Blunt Vietnam Vet Marine Tells You Exactly What Happened To Him

Published 2018-07-19
In 1990 I did interviews with 180 baby boomers talking about their lives during the 1960s for my television series, Making Sense of the Sixties. This is a clip of poet and educator Bill Ehrhart from one of those interviews - a very articulate Vietnam veteran who joined the military with patriotism in his heart. He has written a book on his experiences - Vietnam-Perkasie: A Combat Marine Memoir, Search the word "Vietnam" on my YouTube channel to find more related clips. Including one more by this man. Here is his background of service - W. D. Ehrhart served with 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, from early February 1967 to late February 1968. His service number is 2279361. He holds the Purple Heart Medal, Navy Combat Action Ribbon, Presidential Unit Citation (2), Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Service Medal, Cross of Gallantry Meritorious Unit Citation, Civic Action Meritorious Unit Citation, Vietnamese Campaign Medal. The last three were all awarded by the now-extinct government of the Republic of Vietnam. He received the PUC and the two Vietnamese unit citations as a member of 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. You can find more at his website #vietnam #marine #ehrhart

All Comments (21)
  • David Hoffman
    If this interview has meaning for you or interest you you might want to look at another gentleman from the same war whose perspective is different but whose storytelling abilities are off the charts as well.
    David Hoffman filmmaker
  • Shot Tec
    This gentleman was my history teacher in highschool. Incredible teacher! It was an honor. Difficult class, not because of the grades, but because of the realities he made students contend with. More professors and teachers should be like him.
  • sha214
    11:30 "I'm wasting your film" This man is so considerate while talking about such atrocities. The sheer amount of self reflection and personal growth this man must have undergone is astounding, truly admirable.
  • My uncle was a door gunner in Vietnam. He never spoke more than two words about his experience there. Later in life he suffered a catastrophic stroke , and all but lost his ability to speak. Now he wakes nightly, terrified by haunting nightmares that he physically cannot recount. Here’s to the silent sufferers who endure our country’s shrouded intentions.
  • Robert
    My heart breaks for this man and everything he went through and saw. Why was his interview cut off? Is there a part 2 somewhere so we can hear the rest of the story? If so, please let us know.
  • Mising Leter
    When he said “im wasting your film” I was shocked. Does he not know how important his words are. Love this guy
  • Amanda Jones
    I had 2 uncles that fought in Vietnam, one in the Army, and one in the Navy. One of them came home completely traumatized. He refused to ever drive again. And he could only get along with children and animals. He had a lot of anger and would go off if anyone mentioned the war. But he was amazing with children. He did countless hours helping out at the school and he loved children especially the sports department. He paid for uniforms, trophy, and anything that any child needed. He kept score at all of the ballgames and helped anyone that needed help. The world lost someone special when he passed away. He would have made it a lot longer if the VA hospital in Tennessee would have treated him better. There were times when it took 2 months to get an appointment and when he did he said that they were hateful and abusive towards him. Sorry for the long post. I could type another 20 minutes.

    had treated him better.
  • Wil Dasovich
    Wow solid story telling, gave me chills! 😳
  • DraQuul
    I wish I didn't recognize so much of my own story in yours, my friend. I was there almost exactly one year earlier, also a Marine but a crew chief/ machine gunner on UH34D helicopters. I went through the same process of, at first feeling like I had been dropped off on an alien world somewhere else in our galaxy. Everything was unlike anything I had ever experienced in my 18 years of life. I also had volunteered to fight this war because I had believed every word I had been told back in the states. I was there to fight for these poor, oppressed peoples as they struggled for their freedom. I too was very surprised at how much the civilians did not welcome, or even want our help.
    I flew every type of combat mission the Marine Corps asked of me; large, battalion size assaults, reconnaissance insertions of small, Force Recon teams (and emergency extractions if they got in trouble), I flew emergency ammo resupply missions as well as just everyday food, water and ammo restocking missions. I took my fellow marines into battle and, later, I brought them back out when their mission was completed.
    But the missions that were the most gut wrenching, the most dangerous were the emergency medivacs, especially the ones at night. I witnessed, first hand, what high explosives and AK-47 rounds could do to the human body. I was too busy to think about it until we were back up to altitude but then I could see and hear these young men as we tried to keep them alive long enough to get them to a med station or field hospital. If I was lucky enough to have a corpsman on board, I only had to assist but if not (and that was far more often than you might think), I had to do whatever I could to stop their bleeding with pressure on the wound or maybe placing the cellophane from a cigarette package over a sucking chest wound to help them breathe easier. If it was a daytime medivac, I could see what I was working with but, if it was at night, I had to make do with the dim red glare of the cabin lights.
    I also retrieved the dead, stacking the body bags on the small floor space available inside that old bird. At times they were only wrapped in a blanket and at times not even that. Often they had been laying dead for days before it was safe enough for their buddies to send them back and the sights and smells still haunt my nightmares.
    There were times, if it was an emergency call during the day, when I might have to give covering fire for a small group of marines emerging from a tree line carrying a wounded marine in a blanket while they each held a corner tightly as they ran. Sometimes they all made it and sometimes a rescuer would fall, dead or wounded, from sniper fire; the freshly wounded man would then be carried to my chopper too, the dead would lay where they fell.
    I also carried POW's back to the rear for interrogation; sometimes they were wounded, sometimes not, but they were obviously fighters and always tightly bound and blindfolded; this never bothered me. But sometimes we carried what they called VC "suspects"; these would be women, children and old men who were also hogtied, blindfolded but obviously terrified of what was happening to them. I remember thinking at those times, that if these villagers were not Viet Cong now, they most assuredly would be once they had been beaten and tortured by the "White Mice", a nickname we gave to the vicious and cruel Vietnamese interrogators who would soon be in charge of them.
    After thirteen months, I returned to the states in the middle of a cool California night. After being processed, I called a cab to take me to the airport. On the long ride to the L.A. Airport, I remember thinking how incredibly strange it was to be moving so fast on the ground. I was used to flying at low altitudes but this was very different. And it was so quiet; no shelling or firefights in the distance (a constant background sound in Vietnam) or flares in the night sky. And when I got to the airport I had about three hours to wait for my flight to Florida and it was amazing to watch people casually walking around without any fear or apprehension.
    I was wearing my Marine Corps dress greens with three rows of ribbons on my chest and my combat crew wings sitting on top of them. (I had been personally decorated 13 times for "Heroic and Meritorious Achievement against the Vietnam Insurgency" as well as numerous unit and presidential awards for the same during the 236 combat missions I had flown). No one called me a "baby killer" or spat on me but neither did anyone welcome me home or thank me for my service. I was just ignored as I sat there, barely three days out of the jungles and mountains of Vietnam. The Americans back at home treated me pretty much as the Vietnamese civilians had just a few days before in their country, as an unseen stranger.
  • Kenrod
    I remember driving my cousin Nick to Ft Knox to drop him off to leave for Viet Nam. He was a laid back guy who loved to party and have a good time and always happy. After his tour was up we went directly to my Aunt's house to see him and he was anything but the happy guy I knew. He told me that six days ago he was in a jungle shooting at people and being shot at and now a week later sitting on the sofa in his mom's living room but all wanted to do was find a hiding place. So sad.
  • Emma
    My grandpa just died 2 days ago. He was in the Vietnam war. He didn’t talk much about it because I can imagine that it was extremely difficult. He did say one thing, he had to do the unthinkable. I can’t imagine what he and other soldiers had to go through!
  • Bryce Arnold
    If this man was a writer, this interview alone, turned into a transcript, would be his magnum opus. There is a matter-of-fact way that he tells the story of his experiences that draws you into the truly brutal theatre Vietnam was, but terrifies you at how he is able to even arrange the sentences into a profound account of the truth. I have been lucky enough to meet a few Vets, while I taught in Vietnam, who were willing to speak of their time in the war. They all get that same look BIll gets on his face when he pauses. They go back there, and they take you with them.

    It's as if they are looking for the smallest traces on your face to make sure you are truly getting a sense of what real horror feels like. Still gives me shivers when I remember the way one of these Vets responded to me when I said "I doubt I would kill somebody even if it came down to it". He just turned and said "That monster inside you will wake up and shock you with the things you are capable of, it's best not to provoke it with denial".

    Never been the same since I heard that.
  • dopeydad1221
    Excellent interview. Clear and honest, no emotional baggage, "Just the facts". My high school history teacher always reminded us that "History is written by the Victor", and these comments about how the war was being portrayed in the press vs what he saw all around him every day is a perfect reminder of this.
  • Sam Reagan
    “The longer we stayed in Vietnam the more Vietcong their were, because we were creating them” that is a really powerful and important quote.
  • Eers Link
    My experience with Vietnam vets (as a kid born in the late 70's and raised in the 80's, I've known MANY) is that there are really two common types: One type won't talk about their that time in their lives, they don't even want to acknowledge it, it seems. Type two is VERY open about it and speak on their time there like Mr. Ehrhart does; in excruciating detail and this candidness that is sometimes hard to even fathom for people that were not there.

    For all types though, I wish that we as a country had treated far far far better upon their return. Given the right resources, these men could have lived much better lives post-service. Better yet, I wish they had never gone at all.
  • Powerman
    This is what happens when a person with an above-average intelligence goes to war as a soldier and studies the environment around him not blinded by emotion.
  • Tandy Corbin
    My father was a Vietnam veteran. He played out torture memories on his children when he got drunk. I never knew him before the war, only the monster that it created. I believe these men passed their untreated (or acknowledged) PTSD on to their children and the country we live in today is a direct result of that.
  • Burlak
    Man, I used to think this guy was such a passionate vet. Then I realized he was more of a great storyteller vet. Now I think I have to admit he really is best described as a blunt vet.
  • Gee Christopher
    My Dad's first night in Vietnam in 1965, he was put on the evening watch with three other soldiers. Two were assigned to the bunker about 100 yards ahead and he was in the bunker behind with the other soldier. They were told to get some sleep while the two soldiers ahead were on patrol watch and vice versa when it was their turn to patrol. Long story short, they got woken up and dragged to the bunker ahead- the two soldiers had fallen asleep while on patrol duty and ended up getting their heads cuts off by Viet Cong soldiers and driven through a bamboo stake in the bunker. Since that night, my Dad said he never had a good night's sleep and mostly napped during the day. Now I understand why he always worked the night shifts at the Ford factory when I was growing up.
  • Boxerville Manor
    I listened to a North Vietnamese soldier decades later say: "who won or who lost is not even a question. In war, no one wins. There is only destruction. Only those who never fought like to argue about who won and who lost.”