Veteran Salute: Hauling jet fuel, while being shot at

Veteran Salute

GREAT BEND, Kan. (KSNW) – A Great Bend native was drafted at the height of the Vietnam War.

Dave West didn’t want to go, but his Father was a B-17 tail gunner, who was wounded, and he told him he had to go to Vietnam.

West said that’s when he knew he was headed to war.

“There was a letter in the mailbox, that said you are now in the U.S. military,” West said.

West was just 18 when he reported for his tour.

“That was in Vietnam with the monsoon season,” West said.

West said an old photo shows what it was like, blinding rain, and all they had were ponchos.

“You wrapped up in it, and you tried to go to sleep, and then you got mosquitoes inside there,” West said.

He said his assignment was the most dangerous job.

“You’ve got a stick of dynamite back there, that’s what you’ve got,” West said.

They would drive all over Vietnam,so jets could continue to fly.

“When those tractor-trailers blew up, it was like nothing you’d ever, any kind of Fourth of July, you’d seen in your life,” West said.

He saw four trucks go up in flames on his very first convoy.

“You’re done,” West said. “You are just gone.”

They would line up about 30 trucks.

“My heart was pounding, the whole time I was driving that tractor trailer,” West said.

He said the 5,000 gallons of jet fuel, wasn’t their only worry.

“Then, you’ve still got snipers, and you are still being shot at,” West said.

He said fear makes the days drag on.

“One day, one day is like a month or two,” West said.

He said the guys he served with kept him going, comrades like James Patterson, from New York.

He said Patterson had only been in the country for a short time.

“This guy was my guardian angel,” West said. “Anytime I thought I was in danger, he would calm me down, and say don’t worry about it, it’s okay.”

He said he made a promise to him.

“I am going to take care of you, I am going to keep you alive,” West said.

He survived in Vietnam for a year.

“That place, I hated so much,” West said. “I just wanted to go home.”

He said when he finally got back to the states, the military gave the soldiers brand new uniforms.

“When you put them on and they took your picture, they would say okay, now take them off, put your civilian clothes on because you are, people are not going to like you when you walk out this door,” West said.

West said he was so confused about how they were treated when they returned.

“I’m proud of what I went and did, why are they wanting to throw eggs at me?” West said. “I couldn’t understand that, you know?”

West said that’s why a quilt, a handmade thank you, means so much to him.

“I was taking a picture with the quilt, with the lady who made it, and it is just absolutely gorgeous,” West said.

The Quilts of Valor organization in Great Bend was behind the kind gesture.

“I was just getting over cancer, so I had to postpone it, and postpone it,” West said.

Doctors believe his battle with cancer was due to his exposure to Agent Orange, in the jungle.

“It was just a nightmare of a place,” West said.

West said when they weren’t hauling fuel, they were on a helicopter or guarding the perimeter.

He said sleeping in the jungle was terrible.

“It was the worst three months of my life,” West said.

He said you would barely dose off, when the mortars started coming in.

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