‘Her name was Lola — she sent me my draft notice in May of 1968.”
Local draft boards determined who would be drafted. The branch of service decided who went to Vietnam.
Roy Vandeventer graduated from high school on May 18, 1968. He reported for a physical, shots and duty on May 31 in Butte, Montana. He was 18 years old and the only Sheridan draftee on the bus. Following training, he headed to Vietnam.
After a lengthy questionnaire at the induction center, Vandeventer qualified for Special Forces. If he completed basic and jump school successfully, he would receive nine months of Special Forces training and would be a part of an elite unit responsible for covert operations. Paramilitary functions were considered so secretive that at times the U.S. government may deny all knowledge of them.
Vandeventer committed to three years of active duty — a year longer than other draftees — making him regular Army.
Fort Lewis, Washington, hosted him for six weeks of basic training — Infantry-11 Bravo School, an Army designation for infantrymen. Jump school at Fort Benning, Georgia, consisted of three weeks of airborne instruction.
Vandeventer then entered Special Forces training at Fort Bragg. “Endurance was key. We ran everywhere,” Vandeventer said.
Courage, stamina, perseverance and guts meant you made it or you didn’t. After phase one, Escape and Evasion Training required them to jump with 110-pounds of gear. Once on the ground, the men worked to get back to friendly lines without being captured.
“There were men out there trying to capture us. We broke up into seven- or eight-man teams. We traveled at night through the woods and used navigation to make it back to home base without being captured. Others weren’t so lucky. That was the first time I had ever seen waterboarding. It was a powerful training aid to see captured soldiers being waterboarded,” he recalled.
Engineering and munitions were Vandeventer’s military occupational specialty. He learned to calculate structure size, strength and weight, and how to use explosives to “blow” them for the military’s advantage. Qualifying, Vandeventer moved on to Phase III of Special Forces training.
At that time, he requested a Drop On Request, as he was needed at home in Wyoming. This stopped his training and gave him 30 days leave. Taking the DOR meant he was no longer a member of Special Forces, and upon his return to service, he received his ticket to Vietnam.
151st Infantry Airborne
Flying from Travis Air Force Base, California, and to Lon Bihn, Vietnam, an American logistics center east of Saigon, Vandeventer was assigned to a unit at Bien Hoa. Home to the Indiana National Guard, Company D Rangers, he served in the 151st Infantry Airborne. Unassuming and deeply rooted, it is imaginable that Vandeventer never assumed his service would aid his unit in becoming the most highly decorated outfit to serve in Vietnam.
Titled LRRPs (Lurps), this stealth, six-man exploratory unit spent five or six days in the bush to complete reconnaissance; find trails, cashes of food and munitions and set up ambushes to prevent the Viet Cong from moving munitions and supplies to their units; or capture the enemy for interrogation. Following their time in the jungle, the team received a three-day break before another mission.
Prep for the next mission began on day three of the team’s rest. Rucksacks were packed with essentials: food, munitions, ammunition and other necessary gear to support the team in the field. The men became sober and deliberate and double-checked everything. Weapons and other equipment were placed for easy access and where they were most valuable. LRRP’s team members depended on one another for survival.
Camouflage painted on their hands and face blended them into the jungle’s environment. Taking meds stopped defecation. Drinking little water prevented urination. Tape kept equipment from clattering and making unfamiliar sounds not heard in the bush. The Viet Cong were keenly aware of sounds and smells that were out of place in the jungle.
Soldiers remaining on base walked the outbound teams to their choppers. Cobras, UH-1 helicopters or slicks, as they called them, moved the unit to their landing zone, a small clearing that was used as a drop. The LZ was a very dangerous place as chopper sounds were an alarm to the VC.
Once on the ground, the team was silent. They walked softly, quietly and were hyper vigilant.
Operations might suspect the VC were moving supplies or weapons on a specific trail, teams would be sent in to ambush them with Claymores (anti-personnel mines, command detonated and directional). They contained a layer of C-4 explosive that shot metal balls in a 60 degree pattern, much like a shotgun sprays buckshot. It was a very effective weapon if you were an LRRP. For a rest overnight, Claymores surrounded the team and lined the perimeter for protection. Someone was always on guard so the others could sleep.
Later on, this unit’s new major required proof of contact with the enemy. It was then obligatory that teams carry the proof back to the chopper so the copter pilot could confirm. This dangerous precedent meant, as it slowed them down, making the trek to the LZ more risky.
Upon returning to base, the men were greeted with an open beer from welcoming soldiers.
Aid to his fellow soldier
“The last day of the Nov. 29, 1968 mission, we were moving toward the LZ about a click (kilometer) away. We walked into this rubber plantation built in the ’20s or ’30s. There was this big termite nest. One of our team members got shot three times — once in the calf, once above the knee and once in his thigh. A VC bunker existed on the side of the rubber plantation, probably a hundred yards away. I ran up and tried to stop the bleeding while I was shooting at the bunker. All the other guys were shooting at the bunker. It was a good thing that choppers were in the area picking up other teams, because they came over and shot ‘em up, and they (VC) were KIA. The wounded team member went back to the states.”
For Vandeventer’s meritorious service he received a Bronze Star Medal. “I didn’t do that for the award. I simply was helping a man that got hit.”
Per the government, “His actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.”
Second Bronze Star
On Jan. 17, 1970, Vandeventer earned his second Bronze Star.
“We blew on these four guys (with Claymores). They were KIA. We didn’t know they were the lead element for about 25 other VC coming up the trail. Another team member and I started receiving fire from the 25 that followed them. We called in (via radio) and alerted operations we had visual on enemy activity. They got the choppers coming towards us. Those VC were coming after us, firing on us and tried to flank us. I figured they were going to go over this bluff for better firing penetration. I cut back and got around that hill. They started coming up over it. I kept their heads down so they couldn’t fire on us any longer. The Cobra’s machine guns discouraged them enough that they took off.”
Once again, “Roy’s actions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.”
Solace in Wyoming
Today, Vandeventer raises cattle and horses and spends time with his beloved wife, children and grandchildren. A few years ago he gave each grandchild a framed copy of his service awards. Each one is proud of him and has placed the framed awards on their bedroom walls. Every Veterans Day, each sends him a handwritten note thanking him for his service and for being their grandfather. And on warm summer days, Vandeventer and his horse find solace in the Big Horns.