By Jennifer Martin - email
JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - It's been almost 40 years since Ottis Brown went to Vietnam, but he is still haunted by his time there.
"Nobody wants to get killed and no one wants to kill, I don't think. It's something you're forced into."
But like so many others, Ottis Brown had no choice about going to Vietnam. He was drafted in July 1969.
"I dreaded it. I done had some friends killed in Vietnam."
He knew it would be bad, but there was no way he could anticipate how bad it would be.
"You don't ever want to experience anything like that in your life."
He was with the 101st Airborne, serving in a variety of roles. At times as a squad or a platoon leader, at one point as a sniper, and for a time in recon. He remembers how difficult it was to identify the enemy.
"Kids would run in there with grenades. Some soldiers shot the kids and the women the same way. It's you or them."
His worst memories are of a sequence of days leading up to July 4th, 1970. His unit had set up camp and surrounded themselves with booby traps. The VC tried to infiltrate in the night and hit the trip wires. The next day, they hit the camp with everything they had.
"All hell broke loose: the mortars, everything going off. We received small arms fire, grenades, satchel charges. I lost my best friend; I lost 5 more good friends, a bunch wounded. The bodies, after mortar rounds or whatever hit. You couldn't even tell they was human, really. If they hadn't had uniforms on them."
Brown suffered minor physical injuries that day, but the psychological wounds would last a lifetime.
"That stays in your mind. I think about it every day, every night."
He served another five months before he was able to return to the U.S., stopping first in California.
"They'd be calling you baby killer, throwing stuff at you, like eggs. I remember one guy, wishing I had my M-16 right now."
Re-adjusting to civilian life was difficult, with the memories of war ever-present. He worked a variety of jobs, from railroad work, to law enforcement, to teaching.
Now he's retired. He says he fought 37 years to get his benefits. He credits Trent Lott for turning the tide in his struggle but says more needs to be done for our vets.
"We need another senator that will help these days."
Not a day does not go by where Brown's time in Vietnam does not haunt him.
"Your nightmares and dreams. You wake up sweating and hollering like you're still experiencing that same moment. Even today I do it."
WLBT 3 - Fox 40
715 South Jefferson Street