ARMY SERVICE CHANGES LIFE

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Vietnam veteran Dave Tschantz is now employed by the Clayton County Sherrif’s Department.

 By Pat McTaggart

Freelance Writer

 

At the end of December 1965, Dave Tschantz made a decision that would change his life.  He enlisted in the Army. “I decided to volunteer because I knew that I would be drafted anyway,” he recalled.”

In January 1966, Dave found himself at Fort Leonard Wood, MO, for basic training.  After basic, he was assigned his Military Occupation Specialty. “I had certificates for working on engines, so I thought that I would be trained as a mechanic,” he said.  “Naturally, the Army sent me to Fort Gordon, Georgia to train as a military policeman.  I was also sent to Fort Benning, Georgia, for counterinsurgency training.

September found him on a ship headed for Vietnam. “There were about 1,000 Marines and 1,000 Army personnel on the ship,” he said. “On the way over, we ran into a typhoon. There were a lot of pretty sick people while we rode it out. The ship got pretty banged up, and we had to lay over in Okinawa for repairs.”

The ship docked in Da Nang. “Our unit, the 552nd Military Police Company then set up in Long Bihn, northeast of Saigon,” he said. “My platoon was sent to Bien Hoa, which was outside of Long Bihn. We did road escort, perimeter security, and we guarded General Westmoreland when he was in the area.”

“We also did some counterinsurgency work in Laos,” he continued. “We weren’t supposed to be there, and we were told never to mention it to anyone, but it’s all out there now.”

Dave’s unit worked with ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) troops and military police. “I was a rifle team leader, and I got along really good with the ARVN and their MPs,” he said. “I was invited into their homes.  Some of them were working both sides, but you pretty much knew who they were, and you stayed clear of them.”

“I was in Vietnam for one year, one month and 12 days,” he added. “I extended my tour so that I could get an early out.”

There are several incidents that have stayed with Dave, even after all these years.  “One time we were ambushed,” he said. “Most of an ARVN convoy got wiped out, as well as a bus full of civilians. There was also a hamlet that we visited regularly where we got information about the Viet Cong from a civilian. He had a little girl, who always thanked us for being there. She called me ‘Tiger Man’ because of the camouflage that we wore. One day the VC came into the hamlet and murdered the entire family. That was rough.”

Dave came back to the states in October 1967.  He spent some time with an uncle out west who was in the highway patrol. “He was a Korean War vet,” Dave said. “He had seen a lot of stuff, and we talked a lot. He helped me get through a lot of things.”

Coming back to Iowa, Dave went to join the local VFW post. “I walked in, and an old guy told me ‘We don’t take losers,’” he said. “I just turned around and walked out.”

After farming and driving a school bus for a while, Dave joined the Monticello Police Force, serving from 1968-69. In October 1969, he joined the Iowa Highway Patrol and was stationed near Des Moines before being transferred to Guttenberg in 1982. He retired from the Patrol in 2001, and was hired as a reserve deputy for the Clayton County Sheriff’s Department in 2002. He now serves as a bailiff and a security officer for the department at the Clayton County Courthouse.

Dave regularly attends reunions with his former comrades.  “There was a reunion in 2005, but I didn’t go,” he said.  “My wife and daughter talked me into going to the one after that.  It was like old home week.  Since then, I’ve gone to a lot of them. I have also kept in touch with other buddies in the unit.  We talk on the phone a lot.”

His experiences in Vietnam are never far away. “I still have flashbacks, and I have some Agent Orange problems,” he said. “At a young age you join the Army for God and country, but you don’t really have any idea what you are getting into. It changes you.”

 
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