I left Binghamton, NY, for Syracuse, NY after being drafted into the US Army on March 25, 1969. From Syracuse, I flew to Fort Dix, NJ for eight weeks of basic training. After a couple days of leave, I flew to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, for AIT. I became a Combat Engineer. Basic training was easy compared to AIT, both physically and mentally. After the eight weeks of AIT training, all learned where we were headed. Most of us were going to Viet Nam.
After a ten day leave back home in Binghamton, NY, I was on a plane to Oakland, California, then on to Viet Nam. I thought to myself, “how bad could this be? I was flying on a commercial plane to Viet Nam”.
After a few days on indoctrination, we learned what our assignments would be. To my surprise, I was assigned to 101st Airborne. I thought to myself, “Holy crap, I’m going to jump out of airplanes!” With that thought, my idea of this being easy was brought to an abrupt end!
When I ended up at Camp Evans in I Core, we were set up for even more training. I was relieved to find out that we did not have to jump out of airplanes or parachute from them. We did, however, have to learn to repel out of Huey Helicopters and how to walk down rope ladders from Chinook Helicopters from 150 feet off the ground. This particular training was very demanding, both physically and mentally.
After this assault training, we went on various missions using our new training as Combat Engineers. We had many jobs to do, of which the worst was clearing mines from the roads and using explosives to clear booby traps. We had to use our new repelling skills to cut out landing zones for the choppers out in the jungle with chain saws and explosives. We filled sand bags, built bunkers out of 12 x 12 beams that were flown into the field at a firebase. We installed the bunkers into the ground and covered them with dirt and sand bags. These bunkers would eventually be our “homes” and were used for protection when we weren’t on guard duty. We also created fortifications for artillery and mortar pits. We spread barbed wire and concertina wire as defensive barriers. We used C4 explosives for many jobs and also for cooking our meals when we didn’t have any heat tabs. If we were lucky, we would get a hot meal flown in to us once a day when we were in the field. However, no showers until we got back to the rear and out of the fields (sometimes up to two weeks). We had many other jobs to do when we were not in the field. For instance, we used our carpentry skills to construct new hooches, built roads and remodeled the NCO Club and the Mess Hall; also rebuilding homes and huts for the people of Viet Nam. These were all part of our job descriptions as Combat Engineers.
My tour of Viet Nam was for one year. I am proud of my service and also proud of the men I served with. It was and is an experience I will never forget. Now, as I look back on my experience, I am so thankful for some of the things I went through., I sometimes wonder why I made it back unharmed (I think I am unharmed) when so many of my fellow servicemen did not make it back from Viet Nam. To be a grunt infantryman in Viet Nam was not a desirable place to be. Unfortunately, we sacrificed a lot of good men.
On April 1, 1970, we were sent on a mission with other grunts to open up Firebase Ripcord. On our way to the Landing Zone, the chopper pilot told us the LZ was “hot”. All that day, we received mortar and RPG fire. It was on this day that my buddy, Milton Swain, was KIA, along with 2 other infantry guys, not to mention several that were wounded. During the cover of darkness, we humped to another LZ and stayed through the night. The next morning, the Lt. asked for volunteers to go back up the mountain to recover my buddy, Milton Swain’s, body. I, along with another combat engineer, went back to Ripcord and brought the KIAs back to our new LZ, next to Ripcord. Most of us were evacuated later that day. A couple of weeks later, we were sent back to Ripcord to open the firebase. We spent weeks building bunkers, filling sand bags, running barbed and concertina wires. And setting claymore mines. After the bunkers, command post and artillery were set up, we combat engineers were fortunate enough to leave Firebase Ripcord. I can not imagine what other service men went through in and around FireBase Ripcord. To this day, I thank each and every man for his service and sacrifice.
After leaving the Army, I returned to my hometown of Binghamton, NY, married a girl I knew before I went into the service. Together, we had four daughters. Unfortunately, my wife passed away at 47 years of age. About a year later, I met Sophia, my present wife, who also happens to be a Viet Nam Era Veteran. Sophia has two sons.
Between Sophia’s sons and my daughters, we have 9 wonderful, healthy, beautiful grandchildren that we cherish. Sophia worked for 33 years at IBM/Loral/Lockheed Martin and retired 4 years ago. I am a self employed carpenter who is semi-retired. Life is good for us. We are so thankful for our wonderful life in the greatest country on this planet…..
God Bless the USA!!!
David M. Kenyon SPEC 5
326 Engineer Battalion
101st Airborne Div
Viet Nam, 1969 – 1970