Spc. Milt Wagner never expected to go to war. When he registered for the draft, he was told he had flat feet. But by the time he was 24, there was serious conflict.

Wagner was married in June of 1967. He was drafted in September.

“That was devastating,” his wife, Shirley Wagner, said.

Wagner went to basic training at Fort Lewis, Wash., getting on a bus with nothing but the clothes on his back. He was sent to Fort Huachuca, Ariz., for transport training. In Vietnam, he served with the 543rd transport company north of Saigon delivering men and supplies in a 90-mile radius.

Wagner said there were 50 to 100 trucks in a convoy: “You couldn’t see the front, and you couldn’t see the back.”

They would be on the road for two to three days at a time. Most trips took them to a camp in the “middle of nowhere.” The drive was mostly through farmland and the convoy moved slowly over the bumpy trails, which he described “like driving through a pasture.”

On one of these trips, the truck in front of his hit a mine while transporting troops. About 20 men were killed that day.

Another time, Wagner’s convoy was traveling through Saigon early in the morning to avoid the crowded city traffic. Wagner got a flat tire on his truck at 2 a.m. and had to stop to change it, getting separated from the rest.

“It was scary to be caught there in the middle of the night,” he told his wife.

Wagner said, oftentimes, when his convoy went through the city, the people would throw eggs and tomatoes at the trucks.

But more dangerous was when the convoy was shot at.

Wagner said he and his wife communicated via reel-to-reel, recording messages on tape and mailing them to one another. There were times while he was recording that he turned the reel off because he didn’t want her to hear the gunfire on the tape.

On the road, Wagner slept in tents with mosquito nets, but, at base camp, they had barracks. This was also where a lot of attacks happened. They would have to run from the barracks to sandbag bunkers to ward off the attack while airstrikes were called in.

Wagner would extend his tour two months in order to be discharged from service early.

“I wanted to get home alive,” he said.

During that time, Wagner mostly transported food for the mess hall and would haul away garbage. Often, the Vietnamese unloaded his truck for him, searching through the garbage for something to eat. He would also see small children along the side of the road begging for food and would throw them a portion of his C-rations.

Wagner was in Vietnam from March 1968 through May 1969, but, when it came time to fly home, he was told not to wear his uniform on the plane to avoid trouble with war dissenters. His wife was the only one there to greet him at the airport in Bismarck and he told her he still feels some hurt over the way Vietnam veterans were treated.

Today, he wears a service cap at times, and many people now come up to thank him for his service.

Wagner had spent most of his adult life working on various farms. Upon returning from Vietnam, he returned to driving trucks, first for Bridgeman Dairy, where he had worked before the war, and then for the company that is now Waste Management. He retired nine years ago.

Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com

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