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Will Crain

Vietnam veteran Will Crain joined the Army in 1967.

Will Crain served in the U.S. Army from 1967 to 1969. He got his draft notice just shortly before he got married. He received a Purple Heart as part of his service. This is part of his Vietnam story. 

Crain: "The draft board calls me in, and they called me out of line and said essentially that I was not moral enough to go kill because I had a civil offense that hadn't been waived. Somewhere in my early teen years, I got picked up for joy riding with a bunch of other kids, so if you're joy riding, you're not moral enough to kill.

"I'm married. It's new. I'm clueless about marriage. I ended up getting a job with Lockheed with a secret clearance, working on a Blackhawk."

Gazette: I want to back up. You weren't moral enough to go to war, but good enough to get a secret clearance?

Crain: "Right. Job with Lockheed, 20-something bucks an hour, and it was pretty darn good. I was happy with that, working templates with how they make parts of a plane. ... It was an experimental division. ... Somewhere around April, they called again and now thought that I was moral enough to go kill. ... There was no way I could be a conscientious objector. I just simply didn't have the background for that. I did not want to go. I had a pretty decent education at this Catholic high school. I knew politics. I knew that all the money we had put in the Marshall Plan for France went to their military to colonize South Vietnam. So I knew something stunk in this whole deal and I did not want to go. I thought it was all wrong, but what are you going to do?"

Gazette: That must have come as a shock. You think that they were done with you and then they have a change of mind?

Crain: "Nah, I knew they were coming. So I went. I showed up at the induction center and I lined up and they picked out a couple of guys because they had syphilis. They didn't get to go. ... My dad dropped me off and said, 'Here's $20 for some spending money and have a nice war.' Dad and I were not at all close."

Crain's father had been in the Seabees and Okinawa in World War II.

Crain: "I had no desire to follow in any military footsteps, like a lot of guys."

Crain did basic training in Fort Lewis, Wash. He went to Fort Polk, La., for advance training in the infantry.

Crain: "I managed to learn when to volunteer and when not to volunteer. This sergeant said, 'Are there any artists in the group?' And I immediately raised my hand and it turned out that day when I volunteered to do some artwork for the company sergeant, I had to write everybody's name in their boots. That's pretty artistic, huh? But I didn't have to run, and I hated running with this backpack with rocks in it, double time. It was not fun for me, and I hate running."

Crain trained on mortars. He went to Vietnam in October 1967. He "turned 21 in the rice paddies."

Crain: "You see people with black pajamas on everywhere. You heard about these during training, that everyone wears black pajamas, but it's just different."

Gazette: So were you fearful?

Crain: "It was a different level of fear. I remember after you land, you get five days of in-country to acclimatize to you the situation. The second day, 'You all gotta be going to church. There's one down the road about 100 yards, and the chaplain is going to be speaking.' Do I have to go? 'You're all going.' So I don't know what kind of preacher or if the guy was Catholic or whatever. He starts jabbering on. He told me that God was on my side. I said, 'Well, you know this is not really right.' He chattered on a bit more. 'God is on your side.' I said to myself, 'If he says that again, I am walking out of here.' Sure enough, not five minutes later, 'God is on your side.' I got up and walked out. I had no interest in this God-fear thing."

Will Crain's Purple Heart and lighter

Will Crain's Vietnam memorabilia includes his Purple Heart and a bullet-dented lighter.

Gazette: No one stopped you?

Crain: "No. Probably figured I was going to go throw up or something. They didn't say anything."

"I had a certain kind of confidence within myself. You know if the hot lead was flying, either be on the ground or behind a tree. Awareness, awareness and awareness were the three most important things."

Crain was sent to the Mekong Delta. On his first day in the field, he goes on an armored personnel carrier on patrol.

Crain: "The first thing I see, on the first APC, on the front of it is a quad 50 (four .50 caliber guns). I am on the front of it, it's got a quad 50, what could go wrong? We get on and everybody's loaded up. All of us are sitting on top, and nobody is sitting inside these things. There's a quad 50 in front, four carriers behind me and another quad 50 in the back. We get to rolling down the road. We were going at a good clip. ... We were going 35 or 40 mph and bam. Our armored personnel carrier threw us all up and threw me off. It was hit. We hit a mine. Nobody got killed, and it didn't stop it from moving. All of a sudden, the guys who were running the personnel carrier, right off the bat, they turned the quad 50 to one side and the other quad 50 to the other, all of sudden, we're getting fire. It's midnight. It's late at night dark, pitch dark. ... I got down and locked and loaded and I could see where the fire was coming from and you return fire. Then, pretty soon, it stopped. Everybody regrouped and got back on. I guess we finished the route. I don't think anyone got hurt that night and there was no dustoffs (medical helicopters). It was more like a mini-ambush. (It was like the enemy was) going to eff with you every chance (they) get. If I was them, I would."

" ... The Viet Cong owned Vietnam at night. We didn't do any operations at night unless they were ambush patrols of some kind."

Gazette: You get thrown off on your first night. That has to be totally surreal.

Crain: "Momma, come get your baby boy. This is not where I wanted to be. Getting thrown off, I remember the hole that I fell into was on the sides of the road. There was ditches and berms, like most roads. I was in it and it was muddy. I did manage to keep my barrel clean and that kind of stuff. You're watching for ground attack, and that was my first thought. Outside of receiving small-arms fire, that was just about it. Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. Pretty soon it just tapered off. It was not like a firefight. It was a quick ambush, not far from Dong Tam, which is the naval base."

Gazette: This sounds nothing like what you probably expected.

Crain: "This is nothing at all. This is nothing like any of those creepy Hollywood war movies. I think I recall we got off the APCs, checked ourselves out. There were medics there to make sure nobody else was hurt. I guess I could have had a real spinal injury from where I landed, and it may have happened, you know, you can't prove anything like that. I was still walking ambulatory and didn't see any blood running. So we're in barracks. You go to your cot, take off your hat and hope to God they don't start mortaring you because they did on a regular basis. By regular, I mean they never didn't not mortar. The incoming was constant, although the second night, I was out on berm of Dong Tam and I'd say it's probably oh, maybe a quarter mile from one side to another ... there was sandbags ... to make sure Charlie was not going to come over the berm in the perimeter. Well, I must not have been paying attention in training, because I am looking off in the distance toward the inside of the perimeter these red flares are going off. Ah, red flare. Another red flares. 'Hey Sarge, what's with these red flares?' I hadn't paid attention. That means incoming. So all of sudden, they must have had some kind of radar because ka-bam, ka-bam, ka-bam. There were mortars up and down the barracks. Fortunately, I was not in (the) center of that. I don't know what happened to any of those people. You never know about things like that. So the next job was to get on your position and watch for movement. There wasn't any movement. They can get anywhere around Dong Tam and mortar in, shooting a few mortars. By the time the choppers would get up, they would stop mortaring. You'd see the helicopters up there with their machine guns and their tracers, shooting at something, you don't know what. Could have been innocent people, could have been anything. But you can't see at night. You think you see shooting come from someplace. They had no clue to where they were shooting, they were just shooting to shoot."

Gazette: Did you wonder what the hell you had gotten yourself into by the second night?

Crain: "I did know that I would not be staying there for but another week so, a few more days later, we started loading up to go up the river."

Crain was a riverine soldier, helping run the ships the go up and down the river. They worked on assault or combat ships.

Crain: "That's the thing about the boats: You didn't know anybody. You didn't have time to be buddy-buddy. Everyone was a loner. Everyone went in as a loner."

Gazette: If you're on a river craft, are you getting shot at? Are you a target?

Crain: "You're like a duck. ... The Mekong is pretty wide, so in the middle when they'd shoot (rocket propelled grenades) at the big boats, but they were smart enough to know wasting ammunition on an armored troop carrier wasn't going to do anything. They had to do something after you hit the beach. As soon as you hit the beach, that's when you'd nail them."

Gazette: Sometimes the Viet Cong have been portrayed as a bunch of ragtag guerrilla fighters. Was that the case?

Crain: "World's greatest fighter. They made bombs out of nothing."

Gazette: You were combat wounded. Tell me about that.

Crain: "It was in Dong Tam when I got wounded in a mortar attack, which was still during the Tet Offensive, so we had gotten off, rotated, and this one night, they hit the mess hall and they pounded our little thing. I was going into our medical (hooch) to bring back medical supplies and bam. I went flying, and there was this other guy with me and we were rushing out. And we were hit, and I was falling on the floor. I am knocked down. I got hit all over my body, my stomach, my legs, my feet. I know I am hit. My thought was, 'Don't move, they're not going to hang another mortar in this spot.' This other guy wanted to run across the thing, I thought, 'Goddamn, that's not the place for me because they're walking the mortars.' That's how you do it. Get those crazy guys trying to run. So I ran to the bunkers there. ... That was March, because all into January and February was just massive combat, day in, day out."

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