Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Robert L. Whetstone, May 8, 2022

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:07 - Introduction / Childhood

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Partial Transcript: Today is May 8th.

Segment Synopsis: Whetstone shares that he was born in Chester, Pennsylvania while his father was serving in World War II. Bother parents worked as welders, his mother working as a "Rosie the Riveter" welding tanks during the Korean War. Whetstone also also worked as a welder during college. He mentions that during high school he developed an interest in science.

Keywords: Backgrounds

Subjects: Chester (Pa.); Childhood; Delaware County (Pa.); Housing.; Korean War, 1950-1953.; Marine biology.; Rosie the Riveter (Symbolic character); Welders (Persons); World War II

00:02:43 - First reactions to the Vietnam War

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Partial Transcript: What was the, your overall opinion of the war?

Segment Synopsis: Whetstone recalls when we first heard about the Vietnam War during college, knowing mainly about the social upheaval it caused at home rather than the geopolitics. He talks about working full time and attending the Pennsylvania Military College (now Widener University) full time, so he had little focus for other things at the time.

Keywords: Anti-war movements; Politics; ROTC

Subjects: Chester (Pa.); Peace movements.; Pennsylvania Military College; Reserve Officers' Training Corps (U.S.); Vietnam War, 1961-1975; Widener University

GPS: Location of the Pennsylvania Military College, now Widener University
Map Coordinates: 39.86256658020281, -75.35767075450099
00:04:21 - Why and when Whetstone entered the military.

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Partial Transcript: Why did you enter the military?

Segment Synopsis: Whetstone talks about being aware of selective service and was deferred after completing school, so he decided to serve voluntarily in order to avoid the age extension that deferment added to the draft-eligible age range. Before choosing a branch, Whetstone says he interviewed the recruiters for each branch at the Post Office in Chester, PA. He talks about his medical training at Camp Lejeune, and his selection as a medic in the Marines.

Keywords: Draft deferment; Military Occupation Specialty; Military enlistment; Selective Service

Subjects: Camp Lejeune (N.C.); Chester (Pa.); Draft; Great Lakes (North America); United States. Marine Corps.; United States. Navy.

GPS: Camp Lejuene, North Carolina.
Map Coordinates: 34.58302269330029, -77.36258215210931
00:07:39 - First days in the service.

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Partial Transcript: Um, so what can you tell me about your first days in the service?

Segment Synopsis: Whetstone says he left for training out of 401 N. Broad Street before being sent to Great Lakes for basic. He mentions that the initial intake portion of basic took about a week before beginning bootcamp, and that he had a positive experience in bootcamp and left with fond memories of his drill sergeant. Whetstone describes his initial role in his company.

Keywords: 401 North Broad Street, Philadelphia; Bootcamp; Drill sergeants

Subjects: Basic training.; Great Lakes (North America); Philadelphia (Pa.)

GPS: Great Lakes Training Center
Map Coordinates: 42.31233, -87.84006
00:14:00 - Training at Camp Lejeune

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Partial Transcript: So where did you go after the Great Lakes?

Segment Synopsis: Whetstone says that after his basic training at the Great Lakes, he was sent to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Whetstone mentions that he had some pre-med experience from college which helped him with the training. He says that he specifically chose the medical route after doing some MOS testing in basic.

Keywords: Medical Training; Medics

Subjects: Camp Lejeune (N.C.); Food; Great Lakes (North America)

GPS: U.S. Naval Station Great Lakes
Map Coordinates: 42.31600626374855, -87.83309346778138
GPS: Camp Lejeune, North Carolina
Map Coordinates: 34.58281054253978, -77.36013599456273
00:18:08 - Treating soldiers who were wounded in action

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Partial Transcript: Um, so, did you feel at the time that you were retaining a lot of this information?

Segment Synopsis: Whetstone says that after field training at Camp Lejeune he was sent to the Philadelphia Naval Hospital working on the surgical ward. Whetstone talks about being being focused on his training so that he was able to perform his job perfectly. He talks about how the injuries affected Whetstone mentally, leading to him taking the time to see French Creek State Park before deployment, in case he'd be unable to visit again.

Keywords: Medics; Philadelphia Naval Hospital (U.S); Surgeries; Wounded in action

Subjects: Camp Lejeune (N.C.); French Creek State Park (Pa.); Hospitals; Surgery.; United States Naval Hospital (Philadelphia, Pa.)

00:21:40 - Arrival in Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: When did you arrive in Vietnam?

Segment Synopsis: Whetstone arrived in Vietnam in January of 1968. First Whetstone was sent to Treasure Island for a week before going to Camp Butler on Okinawa. Next Whetstone flew into Da Nang, where Whetstone was assigned his unit, 1st Battalion 11th Marines. Whetstone was only in his early 20s at this time but was confident in his training and hospital experience. Whetstone also played a role of a mental health care worker has well, specifically while working at the Naval Hospital. Overall Whetstone's first impression of Vietnam was apprehension and anxiety regarding the unknowns of where he would be sent. After Camp Butler Whetstone was taken out to the field and given his quarters. While in the field Whetstone stayed in an elevated tent with 4 other marines. Whetstone was responsible for the total health care of the unit, from immunizations to WIA.

Keywords: 1st Battalion, 11th Marines; Camp Butler; Da Nang; Okinawa; Treasure Island

Subjects: Japan; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975; Đà Nẵng (Vietnam)

GPS: Da Nang
Map Coordinates: 16.057095236061322, 108.20507171902334
GPS: Camp Butler in Okinawa, Japan.
Map Coordinates: 26.317548808546412, 127.7919241625473
00:28:11 - Men in his company and his specific job

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Partial Transcript: Um, what were the guys in your company like?

Segment Synopsis: Whetstone discusses the men he served with in his company. He talks about his experiences and memories with his fellow soldiers.

Keywords: Military units

Subjects: Soldiers; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

00:39:21 - Interaction with Vietnamese citizens and experiences in combat

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Partial Transcript: What was your personal opinion about the Vietnamese?

Segment Synopsis: While in country and upon his return Whetstone had positive interactions with the Vietnamese people. Whetstone recalls the hardship the Vietnamese endured during the War, specifically the suffering of the children. Whetstone did experience combat and carried a .45 caliber sidearm most times but took care to remain sufficient with all weapons. During combat Whetstone primarily provided care. During some firefights, Whetstone experienced rocket attacks which could cause significant damage to both equipment and men. Common injuries Whetstone treated included shrapnel wounds from rockets and bullet wounds. Whetstone also recounts the dangers of using flashlights at night nor even lighting cigarettes. Fortunately, Whetstone's unit did not sustain casualties during his time in country but Whetstone does mention being effected by the injuries he saw, although he does not offer specifics.

Keywords: Da Nang; Firefights; Howitzers; PTSD; Refugees; Shrapnel wounds; Wounded in action

Subjects: Combat; Mental health; Post-traumatic stress disorder; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975; Đà Nẵng (Vietnam)

00:49:26 - Staying in touch with family, eating in the mess hall and going on R&R--

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Partial Transcript: So how did you stay in touch with family?

Segment Synopsis: Whetstone says he did his best to communicate with his family via letters and would get care packages containing small goods and food that he enjoyed receiving. Whetstone remembers that the food he ate was enjoyable but lower quality than food at home, and mentions that K-rations were common. He recalls two different USO shows, and two weeks of leave in Sydney, Australia.

Keywords: Care packages; Desert Storm; R&R (Rest and Recuperation)

Subjects: Australia; Military Families; Operation Desert Shield, 1990-1991.; Persian Gulf War, 1991.; Sydney; United Service Organizations (U.S.)

GPS: Sydney, Australia
Map Coordinates: -33.87206, 151.20593
00:54:45 - A major lesson

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Partial Transcript: Um, do you recall any particularly humorous or unusual events?

Segment Synopsis: Whetstone recounts an unusual incident around dinner time where he picked up a nearby .45 pistol that he believed to be unloaded and set sights in on a nearby soldier who was not aware, but when he switched targets to a can and he fired and discovered it was loaded. The other soldier understood the situation, but Whetstone counts this as a major personal lesson.

Keywords: Guns

Subjects: Firearms; Life lessons; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

00:58:13 - Peers

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Partial Transcript: What did you think of your officers or your fellow soldiers?

Segment Synopsis: Whetstone says he had a positive relationship with the men in his unit, and mentions that as the medical professional he often acted as a mental health confidant as well. Whetstone specifically remembers some soldiers struggling with drug use, which he discouraged and informed his commanding officer of without mentioning names. Whetstone also states that he regrets the decision not to keep a diary.

Keywords: Drugs; Officers; PTSD

Subjects: Drug abuse.; Mental Health; Post-traumatic stress disorder; Soldiers.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

01:01:10 - Leaving Vietnam transitioning through Okinawa and coming home

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Partial Transcript: Um, so when did you leave Vietnam?

Segment Synopsis: Whetstone talks about leaving Vietnam in January/February of 1970 at the end of his rotation. Whetstone says he considered a six month extension, but eventually decided against it. Whetstone talks about flying out of Da Nang and back to Okinawa for processing then to San Francisco, and remembers being so giddy at the relief of the tension that while in the airport with another soldier they would laugh and giggle at anything. Whetstone says he did experience the anti-war backlash but tried to avoid it by changing out of his uniform as soon as he landed in the U.S.

Keywords: Da Nang; North Philadelphia; Okinawa

Subjects: Dispensaries; Naval Publications and Forms Center (U.S.); Okinawa-shi (Japan); Philadelphia (Pa.); San Francisco (Calif.); Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975; Đà Nẵng (Vietnam)

01:10:18 - Pharmacy school on the GI Bill and re-joining the service

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Partial Transcript: How did your time in Vietnam change you?

Segment Synopsis: Whetstone doesn't think the war necessarily changed him, but may have made him more aware. Whetstone talks about having a break in service to use the GI Bill to go back to school for Pharmaceuticals at Temple University in Philadelphia. He says that after school Whetstone joined the Naval Reserve at the Philadelphia Naval Yard, but did not find the opportunities he was looking for, but got a commission as a Captain in the Army and was Deployed in Desert Storm and Shield as a pharmaceuticals and medical logistics worker. He discusses his work there, along with his deployment to Pirmasens, Germany.

Keywords: Captains; Desert Shield; Desert Storm; G.I. Bill; Reservists

Subjects: Germany; Operation Desert Shield, 1990-1991.; Persian Gulf War, 1991.; Pirmasens (Germany); Temple University; Veterans

GPS: Pirmasens, Germany
Map Coordinates: 49.19875, 7.57987
01:17:26 - Retiring

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Partial Transcript: Um, when did you retire from the military?

Segment Synopsis: Whetstone talks about retiring from the military in 2001, when he was a senior administrator in Chester, Pennsylvania overseeing drug and alcohol abuse via drug testing during training. Whetstone says his pharmaceutical career was linked to his service, so retirement from the service meant the end of his career as well.

Keywords: Military training; Senior administrators

Subjects: Careers; Chester (Pa.); Drug testing.; Retirement

01:21:03 - How the military influenced thoughts on the war and experiences in veteran organizations

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Partial Transcript: Um, did your military experience influence your thinking on war or the military in general?

Segment Synopsis: Whetstone talks about how his time in the service has given him a deep distain for war in general. For him the physical, emotional and psychological destruction is pointless and senseless. After returning home, Whetstone found the veteran organizations to be very unwelcoming and did not join an organization until years later.

Keywords: Veteran organizations

Subjects: Veterans; Vietnam War, 1961-1975; War

01:27:46 - What the War taught Whetstone

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Partial Transcript: How did your military service in Vietnam change you or impact you in anyway?

Segment Synopsis: Whetstone says he learned about tolerance, patience, and gained a strong sense of right and wrong during his time in Vietnam. Whetstone does not believe he suffered any PTSD or fundamental change from being there, and that overall his time in Vietnam was not as brutal as is could have been. Whetstone recounts several occasions where he could have died in combat but managed to come home safe.

Keywords: Military Families; PTSD

Subjects: Post-traumatic stress disorder; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975