Patrick Goodrow was a 20-year-old corporal E-4 stationed on Okinawa when he first got the order to head to Vietnam.
“Vietnam! Where’s Vietnam?” he asked his superior officer.
It was 1965, the same year that saw the Vietnam War escalate when the first wave of U.S. combat troops arrived on the shores of the Southeast Asian country.
Goodrow, of Carson City, had never been outside the U.S. before his enlistment.
“I had no idea where it was, it was a total surprise. I said ‘aye aye, sir’ and went. I knew I was going but didn’t know what to expect,” he said.
In his book, “Keeping the Big Guns Firing: The Vietnam Story You Do Not Know,” Goodrow recounts his experience in Vietnam, where he served as an artillery repairman in a support unit for two tours.
The book recounts skirmishes with the Viet Cong, including an attack on the Da Nang Air Base, where the author was stationed. Goodrow recounts waking up to the sounds of explosions as machine guns and mortar rounds shook the base.
“That night, for the first time in my life, I was in survival mode,” he wrote.
That battle saw the loss of two squad tents that burned to the ground, and one soldier, Mike Boorsma.
“I was kind of numb, the adrenaline was pumping. I still remember when they did attack. They teach you when you hear a pop you have 10 seconds until the flare ignites. So I heard a flare pop and waited 10 seconds and hit the ground. Then I ran some more to get to my fighting position. It was all just instinct, I thought back on my training and it worked. Hear a pop, flop to the ground, wait for the flare to burn out, then run some more,” he said.
In another instance, Goodrow recalls losing his friend and several other soldiers whose tank sunk while crossing a river that was too deep. Trapped inside the tank, the soldiers drowned.
“I still have nightmares about that,” Goodrow said.
The book also includes Goodrow’s happier memories of serving in Vietnam, like the time comedic actress and singer Martha Raye bought him a beer while on R&R; in Saigon.
“I sat down next to Martha and she motioned the waiter to bring me a beer. We talked for hours! We asked about movie stars she’d worked with, like Bob Hope, Abbott and Costello, Jimmy Durante, and all the other greats back then in the early ’60s. Martha asked about our hometowns and if we had a wife or sweetheart back home,” Goodrow wrote.
The author, whose stint in the military began in 1962 when he joined the Marine Corps after finishing high school in Schenectady, N.Y., completed his second tour as a staff sergeant E-6.
Despite having several months left on his tour, Goodrow was sent home in August 1970 due to downsizing in the Marine Corps. He made his way home on the USS Sutter County, a vintage World War II landing ship.
But, Goodrow said, stepping back into civilian life wasn’t easy.
“It was hard, I have a lot of nieces and nephews, and they’d complain that they weren’t allowed to use the telephone. I’d look at them and go, I just came from a place where kids don’t have food. Don’t tell me about telephones,” he said. “I found it hard to relate to civilians. I couldn’t connect anymore. You guys have food, clean clothes, you have a safe house. I can still remember I’d be talking to someone and I couldn’t connect. It’s hard to come back in.”
After his two tours, Goodrow became a journeyman-level industrial electrician and went onto become a technical skills trainer and write manuals for industrial equipment operation.
While working on machinery at Lake Tahoe ski resorts in the 80s, he and his wife of 46 years, Elizabeth, discovered, and later moved to, Carson City.
He said he wrote the book to make sure firsthand accounts of the war aren’t forgotten.
“My dad was a World War I vet. He didn’t talk to me at all about his war experiences. When he died I got his discharge papers and saw he was in pretty major battles, but his story was lost. My brother served on aircraft vehicles escorting convoys in World War II. He’s dead now and his story is lost. I got to thinking, one day when I die I don’t want my story to be lost,” he said.
Goodrow’s story is just one of many that lend perspective to the war in Vietnam.
“It was an unpopular war, but I think all wars should be unpopular,” he said. “I survived my 13-month tour only to get back in the war. Vietnam became that: Survive so you can get home.”
The book, published in digital format this month by the History Publishing Company, is available for $9.99 at Amazon.com.