Saturday, April 13, 2013

Frank Gutierrez on ARVN and Relations with South Vietnamese Civilians

Excerpts from Frank Gutierrez with Kim Sawyer at Texas Tech.  Gutierrez served in Vietnam from 1967-1970 in the 27th Infantry, 25th Division and the 576th Ordnance Co. as a rifleman, Field Wireman and Ordnance Specialist at Cu Chi and Long Binh.
KS: You mentioned they gave you the dos and don’ts. Do you remember what kinds of things they discussed? 
FG: I suppose it was the military propaganda, that we were guests in the country and things like that, that you’re supposed to have respect for the people, and that was it as far as I remember. I know they give us some handouts of the country. Yes, I remember now that we were guests in this country and their customs and traditions, their culture is different from ours so be respectful and mindful of the people in general.
Mainly during the day it was just hanging out. There was nothing to do except you could sleep, stay out of the sun, and if there was a village nearby I remember we’d often wander off into the village and visit with the Vietnamese, or just doing things we were not supposed to do. During the day, it was quiet and rarely in my first few months, rarely did we have any kind of activity. It was at night. Most of the combat was at night. 
KS: Did you ever see the enemy? 
FG: I didn't. I saw them dead. I mainly saw dead Viet Cong, never...well, the ones we saw and that I remember seeing alive were always running. As far as actually...I never did. None of us mainly did, live ones, because my involvement was mainly at night, so I never was actually able to see, and didn’t want to, because there was so much noise and so much fire power that was being used. Then, for example, if they were attacking us, they would always count on the gunships, the helicopters, and they would do a job firing their mini guns and artillery, firing point blank. So, whatever wounded there were would be taken off or whatever casualties were inflicted on them, firepower has a tendency to blow up a human body into a bunch of pieces. There was nothing. So, some of the times they would take their dead. A lot of times we’d just have to come in and clean up the place, mass graves and things like that. The only live Viet Cong I ever saw were the prisoners of war, what they called the Chu Hois. 
KS: You mention early on that while you were out in the field at times when you would venture out to the surrounding villages, how much contact did you have with Vietnamese civilian population?  
FG: I found it, for me, it was interesting because as a child I made several trips to Mexico and being in those villages reminded me of Mexico to an extent. I liked hanging out because I wasn’t white and I wasn’t black so they accepted me more readily than they would accept other GI’s. They were very polite, and they would share their food. To get away from C-rations, they would go eat with them. The military officers frowned upon that. They didn’t want us to fraternize with the civilians. We just would go in the villages, especially if it was a small village that we knew that there wasn’t any Viet Cong around. Danger was all over the place, but if we could reason that we would be okay then we would hang out, spend some time over there, try to communicate as much as possible, and that was it. The thing that I think that may have reduced fraternizing with the Vietnamese was the fact that they didn’t want to take part in the fighting. The South Vietnamese Army was the sorriest ever. I’m sure that maybe at one time they fought or wanted to fight, but I never saw it. They were hanging out and partying and drinking beer while we were going off to do the dirty work. In that sense, we despised them. I don’t remember ever establishing a close relationship with the male Vietnamese. I think the only one that I ever established a close relationship with was with a guy that had been a Viet Cong and was one of our advisors, one of our scouts. Otherwise, I despised them simply because they didn’t want to fight for their own country; I just couldn’t see why not. Of course now we know different. 
Because of the way the war was gong, because we couldn’t trust them to provide anything, that’s just the way it was. It was their fault because of the way they treated us. On many occasions we’d find people that worked on the base camp, we’d find them out dead on the jungle after a firefight. They’d be cutting our hair during the day and then trying to kill us at night, so that was hard to deal with. Other than that, I had to deep, very deep hatred of Vietnamese and it took me a long time to get over it and it took me a long time to even accept them as a people. It was part of the training. Remember what I said earlier, training was, “This is how you’re going to kill Charlie,” and sometime in the late ‘70s I was working on a program that was after the war ended and there were refugees coming to the United States and I wound up working on a program and we were tending to some clients who were Vietnamese. That was hard to deal with because at one time I thought they were trying to kill me, and now here I am trying to provide services to them. So, I had a very difficult time. But, because they’d been in Saigon, and I accepted that.

Well, in country I was just a regular soldier, no heroic adventures. I was just doing my job. I know guys that did do a lot of heroic things and perform well under combat. But, it was a time that was complicated. I’m sure it was complicated for the whole country, not just soldiers. I know that sooner or later, there had to be a major conflict of ideologies, and that’s what happened in Vietnam. The goal was to eliminate communism and we took care of that job, socialism now as we know it. 

Interview with Frank Gutierrez,  24 January 2001, Frank Gutierrez Collection, The Vietnam Center and Archive, Texas Tech University. Accessed 6 Mar. 2013. .

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