Vietnam volunteer | Terry Reckord


Indianola resident Terry Reckord arrived in Da Nang, Vietnam in July of 1969. He was 22.

During the Vietnam War, Reckord’s Da Nang was a major air base used by both the South Vietnamese and the U. S. Now 65, Reckord remembers arriving in Vietnam:  “It was hot. Muggy. There were bugs and jungle everywhere. There was an odor – it was just so different physically from the Northwest.”

With its tropical monsoon climate, Da Nang has two seasons:  six months of a typhoon and wet season and six months of dry.

After enlisting in the Navy Reserves while attending North Kitsap High School, Reckord went on to attend the University of Washington and Officer Candidates School in Newport, Rhode Island for three years before opting out and transferring to Navy Active Duty. He volunteered to serve in Vietnam.

“I was a navigator, or boat handler,” He said. “We had from five to six guys per boat.”

At the start of Reckord’s tour he was assigned to NSA Operations Division in Da Nang. There, he spent time on small patrol operations on a variety of boats, mostly older forms of PBR’s (patrol boat river, one each). For the majority of his tour, however, Reckord was assigned to a small fuel delivery boat called a YOG, delivering fuel to small PBR bases and landing zones up and down local rivers and up the coast between Da Nang and the DMZ and up the Cua Viet River.

“There were two such boats during my tour. The other one got blown up and sunk by a mine in one of the rivers,” he said.

One of the great American myths is that most Vietnam veterans were drafted and sent to Vietnam. In reality, however, two-thirds of the men sent to Vietnam were volunteers.

Reckord volunteered himself because the national news was saturated with Vietnam news, debates and protests. Curious to see what war was about himself, he also saw it as an adventure.

“When you’re 22 you think you’re invincible. You think you’re John Wayne, you think you’re bulletproof,” Reckord said. “But I’m glad I did that. I learned for myself.”

After indoc, Reckord started river and harbor patrols around I Corp’s AO. It was during indoc and orientation that the new arrivals were educated on potential risks.

“For example, American boys were used to seeing a pop can on the side of the road and kicking it. Well, the Vietcong had figured this out and put grenades in pop cans along the road. You had to be careful,” Reckord said.

Reckord quickly learned routines that would help keep him safe and see him back to the World.

The average infantryman in Vietnam saw about 240 days of combat in one year thanks, in part, to the mobility of the helicopter.

While the media constantly debated the politics of the situation in Vietnam, pressing the question of American involvement, Reckord could see what was happening day to day.   Do your job and take each day as it comes, he said.

“Every sailor was assigned duties. So you do that. You don’t see the big picture. You’re just doing your job,” Reckord said

Part of the difficulty in fighting the Vietnam War was the absence of designated front lines. You stay alert at all times, Reckord said.

“I was shot at a few times,” he said. “The Vietcong put mines in the harbor to blow up boats.”

Part of Reckord’s 13 months of service in Vietnam included working on a small operations craft delivering fuel to the DMZ. Upon completion of his tour, the boat Reckord was assigned to was given to the Vietnamese Navy as part of the “Vietnamization” policies put into place by Nixon when beginning troop withdrawals. One of the more difficult parts of serving in Vietnam was the concept of individualized tours of duty. With the individual rotation policies, troops rotated in and out of units rather than remain attached to them throughout the war.

“You came and went individually,” Reckord said. “I came to Vietnam by myself and I went home by myself. My sister came and picked me up at SeaTac.”

Reckord also experienced culture shock upon his return to Kitsap County. Going from a very intense environment to a “normal” one with people going about their everyday business without seeming to think or care about what was going on in Vietnam was difficult.

“In one and a half days you go from a war zone to sitting in your mom’s living room.”

After the war

The reaction to the return of Vietnam veterans from the general public was disappointing to the returning Navy man. Reckord said the overall lack of recognition for returning troops didn’t bother him at the time. Today, though, Reckord said he is happy that Vietnam veterans get recognized now for the sacrifices they made long ago.

“Now it feels like people appreciate what we did,” He said. “It’s belated but I’m okay with it.”

To Reckord, one of the biggest misconceptions about the Vietnam War is the notion that the American military lost the war on military terms.

“I believe the outcome was more the result of years of political decisions,” he said.

Upon returning to the United States, Reckord returned to college at the University of Washington. Since graduating from the UW with his degree in landscape architecture, Reckord has spent 35 years as a landscape architect and is a principal partner in the Seattle firm MacLeod Reckord, where he commutes daily from Indianola with his wife, Connie. They are the proud parents of three grown daughters and have three grandchildren with a fourth on the way.

“The UW treated returning vets well,” he said adding that his experiences in Vietnam served him well in his professional life. “Early on in my career, things that seemed like a big deal to others didn’t concern me. In the grand scheme of things they weren’t important and I could see that.”

Reckord would do it all over again if a magic button could make him 22 again and available to relive some of the experiences of his tour.

“I think it’s always good to be part of a well-trained, focused, dedicated group working together in difficult circumstances,” he said.”I’ve always been proud of the fact that I did it, I served in Vietnam,” he said.