Larry Willis grew up in a family of eight in a small town in southern Georgia, and after high school, he attended the local college. He took off one semester to work, and during that time he was drafted. Throughout basic training, he held on to the idea that he might be sent to Germany or Korea, but when he was assigned to Fort Polk for Advanced Infantry Training, he knew his next stop was Vietnam. On June 4, 1967, he landed in Bien Hoa, Vietnam. He realized he was in a war zone when he noticed the bars and wire mesh covering the bus windows as he traveled to in-processing. He was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division and sent to An Khe where he linked up with Company D, 1-5 Cavalry in the field, and was assigned as a mortarman in weapons platoon. His first six months in-country were relatively easy, in comparison to the second six months, a fact he attributes to his first Company Commander, Captain Al Johnson. The company suffered no KIAs during the first half of Larry’s tour, during which his unit served primarily in the Central Highlands. By January, he was promoted to E5, and became the Platoon Sergeant and Platoon Leader for Weapons Platoon. During the second half of his tour, he served around Da Nang and near Khe Sanh in Operation Pegasus, which began on April 1, 1968. He returned home on June 4, 1968, and kissed the ground when he landed in Seattle. He was assigned to the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia, to finish his time in the Army, and he taught OCS Candidates who were preparing to go to Vietnam, trying to impart as much of his learned wisdom as possible. After leaving the military, he entered the work force, eventually building his own company, but memories of Vietnam kept him angry much of the time. Eventually, he started reconnecting with friends he had served with in Vietnam and they convinced him to seek help. He began receiving counseling at the local VA, and that has changed his life. Although he still feels that he carries a weight from Vietnam, he was able to reach out to the widow of a close friend who was killed on April 26, 1968, and that experience was cathartic for both of them. Now, he looks forward to reunions with other D Company veterans, and even though they do not often talk about the war, their friendship is important to him.
In this interview, Larry talks about his childhood, receiving his draft notice, basic training, and deploying to Vietnam. He describes being on patrol, sometimes staying in the field for up to 74 days at a time, and several engagements he was in. He compares fighting the Viet Cong to fighting the North Vietnamese Army, saying, “The NVA weren’t afraid of us.” Finally, he discusses returning home, his post-military career, and seeking help through the Veterans Administration. Throughout his interview, he talks in-depth about his brothers in arms, fondly recalling those who made it back and those who did not.