Frank Gaus’ military experience in Vietnam was a little different from the traditional war scenario.
Although Gaus did see fighting - in which some of his comrades were killed - his primary function was to serve as a military version of the ‘Peace Corps.’
“I was in Special Forces from 1963 to 1966,” Gaus said.
Gaus was part of a Green Beret division established by President Kennedy in 1962, to help fight insurgents, and protect the indigenous population.
“Our motto is ‘De Oppresso Liber’ which in English is ‘We free the oppressed,’” he explained.
Believing he was going to be drafted, Gaus opted instead to join the Army. Following his basic training, as well as jump school, Gaus was all set for his first assignment.
“We were in an assembly in which in comes this big Polish sergeant,” Gaus recalled. “He told everyone over 21 to stay. He went out of the room, then came back in wearing Green Beret. He said anyone afraid of this should leave. I wasn’t. I took the test and got a score of 500 so I passed.”
After receiving training a radio operator and a medic, Gaus was assigned to Nahtrang in Vietnam, the home base for special forces.
Gaus’s unit consisted of 12 people. They worked with the CIA, as well as the Army Security Agency. Their job was to help what was known as the ‘Mountain Yard’ – indigenous people who were similar to American Indians.
“Our job was to go out in the field,” he said. “For three or four months at a time. They’d fly us in by chopper. We’d, along with the CIA and the ASA, would go help the Mountain Yard by doing things like establishing better sanitary conditions, to help them have a better life.”
Conditions were so poor that people were disposing of their wastes right outside the door, Gaus explained. The unit helped by building latrines and offering medical assistance.
“They were very grateful,” Gaus said. “We would do what we could to get the people on our side. We also worked to find out all the troops that were going into South Vietnam.”
But there was one major problem. Despite their best efforts, the work was often undermined by enemy forces.
“They were very frightened of the Viet Cong,” he said. “They would tear through a village and do awful things.”
Gaus and his fellow Green Berets worked primarily along the border, entering Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and North Vietnam. Often, when they returned to Nahtrang, Gaus and the rest would carefully study the maps of their next assignments.
“We got to be very familiar with where everything was,” he said. “We tried to stay away from the trails. Sometimes we got caught, most of the times we weren’t.”
Because the unit was so small, Gaus and the rest would simply do what they could to delay the enemy, then quickly leave the area.
“A company would have overwhelmed us without a problem.”
In addition to being a radio man and a medic, Gaus was also proficient with a 45-caliber sidearm, an M14, and an M16.
“You fought to save your life,” he said, explaining that he was a marksman, and expert marksman, with training in pistols, rifles, grenades, and mortars.
Of the 12 people in Gaug’s unit, five never came back.
“Three were killed while I was there, and two after I left,” he said.
“When I see other veterans, it’s like ‘Hey, proud to serve with you,” Gaus explained. “But when I meet another Green Beret, it’s like I’m seeing a brother. We slept together, ate together, 24 hours a day. It’s a brotherhood. You always knew what the other guy was going to be doing.”