Like many of his fellow Vietnam War servicemen, Roger Rule came from a family with a rich military tradition.
“I guess you could say (I joined the military) because our family has a background in the service,” Rule said. “My dad and my two uncles were all in the service. One of my uncles was part of Merrill’s Marauders in India. They sent several thousand into India and only 143 came back. He was one of them. My other uncle was injured badly in the Pacific and wore those wounds for a long time.”
Rule began to learn about the Navy at a young age through a scouts-like program.
“One of the things that (led to me joining the military) was being a scout,” Rule said. “My dad had gotten me into a Navy league-type thing and I went with him to that. It was like Cub Scouts but you learned about the Navy.”
Rule, who grew up in Princeton, New Jersey, later became licensed to teach standard and advanced first aid courses with the American Red Cross during high school.
He decided to join the Navy in 1967, becoming a hospital corpsman.
“A chief caught wind of (what I was doing) and said ‘You have to come in (to the Navy) and become a corpsman.’ Long story short, that’s exactly what happened. I became corpsman. They sent me down to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina for survival training.”
Rule was eventually sent into Vietnam in June 1968 with the 22nd Seabees out of Gulfport, Mississippi.
“You got a real introduction into being (in Vietnam) because we got off of the airplane at 8 at night and it was like going into a fish bowl,” Rule said. “It was so humid and hot when we got there.”
Rule spent much of his tour traveling between several different locations in Vietnam.
“We landed in Da Nang, and I was there for about a week and then I was moved up north with a smaller unit, and we went to a camp called Phu Bia,” Rule said. “We were there for a while and then we went to Hue, and we were there for a pretty good bit. Then we moved all the way to Dong Ha at the DMZ. That was interesting.
“When I was at these places, one of the things they wanted us to do was develop a rapport with the South Vietnamese people,” Rule added. “I went on a number of (medical assignments) where I’d go to local villages and do things like deliver babies and give shots of penicillin.”
Though Rule’s responsibilities were not commonly set amidst the main fighting of the war, they proved at times to be just as horrifying.
“On one hand it was sort of fulfilling to help people, but on the other hand it was (the) most ungodly thing I had ever seen,” Rule said. “You got to see what war really does to people. It was not good.”
Occasionally, however, the violence of the war crossed Rule’s path directly.
“Some of the corpsman and medics over there were in extremely bad situations,” Rule said. “There were some bad firefights, and I was fortunate that I was not in a lot of those, but were there firefights? Yes. We probably had the worst firefight at the DMZ, shortly after (President Lyndon B. Johnson) announced a bombing halt of North Vietnam. We thought they wouldn’t come across. It was terrible.”
During his medical assignments, Rule said he occasionally developed a strong connection to the people he was aiding.
“When I was in Hue, I got to meet some nuns that had an orphanage there, and there was a little boy (and) I got attached to him,” Rule said. “I wanted to bring him home but there was no way that could happen. I can’t even put that into words. It was different in each area.”
In December 1968, Rule was one of 12 soldiers of various skillsets, who were recruited to join an education initiative in Saigon – the brainchild of Vice Admiral Elmo Zumwalt. At the time, Rule had been serving a dual role as both corpsman and radio operator.
“My CO told me, ‘You should go, it is a great opportunity,’” Rule said. “So they put me on a helicopter and I got down to Da Nang and then got on a jet and flew down to Saigon. What they did is they recruited around 12 of us and each person did something different.”
Rule was tasked with teaching English and hospital corpsman fundamentals to the South Vietnamese.
“I explained to them what to do if someone got hurt (or) if someone got shot,” Rule said. “I showed them how to do CPR. I basically taught basic first aid.”
It wasn’t until later that Rule learned of a chilling detail surrounding him joining Zumwalt’s program.
“The sergeant of arms in Saigon said to me one day over some drinks, ‘Do you know why the old man up (at the DMZ) was so eager to get rid of you?’ I said, ‘No. I thought I was doing a pretty good job.’ He said back, ‘You were doing a great job; that was the problem. There was a bounty out on your head because you were a corpsman and a radioman.’
“That wasn’t totally unusual,” Rule added. “They always wanted to take radiomen out more than corpsman, but they somehow found out I was doing both.”
Rule returned from Vietnam in March 1969. He said he struggled at first with re-acclimating to normal life.
“I smoking three packs of cigarettes a day,” Rule said. “My nerves were shot.”
But he credited his family with helping him get back on track.
“My mom and I took a trip to California by car and as we were pulling out the driveway, she told me to get rid of my cigarettes because I was going to quit smoking,” Rule said. “It was a very interesting trip, let me tell you. I did wind up quitting.”
Rule went on to hold a sales management position with a wholesale district for 26 years.
Today, he resides in Enola, where he works part-time with Capital Automotive Refinishing.
“I would say that all the experiences I have had, both in Vietnam and when I came back (have) made me a well-rounded individual,” Rule said. “As you get older and you look back, you can’t say woulda-shoulda-coulda. For the most part, I can say that I have had a good life.”