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Oliver Jones Recalls the Tet Offensive

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Oliver Jones paid a price for serving his country, with decades of flashbacks and nightmares that went untreated for years. His tour of duty as a medic was short, but intense.

He was born in Bremerton, Washington and is a member of the Port Gamble S'Klallam tribe. He graduated high school in 1965 and worked in the shipyards for nine months before being drafted in 1966.

Jones took his basic training at Fort Lewis Army Base (now Joint Base Lewis-McChord). In aptitude tests he was qualified for many things, including Officer Candidate School, not wanting to be in the Army long, he opted for medic training. He was soon sent to General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital in Missouri where he was trained.

“We were all trained for hospital duty, but we barely hit the combat field medic stuff, we went over it very briefly,” Jones said. “In October of 1967 they pulled the retainer off of us and within a couple of weeks we all had orders to go to Vietnam.”

Jones was assigned to Headquarters Troop, 3rd Squadron, 4th Calvary, 25th Infantry, attached to “Charlie” Troop. He was in some hit and run ambushes, but he did not see any major action until the Tet Offensive, where he saw battle everyday.

Jones was in the lead platoon as they made their way toward what would be a historic battle for the Tan Son Nhut Air Base during the Tet Offensive. The platoon approached the air base gate and was surrounded by more than 2,000 North Vietnamese Army soldiers (NVA).

“Everybody started laying down fire and there were so many NVA that they overran all of the vehicles in front of us and shot everybody. The two rigs behind us were hit with rockets, but we ended up right next to a billboard and they couldn’t get a clear shot at us,” Jones said. “The rockets were ricocheting off our rig, so we weren’t taking any direct hits during the initial part of the battle. None of us were killed or wounded at first, but after the fighting had gone on for what seemed like an eternity, but it must have only been a few minutes, our platoon sergeant came running back yelling ‘Shoot to the front! Shoot to the front! They’re overrunning our rigs! They’re killing everybody! They’re killing everybody!’

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“I mounted our M6 machine gun to our rig. A guy was on the 50 mm on the turret on the top of our rig and our Lieutenant was running the 60 mm on the left side of our rig,” Jones said. “They were everywhere. That was the first time I had ever seen the enemy soldier. Our platoon Sergeant started spraying the top of the tank and the rigs, shooting anything that was moving, because the only things that were moving were NVA; all of our guys were down. Then he was hit.”

Jones grabbed his aid bags, his 16mm and .45 and headed out to tend to the Sergeant. He was caught in a hail of fire from two NVAs on the road. The Sergeant was killed but somehow Jones was not hit. A unit member and friend named Sanchez appeared and killed the two NVAs.

“I went to the rigs up front to see if I could take care of our guys, but there were 10 NVA at the gate shooting everybody from behind. We were also still suppressing fire to the front where the main group was, so we were getting hit from both sides,” Jones said. “We started shooting everything that moved. We fought for hours. All of our weapons were burnt, the barrels were melted and warped, all the blocks and the breaches of our automatic weapons, our 50 caliber machine guns and our M60s, were burned up because we had to fire them so many times. There was so much enemy activity that we couldn’t stop shooting.

“Our squadron commander, Colonel Glenn Otis, came in with a chopper several different times and brought us weapons and ammo, and took out our most seriously wounded. In all that time I was taking care of our wounded guys, I was getting them out of the tanks and getting them off the road. It was a long, long day. I’m not sure how many men I treated just about everybody was wounded or killed that day. We were running from rig to rig trying to find weapons and ammo.”

Air support and gun ships came in to save the airport that day, but the battles continued for months for Jones. “We were just a bunch of kids trying to keep each other alive. After the Tet Offensive, there was a force coming across from Cambodia; we intercepted those guys and fought them. After that we fought around Hoc Mon, 11 clicks west of Saigon for a month, nearly everyday.”

Jones caught a virus and was hospitalized in Vietnam for a couple of months, before being sent to Japan, where they were short of medics. They put him on hold and he spent his last few months in the Army working at the hospital. He was discharged in August 1968.

Jones was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in 1980, but he didn’t receive any treatment until 2000. “I had been to the worse place, in the worst war, and been in the worse fighting that anybody had ever seen or been through. I tried to slip back into society, but I had a very hard time. I had PTSD, I was having flashbacks and nightmares all of the time, nearly everyday. I was just barely holding on, but I didn’t know what was going on for years. In 2000 I finally started to go through treatment and they gave me anti-depressants, and my life got a little better.”

Jones married a woman with two boys and adopted a daughter. He is now retired and spends most of his time working with traditional Native crafts and painting. “I did things I never planned on doing,” Jones said. “It was just things that I did without thinking. It wasn’t like I was trying to be a hero, it was a buddy getting killed or trapped somewhere and I had to go get them.”