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Rumble Strip Vermont: A St. Johnsbury Veteran Tells His Story

Vaughn Hood was a 118-pound barber when he was drafted into the Vietnam War and he served as a combat soldier in from March 1969 to January 1970. And in Vaughn’s war, most men didn’t survive their first three-month tour. Now, he runs a hair salon in St. Johnsbury with his wife, Bev.

Listen to Rumble Strip Vermont's full interview with Vaughn Hood in the episodeAn American Life.

For a couple days, Erica Heilman sat and talked with Hood in the back of his salon for a long-form interview. In honor of Veterans Day, we present this excerpt of Vaughn Hood recalling his time in Vietnam:

On Hood's role in Vietnam

"Our job was search and make contact. If the intelligence had a report that there was a certain size unit in a certain area, they would fly us into the area and drop us off and let us walk around until we ran into that unit.

Judging by the weapons they fired at us, they could decide if it was indeed that size unit or not. So basically what we were sent in to do was to draw fire, and then we would get ourselves out the best we could and then move onto the next project."

On his leadership

"My men trusted me. I asked things of them that seem impossible, that they would do those things for you.

"Sometimes its give your life. I didn't feel particularly bad when people got killed. I mean, you'd feel bad but that's what we were there for. You had to be willing to die. Or not willing. It didn't matter. People did.

"What I felt bad about was people being maimed. When I gave an order and people were maimed...that really bothered me. And it still really bothers me, that they spent the rest of their lives maimed. They did that for me, and they did that for you, and they did that for everybody. They knew what they were doing.

"I lost one young man that I was close to. He was supposed to go back to the states to marry his fiancée. He only had a few days before he was going to go back. At that time I was a platoon sergeant rather than a squad leader, and I took him on as my radio telephone operator, so he was with me in the middle of the platoon rather than in the squad where he would be.

"My old squad walked into an ambush again. They were under heavy fire, and my RTO Jerry Klute, said, 'Sarge, I want to go help them.' I said, 'Jerry, you're your own man. If you want to go up there, go.'

"So he did. He just put his radio down and ran up there to help his squad. He was shot by a sniper, he didn't last five minutes. The squad called back and said Jerry was hit so I ran up and carried Jerry back and left him, then I ran back up. I had to get my men out. So I got them all out.

"He died under his own will. He wanted to go up, and I didn't stop him from going up. I could have — if I was a sergeant I could say, 'Oh no, he can't go up there.' He did what he wanted to do, and he died that way. I think it's extremely honorable. It brings tears to my eyes because he was a great man."

On the lingo

"We called ourselves grunts. When a grunt would run into another grunt you'd say, 'Hey man, what's happening?' and the response to that is, 'Hey man, it don't mean nothing. It don't mean nothing man.' That was our 'Hello, how are you?'"

Erica Heilman produces a podcast called Rumble Strip. Her shows have aired on NPR’s Day to Day, Hearing Voices, SOUNDPRINT, KCRW’s UnFictional, BBC Podcast Radio Hour, CBC Podcast Playlist and on public radio affiliates across the country. Rumble Strip airs monthly on Vermont Public. She lives in East Calais, Vermont.
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