CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
Kevin T. Anderson
Vietnam War Oral History Interview
US Army, 39th Artillery
Date: June 26, 2015
Interviewer: Carol Fowler
Summarizer: Macartan McCabe
Kevin Anderson was drafted at the age of 19 in 1969, during the height of the Vietnam War. His family had a long military tradition. Both of Anderson’s parents served in the US Coast Guard prior to World War II, and his father landed at Normandy in 1944. His grandfather was a lancer in the British Army, who had served in India and trained Indian soldiers.
When he was drafted, Anderson was told he was being inducted into the Army based on the last two digits of his Social Security number. He was relieved when told that he was not being assigned to the Marine Corps, due to the reputed intensity of the Corps’ basic training, as well as a perception that service as a Marine was much more dangerous than army service. A day after Anderson was drafted, he was sent to Fort Bragg, North Carolina for basic training. He was in the same class as his childhood friend, which made the training much more bearable. Anderson remembered the drill instructors as being helpful and offering great advice, since some of them had already served in Vietnam.
On completion of basic training, he was assigned to the artillery branch, due to his math skills. Anderson was transferred to Fort Sill, Oklahoma for advanced training. He recalled Fort Sill as having extreme temperatures, in the summer unbearably hot and then frigid during the winter. On completion of advanced training, Anderson was designated as a forward observer liaison radio operator rather than a gunner. He had to learn some basic Vietnamese language, since it was anticipated that he would be working with ARVN (South Vietnamese Army) troops, as well as Americans, once he got to Vietnam. Anderson had thirty days leave at home before deploying to Vietnam, and he spent the time with his family. Although advised to write a will, he did not. On completion of his leave, Anderson flew to San Francisco and then on to Fort Lewis, Washington, which was his last stop on the mainland. He and other deploying soldiers were flown to Vietnam, via Guam and the Philippines, where they stopped for fuel, but were not allowed to depart from the plane.
On arrival in Vietnam, Anderson was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 39th Artillery and initially stationed at Camp Evans, aka Camp Eagle, a major American base at Cam Ranh Bay, which he recalled was like “a metropolis.” He was issued an M16 rifle, which he always carried and loved. Anderson recalled that the morale of the troops at Camp Evans was low; as the war had begun to wind down, soldiers minded their own business and only cared about the amount of days left in their deployment. Those who had less than a year left always bragged to the new guys about how they were going home soon. Camp Evans was never attacked, since it was huge and located in a safe area. Americans could drive to adjoining camps on a major highway in broad daylight, without having to worry about mines or ambushes.
At Firebase Nancy, his first station, Anderson went out on patrols with the ARVN, as this was the period of “Vietnamization” during which the Americans were trying to create an efficient Vietnamese fighting force to take over the war after their withdrawal. He would call in artillery strikes if his unit came under attack by Viet Cong forces. The Vietnamese unit, the 1st ARVN Regiment, that Anderson was assigned to consisted of well-educated soldiers, who, he remembered, respected him and kept him away from the front line, since he was the only one who could call in artillery fire support. He sustained an injury when he dislocated his shoulder after being pushed out of a helicopter by a gunner, an act which might have saved his life, since the helicopter crashed shortly afterward.
While out on a patrol, Anderson did not drink much water, despite the hot weather, because he was told it would cause him to “cramp up.” After a patrol, he would visit the families of the ARVN soldiers he served with. Those Vietnamese said they admired the Americans and wanted to have democracy in Vietnam rather than Communism. The Viet Cong were not present in the same villages that the families of the ARVN soldiers lived in.
After his time at Firebase Nancy, Anderson was reassigned to Firebase Roy, which was attacked periodically by the Viet Cong. The Viet Cong “sapper attacks” used infiltration of the perimeter, were often effective; and, on one occasion, they had overrun the firebase. Anderson was at Firebase Roy when the enemy conducted a sapper attack which was repulsed. The Viet Cong lost 212 men killed, and there were only three Americans lost. Following the failed attack, the Americans lined up the bodies of the Viet Cong along the highway to make an example of what would happen to those who attacked Firebase Roy. The Viet Cong’s local intimidation tactics were far more gruesome though; on one patrol, Anderson discovered the bodies of local village elders loyal to the government who had been killed, skinned and hung upside down by the enemy. His patrols averaged around 53 days; after returning to base for several weeks, he would go out on another, replacing a soldier whose tour of duty was ending who had “more to lose.” On one patrol, Anderson was accompanied by a Swiss journalist. Many soldiers whose tours were up requested an extended deployment in Vietnam rather than serving more time back in the United States, but he refused that option due to how dangerous his job was.
Anderson returned from Vietnam in December 1970, and was assigned to Fort Lewis, Washington to teach artillery methods to ROTC cadets for the remainder of his service time, until he was discharged in July 1971. He recalled that, unlike those of World War II, the Vietnam veterans were resented or disdained by the public, due to the unpopularity of the war. On leaving the Army, Anderson utilized the G.I. Bill to go to college while working. At the time of his interview, he had not seen anyone he had known from the service, except two people, including his best friend. Anderson’s experiences in Vietnam took a toll on him, and he developed PTSD from the experience. He was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Commendation Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, Valorous Unit Medal and Marksmanship Medal.