WE SERVED: Stover recalls combat during Vietnam War
Claude Stover, 72, of Oaks, served with the U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry Division in Vietnam and was wounded during his service. WILL CHAVEZ/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
Infantryman Claude Stover was assigned to carry the M-60 machine gun while he served with the U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry Division in Vietnam. COURTESY
The Army’s 9th Infantry Division was assigned to patrol the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam. Cherokee Nation citizen Claude Stover served with the unit in 1969. COURTESY
Cherokee Nation citizen Claude Stover, right, checks the paperwork of a Vietnamese civilian during his service in Vietnam in 1969. COURTESY
Infantryman Claude Stover eats a can of food during his service in Vietnam. Stover served with A Company, 1st Battalion, 39th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division. COURTESY
Cherokee Nation citizen Claude Stover served in the Mekong Delta area of Vietnam, which is a flat flood plain with a lot of mud. He served with the U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry Division. COURTESY
OAKS – Claude Stover, 72, of Oaks, is proud of his Vietnam War service, and is a regular at Cherokee Nation events honoring veterans.
He was 22 in 1969 when he served as an infantryman for nearly six months before being wounded. He served with A Company, 1st Battalion, 39th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division.
After being drafted, he did his basic training and Advanced Infantry Training at Fort Polk, Louisiana, in 1968. In January 1969, he went to Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, an area of flood plains.
“When we got there, we went to Cam Ranh Bay, and from there we went to the units that was needing troops. A Company had been wiped out during Tet (Offensive), so they needed more troops, and that’s where I was assigned,” he said. “While we were in Cam Ranh Bay, you could hear shooting going on and see tracers (illuminated bullets), and I thought to myself, ‘what have I got into.’”
After settling in as a replacement with A Company, he was part of a platoon that set up ambushes at night. Stover carried the M-60 machine gun, which is sometimes used to start an ambush.
“We would stay out all night and then come back in for a couple of days and then go back out doing the same thing,” he said. “It wasn’t very good because you never did know what you were going to step on. I took turns watching while the other guy slept for an hour and then I got relieved and I went to sleep for an hour.”
His platoon ambushed the enemy a few times, and there was “a lot of shooting,” he said.
“We helped another unit out one night. They had been fighting all night and we went over there. They had run out of ammunition and they had called in a chopper to bring in more ammunition and it was shot down,” he said. “After it was over with, we saw the enemy was in a bunker made out of cement. We lost a lot of people in that battle.”
His platoon also performed search-and-destroy missions.
“We would also go on search-and-destroy missions after they bombed a village. We would go in there and see if the Viet Cong was there or how many bodies was there,” he said. “My toughest days was when we went on search-and-destroy missions. You had to do what you had to do.”
While telling the story, Stover got quiet for a moment and said, “let’s go to something else now.”
While set up for an ambush, he said, sometimes it would rain all night. The Mekong Delta was constantly wet, and during the monsoon season soldiers had to deal with mud.
“The ground would be so slick you could hardly walk. When the sun came out, in 30 minutes it would be hard as rock again. It was pretty hot,” he said. “And mosquitos were bad. You had to carry a towel with you and wrap it around your face because if you didn’t those mosquitos would bite you all over your face. You never knew when you were going to be laying in a bunch of fire ants. I tell you what, they do bite.”
In June 1969, almost six months into his deployment, his platoon was awaiting nightfall to prepare another ambush.
“We were sitting on this dike, and my assistant (gunner) came up and stepped on a booby trap, and it got both of us. We were dusted off to the 3rd Field Hospital in Saigon. I never did know what happened to the other guy because I never did see him after that,” he said.
The explosion hit Stover on the left side and injured his ear, shoulder and eye.
“They told us it could have been worse because what he stepped on was an old pineapple grenade. It was rusted out, and they said if it was new grenade it would have really made a lot of difference,” he said. “I thought it blinded me because when I fell into the dike I couldn’t see nothing. I got my canteen out and started washing my eyes out. It was blurry, but later on I could see.”
The next day his unit was sent back to the United States. He said it took about two weeks to recuperate, and when released from the hospital, he rejoined his unit in Hawaii.
“I still have problems with my ears,” he said.
He finished his Army service in 1970 while stationed in Hawaii and then served with the Army Reserve for two years.
He said after 50 years, when he is reminded of Vietnam, he’s “right there.”
“What really sets it off is when I hear those choppers. Fourth of July fireworks always brings back a lot of memories,” he said. “When I’ve gone to Asian restaurants it brought back a lot, so I don’t go in those anymore.”
When he recently visited Washington, D.C., as part of the tribe’s annual Warrior Flight, he said the choppers he heard flying reminded him of Vietnam, and seeing the statues of soldiers at the memorials reminded him of his service.
He said seeing the thousands of names on the Vietnam Memorial Wall was moving, but he did not want to spend too much time there. “There were so many killed. It’s sad,” he said. “I’m just thankful.”