U.S. Marine Corps – Vietnam
Trying to discover the facts about what went on in Vietnam is very tricky. Strange ideas seem to spring up out of nowhere.
For example, there is a persistent belief that Jack Wallace was a “tunnel rat” in Vietnam – one of these crazy people who would crawl into VC tunnels with a flashlight and a .45 pistol to root out the enemy. Jack himself certainly wasn’t the one who came up with that idea.
“I have no idea where that came from,” he said. “I was an electronics repairman in Chu Lai.”
Jack had enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1966. He volunteered for Vietnam several times before they finally sent him. He arrived there shortly after the 1967 Tet offensive.
What he found was a strange kind of war.
“The people who worked in our bases were from the villages around us,” he said. “Our people told you to watch them when they were walking things off. We got hit by a lot of rockets and you had to wonder how they knew where to fire them.”
Even within the U.S. military there seemed to be an element of distrust, or at least a lack of respect. Jack was stationed in Chu Lai, about 350 miles to the northeast of Saigon, as the crow flies. He got a four-day pass to visit his uncle in Saigon, but he had to figure out for himself how to get there. He caught rides on a plane, a helicopter, and a convoy. But the strangest part occurred when he got to Saigon.
“I tried to find a place to bunk on Tan Son Nhut Airbase, but they wouldn’t let me stay there because I wasn’t Air Force. The Army wouldn’t put me up, either. Finally the Navy put me up because I was a Marine, but they locked up all my weapons. I think I was the only person walking around Saigon without a weapon.”
Jack admired the people of Vietnam.
“The thing that amazed me was in some of the villages they didn’t have anything. They had years of war, but they were able to shrug it all off and raise families and be happy.”
What Jack got out of his Vietnam experience was an attitude toward life. “You have the ability to do anything you want if you try hard enough. Never give up. Don’t dwell on the past. Think of the future and press on.”