A central Missouri Army veteran says his 1968 Vietnam War experience draws him back to the communist nation. While taking one year off from college, Bob Bosma of mid-Missouri’s Boonville received a military draft notice. He was told the Army could draft him to serve in combat for two years or join for three years and choose what job he wanted.
“I thought being a medic would be great. I’d be in a hospital somewhere and out of danger. So that would be a great thing to do is be a medic. When I got to Vietnam, I ended up out in a field unit. It was just me and the guys. My duty was a lot different than I expected,” says Bosma, news director of Missourinet affiliate KWRT in Boonville.
The conflict lasted nearly 20 years, claiming the lives of millions of soldiers and civilians. Bosma served as his 68-member unit’s only medic.
“As a medic, I had to go into a village that was rocketed in the morning time in the village square,” he says. “I had to go in and sort bodies and decide who was viable and who wasn’t. And so, my heart remained and has remained in that village of Tho Ha Vietnam.”
On February 12, 1968, the North Vietnamese Army occupied a town of some 100,000 people for nearly a month. According to Bosma, the North did not like the U.S. being so close to the town.
“They dropped a few rockets and mortars on us, just to try to get us to quit fighting or something I guess. Anyway, I got some shrapnel in me while patching up other guys who got hit,” he says.
Bosma suffered minor injuries to his arm and neck. He says the serious injuries he suffered are invisible.
“I still have night sweats. I still have horrific dreams. There are still things that have affected me that will probably stay with me all of my life,” he says.
Bosma says he grew close to the four members of his unit who did not come home alive.
“During our down time, of course we would talk about our girlfriends, our cars, our high school, our exploits and those sorts of things and dreams and what we wanted to do after the war,” he says. “The ones that I lost, I knew where they were from, their back story and things. That’s just one of the unfortunate things of war is that the bonding of combatants together, living together, suffering together, dying together is something that cannot be described with any other relationship and is closer than any other relationship. Yet that becomes an even more difficult thing when one of them does.”
He says visiting the country has covered up some of his old memories.
“I have met several Vietnam veterans, who in their bitterness, still holding on to that bitterness today say, ‘I would never go back there’. Every single veteran that I have talked to, and there have been many, who have gone back to Vietnam, come away delighted that they went and finding it very, very therapeutic and helpful in melting away that bitterness.”
He has visited Vietnam eight times since 1997. After Bosma’s first Vietnam trip, he says the message he walked away with was life goes on.
“Things were reforested. People were living well. There was no war going on. People were making a nice living for themselves. The places I had seen as combat ground and battlegrounds back in 1968 had become rice paddies, forests and simply fields of green,” he says.
Bosma says there have been tremendous changes in Vietnam – something he says the U.S. probably wanted back in the 1960s to prevent the spread of communism there. About two weeks ago, Bosma was having dinner on the 51st floor of a skyscraper overlooking the city of Saigon.
“The people themselves have raised up and brought the country back to somewhat where it was back in the 50s and 60s but as a single autonomous country that is not under the occupation of any other country and all one single country, rather than split in the middle.”
He says the people of Vietnam have a knack for separating the war from the warrior by holding no animosity against U.S. soldiers.
“The Vietnamese people embrace us as Americans warmly. It helps to lay a great burden of bitterness that should not be there. It’s time for it to be gone,” he says.
During his trips, Bosma and his wife have helped the village with various tasks.
“They’ve had some flooding and some other problems. I’ve been able to go into that village and help them,” he says. “That’s been very helpful to me. It’s a feel-good thing to help them out.”
They have helped an elderly couple who live in poor conditions and have installed running water in a home there. They have also taken two women to the locations where their fathers died in combat.
The 71-year-old Bosma says he will make his final Vietnam trip next summer.
To hear the full interview, click below.
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