I asked Flavie if this information could it be included in his oral history? He said, "Yes."
Monday, November 12, 2012
Oral History Interview with Flavie Hugh Ellison II, Vietnam War Veteran
What are some of the lasting effects of fighting a war, in your opinion?
I used to be a big hunter but I don't even own a gun now, I have got deer and rabbits running all over my property and I can't even shoot one, because I was in a war. I was in the Vietnam War. I don't own a gun. I saw so much killing. I got a five gallon bucket of rocks I throw at rabbits and deer because I can't shoot anything. I can't do it. No war movies. I can't watch any war movies or any movies where people get killed. I just can't do it. When I was young, I watched all those vampire movies and everything but after the war, I can't do it.
Now about half the guys over there, you know, I remember all their faces, but not their names. All the guys had nicknames and mine was "Crazy L" (L was for Ellison).
A good friend of mine that was over there-I haven't got a hold of since then. His grandmother was still on the reservation I think, Okalahoma. She was full-bloodied Cherokee, and his nickname was "Fast Eddie." Damn, all those memories.
What was it like growing up for you?
See, my parents died when I was young and I walked to grade school. It was back in those days when there were no buses for grade schools kids. I walked three miles one way to school. It was a two room school and the last half of my eighth grade year, I was the only one in the eighth grade. "Talkin' small." Yeah, I was the only eighth grade student. The other family moved away. There was two of us at the beginning of the year and they moved down south, so that left me the only one in the eighth grade.
How did you parents die?
My Dad-a car ran over my Dad. Three years later, my Mom died of cancer. I may have been ten at that time. I lived with my one grandmother on and off for awhile. There were seven of us kids. My one aunt, mom's sister up in
took the three youngest, my oldest sister and my oldest brother were on their
own. The other aunt took my other
brother just out on Cranberry Road
in Craigsville. My grandmother took
me. I had to cut the grass, work in the
garden. They didn't like for me to go
anywhere, and she was raising another child who had living parents.
Grandma Bessie was getting some kind of check for me, but I never did see any of it. I worked in the hay field for Wade Bailey and Paul Cooper for fifty cents per hour. Then finally, things just kept getting worse where I was staying with my grandmother. I just took off. My senior year in high school-do you know where
is, between Craigsville and
Richwood? I lived down there. I gathered up an old blanket and a pillow from
somewhere and I slept out in the middle of a river on a flat rock. I ate a lot of fish. I fished every evening and every night. I was a senior in high school. See, that is why I didn't graduate, things
just got to the point where I couldn't buy my cap and gown and stuff, the last
two or three weeks I didn't go. Half the
kids didn't go. We weren't doing
anything and I already had my report card but they wouldn't let me
graduate. They said I dropped out which
was a crock. I just didn't go the last
two or three weeks, and when I went up there for graduation they wouldn't let
me in. Curtin Bridge
Shortly after that, I was, I think about nineteen, see I already had two older brothers in the Service and I was tired of not having anything, Hell, I thought I will just join the Army. I couldn't pass the physical because of the rheumatic fever I had when I was five and six years old. I was in the first grade that is why I had to pull two years of the first grade. I didn't go to school enough.
Anyway, I went up to
I had aunts and uncles and relatives, I figured Hell, I will just go up there
and get a job and I did. That would have
been in '62 or '63. I worked up there a
couple of years, then I figured well, Hell, I will just go and join the
Army. I failed again. The same thing. So then I went to Southern
my oldest sister was out there. I went
to work out there and I lived with them awhile until I got me enough money
gathered up to rent my own place.
Well, it was out in the
a beautiful area, at that time after I lived there awhile. I had five or six vehicles. I had license on every one of them and the
last day of December in '65 I bought a brand new motorcycles; I always loved
motorcycles. It was an English Bike, 750
Norton and I just had a good time. I got
in a little bit of trouble with the law, something they call "hit and
run," but the guy hit me. He was on
a 125 Honda. Sierra
I still remember his name and where he was from. His name was Abraham A.... and he was from
, and he was 41 and
weighed 220 lbs. He looked like a monkey
on a football. A big guy on a little
cycle like that. He went clear over my car. He hit my front fender. I had a '51 Ford convertible and he went over
my car slid down the street. I jumped
out and ran down there. The traffic was
swerving trying to miss him. He knocked
one of his shoes off. I am trying to get him up and out of the road and he took
off up the street running, screaming that he couldn't walk, he couldn't
walk. I could get a hold of him but he
wouldn't stop I couldn't hold him back.
I chased him about five blocks and I walked back down the street. The law was there and the ambulance. They wanted to know where the guy was. They didn't arrest me but they put me in the
car and we drove down the street. So we
went door to door looking for this guy; somebody got him stopped had him
stretched out on the bed in there. He
was screaming, crying; he was in bad shape. Pittsburgh,
The cops said if I would sign papers covering his motorcycle, ambulance bill and hospital bill and give him a $100.00 per week, they would not press charges. I paid for the motorcycle and the ambulance. They told me he would only be off work a week. So, at the end of the week I went down to where he was staying. He was still on the bed. He said he would have to be off another week. That went on five weeks.
I went down there to pay him at the end of the fifth week and the neighbors came out and said, "Man, don't you know what is going on?"
I said, "What are you talking about?"
They said that guy is a con artist. He had a '66 Cadillac convertible. His wife had a 66 Buick convertible and the three weeks I had been paying, he was off on vacation from the post office. He delivered mail on foot. So, I quit paying him. I just quit paying him. Two or three weeks went by and the law came up to where I worked about the middle of the week. They told me they would give me till Friday to come up with the rest of the guy's money.
Friday was payday and I realized I had been taken all that time for my money, so I said, "You know I am not going to pay that."
I sold my '51 Ford convertible to my oldest brother who lived out there and I sold my '33 Ford pickup truck and my other vehicles I just left the key in the switch, the registration up over the sun visor and left them in the parking lot and I jumped on a motorcycle and headed for
West Virginia. That was July 22, 1966.
That was a fun trip. So I came to Craigsville where I was born and raised. I fooled around there for awhile. I remember I got there on Sunday. I left
California on Friday
evening and I was in Craigsville on Sunday-2650 miles. Wednesday
I figured I will just go to Florida. I had an older first cousin that lived down
there so I went down. I got there about ; she was starting to fix
dinner so I stayed and had dinner and I drank some coffee with Junior and
jumped on my bike and headed for New
I had been up there before. I had worked up there. I spent the night up there and I started back to
and I got to some little one horse- town in Texas and changed my mind and came back to West Virginia.
I was in
for awhile then I wound up in Ohio. Beautiful country, a wide stop in the
road. That was where I was working when
I got drafted.
You were drafted after failing the physical two times?
I stopped at a little post office every evening to get my mail. I got a long white envelope (about the last part of June, 1968) that said "Greetings, Uncle Sam Wants You!"
I had two weeks or so. I had to go to
Cleveland about 100 miles
to take the examination and in those days that took all day. At the end of the day, I realized I had done
passed that physical and I just asked him, "Man, you know what is going
He said, "You call me sir" and I said, "I am not in the Army yet," and he said, "You will be."
So, I asked him how could that be; I took two of these examinations before and failed both of them so he looked in my records and found my name and he said, "I see you tried to enlist."
"You have passed this one, we are making exceptions. You have been drafted."
Where did you go for Basic Training?
I had two weeks time from graduation at
to be at the Ft. Polk Seattle,
in Tacoma Airport . I was going to Washington State Vietnam.
What type of special training did you receive to prepare you for military action in
I went over there. We touched down at Cameron Bay, South Vietnam. I was there three days they had what they called three day training on the ways and customs of the people. Then they decide where everybody is going to go. I got orders to go up north-about 300 miles.
Did they fly you to
The plane came down to pick us up. It was a C130, a cargo plane; about 150 of us got on there. He had lost an engine coming down , the pilot did. (Flavie asked me, "Do you know anything about a C130?") It had four engines. He lost one coming down but all the Army had was junk. The pilot told us, "I think we can take off," and we did.
We got up there about half way and I could notice a change in the sound of the airplane. The co-pilot came back and said "Boys,that is what you are, if you get out of this you might be men."
We lost another engine on the same wing. It won't stay up with two engines. We are ten or twelve miles inland, and we were going to try to make it to the
. I will never forget what he said, now mind you,
we are heading north, he said, "We are going south and that means
Viet Cong all around. We didn't have any weapons. My God, the pilot was good. We just barely cleared that mountain range. He dipped it real hard to the left and put it down on the
. We hit the beach and it kinda skipped. We hit the beach again, hard, and it skipped
and we hit it again and it tore the right wing off and water was coming
in. That was the third day in the
country. That was the day my oldest son,
Scott was born, South China
12, 1968. (Do you know my
What is the truth about the War in
, "were we prepared?" Vietnam
Eight or ten years ago I started to write a book and I finally just gave up on it because I figured no one will believe it anyway. Four or five years ago, I sorted through everything from the fire, I wrote a song, when we crashed on that C130 on the third day; the song says, "The next nine days on the run, my year in
Nam had just
The pilot had got hold of back-up forces by radio and they sent some helicopter to pick up some of us. They brought weapons and sea rations.
I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time; I got volunteered. Someone was going to have to stay there and guard that C130, so they picked five of us and then we hid out up in the woods, in the jungle on the side of the mountain. We hid out for nine days. They finally come down and carried that crashed C130 off with those big monsters they call a flying crane; two of them hovered down over and picked it up. Then I wound up going up country about another 150 miles where I had started in the first place.
The Army didn't make any sense in those days because I was infantry and got assigned to an aviation battalion, 14th Aviation Battalion. Now this was all 14th Aviation Battalion and I was across the swamp with the 14th Security Platoon but I was assigned to 170th Aviation. Hell, I am infantry what did; I know about airplanes? Well, I found out not too long after that.
What are some of the details of being in
, like living
conditions? Were things as bad as we
Mercy, mercy, in the beginning we just had the regular bunkers in the ground. My old 1st sergeant, good old guy, he reminded me of my dad; he took care of me; he took care of me, that old boy did. He saw it somewhere-got some papers on it or something-prefabs, prefab bunkers about twenty feet off the ground and the walls and the floor and the roof were a foot and one half thick filled up with sand. The idea-being up above the ground you can see better up there looking down. So, I worked with him, me and some of the other guys and we built twelve and by that time I am already making some rank; I think I am Spec 4 by then.
I was the oldest guy there twenty five except for the Sergeant and the lifers and I am from
West Virginia. Everybody knew I was from West Virginia. He put me in charge of the bunkers. All the
city boys knew I was from West
is what got me in a lot of jams I got in over there. They just assumed if you lived in West Virginia, you lived
under a rock cliff. I lived on a rock,
but Hell, not everybody did. A lot of
times they would send me to places they would not send a city boy because they
just figured I could do it. They knew I
was coming back.
They came to me one day and said that they were going to make me Acting E5, meaning I had temporary stripes and all the responsibilities and duties of an E5, but not getting paid for it. After about a month I told them, "If I am going in to these damn hell holes and you are expecting me to come out, I am going to start having to get paid for E5."
They said, "You can't quit."
Orders came down from the battalion and I made Permanent Party, E5 Sgt. E5 gets you about $25.00 or $30.00 extra a month ( went over as E1 and within 24 hours if you are in combat zone, you go automatic E Deuce).
That was about after nine months. You see if I am not on them bunkers, I had another job there too. I done eight hours a day RTO (Radio, Telephone Operator). It was in the Command Bunker underground. I pulled twelve hours a night on the Bunker Line, then eight hrs a day in that Command Bunker, RTO. That is twenty hours a day. That only leaves four hours. Plus all the same time, I am having to fly with these yo-yos across the swamp to 176th.
What are some of the events you consider major that occurred while you were in
My God, if I told you everything it would take all day. I am going to tell you about this.
We went way up the country somewhere, me and those guys from 176th and, Hell, rather than the co-pilot on a helicopter, they called him a Peter Pilot. I am the oldest guy rather than the pilot and Peter pilot and I was given the responsibility of being Crew Chief and Door Gunner. That was with a M60 machine gun and a 50 caliber machine gun and we went up with a full rocket load, (we were carrying all the rockets we could carry) I think seventy eight and aired off all those rockets on a village, a known Cong village. We are on our way back-everybody drank beer- and we never did drink going in. Coming out is we when would drag our beer out, pilot and peter pilot are in the cockpit; me and the other guys are in the back. Hell, we are jut drinking our beer and proud of ourselves for getting out of there and swapping stories about our girlfriend or wife back in the world (that is what we called back home, "the World").
Here comes the hard part; sometimes I can get through this, sometimes I can't.
Anyway, we thought we was in the clear, but we weren't. We took a rocket in the nose, right in the front belly, and it killed the pilot; drove him right out of his seat. A mess, blew him to pieces. The peter pilot was sitting to the pilot's right. It blew his left arm off (he showed me on his arm and it was even with the shoulder) and he jump up with no arm and came to the back yelling; everybody else was crying.
I was the oldest, these guys are crying, it is starting to fill up with smoke and mind you I am infantry; but these other guys are crying and squalling. I knew they couldn't do it, so I went to the cockpit and moved what I could of the dead pilot; he was blown all to pieces and the Peter pilot. His name was Jeff; I don't remember his last name. Anyway, he started telling me which lever does what, which petal does what, what gauges to keep an eye on, what switch to flick if this happened or that happened, first time I had every been in a cockpit in my life in a helicopter. In a situation like that you had to fly at treetop level.
Now, he said enough to me, he taught me how to go up or down, left or right, then he passed out, I thought he died. I am trying to fly this damn thing and trying to take care of him; he passed out. I thought he died. We are running just about 120 miles per hour. I don't know how many miles per hour by air. It was 100 miles from back to where we were headed south, back down to the 176th and these guys in the back are still crying. I think the peter pilot is dead, (he wasn't but I didn't know that). I think it was about 120miles per hour we were flying which is something less than one hour to get down there so I start getting closer and I am starting to recognize the country. Then, I realize I don't know how to slow the thing down, hydraulic oil spraying everywhere, smoke everywhere, I am getting closer and closer and I know where I have to put down. I started working levers, pulling switches and kicking petals. I got it slowed down to 70 or 80 miles per hour.
I knew where I was going to have to put it down because if I missed we would wind up in that swamp and there was alligators in the swamp. So, I hit the ground at 70 or 80 miles per hour and it just went to flopping; it finally stopped and I realized I wasn't dead and the guys in the back, they ain't dead; they went off squalling, cussing and running off in the woods.
I got the peter pilot out and what body parts I could find of the pilot-got them and we may have been as far as that garage over there (showing me how far by pointing to a garage across the street) and it blew up.
About a week later I was in military court because I was not supposed to be flying that Huey. I was infantry.
It is just like a civilian court except it is all military. The guy was the Judge. He was Sergeant Major, something like that. They was going to court martial me because I crashed that thing and it burned up. They was going to charge me $250,000. That is about less than half of what it cost new, but it was junk in the first place. They was going to make me sign papers to the effect they was going to take all my check except of twenty percent. They was
going to take eighty percent of my check and make me sign papers to the effect that I would stay in the Army until that thing was paid for or I died, whichever one came first.
I told him, "Hey man, your Honor, I haven't had time to get Counsel yet, you know a lawyer?"
He said, "I will give you two weeks."
In two weeks I hadn't found anybody. I didn't have time to go too far so I went back down there by myself and they were going to make me do all that stuff, like they said; so about that minute this peter pilot, his name was Jeff; he found out about it someway; he showed up, the one who lost his arm.
He told them, he said, "No, you are not going to do anything like that."
He was talking to a superior officer and he didn't know my name, he just knew "Crazy L." My nickname, that is all.
He told them, " I just want this whole thing thrown out, forgotten about. If it had not been for "Crazy L," we would all be dead. It was junk anyway. They turned me loose; I was tickled to death.
I went back up and right on the Bunker Line and right back in the Command Bunker doing all the other too. This part here is kinda funny and I want to tell you about it. I didn't think it was funny then.
We had been out somewhere with this 176th again, only this time we are on what is called a fixed wing, 123: we get hit with a rocket a mortar or something and the co pilot flew the door open out of the cockpit and started throwing parachutes at everybody-only five of us in there. I had never seen a parachute, you know.
I said, "Man, how does this thing work?" Mind you, this airplane is coming down and that pilot grabbed his and he said, "Watch me; you have one chance."
He said, "We are leaving this."
I was the last one out because I just couldn't get that thing on. I was the last one out.
While I was still in high school, I had jumped off the top of
(a very high structure) nineteen times one summer and hit wrong seventeen times
in the river and it is way high too. You know where I am talking about, don't
you? So when I jumped out of that airplane in the parachute and I pulled that
ripcord, I was ticked to death when it opened.
Then I got to thinking about jumping off Curtin Bridge and hitting wrong
all those times and I was thinking, I hope I don't hit wrong this time. Well, I hit wrong because I saw I was going
to come down in the trees and I came down right in the top of a big tree and
skinned myself all up. It is funny now,
but it wasn't funny then. Curtin Bridge
If I had known what I was doing, you can steer those parachutes, I didn't know it then. Luck is what I am talking about. Another time over we got into some trouble and had to jump out of a helicopter and there are no parachutes on a helicopter but were lucky we were over a rice paddy. We was probably up a 100 feet and jumped, cause it was on fire, and I am thinking the same thing. I hit just right, straight up and down, just right.
There was one guy, who didn't hit right; he was tipped forward and he was out of commission for about three weeks because of his eyes. All that stuff hit him in his eyes.
What was it like returning to the
? Did you know about the controversy over the
War in United States ? Vietnam
When I came home, back to the
I had a little old cheap camera. I took
pictures out the airplane window-the clouds and all-and happy to be alive and I
met three guys on the plane that I didn't know when I was over there but this
was leaving there and coming back here back to what we referred to as back to
"The World," "The Freedom Flight."
I met these three guys on the plane and we was going to land at the Seattle Tacoma Airport, (same place I took off from) and me and these other guys had our mind made up that when got off the plane, off the black top in the dirt, we were going kneel down and kiss "Mother Earth," bend over and throw dirt in our face and scream and holler and have a big time, a celebration.
Well, when we started doing that a whole mob of people men and women together, started throwing rocks at us and called us baby killers and hit one guy in the head and hurt him.
Boy that made me mad I had a notion just to fly into them. That was our homecoming. Back to our homeland.
What did you do after returning from
Then I was going to have six months left in the Army yet, at
in northern Ft. Ord California
and while I was in Vietnam
they offered me a chance after I got to ,
I was Sgt. E5 they offered to waive my time and grade as E5 if I would extend
my tour of duty thirty days. Ft. Ord
If I had of done that I would have qualified early out, five month drop, if you had five months or less left. After I got to
, I wish I had because they put me in
to training men to go to Ft. Ord Vietnam. I taught three two hour classes every day on
how kill and how to survive in the jungles of Nam.
When I got out of
hell, I was happy, when I got out of the Army I celebrated. Then I moved back
to Ohio and
then I came back to West Virginia
What about the Vietnam War?
I don't know, you really didn't know what to think. It has had a lasting effect on me, on my life. I still have flashbacks and nerve problems. I learned to speak their language. My second wife said that the reason she left me, I was beating her up at night and speaking in Vietnamese and calling her
names. I didn't know I was doing
that. I have three appointments at the
VA Center in the next couple of months all related to the war.
Who were the victims?
Supposedly, it was just like our Civil War in one respect the North was Communist; the South was not. Down where I was some of those villages (supposedly friendly villages) because they were North Vietnam Army (NVA), Viet Cong (VC) didn't uniforms but they were worse that the NVA.
I have two doctors' appointments this month at the Veterans hospital because of nerve problems. I have had to have counseling because of the war. He has got me on some nerve pills.
I was up there at the
and talked to Newt
McCutcheon, "Do you know Newt?"
He wrote down some stuff about what happened. I brought it for you to look over and read. Recruitment
I asked Flavie if this information could it be included in his oral history? He said, "Yes."
Description of a life-threatening episode that caused nervous condition - details as to the nature and severity of the episode and when it occurred
(Post Traumatic Stress)
"While stationed with the 14th Security Platoon, Cho, Lai, Republic of South Vietnam while on duty in the guard tower over watching the parameters of our compound I was scanning my section which was my responsibility while using my "Starlight Scope" (ANPUS-4) I suddenly noticed that there was a clump of something moving outside the parameter.
I quickly called the Tower to my immediate left and right to see if they could confirm the same thing. They saw movement as well.
I then called back to the CP and reached the ISG. I explained to him what I had seen and told him that towers confirmed the same thing.
ISG said, "You know that you are in a "No-Fire" zone."
Suddenly the Company Commander walked in the CP and asked the ISG what was going on, the ISG turned the phone over to him and I explained what was going and that the "clump" was getting closer and closer. The Company Commander also told me that we were in a "No-Fire" zone as well.
I asked him what to do, and he replied, "I know what I would do if it were me."
I acknowledged and said, "Roger Out!"
I then phoned and told them to get ready, "We are going to give whatever is out there all we got!"
I was the squad leader at the time and I was in Tower #9 (Lucky #9). I always took #9 because I felt that it was the most crucial due to the fact that we could be hit by sea or land. The guys in Towers 8 and 10 asked me who authorized me to engage the "Clump," and I said, "Nobody move," I am taking responsibility of this my own damn self. I then said that we are going to open up at the count of "3" and we did. I initiated fire with my M-60 machine gun, Tower #8 cut loose with the M79 grenade launcher and Tower#10 with a M-14 crap began to blow up everywhere. The engagement lasted approximately ten-twenty seconds and then silence.
I then looked through my "Starlight Scope" and saw nothing.
I was on end the rest of the night. When daylight finally arrived we checked the perimeter and found pieces of bodies everywhere. The best I could tell there was about five of them and the body parts were painted the same color as the sand. There was a lot of blood too. I was relieved from my watch. I went directly to the CP and worked there for eight hours and then caught some sleep.
I was scared and nervous and really couldn't sleep because of what had taken place. This is how I earned my Combat Infantryman's Badge!
Flavie said, "I brought you a letter from a close friend of mine, I want you to read it and tell me what you think, when you have a minute here. It is pretty personal. " He handed me the letter. I read the letter and I asked if he would like to have it made a part of his oral history and he said, "Most definitely"
To Whom It May Concern;
I was asked to write down what I thought were changes in Flavie Ellison's personality after the Vietnam War.
He went into Service a nice young man and came out a person without purpose. He attended church practically every Sunday. Now he drinks - lives to drink, has a mouth full of 'swamp' talk that can embarrass and hurt and he doesn't understand why. He brought back something in his mind that won't let him leave that place.
Over the last two years he has been through two marriages, several jobs, lots of alcohol and living alone in a very isolated place. His isolation is self-inflicted. He doesn't want company. He has become anti-social, can't hold a job, can't hang on to relationships and says that just gets in the way of the past.
He was in a motorcycle accident several years ago and when he woke up after being unconscious, he had reverted back to
Vietnam - didn't know his wife at
that time. But he knew his ex wife's
name and spoke Vietnamese as his training had taught him to do. His doctor, who was a Veteran, recognized the
language and could communicate with him.
Yet, today I'll bet he couldn't consciously speak any other language but
This, this horror of that war has touched every aspect of his life and it still does to this day. I personally feel that it will keep affecting him the rest of his life.
He was a "country" boy who was given a rifle, trained, and told to KILL! And being a patriotic young man, did just that. It went against his passive nature, but he had been trained, so he now lives with what he saw and did. Somewhere in all the blood and death and warm beer, he put himself away to be brought back at a later time. But he could never do it. So Sad.