Interview Date: November 17, 2011
Experiences: Vietnam War
War… Why?The ravages of war are not always visible. Yet they are pervasive and inescapable for those whose lives have become forever intertwined. This paper will acquaint the reader with one man whose path in life was influenced by war. His name is Dale Hagarty. All of the following is from an interview I had with Mr. Dale Hagarty on November 17, 2011, except as noted.
Dale Hagarty was an only child born to his parents Daniel and June Hagarty on February 6, 1946 in Canada. His father, Daniel Hagarty was a high ranking U.S. Air force Colonel and a fighter pilot who became a Prisoner of War (POW) during WWII. After living as a POW for close to a year, Daniel came home, at the close of the war to his childhood sweetheart June to begin a family.
Post WWII, Daniel and June were stationed in Canada. Daniel was a contractor and worked with the military to rebuild roads and bridges. It was during this stay in Canada that Dale Hagarty made his entrance into the world in Winnipeg, Manitoba. As a consequence of being born in Canada, Dale became a Canadian citizen.
Dale was a “military brat.” He spent his childhood living in many different military bases throughout the world. Before he attended middle school Dale had lived in England, Canada and all the states that spanned between New York and Florida, never living in any one place for longer than three years. As exciting as this may sound, the lifestyle of a military family came with a price. This cost was elicited in the way Dale related to his peers and responded to life. Because Dale had never lived in any community for more than a couple years, he was unable to form close friendships that supported a sense of belonging. This lack of belonging would influence Dale’s life in the following years.
In 1958 Dale moved with his family to California. His father was still active in the military and Dale spent many of his weekends engaged in training camps reserved for servicemen who were sharpening their skills to become the “elite” by attending Army Ranger School. During these weekend courses, Dale learned how to shoot a gun, throw a grenade and essentially was honing his skills at an early age to follow in his father’s footsteps into the military. On the other hand Dale’s social life was compromised. His inability to fit in followed him to California and was reflected in the relationships he acquired during this time. Dale’s lack of attachment and his rebellious attitude were reflected in his activities as he began using illicit drugs.
Dale’s home life was nurturing and loving in spite of his extra curricular activities. His mother was a soft spoken sensitive and understanding woman who gave the love she had completely to her only child Dale. June had once had dreams of having several children during the course of her marriage however, an accident she had while speed skating left her incapable of fulfilling this dream.
Dale’s father was a dedicated military man who devoted all his love and attention to Dale and taught him a sense of fairness and reverence for all human beings. He instilled within Dale a sense of right and wrong and created the desire in Dale to speak up for what he believed to be right. This influence shaped Dale into a compassionate and evenhanded individual. Nevertheless, Dale was still plagued with the inability to form attachments to others. This was a direct consequence of the military lifestyle that had encompassed his life.
Dale had always believed he would be in the military, and just as Dale had planned, he registered for the draft at the age of eighteen. As it was this year was 1964, the year before President Johnson would send ground troops to Vietnam and begin the U.S.’s involvement in the war of Vietnam.
Vietnam is located on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It had suffered under the occupation of the French for six decades when the Japanese invaded in 1940. During these years, different factions in Vietnam struggled to rid the country of these occupying foreign powers. The Vietnam War was a struggle to prevent the spread of communism, as the U.S. supported the South Vietnamese’s fight against the Northern Vietnamese’s intent, to unify the country under one communist government. In August of 1964 in International waters the North Vietnamese fired on U.S. ships. This act of hostility resulted in the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution which gave President Johnson authority to enhance the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. As a result ground troops were sent in March of 1965. (history1900s.)
By the time these troops had landed in Vietnam, Dale had been in basic training and had quite a few struggles of his own. As a child Dale imagined how he would fulfill his duty for America as a man of the military. He held close this sense of duty as he entered basic training. Basic training proved to be both accomplished and difficult for Dale. His acquired and honed skills with weapons endowed him with a rating of 13th in a class of 207 servicemen. However, Dale realized while in training that the brutality of killing was quite contrary to his own beliefs. As a result of this internal conflict, Dale’s basic training became a battle of wills. He resisted training protocol and conflicted with other servicemen almost earning a general court-martial. It was his father’s influence in the military that overturned this possibility of a court-martial and Dale ended up in Vietnam.
Dale went straight to combat in Vietnam fifteen miles north of Chu Lai in the central highlands. His company was led by a Captain Wilson, to whom Dale became very close. Dale was able, within the atmosphere of survival in these jungles, to form bonds with other men in a way that had eluded him his entire life. Dale said in the wake of this experience he had never before felt more alive and in tune. He remembers how heightened his senses had become in the jungle. He still recalls the vivid beauty of the landscape which so sharply contrasted the fear of death that fueled his fight for survival. These memories Dale recalls like it was yesterday.
During those months in combat, Dale recalls when he would, under the cover of nightfall, sneak down into the village to drink. He had forged relationships with the villagers and often was in the village when the Viet Cong would come through, to take at will from the villagers’ supplies to support their survival. The Viet Cong were the enemy and at different times during these nightly visits, Dale came close to losing his life.
One unforgettable night the Viet Cong rampaged through the village after nightfall. Dale had been cavorting with a group of young orphan children he had grown to love. On this occasion gunfire erupted between Dale, other soldiers and the Viet Cong. One of the orphans, Joe-son who had access to Dale’s gear took a grenade from Dale’s equipment and threw it and killing a few Viet Cong ultimately sparing Dales life. In the end sadly young Joe-son died. Dale still remembers this occasion when this young brave orphan boy died defending Dale. It is a regret he recalls with a heavy heart and tears in his eyes. His heart holds full responsibility for the death of that boy, yet I remind Dale that they all were victims of the war.
Another significant memory that Dale endures as a result of his Vietnam tour is of an occasion that still haunts him. They were scouting an area in the jungle at dusk when they were ambushed by the Viet Cong. Luckily during the ambush the Viet Cong fired prematurely giving Dale and his company a chance to take cover and return fire. Up until this occasion, Dale had been in the jungle for a year and had been responsible for the deaths of others. But this one night left an imprint on his soul that time has yet to change. He remembers being called over to the hole where he had killed a young Viet Cong. He remembers the way the body looked so demolished by gunfire. He remembers really understanding that he had killed this man and what he remembers, he now knows he can never forget.
This particular experience has since then been played out in his dreams on most nights. The experience becomes a nightmare accompanied with body sweats, fear and anxiety that has never been equaled in this life. Dale had been forever changed.
Dale’s tour did not end there. He lived and fought with his unit under Captain Wilson for several more months in the central highlands. Though the central highlands were known for their vast beauty, some of the fiercest battles during the war were fought there. And because of the terrain and environment, surviving the swamps meant living with critters in abundance such as snakes, leeches, centipedes and mosquitoes. These vast numbers of mosquitoes brought the constant threat of Malaria. Dale, one day during a scouting operation, was hit with gunfire. He was medevacked out of the jungle by helicopter and taken to a hospital in Chu Lai. As he was treated for his gunshot wounds, they also discovered Dale was infected with two different kinds of Malaria.
Malaria is a name given to a tropical disease that is spread by mosquitoes. Its symptoms are characterized by severe flu like symptoms, anemia, extremely high fever and chills. If left untreated it can lead to organ failure and death. (historynet.com)
The treatment Dale endured for the treatment of Malaria was a prolonged and painful experience. He had to endure painful ice alcohol baths that were necessary to lower his extreme fevers during his illness, and this pain proved to be more devastating than the effects of the gunshot wound he had suffered.
Dale eventually ended up back at Travis Air force Base, California where he was discharged honorably from the military. As one chapter of Vietnam had come to a close for Dale, a new chapter even more insidious than the warfare in Vietnam began to emerge. Dale had survived his tour of Vietnam, only to become the walking dead.
Transition back to civilian life proved to be difficult for Dale. Even though the atmosphere was more benign than the jungles of Vietnam, his emotions were much harder to navigate. He was regretful about leaving behind Captain Wilson, his friendships and his duty and found it difficult to repress the guilt he felt about his leaving. Fortunately, once back in California Dale was able to summon a renewed enthusiasm for life. He looked forward to utilizing his military benefits and turned his attention to shaping a life that was meaningful. However, those feelings of hope were affronted by the reception he received from the general public. He learned quickly after several job interviews that being a Vietnam Vet was a big disadvantage. The widespread negative public opinion about the war now translated into guilt and embarrassment for being in the military for Dale, and he responded by shutting down. After the war Dale’s life was hard to manage. He once again felt like an outsider and existed on the peripheral of society. The following years proved to be an even bigger struggle as Dale now had been afflicted with PTSD in a time when very little understanding was held about this condition. PTSD is a potentially debilitating anxiety disorder triggered by exposure to a traumatic experience such as an interpersonal event (www.ncbi). The unhappiness that Dale carried within him led to episodes of self medicating, drug abuse and a destructive lifestyle. Tragically, the hopes and dreams of a young man who had sacrificed so much for his country returned to America fragmented and unappreciated.
Dale spent many of the following years in and out of different institutions. During one stay in prison he met large numbers of Vietnam Vets who also shared the same problems he had been experiencing. Suddenly he began to recognize that his feelings and the problems that had plagued his well being originated in the jungles of the central highlands and because his condition now had a name (PTSD), it also had a treatment. Dales found in this realization a new found hope for the future.
Dale’s life in totality has been a series of ups and downs spanning childhood and beyond the war; yet in spite of his difficulties he is a unique, sensitive and just human being. He has sought treatment for his PTSD and in the course of treatment has forged relationships with others who are helping Dale to learn to forgive the shortcomings in his life experience and aspire to greater things.
I have known Dale for almost thirty years and am honored to call him my friend. He has taught me so much about loyalty, dedication and love, and he has moved me to see life with a deeper meaning. Dale is a constant reminder that life’s difficulties do not have to define us. He is proof that we can let our light shine in the midst of our own difficulties and that we all must keep trying to do more, be more, and to love more. He reminds me that we do this when we pay homage to the old adage, “All for one and one for all.”
Hagarty, Dale, friend (San Jose, California; 17 Nov. 2011).
"Post-traumatic Stress Disorder - PubMed Health." Web. 01 Dec. 2011. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001923/>.
"U.S. Vietnam War Soldiers and Malaria." History Net: Where History Comes Alive - World & US History Online. Web. 23 Nov. 2011. <http://www.historynet.com/us-vietnam-war-soldiers-and-malaria.htm>.
"Vietnam War - A History of the Vietnam War." 20th Century History. Web. 23 Nov. 2011. <http://history1900s.about.com/od/vietnamwar/a/vietnamwar.htm>.
San Jose City College Class: History 01
Contact: Tom Izu