Smith served country in Vietnam

Published 10:31 am Monday, November 10, 2014

NW1110 Veterans Vietnam 3

Starting as a Marine and then as an Army soldier, Wayne Smith served his country from 1968-1971, including a one-year deployment to Vietnam.
“I had always thought about being in the service and after high school, I did it,” Smith said. “I’m glad I did it now. I was glad I did it then too. You have to know me. I am patriotic. I love my country.”
While Smith was glad to have served in Vietnam, the public was not as appreciative of the veterans’ service when the soldiers returned home. Many returning troops from Vietnam were publicly ridiculed and physically assaulted by citizens. None of these things happened to Smith.
“When you came home at that time, you didn’t run around and say you was a Vietnam veteran and you didn’t get the ‘Welcome Home Troops’ now, thank God, they get,” Smith said.
In fact, it was 33 years after Smith returned home from Vietnam that he received his first public thank-you.
“It was in 2004 in a drive-thru at Pal’s in Johnson City,” Smith said. “I had on my Vietnam veteran hat, and the guy in the restaurant said ‘Thank you for your service.’ That was the first time anyone had thanked me for serving. Since then, there has been more awareness that we were kind of the forgotten veterans.”
But Smith says there are other veterans who are more deserving of the recognition of having served in Vietnam.
“I am no hero,” he said. “I was just doing what needed to be done, what they told me to do.”
Smith was stationed at Camp Pendleton in California working in helicopter supply in 1968-1969 while in the Marines.
Then in 1970, he went in to the Army and was transferred to artillery personnel and received his orders that he was going to Vietnam.
Even though his orders were for Vietnam, Smith said they were told 10 members of the platoon would be going to Alaska. When faced with the option, he still chose to go to Vietnam.
“I told them I wanted to go,” he said. “I said I didn’t want to go where it was cold so I went to Vietnam, and we definitely got the heat.”
Before deploying on July 3, 1970, Smith and the other soldiers were given a one-day training session to prepare for the fighting in the Vietnam jungles. He said they were put through trial maneuvers and situations set to resemble what they would encounter in battle.
“No matter how much training you have, you are never ready for combat,” Smith said. “The first time is still the first time. I do think my prior service in the Marine Corps prepared me a little more. It gave me more confidence. Not knocking the Army, they trained everyone the same,” he added. “I felt with my prior service, I had an advantage but it was scary when we first got there.”
When landing, Smith said the troopers were advised to move straight toward the bunker when leaving the plane and if there were any incoming rounds, to take cover.
“You wake up and realize where you are at and what you might be in for,” he said.
During his year in Vietnam, Smith was stationed with the 2nd Battalion, 35th Artillery until February 1971. Then he was with the 7th Battalion, 8th Artillery. With both, he operated a M109 self-propelled Howitzer.
He was stationed in over 20 places through the “3rd core” which included the area around Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City.
“The artillery had over 20 moves the year I was there,” he said. “We would move into one spot and stay two or three weeks or two or three days. We just went where we were needed for how long we were needed.”
As an artillery soldier, Smith offered “fire support” for other military groups in the region. He said the intensity of the fighting varied depending on where they were located. The first location was Fire Support Base Flower, which he said didn’t see any intense fighting.
However, at Fire Support Base Simmons, the situation was completely different. Smith said at one time the base was overrun by the opposition. A week after that happened, the soldiers at the base were in for another unsettling incident.
“Fire Support Base Simmons was the most heated position we were at,” Smith said. “A week after we got overrun, they woke us all up and said they had intercepted radio transmissions from the North Vietnamese army.”
The transmission said the North Vietnamese planned to attack a support base in the area in the next 30 minutes. Fire Support Base Simmons was the only support base in the area.
“We had about 30 minutes to get ready for them,” he said. “It was different than when we were hit a week earlier. We responded and we didn’t have time to think or worry about it. In this case, we had 30 minutes to think and that was pretty scary.”
Even though the enemy troops were almost always nearby, Smith said they weren’t visible until they were “coming at you.”
“We didn’t really have any individual contact with them, but you knew they were out there,” he said. “You would get rocket, mortar or sniper fire, but as far as actually seeing them, it didn’t happen that often.”
Smith recalled one of those times when his unit was on patrol about two weeks after he had arrived in Vietnam.
“When you went out on patrols it would be scary at times, you know,” he said. “You could run into snipers or an ambush. This one time, it was more or less a sniper because they only fired a couple of shots. I hadn’t been in the country two weeks and I didn’t get down all the way. I was right flank and I looked ahead of me. Everyone else was on their bellies and I was down in a squat position. It didn’t take me long to get down on my belly.”
Smith said, in that instance, if the Vietnamese soldiers had been shooting directly at him, they would have hit him. But, he explained they usually aimed for the radio man first because that person had the ability to alert other troops in the area.
After one year in Vietnam, Smith returned to the United States. For his remaining months in the Army, he was stationed at Fort Bragg until he was discharged in November 1971.
Smith said troops returning from Vietnam needed some time to adjust to the temperature change from the tropical climate there.
“It would be up to around 110-120 degrees in the day over there, and at night it would sometimes drop down in the 60s or 70s,” he said. “We would be on night duty and would be huddle up in our field jackets freezing to death at 70 degrees. When we came back here, it took a while to get used to the weather again.”
After coming home to Carter County, Smith’s first stop was to get a chocolate milkshake because that was one of the things he missed the most while in Vietnam.
“I thank the good Lord for getting me through it and bringing me home safe,” Smith said.
Smith lives in Hampton with his wife Tammy and is employed at Kroger.

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