Remembering Vietnam

Published in Cashmere Valley Record 2012
WNPA Second Place Best Personality Profile 2013

“Gentleman the temperature is a toasty 120 degrees. In a couple of minutes you will see F104 fighter jets following us in on each wing. The ground fire is light to moderate today. Good luck Gentleman.”

These were the words Army medic, Russ Long, heard to make him realize in a few minutes he and a bunch of other gentleman will be heading into combat.

Long graduated from Cashmere High School in 1967 and couldn’t wait to get out of the small town. Two days after he received his diploma, he got a job as a lawn keeper in Moses Lake and moved out of his parents home.

“I knew I wanted to go to college but I was immature and didn’t know what I wanted to major in so I goofed around for a bit,” Long said.

A few months of playing around went by fast and Long realized, with a draft number of four, he would beat the military to the punch.

On his lunch hour one day, at age 18, he drove into Moses Lake and parked in between the recruitment offices for the Marines and the Army. Long decided he would be tough and join the Marines only to find the recruitment office was closed.

He walked around the corner into the Army office and enlisted for three years of service.

Long’s aptitude test came back and the results showed he would be successful in the medical field.

“I wasn’t any good in math or science but I thought well maybe that is some sort of training I can continue after military if I make it back home,” Long said.

Basic training was in Fort Lewis, Wash. After basic training, he we right down to Fort Sam Houston, home of the U.S. Army Medical Training Center in San Antonio, Texas. Long trained down there for a few months before becoming an Army Medic.

“My folks flew down for graduation but I wasn’t even there. I had kitchen duties that day and was stuck in there peeling potatoes,” Long said.

The six cycles before Long’s graduating class all had orders for Vietnam. Out of the 400 medics in Long’s group, only 15 were chosen to go to Vietnam while the majority was being sent to Korea or Europe. Against all odds, Long was chosen for Vietnam.

Once Long was in South Vietnam, he spent two weeks at a big built-up base camp where he was put to work in an aid station.

Just when Long was starting to feel he was in a pretty safe place he and one other medics were called into an office to take a 20 question scenario based medic test.

“I will never forget his face or name, Johnny Dane. Johnny was smart enough to flunk the test and I was dumb enough to pass it,” Long said. “The next day they told me I was going in the field.”

Long was sent out into the jungles of South Vietnam to a 105 Howitzer unit where he was the medic for about 100 other men. His unit would be set up right behind the infantry and had six howitzers set up in parapits.

“We would be firing for the infantry that were running patrol ahead of us night and day. Night and day,” Long said.

Because Long’s unit was so close to the infantry, he would be called out to wounded soldiers when the infantry was down a medic.

The first soldier he treated wasn’t one of his own but an ally from Thailand. Once he saw the man, his training kicked in immediately. After accessing the soldiers gun wound in the leg, Long had no other choice than to use a tourniquet to stop the bleeding.

“After we treated the man we sent him up in the chopper and I headed back to my bunker. That’s when I started shaking. I had to use a tourniquet and that usually means he will lose a leg, but he didn’t,” Long said. “His colonel got a hold of me and thanked me for treating his man. That was the second day in the unit.”

This is just one of the memories Long has of the Vietnam war. He spent many days in the middle of the jungle in the heat sometimes waiting in anticipation of an attack and other times treated the wounded.

No memory compares to the ones Long has of his friends.

Years after returning from the war, he received a phone call from one of the closest friends he made while enlisted in the service.

Long decided to fly down to Portland and visit his old friend Rick Rogers. He rented a car, drove into Rogers hometown of Cornelius, pulled into the driveway and saw his old friend.

“When I pulled up I realized I got gray and he got big,” Long remembers.

They spent the night catching up and reminiscing the days they spent together in Vietnam. They felt like it was a lifetime ago but it gave them a bond that would last forever.

Just when the men were starting to build back their friendship, Rogers died quickly of brain cancer.

Another friend Long remembers from the war is Dennis Pipkin. He had be one of Long’s closest friends back in Cashmere and they had kept in touch through letters while Long was gone.

When Long came back from serving he was hanging out down in his truck at the Chuckwagon, which is now Rusty’s. He hadn’t seen Pipkin yet since he came home. When Pipkin jumped in his truck the first thing out of his mouth was, “What’s it like over there? I just got drafted.”

Pipkin was killed five months later, joining in the group of four Cashmere causalities for the Vietnam War.

Memorial Day is a time to remember those who didn’t survive the war and who better to help us remember than a living veteran with fond memories of our soldiers who didn’t come home.

“It wasn’t my time I guess. It should have been several times over there but it wasn’t my time,” Long said. “It’s memories I cherish today but it’s something you have to put behind you and move on.”