Army Ranger hit with shrapnel that felt like 'bad bee sting'
After graduating from Central Catholic High School and attending the University of Portland, Bill Manderfeld lost his student deferment because he dropped out of college his last semester to earn some money.
Before he knew it, he was on a plane to Vietnam.
Manderfeld arrived in the country during the monsoon season, in July 1969, making things miserable for himself and his fellow soldiers. He would end up serving mostly in Dak To, located in the highlands area of the country where the rain was always cold.
Curious about how long the rains would last, one day he quizzed a soldier in the chow line who was headed home.
"I turned to him and said, 'How in the hell do you stay dry?'" Manderfeld recalled. "And he laughs and says, 'man, you're going to be wet for the next four months.' And I was."
Manderfeld started in an infantry line company with about 90 other guys.
"I had my first engagements there in the first 10 days of September," he said. "We lost about a third of my company."
When Manderfeld arrived back in Dak To, he started talking to U.S. Army Rangers serving on long-range patrols. They told him stories of running missions and afterward returning to hot showers and access to their own private bar.
Manderfeld immediately signed up, joining a patrol where he would end up running 15 long-range missions with three- and four-man groups.
He was wounded on his first mission out, a venture he thought started out prophetically after a Catholic chaplain had asked the chopper crew if they could drop him at a location along the way. Even painted with camouflage makeup, the priest recognized Manderfeld as someone who had attended one of his Masses. The priest gave him both Holy Communion and absolution. It was also Nov. 1, All Saints Day.
"We dropped him off, and within a half-hour we walked into that ambush," Manderfeld said. "And I told these other two guys, one of them was Mormon, a team leader, and (another was a fellow soldier), I don't think he was anything, but after a couple three hours we couldn't move or do anything and I said, 'you know, we're not going to make it out of here alive.'"
Having walked into a hastily prepared ambush, Manderfeld remembered being pinned down by enemy fire in a foxhole.
"They couldn't really move and we couldn't move, and later we were trading hand grenades, and I got wounded with shrapnel, myself and another guy. But not seriously," he said. "I got hit in the top of the head and in the back but just little fragments."
Manderfeld said getting hit with the hot shrapnel initially hurt but described it as something akin to a bad bee sting.
As a result of being wounded, both he and fellow soldier Glen Aoki received the Purple Heart, a medal he said he was "glad to get."
When he eventually returned home, Manderfeld got a degree in English and worked for the Internal Revenue Service for the rest of his career.
"You know, I got back and got married, started a family and a career and just (got) on to other things," Manderfeld said.
As far as Manderfeld was concerned, he didn't have post-traumatic stress disorder. However, things changed after he attended a 1998 reunion where he and fellow soldiers sat around drinking Budweiser and trading war stories.
"When I came back, I couldn't sleep. I went to the VA and they gave me a percentage for PTSD, and it never bothered me before that."
He recalled there were images he couldn't get out of his head and he ended up being treated by a private therapist, saying he was worried that a group session with other veterans would only make things worse.
Although he didn't think that much about whether or not the United States should be involved in the Vietnam War when he first arrived there, his views have changed a bit over time.
"I really thought we weren't given the whole story and even our politicians didn't know the whole story," he said. "I think it was a waste of a lot of lives on all sides. The Vietnamese. Ours. Everything. Look what happened, eventually the North — the Communists — took over the South, and now they have peace for the first time in probably a hundred years."
U.S. Army, 1968-69
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