Recently we sat down with soldiers from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm and the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Here is the second part of our Veterans Roundtable (the first installment can be found on KansasCity.com).Describe your first experience in combat. Gary Shepard (Vietnam War):
I was at a base when they sent me up for some chow and a rocket hit right where I had been. It took my pack away, and my new rifle.
One of the guys I saw was running to the bunker. He got hit in the mouth with a piece of shrapnel. That was pretty dramatic.
If anybody tells you they’re not scared under fire they’re either crazy or lying. I said “Boy, this is going to be something.” You know?Roy Shenkel (World War II):
My first experience was on a B-17 Flying Fortress. It was 1944, the sixth of April, two months before the invasion. That’s when we got shot down.
We had a raid in Yugoslavia. It was a milk run — not many fighters, not much flak. I was flying the right waist-gunner position.
I spotted a German fighter, and I put this over the intercom: “FW190 low at 5 o’clock” And I’m tracking this fighter, but he’s horizontal to us out of range. All of a sudden I heard a big explosion in front …
The next thing I know the left waist gunner was standing at the escape hatch waving his arms frantically at me. I looked to the front, and fire was coming out of bomb bays into the radio room — boiling fire. I panicked. I had to get a flak suit off to get my parachute on.
I struggled for a while and then gave up. I just looked at that fire and said, “This is it. I’m dead, but I’ll never know what hit me.” But then my mind cleared up, and I did everything right after that. I was 20 years old.Maj. Jason “Tank” Sherman: (Iraq and Afghanistan):
After landing at Kandahar one night (the enemy) had somebody attack the perimeter. And it was funny. Everybody did all the things they’d been trained to do. They went to their foxholes and all that.
But (the attack) never made it (inside the perimeter). So everybody’s walking around, and people are climbing on Conex’s (large metal containers) trying to see what’s going on instead of taking cover.Patrick Ratterman (Desert Storm):
Yeah, there’s an absolute chaos in combat. You can have the best-laid plans, but with the first shot fired it absolutely goes to hell.
The first day I recall in a combat zone was the day that we entered over the berm into Iraq. … If you remember the buildup to the ground war there were just weeks and weeks of shelling, sorties and rocket attacks.
When we pushed over the berm we got to see the effects. It was just dead, dead, dead bodies, and you can imagine them being out in the sun for a week or two, and the flies and the maggots, and just the horribleness of war …
This whole time we thought they were shooting so much because they were missing. Turns out they didn’t miss much. They literally buried these guys alive. We’d drive across the desert and see an arm sticking up out of the sand, just a dead human being. And there was mile after mile after mile of that.Andrea Whitworth:(Afghanistan):
I was in Afghanistan. It was the evening of my second night there. I heard a boom, and the alarms started going off. We just grabbed full battle rattle and hit the bunkers and waited for the all clear.
The closest one (hit) a mill van. It went off about a block away. It lifted me about a foot off the ground. I was petrified. I landed back on my feet, but I looked around. It’s not a good feeling.Joseph L. Dickerson (Korean War)
: My company had just been in a large fight, and they came back to pick us up as replacements because we had just come to Korea. I joined a company that had lost a lot of men. They put us on the front lines.
The first attack I was in, there was a sniper on a hill. You heard a “whoosh, whoosh” — shots going over your head. The older guys who were left in company were saying “Get down! Get down!”
That’s when I knew I was in trouble. It was very scary. The snipers were firing on us, and we didn’t know where they were. So we had to attack the hills. It was very scary.Ernest Torok (Vietnam War):
Late in the day we had just set down and established our defensive perimeter for the night. We had a sniper in the trees who decided he wanted to do his thing, so he took a few shots at us.
Everybody hunkered down, and we called in some artillery and some aerial gun ships to saturate the area with fire. Then one of the other platoons did a search of the area to see if they could find anything, which of course they couldn’t. After that we kind of settled in for the night …
I was just sitting down to eat my C ration meal when the shooting started. I jumped up and did what you’re supposed to do. By the time everything settled down a couple hours later I decided, “Well, I’m hungry now. Where’s my C rations?”
I had to kind of feel around in the dark on the ground. I picked up my open can of whatever it was I was eating that night, and I’m not sure what may have crawled into the can when we were busy, but I ate that, too.When it comes to most of your experiences in war, would you rather remember or forget? Ernest Torok (Vietnam War):
I’d rather remember what went on. I think it’s important not to forget, especially the sacrifices a lot of the young kids made. I think it’s important to remember for them.Patrick Ratterman: (Desert Storm):
Forget. War is the most awful thing you could possibly imagine. I don’t think you will find anybody more anti-war than soldiers.
With that in mind there have been times in history and there will be times in the future that there’s nothing more necessary than war. But I don’t think we are made by our creator to make any sense out of war.
How do you make any sense out of a baby that has been blown in half? Or seeing a 9-year-old boy get his face blown off by a cluster bomb? It’s obviously nothing you’d want to remember.Maj. Jason “Tank” Sherman: (Iraq and Afghanistan):
I’d rather remember. I remember a soldier dead in the back of a Black Hawk. He gave his life. At least I can remember that he was there.
But I also met some great people, some great soldiers, some friends I will never forget. You have to take the good with the bad is how I view it.Joseph L. Dickerson (Korean War):
I think I’d rather forget. … The night they flew me to Daegu after I was wounded I remember waking up, and a nurse was trying to set me up.
There was a guy in front of me and all of (the back of his head) was blown out. They were trying to wrap him up. That’s when I blacked out again. And I’ve seen a bunch of dead Chinese and North Koreans.
Sometimes I can still smell some of that stuff, the death and the burning flesh. And that’s a smell you’ll never forget.
Are you a returning soldier or a recent veteran? Send an e-mail about your experiences to firstname.lastname@example.org