Veterans Voice: Paul Watson
Cameron High School graduate Paul Watson was drafted into the United States Army in 1969. He took Basic Training at Fort Campbell, KY, and advanced training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
He was deployed to Vietnam in July of 1970, returning to the States in July of 1971. Paul was a MOS Mechanic assigned to the 79th Maintenance Company in Vietnam. The 79th was the only Maintenance Company in Vietnam, and was kept busy. All confiscated guns (enemy guns) were sent to the 79th, which in term examined and shot the enemy guns, so there was frequent testing on their firing range. Paul remembered a captured sniper rifle with a large silencer. He reports that when it was fired, the only sound was the bolt sliding back and forth.
Paul was the driver for his Executive Officer among other duties. But Paul’s cousin was a Huey helicopter pilot on 3rd tour in Vietnam, so Paul took the physical to be a door gunner for his cousin, which he did during his first 6 months in Vietnam.
He said that being a door gunner was certainly exciting, but also dangerous as he was half-hanging out the door, often flying at treetop level at high speed, looking for enemy troops.
Their Huey was also involved in transporting ground troops from one spot to another. This mean flying very high, until they saw smoke popped on the ground, then “the bottom dropped out” and they descended very fast, loaded troops, and transported them to another location. Paul’s job was to provide protective fire if needed.
Many times they would transport troops to a forested area which required precision control of the helicopter as it operated at treetop level when there was no landing location available.
On one occasion a gunship pilot wanted to take out his copter to “test the weapons”, and Paul volunteered to be his door gunner. It was exciting as they fired both rockets and the mini guns, but Paul described this pilot as a “helicopter cowboy” with his flying and Paul was very relieved to get back on the ground.
One big “to do” involved a mechanic and a 50cc motorcycle. The mechanic parked it near a building where he would be pulling guard duty that night. During the night he drove a pickup down to retrieve it, but got stuck. From there he took a deuce and a half down, but managed to get it stuck also. He then tried a tank, got it stuck, then took one of their two M88 (huge recovery vehicle) and got it stuck also. At that point there was no recourse but to notify officers. The company officers used the other M88 to extricate all of the stuck vehicles. Most of the men were unaware of the situation until the next morning at the 6 a.m. formation. The mechanic responsible for the drama was not seen on the base again.
There was one particular soldier who had borrowed money from just about everyone. He had received a “Dear John” letter and was going back to the states, and knew he would not be sent back to Vietnam. He almost got away. But Paul had access to a Jeep and Paul and three others, armed with pistols, went to the airstrip from which he was scheduled to fly out. When he saw them coming, the offender pulled out his billfold and repaid all of the money.
Paul, an E4, received a Bronze Star and National Defense Service Medal. He was honorably discharged on July 20, 1971.
Following military service, Paul became involved in the farm insurance business until his retirement in 2010. He and his wife Kathy live in Omaha, Nebraska. They have 2 children also living in Nebraska.