CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
Jay S. Waldman
Vietnam War Oral History Interview
US Army, 1st Cavalry Division
Date: September 28, 2012
Interviewer: Carol Fowler
Summarizer: Jack McDonald
Jay S. Waldman was born and raised in Queens, New York. At age 19, he had recently graduated from high school, was contemplating attending a local community college, and he continued to live in Queens with his parents and two brothers. In order to save some money, Waldman worked with his father as a truck driver. On November 1, 1966, he came home from work, and his mother told him he had a letter from President Lyndon Johnson informing him that he had been drafted into the army and to report to Whitehall Street for a physical exam. When Waldman arrived at that location, there were close to 500 other men waiting for physicals. He believed that since he had vision problems and wore eyeglasses, that the army most likely wouldn’t take him. Despite this, Waldman passed all his tests and was determined as fit to serve.
Two weeks later, Waldman had to report to his draft board in Flushing, Queens. On November 22, 1966, he boarded a bus which took him to Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, New York, where he was sworn into the army and provided with basic information on his future. After a few days at Fort Hamilton, Waldman and the rest of the new soldiers were awakened in the middle of the night and told they were going to Fort Jackson, South Carolina. At Fort Jackson, they received their basic equipment and were then sent to Fort Gordon, Georgia for basic training. In the sixth week of boot camp, Waldman fractured his ankle and was sent to the hospital, where he met some injured veterans who had returned from Vietnam. He felt badly, because he had not made it through basic training yet, and these guys had gone through hell. The veterans gave Waldman some tips and advice about Vietnam that became very helpful in the future.
Due to his injury, Waldman had to repeat his entire basic training. Afterward, he received orders to go to Fort Lee, Virginia for advanced infantry training. His original assignment had been in the infantry, but Waldman decided to sign up for an extra year as a volunteer and go to Quartermaster School instead. At Fort Lee, he was placed in a supply training company, where he learned how to operate accounting machines as well as to manage a warehouse. After eight weeks at Fort Lee, Waldman received orders to An Khe, Vietnam.
In May of 1967, Waldman flew to San Francisco to report to the Oakland Army Terminal for debarkation to Vietnam. At the terminal, soldiers had to take medical tests and receive multiple shots before leaving the country. The reality of his situation sunk in when he arrived in Long Binh, Vietnam. Waldman saw guard towers with soldiers in them, and he could hear gunfire and mortars in the distance. He stayed in Long Binh briefly before receiving orders to fly to An Khe. On the journey there, Waldman stopped at Saigon, where he stayed at a compound for a few days. While in Saigon, he “policed” the compound area, picking up trash.
In An Khe, Waldman was stationed at Camp Radcliff and assigned to the 178th Maintenance Company. His job consisted of working with an N.C.R 500 computer, as well as other machines including an IBM keypunch and sorter. There was also a huge warehouse filled with a large variety of items used to supply several divisions operating in the area. Waldman’s job was to help supply these divisions, and to use the N.C.R. computer to keep track of the warehouse’s inventory.
Waldman recalled that his first couple of months in Vietnam weren’t too bad. He explained that you would work all day and sometimes go on local night security patrols. On weekends soldiers were allowed to go to the local village of An Khe, which had an area known as “Sin City,” full of taverns stocked with prostitutes. Waldman also recalled that soldiers would gamble, play cards, or smoke marijuana in order to pass the time. As time went by, however, things started to heat up in An Khe, and the atmosphere got a lot more serious. Eventually, no one could visit the village or Sin City. He recalled that one day while he was taking a shower, something flew by his ear. Waldman dropped down to the floor; later he learned that he had been the target of a sniper bullet. Thankful that the bullet had missed him, he sprinted out of the shower stall. The North Vietnamese would also fire mortars at the base between three and five o’clock in the morning. There was a bunker near the barracks that everyone would have to go to during these attacks. Soldiers had to stay in the bunker until either the sirens stopped, or they were verbally told to leave.
In one instance, Waldman’s platoon was assembled late at night and told they needed volunteers to go on patrol. He volunteered and was tasked with finding infiltrators on the camp periphery. On arrival at his assigned location, Waldman heard some noise, and someone said “don’t shoot” — it turned out to be a soldier sneaking back from an unauthorized visit to Sin City. On the same patrol, Waldman found an AK-47, a Russian designed rifle used by the North Vietnamese. They never discovered how it got there, but it proved that the enemy had been within the compound area.
Waldman received five days of rest and recuperation and decided on Singapore. He enjoyed his time there, mostly because it allowed him to take his mind off things. The United States dollar was worth a lot more in Singapore at the time, which made his trip even better. Waldman appreciated a lot about Singapore including the buildings, the docks, the Buddhist culture and the food. After returning to Vietnam, he was given orders to travel North to Quang-Tri, which was about 15 miles from the Demilitarized border zone area. His assignment was supposed to be to help set up and teach soldiers how to use the N.C.R. 500 system. Instead of helping with the system, however, Waldman was expected to go on a listening post and locate enemy activity. Since he didn’t have the proper training for that, he returned to An Khe the next morning.
Waldman’s company was eventually called north to handle supplies for the 1st Cavalry Division. On the last day of the move, they needed volunteers to guard the warehouse, and he volunteered. Waldman was one of about five or six soldiers on guard duty, when out of nowhere mortar shells started landing near the warehouse. He ran to and hid in a cubby-hole within the building. After the fire subsided, Waldman realized a piece of shrapnel had hit the wood right behind him. He also saw one of the other soldiers lying dead on the ground torn by shrapnel. The next morning, Waldman and the survivors drove to meet the rest of the company in Qui-Nhon, and then they traveled north to Da Nang.
On their way to Da Nang, Waldman’s unit stopped off at a beach, and a couple of his friends went swimming. He recalled that the scene made it look as if there was no war going on. Ominously, though, Waldman noticed that planes were spraying chemicals inland, but not dropping bombs. At the time, he did not know what the spray was, but he did notice that the further North his unit went, the more leaves on trees were dead or dying. Waldman later discovered that the chemical was Agent Orange, a defoliant that was affecting both them and the enemy. A lot of solders he knew died because of the aftereffects of the product.
Waldman’s Company eventually made it to an area which would become Camp Evans. At that location, everything was rationed because supplies were not regularly provided. He lost close to twenty pounds during his time at Camp Evans. His worst experience there was when the North Vietnamese army shelled a helicopter pad right next to an ammo dump. Waldman recalled that things were exploding and flying around for about fourteen hours during the aftermath.
Waldman was eventually sent back south to Da Nang to receive his orders home to Fort Lewis, Washington; although he originally thought he was going to Washington D.C. He flew down to the debarkation area in Cam Ranh Bay, where he had to wait for about a week for a plane. During that week, there was constant mortar fire. Waldman thought his luck was running out. Since he wanted to leave as fast as possible, he hopped on a U.S. Mail plane that flew him out of Vietnam. The plane ride was extremely uncomfortable, but Waldman was just happy to leave in one piece.
After a brief trip home, Waldman finished his last 13 months at Fort Lewis and then returned home to Queens. He joined a Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter in Bayonne, New Jersey, and then a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Roseland, New Jersey. At the time of his interview, Waldman belonged to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in Glen Rock, New Jersey. He said that he gets great satisfaction from helping other people, especially veterans. Every year, Waldman takes time to help organize a poppy sales drive, which raises money for veterans. He hopes that the Veterans Administration will receive more funding for veterans who are returning from war, because they truly deserve the help. Waldman feels that veterans should be a government priority and regrets that, unfortunately, a lot of people do not recognize that.
Waldman attended a 1st Cavalry Division reunion in Cleveland, Ohio, where he met a friend with whom he had kept contact. In 1985, he attended a veteran’s parade in New York City. At the parade, Waldman bumped into someone from his company, and they embraced each other. They marched together for the rest of the parade. He said that it was such a rush to see his friends again. Jay Waldman made a lot of friends in the army, and his hope is that they are all doing well in their lives.