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Author Topic: 199th Light Infantry Brigade  (Read 8142 times)
Dill The Dog
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« on: May 30, 2014, 05:50:00 PM »

Another little account of how it was for one of the Vet's.... NEIL THOMPSON:
Canadian Neil Thompson, who lived until age 19 in Montreal, was conned into joining the U.S. Army. There’s no other way to put it.
Thompson was asked by his roommate, an American citizen who’d received his draft notice, to ride with him to an induction center in Plattsburg, N.Y. While at the center, a recruiter told Thompson how good he’d look in a uniform.
“I bought it, hook, line and sinker,” Thompson says wistfully. “Since I already had paperwork that allowed me to come to the U.S., I was eligible to enlist. They got us by telling my friend Archie and me that we could go into the Army under the ‘buddy plan.’ If we enlisted together, we’d go through training together.”
It was 1961, and American involvement in Vietnam at that time involved “advisers” sent to help the anti-communist South Vietnamese army. Thompson went through basic training at Fort Dix, N.J., and since he decided he wanted to serve as a medic, the newly minted U.S. soldier was sent to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, for medical training. He was assigned to the 1st Armored Division and sent to Frankfurt, Germany.
“That was perfect, actually,” Thompson said. “One of the reasons I agreed to enlist was that I wanted to travel, particularly to Europe.”
Thompson served with a non-combat MASH unit for a year before receiving orders for a transfer to Belgium. Since he spoke both French and English fluently and had quickly learned German while in Frankfurt, he was to serve as an interpreter for top NATO brass. But two weeks before he was scheduled to head to Belgium, Thompson got new orders: to Fort Benning, Ga.
“I was sent to Fort Benning for combat training,” he said. “We did jungle training at an Army facility in Biloxi, Miss., so it was obvious they were planning to send me to Vietnam. I guess the biggest thing I wonder about even today is what would have happened in my life if I’d been allowed to take the position in Belgium.”
Thompson and the 199th Light Infantry Brigade endured a 21-day sea voyage to Cam Ron Bay and eventually established a camp at Long Bin, outside Saigon. It was two weeks later, during his first combat mission, that Thompson got an up-close-and-personal view of the horrors of war.
“We landed in a rice paddy and immediately drew fire,” he said. “About 10 minutes later, we called in artillery support. My uncles, who’d served in World War II, had told me that a shell coming at you sounds different from one coming in any other direction. I heard the whistling of a round and immediately dropped into the rice paddy. A shell landed about three feet from me and exploded.”
Most of the impact of the shell went downward, into the paddy, but the percussion shot Thompson into the air.
“I landed at about where that tree is,” Thompson says, pointing to a pine on his Terrell County property, some 40 to 50 feet away from where he sat. “When I woke up, I discovered that I’d landed on a hornet’s nest, and they were eating me up. But I heard people calling ‘medic,’ so I put all that out of my mind and started doing what I was trained to do.”
Shrapnel from the explosion hit Thompson in the head and other parts of his body, and he sustained other injuries from the experience. But he never received the Purple Heart medal awarded to soldiers wounded in combat.
“My CO asked me not to write up the incident because it was the result of ‘friendly fire,’” Thompson said. “I was hit in three or four places by shrapnel — above my eye and on my arm — but I just got another medic to sew me up and didn’t write up the incident. I didn’t get the Purple Heart, and I regret that now.”
Thompson was involved in other incidents during his tour of duty, but he came home to Columbus after his year of service.
“I look back on that and realize that I was fortunate,” he said. “Almost half the people in my unit were either severely wounded or killed.”
Thompson worked with an insurance agency in Columbus and eventually started his own independent company, Neil Thompson and Associates, in Albany in 1985. His wife, Gloria, read up on Vietnam-related health issues and pointed out that he showed symptoms of both PTSD and complications from Agent Orange exposure.
He’s now, at 71, fighting another battle, this time with doctors at the Veterans Administration.
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