written by George Dvorznak

Memory can be tricky. Sometimes, past experiences lay dormant, out of reach, only to come forth in a rush of vivid recall. Sights, sounds, even smells burst into consciousness like a shell out of nowhere exploding overhead.

Something similar, I think, is what George Dvorznak has been experiencing lately since we started an email back-and-forth a couple weeks ago about his Army service. I’ve known George for years. But I’m still getting new details about his time in Vietnam. Below is a hastily written account of his arrival in in-country. George has given me permission to publish it here. What’s remarkable about it, perhaps, is how unremarkable it is. Going to war involves a quick series of revelations that you ignore at your peril. By the end of his second night in Vietnam, George knew in his bones he was at war.

George Dvorznak, with rifle and sitting on a jeep, in Vietnam during the war

George Dvorznak in Vietnam

I got to Vietnam in the middle of May 1967.  We landed at Ton Son Nut Air Base on a commercial jet liner, a 707 I recall. Out the window on the tarmac, we saw a bunch of burnt out hulks of fighters in revetments. The VC had recently launch a satchel attack. We got off the plane, loaded into trucks and made our way to the 90th Replacement Battalion at Long Binh.

Photo of Long Binh, Vietnam in 1967

Long Binh 1967 (Courtesy George Dvorznak)

We slept in tents that night as artillery, outgoing, and machine guns rattled in the distance. Welcome to the war.

From Long Binh, I flew in helicopters and C-130s about 50 miles to the coastal town of Vung Tau, home of my assigned unit, the 229th Supply and Service Company. I was to be its new commander.

But it wasn’t there.

So I flew back to the 90th in Long Binh.

I called my unit on the phone, which I should have done originally. They told me to wait. They’d send a jeep for me.

I clambered into the jeep and settled back for a one-minute ride to my unit, which was only 500 meters away.

Our company barracks were brand new. They were two-story wooden structures, all identical, that smelled like they had just come from a sawmill. They were unpainted.

Army Barracks at Long Binh, Vietnam in 1967

Barracks at Long Binh 1967 (Courtesy George Dvorznak)

I went to bed on the second floor of one of these barracks. A WWII soldier would have felt right at home.

I was just about asleep when an artillery round went off over my head.

Picture an old Warner Brothers cartoon character, levitating over his bed in shock and terror, legs spinning to escape.

That was me.

I hit the ground running. After a bit, I said to myself, almost out loud, “Stop running. If you were hit, you’d be dead.”

I went back to my boots and fatigues, then took off outside. It was 3am, and a lot of soldiers were milling about in the darkness. On the ground was shrapnel, bigger pieces than you’d think.  This was friendly fire.

I’m guessing it was a VT (Variable Time) fused artillery round that had sensed a cloud. Or maybe just an ordinary round that had exploded randomly. It didn’t even puncture the corrugated roofing, so it must have been high up when it exploded.

I collected a piece of shrapnel as a souvenir as my welcome to Vietnam.

I lost the shrapnel but still have the memory.