Gaylon Hanson, of Annis, served as a senior mechanic in Vietnam, doesn’t know where life would have taken him without the war, but he is grateful for the way it turned out.
“The military was the best thing that ever happened to me. It shaped my life,” he said.
The G.I. Bill made it possible for him to attend college at ISU where he became a welder and had a 34-year career at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory.
“I would not have had the luxury of going to school if it hadn’t been for the G.I. Bill,” he said. “Otherwise I don’t know how my life would have turned out. I might have been pumping gas.”
Hanson signed up for the military after graduating from high school in 1965. He worked for Leonard’s metal works in Rigby until his unit was called up in 1968.
“When I joined it was because my friends were joining up,” he said.
The unit first went to Fort Lewis in Washington for training and they were not 100 percent sure they were going to Vietnam until they were in the air. Hanson was in an advanced party in a convoy up to their base in Dillinh, Vietnam. They traveled a windy, uphill pass and were sitting ducks for claymore mines.
While in Dillinh as a mechanic, he serviced trucks and kept the equipment running. Moving rocks and dirt was especially hard on the construction trucks, so it was not an easy job.
“Our first job is being a soldier,” Hanson said. “Our second job was our Military Occupation Specialty (MOS). I will say that again. Our first job was as a soldier, our second was doing our job whether a medic, cook, truck driver or mechanic.”
He was also required to keep the generator in working order to supply the base with electricity. He remembers nights of walking the perimeter of the base with flashlights for guard duty when the generator had failed and trying to clean plugged fuel filters which was why the generators failed in the first place. New filters were in short supply.
He did go on multiple 100-mile convoys to obtain miscellaneous supplies.
“I would ride with a 10-ton truck driver, Alan Wolfensberger (of Rigby). The truck was so big the wheels hung over the edge of the road. He was a top-notch driver,” Hanson said. “He was out on the road every day. He also operated a D9 Caterpillar.”
Jerry Jensen, Hanson’s First Sergeant, said he was a great mechanic and he would often spend his off-duty hours getting more machinery up and running.
“He was great to work with and very cooperative,” Jensen said.
Hanson was happy to serve his country and to protect America from the growing threat of communism.
“I got along well with the Vietnamese people,” Hanson said. “They didn’t want war. The lived their life from day to day. They were good people and hardworking. It was a political war created for the governments. I’m not a war-hater or nothing, but we should not have been there at that time.”
“I was a mechanic so I’m not going to paint a glorified picture of war,” Hanson said. “I don’t have PSTD and I didn’t have to kill anybody. I don’t dwell on it. I saw them carry a dead body and I knew it was someone I knew.”
In all, six people from Hanson’s unit in the 116th Battalion, lost their lives.
“We claim Jimmy Nakayama from Rigby, Idaho. He was killed by an air attack. He’s a hero to most of us in our area. He was the first from Jefferson County to die in Vietnam,” he said.
“I am proud of my service I did in Vietnam. We were there to help the country build the roads. But we also helped the enemy because they traveled the roads at night and set up booby traps at night. It was risky for demolition specialists who had to search for booby traps,” Hanson said.
They did use a substance they later called Agent Orange to kill vegetation in the Vietnamese jungle. Because of that, Hanson had cancer in 2008 that they attributed to his exposure to Agent Orange. So he now belongs to the VFW organization for disabled veterans.
But he was able to connect with the members of his battalion at a recent reunion.
He sums up his service saying, “I went over there to do my job and come back. And I accomplished both.”