The Vietnam War – Loren Wood – When the war came close and returning home

We have been learning about Loren Wood, who was born in Tyler, grew up in rural Russell, graduated from Russell High School in 1965, volunteered for the draft in February 1967, and trained as an Army Aviation Communications Equipment Repairer.

Loren deployed to Vietnam on Dec. 17, 1967. He spent his first months in the southern port of Vung Tau before the Army reassigned him to the 198th Signal Detachment at the big base at Bien Hoa. There he assessed Huey helicopters when they returned from missions; swapping out malfunctioning radios; and repairing damage to radio wiring in the aircraft.

Diagnosing problems with aircraft radio systems was sometimes challenging.

“We had one helicopter that kept having radio trouble, but when he was on the ground, he was fine. We could not figure out what was wrong. That pilot came back and took us up to try and figure it out. We found out it was something with the antenna. We switched out the antenna and he didn’t have any trouble.”

The war regularly visited the Bien Hoa base, despite its massive size.

“The sirens would go off and sometimes we’d go out on the end of the flight line to the edge of an Air Force base where the jets and bombers would take off. (Loren chuckled) They mortared this runway because they wanted to keep these planes from flying. We’d crawl on top of the sandbags on either side of the helicopters and watch those mortars as they dropped them down the runway. When they started coming our way, we’d get behind the bunker. They never hit our aircraft, but they sure messed up that runway a few times. That mortaring was about an every night occurrence.”

Loren saw the war up close when he volunteered to fly with the aviation company’s standby helicopter.

“Whenever they went out, we had another Huey with a mechanic and a radioman. When they went into an LZ (Landing Zone), we stayed high and watched. But if they had radio or mechanical trouble, we landed and tried to fix the problem. One time I went along. One of the helicopters had mechanical trouble so we had to haul South Vietnamese troops from one LZ to another. We got to the new LZ; the door gunners were laying down suppression fire; and these guys didn’t want to get off. They were scared. The pilot said, ‘Kick them off so we can get out of here.’ One of the door gunners and I had to push them off. I only went that one time. (Loren laughed) After that, I didn’t care for it.”

Loren kept in touch with his family by writing letters.

“I tried to send one once a week. A lot of time the folks would get it and a lot would be blacked out. Maybe two or three times a year they would send (a CARE package).”

He remembered the big Thanksgiving at Bien Hoa shortly before he completed his Vietnam tour.

“We had a nice Thanksgiving dinner; turkey, dressing, the whole shebang. We sat down with tablecloths, silverware, and china. It was quite a thing.”

Days later Loren hit his 365 days and time to return to the States.

“They took me by Jeep to a civilian aircraft in Saigon where I got on to go home. I was the only one out of my unit, but we had a plane full. There were guys from all over Vietnam on the plane. As soon as the wheels left the ground, boy, there was screaming in that plane!”

He remembered arriving in Oakland and seeing new guys about to board the same plane.

“One thing I remember in Oakland was that when we came back, the new guys were heading out. As they were leaving, I wondered how many were going to come back in body bags.”

Loren recalled receiving advice before leaving the Oakland Army Base.

“They told us not to wear your uniform if you were going to any bigger cities. I wore my uniform because I was going in to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. (Loren chuckled) I didn’t figure there would be much hassle there and there wasn’t. (Loren’s voice tightened with emotion) It was a big day.”

He shared a hope with his folks as they drove home from the airport.

“I said, ‘God, I hope it snows. I haven’t seen snow for two years.’ And it snowed and snowed.”

Loren reflected on deployment difficulties on what he brought back from Vietnam.

“I’d never been away from home. A lot of guys hadn’t and a lot of them were in a worse shape than me. They had a tough time until they got broke in. That was the worst part. They teach you how to work with other people, no matter who they are — you had to work together to get a job done. Finally, Vietnam was a different culture that I would have never experienced if it hadn’t been for the military.”

He also reacted differently for a while to a part of Balaton’s nightly routine.

“I was upstairs in my bedroom and Balaton had a 10 o’clock whistle. That whistle went off and I was under my bed in about one second. My folks could not figure out what was going on. It took me a while to get over that.”

Thank you for your Vietnam service, Loren. Welcome home!

Please visit our new exhibit at the Lyon County Museum, The Vietnam War and Lyon County, to learn more about the experiences of our area Vietnam veterans.


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