CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
William A. Wallace III
Vietnam War Oral History Interview
US Army, 327th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division
Date: November 30, 2015
Interviewer: Carol Fowler
Summarizer: Colin Critchlow
U.S. Army Vietnam veteran William A. Wallace III was born in December, 1946, to World War II veteran Lieutenant William A. Wallace Jr. and his wife. Growing up in Wall Township, Wallace lived a very comfortable life. He had a very close relationship with his mother, who cooked him breakfast every day and ironed his clothes.
Wallace married at the age of nineteen, shortly after his graduation from high school. He attended and graduated from the University of Tennessee, where he attended mandatory ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) required of male students, but he did not continue in the program’s advanced training, which would have resulted in a commission as an army second lieutenant.
Threatened with the draft, and concerned that this would have ended him up in the Marine Corps, which was drafting men at the time, Wallace enlisted in the U.S. Army at the age of 23 on September 21st, 1969, hoping that since he was a college graduate, he would be assigned a non-combat role. He was sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey for his basic training, where he excelled, despite coming from a home where everything was handed to him.
Wallace placed in the top three trainees in his unit in marksmanship with the M-16 and M-14 rifles, as well as in physical fitness, which earned him a weekend’s home leave. Halfway through the basic training cycle, however, his whole company, although promised leave, was confined to their base due to the threat of a large antiwar demonstration at Fort Dix. Unhappy with this situation, Wallace and another soldier attempted to sneak out, an act that almost got them charged with going AWOL. He got away with a reprimand, though, due to his good relationship with his drill instructor, Sergeant Cade.
Following basic training, Wallace was assigned to Fort Lewis, Washington for advanced infantry training. During his time at Fort Lewis, the weather conditions were so bad that he became extremely ill. Wallace was allowed to go home on leave; but, he had barely recovered from his sickness when returning to the fort. Despite Wallace’s condition, he still was able to make it through a five-day training stint in the cold weather with other recruits. During the five-day period, Wallace was somewhat able to keep warm by doing squat thrusts in the latrines.
Once his training at Fort Lewis was completed, Wallace volunteered for non-commissioned officer training at Fort Benning, Georgia. The purpose of the training at Fort Benning was to develop junior leaders for service in Vietnam. The program’s graduates were nicknamed “shake and bake NCOs.” On completion of this training at Benning, Wallace was sent to Fort Polk, Louisiana, where he served as a drill instructor for advanced infantry trainees.
Wallace was deployed to Vietnam in September, 1970, along with his trainees and other soldiers he knew from Fort Benning. Wallace remained in Vietnam for one year and a day. He landed at Cam Rahn Bay, and spent the night of his second day “in-country” with a machine gun in a mosquito-filled foxhole, which he recalled as the worst night he ever had.
Wallace was sent to “Firebase Tomahawk,” a base camp of the 101st Airborne Division, near Da Nang and Phu Bai. Once there, he was assigned to “E” Company, 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry. On arrival, another soldier told Wallace that the firebase had been attacked five days prior, and that 33 enemy soldiers were found dead in the barbed wire surrounding the base that following morning.
During his first night at Tomahawk, Wallace was awakened by the sound of U.S. artillery firing at the enemy. His battalion was a “swing battalion.” The swing battalion was assigned to take over the positions of other U.S. battalions when they rotated back to base to rest. Wallace befriended his company commander, Captain Trumbo, while at the firebase. Wallace also became friends with 1st Sergeant Teodoro by possibly saving his life. Teodoro was taking a shower when incoming fire suddenly erupted all around, and Wallace got him into a bunker. The two subsequently developed a close friendship.
Once, after transporting American prisoners to the stockade in Long Binh, popularly known as the “Long Binh Jail,” or, ironically, “LBJ,” Wallace was technically AWOL for a few days, visiting the South Vietnamese capital, where he went to the movies and out for dinner. During the annual Christmas season Bob Hope Show, Wallace was reunited with Richard Goggin, a soldier he had met when both were training in the United States. Later, when at Firebase Normandy, he learned that Goggin and another soldier had drowned while serving in the field; but, it was unclear whether or not his death was the result of an accident or of enemy action. Wallace tended to believe the latter.
During his time at Firebase Normandy, Wallace, now promoted to Staff Sergeant E-6, went on a number of helicopter missions with Captain Trumbo, who had been reassigned to run air operations for the 101st Airborne Division. Wallace’s job was to ride in the command helicopter with the captain and assist in marking targets with smoke grenades for the gunships following behind to zero in on.
With the end of his tour in Vietnam in sight, Wallace was transferred to another firebase, at a location that seemed more dangerous than his previous assignments, as it was under periodic sniper fire. He was almost hit by a sniper round himself, but escaped unharmed. During Wallace’s time at this firebase, another American soldier was killed in a firearm-related accident.
Wallace returned home to New Jersey in 1972 and was discharged from the service. He later learned to his dismay that his friend Captain Trumbo had died in an automobile accident. William Wallace subsequently married, earned an MA degree in Public Administration from Fairleigh Dickinson University, became a police officer in Howell Township and purchased a house in the town. He had two children and now has seven grandchildren.