Jerry Bauck was married and had three years of college when he had to drop out to earn more money to finish his education at Augsburg College in Minneapolis. He was working as a psychiatric aide in a hospital in Minneapolis. He was 25½ years old when he got his draft notice in 1966. He grew up in Perham, Minn. This is Vietnam story. For the complete interview, go to billingsgazette.com/Vietnam
Gazette: You were married and you were in college — did you know the draft notice was coming, or were you surprised?
Bauck: "(I thought) that was good enough to avoid it, but that was the buildup for the big push in 1966."
Gazette: What did you think when you got that letter?
Bauck: "I debated the concept of fleeing to Canada ... but that wasn't in my makeup. You know, you did your duty."
Public sentiment against the war in Vietnam hadn't materialized strongly. Instead, when Bauck entered the Army, there was a different concern.
Bauck: "Prior to going to 'Nam, I had a time where we had to have our duffel bags packed because we were going to be shipped off to guard some race riot somewhere. I think ours was the Chicago."
Bauck had a month between the time he received the letter and when he had to report for duty. He was drafted by the U.S. Army. He went to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.
Bauck: "That began the process of making you less individual. That's where you got your famous haircut and all your gear. And, of course, all the gear wouldn't fit you, and that was OK. They didn't care.
"... Being older, it was difficult to adjust to younger people ordering me around in such drastic ways. But then again, because I was older, I was the father to everybody. It was kind of an interesting experience in that I was older than the company commander. ... They looked up to me and helped me. I was not a physically fit person. They kind of helped me out. The 10-mile marches and carrying backpacks, the whole works. They would help me along. I was more educated. I was in a group of 17- or 18-year-old kids and most of them hadn't even graduated from high school, and here I was a college-educated person, much older — I was their dad as far as they were concerned. It was kind of was that way all the way through."
Gazette: Was that a good or a bad thing?
Bauck: "Actually, it was good for them because they had somebody to hold on to. I think I liked it, too. I was well respected. That was something that was worth points."
Gazette: Did you approach Vietnam and the Army different because you went to college, were older and married?
Bauck: "Oh yes, definitely. ... Part of it is, I didn't fall for the indoctrination lines."
Gazette: In what way?
Bauck: "One of the things we were required to do when we got to basic was go to chapel on Sundays. The very first sermon I heard was that it was OK to kill. ... Then it became that the people over in Vietnam weren't people. They were subhuman. They called them the names of 'gook' and tried to convince you that you're going to fight in Vietnam and kill things in Vietnam — kind of the idea. ... I couldn't buy that line, but a lot of the kids did. They could hardly wait to go to Vietnam and kill the animals. There was all kinds of purposeful indoctrination that I could see through."
Gazette: It must have been hard to see through that, but it doesn't change what you're going to have to do.
Bauck: "No it doesn't change it. It didn't change, and still I had this whole ethic: You do what you're told you have to do."
The Army identified Bauck as a candidate for a noncommissioned officer in the infantry division.
Bauck: "I had a real problem with that because I didn't believe in killing. ... About halfway through basic you learn what you're going to be doing, and I was assigned to an infantry school, and I said, 'What the hell? I'm not going infantry.' They said, 'You have no choice." And I said, 'What are other choices?' They said, 'The only choice you got is if you enlist, you have your choice of schools that you go to.'
"I had already taken the military aptitude tests to see where I was the strongest, and I knew that I had good background in electronics. I said, 'OK, I will go to radio repair school,' but I had to enlist for an extra year. My wife was really, really upset with me when I called and said, 'Honey, I am going to spend another year in the Army.' (She said) 'Why'd you do a dumb thing like that?' And I said, 'Did you want me to be an infantryman? Did you want me to go kill people? This is my only out. This was the only thing I could do.' Of course, not realizing that Vietnam was not like the old wars where you had a front line. The support personnel didn't see battle unless something bad happened. I didn't know that in Vietnam nobody was safe."
Bauck went to a radio training program that lasted six months. Along the way, the Army lost Bauck's file after he was called to testify against an officer who was illegally forcing soldiers to take correspondence courses. The file went to Vietnam, but Bauck stayed behind to testify. The officer was put into military prison, but Bauck remained in the U.S. for a year while his file was rebuilt. He was assigned to the 67th Maintenance Company, which was formed to support just the 101st Airborne Division during Vietnam. It existed for only a few years.
Bauck: "We were maintenance. We had people who maintained vehicles. We had the electronics section, and we repaired the radios and microwaves — anything to do with the electronics. LAN lines, teletypes and radar we got into. We weren't supposed to do it and weren't trained, but we did it. We had people who were trained to work on artillery pieces."
Bauck received orders right before Christmas. Bauck's wife was pregnant. He went home for Christmas. Before that, he had a three-day orientation course for Vietnam.
Bauck: "We got a little diploma, and we used to joke that it was our license to get killed."
When he got home during the Christmas leave, his wife, about five months pregnant, had to go to the hospital.
Bauck: "The day before I had to leave to go to Vietnam, she aborts the baby. It was very, very difficult to get back on the plane to go to Fort Campbell and leave her there in those conditions. I almost didn't do it. Again, you do what you're told."
Gazette: I can't imagine how lonely that must have felt. Terrible.
Bauck: "I went back and I notified them and said, 'My wife just lost a baby.' I got back and the first sergeant said, 'I'm surprised you came back.' He wasn't expecting me to come back. They gave me a promotion — I went from E4 and Specialist 5. And by the way, Specialist 5 is the best position there ever is."
Bauck: "You're considered an NCO, but you don't have anything to do with marching troops or controlling troops. All you're in charge of is your job. It's the best position there is in the whole Army."
He landed at Tan Son Nhut in Saigon, told that they're under fire. On the truck, they're told to point their guns out the truck. At Phu Loi, they were told about their next stop.
Bauck: "We were given an area and told that's our camp. Well, our supplies had been shipped by boat and were in the process. They were still on the ocean somewhere. The only thing we had was our guns and personal defense gear — flak jackets and all that stuff. That's all we had. During my whole time in Nam, we were always stationed next to a helicopter pad, and that was not a place to be."
Gazette: Tell me why?
Bauck: "That was the first place that the enemy hit. Always the first place. They wanted to knock out the helicopters. So we were always next to them and, of course, (the enemy) aim was not so good.
"... It was mostly quiet because there was a lot of military around there. It was mostly quiet. Then, the Tet Offensive hit."
Gazette: What happened during the Tet Offensive?
Bauck: "Of course, the military base always depended on the native population to help comfort in military camp. We had lots of mamasans and papasans working on the base as a barber or somebody to clean or cook. ... Suddenly, they weren't our friends anymore. Nobody knew what was coming. There was supposedly going to be a time where there wasn't going to be any fighting. It was Tet, and a truce called.
"Suddenly, we were hit with all kinds of things, surrounding all of us. The complete area was surrounded by fighting in the middle of the night. We didn't have our equipment to do our job. They said, 'We can use you guys. We'll drive you in the middle of the night to the shipping docks in Saigon, and you can take a truck — a Ford civilian truck — and you drive them to whenever had to go. ... You'll drive this up Highway 1 but we'll get you in a convoy. We'll have a gunship in the back and front. If your truck should break down, we can't stop for you. We'll just let you go. You just stay there with your truck, and we'll just drive on.'
"... It wasn't like you got into a convoy and rushed here and rushed. No, you drove calmly at 35 mph. What perfect targets. What perfect targets. And of course, these trucks were not very dependable. ... They weren't well maintained. This is in the middle of the night.
"One time in particular, I had enough smarts that I could usually keep a truck running. My dad had a Chevrolet dealership, and I had a smattering of smarts. But this truck just couldn't do anything — it just clunked out. At this point I am really cussing, because the rest of the convoy is just heading by."
Gazette: Was anybody else with you?
Bauck: "I was all by myself. About a mile after us, as the convoy passed me, suddenly I see a night light brighten up. There were flares going up all over and rockets going. You could hear all the sounds. The convoy got attacked en masse. There were major casualties. I'm sitting back, less than a mile away, thinking, 'Dear God, I hope they don't find me back here.'
"So morning came, and some military persons came and picked you up."
Gazette: How long did you have to wait?
Bauck: "Probably a good six or seven hours."
Gazette: Did you hide, or what do you do at that point?
Bauck: "I went off and went into the weeds and laid down in the weeds with my gun with me."
Gazette: That must have been a terrifying six hours. Does time go faster or slower?
Bauck: "Slower. Much slower. I thought that night would never end."