Things I Didn’t Know About Vietnam
By Larry A Freeland
Before leaving for Vietnam and during my stateside military training I heard many stories about Vietnam. People who had been their or claimed to be knowledgeable of Vietnam and the war would tell me what I could expect, what I should do or not to do when I got in-country, what the Vietnamese people were like, how to fight and deal with the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) communist and Vietcong insurgents in the south. Some expressed the believe that our enemies were invincible and unbeatable, and so on. I guess, like most other veterans who were sent to Vietnam and survived, I have recollections of what I thought I would experience and then the reality of what I lived through.
I was sent to Vietnam on January 3, 1971 and served one year in I Corp. with the 101st Airborne Division as a CH-47 helicopter pilot and Infantry Officer. In this capacity I flew all over the northern portion of South Vietnam from Da Nang to the DMZ, from the coastal lowlands to the mountains of the A Sau Valley and even into Laos for a few months. When not flying I was performing other duties where I was interacting with local Vietnamese military personnel and local civilians in the Phu Bai and Hue. These opportunities provided me with many impressions and observations leading me to form some of my own opinions of the Vietnamese people and their country.
Not surprising, there were many things I wasn’t aware of about Vietnam as a country and its people before I got there. Here is a list of what I encountered and learned while serving in country:
- The diversity of its people, which varies from well-educated to many living an agrarian lifestyle with little or no formal education.
- The country’s geography includes tropical lowlands, rolling green hills, densely forested mountains, and coastal lowlands. There were mountains in the northern area, A Sau Valley, that toped 5,000 feet. Much of it was beautiful and some day would make great travel resorts and vacation related places to visit. That has become the case, with some very fine locations, particularly along their coastlines and in and around what was called Saigon and now is Ho Chi Minh City.
- Weather extremes ranged from hot and humid to cold and damp, but I never saw any snow. I had been in Vietnam for what seemed an eternity and experienced very poor weather and flying conditions many times. However, I wasn’t aware that Vietnam was susceptible to typhoons. About eight months into my tour, we were hit by a typhoon in the 101st Divisions area of operations. It wasn’t a devasting typhoon, but it did considerable damage to our facilities and knocked out power and water supplies for several days. On any given day, power and water supplies could be interrupted, but not for the length of time we experienced with the typhoon.
- Their religious beliefs can include Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism.
- Many Vietnamese placed high importance on family and respect for their elders. I found them to be a caring and supportive people when it came to their families and elders, those living and those who were deceased.
- Their political views were not as simple as we we’re led to believe. Most Vietnamese I met impressed me as people who just wanted to be left alone. They wanted to be free of foreign interference, have their own country, and many just wanted to live as their ancestors had for centuries. Before we got involved with Vietnam, it had been a French colony since 1887. When the French were forced out of Vietnam, we eventually moved in. Over the centuries, Vietnam had endured border conflicts with their northern neighbor China. During our war with them, the Chinese and the Russians allied with the north and hoped to gain favor with the North Vietnamese.
Larry Freeland was born in Canton, Ohio. Since his father was an officer with the United States Air Force he grew up on many Air Force bases across this country. After graduating from High School at Ramey Air Force Base in Puerto Rico, he attended the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida. He graduated in 1968 with a degree in mathematics and a concentration in finance. He joined the U.S. Army and served one tour in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division as an Infantry Officer and a CH-47 helicopter pilot. He is the recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross with one Oak Leaf Cluster, the Air Medal, with 10 Oak Leaf Clusters, the Bronze Star, and various other military service medals.
Upon release from active duty in 1973, Larry returned to civilian life and pursued a career in the Financial Industry. During his professional career, he continued his education, earning graduate degrees in Management and Banking. He worked for 29 years in the banking business with Trust Company of Georgia, Citizen and Southern Corporation, now Bank of America, and Wachovia, now Wells Fargo. After retiring from banking he worked as an independent financial consultant for 3 years in the Atlanta area and then worked as an instructor for 6 years with Lanier Technical College in their Management and Leadership Development Program.
Larry is now retired and lives in North Georgia with his wife Linda, a retired school teacher. They stay involved in various activities, most notably those associated with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and Veterans-related organizations. They also enjoy traveling together and spending as much time as possible with their two daughters, three grandsons, and two granddaughters.