Dutch Dutcher was a 17-year-old wise-guy from Brockton, Mass. when he signed up for the Army with a friend in 1967.
“We were going in the service under the buddy system, but I screwed up. I was arrested for illegal transportation of liquor a few weeks earlier. I was taken into custody by a Brockton Police officer when he spotted a can of ‘Black Label Beer’ that rolled out from under the front seat of my car during a traffic stop,” the 64-year-old Polynesian Garden’s resident recalled with a smile 45 years later.
Dutcher ended up by himself at basic training in Fort Dix, N.J. on Nov. 7, 1967. After basic he went to Fort Lee, Va. and trained as an Army cook. Then he spent six months at Fort Polk, La. receiving military warfare indoctrination.
“We fought the snakes, tarantulas and alligators at Polk,” he said. “Then I was given 30 days leave to go home before being sent to Vietnam. While I was home for a month I get married. I was 19 years old.”
Dutcher boarded a Continental airplane and took the 17-hour flight to ‘Nam.
“I ended up in the 2nd Battalion, 39 Regiment of the 9th Infantry Division stationed down in the delta at a place called Dong Tam,” he said. “It was a big base with wooden barracks and sandbag bunkers in-between to protect us from incoming enemy mortar attacks.
“We had mortar attacks almost every night. You could hear the mortars whistling overhead as they came in. The VC (Vietcong) would fire their mortars for five minutes and then they’d move before we could get a fix on them. Then they’d shoot another half-dozen rounds and run,” Dutcher explained.
“The thing about Vietnam, you couldn’t tell who the enemy was. They all wore black pajamas, except for the NVA (North Vietnam Army) who wore uniforms.”
Dutcher was smart enough not to volunteer for any of the search and destroy missions other members of his unit participated in on a regular basis. A platoon of soldiers would hide out in the brush and wait for the VC or the NVA to show up and ambush them.
“I was asked a couple of times to go out on night patrols but I declined. A couple of other cooks went out on these patrols and never returned. “Why would anyone say yes?”
Dutcher wasn’t the perfect G.I.
“About a month after I arrived in Vietnam I got high on marijuana. The next thing I knew I was taking sugar and coffee from the commissary out in the field and swapping it for marijuana,” he said.
Like many of the other cooks he could put away some beer when he wasn’t puffing “grass” or cooking for the troops.
“I went AWOL on one of my shifts, ended up in the beer hall and got put on report. I spent the next few months in the field cooking and living in a sandbag enclosure sleeping on the floor instead of back in the main camp living in barracks and sleeping in a bunk.
“Twenty of us cooks pooled our money and bought a pallet, 80-cases, of ‘Black Label,’ and had it flown out to the delta. What made our beer special, we had 300 pound blocks of ice to cool it with and coolers to put it in,” he said. “We sold it to the troops in the field a case at a time.”
During the eight months he spent in Vietnam his cooking routine was pretty simple–chicken, hamburgers and roast beef was the menu at base camp. In the field it was C-rations for the soldiers.
The most serious problem he had while over there, he got in a fight with another soldier.
“The guy that beat me up was a big, white dude from Maine,” Dutch recalled. “I woke up in the hospital. They asked me if I wanted to press charges. I told ’em I didn’t. When I got out of the hospital I got a couple of days off to recover.”
By August 1969 President Nixon began pulling soldiers out of Vietnam.
“I was one of those who got pulled out early. At that point one of my buddies suggested I go talk to our commander about staying longer in Vietnam. I told him, ‘Why would I want to stay here longer? I’m getting out of here,” Dutcher said.
Summing up his eight months in the Southeast Asian war he observed, “Vietnam is a hot, nasty country with lots of rats, spiders and snakes everywhere.”
The trip back to the Sates was a two part event.
“We flew from Vietnam to Scofield Barracks Hawaii. We stayed there about six weeks pending orders to the States. It was a huge transition going from hot and miserable Vietnam to beautiful Honolulu with its perfect weather and beautiful beaches.”
Flying back to San Francisco from Hawaii was no bowl of cherries. Like tens of thousands of American soldiers before him and after him, Dutcher was met at the airport by Vietnam protesters. He’s forgotten that part of his military experience. All he remembers more than four decades later are the signs some of them carried that called the retiring Army cook a “Baby Killer!”
His last 14 months Stateside was spent at Fort Eustis, Va., headquarters of Army transportation. He served as a cook aboard a series of Army landing crafts at the fort.
His most noticeable achievement, Dutcher went AWOL again.
“My wife had gone home to Maine and I was missing her, so I decided to go AWOL. I knew if I returned to base in less then 30 days I would not be considered a deserter. I stayed away 28 days before going back to my unit at Eustis. I had to make up the lost time at the end of my three years in the Army.”
On Jan.4, 1971 Dutcher was discharged from the Army at Eustis.
“I was 21 years old and the only thing I knew how to do was cook,” he said. “So I became a cook at a restaurant on Cape Cod. For the next 30 years I spent my time cooking at various restaurants on the Cape.”
Down on his luck he wound up in Boston in a veterans’ assistance program where he became a bus driver.
“I got my commercial drivers license and went to work for and outfit called G&W. They had a contract with Wellesley College to drive the Wellesley girls from college to Boston and back again. I loved it. It was the best job I ever had,” he said with a grin.
“I came to Florida on Labor Day 2013, but not without incident. I was rolling my Harley Davidson onto a moving truck when it fell off the truck and landed upside-down on top of me. I totaled the bike, broke three of my ribs and suffered a third degree burn on one of my legs.”
Despite his injures, Dutcher drove the truck 1,600 miles to Florida to start a new life of leisure in the sun.
The former Army cook has three daughters: Heather, Cristie and Amanda.
Name: Edward A. “Dutch” Dutcher
D.O.B: 16 Nov. 1949
Hometown: Brockton, Mass.
Currently: Englewood, Fla.
Entered Service: 7 Nov. 1967
Discharged: 4 Jan. 1971
Rank: Spc. 4
Unit: 2nd Battalion, 39th Regiment, 9th Infantry Division
Commendations: National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal w/60 Device
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, August 11, 2014 and is republished with permission.
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