We’ve Never Been The Same: A War Story

Dave Dillard (center) from his jump school year book.

Intro from Jay Allison: All wars are the same, it is said, only the scenery changes. And the repercussions are pretty much the same too.

Over the last five years, Adam Piore has gathered the stories of the surviving members of Delta Company, a Vietnam-era paratrooper unit; I joined him for the last two years when it turned from a book into a radio story. We're proud now to feature the finished hour on Transom.

At Fort Campbell before deployment, Delta was a ragtag bunch, the “leftovers” as one of their fellow soldiers put it, but on the night of March 18th, 1968, they became heroes. Their leader earned the Congressional Medal of Honor and two others were awarded the nation’s second highest honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, for their valor that night when the company endured a long and devastating battle—not as long or as devastating, however, as the years that followed, after the men of Delta Company came home separately to live alone with the memories.

Adam Piore became dedicated to this group of guys and to their common story of trauma, guilt, courage, heartbreak, and reunion. This is Adam’s first work for radio and his notes about the transition from print can be found below.

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Listen to “We’ve Never Been The Same: A War Story”

The Advantages of Radio

I hadn’t thought about telling Delta’s story as a radio piece. But I think you have to actually hear the voices of these men to really get a sense of the drama of their battle and how present it still is for many of them today.

Even after listening to these interviews countless times, I am still deeply moved by their voices. These guys have something to say. But for years they’ve been convinced that nobody wants to hear it. To amplify the actual voices of these guys—to help them share a message, connect with the world—I just had no idea it could be so satisfying to do radio. Now I get it.

Building Trust and Interviewing Vets with PTSD… Over and Over and Over Again

In the fall of 2013, Jay Allison came down from Cape Cod to gather some tape with me, and show me a few tricks. By then, I already had hours and hours of tape on microcassette. But since none of it was radio quality, we decided to interview everyone again. (In the end we did use a small piece of the microcassette tape. It had a nice archival feeling to it that Jay and Viki Merrick, who also worked on the piece, liked.)

It was a bit of a challenge having to interview everyone multiple times, but I learned that as long as the quotes had energy it made for good tape.

By the time Jay and I sat down to tape the Delta guys, most of them had known me for years and felt comfortable speaking candidly about their experiences, which is important, of course, in doing a story like this.

It’s not always easy to get vets to talk about their experiences, especially if the vets have PTSD. You need trust. And to get trust you need to put in the time.

Paul Bucha on the front page of The Screaming Eagle
Paul Bucha on the front page of The Screaming Eagle

At the outset, I think the main reason the men of Delta decided to trust me is because they trusted each other. I started with their former Company Commander Bud Bucha. He was the gatekeeper of sorts. As a Medal of Honor recipient, Bud has had plenty of attention over the years. But the idea that I wanted to tell the story of the whole unit appealed to him. He thought his men deserved recognition. Bud’s judgment that I could be trusted was enough for Dave Dillard. And once I had Bud and Dave in my corner, most, though not all, of the other guys were willing to speak with me.

I started by just getting details about the big battle, but the conversations almost invariably moved on to the aftermath of war and the trauma. I admitted my ignorance up front. I know that someone who hasn’t gone through combat can never understand what it is like. But that doesn’t mean I can’t attempt to understand, or at least try to help them translate some of that experience into language someone like me might understand—at least a small part of it. And if they don’t want to talk about it, then fine. I’m not forcing anyone. I’m just there to listen.

At first, we went slowly into the details. And later, I knew so much about the battle that I could discuss it in a level of complexity that I think the men appreciated. It helped that a lot of time had passed, and some of the guys had come to the realization that the only way to heal was to talk. Many, though not all, had talked with each other and professional counselors.

Calvin Heath at basic training.
Calvin Heath at basic training.

I have spent a lot of my career speaking with people about trauma and am comfortable doing so. I’ve found that the best way to talk with others about difficult experiences is to behave, while acting as a journalist, in much the same way I would behave as a human being—with respect, compassion, openness, curiosity and honesty. I don’t try to force people to talk about things they don’t want to talk about. But I’m also not shy about asking questions. I don’t really flinch when people tell me terrible things. I try to be present, to get a sense of how the person I am speaking with feels and is experiencing their story, not just the words they are telling me. What does this story mean to them? What was it like for them?

If I have a difficult question, I often preface it by telling the person beforehand that I’m going to ask a difficult question, which they don’t have to answer if they don’t want to. Probably what helps the most is simply making sure the person I am interviewing understands exactly what I’m trying to do, why I want to know the answer to something, and how I think it might help others understand their experience. I admit when I worry I am crossing a line, or wonder if I am pushing too hard. An interview is a collaboration.

I also will talk about myself, things I have been through, or heard about, or wondered about, or thought about. I was moved by the stories the men of Delta told me. And I let them know. I was surprised by how much some of them seemed to appreciate that. A lot of them thought nobody cared. But these guys wanted to talk once they knew someone wanted to listen. Once they understood that their stories mattered to me, and that I thought they would matter to a lot of other people too.

Getting the Story on Tape… When the Bathroom is Down the Hall

I used an H4n tape recorder, which I purchased at Best Buy, to gather audio, and relied on tips from the Transom website and Samantha Broun on what microphone to buy and what headphones to use, as well as how to get good tape.

In the end, good radio writing and reporting relies on the same thing as good magazine writing and reporting: Getting the details, being specific, showing instead of telling. I report and write a lot by getting people to tell me stories, and then slowing them down and getting them to describe the scenes. What did it look like? What did it smell like? What were you feeling at that point? What was that like?

One thing that surprised me was just how much stray noise popped on the tape. During one particularly emotional interview, you could hear the toilet flushing in the bathroom down the hallway, even though the door was closed. Talk about a mood killer!

I also learned that some of the most powerful moments of my interviews didn’t translate into the tape—moments that I would definitely have written into a magazine story. At one point we were talking about a particularly raw and harrowing part of one man’s story, something I’m not sure the soldier had spoken about for 40 years. To me the moment was positively electric, his reaction to my question struck me as so raw and real and powerful. But Jay later told me, “It was all in his eyes.” On tape it sounded dull, emotionless, and we didn’t end up using it.

Story Telling

I would have preferred not to insert myself into this story. But Jay and I agreed that the younger audience, people who hadn’t been around for Vietnam, probably needed a guide. And so I tried to come up with a theme that would serve as a touchstone to the present, a thread that we could weave in and out of the real story. I began by sending emails to Jay and getting his feedback. I didn’t want to compare anything I have ever experienced with what the men of Delta went through. But Jay kept pushing me to explain why I was so intrigued by their story. For a while, I couldn’t articulate why. But by the end, I think I got pretty close. I found the whole experience deeply moving. And capturing their voices was a much more potent way to tell the men from Delta’s tale than it would have been in print.

I’ll definitely do more radio in the future.

You can find out more about those Delta Co. 3rd Battalian, 187th Infantry (Airborne), 101st Airborne Division who served in Viet Nam here.

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Support for this work provided by the
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Adam Piore

About
Adam Piore

Adam Piore has spent the last two decades writing for newspapers and magazines, covering everything from the U.S. Congress to the aftermath of genocide to the War in Iraq. You can read some of his recent work at adampiore.com.

Comments

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  • Al R

    2.17.15

    Reply

    A person does NOT “win” the Medal of Honor or any other award, it is earned!

    • Jay Allison

      2.18.15

      Reply

      That’s my oversight. I’ll fix it in the introduction.Thank you for noting.

      • E. Roderickson

        6.25.15

        Dear Adam, Jay, and Viki (as well as any others involved in this piece/project):

        First, and foremost, I would like to say you all did a wonderful job with “We’ve Never Been The Same: A War Story.” I could offer more words beyond that simple compliment, but they would fail to capture the emotions and feelings I had after listening to the audio and reading the article. Thank you very much for the time and energy you invested in this project.

        I provide the following information both to correct errors, but also to offer education for future projects that may touch on similar issues and topics, particularly as relates to the United States military.

        Congressional Medal of Honor: The official name of the award is the “Medal of Honor.” The award is often erroneously referred to as the “Congressional Medal of Honor” likely because it is presented “in the name of Congress.” Perhaps adding to the confusion, recipients of the Medal of Honor become members of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society (CMOHS), a society “created by the U.S. Congress in remembrance of recipients of the Medal of Honor, the highest military award.”

        Distinguished Service Cross: Technically, four awards are equivalent as the nation’s second highest honor. The Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) is the second highest military award for the United States Army. Its equivalents for sister services are the Air Force Cross (United States Air Force), the Coast Guard Cross (United States Coast Guard), and the Navy Cross (United States Marine Corps and United States Navy).

        Delta: Although “Delta” is used to refer to the unit that is the subject of the story, it is important to keep in mind that “Delta” is the International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet word for “D,” which can refer to many military units, particularly those on a similar level (e.g., artillery batteries, cavalry troops, infantry companies). Although the subject can be inferred from the article, “Delta Company” or “Delta” is considered a generic term or phrase.

        Errors in the following sentence: “You can find out more about those Delta Co. 3rd Battalian, 187th Infantry (Airborne), 101st Airborne Division who served in Viet Nam here.”

        I see that some of the text was probably quoted from the website, but there are a few errors:

        Misspelling: Battalion (cf. “Battalian”).

        Omission: The 187th Infantry is a regiment and would be properly written as “187th Infantry Regiment (Airborne).”

        Nickname: “Rakkasans” is a Special Designation for the 187th Infantry Regiment. Each unit composing a regiment (from battalion down to platoon) may have its own nickname.

        Military naming conventions:

        1. In writing, a company is succeeded by a letter (the corresponding International Radiotelephony Spelling Alphabet word, e.g., “Delta”, is only spoken). As is the case with most things, consistency is important. I see references to Bravo and Charlie companies, as well as interchanging “Delta Company” and “Delta Co.” Properly, it would be “Company [X]”, but if using an alternative convention, it’s always best practice to keep consistency throughout the work, (e.g., Alfa Company, Alfa Co., Company A, or Co. A).

        2. Ordinal numbers omit the “n” and “r” in “2d” and “3d,” respectively. Note: This may be a recent convention, as some of the photos in the slideshow, and other paperwork from my own relatives (from the Vietnam, Korea, and World War II eras) clearly show “3rd” in official records.

        3. Hierarchy – this is dynamic depending on the organizational structure, so it is best to consult a reference guide.

        Thus, combining the aforementioned suggestions, the unit would be properly identified as, “Company D, 3d Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment (Airborne), 3d Brigade, 101st Airborne Division.”

        Thank you for your time and attention.

        Respectfully,

        E. Roderickson

  • Joe Lindley

    2.18.15

    Reply

    I ran across Adam Piore and Jay Allison while conducting research for the book Forgotten Hero – a book about my long-time friend Calvin Heath. Adam and Jay were working on a radio piece about the men of Delta Co. 3/187th, 101st ABN (1967-68, Phuoc Vinh, Vietnam). We had gathered at Bill Heaney’s house in Connecticut to interview Dave Dillard, Mike Rawson and Bill, all battle mates of Calvin in ’67-’68. During that meeting in 2013, what immediately struck me most about Adam and Jay, was not their journalistic skills – although, I am certain you will agree with me after listening to this piece that they above reproach – it was the genuine interest they both have for the men of Delta Company. We’ve Never Been the Same: A War Story, was a piece developed from the heart and aptly describes the harrowing experiences the men from Delta endured while fighting in the jungles and rice paddies of Vietnam, and the battles they fought alone after the war. It is incredibly emotional and something every American should listen to. Great job Adam and Jay!

  • Ed Holden (Heath)

    2.18.15

    Reply

    I want to say thank you so very much. Ive never really had the chance to talk with my Uncle Calvin about this. It’s great to hear and read his story. He is greatly missed.

  • gary kasprzycki

    3.05.15

    Reply

    video was so great no one should run for pres if u never served this gov has no clue… please leave it up to the vets who know

  • Norman (Barney) seney Jr.

    3.29.15

    Reply

    Never knew we had a Hero among us. Great listing to. Wish I, had know Calvin.

  • Susie Barker Hurst

    4.19.15

    Reply

    This story is so far above AMAZING. I am a friend of Dave Dillard. We’ve known each other all of our lives….well since 1st grade. This should be mandatory knowledge. Does that make sense? All I know is, “This is the missing puzzle piece” I needed to help understand Dave and many more of my friends….too many. My friend Mike Pogue didn’t make it home. I was a waitress during some of this time. I served coffee to their parents before, during and after this tragedy called Viet Nam. I cannot describe how it changed who we all were, but especially the parents. The Pogue’s had 2 sons. After Mike was killed in Nam, his brother was killed in a car wreck. Talk about an injustice. The Pogues and the Dillards were pillars in our communities. What a brilliant piece of work! I don’t even know how to thank you. However, Thank You!!! Susie Barker/Hurst

  • Martie Ebner

    5.24.15

    Reply

    I listened to this program on NPR this morning – fascinating and well-done. Thank you!

  • Terry L. Traub

    5.25.15

    Reply

    I’d like to thank Delta Company and Adam for bringing their story to those of us who didn’t go. Sacrifices made by kids in the crucible of an unpopular war were never recognized in the day. Only now, with the widespread coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan, has the story of their sacrifice and loss been compared to, and ignited, the re-awakened national conscience of Vietnam Era. People at home didn’t understand then, but are just starting to understand now. God Bless all our brave men and women under arms.

  • John M. Mcgraw

    5.25.15

    Reply

    I was in the infantry 2 yr’s later, 12 months and 1 week in the field … 199th Infantry Brigade & 1st Cav, we never operated outside artillery. Was it normal in 1968 for a company to operate outside artillery support. In my life I have never been as lonely as my 3 months in Vietnam, I remember only 1 person from all the companies I was in.

  • Craig Parke

    5.25.15

    Reply

    I went out to get a sandwich today at noon. I was sitting in my car getting ready to eat my lunch. But first I was saying a prayer for my dear friend the late CWO Hugh Thompson Jr. who was the OH-23 scout helicopter pilot above the hamlet of My Lai on March 16th, 1968 who intervened in the massacre by landing in the crossfire and ordering his door gunners to put their machine guns on Lieutenant Calley. Hugh Thompson Jr. passed away in 2006.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_Thompson,_Jr.

    I always say a prayer for him at Noon every Memorial Day in remembrance of him and those who were with him. I did so and then turned on my car radio. It was on the local NPR station. This program came on. I finished my sandwich and then sat in my car in silence for the entire hour to listen to the full program. My deepest appreciation for this effort Mr. Adam Piore. My prayers and best wishes to everyone who came into this occurrence in that War. Apparently this happened the next night on March 17th, 1968 somewhere else in the Vietnam War. Every citizen must understand what happens when you send human beings into war. Most Americans today don’t. Thank you for this account 47 years later. This is important as a witness.

    Craig Parke
    1st Lieutenant, U.S. Army
    1969-1971

  • John M Lee

    5.25.15

    Reply

    May 25, 2015: Hearing the story of Delta Company today brought the same sad, sinking, horrible feelings about what combat means to men who get caught in it. Almost as painful was that the men of Delta who fought together were each lost in their isolation from each other upon returning home. Though this idea may have been thought of, it would seem that survivors of war would live better lives and perhaps even help the country make better decisions about possible military action if the Defense Department made it a policy to facilitate keeping veterans in touch with those they served with. Hearing the members of Delta tell their stories about what they lived with alone and then how reunion helped them was heartbreaking and hopeful.

    John M Lee, Spc 5, Vietnam Era

  • Ron Scott

    5.25.15

    Reply

    What a great hour of radio!!! Luckily for me I had to spend an hour in my car and came upon this piece while listening to NPR. Adam did a fantastic job telling the story of Delta company….I can not imagine anyone doing it better. One of the best hours I have spent in a long time. Thank you for telling their story.

  • JBlake

    5.25.15

    Reply

    We listened to “We’ve never been the Same; A War Story” today, Memorial Day. Thank you for this poignant story of our generation.

  • Don Langum

    5.25.15

    Reply

    Awesome story. Thanks for the good work and research.

  • Vicki Carlson

    5.25.15

    Reply

    I found this story to be most appropriate for Memorial Day which honors our dead and injured soldiers. So many courageous soldiers changed forever by the horror of war. It was painful listening for me and I took comfort that, years later, some soldiers were reunited with their military family and found this healing. Their experiences are important to know and I thank them and Adam Piore.

  • Gina

    5.30.15

    Reply

    Great Article. Nice to know someone took the time to learn about these men and to bring them together…to heal the wounds of their past.

    Mankind will repeat mistakes unless he studies the past and all of it’s mistakes to learn how to make different future.

  • Barry Finch (203) 743-1621

    6.03.15

    Reply

    Listening to Adam Piore’s Transom Radio Story made this past Memorial Day the most memorable in my 73 years, so much so that I was inspired to write a song entitled “Rakkasans”. I would like to send an mp3 to Adam or someone at Transom.

  • Mike Sobey

    11.08.15

    Reply

    Dear Adam,

    I’m a frequent listener of NPR (Chicago, IL) and was listening to the first person narratives of that Delta company unit (“We’ve Never Been The Same: A War Story”) tonight. I was in Art school at the time of the war and was only subject to the draft for one year as Nixon pulled us out the next year. These stories collected of which you brought to us this evening were extremely gripping, stirring and gut wrenching. I cried. Thank you and to the gentlemen in the story there are no words to express my profound empathy for your courageous deeds.

  • tom thomas

    11.12.15

    Reply

    The presentation was moving in many ways. I could relate, being a Lrp and ranger,68-69 and serving in D co.2/5o3rd Infantry,173rd Airborne Bde,separate. It occurred to me that during those times we were all learning to stay alive, maybe sometimes just by holding our breath for long intervals..The intensity was just too much in such and short period of time.

  • Christopher Rushlau

    11.19.15

    Reply

    Wars of aggression are unlike all other wars, in that one side knows clearly it’s in the wrong.

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