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Interview with Arnold Stieber [11/23/2008]

James Delaney:

Alright my name is James Delaney and your name is-

Arnold Stieber:

Long ver-version Arnold short version Arnie, last name Stieber.

James Delaney:

Alright and the day of the interview is November 23, 2008 in Bloomfield Hills Michigan and what branch of the military where you in.

Arnold Stieber:

Glad you phrased it like that; uh I was in the army. Drafted into the army.

James Delaney:

And what war were you in?

Arnold Stieber:

I was in Vietnam for 14 months.

James Delaney:

What years?

Arnold Stieber:

Uh I got in Vietnam January of 1970 and I left March of 1971.

James Delaney:

What year were you born in?

Arnold Stieber:

1946

James Delaney:

Where were you born?

Arnold Stieber:

I was born in a hospital that no longer exists, in Highland Park, Michigan.

James Delaney:

Where were you raised?

Arnold Stieber:

I was raised until the 5th grade in Detroit, and then uhhh um my parents moved to a small town called Drayton Plains. Also in Michigan

James Delaney:

Where was your father born?

Arnold Stieber:

My father was born in Detroit and my mother was born in Detroit, if that's another question.

James Delaney:

Yea, alright, um, where does your name come from?

Arnold Stieber:

Uh Steiber is a German name, uhhhmm and there are quite a few Steibers in the Detroit area, uhh most of them I don't know. Umm my father's father was born in Germany, Dansk (?) Germany and I don't, you know, I don't know the extent of his story of coming to the U.S but it is quite a popular name in Germany like Smith would be here. (Background noise of phone ringing and mom yelling)

James Delaney:

Where does Arnold come from?

Arnold Stieber:

Arnold comes from obviously my mother but she said she um when she was growing up probably in high school, there was a person down the street who had a son names Arny and she liked the name Arny and therefore Arnold being the long version of that, out I came

James Delaney:

Awesome, What is your earliest memory as a child.

Arnold Stieber:

Earliest memory as a child-wow-I guess its in general it was the house in Detroit we lived in that was the traditional after the second world war housing. All the houses looked virtually identical. Lot of young families and a lot of kids...basically the house would be the main thing I remember and you know your playmates and all that kind of stuff but, general answer would be the house.

James Delaney:

When you were young how was your relationship with your parents?

Arnold Stieber:

When you're young I guess its good because you don't know anything else about them. You know, they are your parents therefore they are who they are and you're a kid and that's normal and um looking back, I would have to say that's good. I wasn't tremendously close with my father, um, -and he was not um at least towards me, I never felt there was a great deal of warmth there. I mean he was a nice guy and all that kind of stuff but it didn't seem like he was a real loving kind of a guy to his kids, my brother might have a different opinion but that's how I felt. My mother I thought was a very good listener. Um I remember sitting there and I would just babble on and she'd be listening which was kind of nice you know when you're a kid and you got someone that just pays attention and, so she listened well.

James Delaney:

What were some of your hobbies as a child?

Arnold Stieber:

As a child, lets see-I used to assemble models, plastic models that was kind of the rog- the vogue back then. Models of cars or sometimes um ships, so we spent a lot of time doing that. I used to-I used to um, build things I guess you could call that a hobby as a kid. We had um, Lincoln logs initially and then plastic blocks and they're now Lego kind of things but back then they were pretty good size and I would always be building something. Some little house or something like that so I guess that would be a hobby. I was not into music or painting or-you know more refined talents.

James Delaney:

You mentioned there a lot of families and kids in the neighborhood, how were your friends in the neighborhood.

Arnold Stieber:

UM, There were lot of kids, um-I had a brother who was four years older and he had a group of kids his age and surprisingly enough there was kids my age, 4 years younger, there was probably 7 or 8, mostly boys, I think 2 girls. And we were all pretty much in the same boat. They lived within 4 or 5 doors of our house or across the street and we played together virtually all the time. They had one little kid next door who was my best friend and we were with each other all the time. He went to public school and then I went to catholic school there was a catholic school down the block from our house or even just a half a block from the house and I went there and he went to the public school but after school we were together all the time. There was a little girl across the street. And my mother worked... always, and so when I came home from school, um-1 would go across the street to this little girl's house and we would do our homework together and all that kind of stuff She also went to the Catholic school so we were in all the same classes and that kind of stuff but spent a lot of time there as well.

James Delaney:

Where did you attend grade school and middle school?

Arnold Stieber:

Um, through the start of the 5th grade. I attended at St Raymond's it was a catholic school. Then at the beginning of the 5th grade, I think October or November maybe, my parents moved to Drayton plains so I finished out the year, my 5th grade year, at a public school because there was no catholic school at the time in Waterford at the time. And I think at the start of the 6th grade, they opened up a catholic school and I think it was the, 1st through the 8th when they started. And then by the time I got out of the 8th grade they had built a high school so then I went through the same catholic school process in Waterford, same school, it was called Our La- Our Lady of the Lakes.

James Delaney:

And uh, what high school did you go to?

Arnold Stieber:

It was by the same name it was called Our Lady of the Lakes. Um...very small, my graduating class was 35 kids, um, I might be jumping ahead of your questions but being so small everybody participated in everything. So you're in the play, you're in the choir; you're in sports because they just didn't have enough kids. I can remember I think maybe I was a senior-football tryouts, the whole school tried out, everybody, and everybody made the team who tried out. So there was like only 70 kids total, you know males. But we had little tiny kids who, you know, had a hard time keeping their pants up you know but the whole school came out for football and it was kind of cool. }D: Real Quick (Checking camera) Alright, strange.

James Delaney:

Who was your first girlfriend?

Arnold Stieber:

My first girlfriend-wow-probably the little girl across the street. I guess I would have to say that was what you consider a first girlfriend you know. We would hang out together.

James Delaney:

What was your first car?

Arnold Stieber:

My first car-my first car-uhh, my father worked for car dealerships and my brother's four years older so-1 had a track to follow. But when I got to the point I could to drive. My father would tend to find a really cheap car and bring it home. So my first car I think was a -I think it was an old Plymouth maybe a 1949 or 50 Plymouth. And I remember it cost me 50 bucks cause I had a paper route at the time so I had my own money. It was standard transmission, on the column, the floorboards were rotted out, but it worked, it burned oil like a wild bandito (sp?) and all that stuff and I used it to go back and forth to school.

James Delaney:

What were your initial career goals coming out of high school.

Arnold Stieber:

I didn't have any-um, that you would call goals, were we were raised um -when you got out of high school-your-, without thinking you would go work for the auto plants. Probably manufacturing plants, Pontiac motors, there was a Pontiac division they called it Pontiac motors. That was the one big one. And then they had one called Gm truck and coach. Those were the two big factories in Pontiac. And when you got out of high school that's just kind of where you'd go to work. You'd go to work on the line cause they paid big bucks and they would hire kids right out of high school. I didn't even think about college until halfway through my senior year of high school- and I can go into that if you want me to.

James Delaney:

Yea, um, where did you attend college?

Arnold Stieber:

Halfway through high school some of my friends, and again it was a very small class, so-I-they were saying gee I'm going to college where you going and I thought I'm going to Pontiac motors (Laughs) um and they said gee you ought to apply. And I said wow how do you do that and I didn't even know about the SAT's or any of that. (someone banging on door interrupts interview) and um so I finally took the SATs in maybe January or February. And I thought well 111 apply to. I didn't know anything about college, nobody in our family had gone, so I didn't know anything about anything. So I applied to Michigan Tech, not even knowing how far away that it, and I applied to Michigan State (phone rings) because a guy I had hung around with applied to State and I surprisingly got accepted to both. I had scored really high on the SATS, no particular reason, I just went in there not knowing anything and I was really relaxed and I just put down stuff and I guess I scored really high and I got accepted to both places and I picked Michigan State because it was a whole lot closer than Michigan State.

James Delaney:

Do you remember what your college dorm was like?

Arnold Stieber:

Oh absolutely-yeah absolutely-I was pretty sheltered growing up in that I didn't travel much and didn't know anything about college. They had freshman orientation that summer, which was the summer of 64, and-1 got out a map and heard that Michigan State was in East Lansing so I drove to east Lansing. Drove right past the campus drove right into Lansing and had to stop at a gas station and say where is Michigan State. Kind of weird (laughs). But anjm^ay I found out, I went through orientation and then that fall I started and I stayed in a dorm called bailey dorm. And it was brick structure maybe 5, 6 stories, the room was very Spartan, maybe that's why they call them the Spartans. The room was designed for 2 but they had overbooked so they stuck 3 people in a 2-person room. Bathrooms were down the hall. There was only one dresser for 3 guys. 2 desks for 3 guys (laughs). Uhhh there was at that time they didn't have, the only phone they had in the room connected to the campus operator, so if you wanted to call out you had to go through the campus operator and dial out and all that kind of stuff. But it was uhh, it was pretty bleak, but again everyone was in the same boat so you make the best of- Oh it was right across the street, right across the river from the uh sewage treatment plant and at that time they didn't do very well with sewage treatment so it was a stinky part of the campus and it was pretty bad so the stench was there pretty much all the time.

James Delaney:

Wow, umm, what was your major?

Arnold Stieber:

Initially ummm I majored in engineering- and I had, I had scored well on my tests um but what I didn't realize until I got there was that my math skills in high school, even though I did well grade wise, the basics weren't there, and I got into college Calculus. And I should've taken prep classes but they just stuck me right into Calculus and I was overwhelmed. I spent hours and hours and hours doing homework every night. Um it was a 5 day a week class, met for an hour a day, and we had at least 2 hours of homework every night, and I didn't get it so I would spend at least 2 hours sometimes 3 just on that one class and I got through the whole years worth of it and I thought wow! This is kind of nuts, is this what engineering is, this aint for me. Umm-so- and then- well 111 keep going along that line, but anyway I uhh I also ran out of money my first year. So I went-1 transferred to the local university, Oakland University cause 1 could live at home then and the tuition- the tuition at that time was really really cheap the tuition at that time was only 109 dollars a term, there were terms, and of course you had to pay your room and board, and I thought, I couldn't do the 2nd year even at that rate so I transferred to Oakland University stayed in engineering curriculum for my second year because they were on semesters and that allowed me to work almost 4 months during the summertime because they didn't start back till late and they got out early. So I had worked that summer doing, well I think I had a job with a cement company that made cement light posts. Which was pretty good money for the time and then the next year I went to work for a company that insulated new houses. And I got 4 moths, a little more than 4 months worth that second summer and they paid you by piece work, you know the faster you work the more you made. And I used to make. Id make more than my father made. Id bring home my checks and my father would say gee I should go to work to do that but you work your butt off But that built up my reservoir so I could go back to State my 3'^'* year and I changed majors and I thought, no math is not my cu of tea. So I switched to business in my theoretical junior year.

James Delaney:

UM when did you graduate from school?

Arnold Stieber:

From college?

James Delaney:

Yea

Arnold Stieber:

I graduated from college in March of 1969, as opposed to June of 68, part of that was because when you transfer credits, anytime you transfer between one university to the next you lose credits. And then I changed majors, so I had to make up more credits, so I went to 2 extra terms, Michigan State was still on terms, so I went the fall term and then the winter term which ended in March so I graduated in March of 1969 from the business college at Michigan State.

James Delaney:

What were your goals coming out of college?

Arnold Stieber:

Well college for me was a real eye opening experience not even knowing what college was, again no one in my family had been to college. And I can remember my first day of class at Michigan State. Um-I carried all of my books to every class, so I carried around a gym bag that must of weighed 40 pounds cause 1 had all these books I'm carrying around. I see kids carrying around notebooks and I'm like what the heck they don't use the book in class, isn't that strange. Um... So...It was almost overwhelming being In college. I didn't know there were so many things that you could study and I didn't know there were so many majors of things I had never heard of. But eventually as I got into business, I was always interested in manufacturing, even as a kid I would watch programs on ,you know, manufacturing stuff and I always thought boy isn't that fascinating. So when I got into college of business, they had a major called industrial management. A lot of it was production and production theory and you know how you do things quicker and all that so- that was my area. My goal was, being in where we lived, to work for a manufacturer probably an auto manufacturer because that was my whole focus was auto. Um so my goal in college was to work for a manufacturer and I interviewed with a number of ones that made other things but I got hired by general motors and uhh accepted their job because wow there paying you what at that time anything was good because you used to spending money so I took a management internship position with GM, and I was assigned to Flint. That was my first stint but they would send you down to Detroit and you would you know go to various classes and they would layout the procedure and, if you move along this course you will make this kind of progress, and I thought this is cool this is what its supposed to be about.

James Delaney:

What did you know about Vietnam before you got drafted?

Arnold Stieber:

Uhh virtually nothing, other than the fact that it was going on-um...-I had [pause) It seemed so far away and so distant that I didn't really want to pay to much attention to it. I had a cousin, still have a cousin, who had joined the marines and he went to Vietnam and he would send me letters every so often. And then I had another friend from high school who I didn't know was in Vietnam but my cousin had happened to bump into and so he corresponded with me a few times too. It just seemed-distant-it just didn't seem like anything I should be concerned about, I knew I didn't want to go there. And that was in the back of my mind. The draft was on at that time and it was pretty certain that once you got out of school you'd get drafted I mean that was pretty certain. So I didn't mind having to go a little extra time at Michigan State because I thought once I get out they are going to get me so...that's invariably what happened. I graduated in march, got hired by GM, was working for GM, and I thought life was good. And I had gone out and purchased a whole bunch of clothes, one-day-lots of them. And I came home and my draft notice was there. And I thought you got to be kidding. And not having anybody to bounce stuff off of and not thinking there were any options. I thought well. 111 go and now that I'm a college grad they'll probably make me a clerk and ill spend 2 years in Germany drinking beer and that will be it. That will be it That will be the end of that and ill come home and work for GM and carry on with my normal life (pauses-surprise.

James Delaney:

How did your family and friends react when you were drafted?

Arnold Stieber:

You know I thought of that a lot and I don't remember any-any great emotion coming from anybody. My parents, relatives, nobody um. There was-and I think back now and I think isn't that peculiar. Being raised in a catholic environment. And ill point out too when I was a little kid in Detroit, our favorite games were army war and guns. We used to play guns all the time and we had the biggest toy gun collection out of anybody on the street. So when we play, everybody would come to our house and we would equip with all these weapons and we would run around shooting each other. That didn't raise anybody's antenna and say you know you probably shouldn't be pretending like your killing people. So when I got drafted it was virtually no big deal. I mean no one said oh gee that's terrible or why don't you go to Canada or why don't you maybe become a conscious objector or you know the other options somebody probably should have said something about. It was kind of the unspoken thing that-that's-that's-that's your duty. I mean I don't remember anybody saying those words but that was kind of the impression I was left with you just go into the military because everybody does. So yea Bottom line was there wasn't any there wasn't any reaction from anybody, you just went along with the program.

James Delaney:

what did you pack?

Arnold Stieber:

What did I pack when I left?

James Delaney:

Uh Huh

Arnold Stieber:

It seemed like it was a two-step procedure. They sent you your draft notice and you had to go down for a physical and then if you passed your physical they would send you another thing saying report at a certain date at a certain place. And I had to go down to Fort Wayne in Detroit and I think they told you what to bring or not bring and it was like virtually nothing. Don't bring anything. Just the clothes you got on, that kind of stuff. And I think that's what I did because I didn't even bring any you know toothpaste toothbrush, nothing. And then I can remember going through the silly swearing in process and all that stuff at fort Wayne and you got this little bag and all that junk and just feeling like you have no control your now in the system and now they just move you along. They put you on a bus and they drove us down to Fort Knox Kentucky. It seemed like we drove all night I can't remember the time frames per say. Then we got off the bus and the salvation army was there passing out bags of lavatory supplies, toothpaste, all that kind of stuff. I thought why didn't they just have us bring it? Then these people wont have to give it to you. But that was it and basically the only stuff I took was the stuff I had on my back. I don't even think I took a book it was just me.

James Delaney:

What was your training like?

Arnold Stieber:

(Sighs, then pause) Um-I have reflected back on this a lot. Through the gift of hindsight it becomes much more, much clearer, but at that time you have no frame of reference. So you do what they tell you to do and they are very structured in their procedure. The whole intent, in hindsight, is to break you down and turn you into part of this group. You're individuality was stripped totally, and that really bothered me. From the point of they, gave you the same outfit as everybody else had. They shaved all your hair off. They stuck a nametag on you. They always intentionally mispronounced your last name. They made you feel like you were just dirt, just absolute slime. And I think it was harder for the guys who graduated from college. Because you know you're going hey wait a minute I didn't spend 4 years learning to be a manager and you are saying I am a slime ball, you know. And they call you names and...their whole intent though was to cause you to not think. Thinking was something you shouldn't do, you should just respond. When they say do it, you do it. You know, right face, left face, learning how to do all that crap. Their forced marches. They would make you leave your barracks in the middle of the night and go on runs or carry your, your footlocker outside. And the whole intent again was to make you fully aware that they own you, they own you and you've got no choice. You will do this or we will beat the shit out of you and that happen a lot. Guys would get rebellious and they would beat the shit out of them. You know literally. And there is nothing you can do. There you are, well-educated college grad going what the hell. And it was very unnerving for a lot of kids, me included, and I uh-I hated it, I absolutely hated it, just that feeling of being out of control. To me there is no worse feeling in the world than feeling like you got no control, there's no option, you cant do anything, (pause) and I'll continue on with that. And I didn't realize at the time, training with weapons. Initially um- you would just carry this thing around, this rifle. No ammunition no anything, you would just carry it around. And again there process there was to make you become familiar with this. You know it's pretty foreign to be carrying a weapon around all the time. So they made you comfortable carrying this thing around and then the first time they take you out to fire the thing it was target practice like you do in your backyard with a bb gun. A round circle and whoever got the best they would give praise to anybody who did well. Not making the connection that you're going to be firing this at a human real soon. But I was still in la-la land thinking I'm not going to Vietnam they're going to send me to Germany and I'm going to drink beer. So I played the game. I thought ill play the game, ill go along with them and ill do their stupid stuff so basic training to me was-was-was- ugly, ugly is a good way to put it. I never felt the, I'm doing this for my country and all that type of crap. I just never felt that. Ill just do what I have to do to get through this and try not to stand out from the crowd because if you stood out from the crowd in any way- you were in trouble, you were in trouble, and they would have you do really bad stuff. The overall objective psychologically was to make you a number, you are just part of this group and don't stand out you will do everything we tell you and that's what you do.

James Delaney:

When did you arrive in Vietnam?

Arnold Stieber:

Um...ok, I'm going to go back because I thought you would ask, um, in the military there are two phases to your training. There is basic training where everyone is in the same boat and they do all this kind of stuff and then they send you to advanced training. So, when I finished basic training trying to be the good troupe without raising too much crap, um they give you orders for your next assignment, which is, advanced training. That when I thought hey hallelujah, there going to send me to clerk school and I'm going to learnt hat stuff, that's not what happened, my orders were to go to fort Polk, fort Polk Louisiana. And everybody knew it, when you're in basic training you start to learn more what all these forts are and their objective. Fort Polk was infantry training with your next stop being Vietnam. Fort Polk, Vietnam, hundred percent, absolute sure that's how it was. And I got those orders saying fort Polk and I about flipped out and I thought you got to be crapping me, I had been a good troupe and they are sending me to for Polk, what the hell is this. So I went to the captain, I guess he was a captain I can't remember, who ran our little unit and I said I don't get it. I got a college degree. I've been a good troupe why fort Polk. Well that was my first exposure to military logic, and their logic was, you already got a degree, you already been trained, these other kids, and these other kids had the choice of join the military or go to prison and we had a lot of those types of kids. They need training so were going to teach them to be cooks and truck drivers and that type of stuff. And since your already trained you're going to be an infantry guy. And I thought wow, isn't that convoluted(laughs). So that was another shocker. And when I got to fort Polk, Louisiana. And it is the armpit of the military, I guess. I mean it was really bad conditions. We got there and we had no...no blankets no sheets no towels no footlockers no wall lockers. There was nothing there, it was just barren and a metal bunk. And you thought excuse me [Chuckles) were going to be going to Vietnam soon wouldn't it be nice if you treated us like we were human. And that kind of started my first encounter with the military because I thought this is nuts. So I wrote a letter the adjutant general of the united states military. And I knew I couldn't get it mailed out because they would stop it. So I wrote the letter and then I sent it to Lucy, who at the time was my girlfriend and I said in the letter mail this on to this guy and she did and-[laughs). They uh-it took about two three weeks then all of the sudden we got all this stuff. Everything started showing up and I got big time harassment for it because they found out who wrote the letter and who did this stuff so they called me down. They called me down to this commanding guy. Might have been the coronel. [Laughs] this was kind of funny, he invites me into his office, being the father figure, a nice guy. [In Coronel voice] tell me your story. Why don't you tell me your story. So I laid it out to him. I said your treating us like- crap, and we're going to be in Vietnam and I think we deserve better than that. And he had a copy of the letter so he's reading the letter to me and he says now who helped you write that, [laughs] I didn't need any help believe me, I wrote the letter, yes its mine, I believe everything I said is true and all that kind of stuff. And he says Ohh things are better now right? And I said well we got the stuff now yeah but if I hadn't wrote the letter I don't think we would have got it. Then he invites in his secretary, and she comes in with a little pad and he says "private Steiber just told me that he really didn't mean to write that letter." And I said excuse me, that's not what I said, I intended to write the letter and I did write the letter. And he got all PO'ed, he got very upset uh "now you told me, before she came in that you were uh recanting your letter". I said No I never said that, no, 1 meant every word of it. So he threw me out and uhhhhm, -it was not fun from there on. They were not good but I knew at that time that ok I'm going to play the game but by my rules more so than theirs. And I just did things that 1 could do to make it tough for them. But I wanted to talk about the rest of your training with weapons because when you got to fort Polk it became much more intent. And they taught you a lot of skills on how to kill. But they did it very methodically. Moving you from, we used to shoot at targets in fort Knox, when you got to fort Polk you'd start shooting at silhouettes and they're just stationary silhouettes. So you're on the firing range hitting silhouettes and they want you to hit the heart and all that kind of stuff...and they give you rewards. Well then eventually, the silhouettes- when you initially shoot them they were station. After a week or two then the silhouettes would fall. And we were thinking eh, so what. And then a few weeks later they would take you out to a course and these silhouettes would pop up in various places. Behind trees, behind a hill, and all that kind of stuff and they would have you run through a course. And ...what they were doing the whole time was obviously breaking down your resistance to aim a weapon at a human figure and pulling the trigger without thinking. Because they didn't want you to think. Stuff would come up (gun noise) and that was it. So it was a very logical process to break down your resistance to killing another human being. You know you think back and you go-Oh! At the time you really didn't make a connection cause I didn't, you know, I had never been to a warzone. I didn't know about that stuff so. So that's part of that story about the process of mental-mental-control to turn you into a person that kills without thinking about it. That's the objective.

James Delaney:

Wow

Arnold Stieber:

Cool Huh? Good catholic boy. Good old Jesus, and you know kill one for Christ and all that stuff. Yea very interesting.

Arnold Stieber:

So I forgot your loop of questioning.

James Delaney:

Well when did you learn you were going to go to Vietnam and when did you arrive there.

Arnold Stieber:

Well as soon as I got to fort Polk, I knew I was going to Vietnam, that was just kind of a given. And umm... they gave us a break over the holidays, over the Christmas holidays. And our orders. Well right at the end of- right at the end of its called AIT. It was called Advanced Infantry Training. You would get your orders and virtually everybody in my company was going to Vietnam in one form or another. So I came home that holiday season, Christmas holiday, and I think they gave us 2 weeks. And we were supposed to report to Fort Ork (sp?) California in early January of...of maybe 1970. And I flew home with another guy, he was from Pontiac, also in my same company, with the same orders, we were supposed to go at the same time. And over the holiday season we'd call each other a few days. I think we were 10 supposed t report to fort Ork on January 5 or 6. And he would call me up and say "you ready to go?" I said not me, you? and he say "nope me either". So we procrastinated- probably a good 20 days. We were late. We just thought what the hell were going to Vietnam there ain't no hurry. So we would dink around and do other stuff. Then we finally thought, we were starting to get nervous. Thinking they would come to our house and drag us away. So we finally flew out, maybe towards the end of January maybe the 25th or something like that. And then we got to San Francisco, Fort Ork is right outside of San Francisco, and we were both college grads and both going to Vietnam and were in San Francisco. I though nah I'm not going to go are you? Nah lets hang around here. So we'd go out to bars at night and drink and raised hell and did that for 4 or 5 days. Then finally your conscious gets you again and we thought wow they'd be picking us up on the street now. So we reported to for Ork very late, maybe 30 days late. It was humorous not knowing how often this happen. They had 2 lines when u reported in, carrying all your crap and all that stuff. And there's 2 lines and one says on time and one says late. Well the on time line, there was no line for the on time guys there was nobody in line. The late line was 3 blocks long. So were standing in the late line going you know what the hell they going to do send us to Vietnam [laughs). So we got in the late line and they process through and the guy says "your late". And I said "yea we are". And he said "why?" And I said "well we just didn't feel like coming", (laughs) Ok were going to give you an article 15 and fine you and all this stuff and we said fine give us an article 15, fine us, hallelujah. So and It didn't change anything we were still going to send us to Vietnam but they broke us down. My friend was an E3, which is a pay grade, and I was at E2 And you start at El. And they broke us both to El's and we got to Vietnam and got processed in and they guy says "you cant be here if your other than an E3". So we said "so send us home", (laughs) and he said no were just going to promote you so they promoted us back to E3. And it was like...are you guys all nuts, is this for real? So yeah I arrived in Vietnam during Tet, which is their new year, in 1970. And Tet of 68 was very very very violent. I didn't know it at the time. I didn't know what Tet was but yeah-it was...interesting. So what else you got where else you want me to go.

James Delaney:

What was your first impression of the country and of the whole culture over there?

Arnold Stieber:

Again a lot of this is hindsight. The military training, they didn't teach us, my group anything about the culture of Vietnam. We learned how to kill people. A little bit on booby traps and combat stuff. But I don't remember them ever showing you a film on Vietnam and what its actually like. So I got they're really not knowing what to expect. I didn't know anything about it. My first impression was, holy crap is it hot there. I got there late January and it had to be 90. We flew over on commercial airplanes with stewardess and of course they were pretty old stewardess so there was nothing to look at. When he was coming down in Vietnam, of course you get this sinking feeling like oh shit, here it is, but we flew from California to Hawaii and we stopped in Hawaii at commercial airline and it was just the commercial terminal so we went into the bar and we had all our military jungle fatigues on because they 11 issue those before you go so you are all ready to go. Went into the bar had a few drinks and all that kind of crap and got back on the plane and oh god our next stops going to be Vietnam. So we got off the plane and just the heat and it was the middle of the day I don't remember or it was during the day and you walk down that ramp and your just like holy macrole an oven just (oven sounds) whoa (laugh) and of course your white skinned and it was just hotter than hell and that's just how it was there it was just hotter than hell all the time, (crashing noise upstairs) That's cool.

James Delaney:

Where exactly did you say you were stationed

Arnold Stieber:

Uhh I didn't say but we landed in a place called Benoit, it was a big air base and then I was there maybe for a week because they didn't know what to do with me and then they finally sent me to an infantry unit which was based around another air base, Tansanut air base and we had our camp was outside of their perimeter so we were outside of this air base. And it wasn't that far from Saigon as I am sure you heard of Saigon so it wasn't that far from Saigon.

James Delaney:

How diverse was where you were stationed like the troops in your station?

Arnold Stieber:

Racially?

James Delaney:

Yea

Arnold Stieber:

Well that was you know the early 70's, um 1970 and there was a lot of racial tension going on in the United States at that time with the race riots of Detroit and a lot of that going on. And in the military it was still- it was pretty well mixed racially um maybe 30 percent black. Um but it was uh, you want to stop it? (loud crash and running upstairs)

James Delaney:

No it's fine

Arnold Stieber:

Yeah it's fine (laughs)

Arnold Stieber:

But yeah 1 would say it was 30 percent black. But at that time to the black guys, almost to the person, were very close knit, very close knit. And they had a whole culture in the military. Special handshakes they did or signs they'd give each other ya know so you could feel this huge separation you know the white guys and the black guys. There was some violence every so often, violence would break out between-some white guys who absolutely hated black people and it would cause problems.

James Delaney:

What was uh, what did the soldiers and you do for fun when on leave and that kind of stuff.

Arnold Stieber:

I drank, I just drank till I couldn't see as often as I could that's just how I got through it. (pause and sigh) umm a lot of guys were into marijuana and it was pretty easy to get anywhere, harder stuff was easy to get. You could do cocaine you could do anything you wanted. And it was-That's pretty much where they got there, how they-1 mean I cant speak for everybody but for the guys I was with, it was pretty 12 much um...when you had the chance, you would just get away from it through some escape mechanism and it was usually drugs and alcohol.

James Delaney:

What was it like to be involved in combat?

Arnold Stieber:

It was not good. It was something you don't want to go back to and remember it. I didn't for years and years and years. I didn't wake up to it till 2003,1 just buried all that stuff back. And then uh I didn't want to go there because I knew if I did it wouldn't be good. [Loud crash upstairs) Well uhmm I'll explain. In 2003, January 2003,1 was home and I turned on TV and I had never watched anything on Vietnam never read any books never nothing it was just gone, don't go there. January 2003 I was home and there was nobody there but me and I turned on TV and the movie Platoon playing. And the scene I came in on was a US patrol entering a village and there was all these little kids there and I saw a lot of those kids. And it tipped me over and I-I smelled it, the aroma was very different in Vietnam and very pungent. And I smelt it and I heard it and I felt it and I saw those little kids with their big brown eyes and I thought holy shit what do I do with this, what do I do with this stuff that's brewing in my brain. And it was not good for a long time, months. And the next day I got on the internet and I just-I started to research anything I could on Vietnam and groups and peace and justice and why we do this stuff and all that for months. And my family was like, what the heck is going on with this guy [laugh) and it was very difficult. It still is because the more I learn the more disgusted I get with the whole process of war and military and killing people to solve problems. So an answer to your problem is that it's not good. Its something that never goes away and the older you get, at least in my case, its senseless I mean it absolutely senseless, because some politician says they are the bad guys. Therefore you have to kill them. Well who says they are the bad guys you? You Mr. Politician? [laughs). Saying that the guy who I don't know, who's about my age is the bad guy therefore I have to kill them and were the invaders, were in somebody else's country and of course they're going I don't think you should be here [laughs) it'd be better if you went home. So...that whole process of numbing you to thinking and numbing you to killing people was what it was all about and uhh they had studied this. In world war II and I had learned this and study this since then, since, since I woke up. In world war II there is something called return fire rate and that's when you are equipped with a weapon and there is an enemy standing there. And perhaps they shoot at you or perhaps you see them and the probability of somebody in world war II firing at the enemy was 15% very few guys fired at the enemy. That's not how they want you to do right. The objective is to wipe them out. I mean that's the objective in the military. So they said we have to do a lot better than that because the more of them they kill then we win. I mean that's how you keep score. We win. Umm so from world war II to Vietnam, and I think about my training, in Vietnam the return fire rate went up to 85%. So from 15 to 85 so there training process was successful. I mean they'll say we did a great job and they did a great job and you would just do it because you didn't think and you would do it because you didn't want to die. And virtually everybody I met there objective was to get home, it wasn't to defeat the 13 comies and all that crap, it was to get home. That was your main thing. And you would do anything you had to do to get home.

James Delaney:

what was your opinion and the other troops opinion of the American Government while you were over there.

Arnold Stieber:

Well there were some flag wavers. (Brother yelling in background) But I would say most, well the guys who I knew, most of them thought the government sucked. You know why are we here what are we doing. All we wanted to do was get home. They would put you in situations where they knew you had to do things you shouldn't be doing. But there was very little flag waving besides the ones who made their career out of the military. They had to mentally buy it. Because that's what they did, that was their job, they had to buy the concept. So they would support the government because that was their lifelong career. Because they didn't want to go there they didn't want to ask questions. Because if you started asking questions you would have to quit the military so you don't ask questions. You just go yes sir. And were going to do that. But the other guys like me. There were many many draftees and many other folks at the lower end. If your at the lower end of the spectrum in the military you tend to question more because you know you are not going to be there forever. The guys at the high end, do my job sir. So.

James Delaney:

What did you miss the most about home?

Arnold Stieber:

About the military?

James Delaney:

About home, while you were there.

Arnold Stieber:

Control. Being in control. Being able to do what I want when I wanted. Yeah that part drove me crazy. Just not being able to be in control of your life. Yeah that was a big thing. You know Christmas and all those kind of holidays um (pause) they're just a day. I mean. You Know. It's no day different than any other day. It's just a day. And that you knew someday if you made it back you would have that back but the thing I missed the most is control. Being able to do what I wanted to do.

James Delaney:

What was it like writing letters home to friends and family.

Arnold Stieber:

Um (long pause) what was it like (another long pause) its going to sound kind of crass but I guess it was just part of the job. I mean it was umm- they write and you would have to write back. Um. (pause and sigh) I don't know if it made you feel better or worse writing back. Like your aunt, she wrote to me everyday. Everyday I was in Vietnam. Everyday.

James Delaney:

Whoa

Arnold Stieber:

No one got more mail than I got. They could count on it. Everyday Steiber gets a letter. (A griping voice imitation) But she did that. So it was good to know that you were somehow still in touch. You know, that part was good that they didn't just flat out forget you. Writing back I always thought was a pain in the butt though because 14 what are you going to say, what are you going to say? Thanks for writing back and write more(laughs). You're not going to say stuff because you're just not going to.

James Delaney:

When did you learn you were going home and what were your immediate feelings.

Arnold Stieber:

Well at that- with that conflict, and you really cant call it a war anymore as I learn more it was an occupation, but they had fired times and you were sent over to Vietnam and the typical tour of duty was 12 months and you knew at the end of that 12 months the day that you were going home and that rarely changed. So guys would develop they had things called short time calendars and it was a 30-day check off. And you knew the day you were going home so when you got down to 30 days you would scratch off 30 29 28 blah blah blah so you knew that was coming. The thing you learn once you get there is your probability of getting killed was higher in the first 30 and the last 30. The first 30 because you didn't know anything and last 30 because you were too careful. You know you would just "whoa" to everything. So you really had to be concerned you're last 30 days. They had another process when I was there and umm and if you had less than 5 months left when you got back to the US you were out. So if you could extend in Vietnam to make sure that you had less than 5 months they would allow you to do that so I did. I didn't want to come back to the United States and be a sign in with a fort someplace and have to train kids to do what I did. I thought, there is no way on gods green earth. They'd throw me in jail. I would just tell them the way it is and tell them get your ass out of here as fast as you can. Because if they send me there its bad news and I'm not going to go to jail. So I extended in Vietnam to make sure I had one day less than the 5 months so when I got back to the US I was out. Walked out the door, never to see that military again. So I knew exactly the day I was going to leave and I left on that day and I got back to the US and went through their crap and left. They would send me letters saying "you're still on reserve duty so you got to report to the reserves." And I would tell them to go screw themselves. I said if you're going to come for me then you better come because I aint coming and they never did.

James Delaney:

What was the hardest thing to adjust to when you got back to the states.

Arnold Stieber:

Coming back [long pause and sigh) 1 slept for 3 days straight when I got back. I mean I just, that's what I did. I think the hardest part was realizing I was back. I didn't have somebody telling you what to do and-and-umm-it was just totally out of the- you're in such a structured environment the whole time. You never know, you never know-Well its kind of funny. Once you get there everything eventually seems normal, all that seems normal because that's what is so it seems normal so that's. And then what I got home it took me a long time to realize that that was abnormal and this was normal. So that was a long time. And I think I still have stuff going on but umm. Getting used to just doing what you used to do before you figure out who you were then. I thought I was fine when I came home. I didn't think I carried any baggage home. But I talked to folks like Lucy and (sigh) I wasn't the same guy as I was when I left. Thank goodness she didn't throw me out the door but. Getting rid of the structure I guess would be the hardest thing.

James Delaney:

How did you handle your experiences with your family.

Arnold Stieber:

You mean when I got back?

James Delaney:

Yea

Arnold Stieber:

I just (pause)-well Lucy they apparently sent her something that said don't change anything. You know when he comes back don't rearrange the furniture. Don't talk about unless he talks about it. Just don't do anything. And uh-

James Delaney:

The army sent her?

Arnold Stieber:

Yea

James Delaney:

Wow

Arnold Stieber:

Yeah-she got something somewhere. They said that. Continue on as if everything is normal. And for me that worked because I didn't want to go there. I mean I buried it. I mean as much as I could I just put it all in the back and tried to get on with whatever I was doing. I mean I was messed up for a few months for sure but (sigh) I went back to GM after a while because they gave you like 30 days after you got out before you would go back to work and I waited until like the last day. I went back to Gm and just something wasn't right anymore, it just didn't feel right. And I didn't know-And I never at that time associated that with my military experience. I just thought gee my goals have changed and all that. Maybe I should find some other thing to do. And I went back to work and I only maybe worked 2-3 months then I quit. And I thought well I should go back to college because I got the GI bill and 1 could afford it and maybe I should marry that lady who wrote me everyday and so I did and I went back to Michigan State. I think that was good because that allowed me a lot more freedom because I just took classes in stuff I was interested in. Landscape Architecture, surveying I took a class. I took a psych class. Campuses were still raising hell about the Vietnam war. And I thought that was very interesting because I would go to some of their rallies and I would just watch the kids and thought wow that's cool. I really never heard about that in Vietnam they never told us that stuff was going on, you know marches and stuff. I went to a few of them at Michigan State and they-1 identified with the kids, the cops used to really bother me. I can remember one time Lucy and I were walking down Grand River avenue at Michigan State and the kids were having a pretty boisterous ya know peace thing out in the street and they blocked the street off and all that crap and these cops, state police came down it was like 4 or 5 in car looking like thugs you know. I had my military jacket on, field jacket, it's a winter coat thing. And they got out of their car and started to approach us like they were going to club us. And I started to get really antsy like come on mother fuckers (laughs). And I was not good and at that point in time I started realizing wow this has really got me I got some stuff going on that is not peaceful. And it took a long time for me to come to terms with that I had to control my temper a lot, a lot. I mean that's why I wear this button everyday, it says real men don't use violence. And I put it on to remind myself that aint the way and you can't do that. They do a good job of teaching you how to be 16 violent and to lose it because you lose it real fast. So I feel like I was rambling off your subject there.

James Delaney:

Oh no it's fine. Who else has asked you about your war experience?

Arnold Stieber:

Nobody in my family, including Lucy, the only people who ask me about it are students like yourself. Somebody will. I substitute taught for a year or so a few years ago and on occasion I got a kid who was all gung ho military. Was going to join the Marines and kill those Iraqis you know and revenge for 9/11. And we would get into a dialogue and they would ask me well what do you know? And then I would tell them what I know. But that's about it. Even you know, I belong to a couple vet groups, not the traditional VFW kind but um, other guys who have been there done that and found out it didn't work. But we never talk about it at all. I found this interesting one of the guys a couple weeks ago said in 1975 it was like 2 million Vietnam vets actual roughly. And he said by like by 1990 they surveyed and found guys who said they were in Vietnam (uses quote marks with hands) has now jumped to 15 million. So there's a lot of guys out there who now all of the sudden have become Vietnam vets and they tell all their war stories. So most of the crap you hear is BS.

James Delaney:

Wow

Arnold Stieber:

Yeah, and its really sick. It shows a sickness in our society where we would- where we would -glorify wars. When I started going through all of my process I developed 2 questions because my research was very unorganized because peace and justice and all that stuff and there are huge amounts stuff to learn. I developed 2 questions and one is why is there war and the second one is why do we so proudly send our children to kill other children. Because it's pervasive, you go around to any park in this country and there's going to be a military something in that park. It will be a cannon or a statue of somebody or a you know-stuff. You go by some of these VFW places and they got a tanks out front or a fighter jet or a cannon. Drive down the highway its called the Vietnam War Memorial Highway, the World War II War Memorial Highway, the Korean War Memorial Highway, there's one in Toledo called the Catholic Veterans War Memorial Highway and I'm going god![laughs) shouldn't that be an oxymoron. It struck me as, so much influence in this country says that war (banging upstairs) is a necessity you know you got to have war. Veterans fought for our freedom, which is horseshit. We fight for corporations we fight for money, you don't fight for your freedom, you know, were supposed to be rule of law. And that's should be how you solve your problems folks. There's international court you can go to to resolve conflicts you don't just go bomb them I mean what the hell that's stupid. There might have been a handful of people who caused problems and you go kill a million. I mean what what-its barbaric its absolute barbarism, legalized barbarism.

James Delaney:

Whom else have you talked to about your war experience?

Arnold Stieber:

Very few people ,You mean in detail?

James Delaney:

Yea.

Arnold Stieber:

0 very few people, because most people don't understand it and I don't. There's nothing to tell. You do what you do and you did what you did and you saw what you saw and umm hopefully you learn from it and hopefully you learn that that's not good.

James Delaney:

What would you tell a soldier heading into war right now if you could talk to them?

Arnold Stieber:

Don't go. Absolutely don't go. Go to Canada, change your name, get facial surgery . become female. I don't care. Do anything. Don't go. Don't buy the crap that you're doing something glorious for your country because it's not true. Absolutely not true. Every war I have studied including world war II the bottom line is money and markets. Once you realize that that's what is the bass line your killing people for nothing your killing to make somebody rich. And all this other junk that it's the only way it's the only way to solve this problem we have to kill the bad guys. (Buzzer Noise) Mampp wrong. What really bugs me are the people who say they are Christian but its ok to kill the bad guys and I say excuse me maybe you should call yourself a Biblicist because there's parts of the bible that are violent and all that kind of stuff. If you call yourself a Christian I assume that means you believe in Jesus. And that guy wasn't buying it I mean that guy didn't kill anybody. He didn't say yes, thou shall not kill except when the politician says they are the bad guy. So in my opinion there's absolutely zero reason for war, zero. It's a money making scheme on the one hand on the other hand its absolute ignorance to think that's the only option you have to kill people.

James Delaney:

Well that's about it, thank you very much.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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