In 1989 Dan Roach was showing scouts from Sacramento and from Willows Troop 57 the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC. One of the vets standing vigil at the Wall asked the scouts if any of their fathers who served in Vietnam talked about their experiences. The reply was a resounding "no!" "At that," Roach writes, "my eyes welled up and tears rolled down my cheeks." He determined to give a voice to his own memories.
An "infantryman in the South Pacific during World War II saw about 40 days of combat in four years," he writes. "The average infantryman in Vietnam saw about 240 days of combat in one year thanks to the mobility of the helicopter. I saw 210 days."
Roach's memoir is called "Gifts of War: Once Upon A Rice Paddy" ($50.48 in paperback from AuthorHouse, www.authorhouse.com). Included are dozens of color photographs that transport the reader back through the mist of decades. "These stories are all true as I experienced them and written to the best of my recollection." They "aren't any more significant than any other soldier's; they are just mine and I own them." He also chronicles the trip to Vietnam in 2007 made by his son, Shane, to the places he had operated. It is a moving account.
First Lieutenant Roach "reported to Vietnam in March of '68 as a replacement officer" and became a "platoon leader for the 3rd platoon of Delta Company, 1st Battalion of the 501st Infantry, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division; the original U.S. Airborne unit." Later, before his assignment ended the next year, he became Delta's XO (Executive Officer).
In his assignments Roach witnessed the ugliness of war first hand, the terrible mistakes that can be made in the midst of combat, and the "gift" war provides as a kind of desperate laboratory for leadership development. Roach learned the dangers of complacency; that sometimes "when a serious mistake is made, often times living through it is sufficient punishment"; and to "maintain an honorable vision."
There was another gift as well. A Bay Area radio station in 1968 encouraged listeners to write to the troops, and a Christmas card sent to Roach by one woman changed his life forever. "It was a match made in Vietnam."