John Emerson


As Interviewed by Andrew Brotherton, March 13, 2019

John Emerson: In His Own Words

Interview with John Emerson, Vietnam veteran of Angel Fire, NM.

Tell me about yourself; your name, your education, and job.

Ok. Iím John Emerson, your Grandfather. My education is Iím an Engineer. I studied Civil Engineering at the University of Maryland and I was a Project Engineer until I retired, building heavy industrial construction.

When and how did you first hear about Vietnam?

The Vietnam War started when I was in high school, and I heard about it sometime when I was in high school and some of my friends and acquaintances started to get drafted to go into the army, and some of them were going to Vietnam.

What did you think about it when you first heard about it?

Thatís hard to remember. That was so long ago! But, generally, I was very young - about your age, maybe a little older - and so, nobody really questioned why we were going or the government told us that this was a war we needed to fight. At first we only a hundred people there, then it became several thousand, and then it became several hundred thousand people by the time I was in the military. And so it sort of crept up, and it wasnít one of those things I knew a lot about.

Were there people who felt differently from you that affected your opinion?

At first, no. It wasnít until I got to college and I was probably twenty years-old that people were starting to debate the war. The protests started somewhere about when I was a junior in college, and that was when people started to question it.

How did volunteering affect your experience?

I was faced with going in the army at that point in time, and my choice was to go in as an infantryman or to go to Officer Candidate School. So I decided I wanted to go to Officer Candidate School and that would be a better way for me to do it. So your grandmother and I both went in the Army and became officers, and served in the Army for three years each.

How many people around you were affected by the war, and how did it affect them?

Several of my friends were drafted and went into the military. Very few of them went to Vietnam. Some of my friends went into what they call the Reserves: youíre in the Army for a very short period of time, you get your training, and you come out and become a civilian again. You get out and go to Reserve meetings on a regular basis, once or twice a month, and you are ready to go serve, and some of those who were in the Reserves actually got called up and went to Vietnam, but most of them did not at that point in time. I went in the regular Army, and then I was sent to Vietnam.
How did some of the other people make out? I had a cousin who went to Vietnam and was killed, and I had a friend whose brother went to Vietnam and was killed, so we knew some people that were killed. I knew some people that got wounded over in Vietnam... Does that answer the question?

Did most people of that time and place feel the same way as you did or were there people thinking differently than you?

Most people went through the same process that I did, in that they didnít know much about the war to begin within the early sixties, but by the time we got to the middle sixties it became very controversial and people started to change their attitudes about it, and the younger people more quickly changed their attitudes about it because a lot of them were threatened with having to go in the army and to Vietnam and possibly get killed. Then other people that were older didnít look at it quite that way. After a while, everybody changed their mind. Well, not everybody changed their mind, but the majority of people changed their mind and we got out of Vietnam.

Did you feel there were any heroes in the war?

Any heroes...? Well, heroes are people that sacrifice and do something to help somebody else, to save their life or something. So, yeah, there were heroes, but they were just on the losing side because we lost that war. So if you are thinking that heroes are people that win wars or something, no, thatís not what happens. There were heroes. There were people that - somebody would throw a grenade at guys in combat and somebody would jump on the grenade to save their buddies. There were guys who went in to pick up - theyíd jump off a helicopter and go down there and pick up people on stretchers and things. They were medics and helicopters would get them out of the war zone back to a medical facility and save their lives. So there were a lot of people who did heroic things in the war. There are some people who are well known as heroes. John McCain was certainly known as a hero.

What was your experience in the Army like, and how did it affect your life in the future?

Well, I went into the Army and went into training and did... the Army needed to be done. ...I was a maintenance officer. As a maintenance officer, we were responsible for fixing war equipment - trucks and tanks and guns, radios, whatever paraphernalia you need to fight a war with. As part of that effort to be a maintenance officer, I ran a supply dump over there of spare parts. I was in a. Group called the Ordnance Corps. Thatís where the maintenance was done. Did that answer the question?

Yes. How did it affect your life afterward?

When I was going to officer corps... the engineers, the combat engineers, I learned practical engineering. And the result was that it affected me that I went back to college and got an engineering degree on top of the first degree that I got, and I became an engineer. So that was the outcome of that.

What about the war - did you support it or not?

Well, you donít have any choice to support the war. If the country comes and drafts you into the military, as an American citizen, have to do those things that are required of you to help your country and save your country. You donít get to choose whether you think the government is right. You have to go. So there wasnít any choice about whether you could go or not. After I was out of the army for years and years and realized, because I was an adult and not a kid without any choice, that it was a poor war to have gone and fought. Had we to do it all over again we wouldnít have done it.

Anything else?

No, thatís just about it. ... Thank you.

Youíre welcome!