Gregg Keary was born in 1943 in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts. He moved to Wayland as a child and later attended the old high school. Mr. Keary was part of class of 1961 the first to graduate from our current school. After attending Boston College for one year, he joined the U.S. Coast Guard and ended up in Vietnam. While in Southeast Asia, Mr. Keary was the captain of a ship that was part of Operation Market Time. His ship participated in a blockade of the coast to prevent the North Vietnamese from transporting guns and ammunition. Mr. Keary communicated to us the importance of keeping true to your morals and convictions even in a time of war.
Q: This is Andrew Saltzman and Ben Mesnick and we’re here at Wayland High School interviewing Gregg Keary on May 8th. Please state your name.
Mr. Keary: My name is Gregg Keary.
Q: When were you born?
Mr. Keary: 1943
Q: Could you describe where you grew up?
Mr. Keary: I grew up in West Bridgewater, Mass and then in Wayland.
Q: What was your childhood like?
Mr. Keary: It was good. I was a boy scout, I was the oldest of four children, we spent some time in Florida, and some time in California because my father was doing project work so we would go for three months and drive back across the country from California and another three months, or two or three years later we spent in Florida where he was working with phosphates.
Q: Did you have any siblings?
Mr. Keary: Yes, all went to Wayland High School I think. My brother Bruce graduated in 1964 Janie was ten years younger than me so that would’ve put her in 1971 and my other brother was 1975.
Q: And what did your parents do for a living?
Mr. Keary: My father was an engineer for Arthur D. Little and company in Cambridge. My mother was a substitute teacher.
Q: When were you in high school?
Mr. Keary: I was in high school in the old town high school building, which is now maybe a junior high in the center of Wayland, for my first three years and graduated in this building in 1961.
Q: What were those days like?
Mr. Keary: It was the fifties, it was a lot of fun, a lot of teenageness, we had very good basketball teams, very good football teams, the Wayland/Weston game was the biggest thing ever. We played basketball tournaments in the tech tourney in Boston Garden, and won one of them when a guy stood under one basket and did a baseball throw at the last second to sink the shot and win the game.
Q: And as a teenager, were you aware of world events?
Mr. Keary: Yes, back then it was the Cold War, it was get under these desks, they played the thing on the speaker that this was a drill and that everybody duck their head down because this is the big one.
Q: So did you fear attacks?
Mr. Keary: We were afraid of it, but only from time to time most of the time we were oblivious to it, you know we were young.
Q: What did you think about communists in general?
Mr. Keary: They were evil, that was the bad thing, and we had to beat them. We had the sputnik business with the space race starting up and we went outside and saw the satellite go off. Science and Technology were falling behind and had to catch up.
Q: What do you recall about the general state of the country when you came of age?
Mr. Keary: We were fat, we were starting to… the fifties were good times and we were very privileged and we felt privileged and Kennedy had yet to be the President so “ask not what you can do for your country” hadn’t happened yet. It was more… Elvis was bad. And that’s all.
Q: What if anything do you remember about the Korean War?
Mr. Keary: I was six or seven years old and I remember the news reels, Mccarthur and Truman having fights and all that and Eisenhower being elected to go over there and end the war.
Q: What did you think about Eisenhower?
Mr. Keary: I thought he was an old carger. But because he went to Westpoint I admired him and I was in to Westpoint at the time, I wanted to go there. I applied to Senator Leavritt Saltonstall and Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon to get an academy appointment, to go to either to the Air Force or the Army and it didn’t happen. Then I found out about the Coast Guard and applied there and it didn’t happen either, so I went to Boston College for a year and after that I did get into the Coast Guard.
Q: What did you think about John F. Kennedy?
Mr. Keary: He was a democrat, which wasn’t good. But he had a lot of charisma and we enjoyed him becoming a President and Jackie and the newsreels and all of that in 1961 when he started in the White House.
Q: After you graduated high school, you had plans for the future?
Mr. Keary: I wanted to go into the military, I wanted to fly jets or something like that, I wanted to go to an academy and didn’t get into one, well the two big ones, so I chose a small one, didn’t get into it and then tried again and did get into it. I found out about the coast guard from Wayland High school, a geometry teacher here was in the Coast Guard Academy.
Q: Do you remember his or her name?
Mr. Keary: Richard R. Ranlet the third. R cubed.
Q: So is that where all your interest came from?
Mr. Keary: In Geometry class he used to tell stories of Iron ships and wooden men and cadet cruises and the whole marching and squaring your corners and sitting on the edge of the chair and “yes sir, no sir” three bags full…and I wanted that. I wanted to go to boot camp and have it make me much better. There was a show on about Westpoint, a television show that I used to watch religiously and march down the street after the show with the music in my head. So that’s what I wanted to do and I ended up doing something like that but never doing airplanes I ended up driving ships instead.
Q: When did you first hear about what was going on in Vietnam?
Mr. Keary: During the early years of Kennedy’s presidency I was following what was going on and 1962 I was in Boston College and I was in the headlines a lot. And in 1963 I was a cadet and kind of cut off from headlines because we couldn’t have radios, we couldn’t have televisions, so we got the paper every day and we had to give our reports about current events at the dinner table. So we would sit there like this and talk about what the movies were downtown and what happened in the news today and who we were playing in football and all of these questions, we had to know all of that stuff.
Q: Before you were involved in all of that, were you pretty concerned about the future?
Mr. Keary: We were, the party line was the “domino theory” ok, and we believed it and we thought we had to do something over there, and I wanted to be the captain of the ship because I learned what that was, I aspired to it and I ended up being a captain of a rescue cutter on Cape Cod for a year. I went to sea on a great big destroyer sized ship and then came back on this cutter as the captain and it was really a trip, I really enjoyed it, it was twelve people, a hundred foot ship and we used to go out and get the New Bedford fisherman like the Perfect Storm rescuers although it never really got that bad. And I had position power, I was the boss, this was my million-dollar ship, and I better not screw it up. And because I wanted that and obtained it, I had to pay my dues by going to Vietnam. I could have gone ashore and taken the short command with the little transmitting station somewhere, but it wasn’t a ship, so I elected for a ship on Cape Cod, which got me to go to Vietnam.
Q: About the Gulf of Tonkin incident, what did you think about that?
Mr. Keary: I was naïve, I didn’t know if it was manufactured, I knew that as I got experience, I found out how screwed up the military could be and how they could be mistaken and I think that was a big mistake, a couple gun boats come out at us and we think it’s an invasion.
Q: How did you originally come into service with the Coast Guard?
Mr. Keary: The deal was you get a four-year education and you get four years of service after that. That’s what all the academies were. Now they’re five years. You go for four years of college and owe the government five years after that. But if you go to graduate school, one year of graduate school means two years of service tacked on to your application. Going to the academy is four years, serving for four or five years, you’re up to nine, but the first four don’t count towards retirement. But you’re in for nine, compared to someone who just leaves high school and goes to Harvard. You’re ten or twelve years in if you go to graduate school and I did that too. So I stayed for twenty years.
Q: What about your training in the Coast Guard?
Mr. Keary: It was fantastic.
Q: So you really enjoyed all of this stuff?
Mr. Keary: Yes, except getting sea sick, and I did, but because on the rescue cutter on Cape Cod it was kind of a fire department, we were tied up to the dock and every two weeks or so there was another call for us. And we would have to go so we would go out there and the waves were big and we were sick. And towards the end of the second or third day you would feel pretty good because you were starting to get your sea legs and then you were finished and you would sit for another few weeks.
Q: What was it like leaving your friends and family behind?
Mr. Keary: Well I knew I had to go. I had to go to training in California before I went, where we learned how to survive in the jungle, it was mostly how to get out of an airplane and use your parachute for a bed and all that and how to evade the enemy because you were behind enemy lines, and the next part was how to be interrogated and not give up any classified information. They had a communist prison camp set up, took us through and beat us and asked us questions we didn’t eat for a week while we were surviving and the last two or three days was to go to the communist prison camp. So they said, “ok here you are you have to start here and if you make it there we’ll give you a sandwich.” And so were all in a group here and the communist instructors were between us and the sandwich. And we had to sneak and try to get there. They knew where we were all hiding and they came and this guy found me in a bush and picked me up and he had this red star on his hat. He called me a pig and all that and I laughed. I thought it was funny and he slapped me around. Don’t you laugh at me, you know, and all that. So I had this two or three days of playing communist prison camp but I had my wife with me. I was going to this week of training, she was in this motel and she followed me around California and took a vista dome training across the country to see the Rockies and all that. So after this training I got to see her again.
Q: So just about the training, did you think it was over the top?
Mr. Keary: The training? No it was good. It was given by the navy and it was at camp Pendleton and because they could hit us it was good. It was realistic. They took you in this metal shack room and threw you around and slapped your face and really worked you over to teach you what it was going to be like. And I ended up as the senior man so I was kind of responsible for all as far as they were concerned for anyone of those lower people did something bad it was my fault so they yelled at me for that. It was good training. And it was good because Korea had a great big problem with prisoners of war telling too many secrets. And they learned their lesson and the training was built out in the ten years since the Korean War.
Q: So, once you finally got the call over, what was the boat ride like?
Mr. Keary: No, it was a plane. It was a commercial jet. It went from San Francisco to Honolulu. Two hours in Honolulu and the rest of the way right to Danang.
Q: And what was that plane ride like?
Mr. Keary: It was long, tiring, hurry up and wait because I was ready, see in the coast guard we’re small and we get things done and get used to moving fast and doing what we want. As soon as you get with the Navy and the other big services it’s a big bureaucracy and it’s a hurry up and wait. Its just like World War II, it was a pain. And so this plane ride was a pain and I had trouble with my ears I had an infection or something like that. Being up the plane was very painful, all those hours. But coming back, everybody was so glad to get out of the war and come back and the stewardesses were so glad to be moving back with people instead of bringing them over that they were very playful and they wanted everybody’s badges and my badges were different, they weren’t the standard army things so they really wanted mine so I played that into a lot of hugs and kisses. It was a trip coming back.
Q: On your way there, do you remember the general mood? Was there excitement?
Mr. Keary: It was anticipation. There was some fear, but you had to be macho you couldn’t give into it you might whisper to a good buddy that you were scared but you wouldn’t stand up and tell the world. And then we first got there and it’s a great big bustling place with jeeps and army trucks all over the place run by the navy most of it, and Navy ships with the ramps in them and LCM kind of things all over the place. This guy came to pick us up and he had a dusty old rifle right there on the dashboard, whats that for?
Q: And so once you did arrive in Vietnam, how were you able to make the transition?
Mr. Keary: Because I had my wife with me for so long, and I had just seen her the day before, and it was just a plane ride not a two-week ship cruise or anything, it was hard to be hit with this and hit with the responsibility for these twelve men on this boat because I was going to be the captain of the Gray ship over there and not knowing what my real feelings were towards the war. What was I going to do? We had classmates of mine who were skippers of boats who decided they were going to be the killer boat and it was kind of culture transferred from boat to boat because the crew was the nucleus. You were out there for three days patrolling your little box of ocean. It was a blockade. We were keeping the VC from getting arms and ammunition by ship. That’s what the operation was. We each had a box of ocean that we patrolled to go out and drive around our little box of ocean for three days and come back for two days go out for three, come back for two and all that and you got to know the people you were with pretty well. And so the culture of the boat was different from the culture of another boat based on what the chief said what the XO said (second in command) and mostly what the Captain said, but if the captain was a newby, like I was when I first started, you picked up the culture from the boat you got and the other people there, and of course your own feelings (unknown), and so you had to sort that all out, and so this one boat I’m talking about would shoot first and ask questions later, it really got the reputation of being a killer boat, and I didn’t do that, I thought that was wrong because well…these Vietnamese fisherman had been fishing in this box of water for 300 years and we come with our gray boats and say you couldn’t do that anymore, well we go down here they show up here, we go up here, and they come out here and fish.. We come down and give them a ticket and said come over here, open up their little book, and we would write in English in their book, we had an interpreter for the Vietnamese and that wasn’t very good because we couldn’t talk to the interpreter, his English was rotten, so we would write in the book, this was the third time for this guy because we had seen two pages before where our buddies had gotten him, “the third time for you, you come with me,” and we’d take him to a fort, we’d take him two miles up the road, a place where the Vietnamese army would interrogate him, to see if he was a VC, he wasn’t, but that was the theory , that he was Vietcong and because he had been fishing there twice in a row he had to be VC so that’s what we did, we would detain them, handcuff them to the deck and take them out to the next fort, and the fort was just like the wild west fort apache place, stakes, towers on the corners, and this great big mine field in the front of it which was all overgrown with bamboo and weeds and the mines had been there for five years and nobody knew where they were so nobody would walk in there just to keep the VC from attacking the place.
Q: So you obviously agreed with the domino theory, well at first you did, and did you still when you were in Vietnam?
Mr. Keary: I didn’t become a killer boat, I just did what I had to do, they shot at me I’m shooting back and I was shot at three times and twice was by US marines so the third time was real VC.
Q: What was your overall thought of Vietnamese people in general?
Mr. Keary: They were very nice, very friendly, most of them, but you had to always watch your back, it was difficult to be ashore but very easy to be at sea because few bullets traveled a mile and we were usually half a mile to a mile off the beach so we were pretty safe when we were underway but as soon as we got to Danang, we’d see damage but we would go to a show at the club, they’d have Australian stars come to entertain us and the sirens would go off in the middle of it and we would have to go in sand bags and that was scary because these rockets were coming into the base and we didn’t know if they were coming if this was a false alarm, if it was real or not and only once was it real for me
Q: What was that experience like when it was real?
Mr. Keary: You don’t know what’s going to happen you don’t know where you are, you can’t fight back because you don’t know what to shoot at, you don’t know where they are, something like Iraq must be like with the bombs
Q: So did you think of the Vietnamese people as communists or nationalists?
Mr. Keary: Poor people trying to make ends meet, ninety percent of the babies would have on a t-shirt and that’s all, they’d just squat in the gutter to go pee because that’s all they knew, that’s all they would do, there were millions of these little two cycled scooters and most of them would ride these scooters at 30/35 miles per hour and the temperature would get down to 90 and they’d have on a great big thick leather jacket backwards because riding on the thing, if you put the thing on backwards it wouldn’t restrict your movements so they would ride around in those things.
Q: And so just for clarification, your job was…?
Mr. Keary: I was captain of a vessel, assigned to operation market time, which was the blockade of the coast, four or five times in four years, North Vietnamese would send down a troller loaded with guns and ammunition, a Navy plane would see it and track it on radar, the destroyers and all the other little boats, the swift boats and us would congregate where this thing was and blow it out of the water, we lived for that, that’s what we wanted to do because that was a real enemy. Every night at midnight we would send a report that said how many did we kill? how many of us got killed? how many bullets did we shoot? and what was the result? So, we had to put these statistics into the Pentagon every night at midnight so we would make friends with the army at our piece of beach, wherever our box was, we would make friends with the army to get them to tell us what we could shoot at, where can we shoot at something tonight because we had to send the report at midnight and it had to have some rounds expended or we weren’t doing our job. Okay so we’d have them out and we would give them steaks and beer, they’d think that was great because all they had was bug juice and they would come out and have steaks and beer, we would have a Boston whaler that we would just put in the water and drive into the beach and pick them up and bring them out, and they would have the beer but they would get seasick but they’d give us some coordinates on the shore to shoot at and so every night we would go over and shoot at this and ten rounds expended, it was called harassment and intradiction fire, H and I, and we were trying to stir something up, and we never did.
Q: How did you pass the time?
Mr. Keary: It was a lot of time at sea so you would have the routine on the ship and I had to do reports and I had to stand a watch, we didn’t have enough watch standers so the captain had to stand a watch, and I had myself, a guy from Harvard who was my executive officer, and then a (inaudible) who just had a third grade education, those were the three watch standers. And so we would take our turns and we would be up on the bridge driving the ship and going around and looking for bad guys boarding boats and shooting the guns and…
Q: So you were generally busy?
Mr. Keary: Generally busy, yeah. And we had all the repairs to do on the ship to take care of it, which ate up the two days when we were in port.
Q: Were you at all anxious to get back home?
Mr. Keary: Favorite song was “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,”
Q: Did you count the days?
Mr. Keary: Oh…we had something called…what was it called? It was a going home calendar but that wasn’t the phrase it was a picture of a woman with a hundred of days marked off as blocks up and down her legs and arms and her head and the last three were breast, breast, crotch, so the zero was the crotch and then you’d go home. The Short Timers Calendar it was called, and you would color it in as you got from a hundred down to ninety-nine days to ninety-eight days and we would go drinking when we’d hit port.
Q: Did you see any combat first hand?
Mr. Keary: Yes, yeah we did we had an incident where an armed boat came out a river at us and we had to shoot it and we were in several operations, one with the marines where they were on an island where there was a river then a real beach and then the island and they started up north on the island and swept their way north and we were down at the seaside of the island in case anybody they’d swept tried to get away to sea, we would catch them and then the Marines were so screwed up about where they were that they shot a bullet and it came out at us and we thought it was the bad guys shooting at us, we thought they were further north and we thought it was the bad guys shooting at us and we put five bullets back at them and hundred bullets came at us and it just escalated, nobody got hit but it was close and we hightailed it out of there and called the marines and said “where are you?” and they were too far south that they were screwed up about their navigation.
Q: What did you feel about killing the enemy?
Mr. Keary: If it was a real enemy, it was no problem, but if it was just the fisherman who had done that for 300 years then there was a lot of guilt, but you can’t tell you never know who the good guys and bad guys are.
Q: Did you think that was the hardest part?
Mr. Keary: Yeah, I do.
Q: How did this battle change you as a person?
Mr. Keary: It soured me on bureaucracy because the stupidity of the big organizations, the bigger an organization got, the stupider they were, the army was the worst and the navy was the second, and we had our own stupidities and so it woke me up to a few things like that.
Q: Did you see anyone get killed near you?
Mr. Keary: No, not too close, but I had a good friend who had an accident on the ship who was firing at the beach with a mortar that you put around like this into a tube that had a machine gun on top but you weren’t using the machine gun. You could put it into this tube and then you could point the tube and pull the trigger and shoot it, you could watch the round go as a mortar round, if you put two bullets in it and pulled the trigger, it blew up the gun and that’s what happened to this good buddy that I had. It was the middle of the night, they were doing this firing and they got mixed up whether there was a bullet in the gun or not, put one in, put the second one in and pulled the trigger, he pulled the trigger and the whole gun just vanished, carnage, it was an accident.
Q: When you were there, what do you think the morale of the troops was like?
Mr. Keary: Everybody wanted to go home and it was not as bad for us as it was in the rice-paddies with the Army, because we weren’t under combat conditions all the time we were always looking over our shoulders, but we were relatively safe.
Q: During Johnson’s term, we increased the level of troops dramatically…
Mr. Keary: That was before I went I was there in ’69, Nixon was the president and the procedure was for Vietnamization we gave our boats to the Vietnamese navy, and the way it worked was the Vietnamese person would come on board and take the place of a U.S. person, one every two or three days someone else would come and it would be a trade the crew off from round eyes to zips we called them zips, and the captain, I would have been the last to go but I had problems with my boat and it could not be turned over it had to go to the shipyard so I didn’t get involved in that but some of my friends were the last Americans on the boat watching them kind of tear it apart because they didn’t understand the systems and how it worked and what not, it was kind of hard, but you had to teach them too and there was a big language barrier.
Q: Were you ever worried about Naval or Aerial attacks?
Mr. Keary: There was an incident a year before I got there where it wasn’t my boat but the one next to it went up to the demilitarized zone and it was patrolling up there, that was the box right next to the North Vietnam, where the Marines were, and a contact, a bad guy, started heading south, two of the them actually, started heading south towards this patrol craft, this was where the battleship in New Jersey was too at the time, so these two suspicious North Vietnamese crafts started coming down and so my friend called the air force and said that there was something coming, come out and help us, one of these two ships turned into a river, the air force came and saw two ships and pasted them both, one was my buddy and the other was the bad guy’s, so he was killed by a U.S. airforce bullet that went right through him, he was trying to wave a smoke thing and this bullet went right through him.
Q: Did you know anything about the incident at Cat Lai?
Mr. Keary: I don’t remember it.
Q: What was leave like, did you go to Saigon at all?
Mr. Keary: Everybody was looking forward to R and R and the best place… well you could go to Hong Kong you could go to Japan you could go to Australia or you could go to Hawaii for two days of R and R in the middle of your year… it was a year at war and then in the middle you could go to one of those places and meet somebody… but I had to take my ship to the shipyard and I had spent a good portion of my time, two months, from August to October in Singapore and my wife met me there. That was a different can of worms because we had to get the ship fixed and Saigon was on my case about getting back to the war and I said well the ship isn’t fixed yet and they kept painting in the rain and the paint would fall off and I’d say paint it again and Saigon would say when are you coming back and I’d say well I’ve got to paint again. So, I didn’t get any R and R but I had a good two months out of the war in this cosmopolitan city of Singapore.
Q: How did the racial differences from the civil rights movement play out in the coast guard?
Mr. Keary: We didn’t have any overt racism, I wouldn’t stand for it and none of my colleagues would, either. So we were all in this together. There was a structured military rank system the day I got in the ship one of the enlisted people tore up the work list given to him by the chief petty officer, the chief petty officer says here's the work list, do this and do it now, and right in front of my face the guy had an attitude and he just tore up this list so I convened the court martial right there and he came out one rank lower because he did that so that’s how we dealt with that.
Q: What did you think about anti-war protesting?
Mr. Keary: I didn’t think they were right. I don’t think they’re right now. I think we have to do something over there and we had to do what we had to do in Vietnam.
Q: Did these anti-war protests impact the troops?
Mr. Keary: Not as much as having to lie in the mud for four days in fear of your life out there in the ditches. Not as much for us as getting seasick, fighting storms being underway all the time and when we’re back in port having to fix the ships so that we could just get it underway again because this was broken and that was broken and we had to fix it. It was a grind.
Q: Did you have a lot of interaction with Vietnamese locals?
Mr. Keary: On day number three or four we got a lieutenant from the Vietnamese Navy that came aboard and could not speak any English, spoke French and none of us spoke French. So he spoke Vietnamese and French and he was our interpreter and he was from a privileged Vietnamese class because he became an officer in the navy and expected hand servants and we didn’t do that. He didn’t last very long.
Q: Did you know anyone who transferred to the Vietnamese Navy?
Mr. Keary: No.
Q: What did you make of Tet Offensive?
Mr. Keary: Tet Offensive was 1968, that was the year I was on Cape Cod with my boat I was very troubled by all those events because there I was going to the war and Bobby Kennedy got killed, Kent State happened, the Tet Offensive happened, MLK got shot, Woodstock happened and all that’s 1968 and that was the year that I was six months married and six months single and the skipper of my boat and so I had to deal with it but I did just like everybody else did you watch the television, you watch the news you’d fret over it and you have to figure out what to do with the war because I knew that I had to go.
Q: Was it the same with My Lai?
Mr. Keary: Yeah oh and My Lai was right next to one of these forts I had to deal. It was about five miles away.
Q: What do you think about the tactics used in My Lai?
Mr. Keary: It wasn’t tactics it was rage, they were subhuman they were gooks you got to shoot them because that was the mentality of that group of army folks. I don’t think they were as good as today’s army, I think today’s army’s training, education, and abilities outshine us completely. I was very scared of the first Iraq war that the military industrial complex and all these weapons and drones and the stealth fighters and all that, that half of it wouldn’t work that this was going to be the first real battle test, and it worked out pretty well if you believe the news reels where they hit the buildings you can watch the cross hairs get on the building and blow it up. That happened, that worked, the tomahawk missiles worked so I think we have a good military nowadays and I think the army in Iraq is doing a fantastic job despite (inaudible) because I think they’re dedicated and trying to do well but once again, its whose the bad guy, you can’t find them but I think that they have the training and the discipline and they don’t have the interservice rivalry in the way they can go get Jessica Lynch with the army, the air force, and the Navy all cooperating on the mission to do it as opposed to no no this is an army mission we’re not going to let you air force guys in here. So they find the best people, get the best people to do the mission as they practiced it and they have practiced it so they know what they’re doing as opposed to getting out there and going oh my god what are we going to do we don’t know what we’re doing we’re just more of our attitude our experience we don’t know what we’re doing.
Q: So do you think that in the Vietnam War, that our troops could’ve been more prepared?
Mr. Keary: They could have been and they weren’t because they had the 50s as their background. B52’s and fighter jets and pushing the button on the missiles, that was how we were going to fight the war, or we were going to go to Europe and fight back all these millions of Soviet tanks, that’s what the mentality was. So because of Vietnam, we got smart. Because of Vietnam, Iraq, the first war, went very well and the invasion of the second war went very well.
Q: What did you feel about the college kids’ actions when they were protesting at Kent State?
Mr. Keary: That was a shock. I thought that the National Guard lost the bubble. They didn’t know what they were doing and opened fire when they should not have.
Q: And so you think that they started it?
Mr. Keary: Yeah, I mean they were provoked and they probably had procedures and methods that we would have used today that they didn’t have back then that would have been small notches keeping the situation calmer and maybe shoot once over their heads and that’d stop it instead of just oh no we’re going to get hurt here so we’ve got to open fire here kill’em all, that’s the My Lai syndrome.
Q: Did you participate in any humanitarian efforts?
Mr. Keary: We had a rescue over there that was pretty exciting. The ship was sinking and we went over and used our pumps to bail it out and got it in shallow water and got the people out. It felt good because we were doing what I was trained to do as opposed to just the war.
Q: Did you help any Vietnamese civilians?
Mr. Keary: No because I wasn’t ashore that much.
Q: When you were coming home, what was it like for you personally and everyone around you?
Mr. Keary: It was a trip, it was finally we’re out of here, I remember as I said that on the airplane…(flip side of tape)…So the airplane was a lot of fun coming back and it was a long trip again, but it was a different atmosphere because everybody was coming home we were finished. Getting to the California coast was good. I got on a commercial airline from there and flew and had to land in Cleveland and we came down towards Cleveland and it was Christmas time and just seeing all the Christmas lights was a big thrill.
Q: So what did you think about some people calling you guys “baby killers?”
Mr. Keary: I didn’t have much of that because I wasn’t in the army, I wasn’t near, I wasn’t with a bunch of army people where the protesters would congregate and yell at us. I was in the coast guard and nobody knew the coast guard was over there. So we had a good reputation and we didn’t have the “baby killers” name applied to us. In the coast guard in the 80s, I was stationed in England and there was a lot of protests then about the cruise missiles being stationed in England and aimed at the Soviet Union and there were these campouts and protests and signs at bases that I had to go in and out of and that was like running the gauntlet, we just kind of ignored them and went on our way.
Q: How were you able to ease back into society?
Mr. Keary: It was not bad because it was like I was on a long trip and I had been on long trips before. When I was on the destroyer ship going from Connecticut out to Greenland for a month at a time that was the same thing, we were gone for a month and when we got back it was great to be back and so going to Vietnam for a year when my wife saw me for two months in that year and then coming back was not too bad. It was not like I did not have to be at Keh San with the shells coming with the Marines and fearful of my life every second there with the big battles and have trauma like that, I didn’t have any of that. I had the responsibility of keeping these twelve men alive and not sinking the ship and doing my mission and that’s all I thought about.
Q: Have you ever been to the Vietnam Memorial?
Mr. Keary: I only went about two years ago. It took me that long to get back to Washington. I was stationed in Washington before the Memorial was built when Watergate was happening. I was stationed there then and I didn’t like it because I didn’t like the crowdedness of it and all that. And we have no reason to go back so I’ve seen the Memorial on T.V. and heard about it and finally went for a visit and it was moving, it was a moving experience, I looked for the names of these people that I talked about. I found their names and traced them and all that. It was a little emotional.
Q: How did you react to the role that Vietnam played in the presidential campaign in 2004?
Mr. Keary: Time for a sea story. We didn’t like the swift boats. We didn’t like the Navy because they were big and had bureaucratic mistakes. The people on the swift boats, now Kerry was a different year, Kerry was four hundred miles away from where I was I was in Danang and he was down south. So, I’m not saying this about him, the swift boat people had a different mentality. I was the commanding officer of a U.S. warship. I was it. This was my ship, this was my responsibility. I was trained to do the job and I was very interested in doing it well. They were the officer in charge of a boat, which they would go and check out, they would go and pick up the keys and drive the boat for a little while and come back. So that’s what the swift boat mentality was, and the swift boats were with us and we were warships and they were like jet jockeys, jumping in their jet and doing what they could and dropping the ball and giving it to us every chance they got because if it got too rough they would call up the boss and say It’s too rough we can’t do this we’ve got to go home. When what they meant was, they want to go drinking, there’s a show at the club. That’s what the impression was. Now they weren’t all like that but that’s the…that’s my anti-Navy prejudice coming out. But there was that element to it that they were not into it like we were and we would have to pick up the slack so our area was like this he would say it’s too rough we’re going out and our area just got bigger because we would have to patrol that much more.
Q: Has your view of the war changed over the years?
Mr. Keary: I came to realize that we could never win, we never had the chance to win which may be true in Iraq now but we should try.
Q: What are the similarities or parallels between Iraq and Vietnam?
Mr. Keary: Just that you can’t tell who the good guys and bad guys are. You don’t know which end is up and these bombs are always waiting to get you in Iraq and it was rocket-propelled grenades in Vietnam.
Q: What are the lessons that you learned in Vietnam?
Mr. Keary: You have to have some convictions and you have to keep true to them. That’s the biggest lesson.
Q: What are the lessons the nation learned or should have learned from this conflict?
Mr. Keary: You have to have a political solution to these problems; you can’t just do it with planes and bullets. That’s the big lesson I think. You have to negotiate from a position of strength but negotiate and accept the other side’s compromises and compromise yourself.
Q: You did work for the coast guard after Vietnam, correct?
Mr. Keary: Yeah, that was 1969 until ’86. 1966 to 1986 was my twenty years. So ’69 was only my fourth year of service.
Q: How old were you when you first entered service?
Mr. Keary: Twenty-two.
Q: I know you said that the backlash from anti-war people against troops wasn’t really against you but did you have an opinion of that type of stuff taking place?
Mr. Keary: I thought they were disloyal and worked into a frenzy by the drug crowd and the San Francisco types I call them, the flower people and all that because I was straight-laced. I was not overly drunk, never have done any drugs and never would have considered going to Woodstock or any of that. That’s just where I come from.