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Interview with Edward Bruce Allen [6/10/2002]

Larry Ordner:

This tape is made June 10th, 2002, with Edward Bruce Allen, date of birth February 7th, 1950. Mr. Allen resides at POB 198 in Cynthiana, Indiana. He's a native of Poseyville, Indiana; was born in Evansville, technically. Served in the United States Army as an E-4 from the period of April 1970, to November 1971. This tape is made with Larry Ordner, Regional Director for Senator Richard Lugar. Ed, you were 20-years-old, living at home in Cynthiana?

Edward Bruce Allen:

True.

Larry Ordner:

Tell me, you received a draft notice, right?

Edward Bruce Allen:

Right.

Larry Ordner:

What was the reaction at home when you got the notice?

Edward Bruce Allen:

My mom cried. It was rather interesting. I went for a pre-induction physical the prior September. I really didn't think I was going. I hurt my legs playing football, and I had had a car fall on me. I didn't expect that. I remember when I left Louisville, they said we'll see you in a month or so. But then they canceled the draft, started the lottery. And I believe my number was 91.

At some point, my younger brother called the Draft Board and wanted to know when that number would come up. They told him April. Okay. So I actually always thought that if I went in the service I'd probably go into the Air Force, feeling I could get something more applicable to civilian life, as far as training. And somewhere around March 15th, the draft notice showed up. And I have a tendency to just kind of wipe things and just make the best of the situation. And so I can't say I was upset.

But as far as that time I was a bit ambivalent. I spent most of my time in high school playing sports so I didn't see the 6 o'clock news very often. And in this locality, at least openly, there wasn't a lot of discussion at school. The only thing I remembered, a couple times you heard of someone older that had got hurt, or how sad it was that a certain teacher had to go back to school for teaching or be subjected to the draft. That was it.

Larry Ordner:

Had there been casualties in this area during that time?

Edward Bruce Allen:

Yes. But not a lot. Not a lot that was openly shared, either.

Larry Ordner:

I see.

Edward Bruce Allen:

There were people that, subsequent years, like a year or two ahead of me or even my grade. It was only like the last ten years that I know they were in Vietnam. There might be a little notice in the paper about somebody being in the service. It didn't seem to be an open subject. There was just a few, probably less than a handful of people, that I personally knew after they came back and talked to --

Larry Ordner:

I'd like to get into that a little bit later.

Edward Bruce Allen:

Sure. No problem.

Larry Ordner:

So tell me, Ed, where do you go for induction?

Edward Bruce Allen:

Louisville, Kentucky.

Larry Ordner:

Then from Louisville, where did you go?

Edward Bruce Allen:

Fort Knox.

Larry Ordner:

Did you have a boot training there? Was it basic training at Fort Knox?

Edward Bruce Allen:

I took basic training at Fort Knox. Then I was scheduled to go to Fort Bliss, Texas, for missile school. During training, we experienced a lot of rain and the skin came off one of my feet, got infected. They couldn't transfer me from one post to another until that post profile was expired.

Larry Ordner:

Can I ask you, what was it like among the men that you were with? Was it pretty much certain in the back of your mind, where you were going to be headed?

Edward Bruce Allen:

I don't think anybody admitted that to themselves. I really don't. You had the handful of people that, when they joined, volunteered to go to Vietnam. To the best of my knowledge, most those guys actually were prior service people. I remember one guy had been in the Air Force. He had gotten out. He was from Newburg, Indiana. He joined the Army and expressed desire to go to Vietnam. So they sent him to Germany. I always thought that was funny. Also I thought my induction date was the 1st of April, April Fool's Day. I always thought there was something about that.

I didn't expect them to keep me then. In fact, there was an Air Force doctor that examined my knees and he asked me, Why are you here? I said the Government, I guess. He said, You couldn't get in the Air Force? He mentioned probably wouldn't be a problem with the Army at that time period. I just stayed, not that I had a large option.

But basic -- I mean they keep you so busy, you don't really do a lot of thinking, I don't think. We had a mixture of National Guard people doing their basic training, plus.

Larry Ordner:

How rigorous was basic training, considering your knees?

Edward Bruce Allen:

Not that bad. Because I've always played sports. I've always been in good shape. There were certain -- I remember spot thrusts were difficult. I had trouble. But we, somehow in my mind, lucked out. We didn't hardly do near as much the physical training, repetitively as maybe some other groups. Why, I don't know. But it wasn't as bad as I had assumed it might be. I mean it was tough. Don't get me wrong.

But it wasn't anything -- My father, who was a World War II vet and landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day, wanted me not to go. Particularly, in VIT, when I got my orders for Vietnam, he wanted me to go back to Dock Sys (phonetic), to get out of it.

Larry Ordner:

He got to know firsthand recollections, I suppose?

Edward Bruce Allen:

I suppose. He had shrapnel in him and stuff. Probably through most of my life, my father and I weren't -- there were like six boys and a girl in the family. I wasn't the closest one to him. But through my service that all changed. And even though I'm the third oldest after them, he, obviously in his mind, I took the lead position in the family.

And when he died, I'm the one he left the note to, where things were, and all that stuff. Unfortunately, I never got an opportunity to really talk to him a lot. Because he didn't talk a lot either. But at that time -- I was 29 when he died -- I didn't talk either.

Larry Ordner:

Did he ever talk much about his military experience?

Edward Bruce Allen:

Not a lot. If you were studying geography or history, he would tell you he was in Luxembourg. He might point out somewhere in Germany where he was. I knew more from my mom than I knew from him. In later years, after I got married, I got the Time Life books on World War II. He would come over and read them and he might point a picture out and say, I was in that unit. That's my insignia on that helmet, or something like that.

I only really found out that he participated in D-Day because we had a school teacher, who also participated in D-Day. Usually in May, we would have an assembly. He would get up and talk about his experiences. Let's just say it's made very evident to me -- and I like this schoolteacher. I know I did, okay -- but this schoolteacher was on the seventeenth wave and dad was on the third wave. He kind of felt that it was pretty poor down on the pecking order to be getting up in front of students. I don't think the teacher really glorified himself in that manner. But, still, there was still a sort of tension I think for dad.

Larry Ordner:

After basic, Ed, you went to Texas?

Edward Bruce Allen:

No, I didn't.

Larry Ordner:

I'm sorry. Pardon me.

Edward Bruce Allen:

They pulled my orders. I ended up staying in Fort Knox and went to reconnaissant scout training.

Larry Ordner:

Where was that?

Edward Bruce Allen:

At Fort Knox.

Larry Ordner:

At Fort Knox also?

Edward Bruce Allen:

And that was tough.

Larry Ordner:

Tell me about that.

Edward Bruce Allen:

Well, as a reconnaissance scout, it's pretty encompassing. Obviously, you've got to do a lot of map reading and learn how to use training pictures, et cetera, a lot of camouflage, anything from explosives, you know, how to go capture somebody and bring them back or how to go eliminate somebody, in both silent methods and more conventional way. Ways of movement without being detected. Calling in, and adjusting artillery parts. It's pretty wide ranging.

And I know that in the general populace, there's probably a lot of misconceptions about what could be called Recon. You think the guy is going out and getting these fights, successfully. In a recon. mission, they don't even know you were there. In a recon mission, they don't even know you were there. So they really hit the training on that pretty hard. And, you know, it may be anything from going in and blowing up a big structure, or other structures, to actually eliminating someone or bringing them back. Basically, you were to gather intelligence, bring them back, or send them back.

Larry Ordner:

Did you have any option of maybe what to do?

Edward Bruce Allen:

No. Basically, you took the standard battery of tests. From those tests, that's how I was going to end up going -- well, I did have the option if I wanted to go to OCS. But then they wanted me to sign up for more time, too. But, other than that, I would have went to probably a better situation. But then the profile cut that out. And I ended up -- you know, it was more physically rigorous. Like our final test was a ten-mile run, where you stopped at stations along the way and adjusted artillery here, did first aid here, something else here.

Part of your grade was the total time it took you. And of course, part of the other thing is you're not sitting there all calm, cool and collective, to answer these. You're breathing heavy, you've been running, you know you're on a time limit. So, you know, it was pretty interesting. I'll just go ahead and throw this out: We were told about halfway through the training cycle that it was very unlikely we would be going to Vietnam. Because the last ten training cycles had all went to Vietnam. And, of course, we went to Vietnam.

Larry Ordner:

I would think at that time it would have been pretty much -- well, I wouldn't say a certainty, but your chances would have been pretty high that you would have been going?

Edward Bruce Allen:

You never really know. Because you know, the connotation they were giving us was -- and things had began to wind down as far as starting to bring the troops back. I'm not sure exactly when that occurred. They just felt, apparently, that as many as went, that the need was slowing down, I guess. But, then again, I went over with that MOS. And within a week I had a new MOS anyway.

Larry Ordner:

So where did you go from Knox? I'm sorry. From that training, where did you go before shipping to Vietnam?

Edward Bruce Allen:

Nowhere.

Larry Ordner:

You went straight from there?

Edward Bruce Allen:

Yeah. Came home. Went back for two weeks what they call Vietnam training.

Larry Ordner:

You had a little break at home?

Edward Bruce Allen:

Yeah.

Larry Ordner:

You knew where your headed?

Edward Bruce Allen:

Yeah. That's when dad really wanted me to go get some doctors. My viewpoint at the time, I've been to a lot of counseling, okay. So I understand that the male ego is kind of -- thing about us, we want to know how we match up. So there's that one part wondering, you wonder what it's like; and, you know, I remember specific thinking, If you can guarantee me that I'm going to come home alive and in one piece, it might be interesting.

I also felt that I wasn't any better than anyone else. I should, basically, just take my luck in the draw and see what I can do with it. And I served training with these guys and stuff. Having been involved in sports, you're kind of competitive, you know. You want to test yourself a little bit. You want to be careful, before you go with that maybe. And, of course, there are no guarantees, but...

Larry Ordner:

When you finally left home, were there any final words of advice?

Edward Bruce Allen:

I'm going to say two things. Not that I can remember. And I think in that manner, I just kind of put things off, I kind of take the emotions out. So I don't remember a lot. But as far as really pulling aside and having a sit-down talk, no.

Larry Ordner:

Where did you leave the States from?

Edward Bruce Allen:

Oakland, California.

Larry Ordner:

I take it you flew out to Oakland?

Edward Bruce Allen:

Yeah. My first experience to O'Harrah Airport. Luckily, my mother's second cousin was on the same flight out of Evansville. He was going to Greenbay, Wisconsin, for business. He got me through the airport. He knew the airport. Like I had like fifty minutes, but it wasn't in the same concourse. And we barely made it. It may be a big deal for --

Larry Ordner:

Did you fly to Vietnam?

Edward Bruce Allen:

Uh-huh.

Larry Ordner:

What was your first recollection when you started seeing land?

Edward Bruce Allen:

Well, you wonder if you're going to get shot at.

Larry Ordner:

I've had one Vietnam veteran told me that when he landed they were shot at.

Edward Bruce Allen:

I'm sure it happened. And then the closer you get, you're not seeing the United States. You're not seeing the buildings you expect. You're not seeing the type of anything.

Larry Ordner:

What did you see, Ed? Describe that.

Edward Bruce Allen:

Well, nothing very tall. You know, buildings that in a lot of ways -- O'Harrah -- would have been called sheds or huts or lean-tos. That was Bien Hoa airbase, kind of scrubby, dirty, hot, of course. The hot hits you, the smells. But one thing I've always reflected back on is how quickly we adjust. I think there's part of human beings are a lot more animalistic that we like to pretend. Because you can adjust quick. You get there.

After a while, you don't even notice most of the smells that offend you when you first get there. There's particular days, occurrences. All of a sudden, what kind of offended your eyes when you first landed becomes pretty nice. You even take a little pride, because your bunker is a little bit nicer than that guy's down there, you know. You just really get down to a lot more basic existence pretty quick, probably more than we realize we're capable of.

Larry Ordner:

So from the time that you arrived, then how quickly were you sent out to a unit?

Edward Bruce Allen:

Okay. From Bien Hoa, we were bused. I got to say it's in our famous buses with the bar mesh on the windows with no weapons to Long Binh. You know, I hadn't heard all the stories about why the mesh was on, grenades and stuff. But we were going out to the countryside. And, actually, it really wasn't the countryside, from what I came to learn later. But, you know, it was still fairly populace, and whatever.

Larry Ordner:

You were uneasy?

Edward Bruce Allen:

But you go -- we went to Long Binh. I think I was maybe there maybe two, two-and-a-half days. My first introduction to the tropical afternoon rainstorms. It comes and goes, without the sun ever going down. You might be caught in-between buildings. From the time you get to the next building it stops. So you think it's okay. You go out again. And at that time I thought that was a monsoon. But I learned that was wrong also. But then they sent me up to, of course, bused back to Bien Hoa, end up to Nha Trang, that first headquarters compound there.

The story there is: First night there, they put me on guard. I'm on top what I became later to know as the Club. I've got this weapon I've not seen before. I've only got three rounds. And I was mad, you know, angry. Because, look, here I am in Vietnam. I know there's a war going on. And I don't know what you guys know. But I'm not comfortable here. And I've only got three rounds. And I'm not sure how to load this thing. At some point, you got to think, well, somebody must know -- it's almost like going to the doctor's sometimes. You got to trust him, even though maybe you don't.

And, of course, if I figured how to load it -- that third round is for me, you know. Up until a certain time in the evening -- because it was fairly early, like 7:00 to 10:00, there's still pedestrians and people going by on their little mopeds. Is this allowed? How do I know? You've not really had any good indoctrination at the time. Even though you can tell people anything you want, the real thing is always different anyway. I was mad at them. And I was also apprehensive, a little scared, yeah.

Larry Ordner:

-- to suddenly be just there and thrust into that --

Edward Bruce Allen:

Yeah.

Larry Ordner:

-- and what you maybe felt was ill prepared?

Edward Bruce Allen:

Right. I remember the second day they loaned me out to Supply, there. So I go to work Supply. You do what you're supposed to do, right? What I came to understand pretty quick there, the guys that were stationed there long-term weren't exactly energetic, so that made me stand out by coming over working. They asked me if I wanted to be stationed there. Okay. That's fine. I knew there was a beach across the street.

Now, as a transit, I wasn't allowed to go. But people who were stationed there, they didn't really have any duties. They could go to the beach, you know. By the way, in 2000, I was on that beach.

So I went back to the next morning, back over to Supply, to work again. They came to me, and said, Would you want to be stationed here? Okay. That mission control must not have been going on anyway. As they relayed to me, they went up their chain-of-command and over to the Field Force and had all the signatures but one. And the guy had his pen in his hand, getting ready to write, and said, What's his MOS?

Then when they told him, he said, No, we need all them out in the field as soon as we can get them. So they came back and told me that and apologized to me. I can't say I was disappointed, because I didn't really have any expectations. And but, then, what we, who had been in the service, always called the Army intelligence, the next morning, in formation, they said the -- spread into Recon so you needed all them out in the field. Yesterday around noon -- but today you're sending me. There were two of us. There was another guy I trained with who was from Evansville, Indiana, who went to dusters. Everybody else that I went over with on the plane that I knew of, either went to the first or fifth neck up on the DMZ or the First or 50th Infantry, down in the Delta. Two of us that I know of went to dusters -- reconnaissance infantry. Which, duster is this twin-forty cannon, like you see on a ship, guns on a track. It's actually M-42, tank chassis, with open turn; traverses 360 degrees, like from a minus 5 to a 89 degrees; full automatic, both barrels firing 240 of these a minute. It's actually antiaircraft weapon. But we used them for defense.

We ran convoys and, like, if you got ambushed, our job was to stop advance forward while the convoy would put the pedal to the metal and get out of there. If infantry unit was up against the bunker complex, we may be with them, or they might call us in to break it up. We could penetrate it pretty well, and a few other uses. But there's -- it was a story over there. I've seen it several times since -- about the general that visited and saw a duster and said, Duster, that's air defense. There's no airplanes in Vietnam. And then, supposedly, soldiers snapped his book and said we're doing a damn good job, sir. It's just a little black humor, I guess, at that point. We were used, probably, somewhere between a tank and an APC is how we were used for the most part. And we did not have our own places. We were always attached to somebody else, usually, artillery, infantry, transportation units. Any large airport, we were probably outside their wall protecting them.

Larry Ordner:

So, literally, you were plugged in from whatever?

Edward Bruce Allen:

We were from Delta DMZ. My particular battery -- you have your battery. Then you have two platoons. They were located 150 miles apart, and then spread out from there. My experience, on a duster -- I saw two dusters in Vietnam, the one I was on and our sister track.

I didn't see anybody else in my battery. We didn't go back to battery headquarters, see them people. We operated where we didn't even have an officer with us full time. If we were lucky enough to have an E-6 you had one; if not, then you didn't. Usually anywhere from depends what your strength was. If you were lucky, you could have twelve guys. Probably nine or ten guys at a location.

Larry Ordner:

I suppose it put you in a little awkward situation when -- who do you take orders from?

Edward Bruce Allen:

It could be awkward. But it could be beneficial.

Larry Ordner:

Yeah. I can see that, too.

Edward Bruce Allen:

Because we had our rules. As long as we -- because we had to pull guard wherever we were at. We pull guard every night. There wasn't no rotation. And if you're down, you're pulling twelve bars, a guard, and you got four guys, you can just do the math. We quickly changed from that two-on/four-off to doing it three-off/three-off, just because we preferred it. But somebody, then -- because at one time we had four guys on our gun. And the one guy was actually an E-4, but he had the -- E-5. So he was in charge. His predecessor had decided that as the track commander he didn't have to pull guard. So that left three of us pulling guard. You're basically going to do four hours a night with three people. And we broke it up.We were from Delta DMZ. My particular battery --We just primarily didn't go, well, you know, four hours straight, rather than get up, get down, get up. But if we were not actively engaged the next morning, we had that leeway to stay in bed until 9 o'clock. Like we get off at 7:00, which was normal, you know. 7:00 to 7:00 was a normal guard.

I can remember this one location where we were at. We were with the 105 Battery. And when we first got there, we were on this hill, like normal, 6000 feet above sea level, which a lot of people don't think of Vietnam. I mean, we had frost. The Firing Battery was here. They had, you know, the Medics, the Commo. There was a Provisional Artillery Control Group in this house that had been there already. We were in a tent right next to the FDC, Far Direction Control Center. We're building our positions. First, you get to build protection for your weapon, then protection for your ammunition. Then you can build your guard position. Then you get to build your place to live, place to sleep in. So I can't remember how many days. It wasn't maybe a handful of days we were there.

And we had made enough progress that the lieutenant we had at the time allowed us to do a little drinking that night. And so it was probably pretty close to a quarter of 12:00, or stuff, when we headed over to the tent we were in. And at about 12:05, rounds started coming in. I'm going to tell you: You can have all the training you want. You really don't know how you're going to react.

And somebody will tell you that as I exited the tent there was a tree right here that a round had exploded in, which, naturally, set me in the right direction. But it was a bad situation. Because I'm running through this gun battery, which is not -- you know, you have to weave -- 'cause the guns are located like this. And I don't know what they're doing. So I'm trying to stay low. It took us too long to get to our guns.

And we didn't -- basically, just fired up the countryside that night. We got in trouble. There's a village down in the valley that, on any given day, would have one flag or another from this schoolhouse slash church. And there was an outpost about 100, 200 yards outside that village which sometimes is manned, sometimes it's not. And we were getting hit probably another 100 yards was where the fire was coming from, that outpost. So we put rounds in that outpost. And there was people in it that night. So we got chewed out the next day. I can't tell you. We felt bad.

It might sound a little bit crass. But, basically, if you're out there and you're not stopping them, then I can't worry about you too much. Honestly, it made us angry, because we felt if they were awake, doing their job, as much as it's happening -- of course, we go back to -- anytime you get hit, you spend the rest of the night on the guns. Nobody goes back. That was our rules. Two people had to be on the guns at all times, anyway. So that's enough to get them in operation until somebody else comes. Go back to our tents the next day. It's fully ventilated. Some of our cots had holes in them, and stuff. Now, we take a break. They're building our position. You familiar with the Com-X at all?

Larry Ordner:

No.

Edward Bruce Allen:

It's a metal container, a shipping container. Like you might see -- I think the one we had were 6 x 6 x 6. So we took some of those and put like five of them together, two here on each side; one here, plywood. And just covered them with sandbags. You know, that was our home for about the next two-and-a-half weeks. During that time -- today it's not amazing. Three or four years ago, it would have been amazing to me. Because if you'd asked me how many times have you come under direct fire? Maybe once a month, on the average. That's what I thought.

But I kept going over events in my mind, from when we went to this particular location, which was the second location I was at. We got there pretty early in November -- and I'm going through -- we must have got like hit six times that night. But I would never have admitted that to myself. And it was through doing some thinking -- I remember the night before Thanksgiving I was really mad. Because we're going to have, as best we can, a stand-down Thanksgiving Day. They're going to have a cookout, and everything. Somebody disrupted our night. So not only to have to stay up all night -- you know, you get pretty wired on adrenaline anyway -- but then, once you get kind of like an all-clear and get a stand-down, then you get to clean your guns.

So by noon, when we're done and I'm all covered with oil and grease, and stuff, from cleaning the guns, and stuff, and I get to go clean up and they've got the cookout going, it's raining. And it rained the rest of the day. It was cold-ass rain. And I remember going up and getting me some food and carrying it back down to the hooch rain. It was sopping wet the entire time.

We had the best, I guess, chief cook, or whatever, in that mess hall there. He would take things he knew we didn't eat, and take them down to the village and trade them. We had fried green tomatoes there. That was like having -- Then they had shrimp. But they had shrimp -- not shrimp -- but little lobster tails there. I don't know how good they were, because I didn't eat them. I brought them. But I had never had lobster then, so I fed them to the dog.

I kicked myself for that now. But as best they could, they were trying to make it a decent day. You had your turkey and dressing. They had steaks. Sometimes I'm not sure what type of meat that was. Some of it was pretty tough. That head cook, he did his best to make it as best he could for us. I have to give him a lot of credit. But I had -- at other places, the cook couldn't do nothing with it because the water was so doctored up you couldn't eat the food anyway.

We lived on care packages from home and the back door of the mess hall. Because you go over at night. You get some of those guys on night duty. You might go over and get a couple pounds of potatoes and four or five eggs and some bacon. I'd go do that. And we had an electric skillet. Fry that bacon up. Take it out. Cut the potatoes up. When they get about done, you put the bacon back in, stir it up until it's done, and eat it. That's what we lived on.

That and we bought rice bread from the hooch boy. I understand that you clean pans with this water and you probably clean -- but even fried eggs taste like quinine, anything that touched water, the eggs. I guess it was just because they cleaned everything in it. For the most part, you didn't bother going to mess hall and them place -- it was too awful -- if you had any options at all.

Larry Ordner:

When you mentioned care packages from home, what was it like getting mail or packages?

Edward Bruce Allen:

I considered myself one of the luckier people. I got more mail than some people.

Larry Ordner:

Would it come with some regularity?

Edward Bruce Allen:

It depends. Because we moved occasionally. It would have to catch up with you. It would be somewhat sporadic. But for the most part, where I was, it was fairly regular. You know, as long as we were stationary. Obviously, there was another location that I saw Stars and Stripes. We knew what was going on. Nobody -- we were attached to some engineers that -- they weren't building roads. They were building the bridge structures for the roads to be built, and stuff. I know nobody was leaving. The mailman wasn't going out to get the mail and stuff. Basically, all the roads were cut.

And there was sporadic sniper fire and stuff going on. We actually laughed -- it was about a week or two later that Stars and Stripes got out to us. We'd been under siege for four days. It certainly wasn't what we contemplated a siege to be. If you went anywhere, you tried to be no higher than waist high. We had dirt berm around us, with wire, and stuff. You always walked bent over and quickly. And you didn't venture out unnecessarily. But it wasn't really like a case, where you would think there was rounds impacting every minute and you're just full of fear for that few days. So we kind of laughed about it at the time. I'm kind of jumping around.

Larry Ordner:

That's okay. That's okay. How were you able to understand how the war was going? Did you have a sense of where you fit in the scheme of things?

Edward Bruce Allen:

No. That was always a disappointment to me. Didn't even have a good information coming to me, what was going on in my little area.

Larry Ordner:

Is that right?

Edward Bruce Allen:

I was often, I guess, unhappy. Because I didn't know of any plan. Let's say if we get overranked. I was usually on a small base, less than a hundred people there. And if we get overran, what's the best direction to go and where would be a place to try to get to. That was probably the negative part of not having good contact with our headquarters and not getting that much from whoever we were attached to. Because your relationship with those people would differ regularly. Some of them didn't want to have nothing to do with you.

Where I was going, a while ago, the place where we got hit all those times in November, they actually took a disliking to us. Because that base had probably been there for three years. And they were what we would call state side. They had two formations a day, including the rifle inspection, plus the guard mount. They strung wire five-and-a-half days a week. After a while, you string that wire, and you got a truck, and you got to know some of that wire went rolling down the hill. They kept them busy with, more likely, like state side, just busy work sometimes. They had some rules and regulations. We didn't have to do that. As long as our equipment was in good order, clean, our ammunition, whatever, we policed up our area. That's all we had to do. So we didn't have the regimentation that they had. So we were insulated from that a little bit.

In fact, when we were building our position, we had like 12x20 creosoted timbers, 20-foot long, that we were carrying around, trying to build this bunker. We had a nice bunker. We thought it was a nice bunker. And it's not level terrain you're carrying it on. It's kind of like this, like the top of this hill was. This major from the PROD group, Provision Artillery Control, located on the hill, talked to one of my friends, was going to give him 115 for not wearing his shirt. We knew whatever officers were in that building -- there were also clerks and radio officers, and whatever -- they pulled guard in the daytime only, usually just about four hours in the afternoon, on top of that building -- and there was a data machine up there -- in swimming trunks.

You're telling me I can't come in and do this work without my shirt on? Basically, he told him that you can't do that. Because you've got to go down to your chain-of-command over to mine and back down to me. And we were pretty sure that was going to get killed somewhere along the way. One of those guys also got on to us one time because we weren't wearing rank. And didn't have nowhere to get it.

Larry Ordner:

I guess I just kind of hear in what you're saying sometimes --

Edward Bruce Allen:

Okay.

Larry Ordner:

-- that the leadership structure was a little bit cloudy? Is that a fair way to say it?

Edward Bruce Allen:

Well, they were non-existent to us, really. Because they were several miles away. If they didn't decide to come through, they didn't come through. You'll find different groups, different units, did it differently. Different commanders did it differently. And some of it just depended on the initiative of the individual, what was a part of him. Was he there to spend some time and get out, or was he there to try to do the best he could, for the troops or whatever. I met my first sergeant for the first time in 1996. Never laid eyes on him before.

Larry Ordner:

Is that right?

Edward Bruce Allen:

But through stories and stuff, we figured it out, okay. And he's talking to me and telling me how good he took care of his troops. CP Pack is what they call them. You get your cigarettes, your shoe polish, your stationary, and whatever else. How he always made sure that the troops out in the field got them regularly. Well, I would be of the opinion somewhere between me and him something happened.

But I'm going to tell you, he's telling the truth as he knew it. Because that was his intent. But they weren't getting to us all the time. That wasn't the only one location I was at could get them. I don't know where they went the rest of the time. But that happened to be the location we had -- what I'm going to call it -- the best lieutenant we ever had. And he also was co-located with us, which meant we might see him as many as ten days a month. Because he would have to go to the other positions that we were scattered out.

And, later on, we had lieutenants we never saw. They started rotating. You get to be my lieutenant for a month. Somebody else gets you for two months. You might never lay eyes on them. None of them stayed with us, except one, while we were moving. I hate to be terribly negative. It's nothing. He was almost sad. You know, if you've heard much about Vietnam, you've probably heard a lot about maybe a deterioration in the officer corps. And it's true. I'm sure they let people go through OCS or whatever that couldn't have in other times. They just needed manpower. Both, not just character-wise, but -- because this guy was a Ph.D. in math, the one that I thought was kind of, had worked for General Motors as an engineer, and had a couple patents under his name, and stuff. And he's in the Army. Why?

But his career goal, was -- he stated to us -- was to be a general's orderly. After he left us, we did hear he was a jeep driver for a colonel. So I guess he was on his way. But he would -- it's sad. What we did -- because on our track, you might be our officer. But when we're engaged, you stay off our track, stay out of our way. The track commander is in command. If you're in the way, he can invite you to leave, whatever that takes. And this guy would get in our way.

So we took -- each track has radios to communicate with, right? We took a field phone, some plywood, and sandbags, and built what looked like a phone booth on the side of one of our hooches. Stuck that field pole, ran the wire out there, cut it, and explained to him that instead of getting in the track, in the way, whatever, he needed to man that field phone. So that he could coordinate our activities.

At best, we knew he never knew the difference. He wasn't trained in our weaponry, or anything else, anyway. And I don't mean to really denigrate him that great. But really... And I remember, actually one night in the end, as far as we're concerned, in our little tents, where nothing happened. But in the village -- it was maybe about a half a mile we were, outside of it -- part of it got thrown away. You had the D.C. come in, was asking about rolling grenades in, in their huts.

Then the lands (phonetic) came in, chasing the V.C. out, wiped out most of the other village, as far as leveled it. There was a Special Forces compound out through the thicket, this way, that actually had unfriendlies in their wire. We, for the most part, had just straight bullets, really. But, of course, you go out with your gun and you're ready, whatever. I got to stand up, to do this. Because at 10 o'clock the next morning he wanted us to fall out on this little road that's inside this compound. We don't know what's going on. And I can't tell you that anybody really stood at attention.

But this guy, he'd been watching movies. That's exactly what was in our mind. We were saying it to ourselves. I want you guys to know that I'm really proud to be associated with you and the way you acquitted yourself. He started doing this pacing back and forth. We hadn't done nothing, particularly. But I guess he thought he was doing something good, or something. We didn't respect him at all.

When we first moved there, building our position, the sky decided it was time to rain. We would basically stay out long enough to get good and wet. Got your bar of soap and washed yourself up a little bit. Got your towel. Went in. You had a soda, you had soda. If you happened to have a beer, you drink the beer, whatever. And we were with engineers then. So we had a front-end loader we borrowed. He sat out there for two hours moving mud with a front-end loader. Came in. All drinking glasses. Of course, it's still hot. So they fog up. He's telling us he got that south wall done. Okay. You're dismissed, sir. You are. If I met him today, I'd like him okay. But he wasn't a leader. We often found, in real combat, the leader is not always the guy with the most rank anyway.

Larry Ordner:

How did you guys keep your sanity with the frustration level you were dealing with at times?

Edward Bruce Allen:

You don't deal with it. You shove it back. That's what comes out later. That's what a lot of us deal with later. Like, you know, a lot of people want to know, Were you scared all the time? Sure. But not overtly. You can't live a whole year being in total terror. You can't do it. So you just shove it back and don't deal with it.

You build your wall up, just like in human tragedies here in the States. People that have to deal with it, they build a wall up. Later you start... I don't think a human being can stay sane and live in terror the whole time. That's where, black humor, the jokes about things that people maybe don't think are funny. That's where it comes from. It's a relief. Really, it's all about making the best of the situation. I can't imagine surviving, sitting and dwelling on -- like in that environment -- sitting and dwelling on all the negatives going on.

You learn to make fun of things that might be dangerous. You learn to just put it out. You got to concentrate on the job at hand. The lucky thing is, you know where you're going to sleep at night. Don't have to worry about that. Don't have to worry about who is going to pay the electric bill. You might worry about whether you're going to have water or not, but it wasn't because you didn't pay the bill. You're going to have something to eat, in some manner or another, however appreciative you might be of it, whether it came out of a can, a mess hall, or whatever. In a lot of ways, life was so simple. There's been times since then that I kind of miss that, that life is not simple. And there's a lot of clutter in normal life that was beyond then. It's basically taking care of each other, taking care of your job, staying alive. Somebody else got to worry about the rest. Payday, where are we going now?

Larry Ordner:

So what's there to do?

Edward Bruce Allen:

Not much. It varied from location to location. There was a couple places where we could actually walk down the hill and maybe catch a ride on another military vehicle and get in, and maybe get in to a PX, or a bar downtown, a restaurant, or whatever. But there's other places there's nothing close. There's nowhere to go. You play cards.

Larry Ordner:

How were you perceived out there? What were the villagers, how did they look at you all?

Edward Bruce Allen:

The general populace I don't think cared. In that type of society, if it's 10 miles away, it doesn't exist for me anyway.

Larry Ordner:

Do you think they comprehended really what was going on?

Edward Bruce Allen:

No, I don't. Not the general populace, no. Then you had your opportunists, of course. And the people with a political bent, they had their games to play. But a large percent of the population probably weren't concerned who the government of Vietnam was at that time. Because they didn't have any personal direct relations with whoever it's going to be. So in one hand they liked us.

And I think generally they liked us, okay, but for varying reasons. I think some of them had an understanding we were trying to do something good for them, whether they knew what that was. But they also knew that we hurt them. Obviously, if I'm blowing up your rice paddie, you're not getting no crops this year. I know we had a way of compensating them with dollars. But, in fact, when I went back in 2000, I think I feel a greater desire for democracy now than I did then. But part of it is because they'd been exposed to it. In the last passage of time, there is a little bit of -- the word we use -- where you can have a little ownership and at least keep a little bit of what you make. It's still pretty tightly controlled.

Larry Ordner:

From the time you went in -- let's see, Nixon was the president then -- among people that were over there, men that had been serving, had been there, perhaps, during the previous administration -- what change could you sense were coming -- or did you -- politically, from the U.S. position in Vietnam? Were things starting to slide? I know it's the wrong word. But were things starting to be cut back a bit?

Edward Bruce Allen:

Yeah.

Larry Ordner:

Did you feel like --

Edward Bruce Allen:

Yeah. We noticed -- because sometimes that's why we moved. Whoever we were attaching to was going home. We would go to another location. In one way, I think it got a little bit more insane. Because you got more rules-of-engagement to live by. One of the most asinine months that I dealt with was if I see somebody coming through our wire I'm supposed to yell, Halt, dung lai, three times. Then fire a warning shot before I can shoot him. And if he's any good he's somewhere behind me.

So you always had your mind game: Remember, after you shoot him, to yell something. And then shoot a couple rounds. Because you could actually get in trouble. I don't like admitting this. But it was a location -- there's two sides of a person. I don't think I ever let myself full-time become a soldier. I think I tried to stay more of a human being. That led to some difficulties.

It was guard, like 7:00 to 10:00. I'm up there. I've got claymores, I've got M-16 machine gun, I've got my rifle. And I see movement. There was something like a beanfield out across the road from us, like two rows out. First, I think it's a dog. I keep watching. It keeps inching up. And I realize it's a person, nothing but a rag wrapped around his hips, or whatever. And rules were you have your rifle. You have your machine gun. But they can't be loaded. You might shoot, actually shoot somebody, or something, accidently, shoot somebody or something. Plus, any round that got fired they had to write reports on, and stuff. And even your Claymores couldn't be hooked up. Partly electrical storm can set them off, but...

So you go around. You get everything going. I remember I get my 16. I'm getting braced. I've got a bead on him. Then all of a sudden, just in my mind, I'm thinking, I've only got twenty rounds here, actually, eighteen. And what if I miss? They're going to come chew me out. Because I couldn't raise anybody on the radio. They were supposed to be -- So I kind of like threw my gun down and loaded up my machine gun. Because I've got like 200 rounds here, so... And I'm going on him. And then my squad leader happened to walk out. I motioned him over. And he saw it, too. And he got on the radio and raised the officer on duty, reported what we had.

Said he was busy. This guy, he was an E-5 from Texas. You know, I heard him tell him, If you're not out here in 10 seconds, we're opening fire. But in that time-frame we lost sight of this person. That's something you feel really bad about. If something were to happen bad, I'm going to feel responsible here. So the almost redemption, I guess, is a couple days later we got hit. And it became clear what he was doing. We had two dusters there.

And fifty rounds landed 25 meters short of each duster position. They were trying to take us out, which was normal. If you had a duster or a quad at a location, they had to take you out, to be able to try to get in. So you'd be the first target. And but we got him. A lot of times you have something like that, you go out the next day and patrol the area. And you find blood, little bits of flesh, some blood trails, you know, pieces of cloth. This time we found the bodies. We found them all.

Larry Ordner:

Ed, did it surprise you how hardened to this kind of life you feel you could become?

Edward Bruce Allen:

Yeah. You know, there's so much about it that it's totally contrary to life back here in, in the world as we knew it. And that particular instance that I'm talking about, you have a range of emotions that aren't proper: euphoria. Because a lot of frustration of getting hit a lot of times and not being able to validate what you did, even though you might even know it.

But you don't find anything to validate that you won, let's say. This time we had it. And it was almost a shameful feeling you had. So even today, I have trouble accepting that I felt that way. Because it's not right. It's not the way we were raised, not what you learn in church.

Larry Ordner:

Sounds to me like that was probably one of the great moments for you, though, looking back, where maybe all your values were put to ground?

Edward Bruce Allen:

I find the whole Vietnam experience to be full of conflict, within itself and then within the world back -- but even within itself. You know, you're supposed to be helping these people. Because I remember, we're going out on some sweeps with some troops. Here's the orders. You're representing the United States. So you don't offend these people. They do have some face. Like they come up hugging you, holding your hand, putting their hand on your leg. We don't like that.

I have removed somebody's hand from my leg. I was that uncomfortable. And, No, he didn't mean nothing. But it wasn't going to happen. You're told you don't offend these people. You're also told they're infiltrated. People will try to create animosity between you, so really makes you then try not to be too upset when they do something that bothers you.

But then you're also told if you get hit and they've got their backs to you, going the other way, shoot them. That's about as conflicting as you can get. These are your guys. You're out there to help them, and to protect them. But if you get hit and they're not heading towards them, like you are, you shoot them. You can get confused, you know.

Larry Ordner:

I would think that would be awfully difficult.

Edward Bruce Allen:

So are these the good guys or not? Or you couldn't tell them -- You know, in my second unit, we had generators for electricity. You got to fuel them. Americans did that in the daytime. We hired what we call an old man, just to keep them fueled at night. The closest thing to us was like a mountain yard village, probably about 35, 40 minutes away by jeep. I don't know if that's where this guy came from, or not.

But he was there every night, keeping fuel. So you're getting hit, pretty accurately, which was not always to be expected. So at one point somebody happens to walks up on him. He's in there with the radio, adjusting artillery fire. This is this old man that you joke around with, cut up with, whatever.

Suffice to say, he didn't get to pour no more fuel either, anywhere. But any human interaction you have that's positive, then you find out, and then you have to take a drastic action the opposite way, things don't make sense. I'm always amazed at people that didn't go and can tell me exactly why we were there and everything we did wrong and everything we did right. Because I don't know. I can't figure it all out. And I've read a lot. I've said it a lot. Because I have to say: This is right if this is really why we were there. This is wrong if this is really why we were there. And I don't really know that I can fully know.

I think we had some positive motives and motives that might not have been so great. But I don't think there's one motive that covers it all. How we prosecuted the war? That could have stood some improvement. I don't understand how, like snowball fights as a kid, where we're going to throw snowballs, but you can't cross that line. I can, but you can't, you know. So you get to have a safe haven, I don't. That's how we played the game.

That's why, when I went to my second unit, I had the opportunity to stay at battalion in the mailroom and I turned it down. I wanted to go out in the field. Because even though maybe it's more dangerous, it's simpler, because things are more elemental. If I'm out there and there's not even a village around, I can assume if you're outside my wire you're not there for a good purpose. Whether really my hierarchy says that's true or not I can assume that, easy, as a human being. That if I'm real close to a village, you might just be straying out for a walk or something.

Plus, by that time, I'd been in the country for a long time. I extended, so when I came home I wouldn't be doing any stateside. I wanted to just get out and be over with it. Because of the time frame I was in, I had went over thinking I might do that. But I wanted to get like ten months under my belt first. But because of the time frame and the renuptions (phonetic), had to make that in the first two months, I had to make a decision. It was basically a roll of the dice.

Larry Ordner:

How did you finally get word that you were going to get out of there for good?

Edward Bruce Allen:

I got more than one word. Because they were doing drops at the time. And I probably had five or six different sets of orders, telling me the date that I was going to leave. It would be here, here, here, here. All of which was sooner than I should have left. Because basically I extended for six months. And I only really did an extra month-and-a-half. But it was troop withdrawals. The actual unit I was with then was going home also. And I found it interesting. Because I never knew -- and I really don't know right now. Battery, battalion, somewhere in there, there was a reenlistment officer, and a reenlistment sergeant. I knew I could have reenlisted. But when I'm checking out -- you go to get the motor codes. You got to sign this -- I stopped, and I'm reading this. And I saw my interviews that I had with these people and my answers. I'd never had them. But, basically, they pointed to that I need to get home early because I was going to go to college, return to college. Which I did -- not right away -- but I did.

Larry Ordner:

When you were leaving, when you finally got on the plane and got out of there, what --

Edward Bruce Allen:

That's -- today, I've never felt that relief yet.

Larry Ordner:

When you were getting ready to leave, did you see new troops coming in, to replace you?

Edward Bruce Allen:

Yeah. But not as many.

Larry Ordner:

What did you think when you saw those guys, and probably just young kids?

Edward Bruce Allen:

Yeah, generally. You just kind of shake your head a little bit. Because that's what they did to me. Actually, there were people -- when you first come in -- there was more people coming in. There was a little bit of, You'll be sorry. But I don't think we said that to anybody. I don't remember saying that to anybody. But it was a stark contrast. I went over on -- I'm wanting to say United. We had the in-flight movies, which is my first experience with that. We had the headphones with the music, and stuff. We stopped in Hawaii for about an hour-and-a-half. I remember I bought some stuff to send home. I got real homesick there. Again, I think we stopped at Gaum and Okinawa, something like that. But most of them I slept through. Coming back, it was Flying Tiger. I couldn't tell you if they had the capability of actually lighting up that cabin. They never had the lights all on. I know that. And almost like coming home under wraps.

Larry Ordner:

I cannot imagine getting on a plane and then it's almost like the light switch is flipped of what you've been knowing for --

Edward Bruce Allen:

But, see, you know, like your theater lights, that's all they had in those planes. They probably had them, but they never had them on. I never worried about getting shot down, leaving. But not really worrying -- but I kept waiting to feel relieved, and it never happened. When we landed, in Washington, I saw a couple guys kind of hug the ground. I looked at it. I was kind of numb.

And then for me, like we left Vietnam somewhere around 11:30 at night. We stopped at I think it was Yakoda, Japan. I'm pretty sure we had some cargo for the hospital in the bottom of the plane. And I actually ran into a guy from the Army there that I knew. He was in the Army. He had been stationed in Japan, been home on leave, and was going back. We flew straight from there to Fort Lewis. We didn't go through Alaska, or anywhere. We landed around like 11:30 at night. They didn't learn that we weren't in the civilian part of the airport.

We were hustled up in this little briefing room. They gave us some doughnuts and coffee, gave us a little talk. One of the best things they ever did, they talked us into getting some pictures taken, which they sold you, along with several copies of your DDT-14 which became useful in later life. And then bused us over to these barracks. Before we had time to even draw batting, they wanted to know if we wanted to sleep or start processing. And probably 80 percent of us decided to start processing. They had a deal, where you came home, you got a steak meal. I probably had mine 3:30, four o'clock in the morning. By that afternoon, I'm out of the Army.

Larry Ordner:

But you're probably still feeling like you're very much --

Edward Bruce Allen:

I don't know what's going on yet.

Larry Ordner:

Sure.

Edward Bruce Allen:

So me and about a handful of guys, we walked down to the main gate. It was drizzly, rainy-old afternoon. Caught a cab out to Seattle-Takoma airport. Bought us some tickets, and killed a few hours there. My flight didn't leave until about 10:00 or 11 o'clock that night. We probably got there by 5:00. One thing I really remember is this really nice-looking woman with blue jeans and a long fur coat on.

I remember going over, like in Hawaii though, you know, guys want to go get a drink. But they weren't opened up. That kind of ticked you off a bit. You think you ought to be able -- I didn't go there to drink. We just sat and watched people a lot. Luckily, for me, I guess I did feel that nobody wanted to approach us. Nobody really wanted to acknowledge our presence. But there wasn't a lot of negative either, for me. No one really wanted to talk to us or even acknowledge that you were even sitting there.

And I've heard guys that had good experiences, where they'd catch a cab. The cab driver would take them to the bar, drive them, a few drinks. Everything happened. But it was just a big nothing. I've told a few members of my family, but not the extended family. On my mom's side, we always had weekend get-togethers. By that time, we probably slowed down, twice a month. It used to be every week. And I remember the first one that I went to which would -- I got home in November. I caught a flight from there to St. Louis. I had to stay in St. Louis. I actually landed in Evansville, November 4th, which is a day I celebrate. Somewhere towards Thanksgiving, we had a get-together. But it wasn't quite Thanksgiving. And my cousins, my aunt and uncle: Hi, Ed, how are you doing? I'm okay. That's it. And not meaning any disrespect towards them, but it hurt me.

Larry Ordner:

Uh-huh.

Edward Bruce Allen:

I remember thinking, This is like I just was away at college this year. Nothing. And I do understand. See, that's the trouble. You have emotional feelings and intellectual feelings; it's getting those to jibe. I understand that they were probably uncomfortable, probably didn't know anything to ask. But it would have meant so much if they had asked something, even, I think, being fair, I wasn't talking at that time. I wasn't ready. And I came back. I was not a Vietnam vet. I just wasn't. And I can remember friends and people who would talk about Vietnam vet's to me. I assumed they knew me as me.

But I was a different person. Because a lot of things I used to do -- there was a dance place up on 41 we used to go to. It's not there anymore. I would go up there, and I'd leave. I never made it. I didn't stay the first break. It wasn't my place anymore. A guy that I guess was, basically, my best friend, I'd go down his house, watch -- back then, you had the Monday night movie, the Tuesday night movie, every one. We went out and watched the movies. Sometimes, I wouldn't go. He would say, Where are you at? How come you didn't come?

For what? I didn't argue with him. He had gotten married in the meantime, too. He said, Well, you don't talk. Don't know you anymore. And I don't. You don't know me. And you're not asking me nothing, either. Come down and watch the movie. I find this pretty damn boring, to be honest with you. And then you criticize. You don't go out with other people, because you find some fault with them. But I don't think anybody thought of me as a vet.

So it wasn't until the '80s, that I guess I started being a vet, really, because I started having trouble. And I remember I knew I had trouble. But I didn't admit it. And my wife knew it. Because she called it my moods. And there came a time where if I get any book on Vietnam I'm reading it. But when I'm reading, I get in the mood. She asked me to quit reading. I quit reading. But I had to go back and read them. And we went through that for a while. Then USI had a weekend thing, one weekend. I don't know what they called them.

But you had Vietnam veterans there, and some art, things. It's when they first had a Vet Center in Evansville. And I had to work. Because I worked most weekends. So I went over on Sunday. It was supposed to be there until 5:00. I got off at 3:00. But half of it was all the way packed up when I got there. But I met a couple people. And they told me to come over to the Vet Center and see us sometime. I still don't know where it was. I know it was in the basement is, I believe, a Jewish synagogue, somewhere on Washington Avenue. And that's all I know. Because I didn't know where it was.

I didn't have to go. I mean, that was my out. And, actually, it was a year or two later. I had had a -- we were going to a building material store, something they'd moved out on, I guess, Kentucky Avenue, not too far from Virginia, towards the old tracks somewhere. And happened to drive by there. I saw the sign, and my wife saw the sign. And it stripped me of my lack of knowledge of where they were.

Then it was two weeks later, I was at work one night. And back then, production, for the most part, it ran five days. But I still had to be there on weekends. Because my job I might be the only one in the plant. There was certain thing I was reading. I was reading about Vietnam. It just felt like things started breaking, bursting. I started crying. I had to get up and walk. I couldn't sit. And I was walking over that place.

Luckily, nobody else was around. I had about three hours left on my shift. By the time that my replacement came in, I'd pulled enough together to get by him. Got in my truck. I'm driving home. I work in Mt. Vernon. I'm now so depleted I can't keep my hands on the wheel. I was scared. And so, Monday, I'm over at the Vet Center. In a lot of ways, I like to think I'm tough, not literally, but in a lot of ways. The Vet Center saved my life, at least, life as I know it. There's a particular individual over there I credit.

Shortly after that, I got involved with the V.A. My dad, when I first came home, I was throwing up blood and stuff. You know, he told me to go to the V.A. Don't want anything to do with that. I want nothing to do with any government agency. I've worked before; I don't work for them anymore. But I went back. I have insurance. I don't need them people. And it's one one of the biggest mistakes I've ever made.

But who is advising me? The man who did the same thing. When he got back from World War II, he used to have to go to Chicago to get shrapnel taken out. He quit doing it. You're young. You've got a wife and family, you don't want to be away. In later years, I know he had some in his hip and upper leg that was pinching nerves, and stuff. A lot of it is that male ego thing. Tough it out, you can make it.

Back in the -- crying outbursts. Then you get ashamed of yourself. You start questioning your self-worth this time. But in a lot of ways, it's just that stuff that you put off. In Vietnam, it's breaking back out. Sometime it's anger, it's hurt. It's a lot of confusion. And, then, what I learned over the years, you lie to yourself, too, about things to make them better. And when you face the truth sometimes that hurts. But it's normally worth it to get through it. It helps if you got somebody to talk to or help you with it.

But, in general, I think the Vet Center is one of the best things that's ever happened to Vietnam veterans -- It's changed so much. It used to be a place you felt welcome. I don't know who is down there anymore. It was a gathering place, used to be the type of place you could be around. Then it became more like -- I mean, you come for an appointment. You leave to get out. You used to be able to sit around and talk to each other. They had more of a social area, too.

Then, of course, back then, most of them were staffed by Vietnam veterans who had a better ability to empathize with you on a level that was acceptable to you.

What's a hero? Well, a lot of people have different terms, different connotations. I wouldn't put that on me for anything. But there's a guy down there that called me a hero, that I could accept. It really just meant that you went, you did your duty, you accepted the challenge, you didn't run. You faced your obligation. And as far as knowing all the political aspects at that time? Heck, no. And I don't really understand how anybody at that age did have all this political knowledge, if, in fact, they did.

Because I've talked to people. There used to be a guy down the -- didn't you feel like you were being used? By whom? What did I know then? He supposedly knew everything when he was 18. But he went to college somewhere in Michigan. They had all the professors, telling them things. But you don't know if that's all true. He just accepted, or whatever.

He was so sure that I should have felt like a patsy every day I was over there. What did I know? I was actually in basic training when Kent State happened. I didn't know about it then. I learned about it later. And same thing with -- I think it was the Cambodian. Yeah, it was. When we went into Cambodia. I didn't know about it then. We didn't have TV. We'd listen to radio sometimes. Very little in the barracks. Primarily, the base radio station. Over in Vietnam, we got news. I have no idea how much filtered it was or not. But I mean we heard about demonstrations and stuff and things. It wasn't something you really had a lot of time on. Racial problems, you know, they happen.

Larry Ordner:

Where are you at now, 30 years away?

Edward Bruce Allen:

All over the place.

Larry Ordner:

Where do you feel like you're at with the war, 30 years later?

Edward Bruce Allen:

I walked a long road. I've worked through a lot. I've got a ways to go. But whatever the facts are, you know, I've got to turn as much of it as I can into positives. And there are positives. The number one positive of being in the service anyway is being out and being an individual, as opposed to this person in the community that everybody knows and you're Louie's son or Larry's brother. You're categorized.

Often, you don't have to be your own person. Just in the military in general, you've got to be your own person. You also learn a lot more about the world, just from other people you served with who live in other parts of these United States, where everything is not the same as back home either. You learn that. Then, of course, when you go to another country, that gets added to. Of course, in a war, you learn -- of course, you know, the military, the haircut, they take a lot of the individual out of you anyway.

I can remember people -- one of them I talked to last year -- I thought he was a student, showing up at the Induction Center. Once he got his haircut, I kind of had his whole appearance changed, so, therefore, my perception of him changed. That's kind of something as you look back, you realize why they do that. But you learn to value people more about what they really are, what they really can do, not what they say they can do, not by the clothes they wear or the car they've got sitting in the garage back home, and stuff like that. And that's where some of us have trouble, like in the corporate world and stuff. You respect -- you accord titles a certain amount of respect. That person behind that title doesn't mean any respect unless he earns it. There's certain ways you have to conduct yourself around that. But through my work experience and stuff, you can command respect from me. You will not demand it.

And I'm not going to say that's always worked to my benefit either. But you'll find that if you talk to vets, there's a strong undercurrent. There's almost an aversion to those in authority unless they prove themselves. Because we've been subjected to people that acted, say, other than in our best interests, just to further their own careers, or just were incompetent. And in fairness, they didn't ask for what they were doing either. They'd rotate in faster than we would. The water would be green. That's why I know the smartest lieutenant is the one who shuts up and listens to the high ranking that's been there a while and learns.

And then... See what I learned is -- that's why I liked that one lieutenant so well. He had the ability to maintain his professional distance without being a cold person, and yet have some human qualities. Others seemed to feel they had to be total rear ends or you wouldn't respect them. Therefore, you didn't. The one who want to quote the book to us, as opposed to what we know.

Almost anyone will tell you you got to throw the book out. The book only works when the other side does what they're supposed to do, according to the book, and when everything else works as the book is written. But you got to improvise. The biggest thing you got to do in the field is improvise and adapt your tactics to whatever you're facing, not what the book told you is going to happen.

Larry Ordner:

Ed, is it only recently -- it's like you're able, to some degree, embrace this period and what it did for you?

Edward Bruce Allen:

Yeah.

Larry Ordner:

Is that something that you only recently been able to --

Edward Bruce Allen:

Actually, I think in the 70s, I realized that in some ways it had made me stronger and stuff. What has helped me, like, I didn't belong to any veteran organizations until the late '80s. And then there was a local group that we called N.B., went up against the county.

You either went -- The stated purpose of that group was to further -- which means improve, the image of Vietnam veterans in the communities. We marched in parades and stuff. If you go to the courthouse, on the southeast corner, there's a memorial to Vietnam and the Korean War dead from that county. We raised the money. We built that. Of course, that gave us -- through some of the things that you did or the things that you experienced that you don't feel good about yourself about, just because maybe they don't correspond to proper actions here in the world. That gave you tangible evidence that you had value. And, of course, we also got to interact with each other.

And then in 1987, I was sitting in the V.A. clinic, over in Evansville. Picked up a Legion magazine. Looked back. Never heard of anybody that knew what a duster was. And I saw this reunion in Indianapolis, Indiana. And I had to go. I remember my wife went with me. I didn't know anybody up there. I made the phone call to one guy.

Back then, we operated on a shoestring. You rent a room. Join rooms, that's the headquarters. Basically, we met outside, whatever. I get in the room. My wife is really pretty backward about meeting new people. She wants us to just stay in the room. Let's take a nap. Let's do anything. Luckily, dear, I didn't come up here to spend time with you. I'm going down there. I was drawn. So I went.

I got involved with these guys. Just the ability to be able to talk about people, to understand about people. You don't have to explain everything you're saying to. And finding out that whatever, whether it's something stupid, funny or bad, that you're not the only one.

Larry Ordner:

Were you looking for any kind of -- I can't think of the word, Ed -- but is there anything that you were looking to -- I mean, it's the wrong word. Validation. Were you looking for something? Did you go there looking for something?

Edward Bruce Allen:

I don't know that I thought about that. That's an important thing for any warrior, is to have his actions validated. You go back to the American Indians and stuff, when they did their war dances. They had certain rituals. When they came back, that's what they did. Told them you're okay. Because you're not. I'm talking about in combat.

You cannot be in combat and not be affected. And I look back, through my childhood. I see some similarities between me and dad, as far as the way sometimes anger can be manifested. But how quickly it can fade if you give me space. But you got to give me space. Basically, I'm not that kind of person, but it can well up.

It might be something I hear on TV or the radio or something. I can blow up. If I have just a few seconds to calm down, I'm okay. But if you stay in my face, we're going to have a problem. That's something I'm aware of, therefore, I work on a lot. And that's really, in large part, that's what the Vietnam veterans missed.

We didn't get validation when we came back. In a lot of cases, it was a negative. We came home too quick. We weren't decompressed. Just take Dad. He spent time, I know, in Belgium, as part of the occupational forces before he came home. Then you had the 30-day, whatever, boat ride, all that time to decompress. And when they came home, they had the legions, and VFWs, which, particularly, in these small towns, were a lot bigger. And every town had a homecoming.

Larry Ordner:

Every town had a homecoming?

Edward Bruce Allen:

You went to these legions, you got to talk. I can't say it's something I recognized as a kid. By the time I got a little older, I did. It really hit me at Dad's funeral. You had people who, in the world as we know it today, have these echelons that are on. But their respect for each other is this way.

I remember a guy as I was growing up. I guess he was the town drunk. I don't know who he worked for in Poseyville. You always wonder how he kept his job. I know he drank a lot. He wasn't married. He had a common-law wife. They fought all the time. It was just well known. But he always seemed protected.

And I know why. He was a vet. His employer was a vet. And so while maybe every action he did wasn't one wanted to emulate, or anything, there was an understanding within the community, why Roy was that way. And a lot of us didn't get that. Because we were avoided personally.

I've been pretty lucky employment-wise. In fact, the job I've got now, when I first started in there one of the most important things was, Have you already completed your military? They wanted to know. And I don't think they asked too much past that. But I have personal knowledge of a lot of people, even -- we always like to think all this stuff happened in San Francisco and New York -- in Evansville, Indiana, got turned down for jobs. Because they were just honest. When they said prior military service, they put yes. Where? And they put Vietnam.

The one I know the best, there was finally a lady that pulled him aside. He'd applied there three times over like a two-year period. Asked him, Did you really want a job here? He said, Yes. Why?

[END OF INTERVIEW]

 
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  October 26, 2011
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