Vietnam: Through The Eyes Of A Veteran
Richard Reierson served in the Vietnam War; to get to the war he had a rollercoaster ride of an experience.
May 13, 2022
For Richard Reierson college didn’t go as planned. Most people plan out two to four years of college but for Reierson he only had a semester and a half of college before he got drafted into the Vietnam War. Life took a crazy spin right as high school ended for the Reierson that has shaped him into the man, war vet, husband and dad he has been and continues to be.
Reierson, growing up, was blessed with great athletic ability on the basketball court, baseball field and football field. He even got a scholarship at University of Wisconsin-Madison for football and played for a semester before getting phenomena and losing the scholarship because he was sick. He then transferred to University of Whitewater to try and finish out his second semester before getting drafted, “It was amazing to me I couldn’t pass a physical to keep playing football but I could pass a physical to go into the Army.”
Since Reierson switched colleges that made him more eligible for the draft for the Vietnam War. He then was informed at the end of May of 1967 that he would be getting drafted, “I decided not to go into the National Guard even though that was an option, I was gonna take my chances.” Richard decided he wanted to go into combat and not play the safe option of going into the National Guard where he would most likely never see combat; he was willing to go into war.
On June 25, 1968, Reierson went into the Army officially. He started out in Milwaukee to have an induction physical and to get sworn into the Army, he then got notified that he would be getting drafted within the next six months. As soon as possible, the Army took Reierson and the soldiers down to basic training for nine weeks in Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
After basic training he then was transferred for nine more weeks of advanced infantry training down in Fort Polk South “…called the ‘Little Vietnam’ or ‘Tiger Land’ because it was set up much like the situations and areas that we would be working in Vietnam.” Reierson also goes on to say, “The training at fort polk is fantastic, we were well prepared. The people that came out of fort polk were probably the most prepared for Vietnam out of everybody who didn’t get to train down there before getting drafted…the swaps, the marshes and overall everything to consider on Vietnam was down there.”
Even during a hard and stressful time, Reierson was still able to find some fun during his training for the war. “Our advanced training in Fort Polk had a lieutenant that was one of our instructors, when I got there he told the entire company that nobody could beat him doing push ups. The first week I lost to him, then the next week I won every time.” Reierson was able to do 375 push ups in a row, and the first time he did 375 push ups he was doing them on his fingertips, the second time he did it with a clap!
When Reierson got to Vietnam, he was assigned to the weapons platoon because he had been trained in heavy weapons; which included heavy motors and machine guns. With Reierson being assigned to heavy weapons his specific way of being transported was in the Eagle Flights transporting about 50 troops at a time. They were a quick way of helping anyone who was in contact with hostiles or trying to get to a certain area of the war zone.
During his 367 days (1968 was a leap year) in the Vietnam War, Reierson had significant people to rely on, “I was fortunate enough my commanding officer and company commander was a fantastic captain along with my having a tremendous colonel.” These people helped Reierson by being good mentors throughout the war for him along with being strong leaders for other soldiers throughout the war.
Reierson came close to earning a Purple Heart, which is a solemn distinction and means a service member has greatly sacrificed themselves, or paid the ultimate price, while in the line of duty. “Apparently it was by friendly fire that I had gotten hit, so I didn’t get a Purple Heart from that day; they took it away.” Then two weeks later he got bit by something, spent a week in the hospital with that.
Post Vietnam War the reactions from the public back home in the states were very negative and against the soldiers going to the Vietnam War. Reierson had a hard time handling the feedback. “When I was walking off the plane to the tarmac in Chicago some protesters got in there and were spitting on us, throwing tomatoes at us, balloons filled with urine thrown at us and it took everything we could do to not do something foolish back.”
There were protesters at the tarmac of Chicago because they were told by the news media fake news about what was going on in Vietnam. “They were protesting against the war because they thought we were baby killers and didn’t see any need for us to be there. I still feel strongly that we were there for a humanitarian reason.”
Even though the news media and public in general of America doesn’t fully understand why soldiers got sent over there or see no need for it, as someone who was in the war he thinks differently. “The Southeast Asia Treaty organization; the people of South Vietnam requested our presence. Communism was strong at this time and the politicians and higher up military thought we could stop communism by getting involved.
The outcome of America getting involved in the war may have not fully stopped communism to its full potential like America was hoping for but it did stop certain countries from getting involved. “We did save Cambodia and Laos from getting involved even though the Vietnam War didn’t fully end how we would like, we still stopped them which is something to be happy about.”
10 to 12 years post war were extremely hard with the PTSD he dealt with. “ I have a very strong wife, she keeps me in shape. I woke up several times on top of [my wife] choking her and I was surprised that she stayed with me; I’m super grateful. But the nightmares are the worst, they still happen to this day.”
Spring of 1970 Reierson got back into the family business of farming. Even through the good times and the very bad times he does miss farming. His high school sweetheart and now wife misses it more than him actually. “The biggest reason I farmed was because it gave me solitude, gave me an outlet to get away.”
Post-war, post-farming and now officially in retirement, Reierson has been kept a busy man with four grandchildren. He spends his days now going to tons of sporting events for his grandchildren along with getting to spend everyday with his wife Joan by either going to the hometown cafe and doing activities and chores outside with her.