Author's Name: Donald Ohmes

Title: "HONOR"

Stories of Honor
Donald Ohmes, U.S. Army

Don Ohmes is a local boy from St. Peters.  His family owned several hundred acres which they farmed before St. Peters started to build up. There is a sizeable road in St. Peters that was named after his family. 

Don went to Duchesne High School graduating in 1965 and attended St. Benedict’s College near Kansas City for a year before returning to St Peters taking a job as a construction drywaller. With the military draft looming and Don not committed to higher education that would provide him a deferral, he volunteered for the draft and was inducted in March 1967. 

Don did 2 months in Boot Camp at Ft. Leonard Wood and 2 months Advance Infantry training at Ft. Polk, Louisiana and then was declared one of the most deadly warriors on earth, fully trained and capable of handling the 25 year battle tested Vietnamese soldiers.

To provide some further perspective about this period as compared to today, we had about 540,000 troops (Encl 1) deployed in 1968 which was the year we lost 16,889 (Encl2) people or 29 % of the total 58,220 (Encl2) deaths during the 11 year war. We lost 1400 men a month on average during 1968.

Don was assigned an infantry position that was part of the Mobile Riverine Force that worked closely with the Navy conducting operations in the Mekong River and tributaries. Certain activities in Vietnam were renowned for their hazardous duties.  Among them were the tunnel rats who went into small holes that led to larger tunnels that permitted the Viet Cong access to or from missions or escape capabilities.  Then there were the river rats that patrolled and searched the small rivers in Vietnam.  They were particularly vulnerable to attack as depicted in scenes of the Apocalypse Now movie.

Don arrived in Vietnam in August 1967 and was a seasoned river rat by the beginning of the Vietnamese New Year called TET on January 31, 1968.  Traditionally, TET was a period of truce and celebration for the Vietnamese. However, this TET resulted in a major surprise offensive against American and South Vietnamese forces that resulted in turning the tide of the war. Starting on January 31, and continuing through most of February, it was the bloodiest campaign of Vietnam war costing nearly 5,000 (Encl 5,000) American and South Vietnamese lives and 16,000 (Encl 3) wounded in action, severely cutting back a request for 200,000 additional American troops and resulting in President Johnson’s announcement in March that he would not seek or accept the nomination for another term as President. (Encl 4)

On February 1, 1968, Don’s company was sent overnight down the Mekong River to address a Viet Cong offensive in a town called My Tho.  One hundred ten men from Don’s company entered a beach for an assault on the southern edge of My Tho.  Two other American units fought in the northern and western areas of the city representing a combined effort to take back the city that the Viet Cong had occupied and were trying to hold.  Heavy sniper fire caused substantial casualties and five men from Don’s unit that had been on point were stranded away from the main group. (Encl 5)

A rescue mission was organized for the stranded men and four men volunteered for the rescue mission, Don was one of those men. They located the men (one was already dead) who were pinned down against a cemetery wall.  Don and another soldier laid protective fire down while the two other members of the rescue mission extracted the four soldiers.  Both groups eventually made it back to their platoon after suffering several wounds.  All of the four rescue team were put in for Silver Stars, but through some administrative decision Don did not receive his and did not pursue it being appreciative of his survival. One hundred ten men from his company went on the My Tho mission and the Radio Telephone Operator (RTO) who called in casualties and deaths the next day indicated that only 20 came out without injury or death. (Encl 6)

Don came back from Vietnam and immediately married Maida who he had met on a blind date in 1966. Don went to work for the Post Office as a letter carrier for 10 years while attending undergraduate and graduate night school at the University of Missouri St Louis.  Upon graduation he hired on with the Defense Contract Audit Agency in St Louis, where he worked for 27 years of his 39 years of federal employment. Don retired as a supervisor/instructor after teaching a wide variety of courses for auditors and managers.

Although the action previously described in Vietnam was the most intense of Don’s tour, he had several other situations that resulted in casualties, death and personal illness that weighed heavily on him requiring years of counseling.  One method Don used to cope with the recurring memories of Vietnam combat was to over-achieve scholastically, at work and personally. He holds the following degrees and certifications: (i) BS in Business Administration, (ii) Masters of Business Administration, (iii) CPA, (iv) Certified Information System Auditor, (v) Certified Computing Professional, (vi) Certified Internal Auditor, and (vii) Certified Personal Trainer. He has taught several accounting classes the last several years at Webster University. (Encl 6)

Don has and continues to be very active in sports participating in softball, soccer, bowling, karate, weight training, body building events, and the Senior Olympics where he has won numerous medals both regionally and nationally. (Encl 6)

Although Vietnam left a permanent scar on Don’s psychic it also demonstrated a solidarity and commitment of a very diverse group of Army and Navy men to themselves and their mission, which we could all use more of today.

Don explained that after Vietnam, he began to embrace some of the message that John Prine expressed in one of his songs titled “It’s a Big Old Goofy World”:

Up in the morning, work like a dog,
Is better than sitting, like a bump on a log,
Mind all your manners, be quiet as a mouse.
Someday you’ll own a home, that’s as big as a house.

Kiss a little baby, give the world a smile
If you take an inch, give ‘em back a mile.
Cause if you lie like a rug, and don’t give a damn,
You’re never gonna be, as happy as a clam.

Don has two daughters, Jennifer and Heather, two grandchildren Dylan and Landon and continues to worship the ground that his wife Maida inhabits after 48 years of marriage.