure do. I have some right here. This here is a picture. We was at the main office. One of them is Tee and the other one, we call him Baby Brock. We was at base camp and that was at Bien Hoa with the 101 st Airborne Division. This is me, I was in the process of shipping out going on R and R.

David Brusseau:

My God, that's funny! Good gravy! I would have never picked that out.

Walter James Dexter:

This is a picture of me holding the M60 machine gun. That was, I think, right before we had a three-day ambush with the 101st Airborne Division. This is we was in a helicopter. We was making a CA. The back of the head, that's the gunner, and that's one of the other ones sitting on the side of the helicopter. This is a village we was in, we were on patrol and those kids that we took a picture with.

David Brusseau:

Do you think being black, were you viewed differently by the Vietnamese people? I don't know how familiar they were with ...

Walter James Dexter:

Actually, I'm going to tell you something. To be honest with you, it was more so by the unit that we was in. It was certain units that the Vietnamese people didn't like. And the 25th Infantry, the 101 st they didn't care too much about. We would go to town or something and we had to take off our patch or wear something because they just didn't like. I think there was a bad reputation when the war first started for some reason. I think the 101 st went over there and I think they were doing things that scared a lot of people. I can't pinpoint exactly what. I heard rumors, but I don't talk about rumors. I don't know the real facts of it. As far as racism, I didn't really see it. The reason I didn't see it is because we were all brothers over there. We had to cover for each other. I couldn't be hating this guy next to me because he's white, he had to maybe be the main one to cover for me. Same way with me.

David Brusseau:

I don't know if the Vietnamese people ever saw black people before Americans came over there. Maybe I'm wrong, but what was your reaction from that?

Walter James Dexter:

OK, we can call it papasan, mamasan, I really didn't see it. If it was there, I really didn't see it, because number one, we didn't spend a whole lot of time in the town areas. Maybe someone who spent a lot of time in a town there could probably tell you more. But we didn't really spend a lot of time in town. Most of our time was spent at base camp or in villages.

David Brusseau:

Your comments are interesting because we had another interview and this guy was World War II and he was a Mustang flyer. You're familiar with the trouble they had trying to get a commissioned officers and when they found out that blacks did have the brains to do it, they performed better in many cases than the others. In any case, he said a bond got created between the bombers and the red-tipped Mustangs because those were the ones flown by the group out of Tuskegee. And that was the only way for them to know. And when they had opportunities later, they asked for the Tuskegee rather than anybody else to be the support for the bombing runs. He said they built a brotherhood, but he said unfortunately the minute you got off the boat in New York City, it was back to the old routine again ... brother-who? He said it was amazing, it was just so blatant. That was back into another country, though, that was still stuck in the past. You were out in new country that you were ...

Walter James Dexter:

Yes, that's true. But when you mention that, I can tell you Germany was a lot of different myths about black people because, I found out this before I got there. At one time the German women wouldn't even associate with the black soldiers because they were told that the black soldier had tails. This is something that was before I went over there. This is something I learned. And then one time, they said they had this black buy who got up on the stage and pulled his pants down, where he didn't have a tail. Both those are all myths.

David Brusseau:

Well, that same situation occurred at Iwo Jima when the Japanese were being beaten, they told all of the people there that the Americans were going to come in and rape the young and kill everybody. And they all jumped off cliffs and stuff. And it really was the Japanese people that had done all of that, and they assumed that the Americans would going to do the same thing, and that just didn't happen. It was a shame.

Walter James Dexter:

It's just amazing, every war that this country has been involved, we're actually friends with everybody ... I look at all the lives that were lost in the Korean War, World War I, World War II, Vietnam War, probably after the Iraqi War there'll probably be friends. It seems like a lot of lives have been lost for nothing. If you're still going to continue to be friends with them. Like, I get letters all the time about going back to Vietnam and stuff, and I just never thought that that would ever happen.

David Brusseau:

Did you ever go back?

Walter James Dexter:

No, I never went back.

David Brusseau:

Do you need to go back?

Walter James Dexter:

You know what, I used to, but now the need is not that great. It's really not that great. If I had a lot of money or something like that, I probably would. No, I'm not going to do that.

David Brusseau:

So, do you have a family?

Walter James Dexter:

Yes, I've been married for 34 years, have two daughters. My oldest daughter is 34, and my youngest daughter is 30. My older daughter is an investor. She works for a trading company. She's pretty well got herself together. The other daughter is job seeking. And my wife, she is a supervisor of a security company, TPC in Dearborn. She runs TPC out there.

David Brusseau:

Is that the one that took the security for the Super Bowl?

Walter James Dexter:

Yes, same company. I had got her that job actually. They had various security companies. There wasn't only one.

David Brusseau:

So, what do you think? Was it that bad?

Walter James Dexter:

No, I just really appreciate you guys giving me the opportunity. This is, as a matter of fact, the first time, even my wife, when she sees this tape, she's going to be amazed because there's a lot of things I talked about here that she never knew.

David Brusseau:

When did you meet her?

Walter James Dexter:

I met here when I first came to Detroit. I worked at Butler Shoe Store. That was the first job I had. She came down there and I fit her for some shoes and I didn't know anybody. In fact, she's the first girl that I met. I got myself together, got out at Chrysler. I had an apartment over there, a one-bedroom apartment. She used to come over there and cook. So she was a lot older in the mind. She wasn't like the regular ... who had to run to nightclubs and bars and stuff. She was sort of settled. She was raised by her grandmother most of the time. So that's why we're still together. Not perfect. Sometimes I wonder if she's all right to stay with me this long.

David Brusseau:

Are your folks still alive?

Walter James Dexter:

My mother deceased and my father deceased. Both of them are deceased.

David Brusseau:

How about your brothers?

Walter James Dexter:

The rest of my family are still living.

David Brusseau:

Are they in the area?

Walter James Dexter:

No, I'm the only one here. I have one sister, she stays in Alabama. Older sister, she's a retired English professor from Alabama A and M. Have another brother stays in Nashville. He's a retired engineer for the phone company. I got my older sister in Cincinnati. She's retired from the RS. I got another sister retired from the VA and I have another brother, he's still doing photography work.

David Brusseau:

You don't get to see them much, I guess.

Walter James Dexter:

Not much. We had a big family gathering down there during the holiday-Thanksgiving. But I didn't make it. I should have because everybody was there but me and my brother and my sister. The ones that's away can never make it. But all the ones down there were there.

David Brusseau:

Anything else you can tell us that you think we missed?

Walter James Dexter:

No, I think that about sums it up, I guess.

David Brusseau:

Quite an experience.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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