This section of the website is dedicated to my brother veterans and their families. As an Army Veteran from the Vietnam era, I salute all veterans from the United States Armed Services and those currently on active duty.
While I feel that the general attitude of the American people toward veterans has changed dramatically for the better since I was honorably discharged in 1974, I still feel that only "lip service" is paid to our veterans, many of whom have quite literally laid their lives on the line for their country. Therefore, I have instituted a policy of significantly reducing the fee that I charge for my legal services to Veterans and members of their immediate families.
Good music from Dire Straits below, if you care to listen.
I began my tour of duty with the United States Army in September, 1972. The Viet Nam war was beginning to wind down, but just a bit. While a few people were still heading to Canada at the time, I decided to Volunteer for the draft, which meant two years on active duty. My father was a World War II veteran, and my brother had just finished ROTC and was entering the Air Force as an Officer and Pilot (more about him later). I went to Fort Polk Louisiana for eight weeks of basic training.
From the perspective of a boy from the South Side of Chicago, Fort Polk simply did not have a lot going for it. Except for one thing. In addition to "pop" machines, they had "beer" machines. For a quarter, you could actually get a Budweiser (no Old Style, this was Louisiana) out of a vending machine. It was the singularly most fantastic thing Fort Polk had going for an 18 year kid. Or for anybody for that matter.
I had scored pretty high on the IQ test that they gave everybody going in to the Army, so I was hopeful they would have the good sense to put my brain to use and at least make me a clerk or something. After basic training I got my job classification. I was assigned an MOS of 11 b 10 (infantry). So much for the Army's good sense. This meant I would be a "grunt", the person everybody thinks of when they think "Army." I would be a soldier.
The next 8 weeks were spent in AIT (Advanced Infantry Training) also at Fort Polk, and otherwise known at the time as "Tigerland." It was another 8 weeks of boot camp, with some special conditioning thrown in. We became much more familiar with more weapons, like the .50 caliber machine gun and, my personal favorite, the grenade launcher, that was attached to the bottom of some M-16s.
I got pretty good with the grenade launcher. It seemed like a really good idea, especially for a guy that couldn't throw worth a darn. Later, while in Korea on the DMZ, I would find myself on the receiving end of a Flachette round (Think 12 Gauge Double Odd Buck X 4 in one round with about 30 pellets) fired from a grenade launcher. I didn't much care for them after that.
After I finished AIT at Tigerland, (late January 1973) I received my first duty assignment. They posted everybody's assignment on a list outside the barracks. One half of my AIT company (about 160 men total) went to Viet Nam. The other half of us went to South Korea. I distinctly remember three guys who were assigned to Korea who then went to the Captain and asked to get re-assigned to Viet Nam. No luck, he said. He couldn't change anything. I, for one, was not complaining about the assignment I had received.
From February 1973 until February 1974 I was assigned to the Third Platoon, Company B, 1st Battalion, 31st Infantry, (Bearcat!) Second Infantry Division, Republic of Korea. Company B was stationed at CAMP LIBERTY BELL, while the other four companies of the Battalion were stationed at CAMP GREVES, about 4 Kilometers to the South of Liberty Bell. (See the Map I brought back with me). Liberty Bell was right next to the Barrier Fence, which marked the Southern Boundary of the DMZ. The fence was about 15 feet tall, topped with barbed wire with spotlights shining into the Zone at night. This fence runs the entire 150 mile width of the Korean peninsula.
In August, 1967, while the camp was still being built, about 20 North Koreans opened up from the hilltops surrounding the camp with automatic weapons fire. There were a lot of guys lined up at the mess hall. 4 killed, 28 wounded. Couldn't get to their own weapons because they were locked up, believe it or not. When I arrived in early 1973, I heard the story and could see the place had potential.
Our Battalion was designated as a Quick Reactionary Force for whatever might need immediate attention in the demilitarized zone. We were paid an extra $65 a month for Hostile Fire Pay, which was significant for a lowly private making a little over $300 per month base pay. Our primary responsibility was to protect the Joint Security Area of the United Nations, which was stationed right across the road from Liberty Bell. The JSA was really nothing more than the post where the US Army guards for the Peace Village (Panmunjom) were stationed.
We also manned two guard posts inside the Zone, which were hilltops with a bunker complex connected by trenches below the top of the hill. One post was named "Collier", the other "Oulette". We would rotate between those two guard posts, manning the barrier fence, and conducting foot patrols at night inside the Zone. When out on patrol inside the zone, we would always have to let the people at Radar site 4 know where we were. That site was on a hill above Liberty Bell. They checked for anything moving in the Zone, including infiltrators. Here is a link to a nice website explaining site 4. It also has some nice pictures of Liberty Bell.
My fondest memory of Korea involved my being shot accidentally by one of my own guys. Fond you say? Read on, dear reader, read on.
It was around the Fourth of July. Guard post Oullette. I won’t go into the events leading up to this, or who was responsible, but some of the guys were getting a little twitchy in the bunkers at night when they were looking out into the Zone. Loading up weapons that really didn’t need to be loaded up, and forgetting to unload them. Like grenade launchers. With flachete rounds.
(Really ! You know, I just don’t remember the North Koreans rushing our Positions last night !)
As we were getting ready for another night of watching inside the DMZ from the various bunker positions on top of this hill, one of my squad members was passing by my bunk with an arm full of weapons and ammunition, which included a grenade launcher. Suddenly, there was a loud BOOM and I was literally knocked off my feet. I was laying on the floor of the bunker looking up and trying to figure out what had just happened. A bunch of guys came back into the bunker and started jabbering at me and pointing at me. I couldn't hear what they were saying because I was totally deaf. I tried to get up but could not stand on my right foot. The Sargent in charge came over, looked at my right boot, carefully removed it and the sock and there it was: An entry wound on the outside of my right foot leaking blood and no exit wound. We finally figured out that a grenade launcher, loaded with a flachette round, had gone off and one of the pellets had gone into my foot. Amazing nobody else had been hit with anything.
They carried me out of the bunker and up on top. The medic who attended me (Hufty, a really great guy) asked me if I wanted some Morphine. I declined, it really didn’t hurt much at all. Yet.
They radioed for the Medavac and flew me down to the last MASH hospital left in Korea, the 43rd.
The movie MASH had come out in 1970. As they wheeled me into the surgical unit, I saw a huge poster on the wall. It was a blown up photograph of the entire cast from the movie, and each of the cast members had signed it. And it was like the people who staffed that unit were trying to live up to the reputation from the movie. A very funny group of people. From the minute I got there until the day I left (I milked it for almost a week) I was treated like royalty. I think I had STEAK for dinner 5 times. It was just a whole different world down there.
They had given me a local anesthetic to numb the foot, no general to knock me out. There were xrays and probing around in my foot, more xrays and more probing. They can’t find the thing. After about a half an hour of this, I’m getting a little uncomfortable. My squirming isn’t making their job any easier. (And, I swear this next part is the absolute truth). One of the docs says to an orderly, “Go get nurse …..” A few minutes later, in walks a great big blonde nurse, a second lieutenant, with the biggest rack on her I have seen to this day. The doc whispers something to her. She looks at me and just smiles. She came over next to me, unbuttoned her blouse, bent over the operating table and put them right … in … my …. face.
It worked, because the next thing I remember was the doctors showing me the round they took out of my foot rolling around in a stainless steel pan. My initial thinking was “ These guys are pretty funny, But I don’t think they know what they’re doing !”
Shows you just how wrong you can be sometimes.
In the days after the surgery while I was still down there, I kept asking everybody about the nurse, but nobody could seem to find her. (No, really, I just want to express my very sincere gratitude for what she did for me!) I don’t know. Maybe they didn’t want me fraternizing with an Officer.
They flew me back up to the zone in a regular Huey, not a marked Medavac. As we hit the Liberty Bell Helipad, out rolls the captain in his jeep. As I am getting out of the chopper, he has his right arm up to me in a salute. (The LOWER rank always salutes the higher up first, then the higher rank salutes back, right?). He has no idea why a chopper is landing unexpectedly. He is thinking some big brass from down south is coming up to the Camp. I salute him and smile. He sees it is only me and his face just drops. “How in the hell does a private rate his own helicopter back to the camp?” “I made a few friends at the MASH.” Which I had. A three and one half Hour ride in the back of a deuce and half over bad roads was just not going to cut it.
That was the only time I got to ride in his jeep. And I certainly didn’t tell HIM about the Nurse. “Captain,that hospital food was awful!”
The slide show below has a few more photographs which were taken while I was in Korea.
While I was in Korea, we had South Korean soldiers attached to our unit, about 3 or 4 to each platoon. They were called KATUSAs (Korean Augmentation to The United States Army) as they were very fond of telling us, apparently having rehearsed that line about a thousand times. You can see a few of them in the slide show. They were our interpreters, wore our uniforms, slept in our barracks and ate in our Mess hall (when we were at base camp).
But they were paid by the Korean Government, and they were not paid much. Every able bodied male in South Korea had to serve several years in the military. In a sense, these guys were lucky, they had it a lot better than their counterparts in the Regular Korean Army (ROKs). I had the sense that they were not well liked by the ROKs. We had a few encounters with the ROKs while training and you could see them glaring at the Katusas. The Katusas would get a little wierd when ever the regulars were around. The ROKs were tough. You could see they had substantially less than American Soldiers in terms of food, uniforms and weapons. They made do with a lot less. And the discipline was fundamentally different. One time I saw a Non Com ROK (A Sergent) kick the living crap out of an enlisted man over some minor infraction. American Non Coms could never so much as touch an enlisted man, it just didn't work that way with us. When I asked one of my Katusa friends about that, he explained that what we saw was common practice in the ROK Army. Little wonder they liked being with us.
While in Korea, and for reasons I never quite understood, (although I suspect it had something to do with the terms of the Armistice) we were required to wear black arm bands which designated us as Military Police whenever we were on the barrier fence or inside the zone at one of the two hilltop Guard posts. We were certainly not MPs, we were regular infantry. You can see the arm bands in several of the photos.
Another curious thing, whenever a United Nations delegation came past our camp on the way to Panmunjom, we would have to vacate Liberty Bell, cover up the sign for the camp with boards and make the place look deserted while we went and hid back in the hills from the main road. We would watch for the parade of black limousines to head back south across the Imjim River and we would then return to our barracks. If we were the "good guys", why were we hiding from the United Nations? We obviously were not supposed to be where we were, at least according to some.
Which brings me to a similar subject, but another person, a person for whom I will always have the greatest respect: my older brother, Frederick Michael Dargis, Captain, United States Air Force.
Rick went active duty as an officer and Pilot in the Air force just as I was going into the Army. Must have drove Mom nuts with worry having both of us overseas. He was active duty for 6 years and flew some incredible missions as a pilot of a C-130 in a Special Operations Unit of the Air Force. The plane he flew was known as a "blackbird" and had some pretty special equipment on board. You need to understand that the unit he was assigned to was one of those that went to try and rescue the hostages out of Iran when Jimmy Carter was President (they had a mishap when a Marine helicopter and C-130 collided in the middle of the desert during that mission, which forced them to abort the mission.) Fortunately for my brother, he was discharged from the air force a few short months before that mission, a mission which killed several of his friends.
Those planes had a deck in the back that opened to allow people (or things) to "leave" the plane or to allow people or things to be picked up off the ground while in flight. After I got out, and after Rick had returned from overseas, I visited him at his base in Florida. One early evening, we sat and watched his unit practicing "pick-ups". They would tie about 350 pounds of sandbags to a light weight cable on the ground. At the other end of the cable was a helium balloon and strobe light, which went up about maybe two hundred and fifty feet into the air. The C-130 would come in low and slow, perfectly hit the cable with the front nose of the plane where two rods in a "V" shape would snag it. The cable would then go under the plane and two guys at the open ramp in the rear would then somehow secure the cable and off the sandbags (our practice "person") would go, into the back of the plane. Pretty neat stuff. A C-130 is shown below, from inside the cockpit and one C-130 following another.
My brother flew that aircraft. When I wrote to him, during 1973 and while we were both overseas, it was always to an FPO address in Okinawa. That is where he told his family he was stationed during the war. I always suspected something else. (Bob, I could tell ya, but then I would have to kill ya). He would never tell me, until his deathbed, where he was actually stationed during the Viet Nam War and what he did. He told me that was stationed in Thailand, another place (apparently like mine in Korea) where US troops were never technically supposed to be. He also told me some pretty hairy stuff, things that he did, missions he flew and things I won't relay here, out of respect for him and those who were with him. He was a military man to the end. There were a lot of things he kept to himself, and even kept from his brother, until he knew he was on the way out for good.
But, I guess my point is, there are a lot of ex-military guys out there who could share much about what they did, but because they were sworn to secrecy, can simply never reveal the extent of what they did, or the risks that they undertook. There are truly many silent heroes out there, many of whom can not even explain what it is that they went through. Some of them, like my brother, did some incredibly significant things. Others, like myself, less so.
I want my fellow veterans, and their families, to understand that I get it. I truly hope that the American people get it, and that they understand that there is much more going on at any given time with our military, their missions and their exploits than the government can ever let us in on. Those guys, the ones that keep silent and will never get an ounce of the recognition that they truly deserve, get all of my respect, and my prayers. And I hope they get yours as well.
AND THE TRADITION CONTINUES ...
Recall that I had earlier mentioned that my father was in the Army. My Father- in- law was also in the Military, a Navy Pilot during World War II.
Bob Voltz was Navy fighter pilot. Believe it or not, he trained on an "aircraft carrier" in Lake Michigan. The really interesting thing about the aircraft carrier "trainer" was that it was placed on Lake Michigan, and was actually not much more than a temporary landing platform for the training pilots to take off and land on as they were training for the real thing. This was good for Bob, as he was from the South Side of Chicago. He eventually got on to the real thing in the Pacific, against the Japanese, and flew off the aircraft carrier USS Natoma Bay. He was shot down and spent some time treading water in a life jacket while keeping his wounded co-pilot afloat, dodging sharks before they were rescued and returned home. When he came back to Chicago, he raised six kids on the South Side with his wife, Irene. He went to work for Standard Oil and rarely spoke about his time in the military or what he did, as seems to have been the custom of most of the World War II Veterans. They fought a hard and bloody war, and all they wanted was to return to normal.
Fast forward to 2016. Our next family member to serve in the Military, my son, Nicholas Dargis.
Nick was commissioned as an ensign into the Navy, just like grandfather Votlz.
He was commissioned in September 2016 at Great Lakes Naval Station. I was there to see it. I was the first enlisted guy to give him his first salute.
Nick is presently in the medical corp and was at Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, for about three years. Treated a lot of wounded warriors returning from overseas as well as several senators. Met and married a wonderful woman, Allie, while he was stationed in Bethesda. He is now stationed in Guam and is working in the Emergency Room for the main Navy hospital on the Island. Could be deployed out of there to any ship or other area where the Navy needs experienced Nurses.
Good luck Nick, and may God be with you.