ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – Though he rarely faced the “front line,” local Vietnam veteran Curt “CW” Weaver remains proud of his service and grateful to his nation.
Weaver grew up in South Baltimore in the 1950s and 60s. He said his childhood was reasonably happy.
“We were poor and didn’t know it,” he said. “But we had everything we needed. In those days, everyone looked out for each other and if you did something bad the neighbors would tell your parents.”
Weaver attended Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, a college preparatory school with a graduation rate above 95 percent.
“I had no desire to go to college, but in 1966, if you weren’t married with kids or in college you were getting drafted.”
He said he originally planned to join the Air Force but after he tested, an Army recruiter called him and offered him the same benefits as the Air Force but with a three-year enlistment instead of four.
Weaver was sold.
After flipping through an Army MOS catalog, he selected and enlisted for general cryptograph repairman “mainly because the school was 47 weeks long.”
“That was almost a year,” he said. “Plus, I figured since computers were temperature sensitive how could they send them to Vietnam?”
He graduated in 1966 and enlisted in February 1967. His question was answered during advanced individual training when they were told the course would be extended a few weeks to train students on a new system that was mobile and used in helicopters.
“I was one of the first to train on the equipment,” he said, adding that the system was brand new and modified for ‘Nam, his destination after AIT.
Heading to ‘Nam
Vietnam was nothing like he imagined. He said the first thing replacement center personnel did when he arrived at Cam Ranh Bay in March 1968 was rip up his orders.
The Tet Offensive was in full swing and Weaver said he knew that meant trouble. He said his heart sank when the replacement clerk solemnly told him, “You’re headed north.”
He was assigned to Nha Trang Air Base. Weaver said when he looked out the second floor window at that replacement center and saw the ocean he knew he was “in a good place.”
“Nha Trang was probably hit [by mortar attacks] eight times while I was there,” he said. The huge installation of Air Force and Army personnel was heavily fortified, however, and successfully repelled all attacks.
Because of the secret and delicate nature of the work, cryptograph repair was in high demand and repairmen were only semi-controlled by their units. Weaver was assigned to a large Communications Center in the Grand Hotel on the South China Sea at Nha Trang.
He and two other buddies with the same MOS were frequently called on for repair runs out “in the field” to the 22 stations they supported.
“Because of our clearances the commander had little control. We’d just grab our tool boxes and go.”
He said travel to field sites was left to the repairmen.
“You had to find your own way out there,” he said. “We’d either hitch a ride from the nearest airbase or hop a convoy. It really made the job interesting, especially if we had to stop at an [U.S.] Air Force base. They had everything.”
He said he envied the Airmen; their recreation and shopping facilities were superior to anything he’d seen on Army bases, until one Airman told him it was nice, but ‘like being in jail.’
“He hadn’t left the base in a year,” Weaver said. “I guess they had to supply all that stuff just to keep them from losing it.”
When not working, Weaver would relax in their hooch downtown or on the beach with buddies.
“We never stayed in our barracks,” he said, noting that other elements on the installation included Army engineer and aviation elements as well as the 5th Special Forces Group and Republic of Korea (ROK) soldiers.
“Nha Trang was where the French troops did their R&R,” he said.
“It took me a long time before I could say I’m glad to be here. It didn’t feel like it was real, like I was in a cartoon.”
A cartoon vs. reality
One thing that was real, however, was his respect for his Vietnamese neighbors in town of Nha Trang.
“I fell in love with the people,” he said. “I really got a feel for what they were going through. They went through the French [occupation] and now this. They were to the point where they’d listen to anybody with a uniform on.”
He recalled one night when “Charlie [Viet Cong soldiers] were “coming up the street shooting.”
“Some of my neighbors ran to our hooch to hide and I thought to myself, ‘how can you live like this?’”In retrospect, he said, he realized they didn’t have much choice. “Most of them were women, children and old men,” he said. “All their young men were in the South Vietnamese Army.”
Staying positive was important, he said, and looking for the humorous aspects of serious incidents. One night while on duty in the Grand Hotel communications center Weaver said he received a Top Secret message.
“It said that they would be changing the MPC the next day,” he said.
MPC or military payment certificates were a form of currency used to pay military personnel in foreign countries. They were printed banknotes used in place of money. Weaver said the word was out that the Viet Cong were using American MPCs.
“That meant the next day, they would be collecting old MPCs from everyone in ‘Nam and issuing new money,” he said. “Before the day was over I had Mama sans and Papa sans coming up to me with bags full of old MPCs asking for 10 percent of their worth. I told them by then it was toilet paper.”
A black wooden box with mother of pearl inlay designs on the cover holds the photographic memories of Weaver’s time in ‘Nam. Along with photos of local villagers working or relaxing on the beach there are photos of GIs posing near their bunkers. He even saved his ration card, his short timer’s calendar and his MAC (Military Airlift Command) ticket home.
“I wanted my mother to think I was on a big vacation so I always sent beach photos home,” he said.
Weaver said he was situated just right for promotion and other opportunities.
“When we got to Nha Trang, the Com Center had radio teletype communications,” he said. “The machines created a lot of heat which caused breakdowns. We came up with an idea to separate the machines so we’d have fewer breakdowns.”
The three repairmen soon went from working 24 hours every other day to eight hours on and 24 hours off. Weaver said they were recommended for Bronze Star medals for the project, which they never received.
Weaver served in ‘Nam from March 1968 to February 1969. He made Spc. 5 (E-5) within his first 18 months in The Army, and he said he was offered E-6 if he extended for six months, which he declined.
“I thought about, it, he said. “Guys who went back to the states complained about all the [nonsense]. In Vietnam you knew your job and you did it but they said there was all kinds of other stuff to put up with stateside.”
Weaver was assigned to Fort Carson, Colorado in March 1969. He left the Army less than a year later in February 1970.
Weaver said he worked about 40 different jobs after he left the service. He once applied for a position at the National Security Agency, where others with his level of clearance wound up but was turned off by the “rigid environment.”
“After that I went to work for the Eclipse Mattress Company in Linthicum [Maryland] where I had the freedom to move around,” he said. “I needed my freedom.”
Weaver and his wife raised a son and a daughter and now have five grandchildren. He said that after ‘Nam he was on a downward spiral. He grew a beard, was drinking heavily and experimenting with drugs. He left his first wife six months after he returned.
“My mom said Vietnam changed me,” he recalled, “but I never put a needle in my arm and I always had a job.”
Life changed for him while living in Tennessee in from 1978-81 when he “found the Lord and got saved.”
“Since then, I’ve led a good life,” he said. At age 67, Weaver now sells retractable awnings and says he doesn’t see himself retiring.
“The older you get, the more you should do,” he said. “In the Bible, God seems to give older guys more to do.” He said ‘Nam gave him a love of life and country that is still burning.
“I’ve been in seven auto accidents but I was never even scratched in Vietnam,” he said. “That tells me my run’s not done yet.”
“Vietnam was one of the best things that happened to me. If everybody lived outside of this country for six months they wouldn’t be bad-mouthing this country. What we have as a country – as a people – is priceless. We’re not perfect, but democracy is the best guarantee for freedom.”
Like any other war, Vietnam produced an array of veterans. When the conflict ended, some veterans opted to continue service in the military while others returned to civilian life. Some returned with life altering wounds – physical and psychological – while too many others, who never came home at all, remain among the Missing in Action.
On the surface, the veterans of the Vietnam War faced the same challenges as veterans of other wars, except for one glaring difference: they were vilified by American society like no other generation before or since.
Today, nearly 50 years after the war’s end, the veterans of Vietnam are in their 60s and 70s. The passage of time has cooled the tempest of indignation that shrouded their homecoming and an ambiance of repentant thanks thrives in its wake. Many still do what they can to serve this nation.
This article originally appeared in the “APG News” as part of an ongoing, multi-year series hailing the service members and civilians who served the nation during the war in Vietnam. Giving a voice to local Vietnam veterans, it is through their stories that we honor their service and sacrifice, and offer a long-overdue “Welcome Home.”
For more information about the series or the veterans featured, contact “APG News” Editor Amanda Rominiecki at email@example.com.