I celebrate veterans 24/7, but November is the month we acknowledge the veterans whose service has preserved our democracy- even as their stories teach us about their lives.
Robert L. Menz, of Sidney, Ohio, was at Pr’Line Mountain in South Vietnam from 1970-1971, providing coded communication via Tropo (Tropospheric Scatter Microwave Communication).
Menz indicates in the introduction to the book he and those men with whom he served wrote, In the Clouds, Voices of Pr’Line Mountain Vietnam: 1970-1971 …and Now, that having survived monsoons, a sun that could fry skin, cobras, 3 steppers, mosquitos, enemy fire, and loneliness that his life afterwards needed to count. He indicates that he returned from Vietnam with “a high respect for life, an appreciation of the sacredness of life.” And his life has counted: as prolific author and employee-assistance counselor, and as a faculty member at Edison State Community College. He currently sponsors a support group at the Miami Valley Veterans Museum in Troy for area veterans who want to process their military experiences in a safe and confidential environment.
Menz was working at Procter and Gamble making Pampers when he was drafted in October of 1969. There are no records in the military archives in St. Louis that he ever served in Vietnam because his were destroyed in the fire there. However, because of the records of his hearing tests at Procter and Gamble and the hearing tests when he returned from Vietnam, there was evidence of hearing loss suffered in Vietnam. Additionally, with information in the records he provided and the awards he received, he was able to document his presence in Vietnam that resulted in his 100 % disability from Agent Orange and the ramifications of that exposure.
He reports, “When I came home from Vietnam in September of 1971, I felt like a winner: I was alive.” He had gone to boot camp at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, where he tested high in electricity/electronics and was trained in that area at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. He says, “We were kinda like Bell telephone in Vietnam.” At his deployment, he ended up on the second highest mountain in Vietnam, using equipment that the Viet Cong could use to intensify their signals on their ham radios. He says, “Our equipment was needed and used by the VC, making us relatively safe on that mountain. When we were in a convoy, that’s when we were in harm’s way, And when helicopters came to take us out, the pilots hovered just long enough for us to jump aboard.”
While there, he notes that he “befriended the South Vietnamese people who were loving people with good hearts. I did not befriend the North Vietnamese as they operated from a more stealth position.”
Of the men with whom he served in Vietnam, Menz says, “There was a brotherhood that was established, one that is more profound than even sibling relationships. Being young and naïve, we were all in denial of harm that could have come to us- even more that one of our brothers could die. I had friends that I worried about when they went out. I was afraid that they would get hurt. My denial was too great to worry about myself. We share that bond even to this day.
Of the Vietnam War, Menz maintains, “That whole Vietnam War turned out to be a political situation. We would not have had to be there. 58,000 GIs had to die. Trillions were spent. I would not want to engage in a war unless it was something like the World War II situation, fighting back for the right to survive. We had a glimpse of that on 9/11.“
Of the 20 men who remain with whom he served in Vietnam, Menz says, “Five years ago we started reconnecting. We Zoom at 6 p.m. the last Sunday of every month, and we meet for a reunion in early September of every year. In 2021, we were at Indian Lake, Ohio; in 2022, we were in Branson, Missouri; it was Lancaster, Pennsylvania this year, and in 2024, we’ll meet out west. We share that bond even to this day. We don’t talk about work or material possessions. We ask, ‘Do you remember?’ We just pick up where we left off as if Vietnam were yesterday.”
PS: Contact Vivian Blevins at [email protected] if you are interested in joining the group that Menz leads at the Miami Valley Veterans Museum in Troy, Ohio.
Vivian B. Blevins. Ph.D., teaches telecommunication employees from around the country and students at Edison State Community College and works with veterans. You may reach her at 937-778-3815 or [email protected].