This interview was conducted by Eric Ocegueda on November 1, 2008 in San Antonio, TX. as part of Palo Alto College’s History 1302 – Fall 2008 class.
Paul Montes was born in San Antonio, Texas on September 19 1947 he was born to parents Paul and Janie Montes. Paul- known as Pauli- was the oldest of four siblings, two brothers and two sisters. Raised in San Antonio, he graduated from Fox Tech High School on July 26, 1967. He attended San Antonio College, where his major was mechanical engineering. While in school he worked a part time job in an automobile shop. All his plans and goals changed when he was forced to enlist in the United States Army. He was drafted to the Vietnam War along with many of his high school graduates that were now people he worked with. Pauli had no choice it was either service or five years in jail. “I was scared when I was drafted, I did not know what to do”.
He fought for his country side by side with many brave men. After two years in combat in 1969 he returned home. Six months after returning home he met a beautiful woman by the name of Luz Lopes, they joined their lives in November 21 1970. They were blessed with two children, Paulie Jr. and Noemi.
Pauli did not return to college, he worked for Builders Square. After working there for nineteen years, it went out of business . At age sixty -one, he is now an associate of The Home Depot, he has been working there for ten years
What were your thoughts when you found out you were being drafted?
Were you scared? I guess, I guess everybody at that time was scared because there was nothing you could really do you only had two options either you go get drafted or you spend five years in the penitentiary for not going into the draft. So we were young at the time we didn’t know any better we didn’t have any other option that to go ahead into the service.
Where did you do your basic training?
My basic training was down at Fort Carson Colorado basically I spend about two months and that’s your basic training. The only thing you learn there is actually just to maintain yourself clothe, get yourself into shape and from there they send us to what they called AIT (Advance Infantry Training) which was at Fort Port Louisiana. That one was three months, on there is mainly all combat. They show you how to use a rifle, the elements of the weather more or less traps that they would use in Vietnam. They get you ready for combat, that lasted like three months and from there it was straight down to Vietnam.
Where were you located?
I was located out there what they call the iron triangle in Vietnam and that would cover anywhere between Lack land, Saigon it was a large area that we use to cover. We had no specific base we were just out there in the jungle we had no base camp it was just a big hole on the ground.
Can you explain this picture for me? When was it taken and by who?
This was taken by a friend of mine; his name was Gaska he was living up in New York. We had actually gone to a search and destroy mission we had to go to this place… actually what happened, they had poured Agent Orange and all the vegetation died out there. It must have been about one hundred Vietnamese dead so we had to go search the bodies to make sure that they were all dead, and we had just taken a break, there were people all over just dead, but that’s what happen when they pour Agent Orange on there, everything burns up it takes about a month before it actually starts dying out like that.
Why was the United States of America in Vietnam in the first place?
Well, it was supposed to be a humanitarian reason that the U.S went into Vietnam. It’s like what is happening right now in Zimbabwe and all those places. They have massacres of the families out there. Especially in Vietnam, the people the farmers that didn’t cooperate with what they call North Vietnamese regulars they would be either executed killed or their families would have been taken over. Not too many good things were happening to the kids at that time, especially girls but it was mainly humanitarian reasons that we went over there. That thing just kind of got out of hand.
What were your thoughts when you first stepped in Vietnam soil?
It was mainly scare just like everybody else you know; like I said we were young you just did what you were told to do. We were just scared all the time; I don’t think there was a day that I wasn’t scared out there.
What was your rank if you had one?
When I went to Vietnam I was a private first class and in less than one month I got promoted to E5 sergeant E5. We had run into a base camp and since I was the oldest one I got early promotion because a lot of sergeants got killed out there. (He was eighteen years old). We actually had kids out there that were sixteen years old. What was going on was the government was not actually checking or didn’t care, or whatever happened but these kids were putting false ids and they were going out there. In fact I meet a kid that had lost both of his legs he was from the same hospital that I was in and he was sixteen years old lost both of his legs out there.
Why were you in the hospital?
The first time I had shrapnel in my knee cap, it split my knee cap in half. I went to what they call a match unit were they patch you up. They send me back to the field, two months later they blew up my leg up there in a land mind. That was my second time in the hospital that one lasted almost two months to get patched up. Once they patched me up they send me back to the field. I was an E5 sergeant I was one of the oldest one out there I got send back to the field.
What was your primary job?
My primary job out there, I was in charge of what they call a machine gun squad we use to have two M60 machine guns out there and each soldier that carry a M60 had two ammo barrels, those ammo barrels carry two cans of rounds. Each round carried two hundred and fifty rounds on there. My job was actually taking care of my friends out there, making sure that his guns were clean. Every day we would clean them up because it would always rain; we would be on the mud. It was mainly taking care of my soldiers my friends making sure they were ready.
Was the machine gun your primary weapon?
Yes, that was my primary weapon. First when I got out there I had a M16 but I guess after a month they gave me a M60 and that’s what I did I carried a M60 on my time out there.
What was your main transportation while in Vietnam?
Your main transportation was your feet, we had no main transportation, and we walked all day. You walked from five, six o’clock in the morning until almost eight o’clock at night depending what time we would get back or we would stay out there because a fire fight. There was no transportation it was all foot out there.
What are you leaning on?
That was our base camp. That was my main house right here, my bunker. It’s actually six feet down the ground then what we do we get parts of trees and put them on top of our bunker we start putting sand bags on top of it. We have a little bit of an opening its almost eight inches by three feet long so we could take out our M60 and that’s where we use to put our fire support. We had three guys that use to share the bunker, three guys shared the bunker. Two guys would sleep and one would stay up, when the other guy would get sleepy he would wake up the other guy and we would just change around like that. This here in the back it’s actually what they call an outhouse, that’s your restroom.
How big was your company?
My company had one hundred soldiers and each one had a different thing to do. We had guys that were called tunnel rats, the guys that would go into the holes to check if there were any Vietnamese in there. So we worked together and we fought together.
Was there any drinking in your unit?
No, there was no drinking in my unit. Vietnam is not like today, because when we were out there we were in a base camp, this base camp is nothing but jungle there are no stores, there’s no big base camps to give you anything. The only thing we ever drank was water. Once in a blue moon they would take us to the main base camp so we could change cloths the main base camp did have bear so we would drink, but were we were at there was nothing out there.
What was happening in this picture?
These are my friend’s right here, there was a little stream that ran by our base camp and they were actually washing their clothes. That’s the way we would wash our clothes out there, like I said there is no laundry no cleaning supplies. You only had one set of clothes, you would take a shower whenever you could, either if it rain or there was a creek you would take a bath. One of my friends right here (to the left) we were pulling point, point is when you go ahead of the company about five hundred feet and you send two men ahead of the company and we had just gone through an open little road when they open fire on us, one of the bullets hit his magazine and one of the rounds of his magazine hit him right underneath his chin and it blew his face off, he was about ten feet away from me when he died.
How were your supplies received?
Our supplies were mainly dropped of my helicopters and that is how we got our sea rations we didn’t have no hot food. All we had was sea rations, sea rations is a little box you get with different types of food, that’s all you had for two days. What I’m talking about two days, they would give you two days rations. They give you two boxes for each day; you keep that in your bunker and that is all you had to eat.
How was your downtime spent?
Downtime spent was mainly resting, whenever we had a chance we would rest, we would sleep. Two guys would sleep and one would stay up either in the day time or night time. If we had a chance we would wash our cloths. If there was a creek nearby we would wash out cloths, there was no laundry matt for us. The clothes we has was all we wore, we didn’t have a change of clothes we just had a set of clothes and that was it, you had no t-shirts no shorts you had one pair of socks and that would last you until you got back to the big base camp and they would change your clothe. So our time was mainly spent resting, writing letters or sometimes if a guy had a radio we would listen to songs, just take it easy but that was our past time over there.
Did you have a daily routine?
Once you get up you would go out there in what they call search and destroy missions you walk around certain parts of the country. You would start of from the base camp and start walking or if there was a hot LP (a hot landing point) they would take you out there with helicopters, where they thought there might be Vietnamese what they call Vietcong. They would drop us of over there; our daily routines were really search and destroy what they call SAD.
Did you keep in touch with any family or friends while in Vietnam?
My mother, she was the only one I wrote to. I wrote my mother as often as I could, we didn’t have too many friends we could write to when we were over there. That’s was my dad told me not to get married before I went over there because it wouldn’t last long.
How were you received when you returned home?
When we came back the reception was… they didn’t want us back in the states when we came back. It was a bad reception, people use to spit in our face, call us names, it was real hard for us. We just learn I guess to ignore it or…… it was real hard. Thank god today is a lot different, where soldiers get accepted on good bases because when we came back, nobody wanted us back. It was hard for us even to get a date at that time, they use so say we were all a bunch of drug addicts, dope heads which we weren’t. Yes there were a lot of guys smoking marijuana out there but the majority didn’t. The media just kind of put us in a bad spot calling us baby killers. The news always got the bad side of Vietnam, they never got the good side when we went over there and helped people out, and they never did.
When you came back home was it hard to find a job?
I could not get a job when I came back home, no one wanted to hire me I had to go and dig holes for a living. Even when I went and apply to Kelly, Kelly didn’t hire me. They told me, “go down there they are hiring you’re a veteran they’ll hire you.” They were hiring more civilians than veterans; I don’t know how many times I applied for jobs. I just dig holes for a living that is how I supported myself. Then I started being a welder, I worked real hard. All my life I worked hard. It was just hard when we came back, hard to get a job and no respect.
Would you visit Vietnam today if given the opportunity?
No, I don’t think I would. I lost a lot of good friends out there and I’m not talking about three or four I’m talking about a lot of good friends.
Is there anything else you would like to add to this interview?
Yes, the only thing I got to add is that a lot of good friends died out there, a lot of guys are still missing, there still finding bodies of soldier and bringing them to the United States. Not too long ago they found an air land that had died out there, they finally found his body. The only thing I have to ask is that I hope we don’t have to go through this again, I know we are doing it right now but it’s going to have to end, we are losing too many good boys out there too many good boys are getting hurt. Sometimes some of these people don’t want us out there, just like Vietnam real close to the end they didn’t want us there the Vietnamese didn’t want us there. I’m not talking about the North Vietnamese regulars, the Vietcong I’m talking about the real people they didn’t want us there no more, and that’s what’s happening right now in Afghanistan I think, too many people don’t want us there. I have a son in law on the service, every time he gets moved to another place I’m just hoping it’s not Iraq or Afghanistan. One time we got into a fire fight out there and we went into this village and we were surrounded we couldn’t move, there was a sniper this sniper was popping guys off I mean this guy was good. These Vietnamese people they are hardcore people I mean they are good they are good soldiers. There was a sniper on the tree, he had already gotten the master sergeant and I saw him up on the tree and I fired at the soldier. What happened is when I fired my M60 two rounds went into the chamber, when I picked up the cover to pull out the rounds I heard a clacking sound from the AK49, when I lift up my head I just saw the bullet coming at me, it hit right here on the right side of my head it went between the steel pot and the liner the slug went around on the inside and come out the other side of the steel pot liner, I swear to God I tell my granddaughter this actually happened when I knocked out I saw Jesus Christ, I guess the good Lord was not ready for me to go, but that was a close one, that was the closet one form having my leg blown up my knee cap split that was close right there when I got shoot in the head. It knocked me out for about twenty minutes until they came and woke me up. A friend of mine said he thought I was dead when it hit me, but just goes to show you the good Lord when ever his ready he will come for you. It doesn’t have to be in combat doesn’t have to be in a dance it could be anywhere it could be at work. We thought we were going into a village only it wasn’t a village it was a base camp a Vietnamese base camp and they were already waiting for us so when we went in there we got surrounded I mean….. it got real bad right there. We didn’t get out until eleven o’clock at night we started pulling out of the little village, I guess all the Vietnamese had left they did there damage. Mainly the Vietnamese…. they were actually train to wound you and not kill you they figured if they would you they would keep you out there and if they killed you they would send replacements right away. That is why they were train mainly to wound you. Those little people they are strong people, I got a lot of respect for them, I sure do. I didn’t come back home until I did my time out there. When I got my knee cap split they patched me up and send me back to the field even though I couldn’t walk until I finally got my strength back on my leg and the when I blew my leg with a landmine they patched me up and send me back to the field. You would have to be real bad for them to send you home, since I was an E5 sergeant they kept me out there, they were keeping the guys with more experience even though they were hurt, they would patch you up and send you back. Oh yes one thing don’t believe this movies you see on TV about Vietnam a lot of the time they show the negatives. I guess that is why these people think we would always had a good time. They show some of these movies with guys smoking cigarettes, dancing around you would never play music out there especially at night time. The Vietnamese out there they were good they could aim any kind of motor and hit you without even having to measure that’s how good they are, you know what I mean… A lot of these movies don’t believe them, it’s not true, guy walking around with no t-shirts, walking around with muscle shirts and stuff like that bandanas on their head. You always had your steal pot; your steal pot was your lifesaver. Because look at me had I be wearing just a bandana and they would shoot me in the head I would have been dead I wouldn’t be here talking to you.
Doing this oral history project I learn that all Veterans do not receive the respect and acknowledgement they deserve. They fought for what they believed in sometimes willingly and other times forcibly, none the less they risked their lives or gave their lives for our country. A lot of young man died in Vietnam soil fighting for humanitarian reasons they tried to improve lives of others in different countries, they followed their government commands and in the end the Vietnam War left more sorrow and sadness than improvement and happiness. When the Vietnam War Veterans returned home after fighting for their country the reception was horrible. Most Veterans were neglected and overlooked by our community because of the media. The media portrayed soldiers as drug addicts, rapist and baby killers. Some of our Vietnam Soldiers were killed by our own people in airports as they returned home. It was hard for some to get a job or even a date. Pauli Montes had a hard time adapting to civilization he was one of the soldiers that were rejected by society. Slowly he was able to overlook negligence and started living his life; He honorably fought for our Country. I learned how to appreciate the life that is given to us here in United States but more importantly I learned how to appreciate the people that fight or have fought for our freedom.
- 9-19-1947 Paul Montes was born
- 6-20-1958 Graduated from Margi Elementary
- 8-22-1962 Graduated from Jr. Washington Erving
- 5-19-1966 Graduated from Fox Tech High School
- 2-5-1967 Was drafted to the Vietnam War
- 2-25-1967 Went through Advance Infantry Training (AIT)
- 5-16-1967 Was promoted to E5 sergeant
- 5-20-1969 Returned Home from Vietnam
- 8-22-1969 Meet Luz Lopez
- 9-21-1970 Married Luz Lopez
- 8-25-1971 First Child was born Paul Montes Jr.III
- 6-16-1975 Second Child was born Noemi Montes
- 9-26-1979 Started working at Builders Square
- 2-24-1997 Builders Square went out of business (helped closed it)
- 5-16-1998 Stared working at Home Depot
- 11-1-2008 Was interviewed by Erica Ocegueda
- Agent Orange and Vietnam Veterans- Herbicide Exposure. Paul Montes was exposed to Agent Orange while in Vietnam. Source: United States Department of Veterans Affairs. Last reviewed/Updated Date: December 1, 2008.
- San Antonio College Paul Montes attended to San Antonio College.
- The Handbook of Texas Online is a multidisciplinary encyclopedia of Texas history, geography, and culture sponsored by the Texas State Historical Association and the General Libraries at UT-Austin. It was produced in partnership with the College of Liberal Arts and the General Libraries at the University of Texas at Austin. Copyright © The Texas State Historical Association.
- Zimbabwe Paul Montes compares the situation that is occurring right now in Zimbabwe to what was happening in Vietnam in the 1960’s. U.S. Department of State: Bureau of African Affairs. November 2008.