Monday, November 12, 2012
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Surviving Vietnam:

A vet tells his story of the war and the aftermath

Part 2

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[November 12, 2012]  When David Coers was drafted into the U.S. Army, he was 19 years old. He was not world-traveled by any stretch of the imagination. But, within six months of reporting to basic training, Coers found himself in the jungles of Vietnam, dealing with people shooting at him, living in huts above ground to stay dry and sleeping under nets for protection from insects and getting sick.

He was part of the 1st Battalion, 40th Field Artillery, and the group became a band of brothers, standing side by side in whatever it was that was just around the corner for them.

Coers said they also saw many strange things when they were in Vietnam. In that country there were classes of people, just as there are in the U.S., but how they were treated was somewhat different.

The mountain people were the lowest class. When they would come into town, they couldn't walk on the same side of the street as the upper class. If the two classes of people were walking along and saw each other, the lowly group had to cross the road and walk on the other side.

He also remembers that the United States sent irrigation pumps to Vietnam to assist the Vietnamese in pumping water into their rice paddies. Their native way of doing it was with a bicycle-like contraption with little buckets. The women would pedal the contraption, and the buckets would lift water, move it to the rice paddies and empty it there.

Coers said that when the locals got the pumps, instead of using them the way they were intended, they kept the women in the fields and used the pumps to pump water for washing the army vehicles.

And of course, it rained -- every day it rained. Coers remembers always being wet and sometimes even getting pretty cold. Every soldier had to do guard duty, doing two hours on the line and then getting four hours off. Regardless of the weather, that patrol had to be kept.

When Coers' tour was over, he was put on a ship, and it took 23 days for him to get back to the States.

He laughed as he remembered that the officers on the ship called him in to report and told him he was AWOL. He said he told them it was pretty hard for him to be AWOL when he was standing right in front of them, and they agreed.

However, the problem was he had not gone through the proper procedure when checking in. They had his name but not his number on the roster.

His punishment for not checking in correctly was that he had to serve KP duty for the days they were on ship. For Coers that was a relief, because it gave him something to do.

"We were 500 guys on a ship, with nothing to do. At least working in the kitchen kept me busy," he said.

When the ship finally reached the West Coast, Coers said he went ashore and called Roseann. He told her he was on U.S. soil and headed home on leave. She told him she was ready then to mail the wedding invitations.

"I said, 'OK, we'll get married and honeymoon in Fort Hood,' because I still had 89 days left to serve," he explained.

Coers said the trip home was strange. Soldiers rode the rails to their various destinations. When they went through towns, they had to close the curtains on their train cars so no one would see they were soldiers.

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When he reached home, "there was no one there shouting, 'Rah, rah!' because I was home," he said. "It was just Roseann and her parents."

And so it was that David Coers lived a part of American history that no one was proud of. He came home, got married, raised a family, worked to make a living and put that part of his past behind him for 40 years. Then one day, the phone rang and everything changed.

In 2007, 40 years after he was discharged from the U.S. Army, David Coers got a phone call. He wasn't home at the time, but Roseann was. When she answered, a voice asked, "Are you the wife of David Coers who served in the 1st and 40th?" She confirmed that she was and took a message for her husband to give a call to an old soldier he hadn't seen or heard from in 40 years.

There was a reunion being planned for the 1st and 40th, and David soon set out to help find some of his old buddies. In the end he found four he had been close to and discovered that two others had died, one in a motorcycle accident and another committed suicide. Another he was never able to locate.

Of those he found, Gary Long was in Lincoln, Neb; Dave Hushman in Minneapolis, Minn.; Gary Dickman in Juneau, Alaska; and Wayne Hopkins in Forest City, Iowa.

Of the five, three are suffering effects of Agent Orange. One has lost an eye, one has numerous tumors and undergoes monthly chemotherapy, and the third has heart problems.

When the five reconnected, they determined they would not lose touch again and made plans to get together once a year. Coers said he laughed when Dickman, who lives in Alaska, said no one would ever make that kind of trip just to see him, and he informed him that they certainly would, and indeed they did.

Coers said the guys have been through a lot. Some of them are sick from the effects of Agent Orange, some have suffered from depression, and some have suffered from broken marriages.

But now that they have all found each other, Coers believes it has been very good for all of them. They talk on the phone on a regular basis.

Coers laughed and said: "It always happens, when one of them calls me, within just a very short time, all four of them will call me."

When the whole group got together at the last reunion, Coers said about 70 soldiers turned up, many with their wives, and many of them had the same stories his buddies did.

One thing Coers noted was that almost all of the soldiers he talked to who were married when they went to Vietnam were not married soon after they got home. Coers said it's hard to say why, but maybe it was just that for some of the wives, they couldn't handle the changes in their husbands.

But on a brighter note, he said many of them also found new relationships that lasted, and like Coers, many of them believe that the love and support of their wives and families is what got them through the aftermath of a war no one cared about and the stigma of being soldiers no one was proud of.


Part 1

David and Roseann Coers in Alaska

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