Saturday, November 10, 2012
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Surviving Vietnam:

A vet tells his story of the war and the aftermath

Part 1

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[November 10, 2012]  In the history of America, soldiers have proudly and honorably gone off to battle, fighting for the freedoms of this county. When their battles were fought and they returned home, they were greeted by the masses who, rightly so, labeled them as the heroes of the era.

But, in the 1960s and early '70s when young soldiers returned home from Vietnam, such was not the case. There were no flags flying high and crowds of cheering people waiting at train stations to shake the hands of the nation's heroes.

The soldiers of Vietnam were like the red-headed stepchildren of America. Everyone acknowledged their presence in history, but no one was proud of them, no one supported them, and as a result, many soldiers of that war in particular suffered with depression and anxiety. They bore their scars on the inside, and no one reached out to give them any kind of support. Many lived homeless, jobless and in a constant state of despair.

Of course, that wasn't the case with each and every one of them. For example, one local man came through Vietnam, married his high school sweetheart, raised three sons and now enjoys a total of 11 grandchildren.

He quickly offers one very important thing that kept him going: his wife.

When David Coers of New Holland was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1966, he was 19 years old. He was going with Roseann Schrader and not particularly interested in going into the Army, but it was what he had to do. So, he reported first to Fort Polk, La., where he went through basic training.

Soon after, he was shipped to Fort Sill, Okla. Coers remembers that on the day he arrived, there were only three other service personnel on the base. He was almost immediately certain that he would be heading to Vietnam.

What struck him as strange that day was that there was no one on base, but Coers soon discovered he was a day ahead of everyone else. Within 24 hours the base was full of young men like him, arriving to be trained on equipment they would need in Vietnam.

Coers shipped out six months later as a member of the 1st Battalion, 40th Field Artillery. His primary role would be as a transport driver, hauling fuel for tanks and vehicles.

The 1st and 40th landed on the shores outside Da Nang, Vietnam, and were assigned to the XXIV Corps Artillery and the 108th Field Artillery Group. Known as the "All for One" battalion, they served as support for the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force, the 101st Airborne Division and U.S. Special Operations Forces.

The 1st and 40th also provided fire support to U.S. and Vietnamese forces during the Battle of Ap Bia Mountain, more historically known as "Hamburger Hill."

Coers remembers well the day they landed in Da Nang because he was a member of the advance party that went ashore ahead of the full battalion. When the advance party arrived on shore, there were no enemy soldiers nearby. Instead the group was met by several Vietnamese, who were actually happy to see them there.

Coers said there were some pretty rough times during his time there, but these are the things that he doesn't think about all that much. He remembers losing a friend in an ambush attack, and he recalls vividly the day he was called out for driving too fast, but there is a lot more to that story.

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Coers was assigned to drive a diesel delivery vehicle. He said the truck had two "pods" of fuel. He recalled he was driving through the countryside when his group came under fire. He said he saw a shell fly between the two pods. It was a close call. A foot or so one direction or the other and the tank would have been hit. Coers said he stepped on the gas and drove as hard as he could, under fire. But he made it through, only to be yelled at for driving too fast.

While in Vietnam, Coers' battalion fired over 100,000 rounds at enemy soldiers and were noted for being extremely accurate. Coers did his fair share in that effort, but that is also something he doesn't talk a lot about. Coers said there were a lot of bad times, but there were good times with soldiers who became more than friends, more like brothers.

He remembers the care packages that came from home and how much they meant to him, but there were also the "oops" moments, like the time he received a box of envelopes so he could write home. He explained the humidity was so high that the envelopes sealed themselves, so they were no good to anyone.

He also laughed about the packages of food saying, "I always ate the cookies and let the rest of the guys have the popcorn."

He also remembers the letters. Letters from Roseann, he said, oftentimes kept him going through each day.

Coers was never wounded in Vietnam, but he was hurt. He said it was an accident he had riding in the back of a truck. He hit his elbow. That kind of accident doesn't sound all that serious, but in Vietnam, in the service, small things can become very big in just a short time. Coers said the arm got infected. The elbow swelled up larger than the rest of his arm and it was stiff. The worst part of the situation, though, was the fact that while he was healing, he couldn't write home, so Roseann didn't know what was wrong or why she wasn't hearing from him.

Another thing they had to worry about was meningitis and mosquitoes. They erected their tents on top of structures called hooches, on an elevated foundation, so they were actually up off the ground. Each tent held 10 soldiers, and they lined their cots along the walls and slept head to toe under mosquito nets to help avoid disease.

But, with what all these young soldiers faced in Vietnam, some of the biggest struggles came after the war. When they came home, no one really seemed to care.

(To be continued)


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