WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – A Vietnam veteran said he signed up for the ROTC Program while at college at Kansas State University. “It was pretty obvious the draft was going on at that time,” Vietnam veteran Jess Frieze said. Frieze landed in the Air Force.
“You don’t carry a gun in the Air Force,” Frieze said. Frieze said one time he was given a handgun while traveling from base to base. “Because I was an officer, they issued me a .38,” Frieze said. “Now what was I going to do with a .38 pistol, against somebody who had an AK-47? Throw it at them?”
He said thankfully he never had to fire a gun.
Frieze had already spent three years as an Air Force hospital administrator before he was sent to Vietnam. He said he’ll never forget the sound of helicopters.
“I’d go to sleep at night, and hear the howitzers or the cannons going off, that would go boom, boom, boom, and the helicopters flying over,” Frieze said.
His tour was different than most.
“I decided I would rather go in as an officer, as opposed to somebody carrying a gun and walking through the jungle,” Frieze said.
He went to Vietnam in 1971 as things were winding down. “There was no doubt about the fact we were going to be leaving soon,” Frieze said.
Frieze was second in command to a full bird colonel, and said their team stayed busy.
“Inventory medical supplies, and medical equipment, in preparation to turn it over to the Vietnamese Medical Corp,” Frieze said. He said it was cheaper to do that, rather than ship it back to the United States.
Frieze thought very highly of Vinh, the Vietnamese officer, he advised. He said they enjoyed many meals together at Vinh’s home.
“Getting to know intimately a person from a different country, culture and nationality, really emphasized the fact that we are all alike,” Frieze said.
Frieze said he got to know the Vietnamese people quite well. The team traveled to bases all over, and Frieze remembered when their cargo plane lost an engine. “Even though the plane was 30 and 40 years old, he could easily fly it on one engine,” Frieze said. He also used another mode of transportation. “I had a bicycle so I could bicycle to and from the base,” Frieze said.
He also had a 35 mm camera and got into photography while serving. He captured so many fond memories, like relaxing with his wife on R and R in Hawaii.
He also has photographs of some memories, that were not so fond, like a broken leg, he got while playing a friendly game of volleyball. “Really the best of a bad tour,” Frieze said.
The Vietnamese gave Frieze a special award for his help to the Medical Corp.
Once their mission was complete, he always wondered what happened to Vinh.
“Did he get out on the last plane from the U.S. Embassy, or was he still in Vietnam, when the North Vietnamese took over, and he was sent to a re-education camp?” Frieze said.
He said he thinks about him and the many others he came across on his tour, decades ago. “My story is really of getting to know and understanding that people are all the same,” Frieze said.
He said landing in hospital administration, a field he didn’t even know existed, taught him so much. “We all want the same basic needs, housing, food, we want to have a better life for our children than what we had,” Frieze said.
He said it was really hard to call home, while he was in Vietnam, so he often sent his wife letters and tapes. The two have now enjoyed more than 50 years of marriage.