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"We would talk later about how we would shake, just physically shake, but we wanted to shake by ourselves." (Video Interview, 19:00)

   Gary L. Villereal
Image of Gary L. Villereal
Gary Villereal, Bu Dop Special Forces Camp, III Corp, South Vietnam [December 1969]
War: Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Branch: Army
Unit: 1st Cavalry Division; II Field Forces
Service Location: North Carolina; Oklahoma; III Corps, Vietnam; Phouc Vinh, Vietnam; Tan Son Nhut, Vietnam; Fire Support Base Buttons, Vietnam; Special Forces Camp Bu Dop, Vietnam; Song Be, Vietnam; Phuoc Luu, Vietnam; Duc Hue, Vietnam
Rank: Specialist Five
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A year out of high school in his native Michigan, Gary Villereal was living in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury District in 1968 when he received his draft notice. He returned to Michigan and entered the Army, shipping out to Vietnam in May 1969. Despite a disabled foot, he persevered during training, even when offered a discharge by a medic. Eventually assigned to an isolated Special Forces camp on the Cambodian border, Villereal was knocked unconscious during a mortar attack, losing his hearing for a couple of days. This time, there was no getting out, as only the most gravely injured could be evacuated.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (7 clips)
»Complete Interview  (52 min.)
  Photos
»Photo Album (5 photos)
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 Video (Interview Excerpts) (7 items)
Memories of basic training; drill sergeant decked the biggest recruit to get them to come to attention; DIs befriended their own men but picked on men from other platoons; he had a bad foot, was offered a discharge, but determined to stay on. (03:40) Arrival in country, strongest initial impression was of the men who had been there the longest: they were filthy and they didn't seem to acknowledge anyone else. (01:08) His initial duties as a lead mortar radar operator; his first real combat situation: seeing a woman with a rifle pointed at him, not wanting to return fire; rules were that anyone in the wire surrounding their camp was in a free fire zone; a US soldier was found dead one morning in the wire, shot by a fellow GI. (03:16)
Assigned to unit assigned to Special Forces camp Bu Dop; up to that point, he was not acclimated to Vietnam; under fire near Cambodian border; befriended by a black soldier who gave Villereal Delicious apples for his men and looked out for them. (04:18) Christmas cease fire broken by enemy; mortar fire killed a good friend; that event was a turning point for his attitude toward the war; grieving over his loss; getting angry with one of his men for getting wounded; knocked out by a mortar, losing his hearing; medics restricting evacuations. (04:58) No one outside of his unit was important to him; shutting down after several friends were killed; when a newbie was slightly injured and overreacted to his wound, Villereal and his men didn't want to have anything to do with him. (02:09)
Lessons from the war: don't take anything for granted, nothing is insurmountable; he got a PhD. in spite of his barely graduating from high school; Vietnam vets are misunderstood, especially when it comes to suicidal thoughts. (02:59)  
  
 

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  October 26, 2011
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