Wisconsin Veterans Museum

Oral History Interview with Theodore F. Christjohn

Wisconsin Veterans Museum


Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Search this Transcript

´╗┐DERKS: So, we'll start out the same way, just say your name and spell it.

CHRISTJOHN: Theodore Christjohn. T-H-E-O-D-O-R-E C-H-R-I-S-T-J-O-H-N.

DERKS: How did you decide to get into the service?

CHRISTJOHN: My brothers all went in service. My older brothers. I was out of school. I didn't graduate from school. And I was out and about. When they came home, I seen them in the uniforms and everything like that. So that's where I actually wanted to see. But my dad, he was in the Navy. I think he really wanted us to go into the Navy. But the boys all went into the Army. My older brother, he was in the Army for six years. My other brother, he was in for three years. He was a Medic. My older brother, he was a Ranger, Airborne. He went to jump 00:01:00school. But that's how he showed us what's going to happen you go in the service. I mean actually that what started from. What we had to do. Pushups and stuff like that. Run basically. That's how it was. But we were all in the country, so we always were doing something, you know. Running around, all over.

DERKS: Tell me about where you grew up and what that was like?

CHRISTJOHN: I grew up on the Oneida Reservation. We were a poor family. We didn't have no lights in our house. It was on County Line "U". And it was in 60', I believe it was '63 , '64, somewhere around there, our house burned down. After that our family in town in a place called Stagger Lane, in Oneida. It was 00:02:00right by Duck Creek. It was the first time we had TV and lights. We still had an outside toilet. It was only a little ways we had to walk to get our water. I basically grew up staying around Oneida all my life. It was an easy life, you know. Running around all through the woods back there, you know. That's where it was.

DERKS: Where did your brothers serve?

CHRISTJOHN: My older brother, he served over in Korea. He served after everything, after.

DERKS: Up on the DMZ?

CHRISTJOHN: Yes, he was. He was in the Second Division, Infantry Division. He was up on that area. He was an infantry man. He served up there. He went to 00:03:00Airborne school, you know. His second enlistment in Ranger school. My other brother, John, he served over in Germany. In Berlin area as a Medic. My younger brother, he served in Vietnam. He passed away over there. My sister went into the Army. She got an early discharge out of the Army.

DERKS: And so, you decided since they were all in the Army, that you would--

CHRISTJOHN: Yes. I volunteered for the draft to go in. At first, when I was seventeen, I tried to go in. My Ma wouldn't sign. My dad would sign, but my mother wouldn't sign for me to go in. So, I just a little bit longer as soon as I turned eighteen, I volunteered for the draft. And I know I was going to go in, 00:04:00so I just.

DERKS: What year was that?

CHRISTJOHN: That was in 1966. I volunteered earlier that that, but then it took them a little while to file it, you know. 1966, in July went to basic training in Ft. Gordon, Georgia. After that I went to Ft. Campbell, Kentucky. And I went in there as on the job training in a cook school. And while I was there, I went into a boxing program there. I didn't really have to stay in the kitchen. I could have stayed home from going overseas, you know. The last boxing match down there, the CO said, "I could keep you right here if you want, I could cancel 00:05:00orders for you to go overseas." I said, "No", I said, "I want to see". Whatever comes down, comes down. And so, then I got orders to over to Korea.

DERKS: What was the boxing program like?

CHRISTJOHN: It was on a base program. That was good, you know. There was a lot of boxers, it seemed like. I just made heavy weight, and I just couldn't come down underneath, you know. The other ones were all pretty good size. I was a 175, 76, you know. Back then that's when the weight scale was different, you know. Heavy weight was above that, you got all the bigger guys, you know. But I had length, you know. Tall, you know. It was pretty good. And I stayed with it. It was fun.

DERKS: Had you boxed before them?

CHRISTJOHN: No. Just like training around here. They had a boxing program down 00:06:00at the Mission School. And my uncle used to train us down in the basement over at the Mission School at the Parish Hall in Oneida. And there was a lot of young kids. He'd come down there and they had a little ring. Had us all trained when he was younger. After that, just went into it, you know. But I didn't really plan on boxing in the service. Had to do something, you know. It was fun.

DERKS: Were you good at it?

CHRISTJOHN: No, I don't really know. You get knocked down. Takes the good with the bad. Whatever comes, comes you know. You still got to be ready for it, you know. I felt like I was right in a spot where I could to if I wanted to. But I wanted to get away and go overseas, whatever. But my brothers always talked about, "Go overseas, go overseas, no matter what." So, you are not going to get 00:07:00no spit shining shoes and all that. Back here in the States. I figured that out after I was in. A lot of shining and cleaning. I don't mind that, but every day have an inspection of everything like that, you know. That was good, though. Good training.

DERKS: That's not why you joined for.

CHRISTJOHN: No, no. Not all that. I went in and stayed in Korea in the middle of my tour. I lost two brothers in a car accident. They sent me home for 30 day. My older brothers, Glen and James. So, they sent me home. That was in '67, I went over there. And I went back. When I got back there, I stayed the rest of my tour. Then I was about ready to come home, and they captured the USS Pueblo over 00:08:00there. And they put us all on alert, so we just froze all returns, you know. I had just about less than 30 days, but then I had to stay another 30, whatever it was. We were all packed and ready to go north of the boarder and get the ship. It was just something, you know. I was in the 19th Aviation Unit over there. I was in a good unit. Very good unit. I kept on looking up for it and then come to find out. One of the persons from the rez was over in Korea and had the same base camp where I was at. And I asked him about it. They combined all units. Reorganized the units because it was a small organization, you know. I figured 00:09:00it out, they were all in, they combined the whole works. But they got the buildings and everything like that. I was at Camp Humphries, South Korea.

DERKS: What were you doing in Korea?

CHRISTJOHN: I was in a mess hall; I was in a mess hall there. Easy duty, you know. Nothing. Kept on. I was always an early riser. Lot of fun there, too. And I was in a gym, too. Boxing around too, over there. Kept on, you know. What else can you do? I just kind of stayed in the gym. You kind of forget about it. You can't forget nothing, you know. It is still in your head. I just went on.


DERKS: Both of your brothers who served?

CHRISTJOHN: Yeah, one brother, Glen. He served and my older brother, a year older than me, Jim. They both got killed in a car accident out in Iowa.

DERKS: So, you were just trying to keep that--

CHRISTJOHN: Yeah. I just couldn't, it was, you don't forget about that. We grew up as a close family. There was fourteen of us in there. Eight boys, and six girls. And we were all close, you know. One or two bedrooms. Not two bedroom, one or two room house. Everybody, bunk bed. My dad had a big bed. A wide bed, double. Bigger than a bunk bed. And then had a double. And everybody slept on 00:11:00top. If you got to the center, it was warm, in the wintertime.

DERKS: Everybody wanted to be in the middle?

CHRISTJOHN: Yeah, right. But after that we moved down to Stagger Lane. It was a bigger place. You didn't realize it was bigger things, you know. We used to walk every day to school from where we lived from over a mile away, down on the County Line Road, down to the Mission School, down there. All the time back and forth, you know. It was just was how it was back then, you know. We never thought of anything better, you know. That's the way it is, that's the way it is. You went on. Right now, that's where I am at, over there, over at the Holy Apostles Church. Working in the cemetery, in the maintenance over there. Just do something. It is quiet up there. Nobody bothers you, you know. And the whole 00:12:00family is up there, so I feel comfortable, you know.

DERKS: What happened when you came back from Korea?

CHRISTJOHN: Avadant proving grounds (??). During that time, a younger brother, he went in service. He went in around April, somewhere around their, in service, in the Army. He went in, and he was over down in Ft. Polk, in Louisiana. And then he went to jump school. Then he went home, and I was getting out at the same time, my younger brother and I. And we both got home within a day apart. I didn't know he was getting out. I mean he was coming home on leave, he didn't know. He was graduating, didn't know where he was going. And then I said, "Well, 00:13:00I am getting out, my time is coming up." I sent him, I think it was ten dollars or something like that. That was a lot of money back then. I was a specialist E-4, back then. When I sent him that, and the next thing I know, my time came up. And he and I both met at home. And that was the last time I seen him. Well, he was home for 14 days I believe it was. Fourteen days of leave. We were out and about through that time. His last time, had a party over at Roy Owens [unintelligible] place, a coming and a going party. And he always coming and he was going. Went over Vietnam. And after that he just died a little over a month over there. I just don't know, I didn't understand what was going on back then. Because I was out and about yet. In and out of the bars, yet, you know. I 00:14:00decided after my brother's funeral, I said, "Man, I can't deal with that." I want to know what's going on here. it was like a vengeful thing for me. I says, "I can't have that." So, I reenlisted. I reenlisted into the Airborne and the combat engineers. I wanted to be, it is one way to get some training, see what's going on here. And that's what I went into. And they sent me down to Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri. And while I was in Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri, they put me into a training camp. They had me as an E-5, sergeant. In training camp for training 00:15:00troops. I didn't say nothing. I thought they knew everything you know. Where to put me and everything like that. So, they put me in a training camp, and for basic trainees, taking them here and watching. Inspection. Like, when I went through my sergeant hardly were. Well, that's how they are going to be. The first sergeant, he was right from Green Bay, here. And his name was Andrew Drewski (??), and I keep on thinking about it all the time. Because he calls me, called me all the time. Sometimes he always calls, "Come on, let's go to the NCO club." He gets to bragging about his troops, you know. How good his units are. Gets some of the sergeants all riled up. "Come on Sarge, looks like we are going into battle here. And that's how it is." First sergeants are always proud of their troops all the time, no matter what. So come on back. Yeah, that's what I thought it was. After a couple of times, back me up. It was good, though. They 00:16:00found out after that what I was supposed to be doing. Through administration things. I was supposed to be in jump school, and in a demolition school. So then, I said, "Why didn't you say something?" Well, I thought you knew about me. I know you reenlisted. I thought for training troops. Well, they sent me over to demolition school, combat engineers like that. And after that, they sent me to jump school.

DERKS: What year was that?

CHRISTJOHN: 68'. Down there in 68', and then went to jump school. I didn't make jump school. I hurt my knee and in a jump school training. While I was on medical hold there, they sent me orders in a medical. They sent me orders to go over to Vietnam. I said, "Well--"


DERKS: Say it again. So, Demo school, what was that like?

CHRISTJOHN: You take training in everything in engineers. And my specialty was in demolitions. That was something else, you know. You know how to blow things up. And that was basically what you done. And how to lay mines, claymores, and everything like that. And what to do on minesweeping and deal with all that. That was something else.

DERKS: That makes you pay attention, doesn't it?

CHRISTJOHN: Yeah. I paid attention. I am here, yeah, I am here. It was sometimes really nerve racking there. But yet it had to be done. And that was what I enlisted for. And that's what I done. It was good. I felt good about it, 00:18:00comfortable about it. Everything that I done. I got all my fingers, hands, everything like that, you know. But yet, again, you still don't know what's going to happen. Wherever. You are always leading someplace out way ahead of everybody, like that. And you don't know what's going to hit you. Who's going to hit you, what you are going to do. But you gotta go and do it! And it's done. And that's how it was, you know. When I finished to come home on leave. I went over there, and I met a lot of them in class there. Some of them scattered all over in different units. Went over and went to the 580th Combat Engineers Battalion. It was a night, one night when we got into Long Binh over there, one 00:19:00night there. They found us a unit. Put you in units and everything. And we flew up in chopper. Before I left that replacement camp, they asked for some blood. I had some blood that they wanted. A few of us that they needed. I didn't know what was going on, so I just donated my blood. There was a person laying over there, about here to that door away, in a white canvas screen over. The nurses going in and out. I said, "What is going on?". He just come out of a fire fight this morning, and that's where your blood is going. I said, "Oh, Wow!" I often wondered what happened to the young man. And it was a captain. An officer, he got hit in a fire fight this morning right around there. There was a few of us 00:20:00that had the right type blood, gave it to him. I gave blood a few times over there. So, I feel comfortable about that, you know. And so then after that--

DERKS: Different from Korea.

CHRISTJOHN: Yes, it was. Yeah, it was. Same climate in hot weather. Korea had a different winter. But it was nice, you know. I got to go someplace where I wanted to go. I volunteered for my brother. I wanted to see what was going on. You want to know. I wanted to know what was happening. He was awarded some medals. within that short of time, something else happened, you know. He was 00:21:00awarded a Bronze Star, posthumously. Twenty-six Air Combat medals, an armory combination medal. I said, "What was happening here during that time?", to myself. I said, "Something has to have been going on." So that's why I volunteered going back again. I reenlisted. And so, I got there, and I found out what it was all about. They sent me to 588th on the chopper that day. And we got there in the evening just around dusk. By the time we did get to the Company Headquarters, our company itself, the Battalion area there. It was dark. And all of a sudden, we got hit from rockets. I didn't know what rockets. And after they 00:22:00explained what were incoming, they are kind of whistling and stuff like that. Incoming, and what's outgoing. Incoming and outgoing. Got to know what that was really fast. Right then and there. We had to slide into bunkers, we didn't know. We didn't have no weapons at all. It was four of us that came in that night. First Sargent, "welcome". He said," Well, this is your welcome.". This is a hot base, a hot base right here. It's going to be this way. And it was really. But the company was out by the Cambodian boarder--

DERKS: Tell me where Tay Ninh is. Long Binh is the airport by--


CHRISTJOHN: Yes, right down by Saigon. You go, let's see, north, you go north. I forget what highway that is. You go north up past Cu Chi There is a little indentation in the map you see that right there. And Tay Ninh is right inside there, and Co Chi is back over here. And you go back in there, and that's where we were.

DERKS: So that's right up by the border?

CHRISTJOHN: Right along, pretty, I forget how far away. It was right there, and it was constantly--

DERKS: Almost surrounded by the border.

CHRISTJOHN: It was. Like a half moon around, around like that. But that is where we were. And it was a hot spot. And our Company was in the field out there by the Cambodian border. Like you could just see Cambodia right across over there. 00:24:00There was a small airstrip there. They blew it up. Our unit was involved to take and rebuild whatever they blew up. The airstrip and everything. Because there was an outpost there. For--they needed the airstrip, you know. It was a hot spot also. Whatever, you know, what went on. All the engineers. There was the 25th, First Calvary, and other infantry units around there secured it. Like all the engineers were doing what they had to do, you know. And that's where we were. It was a hot spot, a really hot spot. And Ta Ninh, that's what I did. I was mine sweeping a lot. I did a lot of mine sweeping. Going in out of Ta Ninh into the Black Virgin Mountains, they called Black Virgin Mountain. The top is Special 00:25:00Forces. They had like radar. It's a como place up there, and Special Forces and other small unit up there would secure around the whole base. And every night they would try to run it over. There was fire fights all the time. Everything going on. You just feel the rockets and the gunships going. And the tracers around on the berm on the base. I was watching that. We were on alert. We were on alert I don't know how the percentage of time I was there. On red, all the time, it seemed. I don't ever think we ever came out. There were gun fights all the time, fire fights. We were on the berm. Come around there and the next day 00:26:00we had to reset all our claymores and dig a ravine around there for putting concertina wire in there. In the whole section. You never know what's going to happen. But somehow, they get through. It's just how they are. They are at war for how long, so they knew what they were doing. And this went on like that. We used to mine sweep right out of the back of the base camp. You don't know what's going to happen. If a friendly behind you is going to pull a trigger on some they see, you know. But everybody knows we are going out, you know. Sometimes, you know, you feel uneasy about it. And then you just leave it alone. And a lot of times, a few times there I seen a young guy, he was supposed to take a guy's life. I don't have a feeling. I says, "Well, really. Look at me." I was an 00:27:00assistant squad leader. I said, "I will take it for you." I didn't say I will let you go, I said, "I will let, I will take it for you." He says, "Okay." He was really [unintelligible] about that. I just went out and about. You don't want him to get hurt, or cause an accident or cause anybody else to get hurry. I was one of the older ones in the unit because these were young guys, eighteen, nineteen. The first time around. I had been around for at least over 3 years already, in service. They called me the "Old Man". I was just twenty-one years old, they called me the old man. Twenty-one. They done their job. Those young guys, they really done their job.

DERKS: Tell me about how mine sweeping work?


CHRISTJOHN: You have a regular mine detector. You have it up there with the radio man. And then he goes out ahead of the mine sweeper, actually, really ahead. And then he kinda of looks and adjusts around, he's gotta watch himself. Or a sergeant, a top sergeant goes out like that. And then the mine sweeper comes, and he goes through the whole area. If you find something like that, just let everybody know. Let my head know. We always a radio man. Let him know to call back what we have, what we got. You gotta, if you have a doubt, if you could see if there was something there. But the doubt is always right. You don't 00:29:00play with it. You just take it. And sure enough, it is always there. They are really good at trying to do all that stuff. We ran into, going through a plantation they called it. There is a little Vietnamese outpost on the side over there. They come running out of there. We stopped; we didn't know what the heck. We seen he was a regular ARVN. And he told us, he said, "No, no. There is something going on up there." And sure enough we didn't see nothing from there ahead. No tracks or nothing going through there. So, jumped out and scattered around there and set up an area like that. And they were making a big sweep. The 00:30:00base of the camp up there was in a fire fight, getting overran. That's what the guy was trying to tell us, you know. No, don't go. Everything was held up there. We waited for a while and then after a while we had to go out and sweep the whole area through before we went through, because there was nobody going through. On the other side there was a unit coming through on the back side. Coming in to go help out with what's going on. We got as far as we could go, and we had to call in and let them know. We didn't know they were going to open up on us out there. But that mountain there was full of tunnels and full of whatever they had. They said they had hospitals and everything from the center 00:31:00all the way up to the top. Whatever they needed. A sanctuary. They were finding of cashes through around that area. We were always going up there and blowing up all the tunnels up in through there. You go in a tunnel. You go in there. You gotta do it. You set fused on there. Once you blow it way, the big boulders they crushes over there. They hauled all the stuff. They keep on going. We never did move that mountain. I don't what it is like around now. I don't want to go there. You get a funny feeling once you go in there, you know. You get a funny feeling. You set the fuse a good ways in there. The explosives can only do so much you know. But hope it cave it. You wonder who is going to be in there. Some 00:32:00big areas like that. We see running away from that area once we get through there. The time we pulled in there and they under fire already. They blew up everything in there. We get in there and everything is down. And we seen the guy running out there. And boy, we seen artillery and gunship, I don't know if Air Force or Navy coming in there, planes just dropping what they had on the whole area out there. It was an experience, you just wanted to--

DERKS: Never seem to get them?



[Break in video]

DERKS: Is that the new whistle?

CAMERA: Ummm, yep.

CHRISTJOHN: Wednesday's Yes

DERKS: It only happens on Wednesday's?

CHRISTJOHN: Like that yes

DERKS: When you were talking about mine sweeping and identifying where a mine was what happened after that, after identifying that something was there

CHRISTJOHN: At that the time when you find one like that you should stop everything and you know where it is, you pinpoint it and you actually really take a good look at it and see where it is at, and then take the C4 and put the dead coat on it and time diffuse on it and let everybody know at the time in front there they have to know also everybody gets notified what's happening there, and you know they just blow it. you know have reactions almost next to 00:34:00you that goes and then you feel the dust coming off and its tremors you imagine what it does to a vehicle when that happens quite a bit, you know you don't get it quite down, they were sneaky, not sneaky quite they knew what they were doing how to do it and they could rather man a person so that one person would be there to take the guy and so get him away from all that and how they see you know, it was a touchy thing a lot of times. You have to really be straight up, I can still feel that today, I can't do it now at my age, but I have to calm 00:35:00myself down I would go back and do it. Yes I would it's just something you know you don't forget about

DERKS: You loved what you were doing

CHRISTJOHN: Yes, it's there it's still there, I still feel it, there are time when I still just sometimes don't know, there is not enough action or the adrenaline high adrenaline pushing more and more you know why am i slowing down what is it? Is it my age you know [laughs] It's just a hype job you get pretty hyped up, you carrying C4 and [unintelligible] with you all the time it's very, you know what all that can do, you use that C4 and get that C rash and they are 00:36:00turning blue or you can burn it and get that C rash and that heat was enough for my C rash I never liked to burn the C4 because what if something does fall and I knew what it was all about and a lot of [unintelligible].

DERKS: But you carried it around with you all the time

CHRISTJOHN: Yes, yes and another person carries around a blasting cap a different person carries a blasting cap you know the one behind you so he's got a blasting cap, a lot of times you get to carry both but you don't have it all one of each side, how are you going to be careful who is goin' to move carefully, that is one of those things you gotta to do you know to take care do what you have to do.


DERKS: Did you ever feel like you came close to making a mistake with it?

CHRISTJOHN: I never felt that way, I never felt that way at all maybe that's why I didn't want to go at times because I was so nervous about it, that's when you make mistakes, not saying I was really expert at it or anything like that but you just knew what it was all about or how to go all about it and that's how I am yet today I still I care for whether I can undo one time and one time only it's your only chance you know you don't do it right you're not going to do it again just lucky I'm here with my fingers legs but mentally it just took a lot, 00:38:00you don't sleep sometimes you still have to check the windows everything like that, stay on medication its just all the nerves I found what it was all about

DERKS: How long were you there

CHRISTJOHN: Six, seven, eight, nine months I don't know sometimes I don't know what happened to me sometimes and then they in my report they say I asked for this or anything and they say it was gas, but I can't remember I keep trying to figure out what gas that you know I know it was a lot of places cause you're in the front leading and there were a couple times when I had to put a gas mask on, 00:39:00and I don't know when that was for gas before or what, it just they didn't use gas but now they say I was gassed whatever war is war you use whatever way to win and that's what they were doing but it was in the reports

DERKS: Were you at T and N the whole time?

CHRISTJOHN: Yes T and N I forget the place, ran down through the south of Saigon through Convoy area down there to, the engineers went down there and picked up some materials and brought it back up to base and were expanding the hospital area another wing on the hospital and yea I still got that picture, I was on top 00:40:00of that building it was a quantom building being moved there are a lot of things a engineer does you know

DERKS: What else did you do besides the mines

CHRISTJOHN: We worked on building bunkers and building hospital and expanded the hospital wing where moving things around here and there and you know constantly building things back up, a lot of sand bags basically there were concrete it was everything airstrips right down I was going to pain in base camp we were working 00:41:00twenty-four hours straight rotating and then working security and then time remember they called and told us we were having an airstrike B-52 strike I don't know what is this? Is it right here? And you could see the land it was always from where we were at but if you were up close it was a mile long of puff smoke, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM and you could feel the ground shaking where we were at, and all the planes were up there but I couldn't see them but they were dropping them they had to go up there and see what the duds were and you know just one of the things


DERKS: You had to deal with that--

CHRISTJOHN: No there was another unit that went out there, there was always something goin on we were up here by black river mountain side over there and it was always something going on around that area and I liked to know ahead of time to have it secured so it doesn't get out where nobody knows what is happening but the troops always know something you know out through the chain of command and you know I could still feel the shaking the ground shaking it was just something

DERKS: Where do you feel a little [unintelligible] the bombs the stuff you were setting off--

CHRISTJOHN: It feels like I'm a explosive person [laughs]. You know, sometimes I think, "Will I ever make it through this?" Through all that I always had a C4 a blasting cap on there or whatever like that or was that my security to pull me 00:43:00happy and go ahead and hit and I'm gone but I just took and did what I had to do, what is it? What pushed a guy through that? You know you go through all that, all types of stuff

DERKS: Did it help unleash your feelings about your brother to be over there?

CHRISTJOHN: It helped I still don't know why? He was so young I feel guilty myself about why he was just a young kid over a little bit over a year older than me. Why him? Today I still ask why him still goes on within me. Thinking 00:44:00about all that what's going on "you know let it go" "let it go" I mean how can you let it go you know if they only knew, they could only understand what I had to do, what I had to see, only the WWII guys probably understand what a guy is going through, now they got counselors and everything and I would like to see that more often so that more young guys you know I don't know how many more to come before they got help you just drinking and what else. You know, you try to drown all your what you hear or see, but its still there the next day and my buddies they would talk about when they were drinking and drunk it was all there 00:45:00and people all ways want to know what, it seemed like they were ashamed of us but yet we were there doing something for our country our nation but yet how could they kind of shove us inside like that we went there and still shun you because of what you had done, what they called a lot of the guys why you want to go and do that to them.

DERKS: Do you feel that from a lot of the veterans

CHRISTJOHN: No I felt more bad in the communities that goes on with them if they understand what the guys went through sometimes it was just that way. You're in 00:46:00the bars doin' this and getting drunk but they already know what the guys went through they don't know all that stuff they don't know how to get rid of it, Its still there.

DERKS: You just get drunk to numb--

CHRISTJOHN: Yea that too, you numb yourself as much its beer or whatever just to go

DERKS: Was the engineers taken casualties

CHRISTJOHN: There was a lot in a base area there was all engineers around that area they had specialties and that's where we built everything and crushed everything we took out of there to build the roads and all that and they hit the machine you know the shrapnel those guys you never know whatever is in that area 00:47:00it's just you know, whatever happens if it's--I was glad I served though after I think about it and I came back and I was then told to report to barracks at the 25th entry division and they came back around the same time and man that was something else there was nothing you could've have asked to do, they just put them in tents and prayed for them and they took me over thirty days before I could leave out of there before I come home you know and the lines and lines of guys trying to call home to let them know that they were home


DERKS: So, they pulled out the whole 25th

CHRISTJOHN: Not the whole 25th a good portion of the 25th

DERKS: When was that?

CHRISTJOHN: It was in '69 and we were doing reduction that is when I came back from the reduction and just there were a lot of pull-outs I had three choices of where I wanted to go, Japan, Hawaii, or I forget what the other one was and I took Hawaii. I said, "I'm going to Hawaii." I was glad I went there but it was so boring there was nothing to do, you know just nothing just really I used to go around and look at everything you get sick if that day after day you want something to do especially when you were coming out of Vietnam like that, Hey 00:49:00have something ready for the guys, They had every corner you parade through they had beer tents set up and they music playing--how long could you get through that you know I was really missing the gas with something like that [laughs].

DERKS: So, you were stationed there how long?

CHRISTJOHN: A year and half.

DERKS: Really?

CHRISTJOHN: Yes I was stationed there and I was going [unintelligible] the 1st and the 14th and every battalion had a status and there are so many companies and the company that was on red alert we had 24 hours and you were called and sent to the Philippines and that's when Marcos got sent over there, with the guerillas actin' up so that's when he got sent over there. I didn't have to go, 00:50:00he told me, I didn't have to go, Some young guy said I can't go, I don't want to go, you send your first son and then I'll go and I said okay and he said alright and just took off and I said no I'll go and they said okay so I went and just took off I wanted to get away you know or something to get out and do what you have to do so I just--

DERKS: You were a sergeant at that point

CHRISTJOHN: A specialist CD5, I was a sergeant over for Campbell for Leonard Wood, Missouri over there in the training that time, so then a specialist during that time I was kind of a [unintelligible] but then my other brother died over 00:51:00here at home in a house fire so I came home and that was my time to reminisce and I come home and grabbed [unintelligible].

DERKS: How do you feel about leaving Vietnam?

CHRISTJOHN: I was happy but then again, I was worried about a lot of these young guys what's going on with them they all looked up to me, "Sergeant Chief." Especially the ones that looked up to me [laughs] they were really good, there 00:52:00was another one, well he got sick from malaria and you know said I never seen from what happened there were a few guys that got sick and came but you don't go on, you got to move on, over there and you get back and wonder where is he I haven't seen him and wonder where is he and wondering if another one has passed. It's hard.

DERKS: Why was it hard?

CHRISTJOHN: I don't know what to expect how those guys will be, if they are going to be maimed or 70% were solved and 100% unemployable so you often worry 00:53:00about them because they were under [unintelligible] and you just hope they were all good

DERKS: You were in charge of them you cared about them

CHRISTJOHN: They were a good group of young guys sometimes you have to be there to help them carry though what has to be done and I felt good abot it to for them to do something and have somebody there to let them kno, they made up for it tho

DERKS: How did you feel about being called Sergeant Chief?

CHRISTJOHN: The young guys didn't really understand that, It started with a sergeant calling me that you know the oldest sergeant was calling me Chief and they heard that and asked me about it and made a barrack name I guess that's why 00:54:00most of them looked up to me I can do everything what they think I can its just no that way you know that didn't--at first you are wondering why are they doing that its harder but then after that everybody got used to it you know, it was close

DERKS: When you came back you were trying to readjust what were the things that were hard is it just images--

CHRISTJOHN: It was a lot of things, first it was always like someone was watching you that you don't know you know kind of what is behind what's going 00:55:00on, what's going to happen, hey let's get it on you know you feel edgy you don't know what's going on its like hey come on lets go let's do it whatever is going to happen let's get it over with and that right there and sometimes you don't sleep at night a lot of times you just go and walk around. I always watch the stars and see the whole thing the star following the rock like that and always think one's going to blow one's going to blow ones goin' to blow it was something


DERKS: So, it's a constant revving and swearing that doesn't go away?

CHRISTJOHN: It doesn't for me, it's like, "Okay, let's do it." It seems like I'm ready to go all the time with no place to go.

DERKS: Now how does that [unintelligible].

CHRISTJOHN: That's how it is.

DERKS: Did you start wanting to go to counseling?

CHRISTJOHN: I did. I went to twelve on VA center on the western part of the state They put me in some door it was like a cage where they locked the door and I think what is this I thought I was in jail and I thought what the heck is going here and that was in the early 80s and I thought what did I get myself 00:57:00into now the first I did when they opened that door was to get out and say I'm gone I just took off and said I'm not dealing with this a week or so later I got a letter from the head person over there that I am no longer accepted into their facilities for whatever you know I was like umm you know no more and they got the paperwork and I know in there paperwork I know they keep copies of everything like that, and a few years later they wrote me back and they said I'm welcome to come back for whatever and I said "Oh, what are they doing?" By that time, I was always drunk. I went there three time for PTSD and I'm still seeing 00:58:00a counselor right now, but it helps a lot seeing that guy all the time. He understands more I can really talk to him and you know he understands and he don't tell me what to do, you know I'm the sarge that's how it is, I have to do something I help the guys out over there at Oneida I help with [unintelligible] and that's all I got to go and once you get going we worked on the wall when I came to Oneida it was four of us and we helped to do that so we got goin' I was 00:59:00up early all the time

DERKS: It was that sort of you were up early you had to get out

CHRISTJOHN: It was just that way you had to get out but again I'm gone you know I can't wait for nobody I'm just like hey procrastinated about things and I'm just like hey come one get it, but what else you got but I got some work and stuff I do, if I get into that then one day and then something else I can't do that I got to get out I can't sit around like that it would just hurt me

DERKS: Did you have dreams?

CHRISTJOHN: Yes. I did, I dream about getting captured a lot you know I guess 01:00:00just going out in front you don't know what's going to happen to you just getting hit whatever I guess though I had that C4 with me or blasting caps so I had to take care of it right then and there just you know, you never know what's inside but it's there

DERKS: Yea, those dreams are funny things because they seem to not be things that you experienced but things that your mind was thinking about.

CHRISTJOHN: Yeah, I had to check all the doors and I had to look outside to see if everything is okay, but it takes a while I still do that no matter what I 01:01:00still check around its why

DERKS: To make sure you are secure.

Chirstjohn: Oh, yeah, you know whatever, I just you know I just pray for it I went through it for a long time, and you know it's usual and I just can't help it--

DERKS: So, do you just blow stuff up?

CHRISTJOHN: Yes, sometimes I do, and sometimes I just say here I know how to do that I can do that, I just get back in but sometimes I have to wonder if I stayed in service what I would be like now I know I would have went long ways but where would be though because I usually like to volunteer for stuff take care of it be into something, I can't sit back. If I would have spent more time 01:02:00overseas for what shining shoes and you know [unintelligible].

DERKS: Tell me about you were starting to tell me about veteran's association and what did you do? Did you have support from the tribe or the Indian community when you came home?

CHRISTJOHN: It was there but not much there and I just went out drinking I was there you know you want to forget about everything had that little check from the government unemployment okay that's enough to get by and I just couldn't get over it you know gone, gone I went through three marriages and you know it's 01:03:00sometimes you wonder well why did I put her through that, You know I couldn't understand whatever it was get over it, how do you get over it so I just did the counseling myself to benefit myself you know just whatever as long as I don't hurt myself or anybody else that's the main thing.

DERKS: Tell me about the Pow Wows--


DERKS: The Veterans Pow Wow.

CHRISTJOHN: Oh, that's coming up, or any Pow Wow? Well we started off with that back in the 90s our Veterans group another friend and I went down to South Carolina Cherokee reservation down there and that the first time veterans and Native American veterans come together and we didn't have no money we just had 01:04:00cigarettes and gas and I didn't want to ask my dad so much he gave me 20 bucks so we got gas down there but they put up a table for us to sell some stuff for them and they gave us the money to get back and a place to stay so that worked out good and then they had a Pow Wow there and they expand a lot of things I didn't really understand what was going on but they send us back asked us to come back if I started a group up here for Native Americans because a lot of Native Americans are not stepping up forward from whatever, so there was a Vietnam veterans Era and Tribal Association that started up here at first and we had to go on for a while and we brought the Vietnam veterans up to Oneida and we 01:05:00came up here all at the same time, that's when I tried for help it was still a little hassle but we still asked him for help and they came across fine they helped us out they out a police up but as a Vietnam Veteran but we didn't know who to turn to and there another person who was going to help us out at that time so we had to go in and after that I didn't hear nothing about the Vietnam War Veterans Association for a long time so we turned into an American Indian Association and then Chapters within the state of Wisconsin and it was Red Fighting Tools the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Association approved it and back 01:06:00then we were doing Pow Wows Veterans Pow Wow was on Memorial Day for us we had that--

[Break in video]

DERKS: So, what is um--how does it make you feel personally to be uh, a part of these veterans Pow Wows. Does it, does help? Does it feel like you're, healing, or, what is the-

CHRISTJOHN: It helps me a lot. Hopin' to see a lot of the other guys get up and out there. Out in the area here. You know we try to bring 'em out. You know, like that. It helps a lot. And it's just somethin', you know, I just--walked into, you know. And I'm glad I did. You know, it helped me, you know. I still will have my problems and everything but yet it still helped me more, to 01:07:00understand a little more. You understand what, um, Eagle Feather's about--One of the highest awards a, a warrior can have, you know. And that's what we're doing. Right now, for the last two Pow Wows here, we've been--well this one comin' up also--we're honor in' all the vets in World War II. Not all--as many as we can so, so--doin' it, you know. So, the times I can--last time I had 14, this wave we're gonna have 14, but they're a mix of all veterans. Women and men. World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq. You know, everyone we're tryin' to get, you know. And--that makes me feel good to see them come out. Not in World War II--they never been recognized. The Korean War--they never been recognized. You know the--and the ar--most of the guys in the, our uh, chapter, are Vietnam veterans, you know. But yet we take ev--we, we--they think it was only for Vietnam veterans. It's not. So, any veteran, you know.

DERKS: What, what did you learn about the Eagle Feather?


CHRISTJOHN: Uh, just respect it. How to carry it wherever you want to go. Have good thoughts with it; you carry it with good thoughts. Makes you, uh, feel comfortable. Yeah, you know. It relaxes you. I use that with my sage, you know. You know, to help me out. That's what brought me here today. You know. I didn't have no thoughts of comin' here. So, I burnt sage, and the Eagle Feather and I said, "Ok." Carried me on, you know. Woulda thought is with it, you know you. You don't have, you know, bad thoughts with it, you know. Just carry it on, you know.

DERKS: So, does it, it, it tie you in with somethin' bigger and--

CHRISTJOHN: In bigger, I don't know what you mean by that but um, I do not look for anything much bigger than where I'm at right now. I'm comfortable where I'm at, you know. But um, and--you know, like--you know, bigger things or material things. I know--I'm comfortable where I'm at. If I don't have nothing, I'm 01:09:00comfortable with that, you know. That's it. How it is. So happy. I try to feel happy anyway, you know. If somebody smiles it's good, you know. I know there's something good with them, you know. And, sometimes, I, you know, you don't know what's going on, so, I'm glad I just go the other way, you know. It's um, how the--but yet, I feel comfortable but, doing this for other veterans. Help them--I don't want to see them going through the things I went through. How--where, where I went. How I went. To get where I'm at, you know. Cause that's uh, that was a struggle.

DERKS: It's a hard road, isn't it?

CHRISTJOHN: It really--it was. It was a hard road. And yet today it's still just as hard, you know. Nothing comes easy. You've gotta work for it, you know. You've gotta stay with it all the time. It goes off to the side sometimes. You don't go along with it off to the side. You try to stay with it. Where 01:10:00your--area's going, you know. Sometimes you may fall off that way, you know. People'll say something about it. Let 'em say what they want. That's their choice. That's what I went to war for. Let them say what they want, you know. But yet it's still my world too, you know. And we do what I want to do. You know I'm old enough now. I'm 61. And 62 is still going to tell me how to act. [laughs]. You know, yes, it, it does help me out a lot with those Pow Wow and everything. You hear the drumbeats. You hear everything. You see them little kids out there. Little kids see um, maybe--might be their uncle, grandpa, somebody, getting a recognition with their Eagle, where sometimes the only thing you hear is, you know, from the, you know in a parent's uh, like we don't tell the children what happened, you know. But then once they see your Eagle Feather, they'll understand what's, what's going on. You'd be able to free--to talk 01:11:00freely about things, you know. Puts his mind to it, he can really, you know. None of 'em don't even know what their dad went through, you know. And it, it--parents, you know. Dad, you know, some of--some of them don't even tell their wife, you know. It's, you know, but then. That's how a guy is, so. You know.

DERKS: And this has been goin' on for a long time too. Do you, do you feel a--um, like you're another in a, in a long line of warriors?

CHRISTJOHN: Um, long line, you know. It feels like, you know, I'm just here and I'm, I'm going about where I gotta go. If the line's there, you know, you know, you can always branch out someplace else and get another line, you know. Go where the easy one is? No, you go where you feel comfortable at, you know. 01:12:00Everybody wants to take the easy road, you know. Go where you're comfortable at, so, you know, comfortable at, you know. And you take it that way. You always like to have--some people always like to have it handed to 'em. Earn it, you know. Walk into it. See how it is. See if it pushes you back, you push back, you'll get it. It's har--it might be hard but, you know, hey, that's what you've gotta do is work for it.

DERKS: And the hardest part isn't even the time when you're in country is it?

CHRISTJOHN: [laughs]. I, I just---you know, it.

DERKS: Just carrying it, on and on.

CHRISTJOHN: On and on. You keep on going, you know. What pushes you, you know. You carry it. When I was over in Vietnam, um, this young lady uh--well she passed on now, she--well she was elder--older than I was. But then she sent me um, three cro--three beaded crosses, while I was over there. And I was like, 01:13:00"Wow, three beaded crosses." And I wore that, and I gave one to um, friend of mine and well, two, two other guy. And they were so happy to receive that. I said, "What?" And I actually let them know what it was, you know. "You want some beads?" "Yeah." I said---they didn't realize I was Native American. [laughs]. And I said, um, "This came from back home." I said, "Carry it with you." So--that's why I have to wonder what's happening with these guys, you know.

DERKS: They, doin' the right--uh, uh hard struggle with beer?

CHRISTJOHN: You know, whether--I hope not. You know, just uh, cause uh, [unintelligible].

DERKS: Tell me why it is that uh, at Pow Wows, um, the, the veterans always lead.

CHRISTJOHN: The veterans always lead. They take an Eagle Staff and a drum, and a veteran always carries the Eagle Staff. And they're the ones that al--you follow 01:14:00the way of the veterans right there. They're the ones that clear the area for you. They're the ones that open up the whole area for you. They're the ones that will do anything to make it clear, they went to combat, they know how, they know which way to go. And that's no combat. That's just openin' up the area that's uh--that really, really respectful, whether you know, you see that. You know, people don't understand it, you know, this honor. A veteran going through it carrying an Eagle Staff and all the staff's behind and the veterans behind it all. Nobody steps in line there, you know. It just goes on like that. That uh, really a, you know, something else, you know. When you have them all out there--you'll have to come someday to our Pow Wow and see how it is, you know. It's just, just the drum and how you, go about it, you know. Also, like to recognize veterans at a Pow Wow, cause they're the ones that um, you know fought 01:15:00for this country and this is the wonder--so you can have it here today what you got, you know. That's--you got this here, a veteran's done this for you. You know no--what kind of veteran--a veteran done this for you.

DERKS: When, uh, when we talked to you at that listening session and we talked about having that uh, that big Pow Wow during the welcome home weekend, um, it, it uh--do you think it would be beneficial for, for all of these Vietnam veterans to, to experience this?

CHRISTJOHN: Oh sure, a little bit. Oh yes it will be. You'll be surprised when some of 'em from Green Bay come around there from [unintelligible] that uh, veteran's hospital tell 'em to come down there. They come down there and they feel a lot better after that. You still see some of them guys still comin' out. They always come--they can't miss it now. Once they come down it makes them feel 01:16:00better, it makes 'em feel good about themself. We recognize all veterans, you know, to come here. That's how it is--bring 'em on it, you know. They need that spiritual uplifting too. That's where it's at right there. Take it. Like I, I um--granite, you know a little guy'd come up to me this weekend and we're at the Three Sisters Pow-wow and I had my 25th patch on, and you can walk and nobody lookin' at me like that, you know. And I was wonderin' what was going on and he's looking at my uniform for a while like that and then finally he walked up and--and he hit me on the arm and he said, "My dad had a patch like that." I said, "What?" "Yes. My dad has a patch like that." "He was in the 25th?" I said. He said, "Yes, 12 Tropic Lightning. He said that he was in the [unintelligible] area where I was at. In [unintelligible] Providence," he said. "Oh yes," I said. That's around the area where I was at too. And then um, he said um, "He's not 01:17:00here today but um, he passed on." And then I said, "Ohhh." I said, um, after I while I said "I'll be back." I said uh, "I came back after, went back--I went to live a little ways from the, uh, house. Said the tribal area. And I went back over to the um, the house, I come back, brought a patch like that of mine. I kinda--I seen him. I said, "Here. This is your dad's. You can wear that anytime you want." I said, "That's yours." He was so happy. Yup. I made a young man happy.

DERKS: Thank you. Thank you for your service and thank you for fighting on.

CHRISTJOHN: Thanks. I'm all done.

[Interview Ends]