Larry E. Kerschner

      I was married and a student at the University of Washington.  My wife left me and I flunked out of school.  My brother-in-law who was a lifer in the Army informed the local draft board in Seattle that I was no longer in school.  They gave me ten days notice when they drafted me. 

       I did my basic training at Fort Lewis in Washington State; my Advanced Infantry Training at Fort Polk, Louisiana (affectionately referred to as the armpit of the Army) and my Armored Personnel Carrier Driver training at Fort Knox, Kentucky.  I turned 21 while flying home from Fort Knox for a week’s leave before flying to the Republic of Viet Nam.

      I was assigned to the 4th Infantry Division 2/8 Mechanized Infantry.  I went into the bush on December 8, 1967.   After a few days in some base camp I was sent by chopper to my unit.   I climbed up onto my APC.  I looked at the track next to mine and sitting there was one of my best friends from childhood.  He had moved from Seattle to Aberdeen when we were about 13-14.  He had been with the 9th Division and had recently been assigned to the 4th.  Max went home a couple months later. 

       Between December 17-26 we spent our time on foot sweeping an area North of Pleiku in the Central Highlands.  I first came under fire December 27.  The track came off the APC I was driving and while I was outside trying to fix it we came under sniper fire and grenade attack. 

        Between then and Jan. 2, 1968 we were in a Fire Support Base.  January 3 we got a report from a Montagnard that he had helped bury 2 NVA in a nearby village.  Being one of the new guys I got to dig up this grave. 

      On February 1, 1968 we were on patrol and got word that a chopper was under fire half a kilometer away.  We moved in and cut an LZ with our tracks.  An aero-rifle platoon landed and we all opened fire with M-16s and .50 calibers.  In the middle of this I drove through some high grass and threw a track.  When I got out of the APC to fix the track I found that I had run over a man hiding in the grass.  In fact, he had become caught in my track and was the reason for throwing the track.  I had to pull his headless body out of the thrown track before I could straighten in out and replace the track. 

        Later after this fire fight I was patrolling on foot and found a Vietnamese man who must have had 15 bullet holes in his body struggling to move away.  I felt that he had no chance to live so I put him out of his misery with several rounds through the head.  We found that we had killed 110 that day and captured 140.  Unfortunately there were women and kids among the dead.  To this day I don’t know if they were an enemy or just unfortunates in the wrong place.

         We stayed in the area until Feb. 4 when the Army sent out bulldozers to bury all the bodies.  Soon thereafter I was smoking 2 packs per day of cigarettes and daily marijuana.  Once we went into Pleiku and bought opium from the Governor of the Province. 

    We came under periodic fire and I came close to dying so many times I finally concluded that I was invincible.  Once a B-40 rocket came under my chin so close I could feel the wind.  Once we were walking in 2 lines through some elephant grass following some commo wire.  I was walking point on one line. A Vietnamese man stood up about 10 feet away and sprayed us with full automatic and the guys on both sides of me got shot. 

      I shot an NVA officer in the face and took his belt with a red star and rifled his pockets for his 300 piastres.  When we would drive our APCs near indigenous personnel (Vietnamese citizens) we would throw C-ration cans at the kids begging at the side of the road cheering when a kid was hit. 

      We had a first sergeant who was a total asshole. (not recognizing at the time that we all were total assholes).   We used to take C-4 explosive and take the tops off flares and pop them off so that they would explode in the air.  Some one handed the First Sergeant one that was doctored a little so when he popped it it exploded in his hand blowing off several fingers.

      This same guy remains in my prime image of the Army in Viet Nam.  After about 10 months when I was sure I wouldn’t get killed I decided to extend my tour to get an early out.  At that time we were drafted for 24 months.  If you had less than 5 months left when you got back to the world you got out of the army.  I hated the Army more than I hated the possibility of something bad happening during the extra time I’d spend in Viet Nam. 

    We stopped a checkpoint to re-supply (i.e buy beer and weed) and I signed the papers.  We went out on a patrol near Plei Mrong and were attacked.  The first and third APCs in line hit mines and the 2nd and 4th were hit by rockets.  I was in the 5th APC. 

      I could see smoke coming from the one in front of me so I went around back to take a look.  All the while we were under intense fire.  It looked like a small fire near the battery so I stepped back to grab a breath before trying to put the fire out. 

       In the instant I stepped back another guy stepped between me and the door of the track and a grenade inside went off.  He had a flack vest on and wasn’t hurt and I just got some minor leg shrapnel.  The explosion threw me back a ways and when I looked up I saw the First Sergeant with an M-16 in one hand and a case of beer under the other arm running away from us.  This is my full impression of the U.S. military.

   I went to Viet Nam an average twenty year old.  I was totally ignorant of American history and American foreign policy intentions.  I was a leader in my high school and involved in many issues.  Since then, I recently realized, I have had no close friends.  I find it difficult to get close to people. It sounds strange but part of my consciousness is still in Viet Nam waiting for that bullet.  When I walk along trails I am constantly watching for any disturbances in the dirt which might signal land mines.  I always when driving or walking look for good ambush sites.

         I have found in recent years especially I have nightmares and wake commonly soaking wet.  That NVA officer that I shot in the face is a common visitor.  I am a professional and self-controlled and have never gone seeking any professional help related to this.  I’m not convinced that it would make any difference. 

       Being drafted and sent to kill or be killed made me a different person than I would have been.  I spent the first 3-4 years after I returned using marijuana, hashish and alcohol almost daily in an attempt to self-medicate.  I then saw the futility of that and have been generally drug free since then.

        When my son was old enough to start asking questions about the draft I resumed my work with peace and justice groups.  I have mainly been involved with Fellowship of Reconciliation.  I also went to Iraq in August 2000 and actually joined Veterans for Peace there.  Alan Pogue, who I believe is one of the founders of VFP nationally, was with us as a photographer and told me about VFP.  I was involved in starting Western Washington VFP chapter #92 and more recently with VFP-Rachel Corrie Chapter #109.