Roger Lonetto

Disclaimer: To the best of our knowledge, the information provided in this oral history interview is accurate. We do not make any representation or warranty as to the accuracy or completeness of the information. Oral Interview with Roger Lonetto Conducted by Dan Hartman, Veterans’ Memorial Hall Program, St. Louis County Historical Society Recording Date: Unknown, but within 2010 – 2011 Recording Place: Bayshore Health Center Transcriber: Susan Schwanekamp, St. Louis County Historical Society Transcription process funded by a grant from the Lloyd K. Johnson Foundation DH: So today on July 14th, which is a Thursday, 2011, we are conducting an interview with Roger, who is a Vietnam era vet. My name is Dan Hartman and I will be conducting the interview today. First off, Roger, thank you for being willing to be a part of the interview, I guess. I’m going to ask you some very basic questions right off the bat. What year were you born, Roger? RL: ’47. DH: And you were born here in Duluth, correct? RL: Right. DH: Do you remember what hospital you were born in, or where in Duluth? RL: In St. Mary’s. DH: And when you were growing up, what neighborhood did you grow up in? Like was it Woodland neighborhood, was it, you know, Lakeside, was it West Duluth? RL: In Gary. DH: In Gary. And what were your parents’ occupations? RL: My father worked in the steel plant. DH: Made sense to live in Gary, then. RL: Yeah. DH: How about your Mom? RL: She was at home. DH: How did you like growing up in Gary, as a kid? Was it a fun place? RL: Yeah. DH: What were some things you guys did for fun as a kid? Did you play hockey, or any games like that? RL: We played baseball quite a bit. DH: Do you remember where you played baseball at? RL: At the school. DH: Was that Lowell Elementary, then? RL: Stowe. DH: So. Tell me, is Gary a little different today than it was back then? RL: Yeah. DH: And how is it different, I guess? RL: There’s new people that moved in. You have to lock your doors. And you (never had to lock them?) before. DH: So you felt like it was a pretty safe community back then. RL: Yeah. DH: And everyone kind of got along pretty good back then together? Did the neighborhood look different? Is anything physically changed? RL: No. OK. And your parents. What religious background were they? Were they Catholic or Protestant or…? RL: My father was Catholic and my mother was Lutheran. DH: And so what do you pick? RL: Lutheran. DH: And did your parents grow up in Duluth as well? RL: My father did. My mother grew up in Superior. Superior and Wrenshall. DH: OK. And I apologize – I forgot to ask this earlier. Roger, can you say your middle name and your last name? And can you spell out your last name? RL: It’s Ralph Lonetto. L-O-N-E-T-T-O. DH: OK. That is usually my first question. So, we’ll go back to your parents. And growing up in Gary, your Dad was a steelworker. And did he serve as a veteran, as well, or…? RL: Yeah. DH: And was that WWII? RL: Yeah. DH: OK. RL: So when you were a kid did you ever think you wanted to be in the service as well? DH: Yeah. RL: And your father – do you remember what branch or what he served with? DH: He served with the Army. RL: OK. And my mother served during WWII as a truck operator. DH: So you had a fairly extensive military background in your family. RL: Yeah. DH: And at what age did you decide you wanted to be in the service? RL: Oh – I can’t remember. DH: That’s OK. And so as you were growing up and you became older and you got into your teenage years what were some other things you did for fun around the area? RL: Went to shows. DH: Where at? RL: (Something sounding like “dark”) and West. DH: And so did you go to Denfeld High School, then? RL: Yeah. DH: And were there any activities or stories from Denfeld that you think would be kind of fun to remember, or…? RL: No. DH: Was there any shows or movies that you really liked as a kid growing up? RL: I liked all Westerns. DH: Any certain Western that you remember as a kid watching a lot? Any certain one? RL: No. DH: OK. So when you were in high school, did you go on a lot of dates and so forth, or…? RL: I had a girlfriend. DH: And did you bring her to movies as well? Is that one of the things that you guys would do, or…? RL: No. I went to movies when I was young. DH: But not when you were older, then? RL: No. DH: OK. So at what point did you think you wanted to join the service? When did you sign up for it? RL: I signed up when I was 16. DH: Do you remember where you did that at? Was it here in Duluth that you signed up? RL: Yeah. DH: Where at? Where in Duluth was it? RL: It was up on the hill. DH: OK. By where the mall is today? RL: No. West of the mall. DH: OK. And how was the recruiter back then? Were they pretty nice people, or…? RL: (Can’t tell if it was “no” or “yeah” in response.) DH: How long did it take you before they brought you through training? RL: I don’t know. They waited until I was 17. Then they ____ me through training. At 17, 18. Then they sent me out to 'Nam. DH: I’m going to back you up a little bit and ask you to…..You weren ‘t drafted. You signed up. Why did you choose the Navy, over the Army, or a different branch? RL: I think my father – he joined the Army. DH: He didn’t want you to, even though that was his branch. RL: Yeah. DH: And what was his reason for that? RL: He never told me. DH: Are you happy you signed up for the Navy? RL: Yeah. DH: What was your father’s name, too, by the way? RL: Orlando. DH: And how about your mother? RL: Viola. DH: OK. And what was your mother’s maiden name? RL: Witt. DH: OK. And so, you went to training. Where did you go to training at? RL: Great Lakes. DH: And was that at Chicago? And so tell me about the training. What did they have you do there? What type of training was it? RL: I went to classes. There was a lot of parades. DH: And this was the active Navy, correct? You weren’t ever a Reservist, or…? RL: No. Active. DH: And did they train you on any of the boat stuff there at all or….not much? RL: Not much. We spent about a week. DH: OK. And what were they, I guess what was your duty, what was your job that they wanted you to have? What did you end up being, within the Navy? RL: I was a “river rat”. DH: OK. And did you choose that, or did they kind of tell you that’s what you should do? They told me that was the job, which – I liked it, a lot. DH: And why did you like it? What was ….? RL: I got to run different boats. DH: So you remember any of the different types of boats that you ran, or…? Can you describe them a little bit, or…? RL: Um, we had one that went on land and in the water. DH: So kind of like an amphibious boat, then. RL: Yeah. DH: OK. So I’m going to back you up to Great Lakes. When you were at Great Lakes, where did you go from there? Did you come back home for a bit, or did you, did they send you right off, someplace? RL: I came home. DH: And how long were you at home before they activated you again? RL: About a month. DH: And then where did they have you assigned to at that point? RL: San Diego. DH: San Diego. How did you like San Diego? RL: I liked it. DH: Was it better than Chicago? RL: Yeah. DH: And what type of training did they have you do in San Diego? RL: They had me to go over on an LST. DH: So they just kind of got you prepped and ready for that? RL: Yeah. DH: OK. And how long were you in San Diego before they sent you out? Was it like a year, or two months or…? RL: Out two months. DH: And where did they send you to at that point? RL: To 'Nam. DH: And do you remember where in Vietnam you were sent to? RL: Diem ___ and (sounds like “way”) and Can Lun (??) Can Lun Bay. Um, ________place that they sent me. DH: Well, maybe I’ll help you remember it later. At what point in your training did you know you were going to be a river rat? Right away, or was it somebody told you once you got to Vietnam? RL: Once I got to Vietnam. DH: So what did you think you were going to do before that? Did they have you signed up for anything else, or…? RL: Yeah. An LST. DH: So that would have been your role. And do you remember the name of your unit, when you were a river rat? RL: (Unintelligible response) DH: Was it a Presidential unit citation? Was it the blue ribbon? RL: Yeah. DH: And when you were a river rat, how big a crew was on your boat, generally? Like did you have five guys on the boat with you, or was it four, twenty? RL: About four. DH: And what was mostly your duty on the boat? RL: I was the engineman. DH: And how long would you go on tours in the boat? RL: Um, we’d go to an outpost and stay there and then the next day we’d head back. DH: And tell me a little bit about the experiences of being a river rat. What did that mean, exactly? What was your duty? Like when you’d get up in the morning, you guys would get in your boat, and what was your role as you were patrolling the rivers? RL: We’d haul supplies down to an outpost. DH: So your main role was to supply these outposts. RL: Yeah. DH: So you were not patrolling the different rivers, or…you were mostly a supply base? Is that correct? RL: Yeah. DH: What type of supplies were you bringing? RL: Medical and food. DH: And did you guys come under attack quite a bit? RL: Yeah. DH: How often would you come under attack on your rides? Was it a daily occurrence or was it a monthly, or…? RL: Just about daily. DH: And what type of, would people be shooting at your, or would it be mortar rounds? Kind of describe a little bit how it was to go through that. RL: They’d shoot at us and they’d do mortars. DH: So it was a little bit of everything, then? RL: Yeah. DH: And that was kind of a scary thing to go through every day! RL: Yeah. DH: Was there any way for you guys to kind of fight them back at all, or…? RL: No. We had (sounds like “fifties”) mounted, but we weren’t allowed to use them. At all. DH: So you would come under attack, but you wouldn’t be allowed to fight back. RL: Yeah. DH: I bet that was kind of a nerve wracking deal? RL: Yeah. DH: Wow. So how did you guys cope with that, every day? Did you just kind of wish for the best, or…? RL: Yeah. DH: And did you guys ever get hit by a mortar attack, or were you pretty fortunate that you got missed a lot by those? RL: We were missed a lot. DH: Good! RL: Yeah. DH: Do you remember the names of the guys who were with you? RL: Um, no. I don’t. DH: OK. Don’t worry. It’s been a while, so… Was it generally the same guys, or did it rotate a lot? RL: Generally the same guys. DH: You were in the service from ’64 to 1970. So, how long were you a river rat in Vietnam? Was that only one tour or were you there for multiple tours? RL: For two tours. DH: Two tours. Wow. And do you remember what years you were in Vietnam? RL: ’64 to ’65. DH: So you had back to back tours, then? RL: And ’67 to ’68. DH: Was your first tour very different from your second tour, or was it the same job. RL: It was the same job. DH: OK. And both times you were helping supply medical and food. Do you remember any of the food you were transporting at all, or was it MREs, or…? RL: Sea rats. (C rations) DH: And were guys happy to see you coming? RL: Yeah. DH: And how big were these outposts that you were supplying? RL: They were small. DH: Twenty or so guys, or like a hundred, or five or…? RL: I’d say about a hundred. DH: So when you were on the boat sometimes how long of a drive would it be to some of these outposts? Would you be gone for two or three hours, or would it be a six hour drive, or, you know, a half-hour? About how long generally did it take to go to an outpost? RL: To go to an outpost…when we get there, it was about dark. DH: So you had to drive back in the dark? Or did you wait until the next morning to come back? RL: We’d wait until the next morning to come back. DH: Was it kind of a scary ordeal to come back at night, I take it, or…? RL: Yeah. DH: That’s a long drive on a boat, though. RL: Yeah. DH: About how fast does the boat go? Were you stuck in a slow five mile an hour speed, or was it about 20 – 30? RL: About five miles an hour. DH: So you were going pretty slow. You couldn’t go very fast. RL: Yeah. DH: So if people are shooting at you, it would be incredibly nerve wracking! RL: Yeah. DH: Oh, wow! So when you guys would come under attack, would you just try to, you know, hide behind metal parts of the boat, or how would you try to survive that? ‘Cause you were going pretty slow. What’s the best way to avoid it, I guess? RL: ______(unintelligible)____ to move down. To ____metal. DH: So just kind of drop down to the ground, then? RL: Yeah. DH: Did some of your guys get hit at some points, or…? RL: Um, my Captain (?) did. DH: And you don’t remember his name, or…? RL: No. DH: And was that in ’67 or ’65. RL: ’67. DH: Do you think that your first tour or your second tour…which one was….how were they different, I guess? Was one more dangerous than the other, or…? RL: During ’67 was the Tet Defense. ’68 was the Tet Offense. So that was the worst. DH: Well, I’m.. before I get into that I’m going to talk about your ’64 – ’65 tour. Are there any stories or anything you remember from that tour that you want to tell? RL: No. DH: How was the environment? Was it a jungle scene, or…? Describe the environment that you had to drive around in all the time. RL: It was open. DH: So you could see on all sides, real easy, then? RL: Yeah. DH: I imagine it’d be pretty flat, then? RL: Yeah. DH: And were there a lot of little rivers off the sides from the river you were at? RL: Yeah. DH: So very much like a delta environment. And, was it hot, was it cold? Was it pretty humid? RL: It was hot. It was humid. DH: And what type of gear did you guys wear? Did you have any bullet-proof vests, or anything of that nature, or was it too hot for that, or…? RL: We had bullet-proof vests. DH: OK. And did you wear those a lot, or…? RL: Yeah. DH: OK. I imagine, when you’re getting shot at all the time. So, there’s nothing about your ’64 – ’65 tour that you remember a story you want to tell, or…? RL: No. DH: OK. In ’67 – ’68, during the Tet Offensive, describe how that went for you. It seems like it was so vivid that you remember. So. How was it different? Were there a lot more attacks, or…? RL: Yeah. There was a lot more attacks in that. We started runnin’ up on the shore and giving them ______supplies. So that they’d leave us alone. DH: So you started giving supplies to the Viet Cong? RL: Yeah. Viet Cong. Yeah. RL: Medical supplies. DH: And were you ordered to do that, or was that something you guys just did to save yourself. RL: We did that to save ourselves. DH: How did you know that the Viet Cong wanted that? Were they….? RL: We just figured that they probably needed this stuff. DH: Wow. And did that lessen the tension for you? RL: Yeah. DH: And did you ever tell your Commander back at the base about it all, or…? RL: No. If we would’ve told anybody what we were doing, we would have been court martialed for it. DH: How often did you give those supplies? RL: Every time we’d go out, we’d drop off a boat. DH: And you started doing this in ’67, ’68? And did it start during the Tet Offensive, then? And looking back on it, do you regret that, or do you feel like you made the right decision? Otherwise you may not have made it? RL: I think we made the right decision. DH: OK. And how long did the Tet Offense last, for you? Was this something that went on for several months, or was it a couple days, or….? RL: It went on for several months. DH: And so for several months, you would drive to these outposts and you would give some of the food to the Viet Cong so they wouldn’t shoot at you, right? RL: Not food. DH: Just medical? RL: Just medical supplies. DH: Um, and then was there any reason you didn’t give ‘em food? Just because they would know about it later, or you didn’t want to give ‘em food? RL: We didn’t want to give ‘em food. DH: And then. ..describe a little bit about these outposts that you’d be going to. You know, what were they doing out at these outposts? Were they just …was it Army, was it Marines, was it everybody? RL: It was everybody. They’d come in to the outposts and get stuff and then they’d go back out. DH: Hmm. And was there anything after the Tet Offensive that came up that you remember in the ’67 – ’68 tour? Was there any change in your missions at all, or…? RL: No. DH: So, I’m going to talk a little bit about the base. Because I imagine you had a place that you were sleeping at night, before you were sent out. And how was that? What were the conditions there? RL: The conditions were fairly good. DH: Did you have like a cot to sleep in or did you…? RL: Yeah. DH: Or a bed or…? RL: Cot. DH: What type of food were you eating back at the base? RL: We eat pretty good. DH: Well like hamburgers? Or almost everything, or…? RL: Almost everything. DH: So a lot better than the guys out at the outposts, then? RL: Yeah. DH: And did you ever have any R & R, or any activity out there? Did you get to go into any towns? RL: Yeah. DH: And what were some of the things you guys would do out there? Would you go to the local bar, or did you…? RL: We went to local bars and we went to houses. DH: Were there any famous sites that you went to, that you took photos of, or any trips that you took there? RL: No. DH: So when you guys would have any downtime, you guys would just kind of hang out, or…? RL: Yeah. DH: And would you pretty much stay with your boat crew, then, I would imagine, then, or…? RL: Yeah. DH: OK. And were any of these bases that you stayed at…were any of them better than others? Was there one that you remember that was really good, or really bad, or….? RL: They were about the same. DH: OK. And is there, so, during your service, you served ’64 - ’65 and then came back again. So did you come back to the United States for a period of time? RL: Yeah. DH: And did you feel like things were changing in the meantime when you were gone at all, or…? Did you feel like, as a Vietnam Veteran, that the country really didn’t understand what was going on, or…? Or didn’t you hear much about that when you came back to Duluth? RL: Never heard much, when I come back. It was after I come back before I got any word about how bad we were supposed to be and stuff like that. DH: Was it worse or about the same as what they told you? Or better? RL: It was a lot better. DH: Vietnam was a lot better than you thought it was going to be? RL: Yeah. DH: Did you ever go back to Vietnam after you served? RL: No. DH: Did you, at the time you were there, did you think that Vietnam was kind of a beautiful place, or was it kind of a place you didn’t want to go back to? RL: It was really a place I wouldn’t want to go back to. DH: OK. When you came back from Vietnam, after your second tour, how did people treat you when you came back? Did you have a lot of problems with that, or were people OK with it? How did Duluthians treat you when you came back from serving in Vietnam? RL: They treated me really nice. DH: That’s good to hear. And yeah – was there – so, were there any stories during your tour in Vietnam that you want to say, or have on record – anything that happened in your service that you want to bring out? RL: Uhn uhn. DH: And at what point did you know that you were going to be leaving the service? You had your tour in ’68, and then did you come back to the United States after that, or did you…? RL: Yeah. DH: OK. So what did they have you do for two years before you left the service in 1970? Or were you just kind of on active….? RL: I was an active. But – what did they have me do? They had me take care of (my whole?) fleet. DH: And what does that entail, exactly? What does it mean? RL: Stripping down. Junking out. DH: And you did that until 1970. RL: Yeah. DH: And was that here in Duluth, or where was that? Where did you do that at? RL: In San Diego. DH: So were you happy to be out the service when they let you go, or…? RL: Yeah. DH: But you did enjoy being a river rat, you said, so you’re glad you got to do that. RL: Mm hmm. DH: Yeah. And I’m glad to see you’re still here today, though. It sounds like it was a pretty scary experience, though, too. RL: It was. DH: Well, once again, thank you for being willing to do this interview today, and thank you for your service as a veteran. So, thanks again. RL: OK.

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