By Paul Wood
URBANA — When it was a nice night near the Ho Chi Minh trail, Roland “Sandman” Guitare and his co-driver slept in their truck. When there was shooting, they slept under it.
Crossing the dangerous Viet Cong supply line, one of the drivers would man a .50-caliber machine gun while the other drove. At night, Army engineers would blow up access to the road.
For 13 months in 1966 and 1967, Guitare saw the Vietnam War from the cab of a truck. He was shot at, but never wounded.
At 72, he rides a Harley, helping the Dinosores Forever motorcycle club raise money with poker runs and raffles to benefit the Chez Center for Wounded Veterans. Harley-Davidsons are pretty much the standard bike in the club.
Guitare was drafted at 19 years old and pretty amazed by the war he saw in Vietnam after a 22-day voyage from Tacoma, Wash.
“You never actually knew when you were on the Ho Chi Minh trail” in a convoy, he said.
“We were taking supplies for Long Binh base or Tay Ninh or Saigon,” he said.
It was drive, drive, drive.
“They got you up early, you loaded up, got in a convoy to, say, Tay Ninh near the Black Virgin Mountain” close to the end of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
The mountain was a hot spot: in 1968, not long after Guitare left, the base was attacked and overrun by the Viet Cong, then taken back. Now there’s a theme park there.
Guitare had been trained in the .50-caliber machine gun, the M14 rifle and the grenade launcher. The first was the one he and his fellow driver employed.
With his gun skills, he was available for missions others wouldn’t take.
A military motto: “Never volunteer.”
“I volunteered a lot,” Guitare said. “Every day was a big experience.”
There was relief from the fear and boredom. He loved soul music and light songs like “Groovin.'”
He learned some Vietnamese, to have courteous relations, and learned to count, so he could buy things.
“If they like you, you were a No. 1 American. If they didn’t like you, you were a No. 10 American,” Guitare said.
He said the Vietnamese were fond of some American soldiers and not so fond of others.
Guitare is proud of his time in Vietnam.
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he said.
“I’m a patriotic guy. It wasn’t easy, but I was well-trained for it.”
He said of his fellow veterans, “there aren’t as many of us left,” so his motorcycle club has lowered the age for admission.
Guitare remains physically fit, and dug up a water main the morning before this interview.
Do you know a veteran who could share a story about military service? Contact staff writer Paul Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org.