Mell Carson

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Interview with Mell Carson

Interviewed by D’Nei Albergottie
Marion High School

Interviewed on May 2003

The interview took place at the house of Mell Carson
Marion, Indiana

DA: What was your rank?

MC: My rank in the service was corporal, specialist four

DA: Where did you serve?

MC: I served in the United States Army for two years; basic training: Fort Knox, Kentucky to AIT, Fort Eustace, Virginia, and from there I was sent to Vietnam to serve my last and final year of service.

DA: Where were you living at that time?

MC: Marion, Indiana, and 1822 S. Branson St.

DA: Do you recall your first days in the service?

MC: Yes, kind of like an isolated period.

DA: Tell me about your boot camp training experiences.

MC: During the time of boot camp, it was different; about the most serious thing, that had ever taken place in my life. It was something that did not make sense, because I had no idea of what the future held. It was just a matter of getting in shape. It was just a new experience, so there were many things that I had no knowledge of the body being pushed to a certain limit. You get into the habit of a routine, and you see that it’s not so bad as you thought it would be.

DA: Where in Vietnam were you stationed?

MC: In Vietnam, when I left stateside, I reported to Company A. to Saigon, Vietnam to the base at Quinine, Vietnam.

DA: Do you remember what it was like when you arrived there?

MC: Yes, when I arrived in Vietnam, we were approaching Camp After, we were instructed that we were under fire and when we landed we were to move quickly in intervals, to really hustle to get into safety.

DA: What was Vietnam, as far as the country, like?

MC: Vietnam was mostly a second or third world rated country at the time. Saigon was quite civilized; we had the bars and saloons, clothing stores, and different things of that sort. The smaller towns and villages were kind of run down; there were huts, and people did most of their travel by bicycles, motor scooters, and by foot. A lot of things were carried on their shoulders and heads, not many cars. For the most part, they were at war.

DA: What was your job or assignment?

MC: My M.O.S was 61C20; my job or assignment was to dispatch oncoming and ongoing supplies from cargo to troops, on and offshore.

DA: Did you see combat?

MC: I never really fought in a combat, like I said before, my assignment was in dispatching cargo; carrying and taking troops out to sea, relocating them up and down the coast line, ammunition or whatever the cargo may be; taking to and from, that was my job. DA: Tell me about a couple of your most memorable memories or experiences.

MC: The most memorable would be the sniper attacks, where it may be one or two shots, or two or three rounds, or an automatic weapon; a person would have just moved from their pillow and the bullet went straight through it (the pillow). It would come so close to home, that it would be like a reminder of just how close danger was or could be, and yet you were just spared, and nothing else would come of it; no one was injured, it was just something that laid heavy on your mind. Day and night, far away, you always heard the sound of artillery, helicopter fire, and things of that sort; it never ceased, it was an ongoing situation.

DA: Were you able to stay in touch with your family, and how?

MC: We wrote letters and we received mail from stateside. I wasn’t much of a communicator, because I was more focused on my business there, in Vietnam. I felt I couldn’t put too much thought back in the states at that time. I was trying to concentrate on the job and focus on what I had to do. I think I might have written several letters within a year, and maybe received a few more than what I wrote, but they understood why I wasn’t writing. They would write, but maybe not as much as some would. I explained to my family what I had to do and what I was up against, so through prayer and understanding, I didn’t too much focus on exchanging mail and other such things.

DA: Did you have plenty of supplies?

MC: Yes, we had the best. We were in transportation; we were the number one transport, transporting goods from the harbor to the shores, and from the shores and beaches back to the harbor to the ships. Whatever the cargo, whether it was from the PX items to clothing, cameras, booze, food, what-have-you. We had the best of that; we were that link between civilization and whatever went there, that was our job.

DA: Along with ammunition?

MC: Along with ammunition, because we had there what was needed to support our need as far as firepower? Our unit wasn’t set up for heavy artillery or anything like that, just ongoing protection such as rifles and hand grenades; we didn’t get into the heavy stuff, because we were there just for transportation by water-ways.

DA: I know there was pressure and stress, but what was it like?

MC: Pressure. Well, being younger at the time, you view it different from now. Looking back on it now, chances are my body wouldn’t be able to take it; mentally I probably would be more prepared now, than I was then. You kind of block out everything and focus on what’s now, or what was then. You except it and put everything else on hold. It was mind bothering; a lot of stress, along with a lot of things that you were finally seeing as a reality, you felt that it wasn’t that important to you. The reason wasn’t worth the cause. You were kind of torn between the two, because you were doing something and you had to do in order to survive, at the same time the cause wasn’t worth the job you were performing, other than survival.

DA: Was there something special that you did like pray or something that would give you good luck? MC: No, I didn’t believe in luck; there is no such thing as luck; that is a man made faith. I did pray, I was saved, so I put all my trust in God, and I give him all the credit for my blessings I received before, during and after that time. I accepted Christ at a very early age in life, so I was fully aware of him at that point in time. I couldn’t understand why I was caught up in this situation, but by the government I was chosen to be one of the many to be drafted, and I went and serve as a US citizen. After being drafted, that was the big switch, the longer I was there the more I came to the realization that it was hard to accept the fact that we were not fighting for any value or any main concern; the reality of the war really didn’t make any sense. Still to this day, I have doubts, but these things you cannot fix, it’s just something that happened and you have to live with that.

DA: How were you able to entertain yourselves during this time?

MC: During these times we received movies off the ships, some destroyers, cargo ships, and other various ships. We would exchange movies and take movies from ships, because we were like that link between the ships. We would be dispatched or sent out to different ships or area and maybe pick up some movies. The movies were like Superman, Batman and Robin, that type of thing, I wasn’t really into that type of stuff. It was just comedy, something to keep you laughing and cheerful, to keep your mind off private matters and home. We would play that movie for two or three nights then find another movie. It was better than nothing and we would drink our booze. We go to something like a club, but it wasn’t exactly a club. You could drink beer there, which was just ten cents a can. We wouldn’t get our cigarettes there, because we went to the PX to get them, where it was cheap, they were just fifteen or twenty cents a pack along with our booze, but you had a ration card so it was reasonable, since everything we needed was there. We were really blessed as far food; we ate plenty as long as we were in the compound, when we were out on the boat performing twelve-hour shifts, whether the night or day shift. You would be at the compound for twelve hours, then at the end of the week you would switch from the night shift to the day shift or vice versa. Those who were at the compound during the day were the ones who would get passes to go into the towns or the villages to go to the clubs, or the places like the clubs.

DA: Do you recall any humorous or unusual things that had happened?

MC: Yes, we had a lot of funny moments. You would look on it now and it sad, but we would find laughter in a lot of things. A guy would clown around, I call it clowning around because I didn’t have a wife at that time so I wasn’t on that level, and I didn’t know what it was like to have a wife. I didn’t let anything at that time get in the way of my survival, even when I was drinking or whatever I did to real that pressure, I always had a thought in my head saying, “survival, survival”. Some people were just as blessed as me or maybe even more blessed, but there were some people where I would be able to see their weakness, and they would act just as if they were at home and forget the main reason they there. And every now–and-then, someone would come up killed or injured. I never lost focused on out purpose; I couldn’t see a bullet, knife, or a trap, but I always was focused. If the situation ever came down to it was my fault, it wouldn’t have been because of my neglect. It was simply because it was something I couldn’t handle, but not because I made a mistake or acted foolish.

DA: What did you think of the officers and the soldiers that you worked with?

MC: The officers were just as I was; everyone felt the same way as I did. Everyone suffered the heat and the monsoon together. In the spring there was the heat and in the winter it would rain, it was just as bad as it is here, except there isn’t any ice. When you drop down from a temperature of 105 degrees in the sun down to 50 degrees in the shade, that’s cold and you were wet, it rained everyday and night; you were always wet. Everyone suffered the same consequences; no one had the total luxury of comfort.

DA: Do you recall the day your service ended?

MC: Oh yes, one of the most happy days of life. I cannot describe this day the way I truly felt. I could not wait for the day, but when the day actually came it was like a dream that could not come true, I had to pinch myself. In the process of leaving, I begin to think, “What if I get shot before I get to the airport?” After I get to the airport from Quinine, Vietnam to Cameron, Vietnam on a cargo plane. I get to Cameron, it was boiling hot and we stood outside in a line waiting to board the plane, these guys came back with a drink and it looked so refreshing. I asked him where he got it and he told me from the canteen, so I wanted one, and it did not seem like we were going anywhere for some time. Another guy and me asked some guys to watch our duffel bags and if they would, we would bring them one back too. We walk to the canteen where a lot of soldiers and officers were. I start running my mouth about what I am was going to do when I get back to stateside and overstayed my time. When we get back to the plane there was not one single person standing outside. Everybody had boarded this plane and the steps had been taken away. Both of our duffel bags were still outside. So, I begin to inquire about what was going on. They had four hardship people, men who had lost a close family member, so they took the equivalent number of people in the line with that of the hardship and took the last bunch of the line, and replace them with those who were leaving because of hardships. But, because the other guy and me were not there, it was easy to solve that problem; first come first served deal. That was one of the saddest days of my life; nothing else had ever hurt me that bad. I had waited all this time, and on this day, for a soft drink I had missed my plane out of Vietnam. To this day to see a fountain drink will turn my stomach and makes me remember one of the worst days of my life. For one time I had lost my focus and that is why I can relate to of all the other soldiers, because everybody has a weak point. That was mine, and it was at the very last moment. The next day I had to work details around the base. The day after that I had the chance to fly again, but you can bet I was on time and was determined not to get out of that line for anything. Once I get on the plane, I fear what if the plane falls out of the sky. I really was looking at the sky and earth thinking this. When we got into the states the plane almost had another accident, something was wrong with the landing, we had to try landing again, and when we get off the plane I kissed the pavement and thanked God again. The Next day I was on a plane to Oakland, California and ever since that day, I have been civilian. Looking back, I am glad that I did serve; it gave me experience. I am grateful for the basic training, because without it I would not have been able to withstand the hardships or survive. Because I did serve, I can be proud and feel that I deserve certain privileges; I have a right, paid the price for everything that the US has to offer. I paid the cost for my well being as a citizen....

DA: I want to thank you for taking the time out to do this interview.