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"I came into a compound and everybody was bandaged…and I'm going, What kind of meat grinder have I dropped myself into?" (Video Interview, Part I - 15:33)

   James Andrew Sawvell
Collection image
James A. Sawvell standing in front of tank damaged by a land mine.
War: Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Branch: Army
Unit: 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division; Company B, 4th Battalion, 37th Armored Regiment
Service Location: Fort Jackson, South Carolina; Fort Knox, Kentucky; Fort Hood, Texas; Cu Chi, Vietnam
Rank: Sergeant
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When James Sawvell enlisted in the Army, he thought volunteering would give him the opportunity to serve somewhere other than Vietnam. But it was 1968, the height of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia, and Sawvell's leadership skills were badly needed. Once he was in the field as a platoon sergeant, he didn't back down from danger, and he lost a portion of his hearing when his tank hit two land mines. Sawvell's turnaround was complete by the end of his tour, when he attempted to extend it. He offers vivid and detailed accounts of life on patrol in the jungle.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (5 clips)
»Part 1 | Part 2 
Download: video(1) | 
Download: video(2) (54 min.)
»Photo Album  (7 photos)
 Official Documents
»DD-214, Discharge paper for James Sawvell
More like this
»Staff Favorites
»Vietnam War: Looking Back, Part 2
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (5 items)
Arriving in Vietnam only to find that the unit he was assigned to, 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry, had just been ambushed by the North Vietnamese Army; difference between the NVA and the Viet Cong; seeing the casualties and wondering what he had gotten into. (01:48) Pulling road guard for the Rome plows, which cleared the underbrush to keep the NVA and VC from using them as cover; effectiveness of Agent Orange in defoliating vegetation. (01:01) Senior commander coming up with "unique" way to clear landmines from the road and get soldiers to their missions on time; losing his hearing after running over two landmines; joining scout platoon; concern about landmines, RPGs, and booby traps; brush with death after tripping a wire. (03:21)
Description of ambush team mission; discovering trails off the Saigon River all heading into a clump; daytime insertion; Bravo Troop ambush team getting ambushed on way to ambush site; realizing they had inserted themselves in a Viet Cong base camp; VC taking away their dead; Charlie Troop rescue. (06:44) A 1969 New Years Eve ambush; a Viet Cong stepping on the arm of his sleeping buddy who started screaming; not knowing the exact location of the VC; calling in gunship and artillery support; having a "party" shooting off everything they had, not realizing they were being shot at; the colonel calling to congratulate him on being the first unit to make contact in 1970. (03:40) 

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  October 26, 2011
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