Alan Abrams was a 24-year-old history major at Washington University in St. Louis when he got drafted June 22, 1967.
“Originally, I was going to be a history teacher. I decided later maybe I was going into law,” he said. “But the draft changed everything.”
Abrams became a Soldier and he left for Vietnam on Thanksgiving Day 1967. The private arrived in Chu Lai as a member of 1st Platoon, Delta Company, 196th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division.
“I was a rifleman. I walked point every three days for the company,” he said. “We lived out in the bush 24/7. And all we would do every day was go to another location and search out the enemy. We lived in the field.”
As the point man, he walked ahead of the others in his squad. In late January 1968, his unit was walking to a night position. Abrams was following some Soldiers up a path. Someone yelled at him, so he went toward the other direction. He heard an explosion up the path from a 500-pound bomb that killed about 10 Soldiers.
That could’ve been me, that was very scary,” he said.
Part 393 in series
On May 4, 1968, he was walking point in the province of Phu Bai. He encountered a river and tried to figure a way to cross it. Suddenly at 12:35 p.m., a shot rang out from an enemy sniper, most likely with an AK-47.
“I felt an explosion in my stomach area. And I was awake the full time,” Abrams said. “It went in my abdomen, and the bullet actually exited out my (right) side.”
The first helicopter sent in to retrieve him was shot down and crashed. A second helicopter medically evacuated Abrams.
Next came hospital stays in Vietnam, Japan, Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, California, Brook General Hospital in San Antonio and finally Fort Carson, Colorado, where he completed his two-year obligation. He left the Army June 20, 1969, as a specialist four.
Days after he was wounded, Abrams was in the hospital when his unit got airlifted to Cam Duc where they would be overrun by the enemy. About four Soldiers in his unit were killed. “By getting shot, that could’ve saved my life,” he said.
In mid-May 1968 the American Red Cross threw a surprise party for him on his 25th birthday at the hospital in Quy Nhon.
Abrams described his six months at war. “I would say it was very, very scary,” he said. “Anybody that said it wasn’t scary was lying. We had to serve 365 days. And every day you took it one day at a time because you never knew what was going to happen each day.”
He received the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge and other medals for his Vietnam tour. He said he most remembers “the guys, people in my squad, how everybody missed home. But we did our job to the best of our ability.”
Abrams took two college courses at Fort Carson; and the credits enabled him to receive his bachelor’s from Washington University in January 1969. He majored in history with a minor in English. The native of University City, Missouri, was an insurance agent for 38 years in Chicago. He retired and moved to Mesquite, Nevada, in 2009.
In August he attended his brigade reunion in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He reunited with four members of his squad who he had not seen for 54 years. “They filled me in on what happened after I got shot,” he said. “It was just unbelievable.”
On Oct. 14-16, Abrams was among the 24 veterans on an Honor Flight from Las Vegas to visit their war memorials in Washington, D.C. They ranged from ages 76-97 and included a World War II veteran, a Korean War veteran and 22 Vietnam veterans along with their accompanying guardians.
He and his wife, Susan Brown, will have their fifth anniversary in December. He has two stepsons, Howard Brown of Las Vegas and Steven Brown of St. George, Utah, both Army veterans; 10 grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.
Abrams, 79, enjoys watching sports and visiting casinos. A lifetime member of the Disabled American Veterans, he has a 100% disability rating from Veterans Affairs.
He shared his thoughts on this nation’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.
“I think when we came home, we were not recognized at all,” Abrams said, “Now we get recognized. People thank us for our service.
“There’s a lot of veterans trying to get benefits which are long overdue. I think it’s a shame. People have to fight to get benefits. It’s like a battle.”
Editor’s note: This is the 393rd in a series of articles about Vietnam veterans as the United States commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.