CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
Vietnam War Oral History Interview
US Army, 46th Engineer Battalion
Date: March 16, 2017
Interviewer: Carol Fowler, Kristine Galassi
Summarizer: Kristine Galassi
Charles Caso was born in September 1948 in Jersey City, New Jersey. A hairdresser by trade, he was drafted into the United States army at the age of 19, in 1968. Caso was sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey for basic training, and then on to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri for advanced training as an Army Engineer. Caso remarked that he found military training very difficult, and that it was hard to adjust to military life. Caso found his training at both Fort Dix and Fort Leonard Wood “very tough.” He also mentioned that he lost a lot of weight during his training.
Before Caso was deployed to Vietnam, he was allowed a short leave to visit his parents. Although his father knew where he was going, the family never told his mother, who thought he was assigned to California. Of course, he did go to California, but it was just a stopover on his way overseas. From California, Caso flew to Hawaii, then on to Guam and then to Vietnam, where he landed at Bien Hoa air base, west of Saigon, in September 1969.
It was at Bien Hoa that Caso first experienced the heat and humidity that was pervasive in Vietnam. He remembered that it took some time to get used to. Shortly after his arrival, Caso was sent to his unit, the 46th Engineer Battalion (Heavy Equipment) in nearby Long Binh, a large supply base.
Caso lived in barracks in Long Binh while he spent long hot and humid days operating a bulldozer from early morning until dark, building roads. The work was often slowed by the tremendous sudden downpours of rain characteristic of the monsoon season, making the bulldozer difficult to operate. At work the engineers ate C-rations for lunch. At the end of the day, however, they would return to Long Binh where they were able to take a shower and have an evening meal in the mess hall.
Caso mentioned the Vietnamese children he saw while he worked the bulldozer. He recalled that he often gave them pieces of candy and tried to keep them away from the dangerous work areas.
The engineers were often sent to locations outside the camp to survey the road construction possibilities. On these occasions, they would stay out in the field overnight. Caso and other soldiers were deployed on guard duty to watch for a possible enemy attack. He remembered that he was given night vision goggles to help him see more effectively in the dark, but that they were not much help.
Caso’s work as a hairdresser before entering the army came in handy, as he could keep his hand in on his trade and make some extra money by giving haircuts to many soldiers, from officers to enlisted men. They got a bargain, as he recalled that “I only charged one dollar.”
During his service in Vietnam, Charles Caso maintained a positive outlook and always believed that he would come home safely, and he did. In 1970, thirteen months after he had landed in Vietnam, Caso returned home to New Jersey. He said that he has always been glad that he had served his country when he was called on to do so.