US ARMY, VIETNAM, 1968-69
Monte Sampson arrived in Findlay by way of Blanchard Valley Hospital in 1948. Born to Ginny and Clair Sampson, he would be joined by a sister, Sherryl, two years later.
Monte attended the “new” Findlay High School graduating in 1966, at the age of eighteen. Upon graduation he had no clear idea of what he wanted in the future. College was not an option he wanted to pursue. He had been working at Great Scot grocery store during school for a couple of years. He would take a job at Dow Chemical, but this was short lived as his draft letter arrived in the mail. His journey in the military began in January of 1968.
After his induction in Columbus, he and a group of young men from Hancock County, were sent to Ft. Gordon, Georgia for basic training. This was followed by AIT at Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. On completion, “being in the best shape of my life, weighing a whopping 148 pounds and six feet tall”, Monte came home for a thirty-day leave.
His journey in Vietnam began at Pleiku where he waited a short while in the replacement company. He was soon assigned as a rifleman in Company B, 2/8 Mechanized Infantry, becoming part of the crew on an APC. (Armored Personnel Carrier) He rode behind the driver for the first six months before he became a driver. His unit had four platoons, with four APC per platoon. Their mission varied, ranging from transporting troops to and from missions, being part of assault actions, protection of vital bridges and checkpoints etc. Every day was different.
His favorite memory comes from an assignment to protect a vital pontoon bridge crossing a river. (See picture) They were to stay on site for two weeks. This was possible because they could bring sufficient supplies on an APC to last for extended periods of time. Lacking shower facilities, it was necessary for the soldiers to bathe in the river. When Monte was washing up, he reached up to place his soap on one of the tire pontoons. He was surprised to see the words, “Cooper Tire, Findlay, Ohio”, printed on the tire.
When not on patrol in an APC, his unit took turns as two-man crews, setting up in the dark some thirty yards beyond the camp perimeter, spending the night watching and listening for movement. One night when it was Monte’s turn, as he laid there in the darkness, there was clear sounds of something moving in the dark approaching his position. “I was so scared!” Locked and loaded, radioing for support, he was surprised when a flare was tripped lighting the entire area. There staring him down, instead of the enemy, were four huge water buffalo!
Monte has kept the majority of his experiences buried deep in his mind for fifty years. They are too graphic and painful for him to discuss even today. He only began to share with his wife two years ago. He does have a date burned into his memory, “March 22nd”. He was emotional and unable to speak about it but went to his computer and printed out an “combat after action report”, written by the Army, describing what occurred that day. He allowed me to read it and then I understood.
A summary of this incident reads as follows:
His mechanized unit was ambushed while on patrol, coming under heavy enemy fire. His group returned fire, also calling in for helicopter air support. One of the helicopters was shot down wounding five soldiers. The enemy was mobile and sent in mortar, artillery, B-40 rockets and small arms fire. As Monte’s unit moved, one APC hit a mine. Two more wounded. Another APC also hit a mine. The APC units were ordered to go out and pick up soldiers on the ground. Sniper fire wounded the CO and platoon leader, both were air-evacuated out. By the time air support units could arrive bringing 20 mm fire and napalm, 21 men were wounded, eight were killed and four APC’s destroyed.
His last month in country, Monte accepted what he thought would be “light duty”, driving the CO around in a jeep. “I was hyper-alert. I was not going to die with such short time left in Nam.” Instead of being safe, he was involved in several incidents coming under enemy fire. It was during this time Monte rescued two seriously wounded soldiers who had been struck by a mortar. He crawled out and brought them back to safety. He was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor.
Monte sums up his time in Vietnam as a brutal learning experience. “It was a mix of being a hell of a rush, and hell.” He realized early on that politicians were controlling the military’s actions. “It was obvious to the soldiers on the ground that the war was being extended by policies from Washington. Conventional military tactics and wisdom were cast aside. We could not fire until fired upon and had received permission. We never held on to territory we had seized from the enemy. We believed the war could have been over in two years. I was lucky, being only one of two men in my unit not wounded that year.”
The upside was the friends he made during his year in Vietnam that have remained close. Men like Herbie, (who passed away seven years ago) and Little John, to name two. “It is a bond like none other.” His unit from that year have had numerous reunions over the years. Monte visits Herbie grave each year, with his buddy “little John”, to honor that friendship. He also remembers those who did not come home, “I lost friends…too many.”
Returning home, he had to learn how to eat properly with a fork. He still has the spoon he wore around his neck for eating C-rations. He reminisces, “The beans and wienies were good, the beef stew was horrible!”
Coming home was not a healing experience for Monte. The horrors locked in his mind tormented him. For the first two years he dealt with the PTSD and memories with drugs and alcohol. He grew his hair long which caused many to reject him as a hippie, even at places like the VFW. He was even denied employment because of his long hair, despite having a perfect work record. Finally, in 1973, after much persistence, Monte was hired at Whirlpool scraping grease off of the floors. Twenty-eight years later, in 2000, he retired as the second shift supervisor.
He married Cheryl in 1971. They have been together now 48 years and have raised two grown children, Amber and Taj. As close as Monte and Cheryl have been, it was only two years ago that he finally let her hear small bits of what had haunted him all these years. Working with the local Veterans Group, Monte has finally been given a coping device, a music playlist of favorite songs and groups, which include Led Zepplin and Stevie Nicks. It calms the terror he feels when something triggers a memory.
(One commonality I see with each of these veterans is the ability to create beautiful things with their hands. Monte’s home is filled with marvelous wooden furniture creations he has made since his retirement.)
One healing event stands out for Monte. A number of years ago, during a unit reunion that occurred at the Vietnam War Memorial, he was standing there wearing his Vietnam Vet hat. A young teenage girl walked up to him, extended her hand, and thanked him for his service.
“This was the first time, the first person, to say that… in thirty years.”