Vietnam the War of Nerves, from a Recon Soldiers perspective.
No matter what war zone or conflict, soldier’s mental state is always tension and high anxiety. Soldier’s may put on a front of being fearless and most are during the battle but the anxiety of battle never goes away after while.
Soldier’s lives can change in an instant. Rockets, mortars and infiltrators into secure areas were always a threat to a soldier’s life. Ambush attacks, booby traps, mines lurked always in the back of your mind. Let your guard down even for a minute and it could be your last. So even during a laughing and joking around session, you are constantly visually scanning your surroundings making sure of your safety.
Recon units had more concerns than most infantry units. The reason for the concerns was simple, our specialized recon units were located in remote outposts along the Cambodian border. In our case Bao Trai and Duc Hue were the two primary locations.
Sometimes after intense situations you would relax with a cigarette, hiding the glow. At
night the cigarettes glow during the inhaling of the cigarette would give away your position. The smell of an American cigarette was different from a Vietnamese cigarette. I never smoked on a mission. It was too dangerous, in my personal opinion.
Nearly every American soldier smoked. It was part of the code, the machismo of being a soldier, smoking went hand in hand. Smoking seemed to calm the nerves, anyway that was how it was portrayed on television! If you didn’t smoke when you came into the service you would after you were in for a while! Many young soldiers picked up smoking as early as basic training.
Everyone handled fighting differently. Some soldiers had this macho thought of
proving themselves during battle. That was usually a disastrous decision to the soldier and those around them. Others didn’t look at the fighting as a proving ground to show themselves or others that they had what it takes to defend themselves or their fellow soldiers. They just did it. Sometimes you would get a feeling who you could count on before the first shot was fired! Seldom was your gut wrong. You also knew who had the potential to get you shot because of their lack of attention to detail.
The solder’s day was 24 hours long just like in the “Real World”. You were never completely off duty when attached to a recon unit. Missions could come up day and night. Your gear was always ready.
The “Real World” is a term used to describe home, because when you are stationed in a foreign war zone that country isn’t the “Real World”, as you know it! Every tick of the clock meant one second closer to going home. It also meant one second closer to your next mission or engagement with the enemy.
Most soldiers know their lives are on the line. When you are young you don’t grasp
that concept very well. The smell of gun powder, the deafening sounds of rockets and machine gun fire and the whizzing of bullets all keep your nerves ragged. But if you have been engaged and hear the popping of bullets as they zing by your head you know you were lucky that day. When a bullet breaks the sound barrier it is inches from hitting you and makes a popping sound. The saying, “you never head the bullet that kills you”, I believe to be absolutely true.
Ducking and taking cover during mortar attacks, wears on your nerves. Missions sneaking through known enemy strongholds what is waiting for you around the next bush. Watching villager movements, checking head counts to identify possible VC within a village. Relying on an interpreter to translate the information correctly to you. We had a interpreter I caught more than once not sharing the correct information.
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) something that nearly every line soldier has including civilians that see war activity first hand. It is hard to explain. “Vietnam The War of Nerves” couldn’t be described more accurately with over 553,000 soldiers committed by the United States government and denied benefits to so many of the soldiers that were so deserving.
I read an article recently where a VA spokes person said, “We are only backlogged about a year on our processing of claims. We think that is a significant improvement.” Tell the families and soldiers that is a significant improvement when the only hope they have is help from a government that put them in harms way!
“Vietnam the War of Nerves” while you were on duty and after you came home. A war that lost favor with the American public and thus the soldiers that put their lives on the line. The first war documented every evening on the news reporting infinite details of the fighting, casualty reports and death toll of American troops. Even when the media reported the fighting and results wrong they never corrected the misleading statements. It seems today that trend still holds true.
Now history is being rewritten with facts being released that were withheld from public scrutiny. “Vietnam the War of Nerves” for both the soldier and families involved. I served in the recon unit and my two brother-in-laws served at the same time. Thankfully all of us made it home without severe injuries.
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