At 23, former combat engineer and 1st Lt. George Usinowicz led a platoon of 35 men, who were explosives experts, in some of the more dangerous situations in the war – clearing tunnels, defusing booby traps and ordnance and clearing landing zones for helicopters in heavy jungle. Thirty of his 35 men were 18.
“I had wounded men that were just wonderful kids, and that’s all they were, just kids.
A few takeaways that I thought were very important, and of course, hindsight is more 20/20, you’re involved in a moment of high anxiety and then temporary insanity – and war is insanity – and there’s pack mentality behaviors and just a resignation of many people that they probably would not return home, get back to the world; they were stuck there.
Some takeaways were the support we had to lend for the Michelin rubber plantations. We needed rubber. If you take a look at industrialization, you needed fossil fuel, steel and rubber. Well, you can get fossil fuel and steel all over the world, but rubber is a commodity, that was before the petrochemical industry ... It just seemed to be more a commercial endeavor than this fight for democracy or against communism.
I finished my tour, this may be a little bit ambivalent, but I was awarded two Bronze Stars: one was for service, which is kind of all-encompassing, but one was for meritorious achievement for a specific mission that helped to disable a pretty hot area. I thought that Bronze Star was really important, but about six weeks after that, an infantry platoon leader came up to me, and his buddy’s outfit got wiped out in a place that we thought we’d totally neutralized with everything we could. We used chemical warfare. We put in stuff violating the Geneva Convention ... It was very disappointing to me. You feel you do something great, and you come up half-empty.
I was in a country where my peers said I was a baby-killer, and the old guys said, ‘You didn’t win it,’ the World War II vets. And I was carrying a monkey on my back of just grief, grief from loss. I left this country and was gone for over a year, and when I came back, I had a hard time processing that war, and I still do.”