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Wilkes County Veterans History Project: Gyeral May

Gyeral May's Photos

Journal Entries

June 1968

At some point before I went into the Army I was told to never volunteer for anything.  It's hard not to sometimes.  You have to quickly evaluate the request and then yea or nay it.  One Friday evening before being dismissed for the day, our DI said we were going to have a half day training session Saturday morning.  He wanted some volunteers for special duty.  He said he needed some people with mechanical skills and some with driver's licenses.  About a dozen spoke up and the platoon guide wrote their names down and it to Sgt. Paul.  "Great . . . See you in the morning . . . Platoon , ,. Attention . .. Dismissed."

Next morning after chow hall we formed up and Sgt. Paul called the names on the list to form a line.  He marched them to the back of the barracks and out of our sight.  About five minutes later they came back.  The first six or so had a shoulder full of shovels, rakes, and hoes.  The next six were pushing wheelbarrows. Mechanical skills and drivers. Ha.  He dismissed the rest of us for the day.  I had avoided volunteering this time. Ha.

Every weekend one of the platoon sergeants had to spend Saturday or Sunday in the Company area.  They would rotate the duty known as CQ (Command Quarters, I think).  Each CQ had a CQ runner who stayed with him.  The runner did things like answer the phone, go get someone from the barracks, turn on the barrack porch lights near dark, etc. etc . .

One Saturday the CQ had all five platoon guides report to him.  He informed them to spread the word that our entire Company was invited to tour Fort Benning.  We would form up at 10am.  We would go to several interesting places such as the Jump School for demonstrations and end up at the Officers Pool for ice cream and refreshments.  Hey girls in bikinis.  Sounded great and only a few in the Company didn't participate.

We formed up with excitement and the DI gave us a few words about behavior while out and about. "Stand at ease" . . . and we did.  We kept expecting a line of trucks or buses to pull up.  Five minutes, ten minutes went by.  Finally "Attention . .. right face . . . forward march."  We marched all over that dang base and it was Georgia HOT.  We saw everything promised and even saw bikinis and got ice cream.  Again, welcome to the Army Mr. Jones.  Ha. Volunteering got me this time. Ha.

March 1969

After leaving the chow hall one afternoon, I saw the 1st Sergeant's jeep pull into the troop area and the driver grabbed his rider's duffle bag.  I thought the rider looked like one of my classmates from Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD.  As I got closer I recognized him as he was entering our headquarters tent with his duffle bag.  It was Domingo Camancho.  While we were classmates for seven months, we had become good friends, even though he was a Mexican American. Ha. Kidding. Ha. He was a good person.

I went into my tent and waited for him to come in and be shown his new home, just as I did a month earlier.  Finally, I really knew someone in this place.  I felt like I had found my long lost favorite dog. Ha. When he made it to the tent I yelled . . . Domingo Comancho is in the house . . . His eyes got big and he smiled from ear to ear. . . and in his best broken English said . . . Man whatch u doin?  Ha. I helped him get settled in his new world and introduced him around, just as had been done for me.  We sat around and got up to date that night and I answered all his questions about the place.

He explained that he had been on a 30-day leave after school, whereas I went straight to Nam.  I helped make his day by introducing him to a fellow Texan in "D" troop.  He and "Hadley" bragged on Texas for an hour an I have never forgot that arrogant frame of mind all those Texans seem to expound when they get a chance.  They say "Don't mess with Texas . . . I say  . . . Because it's already a mess. Ha.

July 1969

We could keep up with the "real world" news with our radio.  There were several stations we got coming from Saigon or somewhere.  Radio America or something.  Anyway, we were aware of the moon landing on the 20th. Yea  . . . right.  Sometime very early the next morning I had occasion to visit our outdoor pisser.  It had only a four-foot tall, three-sided sheild.  As I was relieving myself I caught a glimpse of the moon and it hit me like a rock.  Dang . . . two guys are up there walking around.  I'll bet they can't do what I'm doing.  That was that.  It finally hit me on night while on guard duty during a big full moon.  I believed. Ha.

While I'm on the subject of the radio.  They played a lot of rock-n-roll, country, bluegrass, and even polka.  Yep . .. every Sunday from noon to three. Your Polka Guru would come on and talk about what he was getting ready to play and everything you need to know about it.  Can't imagine where he thought his listeners were located.  It sure wasn't Kansas Toto.  I guess if you closed your eyes you could have been there,  You dang sure couldn't close your ears.  Ha. One thing about the polka music I learned was there was more to it than just the Pennsylvania Polka.  After about three months of Sundays, I actually, truly started to like it.  I should say tolerate. Ha.

November 1969

It had been about a month since the 9th Infantry had moved from Dong Tam when I was again on guard duty.  The area they had occupied was about 15 miles away as the crows fly.  About 1am in the morning I noticed a long red streak coming from the sky to the ground in the direction of Dong Tam.  Apparently that area was under attack and "snoopy" was operating in that area.  They were C-130s that had 4-6 mini guns on each side of the airplane.  They would circle in one direction while firing, until they ran out of ammo, and then turn and circle the other way,  This allowed the side that was empty to rearm.  It was hypnotizing. 

Every 5th bullet is a red tracer and the guns fire 4K rounds per minute.  That's why it looks like a solid red line.  There must have been at least two operating in the area because occasionally you could see two different streaks at times.  Flares were dropping and lighting up the air and ground, and this went on for 25-30 minutes.  What a sight it was . . . and then it was over.  Can't imagine being on the receiving end.  Local ARVN units replaced the 9th and I guess the VC decided to try them out.  Mistake.

Rumors were starting to float around that our officers wanted to challenge the enlisted men to a football game on Thanksgiving Day.  Plans started being made to make it a big troop party day.  Things started coming together and the big day/game was off and running.  We had food tables, drinks, water, and beer tables, and even 3-4 cheerleaders for each side.  The officers made several 2nd Lt.'s put on wigs, grass skirts, and coconuts.  Our cheerleaders wore long mumus and were not as pretty as the officers. Ha. Ours made megaphones out of cardboard, but used them mainly for beer funnels.  Yuck.  The officers may have had the brains and plays but we had the muscles.  Our team ended up beating them by 4-5 touchdowns.  What a great time we had.

January 8, 1970

Happy Birthday to me.  Received cards from Tiny and Mom/Rudd.  Nothing special, just another day in paradise.

The last ten days in country was "easy time."  You didn't have to work, just do what you wanted.  Danny King and I actually walked down to that Girls' Orphanage . . . After TET'68 our base had rebuilt their compound and put in a pool.  They allowed GIs to swim in it on special occasions.  We asked 1st sergeant for permission and he gave us a pass to get onto their  compound.  What a beautiful place.  Flowers everywhere. I was now mentally ready to go home.

I had four days left and that night John Garland asked me if I wanted to ride in the supply convoy to Can Tho.  I jumped at the chance.  I would ride shotgun in the back jump seat with him and the 1st sergeant.  Now I know why thy call it a jump seat.  It like to have beat and bounced me to death.  Ha.  We left at 8am after chow and didn't get back until 6pm.  It wasn't as bad as I thought it might have been.  We rode in the middle of about 30 vehicles and had a couple of Cobras overhead.  Seemed a little strange to actually be in a vehicle and in traffic again since Manila.

Gyeral Bernard May

Gyeral Bernard May was born on January 8, 1945 in Portsmouth, Virginia. He was drafted into the Army on May 5, 1968 and served through May 4, 1971, with a highest rank of Specialist 5th Class (E5).  He belonged to B Troop, 7th Squadron / 1st Air Calvary - 164th Aviation Battalion and was assigned to Aircraft Armament Repair during the Vietnam War.  Following his deployment, Gyeral continued to serve at the U.S. Army Ordnance Center and School as an instructor.  He was awarded a National Defense Medal.   

Gyeral May's Story (interviewed by Aruna Ross)


Where are you from and what did you do before you joined the military? 

"I was born in Portsmouth, Virginia. My mother was from Wilkes County so I've been coming here all my life. I've lived here since 2015. After high school I served a 4 year apprenticeship as a Machinist. After I received my diploma as a Journeyman Machinist I went to work at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, VA." 

Did you decide to join the military or were you drafted?

"I received a letter from Uncle Sam saying he wanted me.  I knew it was coming, after all, that was the only thing on the evening news. On May 7, 1968 I went to Fort Benning for Basic Training. At the time they rotated drafting Army, Navy, and Marines. So I got Army." 

Where did you go after Basic Training?

"My drill instructor, Sergeant Paul asked me where I was going and I said infantry. He told me with my background I needed to re-enlist and pick a school. So he drove me to the Base Recruiting Office, they checked my test scores and told me which schools I qualified for. I picked the longest school and the one closest to Portsmouth. Aircraft Armament Repair (45J20), 26 weeks at APG, Maryland. I graduated from Basic and had a 12 day leave. I left with Tiny the next day to go to South Mills, NC to get married. I graduated from AAR in 1969 and received orders to go to Vietnam." 

Where in Vietnam were you stationed? 

"First I came into the country at Cam Ranh Bay and then went by bus to Long Bien to the 90th Replacement Battalion.  Then to Can Tho, 164th Aviation Battalion Headquarters. Then my final station was Vinh Long B Troop 7/1 Air Cavalry. We lived in Platoon sized tents for about 6 months then moved into a new 2-story barrack. When not flying on a mission we walked about 200 yards to a mess hall for breakfast. Walked back to the barracks to catch a truck to our work area on the flight line. We stayed working on the flight line until our Cobras came back after their mission and worked on their problems, rearming them for the next day's mission. Most days were from 6am to 7pm, or 8 or 9pm."  

What did you do when you went on missions? 

"All three of the troops flew different missions, and never together. We each had our own separate work areas, headquarters, troop areas, etc. but did the same type of jobs. Each mission had two armorers and one extra crew chief. We were let off at small areas with connexs full of rockets and ammo. They called it the arming point. The helicopters would fly about a quarter mile away and and sit down until a mission was called to them. If they needed anything they would land at an arming point where we would service them. They would then fly back to their mission area or to their staging area. When released from their mission they would fly back to Vinh Long. Most times a slick (chopper) would fly back to the arming point to pick up the three of us. Two of the ten armorers would rotate going on the mission every day. Missions would usually take off at 5am and last until 4pm. We'd get up at 4am and go eat breakfast, go to our operation center, and get the number of the slick to catch and get our C rations. We carried a small tool bag, 45's, canteen, and drinks in a small canvas bag, and caught a truck going to the flight line. Our section was issued one M-79. It was a one barrel 40mm launcher that broke down like a shotgun to load one round, fire, then repeat. It was like firing a hand grenade 100 yards. If you missed the truck to the flight line you either ran or got left. It was also not good to make it for the start of a mission, get to the mission staging and arming point, work all day, and then get left overnight." 

Did you ever get left behind? 

"Yes. The first time it happened to me I was lucky the other two guys had experienced it before. We watched the copters crank-up and start lifting off. We started getting our stuff together and watching for one of the slicks to circle around to pick us up. The first copters would start climbing in altitude and the latter ones would low level as far as they could which helped them catch up quicker. Maybe they'll realize they left us. We had six crackers between us and one canteen. Lewis said it would be around 6 or 7am the next day before they could get us. The bad thing was we'd have to stay and work, but they would bring us water and C-rations. The birds and monkeys stayed up until midnight making noise, and we started 2-hour guard shifts. Around 6am we heard a chopper coming for us. We rode about 15 minutes to the new AO and stayed all day. Luckily the mission was called off around 2pm and we headed back to Vinh Long. I fell asleep going back feeling hot, tired, and safe."

Did you ever travel to any other parts of Vietnam, or to any other countries? 

"Most G.I.'s took their R&R after about six months. There were six or seven places to pick from and married guys could go to Hawaii and meet their wives. Tiny and I talked about it and the earliest I could get was October. I told her that was too long and I wanted a break at about six months, no later than seven. Me and my buddy talked it over and decided to go somewhere together. The first available slot was Manila in the third week of August. We would fly to Saigon and then to Manila. While we were there we went and saw a large American cemetery, it was beautiful and impressive. Most people there spoke English, and our commanding officer had been right, people were very friendly there." 

What did you do after you left Vietnam? 

"They wanted me to be an instructor at my old school. I was now stationed at the United States Army Ordinance Center and School; Headquarters Company; Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Aberdeen, Maryland. The first thing I had to do was go to Instructors school. I didn't know it at the time but I would start doing this for a living, some twenty years later, at the Naval Hospital. Some time in August Tiny found out she was pregnant, we were very excited about having our first child. I got out of the Army in 1971. I started to work again at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, and Tiny transferred to Norfolk." 

Reflections and words for future generations

 " Serving in the military took three years of my civilian life from me, I already had a machinist journeyman's license and a good job when I was drafted.  The Army really didn't have anything for me that I wanted, but if you don't have an idea of what you want to do, that is a good way to get an education.  I was able to do a home study with technology from Cleveland Institute with my G.I. Bill offering educational benefits.  It was good, my military benefits covered everything."

"Unless you are a relative of a veteran, or marry a veteran, you would think they are just like any other group of people.  I have only run into good people. I've never met a veteran who was a bad person.  Most veterans have a great strong work ethic.  Coming back from Vietnam War, maybe your job or MOS in service caused traumatic memories.  I was lucky that I never experienced the loss of anyone close to me while fighting."