Thursday, March 16, 2017

I am slowly, slowly figuring out how to research the incident involving my uncle's death in Vietnam, but it has been difficult to find out anything about the activities of the Special Forces group he was assigned to, other than generalized military bravado talk. (On a side note, there are far too many vets out there who brag about themselves as "former mercenaries.") The public records at the National Archives offer masses of casualty data, which are helpful but narrow. The Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress has a single oral history interview from a sergeant, a Green Beret medic, who served in the same Special Forces group and whose dates overlap my uncle's. But the transcript is not available electronically, and the sergeant seems to have been posted in different regions. Still, I'd like to see what he has to say.

This is what I do know. Paul Douglas Potter was a first lieutenant, a Green Beret, a member of the Quartermaster Corps, and a parachutist. He was a Presbyterian from Allentown, New Jersey, unmarried, the youngest of three children. He was called into active duty from the Army Reserve, and he arrived in Vietnam in December 1967.

In Vietnam, Paul served with the Fifth Special Forces Group, Command and Control Central, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam Special Operations Group (MACV-SOG), which, according to Wikipedia, was "a highly classified, multi-service United States special operations unit which conducted covert unconventional warfare operations prior to and during the Vietnam War." He was involved in a number of actions during the Tet Offensive.

In August 1968 he was at a Command and Control Center in Quang Nam Province for a conference of some sort. According to an eyewitness, there were many Green Berets and other Special Forces personnel present, so the event was a big social occasion and a lot of people were drunk. My uncle took a bunk that someone else had wanted. After he went to bed, the North Vietnamese guerillas, who may or may not have previously infiltrated the compound, began tossing satchel bombs. My uncle's chest was impaled by a two-by-four. The eyewitness--the one who had wanted that bunk--saw him through the door, skewered to the bed. He did say that Paul died instantly and probably never knew what hit him.

Paul was 23 years old.


Maureen said...

Dawn, I'm wondering if the vets at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in D.C. might be of help. One or two of them are always at the Memorial and probably know ways to get in touch with others who served with your uncle.

The writing program that Joe Bathanti, North Carolina's former Poet Laureate, runs includes many Vietnam vets; that might be another possibility. (I know Joe and could put you in touch.)

Dawn Potter said...

I may take you up on that contact with Joe, at some point. Right now, as I said to Tom last night, I'm at the point of not even knowing how to narrow my focus . . . basically, I need to ask, What's my trigger for needing to write about this? and then spend some time trying out possibilities. When I was working on the western Penn. project, I found that my trigger was often first-person narratives and newspaper reportage. But in this case, I first need to suss out my general parameters and issues . . . including spending time with maps and a timeline. So many of the histories focus on the politicians' and generals' strategies. I know that's not what I want to read, but the books of soldiers' voices often don't provide enough chronological structure, which I do need. And then there's the issue of the Special Forces info, which I'm pretty sure is classified but that, to me, seems like a crucial link.

In other words: oy.