Saturday, August 9, 2014

A boy goes to war. Part 6

This is the sixth and final part of this story.

I suggest you read forward from part 1.

Long Binh was closed down for two weeks after the Tet attacks. No soldiers were allowed to leave the base unless on official business. These restrictions did not apply to my friend Ski who was conducting business for the captain and our company. We saw much devastation on our first trip to Saigon after the attack. Burnt fields and woods, craters from the bombing and flattened houses were left behind from all the fighting. . There were no official reports of the civilian casualties but it looked like there must have been quite a few. One could not help but feel sorry for the people who lived here. They endured war for the last 20 years and all the baggage that comes with it.

A picture I took on the outskirts of Saigon after the Tet Offensive in 1968.

Not too long after the Tet offensive we had cause to visit my old company at Bien Hoa. I found out two of my friends, one I knew very well, were killed during the 150 round rocket and mortar attack.

They also told us that the VC ground forces broke the perimeter at the far side of the 101 Airborne’s perimeter bunkers during the rocket attack with four groups of about 50 soldiers headed for the runway 27. Fortunately the gunships from the 145 Combat Aviation Battalion hit them hard. About 200 VC bodies were counted on the airbase late the next morning.

It was good to see a lot of the guys I shipped over with and we had a nice long visit. I did not see or ask about sergeant ‘noname’.


Over the next month everything seemed to get back to normal. The base at long Binh was again open and soldiers were allowed to leave base on their free time. I was marking my calendar every day and watching my departure day get closer and closer. I spent some of my free time thinking about getting back to the states and what I might do with my life when I get out of the army. I made Spec 5 an E-5 rank with a nice pay raise and would have more privileges upon returning for my last year in the army.


About six weeks before I was to leave Vietnam I was back at my old unit again waiting for some paperwork to be processed. The colonel, my old company commander, walked through the building and I saluted and greeted him. He remembered me. He knew my tour would be up soon and he asked me if I was going to sign up for another. I told him I had enough fun for one year and was looking forward to returning stateside for my last year in the army.

He told me to give him list of three places I would like to be stationed and he would see what he could do for me. I wrote out a list before I left there and had it put in his inbox.

I can’t remember the names of the three places I picked but they were all close to New York. One of them was Fort Hamilton, in Brooklyn. When I got my orders I was to report to Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn after my thirty day leave. I never forgot how kind it was of the colonel to do that for me especially since I had been transferred out to another unit.


Five days before I left Vietnam I was standing in a sanded bagged bunker next to our orderly room during a rocket attack. None of them hit near our company and the VC were killed that fired them. It seemed surreal standing there with the Captain and a handful of others waiting for the warning to be over. I felt very anxious, like after all this time something would go wrong just before I left.


Nothing did go wrong and I boarded a C-130 to Cam Rahn Bay where I got on a commercial airplane to Tokyo. After switching planes in Tokyo I flew to San Francisco by way of Anchorage Alaska. I did not tell my family when I was going to arrive home. I wanted to surprise them. On my way to Buffalo I thought about how different I felt inside. The punk kid was gone forever, a man was returning to his family. The realization made me proud of myself. I took a cab to my family home from the airport. Everyone was at the dinner table when I opened the back door. I will never forget the scene that followed.  A loving family is truly special to have. I have two brothers and five sisters all younger than me, by the way.


I spent my last year in Fort Hamilton as a clerk in the survivor assistance office. Whenever a soldier died anywhere in the world that lived in New York State or Connecticut our office was notified. I would take all the information and appoint a high ranking sergeant or an officer to contact the family and inform them. Then we would work together to help the family with receiving the body and a military funeral. It was a heart breaking job that needed to be done in the best way possible for the families.


I was twenty and a half years old when I got out of the army. I made my way to San Francisco, California and met my wife to be. We are still married some 44 years later and still in love.

I hope you enjoyed following my journey while I was in the army.

Joe P. Attanasio

The following is a poem I wrote about Vietnam shortly after returning home to the states. I was not much of a writer but I wanted to say something about what I thought and how I felt. I present it here just how I wrote it.


By: Joe P. Attanasio  1969

A war as such that we are in,
Slaughter that we did not begin;
Strives not for either side to win,
But grows strong on idealisms sin.

Hawks support our righteous claim,
As good brothers are being slain.
Capitalists thrive on playing their game,
Imperialist guests remain the same.

I once overheard a young Viet lad,
Retell of a tragedy so very sad;
An American mistake took his dad,
And VC wounds his mother had.

Inflation has that country torn,
War orphans are better never born.
Sides know not of people gone,
And patience itself is badly worn.

If this poem makes you wonder why;
Imagine how it feels to die.
Don’t ask their mothers why they cry;
And don’t ask me what it’s like-don’t even try,
Because to myself I even lie…
For it’s the only way I can get by.


  1. Another well-done post, Joe. Excellent.

  2. I agree with the post aove, a well written, documented log of your experiences. As I mentioned to Jan, how eerie that we were both in the same place (Long Binh), but at different times (June '69 to July '70). I was fortunate to miss the '68 Tet and my time there was more like state-side duty. I even extended my stay for 30 days so that when I returned to the States I had less than six months left in my enlistment. I was then discharged from the service upon my return.

    If you like, I created a FB page with photos of our assignment in LBP with a few of my army buddies I recently reconnected with on FB.

    Again, thanks for sharing.

    Cheers ... John

    1. Thanks John, and nice to meet you by the way. Jan and I sit back to back most evenings. I hear her typing away at you, and commenting on your posts. I'll check out the page.