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Veteran relates Vietnam War experience

Staff writer

Peabody resident Scott Weber was 20 in January 1968 when he was drafted for the Vietnam War.

What followed was a completely new view of life — and often not a good one.

Weber said he was “just spinning his wheels” at home and didn’t mind going to the Army.

He estimates 96 percent of his basic training class was assigned, as was he, to infantry service.

“I went overseas the last day of June in 1968,” Weber said.

His first impression when he landed at Tan Son Nhut Air Base just outside Saigon after 24 hours in flight was the heat and the foul smell.

“The whole country had no sewer system,” Weber said.

People walking down a road would step to the side and relieve themselves.

To dispose of excrement, it was put into metal barrels and burned.

He was assigned to duty in the Mekong River Delta 70 miles south of Saigon.

The area holds many rice paddies, where residents relieved themselves in the water.

Having to sludge through a rice paddy was difficult, with thick mud below the always-flooded rice.

At his unit, he was a “tunnel rat.” Tunnel rats, as they were called, were soldiers of small stature who explored tunnel complexes dug by enemy soldiers. The purpose of the tunnels was for enemy soldiers to move about unseen. The purpose of exploring the tunnels was to locate and attack enemy soldiers before they popped out of tunnel openings to shoot at American and South Vietnamese soldiers.

“I always took a .45 pistol, and I never shot it,” Weber said. “Good thing, because I’d have blown my ears out.”

On one assignment, he and fellow soldiers spent 28 days in the jungle without access to showers, shaving gear, toothbrushes or any way to clean themselves or their clothes.

When they finally got back to their base, they threw away their fatigues.

Another hardship he recalls is foot rot, which causes the feet to become sore and blistered.

“There was a lot of foot rot because your feet were always wet,” Weber said. “That was just part of it. If you don’t have your feet, you can’t be a good soldier.”

Then there was another hazard of the wet conditions — a constant struggle with leeches found nearly every morning on the soldiers.

The hardships were everyday experiences for the soldiers, Weber said.

“I lost some pretty good friends over there,” Weber said. “I tried not to get close to anybody, but you’d depend on them, and you get close.”

One night he and nine other soldiers set up for overnight guard duty to protect against ambush.

After dark, the squad moves to a different location in case they were seen setting up.

“We had a brand-new second lieutenant,” Weber said.

When the sergeant told the lieutenant it was time to move, the lieutenant disagreed.

“You can have my stripes tomorrow — tonight we’ve got to move,” Weber recalls the sergeant saying.

The squad moved to a different location. A second squad was ambushed that night, and Weber’s squad later learned the Viet Cong who ambushed the first squad had gone looking for his squad next.

He was in Vietnam one year and a day.

“When I came home and landed at Oakland, I got down on the tarmac, did a push-up and kissed the ground,” Weber said.

When he came back home to Kansas he drank for quite a while until he realized that wasn’t getting him anywhere.

Weber wishes civilians understood the hardships soldiers endure, especially in third-world countries.

Many soldiers returning from Vietnam were treated to disrespect upon their return, such as people spitting in their faces. Weber said he never experienced anything of that nature at the time.

“About two years ago I was in Walmart and I had a Vietnam hat on,” Weber said. “A little girl about 10 years old came up and shook my hand and said, ‘Thank you for your service.’ That meant everything to me.”

Last modified Nov. 8, 2018

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