By Steve Decker
The moment I heard that this report was to be a story written about
anyone in a war’s experiences my heart jumped and within seconds
a name of somebody I could interview about a war popped into my mind.
My father Walter “Toby” Decker served in the Vietnam War
and would tell my brother and I about it as we were growing up.
Most of the time he mentioned the War to try to get us not to complain
about dinner because when he was in Vietnam he’d tell us they had
to eat what they were served and if they refused to eat they
wouldn’t get anything else and therefore would be without energy.
I am very proud to be a son of a war veteran since most of the kids in
my class didn’t have a dad that served in a war. I was actually a
little bit excited when I heard about this assignment because although
I was proud of having a father that served in a war, I never really
took the time to ask him that many questions about it, and I barely
even knew what he did there.
|Background Information about the Vietnam War
The Vietnam War began in 1957 and ended in 1975 which made it the
longest war the United States has ever taken part in. Lasting twenty
years, it was fought between what was known as North Vietnam and South
Vietnam. Vietnam is a very small country about the size of California,
located in the Southeast of Asia. North Vietnam was led by communists
who wanted to unite the north and south into one whole country. The
South Vietnamese didn’t want to form one country because they
wanted to stay non-communist and the United States helped them fight
against North Vietnam.
My Dad’s Service in the war
He was deployed in the Vietnam War in mid-June of 1966 at the age of
22. My Dad was a first lieutenant in charge of a small detachment of
men who maintained the communications equipment in fixed wing aircraft
0-1D Bird Dogs ("essentially a Cessna 180 with a supercharger"). These
aircraft were ideal to support Marines on the ground with artillery and
air support. The pilot and rear seat observer easily could
maneuver the ship to see an area. They also were far quieter than
the whirling blades of a helicopter. They also ideal for
reconnaissance to locate enemy supply routes from North Vietnam to
South Vietnam along the Chi Minh trail, which ran north to south along
South Vietnam’s border of Laos, and Cambodia.
|Map of Vietnam
Decision to Join the War
He joined the war because he felt it was his duty to serve in the armed
forces as his father fought in World War II as a B-17 bomber
pilot. His father was shot down twice and was severely
wounded. Of 22 men on the two flight crews, only he and one other
man survived the war. Toby felt it was his duty to serve in a war if it
came because of his father.
My dad went to Vietnam believing he was serving his country in the
fight against communism. He told me,
“we were told that we
were fighting communism there so we wouldn’t have to fight the
communists on US soil. It was only when I got to Vietnam that I
realized that this was not quite what we were trying to do.”
0-1D Bird Dog
was curious when he said that because if they weren’t trying to
fight communism what were they trying to do. He told me that men in his
unit flew in the aircraft to support a “conventional”
war. Men in his unit were asked to conduct “conventional
search & destroy missions" – directing aircraft and artillery
to destroy vast areas of land where enemy troops were thought to be
located. They destroyed so much, and dislodged so many of the
civilians my dad thought they were there to protect from
Communists. Toby's group,
the Lieutenants and Captains, came to realize that the conventional war
that their dads won in World War II was not going to win in Vietnam.
a result of these tactics, I experienced many South Vietnamese
resenting us and what we did to their country. I never really
understood the Vietnamese."
So basically the generals had ordered these troops to go on
“search and destroy” missions to destroy land and dislodge
from their homes the people my father thought they were there to
protect. He told me that there was a very significant disconnect
between what they (soldiers) thought they were supposed to do, protect
civilians and the conventional war with large masses of troops their
leaders (the generals in Saigon) wanted to do.
|Life in Vietnam
My father was located at the Hue Phu Bai airfield in I Corps. The
airfield was located approximately ten miles south of the city of Hue,
along Route 1. The hangers protecting their aircraft had been
built by the Japanese during their World War II occupation of Vietnam.
He said that the most disturbing memory of the war was seeing their own
soldiers who had been killed, or terribly wounded. A second
disturbing memory was seeing scores of South Vietnamese citizens
including old men, women, and small children, who were shot up as a
result of a “friendly fire” incident.
Toby (far left) at Vietnam Memorial
I am very proud to have a father that served in a war as large as Vietnam
because it is a very interesting thing to discuss since most kids my
age have fathers that weren’t nearly old enough to have fought in
any major wars since World War II and any famil member would have to be a grandparent.
Another thing that was very interesting is all the things that he had
never told me before about when he served in Vietnam such as what his
role was and how he felt about being in the war. I used to think he had
a minor role that wasn’t cool at all but when he described to me
what he did, it sounded really neat because he was in charge of
communications on the 01D Bird Dog. I got a lot out of this assignment
both by learning about the war from a guy who was in it first hand and
I learned more about my dad and how he helped serve the US in the
Decker, Toby. Personal interview. 8 Jan. 2008.
Toby returning from a reconnaissance mission carrying an M-16. Photograph. 1967.
Map of Vietnam with surrounding countries. Map. Steve Decker.
14 Jan. 2008
01D Bird Dog. Photograph taken by my dad, 1967.
Photograph taken at Vietnam Memorial dedication, Nov 13, 1982.