Veteran Spotlight: Army Spec. Peter Haviland
Born in Cambridge, he went to college for a while after graduating high school, then decided to volunteer for the draft.
"College wasn't working out so I decided to enlist," he remembered.
He went to Fort Dix, N.J., for basic training then was sent to Fort Polk, La., for Infantry Training.
"They did their best to replicate what we would — lots of night training exercises — it was challenging" he recalled.
He would arrive in Vietnam in the summer of 1968. His feeling?
"There were so many people going to Vietnam from Fort Polk, I thought I was invulnerable, I was looking forward to the adventure," he said.
He would later land in Long Binh'.
"I was along for the ride, I didn't think it was a big deal," Haviland said. "Fortunately, they needed soldiers in an armored unit, that's where I got assigned. Instead of walking into battle, we rode in."
Haviland would recalled his first fire fight: "We were going through a village, the VC always knew where we were. I saw flashes on my
right, which was where my machine gun was. The tanks had incredibly bright lights, which made us a pretty good target."
"I was one of three new guys that came into the platoon," he continued. "Our sergeant said, 'you go there,' 'you go
there' and 'you go there' — the guy in front of me ended up getting his legs blown off on a mine. Luck of the draw I guess."
Was he ever afraid? "Not really, I honestly thought nothing could happen to me, maybe it was false bravado, I don't know."
Being in constant combat, he shared this wonderful story.
"We'd stop in villages, that always drew a lot of attention and we would play with the kids," Haviland said. "I wrote to my sister to send me the scariest mask she could find and used it to entertain the kids. It was an escape for me. I loved kids, it's the reason why I became a middle school teacher."
How were the holidays? "Not really difficult. Looked forward to
my 21st birthday so I could have a drink. We were in a place called the Iron Triangle, very, very dangerous place, thought 'this is a heck of a way to spend my birthday," he said with a laugh.
When I asked about camaraderie, he shared this: "10 years ago I was looking on the internet on stuff having to do with Vietnam. I said, 'that's Byron Watts!' a guy I served with. We now have a network of guys from my platoon that keep in touch and get together. We communicate on Veterans Day and some of us more frequently."
Haviland shared a very personal story on the one tattoo he has on his arm in memory of a soldier he served with.
"His name was Doc Dippert. He was a conscientious objector to the war. The Army made him a combat medic. He was from Plymouth, Ind. I wrote to his wife after the war but never heard back," he remembered.
His thoughts on the protestors? "I was supportive of them after I got out. I agreed we shouldn't have been there. Not going to fight a war against insurgents and win."
He continued, "I did my job and never expected anything from it. So glad I did it. I grew up a lot, a life experience."
Haviland was awarded a Purple Heart after his vehicle hit a track and blew up on their way toward the Cambodian border and he suffered a broken eardrum.
He expressed his strong desire to mention the nonprofit organization warfighterscuba.org.
"They limit it to combat veteran, Purple Heart recipients," he said. "They take you to Honduras and teach you how to scuba dive. It's tremendous therapy, really helps combat veterans adjust to civilian life."
He taught middle school for 30 years and is happily married with two sons.
Spec. 4th Class Peter Haviland, thanks for your service to our great country and welcome home.
Wayne Soares is the host of the popular, new veterans cooking show, "The Mess Hall" and entertains our troops around the globe. He is also the host and producer of the Vietnam veterans documentary "Silent Dignity – The Chapter That Never Ends." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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