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Omer Price Carson
The Vietnam Veteran
I would like to pay tribute to the men and women of the armed forces of the United States who served in the Vietnam War. Those who returned home and those 58,007 who paid the ultimate price to have their name inscribed on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C.
Vietnam, the war that seemed never to end, has become the war Americans can't seem to forget; a nightmare gripping an entire nation. It was 35 years ago, in March of 1965, when the first American combat troops landed in Da Nang and were greeted by young women bearing garlands of flowers. Then for 16 long years Americans fought in the jungles, waters, rice paddies, and cities of Southeast Asia. The longest U. S. war fought, with 58,007 dead, 2,477 MIA's, 303,000 counted as wounded, but omitting the thousands upon thousands whom returned home with lingering mental and physical injuries not recognized by our government.
It was 25 years ago on April 30, 1975 that American's involvement came to an inglorious end, leaving a legacy of an entire generation scared, cynical, and deeply mistrustful of its government.
The legacy of the Vietnam War is nowhere more vivid than in the nation's armed forces, which bore the brunt of the fighting, as well as the criticism that followed. By any quantifiable measurement, the United States should have won the war the day they got into it; instead, standard military procedure and objectives were shifted as the political, and domestic situation changed. The troops were expected to spend their time skirmishing with Viet Cong guerrillas and trying to pacify villagers, known as attempting “To win the hearts and minds of the South Vietnamese people.”
As one veteran said, Uncle Sam sent us over there and then tied our hands. If the Viet Cong were on their side of the line we were not to shoot, but it was okay for the Viet Cong to shoot us. The Viet Cong would retreat into Cambodia and we could not go into Cambodia because it was “neutral”. Whenever our troops did go into Cambodia all sorts of political hell broke out stateside by protesters. If protesters were over there and had to fight everyday just to stay alive they would better understand what was happening.
Our young men who fought bravely in Vietnam, many, whom should have been hailed as heroes for their bravery against hostile forces, were not the ones who lost the war. Our government lost the war with its inability to make strong military decisions, and by the restrictions it placed on the troops in Vietnam.
Kentucky, a mostly rural state, with a relatively small population, gave more than its fair share. More than 28,000 Kentuckians went to war in Vietnam. Only 27,000 returned home. Kentucky lost 1,102 brave young men in the jungles of Vietnam, including 23 MIAs. Sometimes the deaths were borne individually by families; sometimes-whole towns felt the terrible losses.
In the early years, most people in Kentucky, being fiercely loyal Americans supported the war and backed their government. By the war's end, Kentuckians, as did many Americans, seemed glad to see the nightmare come to an end.
Today, the state and the rest of the nation are still coming to grips with the nightmare of the war and healing is still slowly taking place. The most tangible signs of this healing are sculptured in granite: The Veterans' Memorial in Washington D.C. and smaller memorials around the country.
In Jackson, Kentucky, a 72 year old woman led the drive for the memorial which listed the 216 Breathitt county men who fought in the controversial and unpopular war. Small dark stars mark the names of the twelve whom died while answering their country's call to arms. In Wolfe county the American Legion post led the drive for the memorial listing the names of all Wolfe county men who died in the different foreign wars. The Kentucky Vietnam memorial in Frankfort is designed so that on the day the solider gave his life for his county; a shadow from a sundial pointer touches the fallen hero's name.
Many Vietnam War veterans are now in their forties and fifties. Some have prospered and risen to positions of power and influence. Others are still deeply torn by their war experiences. U.S. society caused the GI's lack of war closure by ignorantly not listening to their war stories, therefore invoking the traumatic stress syndrome.
Although feeling somewhat betrayed by the government, hold your heads high. Your sacrifices were in the service of noble ideals, to save innocent people from brutal tyranny. You served your country well in a very confusing and convoluted situation, both in combat and in the view of society when you returned home.
One Vietnam veteran who holds a special place in my heart and I have fond memories of is Omer Price Carson. Omer was the third child in a family of five. He grew up on a small farm in the Baptist community of Stillwater in Wolfe County. He learned to work early in life, helping tend crops and cattle. Omer was happy, good-natured and loved to hunt and fish.
Omer attended a one-room school, which he walked to and from each day. He and his brother would be the first to school in the wintertime. They would build fires in an old potbelly stove so that the school would be warm by the time everyone else arrived. Omer was the Grand Champion marble player at the Baptist Community School, and his aggie was always ready for any and all challenges.
When Omer was in the first grade he played hookie one day by hiding in a corn patch behind the school and falling asleep. His teacher, parents and most of the community searched for him all day. Omer had awakened and mistakenly thought school was over and returned home half way through the day. Also while in the first grade his mischievous ways and strong, seemingly unbreakable spirit earned him “hero” status among all of the school's eight grades. He was well known for always yelling “Feel Goody” after any paddling he received in school.
Omer was my best friend, companion and buddy. He was my little brother. We did a lot of fun things together when we were growing up. We broke dad's cattle to ride, we took mom's refrigerator door to snow ride on, and we tied a tire on old Fred's tail to use for a sled. Although Fred was an old workhorse, our scratches and bruises testify to the folly of the sled experiment.
Omer is still a big influence in my life today. I still remember his words, “Sis, you can do that, all you have to do is try”. Like the time he was teaching me to drive. He leaned back in the seat of his car and pretended to be asleep. About that time I drove the car into a ditch. Omer just looked up, all cool, calm and collected, and said, “Well, give it some gas, you don't want to stay here all day”.
Omer graduated from Wolfe County High School in June 1969. He wanted to become a doctor and had hoped to use his G. I. Bill to go to medical school. Omer entered active duty on June 5, 1969 at Louisville. Omer received his training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Fort Polk, Louisiana, Fort Sherman, the Panama Canal Zone, and three weeks of jungle operation courses. He commenced his tour of duty in Vietnam on February 10, 1970. He graduated from ranger school on March 8, as an honor graduate, after successfully completing two weeks (116 hours) of training. Fifty-six entered the class and only seven finished. They called themselves the Seven Elite, because only a few are privileged to wear the patch of the Airborne Rangers.
Omer received many awards and citations during the year and a half he was in the army: the purple heart more than once, the air medal, bronze star, two silver stars, and many more while attaining the rank of Ranger Team Leader. Omer never called attention to his awards, in truth we never knew of them until they were posted in the newspaper, and when asked how he got the awards he always replied, “They give'em to me for walking in the woods”.
Omer and his team were on a reconnaissance mission into Cambodia when they encountered an “overwhelming” hostile force. He and his 3 or 4 men were pinned down for four days before reinforcements from the blue team were sent in. When the other American unit joined Carson's patrol the groups attacked the Viet Cong position. Disregarding his own safety, and true to his motto “ Give it some gas, you don't want to stay here all day”, Sergeant Carson moved through the exploding contact area to an exposed position to direct the fire away from his men. He was wounded at approximately 3:37 p.m., December 6, 1970. He was evacuated to the 24th evacuation hospital in Long Binh, were he succumbed to his wounds at 3:30 a.m. December 7, 1970.
President Roosevelt said that December 7th would live in infamy in the minds of Americans forever as the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor but for me it will forever be the day I lost my brother.
Captain Frank H. Steward, Infantry Command said of Omer, “Omer's performance of duty reflected nothing but the greatest possible credit upon himself and his loss will be keenly felt. It is not possible to replace him or his abilities. His endeavoring to do more than his share to assist his friends will be missed”.
When I asked some friends about Omer I received the following responses: He was the happiest person I ever knew always had a smile on his face and a sparkle in his eye. He enjoyed life, loved everything and everyone in it, and one of his eyes was a different color. He was always doing for others and I bet he was when he died”.
One of his teachers wrote, I take great pleasure in writing about one of the greatest students I ever had in the classroom in all of the 34 years I taught. Omer was a small freckled-faced child, with auburn red hair, one eye was blue, green and brown, and the other eye was blue. He was a quiet student and as I worked one on one with Omer, I realized he was a very intelligent child also, he had talent. As I recall, it always seemed he had the power or brains to work anything out. Everything had to be perfect before he would speak or answer any questions, also every paper he ever handed in had to be perfect. Omer as I recall loved everyone and everyone always loved him. I feel the Lord and a reason for calling him home so early in his life.
In August 1992 four of the remaining 6 elite, Ed Bailey, Bobby Fisher, Jimmy Massengill and Bill Weaver, came to visit us and go to Omer's grave. In 1993 Bill Weaver donated a North Vietnamese rifle to the Ranger Museum at Fort Benning, Georgia in honor of Omer Carson and Tim Harper.
In 1994, on Memorial Day, a man by the name of Lou Carista called me. He had been Omer's troop commander in Vietnam and told me how sorry they all were about Omer and what a fine young man he was.
These men have told me several things about their friendship with Omer, and that Omer was the one you wanted guarding your back over there. These men formed a strong bond with each other, their lives depended on each other.
The war was unfair to those who fought in it. If you visit the Vietnam Memorial notice how many of the names are of Spanish origin. You can also assume a high proportion of those who died were poor or black. The well to do, particularly those in college did not contribute in accordance with their numbers.
The Vietnam Memorial is a testament to the healing taking place. As you walk along the face of the wall the path sinks deeper and deeper as the wall looms higher and higher. Perhaps this symbolizes the way we became more deeply involved in Vietnam. The enormity of it is such that it can not be understood and must be set aside as we go about our lives. The blackness of the wall makes one feel as if they are under the ground, face to face with the 58,000 who will never get the chance to put it all behind them.
When the black messenger comes and goes nothing fills the immediate void. A loved one has gone on that longest of journeys. Never again will we travel this life together. May Omer and the rest of the brave men and women who gave their lives in all the wars, that we can live in the America we know today, rest peacefully having labored well as soldiers and gone for their reward and God's mercy.
----Written by Pauline Caldwell