Jim Bahr, like most young men his age in the mid-1960s, knew the possibility was high that he could be drafted into service for the Vietnam War.
The United States was becoming deeply enmeshed in the Vietnam War. More than 500,000 troops would become involved in the conflict.
“At that time it was get drafted or enlist,” recalls Bahr of Norwalk. “My brother had served in the states. He was drafted, so after I got out (of high school), I decided to enlist.”
Bahr enlisted with the U.S. Army on Jan. 31, 1966. The then-19-year-old trained in transportation and learned how to drive various trucks for the Army.
“I was young. It makes you grow up in a hurry, and it makes you appreciate what you’ve got,” he says.
Bahr was assigned to the 444th Transportation Co. based around the areas of Qui Nhon and Pleiku in Vietnam. He and the men in his company drove trucks carrying supplies, anything from ammunition to clothing to food from the harbor in Qui Nhon where they were loaded up to the 1st Calvary located in An Khe.
Bahr says one of the things he remembers about Vietnam was the roads through the jungle. During the rainy season, it was so muddy, he says, that trucks would slide sideways as if they were on ice. Tanks, which were there to serve as security, had to pull out the trucks when they slid into the ditch. Other times the dirt roads were the consistency of a fine red talcum powder that covered everything including the driver. He says he remembers being covered in red by the time he returned to base and trying to wash it off.
Bahr says there were no ambush attacks by the Viet Cong while he was with the company. The area in which the company traveled was mostly secure, but vehicles would travel ahead of the convoy and sweep for landmines and other explosives.
“We had a few vehicles that hit mines,” he recalls. “The wheels were blown off, but luckily no one was killed.”
That changed after his one year of service in the country ended, according to some of the men with whom he served and other historical reports.
“I think Charlie (slang for the Viet Cong) finally figured out what was going on and started attacking the convoys,” Bahr says. “I’m glad I got out when I did.”
Bahr says he was with a group that was attacked just once during his time overseas. He was a gunner on a gun jeep for the supply convoy. When the convoy arrived at his destination, Bahr says he was exhausted. He lay down on the hood of his jeep, took off his flak jacket and used it for a pillow.
A while later, one of his fellow soldiers asked him where he went during the attack. He didn’t know what the man was talking about. The area had apparently been hit by mortars, and Bahr was so tired he didn’t hear it.
Bahr left Vietnam in July 1967. He finished out his service with the Army as a driver for a major with the inspection team at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. He was discharged in February 1969.
Bill Sanders’ service in the U.S. Army took him to Korea not once, but twice.
Sanders, now 85, enlisted in the Army at age 18 in 1945, toward the end of World War II. His brothers were in the Navy, but he was turned down because of his vision test. A few months after he joined the Army, the Navy, much to his frustration, sent him a letter that he could in fact join the branch after all.
But by then, Sanders was at basic training in Little Rock, Ark., where he was trained in heavy weapons to be a truck driver. However, he was sent to Korea to work as a records keeper in charge of medical supplies at the 382nd Station Hospital in Ascom City. He was charged with making sure the hospital had enough supplies and medicines.
He served in Korea from 1946 to 1947 and returned to the United States, where he was discharged. He married his wife, Marge, in 1949, and joined the inactive reserve.
“That’s where I got the second tour in Korea,” he says.
President Harry Truman had declared a “state of emergency” to send U.S. troops into Korea without officially calling on Congress to declare war. As a result, all active and inactive reserve members were enlisted for one year of service.
Sanders went back into active duty in October 1950. He left Marge and their new home in Bedford, Iowa, and went to Fort Lewis, Wash. He was in the medical corps and was held in the United States to treat soldiers who returned home.
Sanders was then sent to Army headquarters in Taegu (now Daegu), Korea, where he worked in the signal corps. He worked in intelligence as a teletype operator and received messages that came into the headquarters.
“A lot of it was top secret,” he says. “You didn’t know what was on the tape.”
The newlyweds wrote letters to each other almost every day.
“Sometimes I wouldn’t get one for a while, and then I’d get two or three,” Marge remembers.
Sanders’ work mostly kept him out of harm’s way, but once — and he only disclosed this to Marge when asked about his service for this article — he had to take teletype machines to the front line. The closest he had to go was a mile from the line, but it still shook the young Sanders.
“I didn’t sleep too well that night because you could still hear the bombardment going on,” he recalls.
One thing he learned about war: “You don’t get to pick what you do.”
Sanders’ year was almost up when he received word that he was being returned to the United States because Marge was ill. Unbeknownst to him, her appendix had ruptured, and she had gangrene.
Doctors were unsure whether she would survive. She was in the hospital off and on for six months.
Bill and Marge later had two daughters. They moved to Norwalk in 1955 and have lived there since. Bill went on the Honor Flight in October 2009.
John Tuttle says he enjoyed every day of his service with the U.S. Army.
Tuttle of Norwalk was drafted in April 1965 for service in the Vietnam War. He was 21 years old and had been working at the grain elevator in Cumming.
He went to Fort Leonard Wood for his basic training. His advanced individual training was in intelligence. That work later required him to do background investigations of U.S. troops who needed security clearance. While in Vietnam, he did surveillance to determine where the Viet Cong were located and where they were going. The information was then relayed to U.S. field troops.
Tuttle was stationed in Phu Lan. He arrived in September 1965. His unit would go on missions where they verified the accuracy of aerial photos they had received from a higher level of intelligence to determine whether they gave a reliable location of the enemy.
“We would go in and find out they were actually there,” he says. “Then we would check a week later to find out what direction they were moving. In other words, we had to physically verify what the photographers were showing us.”
Tuttle says his work required him to stay in the background so he did not engage in combat. Sometimes he and others were required to go into Viet Cong camps after they had left to verify the enemy had been there. He says they could tell by the ashes of the campfires how many had been there.
“To me it was an interesting job,” Tuttle says. “We had safeguards, and we were careful. It was a dangerous job, but it had to be done to protect the lives of all of those soldiers in the field.”
Tuttle left Vietnam in September 1966. He was then reassigned to Fort Ritchie, Md., to work in intelligence, where he performed more security clearance and background checks.
“I enjoyed every day of it, and it went past very quickly in my mind,” he says. “I think now looking back that everyone in America should volunteer to do something for their government whether it’s picking up trash or mowing or volunteering for the Peace Corps.”