Wisconsin Veterans Museum

Oral History Interview with George F. Banda

Wisconsin Veterans Museum


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DERKS: The first thing I'll ask you to do is just pronounce and spell your name.

BANDA: George F. Banda. G-E-O-R-G-E F. B-A-N-D-A.

DERKS: And, where was young George when he decided to be part of the military?

BANDA: Well I was in Milwaukee having a good time and I got a draft notice. And they said, "Come on down," you know. So I said, "Oh ok. Do I have a choice?" So I was drafted in January of '69. Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Boot Camp for basic training.

DERKS: And by '69, you sort of knew what that meant, didn't you?

BANDA: Oh absolutely. Vietnam, you know. And I was hoping that maybe what it would, the war was winding down a little bit, but not so.

DERKS: "Maybe it'll be over before I get there."

BANDA: Yeah, you know, maybe I'll get there and it'll be all over with and, go there and come back. But, wasn't the case, unfortunately.


DERKS: So, what was Fort Campbell, Kentucky, like?

BANDA: Fort Campbell was, in January, it wasn't as cold as Wisconsin, but it was still kinda chilly. And it got, maybe in the thirties, low thirties, but not below that; some sleet and snow. Miserable, you know, getting up at 4:30 in the morning for Boot Camp, which I was not used to, and I'm like, "4:30, are you kidding me?" [Laughs]. And the sergeant comes in there, and he doesn't just come in and wake you gently; he comes in there with a wash basin, banging it with a hammer or something and he just scares the heck out of you. And you jump out of bed and you're like, "What's going on here? Ok!" And in so many words, he says, "Get the hell out of here. We're gonna run." And I, "Run? What do you mean, 'run'?" And we went on a two-mile run. I hung in there, but it was difficult. 00:02:00You feel like vomiting and people are starting to drift off because they can't make it, and I was kind of brought up like I'm gonna--no matter what--I'm gonna stick to it. No matter how I feel. And I did. I finished the two-mile run and was kind of proud of myself, but still threw up at the end. [Laughs]

DERKS: And then there were more. They weren't done with you.

BANDA: It was just the beginning. You know, Sergeant Jackson, he was our drill sergeant. And he seemed like a mean man, and I--well now I think back on it and it was, well, that's the way he had portrayed himself. But he would come in and just was mad, just seemed angry. And just would just scold us for anything and everything: not getting up, or somebody didn't look good. Or he'd just come in 00:03:00there and says, "I'm mad and this is what I'm going to do to you guys." And we're like, "Oh God. Here we go." So, you know, take us out running--he wouldn't do it; he would send his assistant drill sergeant, would do that.

DERKS: So, he was mad at you a lot?

BANDA: He seemed to be. And almost like he was mad at me, you know. That's the way he came across, but that's just the way he was. I mean he was--that was his job, to harden us and toughen us up, and I realize that now. But back then you're like, "My goodness, what am I into here? This is not good." But I carried on with it because that's just the way it was. I said, "Ok, take it one day at a time. I can handle this. This is alright." There were some hard times though. 00:04:00You know, getting up at 4:30 in the morning for me, personally, was one of the toughest things to do, 'cause I loved sleeping. You know and then getting me up at 4:30 in the morning, it was like, "This isn't right. I'm supposed to be sleeping." My body's telling me, "Sleep, George." But no, they had other plans for me and got me up at 4:30 and, "Well, we're gonna run now." And away you go, start running and calisthenics. And if one guy falls out, everybody gets blamed for it, everybody gets punished for it. So you start to learn that real early, the punishment, the discipline. And then you're like, "Ok, it's a team; teamwork. Everybody's got to work together to get through this." If one guy is slacking off, talk to him, "Hey, you gotta straighten up or something," or help the guy out. You know, "Ok, you're falling back. Maybe somebody will run with 00:05:00you to keep you going." Just to motivate the person, not any kind of hitting or yelling or anything. With us it was just to try to motivate somebody. Help them out, you know, 'cause it was tough; it was tough. And so we got through that, got through Boot Camp. Twelve weeks of Boot Camp at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and then on to Advanced Infantry Training, or for me, it was Combat Medic training in Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

DERKS: How did you get into that?

BANDA: Through the testing that they were giving. In Boot Camp there, they give you a battery of tests, and then they kind of determine if you're real smart and good at certain things, that you won't get; they'll give you something else. [Laughs] You know, so, you go "Ok, yeah. Whatever." However I performed on those 00:06:00tests, they said "Well ok, you'd be a good medic." I think now I think they just needed medics, you know, they just needed to fill a spot, here, take this guy. So, went down to Fort Sam Houston and that was great. See, I enjoyed Fort Sam Houston--well it's in San Antonio, Texas; warm weather, beautiful scenery, beautiful city, the River Walk and everything else. The training was really good. I was surprised, 'cause, well, through Boot Camp you're going like, "What is this? I don't know." But in Fort Sam, the instructors there were really, really good and dedicated. I mean, I'm looking at these people and going, "Wow, these people are really smart."

DERKS: And did you take well to that training?

BANDA: I did. I enjoyed that training quite a bit, I did. I liked to help people out, I liked to give to people; that's just the way my personality was. Any way 00:07:00I can help someone. And that was--I fell right into that. You know, I picked up on things quickly, the medical aspect of it, the helping people out. I said, "Oh this is good. Maybe they did pick me for the right reasons." So I went through Fort Sam, I think there was thirteen weeks of training. I also went through a couple weeks of a leadership preparation course where they picked a few people from Boot Camp that scored well on some of the tests then they sent us for leadership preparation courses, where I became like a corporal and of my squad and of my barracks. So that was an extra couple weeks thrown in there with the training and becoming a medic.

DERKS: So you were thriving in the Army?

BANDA: Actually yes. Yeah, I enjoyed that; that part was just great. And there 00:08:00was, about halfway through my training, there was a paratrooper that came in. There was a couple paratroopers walking around there with their little jump wings, with little parachutes on it. And I thought, that's kind of cool. So I asked the guys, I says, "How do you get into that?" "We just volunteer, you know, just go down here to this building here and sign up and if you qualify, we'll get you in." Sure enough, they said, yeah. I said, "Well, ok, cool." So then after Fort Sam they took us in buses--there was maybe about a dozen of us--to Jump School in Fort Benning, Georgia. So Fort Benning, Georgia, was hot. That was hot, July, so I remember it well. The training there, too, was just tremendous. There was no harassment, at least not for us. There was no--not like 00:09:00Boot Camp. It was just completely different from Boot Camp. They treated you real decent, real professional. "This is what you gotta do. This is what you gotta learn, and we're gonna learn it, and we're gonna teach you, and you will learn how to jump out of an airplane." A perfectly good airplane, in fact; C-130s we jumped out of, so that I enjoyed, too. You know, I was scared--believe me, I'm not gonna lie to you. When I was up there for my first jump, the instructor comes around, and in a C-130, it's so loud in there you can't hear yourself think. So the instructor comes by and has to yell in your ear and says, "Ok this is your first jump. If you don't want to, if you've changed your mind, you can step to the back of the plane and nothing will be said." And like, "Ok, maybe I don't want to! [Laughs] Maybe I miss the bulls-eye. If the parachute 00:10:00doesn't open--Well if this happens then--" But then you're like, "Wait a minute, I just went through all these weeks of training and running." It's all callisthenic, I mean, it's all exercise and running, pushups; it's all physical, you know. And so I'm like, "I don't wanna--I just went through all this. I'm gonna do this." So, I did it, made my first jump. And coming out of an airplane--I think it was 1,200 feet--you jump out and it's quite a thrill. And once your parachute opens, then you feel safe and you're gliding down, it's like, "Man, this is great." It's quiet, it's--there's just silence. And you're alone, and you look over the horizon and you can see the trees and it's quiet. You can feel the breeze in your face and it's like, "Man, this is good. This is pretty cool." And then we're yelling back at each other 'cause there's other 00:11:00guys jumping too. And you say, "Hey! This is great!" And everybody's going like--same thing--everybody's going like, "Hey! Great! This is cool!" until you hit the ground. And you're hitting the ground like you're jumping out of a second story building, so you hit hard. You know back then you had the old parachutes. And they want to get you down quickly. I mean you don't want to be up in that sky for too long 'cause [of] the people shooting at you. So you want to get down as quickly as possible, so they make the chutes to come down quickly. Now I guess they're very maneuverable, so they zigzag; you can do everything. But back then they just went straight down, and fast. So when you hit the ground, it's like, "Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness," I said, "I can't believe that I hit that hard, or maybe I did something wrong." Well the second jump, same thing. You know I prepared myself. I says, "Ok, maybe I'll pull on the toggles over here and slow myself down like they taught me." Nope, still hit hard. And it's like, "Oh my goodness, ok." Three more jumps--you did five jumps 00:12:00and the last jump is you're jumping with equipment, and they put all kinds of equipment on you, a rifle and some other gear that you're gonna be carrying. So now you're like fifty pounds heavier, so you're gonna land even harder. To me it was like, "Ok, I got more weight I'm gonna land harder. It's gonna hurt more." But, you did it, and once you did it, you're like "Wow, I did it. I did it. Five jumps. I went through Jump School. This is great. Ok. Get my wings." And then you pin your wings at the end of class and there's a general there and a colonel and everybody salutes and it's kind of cool.

DERKS: There were a few people that didn't make it through weren't there?

BANDA: Yes. Yes. We had at least a third of the class didn't make it. There was one guy there that, you know--'cause we were all gung ho when you first go in--and he had a tattoo put on his butt. It was just one of those--one guy in 00:13:00next bed says, "Hey, I do tattoos. Just take a needle and some ink and put a tattoo on you. Where do you want it?" "Put it on my butt." "Ok." So he put it on his butt. He didn't make it through jump school. And I'm wondering, "Wow, what's he gonna say about that?" Oh, you know, maybe he just says, "Yeah I went through Jump School. Look, here, check this out. I'm a paratrooper." Yeah, there was about a third of them didn't make it--'cause it was tough. Yeah, very rigorous, the training, the physical aspect of it, and then to get over the terror of being in an airplane that you know you're gonna jump out the door. It gets scary, you know. But like I said, the training is just so good, that it's automatic. After all those weeks of training, you're not even thinking, you're just going through the motion and you come out. And you do it well, and you do 00:14:00it good, and you're fine. That's one thing I've gotta say about the training there at Fort Benning, Georgia: it was excellent. Just like the training at Fort Sam. It was very good. And when I think back now, I say, I was pretty impressed.

DERKS: And were you just doing Jump Training? Did you have any more medic training?

BANDA: After Jump School, I got orders to go to Fort Ord, California, Big Sur. Beautiful. Again, I'm going like, "Boy, I'm lucking out. This is good," I'm thinking to myself, "This is really good." Now, you know, I'm drafted, I've only got two years to serve, so now I'm already into July, October. So you know, July, August, September, October. I says, "I'm at Fort Ord, California. I'm a Corpsman in a hospital at Fort Ord." I says, you know, "The Army probably forgot about me. I'm gonna be at Fort Ord, Big Sur, Carmel," beautiful, just fantastic; 00:15:00excellent place to work. The hospital setting, it was a surgical ward and I really like that, you know, taking care of people. Doing that thing and meeting different people from different parts of the country. And I'm going like, "Hey this is great. This is cool. I can do this. No problem." And did that, enjoyed being there. Yeah, I enjoyed working there at Fort Ord. And then--and then--in November of '69, I got my orders for Vietnam. And I'm going like, "Damn it, they got me, ok." You get thirty days off before you go. So they gave me a leave. I went back home with the family and say "I'm doing good. I'm gonna go to Vietnam, but don't worry. I'll be back. And everything's fine." My mom and dad, right 00:16:00away they're seeing all this news on TV about Vietnam and all the terrible things that are happening to the troops, and they're being wounded and killed, and so I says, "Hey I'm fine, Mom. I'll be back. Don't worry about it." So I got to Vietnam about the 10th of December of '69. Landed in Phu Bai--oh I'm sorry, it was Cam Rahn Bay. Cam Rahn Bay, that's where it was, and flew out of Seattle, Washington, Fort Lewis, Washington, and flew to Cam Rahn Bay. I remember getting out of the plane in Cam Rahn Bay and the first thing that hits you, it's the heat, but the heat I didn't mind so much. It was the smell, it was nothing I had 00:17:00ever smelled before. You know, along with the heat and the humidity and you got this smell and smell the animal urine and people cooking food that I was not familiar with. The Vietnamese diet, whatever they were cooking, was real foreign to me. It was like [sniffs], I said "Wow," I said, "Man, I'm not in Kansas anymore. This is Vietnam." And it was real freaky, it was scary. And I was scared. I was like, "Ok, you're in Vietnam. Now what? Ok, just follow orders. Latch onto somebody who's been here a couple months or longer: 'Ok, well, what do I have to do, tell me, to stay alive? So I can go home?'" "Oh, you know, well, don't do this. Do this. Don't take any chances, keep your rifle clean, 00:18:00have plenty of ammunition. Stay alert, stay alive."

DERKS: Who did you find to help you with that? Who told you that?

BANDA: Sergeant John Ease. He was an Airborne Ranger, he had been with Special Forces. He was a soldier's soldier to me. John Ease was just an incredible soldier. An incredible human being, too. You could just see there was so much leadership in him and confidence. And by looking at him, you knew what he was--whatever he did or said to you, that's what you did, and you followed his orders. And he had been there, probably, already six months, and so he knew the lay of the land. And I'd follow him into hell, 'cause I knew he'd bring me back. 00:19:00He was that good. I mean he was just tremendous. And I think about him now, and we lost John. John Ease passed away a few years after he got back from Vietnam, he was killed in a logging accident, unfortunately. Unfortunately it didn't work out for him as far as having a long life, a happy life. But in Vietnam, he was great.

DERKS: How long did it take him to call you Doc?

BANDA: Immediately. You know, "Hey we got a new doc!" And I got to Firebase Bastogne, that's a firebase in Vietnam. It's in I Corps. And I was helicoptered out there, from Phu Bai. In Phu Bai, you had a couple of weeks of orientation 00:20:00where they teach you the culture, and some of the language, and do's and don'ts to the Vietnamese people, and reacquainted with the M-16 and M-79s, M-60s, the claymore mines, the lay of the land, and then you kinda, after two weeks, you kind of try to acclimate to the temperature and the heat, mostly, and the monsoons and stuff like that. "Ok, you're ready. They need you out in Firebase Bastogne, a recon unit out there. They just need a medic." They didn't say why they needed a medic; found out later that medic had been killed. So they were short, so I had gone out there. And, great bunch of guys, you know, and meeting 00:21:00John Ease and Sergeant Baker. I remember Sergeant Baker. He was one of those lifers. Nice man, booming voice, never knew how to speak softly ever. We'd go out in the jungle and we'd have contact with the enemy, and he was one of those guys that he would never, I never saw him lay down or kneel down to protect himself. He was one of those kind of guys who would stand up: "Ok, here I am. What are you going to do?" And he made it through. I mean, he retired from the service. But he was incredible. Him and John Ease were just--you just can't believe these people. I mean, they're like the John Waynes. You know, they're fearless. And out in the jungle they're just at home. They know the signs, booby traps, "Ok, you can't go over there. That looks like a good ambush; somebody 00:22:00might ambush us out there. So, don't go this way. We'll go over this way." I'm like, "Well it looks the same to me. I mean either one looks--" And he says, "Oh no that's danger over there. We'll go this way." And sure enough, go this way and you're fine. Some other people would go that way and they'd run into contact with the enemy. And that's what we, I think, feared the most, is the ambushes. We were a small team. In recon we went out in seven or eight guys, and so we were ambushed frequently. I mean, you're out there, they're waiting for you. They knew you're coming, so just wait. And we lost some guys that way, with ambushes. In fact a lot of them through ambushes.

DERKS: Do you remember your first you first firefight casualty?

BANDA: Yes I do, a guy named Jackson. A young, young, young guy, always had a 00:23:00smile on his face, loved to dance. Me and him would dance together when we got back to the rear--to the rear for us was Firebase Bastogne, which was a big hill, an artillery base, fire support base. And that was our rear for us. We'd get back and we'd get together with Jackson, was our cool guy. Loved to laugh, loved to dance and we'd have a few beers, maybe two or three--or eight or nine, you know--and turn the music on or somebody'd have a tape player or something and then dance to music. We just loved dancing and laughing. And he had gone out on a team and he was walking point and ran into an ambush, and he was shot and 00:24:00killed instantly. He was probably dead before he hit the ground. And that was the first time that I had experienced someone dying and like that, and it was like, "Ohhh." I said, "I can't believe this. This is incredible. This is unbelievable. I was just talking to him an hour ago and we were talking about home and what we were gonna do when we got back and then, you know, now he's dead." And it's like--and then it's terrible 'cause you carry those body bags with you. Hopefully you never need them, but you do. And so you get a body bag out and you unzip it and you put his body in it and zip it up and you're like, "Oh my goodness." Then you call in a helicopter and then they come and take the body away and then you never see him again. You don't hear about it, and people 00:25:00try not to talk about it, "Ok, let's move on. Ok, it happened, let's not let it happen again. Let's be a little bit more alert. We're in the jungle and the enemy's here and they're here to kill us," you know and so. But that was, that was quite painful. I know John Ease took it hard and it was his team that day was with Jackson, and he took the death of any of his team or any of the members on it, in recon, pretty, pretty hard. We all did. That was the first one.

DERKS: How long were you with that team?

BANDA: I was with them through the--for about six months, exactly. And then I was transferred out right after Henderson. They put me in a mortar company, 00:26:00which was part of Echo Company. Echo Company also had a mortars and recon. And Echo was just the recon platoon but they also had the other platoons. But that was after Henderson.

DERKS: So you were with that same recon unit in Henderson?


DERKS: Where is Henderson?

BANDA: Henderson is, I'd say about twelve miles south of the DMZ. So we were pretty far north, so there was a lot of activity, which is where our area was, of recon and I Corps. So we were up there pretty close to all the activity and the trails that were coming from the north for re-supplying the North Vietnamese soldiers. That was all up in that area. So we were always making a lot of contact with the enemy, and it just--that's the way it was. At the time, you 00:27:00say, "Well you're in I Corps, ok. What does that mean?" You know, there's II Corps, III Corps, and I'm like, "Ok, whatever." But later on, when I got home and start reading about it and you're like, "Oh my goodness." That's where you were, that's not a good area.

DERKS: "I was in the middle of it."

BANDA: Yeah you're in the middle of it, you know. The A Shaw Valley, that's a problem, and the area of Hamburger Hill, and places like that. But again, it was a lot of enemy activity and North Vietnamese Army regulars or Regiments and Battalions were up in there, which is what happened with Henderson when we got to Henderson. The interesting thing about Henderson is that, I think a couple days before that we were on R&R, in-country R&R, and it was great. We got back 00:28:00to a part of Vietnam that it was a beach there. I can't recall--Eagle, I think it was Eagle Beach. And there you went; it was in-country R&R, you got back, kick back, there was a beach there, you'd go swimming, sun on the beach, they had entertainment, you know. So it was great, and it was like, "Oh, cool!" 'Cause we had been in a lot of contact, it was a lot of enemy activity so we were doing a lot of--there was a lot of battle that we'd gone through, and we had lost a number of people and Powers That Be said, "Hey, these guys need some R&R. Let's put them over here at Eagle Beach. Let them relax." Taking the load off, so to speak. So we were there for about a day or two, and from right there, after all that relaxing and good time, they flew us out to Henderson, Firebase 00:29:00Henderson, which was up by Quang Tri and like twelve miles south of the DMZ. And I never had heard of Firebase Henderson, and when we got there, we landed there and Lieutenant Holly, William Holly, was our lieutenant. Good guy, West Point grad. We all looked over the firebase there. One of the worst firebases I had ever seen. I mean, I looked around, I'm going like, "There's no protection here." There's just one or two strands of concertina wire, and I'm going like, "My God!" I said, "We're in the jungle here and there's enemy around us and this is all they got?" And Lieutenant, he saw it first. And he says, "Ok we have to dig in." And we had got there the fifth of May, probably around noon or so, and right away he made us, "Ok we need to dig these foxholes that were there." They 00:30:00weren't deep enough. "We gotta dig them deeper, get more sandbags." And then the next day, on the sixth, we were gonna lay out more wire and try to get it a little bit more secure, 'cause it was terrible. You know, I'm like, "My goodness," so we worked all day long digging in deeper foxholes, putting up more sandbags. Lieutenant Holly went and talked to his superiors and I don't know exactly what that conversation was about, but I know he wasn't happy. And so then we just, we did what we had to do, "Ok, well tomorrow we'll set it up a little bit better. A little bit more security." 'Cause we were right next to the ammo dump. Now the ammo dump has almost a thousand rounds of 155, and then the 155s are there. And so, you know the enemy, when they come, that's what they go 00:31:00for; they want to get rid of the artillery. That's what's hurting them out in there the field, I mean they're getting--

CREW: I'm gonna have to stop you right there, I have to change tapes.

BANDA: Okay.

DERKS: So from the first, Henderson didn't look like a good place to be.

BANDA: Yes, it was not a good place to be, right away, we're seeing how bad it looks. And it was a very insecure place. I just, coming from Firebase Bastogne, where you got a hundred feet of concertina wire, claymores, no vegetation at all for a mile and then you come to Henderson and the vegetation and the jungle is right there. I mean it's real close. So you said, "Boy anybody could sneak up here real quick." You wouldn't seem them till it was too late, you know. And 00:32:00that's exactly what happened.

DERKS: And how many of you were there?

BANDA: We had, I think, fourteen or fifteen of recon was there. Alpha Company was also there, and the ARVNs, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, their people were there, their soldiers were there on Firebase Henderson. And so there was those three elements there, plus the artillery people with the 155s, they were there too. And we talked a couple of them and says, "Well this, supposedly it's a temporary base. We're just coming in and giving support and then we're gonna go." And I said, "Well still, you don't have much." At night, I mean, like I said, the jungle is right there. You know, within a few feet. And that--it wasn't good, it gave us all a bad feeling. And I'm like, "Ok. Tomorrow morning 00:33:00we'll get up early. Start changing this," you know, making it a little bit more secure, and we never got the chance. Never got the chance to do that. I was on watch on that night. I took the last watch, and I remember sitting there by the foxhole, and I remember looking at my watch and thinking, "Ok, my watch is almost over. It's getting a little light out. It's about five minutes to five in the morning." It's getting a little light, and there was a heavy fog, though. I'm going, "Oh, fog again," so, "Ok. That's alright. We can still work in this if we have to." And looked at my watch again, it's a minute to five and wondering, "Ok." Look around, what can I do, maybe wake one of the guys up, you know, shoot the breeze with him or something. And then, heard an explosion on 00:34:00east side of the hill. Or excuse me, on the west side of the hill there was an explosion. I remember it well 'cause it didn't sound right. And I'm going like, "Ok, what is that?" You know, "Is that a claymore going off?" And ten seconds later, a trip flare goes off maybe fifty feet in front of me, 'cause we had the concertina wire, we had put trip wires out just in case the enemy tries to come through, it would trip the flare off. Trip flare goes off, I hit the claymore and that was positioned in that area. I hit the claymore, it blows. Ok, there was, to my right, there was a tower with some guards up there from Alpha Company, they start firing, just all, just open fire in that whole area. Just in case anything was coming out. Could have, might have been an animal; might have 00:35:00been the weather that set the trip fire off. But you're not sure, you don't take a chance. You just start firing in that area, in that direction. I turned to my left and I says, "Hey," to the guys that were, you know, they were asleep--'cause I mean, I'm on watch, they're asleep. I turned and I yelled and I says, "Hey, you guys better wake up. Something is happening." And an instant later, I saw a flash out of the corner of my right eye. An RPG hit five feet away from me. It exploded. I went up flying in the air. I was upside down, landed on my head, rolled over, got up real quick. I was deaf. I couldn't hear nothing. Couldn't hear nothing. I mean, I could see tracers flying through the air, I could see explosions but I couldn't hear anything. It was surreal. I'm 00:36:00looking around and I'm going like, "Am I dreaming this?" But slowly, my hearing started to come back. Then it's like a shock; ok, something's happening, the adrenaline starts to rush. I looked at myself, "Ok, I'm fine. I'm not hurt. I'm not bleeding. Nothing." So I looked and I picked up my rifle, started shooting, seeing movement--mostly shadows, you know, you're seeing shadows. You're like, "Ok, I'm shooting at shadows here," and run out of ammunition. Ok, look around, the RPG, when it hit the bunker, blew our rifles all over. It's dark, there's no rifles around; you have ammunition but no rifles. Ok, there was a box of hand grenades and we had frags. I tore that box open. The other guys came around. One of the guys was--he had half of his left foot blown off from the RPG explosion 00:37:00that hit the bunker where he was at--or the foxhole. And you could just see his foot and smoke coming out of his foot, out of the boot. And it was like, "Oh my goodness." You know I says, "Hey, what's--you alright? You need anything?" you know. And my First Aid bag was blown to smithereens, so now I don't have anything. So, took my shirt off and wrapped it around his foot, and stopped the bleeding. And there was very little bleeding, in fact, 'cause it was explosion, the cauterization and all that, you know; it was just a lot of pain for him. The other guy was just--nothing was wrong with him. He wasn't wounded either. So, well two of us weren't wounded. He still had a rifle--and I don't where he got it from, but he had 16--so he started shooting. We were shooting down toward the hill, or throwing frags out 'cause we didn't have the rifles. We were throwing 00:38:00frags and rocks--whatever we could find. And every once in a while you look around for a rifle and said, "Where is it? Is that it over there? No, that's a stick. Ok, keep throwing hand grenades out there!" And guy that had the 16, we saw bullets hit near us. So we turned around and says, "Ok, now they're over the hill coming from the other side. So they've overrun us." And so he turned around, there was a gook--we called them gooks back then. He shot and killed one and the guy fell right on top of the ammo dump, five seconds later the ammo dump starts exploding. And now you've got 1,000 rounds of 155, you got white phosphorus going on up there, you got the claymore mines that are around there. You've got just high explosive stuff up there. And it's blowing and it's 00:39:00tremendous explosions. Every five seconds an explosion would go off and just shower you with shrapnel and the white phosphorous would go off in explosions and that'd start falling on you and it'd start burning you, but we still stayed in that foxhole cause that was the safest place to be. I mean, trying to get up and run anywhere was out of the question, so we just stayed and just kept fighting. Throwing hand grenades out and fighting the enemy. And they'd come around us and they were--well, their purpose was to get over to that ammo dump and try to cause as much damage as they could. And they did, so that was, is just, it was horrible. It was horrible. And we stayed in that position for as long we could. And explosions were getting just too, too powerful, and too scary, actually. They were just--every explosion was louder and closer and more 00:40:00powerful. And we decided, "We can't stay here. We're gonna get killed for sure. This explosion's gonna kill us. We need to get away. Come around the hill. You know maybe go--" We went about ten, fifteen feet down toward the bottom of the hill. We took a chance 'cause staying up where we was just, it wasn't a good thing to do. You would've got killed if you stayed up there. And so we made a decision, "Ok, we need to go." We only had one guy with an M-16. And he was down, I think, to one clip. I said, "We gotta get around, once we get down and around to the north end of the hill and then come back up to get away from these explosions, we'll be alright. We'll get over by where the other guys were." You know, where Ed Vesser was, and Ken Shudy, and Doc Diller, and Doc Boman, 00:41:00Lieutenant Holly was up there, Sergeant Snyder was there. So we get around there, and we'll be safe and we will be ok. So we just got up and started going around and we saw, I don't know if it was Vietcong, or if it was even an ARVN, that started shooting at us. You're not too sure; it's dark, you know, ARVNs are up there. It's chaos, everybody's screaming and yelling and you don't know what to do. You just says, "We've got to get away and come around and get to where the other guys are, and we'll be safe there." So we did. We went down maybe fifteen feet, came around to the north end of the hill, and tried to get up there. And we did, we managed to get up to the guys. Thought we were gonna be safe, and most of them were dead already. Shudy was wounded, Ken Shudy. He was 00:42:00wounded; he had been shot and then I think he had lost one eye. But he was fine, too, he was fine, throwing hand grenades out, too, 'cause he had run out of ammunition, and the machine gunner had been killed. And Doc Diller, you know, when we--all three of us got up there, and looking around, said, "Ok, what's going on up here?" And I says, "Hey, they're gone," I'm like, "Ok let me check, I'm the medic." So I started going around. There was still shooting going on and explosions were still going on. But I says, "Hey, I've gotta check on these guys, just to make sure they're ok. See what's going, and maybe I can help. I'm a medic. I need to help these guys." So I went to Doc Diller. Doc Diller was just laying there on his back. Looked like he was asleep. In fact I thought he 00:43:00was. I says, "Hey. Hey Doc, get up." And I tried to pick him up and the back of his head was gone. His head was full of sand, which just freaked me out. I'm like--"This, how, how can that be? How can his head be full of sand?" So I just, "Ok." I laid him back down and I went over to Holly, Lieutenant Holly. He was dead. Sergeant Snyder was dead. So our Lieutenant and our Sergeant--he was a staff sergeant, Snyder. These are the two guys, our leaders that are gone. They're both dead. And I went over to see Taran, Tommy Taran, and I couldn't find him. I looked around for him and he was nowhere to be seen. Found out later that he'd been missing in action and nobody ever found his body till 2001. So I 00:44:00went, going around looking for bodies and survivors, and there was nobody left. Went back to where Ken Shudy was, 'cause he was still alive and he was hurt, so I started taking care of him. And looked for Ed Vesser, you know, and I said, "Where the hell is Ed?" I said, "I can't see him. He's not here." You know maybe--there's this pile of debris and everything else from these explosions. And somehow he either walked down there or he was blown down the hill, and he was blown maybe 100 feet down there--or he walked down there; I'm not sure how got down there, but there he was down there laying there. And before that I had been wounded. I forgot about my wound. I caught a round on the left side of my head, which had severed an artery. And being a medic, knowing an artery had been 00:45:00severed, I'm bleeding to death here, and I couldn't stop it. I put my hand up there, trying to take care of the guys, you know, I take my hand down and try to BANDAge. I didn't have any bandages so I was taking shirts or whatever I had, wrap around wounds. And every time I moved around, I would squirt five feet of blood. I mean it would just squirt for about five feet, just from that artery. And, you know, your adrenaline is going, heart is pumping. Every time my heart's pumping, that blood is shooting out, and I'm like, "Oh god." So finally, it slowed down a little bit, still bleeding, but I says, "Ok, I can handle this," start taking care of these guys, Ken Shudy and everybody else, tried to get them into a safe area so the explosions wouldn't get them plus the shooting from up in the jungle wouldn't get them. And then there was Ed--and Ed was still down there. And I remember--I don't think I ever told this to anybody but, I 00:46:00hesitated to go down there thinking--and I was scared. I think, you know, you get so scared that every cell in your body is just terrified, it's that fight and flight. I just wanted to stay where I was. I didn't want to go anywhere. You're thinking to yourself, "Well, I'm bleeding to death, I'm hurt, you know. Ed's way down there. What good can I do?" And I said, you know, "I can't leave Ed down there." So, I tore my shirt, my t-shirt, I tore it open, took a strip about that long, tore a little piece of it, put it into a little ball and pushed 00:47:00it into the hole in my head until it hurt. And says, "Ok, you feel pain. That's good. You're alright." And I tied rest of that t-shirt around my head. Then I crawled down there, 100 feet. And I was scared because there was no protection down there. Where he was at was like a little open area. There was nothing bigger than a small rock. And I said, you know, you're thinking, "If I go down there, I'm gonna get killed. I know it." So that's why I hesitated. I was scared. But, he was my friend. So, crawled down there, I got to Ed, and he--that 00:48:00thing that I'll always remember is--he said to me, "I'd knew you'd come." Terrible. I feel guilty about that. Still do. But, I said, "Ed," and he was horribly wounded. Horribly. I've seen wounds before 'cause I'd been a medic all the way up till then. But I was shocked that he was still alive. The wounds he had, shoulda been killed instantly. But he [was] strong, young, and had a wife, a young wife. He just got married and--Hawaii, he just got back from R&R, and he comes to this? So I said, "Ed, just, we gotta get outta here." I says, "You know 00:49:00we're gonna get killed down here for sure." And then, I could see dirt kicking up around us, so I know people are shooting at us. I said, "Ed, if you can help, gotta get your pack up there." But, you know, he couldn't. I mean he just--he was too badly injured to help himself. I can't remember, to this day, how I dragged him up to the hill. Got him up to the sandbags and up in the corner, and laid him down. I said, "Ed, helicopters will be coming. The medevac will be coming soon. Just hang on," you know. "If you hang on, the medevac will come and we'll get outta here." And he says--you know he could still speak which is unbelievable--and he says, "Ok, ok," he says, "Don't leave me." And I says, "I won't, Ed." And he grabbed a hold of my dog tag. And he grabbed it real tight. 00:50:00So I stayed with him. And I said, "Ed," after a while I said, "Ed, I gotta go. I gotta check on these other guys. They're hurt too." I said, "I gotta check on them to make sure they're ok." He said, "No, I don't want you to go." I says, "Ed, I don't wanna go, but I got to." So I started pulling away and he pulled one of my dog tags out. So he held onto that. And I said, "Ed, I'll be right back, Ed." So, I went in to check on Ken Shudy and the other guys, make sure they're ok, that they're not bleeding out, they're not going into shock, and they seem to be alright. And then I turned around started coming back. And 00:51:00that's when Alpha Company Team came from around the corner to rescue us, 'cause we were separated by the ammo dump. They couldn't get to us because the ammo dump was exploding, the Cobra gunships that were coming to give us support because of the attack were up flying around us, shooting at everything that was coming, was trying to get up. And artillery was coming in on us, they had called artillery in on us. They couldn't land though 'cause they were still taking a lot of fire. And the medevacs were--you could see the medevacs flying around but they couldn't land. And it was real frustrating, 'cause I see these--you know, Ed is, I know he's dying on me. And if we could just get a helicopter in here, throw him on the helicopter, and get him packed, then, I--to this day I think he 00:52:00woulda made it but, it just wasn't possible then. But the Alpha Team came around and I remember, as I was crawling back to Ed and the Alpha Team came around and the first guy that saw me, you know my eyes got about this big and his eyes got about this big, we're looking at each other like [surprised expression], 'cause he saw me and my wound, and they looked pretty bad and I never saw it 'cause I--obviously. And he said, he looked at me, he said, "Are you alright?" I says, "Yeah, I'm alright." I move back to Ed and start talking to him and trying to keep him conscious. And I said, "Hey," you know, "your wife is waiting back--" Connie, his wife. I says, "Connie is waiting back there and we're all gonna go home, Ed. Just hang in there. The medevacs will be here soon and they'll be able to land and get you out of here." But it was-- he died at 7:40 A.M. He didn't 00:53:00make it. But, that's war. Well the medevacs finally were able to land, kind of quieted down. They came in real quick. Loaded him up and got Ed back in there and, you know, and I'm thinking to myself, "Well maybe, maybe they might be able save him. Maybe he's just unconscious. Maybe he's--" you think all these things, that he'll be ok. And then the helicopter took off. And then I stayed behind and make sure everybody was ok, and for the next wave, for the next helicopter to come in. Did another walk around to make sure that I hadn't missed anybody, to make sure, if there anybody was still alive, to get them out of there. But 00:54:00everybody was dead. And finally another helicopter came in and got everybody else on there and I jumped in the helicopter then and flew outta there.

DERKS: Were you feeling anything at that point? I mean you'd lost a lot of blood.

BANDA: I had passed out a couple times, and woke up again and just kept doing what I had to do and stuff like that. Once I got to the hospital, it was like [uses hands to gesture]. I was weak as a kitten. Once I got to the hospital--I don't know what hospital it was. I wound up in the Marine hospital 'cause our hospitals were so full that day. There was thirty-two Americans were killed that morning and I knew ten of them personally in recon. I musta got to the hospital 00:55:00and they put me on a stretcher and I laid down. And I remember jumping up 'cause I remember seeing Ed in a stretcher and there was doctor and some nurses looking over him. And I remember, to this day, I remember running over to them and saying, "Doc, you've gotta save this guy 'cause he's got a wife and his wife is gonna have a kid and he needs to go home." And then a nurse grabbed me and put me back in a stretcher and I laid there, and then all of a sudden just, I just drained. I mean I just, I became weak as a kitten. I couldn't move. I don't even know how I made it that far. But yeah, here I am, you know, and--always because our young. Yeah, I see them, those young kids now. You know I'm almost sixty-one years old now, and those guys were nineteen, twenty, twenty-one. And I see the 00:56:00photos, I look at the photos that I have and I go, "My goodness, we were kids. What a thing to witness." And I think back and I know how fortunate I am to be here and everything else. I think of a poem that--do you remember, well back then he was a young captain, Captain Michael Davis O'Donnell, out of Dak To. He flew helicopters. I think he was with the 170th Aviation Company, 17th Aviation Group. He wrote a poem and it's been out and I've seen it every once in a while. And it's--how's it go? "If you are able, save for them a place inside of you and 00:57:00save a backward glance when you are leaving for places they can no longer go. And be not ashamed to say that you love them, though you may or may have not always. Take what they have left and taught you when they're dying. And, in that time, when men decide, and feel safe, to call the war insane, take a moment to embrace those gentle heroes you left behind." I always remember that. I embrace those guys, everyday. [Pause] Anything--questions?

DERKS: Um--it's with you all the time, isn't it?

BANDA: It is. It is. It never goes away. You know, I see their faces. I remember 00:58:00the sounds of their voice and their laughter. The jokes we used to tell, the things you do when you're young, the things with Ed. When I first met Ed in Vietnam, and when you first get a new guy coming into the platoon, everybody says, "Hey, where you from?" You know, trying to find somebody that you can relate to, I think. He's this young kid, blonde haired, freckled face, "I'm from Wisconsin." And I'm going like, "Wisconsin? Where?" "In Milwaukee." "Milwaukee, me too!" So we got to be real good friends and we had a lot of plans. He was gonna buy a GTO and I was gonna buy a Mustang, and when we got back we were gonna drive up and down the street and have a good time, and he was gonna come 00:59:00to my cookouts, and we were gonna go to Packer games, and we were gonna visit each other's families and have a good time afterwards. And it never happened. He died on May 6th, 1970, the morning of. And I tell people, you know, Ed got back earlier than I did, but he was here, waiting for me, when I got back. And Ed was there when I got married, he was there when I started my first job. He was there when I got divorced, and then he was there when I got married again. And 01:00:00so--[laughs]--we've had a few drinks together. And so whenever I go somewhere, he's there. He's here. They're all here.

DERKS: Yeah. Have you been living for both of you?

BANDA: Yes. Absolutely. You know, I talk to him. I visit where he--his place of rest, Wisconsin Memorial Park. And stop in there once a month, tell him what's happening. And, you know, I'm jealous 'cause he's still young. I'm old now, Ed. But--

DERKS: Did you see his wife?

BANDA: Yes, Connie. Yes. When I got back from Vietnam, I got a chance to meet Ed's family, and they were very nice and kind. They wanted to know Ed's last 01:01:00moments, you know, last--oh yeah, we talked about his mom and dad. He'd say, "Oh my, my dad's a plumber and my mom's a good cook. And my wife, I just love her to death." And couldn't wait to come home. Like all of us. You know, we wanted to do our duty, get in and get out, survive it. And his wife took it really, really hard. She never remarried, and they had a son. She had a son, Eddie Jr., and he's had a hard, a hard time with life without a father. So, that's what happens, and when a life is lost, and it ripples, and it affects a lot of 01:02:00people, your family and your friends, you know. And it affected me and everybody that knew Ed.

DERKS: So what happened to you?

DERKS: So, there you were with a hole in your head. How'd that--any problems with that?

BANDA: Headaches. Mostly with the emotional aspect of that, the loss of all my good buddies, you know, the hole in my head was ok. It's healed, and the physical part of it was, and the emotional wasn't. It's still not healed, you know.

DERKS: How far were you into your time then?

BANDA: Let's see. Five months I think. Yeah, in Vietnam. I thought it was May 01:03:006th, 1970. And so I had experienced a lot of combat up until then. And up until then, I was invincible. I felt invincible. I knew I was gonna go home. I wasn't afraid. You know, you can get scared every once in a while and that's good, but I wasn't afraid that I was going to die. I didn't feel that. And I know some of the guys, some of the soldiers said, "I'm not going to make it. I'm going to die here." And I'm like, "Don't talk like that." I didn't understand that until Henderson. Henderson changed that, 'cause I'm wounded and I'm dying and I'm going like, "Oh, I'm not invincible. Like everybody else, I can be killed. I can die here, so far away from home." And I remember laying in the hospital or the 01:04:00clinic where they took me by helicopter. And they had put me off to the side, and I had this big, huge bandage and I'm still bleeding. And I'm laying there and I'm just trying to rest 'cause I'm just exhausted after this ordeal. And a priest comes up. I don't know who it is 'cause I can't see. I'm just laying there, my eyes are closed, my head's bandaged, and I'm resting, and I can hear somebody speaking Latin. And being brought up Catholic in the old ways, where the mass was said in Latin, we learned it that way. And I couldn't, yeah, I couldn't--"Oh that's sounds like someone speaking Latin." And I'm going like, "Am I dreaming?" So I had to force my eyes open, I was so weak. I couldn't 01:05:00believe how weak I was. I had to force my eyes open. And I opened up my eyes and there was priest there and he's giving me the last rights. And I'm going like, "Oh!" That was a shock and it angered me. And I'm saying, "No, no, no, no. I've made it. I made it. I'm here. I'm going to make it now. I'm not gonna give up." 'Cause there was a time there where I was so weak and tired and exhausted and I'd seen so much and all my friends are dead, I'm like, "Just give up. Just go to sleep. It'll be all over." But seeing that and hearing that priest--I couldn't see him so much as I heard him, speaking Latin--and I thought it was a dream. And then I opened my eyes and I could move a little bit. And he kinda 01:06:00tried to give me a reassuring smile or something, from the priest. And I don't think there was any expression in my face, but inside of me, I was like, "No, no. I'm not gonna die here. I'm not gonna do that. I'm gonna go home." And here I am.

DERKS: "I'll decide, not you."

BANDA: [Laughs]. Yeah, that's the way I felt. I felt that way. And I'm going like "What? No, no, no. I'm going home." And I did, I did.

DERKS: So how long were you in the hospital?

BANDA: I was in the hospital for a little over two weeks, in the Marine hospital. Now the thing about--you know because of Henderson, and I don't know if there was other battles going on at that same time--but there was an overload on the Army hospitals and clinics. They were taking a lot of soldiers in, wounded soldiers, and so they sent me to a Marine hospital, 1st Marine Division 01:07:00in Da Nang. That's where I wound up. And I was there for a little over--about two and a half weeks. And in the meantime was all this chaos and nobody knows who was killed or who's wounded, where they went; I was reported missing in action. And when that happens, they make a phone call to your parents. So my parents get a phone call. Ok, you know this, "Mrs. Banda, your son is missing in action and we're still looking for him, but, you know, we're hopeful. And--blah, blah blah." You know, my poor Ma, just freaking out, I'm sure, and she told me later. I'm going like, [sighs]. And once they let me go from the Marine Hospital, then now I gotta get a C-130. One thing I learned about that is--I felt sometimes all by myself all alone here. I'm going like, "Is somebody gonna 01:08:00give me ride over the--" "No, you're here. Here's your discharge from this hospital. You've gotta find your way back to your base." I'm going like, "Ok." So you know, then you go, "Ok, where do I get a C-130?" "Oh you gotta talk to that officer over there." "Ok." "Where you going? Ok, well there's not one here for, you know, so blah blah blah," and you're like, "Wow, this is strange." I mean it's surreal. I mean you're in a war and you're in the rear and nobody cares. You know, everybody's got their own thing they're doing, they don't know what you just went through. And they say, "Well just sit over there, wait, there'll be somebody here." And then you wait a few hours and then you go get up again and you go "Hey, what's going on?" "Oh yeah, yeah, that's right. You know they're not flying out today. Catch one tomorrow." "Well now what? Where do I go?" "Well you can stay right here and nobody'll care." I sit there till the 01:09:00next day. And in that time you're sitting there, all you do is think, "Ok, well, what happened?" And then you go over it, through it in your head again. But, that time, that day, waiting there for the C-130, I told myself I was never gonna talk about it. So once I finally got the C-130, went back to my base.

DERKS: So you didn't have anybody looking for you.


DERKS: 'Cause everybody was killed.

BANDA: Everybody was killed. You know I finally came back to the base. Everybody was shocked to see me. And the first thing they said, "We thought you were dead!" I'm going like, "No, I'm still here." "Holy man, what happened?" And I said, "Nothing, you know. Firefight. I'm here. What do you want me to do next?" 01:10:00So I didn't talk about it after that. And then some people would just leave me alone. They would say, "Well he just went through a lot so we won't ask him," so, nothing was asked, and I didn't volunteer any information. So from that day on, I didn't, for many, many years. Once I got back to the world I didn't speak of it. Didn't say anything to anybody about it. You know, and my brothers, my family, I said, "Well," I said, "It was bad. And that's it." You know, "I won't talk about it." But they didn't press me. And years would go by and then some people would ask. But again, it's "Oh, Vietnam was Vietnam. Shooting, you know. I'm here." But that's what I did. I just wiped it clean and start over. That was 01:11:00another part of my life that I didn't want to go back to or think of.

DERKS: Was, was there anybody else from your squad that was back there when you went back?

BANDA: No, no, none. None. The ones that were pretty severely wounded, were shipped out to Japan and then back home. And then the other ones were, you know, body bagged and shipped home. So, yeah it was--I was the lone survivor. Nobody else. And I went back and, "Ok, what do you want me to do now? Where do you want me to assign me to something?"

DERKS: And did they?

BANDA: Yeah. Yeah, I got assigned then to the Echo Company and they put me in the Mortar Platoon. So they put me on another firebase. And I know how fortunate 01:12:00I am to be here, 'cause there was a number of times where--Henderson was the worst 'cause I thought for sure I was gonna be dead, I just, I knew it. Here I am. But after they put me in Echo Company, Mortar Company, there was an incident. It was with Mortar Company, we were on the firebase. I don't remember or recall the firebase name. It was a temporary base; I think it was there for a few months and then they tore it down and moved on. There was a miscalculation of a mortar round. Landed short, hit the fort--what do they call that now--a lookout post they had, you know, a squad they had out there. Outside the firebase perimeter, you know--

DERKS: An OP? Observation Post?

BANDA: Yeah. Exactly. And a round, a mortar round, came in and landed right in 01:13:00the middle of them. Wounded--didn't kill anybody, but wounded three. And they were close enough where you could hear them screaming and calling for help. So then I picked up my medic bag and started running down there. And I got within thirty feet of them and was ready to take another step and luckily, one of the team, one of the guys there, he said, "Doc, stop! Don't take another step." I froze, and I'm like "Ok, what's going on?" He says, "We've got a claymore, an automatic claymore set out there, with a trip wire. If you'd took one more step, that claymore would have blown you to bits." And I looked down and a foot away from me was a string, right there and I'm like, "Ok. Alright. I'm alright, step 01:14:00over it." And then the guy came out and they dismantled it, you know. And he says, "Doc, you don't how close you were to one of them." You know, you look at those things like that and you wonder, "Man, why and I here?" And one other time --

DERKS: "Well I want to be near you!"

BANDA: Oh yeah right. Hey! Yeah! [both laugh] We were ambushed. A sniper. And we all hit the ground, and I'm kinda towards the back as a medic. You're not up in front; you're usually right behind the radio man. And we hit the ground and you hear sniper fire, "Ok, anybody hit?" "No, we're ok, but we're looking for the sniper." Trying to hear, trying to locate, "Ok, where is the sound coming from? We can call the Cobra in here or artillery or somebody can see him--or just 01:15:00shoot over there in that direction." Just a lot of firepower. And me, I'm curious. You know, ok, I stick my head up and look and then I see this leaf, just above me, you know one of those big large marine, piece of foliage, and it goes like this [uses hand to wave] and I'm going like, "Ok." Go back down and I'm going like, look around again. I pick up my head and then--you're hearing gunshots going off, but I mean they're all in the distance, so I don't--and then the leaf goes like this again, and I'm going like, "What the hell?" I look up and there's two perfect bullet holes in that leaf. And I'm going like, "Son of a bitch, he's trying to get me!" [laughs] So I yell out real fast, "Sniper!" and I says, "And he's shooting at me!" They says, "Hey, he's shooting at Doc!" And all of a sudden everybody just starts shooting everywhere and it, you know, just a big firefight, you know. And I'm like, "Cool." [laughs]. I'm going like, "Wow!" And I think back now I'm going like, "Boy if I woulda just picked up my head a 01:16:00little bit higher, or he'd been a more accurate shot," you know, you think of those things and you're like, "My goodness."

DERKS: He's shooting a little high.

BANDA: Yeah, he was. Twice! And I'm going like, "What the hell." But here I am, and other guys--we had a medic that came in country a little gung ho. [I] says, "Take it easy, you're not--you're a medic. That's the way you're trained. You're not infantry, don't walk point or slack." Well he said, "I think that would be so cool," and I'm going like, "Yeah, but no. If I could tell people back home, 'Yeah I walked point for 100 feet,' or whatever," I says, "'cause they'll let you, 'cause I mean, they're taking--they're rotating people up there and, anybody that walks point, they don't want to be there but they'll do it. That's their job." And, well he walked point, once, and stepped on a mine; didn't see 01:17:00it. And those other guys are trained for that, they'll see that string there or something different. And I don't know what he was thinking, but he was there a week. That's it. And he was dead.

DERKS: He must've felt like he'd been there years.

BANDA: It did. It really did. I felt like I'd been there five years, you know. And I was like, "I gotta get out of here." Just count the days so you get short and get outta here and toward the end there, you're put in the rear, 'cause you're gonna get out so they put you in the rear. And they had me in a first aid station passing out pills for a while until I could process out. And, "Well, ok." And we had a 122-millimeter rocket attack on our base, and if you've ever been there in a 122-millimeter rocket attack, it is terrifying cause you don't 01:18:00know where they're landing and I mean sometimes it, I mean, it sounds like a train coming in and then when it hits, it shakes the earth and it's just terrifying, and you're like "Man, I'm so close to getting out here. I don't wanna die now." And I'm going like--then I would think, "I'm going home. I don't care what anybody says, what anybody does. I'm gonna make it home." And I did. I remember with Ed and I, we promised ourselves--we had been through a number of firefights, Ed and I, and we survived it--and we'd look at each other and say, "I'm never gonna complain about anything again. From this, if we get back to the world, everything's gonna be gravy. Everyday's gonna be gravy. Don't complain about a thing 'cause, you get back here, my goodness." 'Cause, it's second 01:19:00chance, you know. You got the world by the short hairs. You can do anything you want. You know you make it back from that, it's like, "Wow!" It's gravy. You tend to forget that once in a while, you know. I have. I've forgotten and it and I'm going like, oh, you start feeling sorry for yourself, "Oh I gotta get up. I gotta do this." And I'm like, "Wait a minute. Ed would say, 'Wait a minute.'"

DERKS: You're not in Vietnam.

BANDA: Right. I go, "Right, Ed, it's good to be alive."

DERKS: He's still here to remind you.

BANDA: [Laughs] He does. He does. Thank you, Ed.

DERKS: What was that freedom bird like?

BANDA: [Sighs]. You know, I think, was different from what I've read. This war, 01:20:00Vietnam, I went there alone. I didn't go there with my platoon or people that I trained with in Boot Camp or in Fort Sam Houston, in Medic School, or Airborne School, or Jump School; I mean I went there, I didn't know anybody. I mean, I went there by myself. You know, I went out to the airport and I went down to Fort Lewis, Washington, by myself. I mean there was--I was looking around to see if I knew anybody and, "Hey, how you doing?" you know. Nope. Went there alone, came back alone. And I was like [facial expression], you're on that freedom bird, its' fantastic. Once that plane lifts off the ground, it's just exhilarating. I mean, it's like, "God yes! I made it!" But then, you know, you think, "Well there's guys that didn't." You know but you still feel happy. I mean you're like, "Man I made it. I'm outta here after all that. People were 01:21:00trying to kill me." And I'm going like, "I made it out of there." But I look around the plane and I'm going like "I don't know anybody here." You know, for sharing, to say, "Hey, Wade," hug him and say, "We made it, we made it back! It's great!" You kind of look at each other and you're like, "Ok, we're all together and we made it but--" maybe some guys knew each other, but I went there alone and came back alone.

DERKS: And then you were left to deal with it alone.

BANDA: And yes. Absolutely, I remember getting out and the sergeant was saying, "Ok, get out of your uniform as soon as you can, it's a different world out there."

[Phone rings. Pause]

DERKS: So you got out and you got back here and [were] told to take your uniform off?


BANDA: Yeah. Absolutely. They said, "Take your uniform as soon as you can, 'cause it's a different world out there. There's a lot of things going on there. They don't like Vietnam vets. They--" and you're like, "What did I do?" you know, "I didn't do anything." "You don't talk about it to anybody because you don't know what kind of reaction you're gonna get. Somebody might spit in your face," and you're like, "Ok." I mean you had to wear the uniform--I did--to get that discount price to fly. You know, you had to wear a uniform--or maybe you just had to show your ID, I'm not sure. But I remember wearing my uniform home and then taking it off right away and going back and into society, civilian life. I remember attending a college here in Milwaukee and I went to a sociology class and it--University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee--and the teacher was talking 01:23:00about, one of the topics was Vietnam and war in general and Vietnam obviously was--this was back in '73--and he said, "Oh, do we have any Vietnam vets out there?" And I didn't raise my hand. And I'm sure there were some there and they didn't raise their hand, 'cause just--you didn't do it. 'Cause, you know, you're afraid, "Ok, why is he saying this? Why is asking that? What's he gonna do? Ridicule us? Is he gonna say something bad? Or maybe the people around me might not like it." So just kind of sunk down and you look around you're going, "Oh, nobody." And that's the way it was, for years, for years. You know I think in '82 they had, finally, the Wall, the dedication of the Wall in Washington, D.C. 01:24:00A bunch of us veterans got together and hijacked a van and we drove out to Washington, D.C., drinking all the way there and all the way back, of course. And going there, you know, and I went there with, "Ok, this is cool, they're finally recognizing us." But it wasn't the same. It wasn't--and I don't know if it was too late or what, but it was like, "Ok." The Wall was great. You know you looked at the Wall and all the names from Firebase Henderson were there, the guys were there, and I'm going like, "Ah." Except when--it was real interesting that Tom Taran, Tommy Taran, he was still back in '82, was still missing in action, which, to me, was like, "How can you be missing in action?" I saw the man twenty feet from me. He was running 'cause there was a breach in the 01:25:00perimeter on that side and he was running to give support. And I saw him with an M-16 and he was shooting, and I'm like, "Ok, there's Tom," and looking around and then I never saw him again, ever. And his fiancée would write letters to--when I was still in Vietnam--she would write letters to the headquarters there and to the commanding officer and say, "How can he be missing? Don't you know where your soldiers are?" You know, not understanding what had gone on that morning. And 'cause of the explosions, it was tremendous, I remember one helicopter pilot was saying that he was almost knocked out of the sky from one of the explosions that was going on. They were tremendous, I mean, I couldn't describe to you without the power of those explosions. They would just go right through your body.

DERKS: From the ammo dump?

BANDA: Yes, the concussions. I mean every five seconds. Two or three at a time 01:26:00would go. Some five or a six at a time would just explode. And, you know, you're twenty, twenty-five feet away from that, you're hugging the ground, but it doesn't matter, throws you up in the air. And it's like, "My goodness." And the shrapnel. And it's like, "I'm not getting over this thing. We're not going to survive this. This is bad." But you know, obviously, she came to terms with it 'cause he never came back. And I think his body was finally--or his remains--were finally found in 1997. And then, actually weren't positively identified until 2000 and then finally he was--he's buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

DERKS: Where were the remains found?


BANDA: They said only a couple hundred yards from the base, from the firebase. I don't know if he ran down there or if he was blown down there, but they had sent a team, years later after the war, I even thought in the '80s or '90s. They have a team that goes around and looks for missing in action. And they missed it the first time and I guess a farmer or someone found a dog tag and some bones or teeth and through DNA, found that it was him. And I'm going, "Oh my goodness." And I feel kind of guilty 'cause he was from Westland, Michigan, which is right across the lake from here. And I never went to visit the family and say that he was such a great guy and they were all, they all were. And maybe someday I will. 01:28:00And I know his parents are probably gone by now, but he had some siblings.

DERKS: Yeah and the way the Wall, the way the names are arranged, they're all there together, aren't they?

BANDA: Absolutely. Yeah, yeah. They're in chronological order, so you know when they died. They're right there and I look at them and I go, I say hello. And I see them as these young kids. And they're so--I picture them smiling. You know that's the way I try to remember them. You know, dear, dear moments of happy moments, and good times, you know, or we're all together having a beer and laughing and talking about things that you're gonna do when you get back to the world, and your girlfriends and passing photos around, "Oh, this is my fiancée," or, "This is my kid." "This is what I'm--where my parents are," and 01:29:00things like that, happy times. But that horrible morning. That's the way I see them. That's the way I'll always see them, smiling.

DERKS: Yup, they didn't age.


DERKS: Still kids.

BANDA: Yup. Yeah, when I visit Ed at the cemetery there where he's buried and every time I come up there, it's always been a real pretty day, when I [go]. It just happens to fall and I'll go there and hear birds singing and stuff like that and I'll tell him, "Hey, the sun shining and birds are singing, and it's good to see you again."

DERKS: Your sergeant that you were talking about that died after the war?

BANDA: Sergeant John Ease.

DERKS: Was he there?


BANDA: No he was not. He was assigned to another assignment, that's what it was. It was in another assignment and so he wasn't there at the time. And there was a few other guys that were on R&R at that time, so when they got back from R&R, you know they said, "Hey, there's no recon left." That's what they were told when they came back, is that recon's gone. Every one of them's gone. So they had to start the whole new recon. They were lucky. Yeah, fortunate they weren't there. I'm glad they weren't there. I'm glad, you know, it's like, well, that's just the way that fortunes ran for them that they were not there that morning. They were on different assignments or on R&R.

DERKS: Do you have dreams?

BANDA: Yes. Yeah.

DERKS: Still?

BANDA: Yeah. Still dreams. Yeah, firefights, Henderson, you know, is a big one 01:31:00for me.

DERKS: How old were you?

BANDA: Twenty. You know, so--Yeah you're invincible, like I said. I felt that way then, until that day.

DERKS: You're a strong guy George.

BANDA: Well! [Laughs]

DERKS: You're carrying a lot. Thank you!

BANDA: Oh you're welcome. Thank you.

DERKS: Thank you for your service.

BANDA: Oh absolutely, you're welcome.

DERKS: I think Ed's proud of you.

BANDA: Thank you very much.