I am a Vietnam Veteran and am proud of my service. I served with the 101st Airborne while in Vietnam and was assigned to northern I Corps at Camp Eagle, near Hue. This week I would like to tell you a little bit about myself and in a future
posting, an entry about why I went back to Vietnam in 2009.
Born on October 11th 1948, I grew up in a home with three older brothers. I was born at home since Mom couldn’t afford or didn’t want to go to a hospital. I grew up in an area that was residential, as well as, industrial. I lived in the shadows of the Philco electronics building. Directly behind us was Kissling’s Sauer Kraut. Al Kissling - yes he was a real person - manufactured sauerkraut, pickles, mackerel and mush – all still available in local supermarkets.
Once he started buying up homes, the 100 block of Richmond Street became a big part of his company. My dad refused to sell and our once row home ended up as a single detached home by 1970. He had his office on one side of us and his cabbage weighing scale on the other. Trucks would come in at all hours and pull into the scale area to be weighed. The scale then tilted the truck so that all of the cabbage would noisily roll into a large hole where the workers would take them and do their magic and create those bags of sauerkraut that still fill supermarket shelves today.
Also in the neighborhood for a time was a Bon Ton potato chip factory. We also had a trucking firm -- Strunk’s. Strunk also had a car inspection and repair service in the 200 block. On our block, was a lumber yard, as well. There was a bar on almost every corner, the 200 Bar at 200 Richmond, McGuirl’s at 101 Richmond and others throughout the neighborhood. I can remember four bars from Front and Richmond to the middle of the 200 block. There was an Esso gas station – Wolfman’s -- and another luncheonette – Wojcik’s -- on Shackamaxon Street. And down the block from Wojcik’s was one more luncheonette --- Conroy’s -- and gas station – a Gulf.
This was your typical blue collar city neighborhood of that era where dogs ran free, everyone knew each other and being home by dark in the summer were the only rules we had.
We also had a rag and newspaper reclamation plant, a kielbasa plant and a sugar house (now, the Sugar House Casino) all within a two block walk. On the corner of Richmond and Shackamaxon, there were four businesses. There was a luncheonette – McCracken’s, the 200 Bar, a grocery store – Wisnieski’s and a Drug Store – Blacks. McCracken’s moved to the middle of the block at a later time. We had a candy store – Tilly’s (Maryanski) – where soda and candy were sold and where the pinball wizards of the time hung out. Five balls for a nickel was the cost
at that time. So you never had to go far to get anything you needed.
So, as you can see, it was an interesting place to live. We never knew we were poor until we got out into the world and experienced other neighborhoods. Once I started going to school in 1954, more discoveries were made. As I crossed
Frankford Avenue, on my way to Immaculate Conception School, I would pass by a
steel smelting plant – Ajax. Once I got to the end of the block, I came to Front Street where the elevated train ran and crossed over to the Tip Top playground which was the school yard for Immaculate Conception school.
We had a graduating class of 35 in 1962. After leaving ICS, I attended Northeast Catholic High School and graduated in 1966. I worked in my senior year at a family shoe store on Girard Avenue – the OK Shoe Store. After graduation, I decided to take the summer off before starting a real job and ended up at Sears Roebuck before I received my letter from Uncle Sam.
I received my draft notice on April 1st 1968 and before I could be inducted I joined the Army in 1968 because I wanted to control my own fate during a time that the US was involved in what was becoming an unpopular war. I did my basic training at Fort Bragg, NC starting in the hottest month of the year – August. Then I was assigned to Fort Monmouth, NJ to attend a Communications School. I enlisted in order to get this school since it was so close to home and would
keep me in the States for at least another 10 months and allow me to get home
My recruiter, who shall remain unnamed, told me that with all of this security training that I would never see Vietnam. I am still looking for him… (HA HA). I received my orders for Vietnam about six weeks before I completed my training. There were 26 of us in class and 25 were sent to Vietnam. The lone member, who had the highest average, was off to Germany. Little did I know that after my tour in Vietnam did I come to realize so many years later that it was one of the most gratifying experiences in my life. I cannot say that it has not affected me negatively in some ways, but there are many positive experiences, as well.
So, after I finished my studies at Fort Monmouth, I came home for a 30 day leave. I had met a gal in June and saw her on weekends, along with my friends, when I came home. It was a casual friendship and since I was going away to war, I didn’t want any kind of commitment while I was away. Well, that plan failed miserably and I married that girl when I returned home the next November. I had turned 21, five days before I left and also knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. Some 40 years later, we are still together.
The war was being protested more and more during that time and the day before I left, the largest moratorium aimed at ending the war took place on October 15, 1969. Almost 500,000 men and women were deployed in the conflict, and opposition to the war was growing.
The Moratorium for the first time brought out America's middle class and middle-aged voters, in large numbers. The focal point was the capital, Washington DC, where more than 40 different activities were planned and about 250,000 demonstrators gathered to make their voices heard. There were protests all over Europe, not just the US. Peace activists congregated outside US embassies across Europe. In London a crowd of some 300 people demonstrated opposite the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square.
So, with all of this going on, I headed to the airport after saying good bye to my Mom and Dad. Of course, my mother was upset, but it was the first time I had ever seen my Dad cry. I left with my future wife and my brother and sister in law and headed to the airport. Corny as it may sound, as I kissed my future mate good bye, I handed her my high school ring as an assurance that she would have to give it back to me when I returned.
So, I got on the plane, my first ever flight, headed for Chicago, then Oakland. I was joined by several other Fort Monmouth class mates and my future best man, who at that time had no idea, as did I.
We spent several days in Oakland, before receiving the call to get on that plane to Vietnam. We departed Travis AFB around midnight for what would be a year in Vietnam. After a brief stop in Alaska, we headed to Tokyo. Upon landing there, it was found that there was a problem with our plane and it would take at least 24 hours to repair. Our plane was carrying about 150 second lieutenants with artillery or infantry specialties, along with many enlisted men, some returning to Vietnam for another tour. The young officers all knew that that their specialty had a great deal of casualties in Vietnam.
So, while waiting for plane repairs and with all of this freedom, Joe and I decided to hit the bars. Little did we know that those Kirins we were drinking were high in alcohol. After several hours, we retired to our hotel and fell asleep. We were going to be called when the plane we repaired. There were two officers in our room as well and when they got the call, they failed to awaken us from our drunken stupor. Sometime later, when the hotel manager was checking rooms, he found us, woke us and told us the plane was leaving. We hopped in a cab and headed to the airport to see out plane on the tarmac ready to leave. We had just made it.
The flight to Vietnam was uneventful after that until we landed and the hot steamy air hit us as the doors opened. Needless to say, that did not help our still existing “hangover” condition. We both walked down the steps onto the tarmac with a queasy stomach and wobbly legs.
We were off to the reception center where I found that, after a few days of
jungle training I was to board a C-130 to Phu Bai. I knew nothing of the country’s geography and searched a map all around the Saigon area, where I wanted to be assigned. Up and up my finger cruised to find Phu Bai in the northern I Corps region. I was shocked. I was hoping to stay in the “safer” area around Saigon but it was not to be. I was headed to the boonies.
So, I got to Camp Eagle and was happy to see one other guy from my class. It was November 2nd, almost two weeks after leaving home. This was most difficult since I was writing letters home but had yet to receive one in return. I now had a mailing address, but it would take another two weeks to receive a reply after I sent the information home.
So my travel was over for now and I settled in to the daily 12 hour, 7 day routine.
Along with the duties of the communications shop, there was KP, guard duty and other company-related duties. I wasn’t happy but something happened in the next several weeks that would change my whole point of view about this place.
In a future blog I will continue this story and share an experience which has stayed with me until this day and which brought me back to Vietnam 39 years later.
Bob Staranowicz is a Vietnam veteran and a member of the Doylestown Post 175 VFW. He lives in Buckingham.