Halpin’s hope is for soldiers’ safe return to Demopolis

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 21, 2003

As war began this week local veteran Rene Halpin shared his memories of his own war experience and his hopes for the safety of the modern day soldiers.

Halpin served in the Vietnam War in 1965 and 1966. He had previously served in the U.S. Army from 1964-1967.

He was scared to death when he reached Vietnam. "We went over by ship – it took us 18 days," Halpin said. "You get an old Alabama boy that’s never been anywhere and put him in that kind of situation. My knees were knocking when we walked on Vietnamese soil.

Email newsletter signup

It was hard to find a sense of normalcy through his time in Vietnam, he said.

Halpin was part of the K-Team, a surgical medical unit that went all over South Vietnam. "We set up tents in the field to do surgery on the guys…that couldn’t make it back to a major hospital," he said. "…Eighty to 90 percent died on us out in the field.

There was a high percentage of death in his ambulance duty. They retrieved the really bad cases. "I saw a lot of stuff I hope I never see again – and I hope other people will never see.

When not involved in ambulance duty, a correspondence from home was a diversion.

Halpin wishes there would not be the 24-hour cable TV coverage of the war. "(This time) it will probably be shown live."

His mother saw a TV news report during the Vietnam War and thought she saw Rene on a stretcher. "She lost it for a little bit," he said. "A lot of families will see things like that. It affects them."

Halpin’s glad they didn’t have such instant communication in Vietnam. "You didn’t want to get mail from home that was sad. You wanted everybody over here to be happy."

Military personnel will need adjustment, he said. "If you go halfway around the world and live for 14 months and you’re back in the United States, hours after you’re back you don’t have any comprehension of what time is, money is.