Interview with Raphael Grenier
Interviewed by Sean Willman
Marion High School
Interviewed on May 14th, 2003
At Mr. Grenier’s House
SW: This is May 14th, 2003. We’re at Mr. Grenier’s house. I’m interviewing Raphael Grenier. He was born on May 19th, 1925. He lives at 520 W. Nelson St. Apt. 406. I am Sean Willman.
SW: So, what war and branch of service were you in?
RG: Vietnam War, Army, U.S. Army.
SW: What was your rank?
SW: What places did you serve?
RG: During the war or during my years of service?
SW: Just during the war.
RG: The Vietnam War.
SW: Were you drafted or did you enlist?
RG: I was appointed by the President. I volunteered for Vietnam.
SW: Why did you decide to join the Army or why were you appointed?
RG: I was appointed because of the Bay of Pigs Invasion.
SW: You lived in Cuba before you came to America? That’s where you were born?
RG: That’s right.
SW: Why did you decide to leave Cuba?
RG: Because of the government over there – Fidel Castro. I left the government, the Communist government.
SW: Where did you go after that? Did you go from Cuba to America and join the Army?
RG: No, I took a passport, not a legal one, and went to Mexico. I then flew from Mexico to Miami, Florida.
RG: Did you serve in the Army before you came to America?
RG: I was a Captain in the Cuban Army, too.
SW: Where did you live when you joined the Army?
RG: I lived in Miami, Florida. And still I remember the address. 444 N 32nd Street, Miami.
SW: How long were you there?
RG: A few months only. From there, I was interviewed by the U.S. Government in Coral Gables where there was an induction center over there and they decided which of the men from the brigade could be an officer in the United States Army.
SW: What did you do at the Bay of Pigs for them to appoint you a Captain in the Army?
RG: Well the Bay of Pigs was part of the Kennedy Administration. After the fiasco that was the Bay of Pigs, we were imprisoned for twenty months. After twenty months President Kennedy and his administration at that time arranged an exchange for us and we were liberated and free and came to the United States, to Miami on Pan American Airline. The pilots and the group on the plane were not Pan American, they were CIA.
SW: How long did you serve in the Army in Cuba?
RG: Let me see. From 1945 to…well the whole time of service was about 14 years.
SW: What happened right after you joined the Army? Where did you go?
RG: Fort Benning, Georgia.
SW: And then you started as…..
RG: Second Lieutenant
SW: Did you agree with the reasons for the Vietnam War?
SW: What were some of the reasons?
RG: One of the reasons was Vietnam was attacked by the Liberation forces. Really they were supported by the North Vietnam and North Korea and China. The Viet Cong at that time had weapons from China and Russia, but mostly from China. That’s why we went over to support South Vietnam. Besides that the U.S. Government got a SEATO, a treaty organization, that the government was involved in that treaty. They got responsibility.
SW: Where did you go while you were in the Army?
RG: Fort Benning, Georgia for an OBC course. From there I went to Lackland Air Force Base, Oklahoma for artillery school. From there I went to Fort Dix New Jersey to the Army Training Center there. I spent three years there, first as a platoon leader, then as a company commander. From there I went to Hawaii. In Hawaii we trained with the 11th Brigade. Then they changed that to the Jungle Warriors. Then we were sent to Vietnam. If I wanted, I could have sent myself over there. Still, I was not a U.S. citizen at that time. I was a Captain in the Army, but not a U.S. citizen.
SW: When did you become a U.S. citizen?
RG: In Hawaii because if I do not become a U.S. citizen at that time, my battalion commander told me I could not go to Vietnam. Then I become a U.S. citizen. In a short time! The day was Nov. 9th, 1967. That was about 20 days before I went to Vietnam.
SW: Did you have to learn English when you came over or did you already know it?
RG: I know some English before.
SW: When you traveled around to all of these places, did your family go with you?
RG: Most of them, except Vietnam. From Vietnam I went to Fort Benning back again for the advanced infantry officer course. From there I went to Panama for the School of the Americas. From there I went to serve in Korea, in South Korea in the 2nd Infantry Division in the 1st Brigade. The only two I wasn’t accompanied by my family were Vietnam and my last assignment in South Korea. The rest, my family was with me all the time.
SW: When you traveled to the many bases and countries abroad, was the culture a lot different? Was it hard to adapt?
RG: No, the American influence is all over. Even in Korea you find that you adjust easily. It’s almost the same – except the food.
SW: You saw combat when you were in Vietnam?
RG: Yes, yes.
SW: Did your unit sustain a lot of casualties?
RG: No, no. Fortunately not too many.
SW: Where there any memorable things that happened or stick out from your time in combat?
RG: One of the things that sticks with me . He was a 1st Lieutenant with me. Later he became a captain. Then they gave him a rifle company and he was a company commander in the field. I know him for a long time, his family and his daughters, two beautiful blond daughters about this tall. He was killed during combat. He was a good man. He was a good lieutenant and a good captain. Also before that he was in the Dominican Republic during the crisis of the Dominican Republic. He handled over there the CIB, the Company Infantry Barracks. Still we went to Vietnam together.
SW: Was he a pretty good friend?
RG: Oh, yeah.
SW: Did you make a lot of friends in the Army?
RG: Oh yes, yes. A lot of friends.
SW: Do you still keep in contact with a lot of them?
RG: Some of them. Some of them died already. I got some friends even in Indiana. You know when you become a veteran in a war, it’s a brotherhood. It’s a brotherhood. I got a friend from WWII, I e-mail with him a lot. This is our contact, the computer. Many of them are legally blind now too. We are vision impaired.
SW: Did you sustain any injuries in the war other than your blindness?
RG: No. That was later to come.
SW: You don’t know how you became blind?
RG: No, nobody knows. The doctors don’t know. All they know is that something produced it, and that’s it. And I got that when I was in the service. When you are in the service, if you get any disease that disables you, by regulation it becomes service connected because you get that during service time.
SW: So your blindness is service connected?
SW: So did you receive any medals or service citations?
RG: Oh, yes. The Bronze Star, three Army Commendation Medals, and other service medals.
SW: What did you do to get those medals?
RG: The Bronze Star is for Vietnam.
SW: For serving in Vietnam?
RG: Yes, just for serving. Then I got three Army Commendation Medals for metitorial service. One for Fort Dix because as Unit commander because I got, I believe, about nine or ten commanding unit awards. Nine maybe. Then I got the Commanding Unit Superior Award which was the highest of the unit command awards. I don’t remember exactly. I got it nine or ten, something like that. Then I got another Commendation Medal for my service in the Schools of the Americas in Panama. Then I got another Army Commendation Medal when I was serving in Korea because I was Headquarter Company Commander because I do a fine job beyond regular duty, and they awarded me the Army Commendation Medal. Then the other medal is a National Defense because you are on active duty during a war. Then the Meritorial Service in Korea.
SW: Did you serve in Korea before or after Vietnam?
RG: After as a peacekeeping force. Then the Vietnam Service Medal. A silver star – five campaigns. Vietnam Campaign medal and the Reserve Medal. National Reserve Medal because I was ten years a reserve officer. Ten years as a United States Army Reserve Officer. You have to be an officer for ten years to get that medal.
SW: How long in total did you serve in the United States Army?
RG: Eleven or twelve years, something like that.
SW: During combat did you ever receive mail from your family?
RG: Mail, oh yeah, from my wife and my son.
SW: How many kids did you have?
RG: One, just Ralph.
SW: Do you think all of your service in the Army affected your family at all?
RG: No, no.
SW: Do you think it would have been different at all if you wouldn’t have served?
RG: We were better off. Some years we were two years in the same place. He was in junior high school in Hawaii. Let me see. He started over there in the ROTC. Then from there he went to Pemberton in New Jersey. He stay about eight months over there. From there he went to Fort Benning, Georgia. Baker High School. From Baker High School he went to Coco Solo High School in Panama. That’s where he graduated from high school. Then he attended the first two years in college at the Canal Zone College where he earned the Who’s Who Award for goodest student . He got that over there. From there he went to Eastern Kentucky University and he finished up. Then he went to Purdue for something more. And from Eastern Kentucky University, he was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant, regular Army. He went to Fort Benning, then to Panama. He made 1st Lieutenant, and then he decided that was the end. He went to Purdue. From Purdue, Marion, Indiana.
SW: He’s been in Marion for a while?
RG: Oh, ah, twenty years, I believe so.
SW: When you were on the battlefield, where conditions pretty bad?
RG: No, you get used to that. You get used to that because life is more important than anything, and you know your life depends on your ability to fight. If you don’t fight, you are dead. You forget about everything around, all things else except you and your buddy. Your next guy over there. If he gets hurt, you jump. You get irritated and mad. You become, really, my God, words that ramble.
SW: Were there shortages of anything?
RG: No, no. The Army was supplied all the time. Even in the worst conditions over there, you get a hot meal at noontime. You better believe that! You get turkey in the field. NO, the U.S. Army, you can’t compare it to anything. That’s what you see in Iraq, it is like that because that’s the U.S. Army. Everybody can go over there, and when they get in they are a team already.
SW: When you were in Vietnam, did you have any free time or were you in combat all the time?
RG: Oh, no, no. You don’t spend your whole time in the field. You spend some time in the rear, some time in the field, some time to participate with staff if you’re an officer. If you’re an enlisted man, they rotate you. You got to relax behind the base camp.
SW: What kind of things did you do when you weren’t in combat?
RG: Cleaned the rifle, get more training, drink beer. Barbeque pork chop and hamburgers, hot dogs and stuff like that. We improvised.
SW: Did you enjoy your time in the service?
SW: Did you really?
RG: Yeah. Everything has to be right on the spot. Everything has to be clock. We are a living clock in the service. You know you have to wake a certain time, do this, do this, do that. Everything’s timed. When you walk into civilian life, the whole thing’s so, different. Nobody care when you do that. When you’re in the service, nobody bitch about anything, everybody wants to do his job, that’s it. But when you’re not in the service all you hear, ‘I supposed to get this, I deserve to get that.” But in the service, no. You just do your job, accomplish your mission, do your best.
SW: That’s pretty neat. So, do you think the service affected your life a lot?
RG: No. Yes, it made me a more better man. No question about that. Even my son who only got to 1st Lieutenant, you can see him. He’s, he’s…everything is time to him. It’s about discipline. That’s the key – discipline.
SW: Is there anything you can tell me about your combat?
RG: No, it’s all the same. It’s not like they put in the movies. I laugh when I see that. It’s different completely. It’s more human than anything they put in. We don’t have that angry face when we are in combat. Fear, maybe. Yes. Everybody got that. But you keep going. You cannot drop the guard, if you drop the guard, you’re dead. You got to fight.
SW: Was it scary because of the guerrilla warfare going on?
RG: No, there fear because you don’t want to die. Most of the people in Vietnam were young guys. They got a sweetheart over here, they got a fiance, they got a girlfriend, stuff like that. They missing that. They want to get that back, no question about it.
SW: You developed a lot of relationships. Did you get along with everybody?
RG: Everybody get along. There’s no section at all. Everybody in the service get along. No one better than the other one. Everybody help each other. That’s what the Army is.
SW: When did your service end?
RG: I believe it was the first of September, 1973.
SW: You came back from Vietnam and Korea, and where did you go from there?
RG: After Vietnam, I went back to Fort Benning to the Officer Advanced Course.
SW: Why did you decide to leave the service?
RG: No, I didn’t decide it then. It was Richard Nixon. For reasons at that time there was no war, they had to cut down the reserve. Active reserve, they had to reduce that force. When the war is over, you know you got to cut the force. When the war is over, you know you got to cut the force. You can’t keep two million people in the Army if you don’t need them. You can use that force in the civilian life for production, for everything. They call it reduction in force. They cut the people. They say, okay so many captains will be dismissed, so many majors, so many that, so many this. So they be discharged and everything. It happens that way. At the end of every war it happens the same way. It happened in the WWII, in Korea, in Vietnam, and now it happens with the volunteer force. It’s a minimum amount of force now. It is a reduction. Volunteer is different. You’ve got the National Guard, reserve unit. When they come back again to the United States, they go back to civilian life. Same thing as before. Before we were active duty, now they are not on active duty, they are temporarily used for specific missions.
SW: Where did you go after you were discharged? To Miami? Did you live there quite a while?
RG: I lived there for twenty-five years.
SW: When did you move to Marion.
RG: When my wife died.
SW: So you moved up here to be with Mr. Grenier?
RG: Close to my son – not with my son. I like to be independent.
SW: Did the Army teach you independence?
RG: Yeah. The Army teaches you independence. Independent thinking, but a block with the rest of the other people. They don’t want to make you a robot in the Army. No. The Army wants you to really think what you do. They really want you to be right there in the heart of that. That was in the old time. Forward March! No, no. Do you know what they do in closed drill? They start to establish discipline in the people – obedience, you know. But it’s only that. Not to make you a robot.
SW: Do think the Army’s changed since you were in?
RG: No, no. The heart of the Army is the same thing. The only change is the technology. We’re more technical now than in my time.
SW: What did you do when you moved back to Miami?
RG: I became a manager of a store. At that time there were not too many jobs around. And then when I started making good over there, I decided to stay. But in the beginning it was temporary. I got a nice place, and they, the company moved me to south of corporation. They moved me to a different area. Every time they have a problem in a different area. Of course they pay me more than anyone else. They move me from one place to another. What do you call that? A troubleshooter to correct things wrong. Every time they send me in there. Every problem in management, there I goes over there. I did that until I retire.
SW: Did you like doing that?
RG: Yes, it was a good job. Relation with people and everything. I was independent. The key thing is independent.
SW: What did your wife do while you were in the service?
RG: Home, take care of Ralph. She was a teacher in Cuba. Here she was a teacher substitute, but she couldn’t get a permanent job because we were moving from one place to another place. Two years over here, two years over there, two years over here. You can’t a job anyplace. Most won’t give a job to a military wife because they she will be traveling. A few years here, she knows the job, she gives a good performance and then boom. Then she have to go with the husband.
SW: Is your wife from Cuba?
RG: Yes. Ralph too.
SW: So that’s where he was born?
SW: So he moved to Mexico with you?
RG: No, no. He never went to Mexico with me.
SW: You went to Mexico on your own?
RG: I couldn’t take my family because it was illegal what I did when I left Cuba.
SW: Why? Why did you go to Mexico first?
RG: Because you couldn’t go back to the United States. The Castro government were watching more the people going to the United States than the people going to Mexico. When I leave Cuba, I didn’t leave like I was a military man. Of course I was a teacher in education, but I didn’t exercise teaching at all. I was teaching in the military academy. Not in civilian. My passport indicated teacher elementary school. Military service – none. That was not true. Any connection with my old government – none. I was part of the early government.
SW: You really wanted to get out because of the government.
RG: In Cuba, I was the right hand of the main general in Cuba. Beside Batista. My duty was the security of every time the President moved from the Presidential Palace to Columbia to another place like Camp David. I was in charge of security.
SW: Did you still do that when Castro was in power or was he in power your whole time?
RG: No, no. I couldn’t take it with Castro. I was persecuted. Castro wouldn’t trust me at all.
SW: So you went to Mexico and then to Miami. Did you family follow you?
RG: Not to Mexico, to Miami.
SW: Is there anything else you’d like to add about your time in the service or your time in Vietnam?
RG: No, not exactly.
SW: Thank you very much for your time.
RG: You’re welcome.