Scroll down to access oral history interviews and recordings of veterans from San Diego, or click the name of the individual.
Note: some of these interviews contain explicit language, including references to drug use, prostitution, and racial tensions.
- Cunningham, Lt. Randall "Duke"
- Driscoll, Lt. Willy
- Ensch, LCDR John
- Gallaher, Antone
- Gietzen, Charles
- Taylor, James
Image credit: Autographed photograph of Lt. Randall "Duke" Cunningham and Lt. Willy Driscoll, circa 1972, Special Collections & University Archives.
World War I:
Louis Baumer was born on October 15, 1892. He served as a volunteer with the French Army in the Ambulance Service during World War I, then was enlisted in the American Army in the Intelligence Service because he could speak German. He was enlisted from May 1917 and discharged in April 1919.
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In this interview totalling approximately 69 minutes, Baumer discusses the following topics: how he got along with the French, Belgian, and Italian citizens; meeting President Wilson and his impression of him; Baumer's feeling about the Germans; his father's occupation; comparing the Nazis in the 1930s to the Russians in the 1980s; his feelings toward conscientious objectors; and what a typical leave was like. Baumer also provides an in-depth description of being in Munich when the war broke out.
Interviewed by Tammy Lien on audio cassette on 10/9/1984.
Russell Powers was born in 1893. He served in WWI as a fireman with the Navy, beginning his overseas service in October 1917. Powers received a Purple Heart medal after surviving a torpedo attack from a German submarine on his ship, the Mount Vernon, on the morning of September 5, 1918. Over sixty percent of his body was burned, and according to doctors he was not supposed to live. Yet somehow Powers miraculously survived.
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In this interview totalling approximately 30 minutes, Powers discusses the following topics: the outbreak of the war; basic training; how he got along with French civilians; his attitude towards the Germans, his officers, the home front, and conscientious objectors; description of a typical shore leave; what he thought of President Wilson; post-war employment; and how his life changed as a result of the war. Powers also gives an eyewitness account of the September 5, 1918 torpedoing of the Mount Vernon.
Interviewed by Tammy Lien on audio cassette on 11/9/1984.
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This is a talk by Joseph Ribinger, a World War I veteran, given to a group commemorating Armistice Day in 1984. Ribinger was in the Battle of the Argonne on the front lines. He later landed in Paris on Armistice Day in 1918 (en route to a commission exam), and describes the atmosphere of celebration. Ribinger also happened to be the very last man in WWI to be examined for a commission.
Recorded by Tammy Lien on audio cassette on 10/27/1984. Total running time: 28:22.
Lt. Randall "Duke" Cunningham:
Lt. Randall H. Cunningham first became famous during the Vietnam War for being one of the Navy's only two flying aces during the war, along with his Radio Intercept Officer Lt. Willy Driscoll. Together, Cunningham and Driscoll shot down a total of five enemy aircraft in 1972, a feat for which both soldiers were highly decorated. Cunningham also credited himself with killing North Vietnam's leading ace "Colonel Toon," although this claim remains disputed due to speculation that Colonel Toon was a mythical creation.
Cunningham parlayed his military success into a political career, serving as a Congressman from California's 50th district over a period of 14 years starting in 1991. In a high-profile scandal in 2005, Cunningham pleaded guilty to accepting over $2 million in bribes, along with federal charges of conspiracy to commit bribery, mail fraud, wire fraud, and tax evasion. He resigned from the House of Representatives on November 28, 2005, and is currently serving a federal prison sentence until June of 2013.
In this 1974 interview totalling approximately 82 minutes, Cunningham describes in considerable detail the shooting down of five MIGs, including North Vietnam's leading ace "Colonel Toon", who according to legend had seven American kills to his credit at the time. Lt. Cunningham gives a concise description of the surface-to-air missile threat in Vietnam, particularly over the North, and the tactics used to avoid being hit by one. He also describes the air combat tactics used in engaging other fighters, and his encounter with Colonel Toon. Cumin also gives his opinion on President Nixon's decision to mine Hai Phong harbor, and defends "protective reaction" strikes.
Interviewed by Capt. Roland A. Bowling on audio cassette on 3/22/1974. For photos of Cunningham, check the images section below.
Lt. Willy Driscoll:
Lt. Willy Driscoll became famous during the Vietnam War for being one of the Navy's only two flying aces during the war, along with his pilot Lt. Randall "Duke" Cunningham. Together, Driscoll and Cunningham shot down a total of five enemy aircraft in 1972, a feat for which both soldiers were highly decorated. Driscoll was the first RIO (Radio Intercept Officer) ace in aviation history. He later became an instructor at the famous TOPGUN naval academy (Navy Fighter Weapons School) for aerial fighter training. Today, Driscoll works in real estate in San Diego and also as a motivational speaker.
In this 1974 interview totalling approximately 70 minutes, Lt. Willy Driscoll relays in detail his dog fights in 1972, including the shooting down of five MIGs, and his tactics in avoiding enemy surface-to-air missiles (SAM). He also describes how his own plane was finally downed by a SAM and their subsequent rescue by friendly forces. Driscoll further discusses the anti-war movement and how it had no effect on him or any of his immediate contemporaries. After the war, Driscoll interviewed his fellow pilots who had been shot down, and learned that the vast majority of them considered themselves as professionals doing a job that they believed to be right.
Interviewed by Capt. Roland A. Bowling on audio cassette on 3/15/1974.
LCDR John C. Ensch:
Lieutenant Commander John C. Ensch was a Navy flight officer who was a member of Fighter Squadron 161 during the Vietnam War. During his fourth combat deployment in May 1972, he was credited with two confirmed kills of enemy aircraft. On August 25, 1972, Ensch was shot down over North Vietnam by a surface-to-air missile and spent eight months as a prisoner of war (POW) in Hanoi. He returned with the last group of repatriated prisoners on March 29, 1973, and for nine months was assigned to Naval Hospital in San Diego to recuperate from wounds sustained during his shoot-down and captivity. At the time of the below interview, Ensch was serving as an Executive Officer at the Navy Fighter Weapons School at NAS Miramar (a.k.a., TOPGUN) in San Diego.
In this interview totalling approximately 91 minutes, Ensch describes in detail his shooting down of two MIG aircraft in Vietnam. He also describes his being shot down by a surface-to-air missile over Vietnam, and his capture, torture, and imprisonment in Hanoi for eight months. His narrative covers how the enemy amputated his left thumb, which had been injured when his plane was hit, without any anesthetic. He gives a clear description of life as a POW, particularly as to how the treatment of prisoners waxed and waned as the peace talks blew hot and cold. In his opinion, the anti-war movement in the U.S. prolonged the war, particularly activities such as trips to North Vietnam by prominent Americans like Ramsey Clark and Jane Fonda.
Interviewed by Capt. Roland A. Bowling on audio cassette on 3/22/1974. For photos of Ensch, check the images section below.
Antone "Tony" Gallaher came from a Navy family, and attended the Naval Academy at Annapolis. As a junior officer, Gallaher had twelve men directly under him, and about twenty-five other men administratively under him.
In this interview totalling 56 minutes, Gallaher explains the training he received at Annapolis and later, San Diego. He started questioning the Navy and its goals while he had been at the Academy, but it was on his ship, the George K. McKenzie, that his thoughts began to crystallize. He put in an application to leave the Navy which was denied, so Tony had a civilian lawyer sue the Navy. Just before the case went to court, the Navy decided to give him an honorable discharge. Gallaher came to question the whole concept of war and later became a conscientious objector.
Other topics discussed in this interview include: Gallaher's duties on board ship; racial minorities; the dock force and blacks; drugs; prostitution and VD; separation from the opposite sex; dangers on the ship; a tour of duty in North Korean waters; politics and propaganda techniques used by the U.S. to build up morale on the ships; Gallaher's father's feelings about his discharge; and transition to civilian life.
Interviewed by Jane Holt on reel-to-reel audio tape on 12/14/1973.
Charles Gietzen was born on April 8, 1926 in Omaha, Nebraska. He spent twenty-six years in the United States Marine Corps and retired in 1970 at the rank of Master Gunnery Sergeant. At the time of the following interview, he was completing his senior year at San Diego State University majoring in social science.
In this interview totalling approximately 75 minutes, Gietzen discusses four main subject areas: 1) personal and early military background; 2) discipline problems in reference to drugs, alcohol, fragging, and racial tensions; 3) living conditions and the Vietnamese people; and 4) transition to civilian life.
Specific topics in this interview include: military duties while in Vietnam; political view of Vietnam before going; racial tensions among service men and the steps taken by the Marine Corps to lessen this tension; prevalence of drug use in Vietnam and busting of officers and enlisted men for drug use; alcohol as a military problem; known accounts of fragging (intent to deliberately kill a superior officer); deterioration of discipline; living conditions and the privilege of rank; fixed perimeters and the use of perimeter lights; outlook on deserters and draft dodgers; civilians on Monkey Mountain; overall view of Vietnamese people; and transition to civilian life.
Interviewed by Lynn Van Mullem on audio cassette on 11/7/1973.
James Taylor was born in the Republic of Panama. He served in the Air Force for 19 months starting at age 17, then took an apprenticeship in refrigeration and air-conditioning with the Army Corps of Engineers. In the 1960s, Taylor began working in classified positions in cooperation with the CIA, and was part of a team who stalked and helped capture Che Guevara in Bolivia. He was also sent to Vietnam under the auspices of the CIA in 1964 and 1966.
The first ten minutes of this tape is an actual recording of a firefight between soldiers from the U.S. 9th Infantry Division and Vietcong forces on March 19, 1969. Twenty-three thousand rounds were fired by the 9th division. Vietcong forces fired twenty-eight mortar rounds on the 9th's position, and followed this with a ground and tear gas attack.
In the interview which follows, totalling approximately 47 minutes, Taylor discusses his career with the military and particularly the CIA, which also played a role in Vietnam. He first got involved with the CIA while he was living in Panama and noticed that two men were stashing weapons behind his house, suspecting that they were revolutionaries. Taylor also recalls his experience as a member of a CIA-supported team in Bolivia, whose job it was to stalk Che Guevara and report his whereabouts, ultimately leading to his capture. Taylor details an account of following Guevara and surviving a firefight with Guevara's forces. After Che was captured, Taylor's team reportedly kept the pen that Guevara wrote in his diary with as a souvenir.
In 1964, Taylor was sent under the auspices of the CIA to Vietnam, to assist with arming and training native villagers and Chinese mercenaries. By the time he was dispatched to Vietnam again in 1966, his feelings toward the war had changed significantly, particularly as he noticed the large discrepancy between what newspapers were reporting and the atrocities that he witnessed in Vietnam. Taylor was particularly affected by seeing his brother serving as a soldier, and learning that many of his friends had been killed in action. He concludes the interview by stating that he loves his country, but doesn't necessarily always agree with government policy. He expressed the hope that he would never have to participate in another Vietnam.
Interviewed by Bobby Wagnon on audio cassette on 3/17/1974.