From October 1966 until May 1968, Ray Belford served as a war correspondent in the United States Army during the Vietnam War.

From October 1966 until May 1968, Ray Belford served as a war correspondent in the United States Army during the Vietnam War.

“I thought it was better to tell the story of the people who were there to fight rather than tell a first person account,” Belford said.

Belford was willing to enlist rather than being subject to the draft process.

“I enlisted during the time you either had a college deferment or you were subject to draft,” Belford said. “You either chose to be drafted and enlist for three years and choose your occupation. I wanted to enlist and eventually went to the information school at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indiana.”

Before being sent to off to war, Belford was attending college with plans to be an architect. He started to find his passion during this time, which eventually led to his role in the war.

“I was living in Oklahoma City at what used to be OSU Tech,” Belford said. “I thought I wanted to be an architect and was taking a semester there. For some reason I started riding around with some of the KTOK radio guys. We would attend different news stories and I bought a Rolex 36mm camera and started doing a little stringing for channel nine.”

Belford's plans almost changed as he was finishing up basic training. The Army had plans for Belford to become an officer, but he went to the Colonel on a whim in hopes of being assigned to journalism school at Fort Benjamin Harrison.

“After my basic training they were ready to send me to officer candidate school at Fort Sill,” Belford said. “I don't know why I had the guts to speak to the Colonel but I went in and told him I enlisted to go to journalism school. He got my ordered changed.”

After finishing up at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Belford would eventually be deployed to Vietnam. Before being sent overseas, Belford was able to breathe a momentary sigh of relief as he found out what his role would be in the war.

“In our graduating class, I and a guy by the name of Bob Kersey, were called to the Sergeant Major's office,” Belford said. “When we got there he told us we were selected to be the first two permanently assigned to the Saigon Bureau of Civic Stars and Stripes.”

As a war correspondent, Belford had the opportunity to interview several celebrities who came to meet and boost the morale of the troops serving. One specific group was a few members of the 1966 Atlanta Braves. Future hall of fame outfielder Hank Arron and former Yankee's skipper Joe Torre were two of the more notable athletes.

“One night a group of us were playing poker and Joe Torre walked in,” Belford said. “We were only playing a quarter but Joe didn't care. He just wanted in on a game. I've always admired Joe ever since.”

Belford made it out of the war with very little injury. One time he was injured was covering a story in the field and a soldier pushed him out of a helicopter in a hot landing zone.

“I was pushed out of a helicopter from about fifteen feet,” Belford said. “I had my foot on the skid, the guy behind me panicked and he pushed me out. We were under sniper fire so the adrenaline kicked in. When I got back to Saigon and woke up the next morning I couldn't get out of bed.”

Another close call came when Belford asked a jeep driver to pull over so he could take some photos of the landscape of the war torn country.

“I asked to stop at the top of this pass,” Belford said. “Behind us was another jeep and a Vietnamese truck. I started taking pictures and the vehicles that went ahead were hit by a claymore mine. There's no way to explain that.”

I went out with the Australian troops. In fact, I still have a bush hat they gave me. They also gave me a pair of Australian combat boots. Their philosophy was to have boots that kept the water out. You wouldn't believe how many soldiers battled foot fungus. It was a real issue. I wore the Australian boots and never had any real foot issues.”

“One time I was north of Da Nang and the North Vietnamese were shelling into south Vietnam. I went up there to cover it. It was like a scene from World War I. There were trenches everywhere. One of the things I discovered was the first time you hear the sound of an incoming shell, you'll never forget it.”

One of the negative memories Belford has that swayed his opinion of the war came about halfway through his two years overseas.

“What really turned me against the war was one time we were called out after a battle,” Belford said. “Soldiers would stack the enemy up like firewood. I started taking some photos and I looked down on the ground and there was a wallet laying open. Inside was a picture of a Vietnamese girl. That guy didn't want to be there any more than I did. He had somebody back home that would never know what happened to him.”

Belford, like many soldiers returning from the Vietnam war were not greeted with parades or celebrations.

“At that time when you came back, you kept a low profile due to the unrest and protesters,” Belford said. “The protesters were blaming the soldiers for the war when they didn't have a choice. None of us wanted to be there. Yet the people coming back were treated horribly. I never really understood that. If you wanted to protest, protest the people in Washington.”

Belford's replacement was killed in action about three months after taking over.

After being home and reflecting on the 50-year anniversary of his service, Belford often recollects about all the people he encountered during his time in Vietnam.

“When I go back and think about all the people I served with and people I encountered along the way, there were a lot of great people,” Belford said.

Belford currently is the Pastor of First Christian Church in Shawnee.