The Vietnam War – Doug Hamilton – rest and recuperation and return to Vietnam

We have been learning about Marshall’s Doug Hamilton, who received his draft notice in November 1968, the day before his spouse, Chari, gave birth to their daughter, Becky.

Doug deployed to Vietnam in May 1969 as an artilleryman with B Battery, 1st Battalion, 30th Artillery Regiment at the first of several fire support bases that were his Vietnam home. He began writing Chari, but soon learned he needed to self-censor to avoid worrying her.

“When I started writing, I’d give her a blow-by-blow account of what we’d been doing and that really shook her up. I was telling her how many fire missions we had fired and how many rounds were going out and coming in. She wrote back and was so scared about what was going on. After that I sugar-coated everything, ‘Things are fine.’ She didn’t have to know the details of this whole situation. I realized commo can be too much — my first couple letters weren’t good for her or me.”

Doug’s command eventually offered him the opportunity to take R&R and meet with Chari.

“That was after about six months. You’d pick a date to go on R&R and because I was married, they said, “You can go to Hawaii, if you want.” So of course, it was go to Hawaii and Fort DeRussy in Oahu. It wasn’t long enough!” (Doug laughed)

Doug coordinated his R&R dates with Chari by mail and they made their plans. He also celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas in Vietnam that year.

“That was amazing because they had a real turkey for Thanksgiving, but I was sick that day. (Doug chuckled) I was so looking forward to Christmas because they said we were going to have turkey again. They had turkey loaf. (Doug laughed) So, that was my Christmas and Thanksgiving there.”

February and the Hamiltons’ R&R finally rolled around, but their arrival was not up to military standards.

“She flew in to Hawaii and was at Fort DeRussy, but my plane was late. So, she didn’t greet me at the R&R Center. She went to the hotel. When I checked in and they said she was at The Alena Hotel, I went to the hotel.”

The Hamiltons hung out with another young Army couple on R&R.

“On the plane she hooked up with a lady from Wisconsin, who was meeting with her husband, too. So, we hung out with those guys. I don’t know how many drinks we had that night. It was two-for-one until 10 o’clock. We said, “Just keep them coming.” Leaving that bar, all I did was lay in the back of the taxicab, watching the lights go by.” (Doug laughed)

The Hamiltons went out with that couple again.

“The next night we calmed our drinking. We went to a place called “Top ‘O the Moon” on Waikiki Beach. It was at the top of this hotel overlooking Waikiki. One night we went to “Queen’s Surf” on the beach. We ordered drinks and when it was about 12:30 we said we needed the tab. The lady said, ‘You have to buy another drink for the floor show.’ We had another drink and (that floor show) had Don Ho and a whole bunch of singers. We didn’t leave until three o’clock in the morning. (Doug laughed) That was a nice experience.”

Doug’s R&R with Chari included uncomfortable conversations.

“I told her that I had extended for two more months to get out of the Army after my tour. She made me call my parents and tell them I had extended.”

Too soon the R&R ended and Doug returned to Vietnam, while Chari returned to Willmar and Becky.

Doug’s status in his gun section changed.

“I went from a gun bunny into the gunner position. I went from humping ammo to sitting on the trails, doing the inflections and quadrants, leveling the bubbles, and firing. I had to make sure everything was kosher. The guy who was gunner under our section chief was from Tennessee. The Southerners called him “Dumb as a box of rocks,” but he had time in country. I’d be pulling KP and when we’d get called for a fire mission, (our section chief) pulled me off KP and had me gunning because he couldn’t trust him around friendlies.

Doug described his gun crew as a scruffy, tired team.

“We became of the jungle, that’s just the fact. Our usual uniform was boots and pants, no shirt except sometimes in the evening. When the infantry came in from patrolling, they’d discard what they wore patrolling and we’d go through them because they were in better shape than ours. We were running 16- to 18-hour days and our rest periods would be sporadic. A good night’s sleep would be maybe three to four hours. The food was also sporadic. Sometimes we’d miss a supply run and the mess might serve meat only. But we preferred that to C-rations. About the only thing we liked from C-rations were the canned fruits. Sometimes we didn’t get much. I dropped about 70 pounds from when I arrived in May to December. One time we had macaroni and cheese. A buddy and I were eating near the chopper pad and all kinds of dirt was covering it, but we just kept eating. It was just a little crunchy.”

Doug kept crossing the days off his calendar until he could return home

The Lyon County Museum’s next Veterans Coffee is Tuesday, Feb. 6, at 1:30 p.m. for veterans of any armed service. Please join us for coffee, conversation, and camaraderie.


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