Vietnam veteran is finally home

Jasper, IN

I was born in Waukon, Iowa, and graduated from high school in my hometown of Lansing, Iowa. After completing air conditioning school in Eau Claire, Wisc., I enlisted in the U.S. Navy on May 7, 1969. Upon completion of basic training in San Diego, I reported for duty aboard USS Theodore E. Chandler {DD717}, a destroyer stationed in Long Beach, Calif., on Aug. 5, 1969. Chandler would be my home for the next four years.

The ship left Long Beach en route to Vietnam on Sept. 26, 1969. Our deployments were about seven months long. While in the combat zone we received tax-free combat pay. It escapes me how much that was, but it wasn’t enough to justify the hard work and danger we had to contend with 24/7.

My watch was stood in the forward engine room manning the throttles. Average temperatures in the engine room while off the coast of South Vietnam were about 130 degrees! Each of the ship's two steam turbine-driven engines had 30,000 horsepower. The ship operated on a 600PSI steam system at 850 degrees. One of the boiler rooms was designated the “Dragon’s Den” for good reason! The ship was our home as well as our weapon. After nightfall we would sail south out of Da Nang Harbor to begin firing our 5-inch guns until dawn. We fired hundreds of 5-inch shells, each one making the ship shudder. We eventually got used to it, as you would if you lived near a railroad track.

Ironically, while Chandler was in Da Nang Harbor, my first cousin, Laverne Schrader, was also stationed there on a hospital ship, USS Hope. Another first cousin, Carson Bartels, was also in Da Nang with the Marines. Due to the wartime situation, we couldn’t get together. Chandler was under a 15-minute standby to get underway, as it was a combat ship.

When my discharge date was near, I was overseas for the third time on Chandler. I left the ship on April 11, 1973, while it was in port in Subic Bay in the Philippines, and took a military flight out of Clark Air Base in Manila to Travis Air Base in San Francisco. I then took a bus to Long Beach for my separation from active duty on April 19, 1973. Eventually I arrived back in my hometown, to be warmly welcomed by my family but not by the general public. They did not welcome a Vietnam veteran's presence in their community. I didn’t stay home long and left to find my “niche” to fit into in society. I traveled thousands of miles, over a long and rocky path, to finally settle down near four of my former shipmates in southern Indiana. I am a life member of the VFW and The American Legion. I am also a member of the DAV, Navy Club, 40&8, American Legion Riders, ABATE and a conservation club. I’m finally at “home” now.

« Previous story
Next story »