Two Years in Thailand
Profilers: Sabba Givi, Abrar Matin, Braxton Teichner
Please state what your name is, and what your rank was in the army. My name is David Martin , when I left the army I was a Sergeant E-5. I graduated high school in 1962, I am currently 70 years old and this is 2016, that gives you an idea of how much time has elapsed. I was working, I was drafted…when I was drafted I was working, it was not my idea to go into the military. All of my friends went into the military in some capacity or another. I was happy doing what I was doing and being drafted was an unwanted thing. It turned out that the military was very good for me, I liked it. I came very close to staying, that was my experience. I received my draft notice December 31st 1966 which kind of screwed up my New Years, and seventeen days later I was running around trying to get my act together at Fort Ord, California.
So I was conducted to Fort Ord, spent my time at basic training there. I got out of basic training and they sent me to Sergeant Supervisor school, which is pretty unusual; out of a couple hundred people there was only six or seven of us, I don’t know why they did that, they just did and so I had a good time with that. Then, they sent me to radio operator school which was a lot of dee deee daaw dawdaw dee dee dee daw daw..we always talked in code, said some mean things in code. That was the majority of that particular school, and because I could type, they sent me to radio teletype school in Fort Gordon, Georgia.
While I was at Fort Gordon, Georgia , I inquired about going to Officer Candidate School. There were a few other schools that I could have gone to in the meantime, but that’s just where I was at the time. They told me I was qualified, took me off a list, whatever list they were going to send me. Half of the people I was inducted into the army with, all of them went over seas except for two.
I ended up in Fort Dix, New Jersey. I don’t know where the other guy ended up; but half of the people that were sent over seas went to Germany, half went to Vietnam. So I had to sit around doing nothing; very very boring. The army motto is Hurry up and wait. Don”t be in a hurry to go anywhere. Fort Dix, New Jersey was somewhere that everybody that came from their overseas duty gathered before being assigned some place else. Or they got out of the military, and I got really intrigued with that so I volunteered for Vietnam. Somebody said I was stupid, but I was also young…and stupid.
When I found out my APO, which is an Army Post Office with Bangkok, Thailand somebody said, just shut your mouth, and go. So we ended up in Bangkok, Thailand with the MAG Thai which is a military advisory unit; Foreign country, not too far away from Vietnam. My only contact with the fighting in Vietnam was to travel there in an airplane several times taking coding material and secret materials to places I didn’t know existed. I had because I had been to Sergeant Supervisor school, I was promoted in sixteen months. Nobody else in my unit got promoted that early. One person got promoted in fourteen months, he was smarter than I was.
I wasn’t looking for a promotion, I was looking to have some fun. Bangkok, Thailand was a place that everyone from Vietnam went when they were getting their R&R rest and recuperation. They spent money and we didn’t have the money to spend so we had to make due with what we had.
What were some of your main responsibilities while you were serving? I worked in a radio network for Thailand, keeping communications with probably two dozen outposts within Thailand as an emergency source, we had landline but we kept an open net just in case something happened. Up north in the Karat area and a few other areas they were fighting. Mostly, lead over from Vietnam. They had special units and forces up there that were trying to control that, but most of the fighting was not done in Thailand. I was in a support group for Thailand, I was in the 334th SIGNO company, nothing fancy. I spent eleven months, twenty- six days I cant tell you how many hours, eleven months, twenty- six days was my enlistment; less than two years.
They promised me an extra stripe if I would have stayed, so I would have been three up, one down staff sergeant if I would have stayed. I seriously thought about it, I liked it. It was very regimented, the Vietnam war was not a popular war by any means. You had the hippie generation saying stop the war and that particular generation blamed the soldiers, not the government, so they put the blame on the wrong people. I came back I couldn’t wear my uniform, you couldn’t be proud of it because everybody would call you names and throw stuff at you; spit at you so It wasn’t a popular war but then again there [was] the hippie generation that were quite frequently under the influence of other substances. Its difficult to explain.
What exactly made you enjoy your service so much? Were there any specific activities? Anything memorable? The guys I worked with. When they enlist, they’ve got a choice of assignment and to them that was important, they got some schooling for free. To be honest that still holds good for today, if you enlist, pick a school, pick something you like. They were in the repair business for electronics. [There were] no electronics back then that would hold true today. They enlisted and they were in there for three years, I was in there for two. Their comments were from what I can remember, “what the hell did I do?”. Had I known any different I wouldn’t have done it. It was just a long time away from home. Its like spending a couple years in jail, you know you get visitors and you get mail and you can do other things but you’re far away from home and sometimes you just can’t leave. I was not shot at. I did get in my fair share of fights with other people. But I got along with most of them. There’s always groups there that don’t like you there. But in the most part the people in Thailand accepted us and were very nice.
I loved my time there, I loved the structure. There was no BS there was always somebody that was… and you knew your place. You knew your ranking as you went up. I was a Specialist for a while then they made me a Sergeant then I ended up controlling… in charge of people as opposed to fixing stuff or operating stuff. I operated an in- country radio net and I also operated a MARS radio. MARS radio is a radio that reaches from Thailand to Oakland. Some of the people would come in and pour their hearts out to their girlfriends and the radio signal would go to Oakland from there and they would dial a number and talk to their girlfriends. But I enjoyed my time there and to reiterate I was not in combat. I was a Support Unit. I walked away with an American National Defense Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, and a Good Conduct Medal. Good Conduct Medals are not usually given until you have been around for three years. But if you are in a combat area you can get it after a year. So I ended up with four. I was not a hero. I didn’t do anything heroic that I could say. I was just there supporting everything else that occurred and I filled a small niche.
Do you think the American government’s intentions changed?…Politicians, the government. We weren’t too far away from the McCarthy era where everybody didn’t like communists. I can’t say China is any better than they were in 1968, 1969. It is still a government that is controlled by a handful of people. By listening to today’s news it’s hard to tell if we’re going to war with them or we’re gonna have dinner with them. We just don’t know. They’re spreading their wings and we’re just trying to… we’re paranoid. Not that we shouldn’t be but we’re paranoid.
How did you feel your service in the military and being away from home affected your personal relationships (family, love life, etc.)? I come home with stories to tell. They’re not bad stories. I had an experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I am not… I don’t have PTSD. Not that I’m not half crazy, but I just don’t have PTSD. So I don’t think it affected me in that way. The only hard part of the whole thing was being drafted at a bad time. But I took the lessons that it gave me and walked away with good feelings about being in the military.
Do you remember specifically anyone that you served with or under from the military that had an impact on you? I’m not close with anybody and that even goes to my life today. I’m not real close to anybody. Not family, not friends. I remember some people and some of the adventures we had. If you were to ask me the name of one person was his name was Cruz he came from the Philippines. Other than that I couldn’t tell you. There was a Major there that was called Major Angel. He was a Special Forces Major and at one point he asked myself and another guy if we wanted to go Special Forces. Which isn’t the full blown Special Forces it was just work for them as a Radio Operator. I’d get to wear the little, cute green beret. But I would’ve been a C-team at some point they would have made me a B-team and after a gazillion years they might’ve made me an A-team if I survived that long. But those are a few things I remember. I did promote rather quickly for a place that didn’t have a promotion for me they gave me a morale stripe. I was in a place that didn’t have a position, they had radios, but they didn’t have a position for me.
So how do you personally feel about how the war turned out in the end? We didn’t win anything, we lost. They, being the North Vietnamese and Chinese whooped our ass. It was a no win situation for us. I’m just surprised they took so long to get out. It was kind of a get out the best way you can at some point. It’s the only way it could have ended.
What ultimately motivated you to leave the Army?We didn’t have the backing of the government and I’m not sure if even with the backing of the government with the restrictions they put on us to fight a war. I don’t think that anybody ever declared war but with the restrictions they put on us to fight a war we could not have won. Even if they would have allowed us to do it… I’m not sure we could’ve won. We would have had a better chance. Politicians get in there and they do things for different reasons. Where I was assigned and during my 2 years of being in the military I was appreciated. People asked me to do things I didn’t really volunteer exactly or maybe I did and I didn’t know it but they asked me to do things. They appreciated the things that I did do. Nothing was overly difficult. I, for one reason or another I kinda guided my path through it. Had I have to do it again today I’d do it differently and I would advise somebody else to do it differently. I was more mature than most people when I went in I was 22. I got out at 24.
I had some college behind me. I ended up dropping my chemistry class and they drafted me pretty, not that quick. I wasn’t happy about it, but my outlook was okay I’m here I’m gonna make the best of it and being that I had a good time.
Have you changed any of your opinions toward the war? My opinions today are the same as they were in 1969 of the war. There are things that I wish I would have done but my career path took me in a different direction. And I am very, very lucky and my career path. So I don’t know if it would have been any different if I stayed in the military.