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GMC’s Van Horn Served Two Years in Vietnam

GMC’s Van Horn served two years in Vietnam
By Payton Towns III – The Union-Recorder

Fred Van Horn has been to the Vietnam Wall many times to see the names of the soldiers he knew during his two years in the conflict. The executive vice president at Georgia Military College said each trip is an emotional experience.

“I know many of the names that are up there,” Van Horn said. “I do my best when I go there to visit those people who are memorialized on that wall. For me, every time I go it is an emotional experience. I think it’s a tremendous monument and a very thoughtful monument. It captures our feelings for those of us who served over there and lost good friends.”

Van Horn, 66, was born in Murphy, N.C. He volunteered for the draft in September 1962, entering the Army.

“The reason I volunteered for the draft was to eventually find my way to Vietnam and do my share there,” Van Horn said. “I was a brand new second lieutenant when I got over there. …Eventually, I was given command of an artillery battery.”

Van Horn spent his entire two years in the 1st Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division.

“The units that I was with … was the brigade that was deployed over there before the entire division went,” he said. “That brigade was used in Vietnam as a fire brigade. Whenever there was trouble, that brigade was made to move around Vietnam very aggressively.”

Van Horn spent many nights sleeping on the ground and in a lot of holes.

“You spent a lot of time in hot jungles, in the high mountains and on the south China Sea,” he said. “We moved around coastal locations to mountain locations and into various jungle situations that were up there. We moved and fought in a wide variety of situations and over a wide variety of terrain.”

They moved from each location by C-130 aircraft. Once they got there, helicopters would take them to combat locations.

“Rarely did we travel any way other than helicopter,” Van Horn said. “There were occasions where we were required to convoy moderate distances through what was regarded as hostile territory by road.”

Despite what is shown in television shows and movies about the conflict in Vietnam, soldiers in Van Horn’s unit didn’t sit on the edge of the helicopter when they traveled.

“You rarely did that,” he said. “You sometimes did that when you had to cram a lot of people into a helicopter and some had to sit in the doorway. It was not a good feeling. Not because there was a lot of distance between you and the ground, but because when an aircraft is traveling at speed, you end up feeling like you are going to be pulled out. It was not a safe thing to do. In general, your troops were safely inside these things. Much of that is movie stuff. I’m not saying it wasn’t done. It just was not a safe way of traveling. It was discouraged.”

Van Horn said helicopters were important for American soldiers in Vietnam.

“The helicopter was made for the Vietnam war,” he said. “Air mobile operations were refined and for the most part, invented to handle the Vietnam situation. (Helicopters) did everything for you. It brought your ammunition, food and evacuated you when you were wounded. It carried you in mass formations into and out of combat. It was the most flexible possible method of rapidly getting in and out of places.”

Van Horn said he respected the Vietnamese military, which was advised by the U.S. Special Forces and by the Australian Special Forces.

“They were tremendous soldiers, and it was a great pleasure to work with them,” he said. “I dealt with the regular Vietnamese Army and the Vietnamese Marine forces, and I never had reason to say anything but good things about their performance. A lot of the bad stuff that you see about their performance is as much TV and movie stuff as it is reality. They did the very best they could do given the training and the equipment they had.”

When he left Vietnam in 1968, Van Horn felt good about the job he did and how he served his country.

“I felt like I had taken part in a very worthwhile undertaking,” he said. “I felt good about myself and felt good about the people I fought beside. I loved my soldiers and admired my leaders. …There were good times and bad times. It was a very satisfying professional experience for a military guy. In large measure, it was the reason I stayed for 33 years in the Army. I felt like I was doing the job that I was trained to do and hired by my president to do.”

During the war, politics was something about which Van Horn didn’t think.

“While I was there, nothing that I was taking part in or contributing to struck me as the kind of problem that was later described,” he said. “I was part of a very fine organization that was extremely well led. Routinely, day in and out, we fought bravely and did our job professionally. As a young officer, I was just proud to be a part of that kind of operation. In later years, I’ve watched the politics of the situation develop, and I agree with some of it and don’t agree with other parts of it. The politics of the matter were well above my pay grade while I was over there. I had no reason to be worried about it or think about it.”

During his Army career, Van Horn served three overseas tours of duty in Germany, one in Italy and two in Vietnam. His military awards include decorations for valor, achievement and service.

Van Horn retired from the Army as a colonel. He and his wife Tomi, were married in 1968, and they moved to Milledgeville in August 1995, shortly after retiring from the U.S. Army following 33 years of service. They have one daughter.

While at GMC, Van Horn has served as commandant of cadets, dean of students, adjunct professor of ethics and the director of Character Education.