An Obligation to Serve
Profilers: Faustine Nathaniel, Mike Shao, Ethan Wang, Jason Zilberfarb
LIFE BEFORE THE VIETNAM WAR
Please introduce yourself as well as your role in the military:
David C Boynton, 2222132 US Marine Corps. I went in and I was in Vietnam in ‘66 and ‘67.
Were you drafted? If so, could you walk us through your initial reactions?
I was drafted. I really didn’t have much of a reaction, reality sets in, it’s an obligation which personally I think that should be to every single graduating senior in high school for two years. And then the government should pay for four years of your higher education.
How did you feel about draft dodgers?
I didn’t approve of draft dodging myself, it’s something I wouldn’t do. Perhaps many of them might have a particular reason why they did or didn’t, but really in a sense it’s none of my business, but overall, if something seriously happened like a World War II event I wouldn’t have any remorse for any of those people that were running to Canada. I hope I said that right, I said remorse was that correct because I don’t know. I wouldn’t approve of it if that was the case. If the enemy was at the door steps or at the shores east and west coast we’d be in trouble when I don’t think anyone should be bailing and if they should then they’re going to be getting led coming from the back not from the front you know what I mean.
Did you come from a military family?
Nope not at all. My father was a paint chemist in Providence, Rhode Island. He actually, his company actually did good, in fact I guess that’s why he actually didn’t go into the War in World War II.
How did your family react to you being drafted?
Well I mean certainly my mother and father had concerns obviously. The interesting thing is that my brother was also in Vietnam the same, same as I. And interesting enough is that my brother and I are the only remaining members of the family to carry on the family name and technically one of us could have actually been taken out of the Vietnam theater, so that if I was killed my brother would still be able to perhaps marry and have children and carry on the family name or vice versa. I didn’t press the button on it and neither did he, just let it go and both of us survived and came home. He was Air Force, I was Marines.
What were your plans prior to the war?
I went to college for six months. I was too interested in young ladies, not interested enough in studying so that was my demise and I got drafted fairly shortly after that. When I left school… I’ve always worked. I’m seventy-four years old, be seventy-five in October and I still work basically five to seven days a week. And that’s by my design, that’s by my interest. I like to keep busy.
What was your assigned Military Occupational Specialty (MOS)?
MOS was 5591. That is, believe it or not, a bugler.
What was your main role in the war?
Well quite frankly, the better part of my time in the Vietnam War was I worked with a Lieutenant Colonel. Who is head of what’s called CAC units, Combined Action Companies. And it was part of the pacification program that the Marines carried out in Vietnam to befriend the villages, villagers. We go in and it would be normally, if I recall correctly, there would be sixteen people. They were all enlisted men, the highest was either a sergeant or a staff sergeant, the sixteenth was a medical corpsman. So we had one person that took care of that and then we would dig a well, get a freshwater well that wasn’t contaminated going so that the people could drink clean clearwater. The Vietcong had a habit of coming in and killing all the people of any power, or let’s say the mayor of the village or teachers and so forth, then they throw or dump their bodies into the wells so the wells were contaminated. So we would come in and clean that up or straighten it up or dig a new well for them. We also had, twice a day they would have a medical call where people could come in. You and I out working in the backyard get a little scratch, it’s no big deal you go in and take a shower. In Vietnam that wasn’t really the case a lot of those scratches could turn into, cause they didn’t really have soap, so we used to supply them with the soap and everything so. But that was part of our pacification program to befriend the villagers, let them know that we’re there in peace, were there for the good of them and the good of Vietnam. But then again here we are today, so.
Can you walk us through your arrival in Da Nang and the other locations you were stationed in?
Two of them come to mind. Number one was arriving by boat, in the Da Nang harbor. And if you’ve seen old World War II movies, they would throw this huge net over the side of the boat and you with all of your gear and weapon and ammo and so forth, you go over the side and you climb down and go into a small personnel craft that would then take you. It was a little landing barge so the nose of it, just like in the World War II and D-Day and so forth, the whole front comes right down and out you go and then you get your assignments so you have to go okay you go here, they look at your order to tell you where to go and stand and wait to get taken. At that point I think I went to Hill 327, 1st Marine Division. Which is overlooking Da Nang. Da Nang was a very large air base as well, it wasn’t as big as Cam Ranh Bay I don’t think but it was very sizable as well. Then I was transferred, well I was shipped out six to seven months later. Shipped out the Chu Lai, which is further south and that was interesting because we actually went down by small craft boats, fully loaded locked and loaded going down the Mekong Delta. So that was rather interesting and that was another air base as well on an absolutely gorgeous horseshoe beach on the China Sea, I think it’s called the China Sea.
What were your first impressions of the landscape in Vietnam?
Well, I mean you don’t have all these huge big trees like we have here, or acres and acres and acres of pine trees or what-have-you at all, but they have lots of rice paddies, lots of water and that’s a big part of how they survive of course.
What would a typical day look like for you in Vietnam?
You had your job, you had your assignments. When I was with the Lieutenant Colonel, I was actually his go-to guy, he needed something, I got it for him. He needed to go somewhere and I got him there and got back safely and that sort of thing in essence. And I had what they call the Mighty Mite which is a smaller Jeep and that was actually, believe it or not, very few people had this pleasure but, for whatever reason I was actually able to take that as if it was my own car.
What else was done for leisure?
You really had no, you know I was enlisted draftee- there is no fun in that sense. You can’t go to a bar or restaurant or anything of that sort. If you were an officer you did have that ability, but that was specifically for officers not for enlisted men.
How did you stay in touch with your family members?
Just by mail. I think that if I recall, and I don’t know how infrequent it was very infrequent cause otherwise I would remember it better, but I might have had the ability to make a call which would have been to my mother and father and they lived in Atlanta, Georgia at the time I was from New Jersey so, but I think honestly that’s the only time that I had a verbal communication of any sort with anybody in the states.
Was this your first time being away from home?
No, I was not so politely asked to leave my house at seventeen years old because of young women.
Did you have access to current events happening in the U.S. such as the anti-war movement?
Well they had ‘60 I think it was early ‘67 I think, they had the Newark riots but that was I think that wasn’t more anti-war, I think it was more from an issue that’s going on today as well, racism and all that stuff so you know. And that was pretty ugly and I lived and grew up only thirty minutes from Newark so I was very aware of that issue going on. I’ve always been very political and international news knowledge gopher, I love doing that stuff, I love reading it, love learning it, so.
What was the best food you had while deployed?
The best thing I probably had while I was deployed in Vietnam was when they finally opened a facility further down from Hill 327, heading towards the airport, you know the airfield, where you could, actually as an enlisted men you could go and you couldn’t get a beer or anything like, but you could get in and get a hamburger or a hotdog so. And that was only one time, in fact I think Bob Hope was there doing shows, you know for the troops at that point but I didn’t, I wasn’t going to that. You had to be able to get some sort of a pass to get in. I just went down to, quite frankly I had the opportunity to, I actually jumped on the six by, which is a bigger truck with a bunch of guys in the back, and rode down all the way down to this new facility and was able to get a couple of burgers and hang out for a little while and then turn around and go back up to where I belong.
Do you recall any moments that scared you in the war?
I was with the Lieutenant Colonel on a run with a convoy and one of the convoy six by’s drove over a landmine and blew up, and of course there’s always casualties with that. And from that point on to our destination it was nothing but sniper fire as we drove down to where we were going, I don’t remember where we were going other than I’m sure it was southbound towards you know Chu Lai or below. Those sorts of things really wake you up. You know the other is to have the Colonel ask me to take dental records down to the morgue. We used to call it, we had another expression for but I can’t think what it was but, morgue, so that people, these fellows could get identified. They couldn’t identify them unless they had dental records, that’s not all the time but sometimes. And that’s pretty… that’ll really wake you up to reality when you go into a morgue and see all of these fellows in pieces you know, it was pretty sad.
What are some unforgettable memories that you have of the war?
The one sad one was, with the CAC units we traveled by convoy down Highway 1 South, and I think we were below Chu Lai to do an event or some sort of anniversary that this village was having and so we made the rundown with the convoy cause we couldn’t go anywhere otherwise because I had a Lieutenant Colonel with me, they have to be careful of that protecting avoid all those issues, getting fired at as you’re going down, but that was interesting, but we did this one event. The Colonel had a Marine Corps band come in and play some music and so forth and there were some things given out and whatever, but the sad thing was was that, and I was all for that, but the sad thing was that we learn the next day- it’s only a one-day event, turn around and come back, you don’t stay there we turn around go down first light you go down before dark your back- and we found out that it was just a mistake, but the village was carpet bombed by B-52s from the US and it was just one of those unfortunate things that was rather sad for me. The other one was when we went into again on the convoy and we were going through a small village and the people were there right alongside, the roads aren’t very wide the trucks of course that we’re on, the six by’s, were quite wide… and I do remember that one of the Marines on the truck with me took the butt of his rifle and smacked a guy in the head as he went by as we went by, which I thought was rather disgusting. It doesn’t show us to be a… I don’t know… I felt… I can’t think of what the word would be but, I just felt like we were conquering people instead of there to help them and give them their freedom back.
COMING HOME FROM THE WAR
What did it feel like to be able to come home?
It was euphoria, I have to say at that age you don’t really appreciate as much that you came back in one piece you know, but you know it was good to come home, it was good to see you know my old friends. I’m still friends with seven of my high school buddies. I went to college, but I only kept friends with one fellow since then. I went in when I was in school, Fairleigh Dickinson, but it was nice to get back but I was ready to also get going with my life and make something of it.
What are some long term effects from the war that affected you?
If I hear a helicopter, the first thing I think of is Vietnam. The chop chop chop, that’s the first thing I think of. It’s interesting how you do these sorts of things, experience these sorts of things and then they come back. An explosion concerns me cause that sort of thing would bring me back. And then of course which happens to me fairly frequently, if I’m working and someone walks up behind me and comes out of the clear blue sky I jump. I literally jump, again that’s from being in Vietnam, thirteen months in ‘Nam and dealing with all those issues, you better be prepared to make a move, jump, run like hell, get your gun or something. This sounds a little weird perhaps, but sleeping is an issue, can be an issue and it had been in the past to some degree. I find that over-time I prefer a dark room, I prefer total quiet as well and then I sleep better. So those doubts in my mind I guarantee that’s all from Vietnam.
What was your new routine after returning?
I reapplied and went back to college, went to Western Mass for one year and then transferred down to Fairleigh Dickinson in Rutherford, and then transferred from Rutherford to the Madison Campus in New Jersey, and finished up and graduated there. Ironically though, it was just the way my life ended up, I didn’t utilize my college degree by going and getting a job with a corporation or something like that, I created my own business, and started that and here I am today.
What was the first thing that happened when you returned?
Probably met with a bud- well actually ironically enough there was another friend of mine who went, who was drafted the same day as me with me, he went into the Army. They decided who goes where by scores of testing and I had a higher test than my buddy Phil so I went in the Marines he went in the Army. And unbeknownst to me at the time there was a big bugabaloo in the local newspaper Caldwell, New Jersey. He had written- the newspaper asked me if anyone has heard from me or knew where I was or how could he communicate with me what happened, so the ironic thing was that he was the first one, he had gotten back like three or four days earlier than I and he was in Vietnam as well. I thought that was rather interesting, we were looking forward to seeing each other, but all seven fellows- he and I were the only I think active that went to Vietnam of the seven friends from high school, but we’re all luckily still alive. We’ll all turn seventy five this year.
What do you think are some important lessons from the Vietnam War?
I think the general overall lesson would be that politicians should never run a war, it should be the military. If the politicians decide that we’re going to do something like this, I think they should then sit down with the powers to be in the military, work out the plans and let the military people run the show, and you’ll find that they’ll be less crap going on and less issues and less bickering here back home in this country in our case you know.
Where do you see the concept of “war” going in the future?
Well I think the next war we have will be in space, so. We already have a space force as you well know and I believe China and Russia also are actually ahead of us in that curve I think out there in space and that’s probably, or where, it will be. Hopefully it’ll never be nuclear because then we’re all toast, so.
Would you say that the war was a good experience?
For me it was a good experience. You know for others perhaps not, but for me it was a good experience and it just made me stronger in my commitments to myself and my life. In retrospect, I would do it again and I’ll tell you why, because I came back and it simply solidified my thinking of how the world works. It just made me, I think, a better person in regard to how I think and how I respect people and I try to transfer that to people that I deal with, people that worked, have worked with me for years, you know. I just try to be sympathetic as much as you can and go from there, but I would do it again. I’m thankful that I had the privilege to be able to be born in this country and in comparison to other situations and people in other countries and what they have to live with and deal with and I’m very very fortunate and I’ve never forgotten that I appreciate that. I appreciate being an American.