When Warren Sharp went to Vietnam in 1965 the first time as a young captain serving as an advisor to a South Vietnam combat engineering battalion he quickly learned there was more to war than killing the enemy. There were in-country civilians who needed his help just as urgently.
“One day I was out in the field doing a reconnaissance near Qui Nhơn when I saw this teenage girl. Her teeth were sticking straight out. I thought at the time it was terrible,” the old soldier recalled more than half a century later.
“That night while I was eating dinner in the mess-hall I mentioned the girl’s situation to the army doctor based with our unit,” he said. “The doctor about jumped across the table at me.”
“Please go find her and bring her in. We have a doctor whose specialty is children’s facial reconstruction,’” the physician explained.
“I went back to the girl’s village and talked to her mother. I made arrangements to bring her daughter to see the specialist.
“During slack times, when they weren’t taking care of our troops, our doctors would work on civilians,” Sharp said. “They worked on the girl with the teeth problem and got her all fixed up.
“When I took her back to her village she was very nice looking.
“I asked when I arrived at her village if there were any other children with similar problems. We discovered one other girl who needed the attention of the specialist. We got her fixed up, too.”
Just south of Qui Nhơn the captain discovered a leper colony run by Franciscan nuns.
“It was the cleanest and best-organized place I ever saw in Vietnam. There were upwards of 300 lepers living there. I decided I wanted to do all that I could to help them out.
“It happened we were living in a beach house next to where ships supplying the military with equipment unloaded,” Sharp said.
“The first thing I did for the leper colony was take possession of a bunch of wooden pallets the U.S. Army was going to take to the dump. I got them to move the pallets back to their place and pull them apart. They salvaged the wood and made tables and chairs with them.
“Later on a ship came in with a bunch of metal bunks that came loose at sea and ended up in a jumble. The G.I.s were going to take them to the dump. I asked to take them. I passed the tangled bunks on to the leper colony who untangled them.
“It wasn’t too long after that a bunch of mattresses came in that got all wet in the hold of a ship. They were going to get rid of them, so I asked for the mattresses. Once more the leper colony got them, took them apart and made sleeping mats out of them after drying them out.
“Then this big ship came in with a load of cement. A lot of the cement bags had broken during transport. There were 18-inches of cement in the bottom of the ship. I told the skipper of the ship if he would dock it near the leper colony they would remove the powdery cement.
“I got most of the leper colony to come aboard and sweep up the cement with their brooms into little baskets and cart it ashore. Within hours the job was done and the ship was clean.
“Very quickly after that the colony built five more concrete houses from the cement they cleaned out of the bottom of the ship,” Sharp said.
“Another time a generator that supplied the electricity to run the pump that supplied the water to the colony went out. Both Vietnamese and American maintenance crews tried to fix it without luck. I learned through the grapevine a shipment of generators had just been put on the dock. A couple of weeks later the leper colony had the prettiest generator you ever saw. I never asked them where it came from.”
Sharp’s tour in Vietnam wasn’t entirely devoted to helping Vietnamese civilians survive their day-to-day life. He also spent a considerable amount of time teaching his raw Vietnamese recruits how to run heavy earth moving equipment.
“For many of these recruits the most complicated piece of equipment they had ever seen was their uncle’s bicycle,” he said. “We spent months showing them how to run heavy equipment.
“They were small people and we had to reconfigure the equipment to make it work for them. We blocked up the pedals so their legs reached. Some of the equipment we had to design parachute-like harnesses to keep them in their seat while they were driving.
Sharp served a second tour in Vietnam in ’68 and ’69.
“This time I was down near Can Tho, in the [Mekong] Delta at the south end of the country. I was senior advisor to a Vietnamese supply and maintenance battalion. Shortly after arriving at the unit we got eight civilian Cambodian teenagers who were trained mechanics.
He realized they needed help with food, clothing and lodging.
“When they went to mess-hall they were fed only what was left over. I got that corrected right away. They were dressed in rags, so we got them some Army uniforms without insignias. The eight were sleeping in the shop– not in the barracks with the rest of the G.I.s. I found out why– They rigged up an airplane propeller with a quiet generator. The propellor produced a cool breeze to sleep in, something the G.I.s didn’t have.”
After 17 years in the regular Army, Sharp retired in 1977 and became an advisor to the Army Reserve in the State of Maine.About this time he was promoted to lieutenant colonel. He was a member of the staff in charge of all the the Reserve and National Guard schools in the state.
This was a position he held until he retired from the Army in 1989 with a total of 27 years in the regular Army and reserve.
Sharp and his wife, Linda, moved to Venice in 1999. They have two children, Dwayne and Janel.
Name: Warren Hubbard Sharp
D.O.B: 29 March 1937
Hometown: Albemarile, N.C
Currently: Venice, Fla.
Entered Service: 5 Aug. 1961
Rank: Lieutenant Colonel
Commendations: Bronze Star Medal w/Oakleaf Cluster, Meritorious Service Medal Army, Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Master Parachutist Badge, Vietnam Service Medal W/5 Campaign Stars, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal W/60 Device, Four Overseas Service Bars.
Battles/Campaigns: Vietnam War
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Nov. 6, 2017 and is republished with permission.
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