Pfc. Dominic Socci of North Port served as 155 Howitzer crew member in Vietnam in 1969

Even though Pfc. Dominic Socci of North Port, Fla. saw little of the enemy because he was part of a 155 mm Howitzer crew that sat back from the front lines five miles or more, there were times when the war and its aftermath caught up to him and drove home the horrors of battle.

“Myself and another guy were inside our bunker when enemy mortar rounds started coming in. About 20 or 30 feet from our bunker, in the middle of the night, we spotted a soldier holding a .45 and coming toward us in the dark. We couldn’t tell who he was. We told him to stop and he kept coming our way. I opened up on him with my M-16 (rifle) and my buddy had a M-60 machine-gun. We blew him to pieces,” he said.

“The next morning we had to go out and retrieve the .45 pistol and the body. We discovered we had shot an ARVIN (Army of the Republic of South Vietnam) soldier. It was devastating,” Socci recalled 45 years later.

Socci was a member of the 2nd Battalion, 40th Artillery Regiment. Much of the time his unit was attached to the 199th Infantry Division. They provided the heavy punch against enemy forces upon request. A spotter on the front line would call in map coordinates and his outfit would drop a 200-pound projectile on an enemy target.

He arrived in Vietnam in 1969, shortly after the Tet Offensive. Tet was where NVA (North Vietnam Army) and VC (Vietcong) troops attacked most U.S. and South Vietnam military bases and cities in the south. For the north it was a military disaster. For the U.S. and the South Vietnam troops it was a political disaster. It led to the Americans eventually pulling out of the country and the loss of the war.

“We landed at Cam Rahn Bay and I was sent to Long Binh where I started out in headquarters company 2nd Battalion. Eventually I jointed the crew of a 155 mm Howitzer unit. It was a big gun on a self-propelled track vehicle that could move along at 40 mph,” Socci explained. “It makes a big bang when it was fired. Back then they didn’t issue us any ear muffs. We got ear plugs that didn’t work well. After the war the VA gave me a 10 percent hearing disability for being part of a 155 mm gun crew and a couple of hearing aids.

“I remember one thing about the war in Vietnam that really upset me a lot, I often drove our junk and trash to the local landfill. There were all these homeless blonde kids at the dump waiting to pick over our trash. These blonde kids were fathered by American soldiers. It really bothered me because nobody over there wanted them.”

About the time Socci was to fly home after serving 10 months in Vietnam his unit got a story in “Stars and Stripes,” (the military newspaper). It was written by Spc. 4 Bruce Bolinger.

“Xvan Loc, Vietnam: Two self-propelled eight-inch Howitzers from Brave Battery, 7th Battalion, 8th Artillery raced up Highway 20 to fire support ‘Base Keener.’

“A large enemy base camp, estimated to have been of battalion size, was discovered along the Dong Nai River 20 miles northwest of here. The 2nd Battalion, 40th Artillery support was requested to destroy the heavily fortified bunker complex.

“The 2nd Battalion, 40th Artillery added their eight-inch guns to the bunker busting mission. Capt. Dennis Meredith from Ventura, Calif., commander of Bravo Battery responded.”

“We set up and began firing late in the afternoon of the 23, Aug. 1969,” 2nd Lt. John McKethen of Powell, Wy. said. “By 2 p.m. of the 24th we had received reports of at least four secondary explosions.

“Under direction from the 2nd Battalion, 40th Artillery two guns fired 200-pound concrete piercing and high explosive projectiles on 62 targets in 80 fire missions.

“Results could not properly be assessed by the spotter aircraft because of the triple-copy jungle concealing the large bunker complex along the Dong Nai River. The spotter did confirm 18 bunkers and 17 fighting positions destroyed with four secondary explosions.”

Socci left Vietnam Jan. 8, 1970. He flew home on a commercial jet.

“I flew out of Saigon. Everyone on board was happy. There was a lot of drinking on the way home,” he said. “It was a long, long 22-hour flight. We stopped in Japan, Guam, Hawaii and finally Oakland, Calif.”

What about Vietnam protesters?

“I saw our first protesters when we reached the airport in Hawaii. They let us off the plane and we went to the terminal to get some food and ran into protesters. They called us ‘Baby Killers.’

“We didn’t know much about the protesters until we got back to the States. When we reached Oakland I got smart and changed to civilian clothes. I had no problem with the protesters after that,” Socci recalled.

“When I got home a lot of my friends didn’t understand why I went to Vietnam. You couldn’t talk about your war experiences, you kept them to yourself,” he said. “I didn’t start talking about Vietnam until I moved down here to Florida five years ago. All the while I suffered from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).”

So what did you do in civilian life when you got back home?

“I took a test to work for the postal service. When I reported for work I was told I could’t work for the post office because I wasn’t an American citizen. I had come to the U.S. with my folks in 1955 from Italy where I was born.

“I got the post master to write a letter saying he would give me a job if I could become a naturalized citizen. Then I went to the state capital in Connecticut and knocked on a few doors and told them my story,” Socci explained. “Some senators came in, swore me in and made me an American citizen and gave me my citizenship papers.

“I returned to New Cannan, Conn. and showed the papers they gave me in the capital to the postmaster and he hired me. I worked as a letter carrier in that post office for 37 years until I moved to North Port in 2009.

Twice divorced, Socci had four sons: Mathew, Christopher, Eric and Richard. Richard died in 2006.

Socci’s File

Name:  Dominick Socci
Socci at 65 in North Port. Sun photo by Don MooreD.O.B: 30 Aug 49
Hometown: Born in Italy, grew up in New Canaan, Ct.
Currently:  Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service: 8 Jan 68
Discharged: 8 Jan 70
Rank: Private
Unit: 7th Battery of the 8th Artillery, attached to the 199th Infantry Division
Commendations: National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Aug. 11, 2015 and is republished with permission.

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