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Interview with George Dunn [August 12, 2003]

Philip Shaull:

Tell me first of all about your entry into the Army. When did you join the Army? Did you enlist or you were you drafted?

George Dunn:

I enlisted in the Army on July 31st, 1961. I enlisted after four years of college. I had two years of college in Virginia which had an ROTC program and then I went to a state school in North Carolina which did not. So I enlisted in the army with the full intent of going on and getting into the officer candidate school, which I was able to do. Took me a lot longer than I thought to get accepted, but I finally got accepted. I went to the officer candidate school program at Fort Sill Oklahoma and graduated as a second lieutenant of artillery March of 1965.

Philip Shaull:

What school did you go to in Virginia where you participated in ROTC?

George Dunn:

The school is now called Hampton University.

Philip Shaull:

Okay.

George Dunn:

In Hampton, Virginia.

Philip Shaull:

So when you even went to college you had in mind a career in the Armed Forces?

George Dunn:

I did. My mother's youngest brother also had gone to Hampton, had graduated from Hampton; in fact, as a distinguished military graduate, which gave him a regular army commission. He was assigned -- I lived in a small town in North Carolina called Kingston, which is about 30 miles north of Camp Lejeune, which is a big military installation, marine installation, and we were about 75 miles northeast from Fort Bragg, which is a big army installation which also has 82nd Airborne. And my mother's youngest brother was assigned to the 82nd Airborne like two years after he got out of college and he would come home on weekends or we'd go down and visit and that's when I was in like junior, senior in high school. I just thought the airborne was the coolest thing I had ever seen. So I had this desire to go into the army to follow in his footsteps and also to go into an airborne unit. Now this time frame is 1950 -- I was in college from '57 to '61. And at a point in time of coming out of college, I'm asking myself what organization do I think is most likely to give me the greatest opportunity as a man of color to go beyond that. And I had seen what my uncle had been able to do as a part of the military and I had been following military organizations of other people and I just thought the U.S. Army was the place where I could get the greatest opportunity to go as far as I could go. So again that combination of things caused me to enlist in the army in July of 1961.

Philip Shaull:

At the time you enlisted was the Vietnam War or even was any Vietnam even on the radar as far as --

George Dunn:

I had no idea what Vietnam was. I didn't hear Vietnam mentioned until I had already gone into the military. I had spent about a year at Walter Reed in D.C., asigned there. And then had gone to Hawaii assigned to the 25th Infantry Division. And at that time after I was there for about six months, the 25th Infantry Division was sending helicopter door gunners to Vietnam from Hawaii. They would go over and they would ride in the "unmanned helicopters" as door gunners for six months and then they would come back to Hawaii. I had several friends who did that. Some who went over there and they got shot up bad and came back and I was in the medical corps. So we were involved with treating them once they got back. And that's when I started hearing about Vietnam. This would have been '63, '64 time frame.

Philip Shaull:

We weren't at full-blown war yet?

George Dunn:

No. We were there as "advisors." Of course we had helicopter support which would -- and I'm not even sure exactly what they did specifically, but I do think it was -- personally, I think it was easier for the army to support that operation out of Hawaii then it was out of the continental United States because those troops would go over there and as far as their families were concerned, they were assigned to the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii, but they were temporary duty from 25th Infantry Division in Vietnam for six months at a time and then they would come back to the 25th Infantry Division.

Philip Shaull:

Did that stir talk of, you know, what might happen at that point or was it still, you know, a small operation?

George Dunn:

Small operation to us, you know. I say to us. I mean those enlisted members that I was involved with as a part of the 25th Infantry Division. We still very much had this chip on our shoulder we were the greatest army on the earth, you know. We'll just go over there, take care of business and come back. So that was the attitude really at that point in time.

Philip Shaull:

What was going on for you personally at that time when you were just launching your military career? Did you have -- had you started a family at that point or --

George Dunn:

I started a family when I got married like six months before I left Walter Reed. I was assigned there, not a patient there, in D.C. And I went to Scofield Barracks with every intent -- I was an E-4. I tried to get into L.C.S. from Walter Reed, was declined and you had to go so many months before you could reapply. And during that time period, I got reassigned to the 25th Division. So I went over there with the idea that I would spend six to twelve months trying to get assigned to officer candidate school which I knew would bring me back to the Continental United States. If I had not been successful by then, I was hoping that I would be promoted to buck sergeant E-5, which then would have allowed me to bring my wife and young daughter to Hawaii to live with me. So that stretched out to about more like 18 months when I was finally given a slot to come back to go to officer candidate school. So when I came back to and went to officer candidate school, I spent the first three months in officer candidate school without my family. Then the Christmas break, I went to North Carolina, picked my wife and daughter up and took them back to Fort Sill. So they were in Fort Sill during the last three months that I was in officer candidate school.

Philip Shaull:

What was the separation like though? You say 18 months, I guess, you were basically separated.

George Dunn:

I think about it sometimes now and I'm not really sure how we coped with that. It's -- there is a certain amount of separation that goes along with being in the military I have come to understand. Especially when you are in the combat arms. The combat arms units that I was in located -- assigned to, even when my family was co-located with me, not at all unusual to pack up 3:00 or 4:00 on a Monday morning, move out to some field exercise and not come back until Thursday late or early Friday morning. So even though your family was "with you" they weren't. So that became a way of life and you just had to put up with it.

Philip Shaull:

I assume neither you nor your family knew when you'd be back. Is that -- I mean you couldn't leave and say I'll see you Thursday if it's Monday or could you? You typically would know. They would say we are going to go out for a three-day exercise or four-day exercise. You typically would know, okay, I'm leaving Monday and I'll be back Thursday or I'll be back Friday. Then they knew that. They knew that there was a headquarters and a number in the -- what we called the garrison area where all the families and the headquarters was that if something were to happen they knew where we were in the field location. So from that standpoint, they had some point of contact. They basically knew we were somewhere on the installation, but you just didn't see them.

Philip Shaull:

Okay. When you were overseas, were you able to have regular communications? I assume probably letters and maybe phones calls.

George Dunn:

Overseas when I went to -- my first overseas assignment of course was Vietnam. So we would do things similar in what we are doing here in taping messages, send those back and forth. Lots of letters and that was typically the means of communication from Vietnam. When I went to Germany, let's see, I came back from Vietnam and then I went to Fort Sill Oklahoma. I was at Fort Sill for 18 months as a battery commander in a training unit. I was training artillery surveyors. Then I went to the officer advance course which was another 11 months and my family was right there with me. I basically saw them every night for that time period. Then I was on orders to go back to Vietnam for a second tour. That was a time period when Nixon had the phase down and so they called me from the Pentagon when I was in the last few months of the officer advance course and said, you know, you can comply with the orders to go back to Vietnam or if you want we will take you off those orders and we will send you to Korea for 13 months. So I figured, okay, I didn't lose anything in Vietnam. I got lucky. I don't want to roll the dice again. I went to Korea. That was an unaccompanied assignment. So I was there for 13 months without my family. My family lived out in near Salinas, Kansas. There was an old -- there was an air force installation there that the air force basically "abandoned." So the military in total took over that installation. At least the army did. They would allow families of military personnel who were on unaccompanied tours to live in those quarters. And so that to me was a good deal. So that's where they lived.

Philip Shaull:

What year was this that you were reassigned to Korea or took reassignment? Did you say early 70s?

George Dunn:

Early 70s, right. '71, '72 time frame, right.

Philip Shaull:

So we were technically still -- I mean, it was still going on in Vietnam?

George Dunn:

Right.

Philip Shaull:

You didn't have to think long about that?

George Dunn:

Did not at all. In fact, the gentleman called me at my quarters there at Fort Sill. We were -- he had called into the school command. We had had half day that day. For some reason we were off that afternoon from school. Normally school would go from eight in the morning until four or five in the afternoon. So he called me in my quarters. He said this is warrant officer so and so from the Pentagon. I just want to tell you what the situation is. And I just kind of laughed and I said, I'm sure you didn't call me and waste your time, right. You know where I want to go. He said, no, I had to call you, sir, and ask. I said, I'm going to go to Korea. I don't want to go back to Vietnam. My initial assignment in Vietnam I felt that I was very fortunate. I was assigned to 13th Field Artillery which was an American unit. I'm not being disparaging here but my second assignment I was going to go back as an advisor to unknown South Vietnamese unit and I was not looking forward to that. Different culture, different mind set. And the South Vietnamese units had been fighting that war so long it had just become a way of life for them. And the way they fought wars and the way they cared for their families was so foreign to what we typically do that I was not looking forward to that assignment at all. I also had friends who I had served with at 101st Airborne who went to Vietnam on their initial tours and some of them had gone over as advisors and they did not fair well. So I was very pleased that I wasn't going to have to go over and do that.

Philip Shaull:

Did not fair well physically or --

George Dunn:

Did not fair well physically. Did not fair well mentally. It was just a grind for them. Especially if you are going over and you are -- you're already in a foreign country, in a foreign culture and if you don't speak the language, in many instance, unless -- in my case, I would not have been able to speak any Vietnamese at all other than the very, very basic things which I had learned the first time around. So typically you go in as an advisor and you may or may not have another U.S. military person with you. In many instances, you go in by yourself. So you are assigned to a Vietnamese battalion typically as a captain and you spend time with them and, you know, you have to learn. Somebody had told me as I was still preparing to go, he said, well -- this particular person was in my class and he said, I spent time as an advisor and the person that I replaced told me to, you know, split it up in two six-month increments. Spend the first six months trying to understand what's going on and then make some suggestions and then try to make some improvements in the next six months. They were basically saying it will take you five, six months just to understand what you're dealing with versus going over and saying I have all the answers and you start trying to do things immediately and they say you will get yourself in big, big trouble. Big, big trouble meaning they would leave advisors. They would go out on operations, etc. and just leave them out there. Advisors would get wounded and they may or may not treat them depending on how well they thought of them as advisors. So it was not something that was talked a lot about. War is hell anyway, but you talk in terms of going in as an advisor in that kind of culture that was not a good place to be.

Philip Shaull:

So you were kind of left at their mercy and maybe you had some good advice for them, but they didn't like it.

George Dunn:

That's right.

Philip Shaull:

Tell me about your experience in the field artillery in Vietnam. Did you see -- tell me about, you know, what life was like and --

George Dunn:

The first two months that I was in Vietnam -- and I brought this little notebook with me because I spent some time with a couple of history classes at Snyder High School this last school year talking about Vietnam and this helped me in terms of being able to focus my comments with them. So that's why I'm flipping through these pages to get down to that. I had two phases in Vietnam. The first two months that I was there I was assigned to the headquarters battery of the 13th Field Artillery as the survey officer. While I was at Fort Sill, I had not only gone to the officer candidate officer, but after officer candidate school they kept me there for an additional two months and put me through an artillery survey officers school. And that's when you go out, I mean you will see surveyors out when you are doing the roads and things. You know the satellites -- the theatalites and the guy with the -- they are marking a specific location or when you go out to buy a home, they put the stakes to show you exactly where that is. Well, you do the same kind of things in terms of trying to locate artillery pieces very accurately on the ground. The more accurately you know where the artillery is, the more accurate you can be in terms of getting the fire on the target. So I had been trained as that kind of officer. And that slot in an artillery battalion in is the battalion headquarters. Well, we weren't doing the conventional war and so what they had done they would make the survey officer an air observer and we had those small single engine planes that were two seaters. The pilot and the observer, which would typically sit behind him. And so I adjusted artillery fire from the air for the first two months that I was there. I would adjust artillery fire for my own my battalion. I would adjust artillery fire for any battalion who was in the area that we were operating in provided they call me and talk to me on the radio and if I could figure out where they were and they could tell me what they wanted fired and I would fire the artillery pieces for them.

Philip Shaull:

Was that dangerous being up there in the air exposed like that?

George Dunn:

No because there was no such thing as "enemy air craft." In this time frame, there were no enemy antiaircraft weapons in their inventory, for the most part. Now, they had some 50 caliber machine guns. And when you went way north which is where some of the North Vietnam regular army battalions infiltrated into South Vietnam, they would create some havoc from time to time. But typically they did not want to disclose their location because we did have air superiority. We had artillery and we had those mighty jets up there with all that napalm and all that stuff. And so they really chose not to disclose where they were. So you basically you could fly over them and when they hear the airplanes coming, whether it was the big jets or whether it was just this single engine general type bird dog that I would be flying in with the pilot, they would hide. So they wouldn't bother you. So in that sense, it was the most difficult or the most trying portion of it for me was the landing and the take offs. That was the most danger that we were in.

Philip Shaull:

What kind of conditions did you land and take off in, grass runways or --

George Dunn:

Grass runways. The place where we were located there was an installation called -- town called Phupholi, P-h-u-p-h-o-l-i. And that had been a major airfield for the South Vietnamese Army for some period of time or we had gone in there and put it in. I'm not sure. So that had an asphalt runway and it had a small tower that was manned by a military person. So taking off and landing there you were okay. But in many instances when you go up to support a unit someplace you would oftentimes need to land where they were. So they would typically try to put their fire direction center near some grass landing strip or along a roadway that you could land on. For the most part we landed on grass runways up north and these had been in many instances had been put in place by the army engineers, you know, some years back or by the French or whatever. They had been put in specifically as improved runways. That's what you would land on.

Philip Shaull:

Improved, but not --

George Dunn:

Not paved. I mean, you had smoothed it out and then somebody had probably grown grass and they kept the grass cut or the use of it kept it cut, but it was still kind of rocky, especially landing.

Philip Shaull:

I bet. Did you have any aversion to flying as far as any sickness or motion sickness type stuff?

George Dunn:

No, I didn't. No. When I graduated from the artillery officer candidate school, I was assigned to the 101st Airborne, and on the way from Fort Sill to my assignment, I was sent down to Fort Benning Georgia for jump school, which is three weeks. And so that involved getting in a plane and jumping out at least five times. I had flown back and forth from Hawaii twice to visit my family and those were in large military -- I mean in large civilian aircraft. So I didn't have an aversion to flying. During the time that I was assigned with the 101st Airborne, I think I completed something like 24, 25 jumps. I didn't have an aversion even to taking off in a plane and jumping out of it. That didn't bother me at all. That was not a problem.

Philip Shaull:

That was the first two months. What did you do after that?

George Dunn:

The final ten months I served as the executive officer of a 105 artillery battery. It had six 105 howitzers. Each howitzer has a sergeant E-6, a sergeant E-5, two or three E-4s. I think the total crew size was somewhere from seven to nine. So there were six of those. And then there were three ammo sections with an E-6 sergeant. So all totaled there were somewhere 40 or 50 people. Does that make sense? Six times seven is 42. Yeah. Yeah. Between 45 and 50 in what we call the firing battery. That was my job as a first lieutenant. The executive officer had all the guns belonging to you. Then on the other side of that howitzer battery, which is commanded by a captain, you would have the food section, the supply section, the fire direction center. Those kind -- and the admin section. In all total, a battery's about 90 people. It's commanded by a captain. I was the first lieutenant and I was in charge of all the six guns. Then I did that for the final ten months. I got to go down there unfortunately because the exec who was there prior to me had some trouble and he got relieved. So that was probably -- if it had not -- let's see. How can I say this? Of all of the units or the small sections that I was in charge of as a part of my time in the military, that ten months, if you can strip out the fact -- and I know you can't do that -- but try to separate it and say take the war environment away. Those 40 or 50 people were probably the most dynamic team of people that I had a chance to work with. Now I'm going to sound like I'm talking out both sides of my mouth, because I have to put them back to the war environment and I would say to you a part of the reason that they were such a tight unit is because we were in a war and we were it. We go out. We only owed the portion of the land in Vietnam that we physically occupied. So you go in and you occupy a fire base and you shoot for these people. And you typically, in a conventional war, you pretty much have all six of your guns pointed in the same direction. Vietnam was not that case. The enemy was everywhere. Wherever they wanted to be, that's where they went. So you'd go in and you set up your battery in a circle. You turn two guns this way and two guns this way. You know almost like north, south, east and west. It's not at all unusual to try to cover that entire circle because you never knew where somebody was going to be who needed some fire and you needed to be able to fire for them. So it was much better to at least be able to shoot two guns for them almost immediately while you turned the other guns that way and if you needed to you could bring all six.

Philip Shaull:

Is that something that was learned the hard way through experience everyday or --

George Dunn:

Yes, it was. It really was. In fact, there were times when I was at Fort Campbell and I was in -- that also was 105 unit and airborne units typically almost always had 105s because they are -- the other kind of artillery pieces are too heavy to take up in an aircraft and jump them out onto a parachute. So almost always it was 105. So I was training in a 105 unit as a part of the 101st and when I got to Vietnam I had 105s as well. But while at Fort Campbell, we would go through readiness testing. And a part of the test they would throw at us the kinds of problems that they were encountering in Vietnam. And one of those was, typically as an exec, I go out and support all my guns in the same direction. This way. North. And all of a sudden they come in and give us a target that was south. They would just see how we react to that. So you started learning some of that -- I was lucky, I think, in terms of learning some of that in Campbell; therefore, when I got to Vietnam and I saw they didn't point all the guns in one direction, that made sense to me why they're doing that.

Philip Shaull:

All came clear.

George Dunn:

Right.

Philip Shaull:

That's got to be difficult for a conventional army, if you will, to fight I guess you call it guerilla warfare is what it boils down to. Like you say, they are going wherever they want attacking from all angles.

George Dunn:

Right. Right. As a part of the session I had with the two history classes at Snyder High School this past school year, I think that was one of the things that was most difficult for them to grasp. A couple of the kids would say yeah, you know, I've seen on the movies and they would see the conventional war. I have a son, John, who is a real history buff. At least history buff when it comes to the military, World War II, and so he will sit and watch a lot of the military things. And typically that is the conventional war. You draw a line in the sand and all the guys on the other side are the bad guys and all the guys on this side are the good guys and you go at it. Well, it's like this round table, you know. You say that's it and at any point when you sit where you are, as I said earlier, "you own that piece of land" and anywhere else out here is the bad guys. And in some instances, it's the bad guys mixed with some of the good guys and so you have people out there trying to flush them out and they will call you as an artilleryman and say here's where I am and here's where the enemy is and please fire for me. Well, in some instances they're not down there. They're really up here. They think they're here because of the way the terrain is with the triple canopy trees. It is very difficult for an infantryman walking through the jungle to know exactly where he is. Okay. The ones who learned best where they were the ones who came out better. And so had to do things like, say, well, are you really sure you know where you are. Well, not really. Well, then I say fine. What I'm going to do is fire a round and have it burst up here in the air. And then when you see that burst, you tell me where you want to move it to go toward the target. So you even had to do things differently. Army artillerymen says, artillery doesn't do any good up here in the air. You need to put artillery on the ground. That's kind of an artillery law. Well, if you put it on the ground and that's where your friendly is at the same time, that's a bigger problem. So you had to adjust your thinking in terms of saying well, let me put it in the air first. And you shoot a white phosphorus round and a big white puff of smoke and then you say now where do you want me to move it from there and they tell you and you'd move it and then you put it back down on the ground. So there was lots of things you had to do differently. Now I'll go back again and sound like I'm talking out of both sides of my mouth. I said we owned the ground we were on. Well, we later learned that wasn't true either. There was a place where the -- and I ran into -- I talked about being assigned to the 25th Infantry Division when it was in Hawaii. And I was there for about, I want to say, 18 months. And when I got to Vietnam, they deployed many of those units from the 25th Division to Vietnam while I was coming back to go to officer candidate school. So when I got over there, I ran into some of the folks. In fact, I ran into some of the people who had served with me as privates in the medical battalion that I was with. I was with the Wolf Hounds. Wolf Hound Battle Group and the Wolf Hounds -- it used to be called the battle groups and then moved to the brigade concept. The wolf hound was the mascot. So I ran into the Wolf Hounds and I got there and they said the Wolf Hounds are coming and I went looking for them because I also say not only did I learn how to fight and how to survive at Fort Campbell with the 101st Airborne, I probably learned more when I was in Hawaii because in Hawaii there was actually a jungle training school that was run by that division. And you'd go through that training school routinely and then you go out -- they also were bringing back lessons learned because remember they were also sending actual troops over there and coming back every six months. So I'm forgetting where I was going with this story.

Philip Shaull:

Part of that, one of the things that intrigues me is you may think of -- you talked about the jungle conditions --

George Dunn:

Right.

Philip Shaull:

-- in Vietnam. Were the -- was the training in Hawaii, I mean, could you ever fully prepare for what you're going to be in the midst of in Vietnam, you know, before you go over or -- I mean, was it fairly realistic of the conditions or --

George Dunn:

Right. Yeah, it is. Typically when you think of Hawaii, if you are not a military person, you think about the beaches. Well, if you go 30 miles north from Waikiki on Oahu, you can run into some terrain that is as difficult as Vietnam. Now, it won't have the triple canopy trees, you know. Trees will go up this high and then there's another series that goes this high and there's another series. You got the triple canopy. You won't necessarily have that. But the ground and the atmosphere -- the humidity and the heat and the high temperatures in the day when you're sweating and then at night when you have to roll up in a sleeping bag or blanket to keep warm. Those kind of temperature changes very, very similar in Hawaii to what you would run into in Vietnam. So in that sense, you ran into a lot of same kind of things. Of course, the biggest thing that I talked about in terms -- I know where I was going to go to and talk about. When I said you owned that land you were in, well, that was not true we found out later in terms of all the tunnel complexes. Kuchi was the headquarters for the 25th Division and as a part of the -- my assignment with the 13th Artillery Battalion we were what was called a nondivisional unit. So we weren't assigned to a division. We were assigned a group. So we were -- at any point in time we could be attached to an infantry division to go out and support them so that they'd have more artillery. Because remember you got artillery that needs to fire in 360 degrees. So you need more artillery than in a conventional. So that's what the groups were to provide that role. So I spent many activities where I would -- with my particular unit would be assigned to a division, a brigade unit of the 25th Infantry Division. And if you read some of the history now, you will find the 25th Division's base camp in Vietnam was in a place called Kuchi, which was 45 minutes, hour helicopter ride from Phupholi which is where we were. And there are all kinds of things now that talk about the tunnel complexes that were under the ground that they chose. Because when they came over, it was just a big open area and they said that's where your base camp is and so they went in and set up a base camp. And there are even discussions of enemy soldiers who have now talked from a historical standpoint and they'll say, you know, these commanders of the 25th would be sitting up in their metal chairs and cigars and we'd be tunneling under them or moving supplies under them and they'd be down five or six feet; but still, in fact, you didn't own the land that you thought you owned. Whole different environment.

Philip Shaull:

That's incredible. That seems -- I know present day they talk about Iraq and how at least among like all the palaces and stuff like that the intricate and elaborate tunnel passages and stuff. Seems like a lot of other regimes do that we don't do so much, but -- how were those tunnels discovered?

George Dunn:

They were discovered -- I would suggest that they were probably discovered most likely in most cases they were discovered as U.S. military people would be chasing Vietnamese or North Vietnam soldiers and they would go and all of a sudden they would disappear. So then they started going and looking and started concentrating in that area. They pulled brush and things back and they would see an opening. There were people I know from the 25th Infantry Division. There was a group called Tunnel Rats. They found young soldiers who, you know, I think the minimum height to get into the army is like, I want to say five foot three and don't quote me on that, but I know it's pretty short. So what they would do they would find, a lot of, find "eight or ten of these short soldiers" and they put them into a tunnel rat unit. So they'd go find those tunnels, they would give these soldiers a couple of .45s and they would lower them down into the tunnels and they go down and search the tunnel complexes. They would then come back and hopefully, they would come back. Some did not come back, obviously. And they'd say this is what we found and they would then and some instances they would come out and they would put explosives in and, you know, blow up the rice or big rice caches or they might find ammunition caches down there. They would find small hospital units set up. That's the way they were found initially. And then they started looking for them or we started looking for them more.

Philip Shaull:

Any -- has there ever been any either estimate or accurate measure of how many say miles of tunnel that they had?

George Dunn:

I've seen some estimates. I don't remember what they are, but there were massive tunnel complexes. I mean massive because they started digging those during the French War when they were fighting the French. So they were just massive. They could -- I know there were places where they'd say well, you know, here's a hospital that could accommodate 30 or 40 people. There's a staging area that could accommodate a company; 150, 200 people. So there was massive complexes.

Philip Shaull:

It does give them a great advantage.

George Dunn:

Sure. Sure.

Philip Shaull:

The nature of artillery is more stationary I would assume say than an infantry unit or something like that. You've got larger equipment so forth. Did that put you at greater risk as far as, you know, like you say the enemy being all around potentially? In your experience, were there any casualties in your battery, anything like that?

George Dunn:

Let me answer the last question first. From the time I took over as the executive officer for the next ten months, we did not have one casualty. We did not have one incoming round of mortars fired into our unit. We had people -- we got fired at when we would be moving sometimes on the dirt roads. Maybe snipers would fire at us. We had those kind of things. And I don't know if it was luck or what it was, but I know there was another place that was -- I talk about being based at Phupholi. You go north to Kuchi. I'm sorry. You go east to Kuchi and a little further east there's a place called -- I'm trying to think. It's the place that had the big mountain that set right in the middle of the jungle. I'll think about the name in a moment. But we would -- typically the units that we would be supporting, we being the 13th Field Artillery, and my particular battery, Alpha Battery, would be the first infantry division which was right around there Phupholi. The 25th Division which was out of Kuchi and then there were some separate brigades that were up at this Tanin. There's the place I was trying to think of. And it was interesting, we would go in and out of Tanin. We'd go in on Tanin and we sometimes spend a couple of days and then we'd come back down to Kuchi and spend a couple of days and then we'd come back to Phupholi. It was kind of like that was our circle. That was the area we spent most of the time in while I was there. We would go up to Tanin and they would tell us, you know, we got quite a bit of mortar fire last night. Mortars are much smaller artillery pieces and they're carried by the infantry people. Two, six, eight inches tall and as about big around as six or eight inches. And they'd tell us we got quite a bit of mortar fire last night. So we would prepare ourselves that night or the next night and we'd leave and we'd go away and we'd never get a round in. We'd come back, you know, four, five, six days later, a week later and they'd say the day you guys left that night we got mortar fire. So we would hear that. I heard that repeated. I used to think they were kind of pulling my leg. I got a chance to look at some of the after-action reports. Now whether or not they chose not to fire on us because we were a larger artillery or whether or not it was just luck, I don't know. But there were people who would get fired on in places and we'd go in and we wouldn't get anything and that went on for a solid ten months and then we left. And then I left. I wish I knew what the answer to that was. Was it just totally luck? I'd like think that we were a pretty sharp artillery unit. I'd like to think that we knew what we were doing. We could fire. We could fire quickly. We could fire direct fire. We could fire indirect fire. We always had our weapons with us. There were some units who would go into base camp areas and they'd lock their weapons up in the Connex containers or big storage bins. It was our policy that, you know, we got issued a weapon the day we got in country and we kept the weapon with us until the day before we were to leave. I have to think that a part of what kept us out of some of the skirmishes was the fact that I think we knew what we were doing. I think we had some capabilities that we showed when other people would need fire and the way we could bring fire on the targets and do things. I do think that the intelligence of the enemy was a lot stronger than we think. I think -- I don't think our unit was the only one like that. I think there were several units that the enemy said if you see them in and around the area, you best leave them alone, you know. There are other units that we can attack that we will have greater success or greater probability of success. But I think there was some units that were known to the enemy. They know what they were doing. They will bring rapid fire on your behind pretty darn quick and they bring it pretty accurately and they left us alone.

Philip Shaull:

What are some common misconceptions perhaps about the combat, the war in Vietnam that people have, from your experience, that you can say is not true or --

George Dunn:

I'm going to talk about the perception of Vietnam veterans when I came back to the United States May and June of '65. When I was preparing to go over to Snyder again and do these history classes, I put together this whole notebook that I've got in front of me and I talked quite a bit about all the training that I had received prior to going to Vietnam. I talked about how I came to be in the army. I talked about training before Vietnam. There was six months of training and I walked through and I talked quite a bit about that. I had my wife and my son who was in one of the classes at Snyder sit with me the night before I went to the first session to kind of preview and get a feel for what I was doing and we did that for about two and a half hours. At the end of that my wife said to me, you know, that's not really what they're asking you to do. The crux of that was I don't like to be perceived just as a Vietnam veteran. I am a Vietnam veteran, but I'm a lot of other things too. So even as a part of my military experience, I was saying I wasn't just an artilleryman, I was also an officer. I was a survey officer. I had three months of training as a logistic officer, you know, etc., etc., etc. And what I have come to understand and it's really just within the last year, I've come to understand that I still carry a lot of the bitterness that was present when I came back to the United States. And I would say to the young kids as a part of this history class, I'd say, you know, they have this thing where they'll go around and bump shoulders with each other and I would see them doing that in the hallway even though I was sitting there waiting for them to come into the classroom. And they say show me some love and I said to them I didn't get much love when I came back to the United Sates as a U.S. Army Veteran of Vietnam. I was told don't wear your uniform travelling. Travel in civilian clothes. This is the United States of America. I'm a United States Army, in this case, First Lieutenant Veteran, and I'm being told not to wear a uniform in my own country. I wore nothing but a uniform when I was in Vietnam with the exception of the five days that I went on "R" and "R" in Hong Kong and I wore civilian clothes. I had to buy them because I didn't have any with me. Okay. But yet I come back to the United States and they tell me you best not wear your uniform as you're travelling because, you know, people will spit on you, people will call you baby killers, people will say gee whiz, why are you there? You shouldn't of been over there at all.

Philip Shaull:

This is in 1965?

George Dunn:

'65, '66.

Philip Shaull:

So it started that early?

George Dunn:

It started that early. That early. Right. And then when I come back and during the time now that I'm at Fort Sill when I talked about being a battery commander training artillery surveyor, I would also get duty as an escort officer. The military tradition is a military member who is killed in combat is brought back to the port of entry into this country. Port of entries are in California and out in New Jersey. And at the point in time that they show up at the port of entry, they are taken care of by the mortician units and then they are turned over to the escort person. The person who is deceased is always escorted by a person similar in rank. So in my case as a captain, they were saying to me you are on alert for 30 days at a time to be an escort officer and I knew it was going to be a captain. As a part of the briefing to me, this would have been '69, '70 time period now, they said to me when you go out to -- whether you go to California or whether you go out to New Jersey they will tell you what the environment is like in the place where you are going to take the remains. And in some instances they would say to us, they said to me you will find you can only go within 50 or 100 miles and then you're going to stop and then you're going to turn the body over to the mortician, because if you go into that city, we can't ensure your safety. This is in the United States of America. I am escorting the remains of an army veteran who has been killed and that traditionally is -- and, again, I'll go back and define the tradition. You pick up the body at the port of entry, you never have that body out of your presence until the internment and then you take the flag off and you present it to the next of kin and at that point in time your escort duty is over. We had to change that for Vietnam. So you had to sometimes pass the body to a mortician. Then you just get on a plane and go back the other way. So that was the kind of thing that I was saying to the kids just a couple of months ago that I found that was still sticking in my craw. Because even when I was originally reviewing these lesson plans with my family and my wife would say, gee, when you got to this portion of it your intensity level went way up, your whole demeanor changed. And I kept saying to myself, I left Vietnam in 1966. This is 2003. It's time for me to let that stuff go and I can say that and understand that mentally, but my heart ain't quite there yet. Now I've done a lot and I even thanked the high school kids at Snyder because I spent two 90-minute periods. I spent 90 minutes with one class and 90 minutes with another class the following day. And I thanked them greatly. I said because there's a part of putting all this together and having to go back and talk about it and it's the first time I've talked about it publicly like this in the details that I went through and it's helping me to deal with some of that. But that was very, very difficult to deal with. And I found something a little bit similar when I then went to Germany and that was a time frame when the Byahomung (ph), it was a terrorist unit, was raising all kind of cane in Germany and we would -- there were times when we were on the military installation in Germany and they would simply say to us don't go off the installation on the weekends because the people were out there again and they were protesting again our involvement in Vietnam. So there was a lot of things that didn't sit right with me. A part of getting over that for me is to see what occurred coming out of the Gulf War and the way we treated those veterans. And that was a two-edge sword for me. I thought all military folks should have been treated that way. The Vietnam veterans were not. And so on the one hand, I'm saying, I want to jump up and down and say, oh, that's great. And on the other hand, I'm saying, but that never occurred for me. Now we have seen the things occur in terms of the Vietnam veterans and some of the parades and things. And I've never been able to get myself to a point that I'm comfortable going out and doing that. Maybe one of these days I will, but thus far I haven't gone yet. That was a whole -- to me, very demoralizing. But again, the part of what I see that was helpful was we went into the situation with the Gulf War. It wound up being a very short engagement and we seem to also have a very specific exit strategy. So I was pleased to see us go in, do some things and get out and the way the troops were received back in the United States was very positive. But there are still those of us, me included, who are here who still unfortunately carry a lot of that baggage from what went on as part of that Vietnam Era, the 60s and 70s.

Philip Shaull:

Okay. I don't know how much you thought about this, but how much of that is attributable to just the culture then? In other words, if we had fought Vietnam in the 90s, do you think, you know, it would have been the same or do you think we had back home, we had the drug culture home going, we had kind of the hippy culture was big then and so forth. Do you think there is any correlation there?

George Dunn:

There probably is. I always marvel when I think about historians trying to look at things and put it in nice packages because the things you talked about already but also the racial environment in this country was very, very different in the 60s. There was lots of concerns, the number of casualties. The number of infantry or combat arms personnel in Vietnam was much higher than the general population in the United States. All that was going on. So you had all of that upheaval and I'm sure that it played a great part of it. How much? Gee, maybe the historians at some point in time will be able to tell us. So where we are now certainly set us up for a much different introduction into the Gulf War, introduction into even where we are now in terms of where we are as a country and the things we do and don't do and the things that are perceived as being hey, that's okay but that's not okay. Because that hippy generation, that flower power and that antiestablishment almost, it went right into the war with us. We took it right with us.

Philip Shaull:

Right. Do you keep in touch -- do you associate with some of the people you used to serve with nowadays or --

George Dunn:

No, I don't. And within the last five or six -- the last two or three months now I've been in and out of the internet. I have looked for my battalion. In fact, I found some pictures of two soldiers. I think they said it was '69 from Alpha Battery, 13th Field Artillery around a howitzer and I would be willing to bet you that was one of the howitzers that I had in '65, '66. I can't tell you how -- it was almost like I was floating on cloud nine because I'm saying that's one of my guns. I'd be willing to bet you that's one of my guns. Gee, if you get such an elated feeling from just seeing a gun, what would you get if you saw some of the troops that were with you or some of the officers that were with you so then I started doing some stuff looking on the internet and I'd go in look at the military association and the military things and I haven't run across anybody yet. But I've been doing quite a bit of that now in the last three or four months.

Philip Shaull:

Of course unlike a lot of them, they probably came home and they were out of the military and you chose to make it a career and stayed in until the early 80s.

George Dunn:

Right. Right. So I did see some -- I probably saw eight or ten of them within one or two years after I came back, because during that time period I was at Fort Sill. I was there for 19 months as a battery commander and another 12 months in school. So I would see people come through there who were rotating back from Vietnam who were staying in. That's correct. Many of the soldiers that I have served with at the end of that first enlistment, they were getting out. I mean that was very clear to me as the discussions we even had in Vietnam. They'd say to me, yeah, I don't wish that I had not gotten in but I really don't want to go through this again so I'm going to serve and I'm going to serve my time. I'm going to serve well, sir, and I'll do the best I can, but when my time comes up, I'm out of here. So, yeah, they go out.

Philip Shaull:

Probably not surprising?

George Dunn:

Not surprising. Not surprising.

Philip Shaull:

Where were you when -- and I think it was '75 when I guess what we essentially call the end of the Vietnam War as far as our involvement goes. Where were you serving at the time and what was going through your mind?

George Dunn:

As we were getting -- I remember seeing that those last few helicopters lifting off from the embassy and seeing those folks hanging on. I'm pretty sure I was at Fort Riley Kansas. I just wanted to go somewhere and pull the blanket over my head. That was very demoralizing to see all the things that had occurred, all the effort that we had put in and for us to be leaving in that kind of situation it was like it was -- I had been out of Vietnam then by almost ten years. It was almost like it was a slap in my face see --

Philip Shaull:

All the hard work you put in and this is how it ends.

George Dunn:

This is how it ends. Right. I also know historically now from looking and reading, that we didn't set ourselves up to win in Vietnam. We did not do a good assessment of what the situation was and what needed to be done and what could be done and what couldn't be done. I think there are folks even back then in the early 60s who were saying this is very difficult. This won't work. You're going to have problems with this. And I think starting from, unfortunately the Executive Office of the President right on down, there were those who were saying but we are the United States of America and, you know, we can take care of this. Here the French had been in there and had gotten their butts kicked out and we're saying, oh, that's the French, you know. We will be able to do it differently.

Philip Shaull:

We still talk that way.

George Dunn:

We still do. So it was, again, it was demoralizing to see that it had occurred that way, but especially as I saw and I followed the Gulf War very, very closely and I would try to make parallels. I said, gee, I never heard us talking about in Vietnam this is what the objective is. And Westmoreland's name comes up because he was a senior commander there for so long, but Westy was only asking for things and, you know, he would ask for "X" number of troops and we send over "X" number of troops over. Because they just kept rolling the troops in there, rolling the troops in there without, for me, any exit strategy and without saying to ourselves is this a war we can win with this kind of military presence. I'm not sure it was. And if you ask me what I think should have been done differently, unfortunately I can't tell you that either. I mean that was a terrible situation. And I think we should have been looking very specifically at what had happened to the French and given them more credit for being a force, a strong military force. I think we poo pooed them. But they went in there and they got their butts kicked for basically the same kind of "mental frame of mind" I think that the United States. We'll go in there, we'll take care of it and we'll get out of it and it won't be too long. They got their butts kicked. Here we come. We just start pouring people in there, pouring people in there. And we train our soldiers as such -- I remember some of things that I heard when -- I was already over there before they committed the first brigade of the 101st into Vietnam. Of course, I remember I was with them down in Fort Campbell Kentucky. And I remember some of the radio and newspaper accounts as they came over on some L.S.T.s They came over across the ocean. They roll up to the these places and they drop the L.S.T. and they walk ashore and the soldiers were saying, well, you know, to the people who are already there, don't worry now. The 101st is here now. We'll take care of it. Every unit that we committed went in there with the same kind of approach. Well, all these other American troops were already here. They haven't done it, but our unit is the one that will go in and do it, but that's the way we train our soldiers. I don't have a question about training soldiers that way. You got to feel like you're the meanest mother in the valley when you're walking through the Valley of Death. You got to or else you shouldn't even go in there. So I don't have a problem with that training process. What I have a problem with is the bigger scope which was saying, is this a war that we can win given the way we commit our soldiers. I don't think we did a good job with that.

Philip Shaull:

That's a strategy level decision not a combat level.

George Dunn:

Exactly.

Philip Shaull:

Let me ask you this. Do you think -- and we talked about what you and other soldiers that had gone to Vietnam faced when they came home. Do you think if public sentiment had been different and more supportive of the effort of the war of our involvement in it things might have been different from the perspective of the powers that be, the decisionmakers here, namely President Johnson, so forth would have felt more free to commit more troops like maybe we should have had more troops over there?

George Dunn:

Yeah. I don't know.

Philip Shaull:

It's difficult to answer.

George Dunn:

Yeah. It's difficult to answer, you know. But I guess I would have like to have seen what that situation was but I would also say right on the heels of that had we prepared strategically a better plan for that, that to me could have swayed the American public in terms of saying this is why we're going, this is what we're doing. Because there was even some questions in terms of why we got into that to start with. There was all these kinds of things like oh, gee, did that really happen or was that fabricated just to give us an excuse to go. And when you look at the history of this country, unfortunately there have been too many of those and the American public, especially with the explosion of information with TVs and TV documentaries, etc. which also was going on in the 60s. As more and more of that stuff got started getting poured into the American public and saying are you aware of the fact that way back there it really didn't happen that way, it happened this way. So now you got that also impacting in the 60s with people saying, well, wait a minute. I'm not sure really I can believe what they are telling me. So that doubt is going on mentally and it was a valid doubt because we had done so much things as a country to buffalo other people in terms of saying, well, you know, we know better and there was this elitist kind of thing I'm afraid of and I know -- I don't know how much of it was there, but I know there was some there which was saying the American people don't really need to know. We just need to pull the wool over their eyes and move ahead and all of a sudden the American people started realizing what was going on. I think the TV specifically was a big part of that. That explosion of that T.V., to me, in the 50s and 60s was a big part of saying to the American people a lot of things that you are being told by your government is not true. Not necessarily a bald face lie, but they just kind of pull the wool over you. So then this oh, gee, well, what's going on here? And we can't trust you. When you start building that kind of resentment, then the whole environment kind of starts collapsing on itself in terms of, as we were talking earlier, would that support have been a lot greater if the American people had been stronger behind it. I think yes. But I think unfortunately we never put the strategy in place that would have caused them to come to a positive thought process.

Philip Shaull:

That's interesting you bring that up because I think part of many military campaigns is how we are going to handle the P.R. For example in Vietnam's case, I know there were soldiers specifically sent in to the South Vietnamese villages to befriend or at least be around those people to make sure the North wasn't given propaganda. It never probably occurs, you know, back home to make sure that people are well informed and that kind of thing for home support.

George Dunn:

Right. Right.

Philip Shaull:

It's a good point. Well, anything else? Any other thoughts you have about your experience and is it something that you're glad you did, but would never do it again or how you would define it?

George Dunn:

This interview specifically?

Philip Shaull:

No. Your service in Vietnam.

George Dunn:

It's interesting because that same question was asked to me by both classes. And what I said to them was, and I'll say to you and say for the record, I volunteered to go into the military. I fought like mad to become an officer. I trained hard to be a good officer. I was thrilled to go airborne school. I was thrilled to be able to go to the officer advance course and sit there for 11 months learning this and that and how to do this and that. And so I chose this as a profession. So my profession was that of a military officer. I did everything I could to do that well. And I won't say that I was the greatest officer, but I would say to you that I gave it my best shot. And so I chose that profession. Unfortunately that -- the choosing of that profession put me in a situation where I had to go to Vietnam. Since I had raised my hand and said, I will obey the orders of those appointed appropriately over me. And when I was given orders, as far as I'm concerned, I'm saluting and saying, yes, sir, I'm going. Now the thing that causes me some problems from time to time goes back to an earlier thing when I said, why did I choose to go into the army. Well, I thought they would give me the greatest opportunity in spite of being a black male in the United States of American in the 60s. Okay. So if that environment had been changed, would I have still chosen the army? I don't know, but I think I would. I think I would. I think my uncle and that airborne and that (aspree) and I would go into Campbell -- I mean Fort Bragg with him sometime and that (aspree). I'd go even down to Camp Lejeune with the marines because my home was only like 25 miles away. So marines even had families that lived in my hometown. And let's let that phone ring. [Interview interrupted by the phone ringing]. So with all that as a backdrop, I didn't have any choice. I mean to me there was no choice. There was no question in my mind, you know. I'm going to go where there are sending me. Unfortunately, they're sending me to Vietnam was my approach. And then I said, well, I'm going to go over here, do the damn best job I can do in terms of whatever assignment I have. I will take the best care of my men and hopefully I can get every one of them back home. I did that. So I walked away personally feeling like I had been successful.

Philip Shaull:

Great. Well, thank you very much for, first of all, doing the interview and, second of all, for your service to our country. I appreciate it.

George Dunn:

Thank you very much.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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