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"There was a lot of problems being in combat that you weren’t aware of, that you were going to have deal with when you came home." (Video Interview, 14:32)

   Lawrence Saenz, Jr.
Image of Lawrence Saenz, Jr.
Lawrence Saenz, Jr.[2007]
War: Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Branch: Army
Unit: L Company Ranger, 75th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division
Service Location: Camp Eagle, South Vietnam
Rank: Sergeant
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In the face of being drafted in 1966, Lawrence Saenz, Jr. chose to enlist in the Army. Assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, he spent his first few months in Vietnam assigned to headquarters company. He found if he agreed to extend his tour, he could get what he really wanted: a chance to see combat. He joined a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) team of six men whose job was to scout the enemy. Once they made contact, however, it was usually with a much larger force and they had only minutes to call in reinforcements, covering artillery, or for extraction. The tension created by these patrols wore on Saenz, and in one chilling instance, when a soldier with only 30 days left in his tour, asked to go out “just to see what it was like,” that young man’s death proved to be truly shattering. Saenz suffered from PTSD symptoms after he returned to the States, though his disorder was not formally diagnosed for many years.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (4 clips)
»Complete Interview  
Download: video (39 min.)
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 Video (Interview Excerpts) (4 items)
First few months in country uneventful; assigned to HQ and eager to see combat; extended his tour, which gave him chance to join a Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRPs); six-man teams; did not know the dangers of that duty; right in enemy's back yard; had 15 minutes to live if they made contact, as they were a small group with limited firepower, so support was essential; having a sixth sense for danger; moving slowly to avoid detection. (04:47) Unfriendly welcome when he came home; felt he was looked down on as a barbarian; took off uniform and tried to put his experiences behind him; tough to adjust. (01:13) Experience with military was mixed; bad times outweighed the good times; wasn't told of long-term psychological effects of combat; only learned of PTSD a couple of years ago; one side effect is getting involved in high-risk behavior, which ruined his life. (02:22)
One memorable mission; sergeant telling him he would see the team back for dinner the next night; Saenz replied some of them wouldn't make it; didn't want to get on the helicopter because he was afraid; Hammond, with 30 days to go in his tour, was on his first mission "just to see what it [combat] was like;" came upon evidence of an enemy camp; called in for a reactionary force; was told there was none available; tried to get artillery support; was told artillery could't fire over their heads; requested extraction the next morning; for the night, formed a circle with mines surrounding them; once night fell, heard the enemy looking for them; thunderstorm saved their lives; in morning, had to cut down bamboo to create room for helicopter to land; in an accident, Hammond was killed; everyone else got out; the reality of combat is not like you see in the movies. (20:38)  
  
 
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  October 26, 2011
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