I got a little letter. The postman said, “We have a letter for Fred Rush. Will you sign for it?”
I said, “No.” And he left.
The next day I come home and my mom says, “You had a letter. I signed for it for you.” It basically said “Your friends and neighbors have selected you to represent them in the Armed Forces of America.” So off I went to Buffalo, got the physical, and the next thing I know I'm on my way to Fort Dix.
The first impression you get even before you’re in-country is the smell. It's a whole different smell. Then when you get in-country, it’s almost like this tropical land but it's kind of alien- the language, the smells, the food, the people, the whole thing. So you kind of cloister to yourselves for the first time and deal with yourselves as a smaller group. A lot of us didn't know what a war was to be perfectly honest. We knew what training was, but we didn't know what war was. In training, you kind of plan it and you follow the plan. You follow the script. War is basically unscripted. Whatever plan you have when the first bullet's fired is out the window.
Over there, you do what you have to do because you don't know whether you're going to make it home or not. You just hope and you live on hope. Your basic fear is the fact that you want to survive so you do what you have to do to survive. The name for "mother" in Vietnamese is “Wau-ma-son.” When someone gets hit, they say "Wau-ma." It doesn't matter if they're saying "Momma" or "Momma-son." It's still the same.
On the battle field, you don’t go in wanting to take somebody else's life or to see someone die. You’re more focused on preserving your own and you have to get through that. There's a feeling you have to repress that says basically it could have been worse; it could have been me. That's a hard thing to come to, but it's reality. And you mourn and you think about those guys. Sometimes you got pictures of them and you look back at it and you wonder what they might have been. You wonder if you did the best you could, if you became the best you could be. There's some good folks that never got to get old. That's why we honor them, because they didn't get to grow old.