BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — In this "A Veteran's Voice" we hear from a soldier who landed in the jungles of Vietnam more than 50 years ago as a member of the Army's 101st Airborne. John Carlson left college in 1968 for a different type of education half a world away. It was a lesson in survival he carries with him to this day.
John Carlson was drafted in 1968 as American sentiment towards the war in Vietnam was changing.
Carlson was sent to Fort Dix New Jersey and eventually to non-commissioned officers training at Fort Benning. He landed in Vietnam as a sergeant in the 101st and immediately had a directive for the men under him.
"Main goal is to get you home standing up. Do everything I can to make it happen."
During the first few months, Carlson would be out for 5 days to two weeks at a time. He earned his 1st Purple Heart in an ambush with the Viet Cong. On another patrol someone in his unit fell asleep on guard duty allowing the enemy to walk up on them.
Carlson earned several Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts during his tour. The second time he was wounded was on July 31st, 1969. U.S. forces ran into a large battalion of North Vietnamese troops sneaking south. Carlson's company helped clear out a hilltop for a medivac helicopter to land.
A longtime friend kept the letters John wrote him during the war, including some stories he never talked about.
John arrived in Bakersfield 40 years ago to practice law but it was just about 10 years ago that he started talking about his time in Vietnam.
He went on the Honor Flight in June of 2019 and now lives in Southwest Bakersfield, retired for the most part, and surrounded by memories of his service. Those nights dozing off in the jungles of Vietnam far behind him.