Vietnam War oral history interview
Date: June 19, 2001
Veteran: Frank R. Carlini
Interviewer: Michelle Carrara
Summarizer: Irving Bauman
Frank Carlini was born in February, 1947 in Trenton, NJ. He received his BA in Secondary education from Trenton State College in 1968 and his MA from Rider University in 1978. His civilian employment included construction and landscaping work, teaching at the Junior High School level and working as a High School Counselor for the Trenton Board of Education.
Carlini was drafted into the Army in January 1969, following his graduation from college. One of his two brothers joined the National Guard and the other received a disability deferment. Carlini received basic combat and advanced infantry training at Fort Dix, NJ, where he learned the use of the M-14 rifle, .50 caliber machine gun and mortars, among other skills.
Following Fort Dix, Carlini attended Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia for six months. He was commissioned an infantry 2nd lieutenant in December, 1969 and assigned to Fort Hood Texas, from where he was ordered to Vietnam and assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry of the 196th Light Infantry Brigade. The Brigade was part of the Americal Division and stationed in the northern sector of Vietnam.
Frank Carlini thought the Vietnamese countryside beautiful, but commented on the high humidity, noting that the nylon clothing and equipment issued withstood the climate better than cotton material, which would have rotted. He found the C-Rations issued as food to be palatable, and used his poncho and poncho liner to keep warm at night, when the temperature would often drop significantly.
In his interview, Carlini summarized the overall history of the war, referring to the 1960-64 period when American advisors were the only US soldiers in Vietnam, the post Gulf of Tonkin buildup of American troops from 1965 to 1968, when the US assumed major combat responsibility and then the Vietnamization” or final phase of the US commitment, from 1969-1973, when the Americans began to turn the war over to the South Vietnamese. It was during this last period when Lieutenant Carlini served in Vietnam.
Carlini also provided a summary of army unit organization at the time, starting from the 9-11 man squad commanded by a staff sergeant E-6, to a 4 squad platoon of 36-44 men commanded by a 2nd or 1st lieutenant supported by a sergeant first class E-7 as platoon sergeant. A three to four platoon 120-150 man company was commanded by a captain aided by a first sergeant E-8. There were four companies in a battalion, which was commanded by a lieutenant colonel with a sergeant major E-9 as highest ranking noncommissioned officer. Several battalions made up a 1,500 man brigade led by a Colonel supported by a sergeant major. The strengths indicated are infantry field strengths and do not include the support troops found at brigade level. Several, usually three, brigades made up a division, commanded by a major general aided by deputy and assistant division commanders holding brigadier general rank.
The infantry platoon was the cutting edge of the division, with the mission of searching for the enemy and making initial contact by day, and establishing defensive positions, setting mines and conducting ambush patrols at night. Infantry soldiers usually spent 28 days a month in the field, and were resupplied by helicopter with food, clean clothes, malaria pills, medical supplies and ammunition every third day. Mail was
delivered every sixth day, and usually included, for Frank, Italian food delicacies sent by his family in New Jersey and packed in a shoe box.
Carlini’s platoon was assigned to the DMZ for a month, relieving South Vietnamese soldiers during the Lam Son campaign of 1971 in which the South Vietnamese pushed into Laos to interdict the North Vietnamese supply lines to the south. During his patrols of the DMZ, his unit saw very few Vietnamese civilians and most of their duties revolved around mine clearing.
During his year in Vietnam Frank Carlini lived through several season changes. He stated that the rainy season or monsoons began in October, when it rained morning and afternoon, and did not taper off until March, when it began to get very hot. By July and August the heat was almost unbearable, making sleep difficult, with sweat soaked clothing pressed against soldiers’ bodies giving rise to “jungle rot,” a GI term used to describe a fungal infection.
Carlini recalled that his men were oblivious to news of what was happening in the US, and mostly concerned with day to day survival. He selected Hawaii for the one week of “Rest and Recreation” allotted soldiers serving in Vietnam and the army arranged for his wife to meet him in Oahu. At the end of his tour, he left his unit in the field by helicopter and was processed through his battalion, brigade and division headquarters over a five day period, then was shipped to Long Binh, outside Saigon, from where he flew home.
On arrival back in New Jersey, Carlini’s thoughts were often of the men he had left behind. He had come to the conclusion that the war was a futile effort, but it had made him aware of international politics and affairs. After his release from active duty, he joined the New Jersey National Guard and rose to the rank of Brigadier General. His commands included the 254th Regiment NJARNG and Armory Commander at Fort Dix.
During his military career, Frank Carlini earned the Combat Infantry badge, Meritorious Service Medal with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, Army Commendation Medal with 1 Oak leaf Cluster, Army Achievement Medal with 4 Oak Leaf Clusters, Vietnam Service Medal, republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, NJ Medal of Honor with 1 Oak Leaf cluster, NJ Service Award and NJ Recruiting Medal.
When asked his advice to young people, he indicated that they should remain aware of and interested political affairs, applying common sense to their analyses of world events.