Today’s veteran: John “Bo” Vice, 75
Born: Birmingham, Ala.
Residence: St. Simons Island
Service: Army, 4 years
Recognitions: Vietnam Service Medal; Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal; Air Medal; Army Commendation Medal; National Defense Service Medal; Expert Infantryman Badge; Parachutist Badge; Overseas Bar (two); Presidential Unit Citation
Duty stations: Vietnam; Fort Benning
His story: John “Bo” Vice never had any doubt about military service or the branch in which he’d serve when he signed up for the ROTC program at the University of Virginia.
“The Army to me was the military,” he said.
After graduation, Vice went through the Army’s nine-week officer’s training, followed by the Airborne training he requested. Vice said he chose infantry for a simple reason.
“It was the Army and I was gung-ho at the time,” he said.
He served about a year at Fort Benning before he got orders to Vietnam with the First Cavalry Division.
His division traveled to Vietnam on an old World War II Liberty Ship because they were assigned to an air mobile unit with 225 helicopters that were also transported via ships.
Vice’s division had to quickly establish a new base to conduct operations after they arrived. There was no fence surrounding the base to make it more secure.
“It was kicking up good,” he said. “We had troops on the perimeter. The first night in base camp a soldier got hit.”
The base perimeter was breached multiple times while he was there. Units went on daily search and destroy patrols where they often encountered highly trained North Vietnam troops.
“They were coming in regiments,” he said.
The uncertainty of what they could encounter on patrols was the most difficult part of the job.
“It’s almost impossible to prepare someone for combat, mentally,” he said. “You never knew from one minute to the next. You always had the idea something could happen.”
During patrols, troops found weapons caches, field hospitals and supplies used by the enemy. They also had to be careful on patrols because of the many booby traps set by enemy troops.
“If you were being fired on, you were in an ambush and you were in trouble,” he said.
One of the many challenges was following the rules of engagement established for how the war was waged. Soldiers would fight to take a target and get orders to abandon it after a victory, only to have to engage the enemy again at the same site later.
“It made no sense,” he said. “At that time, I wasn’t wild about how we were doing things.”
He was in several helicopter crashes due to mechanical failure or damage by enemy fire during patrols.
“When they go down, they don’t go down easy,” he said of the crashes.
After Vietnam, Vice returned to Fort Benning as an infantry instructor.
He later taught others how to become infantry instructors, using the experience he and others had in Vietnam into the training.
Vice said he has no regrets about serving, though it was a life-altering experience.
“It changed the way I look at people,” he said. “When you lose somebody, it takes a toll.”
Our Veterans runs Tuesdays. Contact Gordon Jackson at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook or at 912-464-7655 to suggest a veteran for a column.