Interview with Jeff Bramblett, Part 7
This audio interview details Jeff Bramblett’s time with the U.S. Coast Guard during the Vietnam War. In this segment, Bramblett talks about life after the war and gives advice to servicemen and women who are thinking of enlisting. He also describes what it was like to see the ocean for the first time.
WONGSRICHANALAI: Did your … or … After your time of service, has your conception of the United States and the world changed?
BRAMBLETT: I really quit thinking about that. I didn’t care. I … I literally lost four jobs in the year after I got out of the service because they found out I was a Vietnam veteran. One of the aircraft carriers—and I had a friend onboard who was from Sulphur Springs—was coming underneath the San Francisco bridge and they dumped two fifty-five gallon drums of pigs blood onto the deck of it as it came underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. They were standing … When a ship comes in, they line up in their dress uniforms and he literally got covered with it. And he’s never been the same. It really … It really messed him up. I’ve been married several times. I had … I don’t have them as much, but I had nightmares and flashbacks. At first I thought maybe I was going crazy. Didn’t know how to … You couldn’t get any help. I went to the VA and all they wanted to do with you was give you Thorazine. And I realized that that wasn’t what I wanted. And my mother and my first wife had taken me there saying, “You need help. You’ve got to have some help.” My mother and my father had both said that they didn’t understand what had happened to me or who I was anymore. I heard … If I heard it once, I heard it a thousand times, “You need to just put it behind you and go on. Just forget about it and go on.” You can’t see and be involved in life and death on that personal of a level and ever put it behind you. It’s going to be with you the rest of your life. And it’s not just Vietnam, that’s any war. I am so worried about the kids coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq. They have the same problem we had: you can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys. You know, if they don’t have a gun in their hand they look just like … well, they look like somebody from Afghanistan or Iraq, you know? They were Vietnamese, you know? We had no way of knowing who was good and who was bad.
WONGSRICHANALAI: Is there any advice you would give to young men and women who are just entering the service?
BRAMBLETT: Listen to what you are being taught. Whatever your job is, you learn it to the point you can do it in your sleep because you may have to do it in the middle of the night and you never know when it’s going to get to be bad. I salute them. They’re, I think, the best Americans we have. And every war, every war, takes away some of the best. I’ve worn this bracelet since 1970. It’s Lieutenant Jack C. Rittichier. He was a helicopter pilot in the Coast Guard. It’s very … Not many people know the Jolly Green Giants, which were used to pick up pilots that were shot down … that a third of all those pilots were Coast Guard. It was Air Force helicopter but because we had search and rescue experience, they used Coast Guard pilots a lot. And he … There was an F-4 Phantom went down in the corner of South Vietnam and Cambodia-Laos. It was late in the day. It was during the monsoon. He raked together a crew because nobody was wanting to take it. They thought well … There was … There was radio traffic that they were on the ground and alive, the pilots were. It was a set up. Their emergency radio beacon had been turned on by the NVA. When they went in, they were telling them to pop a certain color of smoke and they popped that smoke. There was a gun ship with them and it had made two or three ground passes and had not received any fire. They were very disciplined and they waited until that big helicopter came in to pick them up and blew it out of the sky. And he was listed as a POW for about five years before they did turn it out that he had died in the … in the helicopter when it went down. But they used that against us, that they had our men. There was … The Vietnamese are, in my opinion, as far as I’m concerned, very cruel people. They had … You know, they had defeated the French. They released six men that they had kept since 1954 in 1969 and the only reason they kept them was just prove they could. They wouldn’t do what they wanted, so they just kept them. They finally decided they had all the Americans they wanted so they released the French.
WONGSRICHANALAI: How do you spell his name?
BRAMBLETT: Let me see. R-I-T-T-I-C-H-I-E-R. His first name was Jack, middle initial “C.” He was shot down June 9, 1968.
WONGSRICHANALAI: One more question, I should have ask much earlier. You said that you had never seen the ocean before
WONGSRICHANALAI: What was your reaction when you first saw all that blue?
BRAMBLETT: I was stunned. I mean, it … it never stops and it just keeps coming. I firmly believe in God and that he built this world and I looked at that and realized that … the awesomeness of it. When I’ve sailed on it … You can stand on the deck of a boat or a ship when you’re on the ocean and you can see twelve miles if it’s a clear day. That’s what the horizon, that’s how far you can see, the horizon. And you can sail on it day after day after day, and it’s just there. It never stops. I rode out four hurricanes and one typhoon while I was in the Coast Guard and … It … The power of a hurricane … A tornado is like … I mean, y’all know what a tornado is like here in West Texas. A hurricane covers hundreds of miles. I … I was there, and I was based in Mobile when I came back. Hurricane Camille came ashore at Biloxi Mississippi at 212 mile per hour. Pass Christian, Mississippi is exactly where it hit. The eye came in and it destroyed the entire town. It was all under water the next day. I was on a rescue helicopter. We went there and there was nothing. We diverted back to Biloxi because there was nothing left of Pass Christian. The movie Forrest Gump … that movie. It’s got Forrest Gump in it.
WONGSRICHANALAI: Tom Hanks?
BRAMBLETT: Yeah, Tom Hanks. I can’t think the name of it all of a sudden.
WONGSRICHANALAI: It’s about? What is it about?
BRAMBLETT: It’s about the guy Forrest Gump. He’s … He has problems with his legs. He’s in braces …
WONGSRICHANALAI: Forrest Gump.
BRAMBLETT: OK, that is the title. I’m sorry. Just wasn’t … I was just thinking that it should have been something else. Anyway … in there with the Lieutenant there in that storm and there’s one shrimp boat left, that’s Pass Christian Mississippi, and that is pretty accurate. So, anyway.