CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
Casper A. Everhard Jr.
In 1966, at the age of eighteen, Jersey City New Jersey native Casper “Cappy” Everhard, who had dropped out of high school in the 12th grade to go to work as a truck driver, received a draft notice. Rather than be drafted, he joined the United States Marine Corps. His feelings at the time, Everhard recalled, were that: “If I had to fight with someone, the Marines were going to be the best trained to fight in hand-to-hand combat. They were the most highly qualified fighters”. Everyone in Everhard’s generation was affected by the draft one way or another; and, anyone graduating from high school who did not go to college was sure to be drafted.
Everhard was sent to Parris Island, South Carolina, for basic training. He arrived at boot camp in February 1966. Everhard explained that the main objective of the training was to break an individual down and re-build him into a “model Marine.” He remembered that he was “terrified in Marine Corps boot camp.” By August, following initial training, advanced infantry training and tanker training by the Army at Fort Hood, Texas, Everhard was on his way to Vietnam.
When told that the Marine Corps was involved in a war in Vietnam, Everhard recalled that he didn’t even know where Vietnam was. He remembered arriving “in-country” on a plane, and temporarily losing his breath once he debarked due to the intense heat. Everhard told the interviewer that arriving at a unit in Vietnam as a replacement for a casualty, or for a Marine who had rotated home was a difficult experience. The new man was considered a “rookie” in the eyes of older, more experienced Marines, who did not accept him right away. With time, however, as the rookies learned the ropes and fit into the unit, they became members of a sort of family.
Everhard and his fellow Marine tankers in the First Marine Division’s First Tank Battalion were based in Chu Lai, near the South China Sea; and, they also spent time at Da Nang. Everhard was initially assigned as a “loader” of the M-48 tank’s main gun before he became a driver. Crew members rotated in various tanker tasks, including driver, loader and gunner, and occasionally tank commander. The usual mission for an armored unit was supporting the infantry on “search and destroy” missions. If the infantry was outgunned in a situation, for example encountering a complex bunker, tanks were called on to resolve the issue. In addition to fire support for engaged foot soldiers, tanks made security sweeps along roads, looking for mines and potential ambushes.
Everhard recalled that the equipment and rations provided to the Marines were not, in his experience, ideal. He said that uniforms were often used “hand-me-downs.” In six out of seven days, C-rations were on the menu. C-rations were individual canned, pre-cooked prepared meals, consisting of meat, vegetables and fruit. Some of these, according to Everhard, dated back to World War II! On one occasion, he was offered a cooked chicken by a local Vietnamese civilian, which was a treat compared to the C-rations.
Everhard and his fellow Marines interacted with Vietnamese civilians daily. Many had their own businesses providing services to the American troops, including one little girl who used to wash uniforms for a reasonable price. Everhard went on to note that his was a different war compared to the American experience in previous conflicts, as some civilians appeared to be your friends during the day but turned into your enemy at night: “You didn’t know who the enemy was. You might be fighting the people you were feeding during the day”.
Everhard took several photos during his down time, providing the interviewer with a chance to see much of his camp and his fellow Marines. His participation in the war awakened an interest in what was going on back in the United States, and he tried his best to keep up with current events. Everhard looked forward to receiving mail, and his parents often sent him food packages which he shared with his friends. Music played on Armed Forces Radio was very popular in Vietnam; and, it provided a great way for soldiers to forget about where they were. During his tour of duty, Everhard went on an “R & R” trip to Taiwan, recalling that the best aspect of the trip was sleeping in a real bed and taking a hot shower.
Everhard returned to America in September, 1967 after completing his tour of twelve months and twenty-one days. He landed at Newark airport and took a cab home. Everhard recalled how scared he was while the cab driver drove fifty miles per hour, as he was used to moving at a much slower pace and more carefully on roads through hostile areas in Vietnam. As he exited the cab, the first thing he saw was a sign in front of his house proclaiming “Welcome Home Cappy,” which made him cry with joy. When the interviewer asked Everhard how his service in the military had changed him, he responded: “I think everyone is a different person when you come back; it’s just like when you go away to college. You’re a different person when you come back from college. You see different things; you learn different things.”
Everhard did not encounter any protesters on his return, as it was still relatively early in the conflict. He recalled that, actually, at the time of his return, “nobody wanted to hear from us [veterans], a feeling many of those returning from Vietnam in 1967 recall. In his immediate postwar years, Everhard “had chronic sleeping problems and grew agitated with authority,” and he was eventually diagnosed with PTSD.
At the time of his interview, Casper Everhard resided in Aberdeen New Jersey. He is an active volunteer at the New Jersey Vietnam Era Educational Center in Holmdel, where he explains the war to visitors, many of whom are in middle school. Everhard believed his experiences as a volunteer to be rewarding, and he particularly loved engaging with young people and relating his experiences.
Casper Everhard also has an interview with the Rutgers Oral History Project.