Vietnam War veteran reflects on his role as a young soldier in combat
By Craig Reed
As he stands on his deck, the view of the blue Umpqua River and the surrounding green forest offers Vietnam War veteran Chuck Schultz plenty of peace and quiet. The serenity is thousands of miles and many decades from exploding mortars and sniper bullets zipping through the air.
At the University of Oregon football game September 18, Chuck was recognized for his military service as a U.S. Army soldier and for the two Bronze Stars he was awarded for his combat performance while under fire. He received a standing ovation and numerous high fives from the Ducks crowd.
It was a much different reception than when Chuck returned to the United States. after 12 months of combat. He says he was flipped off a few times on his arrival.
Today, Chuck, single and 78 years old, enjoys easy-going days on his property bordering the Umpqua River. He enjoys fishing for steelhead, gardening, looking after a tree farm, visiting with his neighbors, and volunteering for activities in nearby Elkton.
Neighbor Tom Therien attended the Oregon football game. He says he was thrilled to see Chuck recognized and honored for his service.
“This was a way for people to say, ‘Welcome home!’” Tom says. “It couldn’t happen to a better person. Chuck is very giving, he’s always there to help people out. He never looks for any attention, but he’s always there if you need him.”
Tom says Chuck was anxious about how his presentation would go at the game, but was excited by the crowd’s response.
“Honestly, it brought tears to my eyes,” Tom says. “So many Vietnam veterans were not welcomed home in a positive way, so to have this welcome was so deserving for Chuck. You could see his face on the big screen, he was thrilled. I’ll bet he had a big old lump in his throat.”
Chuck has plenty of memories and stories from serving in the Army and enduring constant combat while in Vietnam. He is willing to share, but remains humble about his role as a soldier.
One of his jobs was to figure the data for how his six-gun artillery unit would respond with shells after receiving coordinates of the enemy’s position via radio from advanced infantry scouts.
“I only did what I was supposed to do,” Chuck says. “You had to be accurate with the information because your infantry was so close to the enemy. There was a lot of pressure because you were dealing with our people’s lives every day.”
He says during one three- to four-hour period, his unit’s six guns fired 1,853 shells. He says he wasn’t bothered by any emotional strain regarding the damage the shells were doing to the enemy.
“It didn’t bother us because we knew we were protecting our troops out in the field,” Chuck says. “We had guys in dire straits who would call in artillery help, and we delivered it. That was our enemy.
“It was quite an experience for a farm kid from Minnesota. But I don’t regret the experience.”
Chuck remains in touch with some of the men he served and fought with, especially on Veterans Day each November 11 when the men exchange emails.
Chuck also attends Elkton School District’s annual veterans celebration at the high school.
“They put on a well-planned, heartwarming observance for veterans,” he says. “It’s pretty emotional. It’s really impressive that a little local community like Elkton would reach out like that to veterans. I know the veterans really appreciate it.”
Chuck is from a small community in Minnesota. He grew up on a small dairy farm and learned about hard work at a young age.
“That’s just what you did on a dairy farm,” he says.
Chuck decided farming wasn’t for him. He earned bachelor’s degrees in political science and history with a minor in marketing from Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota.
He got married after his graduation and thus had deferments as both a student and married man. But the draft process changed two weeks after his marriage, and he received a draft notice.
Chuck signed up for Officer Candidate School, committing himself to three years of military service. But after eight weeks of advanced training for OCS, he decided to opt out, reverting back to a two-year commitment.
“It wasn’t important to me to be an officer,” Chuck says. “I was just a farm kid. Being newly married, I wanted to get back to civilian life. Vietnam was looming, and I didn’t want the extra year of service.”
A few weeks after opting out of OCS, Chuck was sent to Vietnam and assigned to an artillery unit. He says the unit was on the move every two to three days so the enemy couldn’t focus in on it.
A monsoon hit at one stop, and the unit’s trucks became stuck. The unit came under a fierce mortar attack. Chuck was not injured and helped numerous wounded soldiers during evacuations.
“I don’t know why I wasn’t hit,” he says, adding that was the most intense battle he was in.
Seven soldiers died in the attack, and 33 were wounded.
Chuck was awarded the Bronze Medal for his actions in helping others during the attack. He received a second Bronze Star for his overall service during his time in Vietnam. The Bronze Medal is awarded to those who “distinguish himself or herself by heroic or meritorious achievement or service.”
Chuck spent 21 months in the Army and was discharged in 1967. As a civilian, he worked in agri-business for grain and turf companies in Montana and Oregon before retiring to the Elkton area in 2008.
“This is beautiful country,” he says from his deck. “I feel extremely fortunate this is where my retirement ended up.”