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County supervisor recalls service in Vietnam

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By John Barnhart

    Back in the late 1960s, Andy Dooley got a letter from Uncle Sam that most young men at the time were very unhappy about getting.

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    It began with “Greetings.” It was his notice that he had been selected by the Selective Service System to personally participate in the Vietnam War.
    Dooley reported to boot camp at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on Jan. 2, 1969, for eight weeks of basic training. He recalls that his drill instructor was pretty rough on them, but the man wasn’t actually being mean. Most of these men were headed for combat and the drill instructor wanted to burn habits and behaviors into these guys that would increase their chances of surviving.

    While there, Dooley made a wise move that further increased his chances of surviving. He took advantage of the opportunity to sign up for quartermaster school. In the Army, quartermasters handle the supply system. In order to sign up for this post-bootcamp training, Dooley had to commit to an extra year in the Army, but he figured that staying out of the jungle was worth the extra year.
    The two quartermaster schools, five weeks each, taught him things such as how to read Army material release orders and how to find items in an Army warehouse.
    After quartermaster training, he went through training designed to prepare men for Vietnam.
    “That was seven days wading through a swamp with an M-14, and you better not get it wet,” Dooley said.
    The M-14 was still the Army’s standard issue weapon at the time. The M-16 had not yet replaced it.
    After a 30 day leave, the Army flew him to Vietnam.
    “I landed in country at Long Binh,” he said.
    Long Binh was a major Army base and logistics center during the war. It was located near Saigon, to the northeast of the city. He spent 11 months and 27 days in Vietnam.
    “I can tell you to the day,” he said.
    His duty in Vietnam involved running a security warehouse. This warehouse stored weapons and items that were considered highly vulnerable to theft. This category included wrist watches and aviator sunglasses. As Army companies came through, Dooley issued weapons to them.
    The Army was in the process of phasing out the M-14, replacing it with the M-16 when Dooley was in the service. Companies serving in Vietnam that had originally been armed with M-14s were turning them in and it was Dooley’s job to make sure the M-14s turned in to his warehouse were properly cared for and preserved for shipment back to the United States. It was also his job to make sure that not a single rifle got lost.
    After each rifle had been preserved, Dooley had to check to make sure it was the weapon it was supposed to be before it was put in an aluminum case. The cases were sealed in a crate and the serial number of each weapon was stenciled on the crate. He was responsible for the security of these crates until he had enough of them to fill a container. They were loaded, under his supervision and shipped back to an Army facility in Alabama.
    One incident stands out in his mind. Soon after he took over responsibility for that warehouse, he heard a jeep drive up, fast, to the warehouse.
    “I looked up and it was a full bird colonel,” Dooley said.
    The colonel was upset. Somebody before Dooley got there had lost track of some weapons.
    “We started to uncrate boxes of M-14s,” Dooley said.
    It took the better part of a day for them to find the missing weapons. It turned out that the crates containing them had been mislabeled.
    “He thought the VC (Viet Cong) had them,” Dooley said, explaining why the colonel was so upset.
    The Viet Nam War had no fixed front lines. Every place, even a secure area like the area where Dooley’s warehouse was, could be subject to attack. He recalls one night when the Viet Cong conducted a mortar attack and one mortar shell landed among fuel tanks.
    “They burned forever,” Dooley recalled.
    No attempt was made to extinguish the fire. Sand was bulldozed up to contain the burning fuel and the fire was allowed to burn itself out.
    During another night mortar attack, a round landed in the depot where Dooley was and a man in a Quonset hut was killed by a piece of shrapnel that came through the hut’s wall.
    The Viet Cong worked to get information on what was where on the base so they could pick out targets on the base. One afternoon, he recalls, military police (MP) vehicles rolling in. A woman, who was believed to be spying for the Viet Cong had been caught and female MPs had been brought in to search her. It turned out that she had a map of the base under her clothes with places that would make good mortar targets marked. She was trying to get off the base when she was caught.    
    South Vietnamese civilians worked at the depot and approved workers received ID tags. Every morning, these workers were picked up in Army deuce-and-a-half trucks and brought to the depot, passing through a checkpoint run by the Air Force and taken to the places where they worked.
    Dooley was assigned to this detail a number of times. He was given a weapon but told he couldn’t “lock and load.” “Lock and load “means a loaded magazine has been inserted in the rifle and the first round has been chambered making it ready to fire when the trigger is pulled.
    “I violated that rule a lot,” Dooley commented.
    He recalled an incident that happened during one of these details. He was in the back of a truck and Vietnamese workers were waiting to board it.
    “All of a sudden, everybody started running,” said.
    Dooley decided he had better find out why. It turned out the commotion was caused by a fellow who apparently decided to bring his pet to work — a huge lizard. Dooley said it looked like it was a couple of feet long.
    “That was funny,” Dooley recalled.
    Dooley said he had never seen a lizard that big before.
    Everything settled down and the man got on the truck with his lizard.
    “As long as he [the lizard] was away from me, I was fine,” Dooley said.
    Dooley wrote home to his mother every week, but failed to do that when he took some leave. When he got back from leave, a sergeant came to the barracks and chewed him out.
    “You get back in company HQ [headquarters] with me and you call your mother,” the sergeant told him.
    When Dooley’s mother did not get her weekly letter from him, she imagined the worst and called the Red Cross to find out what happened to him.
    A care package from home created a problem for him at one point. The package contained U. S. currency and soldiers were not allowed to have U. S. currency because there was a big black market for it. American troops were paid in military payment certificates. To keep out of trouble, Dooley had to turn the money in.
    Actually, Dooley said he didn’t need much money because there wasn’t much to buy. He sent a lot home every month.
    There were, however, some things to buy.
    “The Koreans were very good tailors,” he said.
    Dooley had a three-piece suit made for him that fit him perfectly.
    Drugs were a big problem and Dooley recalls seeing soldiers sent to the stockade on drug charges. He recalls one time when federal agents grabbed a guy out of his barracks. He said they had all the men in the barracks fall out and federal agents arrested the man.
    The climate was hot and very humid. Dooley said he got there in October during the “cool” season. It was 90 degrees in the day, but guys who had been there during the hot season complained about it being cold. He understood why when July rolled around. It got up to between 116 and 120 during the day. Cold water in showers did not exist because the water for the showers was stored in tanks on the roof of the shower facility and got heated by the sun.
    “The monsoon season was awful,” he said.
    Dooley said that, during the monsoon season, it rained continually for 90 days.
    “When I first got in country, the food was awful,” he said.
    The food was so bad that the men decided that Army C-rations, a canned field ration, were better and they ate that. Or, they bought food at the PX [post exchange].
    Eventually, a new sergeant first class was put in charge of the mess facility and he cleaned the place up.
    Men received ration cards for cigarettes and beer. Guys who didn’t smoke or drink gave their cards to guys who did. Dooley said that there was no choice when you went to get beer. You took whatever they gave you. Sometimes there would be more than one brand in the cooler and  to exercise some choice you could watch what they were pulling out, to see if the brand changed.
    Five years after getting out of the Army, Dooley tried to reconnect with the guys he served with, to no avail. That started to change over the last few years and he hopes that the former members of his platoon — he believes everybody is still alive — can eventually get together for a reunion.