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Santos Rosas Santos Rosas was drafted on June 12, 1969 and his tour of duty in Vietnam lasted from December 1969 through November 1970 in the Army. He lives in Santa Maria. “This is what we prepared for because we were going. At that time, I couldn’t tell my mom. My mom asked me where I was going, where I was going to be at. I said, “I don’t know yet.” I knew I going to Nam. I just couldn’t tell her.” Santos Rosas My dad is a very serious person. And he said, “I’m gonna take you guys.” Beginning as a youngster we were shining shoes. My brothers and I would go shoe shining for 15 cents a pair. Then my dad, during the summer time said, “Guess what, we’re going to the fields.” “We’re gonna hoe the fields. We’re gonna pick carrots.” On the Guadalupe school School was a turn-off at that point. All I wanted to do was finish high school, that’s all. This was because of my experiences in Guadalupe School. I used to say I just wanted to get out of high school. I was not motivated even though they tried to teach me the best they could. I was bad at math. I was bad at English. But I loved Spanish and I loved American history. I really did. And to this day I still love it. But they threw me on the ground like a fucken perro. And I never did anything that bad that they should have done that to me. And I never told my parents. My dad, he would have done something real bad. He had some other problems that he had to deal with my older brother. The abuse happened once or twice a month, something like that. I saw Jimmy Vincent getting thrown out of a window. Come on, you don’t do stuff like that. Hey come on, we’re human man. I got out of high school and I didn’t want to go to school anymore. College just didn’t appeal to me at that time. The thing is, my dad always told me that you had to learn has to earn a dollar. I’m not gonna give it to you. You have to work for it. That’s how it was. On being drafted So I entered the workforce. I worked at CBS Records for one year. I was already 18, registered for the draft and bingo! I told my dad that Vietnam’s not very pretty right now. Vietnam’s gonna pick me up, like it did Mike. Mike was already in Vietnam. My dad wanted to hide us in Mexico. I said, “I’m not gonna hide in Mexico. I am going to serve my country.” That’s the way it was. It was 1966 and I knew that something’s gonna happen. The instructors teach you about before WWI, before WWII and Korea. He said, “You boys better realize that you guys have to turn 18 and register for the draft.” I thought the war would be over. Then I got out of high school. I worked a year at Columbia Records and bingo! I got my draft notice. I was drafted on the same day as Henry Ruiz, Joseph Tesoro, and Richard Oliveras. All four of us were drafted on the same day. It said report to the Santa Maria bus depot right here. You’re going to Los Angeles on June 12th for a physical. June 30th we got drafted. We got our notice on June 12th. June 30th we all got drafted. We were drafted and taken from Los Angeles for a physical and to Ford Ort on June 30th, all in one day. I was proud and I was scared because Vietnam was a television war. The television was every day, once a week on Friday. Walter Kronkite would announce how many soldiers got killed. 150 got killed. 250 got killed. What’s happening man? So we got drafted. On basic training Fifty of us were on the Greyhound bus. Waiting for us were 150 other guys from the National Guard. We took boot camp and the drill sergeant said, “You 50 don’t pack and stay here because you’re all going to Vietnam.” I didn’t know what I was gonna do then. We didn’t know what our job status was going to be. Neither did Henry (Ruiz) or Joseph (Tesoro). So we got to Ford Ord and we separated. All three of us were separated. Joseph and Henry go to the new barracks. I go to the old barracks from WWII. They built two- and three-story buildings. A week later Henry (Ruiz) shows up in my platoon, in the same barracks. I said, “What are you doing here bro man?” He said, “Hey I’m gonna room with you. Orale! Homeboy!” We took boot camp for 9 weeks at Fort Ord. Boot camp ends. And we had a big party. The captains gave you anything you wanted. And my folks saw all of us graduate. I was like Audie Murphy. I marched and all that. They tell us right on the spot. Just like the 50 of us. You’re all staying here. Well, parts of us are staying. Henry gets separated. Joseph gets separated. One goes to Missouri. Some go to somewhere else. Henry does engineering. Me, I’m in infantry, as a ground troop, a grunt as they called us. They labeled us that. So they told me, “You’re gonna be here for ten weeks to go for advanced infantry training.” So they start breaking me in. They start showing us weapons, how to use them. This is what we prepared for because we were going. At that time, I couldn’t tell my mom. My mom asked me where I was going, where I was going to be at. I said, “I don’t know yet.” I knew I going to Nam. I just couldn’t tell her. I finished my ten weeks. It was November 6, 1969. I said, “Mom I’m sorry to tell you but I’m going to Vietnam.” She started crying and my dad said, “I got to go through this again.” I said, “I’m sorry you have to go through it.” So I stayed home for two weeks. On the last day, I can tell you right now, to see my mom, my dad, my brother Mike, my sister and other brother with eye contact knowing that I was in the infantry. My brother said, “You’re in a bad field. Not as bad as I was. You are no different from me. I don’t know if you’ll make it.” I’m shaking. But I didn’t cry, not until I got to the plane. Hijole! My dad! That was the first time I saw my dad cry. No it was the second time. The first time was when his dad died. He shed some tears at that time. I saw my old man and I said, “ Hijole, I won’t cry.” I thought I’m gonna come back. When I come back you can buy the beer. I was too young of a boy. That was at the airport and I’ll never forget it. I went from Santa Maria airport to San Francisco, San Francisco to Seattle, Washington, to Anchorage, Alaska, to Japan, Cam Rahn Bay, Plei Ku. That’s where everybody went. Cam Ran Bay. There was a big huge camp. Never saw anybody I knew. That’s the worst part was when I left I didn’t know anybody. And I was scared. I had friends at boot camp but then you go off and you don’t know anybody. There was paperwork for a day and a half. Paperwork. Paperwork. Hijole! Who’s going to be your beneficiary? That would be my mom. Then they’re gonna send me to my company, who I’m gonna be with, my division. In Vietnam After I got to Cam Rahn Bay they assigned me to my unit. Which was to be the 4th Division, 3rd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, “A” Company, 3rd squad. That’s where I spent my eleven months and one week. I went in with two guys, three of us flying in a Huey. They took us from Plei Ku, a Vietnamese city. I was attached to the city. From there they give you some more paperwork. And then they give you your rucksack. Your rucksack carries all your food. You got your sleeping mat, poncho, poncho liner, food for three days, and about thirty cans of C- rats. You use three for the morning, three for noon, three in the evening. That’s nine cans. You also carry like nine or ten quarts of water. Lots of ammo too. You got grenades, M-16. Everybody carried this. Then you carry a clamore mine. I was cleared to carry clamore. That was about as big as this sheet of paper right here, same size, same thing. You connect it to a wire and you keep it with you all the time. If you hear anything that’s coming at night, vamanos, you blow it. I always carried a clamore. I took everything I could. Everybody carries their own weight, whether you’re big or whether you’re small. I carried all my own weapons. I carried boxed ammo. You carry your paper, pens, and your writing utensils, soap. You carry photos of your family. All the personal stuff that you didn’t want to get wet. We have to go through rivers, streams. You want to protect them. You carry extra socks. You get re-supplied every three days. You got one hot meal a week. That means they’re bringing you a hot dinner from the base camp. They bring you chicken or they bring you some meat. Other than that, C- rations. The cans had spaghetti, chicken, eggs. I’d write to my mom. My brother Mike said, “I’ll send you fruit, beans and beer.” They canned beer, the small Coors beer, eight ounces. At that time I was drinking Coors. I don’t drink Coors anymore. My mom sent me canned fruit. This is the machine-gunner. I was on assistant for a machine-gunner. I was new. I was green. This is a heavy load. You know what they used to call us? FNG’s. That means fucken new guy. And you will find it in every manual that you read about Vietnam. Talk to anybody. Talk to my brother. Talk to Henry. They used it for the new guys, “the pendejos.” February 1970 (Pointing to photographs) This is Rob the FOE: forward observer. He’s the one that’s gonna call in artillery. He’s protecting us. And this is me around seven months later. Look at my backpack. Nothing but necessities. By then I knew how to pack and everything. I’m broken in. I’m not an FNG anymore. This is about 7 months later. I’d say it’s July of 1970. Every month we’d get a new captain. Every day we’d get new people coming in on a rotating schedule. I’m on a rotating schedule. We had a Black captain. He got killed. We had a Mexican captain. One day the captain found a marano. He killed him. And it was chicharrones time. But I didn’t want to eat that stuff. I didn’t eat it. I lost contact with that guy. (Pointing to some photographs) This is what you call a cobra. You got rocket propelled. These support us. When there’s enemy contact. We call them in and they call them gun ships. And they call ‘em “puffs.” You saw that 1965 movie with John Wayne. Phony movie, man! And this is a 155 Howitzer, and they had a 175 Howitzer, big as a post. We used to dig in all the time. We’d sleep on the air ponchos. You blow them up. You pay a dollar if you wanted somebody else to do it. You know why? Because everybody’s so tired. I’d give someone a buck or a soda. This was 1970. That was a lot of money, man. This is called a bunker. They told us to dig in and put your mattress together. We used a poncho liner and another poncho liner. It used to rain and you put it up when it rained. You made a tent with the ponchos. During the summer in Vietnam it’s hot and it’s humid. And we’re on patrol, on mission in a valley. I’m sitting down. I reach down and I felt this thing. It started to feel smoother. Guess what it is. I pulled a skull out of the ground. I pulled the head out. I was gonna pull his body out and take him home with me. It was a gook. He’s deader than dead. But I didn’t pull the body out just the head. I pulled his hand out and said, “vamanos.” That was the summer of 1970. Look at my jet-black hair. I was young at this time. Someone always had a camera. We had to send the film off to San Francisco and they’d send them back to us. We go out three weeks. Vamanos. We came back for two days to party. And that’s what it was. Guys are crying. There was recon platoon that they called ‘lerps’— long-range patrols. They called the short ones, the small ones, ‘slerps’—short-range patrols. If a hundred of us were on patrol, the short ones, four guys would go in front. The long ones four guys would go way ahead, by themselves, maybe a mile or two ahead. They have protection on the side. Company size would be about 60 or 80 guys. The short would be four guys and the long would be four guys. But they get special privileges. They would get hot meals. They’d get everything. I never volunteered for that. I would say, “Chale, I don’t want to do that.” In a company you stay out for three weeks at a time. You sleep in the ground, like a perro. Then you come back for two weeks of party time. Every three weeks you get that. Our bed was the dirt. Our food was C-rations. Your writing materials would be whatever my Mom would send me. You carry all your food, about eighty or ninety pounds on your back. And here’s your hot bath—(Santos points to a picture of a group of men bathing in a stream). I found these photos a month ago. (Santos points to a number of photos) I just found these in an undeveloped roll. They’re so old it’s pathetic. I asked, “Where in the hell did these come from?” They’re negatives. And those are our interpreters. They’re holding a huge bong for smoking grass. I am seeing these for the first time since they were taken thirty-seven years ago. And those are boxes of C-rations and that’s how they used to give them to us. This young guy was seventeen years old. Look at how he’s loaded up. He’s packed up big time. He’s seventeen, he’s new, and he’s FNG. This is Benny Garcia from Puerto Rico. He attached to us for six months. You know why? He didn’t speak English. He had a hard time communicating with the sergeant and the captain. The captain assigned me to two of them: Benny and another guy named Jerry Pagan. I had to stick with them for the six months. Every two or three weeks they sent us entertainment. They would bring us a band, viejas, and all we could drink. We would go right to the base camp. There was no fooling around or nothing. Sometimes they had a good band with all American music. I am just going to go by the months I do remember it happened. We were on patrol. We were close to a place called Qui Yon. It was right next to the ocean. There were about 60 helicopters. They took the company to a mountain, I don’t know what it is, it’s just clear and bombarded with artillery and we land. It was in the evening. It wasn’t dark yet but the captain said, “ No patrols are going out tonight.” It was a beautiful evening, stars were shining, and we were just sitting around smoking, kicking back. In the morning we wake up, our squad, nine of us were going on patrol, we were down 500 meters. There is a guy named Jeff. He was just walking and a second guy in back of him, a third guy then me then two or three other guys in the back and we warmed up. It was a beautiful place, it was about 8 o’clock, we stepped on a mine and we hit the ground and he lost his leg. He lost his leg and was mostly punctured big time. We called Medivac to get him out. It took two guys to get him out of there. He came down to my house. I didn’t know that he survived that. I didn’t know that he lost both his legs, the second leg he lost to gangrene. He came to Santa Maria and I lived on the other side of East Main and it took him a while to get there. His car broke down on the 101, him and a first master who communicated with me. Two of the guys that I spent all my tour with and it was touching man, I don’t know. I had to take time off. I had to work a Saturday, and I made some tri-tip. He was from Orange County, Bill Kruse. It was touching though. It had been so long, 25 years later reunited. Amazing. It had been out of Vietnam, it had been 37 years for me. My kids were still small and it’s been tough for me. I remember this particular time it was a Tuesday 9:30 or whatever. I came up to the lieutenant; I didn’t know that fact that he knew anybody. He took us up this mountain and he made us go through empty trails. You know why? Because there was a booby trap. You would trip on the wires and you would get stuck someplace. So we kind of went through the jungle, triple canopy we call it. With these backpacks and you had to cut through it almost all day at the top of the ditch. We didn’t find anything but 50 bunkers. We can’t go back up. The lieutenant said, “W we are spending the night.” A couple guys, two or three guys and everything started to hit us, artillery, mortars, whatever they had to shoot at us. It was a nightmare. Nobody slept that day. That is bad. At least 20 or 30 of us were operating. It was too small. There was only 9 of us. We operate company strength, that’s good, that’s real good. So in any case, he said something happened as we operated 100 guys. Big companies right here. Big mountain here. And guess what. It was all covered in triple jungle. You can’t even see it from the top. Every village, all you can see is the trees. You can’t see nothing down there. Third squad you guys go after these guys, there’s no trails. No trails at all. I fell in the hole. My two companions fell in the hole. I got Medivaced. I was in the hospital for a day. We were operating small. There were nine of us. Empty trails were all over the place. The evening was good, and we stayed the night. In the morning wake up we were all sitting around. We were not paying attention. He opens up on us. We stayed together and said we would come back together. We opened up big time. He got hit in the chest. We opened up on everybody to hit the area and we couldn’t find. To have lunch, I opened up my backpack and I had no food. Everything was shattered. That could’ve been real easy.
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