Terrance Fields of Fort Dodge and a large majority of his military unit had never been in actual combat before.
This changed quickly when Fields arrived in Vietnam in 1966.
Fields, a Marshalltown High School graduate, was part of an ammunition storage and security unit.
Fields received basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. His advanced infantry training was at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. From there he traveled to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, before being airlifted to Oakland, California.
“They give you two sandwiches and a piece of fruit”, he said. “It’s almost like in prison. Piedmont Airlines, I will never forget it.
His unit was shipped to Vietnam by boat.
“The Golden Gate Bridge is the last thing you see” said Champs. “Sixteen days and 15 nights on the USS Nelson. Five thousand soldiers was miserable.
Fields recalls the racial tensions in the United States during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. He said these tensions were no different in service.
“The military service as a whole was very racist”, he said. “It was the time of the 60s and it was happening. We had a separation of blacks in a group, Hispanics, mostly Puerto Ricans hanging out together. It wasn’t too cool there in my opinion.
Fields recalled that his fellow soldiers and the Vietnamese would look at him differently.
“The first soldiers who went there said to stay away from them (blacks)”, said Champs. “They are bad, they are different. They had some places you could go. Some clubs were predominantly white and others with people of color. It was terrible then. Lots of tension there, putting soldiers on the ground. You saw a lot of differences, where you go back to a base, some tents had rebel (confederate) flags and were listening to country music. Back then, people were listening to Motown music on the other side.
Fields was part of a unit that performed security duties for night patrols.
He was shot on one of his first nights in Vietnam.
“We thought we were in an area that would be an easy job”, said Champs. “Over there, loading trucks and he (the enemy) was about 60 feet away. I came over and shot the guy next to me (a sergeant) four times. They could have shot me. He ended up in a hole. There was a lot of foliage around.
The sergeant survived, Fields said.
“He said, ‘Are you okay? I said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘Are you okay?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’
He later remembered that he had been told not to jump “too high” when the bullets flew.
“They would shoot and someone would shoot him” said Champs. “Don’t jump too high,” they said. I said, ‘I don’t mean to jump. You dodge all the way.
He added, “It was ridiculous times. We were not ready for Vietnam. You thought it was the right thing to do, but you didn’t know what you were getting yourself into.
As if enemies weren’t enough to cope, the wildlife could be quite spooky.
“The war was strange” said Champs. “Trees, bushes and snakes. Two steps (snake) – it bites you, you died in about two steps. There were spiders as big as plates.
Fields spent a little over 11 months in Vietnam.
When he got home, Fields never got a thank-you.
“There was tension when we left” said Champs. “There was tension when we got there and tension here.”
In fact, Fields was not wearing his uniform at home.
“I’m coming home and a guy said to me in the bathroom, he said, ‘Take off your uniform.’ He said take it off. People spat on people, cursed at them. Calling people ‘baby killers’ ” said Champs. “It was a white dude who said that. He said, ‘Don’t ask too many questions. He said,’ I’ve been through this. ‘ He toured Vietnam.
As a result, Fields was not faced with any protesters.
“They didn’t tell me much because I didn’t have my uniform” said Champs.
After returning to the United States, Fields lived in Cedar Rapids for a time. He eventually landed at Fort Dodge where he worked in the Fort Dodge Urban Ministry.
Fields’ stepson is Charles Clayton, executive director of Athletics for Education and Success.
“I have worked a lot with young people” he said. “A lot of kids, black and white, will quit. If you get the chance, go ahead. I don’t know if I have anything to do with whether he follows or not.
Recently, Fields’ vision has suffered.
“They (the doctors) think it’s Agent Orange”, he said. ” But I do not know. Working on this ammunition depot to keep people away, they would drop it. They would drop fireballs on them. They would drop this stuff anytime in the morning.
Fields has mixed feelings about his serve.
“I did what I thought was right” said Champs. “Trying to fulfill my patriotic duty, I guess. After that, it didn’t look like it, you know.