Randy said he knew he was going to wind up being drafted from the time he went to college. For a short period of time, he and his buddies received a 2-S deferment while they attended college. Randy graduated in 1969 with a degree in zoology and secured a job at the wildlife refuge in Anahuac. He married in October of that year and was drafted by year’s end. He knew it was coming.
Randy was sent to Fort Polk in Louisiana for basic training and Advanced Infantry Training where he spent about six months. Randy said, “I was told in basic they give you all these tests and I had always done well in school. Given the schooling I had taken they told me they might assign me a position as a veterinarian’s assistant. I found out quickly not to believe any promises made. I was assigned to the 11 series, which is infantry, 11 Bravo. That’s where most everyone who got drafted wound up, not everybody, but you paid your dime and took your chances.”
After two weeks leave Randy was sent from Fort Polk to Fort Benning, Georgia to what is called NCO (noncommissioned officers) school. Randy said he knew he was going to end up in Vietnam, but when the orders finally came, they still had an effect on him. “After I got my orders from Fort Benning for Vietnam, my wife at the time took a picture of me when I walked through the door,” said Randy. “I looked like my dog had died! It was a scary thought to process because we had heard how dangerous it was.”
While at Fort Benning, Randy was trained in leadership skills and about 3 weeks of ranger training. “Not everyone got that,” said Randy, “Ranger training is a little tougher. . . it’s repelling out of helicopters and a lot of patrolling. It was really good training because we were working with guys who had come back from Nam who were rangers in recon. Recon is a small unit operation, most infantry were going out in 150-200 men line companies, recon groups were going out in 3-6-men teams as a recon platoon.” Randy said smaller groups could be quiet and avoid detection. They were trained to locate the enemy and to set ambushes at night. “We didn’t speak above a whisper until we returned to the Fire Base,” Randy said.
“I arrived in Vietnam in Dec 1970, and it was hot! It was at least as hot as it is here, but the mosquitoes were worse, way worse,” he recalled. “The climate was a monsoon climate . . . raining in the north every day and hot and dry in the south . . . then it would switch. I managed to sleep in the rain every night during the last two months of my tour and I still don’t like rainy nights,” said Randy. “It was hard to sleep in the jungle when we were on patrol, that’s the darkest country in the world” he shuddered, “The jungle canopy was so heavy and there were no large towns nearby to shed any light. We could hear things all around us in the darkness, things that weren’t there and things that were. We’d see shiny phosphorescence things moving through the weeds, you didn’t know if it was snakes, rodents, pigs, or rabbits but in your imagination, they became a whole troop of NVA.”
I asked Randy if there were many snakes in Vietnam and he said, “Snakes, I almost got killed by one! We were kind of cocky back then and one day two of my buddies and I stole our company commander’s jeep and drove into the nearby provincial capital of Xuan Loc (Swan Loch). Coming back, we were driving down this dirt road maneuvering to miss all the areas of loose dirt, as that could be where a land mine was buried. We were in a hurry to get the captain’s jeep back to him when all of a sudden, we saw this long thing going across the 8-foot road, it stretched from one side to the other, it was a King Cobra. We ran over it and looked back and saw it laying in the road. Rindoni was driving and I was in the back by the machine gun, but the spare tire fell on me and had me pinned. Katz, who’d been over there forever, jumped out with a big ole knife and he headed back to cut its head off. We were going to drape it over the front of the jeep and park it in front of the captain’s tent. He got within 5 feet of the snake and all of a sudden it raised up five feet in the air in full hood attack mode. Katz is backing up and Rindoni’s shooting at him with the 16, while I’m still pinned under the spare tire. I remember thinking, “Oh my God, mom’s not going to believe this, I’m going to die from a snake bite!” ‘cause it would have killed us. Rindoni shot at it two or three times and I don’t think he ever hit it, but it finally crawled off into the weeds. I never want to do that again!”
Randy stated, “The Viet Cong were not as well trained by the North Vietnamese Army and their standard weapon was a Communist supplied AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifle. It was a good weapon for that heat and humidity. Ours were M-16’s which tended to be a little delicate for that climate. I never had any trouble with mine though, as I cleaned it every night whether I used it or not, I wanted to make sure it worked! It was my best friend and I slept with it for 6 months.”
“The North Vietnamese Army, on the other hand, were highly trained and efficient soldiers,” Randy said. “One weapon I still cringe at when I see it in war movies is the RPG, or rocket-propelled grenade. They were scary, they were made to fire at tanks, but they used them to fire at us. It’s terrible to see the results of one.”
“We didn’t see a large number of troops at one time; I think the most we ever saw in one place was 100 NVA. Usually, they travelled in 3 to 8 to 10 man groups of Viet Cong, lightly weaponed. They would hit the American troops quick and be gone. We walked through two ambushes that didn’t get blown on us. That’s a hair-raising on the back of your neck feeling.”
“There was not a lot of large unit action going on at that time,” said Randy. “We had to go out and find them, they were just hangin’ on cause, they knew we were going to back out, they read the papers. When we went on patrol, we carried, on our back in a rucksack, everything we would need for 3 days; water, food, 200 rounds of M-16 ammo, 200 rounds of ammo for the machine gun (we only had one machine gun for every 6-man team, and you didn’t want to run out of ammo for those.). My first mission I went to stand up after placing the filled rucksack on my back and I realized why they called us grunts, the supplies weighed about 80 -90 pounds. You learned to carry less water and just go thirsty”
“The people we were protecting ranged from city dwellers to village people who just wanted to tend to their water buffalo and rice fields and be left alone.” Randy said the Viet Cong would draft people out of the villages and many times use them as human shields to clear the trails ahead of them. He said, “Two of our Kit Carson scouts, Duc and Liem, were former Viet Cong we used as interpreters.” Randy said they had to be careful though, as they didn’t know who to trust. He said they felt like the whole country was out to kill them.
Duc & Liem in Center, Kit Carson Recon Scouts
“We had a barber at our base camp we called Papa San (in picture on left) and we would tease him and accuse him of being NVA because of the pith helmet he wore. We returned to base camp one day and we see 3 VC coming down the trail. They shot at us, and we fired back killing the first two and the other got away. Katz looked at the first one in line and said, “Hey Rand, I think that’s the barber.” He had been a plant the whole time checking out the base camp.”
“The closest call I had was when two of our 6-man teams were together and snuck into a Viet Cong base camp. They had to be ingenious at hiding them because we had airplanes and helicopters looking for them and they were on the side of a mountain. We saw a couple of bunkers as we were walking through, but they were empty, so we were wondering if it was an old camp. As we were checking it out, we started hearing people talking in Vietnamese. They were just jabbering ‘cause they didn’t know we were there. There were trails leading off from the bunkers and about that time two guys on the tail end of ours opened up with their M-16s and shot a couple of Viet Cong. All of a sudden, we were pinned down and started hustling back to the edge and calling in artillery. Where we were was what they call triple canopy jungle, which is layers of foliage so thick you can’t see the sun. At that time, I was the Lieutenant’s radio man calling in artillery. I was to call in a marking round which is a white phosphorous round set to go off 100 meters above the jungle floor and from there you can adjust it so incoming artillery doesn’t hit you. Well, we couldn’t see it, we could hear it but that was it. We started shooting off flares and it got complicated. A Navy FAC (Forward Air Controller) came on and he thought he saw one of the flares, so he called in the position back to our base camp. I called in so many rounds and they were landing behind us, so we almost got killed by our own artillery! I called them off and they managed to get in a Cobra gun ship, and they cleaned out the thing. We cleared out and spent the night and they came back in. That was nerve wracking!”
Randy considered his fellow comrades as brothers. He said, “The best movie I think that portrays the true brotherhood we had is “We Were Soldiers, for it shows how they had each other’s back.” We might kid around with the new recruits, but we had no problems with racial or religious discrimination. We were all we had over there, and we depended on each other, and we are the only ones who really understand what we went through over there.” Randy shared with me that one of his black platoon buddies saved his life not long after he arrived in Vietnam. They were scouting a trail and he heard shots behind him. He turned around a saw James Arradondo who had just taken out a VC. Randy had walked right past the VC who had been hiding in the grass and had Randy in his sights. “There was a general opinion that all the soldiers in Nam were always drinking and smoking dope, but that would be suicide. We had what was called a burm line which amounted to piled up dirt on the edge of our camp. We all knew when we crossed that burm line we were in enemy territory and we had to be on high alert.”
“It was difficult when I first came home. For most grunts, one day you’re sleeping on the jungle floor and the next thing you know you are in the middle of the hustle and bustle at home. It just felt strange, like you were in a completely different world.”
What hurt the Nam vets more than anything,” said Randy, “was the attitude our fellow Americans adopted towards us. I can see where the division was caused, this war was stupid and we didn’t need to be there as it turned out, even though a lot of us thought we were doing the right thing. We had a Commander in Chief to obey, but a lot of people didn’t see it that way. They didn’t agree with the war and how it was handled, so they blamed the warrior instead of the war. I heard that phrase somewhere,” said Randy. Randy put his feelings into a poem he titled “Questions.” He dedicated the poem to those who had not come home yet, those who will never come home, or those who only came home partially.
“I found that when I came home, it was easier to remember and talk about, the things I thought were funny, I stuffed the rest down. Still, even to this day, I feel kind of numb sometimes, it’s hard to explain. I have trouble feeling empathy and still see scenes I would rather forget. We were much of the time terrified out of our minds.” “What helped you push past that fear?” I asked him. “The military trains us that whatever situation happens we react without thinking about it.” He answered. “I do not remember consciously thinking about it, you just do what is necessary. Find the biggest tree to get behind and shoot back. You don’t think about running because that would be the dumbest thing you could do.”
Anyone who has ever served on the battlefield suffers from some sort of PTSD. You see things you can never unsee and even when I hear loud noises today, I want to hit the ground!” he sadly proclaimed. “I was a mess for about the first ten years which probably cost me my first marriage, and at first, I thought I was crazy. I would hear everything going on around me. I went to the DVA and found out everyone who came back suffered the same thing. We were just trained to be on hyper alert tuned in to everything going on around us, because it could mean your life. It was hard to turn that off. I don’t mind talking to you about it right now,” he said, “but tonight I may have flashbacks and difficulty sleeping. You just never get over it.”
“I’m not a hero,” said Randy, “but I was fortunate enough to serve with some. For years I could not go into a hospital. There is one image I can’t shake of a friend of mine who got hit while we were up at Quang Tri. He stepped on a land mine. I can remember going to see him at the evac hospital where they got him stabilized before ‘choppering’ him to the hospital ship Hope in the South China Sea. I remember looking at him and seeing the blank spots under the sheet where his leg wasn’t anymore and his arm. I can see that as clear as day. An infantry man sees things most others will never see.”
Randy said the badge they received that means the most is the Combat Infantryman’s badge. You had to be trained as an infantryman and served in actual ground combat to receive one. Randy left his pinned to a card with a note at the Vietnam wall where his buddy, Glenn Weldon McCarty is memorialized. Glenn and Randy trained together at Fort Benning and Glenn was assigned to the 23rd Americal Division and was sent to Chu Lai. He died within a month of arriving in Vietnam. Randy note stated, “You didn’t live long enough to get one of these, so take mine.”
Of all the medals upon our chests
From battles and wars we knew,
The one admired as the very best,
Is the one of infantry blue.
It's only a rifle upon a wreath,
So why should it mean so much?
It is what it took to earn it
That gives it that magic touch!
To earn this special accolade
You faced enemy's fire,
Whether you survived or not
God dialed that one desire.
For those of us who served the cause,
And brought this nation glory,
It's the Combat Infantryman's Badge
That really tells the story.
By Randy Forrest
Randy wrote the following poem after returning from Vietnam to an indifferent world. He dedicated it to his friend, Glenn, SSgt Moore, Robert, Gary, and all those who either haven't come home, will never come home, or only came home partially.
Why is it that you can’t understand?
That When we went to that far foreign land
It wasn’t because we wanted to fight.
But Uncle said “GO” . . .
And we thought he was right.
We came from College and High School,
Suburb and slum.
Our only common ground training with a gun.
Why do you say you don’t want to know?
That to die for no reason is really some blow?
Combat’s the same in each war, so they say . . .
So WHY are so many just wasting away?
The fire and the killing; the sweet smell of blood,
Can numb all your senses as you crouch in the mud.
The numbing continues as you try to survive . . .
‘Till you don’t even know just WHY you’re alive.
And when we came home it was –
“Where you been, man?” or
“How many did ya kill?” or
“Do you smoke pot?”
And you answer with grunts more often than not.
For HOW can you tell what you don’t understand?
About your own private hell
In that far foreign land.
I can think of no better way to transition between Black History Month and the month of March where we will honor our Vietnam veterans than to highlight the life and service of Corporal Charles Everett Humphrey, grandson of Montie Humphrey. Charles was one of four Chambers County young men who were killed in action during the Vietnam War. I compiled the following information from family members, Myra Hand Norman articles, and Charles' obituary in the Anahuac Progress.
Charles was a native of Double Bayou, TX, born, Oct. 2, 1944, to Archie E. Humphrey and Thelma May Gill. The fifth child of 12, he had four sisters and seven brothers. Charles was a member of the St. Paul Methodist Church of Double Bayou, where he attended regularly. His sister, Regina, said if you did not attend regularly one of the older ladies would find you and ask why you were not there. Back then they really held you accountable, she said, which can be a good thing.
Charles attended the Double Bayou High School where he was an above average student and always made good grades. Classmate, S. T. Carrington, remembers him as a kind, hardworking young man and always a jokester. “He was well-liked by everyone who knew him,” said S T., “and he was a really hard worker, whatever work was available, he would be there.”
Like most young men, Charles had dreams of what he wanted to do with his life. His sister, Regina said he would work in the family’s large garden every day after school, which caused him to conclude he definitely did not want to be a farmer or a ranch hand, so he made plans early on to attend college. He was mechanically inclined, and his dream was to have a career in mechanics one day.
After his Double Bayou High School graduation in 1963 Charles entered Prairie View College where he attended classes for two years before entering the Marine Corps. His plan was to return to college after his tour of duty and make enough money to put his siblings through college, a plan that would never be realized.
In February 1966 he joined the United States Marine Corps as a member of Company C, First Battalion of the Ninth Marine Regiment and by September of that year was in the battle zone. Charles was an antitank assaultman. Humphrey was wounded by mortar fire on, May 14, 1967, near the Demilitarized Zone, where his unit had been engaged in combat for more than 2 months. The injury earned him the Purple Heart and the Medal of Valor, for heroism in action in rescuing others of his unit under enemy fire. He returned to duty a short time afterward while his family at home looked forward to hearing his personal account of the details of the incident when he returned home to them. He was near the end of his one-year tour of duty in Viet Nam and had written his family that he was looking forward to being ordered home late in August. He had already shipped some of his personal effects home in anticipation of his release.
On Sunday, July 2, the Defense Department reported that Marines of the Ninth Regiment had been heavily engaged with Viet Cong forces near the Demilitarized Zone, and in a three-day battle, Marine casualties were high. On July 2, Cpl. Humphrey was killed immediately, the Defense Department reported, by hostile gunshot or small arms fire while on patrol, in the Quang Tri area.
On Wednesday, July 12, Major John Blair of Beaumont, Marine Corps Reserve Officer, and two of his aides, personally delivered the news of Cpl. Humphrey’s death to his family in Double Bayou. Sister, Regina, said she saw everyone at the post office crying, and she knew something bad had happened. Her daddy was working at the White Ranch in Stowell at the time and they went and picked him up, bringing him all the way home before they gave him the news. She said it was a really hard time for all of them.
Corporal Humphrey, at the young age of 22, was laid to rest in the Martha Godfrey Cemetery in Double Bayou surrounded by all the great Humphrey’s who went before him, including his grandfather, Montie Humphrey.
Though his voice is silenced the testimony of his courage and sacrifice speaks volumes. Sir, we, a grateful nation, salute you!