As a young man recently graduating from college, Wesley “Wes” Scott was a little surprised when he was drafted into the US Army and deployed overseas during the Vietnam War.
It was an experience he described as having its struggles, but despite there being “a few bad days”, it gave him a greater appreciation for how beautiful his life has become.
Born in early 1945 in San Luis Obispo, California, Scott’s parents lived on the West Coast due to his father’s service in the United States Navy during World War II. After her father was released, the family eventually settled in her mother’s home community of Jefferson City.
“I graduated from Jefferson City Senior High in 1963 and enrolled at the Missouri School of Mines in Rolla for an engineering degree,” Scott said. “I liked mechanical engineering, but I think I liked being a mechanic more.”
With a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1968, he was hired by Schlumberger, an oil services company operating in Fort Smith, Arkansas. After he started working there, he was informed that the company had never lost an employee to the draft.
“After only a few months working there as an engineer, I received notice from the editorial board and the company wrote them a letter explaining the critical nature of our work,” Scott said. “The board responded with a letter stating that I was to report for active duty on December 8, 1968.”
Smiling, he added: “Either the company lied to me or I was the first employee of the company to be recruited.”
Upon completion of boot camp at Fort Leonard Wood, Scott was given the choice of several military engineer jobs due to his civilian upbringing; however, when he received his orders for further training, it was at Fort Knox, Kentucky, training with tanks.
The advanced training introduced him to all aspects of the M-48 Patton tanks, which were gas powered and armed with a 90mm main gun. For several weeks, he learned to drive, shoot and maintain heavily armored military equipment.
“When we were nearing the end of the training, they offered me to go to either an NCO (non-commissioned officer) school or officer training,” he said. “Officer training would add to my military commitment while NCO school would not, so I chose NCO school.
“I didn’t realize at the time that they were pushing NCO schools because they were losing tank commanders in Vietnam,” he added.
He remained at Fort Knox for NCO school, completing navigation training, learning to fire many types of military weapons, and receiving an abbreviated introduction to service as a leader of the United States Army.
From there he traveled to Fort Riley, Kansas, spending several weeks participating in various maneuvers and training exercises using tanks. Then, in January 1970, came orders for a combat deployment and he reported to Quang Tri, Vietnam, receiving a posting to 1/77th Armor under the 5th Mechanized Infantry.
“I became a tank commander in the 3rd Platoon of Company C,” he said. “Our main responsibilities were patrolling along the DMZ and guarding the A-4 Firebase in Con Tien at night. We were still north of Quang Tri, and the strip we were patrolling was six to eight miles wide, and no civilians were allowed inside.”
Most of the 52-ton M-48 tanks they used were old and worn, but Scott and his fellow tankers worked hard to keep them operational. For the first three months, their 90mm main guns, along with the .50 caliber machine guns mounted on the upper turret, provided the platoon soldiers with good protection.
Unfortunately, in April 1970, an RPG pierced the turret of one of the platoon’s tanks, killing two soldiers inside.
“Another bad situation happened on May 5, 1970,” he said. “We left the firing base with four tanks to support an infantry company on patrol near the DMZ. Along the way, an armored personnel carrier laid a track, and the platoon sergeant made my tank stay with them for protection while they made repairs.”
The other three tanks continued to advance in support of the infantry troops and soon encountered concentrated enemy opposition.
“Shells were flying above us and the enemy was blocking our communications,” he recalls. “When it was finally over I found that two of the tank commanders – including my platoon sergeant – had been killed and the other had been medically evacuated. If I hadn’t been left to guard the transport of troops, it is likely that I and my crew would have been killed as well.”
Combat losses led to Scott being made a platoon sergeant. While overseas, he was able to enjoy a brief leave of absence in Hong Kong, then received an “early” discharge from the U.S. military so he could return to Missouri and take postgraduate courses at the ‘University of Missouri.
The veteran met Betty Foster through a friend, and the couple married in 1971, later becoming parents to a son and daughter. Scott was employed as a mechanical engineer in the state government, completing 30 years of full-time employment and nine years of part-time employment before his retirement in 2009.
Since that time he has found the pleasure of restoring classic automobiles on his farm near Eugene.
“There were a lot of tough times in Vietnam…but I never really had a hard time talking about it,” he said. “There was a time when we smashed a mine and a few guys got hurt, but nothing too serious. And once a rocket blew a bunch of holes in the wing of our tank.”
Scott added: “But we worked hard to stay alive and we also had a bit of luck on our side.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.