Photos fading, but Vietnam memories stay alive for Fallowfield Township resident
Dave Weygandt looks at an old photo his father took of him and three friends shortly before the four teens headed off to the Army.
The photo, taken nearly 45 years ago, is fading, but the Fallowfield Township resident recalls the day his father snapped it on the family farm in Ginger Hill.
Two of the three in the photo are Paul and Steve Barkey, whom he learned in high school were his cousins. They became close friends and when they graduated in 1967 from Monongahela High School, they enlisted together in the Army Security Agency. They joined under the Army's buddy system, which guaranteed they would go through basic training together. The Army split them up after basic.
Weygandt's father, Thomas, was a colonel and pilot during World War II. So joining the service was the natural thing for Weygandt to do.
Weygandt studied cryptology at Fort Gordon, Ga.
“I worked in worldwide communications radio intercept,” Weygandt said.
A member of the Army Security Agency was the first soldier killed in Vietnam in 1961.
“I guess they let the spies in the country before anyone else,” Weygandt said.
Weygandt was deployed to Udorn, Thailand, located near the Laotian border in late 1968. It was the start of 2 ½ official tours of duty in Vietnam.
A radio interceptor, his unit flew missions over North and South Vietnam. Working in a radio research field station, his job was to insure that all communications intercepted were forwarded to authorities in the United States.
He was next stationed at Herzo Base in Herzogenaurach, Germany, working with the Russians. Asked what that involved, Weygandt smiled and said, “I can't tell you. It's still classified.”
Much of the classified information Weygandt dealt with was forwarded to the White House or the Pentagon, he said.
Stationed in Germany for six months, he had the option to stay there for three years of his four- year enlistment. But Weygandt chose instead to return to the Vietnam Theater.
He was stationed at Phu Bai, Vietnam, 20 miles south of the demilitarized zone, with the 101st Airborne.
“When they told me I was going to Thailand, I never even heard of that country,” Weygandt said.
The men of the 7th and 8th ASA slept in 60-foot trailers. Weygandt worked 12-hour shifts, from midnight to noon.
The base had intelligence personnel from all four branches of the military. Most of Weygandt's work was done in a vault.
The secure base was surrounded by 50,000 road mines around its bunkers. They could not risk being captured because of the highly classified nature of their work. Still they were under mortar attack often. That's how he suffered shrapnel wounds to his back.
“One day, we were under mortar attack,” Weygandt recalled. “I was running – just not fast enough.”
Weygandt spent nearly four weeks in the hospital, located adjacent to his base.
Weygandt looks at another browning photo of a general pinning a Bronze Star on him.
“That was for a mission I can't tell you about,” Weygandt said. “I can just tell you it went up north – it was a rescue mission.”
After four years in the ASA, Weygandt was discharged.
“They asked me to stay in – I probably should have. It was good work.”
After the service, Weygandt graduated from Pittsburgh Institute of Computer Management. He worked for more than 40 years as a software engineer for various firms. He retired in 2011 from Federal Express, where he wrote software for drivers' payroll at the company's Robinson Township headquarters.
During his career, Weygandt wrote the software for hotels and golf courses around the world.
“It was the best job,” Weygandt said. “If young people don't get into it, they're crazy.”
The 7th and 8th ASA have regular reunions. He hopes to attend some now that he is retired.
“I think about the people I served with and think about where they are now,” Weygandt said.
While others may carry with them for decades the horrors of war, Weygandt said his concern is for the current returning veterans. He hopes to volunteer helping returning servicemen and women.
One image remains with him from Vietnam. The 85th Medevac was stationed about a block and a half from his base in Vietnam.
“I'd see the helicopters coming back – all full with body bags,” Weygandt said.
“That stays with you.”
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or firstname.lastname@example.org.