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A Mile in Their Shoes

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©2014, Aaron Elson


A Soldier's Life

Wes Boyer, 1st Infantry Division

Page 2

©2014, Aaron Elson


    Aaron Elson: What was Pusan like?

    Wes Boyer: Pusan was bad. It was a bad town.

    Aaron Elson: Did you have to take it or did you have to defend it?

    Wes Boyer: We had to take it. We took it. But then we defended it. Because down near the ocean, that’s where they set up the camp for R-and-R people, to go back and rest for a while. They could leave you go back for a while and rest. But we didn’t do that very often. Our outfit kept moving all the time.

    Aaron Elson: Was it cold?

    Wes Boyer: In Vietnam?

    Aaron Elson: No, in Korea.

    Wes Boyer: Oh, yeah, it was cold. It was so cold that diesel oil froze. We had diesel trucks, and you’d go to get a drum of diesel. It was frozen solid. Diesel fuel.

    Aaron Elson: How could you melt it?

    Wes Boyer: We’d melt it. We even took one truck, and you know what we started it with? Lighter fluid. Poured it in the carburetor. Lighter fluid, that you put in a cigarette lighter. And started the truck.

    Aaron Elson: You weren’t afraid it would blow up?

    Wes Boyer: No, hey, I don’t know. It’s a chance we take. It worked. It started the truck. We did it to see if it would or not. We had to do something with it. Because the diesel oil froze. That’s how cold it gets.

    Aaron Elson: Did you have warm clothing?

    Wes Boyer: Oh yeah. We had Mickey Mouse boots and all that stuff. We had a lot of warm clothes. Plenty of that. You had to have. Our guards at night, when they walked guard duty, they only could walk so many hours and they’d have to go in and get warm, because they’d freeze to death, even with Mickey Mouse boots. That’s how cold it got. Maybe they’d walk four hours, and then go in, and somebody else would come out and walk four hours.

    Aaron Elson: Did you do guard duty in Korea?

    Wes Boyer: Yeah.

    Aaron Elson: That must have been scary.

    Wes Boyer: Oh yeah, because you’re all fenced in. But you don’t know who’s on the other side of that fence. They’d try to steal everything you’ve got.

    Aaron Elson: Were these civilians?

    Wes Boyer: Oh yeah, anything they could get their hands on.

    Aaron Elson: So you would be guarding not only against the enemy but also against civilians?

    Wes Boyer: Yeah. Because they’d get in there and steal stuff from you. Anything they could     get.

    Aaron Elson: Would many guards be killed?

    Wes Boyer: No, we didn’t have any of them get killed. Got shot at, but they didn’t get killed. Because they couldn’t get that close to our compound. Then we had the Turkish soldiers there. But that was up in, towards … I forget the name of the town. Anyway, they had a Turkish compound, and they caught a slicky boy, came in stealing their stuff. But they caught him. You know what they did to him? They stuck a rifle rod through this ear and out this ear and hung him up in the front gate. And the commander had to come along and tell them to cut him down. They hung him up there so everybody could see him. Because Turkish soldiers, they’re not gonna take you prisoner, they’re gonna kill you right away. Because they like blood. They’d kill you right off the bat.

    Aaron Elson: Were there ever any conflicts between the Turks and Americans?

    Wes Boyer: Oh, no. But they were hard soldiers. The people in Korea were scared to death of them.

    Aaron Elson: The civilians, too?

    Wes Boyer: Oh yeah, everybody, when they see a Turkish soldier. They’re scared to death. The Korean people, it’s nothing to see them take a dog and have it hooked up, skinning it. That’s their food. If you’d shoot a dog in Korea, they’d get all over you. That was their food. They did it just like a cow.

    The Turks didn’t like that, killing the dogs. If the Turks saw one of them killing a dog, they’d shoot him.

    Aaron Elson: Did you ever have any direct contact with the Turks?

    Wes Boyer: Yeah, I talked to them. As soldiers, they were all right.

    Aaron Elson: Did they speak English?

    Wes Boyer: A lot of them did. They didn’t bother us. It was their compound, so we didn’t bother them either. They had their commanders and stuff. The only time our outfit bothered them is when a general came along with his jeep and told them to cut that Korean down.

    Aaron Elson: They took a rifle and they put it in...

    Wes Boyer: A rifle rod and stuck it through his ear, in one ear and out the other, and they hung him up. At the front gate, so everybody could see him.

    Aaron Elson: When did you and Angie meet?

    Wes Boyer: In ’75 ... ’74.

    Aaron Elson: Were you still in the Army then?

    Wes Boyer: I’d got out.

    Aaron Elson: So you got out right after Vietnam?

    Wes Boyer: Yeah. I got out because they wanted to send me back.

    Aaron Elson: Really?

    Wes Boyer: Yeah. I’d had my years of service already. I told them I wouldn’t go back to Vietnam. I didn’t want to go back. I said, "Leave it up to the other people to go over there for a while."

    Aaron Elson: How did you meet?

    Wes Boyer: We met in Carlstadt.

    Angie Boyer: In a bar.

    Wes Boyer: At a birthday party.

    Aaron Elson: For who?

    Wes Boyer: Angie’s.

    Angie Boyer: That’s what I got for my present.

    Aaron Elson: Were you a friend of a friend, or you just walked into the bar?

    Angie Boyer: No, he was there when we walked in. Me and my girlfriend. And then we went several times, and he was always there. Sometimes we said, we’ll go over there and maybe that guy’ll send us drinks so we don’t have to spend our money. And little by little. …We’re married, what, 21 years? It’s too bad we don’t have any children. I had four already. He had none. I would have had if I were twenty years old but it was a little dangerous, for my age group. You know, menopause. Scary.

    Aaron Elson: And what kind of work did you do after you left the Army?

    Wes Boyer: I went to work for Tenneco in East Stroudsburg.

    Aaron Elson: What did you do for them?

    Wes Boyer: I took care of acid tanks. Inside the building.

    Angie Boyer: Then he got laid off from that, because he got a rash on his hand.

    Wes Boyer: The skin started to come off.

    Angie Boyer: And his feet. They said it was from the chemicals.

    Aaron Elson: From the Agent Orange?

    Wes Boyer: I don’t know. They never found out.

    Angie Boyer: He never even gave that a thought.

    Wes Boyer: Then I started wearing white gloves.

    Angie Boyer: And in the meantime, right after he went back to work, Tenneco laid him off. And never called him back. They probably were afraid of getting a lawsuit.

    Aaron Elson: Did you have contact with Agent Orange in Vietnam?

    Wes Boyer: I don’t know if we had contact or not.

    Aaron Elson: But did you see it being used?

    Wes Boyer: I’ve seen it used, but I don’t think we had contact with it. It’s hard to tell if you had contact or not.

    Aaron Elson: What sort of after effects would you say you’ve had? Did you have nightmares, or trouble sleeping?

    Wes Boyer: No, I never had nightmares or anything. The reason I never had nightmares is because to me it was a job. And I had to do it, because nobody else would do it. Well, there were other people would do it, but it was my responsibility. It’s like me going to work at eight o’clock in the morning. I know what I have to do.

    Aaron Elson: Do you ever get reflective, or philosophical, or think about all those years?

    Wes Boyer: Sometimes I think about it. I don’t get shook up about it much.

    Aaron Elson: What do you think about?

    Wes Boyer: Well, you think of what you did, it’s kind of hard. But if I had to do it all over again I’d do it, if I wasn’t too old. I’d go back in the service.

    Aaron Elson: What would you say was the absolute worst situation that you were in?

    Wes Boyer: The worst? In Vietnam, under fire. That’s the worst. Especially when the Air Force was dropping napalm bombs. That was the worst time. That was the closest.

    Aaron Elson: Was the napalm coming close to you?

    Wes Boyer: Yeah. But they weren’t bombing us, they were bombing the Chinks.

    Aaron Elson: And about how far away were they?

    Wes Boyer: Oh, I don’t know, from here maybe across the street. That’s how close the napalm landed.

    Aaron Elson: They were so accurate that they could do that?

    Wes Boyer: Oh, sure. The Air Force?

    Aaron Elson: Would they come in at low level?

    Wes Boyer: Yeah. You could almost see the pilots.

    Aaron Elson: Could you feel the heat from it?

    Wes Boyer: Yeah. That’s as close as we came to one of them. They dropped five or six bombs. You could hear the people screaming over there. They were hot stuff. Napalm goes right across the ground. It doesn’t stop. Those flames just take off.

    Aaron Elson: It skids across the ground, giving off flames?

    Wes Boyer: Yeah. Burns anything in sight.

    Aaron Elson: And is it like a liquid, that if it gets on your skin it keeps burning?

    Wes Boyer: It burns everything in sight. Just runs right along. Napalm. I didn’t want to get that close to them anymore.

    Aaron Elson: Do you have any idea the number of enemy that were involved in that?

    Wes Boyer: There were a lot of them. There might have been over fifty. They had to call the Air Force in, because they had heavy equipment. We were only infantry.

    Aaron Elson: Did you ever come under any heavy artillery barrages?

    Wes Boyer: No, we didn’t.

    Aaron Elson: Even in World War II?

    Wes Boyer: Oh yeah, World War II, but not over there. Mortars or something like that we did, in Vietnam, but not heavy artillery. Just a lot of mortar fire. Of course they were good at that. But their intelligence was good. They knew where the units were all the time. They really did know where our units were at. Not just ours, all the units.

    Aaron Elson: That must have been demoralizing.

    Wes Boyer: Well, it was, because they could throw mortars into the camp. They did that a couple of times, too, when we were in camp. The whole unit. But their intelligence was good, I’ll give them credit for that.

    Aaron Elson: Did you ever have any run-ins with officers?

    Wes Boyer: I had a run-in with a captain one time. The captain told me to do something. I said, "I ain’t doing that, no way. Do it yourself."

    "You’re disobeying an order."

    I said, "Maybe I am. Do it yourself." Because they were under heavy fire. I told the captain, "My squad ain’t going out there." You take the squad if you want to get somebody, if you can get a volunteer. Good luck."

    "I’m gonna have you put in the stockade."

    And I said, "Be my guest." But he didn’t do that, because in the meantime we went on another mission. I don’t know what he did. He got volunteers to do what he wanted to do, but he didn’t come back from his mission. Some of his people did but he didn’t.

    Aaron Elson: Do you think it’s possible he was killed by his own men?

    Wes Boyer: He might have got shot with his own people. I knew it was a mission that couldn’t be done. Impossible. But I went on a different mission. When I came back, he wasn’t there. Some of his men that he took out there were there. I asked them but they didn’t say too much about it. I think they shot him. I don’t think the enemy shot him.

    Aaron Elson: Was there anything humorous you can remember about Vietnam?

    Wes Boyer: Humorous? No. Nothing humorous. Not that I know of.

    Aaron Elson: Was there ever a time when you felt safe, even?

    Wes Boyer: At one time, yeah. But that’s when we fell back. Our camp fell back away from the jungle. See, our camp had been right at the edge of the jungle. We used to watch the planes every night, bombing, napalm bombs and all that, all night long. Never stopped. You couldn’t sleep. You’d sleep on and off, like naps or something. But as soon as you hear the planes coming in, you knew the enemy’s moving someplace, so you’d get up. The commander would get you up and you’d go out in a foxhole. Sometimes we even slept in the foxholes. One guy maybe, two guys in a foxhole. One guy’d sleep, take a nap, wake him up, then the other would take a nap.

    Aaron Elson: Was there infiltration into the perimeter?

    Wes Boyer: They tried to get in; a lot of times they tried to get in. But they never did. They tried. But we held them back.

    Aaron Elson: Were there ever times when you’d find somebody dead in a foxhole in the morning?

    Wes Boyer: Oh yeah. But then that might have been his fault. See, we didn’t know whose fault it was. Maybe he didn’t have his helmet on. It all depends. Or he got careless.

    Aaron Elson: Would they try to sneak up on the foxholes?

    Wes Boyer: Oh yeah, they’d do that. If they could get past the barbed wire. But usually if you’ve got barbed wire around, they can’t get through there. That barbed wire would tear them up. Yeah, I’ve seen that. I seen one that lit a cigarette at night. Got blown away.

    Aaron Elson: By a mortar?

    Wes Boyer: No, by a sniper. You light a cigarette, they know somebody’s there. It’s at night. That’s a good idea for a sniper. Because he didn’t have to look, he’d just see the light, and shoot wherever that light is. But that’s neglect. They’d tell you you can’t do that. We weren’t allowed to carry cigarettes with us. We couldn’t have cigarettes out there. Because in Vietnam, the Air Force said at 34,000 feet, if you light a cigarette, he can see you, that pilot. He could see that cigarette being lit, at 34,000 feet. And that’s the Air Force. So it’d be easy for a sniper to do that.

    Aaron Elson: Did you ever have any friendly fire incidents? Or what did people call friendly fire? I don’t imagine that term was used.

    Wes Boyer: No, not friendly fire. If the enemy’s firing at you, it’s not friendly. I’ll tell you that, boy.

    Aaron Elson: But I mean like people who were accidentally killed by American fire?

    Wes Boyer: By their own people? Oh yeah, I’ve heard of that. I think that’s how that captain got killed, by his own men, not by the enemy.

   Aaron Elson: You can’t remember anything at all funny about Vietnam? There’s got to be something humorous that happened.

    Wes Boyer: Nothing humorous.

    Aaron Elson: Even a good meal?

    Wes Boyer: Oh, we had a good turkey dinner.

    Aaron Elson: Thanksgiving?

    Wes Boyer: Yeah, we went back and had a good turkey meal. Dirty clothes, but we had a turkey meal. Everybody else was dressed up. We weren’t. We came in, we were coming in from the jungle.

    Aaron Elson: By helicopter?

    Wes Boyer: No, we were walking in. Everybody was in this building here, sitting down to eat. Then we walked in. Dirty. Stunk. We’d been gone for ten days. There was a captain over there, "Geez, what are you doing?"

    I said, "We’re gonna eat."

    "Oh, I don’t know..."

    I said, "Well, we are."

    He said, "I don’t know if you could eat or not."

    I said, "Well, I’ll tell you what. These 14 men here say we’re gonna eat." I said, "We’re gonna eat."

    The line was all set up and everything for Thanksgiving. And one of the guys in my squad said, when the captain and a major said, "Well, you’ll have to go someplace else," he cocked his machine gun, and he said, "No, we’re gonna eat right here." And we did. We went through the line. First ones in the line. We got what we wanted to eat. We sat right down there at the first table, too. Eat what we wanted. And they just kept looking at us – everybody’s looking at us. When we finished eating we got up and left. "We’ll see you, Major. Thanks."

    That wasn’t our outfit. It was somebody else. It wasn’t our outfit.

    Aaron Elson: But you were like guests?

    Wes Boyer: We made ourselves guests. But they didn’t even know us.

    Aaron Elson: But you were told to go there, you didn’t go there on your own?

    Wes Boyer: We went on our own. We seen the building, and we went over there. And they were all sitting down getting ready to eat. We walked in through the kitchen.

    Aaron Elson: Do you think they were combat troops or non-combat?

    Wes Boyer: Non-combat; they all had clothes on, everything. They looked like they were personnel people; they run the records or something.

    Aaron Elson: And they were having a turkey dinner?

    Wes Boyer: We had turkey dinner, too. We were the first ones there. Because he cocked that machine gun. He meant it. If they’d have said no, he’d have shot ’em. Because we were tired, ten days out there, laying out there in the jungle. We were trying to get back, because our unit moved someplace and we were trying to get back. Then we left there after we finished eating, and we found the unit. It was back in … what’s the name of that town? I don’t remember, but we found them.

    Aaron Elson: Had they just abandoned you there and moved?

    Wes Boyer: No, they had to move.

    Aaron Elson: Why was that?

    Wes Boyer: They were under fire. They had to move back. That’s where we went first but they weren’t there. But we got hungry. We ran out of C-rations, and it was something to eat.

    Aaron Elson: How many days had you been without anything to eat?

    Wes Boyer: Three days.

    Aaron Elson: So you had been on the march for ten days?

    Wes Boyer: Yeah, we were out ten days, yeah.

    Aaron Elson: And when you went back to the base, was it still under fire?

    Wes Boyer: No, it was abandoned. But we got it back. The captain said, "did you have something to eat?"

    I said, "Oh yeah. We ate in a mess hall. Personnel department."

    He got a letter about that, too. He got a letter down through channels. But that guy would have shot ’em, because we were all on edge. He would’ve shot ’em if they’d have said no. We’d have been the only ones in there eating. Even the cook got scared. We were hungry. We were hungry, tired and dirty.

    Aaron Elson: There was nothing to eat in the bush?

    Wes Boyer: Oh yeah, you could pick berries up and stuff like that, and hope that it was any good. Catch a snake, cook it.

    Aaron Elson: You would do that?

    Wes Boyer: What, snake? Yeah, I’d eat snake.

    Aaron Elson: Really? What’s it taste like?

    Wes Boyer: It tastes good, cooked.

    Aaron Elson: Now were these the same snakes that would bite people?

    Wes Boyer: Sure. Skin ’em. Cook ’em up. Snake meat.

    Aaron Elson: Is there anything I missed, in three wars, that I should have asked you that I didn’t know about?

    Wes Boyer: I don’t think so.

    Aaron Elson: Did your division liberate any concentration camps?

    Wes Boyer: No, they didn’t liberate no camps.

    Aaron Elson: But you went in to see them.

    Wes Boyer: Oh yeah. I went with some English soldiers. We went down to Dachau, that’s where the ovens are. And you see the mounds where the bodies are buried, and the wall where they were shot at. Yeah, we went over there. The reason I went over there is, two of the English soldiers that were with me, their brothers were killed there, burned up in the ovens. That’s why we went over there.

    Aaron Elson: Had they been prisoners of war?

    Wes Boyer: Yeah. That’s where we seen the steel beds and all that that they push in the oven. We seen the ovens. The wall they were shot at. Then the mounds outside. And the guillotine where they cut your head off. They had all that stuff there. That’s why the military took it over, for a museum. So they don’t destroy it.

    Aaron Elson: How did these British soldiers react, having lost their brothers there?

    Wes Boyer: They were sad, yeah.

    Aaron Elson: I know that the tankers who went into a camp called Flossenburg said that they couldn’t, even after all they had seen, they could not imagine that people could do that to one another.

    Wes Boyer: Oh, I know, yeah. But they did. You wouldn’t believe that somebody could really do that, kill people like that. That’s why they did it. Not just a few people at a time; a whole bunch at a time.

    Aaron Elson: Had there been any advance warning or talk about the concentration camps, among the GIs?

    Wes Boyer: No, they knew it was there. A lot of people had seen them.

    Aaron Elson: Did you have any dealings with displaced persons?

    Wes Boyer: Yeah, the only dealing I had with them was selling cognac.

    Aaron Elson: Where would you get the cognac?

    Wes Boyer: Through the fence. They came up to the fence to sell it.

    Aaron Elson: Selling it or buying it?

    Wes Boyer: They would sell it to us.

    Aaron Elson: That must have been good stuff.

    Wes Boyer: Good stuff. That was the only way you could get a drink. Because it was all fenced in, we couldn’t go over there, but they could come up to the fence. We’d be on this side of the fence. Then we had to watch out for the guards, we’d have to do it after the guards passed, then we’d go there. We knew how long it took the guards to go around. So you’d give them a carton of cigarettes and they’d give you a bottle of potato schnapps. Cognac. We called it potato schnapps. We asked them what they make it out of. Potatoes. It did what it’s supposed to do. They knew when it was ripe. So we’d give them a carton of cigarettes, they’d give us a bottle. We didn’t know if it was any good or not. We’d drink it anyway. Then I went to visit Hitler’s nest, Adolf Hitler, where he lived, in Berchtesgaden. We went up there. That’s where they searched you. You couldn’t go in there with a knife or nothing.

    Aaron Elson: How come?

    Wes Boyer: Because his fireplace was all diamonds. And a lot of people went up there and chipped diamonds out.

Contents                       Chapter 10, The Wall


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