Tom Foor knew the draft was coming.
“I went to the head of the draft board and asked when I might get drafted. He said probably early spring 1969. It was spring of ’68, so I thought ‘I’m not going to wait around.’ I went in under a two-year enlistment on June 25, 1968.
"The day before we shipped to Vietnam I overhead some guys talking that early the next morning they were going to go to Canada. There were three of them that left. I don’t know if they made it, but they were headed north. That really surprised me, I thought once you really commit to something why would you want to do that?
“We landed and Bien Hoa. When you walk out that door it just hits you in the face like a sledgehammer, the stink and the heat. First thing I smelled was garbage and diesel fuel. Even now, if I smell diesel and garbage together it’s like a flashback.
“It was scary. There were guys putting on a brave face but it was scary. I was assigned to B Battery, 1st of the 21st Field Artillery, 1st Cavalry Division. I flew out to B Battery at LZ Clara. My first day in the bush was an eye opener. It was a small LZ with a six gun battery.”
Not long after arriving, Tom had a brush with death.
“One night we just got done shooting H & I (harassment and interdiction), and we started getting a mortar barrage. We got hit really hard. They walked them in and through us. Then the Old Man, our battery commander, comes running up and says ‘We know where those tubes are, get on the gun.'
“So me and another guy get up on the gun and a shell fell right on the parapet. Captain Swain got hit pretty bad ‘cause he was standing up. I got hit in the neck, chest, arm, and a little in the leg. Somebody yelled. It wasn’t me, but somebody screamed. I think it might have been the other guy because he got pretty well beat up too.
“I was gurgling in my throat, I didn’t know whether I had a sucking chest wound or what. The executive officer laid me on my back and was talking to me. I started going into shock, and I was freezing. The medevac came in, and they stacked us on racks in the bird. I knew there was someone above me because I could feel something falling on me. In triage in the hospital in Cu Chi, the medic thought I had a head wound. I told him ‘That guy above me was bleeding on me.' He came over and wiped me off and said ‘Oh, you’re right.’ They gave me a shot, took me into the operating room, and then it was the next day.
“I got up and I was hurting. My left arm was banaged and my chest was wrapped. I had seeped a little in the night, my sheets were a mess. I asked the nurse ‘Ma’am, can you get someone to change these sheets? It’s a little sloppy over here.’ She said, ‘Soldier, you’re going to have to change your own sheets.’ So I got up, my left arm was disabled, and started stripping the bed. This guys comes over to help. He had his intestines in a plastic bag. You could look in there and see ‘em. I said ‘What’s up with you, man?’ He said. ‘They need to give it a couple of days to make sure there isn’t an infection in there.’ He was pretty cool about it, and he helped me make the bed.
“I went to a rehab at Cam Ranh Bay. It was great, right by the South China sea. The sand was pure white, it was just like being in Bermuda with the blue water and all. One day I was laying in my bunk and I hear a familiar voice. This guy walks up to my bunk and says ‘How you doing, soldier?’ I say, ‘A lot better now.’ He asked ‘Where you from?’ and I told him Pennsylvania, and he said ‘Me too!’ It was Jimmy Stewart, he was visiting and making his rounds, and I got to talk to him for a while.”
“I got hit the 29th of December and got back to my outfit in the middle of February. The second night back we got hit. I thought, ‘Man oh man my luck’s not very good.’
“We moved around a lot. Setting up an LZ, the black hats would always go in first and set up. Then they would fly us out with our guns. We would land, and the first thing you do is set the gun up: you get your base plate down and your aiming stakes up, your ammo ready. Then you dig a foxhole. That’ll get you through the first night, and the next day they’d fly in these half culverts and then you start filling sandbags. Thousands and thousands of sandbags.”
Tom witnessed a tragedy at one LZ.
“This photo, this is live ammo with me. This is LZ Phyllis, you can see it spelled out on the ground in mortar tails that we collected after we got hit. They’d be stuck in the ground and we could dig them out. They brought unused ammunition, enemy ammunition, they brought it in to the LZ in a trailer. One of the rounds cooked off and killed 12 guys: two of our guys and ten grunts. It was just bouncing around on a trailer behind a Jeep.
Tom made a point to tell one story. “We were at a Special Forces camp in Bu Dop, and General Abrams came out to look at some intelligence reports. The battalion commander picked me to drive the general to the district capital in a Jeep. So General Abrams in the rear, asking me questions, ‘Where you from?’ standard stuff. We get up to the capital, and General Abrams says thank you, and the Sergeant Major says ‘Okay, you can go back now.’ I said ‘Isn’t anyone going to ride with me?’ I didn’t even have a weapon! I never went anywhere without my weapon, but that day they told me not to worry about it. The Sergeant Major says ‘You’ll be alright.’ Boy, I tell you want I was hotfooting it cross the country. I was out there by myself! I got back okay though.”
It was on a holiday that Tom was able to go back to the States.
“On Thanksgiving Day 1969 I’m standing around and the battery commander and the 1st sergeant came in an said ‘Sgt. Foor, you ready to head home?’ And I said ‘Oh man, you believe it, yeah, I’m ready to go.’ He said ‘Well, when they take the containers from Thanksgiving dinner back, you can ride back on the slick.’
"I got my stuff, said my goodbyes, and an hour later I was in the air. You’re allowed to pop a smoke grenade on your way out, so I threw my smoke and went.
“We flew to Hawaii, then into OaKland. They fed us and fed us and we showered. In the evening we had to go to San Francisco airport. We had to go out the back gate because the main gate was swamped with anti-war demonstrators, yelling and screaming, so they took us out the back gate, went to the airport, flew to L.A., flew to Pittsburgh, and my mom and dad were there. Great day.
"Looking back a couple of things really bother me," he added. "That episode with the ammunition, that really bothered me, always has. When you were in Nam, your main thing was to get your butt out of there and your buddy’s butt out of there. We had no love for that country. The only interaction we had with the people was when they wanted to sell us something. Nobody ever smiled at you or thanked you. I guess they were afraid of us, there was so much going on. Those people were under tremendous stress, I can understand that.
"What hurt me the most was in 1975 when the country fell, seeing those tanks going through the palace gates. The worst was when they had the Huey’s on the aircraft carrier and they just pushed them over the side. It made my physically ill; I had to shut the TV off. I just couldn’t watch it anymore. I jut think of all the stuff we went through and all they guys that died and got shot up.
"They say it wasn’t a waste, that it stopped things from happening in South East Asia, but I don’t now. It seemed like a big waste of lives to me. I hate to think that way. I wouldn’t trade my memories in the Army for a million bucks, but that’s the way it ended, and that’s the way it was."