Vail Character: Jim Gilbert
Vail, C Colorado
VAIL, Colorado ” Jim Gilbert left his relaxing ski-bum life in Vail, Colorado in the mid-60s to return home to Concord, N.H., where, at age 23, he joined the Army and was sent into Vietnam in May of 1965. That was only a couple months after he and his buddies left New Hampshire to travel to the “new ski resort in Colorado with great snow.”
During his first stint in Vail, Gilbert was a chef at the Red Lion, which allowed him to have free meals whenever the restaurant was open. He rented out a room at a small hotel for about $15 dollars a night. Whenever he wanted to ski, he could get a half-day pass for free if he walked down chair 1 and chair 2 with his ski boots on to packed down the snow ” there wasn’t a snow cat.
Yet, this life had to be put on pause when he received a letter from the military. Gilbert was sent into Vietnam ” where he didn’t experience a cold day for eight years ” and after only a couple months of training, he quickly climbed up the chain of command. He had started out as a second lieutenant and ended as a captain.
VD: What was a typical day in Vietnam like?
JG: Boring. Most of the time you just slogged around in the jungle, cleared leeches off your legs or looked for drinkable water. It was always so hot and humid, so you sweated a lot … when you were near the coast … you could swim in their beaches. Their beaches were beautiful “they’re all coral, and white sand with warm, blue water.
Vietnam was actually a fairly beautiful country. It was really fun to be out there. But then, every once in a while, you’d have a little firefight. And most of these firefights, or battles, would only last five to 15 minutes. I was in a couple that lasted longer, but usually it was boom-boom and we’re over ” it was almost harassment.
The battles in the cities, with the Tet Offensive, were the battles that lasted longer. It was more of the Marines and the South Vietnamese who were in the cities. But I was always in the jungle.
VD: How did you get injured?
JG: I got wounded when I was a second lieutenant, because I could read a map. I never got the company lost, so I was always the first platoon officer in the front because I could navigate. One day, I navigated into an ambush ” but I was going in the right direction. I got shot in the arm and was in and out of hospitals for nine months getting it repaired. Because of the medical advances, the doctors didn’t have to amputate my arm ” they just took a bone from my lower leg to repair my arm.
VD: What did it feel like to be shot at?
JG: You were concerned, you ducked, and you returned fire. The big thing was that whenever a little firefight started, you tried to have your unit become the suppressive fire. What this means is that you had to put out so much firepower to make your opponents duck. They would stop shooting back at you, then run away. That is why a battle usually lasted five to 10 minutes.
VD: What did you think cause a lot of veterans to suffer from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder?
JG: I don’t know, but I could make a guess. I never dealt with those problems, but I bet it was because you’re busy 24 hours a day when you are in the military. When they got out of the service, I guess a lot of these guys couldn’t keep a job. They didn’t stay busy, making them remember traumatic memories from the war. I only had one day when I lost three men “they were in the middle of a helicopter that blew up. But other then that, nothing traumatic ever happened ” I was pretty lucky.
VD: What do you think the difference is between the Vietnam War and the War with Iraq?
JG: The difference is the people back at home. There were few supporters of the Vietnam War, but today there are many civilians who support the soldiers who are fighting in Iraq. I never really felt like a hero when I came home; but I was proud of myself for what I had done. Today you’ll see soldiers wearing their uniforms in the airports. When I returned home, the military advised me to change into civilian clothes while I was traveling.
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