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Oral History Interview
Vietnam War Oral History interview - Michael George

Vietnam Oral History interview
Veteran:  Specialist 4th Class Michael George
Date:  October 25, 2013
US Army H Troop 17th Cavalry, 198th Infantry Brigade Americal Division
Interviewer:  Carol Fowler
Summarizer: Vincent Gonzalez

 

Michael G. George was born on December, 1947 in Long Branch, New Jersey. He was working as a lifeguard prior to being drafted by the US Army in 1968, and was on duty when his father walked across the beach in street clothes to hand him his draft notice. George’s father had previously warned him that, if he did not keep his grades up in school, he would be drafted. Sure enough, he was.

After being drafted, George was sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey for basic training, and then on to Fort Polk, Louisiana for advanced individual training as an M-60 machine gunner. He described his adjustment to military life as something he just had to do, so he did it, adding that, when you’re 21 years old, there really is no adjustment to be made. While at Fort Polk, George recalled a humorous occurrence between the newly recruited soldiers and their superior officers. Recent draftees, including George, refused to get their mandatory short haircuts before being sent to Vietnam. The soldiers rebelled because they believed that, since they were being forced to go to Vietnam, they would go on their own terms. George pointed out that the soldiers felt there was nothing the officers could do to punish them, since they were already receiving the ultimate punishment: going to Vietnam. Ultimately, the soldiers got their way and left for overseas with their long hair intact.

George departed Fort Polk for two weeks leave with his family for Christmas in 1968. After this short sabbatical at home, he was off to Fort Lewis, Washington. George mentioned that there was a sense of mass confusion while at Fort Lewis. Men were shouting orders, others were running around, and it seemed as if no one knew exactly what they were doing. By early January of 1969, however, he was finally on his way to Vietnam.

The long flight to Vietnam had begun, and George found himself on a plane that was completely packed with soldiers. They stopped in Hawaii to refuel, and the soldiers on board were free to leave the plane, as long as they were back at a certain time for takeoff. By the time the plane was fueled up, the aircraft was half empty! George figured many of the men had taken advantage of their last chance to avoid going to Vietnam. From Hawaii, the plane left for Guam for one last refuel before finally landing in Vietnam.

After about 22 hours in the air, George’s plane landed at Chu Lai Air Base, Vietnam, where he received his formal orders. George still remembers that first moment when the plane door swung open, and the intense heat of Vietnam hit him in the face like a tidal wave. Coupled with the extreme heat, the smell of burning fuels and waste filled the air with a distasteful aroma. Once again, he found himself caught in what appeared to be a hectic, disorganized environment similar to that of Fort Lewis. Shouted directions and orders were drowned out by a constant buzzing and booming from the air traffic that flooded Chu Lai. George then took a two hour ride to Landing Zone Bayonet, which was the base camp where he was assigned to his unit.

While at LZ Bayonet, he was assigned to H Troop, 17th Cavalry, 198th Light Infantry Brigade of the Americal Division as a machine gunner. H Troop patrolled the jungles of Vietnam, never quite knowing what to expect. There were numerous incidents where George and his patrol heard something and just opened fire. The patrol rarely saw the enemy, but knew they could be anywhere just waiting to ambush them. This environment of high anxiety and tension plagued George throughout his early experiences in Vietnam; and, more often than not, he found himself too scared to sleep. George recalled that he was so incredibly stressed and paranoid, that he thought he would get killed while he was asleep. After a few unsteady weeks in Vietnam, however, George said that everything eventually became routine; and, he began to adjust to the environment. He would go out on patrol, whether it was day or night, complete the mission assigned, and then return.

Michael George’s last patrol in Vietnam occurred on March 9, 1969 in Quảng Ngãi Province. While his patrol was under fire, George went to retrieve ammo from an armored personnel carrier (APC) when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a Vietcong with a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) launcher aimed in his direction. George had no time to react, and the fired grenade went through the APC and injured him severely. The scene became one of complete mayhem, with all the shooting, screaming, and yelling. Despite George’s severe wounds, he never lost consciousness, and he even recalled his lieutenant screaming for the helicopter to come and “Medevac” the wounded. The helicopter arrived, and George’s life was saved, but he sustained devastating injuries to both of his legs.

After being Medevac’d, George fell in and out of consciousness as he was taken to the 27th Surgical Hospital in Vietnam, and then on to the 249th General Hospital in Japan. At the latter hospital, both of his legs were amputated above the knee. George’s right leg was amputated immediately but his left leg was amputated after attempts to save it, leaving his left leg shorter than his right one. He said he does not have any bad feelings towards the decisions the doctors made in the attempts to save his leg, trusting their diagnoses and believing that they did what they thought was right. George regained full consciousness around the fifth or sixth day after the RPG attack. He received several more surgeries on his legs after the amputations because of infection and continuous bleeding.

Once he was strong enough to fly, the Army sent him home on an Air Force plane headed back to the United States. He recalled that the conditions of the plane were terrible. Wounded soldiers in small cots were stacked on top of each other. One of George’s memories that he’d never spoken of until this interview was from that flight to the US. It was of an extremely selfless nurse who calmed him and the other soldiers through their suffering, fear and pain. She held George’s hand for nearly the entire trip, and he is eternally grateful for having her standing by him on the long flight.

George arrived at Walter Reade Hospital of Maryland in April 1969. He spent a total of one year there recovering. George received physical therapy and also underwent further surgeries. The conditions of Walter Reade were atrocious, as hundreds of wounded soldiers like himself found themselves side by side on cots in a room that was filled to capacity. George was aided by the immense support he received from his friends and family, most of whom were from his hometown of Long Branch NJ and who visited him frequently. On September 22, 1969 Michael George was medically discharged from the army while at Walter Reade. He said the army basically told him that they could not keep him any longer.

Shortly after his discharge, George was flown to New Jersey. The Walter Reade staff had said that someone would meet him at McGuire Air Force Base to transport him the rest of the way, but no one came. The servicemen who transported George to McGuire waited as long as they could, before asking for their wheelchair back. Mr. George, Sr. exploded in rage that they would even ask such a thing. Infuriated, George’s father asked, “What are we supposed to do!? Lay him on the ground!?” {During this interview, George mentioned that never before had he ever witnessed his father act in such a manner before.} After the heated exchange, George was able to keep his wheelchair, and he was taken to Fort Dix for the night. The next day George was transported up to the VA Hospital in East Orange, New Jersey. George said that the VA Hospital felt more like a nursing home, since it was primarily populated with older veterans. Naturally, George felt out of place, but many of the veterans helped him in areas that the government did not. They told him about the various aid and benefits he was eligible to receive. The assistance that the elderly veterans provided to George helped him greatly, as he felt that the government had basically used and abandoned him, in the prime of his young life.

The only thing that George is bitter about through all his experiences with Vietnam was the feeling of being abandoned -- that after his amputations had healed, the government discharged him and essentially cut all ties with him, failing to call or check up on him after he was discharged. Financial assistance was non-existent. The George family house was not handicapped accessible, so the father had to do the construction remodeling the garage for his son out of his own pocket. George got the impression that the government did not care about how he was doing, how he was adjusting, or what he would do for the future.

George’s post service years proved to be brighter than one would think, as he had great support from his family and friends. He spent a year looking for a job, until finally finding one at a local post office. Later George went on to work at Fort Monmouth for ten years. He then left Fort Monmouth and bought a bar in Toms River, New Jersey, which he owned for three years before selling it. He married in 1982, went back to work at Fort Monmouth for a while, then left for Waterford Crystal, where he worked for 22 years until he retired.

Michael George

Regarding his experiences in Vietnam, George said that he has absolutely holds no regrets about anything. The one thing he enjoyed most about his time over in Vietnam was meeting all kinds of people. He is only bitter about the post service abandonment that he faced. Luckily George had great support from his loved ones, which helped him return from Vietnam and enjoy a successful life. George has stayed in touch with his high school friends who visited him at Walter Reade Hospital, and they even wrote for him tributes and letters of encouragement on October 18, 2013, when they heard he was to come in for this interview of his Vietnam War experiences.

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