Friday, November 5, 1999
Veterans Day: Honoring two who served together in Vietnam
After a chance encounter with Vietnam veteran Dan Bunell in Montezuma, Iowa in September, former Mosquito writer Will Harte wrote about how two Carlisle infantrymen in Lt. Bunell's 2nd 28th Battalion, lst Infantry Division, well known as the "Big Red One," had saved his life. Harte wrote, "When Bunell's troops returned to base camp after 15 days out in the field, they were called to help out another unit that had been ambushed on the other side of the Saigon River. Helicoptered across the river, the unit did a sweep of the area and as Bunell was checking out a bunker, he was shot in the face by a Vietcong sniper. As Bunell remembered it, it was Ralph Metivier who shot the sniper and David McAllister who got Bunell breathing. again, saving his life."
In honor of Veterans Day, Thursday, November 11, the Mosquito has followed up on this story, interviewing the menRalph Metivier of East Street and David McAllister, formerly of Carlisle, now living in Chelmsford, to learn more about their experiences while serving in the army in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970. Both men are married and have families. Ralph Metivier runs Metivier's Sheet Metal and Welding Services in Carlisle. David McAllister owns Triangle Service Center in Chelmsford, just down the road from Carlisle.
Two farm boys from Carlisle
As we sat around the Metivier's kitchen table one evening last week, it quickly became evident that these two men had been buddies for a long time. In fact, Metivier and McAllister first met at the Carlisle School when they entered the first grade. Metivier lived on Concord Street and McAllister lived on Curve Street. "We were farm boys," said McAllister. After school, McAllister would ride his bike over to Great Brook Farm where he worked for Farnham Smith. Metivier worked just down the street at Guy Clark's farm. "We milked cows and picked up rocks in the fields for 60 cents an hour," continued McAllister. "We were well-suited for the rugged jungle and mosquito-infested terrain of Vietnam." Both men agreed that the mosquitos in Carlisle were larger and more ferocious than those they encountered in Vietnam.
"Carlisle in the '50s and '60s was special. We would hunt squirrels, walk to work, ride our bicycles .... We were the Carlisle Indians in our day," recalled McAllister. Metivier agreed. "When we were at CCHS, the Concord kids would say 'You Indians, go back to the woods.'"
Billerica draft board
Metivier well remembers the day they were drafted. "It was December 17, 1968, and another classmate of ours, Lee Litchfield, told me David had been drafted too," said Metivier. "That made me feel better that I wasn't going alone. We both had heard from the draft board in Billerica on the very same day," exclaimed Metivier, still somewhat amazed almost 30 years later.
Even more amazing in the days and months ahead was the fact that these two 20-year-olds from the little town of Carlisle, Massachusetts (pop. 2,871 in 1970) should follow the same path to and from Vietnam, share the same basic training, the same barracks, the same platoon leader and fight against the same enemy in Vietnam. "We were like brothers," said Metivier.
Induction into the U.S. Army
McAllister and Metivier were inducted into the U.S. Army in Boston in January, 1969 and were flown to Ft. Jackson, Georgia for two days, then on to Ft. Gordon, Georgia for eight weeks of basic training. At Ft. Gordon, the two shared the same barracks, even the same bunk bed. "I was on the top and he was on the bottom," said Metivier. "You better not print that," laughed McAllister. At the end of the training period, the two young men from Carlisle were assigned to an infantry unit. "That didn't sound like Alaska to me," quipped McAllister. "When the new orders came in, we found out we were going to the same place again," exclaimed Metivier. "I couldn't get rid of him," joked McAllister.
Wishing to be home milking cows
This time they were sent to Ft. Polk, Louisiana for advanced infantry training (AIT), where there was wet swampy terrain. "It was jungle training and we were still together wishing we were back home milking cows in Carlisle," said McAllister. Of the many training assignments, there was one that both men well remembered. It involved being given a chicken, onions, beans and potatoes and "having to make do" for 24 hours out in the woods. The goal was not to get caught and to return to the barracks on time. "That was no problem for us. We knew how to get along in the woods," said McAllister. Both agreed that although the training was short, it was good, and they were lucky to have trained in Louisiana. It had the kind of landscape that they would later encounter in Vietnam.
At the end of the eight week of AIT, our Carlisle infantrymen had a three-week break back home before it was time to board a plane at Logan Airport for the first leg of the trip to Vietnam. Landing in Oakland, California, the soldiers were met at the airport by a group of anti-war protesters as they made their way to a bus that would take them to nearby Travis Air Force Base.
Already exhausted from their cross-country flight, McAllister and Metivier lined up at the deployment center to obtain pillows and blankets, when a call went out for volunteers to sign-up for all-night KP duty. When no one stepped forward, McAllister and Metivier, who unfortunately were at the head of the line, were assigned to flip pancakes and fry bacon in the mess hall for the night. Finally sent to their bunks the next morning at 6 a.m. and about to climb into bed, orders came through telling the men to gather their gear together and prepare to ship out. "At this point we had gone without sleep for several days," recalled Metivier.
The flight that took them to Vietnam made several stops along the wayHawaii, Wake Island and Guam. As they stepped off the plane in Saigon, they immediately came under mortar attack. Unarmed, they had to jump between Quonset huts to get out of the line of fire. Once the shooting had subsided, the men boarded buses for Di An, lst Infantry Division Headquarters, for ten days of in-country training.
"We arrived in June, having to wear our heavy shirts in the hot, humid weather," recalled Metivier. "We were just north of Saigon, east of the Cambodian border where the trail came down," added McAllister. "We came to Vietnam one year after the Tet Offensive as re-enforcements for American loses."
On completion of the in-country training, McAllister and Metivier were assigned to the 2nd 28th Infantry Battalion; a gentlemen's division, as McAllister was eager to make clear. "As we flew into battalion headquarters in Lai Kai, there had been a major explosion. The Vietcong had just blown up the ammunition dump," said McAllister. The next night on a field mission to secure a culvert, the unit came under fire again. "There's no way we can make 365 days with this going on," thought McAllister at the time.
It was here in the 2nd 28th Infantry Battalion that Lt. Dan Bunell, a West Point graduate, whom Harte later met in Iowa, was in charge. "He was our platoon leader for five or six months, for a unit of 20 to 25 men," said McAllister.
"We had excellent leadership," added Metivier. "He thought a lot of all of us and how we did our job."
"He read the situations well, was a top-notch strategist, a protector and a good leader," continued McAllister. It was Bunell who reminded his men that they were there to help protect the people of Vietnam. "He was the reason we're here today and didn't lose our lives," added McAllister.
The men filed through the jungle, moving forward in three separate lines, one beside the other. "I knew we weren't going camping anymore," observed McAllister. "We were on a major feeder trail of the Ho Chi Min Trail going into Saigon."
The unit would be out on mission in the jungle for 10 to 14 days, then out of the jungle, behind security for 36 hours where the men received mail, got clean clothes, resupplied ammunition and saw shows. Every two-and-a-half months they were flown in to Di An for three days off. Once their weapons were taken away , they could drink beer, eat steaks off a grill, go to the MCO Club and take part in Red Cross activities.
"We were counting the days until we could return home," said Metivier. "I had a piece of paper with a freedom bird printed on it, and I used it to mark off the days until we could return home."
And they did return home. It was June 14, 1970 when they flew into Oakland and were on standby for the first plane back to Boston. Once again, these two young men, both who had risen to the rank of sergeant and had been awarded the Bronze Star and other medals of distinction while on duty in Vietnam, made it on to the plane together, except this time Metivier got the luxury of flying lst class.
"Once out of Vietnam, we had six months left in the service," said McAllister "He finally got rid of me," he added, referring to his buddy, Metivier. "He went to Ft. Riley, Kansas as a tank commander and I went to Ft. Hood, Texas to a mechanized (APC) unit."
Thinking back on the whole experience, both men turned philosophical. "We thought it was our duty to go," said Metivier. "The protesters felt we were wrong, but we were brought up to feel that when called upon, we should perform our duty."
Both men agreed that it was a unique relationship, one that had linked them together for one-and-a-half years. As they said, it was unheard of for two old friends since first grade, from the same town, to end up in the same eight- to ten-man group in the jungles of Vietnam.
In May of 1999, the 30th anniversary of the year they fought for their country, McAllister and Metivier, traveling together, paid a visit to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. "We had to do it," said Metivier. "We wanted to pay our respects to the men from our unit who were lost in the war."
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito