"From 1967-68 dad was in Ben
Wah, Vietnam." - Jill VanderPutten Bonner
John and Pat were married
February 12, 1967. A week later the US Army sent PFC John Vander Putten to
Vietnam where he arrived just in time for his 21st birthday. As an MP
John was fairly safe for most of his tour.
John: I was in Bien Hoa in a
place called Long Bin. I was a guard at what was called Long Bin Jail,
or as we liked to call it LBJ.....it was a military prison for American
soldiers who had broken the law...anything from stealing to rape,
murder, desertion, etc. As I recall, it was built to house 300 men but
we never had fewer than 500-600.
Brian: Everyone knows about the
tropical paradise of Bien Hoa. It's an elegant suburb of Ho Chi Minn
City, right? I heard that LBJ was the night club of the army -- except
during the battle of Bien Hoa in the 1968 Tet Offensive, of
What Unit were you with?
John: I was in the
552 Military Police Battalion...and yes, prior to the time of the Tet
Offensive, the only people I had to worry about shooting me were the
Daughter Jill: I
wanted to add a good story. The first night dad arrived he
went into the latrine and his "movement" was
almost his last.
As the story goes, he was
just finished with his business, and a bullet went
"whizzing" (excuse the expression) past him and
through the latrine, just missing his leg by inches.
I think this is a wonderful
way to be welcomed in to a strange country you are invading
John: The Tet offensive brought the action within a few 1000 yards
of the stockade so my last few weeks in that country were to say the least
This is the stuff nightmares are made of -- my father with a
John: The Viet Cong had
infiltrated within a few 1000 yards of our camp and in some cases
had gotten even closer. I recall the middle aged Vietnamese barber
who came to our area every day was arrested one night trying to
sneak in with a satchel charge (a kind of time bomb).
A few nights before I left, I was
guarding our small ammo dump when the Vietcong blew up the main
ammo dump of an infantry battalion about a mile or so up the road
from us. I saw the blast and had enough sense to lie down on the
ground next to a raised walkway. When the blast wave reached us,
it picked me up and tossed me about 20 feet and scared the living
[bleep] out of me.
heard that leaving Vietnam was a memorable experience for
days after the blast I left via commercial airliner. The
captain had the lights off and requested that all the
windows be covered. As we taxied down the runway, we could
hear and feel the mortar rounds hitting the tarmac. It was
very quiet in that cabin until the Captain announced that we
were out of danger. I honestly don't remember much of the
rest of that trip!
Jean: John returned
home from Vietnam on February 20, 1968, two
days before his 22nd birthday. Pat and her parents met
John at the airport and stopped by our house on the way home. I don't think they stayed very long. It
wasn't a party. We there to welcome him home.
John came in the front door after 363 days away, I was so overwhelmed with
emotion that I had to turn my back and I didn't see Dad hug John. I had my
folk group from college over for practice that night and as soon as John
arrived, the group went home and left the family to savor the
Dad told me that
morning that he was coming home and I cried during all my classes that
day. I, along with the rest of the family, did not rest easily the few
weeks between the Tet offensive and Feb. 20th. and we were all so happy
and relieved to have our soldier home that night. "Our" Vietnam
war was over and we were able to rejoice. Sadly, the families of over
50,000 other servicemen and women had no such joyous evening. I never knew
how lucky our family was until that day. Welcome
I agree with your memory of the arrival night, very emotional for Vander
Puttens. Somebody mentioned a party we had for your birthday when you
returned, John. For some reason, my memory of that evening is foggy. Did I
have a good time?
It was my birthday, too, but I don't remember a party.
The party, a few days later, was a combination welcome home-happy
birthday-happy birthday and a salute to Mrs.
Greishaber. I had a drink or two, I lied, one of the two drunkest
times since we were married. John came home on Feb 20, 1968. The party was
probably the first weekend in March, 1968.
Oh, that party!!! I got so drunk, I said
goodbye to guests and they bid adieu to me as I puked over the side
railing on the front porch. I was drinking 8 ounce glasses of rye and
ginger ale (mostly rye) almost the entire evening. Pete Melomo (or
somebody) had to carry me upstairs and throw me on my bed amid the coats
of many of the guests.
awoke me the next day and gently rebuked me with the words "You'll
never do that again, now will you?" Nah! Not 'til the next time. I
was reeling with the yin and yan of life. John was home safe, but Mrs.
G. was leaving us (me) after almost 12 years and I took ersatz comfort
in alcohol. I knew I was going to miss her and I did. My heart was
breaking and there was nothing I could do to stop the pain except drink. I
wasn't very grown-up then at age 22, but in those few weeks of February
and March of 1968 I experienced a level of joy and sorrow that almost
overwhelmed me and perhaps matured me. I'd like to think so, anyway. What
a time that was!