Veteran Salute: Vietnam vet says comrades became life-long friends

Veteran Salute

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – A Wichita native says the bulk of his time in the Vietnam War was spent with boots on the ground.

Eric Hutcherson was with an Armored Personnel unit but said he still spent the bulk of his time walking. He played basketball and was on the track team in college. He said he decided to take one semester off and work instead, and that’s when his draft notice was delivered.

“I got my greetings from Uncle Sam,” Vietnam Veteran Eric Hutcherson said.

Hutcherson went to basic training before officer training at Fort Benning.

He was then shipped to Vietnam.

“We landed, and we got off the plane and that heat and that odor, it just takes over, it just knocks you down for a few seconds,” Hutcherson said.

He said the monsoon season was especially difficult.

“It would rain all day, and it would be 120 degrees,” Hutcherson said.

They spent about a month setting up tents to stay in, to keep them out of the rain, but Hutcherson said they didn’t spend much time at home base.

“The choppers would take us out and drop us off, about twenty or thirty miles from wherever base camp was,” Hutcherson said.

He said they were part of the Pacification Program.

“We would go to villages, and patrol and stuff like that, during the day, and then at night we were out on ambush and doing other things,” Hutcherson said.

He said they would stay in the bush for a month or so at a time.

“These are the guys, this is after we came in for our three days,” Hutcherson said.

He said those three days offered great reprieve from the jungle.

He said the guys really looked forward to the USO shows.

“They guys would get pumped up for it because you knew you were coming in for a few days, and it was great,” Hutcherson said.

He said they also enjoyed cold beers, playing cards, even massages and steam baths.

He said they spent so much time bonding, at base camp, and beyond.

“Those are like my other brothers,” Hutcherson said.

He said there was Smitty from Toledo, and Reece from Baltimore, and so many more.

“That’s Oscar, he was my road dog, whenever we came in from the field, we got together,” Hutcherson said.

He said they were always thankful for Cole, their interpreter, who helped them on many missions.

“I was just so impressed with his willingness to communicate with everybody, with the guys in the unit,” Hutcherson said.

He is thankful he captured so much of their time, in photos, and held on to those memories in a a picture album.

He said their experiences traveling all over proved, there really is no place like home.

“Just to see how people in third countries lived, it was kind of unique,” Hutcherson said.

He said he gained so much perspective.

“Really feeling very fortunate that I am from America,” Hutcherson said.

He said it was hard to feel this at the time, but he eventually became grateful.

“I was glad that I went, years later, years and years later on,” Hutcherson said.

He said it took time to heal, from all they lived through.

“Here we are, our tour group,” Hutcherson said. “It humbled you to the ninth degree.”

He said the Kansas Honor Flight group he traveled with to Washington D.C., was sure humbled by the welcome home they finally got, years after they returned from war.

“People make you feel so good about what you did, and that kind of makes up for a lot of the stuff,” Hutcherson said.

Hutcherson said when it came to their reception, from the natives they encountered, it was either one way or another.

“They were either grateful American troops were there, or they wished the troops would hurry up and leave,” Hutcherson said.

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