CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
Vietnam War Oral History Interview
US Army, MAC-V, Team 64
Date: April 10, 2017
Interviewer: Carol Fowler
Summarizer: Taylor Williams
Charles Eriksen, born in Newark, New Jersey and of Danish descent, was a man who sought a career in the military, but the political circumstances of the era forced his hand, though he did have family members who had joined the service and fought in World War II.
Eriksen was a student at Ocean County Community College and worked three jobs. He was drafted into the Army, although he had sought to avoid service in any way possible, to keep attending college. Eriksen told his draft board that he was sick or hurt, to no avail. He attended boot camp and AIT, where he trained as a radio operator, at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Eriksen was, like most draftees, sent straight to Vietnam in November of 1968. He was however, given a week of leave time, to which he used the last three days to go to California with three thousand dollars, and had the time of his life, “because tomorrow, I die.”
Once he left for Vietnam, Eriksen was stationed at Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base right outside of Saigon. After spending some time at Tan Son Nhut, he was assigned to Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MAC-V) Team 64 and transferred to An Phu near the Cambodian border. Eriksen described An Phu as a “little hamlet” with little access to stores. This shifted his diet to that of a native one, because there was no PX or BX. The primary focus of the missions he made with MAC-V were search and destroy as a radio operator. During these missions, Eriksen worked closely with the Vietnamese troops. He discussed the lack of loyalty and trust between the American and Vietnamese. Eriksen claimed that the Vietnamese hated the Viet Cong just as much as the Americans, which was seemingly enough to make a working partnership function.
Eriksen also commented on the idea of peace and the ending of the war in Vietnam. While discussing the politics of the day, mainly the ceasefires and peace talks. where he claimed that due to the distance world leaders had from the bloodshed occurring in Vietnam, the peace talks in Paris were ultimately prolonged and derailed, leaving soldiers in the field. Eriksen also claimed that a ceasefire was just enough time for the North Vietnamese to reload their weapons and fire on the Americans. It also left the Vietnamese in a peculiar situation, causing them to perpetrate an immense amount of violence against each other, with increasing brutality.
While at An Phu, on the Cambodian border, Eriksen described the action he saw at the Ho Chi Minh Trail. He stated that because of the terrain and landscape, the infiltration was increasingly difficult to see, a common experience for all Americans fighting in the Vietnam War. Eriksen also described the Korean troops fighting in Vietnam as “badass” and people whose bad side he definitely did not want to get on.
Upon returning home from Vietnam, Eriksen stated that he no longer intimately followed the events of the war. He did recall one instance where he was watching the news and saw the devastation of the Khmer Rouge regime, and it made him question why he was in Vietnam. After reflection on his time and actions in Vietnam, Eriksen stated he was supported well by his fellow soldiers, and that there was a brotherly bond where rank was not the primary fixation. Additionally, he stated that at the time, he believed in the Vietnam War and his place within it, because the people he was helping hated the Viet Cong just as much as he did. In total, Eriksen was in country for one year, morale was relatively good, and optimism ran high.
Charles H. Eriksen passed away on July 8, 2020.