top of page



James Tice would be assigned to Company B, of the 2nd Battalion, of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, of the 503rd Infantry. He would serve in Vietnam for 7 months, before being honorably discharged. During his time in Vietnam, he would receive the Bronze Star, and his actions are as stated in the official documentation of his medal: “On this day, Specialist Tice was serving as a member of a 90MM recoil-less rifle crew. When his platoon came in contact with an enemy force, he rushed forward and placed intense fire on the enemy positions until his weapon was damaged by enemy fire. Specialist Tice then covered the withdrawal of the wounded with his automatic rifle. Constantly exposing himself to enemy fire, he helped recover the wounded from the battle area. Specialist Tice then moved to the right flank of the platoon, which was receiving intense enemy fire. Specialist Four Tice’s outstanding display of aggressiveness, devotion to duty, and personal bravery were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service, and reflect the great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army." His actions during the course of the war can also be seen in the book Dok To, by Edward F. Murphy.


Q1: “What were the first things you remember about Vietnam, what was on your mind, how did you feel?”


J: “First thing… how hot and humid it was. Next thing… Was… We drove through a so called town of Biên Hòa, but I didn’t see the town. Not like what we call a town, it was kinda like a cardboard city. It was like… human-beings going to the bathroom in the street, y’know. Somewhat surprised of the uh… third-world activities going on.”


B: “What was on your mind when you first arrived?”


J: “Uh, y’know like, it’s something you never experienced before, so, it was kind of… I mean you just were told by a group of guys that were sitting there… and then they just… pointed and said ‘A company, B company’... ‘C company’. That’s all. That’s how you were assigned. And then we went and we got on this bus, it was like a school bus, but it was military brown or green. And it was all… wire on the windows… like cages… like you were caged in, I guess so that nobody throws a hand-grenade in, or I don’t know. I had no idea what to expect.”


B: “How’d you feel when you first got there?”


J: “Uh, I don’t know, we just spent a whole bunch of time on the airplane. We went from… originally… to San Francisco. And that was a center there, where all the military people were. And then it came time to leave, and we mounted a, uh, jet to… the first stop was Hawaii. Was around 3 o’clock in the morning. Were there for about 20 minutes, then got on a plane again, next stop was the Philippines. I went to get off, at least the plane was air conditioned, I went to step off the plane, I stopped in the doorway, turned around and went back and sat down. Again, the humidity, it was unbelievable. It was like walking into a wall. And then the next, we went from the Philippines to uh, I don’t know what airbase it was, in Vietnam. I had no idea what to think. Y’know? What we’re gonna see, what’s gonna happen. I guess the biggest adjustment was… sleeping. With no air conditioning, no nothing. And we got assigned to a company, and your sleeping, and what they do, is what they call H and I, for Harassment and Interfering fire. So at any given time during the night, the artillery starts firing. Which about knocks you out of bed if you’re asleep. That's what the idea was, to interfere or harass the enemy in certain locations they picked out. We had nothing to do with that, we were just in a place, y’know, which were called a section, cause then we, what you did was you went out for a couple days, packing up your stuff and you went out and set up claymore mines, and a little bit of training, very little training, really. But the worst thing there was… probably the… you go to sleep and then suddenly the artillery was going off again, for about 15, 20 minutes, then it stops, maybe get back to sleep, and then it starts again. Every night.”


Q2: “What was a typical day in Vietnam and what were common objectives you would be assigned to complete?”

J: “A typical day, for an infantryman… Was you… We would go out on patrol. The whole idea of the patrol was the make combat with the enemy, y’know. Make contact. And then, the objective then was to kill more of them, than they killed of us. That was how we were gonna win the war, that was uh, general Westmoreland's… I think… Principles. Then eventually though, you get sick of uh, y’know, being wiped out. But, Ho Chi Minh had made a statement in a book, ‘If they can afford to lose the war longer, we can afford to win it.’ So, what we used to do, is you would get everything loaded up, you’d get whatever food you were going to take, which were C rations, you would go usually by helicopter, company strength which is anywhere from 100 to 140 men, and you would start moving through the boonies, or the bush, or the jungle, or whatever you wanna call it. Go to areas that there was suspected, y’know, activity. And uh, if you made contact fine, if you didn’t… If you made contact you always called in airstrike, called in, y’know, helicopters to help, but you usually stayed out for about 27 days. 24 to 27 days, which consisted of stopping, just before dark, then you would dig your holes, certain holes. There would be ambushes sent out. The company commander would determine locations he wanted to set up ambushes. So them guys, maybe 10 or 12, would go out to whatever location the uh… whatever location that the, company commander decided was the key spot. And whether he sent out one or two ambushes, or three, you went out, you set out claymores, and you sat there, if you went out on the ambush, you sat there, whether it was raining, or didn’t make no difference, and you took X amount of time watches, in which you had to stay awake and when your time was up, which you could hardly see the watch, you’d wake the next guy up and you’d go to sleep sitting there. No ponchos, no laying down. If you weren’t on an ambush, which I wasn’t because I was in the weapons, was the CO did was he told our commander, the weapons platoon sergeant, or lieutenant, that this is the location of the ambush, and the guy that  had the plotting board, that was me, I had to set up where we were located on the map, and where the ambushes were located. And then figure out, by asmith, that would give me, the range to where that ambush is, and then there would be, and then you would set up the elevation numbers, elevation, and deflection, and charge, to cover that ambush. And you would do that if there were one out there, two out there, or three locations. So you had pre-planned if say, ambush number 2 goes into contact, to take out the plotting board, and you already know where the mortar is going to fire. Y’know, just call out elevation and deflection, which meant anywhere in a 360 degree circle, and the number of charges, which the mortar round had a single detonator that started it off, and then nine, I believe it was nine, little pieces of C4 that were like, clipped on the fins. So if you were going for maximum range, like over a thousand yards, you would leave all nine on. You would go by a book. If it said for 500 or 700 yards out you might take six of the nine off, and that would be enough. That’s how you knew how far out it was going, by the height of the barrel and the charge that’s pushing it out of the barrel. Usually during the night, you had usually, maybe 10 hours of darkness, nine hours, eight hours. You took three hour shifts on watch. If at best, you got first or last watch. If at worst, you got one of the middle ones, so you got a couple hours of sleep, then you had to sit there for three hours, just looking and listening. And then when your time was up, you got the next guy, then he did it, and you tried to get some sleep, and they got us up just as light came, and then you packed everything up and moved it to a new location. And it was that same routine over and over again, unless you made contact, and then of course, everything changes.”

Q3: “What was the hardest thing about being in Vietnam and what were the things that you lacked the most?”


J: “The hardest thing about being in Vietnam? Carrying somebody in a poncho liner that you were talking to a couple hours ago, and he's dead now. And what you used to do is you would used to cut out an LZ, unless it was really high growth and the helicopter couldn’t get in, literally you took the people you knew or the people you were talking to and laid a poncho on the ground, and rolled ‘em into the poncho, and you carried ‘em and stacked up the dead bodies on the LZ. That was the hardest thing I ever did there. And I hated it. Y’know, because a lot of times, well, somebody just lost their life. You knew ‘em, you knew some of ‘em. You didn’t know others, but still, it was a very distasteful detail.”


B: “What were things that you lacked the most when you were in Vietnam, like supply-wise?”


J: “Uh, like… Cold stuff. Everything you drank, water it was warm, soda it was warm, beer it was warm, again, we weren’t… We never operated… When we came in from operating, we came in to a fire support base, which really wasn’t, a city or anything, or really even a base camp. When we came in, to a fire support base, we were coming in to where the artillery guys felt they were on the frontlines, if you know what I mean. Although one thing was if we were in from anywhere from 3, to 5, to 7 days, then you would get, some cooked food, sometimes. They’d bring stuff out in, what were insulated things, then you’d set up a chow line and eat. Maybe, if you had water around, you  could get a bath. In Biên Hòa support base there was a river there,  and it flowed pretty good and was kinda a falls, so you’d go there and… with a bunch of guys, but you still had your rifles and everything, and uh, just get cleaned up a little bit. That’s about it.”


Q4: “What was the one thing you have the most distinct memory from Vietnam?”


J: “I don’t know. I guess, again, how poor, the third-world countries are. How backwards. Y’know, they don’t have running water, like in the villages. They don’t have nothing. Alls they do is work fields, I never, the rice paddies were down south, so I never really saw the rice paddies. We were always in the mountainous, central highlands, which, is all mountains. Either you’re going up, or you’re going down. So, what did you say, what was the most..?”


B: “Distinct memory that you have.”


J: “I guess, too, that if you looked at it, was that it was a reasonably pretty country, but, y’know, you weren’t there for, the reason of… it being pretty. You were there to fight. That’s uh, probably the… uh… Survivor’s remorse is the other thing. That hits you, that after an incident happens, where maybe 10 people got killed, 20 people got killed, of yours, and y’know, double that wounded, what was the deciding factor that you weren’t one of ‘em? And your friend was, or that type thing, which I guess they refer to as survivor’s remorse. Who determines who gets hit by the bullet more or less.”

Q5: “Did you ever receive any thanks when you returned, and how did your family feel about your service?”


J: “There was no thanks. From anywhere. Uh, as far as the family went, it was, something we were kinda obligated to do. Not the feeling anymore. Back then was also the draft, which I don’t know if you know what the draft was. It was when you got up to a certain age, I don’t know if it was 18, or 17, and, I don’t know if they went by social security number, or whatever, and then you got a letter in the mail saying you’ve been drafted. Report to uh, Newark, or someplace else, on a certain day, and you’re in the army, or the uh, marines. Marines were short. But there was n uh, no pats on the back. No nothing, so to speak. We were looked at by the big peace movement… that we were baby-killers. Why that, I don’t know, but that's what they called us.”


B: “Would you say that you were treated badly when you returned?”


J: “I would say… indifferently. People could care less. If you wore a uniform, to an airport, you weren’t exactly looked up to. Not by everybody, but by the younger generation. By my own generation really. A lot of ‘em.”


B: “Do you think it made any difference, in like, getting a job, if you were a Vietnam vet?”

J: “No, I don’t think so. I guess it was also according to where, since Vietnam veterans had the reputation of being heavy drug users. Not true, but, they had that reputation. So that wouldn’t help you, in getting a job. Unless the place you were looking for, the man himself was a military man, the owner of the business, whatever, it wouldn't help you. Believe it or not, my whole  time in Vietnam I saw no drugs. But then again, I never saw a city. Probably if I would’ve saw a city, it would’ve been available, y’know the bigger cities. There was, when I came stateside, at Fort Dix, there were a lot of drugs. Y’know, at Fort Dix. Not at Vietnam, at Fort Dix. Problem with the war was, everybody else felt this way too because we used to sit and talk at times, was we would’ve rather attacked the North, than what we were doing of taking an area, leaving the area, and maybe four months later going back to that same place and having to retake it again. Because we didn’t take and occupy, after we took an area, we walked away from it. So if the NVA, which was North Vietnamese Army, which were very skilled army, or the guerrillas, if they wanted to reoccupy it, they reoccupied it. That was it, it was a bodycount thing. And that, I think the problem with that was, was politicians were running this war, and that's a big mistake and that’s what’s happening with a lot of what's going on today. Especially for the Obama years, as the rules of engagement are horrible for the guys today. So hopefully they change with the new president. And then there was another thing that, was what they called the Ho Chi Minh trail, which was resupply lines. It ran… sometimes it came into Vietnam, and sometimes, most of the time, it was either in Laos or Cambodia, and it was a constant supply line. And if we would’ve really, and I think Johnson at one point, it might’ve been closer to the late 60s or 70s, started bombing it constantly, really heavy, to try to cut off the resupply. And then the other aggravating point was actually that… we stayed once, we were actually really close to the Ho Chi Minh Trail, when you were on watch at night, you could actually hear trucks, moving stuff. They weren’t our trucks. They were the bad guys. It was scary, y’know? They’re just freely moving stuff, and we can’t nothing because they didn’t want us to get involved with Laos or Cambodia, and next point, right on our own maps, there were, in Cambodia, R&R centers for the NVA. On our maps. Where they could go, and we knew where they were, and we couldn’t touch ‘em. They weren’t in Vietnam, but they weren’t that... maybe 10, 15, 20 miles into Laos or Cambodia. They actually had, y’know, R&R centers where they went and rested. And we knew it, but we couldn’t do nothing about it. That was very frustrating. I think it was around the 70s, where, they got a big unit together, I forget what unit it was, they were gonna go into Cambodia, a quick sweeping action and attack these places, which would’ve been great, but it was something to do with the peace talks, and they were already moving into Cambodia to do this, and I don’t know who the president was then, it mighta been Nixon, but they put the halt on it, they stopped it and brought them back. So that woulda been a positive thing, but that was stopped too, for political reasons, or peace talk reasons.”

James David Tice

Reading Info:

This interview was done in person. The letter "J" stands for James' responses, and the letter "B" stands for my expansion questions.

bottom of page