From the Vault: Vietnam veteran reflects on war as waste

“We were supposed to be saving Vietnam from aggression,” remembered ‘63 graduate Tracy Hammond.

Original story appeared in The Kirkwood Call, April 18, 1975.

“We were supposed to be saving Vietnam from aggression,” remembered ‘63 graduate Tracy Hammond. Hammond was a Ranger in Cai Be, South Vietnam, a short but very costly guerilla warfare assignment. The third day in the field, a bullet from a Chinese weapon ripped through Hammond’s arm and chest. Hammond became involved in Vietnam.

The war was not a topic of discussion at Kirkwood during the ‘63 high school days, according to Tracy.

“The kids who went to war were the kids who couldn’t afford college,” Mrs. Gene Hammond, Tracy’s mother, said. “Tracy made the mistake of believing he was draft exempt because he had a few years of college.”

“The college opposition to Vietnam came when the draft laws were changed so as to include college students in the war,” Mrs. Hammond said. Going to Canada was unheard of then.

“I was shocked at the idea of draft dodging at the time,” Gene said. “It was a new thought.”

“I didn’t think of going to Canada…not many did,” Tracy said. “Now it seems like the only thing to do. I mean I went over there, I got shot, and I feel like I was used for no good cause.”

According to Tracy, the military is very clever in using people, [as] they give you so much to do that you don’t have time to think about what you are doing.

“Basically you’re an unthinkable person” Tracy said. Twelve men were in Tracy’s platoon that day; 43 men were supposed to be in the group.

“A lot of guys got themselves sent to the hospital so they didn’t have to go into the field,” Tracy said. “If they got an infection, they would aggravate it to make it worse.”

The opposite occurred with one soldier who consistently was reckless with his life.

“He kept trying to get killed,” Tracy said. “He was trying to win medals, I guess.”

In Cai Be, Tracy saw the faces of war. “There were kids walking around begging for your C-rations or candy or trying to sell you stuff,” Tracy said. “The older people wouldn’t look at you when you walked by in the street.”

When their sister battalion was pinned down, Tracy’s group was dropped by helicopter into the rice paddy to help out.

“We couldn’t hear anything except gunfire,” Tracy said. “There was no place to take cover, and the only bullets you could see were those glancing off the water or hitting the levy.”

Tracy was nearly killed when he walked out from behind a haystack and was rifled down by a sniper. He spent over a year in under hospital care. After his war experience, Tracy changed his view on Vietnam.

“Democracy was not something we could teach them,” Tracy said. “We were trying to force democracy on them by supporting the corrupt, [oppressive] Thieu regime.”

Tracy receives payments from the government for his disabilities, which were judged as a 50 percent loss. “The whole war was a waste,” Tracy said.

Though Tracy was glad to be home, others he met in the hospital could not wait to get back to the fighting. “One guy without a leg wanted badly to get revenge,” Tracy said. “Vietnam is so far away from the reality of most Americans. If they can’t experience it themselves, they can’t comprehend it. Vietnam is war.”