Editor's note: This is the first of two parts. The second part will be in July 22 OBSERVER.
United States Army - US 51774808
Spec. 4, Pay grade E-4
Army Job 11 B-20
Tour of duty: 1 year, 1 month, 23 days
L.R.R.P. (long range recon patrol) - In the Vietnam War, Gen. Westmoreland redesigned the recon units from a two-man size into six to eight men. Such teams would leave their command areas and gather enemy movement and strength size. Other times they were used to seek and destroy enemy tunnels and base camps.
Medals, ribbons and awards: Vietnamese Service, Vietnam Campaign, National Defense, Army Achievement award, Army Unit Citation, Combat Action Ribbon, M14 Expert, 45-pistol Sharpshooter
Companion: Janice Abbey, 17 years of friendship, traveling and attending many military reunions of John's Vietnam outfit
Children: Michael, Todd and Devon
Grandchildren: Amanda, Brandon, Derrick and Myllisa
John G. Becker was born in Silver Creek on July 7, 1944, at the old Reihart Hospital located on the Silver Creek Hill. His parents were George and Gladys (Earle). In 1950 they moved to Forestville to a larger home that John's father built in order to raise their six children.
John's siblings were Nancy, Jean, Joan, Jim and Jerry. The Becker family had lost an infant girl due to a childhood illness. Besides being a mother and homemaker, John's mother also was a junior high English teacher in the Silver Creek school district. John's father sold farm equipment, raised beef cattle, worked his grape farm and did television repair. John recalled that the majority of all problems were the tubes. John remembers as a child he would sometimes go on repair calls with his dad. His job was handing the tubes and making sure the tube box was always full before leaving home.
The family's great love was in the grape vineyards, always trimming, pulling brush, fertilizing and coming in with some of the best grape harvest in the area. John's father was so involved with grape farming that he and four other farmers got togethers to create the Welch Grape Growers Co Op., an organization that brought all grape farmers together to learn and understand all the ins and outs of grape farming. Belonging to this brought out the best ways to bring in record crops along with easier ways to farm and harvest the crop.
John spent much of his teenage years working the farm, driving the tractor and making sure the cattle was fed. When not farming John would go swimming with his friends, Ed Dominico and the Olson brothers, Gary, Glen and Larson. They would go to Silver Creek's Sunset Bay area or to the Hanover Town Park where all the group participated in the swimming life saving program. At Forestville High School, the group also belonged to the FFA (Future Farmers of America).
When John was old enough to drive, he turned heads with his Kysor, his custom made car. Later John picked up a fiberglass dune buggy that at night would drag along the beaches in Dunkirk's Wright Park. It was common to see drag racing along a deserted country road.
After graduating high school, John attended Alfred Tech College studying soil. The one class needed for this was agronomy. In two years John completed his college courses and went to work at the Little Valley Machine Shop where he worked the milling machine for $2 an hour and 40 hours a week. Later he went to work at the Carnation Factory in South Dayton as a filler for $4.20 an hour. After taking some in-company courses, John was promoted to quality control.
One day he received a letter summoning him to appear in Dunkirk. Later he found his way to Buffalo and its federal building. He had hoped that this might be a dream, but it wasn't long before John was on a bus to the Buffalo Airport for a plane to Pittsburgh.
After a brief stop, the plane's next stop brought him to Atlanta. Later that night, John was sleeping in his new bed at the United States Army's Fort Bennings boot camp. Here John was trained for 16 weeks, though it seemed like 16 years. He was later given orders to his new base in Tigerland at Fort Polk, La. All he seemed to do here was march, march and march. It was as if they were drilling him to be in a color guard somewhere very important. To John it seemed as if he were marching 20 hours a day. As the days passed, the marching changed to learning all the Army's new weapons. He then got the chance to fire the M-14, the M-16, the 45-pistol, the M-79 grenade launcher and even the 60mm and 50mm machine guns. As this special training was winding down, almost 99 percent of his platoon received orders for West Pac (Western Pacific Vietnam). John's orders read: report for leave three days and report for mountain training at Schofield barracks, Honolulu, Hawaii. He wondered why he only had a three-day leave and why he was chosen for duty in Hawaii and not Vietnam like most of his training battalion.
Upon reporting John was told to not to get excited about being assigned duty in the Hawaiian islands.
His duties here were mountain training, riot control and generator school. The generator school was being taught at the University of Hawaii at Honolulu. John finally learned that the Army was forming a new brigade from scratch. Here John would train from November until April 1968. In Hawaii, he received daily news about the war including the battles of hills 881 north and 861 south, the start of TET and a little outpost called Khe Sanh that was drawing daily incoming and massive B-52 arc light raids. The country was now losing 20 to 30 men daily and the TET seemed as if it may be the final push to either win or lose this war. Knowing he was headed for Vietnam made each day seem like he was actually there.
In April this new brigade was gearing up for the 12-hour flight to Vietnam. Their destination was Chu Lai, a large village in the southern part of the DMZ (the demilitarization zone). Arriving here was like landing in a scary dream.
As the plane slowed down at the end of the very short runway, one could see sandbags everywhere protecting almost anything that was above ground. People were going every direction, and it seemed as if no one cared or worried about what the other guy was doing; everyone seeming to be on a special mission and doing their best to complete it. The plane was like an oven and John couldn't wait for the door to open to get some relief from the outside air, but the minute the door opened he felt as though he was standing in front of a furnace with the air getting hotter by the second.
As the troops exited, the smell of diesel fumes was everywhere, a smell that let John know that he was now in Vietnam.
NEXT WEEK: Part two of John Becker's service.