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"If that bullet would have been three feet, five feet closer! Wouldn't be here." (video interview, 31:31)

   John Vincent Pletz
Collection image
John Pletz [2007]
War: Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Branch: Coast Guard
Service Location: San Francisco, California; Eureka, California; Cape May, New Jersey; Groton, Connecticut; Da Nang, Vietnam
Rank: Petty Officer Second Class
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Attracted by admittedly a romantic view of the Coast Guard, John Pletz chose to enlist in that service in 1965 when he was drafted by the Army. He discovered his personal limits during a survival training course but still decided he would volunteer for an assignment to Vietnam. There, he helped man a patrol boat which was on the lookout for civilian boats carrying contraband. His closest brush with armed fire came in the form of an artillery shell which shook him up and disabled the boat, while his boat was being repaired, Pletz took some R and R in Japan, where he adopted a "short-timer" mentality toward the war, questioning the eventual outcome of the U.S.military's actions.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (8 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: video (61 min.)
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 Video (Interview Excerpts) (8 items)
Drafted in 1965; decided to enlist in Coast Guard; attracted by the romance of that service; trained as an electronics technician; on duty along California coast; warrant officer was a Vietnam vet; suggested Pletz was kind of guy the Coast Guard needed in Vietnam, so he volunteered; during survival training, he discovered he would make a bad POW. (04:15) While in Vietnam, Coast Guard was part of the Navy; ran heavily armed boats, but a crew of only 11, so duties overlapped; doing sweeps with Army and Marines, who would push Vietcong down to a beach, where Pletz's boat would be waiting for them; patrolling the beaches, looking for boats with cargo that would be of aid to the enemy; encountered one boat which was empty and they avoided boarding it--turned out to be a boobytrap. (01:53) A group of Marines pinned down near a beach; told them to lay low and volleyed covering fire over them; recalling this with emotion; up river in North Vietnam to disrupt transportation of goods into DMZ; hit by artillery fire; began to imagine getting captured; radio communications not always effective, but able to hook up an old radio and call for support; his boat, Point Welcome, had been hit by friendly fire before he came on board, with five men killed; questioning some officers' motives, that they were more interested in accumulating medals than safety of their men. (04:28)
While boat was being repaired and he was on leave in Japan, began wondering why he was in Vietnam; what kind of life were they going to leave the citizens with; worked in off-hours to help build an orphanage until he was told that it was under Vietcong control; always present was the question of who could you trust. (02:40) Finding contraband aboard fishing ships; tossing people overboard, assuming the fishermen would be able to swim but the Vietcong couldn't. (00:44) What SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) training was like; working with Marines at Camp Pendleton; “captured” and put into a “concentration camp;” abused physically within limits; given little to eat; broken down mentally; understood his limits; always kept one bullet in his .45, because “no one was going to take me alive;” closest he came to capture was when their boat was hit by artillery and they were dead in the water; rescued by SS Boston; considers himself lucky that the shell didn’t hit closer to him. (07:33)
Small crew forced everyone to share responsibilities; how the Army or Marines would force people to the beach to be sorted out; their job was to prevent anyone from escaping by water; patrolling same area and getting to know the people they encountered; more detail on saving the group of Marines pinned down just off a beach. (06:07) Had a talk with a chaplain after one patrol left him feeling shaken up; advised to understand that forgiveness lay with God and that he had the choice to carry this with him or to let it go. understand that forgiveness lay with God and that he had the choice to carry this with him or to let it go. (02:15) 

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  October 26, 2011
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