By: Sam Zeff & Kaite Stover
There is a quiet current of honor and duty that runs through Richard Schroder’s stories of his time in Vietnam. He may not be aware it is there. To Army Master Sergeant Schroder, it is a given response--when one is asked to help, one steps up. Schroder is the second military medical veteran in this Archiver series. And unlike most doctors, nurses, and medics, he made the army a career.
Schroder went into the service on June 6, 1968. The date stands out, he says, because it was the anniversary of D-Day. After basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, he went to San Antonio for basic medical training, then onto Fort Lewis, Washington for advanced medical training. After that, Schroder went to Vietnam.
Schroder was an army medic stationed at the fire support base in Song Be province, not far from the Cambodian border. Fire support bases were set up to provide artillery support for soldiers operating in the area. Schroder spent almost two years in Vietnam with the Fifteenth Medical Battalion attached to the first cavalry.
Military service runs in Schroder’s family. His father, whom his mother divorced, was at the Battle of the Bulge. He had several uncles who served in the military. One was killed in Korea, others served in World War II.
Schroder remembers his first day in Vietnam. “It was nighttime when we got there. They opened the doors of the plane and the first thing that hit you is the unbearable heat and humidity. It was tremendous. I think they took us to Ben Wa that night on buses. The next day we received our assignments. That’s when I found out I was with the First Cavalry.”
When asked to describe a typical day, Schroder says, no such thing exists. “You could say that a regular day wasn't a regular day because some days were very slow and monotonous. Other days were busy because we were getting wounded in.”
Schroder recalls one particularly harrowing day at the base. “We got word a Chinook helicopter was coming in. Chinooks can carry a lot of men. We sent all our ambulances and jeeps up to the Chinook pad to bring back the wounded,” he said.
Schroder and a fellow soldier stayed behind and were waiting for the injured to arrive. Suddenly, they heard a helicopter. It was the Chinook, trying to land on a pad that was designed for smaller helicopters.
“We run to the door and we look out and here's this Chinook landing on our little pad. Trash cans are flying everywhere because of the downforce from the rotors. The tents, they were blowing in and out. There were about 20 men on the helipad. And luckily, when we get a large number like that, the cooks down in the mess hall and the clerks in other parts of the company area, they all responded. People off duty. They all come in. Flocking to the treatment bunker to help bring in the wounded.”
Schroder turns thoughtful when asked what might have changed for him after Vietnam and offers his take on the outcome of the Vietnam War.
“I don't think it changed me in a drastic way. It was a very big aspect of my life, one that I would not particularly want to do again. I kind of bristle when I hear somebody say, well, we lost the war. And I'll say, we didn't lose the war. Meaning the military and the politicians lost.”
Richard Schroder continued to serve his country first in the Kansas National Guard and then the army reserve along with other veterans. He speaks regularly in the Kansas City area about his Vietnam War experiences in schools, senior centers and ceremonies and programs honoring veterans.
Kaite Stover is the Director of Readers’ Services for the Kansas City Public Library. She is a regular guest on KCUR 89.3’s Central Standard “Bibliofiles” segment and hosts the Kansas City Star’s FYI Book Club. Follow her on Twitter @MarianLiberryan and Instagram @KaiteStover.