“I was just over there doing what I had to do.”
Mary Beth Sallee
Hart Co. News-Herald
In the 1960s, a war was raging in Vietnam, a war that was brought to the American home front by the military draft.
During the Vietnam War era, between 1964 and 1973, the United States military drafted approximately 2-million American men to serve in the foreign conflict.
Rodney Bell of Canmer was one of those men. He was drafted into the Army in 1966 at the age of 19.
“At the time, it wasn’t too much of a surprise, but it was one of those things,” Bell said. “…It was kind of an uneasy feeling, but I didn’t turn it down. A lot of people ran away from it.”
Bell underwent boot camp and basic training at Fort Knox. He was then transferred to Fort Lee in Virginia for Advanced Individual Training (AIT). From there, he went to New York. Then he flew from California to Alaska and Japan and then to Vietnam.
Bell served in Vietnam from 1967-1968 and was part of the 14th Division Supply Yard.
“We packed the nets (with equipment) for the Chinook choppers to fly out,” Bell explained.
In combat, the Chinook could carry thousands of pounds of heavy weapons and supplies.
Bell was in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive, a major escalation and one of the largest military campaigns of the war. It consisted of simultaneous attacks by the North Vietnamese government that was carried out against major South Vietnamese cities, dozens of military installations, and several towns and villages throughout South Vietnam.
“The hardest time was Tet Offensive,” Bell said. “They hit us up every two or three days where we were at…It was a trying time.”
Bell said some of the most difficult moments came when he and others had to go to four bases and the airstrips where they picked up the nets and carried equipment and supplies out. He described Vietnam as a “different world”.
“It rained all the time. On the other side of it was hot and dry,” Bell explained. “If you ever watch the Forrest Gump picture, it pretty much tells the whole story.”
While in Vietnam, Bell and his fellow soldiers always thought of home.
“We had a countdown calendar,” he said. “We always counted down the days until we got to come home.”
Bell was able to take R&R (rest and recreation) in Australia. He then was back in Vietnam for two months before returning to the United States in September of 1968. He was then stationed at Fort Lee in Virginia.
“I was just proud to be home,” he said.
Bell served his country from 1966-1969. He made a few friends along the way, one of which he continues to keep in contact with.
“I had a buddy from South Carolina, Jerry Keller,” Bell said. “Me and him still talk pretty regularly. I think it was in ‘98, we had a little reunion, and we all met him down in Tennessee and spent some time together.”
In conclusion, when asked about his service to his country, Bell’s answer was one spoken with humbleness: “I was just over there doing what I had to do.”
On behalf of the newspaper and all of Hart County, we thank Rodney Bell for his service.