After 50 years, Vietnam Veterans are finally able to talk freely about a war that was different from any other in many ways - and yet exactly the same in other ways.
One day Wayne Peace was just an unassuming boy in Osgood, the next he was an infantry man in the US Army with orders to kill.
Peace, then just 19-years-old, answered the call just as many others were drafted. It was 1968 when the 1966 graduate of Jac-Cen-Del hit the ground in Vietnam, and what he didn't know then, was life would never be the same.
Peace told the Osgood Journal that himself and two other JCD graduates, Mike Hoover and Danny Miller, were all drafted at the same time.
The trio took a cab to Cincinnati, OH, where they were flown on what Peace described as a prop or propeller plane to Columbus, GA.
After a short training, they were flown on a big jet to Vietnam.
They didn't go directly to Vietnam, they made some stops along the way, one being in San Francisco. Peace said it was just him and a duffle bag and he had no idea where he should go. "I was to report to Oakland, CA, and it was kind of scary," he said as he reflected on his initial trip. For a farm boy who had never even flown on a plane before this and hadn't been much out of the county, it was quite an experience. Thanks to a family who was on vacation, he was personally taken by them to his destination.
There another experience he will never forget awaited him. Peace described the place as a big warehouse where planes were coming in and going out. The planes going out were taking soldiers to their next destination - Hawaii. The planes coming in were carrying soldiers also, but they were in caskets headed to their final destination.
Peace had no time to process it - and if he did, there was nothing he could do. He was headed to war.
Upon arrival in Vietnam, Peace first had only a gas mask. "It was an eerie feeling," he noted. He said the first thing he experienced was the intense heat of up to 130 degrees when he arrived at the Ton Sonnuit Air Base. He said Saigon wasn't so bad, it was like any other big city at that time. He compared it to Indianapolis.
He said at one time, Saigon was known as the "Pearl of the Orient".
Then he hit the jungle.
The humidity and mosquitos were definite memories, along with the horrendous smell of the rice paddies where human feces flowed freely, according to Peace. His world had changed.
Peace arrived in August of 1968 and was shot in September, just a month later. He said he lay bleeding on the jungle trail, but had no pain. The medics came, swooped him up in a medic vac helicopter and on to Cu Chi Hospital, where after the bullet was removed, well particially removed, and he was stitched up, he was sent the next day back to battle.
He said the worst thing about that whole experience was "they cut my boot off." He said boots were hard to come by and he had a nice pair. But, there was no time or need to whine about a boot, he just went to a dump, found another one, and was soon back to fighting.
"It was 'search and destroy' by day and 'ambush' by night," Peace noted. He said it became a job to him and he wanted to do well. He did. He rose through the ranks in a short period of time.
Peace is modest about his achievements and says his theory was always, "knowledge is the key to survival", so he learned everything that came his way. Every day was about staying alive.
He sustained more injuries while fighting, including an infection in his first gunshot wound area from wading in the infested unsanitary swamps. That nearly killed him.
He served on the Taynihn Black Virgin Mountain, where he explained the US had a military base on the top and bottom and were fighting the Vietnamese, who were in the middle.
Peace was also in Cambodia while on duty. He talked about literally tasting the dust and grime and the endless shooting.
Peace made Platoon Sergeant being promoted to the rank of E6, which is a Staff Sergeant. He said he was given a compass and "grease" pencil and that's how he guided his men through the complexity of the jungle.
About being the leader, he simply said, "I never felt better than the others - we all had a job to do."
Once Peace recalled how nearly half a platoon (a plantoon is 20) was wiped out by enemy forces leaving only him and a buddy, John Maloney (from Wyoming) alive. He said they walked into a battalion of Vietnamese and had no chance. He said his buddy was behind a bush and escaped and he was knocked unconscious. "I guess they left me for dead," he laughed.
What was the worst? The terrain, mosquitos and even being shot, paled in comparison to Peace, when he said, "Seeing my buddies getting killed was the worst." He didn't dwell on that part of the interview, but said there were good times and those were also shared with his buddies. "They became your family," he said. Once he got to watch two hours of Bob Hope live! He said that was neat because soldiers in his position usually didn't get in on those types of things. They whisked him and a buddy in and escorted them out just as quickly and just like that they were back in the jungle fighting.
Another time when Peace was wounded, he tells about how his Platoon of men was moving through the hedge and came upon a wire across a trail. He knew it was a trap. He said instead of giving away their position, he sent his men ahead, all stepping over the wire. One man slipped and fell against Peace blowing them both into the next field.
Peace talked about the incident calmly, saying he dusted himself off, got up and went on with his men. It wasn't because he wasn't hurt, he was. A couple of days later the found himself at a medic station having his wounds treated and schrapnel taken out of his arms, leg and wherever it had pierced his body.
He said his buddy was in worst shape and was carried out.
Peace came home, bought a "muscle" car, a 1969 Dodge Charger, brand new, which he paid for with the cash he had earned serving his country. He then married Barbara Jean Mulford, and worked hard, real hard, suppressing memories. He and his wife of all those years, had two daughters, Becky and Holley, and life was good.
As a young man suppressing the memories wasn't so hard because he worked long hours and kept busy.
"You never talked about the war or any experiences you had," Peace emphatically stated. "You didn't even put it on a job application, even in Ripley County."
Being a Vietnam Veteran was taboo when these heroes came home to the country that sent them off to war.
But, Peace said as you get older and slow down, you start to remember. He has come to grips with those memories and is trying to help others.
Peace retired as an Environmental Specialist and Ripley County Emergency Management Agency director last year.
While he is battling some health concerns related from being exposed to Agent Orange, he plugs on. "My goal is to help veterans," he told the Osgood Journal.
Peace made a special wooden framed case with all his military honors displayed. These are not to bring any glory to himself, but rather so that they are preserved for his seven grandsons and their children.
While Peace doesn't talk about this three Bronze Stars with valor; Army Commendation Medal for Valor; two Purple Hearts, Professional Combat Leaders Badge and many others, he has all the certifications from the Army.
One of the three Bronze Stars with "V" device, which means Valor, describes Peace this way:
"Sergeant Peace distinguished himself by heroic actions on 14 April 1969, while serving with Company A, 2d Battalion, 27th Infantry in the Republic of Vietnam. While in their night defensive position, Company A came under an intense attack from a large enemy force. During the initial contact, Sergeant Peace rallied his men to their fighting positions and began to direct their fire on the enemy force. Sergeant Peace ran from bunker to bunker through the fusillade of hostile fire as he pointed out targets of opportunity to his men and insured that an ample supply of ammunition was available. His valorous actions contributed immeasurably to the thwarting of the enemy force. Sergeant Peace's personal bravery, aggressiveness, and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest tradition of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit."
The above honor was when Peace was a Sergeant.
But, even before his promotion, when he was just a Private he received the Army Commendation Medal for Heroism, also with Valor. It reads in part:
"With complete disregard for his own safety, Private Peace continuously exposed himself to intense enemy fire as he moved forward in order to aid the wounded. After evaluating the situation, Private Peace then moved back and set up a defensive position from which he poured devastating fire into the advancing enemy. His valorous actions contributed immeasurably to the success of the mission and the defeat of the hostile force."
All of his commendations and all the praise in the world pales in comparison when Peace thinks of the countless lives lost in this war. He is a humble man, with a humble message for his fellow veterans. "It's okay to talk about it, cry about it," he says. He will continue to help fellow veterans cope with their feelings and memories.
Peace can be found most days on his front porch, which he has transformed into much more since his retirement, along with his faithful partner, his chocolate lab named Walker and wife just inside the door. He is just a phone call, email or fax away from helping out a friend.
|Wayne Peace of Osgood, is pictured here, and at left with his buddy, John Maloney.
The two were the only ones spared in one gun fight where several were killed.
The purple heart designation on Peace's license plate is just the beginning of his many medals earned.