US NAVY VIETNAM 1967-68
Tom Wells is a youthful 72 years young and is a Vietnam veteran.
He was born to Betty and Joe in Fostoria. He was a twin. Unfortunately, his brother Tim passed away shortly after birth. Tom was the second oldest child in the family, surrounded by four sisters.
Raised in Fostoria, he graduated in 1964 and was drafted into the Army in 1965. Wanting to have some control of his destiny he went and enlisted instead in the Navy. In December of 1965 he was welcomed into the Great Lakes Naval Training base. Once trained he was sent to Virginia Beach where he was assigned to aviation ordinance, supplying ammo, missiles and bombs to the air squadrons. He stayed there for a year.
In a surprise move, in 1967, he received orders to individually ship out to Danang, Camp Tenshaw, Vietnam, as a Gunners mate in a munitions area. His first night in camp, even before he was issued a weapon, his unit came under fire. He learned quickly to take cover and crawl on his belly.
Tom learned the craft of repairing M-16, M-14, 45 and 38 caliber weapons. Another responsibility was resupply weapons and munitions to approximately 9000 soldiers in a 100-mile radius.
His job was nerve racking as he would load up a deuce and a half truck with munitions and drive solo without protection to anywhere in a hundred-mile radius which included “Monkey Mountain” and Danang to resupply outlying posts. He was often in the middle of delivery when VC would attack the post he was supplying, and he would become part of the battle. He used a M14 as the M16 was having troubles jamming at that point of the war.
Tom was present for the huge TET Offensive and his memory is that VC were everywhere, and he has visions of their bodies hanging on perimeter barbwire after a fire fight. It haunts him to this day.
After serving from 1967 to 1968 he returned home to Virginia Beach where he became proficient loading Mark4 missile pods for the F4 Phantom jets, He was then assigned to the USS Saratoga, an active aircraft carrier. He can still recall the sounds and stress of working a flight line on a carrier.
Tom has scars from his time served in Viet Nam. He is disabled with heart/lung/COPD issues from effects of Agent Orange due to all his trips through the jungles. He has PTSD from the firefights and does not tolerate fireworks well. When they are loud and close, he looks for cover. “It deeply affected my moral. Nobody should ever have to experience war.”
As we talked, the PTSD would occasionally surface, causing him to halt. His wife Kathy, always at his side, would hold him until he could breathe again. He holds on to a quote he read, “The Vietnam war killed me.. I am just not dead yet.”
Additionally, when he returned home to the U.S. he was not welcomed home. Landing in Los Angeles in 1968 he was met by anti-war protesters yelling and waving signs. Even his first wife at the time called him a “baby killer”. Those wounds have scabbed over, but they on occasion become ripped open and raw if something triggers him.
Tom was able to find a good job at American Standard in Tiffin and was employed there for 33 years. He has two grown children from a previous marriage.
His wife Kathy has been at his side for almost 40 years. She had met Tom previously as they lived in the same neighborhood in Fostoria. Late one-night Kathy’s home was broken into and she was beaten severely. She was able to escape and ran to the only place she thought she might be safe, with the young Vietnam veteran Tom, who lived a block away. They have never been apart since. Over the years they have held, comforted and protected each other as they each healed from their pasts. Even with all the love and trust it still took Tom ten years into their marriage before he began to share small pieces of his memories from Nam.
They moved to Findlay in 1996 and call it home now. They are the proud caretakers of cats, Gracie and Itty bitty, and pups, Lil Audie and Ivy.
In 2017 Tom was nominated and received the Findlay Veteran of the Year award. He received a plaque and a proclamation from Mayor Lydia Mahalik. He also was on the Honor Flite in September of that year.
Thank you sir, for years of military and civilian service to your fellow man.