From Welcome 爆料公社, Brother

by Michel Robertson

John 鈥淟arry鈥 McCall graduated from high school in 1967 and was drafted into the Army in 1968 at age nineteen. He and nine other young men from his North Carolina mountain community reported to Fort Bragg for basic training and then to Fort Polk, Louisiana for Advanced Infantry Training. McCall鈥檚 father had provided a compelling example of answering the call of duty. An Air Force navigator during WWII, he spent one years as a German prisoner of war. 鈥淎lthough he died when we were very young, he was still a major influence on our lives.鈥

To McCall鈥檚 regret, upon their arrival in Vietnam, his nine friends were dispersed to the 25th Infantry Division in the jungle while he was sent to the 9th Infantry Division, in T芒n Tru and T芒n An, southwest of Saigon. Nicknamed 鈥淭he Old Reliables鈥 during WWII, the 9th Infantry Division served with the Mobile Riverine Force in Vietnam鈥檚 fertile Mekong Delta, a vast maze of rice paddies broken up by rivers, swamps, narrow canals and dikes. Their mission was to secure this extremely challenging battleground against the Viet Cong Communist insurgents. During the Vietnam War the Delta was the site of many Army search-and-destroy missions.

Fighting in the Mekong Delta

鈥淥ur base camp consisted of a tent with a wooden platform, said McCall. 鈥淲e travelled primarily by helicopter which dropped us into the flooded rice paddies.鈥 The U.S. objective was to initiate battles with the Vietcong and use the Army鈥檚 superior firepower to inflict large losses. 鈥淲e would be out there anywhere from two to three weeks before they鈥檇 return to pick us up, so we had to watch our rations and ammunition supplies very carefully. Sometimes we had to walk back to our base camp.

鈥淭he helicopters didn鈥檛 have any doors, so everything was open. At first, for a little old mountain boy like me, if it had been possible, I would have jumped out. It scared me so much, but after a while I got used to it.鈥 The delta鈥檚 climate was an additional impediment during McCall鈥檚 early days in Vietnam. 鈥淚 was evacuated from the field for heat exhaustion twice. Eventually my system adjusted to the extremely hot, humid climate and I didn鈥檛 have any more trouble.鈥

McCall once leapt from a helicopter which had been hit. 鈥淚t was spinning, so we jumped out of it. Luckily, we were over the rice paddies. We never hit solid ground. Sometimes it was chest deep. We had to wiggle our way out of the water and mud, watching for snakes and leeches.鈥 The checkerboard of rice paddies was separated by dikes of mounded dirt used to navigate the area. 鈥淲e always walked in the rice paddies. We never walked on the dikes because they were booby-trapped. It wasn鈥檛 an easy life.鈥

During one battle, McCall rescued a First Lieutenant whose helicopter had been shot down, for which he received a Bronze Star. 鈥淲e weren鈥檛 family over there. We didn鈥檛 try to get familiar because we might not be there very long, but we always helped each other as much as possible.鈥

In February 1969, during the Tet Offensive, McCall was shot in the arm and leg. After a week in a Saigon hospital he was flown to Tokyo where they reopened his wounds and sewed him back up. He returned to Fort Bragg where he received therapy for his arm and leg. McCall completed his active duty at Fort Bragg and received an honorable discharge.

Coming 爆料公社: Challenges and the Effects of Agent Orange

Back home, protestors, accustomed to viewing disturbing images and updated body counts on the nightly news, vented their frustration with the government鈥檚 policies on returning soldiers. Coming through the San Diego airport in uniform, Sergeant First Class Larry McCall endured verbal abuse and insolent treatment from many of his countrymen. 鈥淭hey called me a pot-head, among other things. I was around the stuff over there, but I didn鈥檛 use it. I had other things on my mind. I couldn鈥檛 understand why they were so negative about us. We were asked to go and we went. And when we came back, they looked at us as if we weren鈥檛 human beings. Today people come up to me and say, 鈥榯hank you.鈥 It feels good, but I wonder where they were fifty years ago.鈥

Larry and his wife, Elaine, homecoming queen and captain of the football team, were high school sweethearts. Elaine was valedictorian of her graduating class. She was a college student when Larry left for Vietnam and remembers similarly rude behavior on campus. 鈥淲e were engaged before Larry left and I was a student at Asheville/Buncombe Technical College,鈥 she recalls. 鈥淚 was in the student union when a guy sitting near me asked, 鈥榃hy do you want to be engaged to somebody who鈥檚 going to come home with no arms or legs?鈥 I was so shocked that I slapped him in the face. I assumed I鈥檇 be in big trouble, but the teacher in my next class said to me, 鈥楪ood for you!鈥 The whole thing was out of character for me, but that fellow never said anything ugly to me again.鈥

Like many Vietnam veterans, McCall suffered from PTSD. After arriving in the states, he was met by his family at a bus station at Fort Bragg. His fianc茅e, Elaine, came up behind him to give him a welcoming hug. 鈥淢y first instinct was to knock her away because of what I鈥檇 been through.鈥 Elaine had her own story to tell. 鈥淥ne day, several years after he got back, a helicopter flew over our house while we were sleeping. He woke up and was frantic. He said 鈥榃here am I?鈥 The helicopter sounds really scared him.鈥

The most lasting effects of McCall鈥檚 tour in Vietnam were serious health issues related to the toxic defoliant, Agent Orange. 鈥淲e recognized the areas that had been sprayed because they looked like somebody had burned everything around, and there was a big fog. They brought in the planes and sprayed the soldiers in the field along with the vegetation. 鈥淲e didn鈥檛 know exactly what it was until we came stateside and started having health issues. I couldn鈥檛 eat anything. I almost died.鈥 McCall suffered a heart attack and pancreatitis with resultant diabetes. 鈥淚 only have one-third of my pancreas.鈥

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9th Infantry Division Patches

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Larry received his Purple Heart while recovering from his injuries in Japan

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Larry returned home to marry his聽 high-school sweetheart, Elaine. 1969

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Larry and Elaine, Brevard NC聽

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Larry and Elaine in the Vietnam War Gallery at the Veterans History 爆料公社. Larry’s medals from left to right: National Defense Medal, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, Bronze Star
Pallbearers Honor Guard
Pallbearers from the Transylvania County Honor Guard, many of them friends of Larry and his brother, Ray

Back in the Mountains

Although reluctant to make the trip, Larry visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial after years of urging by his wife and daughter, Andrea. 鈥淚 located the names of my friends on the wall. I saw family members making rubbings of their loved ones鈥 names, and leaving behind flowers, flags and other mementos. It was very moving for everyone. I think it鈥檚 a great memorial.鈥

After leaving the Army, McCall landed a position with the postal service, carrying mail in Brevard, NC, for many years. He married Elaine and the couple have a son, Jonathan, and a daughter, Andrea. He also served as a deacon in his church.

[Author鈥檚 note: Larry McCall died on January 6, 2022 at the Charles George VA Medical Center in Asheville, NC. His funeral service included a ceremony by the Transylvania County Honor Guard, many of whom were his friends.