Charles Biedel married his wife Edna three days after graduating from high school. But being a newlywed with a child on the way did not save him from the draft.
“Uncle Sam sent me a notice and said ‘I want you,’” he recalled. “I went to Chambersburg to the recruiter and enlisted for an extra year so I could get the schooling I wanted. On Jan. 7, of 1968, I was inducted. Took Basic at Fort Benning, Georgia, and then came home for a short leave before AIT at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, where I went to small wheeled and tracked vehicle mechanic’s school. Vietnam was looming over everything. In all of our minds, Vietnam was a pretty good guess for most of us. Very few of us did not go.”
Biedel was in Vietnam for three days when he and his wife had their first child.
“To leave and know that a son was on his way, it was hard,” he said. “I think it would probably have been just as hard to stay home until he was born. I did have a two-week extension on my leave, but she wasn’t having any complications, so they said, ‘Sorry, we can’t do any more extensions.’ Okay, I do what I got to do. I’m thankful for a good family that helped her out.”
Biedel was with B Company, 801st Maintenance at Camp Eagle.
“When I first got there we were in tents, metal framing with canopy over it, and connex containers for the work force. The Seabees came in later and build us wooden hooches. Portable facilities, no modern conveniences.
“The chow hall wasn’t bad,” he added. “They had fairly decent cooks. Sometimes when we were out on the road we tried to get in to a Navy base where we could get some better chow. Most of the time we had to stay at one of the Army bases because we were delivering ammunition. We didn’t get in too many times, but if we had the opportunity we would definitely go. And they would feed us, it was good.”
When Biedel first got to Vietnam, he reported to the motor pool working on tanks and vehicles. There, he received an opportunity to replace the five-ton wrecker operator, and giving him E-5 status in a few months that would mean better pay. The job meant going on ammunition convoys.
“I said, ‘Alright, that sounds good to me, I got a wife and child. All dollars are acceptable.’ So I took the job. It was rough, E-5 pay was a hundred and some dollars, plus she got allowance for quarters. I sent everything home except $10 a month. It went directly to her. I didn’t have anything to use it for anyway.
“The guys that I worked with were like, ‘Are you sure you really want to do that?’ I said ‘Yeah, I’ll get to see some of the country.’ They said ‘Nah, I’m going to stay here safe.’ But I was an adventurous person, and I think the biggest thing was the pay. If he hadn’t said that I might not have taken that opportunity.”
The wrecker was tapped whenever there was a convoy run, and was used by transportation companies.
“The transportation company, I can’t remember the name, would call over to our company and say ‘Hey, we need the wrecker, we’re going to Da Nang to pick up ammunition and supplies’ or whatever. So we’d go over, me and the shotgun, pack clothes, c-rations, whatever we needed. It was a two-day thing, one down, one back. Same route every time, Highway 1.
“It was a funny route,” he added. “You’d come to a stream where there was a long single lane bridge. Certain times of day you could cross, sometimes you couldn’t because of the oncoming traffic. They’d have M.P.’s at both ends with radios, like when we have construction here. So we’d go down to the side and wait for our turn. Of course when that happens, you have all kinds of kids on the equipment, they want candy, they want this and that. That was kind of a scary moment when that happened because they were known to do things to the troops. Thank goodness we never had that problem.”
Biedel knew some of the areas he was driving through had Viet Cong activity.
“We’d go through small villages, which was kind of scary. There’d be incidents with people in the road slowing us down, maybe on purpose, we didn’t know. Things happened, no one wanted to stop. My shotgun, he was new in country, he was saying ‘Ain’t we going to stop?’ I said ‘No, we can’t stop. We stop we’re going to get ambushed. I don’t want to take that chance, and I don’t think you want to take that chance.’ So the convoy continued on.
“That stuck in my mind. I know all the guys, it stuck in their minds, too. I keep in touch with some of them and every time we see each other that conversation comes up.”
Biedel would get involved in ambushes, but escaped the worst of it.
“We got in ambushes with the convoy. Thank goodness no one ever got seriously wounded. We lost trucks. I lost a wrecker one time to a land mine. I didn’t hit it, it was the percussion. That’s scary, you’re not expecting that. You just jump and go for cover. It was a just a land mine, then small arms fire, but they didn’t come at us. We fired back until things settled down, then went to see if the trucks were still operable.”
Biedel did not tell his wife about his job.
“Whenever I sent pictures to my wife I made sure they were from on base, back in the motor pool. I never told her that I accepted this job as truck driver on the road. She didn’t know that until probably 20 years after I came home. I kept kind of quiet, like most guys do. I went into the workforce right out of the service. There were other vets at work, but I never associated too much with them. Then I got involved with the Vietnam Veterans in Carlisle, we had some husband and wife sessions. That’s when I told her. A lot of the wives didn’t know what was going on.
“My dad served in World War II, my grandfather served, my son served, it’s our heritage. I’m very proud that I served. Would I have done it if I wasn’t getting drafted? I don’t know. I didn’t try to fight it, I did what I had to do, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone. It might not be for everyone, but you have to try it to see.”