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Soldados: Chicanos in Viet Nam

"Fort Polk was real good training. They literally brainwashed you."

Frank "Yogi" Delgado, Infantryman
25th Division — Army
Tour of Duty: August 1966 to February 1967

I was real green back then. My orders said that I was supposed to be in Fort Polk on such and such-a-date, but I didn't realize that you had a twenty-four-hour grace period. If your orders say to be there the 15th, you really don't have to be there until the 16th. Well, I got there the day they said. Me and this other menso (dummy) Mexican were the only ones who were there on time.

Fort Ord was just like what they call it, "basic training." But Advanced Individual Training (AIT) in Fort Polk was entirely different. There was no time to mess around. The nickname that Fort Polk had, "Tiger-Land," was synonymous with a tiger which is real strong and nothing can beat it. Fort Polk was real good training. They literally brainwashed you.

When I first got to Fort Polk, this Chicano Sergeant Carmona, who had been with the First Cav in Nam and had a scar across his forehead as a reminder, told me, "Well, I want you to know right now that in nine weeks you're going to go to Nam." I knew it already because Fort Polk meant Nam. All of the cadre were Vietnam veterans.

The town closest to Fort Polk was Leesville. It was about the size of Corcoran. We used to call it Fleasville or Diseaseville. Louisiana is as bad as Alabama when it comes to segregation. We went to Leesville one time. It was me, a gabacho (white man) Jimmy Smith, and this mayate (black man) who went to this restaurant to eat. We were in our khaki uniforms, and we were waiting to be served. We waited for a while, and then we noticed other people were being served and waited on. Finally I asked this fat, redneck waitress, "Hey! When are you going to take my order?" She looked at us and said, "Hey! We don't serve niggers here." I have never been a person to go around fighting. I think I have only been in a couple of fights in my whole life. But I got mad in this situation and so did the gabacho. I felt that I had to do something. That's when the mayate said, "Naw, man, just look around you." We looked at the bar, and there were about ten rednecks looking at us — just staring at us. The best thing to do in that situation, which we did, was get up and leave. What are you going to do?

I'll never forget that incident. The war had been going on for two years already, and we were in our army uniforms trying to get a meal. And they pull that s--- on us?

All this time I still had the attitude, I'll take one day at a time. Somehow I knew I would make it. But I wasn't going to [sic] go ask for it. I wasn't going to join airborne. I wasn't going to volunteer for the infantry. I had a lot of camaradas (comrades) that did. That's fine, but that wasn't for me. I didn't volunteer for infantry, but that's what I got.

Slowly and slowly they started pumping you full of s---; that's what it really amounts to. They were building you up and telling you how good you're doing. Then they started giving you passes and telling us, "You're a big man now. You can go out on your own. You can drink beer and go out."

When you're already a soldier in Tiger-Land, you get to go to what they called Piece-On-Ridge. Piece-On-Ridge is where you get one week of bivouac. After about the third or fourth day of eating C-rations and living out in the mountains, you feel like "Hey, man I can do it." A day before we were going to go back to Fort Polk, the sergeant told us that so many units had already gone through there and that we were the best ones, and everybody believed him. His thing was that, "Yeah, I know I can send you to Nam and that a year from now you will still be doing your s--- out in the street." We were so worked up that we were literally looking forward to going to Nam. We wanted to go to Nam.

When I got my orders for Nam, I knew that I was going to be in the 25th Infantry Division. As soon as I found out what unit I was being assigned to, I went out and bought some 25th Division patches. Other guys bought the patches for the other divisions that they were being assigned to. At this time they gave us two weeks leave.

When I went into the army, I weighed 191 pounds. When I came out of Tiger-Land, I weighed 160 pounds. I was lean and ready to go to Nam. I was psyched up and thought that nothing could hurt us. We were the best. We were infantry, and we had all that training. I have to admit that the training we got in Fort Polk was damned good. We were ready, both physically and mentally, about as fit as you can be at nineteen years old. I didn't know what to expect.

Next: In Country
"You get so scared that you got to hang onto something." | Go »





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