Brothers-in-law recall war experiences and gratitude for fellow veterans.
Randall Click and Darrell Loftis were best friends in high school and were both drafted during the Vietnam War. Today they are brothers by marriage and by the special brotherhood of veterans that Loftis said membership into has to be earned.
“Veterans have a special brotherhood and sisterhood and all veterans are close to each other,” he said.
Although they were drafted, both men agree it was an experience they wouldn’t trade for a million dollars. Both their fathers were World War II veterans.
Both Click and Loftis served in the Army but while Loftis served in infantry and took part in listening posts and ambushes, Click was a pathfinder, which he said is classified as a Combat Air Traffic Controller. Loftis arrived in Vietnam a year earlier than Click and served from 1968-1969 and Click served from 1969-1970.
“As he came home, I was going over,” Click said.
Both men were members of the 101st Airborne Division, which Loftis describes as “the best division in Vietnam.”
“One thing about the 101st, they didn’t spare no money,” Click said. “If we needed it, it was there.”
Both Click and Loftis said the farthest south they ever got in Vietnam was 20 miles north of Da Nang.
(See the special insert in today’s News-Star dedicated to all veterans).
“That was our area of operation up there was with 101st eye core,” Click said.
Click said people watch movies about mercenaries and guys that work the impossible. “Those medevac pilots were that way,” he said.
Click said, along with the medevac pilots, the ‘God Squad’ would be flown out to talk with the soldiers. He said the ‘God Squad’ consisted of several different priests and ministers who were there to counsel them.
Click said he can remember countless times when he witnessed medevac pilots save someone’s life. Once, Click said a fellow soldier was sick with a fever well into the hundreds and, because it was monsoon season, pilots were not able to see in order to land through the fog.
However, Click said a medevac pilot managed to land and took the soldier for medicine and treatment.
Another time Click recalled medevac treating a soldier who rolled a mule, a 4-wheel drive, gasoline-powered, tractor-type vehicle, and was thought to be dead at first. Click said the bandaged soldier was driving the mule within two days.
Click and Loftis both stated everyone had call names, or nicknames, they went by in order to avoid using their last names over the radios. Click said everyone called one soldier ‘Bus Driver’ because the first day there, he convinced them he was just driving the vehicle when in reality, he arrived in Vietnam at the same time as everyone else. Click said everyone became friends with ‘Bus Driver’ because he was so friendly and humorous.
Click recalled he hadn’t seen ‘Bus Driver’ for four months and the day they were reunited, ‘Bus Driver’ was finishing a job and told Click he would return to catch up on things.
Click noted the next thing he heard was ‘Bus Driver’ screaming for help because there had been a gasoline accident and he was on fire. Click said he put out the flames with a blanket and ‘Bus Driver’ was taken to a hospital but Click said not knowing what happened to ‘Bus Driver’ will always bother him.
“To this day, I don’t know if he made it or not,” he added.
Click said he received a letter from ‘Bus Driver’ while at the hospital but he was being sent to Houston to a burn center.
“From that point, I don’t know what happened to him,” he said.
Loftis said he thinks it’s harder for younger veterans and soldiers fighting today because they go over as a whole unit.
“In Vietnam, you might have had two or three good, close friends and that’s all you ever wanted because you didn’t want to lose anyone close,” he said.
Loftis said with younger veterans and soldiers, from day one, they’ve all been close friends so it’s harder on them.
“The more friends you’ve got, the more it’s going to hurt when something happens to them,” Click said.
Loftis said although it was hard to lose friends and fellow soldiers in Vietnam, that’s not the biggest thing that bothers him today.
“I guess the thing that bothers me the most is throwing our wounded on them choppers and not knowing if they lived or died,” he said and Click agreed.
Click said he might have lost his life more than once if it wasn’t for the man who trained him on his first mission in Vietnam.
During training for that mission, Click said he had on all his protective gear and his trainer told him he would be getting shot at from the ground so he needed to sit on his vest, rather than wear it.
Another time, Click said there was an explosion and he initially was running to check out the scene but the man told him to wait because another explosion would happen soon after in order to kill more soldiers who would do just that.
“That guy saved my tail end more than once,” Click said.
Click said they not only had to worry about the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese Army and the traps they set, but also had to be aware of their natural surroundings such as climate issues and wildlife.
“I hate snakes,” he said.
Not only did they warn you upon initial training about the cobras, tigers, spiders, elephants, monkeys and lizards, but they also had nearly invisible threats, Click said.
Two of the dangerous snakes Click said he learned about while there were the Banana Snake and the Bamboo Viper, also known as the three-stepper because you wouldn’t make it three steps before you died.
“The Banana Snake would gnaw between your fingers or between your toes or earlobe,” he said, adding that if it ever broke the skin, you wouldn’t wake up.
“So you’re thinking, if I ever survive the critters over there and then you’ve got people trying to kill you on top of that,” Click said.
Loftis explained not only did they have to deal with all of that, but also with children used by the enemy. Click said the soldiers would give the Vietnamese children their chocolate and the Viet Cong would use that as a trap and use explosives strapped to the children, sacrificing them and killing U.S. soldiers.
“You’re either going to die or you have to shoot them,” Click said, shaking his head.
He said luckily he never had to make that difficult choice, although he said many did.
“I think that’s why so many guys have problems now because when you stepped foot in that country, you saw things and did things that you will never see or do again in your entire life,” Click believes.
He said soldiers also had to avoid booby traps; some of which were set to kill and some to leave infection. “They would not create a lot of booby traps to kill you,” Click said. “You had to be extra careful what you did.”
Lofits said a lot of the booby traps were in place for “physiological warfare.”
Loftis and Click said they had to be careful while walking, burning candles, and eating or drinking anything because anything could be booby-trapped.
“But you go through all of that then you come home and you’ve got people wanting to spit on you,” Click said.
He said when they returned home, a lot of veterans did not take advantage of benefits because they did not want to admit, or want anyone to know, they were a Vietnam veteran.
“I have found a lot of people thanking Vietnam veterans and welcoming us home like we never received a welcome home,” Loftis stated.
Both men have recently experienced gratitude for their services. Click said he was in a store and was thanked for his service. He said at first he was confused but then realized he was being thanked for serving in Vietnam. Loftis said last week a man paid for his meal and told the cashier to tell Lofits, “God bless you, thank you and welcome home.”
Loftis thinks it’s good to see people treat them and the younger veterans with respect and gratitude. “America needs more of it,” he said.
Loftis noted one of the things he is asked all the time is if he hates Vietnamese people.
“My son married a Vietnamese girl,” he said. “I never hated the whole nation. I hated my enemy, don’t get me wrong, but there were a lot of good people in Vietnam. A lot of people just wanted to be left alone.”
Click said they became close with some Vietnamese citizens and learned a lot about their traditions and what was respectful and what was an insult because they in no way wanted to insult them.
Loftis recalls one of the things that really bothered him a few years back, but has improved in recent years, was going to a sporting event and seeing kids running around and not holding their hands over their hearts during the National Anthem.
“They didn’t realize what freedom costs,” he said.
Loftis said a lot of people don’t realize what a military person sacrifices in order to defend this nation.
“It’s not being home with the kids, being away from your family at Christmas and holidays,” he said, adding there is much more sacrificed.
“It’s like they say, I totally disagree with what you say, but I’ll fight to the death for your right to say it,” Click added.
Loftis related, “That’s right and I’ll do it again if it takes it. When I took that oath, I never took it back. It’s a country worth fighting for and it was an honor to do it.”
Loftis said he has a lot of respect for those serving today.
“I want to thank them for their service to our nation,” he said.
Click added, “Someone has to pick up the ball and run with it. Lord knows we would do it but we wouldn’t make it very far,” he said.
Loftis and Click both said the things they went through made them who they are today and it was an honor to serve their country.
“It’s still the best country in the world,” Loftis said.