Veteran Salute: The job was to get young men home alive

Veteran Salute

NEWTON, Kan. (KSNW) – A Newton native said Vietnam was a big adjustment from Kansas.

Ed Roberts said he was always a hunter, and he thinks that prepared him well for war in the jungle.

Roberts said he had just graduated college and had a great job when he got the draft notice.

He went down and enlisted, and said it was really tough to pack up and leave everything he knew, especially to head to a place where there were so many unknowns.

“This bag right here is the bag I carried in Vietnam,” Vietnam Veteran Ed Roberts said.

Roberts was trained as an artillery officer but said the Army determined the greater need was in the infantry.

“This is my little black book,” Roberts said.

In the book he carried at war, you will find the prayers, the troops said often.

“Most merciful Father, we kindly beseech thee,” Roberts said.

On another page, direct orders from the Company Commander — no peace signs on their helmets.

They were at war and packing lots of ammo.

“Two frags, two smoker grenades,” Roberts said.

He said his job was to get some very young men home alive.

“I was 24. I was the old man,” Roberts said.

There were nine men in his platoon, and with the compass he still has strapped to his wrist, he lead them.

“We just navigated through the jungle, one step at a time,” Roberts said.

He said their missions were search and destroy.

“Where intelligence thought the enemy was,” Roberts said.

He said the helicopters would pick them up from base camp and drop them in the bush for days.

“We never walked on the same path twice,” Roberts said.

He said they were on such high alert, they would only take one boot off at a time.

“Then, you would do the other one, get some air to your feet, so you didn’t get foot rot,” Roberts said.

He said the only bath they took the entire time was in a bomb crater, but he said it didn’t matter because they were wet all the time.

He said the jungle posed many threats, like the poisonous snake he one time came eye to eye with.

Roberts said he grabbed his medics gun, but it wasn’t loaded.

“So he put a round in it, opened it back up and no snake, I said the snake is gone, I don’t know where he is at,” Roberts said. “Both of us were out of that foxhole, and we slept outside here, in the rain, all night.”

He said they didn’t sleep much, with men on guard in two hour shifts, and he said before they knew, it was time to get up.

“You usually had a beer for breakfast, if you had a beer, because they would give you three beers every five days,” Roberts said.

He said he remembers well what it was like to hear the choppers coming to drop supplies and water.

Roberts said they could never get enough water, that was except for the times it stood in their way.

“I said I need someone to swim across there and tie the rope, so we can tie it to a tree so we can get across, and they all looked at me and said ‘I don’t swim,'” Roberts said.

Roberts said he swam across and tied the rope, that he was glad was part of his inventory in his black book.

“120 foot of nylon rope, that’s what got us across the river that day,” Roberts said.

He also got the men through many other obstacles, the men he only knew by their last names.

“You are close to them, but you didn’t want to be to be too close,” Roberts said.

He said that’s how the military trains you just in case some of them don’t make it back.

“Everybody was counting down the days of when do I go home, you know,” Roberts said.

In the end, Roberts completed the mission he was called to do.

“These are maps, literally maps I used when I was over there,” Roberts said.

All of his men survived the war, so did Roberts, barely.

“I wasn’t wounded, but I had malaria, I had carbuncles on my legs, to the degree I couldn’t walk, and then I had a tumor on my chest,” Roberts said.

This month marks 50 years since this final mission was documented.

“This was my last mission coming back into the base camp,” Roberts said.

He said doctors in Vietnam were convinced his tumor was cancer.

They did exploratory surgery, once he was stateside, and had to remove part of his second and third ribs to get all of the tumor.

Thankfully, it wasn’t cancer.

Roberts said the welcome home was anything but pleasant in the way Vietnam veterans were treated.

He said he was glad he finally agreed to go on a Kansas Honor Flight.

“It was a trip of a lifetime. It really was,” Roberts said.

That’s why he’s dedicated the last three years to volunteering for the organization, and ensuring more heroes get that amazing trip to Washington, D.C.

He says the welcome home ceremonies are always very emotional.

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