Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with James Talone, August 24, 2022

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


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00:00:00 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: Alright, my name is Thomas Wood

Segment Synopsis: Wood begins the interview and tells where it is taking place, when, and who it is with. Wood introduces Talone as the author of There it is. The two talk about his book, a memoir of his time serving in Vietnam, a little before they dive in.

Keywords: James Talone; Thomas Wood

00:01:04 - Talone's Background

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Partial Transcript: Let's start a little bit before that

Segment Synopsis: Talone shares that he was born in 1944 at the Bryn Mawr Hospital and grew up in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. [year], He attended Coleman School, Monsignor Bonner High School, Mount Saint Mary's College, and Temple University. His BA was in English education. After taking several graduate school courses, he decided that he should join the military because the country was at war and he was not married, and many of the men he knew from growing up had served in World War II.

Keywords: Anti-communist; Ardmore, Pennsylvania; Bryn Mawr Hospital; Catholicism; Coleman School; D-Day; Iwo Jima; Monsignor Bonner High School; Mount St. Mary’s College; Temple University; United States Navy; World War II; draft deferment; enlistment; graduate school

00:04:10 - Catholicism and Communism

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Partial Transcript: But before we get into that I want to rewind a little bit.

Segment Synopsis: Talone talks about Catholics and their propagandization of Communism. Talone tells a few stories about his experiences with this, including Tom Dooley, and also discusses how communists were doing negatively affecting some villages. He talks about his religious beliefs, and how they influenced his enlistment.

Keywords: CIA; Catholicism; French colonialism; Hmong; Hue; Pagan babies

Subjects: Buddhism; Communism; Huế (Vietnam); Propaganda.; United States. Central Intelligence Agency.; United States. Marine Corps.; Vietnam

00:08:13 - College perception

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Partial Transcript: They were the god-less enemy--

Segment Synopsis: Talone talks about how colleges perceived the Vietnam War. Talone recalls that his professors perceived the war as in American self-interest. He gives a brief history of Communism and the thought process behind America's "Domino Theory".

Keywords: Domino Theory

Subjects: Burns, Ken; Capitalism.; Communism; Italy; Temple University

00:11:57 - Blurred memories of the War

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Partial Transcript: And you mention in your book about the memory

Segment Synopsis: Wood asks about some of Talone's memories of the past, noting that he reflects on this in his memoir. Talone comments on why the United States believed it should be in the war and how the results were quite different in the Korean War.

Keywords: Agrarian; Domino Theory; North Vietnam

Subjects: Communism; Korean War, 1950-1953.; Memories; South Korea; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

00:14:23 - Enlisting in the Marines

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Partial Transcript: So, why the marines?

Segment Synopsis: Talone explains why he chose to enlist in the Marines, rather than another branch, noting that the Marines had better public relations stemming from their role in World War II and their subsequent representation in the media. He calls the Marines the "Heroes of the Pacific," which was why he wanted to serve with the best.

Keywords: Heroes of the Pacific; WW2; WWII; World War 2; World War Two

Subjects: Public relations.; United States. Marine Corps.; World War II

00:15:26 - Omissions from the memoir and basic training

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Partial Transcript: Tried to think about was, was the omissions you had

Segment Synopsis: Talone talks about elements of basic training and Officer Candidate School that he did not discuss in his memoir. He talks about basic training and about the basic rundown of how he was taught to serve. He talks about how difficult it was for him and his buddies, some of whom were washed out of the program. He said he was told when he was writing his book to throw out the first two chapters in order to get to the action. Talone talks about his friends from the service and about how he called up one of them after 53 years to reminisce. Talone discusses his training in how he went through Officer Candidate School (OCS), and how a lot of his training was testing to make sure they could keep up with the military's standards.

Keywords: Bill Dakin; Edwards McGuire Air Force Base; Fleet Marine Force Pacific; Memoirs; Officer Candidate School (OCS)

Subjects: Armed Forces--Non-commissioned officers; Basic training; Biography; England.; France; Germany; Italy; Okinawa-shi (Japan); Purple Heart.; South Korea

00:25:14 - Use of helicopters

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Partial Transcript: Other things is how uh technology was used in it

Segment Synopsis: Talone thinks that may have changed the war. Talone talks about some of his thoughts about different technological advancements such as helicopters. Talone also recalled some stories about other aspects of that as well and what they meant for the soldiers. He discusses what we was taught about helicopters in his training, and how helicopters were used more often with other branches than with the Marines. They would bring chow (food), resupply, medievac, and many other uses. They discuss the discrepancies between the Army and the Marines and how Wood was surprised Talone did not get more angry at it.

Keywords: MediEvac; United States Army; Vietnam War; death rate; helicopters; technology

00:30:26 - Getting into Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: Let's talk about Khe Sanh

Segment Synopsis: Talone talks about first arriving in Vietnam, and how it was seasonally an ideal time due to the weather. He talks about getting into Khe Sanh with his unit and how it was a "trip" for them. He knew it was a bad area, and then describes the landscape, mentioning the fast moving streams, mountains, and how green it was. He describes the Marines’ role as playing hide and seek. He compares Khe Sanh to an area from Lord of the Rings.

Keywords: Adrenaline; Firefights; Khe Sanh; Lord of the Rings; Mortars; Platoons

Subjects: Adrenaline; Combat; Khé Sanh (Vietnam); Tolkien, J. R. R. (John Ronald Reuel), 1892-1973. Lord of the rings (Series).; United States. Marine Corps.; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

00:37:59 - Hollywood's effect

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Partial Transcript: Fact that Hollywood or or media at large has on you

Segment Synopsis: Talone comments on the role of the media and Hollywood's effect on the war and people's perception of it. He compares the version of trench warfare portrayed in movies about World War I and World War II to his own experiences in Vietnam. Talone talks about how they did not want to get stuck in a trench, but it was hard to walk into their territory, so they ended up playing defense. He recalls how the Air Force dropped more bombs on Vietnam than all of the ones dropped in WWII. He talks about how the Air Force were the ones who kept the enemies off of their backs when in combat.

Keywords: B-52; Camp Carol; Media; WW2; WWII; War of Attrition; World War 2; World War Two

Subjects: Hollywood (Los Angeles, Calif.); Trench warfare.; United States. Air Force.; United States. Marine Corps.; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975; World War I; World War II

00:42:33 - Weaponry

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Partial Transcript: The, the different weapons, the rifles they let you guys use--

Segment Synopsis: Talone talks about some of his buddies and the different weapons they used including the M14 and the M1 Garand. He states he did not see any usage of submachine guns. He notes that some Marines carried shotguns, which were illegal according to the Geneva Convention, but they were effective. They mostly used M16's, and Talone discusses his time using the M16 and its many utilities and faults.

Keywords: Geneva Convention; M1 Garand; M14; M16

Subjects: Jungle warfare; Rifles.; Shotguns.; Snipers; Submachine guns; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

00:48:39 - Seige of Khe Sanh

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Partial Transcript: That you briefly discussed why it was considered a seige

Segment Synopsis: Talone begins to talk about his experience during the Siege of Khe Sanh. He explains why it was considered a siege mirroring the one described from Lord of the Rings. Talone talks about how it was considered a siege since they were surrounded, unable to get supplied except for air drops. He describes the amount of meals, water, and ammo that was required.

Keywords: C-130; Helm's Deep; Khe Sanh; Lord of the Rings; Supplies

Subjects: Ammunition; Khé Sanh (Vietnam); Sieges; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975; Water.

GPS: Khe Sanh, Vietnam, where the siege took place.
Map Coordinates: 16.62096, 106.73199
00:51:03 - After Khe Sanh

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Partial Transcript: Where do you go from Khe Sanh?

Segment Synopsis: Talone discusses what happened next after Khe Sanh. His unit was sent to back to the hills around Khe Sanh and spent about three to four weeks on the hills over Khe Sanh. He shares that his unit lost thirty to forty people, and they then got moved along Route 9 for a few days, until moving near Con Thien. He says they spent most of April there and then in May there was a lot of fighting. He remembers about two thousand Americans died in May, about five hundred a week.

Keywords: Con Thien; DMZ; Khe Sanh; Route 9; Steak dinner

Subjects: Khé Sanh (Vietnam); Vietnam; Vietnam Demilitarized Zone (Vietnam); Vietnam War, 1961-1975

GPS: Con Thien, Vietnam.
Map Coordinates: 16.90986, 106.98010
00:55:21 - Goofy Grape / Mail

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Partial Transcript: Affinity with Goofy Grape, so tell me about Goofy Grape

Segment Synopsis: Talone talks about what "goofy grape" was and also goes into talking about what it was like to receive mail during the war. He explains the process of missing the Goofy Grape. He also gives details about Meals for Consumption (MFCs) and how they were used in the war. He recalls receiving food and drink and other items in packages sent from home. He says how getting these goofy grape tablets were better than the regular canteen water since everything was hot all of the time, as well as giving the men more sugar in their diet.

Keywords: Funny Face drink mix; Goofy Grape; Iodine tablets; Kool-Aid; Meal FC; Meals for consumption

Subjects: Canteens (Beverage containers); Sugar; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

00:58:26 - Vietnam slang

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Partial Transcript: How often you used the word, "buku."

Segment Synopsis: Talone discusses some specific slang used in Vietnam, including buku, derived from the French beaucoup, and its variant “fuku.” He talks about a few different words or phrases that were used commonly in the war. Talone recalls the rudimentary Vietnamese phrases he learned to use.

Keywords: Buku; Fuku; KIA; NVA

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

00:59:45 - The people of Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: The young girls were very beautiful, but you never saw anyone in between--

Segment Synopsis: Talone talks about some of the inhabitants of Vietnam such as some of the people of the cities including a large emphasis on the woman he saw. He recalls how some soldiers gave Vietnamese women money to spend a night with them. He compares some of his experiences to those James Michener describes in the novel, “South Pacific.” He states he likes how most of the book is not about the combat, but the other aspects like moving locations and transporting materials.

Keywords: Da Nang; Hue; Landing zones; Saigon; “South Pacific” by James Michener

Subjects: Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam); Huế (Vietnam); Prostitution; Sex workers.; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975; Đà Nẵng (Vietnam)

01:01:59 - Experience in Hue

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Partial Transcript: You were in Hue shortly after Khe Sanh right

Segment Synopsis: Talone begins to talk about his experience in the city of Hue. He recalls how everyone thought they had won the war at that point following the Battle for Khe Sanh. He talks about how the city became one of the most peaceful places in Vietnam at that point. Hue was a big target, and Talone says he would expect the people who came there after his unit to have been killed.

Keywords: Ammo dump; Breaking bread; Gasoline towers; Girl's colleges; Hue; Khe Sanh

Subjects: Huế (Vietnam); Khé Sanh (Vietnam); Tet Offensive, 1968; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

01:03:53 - Mindset prior to combat

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Partial Transcript: Parts of your book is your mindset before going into combat

Segment Synopsis: Talone notes that many young men were more worried about embarrassing themselves in combat rather than dying in combat. As the most experienced officer in the company, Talone knew others looked up to him and that he had to stay focused and simply do his job. He recalls following combat, they would return to the site the next day to pick up bodies, which was a very challenging task.

Keywords: Fireteams; Hill 366

Subjects: Battle casualties; Combat; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

01:08:44 - Malaria

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Partial Transcript: With the most dangerous bout of your career, which was Malaria

Segment Synopsis: Talone details his experience with Malaria. He talks about his symptoms like chills and fevers, his 106 degree temperature, and how he lost about twenty to forty pounds. He also recalls how he was thankful he didn't have to be fighting while recovering. He fondly recalls that while he was sick he could drink milkshakes. He recalls how he did not have money since his wallet was stolen at one point.

Keywords: Chills; Fevers; Malaria; R&R; Rest and recuperation

Subjects: Malaria.; Milkshakes; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

01:10:54 - Wildlife in Vietnam

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Partial Transcript: My my curiosity is with the wildlife in Vietnam

Segment Synopsis: Talone recalls needing to wear long sleeves to protect from the insects and how they used "bug juice" to keep the bugs away. He says mosquitoes were worse for army soldiers stationed in the Mekong Delta compared to higher elevations. Talone also says he has experienced worse biting insects camping in Vermont than he did in Vietnam during the war. He recalls seeing a boa constrictor and heard a story of a marine being eaten by a tiger. He notes that supposedly the NVA used elephants to carry supplies.

Keywords: Black flies; Bug juice; Mekong Delta; North Vietnamese Army (NVA); Tigers; WW2; WWII; Wildlife; World War 2; World War Two; “The Elephant Company”

Subjects: Boa constrictor; Burma; Elephants.; Mosquitoes.; Simuliidae; Snakes; Spiders.; Vermont; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975; World War II

01:15:30 - Environmental destruction

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Partial Transcript: The consequences of the war that we don't normally think about

Segment Synopsis: In response to Wood’s observation that Agent Orange may have affected wildlife including elephants, Talone responds that they never really thought about that while stationed in Vietnam. He says that the men did not know what Agent Orange could do, so they did not think about it. Talone recants the unexploded bombs all throughout Vietnam and the many booby traps that were still active. Wood asks about Agent Orange being used in Khe Sanh, but Talone says it was not.

Keywords: Environmental destruction

Subjects: Agent Orange; Bombs.; Booby traps; Defoliation; Deforestation; Elephants; Khé Sanh (Vietnam); Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

01:17:51 - Post-Malaria

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Partial Transcript: And you go back to your unit

Segment Synopsis: Talone jumps back and talks about what he did after he recovered from Malaria. Talone describes where he went to after his bout with Malaria. Talone also talks about "climbing the rock pile," which was the name they used to call Mutter's Ridge. Talone talks about climbing the rock pile after he had malaria. He says that it was a day where he had nothing to do, so they decided to climb this 600-800 feet rock pile. At the top he talks about how there was a great breeze and that they needed a chopper to get back down.

Keywords: Mutter's Ridge; Vandegrift Combat Base (“LZ Stud”)

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

01:20:44 - Experience at Vandegrift Combat Base

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Partial Transcript: This is, uh, in August, yeah

Segment Synopsis: Talone talks about his unit being airdropped into a valley they needed to patrol which later was named LZ Vandergrift. His bravo unit was put on a ridge where the alpha and charlie were put other places. They turn their platoon around and start to head back while bringing wounded and dead soldiers. Some of his scouts were then killed, and they ended up waiting in a defensive position. Talone says his main concern was having more people get killed, and making sure to not leave the dead.

Keywords: 50 Caliber; Alpha; Bravo; Vandegrift Combat Base (“LZ Stud”)

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

01:28:07 - Leaving the dead

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Partial Transcript: Tell me about the thought process of leaving the dead

Segment Synopsis: Talone talks about the Marine philosophy of "leaving the dead". Talone talks about how Marines are supposed to never leave their dead. He goes into the history of it, and also talks about how other militaries follow the same principle. Talone says his men were too weak to do it, and then talks about his experience being under fire while trying to get his guys out while also talking to his colonel and trying to survive.

Keywords: Colonels; Goofy Grape; Jell-O; Kool-Aid; Leaving the dead; Traditions; Wounded

Subjects: Morale.; United States. Marine Corps.; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

01:31:27 - War movie tropes

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Partial Transcript: I am not as familiar with war movies from the 1950s as I am more modern war movies

Segment Synopsis: War movie tropes are discussed more as an extension of the earlier conversation about Hollywood. Wood asks about how the Vietnam War was so unique because of newer technology like the 50 cal.

Keywords: Entrenched machine guns; Movies; Tropes

Subjects: Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

01:35:27 - Serving as a General's aide

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Partial Transcript: Alright, we are going to go into you being a General's Aide

Segment Synopsis: Talone talks about his promotion to General's Aide and what the job entailed. He talks about how much of an honor it was. He talks about the responsibilities of the job, including announcing when the general arrived, keeping cleaned and polished, and having meals with him. Talone discusses how he was not the greatest at these job responsibilities, but he ended up getting a Silver Star. He says he wouldn't change it, but he isn't sure if he would have chosen it.

Keywords: Company commanders; General's Aides; Rifle companies

Subjects: Medal of Honor; Silver Star; Vietnam; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

01:40:15 - Message about going into Service

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Partial Transcript: You met people you wouldn't meet otherwise

Segment Synopsis: Talone gives his philosophy about Americans going into the service as well as the draft and a few other topics that are related. He says that while he thinks the draft is necessary, not everyone needs to serve in the military. He gives a few options of alternative ways to serve one’s country that everyone should consider.

Keywords: Chicago; Kenzington; Patton; Teach for America

Subjects: Chicago (Ill.); Draft; Louisiana; Quakers; Teach for America (Project)

01:43:28 - More about General's aide position

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Partial Transcript: Can you tell me a little bit more about your time with the General?

Segment Synopsis: Talone shares more details about the General's Aide job. He gives a few stories of what their daily routine was like such as eating, getting into the helicopter and flying, and visiting units. He gives some details on what the general was like as a person as well like how he was a football player, a WWII veteran, and a nice guy to him, which made everyone else be nice to him as well.

Keywords: Aides; Generals

Subjects: Helicopters; Press.; Reporters and reporting.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975

01:45:30 - Final thoughts

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Partial Transcript: Alright, I just have a couple more questions then.

Segment Synopsis: Talone talks about urban legends, and atrocities committed in the war. He also talks about the surgery he had on his knee.

Keywords: Myths; Urban legends

Subjects: Atrocities.; Vietnam War, 1961-1975