HIST 1301 ADR06
November 6, 2006
Oscar San Miguel Interview Transcript
This interview was of Oscar San Miguel, about his personal times and thoughts in Vietnam. This interview was taken on October 10th of 06’ by Fidel Morales.
FM- All right then…well…I guess we can start with... were you drafted into the military or…
OSM- Yes I was
FM- …or did you enlist?
OSM- I was drafted
FM- How did you feel?
OSM- Well at the time I was just out of high school, kind of like your age maybe.
FM- Oh Really?
OSM- maybe a little bit older because I was born in Mexico so I didn’t start school till late… so I was probably 18…when I…you know…or…19 when I was drafted so I was…you know I had a lot of…a lot of confusion… I wanted to go to find out what it was like to go out there and then, I was afraid to go but … you know I ended up…<*distorted> *I didn’t want to go, I didn’t want to serve.
FM- You did NOT want to serve.
OSM- I DID want to serve.
FM- oh you DID want to serve.
OSM- ya and I’ll tell you a little story later on that uh…my grandmother told me when … she came to get me.
FM- so…you felt kind of scared when you received the draft letter.
OSM- Sure because, you know, you knew that you were going to go to the war, you know, the war was on, and you know, everybody was being drafted…WAS being drafted to go to Vietnam so very few people were going to Germany or staying or somewhere else you know, everybody that, you know, 99% of …the people that got drafted in MY time went to Vietnam
FM- Now … with all the news going on about the Vietnam conflict starting to rise, and with all the political commentary and all those interest groups rallying protests and all that, did you understand what this war was about?
OSM- No I…
FM- Before you were drafted?
OSM- no I didn’t understand what it was about but I felt like , you know, that it was my duty, my duty to go…and I , I just had to go I just…I would never think of not going, being a draft dodger or anything like that because part of me being an American citizen was to serve the country.
FM- I see…ok…were you trained here or were you taken to Vietnam to be trained…
OSM-No, we trained here …I trained in basic training… I went to Louisiana
FM- to Louisiana?
OSM-ya and I … for advanced training I went to California.
FM- So for basic training you stayed there in Louisiana
FM- From where did you move from Louisiana?
OSM- From Louisiana we moved to California to (Fodor) California
FM- No but…where were you first, were you here in Texas and then moved to Louisiana?
OSM- yes, I was drafted from Del Rio and went straight to Louisiana
FM- Ok so you were drafted in Del Rio
OSM- and they took us…everybody who was drafted from THIS area went to Louisiana, and that’s where you got conducted.
FM- About what…date or time period was you finally moved to Vietnam?
OSM-It was like…like…I went in on August 11, of ‘65
FM- August 11th of ’65?
OSM-ya August 11th of ’65 and I was in Vietnam first of the year of ‘66
FM-so you…like…hit Vietnam soil in ’66 right?
OSM- yes. It was just about 6 months of training before I was out there.
FM-were…you in many battles in Vietnam?
OSM- yes…my…you know, I was in the Infantry Division
OSM- yes, I was in the 1st infantry division…so… you know, Vietnam had lots of battles and then …that time that I was there, casualties were very high. You know, for Americans your talking hundreds you know, hundreds a week, verses today you know, its just a couple you know, still you know, your talking up there hundreds and hundreds of Americans dead
FM- I mean right now we just look at the news media, but you saw the real thing. Were there many people that you knew that were killed right beside you?
OSM- well… not like beside me but people that we went to basic training with together and you know, one in particular that he and I were always in training basic and advanced training and we went to Vietnam together and he stands out cause he died on the anniversary you know, August the 11th you know, a year we were there he died. He was from Mt. Pleasant Texas.
FM- Mt. Pleasant? How did the training procedure go, was each person trained individually or did you all go through the same process?
OSM- we all went trough the same process basically it was all a combat training, a physical training you know, they go through your mind and get you ready, they tell you that…looking at you, you know, company there and he says that “all the training your getting there is to save your life, so look around you, 50% of you guys wont be back.”
FM- Now …many of us have seen in movies and magazines that the drill instructors on both sides train you to do nothing but kill, was that true?
OSM- That’s true that was our job.
FM- ok. What was the first battle you fought? Do you remember?
OSM- well you know, when I was up there, there was a massive movement of troops going to Vietnam at the time you know, it was thousands and thousands it was a big commotion so what happened in there, we were the first ones there, there were already Americans out there as advisors but we were one of the first to go out there and actually do combat so you know, so we were EVERYDAY we were building places and you were shot at everyday and you know actually I ended up in a transportation company there in Longbin which is about…20 miles from Saigon and that was like, it was a jungle, everything was a jungle so they were clearing so we could sleep in tents there. We didn’t have any housing, we were all in tents.
FM- How did the environment feel to you?
OSM- it was very different, you know, Vietnam is a tropical country
FM- were you used to it or you couldn’t stand it or…?
OSM- well it was very, very hot it rains lot it was like monsoon season it rains 6 months out of the year where here. Where here we hardly ever see rain, that kind of rain. And you know, Hot, muggy, lots of bugs and stuff, very tropical. Pretty country nonetheless just real green and stuff. But very, very different from the desert that we came from.
FM- What exactly did you feel when you saw the enemy coming at you and started shooting at you?
OSM- Well… you know, fear, you have a lot of fear… you know, and they train you and they tell you, you always get it. And a lot of people were captured and they were Prisoners Of War, and there was always the possibility of, if they didn’t kill you, they’d take you as Prisoner Of War. And they train you on what to say and do if you were a prisoner of the North Vietnamese. And so you know, that’s all part of the training
FM- were you ever a POW?
OSM- No, I was never a POW, I have talked to a lot of people who where POW and it was very interesting I was always real interested because I could have been one of those and I was real lucky that I wasn’t wounded or never spent any time in.
FM- Did you get the Purple Heart in anyway?
OSM- do I didn’t get wounded.
FM- so you were the lucky one then. On top of that you were the 1st infantry division.
FM-while you were over there, did you here of any of the controversy going on at home?
OSM- No we didn’t have a Television there you know, your talking the early 60s, television was new HERE. So out there we had radio and could here some of the controversy but we didn’t have time. you know, we were always working and never had the time to think about that. And I never saw any one not want to go cause, they were against the war and all I never saw that, they told us “we go, we go” and that’s what you learn being a solder you know, you follow orders.
FM- What rank did you reach when you were over there?
OSM-I was a Specialist 4, an E-4 I was in it for 2 years and came back from Vietnam and came back to Albany, Texas.
FM-you were over there for 2 years?
OSM- No I was over there for 1 year, I spent 2 years in the service.
FM-Ok, so you were out there for one year, so you wernt or you were pulled out when the order was given? Or when they ordered all the troops to be pulled from Vietnam…
OSM- Oh no, Ya that happened way after I came back
FM- and how did you feel when you came back home?
OSM- You know, I was still, I understood the thing a lot better, you know, being out there and you grow up a lot more after a year, perro (but) you know, then I saw it was like…crazy! We… you know, I always thought that a war was you know, you have a front and you’d have an enemy and when you were back here, you’d just keep pushing and keep pushing, but here it was different. It’s kind of like Kuwait…I mean…kind of like…what there fighting right now pos (well) it’s the same people! It’s the same people! It’s the North Vietnamese and the South Vietnamese so you didn’t know who was the enemy!
FM- So it was completely confusing, you didn’t know if you were shooting at the good guy or the bad guy.
OSM- That’s right and if your going down the road, like there out here right now, you’d hit a land mine, and those people working the rice patties, they’d turn around and shoot you. Cause they were the enemy, but you’d couldn’t tell couse they all look the same.
You couldn’t tell who was the enemy.
FM- Did you by any chance here of John Kerry’s accusations when he went to North Vietnam to criticize the American solders?
FM- What about the Jane Fonda incident, did you here that?
OSM- Yes, I heard about that.
FM-what exactly by your understanding happened?
OSM- Well that she was in cahoots with the enemy, and she’s telling us to get out of there, and that “this people were good” and we were wrong to be killing them. But I couldn’t understand that at first. Why is she out there? And I understood when I got back, when I got older why was she there. It was her way of getting her political views across, but she made a lot of enemies and a lot of people hated her.
FM- were you one of those who hated her?
OSM- well I don’t hate her, now you know, I understand and I had a moral problem with Cashes Clay, and Mohammad Ali, because he didn’t go and I just thought he was wrong, and I thought if I had to go, he should of gone too. I mean they had guys like Elvis Presley was there, you know, and I was there, and a lot of people who were famous went, and so why didn’t he go? And then now he’s a very famous person and he also ‘shawn’ away from going.
FM- Now…when…what I have been hearing is that when…all the solders were pulled out they were mostly shouted down because almost every body was saying…(How can I say this?) Didn’t appreciate them coming back or being over there since they said they “didn’t accomplish anything” Were you shouted down by any of the people or did you feel in any way downed by any of the people.
OSM- No, and I know why cause I came to a small town: My home town of Del Rio where every body here was glad, all the family and friends that you had. You’d mostly get that from the big cities where all the radicals were, but here, no one was ever damaged, I didn’t know of any, so when we came I never felt…people were glad to see you back…I never felt like you know, but then AFTERWARDS, I felt that you know, we didn’t do a good job and we maybe shouldn’t have been there. But you know, coming here to Del Rio, I didn’t.
FM- So did you eventually understand the whole war at all?
OSM- Well… Not the whole war no.
FM-would you believe that it was all politics that started the war?
FM- I see. Say…what kind of hostiles did you encounter over there? Like were they all riflemen with AK-47s or were you chased by any suicide bombers?
OSM-No, they didn’t have many suicide bombers, they used a lot of those kids, the Vietnamese were very short people, little people. So they looked like kids so they’d be shoe shining, or begging, or selling something, those guys would have a bomb or have a grenade…so you never knew. So when you go up to a little village, all the people who came up to you, you never knew who was going to be your enemy, and a lot of them were good people, I mean, it was south Vietnamese we were helping, but then they would infiltrate them so its like, you and I. you know, you could from the other side and I could be from this side and we’d meet someone else, they couldn’t tell, they looked the same, so we look the same.
FM- Did you ever encounter a friendly conversation with the Vietcong or the North Vietnamese?
OSM- Not a North Vietnamese, but I encountered a lot of friendly conversations with the South Vietnamese.
FM- Were you married at the time when you were in Vietnam?
OSM- no. I was Single. That helped
FM- I’m sure it did, and how did your family feel when you got back?
OSM- Well my mom was a very religious woman you know, she prayed a lot for me and I didn’t want to die out there because I knew that my mom would miss me. The little story I wanted to tell you is when I got drafted, I was born in Mexico, I was 10 years old when I came here. So I was drafted when I got out of high school, so my grandma comes from Mexico and tells me that she’s coming to get me, to go back cause I have a country. She says “Mijo their going to kill you!” I said “no Grandma their not going to kill me.”
“Yes they are, and you don’t know, their going to kill you” She says, “You have a country you don’t have to go” I said, “Ya Grandma I have to go, this is my country now, I have 2 countries now, that’s my country, and this is my country, and I have to go.” Well that was another reason I didn’t want to die out there because I didn’t want my grandmother to say “I told you mijo I told you!” I knew that that was going to happen.
END OF SESSION
I ask if there is anything else to share and Mr. San Miguel showed me a book of the war casualties, specifically about the first Vietnam casualty from Del Rio, Jesus Mario Limonez, then into personal talks about our families.