Local veterans shared stories about what scared them the most during the war.
Every year, when Spruce Creek High School history teacher and Port Orange Councilman Chase Tramont comes to the unit on the Vietnam War, his classroom becomes a jungle. He invites soldiers who fought in Vietnam to speak to his students.
Seven members from the Vietnam Veterans of America Daytona Beach Chapter 1048's educational division occupied Tramont’s classroom for two days on March 7-8 The team comprised a panel and talked about what it was like to be in Vietnam, what happened during the war, and what it is like now. An empty seat in the middle of the panel represented two of their fellow veterans who have recently passed away.
“The war went on 24 hours a day," said Bob Adkins, team leader and Army veteran. "There was no let up. I always hated to see the sun go down.”
Army veteran Ken Kinsler wrote a book about his experience in the war called “Think Snow." On the cover it reads, “After 46 years, it’s time. It’s time to tell my story.” Kinsler said soldiers were told not to talk about Vietnam when they got home. Because it was a tumultuous time with protests against the war happening in the early 1970s, soldiers were also told not to wear their uniforms on their way home from the front.
One student asked what the scariest moment was in Vietnam.
“Being surrounded,” Kinsler said. “For four days. That was probably the peak for me. Can’t get in, can’t get out, nobody can help you.”
“Ours was rocket attacks,” Navy veterab Jim Drake said.“Because you never knew when they were gonna come. Our base got hit probably 10 times while I was there.”
Terry Schaack spent some of the war on top of a mountain. Engineers would flatten out the ground and their weapons would fire down. Supplies were ample. When the monsoons hit, however, there was no relief. Trucks and helicopters couldn’t get to them to restock supplies and ammunition. Each gun had a couple rounds left and the fighting wasn't letting up.
"That’s scary," Schaack said. "You’re up all the time. It’s tough.”
His wife, Dianna Schaack, offered a different perspective.
“The biggest fear when you’re at home is that some day a man in uniform will come to your door,” she said.
Army veteran Bob Wolff regularly drove a three-fourth ton pickup truck from his base to an Air Force base 7 miles away. Many of the vehicles would get bombed. A satchel with a bomb in it would be thrown in the back of the truck, then the truck would blow up. One time when driving, he and a fellow soldier heard a thump in the back of the truck. They dove out of the vehicle and the truck rolled on but didn’t blow up. They found out that a stick that held the canvas up in the back of the truck had fallen and made the sound.
Combat assaults were scary for Kinsler and army veteran Joe Gervasi. They were referred to as "hot or cold."
“On a hot one, you saw muzzle flashes all around and they were comin’ at you,” Kinsler said. “That was probably one of the times that was most scary. There’s nowhere to go but right at them.
"See, that’s the weird part. You don’t duck or get under. If you see muzzle flashes in a jungle, you run toward them and you put out more lead than they’re putting’ at you.”
“You have daylight and you have darkness,” Adkins said. “I hated nights. Night time was awful.
"You couldn’t see. If you even thought you were gonna light a cigarette, you couldn’t do that because you might get your head blown off. Night time was the scariest time in the war that I can remember.”
After the war, most of the men went back to jobs they had. The federal government promised men who had been drafted that they would retain their same job when they came back.
The panel was also asked about flashbacks and post traumatic stress disorder.
“You can’t eliminate it but you learn how to manage it,” Kinsler said. “It’s like the death of a parent or some horrible tragedy. You can’t say it didn’t happen, but you can learn how to manage it.”
“Knowing what you know now, would you go back and do it again?” asked a student. In unison, all members said yes.
Tramont stressed to students how important it is to thank our veterans for their service. Tramont's classroom presentation was held in the same week as the 42nd-anniversary of the Vietnam War.