Morrilton resident shares story of service in Vietnam

Carol Rolf/Contributing Writer Published September 10, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: William Harvey

Carl Edward Hampton Sr. served two years in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. His military service includes one year in Vietnam, where he worked in communications, plotting the movement of troops in and around Duc Pho. He keeps some of his medals and Vietnam currency in a footlocker at his home in Morrilton.

MORRILTON — Carl Edward Hampton Sr. of Morrilton will be able to relate to the upcoming PBS documentary The Vietnam War. He experienced the war firsthand.

Hampton, 73, served with the U.S. Army in Vietnam. He was assigned to E Troop, 1st Cavalry, Americal [223rd Transportation] Division, from 1967 to 1969 and spent approximately one year in Vietnam.

He is one of many Arkansans whose stories have been collected by the Arkansas Educational Television Network as part of an outreach and public-engagement

program. Those stories will be used in various ways before and during the broadcast of the 10-part series directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. The Vietnam War will begin Sept. 17 and continue through Sept. 28 on AETN stations throughout the state.

Hampton said he plans to watch the series.

“I can understand bringing [the story of the Vietnam War] back. People will be able to get some feel of it, but not the real thing. … If you weren’t there, you really can’t know what it was like,” he said.

“It was war … just war,” Hampton said quietly as he sat in the living room of his home in Morrilton. “I saw a lot of things that I wish I had not seen. … I

was just happy to get out of it.”

Hampton is originally from Little Rock, one of eight children born to William and Mary Alice Hampton.

Carl Hampton graduated from Horace Mann High School in 1962 and attended Arkansas AM&N College (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff), where he studied business administration. He received his draft notice from the Army before he could graduate, lacking three hours to complete his degree.

“I was classified 1-A … available for military service. I was drafted by the Army. I was sent to Fort Polk, Louisiana, for basic infantry training in January 1967,” he said.

“After three months at Fort Polk, we started getting our orders. We knew orders to Hawaii meant Vietnam. That’s what I got,” Hampton said.

He was stationed at Schofield Barracks in Honolulu for 10 or 11 months, he said.

“We left Hawaii on ships … 21 days at sea. I had never been on a ship. It took me two days to learn to walk on that ship,” Hampton said. “There were 3,000 men on my ship. We were headed to Southeast Asia … Vietnam.

“We landed about 20 miles up from Cam Ranh Bay,” he said. “It was dark. We got off the ship in the middle of the night. Nobody knew where they were going. The smell was something else … different. The smell of bombs … death. There was shooting all around, a lot of bombs popping.”

Hampton said the troops traveled up Highway 1, which was the major road from Da Nang to Saigon. They traveled by APCs (armored personnel carriers).

“We got to Duc. It was just barren. … We had to set up headquarters for the camp. We did everything we had to do, … set up camp and got everything working,” he said.

“My first job was as a mail carrier. I worked in the mail room for two or three months,” Hampton said.

“Then I worked in communications. I was a radio and telephone operator, mainly radio, … keeping track of where troops were and where they were going, … plotting that on the jungle maps and letting others know,” he said.

“I received communications from the helicopters and called that information back to the bunkers. I would transfer the information to the first sergeant, and it would go on up the line,” he said.

“We worked 24 hours a day. We worked four hours on and four hours off. You slept as you could,” Hampton said.

“Bombs were popping everywhere … yelling … shooting. You learned how to live with it. Charlie (Viet Cong troops) always came at night. They wanted to knock out our communications system,” Hampton said.

“You could hear running and shooting … every night almost,” he said. “It was war. I was 22. … Nobody knew what we would find. … we couldn’t have prepared for it.

“The South China Sea was out there. You couldn’t get away; you couldn’t swim it. There was no place to go. … We had to do the job.”

Hampton said he was in Vietnam right after the Tet

Offensive of January 1968.

“That’s when so many were killed. We knew what we faced,” Hampton said.

“The temperature was over 100, 110 degrees. I just did what I had to do; I did my job. I guess I did it fairly well,” he said.

“I don’t talk about it. Nobody knows … nobody would understand unless you were there,” Hampton said.

“I had some close calls. At night … we would get fire power in our area. You would get mortar rounds all around you. They would hit the ground like bombs. There would be 10 in the air before the first one fell,” he said.

“The medics would go out and bring back body bags or body parts. You could see how it was affecting them. … You could see it in their eyes. When they came back in, they were not the same people anymore,” Hampton said.

“I know exactly what these soldiers that come home from Iraq and Afghanistan are going through. Nobody knows unless you have been through it,”

he said.

“You don’t forget it. At certain times, it comes back on you. You can’t talk about it unless it’s with someone who has been through the same thing. It seemed unreal.

That’s just the way it is. It’s an experience I don’t want to think about. There’s so much I’ve forgotten,” Hampton said.

“I got to know some of the guys … made some buddies,” he said. “There might be 30 or so in a group. … Maybe 12 would come back. They would be ambushed. … You just didn’t know when you went out … you might not make it back.

“I know the men in World War I and II fought in a line. … There was no line in Vietnam. They (the enemy) were all around you. They knew where you were all the time. You had to keep your head up at all times. It was tough. It was war.”

After his discharge in December 1969, Hampton, who was a specialist 4th class when he left the Army, returned to Little Rock.

“Life there seemed just like it was before I left,” he said. “I knew the war was unpopular, but I never saw any signs of that when I came back.

“After about three months, I was ready to get back into the world. Some people never did get adjusted … still haven’t. It’s hard to get your mind going.”

Shortly after his return to civilian life, Hampton married Jacqueline Abrams, who had also attended Arkansas AM&N College. He enrolled at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, where he worked toward getting a teaching certificate.

“I wanted to have several options of what to do in life,” he said.

“In 1970, I went to work in a fiberglass plant in Little Rock,” he said. “My wife started teaching, and we started a family. I worked at that job about two years and went to work for Sears.”

Hampton said he worked in retail sales at Sears for about seven years. Then he got a real estate license and sold real estate part time while still working at Sears.

Hampton left Sears and went to work for American Airlines, retiring in 2002 after 32 years with the airline.

“Of all things, I worked in operations,” he said, smiling. “I still coordinated things. I coordinated with the pilots at Little Rock National Airport (now the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport).

“I was only 58 when I retired,” Hampton said. “They offered me an early retirement with full benefits, so I couldn’t refuse it.”

The Hamptons moved to Morrilton after his retirement. Jacqueline Hampton, who retired from the North Little Rock School District after 40 years, grew up in Morrilton.

The Hamptons have been married 48 years and have four adult children — daughter LaShuan Vaughn of Little Rock, and three sons, Carl E. Hampton Jr. of Bryant, Larry Hampton of Las Vegas, Nevada, and Jerome Hampton of North Little Rock.

Vaughn is the public-affairs producer at AETN and assisted with some of the interviews that were taped for the community-outreach program.

“I knew that my dad served in the Vietnam War, but I did not know in what capacity,” she said. “After he shared with me about his time in Vietnam, which was just a couple of weeks ago, I asked if he would feel comfortable sharing his story in an interview. He was not sure if people wanted to hear about it, but I told him it was important that we knew what happened, so he agreed to tell his story.”

Hampton’s story may be found soon on the AETN

website, aetn.org.

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