Eye Witness Testimonies: Louise Barr
Wife of Vietnam Veteran
Edited from interview with Kelsey Perkey, May 2005
My name is Louise Barr and I am married to Vietnam veteran Rick Barr. We were married in June of 1969 just before he entered graduate school. He decided to go to graduate school because he felt that he was going to get drafted even though any full time student, at that time, had a good chance of being drafted. Rick got his physical notice around August of that same year but the Army did not send his actual draft notice until September. However, Rick was deferred for a year, until June, because he had already paid for graduate school. We were very fortunate. Being deferred delayed his training and gave us a little over a year together as newly weds.
We had decided to get married just after Rick had graduated from college. During that time if you were not married then it was the norm for younger people to live together. Parents frowned upon too close of a relationship without marriage first. A lot of my friends were in the same situation as Rick and I; their significant others potentially leaving for war, and they thought that it would be a lot easier to endure the time apart if they had that dependable relationship. Plus they would always have the R&R, when the soldiers got to have a little time off to see their wives and families. The army would usually give you a break about half way through your tour, but in order to be able to spend time together during that break we would have to be married. Another trend was for newly married couples to have a child before their husbands left for duty. This was just in case the worst happened and their significant others would not return home, then there would always be something to remember them by. Rick and I decided that this was unnecessary since there was no reason to presume the worst, only to expect him home in after he served his country. It would be unfair to him to miss out on the birth of his child and not be able to be a part of the first few essential years. We also had a lot of things that we wanted to do together before settling down and having a baby right away.
When Rick’s training actually began there was no doubt that he was going to Vietnam. First he went to basic school in New Jersey, then a few other minor training schools along the way. Quite a few people tried to convince him to enroll in officers candidate school, but he choose not to because he would have to have four years of training before even entering combat. He instead decided to serve his tour of two years. After training in New Jersey, he headed to Fort Polk, Louisiana, for infantry training. This didn’t sit well with Rick because he disliked guns, and of course in infantry training you were taught how to be a ground soldier, or a grunt, and defend yourself in hand to hand combat. Most of the men that were training at this camp were being sent to Vietnam and this distressed Rick a little. But because of his educational background, he was sent to NCO school in Fort Benning, Georgia, so he had a few more months before actually going to Vietnam. He actually didn’t go to Vietnam for another year and several months, around July of 1971, because of his in-depth training.
My first reaction when I found out that Rick was leaving for Vietnam was not terror. We were in our early twenties and at that time we both felt a pretty invincible. I definitely didn’t worry about it nearly as much as his mother did, because I think when you are that young you can’t really identify with that kind of mortality. But now that I am a mother and have a son that is a marine, it would be a lot more stressful. I would have a totally different approach if it was my son entering that kind of war environment.
Even though the news reports were a little graphic, I felt comfortable because my husband was attached to a hospital in Long Binh. It was a pretty safe environment so there wasn’t much to worry about. There wasn’t e-mail back then to contact each other; the only ways to talk to one another were letters and HAM operated telephones. The phone calls consisted of Rick having to stand in line for quite a while and then his phone being connected to a phone here in the states and then to my phone. Every time you said something you had to end it with “over” because that would be the cue for the operator to transfer the transmission. In one of these phone conversations we talked about one of his friends from infantry training whose truck ran over a land mine. The young man avoided death but still sustained minor injuries. I just had to make clear that I did not want him to be any kind of hero and not to volunteer for anything outside of his job. He was in a safe place and to please stay there and serve his term in the hospital and come home.
He got his job as a member of the hospital after first getting off the airplane in Vietnam and the officers asked if anyone had any training in psychology, sociology, or guidance counseling. Rick, of course, had training in two out of the three and was treated quite well as a result. One of my neighbors at the time had a husband who was a captain in the DMZ area and once while on the phone he actually told her that he was under the bed for shelter because there were bombs going off in the background. Rick was not in any situations like this and we are very fortunate and have always felt that someone was looking over us.
While Rick was gone I kept very busy to distract myself from thinking about different things. I was teaching German at a middle school in the Penn Matter school district in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Instead of staying in our apartment by myself, I moved back in with my parents, who actually lived about 45 minutes away from where I worked, and I commuted everyday. This really helped the time pass very quickly because I stayed busy. I also had a part time job on the weekends in a department store. All in all, I probably kept myself involved in enough things that I really didn’t dwell on what was going on, the fact that we were separated, but that’s my personality. I try to work through things and not dwell on them as much. I always used to get tired of people coming up to me when they knew he was leaving for Vietnam. I was being brave and facing things as well as I thought anyone could, and they would come up to me and start crying because he was going. I just wanted them to stay away from me because I didn’t need that; I didn’t want to be overly emotional about anything. I really didn’t feel like that was going to help me at that time.
Rick got home in December of ’71 for his R&R. I could have gone to Hawaii and met him there and stayed for a week, but instead he could come home to the states and been able to stay for two weeks, so that was obviously the better decision. He had been away for six months and then stayed home for two weeks and then as soon as he went back to Vietnam he got his papers that said he was going to be released early so he could go back to school. At that time they were starting to send troops home and he was one of the initial people that could go home. He was actually only in Vietnam about seven months; we were very lucky.
When my husband first returned to normal life he didn’t really seem different. I think that one major effect of Vietnam on him was that he felt that he had fallen behind other people, career wise. Right after he received his draft notice, the lottery system was enacted and his birthday was a very high number and if he had not gotten his notice before the lottery, then he probably wouldn’t have even had to serve. In the bigger picture it was an experience that was important to him. It was also significant to be able to put that on his resume; people looked more positively at the fact that he was willing and able to serve his country.
One of the first things that I took care of when I knew that he was coming home was finding an apartment and moving out of my parents’ house. First on Rick’s agenda was having a Whopper or two. He was tired of eating out of the mess hall and Vietnamese food and was ready to be welcomed home by some American food. We just wanted to start our lives again as a couple and he re-enrolled into graduate school and finished his degree even though he never actually became a guidance counselor.
He made some friends that we stayed in touch with over the years. We still have that contact with them, sometimes just a letter at Christmas. At a football game at Notre Dame we met a couple that lives in Michigan for a little reunion. Because of where he was Rick had a much better time than most did in Vietnam. He was in a safe environment and learned a lot. “Fortunately we didn’t know anyone that lost their live over there and those that did we will always keep them in our hearts and prayers.”
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