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Vietnam Voices: 'We were high-value targets'

From the Vietnam Voices: Veterans' stories, told in their voices series
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Kurt Schulz

Vietnam veteran Kurt Schulz enlisted in the Army.

Kurt Schulz was in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971. His father was in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II.

Schulz: “I was probably going to get drafted. I had gone to a couple of colleges. They had these funny rules about ‘you should go to class, you should take tests.’ I was a college bridge champion, but they asked me not to return. I kind of talked to my draft board, and they said, ‘Don’t make any plans for July.’ ... So in March, I made up my mind to do it because I’d have a no job for three or four months before I got drafted. ... It was either enlist or be drafted, and I figured I’ll enlist in something that I have a good chance of not getting shot at.”

Gazette: What did you enlist for?

Schulz: “I walked in the door to enlist for 35-millimeter still photography. I just loved photography, even though it carried with it the subheading ‘combat photographer.’ I was young and stupid; I didn’t think about that. Waiting for the recruiter, he had this big rack of everything you could be in the Army, and I saw military intelligence, and I thought, ‘Ooh, that sounds kind of cool.’ And the recruiter said, ‘I can’t tell you a thing about it. I’m not allowed to,’ which really got my interest. So, 20 minutes later, I was talking to a counterintelligence agent across the building and literally being recruited into intelligence, so I ended up joining military intelligence. I was an intelligence coordinator.”

Gazette: What does that mean?

Schulz: “Basically it’s a clerk/typist with a top-secret security clearance that handles classifieds.”

Gazette: Did the glamour of the job match the reality?

Schulz: “Well, the good thing about this agent was that he didn’t give me any B.S. He said, ‘I’m going to be out before you’re in.’ And, I get no points for doing anything. He gave it to me straight and told me just what I would do, but about 95 percent of all the billets in the intelligence were civilian status, which means Denver had a field office. Cheyenne, where I joined at, had a field office. The government pays you a whole bunch of money to buy civilian clothes, and you go buy an apartment. For all intents and purposes, you’re a civilian, but you got a government paycheck. That’s a nice idea.”

Gazette: You liked that idea, then?

Schulz: “I loved that idea.”

Gazette: Did it go as planned?

Schulz: “No. The Army in all its wisdom, there were 44 of us in our class, one was a (women’s army corps) and she was barred from going to Vietnam because they weren’t going to send women over there unless they were nurses at the time. Of the 43 possible, Rs, Ss, and Ts got assigned to Vietnam. My name is Schulz. There I was. I was assigned 525th (Military Intelligence) Group.”

Gazette: Did it worry you about going to Vietnam?

Schulz: “Yes, because the night before (I went), the movie I saw at the base theater was ‘The Green Berets.’ I still laugh about it, but I said, ‘Oh my God, I know it’s just a movie, but it’s got to be based on something.’”

Schulz landed in Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Saigon.

Schulz: “They loaded us all on these blue Air Force school buses, just like the yellow pearls you have running around here, except all the glass was there, but they had wire — a lot heavier than chicken wire, very, very thick — you start looking around and say, ‘Oh.’ Then this guy comes on the bus, full combat gear, got a helmet, flak jacket, an M16, couple grenades and ammo hanging all over the place. He quickly announces, ‘If this convoy is attacked, we have a spare bus to pick up the survivors.’ And you went, ‘What the hell did I get myself into?’”

The headquarters of the 525th was in Saigon.

Schulz: “They quickly lost me (at the replacement depot). The other people I came over with got shipped out inside of two days, and a week later, I’m still filling sandbags and doing casual details, and I finally went up to the first sergeant and said, ‘What is it? Do I spend my whole time here filling sandbags?’ And he looked at me like: Who are you? And I told them, and they went, ‘Oh.’

“The next thing I know I had what they called ‘tradescraft,’ and he asked me if I had gone to tradescraft and I said no. So they ran me over there. Tradescraft is where the spooks — as we called them — that’s where they made all of our fake documents. So they quickly (said) ‘put this coat on, put this tie on, boom, you’re now a civilian GS-7. OK, now take that off, put this uniform on, boom, OK, you’re now a second lieutenant.’

“So, I had legitimate ID cards, government issued, making me a GS-7 civilian or a second lieutenant. Then they said, ‘OK, you’re going to go up to Da Nang, I-COR. ... You’re a civilian. Wear civilian clothes, take your military ID, stuff them under whatever. You’re now a GS-7 civilian.’

“So I went up to Da Nang as a civilian. I got there at the time our battalion at Da Nang had seven buildings scattered around town that different teams lived in. Unfortunately, I got there just in time for a major outbreak of the (Viet Cong) shooting everything up. One of our buildings, we called it ‘The Beach House,’ it was abandoned because it was in the middle of the firefight. The supply hooch had (an) armored personnel carrier blown up in front of it the night before and it was still smoldering, so they had to stay away from that.

“Everyone was running around like a chicken with their head cut off and this one officer comes out and I tried to report in and he looked at my papers, and he said, ‘Where’s your weapon?’ Oh, he went ballistic and he started yelling at people, and they run over and issue me an M14 rifle, which I had in basic (training), and a .45 pistol and a flak jacket, but they don’t have any helmets. Well, I guess that was better than nothing.

“We’re running around, and they quartered me with what they called the joint chief. There are two different types of intelligence teams in Vietnam. There was unilateral and bilateral. Unilateral, as the name suggests, we didn’t let anyone know who we were and no information was directly shared with the Vietnamese government or any other foreign government. The bilateral teams had Vietnamese counterparts. They were mostly counterintelligence looking for spies and Viet Cong.

“I was stationed and living with the joint chief, and my first night I’m sitting there, enjoying a nice cold beer and watching a ‘Bonanza’ rerun on TV. ... Now, I’m sitting there, and I heard the bang-bang-bang and I looked out and walked out to the veranda standing there. I could watch these little red lights going up and down the road. I am so green it’s pathetic. And I said, ‘Oh, what are those?’ And this captain who was there comes in and says, ‘What are you doing?’ and he throws me down and he said, ‘There’s a firefight out there.’ OK. He said, ‘Get your weapon.’ I go, ‘Good.” I had one magazine for my M14, 19 rounds in it. Three magazines for my 45, and there are two of us, him and me. We had about 10 seconds worth of fighting, you know, if they decided to come over our fence. Luckily, they didn’t.”

Gazette: So you’re watching a firefight.

Schulz: “I’m watching a firefight up and down the street right in front of me. There was a big eucalyptus tree off about 25, 30 feet away from me, just the other side of the road. And this one little guy would stick out behind and fire a half-dozen rounds. Later on we found out it was probably what we called the ‘SKS’ carbine, because it wasn’t fully automatic, but he’d rap off three or four rounds and I stood back and watch him do that.

“The captain said, ‘Don’t you even think about shooting.’ He said, ‘Your job is that if they come over that fence, we go out the back door as quick as we possibly can.’ Because we were high-value targets. ... Get the hell out. I understand that during Tet in ‘68 we lost a couple of people in Hue because they shot out the front door and they should have been running out the back door, and they’ve never been found.”


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