Gerald Tanner: ‘They had me back in the field in a month’
When Gerald Tanner of Hartsville arrived in Vietnam in 1969 at age 19, he felt lonely.
“It was just being lonely, being away from your family, not knowing anybody,” said Tanner, a Charlotte native who moved to Darlington County about 10 years ago. “There’s all kinds of things that went through your head. It’s kind of hard to explain.”
Tanner, 70, said he joined the Army at 18: “I wasn’t college material. At that time there wasn’t that many jobs available, and I wanted to serve my country.”
It was a 1970 firefight that caused the wounds that led to Tanner’s Purple Heart. “I got shot in the leg,” said Tanner, who was serving as a platoon sergeant at the time. “And a mortar round went off in a bunker hole; I had shrapnel all over my body.”
But the Army needed him back on his feet as soon as possible. “They had me back in the field in a month,” said Tanner.
He received no more direct wounds during the 13 months he spent in Vietnam, but Tanner said he was exposed to Agent Orange, which caused long-term harm.
But he feared he wouldn’t make it through what turned out to be his last day in Vietnam.
The bunker next to his was overrun and all the U.S. troops inside it were killed.
Tanner said he’s proud that he served his country and said he would sign up again today if he could.
But, he added, “Nobody knows what the war was about. We didn’t ask for it. … I thought it was useless. I think all wars are useless.”