In honor of Memorial Day later this month, Make It Better is interviewing local veterans every week during May. This week, we feature Dr. Ken Kells.
Kells was in U.S. Army for 3 years, and served in the Vietnam War from 1967 to 1968. Originally from Chicago’s West Side, Kells is 62, works as a physician and lives in Park Ridge with his wife and two children.
MIB: How did you end up in participating in the Vietnam War?
KK: Back in the day, there was the draft and I pushed up my draft number. The whole concept of the draft—can you imagine what it would be like if we brought that back now? That was a way of life back then. All my friends were getting drafted, and I kind of wanted to get my stint over with at the same time.
MIB: Where were you stationed during the war?
KK: Basically only two places in Vietnam; one place was on the coast of the South China Sea, Nha Trang. The expectations were not that great for me, but this was the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen, strangely. Then I was moved to the Mekong Delta. It was a smaller town, with a smaller air field. There was jungle; it was different. I was in each place for about 6 months.
MIB: During the war, what were your responsibilities?
KK: When I was in Nha Trang, I was basically doing the things I was initially trained for—fixing helicopters and other communications equipment on aircraft. I was doing well, so they sent me to the Mekong Delta to maintain an entire control tower on an airfield. Can you imagine a punk 19-year-old kid having that responsibility? It’s kind of strange.
MIB: Was there ever a time during your service when you were frightened for your life?
KK: We were not infantry so we had it easy. All that happened was that we got mortared and attacked at night. We used to just run into the bunkers. You just didn’t want a rocket to hit your barracks first. It made for poor sleep. Maybe once every week we’d get mortared.
The only other scary time was during the Tet Offensive. The only time I fired a rifle was on that one day when we were overran. You shot at anything you saw moving. It’s was sort of like 9/11—you get lulled into a small sense of security, and all of sudden all hell breaks loose and you never saw it coming.
MIB: What did you do during your free time?
KK: We spent our days on the beach. That was the first 6 months, but you can’t print what we did! We drank warm beer every day. The fun stuff is pretty much like the movies.
We played touch football in the sand. It took at least a month of acclimation to the heat and humidity to even be able to do that. When I first got there, I drank 10 Filipino cokes and I was still be out of my mind from the heat, I was dyin’.
MIB: What are some of the things you learned in the service that you apply to your life today?
KK: Appreciate the simple things; appreciate what’s important. Take everything with a grain of salt. 90% of the stuff we stress about in life doesn’t mean a thing, but hold dear to you the 10% that does.