· This is Stephanie Sklar and Allison Walsh, with Mr. Kenney on
Friday May 5, 2006 at 2:30 at Wayland High School.
Q: Where were you born and when?
Mr. Kenney: I was born in Waltham in 1946.
Q: Please talk about your childhood, school and siblings, if any.
Mr. Kenney: I grew up in Watertown and I spent all my school years there.
I have one sister who is four years younger. And you know the baby boom
generation, and there were kids every place, and you know you go down
to the park and there would be kids every place and everybody walked and
rode bicycles; so different from Wayland.
Q: What did your parents do for work?
Mr. Kenney: My dad worked in a construction business; he worked for himself
a lot, and then he worked for someone else for a while. I kind of grew
up in the business; which had a big effect on me down the road, because
that what I ended up in through a lot of twists and turns along the way.
Q: Your high school experience…
Mr. Kenney: I went to Watertown High School, and I was the classic underachiever.
It was a big school and it was about 475 kids in the graduating class,
so if you wanted to play baseball you know there were nine spots, so you
know when you look at it, it was really competitive athletically and academically.
And I did all right; I didn’t take it real seriously. I got through
Q: Were you aware politically while you were in high school about the
situations around the world? As in your dad and World War Two…
Mr. Kenney: My dad always talked about it; he was one of those guys who
talked about it. He was in the Pacific Theater. Ironically, and unbeknownst
to me, he was in a construction battalion, CBs, and that was eventually
what I ended up doing, just kind of the way it worked out. Yeah you’d
hear about it and his generation always had a big camaraderie among the
males mostly; the people in the war and what they did. Also and growing
up, which is very different than now that when I grew up, they had the
draft and so you knew at some point you were going to have to do some
military service; probably because they didn’t have the Peace Corps
then. So it was a matter of some people did it right out of high school
and got it out of the way; 2 years and got their obligation done, other
people waited, so you always had that kind of thing hanging over your
head. You dealt with it somehow.
Q: Were you drafted or did you go voluntarily?
Mr. Kenney: Well it was a long story see, I went out of high school I
was going to be an engineer and I really didn’t have a great background.
Between my teachers and my attitude and so I went off to Lowell, which
is now Lowell University/Lowell Tech and I didn’t do that well.
So, I decided I what I really needed to do was to regroup here. So I decided
I really needed to go through algebra again if I went on to calculus.
And so, I went on to Wentworth, which was a 2-year program at the time
and it reviewed algebra and moved on. This was in ’65; this is when
Vietnam was just starting to build up. Up to that point, if you were in
school you got an automatic 2S, a student deferment. Then they started
needed a build up, they needed more people and a lot of time kids went
to college and had 2S’s, so they got drafted because they said they
weren’t making normal progress in school. They went from a 4-year
school to a 2-year school. So I really didn’t know what to do, and
this was before anything either of you would know. 2 years later they
had counseling on college campuses. So, I ended up joining the navy because
I didn’t want to be drafted. So that’s how I ended up being
in the navy. So that was just the choice I made at the time.
Q: Were you worried about fighting, since you said you knew you would
most likely end up in Vietnam?
Mr. Kenney: At a certain point, things kind of played out. I went to boot
camp and then I’m in here. I may as well see what I can get out
of this deal. I applied to be an electronic technician, which is the biggest
school they have, you know. Like 40 weeks or something, but I didn’t
get that. So, they had all that stuff, totally esoteric, like flag man,
boilermaker. I didn’t want to do any of that stuff. They had an
opening for construction battalion, so I thought maybe I could learn something.
So that is what I applied for and that’s what I got. At that point
they were building enough for construction battalion in Vietnam. It was
okay; I wasn’t theoretically going to shoot people.
Q: What kind of training do you get for that? Do you get specific training
for the construction battalion?
Mr. Kenney: Yes, you choose certain things. They give you 3 choices. Construction
battalion was my 2nd choice. Then they assign you to school. They sent
me off to school for 12 weeks, then you are going to be a builder.
Q: What kinds of things did you build while you were there?
Mr. Kenney: In Vietnam it was kind of dependent, like, we did everything
from radar sites on top of remote mountains to air fields, helicopter
pads, roads and bridges, and it kind of depended on what the need was.
I have a few pictures I could show you to get a sense of what we were
Q: Well, did you have views about the war before you got there? If you
did, did you agree or disagree?
Mr. Kenney: I was kind of naïve. When I first went in, before I
even went in, I was a naïve kid. I didn’t get the picture.
I was a slow developer. I remember this kid, and we would be having
an argument about that the war was starting to build up and we were
riding someplace with a bunch of guys, and this one kid goes, I’ll
tell you what they need in Vietnam, they need the Peace Corps, they
don’t need the army. And I’m thinking gee, I really never
even thought about it. But I mean, I didn’t think about it until
I got there, you know.
Q: Did you have a more defined view while you got there?
Mr. Kenney: After a while my view was, as far as the people, the peasant
population, which is the majority, I felt that they really, what they
wanted to do was live in peace and raise a family. There was a big geo-political
Q: When you flew there, what was it like saying goodbye to your family
and friends? Was it really hard? Did you know how long you were going
Mr. Kenney: Yeah, see what happened was, at the time, the war was 12
months continuous service in Vietnam they couldn’t send you back
in the same enlistment. And so because there wasn’t enough construction
battalion to go around, they circumvented it by, sending you over for
9-months, then send you back to the states for re-training, and then
they would send you back for another 9-months. So I landed in June 0f
’67, it was very depressing because you are on the Gulf coast
of Mississippi and 24 hours later you are stepping of the plane in Danang.
Have you ever been in the tropics where is really humid? This heat just
envelops you. It was in the middle of the summer. It was really hot;
it was really depressing.
Q: What did you do to deal with the heat?
Mr. Kenney: After a while you just got use to it. You just kind of acclimated
to it, but being young helped.
Q: Will you describe the kind of living quarters and where you lived?
Mr. Kenney: I have some pictures. That is one of the things we did is
provide housing. So of course, we built our housing first which was
basically a building about this long and a little narrower. It was a
wood frame with a tin roof. Outside or inside, depending on where you
were, you had mortar attacks you had pits so if you got attacked you
would jump into the pit and man your defense. It really wasn’t
that bad. Both times the main base was right on the beach. You could
hang around the beach. It was hot but you could go swimming if you wanted
to during the day.
Q: Was the water clean?
Mr. Kenney: Yes, it was beautiful! The place was gorgeous, a tropical
paradise. You could go look north and all you could see is white beach
and waves rolling in; rain forest. It was gorgeous.
Q: So you liked swimming a lot during your free time, or what else
would you do?
Mr. Kenney: Well some you know, not a lot. When you were at the main
camp you had the option of going swimming if you want or even take your
surfboard, and you could surf in the water. You see, this is how bizarre
it was, but I mean, this was in the main camp and they’d have
certain perimeters set up that would be in the main camp. So when you
had to be sent outside on detachment to go with the Marine Corps someplace
to build something you wouldn’t want to go swimming there.
Q: What else would you do in your free time?
Mr. Kenney: Well mostly you were working most of the time so you’d
come back, and if you were on a big project like Danang then you were
outside of camp so you’d come back and you’d get on one
of those National Guard trucks, you know, with the people riding in
the back of. So you’d get in one of those and you’d go to
wherever the job site was. We built some facilities for the marines,
the marine medical battalion. So you would go to the job and it would
be a twenty to thirty minute ride, and then you’d come back and
get something to eat when you got back. You could go down to the bar,
they had a so-called plaza, and you could go down to the bar and have
drink and play pool if you wanted. This was in the main big camp, but
if you were up in a smaller detachment someplace then basically you
had your hut and that was it. You could listen to music or you could
read; they really didn’t have too much there. You could get a
beer or something like that.
Q: You were talking about the pits before that you would jump into
if anything happened when you were at the main camp.
Mr. Kenney: Well yeah everyplace you went had that because you could
have a rocket attack during the night. Like at the main camp, if you
had a rocket attack the pits were outside, so you’d run outside;
well you’d get your riffle, helmet, and jacket, then run outside
and jump in the hole. And then, when things would calm down a little
bit you’d run, you’d have to run to your perimeter because
everybody had a position that they had to be in incase you were going
to be overrun. So you’d have to run to that position, which would
be another hole in the ground, and you just would wait. You might be
there all night or you might be there an hour.
Q: Did that happen a lot?
Mr. Kenney: No not a lot, it would come in spurts. I was pretty lucky.
It seemed that wherever I went it was pretty ok. I went to the DMZ,
but then it was quiet. I was fairly lucky, but we had some rough attacks.
Q: Were you ever in combat?
Mr. Kenney: No, not really.
Q: Did you ever see the V.C. or Vietnamese people?
Mr. Kenney: Well the Vietnamese were everywhere, but you never really
knew who was who. They wanted you to stay in the main camp. For the
most part you were in the Danang area and it would be very limited.
To go downtown to 'Nang was off limits. Once in a while we would take
the jeep, sneak down there, and ride around so you could get out and
do stuff, but it was pretty limited. Where as if you were what is commonly
referred to as a grunt, those were the infantry guys, they would be
off on patrols all the time so they would be off in the middle of the
woods which was different from my experience for the most part.
Q: Since you said you didn’t see any combat, how was the morale
where you were?
Mr. Kenney: I was kind of atypical because what they did for us since
they were taking us over for nine months, and then brining us back is
that we traveled as a unit, so you knew you were in Gulf Port for five
or six months and did all this training and stuff but you were with
the same guys all the time, and then when you traveled over there we
were with the same guys the whole nine months, so you were with them
all the time and got to be good friends. The typical infantry guy was
being rotated all the time, so he’d show up and he’d be
like the new kid and then there’d be guys that would be leaving
in a month. It was just different, so we were lucky though because we
got to know people and connect with everybody.
Q: So your spirits were generally pretty high?
Mr. Kenney: Yeah well we were okay. It was pretty good, I mean it was
kind of tough and there were long days and I think it could get mentally
challenging trying to keep your wits around you.
Q: Did you listen to the radio or could you hear about stuff that was
going on at home?
Mr. Kenney: Yeah we had a radio and stuff. They had a paper, Stars
and Stripes. That was our propaganda I kind of figured out afterwards.
It didn’t really tell you much of what was going on, only the
good stuff. You had no idea of what the hell was going on in terms of
the strategy of the war or anything like that, we just had no idea at
Q: Did you keep in touch with family and friends from home?
Mr. Kenney: Oh yeah you could, they had mail. So you could do mail
or people would send tapes and they had little tape recorders and then
they even had a ship to shore telephone every once in a while that you
could use there’d be a series of stations around the world, but
you know, I called my folks a could of times. But that was the exception;
it was mostly mail.
Q: Was the telephone good?
Mr. Kenney: No it wasn’t that great. You know not a great connection,
and you’d have to say “how are you doing, over,” and
they would say “I’m doing fine, over.” So you’d
have to go back and forth, but they were happy to get it.
Q: So did you hear about all the opposition to the war that was going
on at home?
Mr. Kenney: Yeah, well I kind of figured out after a while when I came
back the first time I had friends that were in college and stuff, and
we would go hang out. So that’s when I realized. I had a friend
who was going to Northeastern and they actually had draft counselors,
you know if you were going to get drafted they’d say this is what
you do, this is what you don’t do. I didn’t have any of
that; I didn’t know what the hell was going on. So that was interesting
and I had lots of reservations.
Q: Did hearing about Kent state and the opposition to the war affect
you at all?
Mr. Kenney: After I got out I was pretty much against the war. I mean
I went to Boston common to protest, I mean at this point I was a student
at BU. I mean, yeah I was pretty much against it at this point.
Q: So it wasn’t an insult to you?
Mr. Kenney: No I mean I didn’t have a lot of the same experiences
as some guys, when they came home people would spit on them and stuff.
I didn’t have that because I basically came home and we were stationed
in [gulf port] Mississippi, and when we came home they freaking thought
we were great. You know, southern Mississippi. So then when I went home
the people that were friends were still pretty supportive. So I didn’t
get all that flack that some people did.
Q: Were you a member of veterans against the war?
Mr. Kenney: No, not officially. I was aware of it, but at the time
I was working to pay my tuition.
Q: Did you become opposed to the war after you got home or were you
opposed to it while you were still in Vietnam?
Mr. Kenney: No, it was more after. I was only home for five months
to try and get a feel of what was going on. But then I was always out
trying to have a good time. By the time I got finished the second time
around I kind of thought that it was not a good thing.
Q: What did you do in the time you were home? Was the training in between
your two periods very different?
Mr. Kenney: Yeah it was mostly in Mississippi then we went to camp
le jeune and traveled with the Marine Corps. When I got back from Vietnam
I went home for two weeks, then I was back in Mississippi and we did
retraining. I went home again before I went overseas again, so I was
only home a total of one month in between tours. Other than that I was
on a base doing something.
Q: How did your friends and family react to the war?
Mr. Kenney: There was some discussion, not a whole lot but some. That
would be the summer of ‘68 so there was a ton of stuff going on.
One of my friends shows up with freaking hair down to his shoulders,
earrings in his ears. I mean this is 1968, everybody was wearing a whiffle.
It was just a very tumultuous time in terms of culture. Also, going
to Vietnam was a real culture shock for a kid from Watertown. I had
never been any place third world before and to see people living in
shacks, and people urinating in the rice patties and defecating in the
rice patties I mean this was like freaking people out.
Q: Have you been to the Vietnam War memorial?
Mr. Kenney: Nope, I’d like to go there, but I haven’t been
Q: Just because you haven’t had time?
Mr. Kenney: Yeah I just haven’t gotten down there, I would like
to go down there and see it.
Q: Do you view your experiences in the war differently now that you’re
Mr. Kenney: Well I mean at the time then I was a freaking kid, just
a dumb kid. I was starting to wake up a bit; you know I was slowly seeing
the light come on. It was very challenging mentally to keep your wits
around you at the same time, on a whole other level this whole experience
of being in southeast Asia, for a twenty year old kid was exhilarating,
not the fighting but just the whole experience of being there. So there
was a combination of stuff going on, of different feelings.
Q: Did you learn any lessons from Vietnam? What do you think the country
should have taken away from the war?
Mr. Kenney: I think we didn’t learn any lessons because we’re
doing the same thing in Iraq. I think be careful when making commitments
with troops. In Iraq it’s the people that were the freaking guys
who were the draft dodgers who are sending the people over there to
be killed. I think that we have to be very careful.
Q: So do you think that if it wasn’t the draft dodgers making
decisions, and instead it was people who were in the war, they wouldn‘t
be making the same mistakes?
Mr. Kenney: It’s not going to happen now, but I always kind of
thought that if somebody’s going to be the president, then maybe
they should have at least have been in the service to have an idea of
what the hell is going on in there. I liked Clinton and I didn’t
have a problem with him dodge drafting, that didn’t bother me.
I just think that he was in the position to send people to do what he
was unwilling to do.
Q: How did you feel about the role that Vietnam played in the 2004
Mr. Kenney: Foster Wright told me twenty years ago that this guy John
Kerry is a very ambitious guy. I obviously wish that Kerry had been
elected over Bush and I think there was a certain part of Kerry, and
I think this true of most people with political ambitions, he was very
calculating. He at least went. But I mean I didn’t know that you
could get a cut and get a purple heart, but he was aware of that and
he took advantage of it. So I sense he is a very calculating guy on
certain levels. But I thought that trying to beat up on him because
of his Vietnam record is ridiculous.
Q: Do you still talk to the people that you were with in Vietnam?
Mr. Kenney: Yeah, some of them. They have reunions down there that
I’ve gone to, a couple of those. That’s a small percentage
of the guys, and it’s kind of become a club now. So they all get
together and I go once in a while, so I do keep in touch with a few
Q: Did you spend most of your time on the main camp or were you mostly
Mr. Kenney: Well it was probably half and half. You’d spend several
months on the main camp and then you’d leave if you were sent
Q: But it was your whole group that was sent to everything?
Mr. Kenney: Well no the detachment would be twelve, maybe thirteen
guys. The only thing good about that is that you get away from all the
bologna. The guy that was an [E-5], an enlisted guy, was in charge,
so it was nice to be away from all the bologna at the base.
Q: How was it spending holidays together?
Mr. Kenney: I spent two Christmas’s there actually. They were
kind of the big ones. It was the first time for me being away at Christmas.
But it was okay, I guess, they give you the day off, so that was ok.
The Red Cross would give you this little goody bag and stuff was in
it. I was just a dumb kid, only twenty, so you know we did it and it
wasn’t that bad.
Q: Did you think the ranking in your battalion was fair?
Mr. Kenney: They had a lot of young guys they recruited that were construction
people and they built up the CB. Most of the guys that I worked with
were from 19-25. Twenty-five was the old guy. They guys that were above
that were mostly what you’d call “lifers,” people
that were probably making a career out of the service. They were all
different, some of them were really smart and motivated, and some of
them were alcoholics. I mean it really ran the gamut.
Q: Did a lot of people turn to drinking if they were really sad?
Mr. Kenney: When I was there it was more the beginning of the war,
and I think that a lot of the marijuana smoking druggies came after.
I was home in March of ‘69; it was starting to creep in. I think
I knew a couple of guys who were smoking, but there wasn’t a lot
Q: Was the bar a really big scene?
Mr. Kenney: Well you know, you’d go down and have some beers
if you wanted to, you could have as many as you wanted.
Q: You talked about the beaches before; did you take a lot of pictures?
Mr. Kenney: Oh yeah, I got very into photography. I think it was more
just something to do. If someone was going to Hong Kong you could “get
me this camera,” or “buy me this lens.” So I’d
kind of read up on it, it was just something to do. We were very limited,
you couldn’t go off base that much so it gave you something to
Q: What was your experience with the Tet Offensive in 1968?
Mr. Kenney: Oh the Tet Offensive, well that day I got on a plane to
come back to the United States, that morning. That night they tried
to run our base. I didn’t even know about it until freaking two
weeks later. So stories came back about them trying to run our base.
Q: They never successfully took any of the bases though did they?
Mr. Kenney: I was pretty fortunate, I mean when we were in the 'Nang
we had some rocket attacks and some ARVN took our hut one night. It
really wasn’t too bad. We were actually sent on detachment to
the D.M.Z. which was really a hot spot. They had these mortar pits that
were right next to your bunk, so in an attack you would roll right of
your bunk into the mortar pit. We went on there on detachment way out
in the boondocks and we never got bothered. At that time they didn’t
have road bombs, weren’t as sophisticated as in Iraq, but they
had trip wires and mines. Usually they were more selective and would
go after something with an infantry person or a tank person rather than
us. I think if they were going to kill somebody, they’d kill somebody
that was more of a threat. We were lucky that way.
Q: So you left right as Nixon was being elected?
Mr. Kenney: Yeah and then I came back like six months later. You really
didn’t know what was going on over here in terms of politics.
I really didn’t know until I came home and watched different programs
on Vietnam and the strategies and politics. They gave you the stars
and stripes, which just told you what they wanted to tell you. But when
you got home you’d get a little more input, but you weren’t
watching the TV with your parents every night.
Q: You said that you began to oppose the war once you got home, but
did any of big the attacks start to change your mind while you were
still in Vietnam?
Mr. Kenney: Oh yeah well I went after three months to Hawaii and I
thought man, maybe I should keep going to Canada, because all of my
family lives in Canada. My parents were from Canada originally. I though
Q: So you didn’t have any distain then for the men who defected
Mr. Kenney: No I mean I remember in our boot camp there were a couple
guys, the first night they were over the hill. I knew they were gone.
All the people going to Canada, I mean that first year I don’t
even think they had political asylum that was in the late ‘60’s.
I wasn’t even aware of it. Somewhere I became aware of it. I remember
when I came home for the first time I had a friend going to Northeastern
and I remember going in there and they had draft counselors. So it was
a totally different thing from when I was going two years previously,
I didn’t know what to do. So it wasn’t really an option.
If I resisted I would have ended up in the brigand in country that would
have probably been for a year.
Q: Do you agree with the draft, or do you think that it should all
be voluntary? And how do think a draft would work if one were started
Mr. Kenney: I think that the draft was generally a positive thing for
a lot of reasons. It made the general public much more aware of the
military and to be a citizen soldier. Also I think that it got a lot
of the guys from Illinois, out there on the farms, who would still be
there, it gave them a chance to get out of there and see the world,
and to grow up a little bit, and I think that’s a very positive
thing. I think that the draft disappeared because of Vietnam, because
of those deferments. I think that a national service would be better
and the military could be part of that, or you could do the Peace Corps
or do work in a hospital. I think that would actually be a positive
thing. When I went in you’d meet freaking rednecks from Georgia
and Florida and freaking conservatives from Idaho, its freaking amazing
the broad base of people you come in contact with. There were very positive
things about my military experience, and also very negative things.
Q: Would you still have joined the Navy if you knew about the ways to
get out of the draft?
Mr. Kenney: Well at that point, that would have been 1965, I think
if I had refused to be inducted I would have been put in prison. Canada
was an option. See it was my first lesson in life about reading the
fine print, because I got this draft notice and so I went immediately
to the draft warden in Arlington, and I said, “hey, I got this
draft notice, but I’m in school.” And the nice lady there
said, “well sonny if you’re in school then you don’t
have to worry about it because you’re going to get a 2-F.”
But the fine print on the back said you have ten days to appeal this
notice in writing. And I didn’t do that. It was funny, this kid
I went to school with, the exact same thing happened to him, but he
knew my experience, so he appealed it and joined the National Guard.
Q: What was your draft number that you would have been if you hadn’t
joined the navy?
Mr. Kenney: Well I wouldn’t have to go, I had like a high number.
At this point it didn’t matter though because I was already out.
Q: What positive impacts do you think being in the service had on you?
Mr. Kenney: Personally, you get to meet a lot of people, I got to travel.
I was basically all over the world in the three years, I was in there.
I enjoyed that part of moving around and traveling. I think it gave
you a new prospective on life. It was an experience that you wouldn’t
have done otherwise. It was the odd combination of being in a labor
camp, and a monastery, and a war zone all at the same time. It was totally
bizarre. It made you think about yourself and what you wanted out of
Q: Is there anything else that you wanted to add that we left out?
Mr. Kenney: There were huge changes in the country going on and [can’t
understand] and it was very amazing to experience all that in different
ways. You just kind of deal with it and keep going.
Q: If you had known what it would have been like would you have still
Mr. Kenney: My only alternative would have been to refuse to go and
I probably would have gone to jail. I don’t think I was mature
enough to do that, I was just this dumb nineteen-year-old kid. I remember
when I joined this guy takes you into a room and they swear you in and
they say do you uphold the uniform code of military justice? And I remember
thinking to myself, “what the hell is the uniform code of military
justice?” Of course they didn’t tell you, they’d tell
you later when you had violated it already. Some people have their light
go on sooner that later, mine went on later. I just wasn’t sophisticated.