US ARMY, VIETNAM, 1968-69
Wayne Graves proudly served in the US Army, “boots on the ground”, in Vietnam, from 1968 to 1969. Here is his story.
Wayne was born in Toledo, Ohio in 1947 and raised in the quaint community of Whitehouse. His parents were Donald and Helen and he would join older siblings Don, Bob, Judy and Tom. Carl and Jane would later round out the family.
Wayne attended Anthony Wayne High School where he fell in love with studying history. He sang in the mixed choir and was elected president of the Senior class of 1965. Wanting to turn his passion for history into becoming a history teacher, Wayne enrolled at the University of Toledo where he would take courses for the next 18 months. Life would take a fateful turn for him when the University cancelled a class in which he was enrolled. This lowered his class hours from 16 to 12 which triggered his eligibility for the draft. In October of 1967, Wayne was drafted into the Army, inducted in Cleveland and sent by train to boot camp at Ft. Knox.
(Ft. Knox was the location for vetting potential officers where they were put through a series of tests, mental and physical. At the conclusion, Wayne was one of six soldiers offered an opportunity to attend West Point for four years, with a six-year obligation to serve after being commissioned. After much soul-searching Wayne turned down the offer.)
Having rejected the offer to attend West Point, Wayne was assigned to his training company. “It was a bit of a cultural shock”, Wayne recalls. “The yelling, P.T., I had never fired a rifle before! This was not what I had chosen or wanted but it had to be done so I was determined to do it well!” (Wayne proved proficient on the firing range using the M-14 rifle earning the Sharpshooter designation.)
Next stop for Wayne, who was assigned the 11B Infantry MOS, was AIT at Ft. Polk Louisiana, where he would train from January to March of 1968. “It snowed for the first time in 30 years while I was there. We were moved around like cattle in open trucks. The wind and constant rain meant were always wet, cold and miserable!”
After a thirty-day leave, Wayne flew out of Detroit Metro airport, with stops at the Oakland Processing Center, Travis AFB, Honolulu, Guam, the Philippines before touching down in Vietnam on April 7th of 1968. “My first impression of Vietnam was how hot, humid and muggy it was. There was the constant smell of rotting vegetation.”
Wayne was placed temporarily in the “replacement” unit before being permanently assigned to Alpha Company, 2ndBattalion, 22nd Armored Infantry Brigade, 25th Infantry Division. At the age of twenty years old, he became a member of a six-man crew manning an APC (Armored Personnel Carrier) based near an abandoned Michelin rubber plantation in the Dau Tieng district northwest of Saigon. This was a critical staging area for the Viet Cong and near Cu Chi, the site of a huge tunnel system for the VC. The area is a huge flat land region, (except for Black Virgin mountain, a high, overlooking, strategic location, precariously controlled by American forces.)
The Battalion was operating out of Tay Ninh, one of the three 25th Infantry Division’s base camps which included Cu Chi, Tay Ninh, and Dau Tieng. His company, comprised of 3-4 platoons, with 4 APCs assigned to each platoon, were constantly sent out on patrol. “I remember not being able to shower for up to two weeks at a time. It was all hard getting used to.”
In early May of that year the company moved toward Saigon, stopping in Trang Bang. “It was a miserable little place.” It was here that Wayne was involved in his first firefight. New to the platoon, It was his job during a fight to hand ammo up to the 50-caliber machine gunner in the turret. During this long battle, the “50 cal” barrel overheated. The gunner used an asbestos glove to change out the barrel, and placed it to right of the turret. Wayne, still green, didn’t pay attention to it and during the battle laid his bare arm on it immediately creating a huge blister.
On May 13th the platoon engaged in another firefight. “I was bent down to get more ammo, when the gunner, PFC Patrick McNearney, was killed instantly by enemy fire and his body fell on me. I got up in the turret to take his place. It was the hardest thing I have ever done, standing over him, one foot on either side of his body, to man the machine gun!” Wayne recalls, “It was so physically wrenching to deal with. Pat was only 18. I instantly developed a true hate for the enemy. From then on it was kill or be killed.”
A few days later, still in the Trang Bang area, Wayne’s APC was sent out to support Army engineers using metal detectors to find hidden mines. While they worked, everyone else dismounted to watch for enemy activity. Wayne, now assigned to man the machine gun, stayed close to his APC. He was the farthest soldier away from the work crew, , about 50 yards distance, when there was an explosion, believed to be remotely set off. “I felt something hit my left leg. I didn’t understand as I was so far away, but when I looked down there was a hole torn in my pant leg. My left knee began to bleed profusely.”
He was “evaced” out to a MASH unit where they unsuccessfully tried to stitch up his wound. “I painfully remember sitting in the medical tent, writing a quick letter home, to let my parents know that I was okay, hopefully before the Army notified them I had been wounded, when I realized it was the 21st of May, the second anniversary of my brother Tom being killed in a car accident.”
Even on light duty Wayne’s wound failed to heal. When he returned to Vietnam in the middle of July from an emergency family leave, he spent several more weeks pulling light guard duty over POWs. Shortly after returning to the 22nd, the entire battalion was reorganized with a new Delta Company being created comprised of non-combat personnel, such as cooks, mechanics, medics and admin. Wayne, now a PFC, was picked to be the new company clerk under the command of Captain Jim Kennedy. He did so well that he received an accelerated promotion to Spec-4 in just two months. The company moved to the Cu Chi base camp where they served as support for combat troops. A few months later, the unit was moved back to the Dau Tieng base camp. Wayne received another accelerated promotion to Sergeant E5, and applied for Officer Candidate School. “Jim Kennedy’s positive influence was a huge factor in my decision to apply to OCS. Jim and I are still close friends.” Wayne completed his Vietnam duty tour April 6th, 1969.
From Bien Hoa AFB, via Yakota AFB, Japan, and Travis AFB, Wayne reported to the Oakland Army Base April 9th. He had lost so much weight it was necessary for the Army to reissue all new uniforms to him. Wayne was fortunate to catch a late night “red-eye” flight home, leaving out of San Francisco, thereby avoiding the usual crowd of anti-war protesters.
“I landed at Metro in Detroit. As I deplaned, my younger brother Carl was waiting for me in the jetway. I was concerned, because he was big and strong and I had lost so much weight, that he would hurt me if he hugged me! Every family member in the area was there to welcome me home. “My first meal back at my home in Whitehouse was wonderful. Summer potato salad and steak!”
Wayne still owed the Army six months and received orders to Ft. Carson, Colorado. Wanting to serve closer to home, Wayne flew to Washington D.C., strode into the Pentagon, and after speaking to the “right people” was reassigned to FT. A. P. Hill, in Virginia. Ft. Hill is located on a large land mass setback deep in the “booneys” primarily used as a large-scale temporary training base for various units. Wayne’s assignment was to set up the artillery, tank, and firing ranges in preparation for exercises, and to police the areas after for shells, ordnance etc. “I loved exploring the history of the area, Revolutionary and Civil War battle grounds, Mt. Vernon…”
During his time at A.P. Hill, Wayne had to finalize his decision about attending Officer Candidate School at Fort Gordon, GA. “I gave it serious consideration and decided to withdraw my OCS request. I knew as a newly commissioned officer exactly where I would be sent. I vividly remembered what I had gone through. I was safely home. I wasn’t going to push it.”
Wayne completed his last three months serving as a company clerk overseeing re-enlistments. During this time, he was also selected the Soldier of the Month. On the 24th of October 1969, Sgt. Wayne Graves completed his obligation to the Army and was honorably discharged.
(It should also be noted the military service of Wayne’s siblings; brothers Don, Tom and Bob all served in the Navy. Tom was killed in a car accident in 1966 at the young age of twenty-one.)
Back home in Whitehouse, Wayne returned to his pre-Vietnam position as office manager for the GM-Chevrolet National Replacement Parts warehouse complex, overseeing a staff of twelve involved in part distribution logistics.
While growing up in Whitehouse, Wayne had been lucky to have a very pretty young lady, Noreen, live across the street. After the Army, their friendship became a love affair. Following an 18 month courtship, they were married July 24th, 1971. Noreen had a young son, Jamie, that Wayne also loved, adopting him shortly after the two were wed. In 1974 their daughter Jayne was born, completing their family.
Wayne using what he describes as “common sense and common decency” was successful at his job, which resulted in him being promoted in 1978 to work in the GMSPO Parts Plant in Pontiac, MI. This necessitated moving the family from Whitehouse, OH to Ortonville, MI. Another promotion moved Wayne’s job to GMSPO Division Headquarters Flint, MI and the family moved to Goodrich, MI.; then a move to Philadelphia, where the family relocated to Newtown, PA. Wayne worked in office management and IT from 1983 to 1986.
When GM purchased EDS, Electronic Data Systems, in 1986, Wayne was once again brought back to Flint, becoming the Programming manager overseeing the development and writing of software for various projects. The rest of Wayne’s career resulted in more moves for the Graves family than had he remained in the military. GM and EDS would send him and his family to Santa Clara, California, on to Lake Forest, Illinois, back to Santa Clara, then Louisville, and Indianapolis before Wayne retired from corporate life in 2005.
“Noreen and I decided to come back home to Northwest Ohio close to children, siblings, and where life made sense.” (Grandbabies Alex and Neleh have joined the family, adding to their joy.) Their current home in Swanton, Ohio is protected by a furry sentry, Cooper, a Pembroke Welsh Corgi.
During his corporate career and since retiring, He and Noreen have been blessed to travel to places such as the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden. They recently traveled to the Louisiana and Texas region of the States. They enjoyed Caribbean cruise in late 2017. Another highlight in Wayne’s life was his 2015 induction to The Anthony Wayne High School Alumni Hall of Fame.
(Wayne is another Vietnam veteran suffering from serious health issues from long-term exposure to Agent Orange while in Vietnam.)
Sgt. Wayne Graves is proud of his service to his country. We, your fellow citizens, thank you for your service, Sir! OOOOOrah!