On July 20th, Dunwoody Preservation Trust featured Vietnam veteran Jim Torbert as part of its History Alive series.
Torbert shared his experiences before, during and after his service. Several Vietnam veterans attended and shared their thoughts and knowledge.
Torbert grew up in St. Louis, Mo., and attended Texas Christian University, where he decided to sign up for ROTC and learn to fly airplanes. He went with Army ROTC, which was a three-year commitment.
Following graduation, he was sent to Fort Eustis, Va. His orders for flight school sent him to Fort Wallace, Texas, followed by Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah. At that point, Torbert was selected for test pilot school and returned to Fort Eustis. In 1968, he received his orders to Vietnam.
From Travis Air Force Base near San Francisco, Torbert flew to Honolulu, the Philippines and then on to Vietnam.
He recalls thinking as the plane flew over San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge, “What have I gotten myself into? I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing, but I am going to come back to see this again.”
Torbert was part of the 281st Assault Helicopter Company, known as the Intruders, the first Special Operations helicopter company in the U.S. Army. The helicopters they flew were UH-1s, also known as Hueys. The Huey was called the workhorse of Vietnam because it could be adapted to work as a troop transport, gunship and for medical evacuation. The Intruders sometimes removed soldiers from dense jungle, where a harness device, called the McGuire rig, was used.
Torbert carried two cameras, one of which was a Kodak Instamatic. The instamatic made it possible for him to snap photographs with one hand. He showed some of the other items that he carried each day during his service.
There was a P38 (a small can opener) for opening rations, his dog tags and a blood chit, a piece of cloth that explains in several languages that the person holding it is American and requests that assistance be offered should they be found injured.
Photographs of the camp helped the audience understand what daily living was like when out in the field. Tanks of water warmed by the sun were used for showers. Clothes were spread out on top of tents to dry. Sandbags were stacked up around the tents for protection from gunfire. One night, five men at the camp were killed by a direct hit of mortar rounds.
There were some good memories of close friends, listening to music on reel-to-reel tape, and USO shows. Torbert saw comedian Martha Raye, who signed her name on a helicopter shield with lipstick following her performance. The USO also ran a beach at Nha Trang with lifeguards and a guard tower. He was able to visit the beach one time during his tour, joined by a nurse stationed nearby for a picnic.
Torbert speaks to adults and students about the Vietnam War and has found the amount of classroom and textbook coverage in schools is minimal. By sharing his personal experience, knowledge of the history, photographs and video, he brings a greater understanding of this war.
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