From the VETERANS series:
Vietnam, U.S. Army, 173rd Airborne Brigade, Bravo 2nd, 503rd Infantry
Dates of service:1965-71
[Rudolf Thomas is a decorated Vietnam combat veteran (b.1944), and was interviewed by Nina Talbot in Flatbush on August 30, 2011.]
“Some guys still carry and sleep with a gun over fifty years later,
feeling that the enemy is still at their back.”
August 30, 2011
“I am originally from Trinidad . I was sixteen years old when I came to New York City. He was drafted the last year of high school- Franklin K. Lane in Brooklyn. I was in basic training at Fort Jackson and advanced training (AIT) and jump school at Fort Dix, and then at Fort Benning. I served in Vietnam as a paratrooper. I have served in the U.S. Army for six years.
“I was in Vietnam combat locations at Dak To, Qui Nhon, Ban Me Thuot, Komtum, An Khe, and Pleiku. I have memories of trudging up to the neck in rice paddies, travelling with my platoon to their next location. I remember the animals and plants from the Vietnam tropical jungles: pongee sticks, leeches, panthers, snakes, monkeys, and elephants. I was experienced in dealing with those elements of nature from my native Trinidad, which served me well in Vietnam. I was familiar with the monsoons, earthquakes, and hurricanes. I was used to eating foods I recognized like yucca and daikon.
I flew the Hueys (CH47 helicopter), piloted by cavalry, they called them cowboys, crossing the Ho Chi Minh trail into Cambodia. My left cheek and back were blown up in a landmine in Vietnam.
“I came back to the states in a body cast, and recovered in St. Albans Hospital in Queens. After returning from Vietnam I worked as a drill instructor at Fort Dix. Then I worked security at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. I am an active member of the New York 1 chapter of Rolling Thunder since 1995, escorting military funerals with motorcycles and other veteran events, including leading the New York City Veteran’s Day parade. I worked as a veteran’s counselor for the New York State Department of Labor for thirty years at the Schermerhorn Street location in Brooklyn. I retired in 2008 to spend time with my kids.
“My medals include the Armory Forces Expeditionary Medal (82), CIB (Combat Infantry Badge), Parachute Wings, three Purple Hearts, the Vietnam Service Medal, and the Vietnam Campaign medal.
“To this day I have nightmares of walking through rice paddies neck-deep, then wake up to find myself hiding in the closet. That’s one of the things that comes out of combat – I still have that kind of mentality, what’s going to happen is going to happen – it changes you - it changes your whole way of thinking, of doing things. A lot of guys that came back from the war only feel safe if they carry a gun - that’s why many of them become cops – always on alert, it’s built into their daily life. I value life a lot more now.”