Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with William R. Black, Jr., June 24, 1985

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries


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00:00:05 - His education / attitudes toward Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: Bill, we've talked a lot on the phone, and we've corresponded. I feel like I, I know you a little better than some of the people we start off interviewing, and to, to save a little time today, I think we'll just get it right into some of your, uh, first recollections of what became known as the Vietnam War.

Segment Synopsis: Black tells of the first time he heard about Vietnam, how he became interested in joining the Marine Corps, and of his and others' attitudes toward the U.S. government policy of containment towards the Communist powers. He speculates on why the American people dislike protracted wars with ill-defined objectives.

Keywords: High school; Laos; Limited war; Marxism; Marxists; Objectives; Paducah (Ky.); Princeton University; Radicals; Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC)

Subjects: Education.; Marines; Universities and colleges.

GPS: Paducah (Ky.), Black's hometown.
Map Coordinates: 37.072, -88.627
00:10:53 - Basic training

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Partial Transcript: Let, let's move on to your, uh, you, your--you get out of college, uh, and then, uh, fairly quickly then you go into basic training, uh, for the Marines.

Segment Synopsis: Black describes his basic training and his admiration of his parents for allowing him to go to war.

Keywords: Boot camps; Camp Barrett; Family; Fathers; Marine Corps Base Quantico (Va.); Recruit Training; The Basic School (TBS); Virginia; WW2; WWII; World War 2; World War II

Subjects: Basic training (Military education); Parents.

00:14:46 - Honor of the Marines and of the Americans in Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: Um, uh, and I remember I was, um, I really, um, propagandized myself for the Marines.

Segment Synopsis: Black describes his view, at the time, of the Marines and of the war as honorable, in contrast with some who claimed the North Vietnamese were merely nationalists. He explains that his view that the North Vietnamese Communists were evil was confirmed by their tactics during the war, and he contrasts these tactics with those of the Americans, saying that incidents like the My Lai Massacre were exceptions.

[[10-second pause at 18:18 for changing tape.]]

Keywords: Communists; Cruelty; Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam); Idealism; Leftists; Murder; Mỹ Lai Massacre; Nationalism; Politics and war; Socialism; Terrorists; Violence

Subjects: Communism.; Honor.; Massacres.; Politics and war.; Terrorism.

00:21:52 - First impressions of Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: Ok, uh, tape two, uh, continued. We were just getting ready to talk about your initial impressions of Vietnam, you know, here you were well-trained, you believed in what you were going over there to do, and then what happened when you first arrived in country?

Segment Synopsis: Black describes his arrival in Vietnam as a second lieutenant, the sparsity of reinforcements in Vietnam as a government policy, the attitude of his troops toward him, and their behavior in combat.

Keywords: Da Nang (Vietnam); Enlisted men; Firefights; Officers; Reinforcements; Second lieutenants; Strategy; Tet Offensive; Tours; Đà Nẵng (Vietnam)

Subjects: Combat.; Enlisted man; Fear.; Officer

00:26:34 - Wounded

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Partial Transcript: Now, you were an infantry platoon leader, uh, beginning in February of '68, and then in May --the first, uh, Saturday in May you were wounded.

Segment Synopsis: Black narrates a major firefight, in which the enemy infiltrated his unit's lines and he was seriously wounded. He speculates on why the enemy did not kill him when they had the chance and why they made several other mistakes, suggesting drugs as the possible reason.

[[5-second pause at 35:58 for changing tape.]]

Keywords: Ambushes; Combat; Hand grenades; Huế (Vietnam); North Vietnamese Army (NVA); Tet Offensive

Subjects: Ambushes and surprises; Combat.; Drugs.; Viet Cong; Wounds and injuries.

GPS: Huế (Vietnam), near where Black was wounded.
Map Coordinates: 16.466, 107.579
00:36:45 - His recovery

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Partial Transcript: Uh, of course it was, uh, I suppose, uh, a long, hard trip for you back through hospitals, and, and different, uh--

Segment Synopsis: Black describes his evacuation to Phu Bai Combat Base, as well as his subsequent recovery from his wound. He describes the volunteer hospital work of Lucy Caldwell, whom he met during his recovery.

[[5-second pause at 52:43 for changing tape.]]

Keywords: Convalescent leave; Da Nang (Vietnam); Homecoming; Lucy Caldwell; Paducah (Ky.); Phu Bai Combat Base; Phú Bài (Vietnam); Responsibility; Viet Cong; Đà Nẵng (Vietnam)

Subjects: Hospitals.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Medical care.; Wounds and injuries.

GPS: Phu Bai Combat Base (Vietnam).
Map Coordinates: 16.402, 107.703
00:47:05 - Honest letters

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Partial Transcript: Uh, and, and, uh, early in my tour, in fact before I even got into Vietnam, uh, I had decided to communicate, uh, vividly and truthfully with my parents in my letters, and my letters are actually written like a diary.

Segment Synopsis: Black describes his practice of writing honest letters to his parents, which he says may have been the reason that he did not have difficulty readjusting to life at home after his return.

Keywords: Anticipation; Okinawa (Japan); Readjusting; Readjustment

Subjects: Correspondence.; Fear.; Honesty.; Letters.; Parents.

00:52:53 - Sea duty

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Partial Transcript: Bill, for the, for the sake of the, time constraints we have here--this all real, very fascinating, I wish we had more time. Uh, let's, uh, talk for just a minute here about, uh--or, or so, about, uh, your sea duty.

Segment Synopsis: Black relates his year on board the aircraft carrier USS America, 1968-1969. He describes the experience of observing the pilots as they risked their lives daily. He explains that during this time, while he and the other officers doubted some strategic decisions made in the war, they did not doubt the war effort itself.

Keywords: Gulf of Tonkin; Pilots; Ships; USS America; Yankee Station

Subjects: Aircraft carriers.; United States. Navy.

00:59:49 - His decision to return to Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: Why did you d--volunteer to go back to Vietnam?

Segment Synopsis: Black explains why he decided to return to action as an infantryman. Before doing so, he returned to his hometown of Paducah, Kentucky, where amid the protests of late 1969 and the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, he gave a talk on his reasons for soon returning to action in Vietnam.

Keywords: Disillusionment; Dr. Bradford Mutchler; Fear; George Washington; Moratoriums; Paducah (Ky.); Paducah Tilghman High School; Ruth Gunner; Thomas Paine; War protesters; War protesting; War protests

Subjects: Anti-war demonstrations; Peace movements.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Protest movements--United States; Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Public opinion; Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Social aspects.

01:05:34 - Trouble in a Force Reconnaissance company

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Partial Transcript: Now, at the same time, as, as you were recommitting yourself to the, to the cause--

Segment Synopsis: Black describes his stint in a Force Reconnaissance (FORECON) company, an elite unit. After he called in an Army reaction team during a dangerous firefight, his commanding officer relieved him of his duty because he believed Black had panicked. When Black explained the situation to several colonels, he avoided being assigned to a job in the rear areas and was sent back into action, this time in a Combined Action company.

[[5-second pause at 1:10:40 for changing tape.]]

Keywords: Force Reconnaissance (FORECON); Radio relay stations; Reaction teams

Subjects: Marines; Officer; United States. Army.

01:10:51 - Leading a Combined Action company

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Partial Transcript: --Let's talk about, uh, going from the--

Segment Synopsis: Black explains how the Combined Action units fused South Vietnamese and Marine troops, and how they were relatively autonomous. Consequently, they employed extremely effective guerrilla tactics against the Viet Cong.

Keywords: Banana Wars; Central America; Civilians; Combined Action Platoons (CAPs); Combined Action Program; Combined Action company; General Edwin Simmons; General William Westmoreland; Guerrilla warfare; Leadership; Officers; Popular force (PF); Sergeants; South Vietnamese; Squads

Subjects: Ambushes and surprises; Guerillas.; Leadership.; Tactics.; Viet Cong

01:24:59 - Causes of the American defeat

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Partial Transcript: Well, w--a lot of the things you said, um, make me wonder, uh, you know, other veterans have said it was the politicians who lost the war, other people say the media lost the war. Some of the things you're saying, one could say, well, did we just use the wrong tactics or the wrong strategy?

Segment Synopsis: Black explains that a variety of causes obstructed an American victory in Vietnam, but he especially blames the political Left and its spokespeople like Jane Fonda for undermining the American people's commitment to the war effort.

[[20-second pause at 1:29:00 for changing tape.]]

Keywords: Commitment; Congress; Disgrace; Jane Fonda; Leftists; Nicaragua

Subjects: Anti-war demonstrations; Fonda, Jane, 1937-; Peace movements.; Radicals.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Public opinion; Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Social aspects.

01:30:06 - Treatment of Vietnam veterans / the importance of historical preservation

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Partial Transcript: Bill, how do you, how do you assess the treatment of the Vietnam veteran since your all's return?

Segment Synopsis: Black says that although he has been treated well since returning home, some others have not, and he expresses his disappointment that most Americans want to keep silent about the Vietnam War and forget that it happened. He exhorts veterans to voice not only the guilt that they share in the mistakes of the war, but also to voice their pride in having made a noble effort, and he calls on the American people to recognize and honor that effort. He shares his views of conscientious objectors. He thanks the interviewers for preserving this important piece of history, comparing himself to a Confederate soldier, as one who lost a war and whose views years later receive little sympathy.

Keywords: Canada; Conscientious objectors; Draft dodgers; Draft evasion; Goals; History; Neglect; Nicaragua; Objectives; Paducah (Ky.); Pride

Subjects: Civil War.; Draft resisters.; Gratitude.; Honor.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Personal narratives, American; Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Social aspects.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Veterans--United States