Wisconsin Veterans Museum

Oral History Interview with James A. Kurtz

Wisconsin Veterans Museum


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[Interview Begins]

KURTZ: Should I say who I am?

DERKS: No, we know who you are.

KURTZ: Okay. [laughs] Growing up in the 1950's in Madison, Wisconsin is a very different experience than it is today. The Cold War was very much of a reality. There was a fear that the Russians were going to come across the polar ice cap and bomb the United States. In fact, Truax Field there were two air defense squadrons operating. One with night fighters and one with regular fighters. And on top of the YWCA building on the corner of Pinckney and, I believe, its Gorham Street, Mifflin Street, excuse me. They had a ground observer core thing that was personed with people with glasses looking for Russian Aircraft coming in. It was a reality that, if you were a male, you were going to serve. I graduated 00:01:00from high school in 1958 and the choices that the male had were to go into the military or, if you went to college that didn't exempt you from the draft. And if you went to Madison here you had to attend ROTC for two years mandatory. So the Madison campus on Fridays was a sea of military uniforms. Because the drills took place out at the Shell, and so you had to wear your uniform to all of your classes and all of that. And they had very good instructors in the ROTC at that time. They had young men that had served in the Korean War who needed college educations that would come in here and they would, in fact, teach. Last evening I had an opportunity to meet a cadre guy by the name of Harry P. Mueller. He was a capitan at the time, from Waukesha Wisconsin and he'd won the Distinguished 00:02:00Service Cross in Korea. He was a very very charismatic person and he was the one who suggested, very strongly, that I should stay and move on to the advance course and I should be in the infantry. I had some discussions with him about that saying that I was going to law school and I thought I'd be more appropriate to be involved in the JAG Corp or intelligence or something like that. And he told me basically, "If you are going to be a warrior you've got to be in the infantry and you're too intelligent to be doing any of these other things". [Laughs]. So I also decided, in addition to this guy's persuasion, I rowed on the crew and I couldn't work as much as I wanted. And we got paid, if you went to advance course ROTC, the princely sum on ninety cents a day when beer cost seventy-five cents a pitcher. So economics dictated that this was a pretty good move too. When I graduated from the University the graduations were quite different. They were in Camp Randall on the fifty-yard line facing the press box. They had a big stage where people walked across and got their diplomas and 00:03:00if you were getting commission, and they commissioned more than two hundred men, there were no women involved in ROTC at that time, down at the south end of Camp Randall by the field house. Where you took off your gown and got onto your military garb and they swore you in. And you walked across and got your commission and you saluted somebody and your there to go. Many of my classmates went right in the military, but I decided that I wanted to get rid of school and get it behind me, so I went to law school. I attended the University's law school from 1962-1965 and really didn't think a lot about the military. Because 00:04:00law school was something, a very rigorous intellectual experience and I was working. I just never really thought about it very much. Although, I was aware of the Vietnam situation to the degree that I've always been interested in military history and I knew about the Dien Bien Phu, which happened in 1954. And John F. Kennedy gave his speech in his inaugural speech about "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country" had a big impact on a lot of people in my generation or pre-baby boomers. That 1960 election was a very hotly contested election and the primaries were scattered through the year so there was a lot of interest in that. And Kennedy was of a new generation, a World War II hero and so it had an impact. I remember the 1964 00:05:00election where Lyndon Johnson ran as the peace candidate and suggested that if you voted for Barry Goldwater, we would be sending Americans to Vietnam very quick, which is an interesting anomaly in that we already had about twenty thousand American's in Vietnam in 1964 and in '65 we started a major build up with Johnson as President. In 1965, I graduated from law school and the day that I graduated from law school, I received, the same day, I received a letter with orders to go to Fort Benning Georgia in September of 1965. So that summer I worked selling paint, played baseball, played softball and didn't think a lot about it until I got in the car and drove all the way to Fort Benning Georgia by 00:06:00myself. I arrived down there, and Fort Benning is a totally different experience from anything that I had had in the north. We received six weeks of training between our junior and senior years of college down at Fort Riley Kansas, but there wasn't a war going on at that time so there wasn't the intensity that there was down at Fort Benning. One of the interesting things about Fort Benning, going there for officer basic training, was that everybody was young and they all had new cars. They had a parking lot that was filled with Corvettes, Mustangs and Corvairs, those were the three cars of choice. And there were some West Point, people that graduated from West Point also had to go through this eight-week basic course. Benning was kind of in a turmoil at that time because the 1st Cav had just left to go to Vietnam and when a military, a 00:07:00big military unit leaves, they take all the good people they can from a base and leave as many of the malcontents and ineffective ones there as they can. I didn't really realize that that would have some affect on me a little later. The training that we received was, in my mind, marginal at best because many of the trainers were people that were kind of disillusioned with the military. And they were just interested in getting out and we trained on none of the equipment we used in Vietnam, we trained on the--we had the M14, but the machine guns we used were all World War II and stuff like that. Really had no opportunity to work with tactical air, or artillery, or mortars, which were all things that we 00:08:00were supposed to be Platoon Leaders at--that one would think we would get some training on. There was some emphasis on Vietnam at that point, not as much as before, I mean later because many of the people at that point were going to Germany. We had a major military presence in Germany. A couple things that stick out about that training is that I, and the parts that weren't training is that I roomed with a law graduate from Notre Dame who, from upstate New York, who was a very interesting character. His Notre Dame high school, I mean college roommates lived in Birmingham Alabama. Which is about a hundred and fifty miles or so from Fort Benning. And the first chance we got he said 'We've got to go over to Birmingham because they will take good care of us over there' and they did. The hotel room that we appeared in had a bottle of Chivas Regal Scotch sitting on 00:09:00the counter and they took us out to eat at a lot of the fancy places and in fact, Joe Namath was a big star at Alabama at that time and we met him at the Iron City Club the night before an Alabama football game. But I think the thing of greater interest was the fact that when got into Alabama, I had a new Ford Mustang with Wisconsin license plates on it and a military, if you're in the military they have a placard on the back of your bumper which indicates that you're in the military. It was blue for officer and red for enlisted and I had the blue thing. The minute we got into Alabama I had a Sheriff on my tail. And they followed us all the way from county to county, they'd drop off and pick off and this was in September of '65 when, you know, there was a lot of trouble with the Freedom Riders and all of that. The Wisconsin license plate was a problem 00:10:00for them because there was a lot of Wisconsin people coming down there and causing problems, in their mind on the civil rights issue. The fact that they picked us initially in daylight, here was two guys with crew cuts and a new car and you know, but they still chose to harass--oh I don't know whatever you want to call it. But it was an interesting experience. Just that summer before, the police commissioner in Birmingham, Bo Connors, put fire hoses on blacks and I had a chance to meet that guy. I wasn't going to say gentlemen because I didn't think he was much of a gentleman. When we completed our training people got orders and my orders were to basic training command at Fort Benning Georgia. So I became a basic training company commander nine weeks into the Army of 900 men. 00:11:00Two companies of a hundred and fifty, four hundred and fifty, excuse me, trainees. With assorted drill sergeants and all of that. And my third day as basic training company commander I had to relieve the mess sergeant, because he was selling ham and coffee out the back door of the--and this was one of the people that the 1st Cav didn't chose to take with them. You know, he was selling this stuff so I had to write this guy up and--a

DERKS: Were you 24?

KURTZ: Ah, I was 25; quite a bit older than a lot of people, but very inexperienced having just been in school basically my whole life. With work and not really been exposed to these types of things. Twice when I was down in Fort 00:12:00Benning I had to pull officer of the day, which mean that basically you sit in an MP station and if there's a problem it's your job to go out an resolve it. We'd get calls about drunk Sergeants here and there and you'd have to go out and pick them up. Oh I remember one night it was raining like Billy Dickens it was in December and it was a cold rain. We had a couple of these guys that had gotten in a fight somewhere and I went out there with the MP's and we got them settled down and I said 'You know its raining we should get a vehicle to put them in' and he said ' No, they deserve to sit in the back of this pick up truck so they took them to the brig in a pick-up truck in the rain.' Those were all kind of eye-opening experiences. Well, going into the second cycle for basic training I got to understand the system a little bit better than I did and got 00:13:00two kind of interesting experiences. One, I had an opportunity to go to a temperance rally at a--in Columbus Georgia. At a, they have something like, kind of like the Dane County Coliseum only it sat about 2,000 people, it was you know. And they were ranting and raving about drinking and I went with this young lady and I said "I'm really not too interested" and she said "Well, don't worry about. You'll just go to this and have this cultural experience and come over to my Aunt's house, who was kind of running this thing." I went over there and low and behold they had a wonderful buffet and everything that you wanted to drink. You know, after they were sitting and ranting and raving about the people who shouldn't be doing that, but not me I guess. The other thing is, that I had an opportunity to meet a capitan who assigned all the lieutenants in the Army. And it was at an officer's club, if I remember correct, and introduced myself and 00:14:00asked him what my situation would be. You know, I'd been in the Army a--not quite a year yet and he asked me exactly what it is. And he said, "You're going to go to Vietnam in September 1966." And I said, "Well do I have any choices?" And he said, "Not really, other than the fact that I can send you to a good unit and I can get you out of the Army ninety days early." Because I had started the conversation by saying is there anyway that I can get to Fort McCoy. And he said, "I can get you out of the Army easier earlier than--" I said, "Well this appeals to me." But he said, "Vietnam is still in the cards." I had tried half heartedly to get into JAG and basically they said, "Yeah, we really want you in JAG and we can get you in there tomorrow, but you gotta sign up for eight years." And I had a two-year commitment and Major Mueller, who had impressed on 00:15:00me the importance of being an infantryman had not worn off at this point in time so I decided, well, I might as well you know, just continue with this. So I got my orders to go to Vietnam in the end of--in mid-April. And so I wound up my business down in Georgia and drove back to Madison in this Mustang. I spent the month of May 1966 just like I'd spent the May--any other May. Playing both baseball and softball with the people I'd always played. And it was a horrible situation because it was the first time in a couple years I was hitting the ball pretty good and all of a sudden June came and they gave me a farewell party. It was kind of like, not that I was going to Vietnam, of course Vietnam wasn't that 00:16:00hot at that point, but it was like no different then giving a party for a guy moving to New York for a different job. It was just "Well, you're going to be gone. We're sorry to see you go." and all of that. So I hopped on an aircraft in Madison and my parents, of course, were quite sad about it and all of that. I flew in uniform because you could fly at half price and that point there was no issues with people flying. I mean it was the military, it was fairly popular. We landed in San Francisco International Airport and there--I got my real first lesson about being in the military to the degree is if you're standing around and you've got to go somewhere and you don't know what to do, you find the other people in uniform and you figure out what you're gonna do. Basically what happened was, a bunch of us took a cab. We had to get over to Oakland to Travis 00:17:00Air Force Base. So five of us put together a cab so we'd get a cheaper cab ride over to Travis Air Force Base, which was one of the principle departure points for replacements. Because many of the units went as units initially. Like the unit I ended up in the 1st Infantry Division, went over as a unit. They trained together for about eighteen months and then they were put on a train and they went over on ships and stuff like that. And then later other units were put together and some went by ship and some went by air. But the people who went as replacements either went through--a--Seattle or San Francisco. They went by air and they had charter planes. And it was outsourcing again at that point. They had this huge hanger where they had cots and they were told 'Well, you'll get 00:18:00called when your flight gets called.' It wasn't quite as comfortable as the concourses in airports now. Our flight gets called and it was, I don't even remember what time of the day, but they lined up everybody who was capitan and below and gave them a duffle bag. We were only told that we could bring, like a small carry-on with us. But everyone was given a duffle bag. And I said 'Well, what's this?" and I was unfortunate enough to have a duffle bag full of helmets. What they were doing was they were moving equipment to Vietnam in the belly of these aircraft as luggage. So you never saw the duffle bag again, it was just you had to bring it up there and put it on there like, and then you got into your seat. The flight was a long flight and I didn't know anybody on the airplane. I talked to a few people, but everybody was quiet and pensive and all 00:19:00of that. And we landed in Honolulu and there wasn't too much of a big deal about that, but when we landed in Guam, where--I don't know the name of the Air Force Base, but that's where the B-52's were operating off. We saw a bunch of B-52's take off and go to Vietnam and all of that. They put all the enlisted people in kind of a wire enclosure, I don't know if they thought they were going to desert or something, I still don't fully understand that. They let us officer's kind of mill around, but Guam isn't that big a place. If you were gonna leave I don't know anybody that could swim far enough to get to a place that would be useful or get away from it. Then we, from Guam we flew directly to Vietnam and flew into Tan Son Nhat, which is the main airport in Saigon. We came in at a very steep level because the VC controlled the land on the approach rights. I mean, 00:20:00its like coming into Dane County Airport you take a long gradual thing and just think if there were people potentially shooting at you wouldn't do that. So what happened is it would come in on a pretty steep thing. The plane lands and they open the door up. And, this was before jet ways so they had these things that they roll up to the airplane you know, like the President uses now, of course there was nobody there for you to wave at [laughs]. But walking into the door, it was just like walking into a blast furnace. This was at three in the morning, it was probably about ninety or so and then the tremendous noise and then the tremendous noise of aircraft taking off on missions and helicopters going all over the place and the smell it just--would knock your socks off. I interviewed quite a few Vietnam veterans subsequent and that's one of the impressions most 00:21:00of them had, getting off the aircraft is that smell and the heat at anytime of the day. Well, I go down the steps and there's a Sergeant down there with clipboards. And you know, of course in the military anybody with a clipboard is really important. He said 'All the lieutenants over here' and there was somewhere around twenty lieutenants on this, it was a Boeing 707 so I don't know how many people. And he said 'All the lieutenants except Lieutenant Kurtz follow me!' And I said 'What did I do wrong?' [laughs] And, as it turned out, it was this meeting I had had in Fort Benning with this captain. He had cut orders from the Department of the Army for me to go to the 1st Infantry Division. And those orders, in order to be reversed they'd have to go to Washington. And the Sergeant, when I asked him what I did wrong, he said "The 101st Airborne had taken major casualties the day before" and it was when Carpenter, who was a 00:22:00lonesome end won the Silver Star in--and Colonel Hackworth was involved in that. And he said "We need these lieutenants to go to the 101st and it doesn't make any difference whether they're airborne or not, because they're not jumping out of airplanes and lieutenants are interchangeable. There's another airplane coming in ten minutes and we can get another lieutenant off of that." So he says "you go to the replacement center" and there was a place called--

DERKS: So you were the only one with real orders?

KURTZ: Well yeah. So I had specific orders for that just because I had met this guy at this party and you know, he had some clout from that standpoint. So and subsequent I had some ideas wondering about how good an idea this was or not. I don't know what happened to those guys that were in the 101st because I didn't know any of them. But I went to Camp Alpha and it's kind of like a big Boy Scout Camp. 00:23:00You know they had bunk beds and they had a little nicer area for the Officers and a little less nicer area for the NCOs and not so good areas for the privates. And you weren't supposed to stay there very long, but the 1st Division didn't know I was in town so they didn't come to get me for a couple days. So I sat around there for two days and fortunately I had a book with me. I was reading "Atlas Shrugged" so there was plenty of time to read that. And when they finally showed up they picked us up in a two and a half ton truck with a--a sergeant as a shotgun guy with a rifle with no ammunition. And this struck me as strange because when we left Tan Son Nhat, the airport area they put us on a 00:24:00bus, it was like a school bus, olive drab with mesh on the windows so that people wouldn't throw hand grenades into the windows. As I thought about it, we never really left the air base area. I mean, we drove several miles but this was all pretty much under control of the good guys. Well we get out of the gate in this truck and we are going down--the traffic in Saigon, its just incredible how bad it is. Always honking horns and motor scooters and stuff like that. Then we get out in the countryside and there's these people standing around, they were building many of the buildings were built on sheet metal pop cans and beer cans. And that's what they were using as their construction material, I don't know where they got it. And so all of a sudden we're sitting here seeing people go by and no protection. These guys didn't have any ammunition for their weapons 00:25:00and--Nobody particularly bothered us, but it just came kind of strange about the difference. And the 1st Division Headquarters was at a place call Di An, and that was my first exposure to understanding that things are different in Vietnam. Everybody called it Di An Vietnamese and all of that and it's spelled D-I A-N. How you get that out of that I'm not exactly sure. But this camp was under instruction and we were supposed to get five days of in country training. Some of it was to be out in the rifle range and at this point I had never touched an M-16 rifle, which was the rifle that we were supposed to be using. And we were supposed to get some familiarization firing with the M-16 and the M-60. Well, during that whole time we were there the VC were probing the 00:26:00perimeter and sniping at the guys that were training, so we never got that hands on training that we were supposed to get. And, you know, they'd put you on some bleachers and talk at you and tell you to be nice to the Vietnamese people and things like that. They went over the code of conduct some, you know about that you're not supposed to shoot prisoners and stuff like that. Then I got picked up by another sergeant in a jeep. And we drive--but this guy did have ammunition and all of that and we drove about twenty five miles to a place called Bear Cat. We drove through Bien Hoa and that was interesting to see that because there is a a road in the Bien Hoa area that has one Catholic church after another after another and these are all Catholic churches that were built by refugees from the north from different villages. And they didn't want to intermingle so each 00:27:00village built their own church. So there was several blocks with one Catholic Church after another and I asked about it and he said 'These are all North Vietnamese refugees and they want to have their own parish'. So we get to Bear Cat and Bear Cat was a Japanese air force base in World War II and they flew fighter and bomber aircraft out of that. I believe some of the aircraft had sunk the Prince of Wales and I think the repulse flew from that place. There was an old bunker on the base, that was something I got to look at, and there was Japanese bombs in it yet. And we found that and we blew them up, but when you're in the military you report into varying headquarters. First I had to report into the brigade commander and, of course a first lieutenant isn't of real great 00:28:00interest to a colonel. Then I reported into the battalion commander and he was leaving so he didn't any great interest in me, so my--it ended up my company commander was on R and R in Hawaii with his wife. So the first sergeant comes and gets me and he takes me down to this platoon tent. And in the military the word travels real fast about people, you know, and they new that I was a First Lieutenant and I was a lawyer. There was twenty three people in this platoon and I'll never forget walking into this tent. Some of these guys had been in Vietnam, about half of them, for nine or ten months, they had come over on boats. And they're looking at me like "What in the hell is wrong with this guy, that he's a lawyer and he's down here at the bottom of the line. What in the 00:29:00hell did he do wrong?" And in fact I recounted this to Colonel Mueller last night and I said, the only thing, the only excuse I could give other than saying it was my duty and nobody's buying that, is that basically they needed lieutenants, infantry lieutenants at this point in time. I was given an opportunity to go in JAG, but I didn't want to be in the Army for eight years, I wanted to do whatever I had to do and get my way out. And besides this guy told me that infantry was the place to be so here I am. I had, had some half way decent mentoring about it. I said lets talk about what this is all about. Basically I said I've got no pretentions of knowing a lot, you guys've got a lot of experience. We have to have an understanding that I'm going to be told to do 00:30:00things but you're going to have to help me on how we do them. I'm not going to get myself involved in something I don't know how to do or you might know how to do better. But we've kind of got to work at this together. So things on whole worked out okay. At this point do you want me to talk about some of the operations we did or?

[End of segment one] [Beginning of segment two]

DERKS: So your guys that you are talking about, you said, "You're going to have help him," was that a platoon?

KURTZ: Yes, it was a platoon. A platoon's supposed to have to forty four people in it and this platoon was down to twenty three. During my time as a platoon leader I don't think I ever had more than thirty people in it and it was because of not enough replacements, people getting injured, sick, R&R, they're leaving. Because what they were trying to do is have people with different times and 00:31:00country, so everybody didn't leave at the same time. Bearcat was in a rubber plantation area that had been pretty much been diluted over the years, so we didn't do much operating there. Subsequently, the 9th Division was there and the 11th Armored Cav and they did have some operations there. But the base camps were kind of strategically, at least in the Saigon area, placed on major infiltration routes so that there was just this mass of American people there that would make it difficult for the Viet Cong to get into Saigon on these traditional routes. Bearcat was the one that was farthest east and then there was the Long Bin complex that was just beginning to get built and the Bien Hoa Air Force Base, where the 173rd homed out of for at least a time that I was 00:32:00there. Then the 1st Division was west of that at Di An and then the 25th Division at Cu Chi. So it was kind of a ring, northwest of Saigon to protect or to stop this. What we would typically do for an operation is truck to Bien Hoa. The first year that they were there they used a lot of trucks down in III Corps where I was. Then they were starting to have difficulty on the roads so they didn't do that, but the roads was pretty secure from Bearcat to Bien Hoa. Whereas they used trucks in the north through most of the war, with differing results. It's just the way they did it. They used--so they would take us to Bien Hoa. I remember the first time, going out to the Bien Hoa Air Force Base, they had this area of Vietnamese housing, because the Vietnamese air force was there 00:33:00and all of that. I saw they had a couple of old French Bear Cat fighters that we had given the French and they had French insignia on the aircraft yet. I get thinking to myself, how do we look different to these people than the French. I mean, I guess they called the French the long nose, well we had some long nose people in our units too. French had blacks, we had blacks. Riding in the truck, the helmets, the uniform are all the same color. Trucks looked the same. They were obvious, probably, a little bit different, a little more modern. That's when it first struck me that we were having some difficulty separating ourselves from the French in their minds. We've got relatively the same weapons--but anyway. You get to the airport and they would take us by either C123s or C130s 00:34:00to an advanced airbase somewhere out in the countryside. It isn't that big of area, it's about 150 mi circle that we operated in, so it wasn't that far but they would fly you to a place. What was happening, at least initially, is that they were building these air fields and C-123s and C-130s can land on a fairly short strip. So what they would do as soon as they could put one in there, they would bring out a company or a battalion, depending on what was going on in the air to provide security for the engineers who had already been there, to finish up the air strip. To put in taxiways and they never left any aircraft at night on any of these things, but they wanted to have them longer, so they had a place where they could unload stuff. We would then do patrolling around the area and 00:35:00we would have some people ride with a bulldozer operators to deal with snipers and the like. We would at night, we'd stay and we would set up a perimeter and send out listening poles and ambush patrols. Often nothing happened, but every once in a while you'd have a situation. The situations what were as hairy as anything else were the tigers, because there were quite a few tigers over towards Cambodia and they would raise havoc at night. They would make a lot of noise going--they were nocturnal like most. We had a couple situations where people took shots at tigers, they didn't hit them but tigers are pretty life threatening to a young guy from wherever.

DERKS: They make a pretty frightening yell too, don't they?


KURTZ: Yes they do. In fact later I was up in a place that was called Loc Ninh, which is an old rubber plantation, with an air strip that you couldn't see from one end to the other. It was on a hill and on one side there was a village called Loc Ninh, which is the pepper capital of Vietnam, a lot of pepper is grown there and they dry it in the streets and all of that. When I was back there in 2001 we were being followed around by some of their secret police and we went into Loc Ninh and they told us we couldn't go in there because of the pepper. Why pepper's a secret or not, I don't know. But anyway, the airstrip was there for the rubber plantation. There was a rubber plantation next to it, around the airstrip and there was a plantation house. It turned that we were up there to provide security for the last harvest that happened there. So we were 00:37:00providing security for the French so that they could make some money. They'd haul this stuff down in tank trucks and convoys with Americans. Well we had some tents there and we were coming back from a patrol and I went by this tent and it was opening a flap and here's the damn tiger in the tent and it took off out the back door. And I'm sure glad there was back door, back end of the thing because it would have run me over if nothing else. It was a pretty big--And we saw some elephants when we were out there. The Viet Cong used elephants for transportation but we saw several of them out there, just kind of wandering around in the woods. So that was kind of interesting. Rubber plantations were extremely dangerous to operate in. The ones that were still, and it varied in that point of the war, there were a lot of them that were still operating. And the ones that were still operating, they were brushed out pretty good between 00:38:00the trees. They look, they don't look like an apple orchard, but the trees are spaced like that. They are put in lines and stuff like that. And there's always these big ant hills in these rubber plantations. These ant hills could be 12ft high and they provide pretty good cover for somebody. They would have snipers sit behind that and they could shoot at you from a long ways away because you had these alleys, you know. Rubber was also difficult because if you were away from your base, radio communication was very difficult. I don't know if there was latex in the leaves of the trees or something like that, so that if you wanted to make communication you had to have somebody climb a tree with an antenna--in the plantations that were kind of left to go to seed, and there were 00:39:00a lot in the area we operated in, an awful lot of land that was disfowled because the Viet men, and the VC, operated in these areas from the mid-40s and this almost 20 years. You're talking about 1966. So there had been war going on this whole time, so a lot of people had just left these areas. The rubber plantations that were still operating, they were paying off the VC to not bother them. And when we'd come in there we would have to, if we got in a fire fight or something like that, we would have to pay for any tree that we shot. This never got too much out to the public, but after I got promoted to captain and they really didn't know what to do with me all the time, one of my jobs would be to go out with a plantation manager and maybe another guy for protection and we'd 00:40:00count trees with bullets in them. I got into some pretty serious, because they would come up with these numbers and they were always high of course, and I'd come up with a different number and--it was just kind of interesting. I had not developed a great love for the French as a result of this. These were French guys and they would really demean you if you couldn't speak French. I had taken some French in college, I knew a little French but not much. I had never made an effort to communicate with them. If they wanted Uncle Sam's money, they could talk in Uncle Sam's language as far as I was concerned.

DERKS: How did they maintain that power? The French had pulled out, the Americans came in. What was the power of these men?

KURTZ: Economic. The plantations were all there. They have since been nationalized by the government. They were there operating. The banks were still 00:41:00run by the French, there was a strong Indian presence and Chinese presence in the country too that was doing business. But all of these civil servants that were there were trained by the French. The French clubs were still operating, they had a [inaudible] cause they had been there for a hundred--I mean, they had treated these people pretty poorly too. You'd get up into a rubber cutting tree, you'd go into a village there and you could see, they just hated. You could just see the hate. When you get in more rice country, you didn't see that. You could just feel the vibrations almost. One of the interesting phenomena is that 00:42:00seldom, if ever, did we ever have any problem going into these villages where they didn't like us at all, where we'd have the problems where they were semi-friendly. Because the VC would do, they would operate out of those villages and we'd come in with a heavy fire power and create more VC because there's nothing that tics somebody off more than to wreck your house and, you know, kill members of their family. Because our standard operation procedure was, is if we were taking sniping fire from an area we would pull back and call for artillery. If it was more serious, with RPGs or stuff like that, then we would get air assets if they were available and all of that. They figured this out obviously, so what they would do is that they would start these incidents in areas that were more friendly to the government and then--in the areas that were free fire 00:43:00zones you didn't have to ask anybody. There were places where there was clearly government control, and then you would have to ask to do any shooting. And that would take so long to get an answer that that didn't happen all that often, that you were able to shoot at them.

DERKS: That's pretty interesting, that there were all these political concerns.

KURTZ: The political concerns were funny because we didn't really understand the culture of the country at all because one of the things that in retrospect I am least proud of, I'm not talking about killing any body or anything like that is, they had these graves and like any society graveyards are generally close to roads, because people want to get to them and al of that. And these graves are 00:44:00made out of a red latterate material, which is kind of a clay. It dried very hard and they would shape these things. I've got some pictures of them, but I can't really describe what they are. Well, we would get ambushed from behind these things, so we would bring in fire power to deal with that and we destroyed these graves. Or if we wanted to extend an airstrip or take a curve out of a road and we'd come in there and would pay like 20 piastres per grave to move them. And the Vietnamese were kind of a combination. About 10% of them were Catholic. The great majority were Buddhist but probably practice Buddhism like most people are Christians around here now. But they were all ancestor worshipers. I mean, they had altars in their homes where they would have 00:45:00pictures of venerated ancestors. Everybody would come home to their village and they would go out to the graveyards and they would decorate the graves and all of that. So, by the fact that we were going in there and taking these graves away from them essentially was very offensive to them. In retrospect, that was one of the things by not respecting their traditions was one of our serious problems with them. We were very disruptive to their society in that if we were operating close by to a town or village at night, or plantation, we'd set up away from them. We'd have a perimeter and we'd dig fighting holes and we would 00:46:00put out some wire and just watch for what was happening and once in a while you'd get probed. One night I remember near a place called Phu Loi we got attacked and we found the guy who was a barber that had given us haircuts the day before in a wire. He was a VC platoon leader or a company commander or something like that. And he's sitting there holding a razor by your neck one minute and didn't bother you but that was a good way for them to collect information. This guy probably understood English, so you got a bunch of Americans talking too much so they would understand what they would do. Then they would send out some girls and boys being boys they would want, you know, spend a night with them in their foxhole and this was always an issue for us officers is have to go out and police that. To run these ladies off and they 00:47:00would, drugs at the time I was there was not a big issue, but marijuana was pretty available so we had to be careful about that, is to make sure because in any fighting unit about the last thing you want is to have somebody high. So you would spend a lot of time wandering around and night making sure things were, the house was in order as much as possible. Then on combat assaults, those were always exciting. I went on a few, not a lot, but I was on some. And what they would do is they would bring helicopters in and never enough to move a unit in 00:48:00one lift. A lift was--And you could only put 4 or 5 Americans in the Huey. What they would do is they would line the helicopters up in a line. And you'd get people on both sides to get in and you'd sit on the floor. And you'd sit on your helmet to protect your family jewels. They'd fly you out, before they landed 00:49:00they would either fire artillery into the landing area or they'd have gun ships that would kind of suppress the area. And it was really important in areas that were heavily jungled because there were so few landing areas. So they would booby trap them and they'd have some people there watching them and stuff like that. If you were in more open country it was safer from that standpoint of doing that. Combat assaults were one of the things that were kind of an interesting deal. I mean, as often as not, you didn't get into a hot LZ. The way they do it is they line the helicopters up in a line that would make, depending on how many were available, there were generally never enough to lift a platoon or a company. A company's anywhere from ninety to a hundred and ten people 00:50:00going, platoon in a range of twenty to thirty. So they take you out, you get people on both sides. You get somebody out there to signal to load up because the helicopters could only carry four or five Americans. So you had three on one side, two on the other, and get on the helicopters. And the way you go, you'd be sitting on your helmets in order to protect your family future because of shells coming up from the bottom. When you get to the area, they would usually fly pretty high, then when you were getting within the area, you would. When you would come in high, quite often--you wouldn't come in at tree top level very 00:51:00often. They would prep the area with artillery and sometimes with tactical air, just depending on what the situation is. You'd land, you'd get off the helicopter as quickly as possible and you would go and set a perimeter around a landing zone. Depending on how far away you were and if there was nobody shooting, you'd keep that perimeter and keep it cool. When the next lift would come in, you would communicate with the lead helicopter and they'd day "Pop your smoke" and you would take a smoke grenade and throw it out there and the guy would identify the color. Then they would know it was a cold LZ coming in. If it was a hot LZ they'd always try to come in and either take you out or bring in more troops. It got pretty hairy when you were leaving an LZ. If you were the 00:52:00last guys there and it was a half hour round trip, it could get kind of hairy. We were coming in for a landing and actually, once you get the unit there on the ground, what you would do is, you'd have the platoon sergeants or the platoon leaders or the company commander, whoever's in charge would get people together and move out in a direction. And one of the anomies, or interesting--well I don't know if it is interesting, but the fact is you never knew where you were going. You knew that you were going to a specific coordinate, and this was all 00:53:00before GPS. You would go in a certain--they would tell you to go ten clicks in the direction, that's ten kilometers. That wasn't too much of a problem if you were in the open area, but if you were in a rubber plant or a jungle, it's very hard to go in a straight line because you have big trees there and we seldom if ever operated on trails because of booby traps and concerns like that. Where in the north they operated on trails a lot for different reasons. The trails in the north were used more like super highways so there were people moving on them or not. Where in the south the trails were used for some resupply and communication but they could booby trap them. And they would signs. We had some people that were pretty sophisticated in picking out the signs and where there were traps and not traps and what direction they were going and all of that. But by going 00:54:00through the jungle you'd make an awful amount of noise, with your machete and stuff like that. Depending on your views of things, it was good to make noise because they wouldn't bother you. If they were going to bother you, they were going to bother you anyway. Most of the engagements that were in our area anyway, they initiated. Very seldom would we ever initiate anything, because they were waiting to ambush us because we were moving. They would build up defense positions. But anyway, you'd have an operation, you'd be going ten clicks in this direction. Then you stop, then you're supposed to go some amount of distance in another direction. And then you'd go in another direction. You would stop around three o'clock in the afternoon to set up wherever you were going to be for the night, if you were not going to be pulled out. What they would do, they would leave us out in the woods, typically three to six days 00:55:00going around here like this. Every night they would tell you where you were going, but at three o'clock or so they would bring in a helicopter with replacements or taking out people that were sick or something like that. They'd bring in resupply of food and water. Then they'd bring in sandbags and wire, you'd fill these sandbags at night and in the morning you'd dump them out and they'd pick them up so we didn't have to carry that. Sometimes they'd bring mortars in, sometimes they wouldn't depending. Because we generally operated within the artillery than we didn't use a mortar. I was a mortar platoon leader and I never saw the mortars. And that was good because I didn't really know how to shoot them. Here I was a lieutenant and later when I was running a company periodically. you never knew exactly why you were going in. They never told you, it'd be "go here" and "go there and go there" and they'd never told you really 00:56:00why. It was only if they had--because they called it search-and-destroy and basically in retrospect what they were doing is, they were hoping we would get ambushed. We were the bait. They were fishing. If a unit got hit, they would take all these other units out wandering around, collect them and to bring them into this area in order to try and cut off them from escape. They'd bring in big artillery and air because that's what our doctrine was, is to use fire power rather than men's lives, which obviously really appeals to somebody that's on the ground. When we were out in the remote areas there wasn't anybody living there so the only people you were hitting were the bad people. Whereas if you were in closer to a village, or something like that, that might raise some issues and stuff like that. They were very good in getting wounded people out. 00:57:00We had heat exhaustion problems quite frequently because you were moving--you tried to carry four to five canteens of water in addition to the ammunition and the food that you were carrying. So you were carrying upwards to eighty or ninety pounds with you, of just ammunition, because you were carrying claymore mines, hand grenades, smoke grenades and some extra machine gun ammunition and stuff like that. So in the hot weather it would take a lot out of you to carry all this stuff. People get wiped out physically. You'd stop once in a while, but you'd always get a lot of criticism from the Colonels up above. They'd always, 00:58:00"hurry up! hurry up!" and they didn't understand the impediments on the ground. The rough terrain. It's very hard to walk through a rice patty fast. So that was always an issue and you'd get chewed out at night for not moving fast enough and do everything they wanted you to do.

DERKS: Now is that actually--they are out there flying around, they are watching--as much as they can through the jungle or whatever, looking for any movement. And they would come into the camp at night?

KURTZ: Yeah, usually just to chew you out. It was never anything terribly positive. They would come in and say this is what you did wrong, and this is all of that. Sometimes there would be three layers, you'd have a battalion 00:59:00commander, a brigade commander and a division commander all up there, and it made it pretty hard to sneak up on anybody with all these helicopters swirling around up there.

DERKS: That's what I'm thinking. You're moving heavy. You're crashing through the jungle, you're re-supplying. You've got a big forest and as you say you don't mind making the noise--that's what you're out there for is to get attacked.

KURTZ: Yeah, and the emphasis was if you ever got into a fire fight, they'd want to know body count and they'd want to know it right now. If you didn't find many they'd get really irritated. There was a story at the end of my tour that--I was in a G-1 section and one of my jobs was to deal with body count. At night each battalion would have to call in what happened during that day. And I would, my 01:00:00job was there was a big chart on the wall with each battalion, how many people were killed, wounded. Thank god we didn't have many prisoners lost, how many we killed and how many we wounded of them. This general walks in and he says, "Captain, I don't' like these numbers." And I said, "Sir, I agree with you, we had a bad day that day." The first division had a bad day, took some bad casualties. He says, "I don't think you understand, I don't like these numbers." And what he was suggesting was that the body count wasn't high enough. I want you to talk to these people, get more bodies. I said, "Sir, here's a grease pencil and a rag. You do what you want to do." And then he blew up. He said, "Captain, you're insubordinate. Your career is over." And I said, "Well I'm glad you agree with me at least on that because I'm going to be back in Madison in two weeks and I'm really not going to do anything like that because it's wrong." And he stormed out of the room, he was really, really very unhappy with me. That 01:01:00told me that sometimes these body count figures weren't so good. I was talking to this major last night who's a colonel in the Pentagon subsequently he had told me, that based on the arithmetic that they were doing on the body counts that we were getting in there that we wiped out the whole nation and why were we there? Because we killed everybody with the mathematics and stuff like that. That's certainly a fair criticism of what is happening.

[End of segment two] [Beginning of segment three]

DERKS: I love that image of all the officers flying around and coming down to chew your tail.

KURTZ: Not moving fast enough and not killing enough. One of the things that was wrong was if there was a dead Vietnamese they were VC. That's an issue and 01:02:00particularly when you wouldn't find weapons. If you'd find a fair number of weapons around there was a pretty good reason to believe that, although we operated in an area where there was an awful lot of [inaudible]--Viet Cong transportations companies. They were carrying the supplies from Cambodia into other areas of Vietnam. They were like our transportation core so they never counted those in the order of battle but they were very, very important. Generally they weren't too heavily armed, these people, although they were kind of like a National Guard unit, if you would get into an area where they lived, they did have weapons.

DERKS: I was wondering, when you were talking about the armed assaults, basically what the role of the lieutenant was?

KURTZ: Basically to organize, when we went in we had responsibility for a 01:03:00certain part of the perimeter. The assault areas were 360 circle, so depending on if you were going in as a company, lieutenant would have about a third. When I was there, there were three or four platoons; it depended on how many platoons were out. If there was four platoons, you'd have 25% of it, if there was three you'd have a third. If there were only two platoons, each would have one side and the other. And what your job was--to spread the people out, identify if there were any likely places that were booby traps, because they would sometimes wait for the second lift to come in to pop whatever. What there would be was dud-105s, dud bombs that they would hang in trees. Then they would come in and detonate those. You had to be really careful when you were positioning people 01:04:00because if you're out there waving your hands around too much, they would go after the leaders. Basically they would want to go in--probably the two most dangerous jobs in an infantry platoon were the medic-- because they had to go to wherever the person was hurt, and that was in an area, obviously where there was a problem, and the radio operators, because the radio operators would be carrying the 25 on their back and they'd have an antenna. And we always had our guys either strap it down or move without the antenna because that was a beacon. If you were standing around the radios, because the lieutenants always had to be near the radio--that's who they would go after. Because, if you are out of communication you've got problems. And that's when we were talking about weight 01:05:00too, that's another issue. You always carried a couple extra batteries, because those batteries are critical for getting help for dust-offs or re-supply or if you had problems.

DERKS: Every platoon had a radio?

KURTZ: Yes, and sometimes depending on where you were going, you might have two. And sometimes a company commander would have a radio for his platoon nets. He'd have one for the battalion commander, then he'd have one for artillery and air. Sometimes, the platoon, if they were out alone, would have a radio on that net too. And then the problem is with a higher ranking guys too, they sometimes 01:06:00wanted to get on the net. So all of a sudden you're getting all this help, from all these people who don't really know what's going on. Or help or criticism, or whatever you want to talk about it. There was a lot of pressure to conform to whatever you're doing. Then you're worried about--when you're in a jungle type environment or you're in an opening, it's very often very difficult to tell what direction the problem's coming from. Because sound doesn't travel truly in all of that and you really almost need to see some impact somehow. Of course, when they shoot a rifle grenade at you, you know where they're coming from because that's a pretty big piece of ordinance and you'll get some kind--then you'll kind of go back and try to do something with it. But they would do an awful lot what we call shootin' scoot. They'd shoot at you. That would generally stop the 01:07:00patrol, unless you were going to a specific objective to help somebody and then you'd do these cloverleaves outside, where you'd send a couple of people, they'd walk in a clover leaf to see around the perimeter, to see where the problem is, because sometimes you would travel with flank security but if you were in a hurry, you didn't. Then you wanted to identify where these--So this would slow you up immensely, if that happened. And then the guys up above would get impatient about that, because if they were getting paid by the mile we walked, or not. It was a lot of pressure to do all these things so you could say at the end of the day, you checked off that you covered all these areas.

DERKS: How did you find yourself operating? I mean, when the shit hits the fan and you've got help coming in from above telling you what to do, you've got to 01:08:00assess the situation. Everything's going through you. How did you deal with that?

KURTZ: Well, the first thing you did is you assessed it on the ground and sometimes you found that your radios didn't work. Like, turn them off, just from the standpoint--you had a responsibility to tell people what was going on, but until you knew. I mean, there was this pressure--kind of like the twenty four-hour news cycle now, those people wanted to know right now. What you had to do, and typically you'd have a point man and you'd have someone walking slack would be two. The platoon leader would typically walk three, so that you're right up in front. And then the platoon sergeant's at the back. So you've got--and a platoon sergeant would generally have a radio too. You would have the 01:09:00ability to communicate through the whole column. The tough thing was to get the firepower in. The discipline was that when you got hit you'd put massive fire on them. And typically these things didn't last very long. They would want to hurt or kill a bunch of people, slow them down and then they'd leave. It'd be a very unusual situation if it went on for fifteen minutes or so. The toughest thing was that often nothing happened. So you're out there having to be super careful, keeping you head down, looking for booby traps, looking for whatever you're supposed to be looking for, and nothing happens. As soon as you get sloppy, something would happen.


DERKS: Did you have any that you thought were over and then they weren't?

KURTZ: No, I never had any experience like that, where we got hit with anything sustained. And basically at night they would periodically shoot at you all night. We'd use illumination flares and sometimes we'd have a flare ship above you where they'd be throwing out flares all night. If there was a problem at night then you'd get the old C-47, we called them Puff the Magic Dragons. And they'd have a Gatling gun, they'd shoot out the side. And that was really something, this looked like a streak of orange coming down. Like every third or 01:11:00fifth shell was a tracer.

DERKS: So it was so constant it was like it was orange?

KURTZ: Yeah. And at night it kind of looked like fireworks because they used green tracers. So we have red and green so it would be kind of like Christmas, you know. If it wasn't so serious it would be pretty.

DERKS: So what happens toward the end when you were getting short? Were you in it right up to that?

KURTZ: Well I was in the infantry platoon for just about 3 months. Then I got promoted to captain, so then they put me on the battalion staff. My job then, we were spread out all over the place, so I flew around a lot. That's when I was buying graveyards and counting trees and stuff like that. Actually, that was more dangerous from the standpoint that I was alone most of the time. A couple 01:12:00times they'd drop you off at one these airfields and your unit was supposed to show up and you're sitting there alone and there's somebody shooting at you. It weighed heavily on me, because the week before I left for Vietnam, my uncle who was in the Bataan Death March, I went down to see him in Milwaukee. He said, the one thing you do Jim is you don't get captured. You just don't get captured. And that went through my mind. I was much more concerned about getting captured than getting killed. Because if you get killed there's no problem. If you get captured there's a lot of problems and stuff like that. Probably the thing that happened when I was shortest and I was in the infantry battalion for seven and a half months and that was kind of unusual, because officers were only in a combat unit for six months, whereas the grunts had to stay for a year. And that really wasn't fair to the grunts. Some of them were able to get different jobs--But 01:13:00they would move you out whether you were good, bad or indifferent, you know, in that six month time range. The reason I wasn't moved was, we were on a big operation. We were Attleboro and Cedar Falls were happening and they didn't want to make and changes in that. When Attleboro was hooking up--this is when this friend of mine, Fred Victoria got killed. He was platoon leader in Charlie Company that I was in--in fact when I came into the company, he had just moved to the recon platoon and that's the one exception that they would do. They would take a line platoon leader that was really good and have him head up the battalion recon platoon. That generally was the cream of the crop of the battalion, the best people with field craft and stuff like that. The battalion surgeon and I were noticing that Fred was not doing--he was making mistakes that 01:14:00he wouldn't make ordinarily. And one day we were out in a battalion position and a general came in to give his usual helpful stuff. As his helicopter was leaving, somebody shot at it. Not our people, but the VC shot at it. Out battalion commander was scared of his own shadow and all of that and his general calls up and yells at him about what are you doing, letting somebody shoot at my helicopter? He was going to send out the recon platoon to find out where this problem was. Both the battalion surgeon and I went to the battalion commander and said we don't think he ought to go. In fact I said, "I'll go." He said, "No, no. You're not going. He's gonna go." Went out there and he got killed and three other guys got killed. They had an ambush set up out there. And he had 8 days to 01:15:00go in the army when he did this. It just hit me just really, really hard. I've never felt good about that. Could I have done something to stop this? I tried. I was supposed to be able to persuade people, but I--It affects me to this day. And the thing that really grabs me about it is, many years later my father died on the same day, November 18th. So that's not my favorite day of the year.

DERKS: What do you think that was going on with him, that he was making mistakes?

KURTZ: He was tired. He was tiring, he's out there, there's a lot of pressure. There's a pressure--it's like anything, if you get involved in something you 01:16:00want to do it right. There was so many details that you had to--then you're getting all this extraneous help. I just think he was tired. It was just--He was a fairly big man and he was getting kind of gaunt. You didn't get to sleep a lot. Sleep was--it would be an unusual thing if you could sleep for four hours. The heat, everything like that just drained you and stuff like that. And I think it was partly to, when you get short you don't want to leave. My last couple months, I was at division headquarters and I really didn't want to leave the division headquarters if I could avoid it. Not that there was any real danger--once in a while they'd mortar the headquarters and stuff like that. He 01:17:00said, "I spent seven and a half months out running around in the woods--you just don't want to push your luck." You start getting--And the most the dangerous time is really your first couple weeks and your last couple weeks there, for differing reasons but they still, a lot of its mental.

DERKS: I don't want to make you uneasy, but how did you find out about him? Were you monitoring it?

KURTZ: We were in a battalion position and he went out and we heard, we started hearing the shooting. They sent out another platoon and found out when they brought the body bag back that Fred wasn't walking with them. That just hit hard. I had to walk away because I was so mad at that battalion commander. You 01:18:00know, just--I guess I never really forgave the guy, but it was kind of a situation where the division was managed by a bunch of tyrants to a degree. I mean, you've got to give orders and all of that, but they relieved a lot of people. If you're in the career military, getting relieved is horrible to your career. It's not good to your career at all. In fact, the battalion I was in had 37 officers, was the authorized strength, and upwards to 20 of them got relieved. Why I never got relieved I don't know, because I got a big mouth. I express my opinions about a lot of things I probably shouldn't express my opinions about. That never happened. It was just a strange, strange situation.


DERKS: Do you think they were being relieved because too much pressure was coming in.

KURTZ: Well it was pressure and it was--You've got to produce body counts, you've got to do this, you've got that. There was an awful lot of stateside chicken shit involved in it too. When I got to division headquarters I found out, in front of the headquarters they had grass. They had some Vietnamese out there watering and I was like, "What the hell is this?" It just struck me as being very strange. I mean, it looked nice and all of that, but these generals lived in these very nice trailers and they ate well. They had silverware, and I guess they've done that in all the wars, the generals have always done that. I'm not so sure they did as good a job on their military things as they could have.

DERKS: So I'm thinking if you weren't as short as you were when you refused to 01:20:00change those numbers you probably would've been relieved.

KURTZ: Oh yeah. There's no question about it. He was all set to do that. What difference does it make when you've got another--I was a captain at that point, just get another captain and send me to Saigon. Okay, if that's what you want to do that's fine with me. I was pretty mad about that. The fact is, this colonel I talked to last night, he had kind of a similar problem when he was a battalion commander. The brigade commander wanted to know what kind of body count he had. He said, "We went out for a whole day, walked around and didn't see anybody so how could we have any body count?" And that colonel got made at him about that because that's how they were keeping score. You notice in Iraq they didn't start doing that, but now they do to some degree talk about how many we kill in these operations. Well--

DERKS: Gotta show progress.

KURTZ: That's right

DERKS: So you got out of there--tell me about that.


KURTZ: Well that was kind of an interesting deal, talk about--when I left from the Bein Hoa Air Force base. A couple days before I was going to leave, they had a little party, it was real nice. They took me in a Jeep down there and sat around for a day or two waiting for the airplane. Nothing much happened. When it was our turn to go, when the pilot said we are now leaving Vietnam airspace there was just a huge cheer on the plane. I mean, everybody was just--Again, we didn't know anybody per say, but there was just all this chattering. Everybody was really high and all of that. I mean not in a drug or anything, it was just, "We're out of here, we made our year." In a lot of ways, having the year thing 01:22:00was good and bad just from a lot of different reasons. I thought--obviously you're flying east from Vietnam and we really went back the same way; Guam, Honolulu. Then we got to the West Coast I thought they'd let me off and let me out of the army there. No, because San Francisco is 2,000 miles from Madison and Fort Dix, New Jersey is 1,000 miles away. So, what they were doing it was cheaper to send me all the way across the country. My time doesn't make any difference or anything like that. They sent me to Fort Dix because they wouldn't have to pay me as much to get back to Madison, because they would pay you to--it's kind of interesting. Fort Dix there was, it was a basic training center. I was a captain. I was quite a bit thinner than I am now; very tan. I had a few ribbons and stuff like that and I was going to go off the base to see 01:23:00this guy that I served with over in Vietnam. He and his wife were in that area. I got stopped by the MPs at the gate because I didn't have an ID card and they were accusing me of being a basic trainee who wanted to sneak off the base. I did have a copy of my orders, but I didn't have an ID card. I said, "what is this?" They said, "Well, some of these trainees, they try to look like a General. They go to the PX and buy stars and try to leave." I said, "Well, Do I look like a basic trainee?" because I was a little gaunt and all of that. But it kind of amused me that--when I got back to Madison, they had moved the airport. When I had left Madison, the passenger terminal was on the east side and they had built the new terminal. So that was kind of a shock when I landed there to 01:24:00see it. I was very happy to be home, but it was interesting. My family was happy to see me and all of that, but there was kind of an apathy at that point. It was, "You've had a job somewhere, you came back." I had just been through the most intense experience of my life and kind of happy about that, but there's no way to really decompress from that. And I found that from the oral histories I've done that the people who have done best mentally were those who had more time to serve in the military or stayed in the military, because they were around people that had comparable experiences and they were able to process that. Whereas, my situation, I was a little older so I'm not whining, but the fact is you come into an environment just like it is today, it isn't any 01:25:00different than at that point, because the riots really hadn't started yet. You're expected to be normal. You've had this experience and there's--you're supposed to be just exactly the way you were three years ago before it ever happened. And they never told, they are doing a better job now with the military where they're letting people out. They never told us that this was an issue. I never even thought about mental issues and stuff like that. So, then I found out that I didn't have to go reserve meetings or anything like that, so I just kind of put this aside and subsequently after practicing law for a while up in Chilton, Wisconsin, I came back and started working for, first, the legislature, then the Department of Natural Resources. When I was working for the Department 01:26:00of Natural Resources my first job was advising the conservation warden staff. When the riots started happening, to protect state property they would, the State Patrol and conservation wardens, were brought into Madison as a group to protect the capitol, the state buildings on either end of State Street and all of that. Our guys were very good policeman, but had not been trained in this aspect of it, so the few of us had gotten some briefings from the attorney general about how we deal with protestors and all of that. I went down on the police lines several times to help out, not to deal with it, but to give advice to the officers in charge. The things the protestors were saying about the 01:27:00soldiers were horrible. I mean, it was just--I just can't even repeat it. It was just like they were mass murderers and stuff like that. And then it occured to me, they were talking about me. They didn't know that I was a veteran or anything like that, but they were talking about me and the only way I could deal with that is to forget that I was a veteran. I mean, just from the standpoint, just to blank the experience out totally. That's about 180 degrees the wrong way to do something like, is to that--And I never really realized that I was a veteran. My wife asked me about some parade that was somewhere and I ought to go to that and I said, "I'm not a veteran. I'm not gonna go to any parades or anything like that."

DERKS: Really? It was that complete?

KURTZ: Yep. Then---I think it was 1982, I was lucky enough to go to the JFK 01:28:00school for Government, out in Boston. It was a mid-course, mid-level management training course. It was a 3-week course in the summer. And when I got out there, a good chunk of the people that were administrating the program were ex-Kennedy and Johnson people. Somehow in this survey---you had to do kind of a chronology of what you had done. Obviously I put in the chronology that I was in the army and somebody asked me about it, and then I was just a total jerk with these guys. I mean, I just told them what I thought of them. How could they do this? It was more about--we were obviously out of Vietnam and all of that at that 01:29:00point in time, but--how you could come in here and fight a war in a way they fought it, you know, with just bombs and huge firepower without really understanding the only way that you could deal with these people. This was a Civil War, it was a political war, there was a lot of things--Then it kind of went away, then about six, seven years later, it was about the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I said I've got to understand what's happening. So then I started, which I'm still doing to day, is try to understand how we got there, why we got there, why we did it the way we did it and ways we can not let it happen again. And obviously we've let it happen again. It was the same, without 01:30:00getting into whether we should have gone to Iraq or not, we've done it just absolutely wrong when we got there. And the people who were making those decisions, none of them spent a day in Vietnam walking around in the mud. I mean its--You don't have to be a soldier to be smart, but you need to have somebody who's had this experience of going into another culture where you've made major impacts on the culture through exercise of fire power, bringing in all this money and equipment, and people, and advice, and all of that. And understand what does to that culture, and all of that, and can what we're doing there, in any way, do something positive about it. Now, when I went back to Vietnam in 2001, because I had to resolve some issues that were kind of place based, I 01:31:00found that in a way we won the Vietnam war, at least in the south, because the people in the South really like us. There's nobody alive, hardly, that fought in the war. There are some older people that were senior officers. Basically, they liked the Americans--they've been to put it out of their minds, unlike we have, for a lot of different reasons.

DERKS: Do you think that's partly because--I mean, you talked about the Japanese and their airbase, the French were there for 150 years, and the Americans were there--it must just seem like the same-old, same-old to them.

KURTZ: But they're very nationalistic and I've since learned, which to my mind much as there was a Civil War, that in the 16th century, the Vietnamese built a wall across Vietnam at about the 17th parallel. So that there's always been this 01:32:00antipathy between north and south and there is a very much of a difference. Because I met some northerners and they're very, very different from the southerners. Although they speak the same language, it doesn't sound the same because of the accents. It's kind of like people from around here from the Deep South or the people who are from Sheboygan.

DERKS: Is there a geographical distance that manifests?

KURTZ: Of that's huge. I mean, Vietnam is a very long country. If you ever superimpose it on the United States it's a long ways. I mean, it's not that big, I think it's about as big as California and it's very narrow in a lot of places. They've got an Indian problem just like--I mean they've got a lot of tribes that are heavily discriminated against and you'll probably be talking to some of these later--Then there's the Chinese have been in there, they were kind of the 01:33:00of the business people and there was bunch of Indians in there. The Taiwanese are very influential in Vietnam now. You see more of them than the red Chinese for whatever reason.

[End of segment three] [Beginning of segment four]

DERKS: In country that--There seems to be a lot of leeway to equip yourself and look the way you want.

KURTZ: That--except when these damn generals show up. They would get kind of anal about this, that and whatever and it would get in the way of getting the job done, a dress code. I can't imagine the Iraq situation with what they're wearing, with this body armor. I mean, I know there is a reason to wear body armor and all of that, but with the heat--Because we wouldn't wear flack jackets because it was too hot. We just didn't do it because we were young, foolish or 01:34:00just lucky. It didn't make any difference.

DERKS: So the immediate concern was just, get through the day.

KURTZ: Getting through the day, take one step at a time. If you get whatever--the job is done. It was just easier to get the job done going lighter. I mean, any time we could stack, stow the packs so we were just going with ammunition and water, that was the best. That was just like having a vacation almost, even if you were going into a bad situation.

DERKS: The obvious difference between, well I guess this was never really an issue in Korea, so between WWII and Vietnam, the difference of being there for the duration as opposed to being there for a year--and the goal is not to get to Berlin, not to get to Tokyo, the goal is to get through the year. What does that 01:35:00do for the person--you think?

KURTZ: I think there are two things that I would respond to that. Number one is, the goal wasn't as much of a moving target as it seems to be in the war now. Basically, there was a real threat of communism, whether the threat was in Vietnam or not, but there was a real concern about that. The communists, they had nuclear bomb and all of that, and they were carrying on a very aggressive foreign policy so the question was really not so much what the goal was, but was this the right way to achieve the goal. The one year tour was a political decision made to lessen the impact. People didn't complain as much if they knew 01:36:00they only had to be in for a couple years. It still was a pretty high risk, but there was 27 million people in the draft pool and only 2 and a half ever got close to Vietnam, not even talking about people that were in the infantry company and stuff like that. It was such a small percentage of people that were really actually at risk and then the people that were in the military it was like 8 or 9 million. So everybody talks about how draconian the draft was, but when you do the math, not that many people were involved. They were all impacted by Vietnam in one way or another. The other thing is when you think about WWII, and I've worked through this with a couple of Marine friends of mine, is that some of these Marine regiments only fought for 120 days. They were a bad 120 days over 3 and 4 year period of time, but they would go, like into Guadalcanal. 01:37:00They were there for 2 months, they were pulled out. They did another landing another year from now. So--it wasn't sustained. And when you talk about in Europe, there was the 9th Division, the 1st Division, the 34th, I think, the 36th. And a couple armored divisions were in from 1943 with the invasion of North Africa, through the end of the war. But look at D-Day, which was really our big thing--that was less than a year. June to May. So it was kind of the same in a way. I'm not equating the horrors of WWII to Vietnam. There's a lot in fact--but one of the things towards the end of WWII, they had the same problem at Vietnam, losing unit integrity, because they took so many casualties. There were units that turned over 120, 150 percent. So they were just exactly like the 01:38:00Vietnam situations with people who didn't know each other and different kind of leadership and all of that. The reason I bring these up is that for the Vietnam Veteran Movement, WWII is kind of--because we got treated so poorly in the veterans groups when we came back. I mean, there's--I'm a commander of the VFW post and we are basically Vietnam now because most of the WWII guys are gone, but hardly any of them pre-date 1990. From joining to VFW. And that's just because these guys, even 10 years ago--"well you guys weren't in a war." Wars are different and the one thing we want to do now is make sure that our veterans that are coming back now don't receive that kind of treatment from their own. 01:39:00However the public deals with it, we can't do that. Within the veteran movement we've got to honor these people. It gets a little more difficult because it's a little more diverse. I mean, a lot of women don't want to hang out with us fat old men. But it's--

DERKS: But what? Your comrades in arms will I guess?

KURTZ: [laughs] I mean--but that's going to have to--the VFW auxiliary might not have a lot of men in it because there's a lot of women that have served. That's something that has to be worked through about how they're going to have their own movement or be part of our movement, or whatever. That's a decision they all have to make because they've got other lives to live now too. I mean, people become more active in these--when they get a little older.

DERKS: Did you get that from the older vets that you lost your war?


KURTZ: Oh yeah. But one of the things that we always say is that we were winning when I left. [laughs] Particularly when you're talking to people that were there after you - "What in the heck did you do wrong? We were doing really good when I left!" So it's kind of hard for those guys that were there in '71, '72, they haven't got anybody to dump on. But we didn't lose militarily, we lost strategically and politically. There's no question that this was not an American victory, but it wasn't fought right. I mean, fighting is the wrong word. It wasn't handled right.

DERKS: What do you think was the hardest; being there or coming back home?

KURTZ: In a lot of ways it was a lot harder being home. Because when you were 01:41:00there you were with people--even though you didn't always know their real names, you just knew their nicknames and all of that, it was a brotherhood of, "we're in this together, we've got to help each other" and all of that. There just wasn't that type of thing coming back here. This was not the cohesion and all of that. The fact that the government didn't identify this as a problem because--you know, WWII veterans pretty much participate in the veteran movement--not all of them, there's a lot of them that didn't, but it was readily available and it was a welcoming thing where we didn't have that opportunity.

DERKS: So you were just on your own--

KURTZ: Yeah, and didn't realize there was an issue or a problem. People that have known me will tell you, I've had an anger problem over the years and I just 01:42:00thought that that's the way things were and--but it doesn't have to be that way.

DERKS: And if I'm having trouble dealing with it, it's just me.

KURTZ: Yeah, that's right, yeah. And there are some things that can be done to make it better, and it is, every day is getting better. That's how predatory we were.

DERKS: So you took his rifle for a tent stake?

KURTZ: I mean until somebody else came. It was there and--comfort at nighttime you could be comfortable, you do what you can do.

DERKS: Dave said the same thing you did - that he was handed his M16 when he got 01:43:00in country and sent out.

KURTZ: The first time I shot an M16 was at somebody. And the M16 didn't work real well. I mean, they had problems. We didn't have adequate cleaning equipment. The M16 early in the war was kind of the Vietnam equivalent to the body armor issue in Iraq. There were people that got killed because the weapon didn't work. Partly because they weren't trained, partly there was a problem with the ammunition that would foul it and there wasn't adequate cleaning equipment. If you're not an instinctive hunter, breaking down a rifle and cleaning it is not an easy thing to do as I learned it now, with our VFW posts we've got some old M-1s and there's a couple of us guys who used to know how to take them apart and if you want to see a clown show is to see a bunch of old 01:44:00guys trying to take apart an M1 and you get that M1 thumb, you pull it back and you get it caught--and it hurts.

DERKS: Talk about being predatory, it was like that with getting cleaning supplies--

KURTZ: Oh yeah. And there wasn't anything you could go out in a market and get and stuff like that. There were a lot of guys who just wanted to keep.., because the unit I came over with came over with M14s. They would've preferred to keep them until this got squared away.

DERKS: Did you ever get used to the heat?

KURTZ: Not really, although I liked the heat. I mean, people get--I like to take vacations in the south in the summer. My wife doesn't like that, but--I don't mind it so much because that's the one thing Vietnam taught me, is weather's not relevant. You've just got to do whatever, I mean living here in Wisconsin, 01:45:00you've got six months of pretty miserable weather. You've got to go out and do whatever you've got to do in the weather, it doesn't make any difference what the weather's like.

DERKS: So it's easier, it's less easy. You've just got to do it.

[Interview Ends]