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Interview with William Maxwell Barner, III [10/2/2012]

James A. Showers:

I'm Jim Showers. Today is October 2nd, 2012. And I am participating in a project called the Veterans History Project, which, to me, is a very important and long overdue project, concerning obtaining information from veterans of the various wars in which the United States has been involved from the very beginning. The Veterans History Project in Hill County is being sponsored by the Hill County Bar Association. And we are fortunate to have not only members of the Bar but also court reporters like Janet McConathy, who is the court reporter for the County Court at Law here in Hill County, to offer their services. And we also are fortunate to have Mike Clark, who is a videographer from Waco, offer his services to this project. And as -- we are in the Hill County Courthouse in Hillsboro, Texas, and I will be interviewing this morning William Maxwell Barner, III, of Hillsboro, Texas, a veteran of the Vietnam War/Conflict - we'll let Bill describe it. Bill was born on January 1st, 1943 in Birmingham, Alabama, and I will let -- first ask Bill to tell us a little bit about his upbringing, his -- where he was born and his family.

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. When I was born, my parents owned a goat milk dairy in the northwestern part of Birmingham, and they had approximately 2,000 milk goats. And they milked about 1,000 a day by hand because, at that time, the milking equipment wasn't sophisticated enough to get all of the milk out of the udder of a goat, so they milked the goats by hand. And they traded the goat dairy for a farm in south Alabama near the gulf, between Mobile and Pensacola, and we became dirt farmers. We raised horses, sheep, goats, cows. We had a cow dairy at one time also, too.

James A. Showers:

Did you work on the farm, Bill?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Yes, sir.

James A. Showers:

How many siblings did you have?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

I only have one, and that's my sister. She was born on Christmas Day 1936, and she lives in Burleson.

James A. Showers:

And then you came along on -- earlier on New Year's Day in 1943?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right.

James A. Showers:

Where were you when you met your wife?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

I came to Texas for the summer of '61, just as an adventure, and I met Sandra near the end of the summer. She was dating a fellow named Jim Mars, and I had a '55 Chevrolet. And we were invited to an event that evening in Tanglewood of Fort Worth, and my date was Jane Stevens. And we were going down a hill, and we turned left and a car ran into our car, and Sandra was injured. And that's how I met her; she was injured. And I haven't seen Jane Stevens since.

James A. Showers:

Were you driving?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Yes.

James A. Showers:

And when did you and Sandra get married?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

We dated for five years. We got married on April the 9th, 1966.

James A. Showers:

And where did you get married?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

In Fort Worth in a Methodist church on, I think, College Avenue in Fort Worth.

James A. Showers:

And what were you doing at that time, Bill, in Fort Worth?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

I had the dream job of a lifetime for a kid growing up on a farm in Alabama. I worked for General Motors. I was in lower management at the General Motors Assembly Plant in Arlington, Texas, and we built Buick, Oldsmobile, and Pontiac automobiles.

James A. Showers:

It's called the PBOE plant?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

BOP.

James A. Showers:

Yeah, the BOP plant. So you were basically set at that point?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Oh, yeah. I had grown up on a farm, thought that's probably what I would end up doing. But by chance, I met Sandra the summer of '61, and when I first started attending college at Arlington State College, formerly Grubbs College, I happened to have a classmate in one of my engineering classes that his father was the president of the UAW at the Arlington Assembly Plant. And so they ended up introducing me to GM, and I had the job of a lifetime. I had the girl of my dreams, and we got married on her 21st birthday.

James A. Showers:

Before -- I jumped ahead a little bit, Bill. Where did you go to school? What was your educational history?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

In -- I went to the first 12 grades all on the same campus in Foley, Alabama. All 12 grades on the same campus. And then I went to Arlington State College. I wasn't interested in college. I wasn't interested in going to Vietnam, so I just went to college to not go to Vietnam. And I went -- I was finally kicked out of Arlington State College. And I went to TCU for a while and took the courses I wanted to take and made good grades in the ones I wanted to take. And finally they got tired of me, and I was at Texas Wesleyan College when I got drafted.

James A. Showers:

Tell us, Bill, what you knew at that point about the Vietnam Conflict?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

What I knew about it was that I didn't want to go there and I didn't want to die for no reason at all, for no good reason at all. And that's only been enhanced over the period of time in Vietnam and my life. I don't mind dying. I just would like to die for a good reason.

James A. Showers:

So you really -- when you dropped out of school and got the job, you knew that there was a likelihood that you were going to be drafted; is that correct?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Well, they had tried to draft me several times before, but fortunately, I had high blood pressure and a few other things and they wouldn't take me. And so the day that they did induct me, I said, What about my high blood pressure? And they said, Son, we're building up for a big war, and you'll do just fine.

James A. Showers:

And what date and how did you get your draft notice?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Yeah, I got my draft notice on September 6th, 1966. My wife and I had been married about five months. We had gone to Galveston for the Labor Day weekend. We stayed at the Jack Tar Hotel. Life was good. I had a great job, and, you know, life was good. Came --

James A. Showers:

Where was your draft board, Bill?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

My draft board was in Bay Minette, Alabama, so I was drafted through that draft board.

James A. Showers:

What do you recall about the day and the circumstances of receiving the draft notice?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

I called Ms. Howell on Tuesday, September the 6th, and I said, Ms. Howell, this is Billy Barner. You said that I wouldn't get drafted. And she said, I know. I told you that, but we have a new president and we have a war now. And I said, Well, I don't want to be drafted. She said, Your draft number is 01014302, January the 1st, '43, Number 2. And she said, I have no choice. You've got to go.

James A. Showers:

Where were you that day?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

In Arlington. We lived across the street from the assembly plant.

James A. Showers:

And so you were there at home when you got home from work and opened the envelope?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

We got back from Galveston on September the 5th -- well -- or the 6th, excuse me, and the draft notice was waiting for me. And it said exactly what the movies say. It said, Greetings. And I wasn't interested in being drafted.

James A. Showers:

Do you still have that notice?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

I might. I have a box full of things that I never look at.

James A. Showers:

What happened after that, Bill, in regard to your draft and your service?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

I continued to bother Ms. Howell. And several people in South Alabama tried to help me not get drafted, but I was inducted on October the 21st, 1966, in Dallas, Texas.

James A. Showers:

And what were yours and Sandra's plans at that point now that you had received your draft notice? What was she going to do?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

She moved back home in Wedgewood, southwest Fort Worth, and continued her education at Arlington State College at that time and...

James A. Showers:

And tell us the circumstances of when you reported for duty. Where was that?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

I went to Dallas the morning of October the 21st, 1966. Sandy went to class. And our plan was she would come back and pick me up and take me home because they had never inducted me before. But they did that day. And I called her to let her know - no cell phones then - to let her know that I had been drafted. And so she drove over to Dallas, and by the time she got there through the traffic, I and a busload of other guys were loaded up on a bus. And the last time I saw my wife, she was standing on the street crying, and I was in the bus crying. And when we got to Fort Polk, Louisiana, at about 2:00 in the morning, the drill sergeants were -- started beating on the bus and shouting at us and did so for six weeks that, You're going to Vietnam and you will die. You're going to Vietnam and you will die. And I wasn't interested in either one of those.

James A. Showers:

Bill, what -- upon reflection, what do you think the purpose of those DIs making those comments to you at that point was?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

They wanted us to know the seriousness of what we were getting involved in, and they -- we were going to Vietnam and we were going to die.

James A. Showers:

You think that was part of the technique established by the Army?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. Well, certainly -- probably by the Army, but certainly Fort Polk because most of the -- most of the ones in Fort Polk were going to go into infantry. And I wasn't interested in being in infantry either.

James A. Showers:

So you didn't select any portion or any aspect of your service; is that correct?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

No. Fortunately, when you -- when we first got drafted, they gave us days and days of examinations to see, you know, how intelligent we were and what we were capable of doing. They were planning our future. And fortunately, it turned out that I was very intelligent. I didn't know that. I was about as surprised as they were. And I asked them -- they gave me the opportunity to go to Officer Candidate School as a result. And I asked a lot of questions about, you know, if you do this, where you go. Will you go to California? You do this, you go to Kentucky. You do this, you go to South Carolina. It turned out that they have an Officers Candidate School in Oklahoma. And I asked them to tell me a lot about that, and they told me a lot about that. When I took the aptitude test and the test to qualify to go to Officers Candidate School, that was the only test that I passed. I failed all the others. I couldn't drive a truck. I couldn't dig a hole. And I thought that was pretty, you know, neat under the circumstances.

James A. Showers:

But you didn't end up going into Officers Candidate School?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

No. I showed up on the second day or so of January '67, and I'm -- I'm being received by an E8 or E9. E9 is as high as you can go in the enlisted ranks. And I told the sergeant, I said, I'm here for OCS prep, but I'm not going to Officers Candidate School and I'm not going to Vietnam and I'm not going to die. And he said, Like hell you are. He said, You are going through officers prep and you are going to OCS and you will go to Vietnam. And I don't know if you're going to die or not, but you're -- that's definitely going to happen. I said, Well, we'll see about that. And so I spent four or five weeks failing every examination. They said turn left, I turned right. They said stand up, I sat down. And they got real tired of that, and they finally kicked me out after a few weeks, and -- but they kept me around. And later in life, we understand why they kept me around, and that is because I could lead and I was intelligent.

James A. Showers:

Why were you taking this approach, Bill, trying to intentionally avoid going to OCS?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

They were going to Vietnam and they were going to die. Also, they were going to be in for a minimum of four years. I had a career and a wife waiting for me. I just wanted out.

James A. Showers:

So it was your feeling at that point that by avoiding OCS, you would have less likelihood of being in combat, number one; and number two, you would get out sooner? Is that it?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Absolutely, I would get out sooner. Most of the artillery officers were being trained to be forward observers, which means you're with infantry or you're with someone like our group, and you're out there and you're out there where everything is happening, and you're being trained to know where you are on earth, and you're being trained just to be able to communicate with someone like me and say, I need help. And they were going to die, and I wasn't interested in that.

James A. Showers:

So what did you end up doing after? After intentionally flunking out of OCS, where did you go?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

They wouldn't let me leave. The same sergeant kept me there because they had isolated me in a barracks by myself. And one evening the barracks full of my classmates caught on fire, and I went down and organized them getting out and not dying. And the sergeant - I remember as plain as day (indicating) - he said, I want to send your ass to Vietnam, but you're going to stay here with me, and you're going to help me get these kids ready for OCS, and you're going to help me. And I said, You got it. And so I had the opportunity to -- from January -- late January, early February until August to actually help young men prepare for Officers Candidate School. And I -- my life changed at that point because all of a sudden I'm wanting starch on my fatigues, I'm wanting my boots to shine, and I want the brass buckle to shine. And Sandra couldn't understand that, but it was important to me to help them be ready.

James A. Showers:

So even though you knew you weren't going to go through OCS, you felt that you could help the others be ready for that?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right.

James A. Showers:

Well, then, you were there until August?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

August of '67.

James A. Showers:

What -- how did you get -- you were in the Howitzer Battery, Second Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry regiment?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right.

James A. Showers:

How did you end up in that unit division at the time?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

It was probably strictly a Godsend. I was busy taking care of these kids, getting them ready for OCS, and I get my orders to go to Vietnam. And I don't recall if it said where I was going to end up or not. I don't think it said, other than you're going to Vietnam, and I think the decision was going to be reached when I got there. I don't know. But I was very fortunate to be in the type of outfit that I was in. It was very independent. I would like to tell you some more about it when you want.

James A. Showers:

Oh, I will certainly ask you. Let me ask you at this point, during this training, this is all at Fort Polk?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Fort Sill, Oklahoma, was for the OCS and OCS prep. Fort Polk was the basic training.

James A. Showers:

Okay. So you went from Polk to Sill?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Uh-huh.

James A. Showers:

And then from Sill to Vietnam?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Correct.

James A. Showers:

What did you, Bill Barner, while you were there at Fort Sill, what did you hear about Vietnam and what was going on and the politics of the whole situation?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

It was a cause that -- it was a situation where we were going to die for no good reason at all. It was not -- there was not a good reason for being there.

James A. Showers:

Was the feeling of those young officer candidates, was it different than yours?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Mine was very similar because I was very capable of being what they were going to be. And they were -- they -- we had quite a bond. I had a -- they gave me -- when they graduated and they were getting ready to go into OCS, one of the groups gave me a 105-millimeter howitzer canister, which they used the canister and they brass-plated it, and they had all of their names engraved on it.

James A. Showers:

You still have that?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

I gave it to the museum here.

James A. Showers:

Okay.

William Maxwell Barner, III:

The war museum here.

James A. Showers:

Later on I'm going to ask you about your relationship and how you've had contact with your fellow servicemen in Vietnam. But as to those young men that you helped there, have you had any contact with any of them?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

I didn't want to because they were going to Vietnam and they were going to die. And I wasn't.

James A. Showers:

So you didn't know -- you don't know today how many of those kids survived?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

(Moving head side to side) And I looked at their names for years.

James A. Showers:

Looked for their names?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

No. I looked at the canister with their name on it for years.

James A. Showers:

Yeah. Have you ever been to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Yes, I've -- and I -- we lived in Williamsburg, Virginia, from '85 to 2005, and I saw the war memorial probably in the late '80s or '90s. And I thought, you know, so what. You know, you're just going to walk down this thing and you're going to come out the other side.

James A. Showers:

Well, now let's go on and jump ahead to when you left Fort Sill. Tell us about your experience. When -- how were you told when you were going and where you were going?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

My orders were to report to Oakland, California, and they had a large complex there where we were -- all of us that were going over were housed. And we would have to do -- you know, line up every day, and there were thousands of us, and they would call the names of the -- of the young men that were going to fly out. And this went on for days, and, you know, your name doesn't get called or your name does get called. And finally one afternoon, my name got called to fly out the next day. And that evening, I just went for a walk, and I was able to walk right off of the base and walk right out to the San Francisco Bay and stand there and think about what was getting ready to happen. And I looked to the north to Canada and I looked at myself, and I decided to go.

James A. Showers:

As opposed to any alternatives that you might --

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. Right.

James A. Showers:

Like some other famous people in the United States took --

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. Right. I decided to go. I was 24. I knew I could do a good job, and I went. I made the decision to go.

James A. Showers:

Did you talk to Sandra that night?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

I don't know.

James A. Showers:

How did you -- did you let her know that you had gotten your orders and --

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Probably. You know, probably did.

James A. Showers:

What happened the next day?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

They loaded me up on a Pam Am plane with -- like we were getting ready to go to Orlando, and we flew west and we flew west and we flew west. And I remember looking out the window and seeing these big ocean liners looking like little cigars in the water. We landed on Wake Island for refueling, and the runway was longer than the island. I arrived at, you know, I don't know how to spell Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base in Bien Hoa, but I arrived there on the 15th of August, 1968, and I was processed in. And they said --

James A. Showers:

1967?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. 1967. '67. And I remember that evening being on the top bunk, and I'm looking at all this warfare going on. And I cried, and I thought, I am going to die.

James A. Showers:

This was on Wake Island or was this after you got to Vietnam?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

At Bien Hoa. At Bien Hoa in Vietnam.

James A. Showers:

At Bien Hoa, Vietnam?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Uh-huh.

James A. Showers:

Well, go ahead and tell us what you recall about that first week.

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Then the next day they loaded me up and said, You're going to -- and I think this is the first time that I knew that I would be in the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. And they loaded me up on a plane that I think was called a Caribou, and they flew me from Bien Hoa to Chu Lai. I went from -- the country was divided into four war zones, I, II, III, and IV. And Bien Hoa was in the III Zone and Chu Lai was up in the I Zone, as we called it. And I remember flying up there and being transported, you know, from Chu Lai out into the jungle. And here I show up at this fire support base with all of these howitzers and all of this activity. And the thing I remember most is that day or the next day was my first day to do what I had been trained -- not -- that I had been attempted to be trained to do. And I sat down beside the -- a guy named Charles, Chuck. And it was just amazing to listen to the radios, the three radios and the forward observers. The kids that I had left in Oklahoma, they were calling in for fire support. And I'm just listening to these three radios and I'm listening to these two guys interpret this information. And I'm looking at this guy named Chuck, and it was just amazing just to watch him do these things and then to tell the guns what to do. And I said, Damn. I said, You are good at this. I hope I can learn how to do this. And he said, I don't give a shit if you learn how to do it or not. I'm going home in five days.

James A. Showers:

So you had to learn? 3

William Maxwell Barner, III:

I had to learn in five days.

James A. Showers:

And you knew that out there in the field and in the jungle were these kids that you had helped in OCS?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. I had helped these same kids go to Officers Candidate School go to Vietnam.

James A. Showers:

Did that motivate you, Bill?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Yes. I learned how to do the job. I knew how to do the job. I just didn't want to do it in Oklahoma. And I learned how to do it within five days, but unfortunately, my first day when -- Chuck had left to go -- come back to the States, and we're receiving a radio call for fire support. The two guys behind me hear it. I hear it. They make their computations. I make the final computations. I give the computations. I give the elevation, the -- where -- which direction the tubes were to point and how much powder to put behind them. Unfortunately, one of the six howitzers had not been laid out properly, which had nothing to do with me, but it's like surveying, that you've got to know where this thing is because it's getting ready to shoot out there as far as 13 miles. And unfortunately, gun six was off, and in that fire mission, we killed one of our own. It could have easily been one of the kids that I knew. You know, I don't know who got killed.

James A. Showers:

How would you know that you killed one of your own?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

The radio coming back was saying, Cease fire. Cease fire. Damn it, you killed one of us.

James A. Showers:

Because someone made an error in the calculations?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right.

James A. Showers:

Do you think that was you? Did you feel responsible for that?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Well, there were only eight of us involved in the decision. I got the call. The guys behind me made their computations. I made the final computations. I gave it to all six howitzers. And those five guys, they made the decision to do what I told them to do, and so eight of us killed one of us my very first day.

James A. Showers:

How did you feel about that?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

I knew I was going to die.

James A. Showers:

Now, we're talking about this piece of equipment that there were six of them there. It was an M109 --

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. It's called --

James A. Showers:

-- howitzer?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

-- M109 self-propelled howitzer; weighed about 27 and a half tons.

James A. Showers:

And it looks similar to a tank; it's on tracks.

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. Right.

James A. Showers:

And do you operate this from the inside?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. They did. I -- our -- we were in what was called a command track, which is like a story-and-a-half armored vehicle where you can stand up in it. And our vehicle, the command track, was in the center of a big huddle of these howitzers and the supply vehicles and things. And so we were in the center, and we had the tallest antenna, and we were the target.

James A. Showers:

So when you would -- when the enemy would see you're in placement there, they would always go for your vehicle because they knew that you were commanding the howitzers?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. Because whoever was in that command track was the decider, and that's the job that I had. I was the one who made the final decision where every round went.

James A. Showers:

And, Bill, we're talking about lots of rounds?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Uh-huh.

James A. Showers:

Give us an idea of how many rounds that you would shoot in an hour, a day, or during your year there. Talk about that.

William Maxwell Barner, III:

I have somewhere in my diary that we fired on one mission 120 rounds in just like four minutes or something. It was just unbelievable how we could perform. But while I was there -- and we'll talk more about it later. While I was there in the center of those six howitzers, we fired well over 40,000 rounds weighing over four million pounds of high explosive. Wherever it landed, it would destroy from one end of the football field to the other.

James A. Showers:

And you were there doing this in that spot or in multiple other spots in that country for one year; is that correct?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. That's correct. And sometime a year or so ago, I went to Oklahoma to visit with the fellow that drove our track for a while, and I asked Darrell, I said, you know, Why did you leave the environment that we were in and go out in an armored vehicle with a forward observer where you were going to get killed? He said, You don't understand. He said, Y'all were firing 24 hours a day. You had the tallest antenna. And I'm -- you know, I'm not going to do that. I'm going to go where I can see a little better.

James A. Showers:

How did he make that choice?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

He volunteered to be a driver for one of the forward observers.

James A. Showers:

Were the forward observers, were they communicating with you?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Uh-huh. Whoever needed fire support communicated with whoever had the fire support. And so every one in the military -- in the United States military within 13 miles knew exactly where we were, and they knew our radio channels. We -- I monitored three radios at a time, two men behind me, an officer talking to me or trying to direct me, and I was talking to six howitzers at one time.

James A. Showers:

And so the range of the these rounds --

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right.

James A. Showers:

-- that you were firing was what?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

13 miles. We could reach 13 miles in any direction. They were -- as you said before, they were -- looked like a tank, but they were a nor -- a howitzer and they could fire 360 degrees. Actually, we even broke it down further than that. We broke it down into 3,600 degrees.

James A. Showers:

And would they all rotate at the same time so that they would all go in the same direction or --

William Maxwell Barner, III:

As part of my responsibility, not all six howitzers fired the same fire mission because we're in the middle of a 13-mile radius, and we've got problems everywhere. It was not uncommon for me to be computing six fire missions at one time, one howitzer firing in different directions and the rounds going over us, going out. So it was -- wouldn't be uncommon or unlikely that I would be computing, the two guys, six fire missions at one time. And you've got to remember what gun six is firing on and what gun one is firing on, and I could do that.

James A. Showers:

So how many days a week did you do this?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

We worked -- our official shift was eight hours on and eight hours off, but I've noted in my combat action diary that sometimes I worked as many as 20 hours straight. We had a -- we had a -- once we started a fire mission, we finished it. If one of the troops -- one of the infantry companies, when they were in trouble, I stuck with you. Because you don't want one of these kids out here as a forward observer say, Wait a minute, I was talking to him, you know, so you stayed with them. You stayed with them until the action was over.

James A. Showers:

How close would your placement be to where the friendlies were, to where these kids were?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

They were -- they were very close. It was -- we could sometimes even hear what they were doing without the radios, but they -- well, what happened was -- I don't want to digress too far, but when we would show up at an area, our tanks would go out there first in the middle of this beautiful forest, and they would drive around and around and around and knock all of these trees down. Then the armored cavalry assault vehicles come in and they would do the same thing, and then we would show up. And then from there, to answer your question, was then off they would go. They would take so many tanks, so many armored cavalry vehicles -- armored cavalry assault vehicles, and off they would go.

James A. Showers:

And so it's -- it had to be very precise, even 13 miles out?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. And that's why we broke the circle up into 3,600 increments - probably not degrees, but increments - because when this round goes out and it's raining, the wind is blowing, you've got to be sure where it's going to land.

James A. Showers:

And each round weighed how much?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

102 pounds.

James A. Showers:

And what do they have in them? What do they look like and what do they have in them?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

We didn't use the canister like the 105s did. They had -- the canisters had all the powder. Our tube was so big that we actually put in the round first, and they weighed 102 pounds. And it had -- they were safe to handle until you put the tip on there, and the tip was the detonator and -- or it could be a timer. We could actually send the rounds out and have them explode, you know, 50 meters in the air, and then it would be all shrapnel. But the guys on the guns would push the round in first, and then I would tell them how much powder and what color the bags were. I'd tell them exactly how much powder to put behind the round, and then they would close the breech. And then the sergeant in charge of every gun -- every gun had its own crew and own sergeant. Then he would be in the process of this time turning it somewhere in some circle and in some elevation, because with that much powder, that round was going to land in a certain place.

James A. Showers:

So not only do you have to calculate the direction of the cannons that's going to shoot the round, but you also had to determine exactly the type -- how much powder goes in it and such as that?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. Right. And the elevation of the tube, where it's going, the elevation of the tube, and how much powder, just like a -- in football. The passer throws a short pass or he throws a long one. And it was my decision, my decision.

James A. Showers:

And when you say tube, you're talking about what a layman would call a barrel on the vehicle?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. It -- we had one of the earlier versions. I have provided some pictures for you. But our tube was very short, very stubby, and after 6,000 rounds or whatever, we would replace the tubes. Helicopters would come in, bring us new tubes, they'd put them on the guns. We'd do one at a time, of course. And so after so many rounds, the tubes even had to be replaced and were replaced.

James A. Showers:

You've given me, before this interview, Bill, your Biographical Data Form for one thing, but then you have also given me what appears to be excerpts from a diary that you kept.

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right.

James A. Showers:

And a couple of pictures of yourself, beginning and the end.

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right.

James A. Showers:

You also have included a map of South Vietnam.

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right.

James A. Showers:

And on that map you've added some information. Tell us about that.

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. Since I'm in a story and a half armored vehicle and I'm in there at least eight hours, every eight -- other eight hours, you know, I have a place to keep things a little bit dry, and so I kept the diary. I wrote Sandra every day. I was there leap year. I wrote her 366 letters. I wrote her every day. And I had this map in this ammunition box where I kept my diary and my letters, and I would write on this map every day -- which I will provide the Library of Congress. I would write on this map when we set up a fire support base, and I would indicate where it was. And I still have that today.

James A. Showers:

And I'm looking at a copy of the map that you provided. And by the way, Bill, I think you've expressed to me that you're willing to send the original of your diary and the map and this other information in on this project as long as you know for sure that the original will be placed in the Library of Congress?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. Right. Because I had -- and this is a digression again, but I had never read the diary until January of '09. I was an inpatient in the Waco hospital for post-traumatic stress disorder, and I read the diary for the first time in my life. And for the first time in my life I realized that if it had been my uncle's diary from World War II, if it had been my grandfather or great grandfather from the Civil War, I'd say, you know, I'm real proud of this guy. This guy was really okay. So I don't want someone to take my diary personally. I want America to have it because in the diary, which is a little -- which is a lot more inclusive than the excepts that I've pulled out for you, it's very vivid and very graphic. And what I wrote Sandra every day was how beautiful of a country we were in and we -- and I never talked to her about what we did. I always talked to her about loving her and about the guys that I worked with and about the country and how beautiful it was. But the diary, I told the truth to.

James A. Showers:

Let me divert a bit here, Bill, and ask you something that I'm very interested in, and that's about the people of South Vietnam and what kind of -- how close did you get to them and what did you learn about those people?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Well, I had taken over with me a book to learn how to speak South Vietnamese, and I was all into -- when I went over there, you know, I'm going to befriend these people and I'm going to help these people, but these people turned out to be our enemies. Everybody was an enemy. We would have -- we would be out in the middle of nowhere and people would -- and Vietnamese people would show up at our perimeter on the other side of barbed wire with a Coca-Cola bottle selling Coca-Cola. But they would keep the cap and they would keep the bottle when we got through. It didn't take me long to understand that these people are looking to see where we are. Where are we and how are we set up and where is that command vehicle, that command track with the big antenna? And so it didn't take very long for me to decide I didn't care for any of them. They were -- and I have -- in January of '68, I have a notation for you that an ARVN, Army Republic of Vietnam, how they were engaged in a battle and how they turned and run -- ran. And I --

James A. Showers:

And these are the South Vietnamese regulars that were supposedly supporting us?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. Right. We were there to save the south -- the people in the Republic of South Vietnam from the North Vietnamese, and they would -- it wasn't unusual for them to turn and run in the middle of a battle. And I remember noting in my diary, in my excerpts for you, that, you know, this is some country to die for. I'm going to die for these people? And so I discarded the book on how to learn --

James A. Showers:

Vietnamese?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

-- Vietnamese, and I didn't care for any of them.

James A. Showers:

So you never really had a relationship with any of the locals?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

No. I chose not to after a few weeks.

James A. Showers:

Did you ever encounter any of the VC or Viet Cong?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

What was interesting is my job -- my exact position required no emotion, and so our military made very sure that I didn't see what I was doing. And I had been there six months before I saw a dead person. I never saw the person attacked us, you know. I don't know what they looked different than the others, but --

James A. Showers:

You didn't see them why? You did get attacked?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. But the Army didn't want me to see these people, to know that -- it wasn't my job to know the difference between good and bad. My job was to destroy. That's all it was.

James A. Showers:

You never -- did you ever see pictures of the devastation that you were wrecking at the end of your trajectory?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Finally when the major offensive by the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong in January of '68, finally at that point that I saw what we were doing, but I also saw what they were doing to their own people.

James A. Showers:

You saw pictures?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

I saw -- I didn't see pictures. I saw the real thing. I saw what we did. And do you want to know about Tet of '68 now or later?

James A. Showers:

Well, no. Go ahead and let's talk about it now. There's no problem jumping around.

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Yeah. I arrived in country on the 15th of August, 1967. In January of '68, we're over near Cambodia. We're in a very hostile area called the Iron Triangle, and we're out there just doing what we're doing. And we never moved at night. I mean, we were the crown jewel. You take care of us because we're going to take care of them. And so we never -- we never moved at night. The ACAVs, the tanks, that's what they did, but we didn't move. But on the afternoon of January the 30th, 1968, we loaded up. We loaded up, and we started moving, and we traveled for 15 and a half hours in the late afternoon, all night, and we arrived in Bien Hoa at daybreak on January the 31st. But on our way in is where I had the opportunity to see the death and the destruction that we and they were causing. We would go through villages and human beings would be stacked up like firewood, crisscrossed. We would go past POW camps for us to have their -- the North Vietnamese. One of the camps had as many as 2,000 North Vietnamese in it that day -- that night. But that night, just kind -- just moving for 15 and a half hours and you're seeing all that you're doing and --

James A. Showers:

So you would move to all these different locations.

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right.

James A. Showers:

How often would you move your place?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Starting with Tet of 1968, we arrived at Bien Hoa at daybreak and we set up, started firing immediately to protect Bien Hoa. And the following five months, we pushed the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese, we pushed them all the way back out where we were on January the 30th. We pushed them all the way back to Cambodia. And our job was very, very simple. You build a firewall over here, and our ACAVs and tanks and the infantry come in and they eliminate the enemy. Then you build another firewall and you build another firewall. And the following five months -- from January the 31st, 1968, the following five months, we moved and set up fire support bases 22 times, 22 times moving 27-and-a-half ton vehicles out there, all that goes with it, and we moved and we re-set up 22 times in five months. And I have one reference in the excerpts where we shot from the hip. Well, what that means is we were rolling and we were firing, and that was unusual because you really don't know where it's going to land. But we did that -- in that five-month period, we did it at least once where we shot from the hip. While we were convoying, we were firing artillery rounds.

James A. Showers:

And all of these different locations, you have marked on your map. And you made these markings while you were there; is that correct?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right.

James A. Showers:

Now, I notice, Bill, there is two up north, further -- close to the DMZ.

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right.

James A. Showers:

How did you end up way up there?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Well, when I got there August the 15th, 1967 and I flew up on this Caribou up to where they were, the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment consisted of about 4,000 of us. On any given day in '67-'68 there were about 4,000 of us. We were divided up in about a thousand cooks, supply, the helicopter, our gun ships, administration, and all that. Then we were divided up into three squadrons, and I was in the Second Squadron, and there were about 1,000 of us in a squadron. And I'm down here at the base camp near Bien Hoa but my squadron is up by the DMZ near Chu Lai, and so that's where they take me. And that's where I was in September and part of -- excuse me, August and September of '67.

James A. Showers:

Okay. Then they moved you back down into the area where you served the rest of your time?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. We were replaced by the Americal Division. The Second Squadron was replaced by the Americal Division. And we convoyed in, our entire squadron, all 1,000 of us, to -- we convoyed east to Chu Lai. And we were all loaded on some kinds of ships, and we were taken out into the China Sea. And we were taken all the way down to the Saigon River, and we were right in the third -- IV Corps, which is the Mekong Delta. We came right up that river, and I'm thinking, you know, How do you do this? How do you -- why -- how can you be on a ship coming in and the people against you say, These people are coming to kill me?

James A. Showers:

And the Mekong Delta, it goes in the coast and goes up by Saigon?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

It comes up pretty close to Saigon from the south.

James A. Showers:

And that's how you moved into that area?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

We came in by ship. We were unloaded, and then we went over to our base camp, which was in Xuan Loc, which is near Bien Hoa, and that's where we regrouped. So the squadron, the entire regiment, the rest of the year operated in the III Corps. For some reason the Second Squadron was in need and they went to the I Corps, and that's where I joined them. If we go back to the regiment just a minute, we weren't part of the Ninth Division. We weren't part of the Americal Division. We weren't part of the First Division. We weren't part of the Marines. We were a different group. We were the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, and we were divided up, as I said, into these three squadrons. And our job was, if you're the Ninth Division, you're the First Division, you need help, you call us, and we show up and we support whatever's happening.

James A. Showers:

Well, in -- what was the -- you were normally on eight, off eight, so three shifts in a 24-hour period, on and off. Where did you go? Where did you -- how did you live after you left the tower?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. So you're sitting out in the middle of the jungle that the tanks have knocked the trees down, the ACAVs have smoothed it out a little. And here you're sitting, and you can't see past the trees. You're not going anywhere. You're within those six howitzers. That's the perimeter, and you're in the center. You don't go anywhere. Six months out of the year, you're in a tent because it rains six months. Six months out of the year, you don't sleep in a tent. You just throw a cot out in the middle of all this that's going on, and you just lay down and you just go to sleep.

James A. Showers:

Were there mess tents or --

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Yeah. We were very, very fortunate. We had our own cook -- our own chefs, our own cooks. They had their own tent. And we had eggs; we didn't have powdered eggs. We had meat; we had real meat. And we only ate C-rations when we were convoying. We almost always had a real meal and almost always slept on a cot. And so the guys that I mentioned to you other times, you know, they -- that was part of my pain was, is what the rest of the guys were going through. They were -- their clothes were rotting off of them, they were eating C-rations, and they were out there in the weather. And that bothered me. I didn't understand how can -- why am I eating a real meal and sending out this artillery to protect these kids? Why? How did it work out that way? I didn't even want to be here.

James A. Showers:

Well, I seem to detect that it was that way because you were very important to them. Is -- don't you think that was the reason?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

I don't know when it was or where it was, but in my brain I can see we are moving from here to there, and we're going through this jungle that the tanks have just gone through and the ACAVs have just gone through, and the jungle is right there. And we get to this place that somebody makes a decision that we cannot safely cross whatever it is. And I sit on top of that command track and I watch kids with clothes rotting off of them cutting trees down and filling in this ravine so that we can cross. And I remember - and I'll always remember - why do they have to do that? How -- why do I have to just sit here and watch them? Why don't we get down and help them? And it's because of what you said is we had the guns.

James A. Showers:

Did -- so I take it that there were regular Army infantry soldiers protecting your perimeter, cleaning up for you; is that right?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. And it didn't really -- when I finally accepted a couple of years ago that what I did was good, I was sitting in the middle of 13 of these kids in Waco. They're in their early 60s. They're in the Marines. They're in the Army. And finally, one day I said to them a of couple of years ago, You know what? You wouldn't be here if it weren't for me. But most importantly, it has finally -- I have finally realized I wouldn't have been here if it weren't for you. You kept me alive.

James A. Showers:

Let's shift a little bit, Bill, to the physical impact as opposed to the emotional and mental. What was it like being in the command vehicle eight hours firing those rounds? What did it do to you? Did you have ear protection?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

No ear protection because I'm listening to three radios, and whoever is on the other end is requesting fire support, artillery. And not every time was it loud and clear; it was a whisper. And that's the one you feared the most. You did not --

James A. Showers:

Wait a minute. Mike, what? Five minutes left on the tape or -- MR. CLARK: Yes.

James A. Showers:

Okay.

William Maxwell Barner, III:

You did not want to not hear that fire request because that was the one that they were going to die. And so the -- they would -- you would get requests for fire support in whispers. And it helped to be inside of a command vehicle with it raining and -- or whatever outside so that you could actually hear the call for fire support. Then I would, in that case, tell the two guys behind me that had these charts and counter-charts, you know, Here is where they are. Here is where they want the artillery round to land. You tell me where that is. And so even today -- well, since 1991, I've been in real estate or something associated with real estate. I didn't realize until I went through all of the rehabilitation in Waco, I've been in an office -- I've been in a -- working -- running this real estate company from a closet. I worked out of a closet in Williamsburg, Virginia, for years. In Hillsboro, Texas. I am so comfortable working on the computer, standing up eight hours at a time on the computer here in Hillsboro, Texas, in a closet with everything right there around me because I'm safe.

James A. Showers:

Conditioned.

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. I'm safe.

James A. Showers:

Let's go off a minute, Mike. (Videotape changed)

William Maxwell Barner, III:

I didn't realize until just a few years ago that that's why I officed in a close environment, because I knew I could perform at my very best in a very close environment of not people, but things.

James A. Showers:

What did -- describe the concussion or the sound of these rounds eight hours a day?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

24 hours.

James A. Showers:

24 hours a day.

William Maxwell Barner, III:

We're firing in 360 degrees, 3,600 increments. We're firing over each other, we're firing out. And one of the problems -- I've had a problem communicating with young people at the Department of Veterans Affairs is that, yeah, this thing is loud. I mean, it is really loud when that round goes out. But there's also something else that I've had a real problem getting them to accept, and that is there is a change in air pressure. When you take something that is basically sealed and you push that round out and it's heading out for 12 miles, 13 miles, there's a tremendous air pressure change. In our ears, all of us that worked in that command track in the fire direction control, our ears -- liquid would just come out of our ears during the 24-hour period, for 366 days. Liquid just came out of our ears.

James A. Showers:

And that's caused by when the round goes off it creates a vacuum and then it expands again?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. And even today, if we get in a vehicle today that is somewhat relatively sealed, when you -- if -- when you shut the door, I can feel the door, and I -- and it hurts. Today when the last door is closed in the vehicle that I'm in, it hurts my ears still today.

James A. Showers:

What about flying?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Flying, I think it's probably fairly normal. I mean, I -- I look at Sandra and say, My ears just popped, and hers just popped, so that part seems to be, you know, normal.

James A. Showers:

Tell us what your rank was, beginning and end.

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Yeah. I was promoted to E5, my highest rank within 15 months of being in the military, and that was rather unusual to progress that fast. But I became an E5 in 15 months. The only thing that wouldn't be unusual about it is if you were one of our guys out on the tanks or the ACAVs, they could make E5 in a few days because the one before got killed. You know, but mine was for the quality of work that I was doing.

James A. Showers:

Were there any casualties in your -- in your group during the year you were there?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

None of us died within the perimeter, and none of us were ever killed within our perimeter. A number of us were injured from incoming mortars and rockets and rocket-propelled grenades, but none of us were killed within the perimeter.

James A. Showers:

Well, you were like a sitting duck at that point.

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right.

James A. Showers:

How often did you get attacked?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

We didn't get attacked that often because we had a reputation, we thought, with the enemy in that we were something you didn't want part of. We were a hornet's nest. I honestly don't think that we ever turned a prisoner over to a higher command. Our tanks and our ACAVs protected us, and we took no prisoners.

James A. Showers:

In other words, it was pretty well known, even among the enemy, that if they shoot at you, they were going to get shot back at?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. Because with a ground attack, we just leveled the tubes, and we put in a thing that was loaded with darts about that long (indicating). And we would fire that round out, and it would defoliate the trees much better than Agent Orange. It would destroy everything. And so we had a -- we -- I didn't know what the other -- the First Division and the whatever whatever, what their reputation was, but I knew our reputation, the Second Squadron was, you know -- you really -- you just need to go find somebody else to pick on because we would just kill you.

James A. Showers:

Did you have any near misses, either individually or in any part of your crew, or injuries that stick in your mind?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. Yeah. On June the 13th, 1968, we were attacked with rockets, rocket-propelled grenades, and mortars. And I noted in my diary that it was really just a registration process. All the enemy was doing was trying to find our track, and so they just fired enough rounds to what you -- what is called registration. And we had -- there were only six of us in fire direction control and a driver. There were only seven of us. And on June the 13th, three of the fire direction control in my group and a total of seven out of the entire battery were all medevaced, dusted out, taken out, so that didn't -- that left an -- that, I remember. And then on June the 14th at about 2:00 in the morning, I'm out in the middle of all of this, and we're just -- I'm just taking a break. And I start to walk back to the command track, and the -- our captain was walking toward me, and we said something. And he walked on past, and when he did, I could -- I just happened to be able to see where the incoming rounds were coming from. And they started coming, and I could see where they were. And one of them landed where I was, and it blew off part of his rear end. And I went back in -- now we're not fully staffed. There's supposed to be six of us. Now there is only three of us. And I go back in. I've got no supervision. I've got no one to tell me I can or can't. I don't call for ground, I don't call for fire clearance. I go in. I compute the mission, maybe by myself, maybe with one or two other guys, I don't know. But we eliminated the source, and that source happened to be in a village. And that's when I have the picture that -- where I show you that I made the decision to eliminate the enemy, but I also eliminated a village, and that troubled me, as we were talking earlier about the fellow. Until about two years ago and these guys sitting around me said, But if you hadn't, how many of us would have died? And I don't know that that's a reason to justify killing everyone, but that's what I did.

James A. Showers:

Did you ever see the village?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

I don't think so. But just -- the next morning, just a few hours later when the sun came up, then there were -- we had some infantry guys, they would quite often come in for a little rest. And they came over to where I was, and they said, Thank you. I remember that. They said, Thank you. For what? We know what you did. You saved our lives.

James A. Showers:

What did you do for entertainment during the time, the eight hours that you were off?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

I didn't do anything but write Sandra. The six of us that worked together that year, we're very unusual. We're a little bit older. We're all still married, one time to one wife, and we would write to our family. We would share our packages that came in. Some of them would play cards, but mainly I just wrote my family.

James A. Showers:

Do you -- I take it, Bill, that you still keep up with those six individuals?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

I do. They're all still alive -- we are all still alive, and I communicate with them several times -- well, several times each month.

James A. Showers:

Can you tell us the relative condition, both mentally and physical, of your five companions?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

I've only seen one of us in the last few years and he is 100 -- the Department of Veterans Affairs has designated him 100 percent total and permanently disabled from just post-traumatic stress disorder. Steve -- none of them -- well, Steve has ten grandchildren. First of all, all four of their daughters were born with spina bifida because of us being exposed to Agent Orange and working in areas that had the Agent Orange.

James A. Showers:

All four of Steve's children?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

All four of Steve's children were born with spina bifida. He has ten grandchildren, and Steve is not allowed to be with his grandchildren alone.

James A. Showers:

Because of his emotional state?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. And that's -- that's -- and now the VA has just decided that I'm 100 percent disabled, total and permanent, for post-traumatic stress disorder. And I look at Steve, and I think, you know, that's frightening. I don't know what's in my head.

James A. Showers:

I'll skip ahead and, since you mentioned children, when you got home, you did -- you and Sandra did begin a family, did you not?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Sir?

James A. Showers:

You began a family when you -- after you got home?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

We chose not to have any children before I went over. And, yes -- but the -- but -- and the girls know this. We have two daughters. The girls know this. I didn't want any children. I did not want any children. I did not want any human being to go through what I had been through. And you know Sandra. She's persistent. We have two beautiful daughters and three beautiful grandchildren.

James A. Showers:

So -- and you talk about exposure. What were some of the chemicals or atmospheric -- unnatural atmospheric things that you were exposed to?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Roy Rodriguez lives in Michigan, and he came to see me about a year ago. And he said, You know, he said I just thought at the time it was odd that it's the rainy season and there's no leaves on all these trees. And I don't vividly remember that, but Roy, it's something that he remembers. So we were always in the jungle. I was always -- I was in the jungle. I was surrounded. I could either be killed or I could kill someone over 300 days of 366 days. We were always in the jungle.

James A. Showers:

And you tell me that about the jungle because of the defoliation aspects?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Uh-huh. Right.

James A. Showers:

Tell us how that -- what you saw about that?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Well, I don't remember, but Roy remembers and we were there together. It's just something that he remembers and I don't remember the -- I don't remember.

James A. Showers:

Did they spray by aerial spraying?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. And the man I mentioned to you earlier here in town, he was part of that in preparation of the Napalm and the Agent Orange. He actually handled the barrels. They're actually black barrels with orange labels, and that's why it's Agent Orange. But it's actually been used -- we used it in World War II, we used it in Korea, and we used it in Vietnam. It's been around awhile. But the man I mentioned to you here in town, you can mix it with different things and make it be more potent or less potent. And so I don't know how much of Vietnam was sprayed, but it was sprayed by airplanes.

James A. Showers:

What about the emissions from the rounds themselves? What was that like?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

It's a unique smell. You've got these six howitzers, like these track -- these 18 wheelers, they're running 24 hours a day. You never turn these things off because you may need to go. And so you've got all that diesel fume. It's all in this -- surrounding these trees. Everything is there, you know, like Los Angeles. It's -- we're there and all the smog is still there with us, and we're firing 24 hours a day.

James A. Showers:

So are you telling me that all six of these mechanized tanks with these guns on them sit there and idle 24 hours a day?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Yes.

James A. Showers:

And the reason was what?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

We might need to go.

James A. Showers:

So -- and you were, I think you told us what, 23 different placements while you were there?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

22.

James A. Showers:

22?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

In the five months following January the 31st, Tet of '68. Another reason, too, the tubes and the turret are all electronic and hydraulic, and you've got to have it running to do that too. So the howitzers, it's running because it's got to be doing something.

James A. Showers:

Was there any kind of ventilation or air-conditioning in your command vehicle?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

No, and not in the guns either.

James A. Showers:

Okay. What was the weather like? I know you talked about it rained half the year and dry --

William Maxwell Barner, III:

It rained. It just rained. For six months, it just rained. It just rained and it rained and it rained. And then when it stopped raining for six months, I happened to be in base camp one time and where the trucks and the tanks and the ACAVs had all gone by was all of this red powder. You would walk across where they had been -- the road, and it would be like flour, but it was all red dirt. And you would -- you couldn't even see your ankles you would just sink down so far in it where there had been constant traffic.

James A. Showers:

What was the red dirt?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

The red dirt of Vietnam. I mean, just the soil was red.

James A. Showers:

Did -- Bill, were you awarded any honors or medals or accommodations?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Yes. I was awarded -- after June the 14th, I was awarded the Army Commendation Medal, and the paperwork doesn't say what I did on June the 14th. It doesn't say what I think that I was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for, but I've always said that I was awarded that Army Commendation Metal because I/we could bring those rounds right up within 50 meters of our troops consistently hour after hour after hour and not kill our guys. I was also -- our unit was awarded the Republic of South Vietnam's Gallantry Unit Citation, and I don't know that we were gallant, but we were pretty ruthless.

James A. Showers:

What did -- so that was awarded by the Vietnamese?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. By the Republic of South Vietnam. The Republic Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm Unit Citation. So the whole unit, the Second Squadron got that after the five months after Tet. We pushed the enemy all the way back to Cambodia.

James A. Showers:

And despite your early recounts of the activities during your training and such, you got the Good Conduct Medal?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. And I laughed when I found out a year or so ago that I also received the Expert Marksmanship Qualification Badge with Rifle Bar, the M16, in Vietnam, and I thought, Hmm... The only time I remember was when we were forced to go out to a firing range and practice, and I was so angry that I just emptied two or three clips at the target and walked off. And I thought, I must have hit the target.

James A. Showers:

So that's the only thing you can remember that would justify that award?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. I only remember one day that we were out on a firing range at base camp, and that's what I did. I was so angry about being there.

James A. Showers:

Well, that reminds me of something I haven't asked you. We've talked about a lot of doom and gloom. Do you remember anything -- any humorous incidents that occurred during your year?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Nothing.

James A. Showers:

Not one thing?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Not one thing.

James A. Showers:

And you lost some officers, did you not, that were in your unit?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Lost quite a few. We were fortunate. Out of 1,000 of us in the Second Squadron, only 39 of us were killed. And that's easy to say statistically, unless you're one of the 39 families. And you might notice when you drive by our home on Veterans Day, et cetera, that I'll have 39 flags in our yard, American flags. I have their death records.

James A. Showers:

Tell us about the conclusion of your service in Vietnam.

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Basically, for most all of us, on August the 13th, I am computing fire missions in the jungle. August the 14th, I'm in base camp getting a shower and clean clothes. I board a plane, and we fly from Bien Hoa in the Republic of South Vietnam. We fly to Guam or -- I don't know, but some island out in the Pacific. Maybe it was Guam. And then we flew into Fort Dix, New Jersey. I got there at 2:00 in the morning, and we were taken off the plane. We are taken into a building for discharge, and they give us new clothes. And I remember asking a question, and the guy that was in front of me said, If you want to go home today, shut up. And by 6:00 in the morning, I'm discharged. I'm out. And just a few hours earlier, I was in the jungle. And I was out and I flew from Fort -- from New Jersey to D/FW. Sandy and her parents greet me, and they think that I'm this person that's been writing them about how beautiful the country is. And I remember walking up to them and thinking, you know, Something's -- I don't know. Something's wrong here. I don't understand this.

James A. Showers:

Bill, tell us what -- describe, the best you can, what it's been like from that day in 1968 until now. Just tell us in your own words what it's been like, the impact that that one year service in that country has had upon you.

William Maxwell Barner, III:

One day Sandy took me into the post office in Wedgewood there in southwest Fort Worth right after I got back. She took me into the post office, and here is this lady. And she's just trying to be polite to Sandy's husband, and she asked me, How was it? And in Vietnam we didn't speak English. We spoke profanity. There -- we didn't know any other way to communicate the pain. And I stood there in that post office, and I told that lady what it was like to kill people. And Sandy drug me out of there, and she said, Don't you ever do that to me again. I said, Don't you ever do that to me again. She wouldn't let me drive for a month or so because I would just run over people. I would just drive right down the middle of the road. She would get upset with me, and I would just sit there and look at her and not say anything. And how would we not know that something is really wrong. She takes me to what is now the University of Texas at Arlington in 1968. She takes me to the registrar, and she wants me to go back to college. I remember getting her letter, and it was one of the dry season days when we got -- I got the letter. I remember sitting there in the -- and we are surrounded by this rock wall, and we've got a sniper up here and we've got a Quad .50 over here firing. And I'm reading her letter in the middle of all this, and she's saying, You're going back to college. And I thought, Why? I've already been to Vietnam. But she took me over there just within days of getting out of the service, and they didn't want me back. I had only made one C and one A in a whole page of transcripts. And she -- I remember her saying, He's a Vietnam veteran. He is a combat veteran. You have to let him back in. And they gave me the opportunity to go one semester, and I made a D and the rest were As and Bs. I graduated on an academic scholarship. How would we not know something was really wrong? I don't know. But in Vietnam every human emotion of mine changed to anger -- and from Tet of '68 until day before yesterday, my emotion, my reaction to everything is anger. That's the first emotion that I go to. That's the only one I really understand. And so I graduate from college. I get a job. I get fired because I'm trying to do something wrong to one of the other employees. And we moved 20 something times before we ever could -- between '68 and '85. We moved 20 something times. I would get fired or I would quit, and, you know, nothing bothered me. I was extremely successful in the automobile business because I was cruel. I could -- I had no emotion for anyone above, below me, the customer. I was ruthless. I was just angry. And I was extremely successful. And then I decided in 1979 that I would be a General Motors dealer, and so in 1980 I bought a General Motors dealership. Pontiac didn't want me to be a dealer, but in the State of Texas apparently you can buy the business and they had to let you be the dealer. And so I was a General Motors dealer by the age of 37 years old. And it was the height of my automotive career, but 20 months later, I was -- I owed $700,000 and I was out of business, and that was the low point of my career. But, you know, it didn't bother me. I just went right on forward. And only until 1991 did we start to really, really understand that I really have a problem. I cannot work with people. I cannot supervise them. I have no concern for their well-being at all. And so in 1991, I had gone to night school enough to become an independent real estate broker. I was a real estate agent. And I remember that my former broker was trying to take my license away from me on day one, wouldn't let me have access to all of the customers that I brought to the business. And so now I'm a real estate broker, don't have any money again, and don't have any clients. And that's a long story in itself, but I spent weeks and weeks crying and praying for, Okay, I've done it my way completely since 1968. What would you like for me to do? And I committed to God to tithe on the gross, stop working on Sundays, and to take care of his people, take care of -- take all of this education that I had learned about taking advantage of people and use it to protect people. And long story short, that was very easy to do for about five months. I had no appointments, so I had nothing to do for about five months. But then they began to find me. The customers began to find me. And from -- that was in '91. And when we moved here in '06, the business was still going. When I left, I had over 1,300 families that I was taking care of in the real estate. Not all of them had bought, not all of them had sold, but God's plan seemed to be a lot better than mine. And so we finally closed the business after we got here in '07. But the point is that in January of '06 for the very first time in my life, I went to the VA and I said, with tears in my eyes, I hurt. I mean, I really, really hurt, and I think Vietnam had something to do with it. And that lady still works at that desk in Waco. And we still look back on that day, and we begin to find out that all of my anger and isolation -- I worked seven days a week, 100 hours a week. I'm too busy to be a husband. I'm too busy to be a father. And that's where I hid. I didn't do drugs. I didn't do other things that so many of the Vietnam veterans thought about doing. I just worked. I just hid at work. But when I stopped working in January -- or the summer of 1991, I stopped working on Sundays, then Sandy can now look back and say, That's when Vietnam wanted out. It wanted to come out. And I would try to talk with some of my clients in the real estate business that were World War II veterans, and they didn't care about my experience. They wanted to tell me about theirs. And so it was -- I wanted to talk about it, but I didn't until after January of '06 when I went to the VA. And I'm there for healthcare. I tell them, Well, where do you want to start? And I said -- I just told the doctor, I said, Well, my head has hurt 24 hours a day since 1968. My head never not hurts. It always hurts. And I've had chest pains like I'm going to die from the early '80s. So that was what we worked on that year was why this man's head hurt. And it still hurts right now, this moment. My head hurts 24 hours a day. On a scale -- pain scale of 1 to 10, my head never hurts less than a pain level of 5. It never hurts less than a pain level of 5. It just never hurts less than a pain level of 5.

James A. Showers:

What about tinnitus and ringing?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. God's design of the brain is that when you're in this environment with all this noise and this vacuum, pressure changing, that you develop a thing called tinnitus, which is a sound in the back of -- a sound that's controlled by your brain that protects your eardrums from all of this. And by -- before the VA finally agreed to give me hearing aids, by 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon, when I met you, I couldn't hear. I could not hear, and I'm angry, and all this stuff is going on in my brain. And, you know, by 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon, I -- when I was in real estate I would tell my older clients, I'm a Dr. Pepper. I'm a 10, 2, and 4. I need a 10:00 appointment, a 2:00 appointment, and I need to be home by 4:00. And I just thought it was funny then. But it was real. I needed to be alone by 4:00.

James A. Showers:

When did you finally get the VA to come down with a real diagnosis of your problems?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

They haven't yet. They haven't come to grips with the fact that I've got 13 medical problems that they have diagnosed that I have that are a direct connection to those days in Vietnam. And I have 13 medical problems that they have identified since '06, and they have just recently finally given me -- they have accepted responsibility for about six or seven of the problems. And they have just decided that I am 100 percent permanent -- total and permanently disabled for the rest of my life, that I'm not fit to be sitting here with you. I take 25 pills a day to sit here with you and to be nice. And I have decided that I didn't cause these 13 problems, and I want you to accept responsibility for all of them. So now that I'm 100 percent and you can't be 110 percent, why pursue it? Well, I'm pursuing it because I'm angry. I'm still angry. I didn't cause all these problems, and there's some kid out here that doesn't have the intelligence and the ability to pursue it. And if I pursue it and I gain service connection for it, then I become a statistic, and one of these kids, 60, 62 years old, they can then have service connection for that problem.

James A. Showers:

Now, as I understand the -- some of the disorders that you have been diagnosed of is ischemic heart disease called IHD, severe post-traumatic stress disorder called PTSD, mild traumatic brain injury called TBI, post concussion -- concussive --

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Concussive.

James A. Showers:

-- syndrome called PCS, headaches, bilateral hearing loss, tinnitus, obstructive sleep apnea called OSA, restless leg syndrome called RLS, erectile disfunction called ED, anxiety and depression. And you have a fear, do you not, of what -- the potential of what will happen to you insofar as dementia and Alzheimer's and such as that?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. Statistics -- literature shows that if you have PTSD -- which a civilian can have PTSD. An accident right over here on the highway can give you PTSD or you can be involved in the accident and have a traumatic brain injury. People in America that have PT -- severe PTSD are twice as likely to have Alzheimer's and dementia. People that have traumatic brain injuries are twice as likely. So I just add it up, and I must be four times as likely. And so I claim to the VA, I want service connection for Alzheimer's and dementia. I don't know if I have it or not. And they examine me, and they don't know if I have it or not. And I'm telling them in writing, I'm applying today because 10 or 20 years from now when I do have Alzheimer's and dementia, I won't be able to talk with you about it, and so I want it on record. And so they have just put it on record that they don't know if I have Alzheimer's or dementia and I don't know it, but I have asked them to be responsible for it, if and when it happens.

James A. Showers:

Bill, would you tell us -- list one or two things, individuals, situations that have helped you get through your post-Vietnam life?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Nothing until 2008 when Sandra and I paid my way to go to the Traumatic Brain Injury Ward at the Tampa VA Hospital. As a result of my writing the Walter Reed Hospital, the lady responsible for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center and me offering her my brain upon death because it had never stopped hurting. And so she made arrangements for me to go to the hospital, VA hospital in Tampa, and that was when the diagnoses start to happen, finally. And I remember after three and a half weeks of examinations on everything in my skull, they were getting ready to discharge me, but they wanted me to go directly from Tampa to either Ohio or Waco and get immediately into a rehab -- inpatient rehabilitation program. But anyway, I remember the meeting with this doctor and she saying, Yes, Mr. Barner, you do have a mild traumatic brain injury, and these are the things that affect your personality. But you also have severe PTSD. And I said -- and this is 2008, and this is the same 13 guys that I'm with, and they're saying the very same thing. And I said to her, What is PTSD? This is November of 2008. And she said post-traumatic stress disorder. And I said, Like hell I do. And I argued with her about the fact that I don't have PTSD. Only weak people have PTSD, people who cannot control -- are alcoholics or they're drug addicts. PTS -- I said, I'm not one of those persons. Well, I have learned since 2008 that those of us that have the most severe PTSD -- and now I am as high as you can get, 100 percent disabled, for PTSD -- are the ones who care. The ones who are compassionate. Rambo, Gung Ho, they don't have PTSD. It's the ones who care. The driver that I went to see in Oklahoma a few years ago, he said, Bill, what I remember about you most is that you cared. I said, I don't know that person. He said, You cared. He said, If you don't remember anything else, you cared. You were -- you cared about us. And when I came home -- I didn't want to go to Vietnam. I cried. I didn't want to go to Vietnam. But when it came time to come home - and I've only told Sandra this recently - I didn't want to come home. Those -- I was 25, and the kids replacing us were 18. And they got on the drugs. They were going to die. And so I have -- I have felt for years, Why didn't I go back? I could have kept them alive. So now when the opportunity presents itself to me that these kids are now 60, 61, 62, 63, they have severe PTSD. They just found out about it in the last few years, and they're trying to get VA healthcare. They don't have -- nobody will employ them anymore. They don't have healthcare. They don't have life insurance. They don't have medical care. They don't have any income. They live shamefully -- or the true living accommodations are very poor living accommodations. And I've said to God, Okay, you're going to give me a chance? I'm not going to leave them this time. And I have not turned away a single Vietnam combat veteran that has allowed me to help them. Sometimes they don't want to be helped, but I just tell them, you know, I'm going to help you anyway.

James A. Showers:

And that -- what you have just described for me then is basically what your occupation is today and has been for a number of years now; is that correct?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. That's right.

James A. Showers:

How many people are you helping or have you helped, veterans?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Not very many. Just 22 or 23. They're very consuming. They're very, very consuming, once you finally gain their trust. And if I had been an officer, they probably wouldn't trust me. But because I was one of them and I'm intelligent, I have a college degree, and I'm very stubborn, I've got these 13 medical problems, I want the VA to accept responsibility for them. And I've said all along in the last few years that I have been doing this that if it had been easy for me, I would say, Well, you're dumb. You're a minority. You're this or that. That's why you don't have service connection medical care because you're dumb. But as it turns out, I've had a harder time getting the VA to accept the responsibility for my medical problems as opposed to them, because I can help them without any emotion. I know exactly what the hurdles are, and I walk them through. And several of them have said somewhere along the way, Thank you for saving my life. And I tell them, I didn't save your life. God chose to save your life. It's not my job. I don't -- I really don't care about you. Really and truly, I don't care about you. But God does, and it's that -- it's God's decision to decide if you're worth him helping you through me. And I tell them right up front, Don't trust me. Don't think I care about you because I want you to know nobody cares about you, really and truly nobody cares, so that when the VA, when you start to help them, then I was wrong. They do. They do care. I don't want the tell them that the VA cares. They don't care. They really don't. I want them to believe they don't care so that when they do care, they say, Whew, finally someone cares.

James A. Showers:

Bill, there is someone you've consistently referred to today that I think cares and I think, obviously, has been instrumental, and you first met her in 1966 [sic].

William Maxwell Barner, III:

Right. Exactly. She's had the harder role than me. I've just had the easier one. Just be angry with everyone; take advantage of everyone. But she has never left me. She's never told me that -- at the end of failure, I told you so. I mean, when we came out of that dealership in 1982, I owed $700,000. That was a lot of money in 1982. And she never once said, You're stupid. She said, We'll get through it. And she has been there all the way. And the others -- other five guys, their wives are just right there today too.

James A. Showers:

Have I missed anything today that you would like to put on the record?

William Maxwell Barner, III:

I would like to note that it's really been nice to live long enough to start to believe that someone in America cares.

James A. Showers:

Thank you, Bill.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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