This five-year period is one of the most eventful of my life, in that I went to Vietnam and started working at Town Talk in 1966, met my first wife in 1969 and married her in 1970.
1966 – The previous year 1965 had seen a lot of activity at Schofield Barracks and there were rumors floating around, that we may be sent to Vietnam. On January 17,1966 the 25th Infantry Division boarded the USNS General Walker a troop ship on the way to Vietnam. The trip took 14 days, as we traveled 500 miles a day till we reached Vietnam. Will never forget how hot it was arriving in Vietnam and drank several Coca-Cola’s back to back.
We were flown to the 25th Infantry Base in Cu Chi, Vietnam, which I never left except for one night of guarding a Catholic church on guard duty. Thankfully, it was an uneventful night as nothing out of the ordinary occurred. I was in Vietnam only four months, so a lot happened in that short time. Our outgoing artillery fire sounded like it was going right over the post office tent and it made me jump, since I thought it was incoming artillery at first.
The only time that I was in any jeopardy was when a sniper started shooting at us. We were working in the post office at the time and we jumped in our foxholes, to get out of the line of fire. We could hear bullets ricocheting off the Conex containers behind us. The thing I most remember was that some of our soldiers were walking in front of us, caught between the sniper and our foxhole. It is a wonder we didn’t see someone killed right in front of our eyes that day. After the war I learned that the Viet Cong had an elaborate system of tunnels beneath our base, so that is how the sniper was able to shoot at us from inside our own perimeter.
One time we had to load dead bodies onto a helicopter and some of the soldiers were looking inside the body bags, but I wasn’t that curious to see a dead body.
My job consisted of sorting mail, delivering mail to company mail clerks who picked up the mail for their company and selling stamps and money orders and making sure packages for soldiers were delivered. I remember the heat of Vietnam and how I was so thirsty, that I drank two 46 ounce cans of apple juice in succession. Worked out there was a rumor that a Viet Cong soldier was in the area that night. Not a good combination to be sick, from drinking so much apple juice and having to search for a Viet Cong invader. However, nothing came of the rumor and was able to recover from imbibing too much apple juice at one time. 92 ounces of apple juice was just a little too much at one time, but that is what the heat did to us over there.
Since I had only four months left in the Army, when sent to Vietnam the Army tried to talk me into re-enlisting, which I declined after about five seconds of thinking it over. I was told if I had three months left that I would have stayed in Hawaii. What a difference that one month made.
Will never forget the day in May that I left Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base in Saigon, on the way back to the United States. I felt safer as the plane gained altitude, since it was too high to be hit by ground fire. The plane stopped at Japan for a short time, but we never left the plane. We finally landed in San Francisco and were taken to the Oakland Army Terminal. I will never forget the steaks we were served, along with some very cold milk. It was such a difference from what we had to eat and drink in Vietnam. We were processed and given our discharge papers and boarded a plane in the direction of Louisiana.
Can’t remember if I was flown all the way to Esler Airport in Pineville or if I had to take a bus from Dallas. The main thing was that I was home to stay after being in the Army for most of the three-and-half preceding years.
One of the soldiers I served with in the post office wrote me and told about a mortar shell hitting our post office, about two months after I left Vietnam. The worst part is that two were killed and seven were injured in the attack. The sergeant of our postal unit was among those injured and he was awarded another Purple Heart, to go with the one he received from being hit in Korea. The thing that really hit home was that the soldier, who had replaced me was one of the two that were killed.
August of 1966 was the month that I was hired by the Town Talk to work in the composing room. I was told that I would be making more, than most new employees, but later found out I was making the minimum wage of $1.40 an hour. That came out to about $55 a week or $220 a month. Town Talk was still using the hot metal composition at the time. My first job was to work on the type dump, where I would make any corrections to any type with errors, then turn the galley around where the page makeup people could take the type to the page and insert it. It wasn’t too long before I was a page makeup person and placed photos, type and ads into the pages.
1967 – The Town Talk started printing a Sunday paper in May of 1967 and now has had a Sunday edition for the last 46 years.
1968 - This was a turbulent year in the history of the United States, as Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated during the year. King would be assassinated on April 4, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee by James Earl Ray, who would be arrested two months later. The Kennedy assassination took place at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on June 5 and Sirhan Sirhan was arrested and remains in prison 45 years later.
Denny McLain would win 31 games in 1968. No pitcher has won more than 27 games since then.
1969 – Went to see a major league baseball game at the Astrodome and saw Hall of Famers Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and Johnny Bench in the game. Pete Rose may be added to the list of Hall of Famers someday. I remember someone opening an umbrella inside the Astrodome, as there must have been a leak in the roof, from the downpour outside the enclosed stadium. Attendance was only 12,205 due to the heavy rain. The Astros won the game 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth when rookie Keith Lampard hit a walkoff home run to win the game. Ironically, the home run would be the only home run for Lampard, in his career and he would be out of baseball after the 1970 season.
Would meet my first wife a college student at Louisiana College that fall. A year later we were married and will write more about that in the 1970 post.
1970 - Would marry my first wife at College Drive Baptist Church in Pineville, Louisiana on September 26, 1970. There were six bridesmaids, since my wife had six sisters. Sadly my best man would die later, when he was hit by a car, while going to pick up his newspaper by the highway.
By 1970 had worked at the Town Talk for four years and was earning $3 an hour now, which totaled $120 a week and $480 a month. The rent for our house was $75, but since my pay was so low the landlord allowed us to pay in two $37.50 payments.