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The Vietnam War – Ray Fox – A Marshall infantryman arrives in Vietnam

We’ve begun learning about Ray Fox’s Army service to help us better understand the Vietnam War’s impact on our region.

Ray was born in 1945 in Adrian, but his family moved to Marshall in 1957. Ray graduated from Central Catholic High School in 1963 and enrolled in college, an experience that did not suit him at that time.

Tired of drifting through college and believing he would be drafted after graduation, Ray did not register for fall classes. He received his draft notice in the fall of 1967 to report in January.

The Army sent Ray to Fort Campbell, Kentucky for Basic Training. His welcome was typical for the time.

“We had the Drill Sergeants and they yelled at us and got us nervous, of course. They would get right in your face and yell at you — intimidate you, but I knew that was part of the ritual.”

The training day started early and ran long. “We’d get up at four-thirty or five o’clock and go on a long march,” Ray recalled, “and then come back for chow.” Even the chow line was a challenge as each trainee had to work his way down the overhead, horizontal ladder before they could enter the mess hall. Ray remembered, “The crossbars were hard for the overweight guys — their hands were always torn up, but eventually we all made it.”

Ray’s training company was mostly made up of draftees. “They were from all over,” he recalled. He remembered they were very young, “I was twenty-three then and most of them that I was with were seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen.”

Ray’s biggest adjustment to military life was meeting guys who had no education.

“There were guys who could not read or write. We take education for granted here, but when you get a big group of guys, some of them don’t know what a school is.”

After completing Basic Training, the Army sent Ray to Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Fort Polk, Louisiana. He laughed, recalling an incident as they arrived.

“We took a bus there and Drill Sergeants, before we got there, let us out at a liquor store. They said, ‘Buy whatever you want.’ So, guys are buying six-packs and a pint. When we got to the base, the Drill Sergeant says, ‘There’s no liquor allowed on this base. I want everything put on this pile over here.’ So, that’s how, I think, he got his supply.”

Ray explained the atmosphere at AIT was different than Basic Training, “We all assumed would go to Vietnam and we’d be in the infantry, so we took everything very serious.”

While they expected to end up in Vietnam, they knew little about their presumed destination. “I don’t think any of us really knew anything about it,” Ray recalled, “We just knew it was a foreign country – we didn’t have a clue what was going on.”

Ray recalled the young trainees’ six weeks at Fort Polk focused on two tasks. The first involved marching to their training sites each day.

“We learned to shoot the M-14 (rifle), the M-16 (rifle), the machine gun, and the grenade launcher. We shot a few 105 (howitzer) rounds; shot a few .50 caliber (machine gun) rounds; threw some grenades; crawled through the mud; and learned about booby traps and other things we might run into in Vietnam.”

The second task involved cleaning their barracks. He explained, “They were World War II barracks and we were always shining and polishing the floors.” The trainees discovered using a bath towel on the buffer produced the best shine, so one of them sacrificed a towel to the floor each week.

After completing AIT, the Army sent Ray home for thirty days leave. He then traveled to Washington State and boarded an airliner for Vietnam. “We were in our Class A’s,” Ray recalled, “I went with some of the guys [from] AIT.”

Their flight landed at Cam Rahn Bay Air Base, Vietnam. Ray recalled stepping off the plane, “It was very hot and then there was this smell that kind of overwhelms you.” He took another aircraft to Chu Lai, headquarters of the 29th Infantry “Americal” Division.

“I spent about a week there getting acclimated, pulling guard duty,” Ray remembered, chuckling, “we called it the Barney Fife guard duty. They gave us an M-14 and one round to put in your pocket, not in your rifle.”

The new troops were perfectly safe inside the perimeter of the division’s base camp. The purpose was to get used to being in Vietnam.

Ray soon reported to his unit of assignment; A Company, 1st Battalion of the 6th Infantry Regiment. He explained, “We hopped on a truck and we went to Hill 54 and that’s where I started.”

Ray’s first experience at his unit was hardly reassuring.

“When I got there they told me to get in the chow line. I was with the Lieutenant. He had a patch on his ear because he was wounded the night before. The Platoon Sergeant came up and the Lieutenant said, ‘If you ever do that again, I’ll kill you.’ I found out later they were on patrol the night before and ran into an ambush. They got separated and the Platoon Sergeant left the Lieutenant out there. You just don’t do that.”

These men were Ray’s new leaders. Welcome to the ‘Nam.

The Lyon County Museum is organizing an exhibit about the impact of the Vietnam War on Lyon County. If you would like to share Vietnam experiences or help with the exhibit, please contact me at prairieviewpressllc@gmail.com or call the museum at 537-6580.

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