Dennis E. Haines
Dennis Haines: Washington DCI was drafted into the Army in Oct.1967 at the age of 18 and had graduated from high school in 1966. After completing Basic Training and Advanced Infantry Training, I arrived in Vietnam on 24 March 1968, at the 90th Replacement Center in Long Binh. After two weeks here I was assigned to the 199th Light Infantry Brigade, Company C, 3rd Battalion 7th Infantry Regiment and joined them in the field the beginning of April.
The Tet Offensive was just winding down when I arrived in country and there were a lot of enemy hot spots, the base camp at Long Binh was being mortared almost nightly and in the field our unit was engaging them in combat on almost a daily basis. I found out quickly, that a light infantry brigade was never at a fixed location very long. We were always on the move and a reactionary unit that always responded to help other units engaged in firefights anywhere that they were. It meant getting there by helicopters, Rag Boats, trucks or armored personnel carriers.
Not long after joining the unit I was made a radioman (RTO) for the 3rd Platoon. Shortly after this encountered the enemy, VC and NVA regulars, in an intense battle in the jungles north of Saigon that killed a lot of our men and wounded many more. Our ranks after this were very few requiring a lot of new replacements that did not arrive all at one time. Our troop strength was at a very low count stretching, our energy and manpower to its maximum.
On 9 May 68 a very close friend of mine from a town in PA not far from my hometown was killed only a few feet from me in another intense battle, this time in the Delta south of Saigon. This one had a totally devastating and emotional effect on me. It was the first time someone so close to me was killed.
When Jack was hit, I thought that I was too, as rounds were going everywhere from bunkers right in front of us. One round even hit the antenna of my radio, only inches above my head. We would pull back for cover and attempt to get in to get his body out three times before being successful. We dragged him out under constant heavy fire, put him into a poncho that quickly filled with his blood, carried him to the LZ (landing zone) and placed his lifeless body onto the evacuation helicopter.
I had seen death before, but never this close to me, so horrific and knowing the possibility that I could very easily have been a casualty too. I felt so helpless that day that I wasn’t able to do anything to help him. He was killed instantly and I’ll never forget that day, I see it in my mind constantly.
I eventually became radioman (RTO) for the entire Company and the Commanding officer. I later gave up the radio to become the M-60 machine gunner and then machine gun team leader. While doing this I received a promotion to Specialist (E-4) rank. I was made a squad leader in July 1968, held this job until December 1968 and had been put in for promotion to Sergeant (E-5) rank.
On December 6, while my squad was leading the entire Company on a cordon of a suspected VC occupied village that night, I was severely wounded by two gun shot wounds to the right side of my head. I was evacuated by helicopter to the 24th Evacuation Hospital, stayed there about five days, was transferred to the 249th Army hospital in Japan and was there two weeks before being sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, DC., arriving here on Christmas Day.
My life was forever changed after this night. I was medically retired with a 100% disability rating in March 1969 and spent more than a year in hospitals. After my retirement I was transferred to a VA Medical Center close to where I live. After my transfer to the Philadelphia VA Hospital from there and last inpatient stay in 1970, I was discharged and became an outpatient at the local VA Hospital. I have been a patient there ever since with appointments two or three times a month to monitor and treat conditions caused by my wounds and serving in Vietnam.
I wear a full leg brace with locking knee on my left leg and a splint on my left wrist and hand that provides a little use of it. I can walk short distances, but use my wheelchair for longer distances and when I’m on the go for most of the day. I would never be able to drive a car again, making me very dependent on others to get places. For me it seems the war never ends.
In 1992 I found out I have a life threatening disease that I most likely got from my blood transfusions I received after being wounded and the surgeries that followed. I now do chemotherapy type of treatments for this and not having any success at putting it into remission so far. After being completely released as an inpatient from VA hospitals I eventually did return to a job in 1970 with the help of the VA.
It was not what I had been doing before entering the Army. Instead I was able to get into an entry-level job here at the Penn State’s Hershey Medical Center. This position was a very basic clerical job and was a newly created one tailored to my abilities. After high school and graduation from a vocational school in 1966, I was working as an architectural draftsman for a local company that sold building material and also manufactured prefabricated residential and commercial buildings of all types. It was a job I loved, but never could return to after how the wounds had left me.
In my mind I always wanted to try getting back into drafting again, but doing everything with only one arm and one hand I was at a huge disadvantage; one I thought could never be a very marketable skill. During the ten years in this clerical position, I kept working at enhancing my skills to do manual drafting using only my right arm and hand. I was becoming really confident with doing this and even did some drafting jobs on the side using equipment I had at home.
Things were really going well with that, when a drafting position opened here in the Engineering and Projects division of the Maintenance Department. I had learned to know a lot of the people in this department by this time and decided to apply for the position. With my recent samples of drawings I had done, a recommendation from a friend there and the VA purchasing me a drafting machine that could be used one handed, I was hired into this job that I m still doing today.
In 1993 computers came along and computer aided drafting made my life so much easier. It s been a challenging and a continual learning process and now my job also incorporates coordinating renovation and construction projects from beginning to end along with all the various types of drafting I now do.
Before being drafted into the Army and going to Vietnam, I was able to do everything for myself. I enjoyed doing carpentry and planned to build my own house, get married and start a family. I liked cars, racing them and working on them and planned to pursue a possible second career as a racecar driver. All my friends, family and the community were in disbelief when I was drafted and even more when I was to ship out for Vietnam, but still very supportive of me and my decision to not enlist in another branch of service.
Not many from my small hometown had gone to Vietnam before me, especially not in the Army infantry. Some, including my mother thought I d never come back from over there alive. All the news of the war was not showing a good image of the Vietnam War at all and how we were fighting it. Everyone kept track of how I was doing while there, hoping and praying I would make it back safely. I got letters and packages from lots of people in my hometown as well as some I worked with. When I was home on leave before going to Vietnam lots of people wanted to see me and spend time with me before I had to leave. There was a lot of support for the war, if for no other reason than to defeat communism in that part of the world. My year in Vietnam would end up only being nine months long. Having been wounded shortened that for me.
Returning home was so very different. Never did I ever dream things would be this way and affect my life forever the way they have. I came home to a country that was protesting against the war in Vietnam and trying to discourage anyone from going into the military and to Vietnam. These people may not have been the majority, but made their point of view well known to all and especially to us. Returning veterans were booed at, spit upon and blamed for what they thought was innocent killing of lives, women and children. We were forced to bottle up all our emotions, memories and thoughts about the horrible experiences we endured for all those months, for most 12 or 13.
My family, some of my friends and most of the community welcomed me home with open arms. Lots of them came all the way to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC while I was a patient there just to see me. I received hundreds of cards, was put on every prayer chain at all the churches in my hometown and lots of surrounding ones too. When I was well enough to come home weekends, my aunt had a welcome home gathering at her home. It was an all day long drop in type of reception and most everyone came during the course of the day, practically everyone I knew. There were some friends that did not stop in that day and have stayed away ever since. I m not sure to this day why and some I considered to be very good friends.
I was engaged to be married before leaving for Vietnam and after some of my inpatient stays at the hospitals, we did get married on April 5, 1969 when I was out of the hospital briefly. After two weeks leave from the hospital, I returned for the remainder of my hospitalization. We moved into an apartment at first then in 1972 purchased a house. Our marriage lasted for 17 years and we had two boys together, eight years apart. We separated in 1987 and divorced in 1992.
We realized after all these years what had been evident all along. I came back more grown up, mature and had changed physically, emotionally and mentally after all my own experiences through being wounded and the very long recovery, but even more so from the horrors of war I was exposed to for nine months.
Her life had not changed at all and was much the same as when she left high school in 1967. I m not sure she understood or loved the Dennis who returned from Vietnam as much as she did the one before I left for over there. Things were different and as the years together went along it was showing in our relationship and how we treated each other. Once the children came along, it only made things between us even worse. My wife used to tell me she wanted the Dennis back the way he was before leaving for Vietnam instead of the one who came home.
My sons are grown up now. The oldest married and his wife had my first grandchild, a boy and my grandson Maxwell. He just turned a year old August 7 of this year. My youngest son is in his third year of college, pursuing a degree in psychology and has a steady girl friend, April who is with him always. They will most likely marry after they both finish college.
I have only realized 30 + years later, what a unique and very distinguished unit the 199th was for all that it had accomplished during its involvement in the Vietnam War from 1966 to 1970. The Redcatcher web site has all of this information, as I’m sure you’ve seen. I attended my very first 199th LIB reunion in 2001 that was held at Columbus and Fort Benning, Georgia. Our unit has a memorial there next to the Infantry Museum.
Last year at the second unit reunion I attended in Washington, DC, we had a special ceremony at the Wall and at this time placed cards with the names of all our unit’s KIA at their respective panel at the Wall. We also had a special memorial service and at this time we read the names of all 755 of our killed in action and had a special service of remembrance to honor all of them. It was a truly emotional and moving service.
We also attended the memorial service at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Memorial Day. This was a wonderful and very memorable reunion and Memorial Day. At these reunions, at Veterans Day ceremonies at the wall and by email since then, I’ve met a lot of the guys I served with in Vietnam including four who were in my squad. Most recently I have contacted two doctors and a nurse who treated me when I was at the 24th Evacuation Hospital. All of this has been a really great experience to reunite with them by email or in most cases in person.
©Copyright September 2003 by Dennis E. Haines