Oral History of Brice Luedtke

It was never expected that the internal conflict of Vietnam would escalate into a major conflict involving the United States. Ho Chi Minh’s Republic of Vietnam controlled the Northern part of the country, and the State of Vietnam controlled the South. The United States originally became involved in Vietnam with the intention to help France contain communism in Southeast Asia. In 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower abandoned the allied approach to contain communism and the United States dedicated itself to building a strong, democratic Vietnamese nation with Ngo Dinh Diem as its leader. However, to the people of South Vietnam, Diem was a corrupt and selfish leader. With the support of the United States, a group of generals launched a coup against Diem. South Vietnam was now under a weak government, and in 1965 the United States sent American troops to prevent the collapse of the South Vietnamese government. By 1972, the war had turned into a “bloody stalemate,” and the United States eventually pulled out of Vietnam.

Brice Luedtke was born on January 14, 1941, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Three days later he moved to Sheridan, Wyoming, with his adoptive parents, where he spent his childhood. Growing up he rode horses and played sports in the small western town. After high school, he attended the University of Nebraska, where he played football. According to him, he had no college interest, so he decided to enlist into the United States Marine Corps in his senior year of college. Upon the completion of officer’s training he married Linda Harris in October of 1964, and they moved to California. After having their first child, Bryan Luedtke, he left for his first tour in Vietnam in July of 1965.

While serving his first tour in Vietnam he served as a Medivac pilot, and returned home in October of 1966. After returning home, he moved his family to Pensacola, Florida to head up the Officer’s Flight School. In June of 1967, Susan Luedtke, his second child, was born. However, he was only home for about a year and a half, and then he began his second tour of duty in Vietnam. From January, 1969 to March, 1969 he served his time in Vietnam flying helicopters. He was the commander of his company for two months and twenty-seven days. Between his two tours he was sent on 1,157 combat missions. Although the helicopters had armored seats and he was required to wear an armored diaper, and an armored chest plate, he was shot in the leg and in the back. Between his two tours of Vietnam, he earned a Purple Heart, Navy Cross, Bronze Star, and a Flying Cross. He was awarded the Purple Heart for being wounded during the war. The Navy Cross is the second highest medal that can be awarded by the Department of the Navy, and is awarded for valor. The Bronze Star is awarded to a member of the military whom had distinguished him or herself by a heroic or meritorious achievement or service, or act of bravery. It is the 9th highest of all military awards that may be presented to a soldier. The Distinguished Flying Cross is awarded to any officer or enlisted member of the United States armed forces who distinguishes himself or herself in combat in support of operations by “heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.”

His initial thoughts when heading off to the war in Vietnam were not too negative. At the time everyone expected it and it seemed like the right thing to do. However, he had no idea what he was getting himself into. When trying to picture the war before he arrived, he didn’t know what to expect. After spending some time there he figured out that it was hot, sweaty, and stunk. Most importantly, he had no concept of what combat was going to be like. The first time he went to Vietnam it was to help and protect the other soldiers over there. The second time his motivation was only to help his buddies that were fighting for their lives in Vietnam and also to honor the ones who had died.

After risking his life fighting in Vietnam, the end result was not very satisfying. Despite efforts, the United States was not successful in Vietnam. He believes this is not the result of a weak military force, but a result of poor decision making. To him, Johnson controlled everything. The United States would take land and just end up giving it right back to the Vietcong. The land was never held and, as a result, the Vietcong moved back in. The President of the United States, as the Commander in Chief of the Armed forces approved the missions, and would not let the commanders choose the missions. Luedtke believes that without experiencing the war first hand, the President wasn’t in the best place to make these decisions. When Nixon came into office, his strategy was to seriously bomb the North Vietnamese. He was on the right track until he made the mistake of ordering the United States to stop bombing the North. The North Vietnamese used this as a diversion, and instead of making an agreement with the U.S. they used the time to resupply their forces. Luedtke believes the United States was not successful in Vietnam because of political interference. He says “American troops never should have been there in the first place. Vietnam was never supposed to escalate as much it did.”

When thinking of his overall experience one word comes to mind, ruthless. Life in Vietnam was anything but easy. It was terrifying. Fifty-eight thousand American lives were lost, and the highs of survival were what kept him motivated throughout his time there. His most rewarding experience was surviving. There would be little boys, six, seven, eight years old, trying to sell cokes to the soldiers. Although this would be tempting, the cokes would have acid mixed into them. Who would think that of all people, innocent looking little boys would be trying to kill soldiers? People cannot even fathom how hard it was to escape from death in Vietnam unless they had experienced it for themselves. The images he will never forget are the faces of everyone lost. He doesn’t necessarily remember their names, but the faces of everyone he knew that perished in the war are embedded in his memory.

After experiencing Vietnam, Luedtke returned home to his family and his job of running the Officer’s Flight School until 1970, when he was re-stationed to the Marine’s base in Quantico, Virginia. He then decided to finish his education. He attended graduate school in aerospace engineering, and was assigned to the Naval Air Systems command as a project engineer. He went to night school for engineering management and administration. Brice ended up with a Bachelor degree from the Marines from flight school, in Aeronautical Engineering, Advanced Aeronautical Engineering, an advanced degree in Engineering Management and Executive Management. He then was assigned to a tour over seas, in which he flew V-22’s and was stationed on a LPH, otherwise known as a helicopter carrier. Upon finishing his last tour of duty, he returned home and was placed in charge of flying Presidents Nixon and Ford, in the Presidential Helicopter Squadron. He would pick the president up from one location and bring him to another, where another helicopter and pilot would be waiting. He also flew Brezhnev, the Premier of the Soviet Union, while he was visiting the United States. His military career came to an end when they wanted him to move to California for three years. He retired from the United States Military and became a consultant, because he didn’t wish to put his family through a move at that time in their lives. He is now a happy, sixty-seven year old man living in Port St. Lucie, Florida, enjoying the retired way of life.

Researched by Brittany O’Shea
Volunteer for the Cold War Museum
Cosby High School

Sources:

Dunn, Joe P. “United States: Involvement in Vietnam, 1954-1965.” United States at War:
Understanding Conflict and Society. 2008. ABC-CLIO. 19 Feb. 2008

Luedtke, Brice. Phone Conversation interview. 10 Apr. 2008

Willbanks, James. “Vietnam (Overview).” United States at War: Understanding Conflict and Society. 2008. ABC-CLIO. 19 Feb. 2008

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