Ed Vuolo grew up on Long Island, NY, graduated from high school in 1966 and two years later he was drafted into the U.S. Army.
“I’d taken typing for four years in high school. When I got out of boot camp at Fort Jackson, S.C. I was sent to clerical school. After the sergeant found out I could type 100 words a minute he made me a teacher, ” he said. “That lasted eight weeks and then I got orders in 1968 to go to Vietnam.”
Vuolo went to Long Binh, South Vietnam. It was a major base 30 miles outside Saigon and it was also the United States Army Headquarters, Vietnam. He took a computer course and ran IBMs with punch cards in those days.
“Because I typed so well, I became the supervisor of 23 Vietnamese females. Our job was to computerize most every piece of paper that came our way, he said. “What we did was take all 500,000 soldiers who went to Vietnam and change their identification numbers from RA and US numbers to their individual Social Security number.”
One of Vuolo’s Vietnam high points came in 1968 at Christmas time. Bob Hope and a contingent of shapely young ladies arrived at Long Binh to put on their Christmas Show for the troops.
“Five-thousand screaming Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Air Force guys were there to get a look at Ann-Margaret and Hope’s bevy of beauties,” he recalled with a chuckle. “Bob started the show swinging a golf club on stage and cracking jokes. I also got to see Johnny Cash and his guitar.
“Bob started the show by thanking all our troops for what they were doing for the people back home. Then Ann trotted on stage and the crowd went wild. There were guys hanging from telephone poles to get a better look at her.”
Although Vuolo said he had a good time in Vietnam and extended his one year tour to 16 months in country, it wasn’t all pretty girls and computers for him over there. He fought in the “Tet Offensive.” “Tet” was where thousands of Vietcong and North Vietnam Army soldiers tried to overrun many of the major South Vietnamese cities held by U.S. and Republic of Vietnam forces. It began on Jan. 31, 1968.
“It started for us with 80 enemy mortar rounds hitting various buildings on base. I watched the PX get blown up, I watched the Signal Corps’ main building get blown up, I watched our church get blown up and the barracks across the street were also blown up by VC mortars,” he said.
“Ho Chi Minh thought if he could take the U.S. Army Headquarters at Long Binh he would win the war. The fighting got very, very heavy around the perimeter of our base,” Vuolo explained. “The VC were attacking the fence line and banging pots and pans as they came. What the enemy hoped was we would expend all our firepower shooting at the VC and then the NVA regulars would force their way inside the fence.
“There was a leper colony right outside the base at Long Binh. The VC dug tunnels under the colony and hid in them until they attacked,” he said. “They pulled human wave attacks on the fence protecting the base. They attacked mostly at night.
“Fortunately for us, the United States has the best Air Force in the world. We called in B-52 (bomber) strikes. They hit the area just outside the fence, including the leper colony, with napalm. You could smell enemy flesh burning 24 hours a day,” Vuolo said.
They also brought in helicopter gun ships and Gatling guns mounted in transports that cut down the enemy with waves of bullets. It was a fight to the death.
“I received an award because I spent three days and three nights in Bunker 335, along the perimeter fence, with my M-14 and M-16 rifles keeping the enemy from breaking through. I was a sharpshooter.
“I almost lost my life on the second night during a human wave attack. A round from an enemy AK-47 (assault rifle) hit the big I-beam next to my head. If the bullet had been six inches further over it would have hit me between the eyes,” Vuolo said. I was looking at the enemy through a Starlight scope while wearing a luminescent wrist watch,” he explained.
“The enemy could see my luminescent watch. From that day on, when I went out to be bunker guard, I didn’t wear a watch with a luminescent dial.
Vuolo’s computer building escaped the “Tet” attack unscathed. The same could not be said for the United States of America. It was the “Tet Offensive” that convinced the American public Vietnam was a useless war in the wrong place at the wrong time. As a consequence, U.S. forces eventually pulled out of the country and the Communist hordes in the north took control in the south.
When he returned from Vietnam he was immediately discharged from the Army because he had extended his tour in the combat zone. Both parents wanted him out of the Army.
“My father served with Gen. George Patton in World War II. At that time, in the late ’60s, my father said the only people in the military were those who couldn’t read or write,” Vuolo said with a grin. “After my dad died in 1976 the first thing I did was rejoin the Army.”
Name: Edward Allen Vuolo
D.O.B: 15 Sept. 1948
Hometown: Bay Shore, Long Island, NY
Currently: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service: 1968
Unit: 1st Armored Division
Commendations: Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Kuwait Liberation Medal, Southeast Asia Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Valorous Unit Award, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm, Expert Marksmanship Badge,
Battles/Campaigns: “Tet” in Vietnam and “Operation Desert Shield” in Kuwait
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Monday, Oct. 11, 2011 and is republished with permission.
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