History w/ Mr. Braudaway
The following is an interview I conducted with Vietnam Veteran Feliciano ďKenĒ Lucio. It was held outside of his house on 5 November 2006, with slight distraction from his three-year-old grandson. I asked him questions about his experience as a soldier and about his overall opinion of the Vietnam War.
JP: Okay, This is Jesse Perry for History, and Iím interviewing Ken Lucio. He is a veteran of the Vietnam war, and Iím just going to go ahead and ask him some questions. So, Ken, how old were you when you first heard of Vietnam?
KL: I was about seventeen years old.
JP: Seventeen. And did you have any idea what the U.S. was doing over there?
KL: No, I was drafted. I didnít have no choice, I was drafted, I didnít join, I was drafted.
JP: So you didnít know about it beforehand?
KL: I knew there was a lot of soldiers going but I didnít know too much about it, I was too young at the time soÖ
JP: So you were drafted, how did you feel about being drafted?
KL: Well, I said, well I have to go, I wanted to go to college but then I said well, if I have to go I have to go and thereís nothing I can do about it so I went. I was only 19.
JP: And where were you first, I mean, how long did your training take?
KL: Well, my basic training was three months in Ft. Louis, Washington and I took three months of jungle training in Ft. Polk, Louisiana in the swamps and that was it, six months and then they shipped me.
JP: Six months then? Six months training?
KL: Six months training, that was it.
JP: Wow. And where were you first stationed after training?
KL: After training? From you mean the basic and the advanced training?
KL: No, I was stationed; they sent me on a plane directly to Vietnam.
KL: Uh, we landed in Pleiku, Republic of Vietnam.
JP: And this is for the Army?
KL: For the Army
JP: And what outfit was it?
KL: First Calvary Division Air Assault, Bravo Company.
JP: Did you um, so you knew you were joining the infantry once you were drafted right?
KL: I took the jumper training and I knew where I was going.
JP: Alright, and how long did it take before you were entering your first battle?
KL: The next day.
JP: The next day?
KL: The next day we got bombed right away and then they said hereís your gun, youíre gonna go, weíre gonna fly you out there to your company thatís already there. Youíre gonna replace some soldiers that have already been there, they are going home. Youíre gonna be a replacement.
JP: Can you tell me a little bit about that batlle?
KL: Well, the battle was, ha, we couldnít see too much at all at night time because it was night fighting. It was raining and dark and all you do was hear the screaming and fighting. But thatís all you do, shoot and grenades and then in the morning then you wake up and then you get to see the dead people that are down the hill because youíre on an up hill where they cannot climb up because you had to through barb wire or you they had to go through whatever mines you put in there but the idea is that you wouldnít see them directly face to face yet because it was raining that night. But the first night it was just grenades and shooting every thirty minutes and making sure they wouldnít climb up and then in the morning you find the dead people in there.
JP: Right, what area was this battle in, your first one?
KL: The first battle was in the Bung-Song plains which was near the, the ocean, the Red China Sea near Chui-Lai.
JP: Chui-Lai? And how long did you stay there?
KL: About three months.
JP: Just fighting?
KL: Well, not fighting, some days you have good, some days are bad. Sometimes you would walk twenty-five miles for search and destroy. And you might not encounter nothing but then all of a sudden the next day it might be worse for three days in a row youíd be fighting and of course itísÖ good days and bad days, you know? Then it was one of those things that everybodyís scared and you donít nothing yet because youíre just new and you donít experience this here in the United States. But, of course, you get used to it, itís survival and you have to keep on going day by day
JP: So, what year was your tour?
KL: My tour was 1967 of April the twentieth to April the twentieth of 1968.
JP: So is that just two full years?
KL: It was one full year only.
JP: One full year only, only one?
KL: One full year, that was enough.
JP: Okay, and when you were there, you were aware that African and Mexican Americans made the majority of the soldiers?
KL: No, at the time I didnít really pay too much attention to that because we were all mixed. We were about, I would say even. It was about three quarters of Blacks, three quarters of Mexicans and Whites. So it was about even, I would say there, there were, we were not matching colors at the time (JP: Right) whoever you were with was your friend and that was your guard that was gonna save your life, so you didnít put in this thing that you were black, yellow, or pink, or whatever it was. You had to be a buddy-buddy system soÖ
JP: So, you didnít experience any racial tension?
KL: No, I did not at all.
JP: Okay, andÖ through the course of the way or of your tour, did your opinions change? I mean did you develop any opinions about why you were there? Any resentment?
KL: No, the only resentment I had was when I came back because everybody was protesting about the war. They were spitting at us, throwing cigarettes at us as we were marching in from, from the plane. And thatís what really hurt because I knew what I was there for and I knew that some people would not understand it. So when I came back I, it got me really angry seeing all these people that were against the war because Iím pretty sure they were afraid to go. Thatís what really upset that, here weíre fighting for them and they were not receiving us as soldiers, they were receiving us as garbage (JP: yeah) so thatís what really hurt mostly.
JP: Oh yeah? And while you were there were you exposed to any soldiers abusing drugs?
JP: Everyday huh?
KL: Everyday. That stuff would mostly grow there, itís like we grow our fruit trees in here. So thereís no such thing as uh, a restriction on marijuana or cocaine plant. Thatís what they lived from. So everything was out there in the open and of course soldiers would pack their own leaves and their own trees in the backpack and carry it with them, smoke whenever they want to. I mean there was some resentment on the commanders because they wanted us to be at, awake, on your guard at nighttime. But, of course, you know, itís hard to keep track of every single one of the individuals (JP: Oh yeah) at night time so everybody, they knew that you had it so it was a common thing.
JP: If you could break down the way it works like, Iím not too familiar with the way the army is but you were in a company?
JP: And thatís, thatís uh, and then you had your own um, like, platoon leader right?
JP: Who is like uhÖis that the lowest it goes is platoon leader?
KL: No, you got the squad leaders, which is in charge of about seven to eight people.
JP: Thatís NCOs?
KL: Well, the NCOs gotta be a sergeant at least, a squad leader gotta be a sergeant.
KL: And sometimes they wouldnít have enough sergeants so they would have to have a spc. Boy which is a corporal, had to be in charge of the squad in case the sergeant got killed. So, that means one of the guys had to take over the squad. And the company has four squads. And then you have, they call that the regular reconnaissance squad. You got the machine gun squad, which carries only the, the machine guns and the ammo. Then you got the mortar squad, they got the, they throw the mortar. And then you got the other one that does, itís called uh, I would call it, observation, like an outpost, like uh, you go out there and then you like at the area where you coming in and make sure nobody is gonna attack you and prepare the company. Because there is anywhere fromÖ sometimes there were about forty to fifty people per company, and thatís it. And then of course, then you go into the different C company, B company, they got forty or fifty. They all work together in a section. You wouldnít be by yourself, thirty, forty people here and then the other ones were way out there about two or three miles. No, they were operating within half a mile, two miles from each other. In case they ran into trouble, they could go help each other. But then when we wanted to make an assault theyíd come pick us and theyíd go dump us somewhere where we didnít even know where we were at. But you would have your radio contact with people that would get artillery, or helicopters, or they would help you. But it was, you had a company of thirty or forty, and then of course you had the squads breaking down into eight or seven. And squad number 1 or 2, or sometimes they called it B, C, or D, whatever they wanna call the squads. But they would call youíre number 1 squad, 2 squad, or whatever. You gonna guard that area and that section near the river, squad number 2, the ammo, youíre gonna guard the hill. So you separate this, about eight or nine people only per squad soÖ and then you were out there by yourself for a while.
JP: And which one were you particularly, did you take part in most?
KL: Well, when I got there the first, I was in the, I was the point man for three months.
JP: What is that?
KL: Point man means you and a backup man are up in the front about 35 yards away from the company, checking the trails, make sure that there no booby traps, no snipers. In case you get killed itís only two people that get hit instead of the whole company. (JP: Right) or if you run into an ambush, they would kill those two people instead of the whole company. So, in other words, they had me and a backup man in the front checking for booby traps, snipers, any ambush that would come out, they would try and make contact with us and they would make contact with the full company. So, thatís why they got us up in the front. Then after that I went to the machine gun. I carried the machine gun for three months. Then after that I went back into just being the ammo carrier.
JP: So, when you were a pointer, what weapon were you using?
JP: M-16? And did you carry grenades?
KL: Grenades, Flares, uh, grenade launchers, those portable, those disposable, the ones you fire once, Rocket Launchers they call Ďem. And cherry bomb mines and stuff like that.
JP: And the machine gun?
KL: The machine gun, when I carried the machine gun, I only carried the machine gun and my ammo carriers would carry all my ammo. I would only carry a hundred rounds for my machine gun and Iíd carry my side arm, which was a forty-five. In case I had to leave, leave the machine gun, put a grenade on it, destroy it, and make it with your forty-five.
JP: So, you were the, you fired the machine gun?
KL: Yes, I was the machine gunner for three months.
JP: And then after that?
KL: And then after that I went to carrying the ammo for the machine gun, after they went to the, for the, the squad man was doing the machine gun. Then I became the ammo carrier because the guy that was carrying the machine was a bigger guy because that machine gun gets heavy after a while. (JP: oh yeah) so, they gave it to this guy and I was his ammo carrier. And I was his backup man to help with the ammo.
JP: Okay, can you recall what your worst battle was?
JP: And the date?
KL: Yes, that was right before the Tet-offense, when they start making an attack on all those, on all those camps, thatís when they decided to attack all the camps, all at once. And we got into a battle near um, Whae, which was the little city called Whae. The marines went in there first but we were on the outskirts of Whae. And we did it for about three days battle and we couldnít get no choppers or nobody to bring us food and water because it was too foggy. So, they couldnít land, the couldnít drop us no water and food, so we couldnít sleep, we couldnít eat. And we were out there for about three days without eating and drinking but we were drinking the water from whatever moisture from the dew and thatís all. And whatever food that we could find that we had already destroyed, weíd start eating it. But that was on of the worst battles because we lost about nine people from our company that day. And thatís when you start more-less thinking and appreciating life a little bit better because it could be your next day and we donít know if it going to get worse. But it was at that time, that the Tet-offensive that everybody was going wild, not only on the, on the camps, whatever group that was out there on the jungles, they would try and take every single one of them. But we stood pretty good about it, we did a lot of killing, killed about five-hundred peopleÖ about five-hundred. But I donít know if there were the enemy, but they were in civilian clothes soÖThey were firing so Iím pretty sure they were enemies.
JP: Yeah, well, I mean the, the Viet Cong didnít really have uniform did they?
KL: Only when we went, like I told you, when we went out there to help the marines (JP: Right) when they had the Tet-offense it was really bad that April, it was the beginning, no, it was march, excuse me, it was march.
JP: March of what year?
KL: It was March of 1968, and I remember when the marines got trapped in Ankhe, which was, I mean Khe Sanh, is the border of the DMZ. And they called for the First Calvary Division which was one-hundred and twenty choppers. And when we went over there that was really the worst, the scary one because you could see the choppers trying to land and you donít see the anti-aircraft weapons shooting at you, you just see the tracers going through your chopper. Thatís when I said, this, this is it. But of course, you know, the Lord has something else for me planned because ha, he didnít let me go that day either. So, Iím pretty sure that most of the people that survived that, Iím pretty sure they knew the same thing that, probably, we were not too much into religion or God or anything because we had our services once every month, when we had a chance. But, we were not into God and the Lord, or anything. But of course I know that he saved us for a reason. And someone who didnít make Ďem, must have been one of those consequences that was the lives of young kids that never experienced life yet, they died. But of course we, we didnít lost too much that day because we were pretty strong on our assaults so we got away with that so it was good.
JP: So mentallyÖ
JP: Mentally, in your head, how did you, did you have a certain way of thinking, like, I could go at any minute so I just have to do the best I can.
KL: Well, I wouldnít, everyday would be the same thing Ďcause sometimes I escaped a lot of uh, booby traps and I escaped a lot of rounds shooting at me and I never made it to my mark. So, I said to myself, who knows, one of these days I might not make it home so Iím gonna be a survivor. Whoever gets close to me, the closest they can get is about twenty feet. If they want something they gonna have to be a dead person to get any closer. (JP: Right) I didnít care if it was women, young man, I wouldnít let him get close to me, in a close area where they can either shoot us or grenade or something. I said to myself itís not that I got anger, I did have anger for a few of my friends yes, but, it was a survival. If I wanted to come home, I did get sick a couple of times seeing those dead people but the idea is that I know theyíre not gonna make it to their home and their parents not going to see them but how do you think my parents would feel if I didnít make it home. So, I said to myself, I have to be a survivor, so I have to do the best I can and donít trust nobody.
JP: Did you suffer (fault in audio: any injuries) yourself?
KL: Uh, a couple but they were not major. Just a bunch of sticks on my knee when I fell on one of the bunch of pits and a grenade shrapnel in my shoulder but otherwise thank God that nothing happened and we went through some hard times and I went weighing a hundred and fifty-six pounds and I came back weighing a hundred and twenty six. So, I lost a lot of weight because all you do is march, sweat, and fat, and the heat and humid and eat can food and whatever you can find so.
JP: Well, looking, looking back on the entire thing, after you had been home and, did you ever study or think about why you were over there?
JP: And what did you like conclude from it all?
KL: We were there for the right purpose but the political people were not there for the right purpose.
JP: So what was, what do you feel the soldiers were there doing?
KL: We were there to more or less help the South Vietnamese people to get a democracy, democracy country going because the North Vietnamese were communist and the South the democrats Ďcause they were the United States, so we didnít want them to be controlling them and then it keeps on going down the chain line and it will come to us. So I knew that we were out there trying to help some people that were trying to be free, they wanted to have a say so in their life and the way they treated
Side one end and 15 minute cut off line.
Side 2 ContinuationÖ
KL: Well, the North Vietnamese were communist like I said but all those people in the south wanted some liberties, some freedom, they wanted a say so in their life but the way I saw, the way they treated them, they treated them like, like now, like Saddam Hussein treated his people. Torture, killing, and we were not, not allowed to have those people go through the same thing. But we didnít know nothing about the Iraq war but Iím just saying that we knew in our hearts that we had to do our job and we had to stop them and we had to do the job that the military told us to do.
JP: So you feel that, you feel okay about it?
KL: Oh I feel okay about it. I wish we would have stayed a little bit longer and, and continued the job, and, and finished it. But the politics didnít allow that.
JP: So you donít, were you upset that ultimately it was a loss for America?
KL: Yes. Because we knew that all the people, that you tell Ďem, well Iím a Vietnam Veteran, yeah (audible sound of disrespect) you guys lost the war. Then of course you gonna get all mad because you were there for a reason, you risked your life. And every war that you go through, it doesnít matter that if itís Vietnam or, or whatever other scrimmages that we had, Korea and the Panama, whatever things we have had, they doiní it for a reason. Those soldiers are risking their life so these people can have the right to go protest and do all this other stupid things that theyíre not supposed to do and cut the military down. We need our military people to be supported at all times, it doesnít matter whatever conflict they have. Even if itís a civil war in here we have to support our soldiers and for whatís right and whatís wrong. But some people wanna go around it because they want to go into politics and they say well, Iím gonna make money by saying that Iím against the war. Well, I was for the war. Even though I went, even though all my kids went to the military I was against it, but I knew in my heart that theyíre doing the right thing for their country, they have to, somebodyís gotta defend their lives for we can have our freedom. All our forefathers, who ever fought in wars, they didnít die just for nothing. Thatís how come we have what we have now.
JP: And you think that VietÖ you feel that Vietnam was, was definitely justifiable?
KL: Itís uh, justifiable but, in my eyes yes, and some other military people, they do, they say we did suffer a lot but, the politics really turned it around and made us look bad. Everybody thatís against because they are in politics now, they are trying to say that we were at fault, in a way we were, we were not at fault, we were sent over there. Theyíre the ones that made the mistakes on politics. If they would have had a better, clearer view and stuck, stuck it out and did what we had to do we would have won that. We would, that, that country right now would be democrat, democracy would be there. (inaudible comment from JP) yeah ha, No, I felt good about it, Iím still proud of what I did. If I had to do it again because of my country or because of my children, Iíd do it again.
JP: Did you suffer any kind of emotional distress or psychological problems?
KL: No, but for the first five years I could not adjust because, because of the sound of a bullet or, or a pool table cracking or a car backfiring. Iíd be hitting the floor or Iíd be always looking for my gun when I wake up in the morning, ha, you know, or at night time Iíd be looking for my rifle. But it took me about five years before I really got back into the, into the world and start noticing that Iím not there no more. But the idea is that the scars are still there in my mind about the people that died, but they didnít die in vein, they died, they died for a reason, they were there for a reason.
JP: The Americans?
KL: The Americans, yes, they were there for a reason, even though they were young innocent kids at eighteen, nineteen years old but, they died for a reason. And thatís how come thatís, weíre at the time where weíre at.
JP: Do you remember any of the names of the particular ones you were close to that may have, that died?
KL: Well, I do but, I would hate for anybody to go in through the internet and looking up for deceased people and counting was he right or was he wrong, so I wonít say nothing.
JP: All right, no problem with that, definitely.
KL: Thereís too much right now, too much politics and people saying well lets check him if heís right. Well, itís up to you if you want to believe it or not but you can look it through the internet and about Vietnam war, on First Calvary Division and theyíll tell you all the stories you want to hear about all the, it lists all the deceased that we in my company. It tells you the ones that died and it tells you the ones that lived.
JP: So, you were in C Company?
KL: Bravo Company.
JP: Bravo Company.
KL: Bravo Company First of the Seventh.
JP: First of the Seventh.
KL: Thereís Second of the Seventh, Fifth of the Seventh, so many battalions but I was in the First of the Seventh, Bravo Company. And if you look through Bravo Company on the Internet, First Calvary Division, it will tell you from 1965, 66, 67, 68, 69, it lists all the wars that they fought and it will tell you in detailÖ
JP: What happened.
KL: What happened,
KL: So in case they donít believe they can look on the Internet.
JP: Ha, I believe it.
KL: Ha Ha.
JP: Iím sitting right next to it. Well, Ken, I canít thank you enough for doing this
KL: No problem.
JP: Yeah, Iím happy that you were able to help me out and thank you.
KL: Yes Sir, thank you.
JP: All right.
End of entire interview