Over the summer, I had a chance to sit down with my dad and look through all of his Vietnam memorabilia.
Inside were boxes full of letters, tapes, photos and other random items he’s kept since he came home from Vietnam in 1968.
I’d seen these letters, tapes and photos as a young man, but I had never actually sat down and listened to my dad share the stories and memories of his service in detail.
My father’s name is Mark J. Davison. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in August 1966 and served in Vietnam from March 1967 to May 1968. He spent six months in Long Bien, Vietnam, and another eight months in Can Tho. His technical rank was Spec5 MOS 71C30, which is code for senior staff administrative stenographer. He worked for several high-ranking officers during his tour, including Lt. Gen. Weyand, Brig. Gen. Forbes and Maj. Gen. Eckhardt. There were several photos of him driving a command Jeep with these officers riding shotgun.
Inside one of the boxes was an old reel-to-reel tape recorder. We fired it up and wound in some of the old tapes. I was surprised it still worked. One tape in particular is difficult to forget. It is a recording my dad made during a firefight outside his barracks in Can Tho.
The Viet Cong were hiding in the tree line not far from the base, and an American Huey gunship helicopter was called in to push them back. My dad and several other men were hunkered down in a sandbag bunker on the base as the helicopter flew overhead. The sound of the helicopter approaching and the ensuing firefight gave me chills. The rockets and machine gun fire were right above their heads. The rockets exploding in the distance and the rapid bursts of machine gun fire seemed to go on forever. The soldiers in the bunker were fired up, but you could also hear fear in their voices. I can’t even imagine how scary the experience must have been for those men.
As we listened to more tapes, most of them were recordings to and from his friends and family back home. There were also piles and piles of letters. I was taken aback by my father’s maturity. He was only 20 years old at the time. In his letters, it is clear how much he missed his family, always asking what his siblings were up to. Did his younger brother Steve find a job yet? How were the plans going for his twin sister’s wedding? Was his baby sister getting good grades in school? Back home, life was going on pretty normally, but in Vietnam all he wanted was some care packages with his favorite foods and more tapes from his friends and family so he could hear their voices and experience the rather normal lives they were leading back home in Tigard, Oregon.
Vietnam had a lasting effect on my dad. As with many vets, he has experienced post-traumatic stress disorder. He still won’t fly in a plane and has some trouble in tight quarters. He’s currently dealing with pretty severe rheumatoid arthritis that was likely caused by drinking water contaminated with Agent Orange. He has had two full hip replacements and will likely need a knee in the near future. Even though the Vietnam War ended 40 years ago, those who served there are still dealing with the lasting effects of war.
Inside this special section you will find some incredible profiles and stories of from our local Vietnam veterans. The men and women who served our nation in Vietnam faced challenges that most of us will never have to experience. I am proud of my dad’s service in Vietnam. He is a great father and grandfather. I have a great deal of respect and admiration for those who defend and protect us. Hopefully you will enjoy reading these stories, and next time you run into a veteran remember to thank them for their service.
We are all in their debt.
— Matt Davison is the publisher of the Idaho Press-Tribune